Monthly Archives: August 2008

Gravity on the Web


Computer commands of all kinds — speech, keyboard and mouse — are much easier to use when they’re consistent across programs.

At the base level, it’s important that common elements like drop-down menus act the same. You control drop-down menus without thinking — click on an element or use the Left, Right, Up, Down and Enter keys.

Consistent commands are the real-world equivalent of having the same gravity in every room, or keys turning the same way to unlock.

Web applications are looking more and more like standard computer programs, but sometimes the elements that look familiar don’t act the way we’re used to. Drop-down menus usually respond in a familiar way to the mouse, but often don’t respond to the Up, Down and Enter keys.

But perhaps things are getting better.

The first drop-down menus to show up on Google Docs didn’t respond to Left, Right, Up, Down and Enter. Then most of the folder-view drop-down menus were arrow key/Enter enabled, but not document menus. A few months ago document menus changed from looking tab-like to looking more menu like, but still didn’t respond to arrow keys and Enter. Then, sometime in the last few weeks, the Doc menus were arrow key/Enter enabled (the change didn’t show up on the update notice).

The keyboard shortcuts enable better speech navigation as well. I can say, for instance, “3 Down Enter” to choose an item in an open menu, “3 Down 2 Right Enter” to choose a color on the open color menu, or “7 Right Wait 3” to take a three-second peak at each of the seven successive menus starting with the file menu open.

This is a great trend.

Now all we need is keyboard shortcuts to open the menus in the first place. We also need the same kind of control in all Web applications, including Google spreadsheets.

Friday Tip: Remembering boilerplate and vocabulary commands


NatSpeak boilerplate Text and Graphics commands allow you to insert any text or graphics into a document using a single speech command. These commands can be very powerful — they’re good for adding text and graphics that you use often, such as your address or a set of directions.

The NatSpeak Vocabulary editor allows you to add words or phrases to your vocabulary that have different spoken and written forms. This allows you to make words like your email address easily pronounceable.

The key to using boilerplate and vocabulary commands is being able to remember them.

There are two ways to make these types of commands easy to remember:

1. Word them consistently

2. Make them easy to look up

I find the easiest way to remember boilerplate Text and Graphics commands is to simply say the first part of the text you’re inserting followed by “Full”. So “Redstart Full” prints the full name and address of Redstart Systems. If you have two different versions of the address, add a number. “Redstart Full 1” prints the same address in a different format.

You can use the Utter Command Clipboard facility to make anything easy to look up. Once you name your Text and Graphics command say “Line Copy To” followed by the name of the UC Clipboard file and you’ve got it recorded. For example, to keep your boilerplate commands in “UC List 1” say “Line Copy To List 1”.

Now any time you want to consult your list of commands say “List 1 File”. You can also print it out.

I also use the start-to-say method for vocabulary words that have different written and spoken forms. I’ve put my Redstart email address in as a vocabulary word with the spoken form “Kim at Red” and my Gmail address in as a vocabulary word with the spoken form “Kim at G Mail” (in address commands I use “Kim” whether or not the actual address is just Kim or something longer).

One caution in using vocabulary in this way — make sure commands are at least two words and make sure the two words are not a common phrase that you’d want to say as is. If you need to, use the “Full” method above to avoid this problem. Also make sure to save your user after adding vocabulary words.

If you wish, keep vocabulary words that have different written and spoken forms on the same list as your boilerplate commands.

The difference between boilerplate commands and written/spoken vocabulary words is a block of boilerplate is returned exactly as written, while vocabulary commands are treated like words, with appropriate spacing before and after them.

UC Commands Tip: say “NatSpeak” followed by the first one or two words in a NatSpeak dialog box title to call up that dialog box.

Commands for the dialog boxes mentioned above:

“NatSpeak My Commands” calls up the NatSpeak My Commands dialog box where you can write a boilerplate Text and Graphics macro

“NatSpeak Vocabulary” calls up the NatSpeak Vocabulary Editor dialog box