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How to Use Dictation on a Mac for Voice-to-Text Typing

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Typing isn’t for everyone. If you have clumsy fingers or difficulty spelling, typing might be your least favorite part of using a computer. Fortunately, you can use the built-in dictation software on your Mac to speak what you want to type instead.

Unlike Voice Control—which is Apple’s fully-featured accessibility tool—dictation is easy to use. It’s also so accurate at translating your voice that some of the best dictation software developers, like Dragon Dictate, stopped making their own dictation apps for Mac to compete with it.

How to Use Dictation on a Mac

Popup window for enabling Dictation on a Mac

Double-press the Fn button to start dictating on your Mac. You should see a microphone icon appear or hear a macOS confirmation tone. If this is your first time using Dictation, click OK in the popup window to confirm you want to use it.

After activating Dictation, start saying what you want to type to see it appear on screen. Dictation ignores pauses in your speech, allowing you to take a moment to compose your thoughts. However, this does mean you need to dictate your own punctuation, which we explain below.

Dictation microphone icon on Mac

Apple suggests you dictate in short bursts of 40 seconds or less. This keeps your Mac from falling behind, since you can speak much faster than it can process what you say.

You can dictate text anywhere you’d usually type on your Mac. That includes writing documents, using Spotlight or search bars, entering web addresses, and composing emails. If that sounds useful, you might want to take a look at these dictation apps for your Android phone as well.

Use any of the following methods to stop dictating:

  • Press Fn again
  • Hit Return
  • Click Done beneath the microphone

Your dictated words appear underlined while your Mac is processing them. After you stop dictating, they’ll reformat themselves, and any words your Mac was unsure of appear underlined in blue. Click these words to pick an alternative option or type it out manually if it was wrong.

The more you use Dictation, the better your Mac gets at understanding your voice. This means you’ll see fewer mistakes and words underlined in blue less often.

How to Add Punctuation and Format Your Dictation

Chances are that you need to add punctuation to your dictation to make sure it’s formatted correctly. This is easy to do while dictating your text by saying the particular punctuation marks you want to add.

For example, to dictate the following text:

Hello, my name is Dan. How are you?

You need to say:

Hello comma my name is Dan period how are you question mark

Dictation on a Mac with punctuation

Apple includes a long list of over 50 punctuation marks, typography symbols, currency signs, mathematical signs, and voice commands you can use with Dictation in the macOS user guide. Visit Apple’s voice dictation commands page to take a look at the list yourself.

Along with adding punctuation, you can also use a small set of voice commands to change the formatting of dictated text on your Mac. These commands include capitalization, line breaks, and even typing without spaces.

Say the following voice commands to format text with Dictation:

  • New Line: Equivalent to pressing the Return key once
  • New Paragraph: Equivalent to pressing the Return key twice
  • Caps On/Off: Types the following words in “Title Case”
  • All Caps On/Off: Types the following words in “ALL CAPS”
  • No Space On/Off: Types the following words “withoutspaces” (useful for website URLs)

Troubleshoot Dictation Problems on Your Mac

Dictation is a fairly simple tool, but it doesn’t work all the time. There are a few different problems that might stop you from being able to use Dictation on your Mac. Here’s what they are and how to fix them.

Change the Dictation Shortcut

If nothing happens when you double-press the Fn button, you might have changed the Dictation shortcut on your Mac. You can change this shortcut to whatever you like, or check what the new shortcut is and use that instead.

To do so, open System Preferences and go to Keyboard > Dictation. Open the Shortcut dropdown menu and choose the dictation shortcut you want to use. To create your own, click Customize, then press the keyboard shortcut you’d like.

Dictation shortcut dropdown menu in System Preferences

Test Your Internet Connection

Your Mac requires an active internet connection to use Dictation. This is because Apple processes your voice on its servers—using the latest language data—rather than locally on your Mac.

Without an internet connection, the microphone icon appears with three dots in it, but vanishes before you can start dictating.

To make sure your internet connection is working, try streaming a video on YouTube. To fix problems with your connection, restart your Wi-Fi router and follow our steps to get your Mac connected to Wi-Fi again. Contact your internet service provider for more help.

Choose a Different Microphone to Use

As you dictate, you should see a white bar in the microphone icon that fluctuates with the loudness of your voice. This shows the microphone input on your Mac. If nothing appears in the microphone, your Mac can’t hear you. You need to use a different microphone to fix it.

Go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Dictation. Open the dropdown menu beneath the microphone at the left of the window to choose a different microphone. If you can’t see your microphone, make sure it’s connected with the latest drivers installed.

