Tuesday, August 16

Another Adaptive Concept Going Mainstream

Greetings. Here's another example of an idea that came out of an adaptive product and is being used in the mainstream market, either by accident or design. For several versions now, you could record your documents in MP3 files with the Kurzweil 1000, so you could load them on a portable device, such as a BrailleNote, PAC Mate, Book Port, etc. Well, if I understand the following article correctly, you can now do the same thing in a mainstream OCR (optical character recognition) package called OmniPage. Interestingly enough, OmniPage is using one of the same speech engines that Kurzweil either is using or has used for several versions. Check it out. And, as I always say, please excuse any formatting errors. Enjoy.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Converting PDFs to Audio Formats Means Easy Listening
By Don Fluckinger

Opinion: Who's got time to actually read documents these days? New
software from ScanSoft lets you convert your PDFs to WAV or AIFF and listen
to them on the go.

"Time Is Tight" says the title of one of my favorite Booker T & the MGs
tunes. At the moment, I'm taking lessons from a jazz master-tuning up my
keyboard improvisational skills so I can eventually hack my way through some
Booker tunes in a throwback soul-jazz group, manning the Hammond.

At first, my teacher found it interesting that I record my weekly lesson
with him to a DVR (digital voice recorder), dump it on my computer and rip
it to my iPod to review some of these new-to-me concepts-like chord
voicings, harmonic rhythm and such-while I'm out walking our dogs.

Seems like a big, convoluted runaround, he suggested, when I first
explained it to him.

But two months later, he's gotten himself a DVR to listen to his
Spanish-language tutorial tapes ("A year from now, I want to speak as well
as a 5-year-old growing up in a Spanish-speaking country," he says) while
he's exercising.

Why do we do two things at once? Because time is tight. Seems like we
waste half our lives sitting in traffic because the homes are too expensive
near where we work, and the jobs where we live don't pay enough.

So what if you could do the same thing to PDFs? Forget about reading
them-just save them to WAV format and rip them to your iPod. Or burn them to
AIFF and play them over your car stereo's CD player in traffic while driving
to and from work.

ScanSoft, which has been acquiring companies left and right for years as
the speech technologies market consolidates, has enabled such a rip-mix-burn
capability in its OmniPage 15 optical-character recognition software,
released last week.

By integrating RealSpeak text-to-speech technology-which ScanSoft acquired
in its 2003 merger with SpeechWorks-into OmniPage, it's possible to make
PDFs (or pretty much any document in any format) talk to you through your
iPod. And that's not just electronic files: OmniPage can make paper
(provided you have a scanner) or image PDFs-bitmap files of scanned
text-into WAV files as well.

"The idea is to take any piece of paper, any PDF, any image file, and
covert it to a WAV file that can be put into your iTunes, burned onto a CD,
or put into any of a number of audio devices-so that you have a portable
audio file of your text document," said Chris Strammiello, ScanSoft director
of product marketing.

The Peabody, Mass.-based company didn't incorporate talking documents into
OmniPage just to prove to the world it could, or to entertain ex-SpeechWorks
engineers. Strammiello said a group of doctors in one of ScanSoft's focus
groups-the medical market represents one of the company's key
verticals-asked for the feature.

"They were talking about not having the ability to read information all
the time, and wouldn't it be great if they could listen to it?" Strammiello
said. "The genesis of the idea [was making information] more accessible to
them. When we rolled that concept out to a horizontal section of our user
base beyond the doctors, we got a real positive response, and that's what
led to rolling RealSpeak [into OmniPage]."

It made sense to OmniPage's developers that not only doctors would use
audio document files, but other user groups as well-such as people who
proofread documents by listening to them being read aloud, and visually
impaired people who rely on screen-reader software to read text to them.

The whole idea of taking documents in a digital format and moving them
back to an analog format seems contradictory to the spirit of PDF, which
liberates knowledge managers from paper-on desks, in filing cabinets and
warehouses stuffed full of the stuff. It seems ironic, no?

"I don't think it's ironic," Strammiello said. "One of the things that
ScanSoft endeavors to do is take paper processes and streamline them, make
them more efficient by supplanting them with digital, electronic processes.
But one of the things that can also be done is making electronic processes
even more efficient . . . supplanting inefficient electronic processes with
more efficient, more convenient and more flexible ones. I think that's a
natural evolution."

After all, time is tight. The more high-tech innovations we can use to
save a few minutes, the better.

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