eXtensions Diary

Bangkok Diary 29 October 2007: iSpeakit -- A Text to Sound Utility

Graham K. Rogers

I was looking round the web on Sunday evening to see what problems there were for some people and to look at some of the success stories (there were several), when an item on iGadget Blog caught my eye: Six hidden Leopard gems. I am not sure that "gem" is the right word, but the first of the list, Alex, was something that had slipped my memory.

While at MacWorld in January one of the presenters was making much of the new system voice that was being developed and saying how much more realistic it sounded. Dan Hamilton wrote that he had jumped out of his skin when it made an announcement about the time.

I turned on System Preferences and switched from Victoria to Alex and Dan was right: it does sound (almost real). While in the Speech preferences panel, I noticed that the listing had been changed (along with many other things -- it is hard to find a couple). Now a few selected voice are displayed and the rest are listed under "Show more voices"

As I was reading Dan's piece, email arrived and in one of those lovely coincidences, it was from Michael Zapp, to tell me that iSpeakit had just been updated. It took only a couple of minutes to download the new version and I gave it a test drive.

This is a utility that takes text in certain formats and converts that to an AIFF file that it puts on the desktop (or anywhere else wanted). A seocnd function is to take that file and import it into iTunes in the user's file choice type. I use MP3 as my default (mainly because of the podcast I do), so any text will be included in the Music directory as an PM3 file, and from there will be synchronised with an iPod.

This function of iSpeakit is similar to VisioVoice which I looked at last week. That aplication has many more functions with the express intention of assisting the blind or partially-sighted. This application might be adapted although VisioVoice is better suited to its stated tasks.

iSpeakit is just one of those many little utilities that does one thing and does it quite well.

Although that one thing has a number of variations on the theme. The toolbar has several icons starting with the export formats. The first is for an export to iTunes while the second is for the creation of an AIFF file. A suer can select where to save this. If the export is directly into iTunes the AIFF file is not created (at least not as far as the user is concerned), but I found that there may have been some changes in iTunes since I last checked.

I have not been buying much music of late, and with the Garageband exports I specify MP3 format, so I was surprised to find that the file created into iTunes was MP4, despite my MP3 import setting. Of course, in normal working and use -- for iPod and iTunes that matters not a bit, it was just that I wanted MP3 for this page.


The Import icons start with Download News and this linked with Google to provide a selection of headlines. I naoorwed it down a little by selecting New Zealand, from the list of eight countries and then choosing only Scince/Tech stories.

Adjacent is an icon that allows downloading of weather forecasts. I selected Bangkok and specified metric. A summary and a list of the next frew days was displayed.

The "Down driving directions" icon links to a simple Google Maps pag and start and finish locations are entered. Although the map had Thai place names I should fine tune this) I entered directions which came up as per a normal web page, then pressed Load and the basic instructions were left in the text panel for sound processing. Useful to play while you are driving if you are alone and unable to read a map.

The RSS feed is a bit fiddly to set up as it needs the correct URL to be entered. I used the eXtensions feed but it failed when I included the http at the beginning. Starting with www was fine to enter the feed, but downloading any information took somewhat longer than I expected. What was loaded went back as far as my podcast #90 which is about 6 months ago. A reminder to do some deleting I suppose.

Once more there was a text list in the panel and that could be converted simply using one of the two exporters.

The last icon was for a straightforward text entry, although this works with html files, rich text files and documents (Word files). It does not handle pdf files unless there is a plug-in called pdftotex.

Two preferences are for automatic iTunes transfer and "Load on launch" several subject areas may then be checked. A Speech Preference links directly to the OS X system preference.

A useful little application, particularly tuseful for those who need input for example news but have little time and for whom listening in a car, a bus or other transport may be the only alternative. As someone who teaches non-native speakers of English, this could also be alternative input for such learners, and this is now enhanced with Alex.

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