Microphone selection from Dictation System Preferences

Change the Dictation Language

To dictate in a different language, you need to add that language in System Preferences and select it from the Dictation icon. Using the wrong language results in a lot of mistakes, as Dictation will use regional spellings or replace what you said with similar-sounding words from another language.

In System Preferences, go to Keyboard > Dictation and open the Language dropdown menu. Click Add Language and check the box next to whichever languages you want to use. Make sure you choose the appropriate region if your language is used in multiple countries.

The next time you activate Dictation, you should see the current language displayed beneath the microphone icon. Click it to change to another dictation language instead.

Dictation microphone with language options

How to Make Dictation as Private as Possible

Dictation communicates with Apple’s servers to convert your speech to text. This means it’s never completely private, as explained by the popup message that appears when you enable Dictation for the first time. That said, there are still steps you can take to reclaim as much Dictation privacy as possible.

To change the data Dictation uses, open System Preferences and click on Security & Privacy. Go to the Privacy tab and scroll down to select Analytics & Improvements in the sidebar. Disable the option to Improve Siri & Dictation to stop Apple from storing or reviewing your future Dictation recordings.

Improve Siri & Dictation option in Privacy System Preferences

Apple usually does this to help improve Dictation. Even with this option disabled, you still need to delete existing recordings from Apple’s servers. Go to System Preferences > Siri and click Delete Siri & Dictation History to do so.

Do More With Your Voice Using Voice Control

Although many people confuse the two, Dictation and Voice Control are two separate features on your Mac. As we’ve explained, Dictation allows you to convert your speech to text, adding punctuation and line breaks where necessary. But Voice Control unlocks an entire world of voice commands that control your Mac.

If you want to save documents, switch applications, open menus, and do much more with your voice, you need to use Voice Control. This is primarily an accessibility tool; it lets anyone control a Mac using nothing but their voice. Take a look at our Mac Voice Control guide to learn how it works.

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Keyboard Shortcuts for Calendar, Reminders, and Notes on Mac

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If you’re a Mac user looking for a simple and effective day planner, consider this trio of native macOS apps: Calendar, Reminders, and Notes.

Once you set up these apps to your liking, you have a fuss-free system to manage your schedule, tasks, and notes. Plus, if you learn how to control them with keyboard shortcuts, so much the better. And what’s more, you can discover various useful keyboard shortcuts for these macOS productivity apps in the cheat sheet below.

The cheat sheet contains shortcuts for navigation and search, view management, formatting, and more in Calendar, Reminders, and Notes.

FREE DOWNLOAD: This cheat sheet is available as a downloadable PDF from our distribution partner, TradePub. You will have to complete a short form to access it for the first time only. Download Keyboard Shortcuts for Calendar, Reminders, and Notes on Mac.

