Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Making Transcription Pleasurable

Do you ever need to transcribe speech? I often dictate into the "voice memos" app on my smartphone, but typing stuff out's such a drag that it rarely sees the light of day.

Until now! I just found an obscure little open source program for OS X that makes transcription so much easier that it's almost fun. It's called Transcriptions, and you can download the latest version (from 2008) here.

The interface is minimal, and there are no instructions, but it's beautifully simple. Open a window, drag a sound file to the upper right corner, and hit the play button. While the audio plays, you can type away into the text field on the left. It's easy to stop the audio, or back it up a few seconds.

The coolest thing is that every time you type a line break, the program inserts a time stamp showing where that part resides on the recording, and you can hit a stamp to be taken directly to that point in the audio. Genius! You can turn this off by deselecting "auto timestamp" in the "Media" menu, and still insert time stamps with a "control T" anytime you'd like.

With a little configuration, you can really soup things up. Go to System Preferences/Keyboard/Application Shortcuts, and hit the "+" icon. Choose "Transcriptions" on top, then type next to Menu Title "Play" (without the quotation marks, and capitalization counts). Then click in "keyboard shortcut" and hit the control and right-arrow keys. Add that shortcut, then repeat the process for the following Menu Titles:

Repeat RePlay (control left-arrow)
Goto End (control command right-arrow)
Goto Beginning (control command left-arrow)
Pause (control down-arrow)
Show Ruler (command R)

You can now control the audio entirely with keyboard shortcuts as you easily kill (or restore) the ruler which appears atop each window whether you want it or not. It takes a little while to get the hang of these controls, but, once you do, you can really fly. The application's own preferences page offers customized shortcuts, but "Play" isn't configurable. Plus I couldn't get these prefs to work. Better to do it via System Preferences!

I hope a developer adds a visual sound wave, so users can easily advance through silent parts. Also, I believe OS X includes the ability to play audio at higher or lower speeds without affecting pitch. That'd be great. Oh, and fix "Goto End", which is broken!

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