It’s school holiday time again and that means there will be a lot families heading off on the ‘family holiday’. If you’re one of the lucky ones, that will mean a quick trip by road, rail or air to some exciting holiday resort. For the rest of us however, it will be the annual pilgrimage to visit Granny, 7 hours across state by road, to a small town who’s only attraction is, well, er, Granny.
For trips with these levels of tedium, ‘I Spy’ is not going to cut it. You’ll be at each other’s throats before you get clear of the CBD. In fact, if Dad is going to have to stop the car one more time, then by the time you get to Granny’s, the holidays will be over.
My tip for surviving these road trips from hell is to load up your iPods and mp3 players with a collection of audio books. There is a wonderful collection of free eBooks available at Project Gutenbury and if you’re a science fiction fan, there’s the Baen Free Library. You can use Text2Go to convert these eBooks to speech and transfer them to your iPod. You can take advantage of Text2Go’s free 30 day trial and not pay a cent these holidays.
Here is a small selection of the eBooks that are available.
Feel free to leave a comment and tell me your favourites.
For more great sources of eBooks, have a look at The Top 13 DRM-free eBook Sites.
If you’re like me, you’re currently deciding which of the new iPods you just must have. Should you go for the ultra thin profile of a nano, the huge storage capacity of a classis or the beautiful display of a touch?
While weighing up these options, I thought I’d see if it was possible to claim an iPod as a business expense. The key to doing this is to turn your iPod into an indispensible business tool.
If you live in the US, you could just go out and buy an iPhone but for those who live in the rest of the world or don’t want to be locked into a phone contract, it’s a little more difficult.
If the iPod had a built-in microphone, you could use it as a very expensive voice recorder. e.g.
Memo to self “Must chase up Peter for those TPS reports.”
Or you could purchase Text2Go, a Windows application that will convert any text from the web to speech and transfer it to your iPod.
Text2Go will turn your iPod into an indispensible business tool that will transform your daily commute from a tedious, frustrating, complete waste of time into a highly productive session for listening to news, reports (including TPS), research papers, study courses, blogs and any other information you can find on the web.
So don’t delay, give Text2Go a try today and claim your next iPod as a business expense.
Now back to the original question, which new iPod? The iPod touch is looking very tempting.
Disclaimer: This information was provided by my accountant for my personal tax situation. Your local tax laws may vary, so please seek the advise of your own tax professional.
And Other Microsoft-Related Text to Speech Questions.
With the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft have introduced two new voices, Microsoft Anna – a female English voice and Microsoft Lili – a female Chinese voice. With this movement at the station, I thought I’d contact Microsoft and ask them a few text to speech related questions. Charles Oppermann, Program Manager for speech components at Microsoft was kind enough to provide some answers.
Mark: I am very interested in learning some of the background about the development of Microsoft Anna. Was the text-to-speech (TTS) engine and voice developed in-house or did Microsoft license some third-party technology?
Charles: Microsoft Anna is based on the MSTTS20 engine, codenamed “Mulan”. It was developed entirely by Microsoft, specifically in our Advanced Technology Center in Beijing, China.
Mark: What are the major improvements in Anna over Sam?
Charles: The major improvement is readability and a better sounding voice.
Mark: Is Microsoft Anna only for use with Windows Vista or will she be made available for XP users?
Charles: Currently Anna is only available with Windows Vista. However, there are a few products that include Anna that run on Windows XP, the first one is Microsoft Streets and Trips. That is a North American mapping product, and I believe the European versions go by the name Microsoft Autoroute. We would like to make Anna available for Windows XP as an end-user download, but haven’t committed to that yet. Do you have an opinion whether we should or not?
Mark: I personally think you should make Microsoft Anna available as a download for XP. I would like to see TTS gain more acceptance in the community and having Microsoft provide better quality voices out of the box is a good way of achieving this.
I understand there is a Chinese voice that is based on the same technology. What version of Vista do I need to install this voice?
Charles: That is correct, in addition to Anna, we have Microsoft Lili for Chinese. If you have Windows Vista Ultimate or Enterprise Edition, you can download the Chinese Language Pack which will install TTS and speech recognition engines for Chinese. Chinese language versions of Windows Vista include Lili and Anna in the box.
Mark: What do you see as the most important areas for improvement in TTS technology on the Windows platform?
Charles: The most important area is language expansion, making our TTS engine speak in many languages. We have an aggressive program to do this and will make the engines available in future server-based products and then make them available on the Windows desktop.
Mark: I’ve seen a number of grumblings on the web by people who want a male voice for Vista. Do you have any plans to make Microsoft Sam available for Vista?
Charles: There is no way we can make Microsoft Sam available on Vista. A particular module in it did not meet our security standards and we decided to block it when upgrading to Windows Vista. The L&H engines that come as part of Microsoft Office XP and Office 2003 don’t have this issue.
I want to see a male voice as well, but our main focus is voices for server-based products, which use predominately female voices. However, this is something I’m working on.
Mark: Finally, are there any current blogs, forums, newsgroups, etc where Microsoft text-to-speech developers hang out?
Charles: My blog and Rob Chambers blog are active and we try to be responsive to information requests. Several folks on our team try to keep an eye on the various Microsoft speech related newsgroups and forums (MS-Speech at Yahoo Group being one or the more active ones), but we really can’t provide support services through them.
Mark: Thank you very much for your time Charles.
The MS-Speech Yahoo group is mainly filled with speech recognition posts, although there is the occasional text to speech related post.
The Microsoft Speech Components group have just created a new blog for all things Speech @ Microsoft.
If you must have Microsoft Anna for Windows XP now, you can purchase the very reasonably priced Microsoft Streets and Trips for US39.95 which includes Microsoft Anna.
A friend recently alerted me to an extensive free collection of science fiction novels available on the web. These can be found in the Baen Free Library, a service provided by Baen Books, a publishing company specializing in science fiction and fantasy novels.
In addition to the free library which contains over 100 titles, you can also subscribe to their web based version of the serialized novel. For US$15 per month, you will receive 4 novels, delivered in 3 parts over a period of 3 months, leading up to the actual publication date. You are not locked in to a minimum subscription period. You can pick and choose which months you make a purchase and can even purchase a single month if you desire (giving you access to 4 complete novels).
I’ve just started reading ‘Mother of Demons’ by Eric Flint. I’m currently about half way through and it’s proving to be a thoroughly enjoyable read. As it’s in eBook format, I’ve used Text2Go to convert it to speech, so I can listen to it while commuting between home and work. Eric’s writing style converts very easily to speech, so I find myself quickly transported to the alien world of Ishtar. My commuting time has become something to look forward to, rather than dread.
If the rest of the library is as good as ‘Mother of Demons’, then I can see myself working through the whole collection.