HERE ARE TWO "improved" solutions that simplify tedious or time-consuming tasks. The first is a nifty label printer that would accommodate almost any contractor need. The second is a highly evolved version of voice recognition software that enables contractors and their office staff to talk, rather than type, into the computer almost any documentation, from meeting notes and addendums to contracts, change orders, late notices and e-mail.
Versatile label printer
Ink-jet and laser printers are great for full pages of the same label but can't hold a candle to a dedicated device that can print labels one by one, many or all off an address database.
DYMO LabelWriter 400 Turbo (www.dymo.com) produces individual or multiple high-resolution (300 dpi) labels for envelopes, packages, files, badges, identification of tools and other applications via direct thermal printing, without need for ribbons, toners or ink cartridges and without interfering with other computerconnected equipment or interrupting workflow.
The printer, which connects to the computer via a standard USB port and comes with proprietary DYMO Label Software for easy command of the printer's features, takes up very little desk real estate at 4 7/8 in. by 7 1/2 in.
The unit, which can handle 41 different types of labels, including address and shipping labels, file folder labels, name badges, and appointment or business cards, can print up to 55 labels per minute.
Conveniences abound. Using the add-in programs included with the primary software, LabelWriter 400 Turbo can print a single label in about one second directly from Microsoft Word, Word Perfect, Outlook, Palm Desktop, Goldmine, Act, CardScan or Quick-Books simply by highlighting and then clicking on the target name or names.
For example, when working in QuickBooks you can make one or multiple labels for a particular customer or vendor, multiple selected names from those lists, or the entire customer or vendor list from within invoice, salesreceipt and purchase-order functions.
The label software also lets you import the company logo or other graphic and customize labels with different fonts. For serialized labels, it enables date/time stamping and auto-counter.
For outgoing mail, the unit will print a POSTNET barcode on the mailing label, expediting delivery. And when loaded with labels approved by the U.S. Postal Service, the printer can be used in conjunction with Endicia or Stamps.com software to print Internet postage.
Talking it all in
If you have not tried voice dictation because you think it requires a good deal of training of the program to recognize your speech and create your working vocabulary, you are in for a pleasant surprise when you try Dragon NaturallySpeaking 8 Professional by ScanSoft (www.ScanSoft.com).
Practically right out of the box, almost immediately upon completing the installation with the most minimal of "training" of the program, Bill was able to dictate letters, text and e-mail virtually error-free. ( Thus far this column was talked in without any error in the displayed text.)
A contractor who is accustomed to recording oral notes and memos into a handheld digital recorder can continue that practice and extend the benefits. Back in the office, synching a ScanSoft certified recorder to the PC will enable NaturallySpeaking 8 Professional to automatically transcribe those recorded dictations.
Compared to typing in the notes at an average speed of, let's say, about 40 words a minute, the software will transcribe the notes at about three times that rate with, according to the company, about 99% accuracy.
The solution is fully integrated with all of Microsoft Office applications, including Excel and Outlook. Users are also able to access commands in other Windows-based applications, including DYMO label software, mentioned above. It also enables access to user profiles available anywhere on the local network so anyone set up with the solution can dictate from any computer in the office.
Other productivity-enhancing features include Smart Formatting, which permits specifying how the program formats dates, measurements and acronyms, and Smart Text and Graphic Shortcuts, which allow users to instantly define the variable values in any boilerplate text.
NaturallySpeaking 8 Professional has the ability to play back what you dictated, which could aid in proofing your letters and ensuring that what you intended to say is what you actually said, and is how it was "heard." And with Text-to-Speech enabled, the software will play back any text including incoming e-mails.
The program comes with a quick reference card that gives you the precise phrases to access voice commands.
The real value to any software is how well it simplifies and speeds up the completion of your tasks. This solution meets those standards. If considering this software, check the program requirements against your computer specifications.
The software needs at least a Pentium III/500 MHz processor, a recommended 512 MB of RAM and 500 MB of free hard disk space.