Keyboard Shortcuts for Calendar, Reminders, and Notes on Mac

Calendar
Cmd + N Add new event
Option + Cmd + N Add new calendar
Shift + Cmd + N Add new calendar group
Option + Cmd + S Add new calendar subscription
Cmd + F Highlight search box to search for events
Cmd + 1 Switch to Day view
Cmd + 2 Switch to Week view
Cmd + 3 Switch to Month view
Cmd + 4 Switch to Year view
Cmd + Right Arrow Go to next day, week, month, or year
Cmd + Left Arrow Go to previous day, week, month, or year
Cmd + T Switch to today’s date
Shift + Cmd + T Open popup for switching to specific date
Cmd + + (Plus) Increase text size
Cmd + – (Minus) Decrease text size
Cmd + R Refresh all calendars
Cmd + E Edit selected event
Esc (when event is open) Close event editor without saving changes
Return (when event is open) Commit changes to event and close event editor
Cmd + I Show Info popup for selected event(s)
¹Option + Cmd + I Show Inspector popup for selected event
Arrow Keys Select event (if available) in adjacent row/column in relevant direction
Control + Option + Up Arrow Day/Week View: Move selected event 15 minutes earlier
Month View: Move selected event one week earlier
Control + Option + Down Arrow Day/Week View: Move selected event 15 minutes later
Month View: Move selected event one week later
Control + Option + Right Arrow Day/Week/Month View: Move selected event one day later
Control + Option + Left Arrow Day/Week/Month View: Move selected event one day earlier
Shift + Cmd + A Toggle Availability panel
Reminders
Cmd + N Create new reminder
Shift + Cmd + N Create new list
²Cmd + ] Indent reminder to create subtask
²Cmd + [ Outdent reminder
Cmd + E Show all subtasks
Shift + Cmd + E Hide all subtasks
³Cmd + I Show Info popup for selected reminder
Cmd + F Highlight search box to search for reminders
²Shift + Cmd + F Set/clear flag for selected reminder(s)
Control + Cmd + S Toggle sidebar
Notes
Cmd + N Create new note
Shift + Cmd + N Create new folder
Shift + Cmd + A Open dialog for attaching file
Cmd + K Create link
Cmd + F Highlight search box to search current note
Cmd + G Highlight next search result in current note
Shift + Cmd + G Highlight previous search result in current note
Option + Cmd + F Highlight search box to search all notes
Shift + Cmd + T Apply Title format
Shift + Cmd + H Apply Heading format
Shift + Cmd + J Apply Subheading format
Shift + Cmd + B Apply Body format
Shift + Cmd + M Apply Monospaced format
Shift + Cmd + L Apply Checklist format
Shift + Cmd + U Mark selected checklist items as checked/unchecked
Control + Cmd + Up Arrow Move current list/checklist item up in list
Control + Cmd + Down Arrow Move current list/checklist item down in list
Cmd + B Emphasize selected text
Cmd + I Italicize selected text
Cmd + U Underline selected text
Cmd + + (Plus) Increase size of selected text
Cmd + – (Minus) Decrease size of selected text
Cmd + Shift + [ Align selected text flush left
Cmd + Shift + Center selected text
Cmd + Shift + ] Align selected text flush right
Cmd + [ Decrease indent level of selected content or line where cursor is placed
Cmd + ] Increase indent level of selected content or line where cursor is placed
Control + Return Add line break (soft return) to list/checklist item
Option + Tab Insert tab character in list item
Option + Cmd + C Copy style of selection
Option + Cmd + V Paste copied style to selection
Cmd + T Show Fonts window
Shift + Cmd + C Show Colors window
Option + Cmd + T Create table
⁴Return Move cursor to row below
Tab Move focus to next cell on right
Shift + Tab Move focus to next cell on left
Shift + Left/Right Arrow Select cells one by one in relevant direction current row
Shift + Up/Down Arrow Select cells one by one in relevant direction in current column
Option + Return Add new paragraph in current cell
Option + Tab Add tab character in current cell
Option + Cmd + Up Arrow Add new row above current row
Option + Cmd + Down Arrow Add new row below current row
Option + Cmd + Right Arrow Add new column to right of current column
Option + Cmd + Left Arrow Add new column to left of current column
Cmd + 0 Show main Notes window
Cmd + 1 Switch to List view for notes
Cmd + 2 Switch to Gallery view for notes
Cmd + 3 Switch to Attachments Browser
Return (when note is selected in List view or Gallery view) Open or switch focus to selected note to begin typing
Cmd + Return Open or switch focus from current note content to previous notes view i.e. List view or Gallery view
Option+ Cmd + S Toggle Folders sidebar
Shift + Cmd + . (Period) Zoom in on note content
Shift + Cmd + , (Comma) Zoom out of note content
Shift + Cmd + 0 Change note content to default size
⁵Cmd + A (When cursor is in table) Select content of active cell OR
Select table if active cell is empty
Common Shortcuts
Cmd + Z Undo previous action
Shift + Cmd + Z Reverse undo
Cmd + X Cut selected item
Cmd + C Copy selected item
Cmd + V Paste cut/copied item
Delete Delete selected item
Cmd + A Select all items
Cmd + P Open Print dialog
Cmd + , (Comma) Open app preferences
Control + Cmd + F Toggle Full Screen mode
Cmd + M Minimize window
Option + Cmd + M Minimize all windows of current app
⁶Cmd + W Close current window
Option + Cmd + W Close all windows of current app
Cmd + H Hide current app
Option + Cmd + H Hide all apps except current app
Cmd + Q Quit app
¹Shortcut does not work with multiple events, but if you switch between events when Inspector is active, its contents are updated accordingly.

²Shortcut may not be available if iCloud is not enabled.

³If multiple reminders are selected, Info popup for last selected reminder is displayed.

⁴If cursor is in last row, shortcut adds new row to table.

⁵When active cell is populated, press shortcut twice to select table.

⁶In Reminders and Notes, shortcut quits app after closing window.

Bullet Journaling With Mac Productivity Apps

The default productivity apps on macOS are not only easy to use, but also quite flexible. You can use them to bring offline note-taking methods online. For example, you can create a Bullet Journal on your Mac with Calendar, Reminders, or Notes.

