Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ultra Hal Revisited

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Over the past few months, the Computerist has found, and reported on, several interesting and useful programs. During a team meeting here at ‘The Handicapped Computerist’, the subject of usage came up with the question as to whether we should talk about and offer suggestions for them.

Before I get too far into this, I need to tell you about our meetings. If you were a fly on the wall, it would not seem like much of a meeting! It is more like a session at the Comedy Club! A lot of giggles and laughter, joking, and not a lot of business takes place. We really do get a lot done but it just seems our laughter is not too far away. I guess you could say that we enjoy working on the Computerist. We all hope you find what we do interesting and helpful. With that out of the way, let us see what we have.

Some weeks ago, in the post titled “Read it to me!” we introduced Ultra Hat Text-to-Speech. We brainstormed a few applications of the program and, based on our experience, a few really ‘neat-o, nifty’ things you can do with it.

For those of us who write a lot, getting a proofreader can be a challenge, especially if we are reluctant to have our work read before it is ready. Since getting Ultra Hal installed, I have found it to be a very useful tool in that I can mark the text I want checked and Hal reads it. I follow along and as Hal reads, I mark corrections on a hardcopy of the document and then, make the corrections to the document. Ultra Hal, amazingly, stumbles very infrequently in pronouncing the words I normally use. It can even pronounce ‘Computerist’ without problem.

Another feature of Hal is the ability to save the spoken text to a WAV file. With a WAV to MP3 converter, the file can be transferred to an iPod and can be listened to whenever or wherever you like. College students might find that interesting. Finding research material on the web is a common practice for college work. So let us suppose for a moment that you need to read an article posted on the Internet but time is of the essence. Have Hal read it into a WAV file and, after converting it and loading it on an iPod, listen to it as you move across campus. Most people retain the spoken word better than reading anyway. The best way, though, is to combine both listening and reading. No iPod in hand? No problem! Create an audio CD and play it on a portable CD player.

I hesitate to mention this, but with an OCR application and an optical scanner, printed material can be converted, too. Just be careful with this and make sure you will not be violating copyright laws.

Entertaining children can be a challenge on family trips. It can get noisy and distracting for the driver. Why not find a few children’s stories on the web, convert them and load a couple iPods for them to listen to as you go. It would take some time and planning, but it would keep things busy and quiet. With different stories on each iPod, the devices can be swapped around and shared.

These are a few of the dozens of ideas we came up with. I am sure you will come up with a few of your own. If you come up with more uses for Ultra Hal (or any of the other programs we’ve mentioned) let us know and we will share them with the rest of the folk that read the Computerist.

Be inventive and, above all, HAVE FUN!