The goal of this week felt strangely familiar to me, like something I had done before but it took me until just a few minutes before writing this post to figure it out. I have often used google translate on my phone, as I have an android, and it came out with a new feature a few years ago; translate photo. It was doing OCR but specifically in the context of translating it to another language. At the time I didn’t know this had the technical name of OCR but it helped me nonetheless when traveling, studying, or just satisfying my own day to day curiosity.
After reading the list of recommended OCR apps and noting that I have Google Keep on my phone I thought I would poke around on my phone a bit and see if my phone alone had the capabilities for OCR or if I actually needed an app. I actually found the OCR function not in the Keep app on my phone but within the camera app itself. Makes sense I guess. From there, I decided not to test Google’s handwriting interpretation skills and just went with a print book, The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (Translated by Ken Liu). I took a photo of the first page (avoiding spoilers), it seemed to capture all the text on the page and copied it to my phone. From there, it was a pretty simple process of sending it to my phone, putting it in a document and then saving that as a PDF. One of the smoother exercises I’ve done I think. You can clearly see though that the page has lost a lot of it’s formatting. The paragraphs are still there but all the text is now the same size, obscuring the title chapter, number, and place setting a bit. Maybe another OCR app would have kept the formatting a bit but I think that this feature is part of the power and downfall of OCR.
I have recently been using a text to speech reader for some of my class readings. The ones I have used inly accept the input in the form of pasted text of an uploaded PDF. This hasn’t gotten in the way too much because even my texts are online right now for my courses. It may be worth it for me to use OCR in the future though if I have physical readings to do, especially seeing how easy and quick it was for me to do with this exercise. If I can find an app to read my handwriting this may be a great way to expedite my process of writing essays in the future. I often like to brainstorm on paper before moving to writing on the computer and that transition can be a bit clunky but these OCR apps could help with that.
Great work! Also a big fan of Cixin Liu! Great NewYorker article from 2019 https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/06/24/liu-cixins-war-of-the-worlds