There's been a little discussion over on the flickr AlphaSmart forum about NaNoWriMo, and (as is often the case there) the topic has broadened into talking about other writing machines, and old computers we've had, and of course, I've butted in and talked up typewriters and the Typewriter Brigade. Regular readers will know that I spent quite a bit of time using my AlphaSmart Pro to retype last year's draft, originally written on a Royal KMG and a Smith-Corona Skyriter. We talked about OCR software in the Brigade topic last year in the NaNo forums, and I did some experiments, as I have access to a sheet-feeding scanner on our office copier. The best of the choices open to me appeared to be the Tesseract OCR engine which I installed somewhere in early November, ran it on scans of my pages thus far, and then quit when it spat out a bunch of text like "1112 98djhs do pifu hjegf"
So, I dug out the AlphaSmart and spent time retyping it with the goal of getting my proof printed before the deadline. (Just made it.) The AlphaSmart has strengths like super-portability and super-simplicity which are ideal for producing words, but I ultimately wanted to see more of the text at a time as I was rewriting or laying in my changes from the typed copy, something impossible to do in the 4x40 confines of the AlphaSmart window. And after typing all that stuff in, I'm burned out on the whole book in general right now.
So, I'm thinking about looking back into OCR as an option for this year. Tesseract is a very no-frills OCR program, and lacks pretty interfaces and intuitive controls, but that's OK, since I am, at heart and by choice, a geek. I've been reading more about training Tesseract -- sending it to school, essentially -- and am thinking about writing up some sample pages on my main machines that I can use to refine its guesses. My own retyped copy has a number of transcription errors, beyond the usual first-draft grammar hangups and plot issues. If you see a typecast discussing a lazy dog, jumping foxes, and brown liquor jugs, know that school's in session.