Monday, June 20, 2022

History of Better Living Through Tech

As part of the recent Creative Nonfiction Collective online conference, I took part in a Zoom workshop by Omar Mouallem, the dynamic young Edmonton writer and journalist and founder of Pandemic University. " Organized Chaos" was a presentation on research tools and practices for writers. While listening, I was following some private Chat conversations among some, ah, older writers, not quite so digi-savvy as Mouallem.  

"Whenever I start a new writing project, I like to open a lot of folders," said Mouallem early on, screenshotting a view of his laptop with a bunch of digital folders lined up. (From the Chat: "A lot of my folders are cardboard.")  

He referred to Scrivener, spreadsheeting almost anything, mapping research locations with Google Maps, and using CiteFast, a thing that turns turns URLs into customized bibliographic citations (Chat: "He's never heard of index cards!") 

Then he demonstrated writing in a notebook with a pen -- except the pen was digital and the notebook uses special paper. When you are finished scribbling your notes, you plug in the pen, and somehow you get a word-processed text of all that you just scribbled down. (Chat: "Then you plug in the pen?")

But maybe the most comprehensive "head-explodes" responses was after he asked if we knew about about  Ten years ago, he said, when he started doing these workshops for journalists, people always asked about a tool to make automatic transcripts from digital recordings. You know, you interview someone for an hour, and then you face days playing back the sound on your little digirecorder and trying to type out a useable transcript? Well, there never was much of a solution to that. Now there is.  

"If you have a heap of digital files of audio interviews you created over the years, you might look into, he suggested. (Chat -- and this time it was me: "Okay, if you don't see me at the rest of these sessions, it's just that I have to go talk to Otter for a while.")

I did. It does the first few transcriptions free, in about fifteen minutes, and I had 'em lined up in no time.  I need to do a little wrangling the Otter, but there are transcripts. I did not have to do them by hand myself, or by hiring someone. I'm hooked.

Had some headblowing experience of your own with some of these technologies?  Share.

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