Image Credit: Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

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If the coronavirus is really airborne, we might be fighting it the wrong way

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This was the week airborne transmission became a big deal in the public discussion about covid-19. Over 200 scientists from around the world cosigned a letter to the World Health Organization urging it to take seriously the growing evidence that the coronavirus can be transmitted through the air. WHO stopped short of redefining SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes covid-19) as airborne but did acknowledge that more research is “urgently needed to investigate such instances and assess their significance for transmission of COVID-19.”

“I honestly don’t know what people are waiting for,” says microbiologist Chad Roy of Tulane University in the US. “It doesn’t take WHO coming out to make a proclamation that it’s airborne for us to appreciate this is an airborne disease. I don’t know how much clearer it needs to be in terms of scientific evidence.” 

So what does “airborne” really mean in this context? It’s basically an issue of size. We’re pretty sure that SARS-CoV-2 is spread through tiny droplets that contain viral particles capable of leading to an infection. For a virus to be airborne, however, means a few different things, depending on the expert you’re talking to. Typically it means it can spread via inhalation over long distances, perhaps even through different rooms, of small particles known as aerosols.

“That’s why when you ask some of the professionals if the virus is airborne, they’ll say it’s not, because we’re not seeing transmission over those sorts of distances,” says Lisa Brosseau, a retired professor of public health who still consults for businesses and organizations.

There is also some debate on what we mean by “aerosol.” The droplets that carry viral particles through the air can come in all sorts of sizes, but while the larger ones will drop quickly to the ground or other surfaces, the smaller ones (just a few microns across) can linger in the air for a while, giving them a chance to be inhaled. The word is mostly used to describe these smaller particles, although Brosseau would prefer the term “aerosol transmission” to cover the entire gamut of inhalable viral particles being expelled into the air—large and small alike. 

If SARS-CoV-2 is airborne, it’s far from the only disease. Measles is notorious for being able to last in the air for up to two hours. Tuberculosis, though a bacterium, can be airborne for six hours, and Brosseau suggests that coronavirus superspreaders (people who seem to eject a larger amount of the virus than others) disseminate the virus in patterns that recall the infectiousness of tuberculosis.

The evidence that this type of transmission is happening with SARS-CoV-2  arguably already exists. Several big studies point to airborne transmission of the virus as a major route for the spread of covid-19. Other studies have suggested the virus can remain in aerosolized droplets for hours. One new study led by Roy and his team at Tulane shows that infectious aerosolized particles of SARS-CoV-2 could actually linger in the air for up to 16 hours, and maintain infectivity much longer than MERS and SARS-CoV-1 (the other big coronaviruses to emerge this century). 

We still don’t know what gives SARS-CoV-2 this airborne edge. “But it may be one reason this is a pandemic, and not simply a small outbreak like any other coronavirus,” says Roy. 

How to stay safe

Whether the virus is airborne isn’t simply a scientific question. If it is, it could mean that in places where the virus has not been properly contained (e.g., the US), the economy needs to be reopened more slowly, under tighter regulations that reinforce current health practices as well as introducing improved ones. Our current tactics for stopping the spread won’t be enough.

Roy would like to see aggressive mandates on strict mask use for anyone leaving home. “This virus sheds like crazy,” he says. “Masking can do an incredible amount in breaking transmission. I think anything that can promote the use of masking, to stop the production of aerosols in the environment, would be helpful.” 

Brosseau, however, says that though masks can limit the spread of larger particles, they are less helpful for smaller ones, especially if they fit only loosely. “I wish we would stop relying on the idea that face coverings are going to solve everything and help flatten the curve,” she says. “It’s magical thinking—it’s not going to happen.” For masks to really make a difference, they would need to be worn all the time, even around family.

Brosseau does believe the evidence is trending toward the conclusion that airborne transmission is “the primary and possibly most important mode of transmission for SARS-CoV-2.” She says, “I think the amount of time and effort devoted to sanitizing every single surface over and over and over again has been a huge waste of time. We don’t need to worry so much about cleaning every single surface we touch.” Instead, the focus should be on other factors, like where we spend our time.

Crowded spaces

One of the biggest questions we still have about covid-19 is how much of a viral load is needed to cause infection. The answer changes if we think it is aerosols that we need to worry about. Smaller particles won’t carry as large a viral load as bigger ones, but because they can linger in the air for much longer, it may not matter—they’ll build up in larger concentrations and get distributed more widely the longer an infected person is around to expel aerosolized virus. 

