Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Text-To-Speech Rulez

Having recently failed to find a book I was interested in either in the university library or the local public library, I decided to look for it in an online book service called Safari. I had tried this a couple of years ago and wasn't too impressed with the selection. This time, not only did I find the book I was looking for, but half the books on my tech books wish list. I was like a kid in a candy store. Reading books on a computer screen is sort of hard, and Safari doesn't really make it easy to print, so I selected a page of text and invoked OS X's text-to-speech feature to have the computer read it to me. In so doing, I discovered a marvelous synergy. Allow me to set this up for you: I have two serious problems with books. The first is that while I'm reading, my train of thought is very easily disrupted. Either some external thing inteferes, or my brain wanders off on its own to think about something shiny. This tends to slow me down a lot, and I was never that fast to begin with. The second problem is that I also get distracted while I'm not reading. That is, I tend not to finish the books I start because I get interested in something else and start a half dozen more books along the way. Back to the crazy talking computer: I would not consider the computer's staccato robotic cadence a good substitute for reading the book for myself. But if I read along with the crazy robot voice, something magical happens. The voice keeps a dogmatic pace. I can adjust the speed, and in fact I have found that I can follow along faster than I would read on my own. Also, the machine doesn't permit my mind to wander. If I'm wearing headphones, external distractions are shut out and my brain locks in on the words. On top of everything, I find that combining the visual part of my brain with the auditory really saturates my mind with the ideas and improves my comprehension and retention. Best of all, being able to push through a book at a good, guaranteed rate keeps up my momentum and dramatically improves the odds that I will read all the way to the end. Give this a shot. It's weird at first, but not after you've burned through a couple hundred pages. On OS X, I recommend the voice called Bruce. He sounds the most like a person. And if you are willing to spend a little bit of money, you can do much better. Go over to Cepstral and try the demos. I think you will be amazed how far this technology has come.

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