The Stopwatch Gardener

A gardening blog from Sheila M. Averbuch

Tech tools for garden writers


Click for larger imageBecause I’ve spent most of my journalism career writing about technology before Stopwatch Gardener, I’ve been fascinated to see how garden writers and publishers are using tech tools to support their work. If you’re a garden writer who’s already pretty wired, you may already know these tools listed below. I’d recommend them to anybody, especially writers who need to save time and be more productive.

  • John’s Background Switcher — JBS is more about inspiration than productivity, but it’s the best way I’ve found to enjoy my thousands of garden photographs. If your pictures are trapped on a computer, John’s Background Switcher lets you dip into them, bit by bit, by using your picture collection to periodically refresh the wallpaper image on your PC desktop. You set the time interval and tell JBS where to look for your pictures; I’ve set mine to refresh every ten minutes with images from my Flickr “garden” folder. And because each new desktop image shows the date, it’s continuously jogging my sense of what blooms when… a great way to improve gardening knowledge by osmosis. Best of all, it’s free software.
  • Dragon NaturallySpeaking — This is voice-recognition. Very Star Trek. Right now I’m speaking this into my headset and every word is transcribed on the screen, with about 98% accuracy. Whether you write lots of little e-mails or churn out thousands of words a week, this will save you time. I began using voice-recognition a few years ago when I developed repetitive strain injury from typing, and at the time Dragon NaturallySpeaking was given to me as a journalist review copy. I never did the write-up because I suspected, rightly, that it was always capable of better performance than my struggling old PC could deliver. On my new PC DNS flies along; don’t attempt it unless you have plenty of memory and a microphone-equipped headset that plugs into a USB port. Headsets that plug into your standard microphone and headphone ports are too slow for high-quality voice-recognition. Dragon sells at retail for about £150.
  • Google Reader — keep an eye on your favourite garden journalists, blogs and publications by subscribing to their website’s RSS feeds. RSS feeds are just the guts of the stories — plain-looking text and basic images — which are sucked out of the fancy-looking websites for you to read altogether as a simple list of headlines and stories in an RSS reader, like Google Reader. Check your favourite websites to see if they have an RSS feed; or, inside Google Reader, search for feeds by a keyword like “gardening.” A great timesaver, especially for editors who need to keep an eye on everything. The software is free from Google and works with other useful software tools like Feedly for Firefox (Firefox is an excellent free web browser alternative to Internet Explorer).
  • Twitter — another free service which is being exploited so well by many gardening journalists and publications, not least The Telegraph, The Guardian, Garden Answers, and in the US magazines like Fine Gardening. Most publications use Twitter to tease and put links to their content on the web. But more exciting is the “crowdsourcing” of ideas that publications like Fine Gardening are doing on Twitter. They regularly survey the Twitter population to get ideas and recommendations about plants and things to do in the garden, to solicit competition entries, and more. FG is well wired: its website’s Pronunciation Guide for Plants, with “hear-it-out-loud” Latin plant names, is perfectly geared towards its US market, where common names rather than Latin names prevail.

How can gardening media in the UK and elsewhere make best use of technology and the web? It’s a question that the blog Landscape Juice, among others, has been asking. As print readerships continue to wilt, the thinking caps will need to go on.

posted under Gardening
9 Comments to

“Tech tools for garden writers”

  1. On November 19th, 2009 at 4:16 pm Gloria Bonde Says:

    What a perfect blog theme for a writer! Love it. And, thanks for the ideas. I am so new to blogging. – Gloria

  2. On November 19th, 2009 at 5:10 pm Ryan Says:

    Thanks for the great tips!

    I’m relatively new to your blog and have you in my google reader. So it definitely works!

    Absolutely love your layout here and will be back to read more as google reminds me!

    Keep up the great work!

    Ryan (Ryan’s Garden)

  3. On November 22nd, 2009 at 9:46 pm Claire, Plantpassion Says:

    Love your blog, and I use Twitter and Google reader already, but I love the idea of using a voice recognition software, I often have ideas when i’m in gardens for my blog, I record them into my phone, but often don’t get round to typing them up, – only trouble is I use a mac, – do you / or anyone else, know a good equivalent to Dragon Naturally speaking?

  4. On November 22nd, 2009 at 10:50 pm Martyn Cox Says:

    Dragon NaturalSpeaking sounds fabulous – although I’m a fairly accomplished touch typer, I sometimes can’t keep up with my train of thought, so this could be just the thing for me. I don’t suppose you know of anything that can transcribe voice recordings? (by the way, love the look of your blog)

  5. On November 23rd, 2009 at 12:12 am The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Claire – Thank you so much for the kind comments. DNS works for Mac but not as well as if it were working on a PC; I would say it’s worth a try, though. Try Googling the reviews of Dragon Naturally Speaking for Mac — MacSpeech Dictate — they sound positive enough to give it a go.

    Martyn – Ditto, thanks for the nice words. DNS has a transcribe function…haven’t used it myself but plan to. You can activate the function to let it type away based on what you’ve pre-recorded. By the way take the trouble to do the ‘training’ on Dragon. Doesn’t take much time, improves the quality immensely. I especially love that you can train it to recognise your own unique vocabulary (a huge advantage for everything from botanical names to medical terms. One of the client newsletters I produce is about “neuroacanthocytosis”…DNS picks it up perfectly every time.) And those USB headsets are so worth the investment…I used a standard headset with disappointing results. Good luck!

  6. On November 27th, 2009 at 4:50 pm Claire, Plantpassion Says:

    Just to let you know that this is my first blog comment written with Mac speech dictate so I’ve taken your advice and I’m going to see how it works for me I’ve done five minutes training let’s see how good this comment comes out. not bad just got to learn how to do some punctuation now.

  7. On December 16th, 2009 at 10:43 pm Elspeth Briscoe Says:

    Hi – I am a techy turned garden designer. Enjoying your blog!

  8. On December 17th, 2009 at 9:41 am The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Hi Elspeth – Lovely to hear from you – I envy you! I’m still a copywriter, mostly re. IT, and strictly amateur on the gardening side, but blogging lets me unite the two somewhat.

  9. On January 10th, 2010 at 6:01 pm Elspeth Briscoe Says:

    Excellent – keep up the two – they are more aligned than people think. You might enjoy this..

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