In the present-day translation community there is a huge emphasis on various types of software, such as CAT tools, translation management software, speech recognition software and pdf conversion tools, to name but a few. Yet I think we sometimes forget about the hardware side of our armoury, even though this can be just as essential for an effective, ergonomic workplace.
I use Dragon Naturally Speaking speech recognition software, as many of you know. I’ve extolled its virtues many a time in posts like Taming the Dragon and Good Things come in Threes: Part 1. The reason I invested in Dragon in the first place was because I was suffering from severe repetitive strain injury, or RSI, initially caused by shifting a silly amount of topsoil in the garden, but leaving me with a real problem when it came to typing, a translator’s stock-in-trade. I’d tried adapting my workspace with a new chair, adjusting the height of my screen, adding a footrest, and so on, but nothing really worked until I rediscovered the art of dictating via Dragon.
The microphone that comes with Dragon is a flimsy thing, however, and I soon ended up buying a lightweight Logitech headset that fits behind, rather than on top of your head. This was all well and good for a while, but they are also quite insubstantial and I found I lost the sound in one ear after a while, very annoying for Skype calls! I graduated to a wireless Plantronics headset (Audio 995) and loved the fact that neither I nor the dogs got tangled up in the wires and I could move around to some extent as I dictated. However, it was quite heavy and I found it hurt my ears after wearing for any length of time. You do have to remember to charge it at frequent intervals too – nothing worse than having a long translation to dictate and your headphones running out of battery… When it too bit the dust nearly two years later (the adjustable headband snapped and had to be taped back together – not ideal!), I decided to go for a tabletop microphone instead on a colleague’s recommendation.
This time I opted for the Samson Meteor USB, a neat little microphone some 6″ tall when assembled, although it folds to half the size and fits in a neat little travel pouch should you need to take it walk-about. It was a similar price to the wireless headset, but with no discomfort issues and you don’t have that feeling of being cocooned from reality that you have when wearing earphones. Of course, if you work in a noisy open-plan office or a busy environment, you might be happy to drown out background noise, but, working alone at home, my pressing need was for an accurate microphone, not earphones. Some of the table-top mikes I looked at were huge and definitely didn’t fit in with my desktop set-up, whereas the Samson resembles a funky chrome pocket rocket – rather sweet, in fact! I tend to sit it just behind my keyboard and it picks up my dictated speech extremely accurately. It has a long cable connected to the USB adapter, so I just move it out of the way if I’m not dictating. Another bonus of not wearing a headset is that you don’t have to remember to unplug your headphones when you’re not using them – the number of Skype calls I’ve missed as the sound went through the headphones rather than the computer speakers….
Although I dictate a lot of my translations, I still use my keyboard and mouse as well, such as when I’m translating fiddly tables, word lists or PowerPoint files that don’t lend themselves to dictating. Before I discovered Dragon I’d invested in an ergonomic wireless keyboard and mouse, and whilst they helped my wrist to some extent, they clearly weren’t the whole answer. The mouse was a Microsoft Laser 6000 and it served me well until last year, when it suddenly gave up the ghost. Back to the drawing board: that particular model was no longer available, so I opted for a Microsoft Sculpt Comfort keyboard and mouse set, allegedly with an ergonomic design to encourage natural hand and wrist postures. Big mistake: I’d had to revert to a basic mini laptop mouse while waiting for the new one to be delivered and in the space of just a few days, my wrist was already suffering. The arrival of the new so-called ergonomic devices did nothing to help either. I persevered for a week or so, but ended up sending them back as I was in so much pain, even though I was still dictating a lot of the time!
Fortunately, a friend I’d met on one of my Spanish yoga holidays had happened to post a link on Facebook to a revolutionary new mouse that had cured her RSI problems. This was the Anker 2.4G wireless vertical ergonomic optical mouse, a funny-looking piece of kit that encourages a neutral handshake position for your hand, rather than the unnatural, slightly twisted pose required by traditional flat mice. It’s also extremely reasonably-priced, so definitely worth a punt if you’re struggling. It took me a while to get used to it, probably because I’d done so much damage using the wrong mice for a couple of weeks, but I’m now absolutely converted. The handshake position does feel completely natural and the shape f the mouse itself is extremely comfortable for my smallish hands. It’s amazing how something as fundamental as a mouse can cause so many problems if you get it wrong…
My final essential piece of extra kit has to be my second monitor; I certainly don’t think I could work without two monitors now. I know of one colleague who even has three! It’s so useful to have your reference material, e-mails and source file on one screen, while you have your active document/CAT tool open on your main monitor. On the odd occasion that I find myself working in the kitchen or en route with just my laptop, I really miss that extra screen space – and of course it means you don’t have to print out reference material as you can have it in front of you on the other monitor instead. When I had to replace my second screen recently (it’s obviously been a poor run for computer equipment this past twelve months!), I found that all the monitors are widescreen nowadays, so ended up going for a much bigger model than I’d anticipated. Once again, the first one I ordered, an Asus 18.5″ monitor, didn’t live up to its billing and I ended up returning it and going for a slightly bigger Asus model, 21.5″ with a resolution much closer to that of my main monitor. The difference between the two was so marked otherwise that it would have driven me mad every time I glanced between the two. Motto: try and match the resolutions so you can move seamlessly from one to the other.
What tools/hardware do you regard as indispensable – and well worth the time and effort getting right?