The more people you have coming in and out of an indoor space, the more likely it is that someone who is infected will show up. The longer those infected individuals spend in that space, the higher the concentration of virus in the air over time. This is particularly bad news for spaces where people congregate for hours on end, like restaurants, bars, offices, classrooms, and churches. 

Airborne transmission doesn’t necessarily mean these places must stay closed (although that would be ideal). But wiping down surfaces with disinfectant, and having everyone wear masks, won’t be enough. To safely reopen, these spots will not just need to reduce the number of people allowed inside at any given moment; they will also need to reduce the amount of time those people spend there. Increasing social distancing beyond six feet would also help keep people safer. 

Ventilation needs to be a higher priority too. This is going to be a big problem for older buildings that usually have worse ventilation systems, and areas with a lot of those might need to remain closed for much longer. The impact of asymptomatic spread (transmission by people who don’t feel ill) and superspreaders only compounds the problem even further. But research conducted by the US Department of Homeland Security has shown that in the presence of UV light, aerosolized particles of the size the Tulane researchers studied would disappear in less than a minute. A number of businesses have begun deploying UV-armed robots to disinfect hospital rooms, shopping malls, stores, public transit stations, and more.

For many places, considerable delays in economic reopening might ultimately be the price of getting the virus under control. Otherwise the kind of thing that happened when a single open bar in Michigan led to an outbreak of more than 170 new cases could become commonplace. 

For Brosseau, the best strategy is simply to behave as we did in the early days of lockdown—stay home, and avoid coming into contact with anyone you don’t live with. And if you have to leave home, she says, “all I can say is spend as little time as possible in an enclosed space, in an area that’s well ventilated, with as few people as possible.”



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Mmm… Obfuscated Shell Donuts

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In case you grow tired of clear-written, understandable code, obfuscation contests provide a nice change of scenery, and trying to make sense of their entries can be a fun-time activity and an interesting alternative to the usual brainteasers. If we ever happen to see a Simpsons episode on the subject, [Andy Sloane] has the obvious candidate for a [Hackerman Homer] entry: a rotating ASCII art donut, formatted as donut-shaped C code.

The code itself actually dates back to 2006, but has recently resurfaced on Reddit after [Lex Fridman] posted a video about it on YouTube, so we figured we take that chance to give some further attention to this nifty piece of art. [Andy]’s blog article goes in all the details of the rotation math, and how he simply uses ASCII characters with different pixel amounts to emulate the illumination. For those who prefer C over mathematical notation, we added a reformatted version after the break.

Sure, the code’s donut shape is mainly owed to the added filler comments, but let’s face it, the donut shape is just a neat little addition, and the code wouldn’t be any less impressive squeezed all in one line — or multiple lines of appropriate lengths. However, for the actual 2006 IOCCC, [Andy] took it a serious step further with his entry, and you should definitely give that one a try. For some more obfuscated shell animations, check out the fluid dynamics simulator from a few years back, and for a more recent entry, have a look at the printf Tic Tac Toe we covered last month.

int k;
double sin();
double cos();

main() {
  float A=0;
  float B=0;
  float i;
  float j;
  float z[1760];
  char  b[1760];

  printf("x1b[2J");

  for (;;) {
    memset(b, 32, 1760);
    memset(z, 0, 7040);

    for (j = 0; 6.28 > j; j += 0.07) {
      for (i = 0; 6.28 > i; i += 0.02) {
        float c = sin(i);
        float d = cos(j);
        float e = sin(A);
        float f = sin(j);
        float g = cos(A);
        float h = d + 2;
        float D = 1 / (c * h * e + f * g + 5);
        float l = cos(i);
        float m = cos(B);
        float n = sin(B);
        float t = c * h * g - f * e;

        int x = 40 + 30 * D * (l * h * m - t * n);
        int y = 12 + 15 * D * (l * h * n + t * m);
        int o = x + 80 * y;
        int N = 8 * ((f * e - c * d * g) * m - c * d * e - f * g - l * d * n);

        if (22 > y && y > 0 && x > 0 && 80 > x && D > z[o]) {
          z[o] = D;
          b[o] = ".,-~:;=!*#$@"[N > 0 ? N : 0];
        }
      }
    }

    printf("x1b[H");
    
    for (k = 0; 1761 > k; k++) {
      putchar(k % 80 ? b[k] : 10);
    }

    A += 0.04;
    B += 0.02;
  }
}

If you want to slow down (or speed up) the animation, decrease (or increase) the values added to A and B at the very end of the loop. Keep them in the same proportion to retain the rotation animation, or just play around with them and see what happens.

Remember to link against the Math library with -lm when compiling.

[via /r/programming]



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