Have you been to the SCPCUG web site (http://www.scpcug.com)
recently? If not you have missed out on all the additions. I
have added five new pages. In the Menu under Business you will
find our Articles of Incorporation. See when we were incorporated
and who was on the initial Board of Directors. If you go to the
Space Coast PC Journal page and click on "Current Journal
Preview" you will go to the Table of Contents (TOC) page.
Click on the new "Web Master Wanderings" link in the
TOC and you will be reading my current article online, complete
with all the referenced links ready to click on. Back to the
Main Menu. Under Links you will find three more new pages: General
Information, Year 2000 (Y2K), and Member Home Pages. Be sure
to check the General Information page for virus and net hoax
info sites. There is also a great link for the Web Novice. If
you are worried about the Y2K problem our Year 2000 page will
send you off in the proper direction. Member Home Pages has thumbnail
pictures and links to member sites. Why not add your site? Send
me your URL (Uniform Resource Location) address. In addition
I have added to the Hardware and Software Links pages a number
of new sites for you to visit. Read a review on the Pentium III
500 MHz processor or find the site for Windows Device Drivers.
It's tax time again! Need a free program to do your Federal
Income Tax Return? If you missed it in Bob Click's "From
the Deals Guy***" column last month here it is again. The
final version of TaxAct '98 is now available free at http://www.taxact.com/. This
is no small program! It's a 4.3 MB download that expands to 14.5
MB. TaxAct '98 is a very polished and classy program that uses
a familiar looking Internet browser type interface. This interface
makes it very easy to maneuver throughout the program. You can
choose to go through a question and answer interview or just
go directly to the over 80 forms, schedules, and worksheets to
start filling in the blanks. The only drawback will be for those
of you that use Quicken or Microsoft Money. TaxAct '98 does not
allow for importing of data files from any program other than
Last time we discussed ICQ (I Seek You) available at
http://www.icq.com/. If you
now have ICQ installed I have a great add-on program. It's called
MagicSpell and is available at http://www.2bsys.com/MagicSpell/index.htm.
MagicSpell is also available from the ZDNet Software Library
Do a search for "MagicSpell". MagicSpell is a Text-To-Speech
program for ICQ. When activated Merlin the wizard (a Microsoft
Agent character) pops up, greets you by name and welcomes you
by giving a quote of the day.
Merlin can also sing two songs and has a vast array of jokes
(many of which are very funny) that he loves to tell. So what
does this have to do with ICQ? Well everytime you get a message
on ICQ Merlin reads it to you so you don't have to. There are
a number of check boxes on the Settings General tab which allow
several other options. You can have Merlin read you Windows 95
dialog boxes but that includes Internet cookies which can get
a little tiresome. But the best part is Merlin will read anything
copied to the clipboard.
The Internet is a vast storehouse of information but you have
to read all that information. Not any longer! Sit back, kick
your feet up on the desk, close your eyes and relax while Merlin
reads it to you.
So what does Merlin sound like? Is it one of those monotone
robot type voices your ears easily get tired of hearing? The
answer is no. MagicSpell initially has 8 adult male and 2 adult
female voices (Lernout & Hauspie TruVoices). I am using adult
male #1 for Merlin and cranked up the pitch level to 75% on the
Settings Speech tab.
This is a subjective type thing and you will just have to
experiment as to what is most pleasing to your ears. As I mentioned
in a previous column I use the IBM Simply Speaking Gold Voice
Recognition program for navigation. Simply Speaking Gold also
comes with a Text-To-Speech module and several 2-D graphic characters
that have their eyes blink and lips move when reading text. But
what a difference a couple of years have made in the advancement
of the technology. Merlin is a 3-D animated graphic with 68 normal
animations (acknowledge, alert, announce, blink, confused, etc.)
and 10 looping animations (reading, searching, thinking, etc.).
And Merlin's voice is much more human in quality. In addition
to the expected normal voice inflections for say a question,
comma, exclamation or period, Merlin seems to have a sense of
sentence phrasing and briefly pauses at the proper spot even
when there is no comma. I was very impressed.
MagicSpell is still in beta test so it has a few areas grayed
out in the Menu Settings tabs but otherwise works quite well.
I must compliment 2B Systems as they have a Newsgroup
available for MagicSpell. They monitor this Newsgroup and provide
answers to questions. It will give you additional insight as
to what people think of the program, additional features wanted,
and how problems can be solved. There is also a Download Help
and a Frequently Asked Questions page (http://www.2bsys.com/MagicSpell/faq.htm).
Both are very informative. I urge you to read the Newsgroup,
Help page, and FAQ page before downloading this program as it
will give you a much better understanding of what to expect.
The download file for MagicSpell is approximately 1 MB. But
this is a bit misleading as the first thing it does when executed
is connect to the Internet (if you are not already connected)
and go to Microsoft's site to automatically download and install
four additional files which take up about 10 MB. The four components
are Microsoft Agent 2.0, Microsoft Agent Character (Merlin),
Lernout & Hauspie TruVoice Text-To-Speech Engine with TruVoices,
and Microsoft Speech Control Panel. During this auto install
your computer may sit blank several times (like nothing is happening)
for 30 seconds or more. Do not be tempted to cancel. Your computer
will come back to life. You are not given an option as to where
to install these four components. They are required in specific
places on your C drive for MagicSpell to work properly. When
the installation is complete MagicSpell will automatically start,
but I thought it best to close the program after Merlin said
hello, and reboot the computer. On reboot Windows 95 rebuilds
your driver database.
After you have played with MagicSpell for a while you will
discover a button on the Speech tab in Settings. Here we go again!
Click it and you are downloading the Microsoft Text-To-Speech
Engine which will install another 12 MB on your C drive. This
option will give you four more voices (Mary, Mike, Sam, and RobotSoft)
with variations (17 total). I found Mary's voice to be quite
natural sounding but it just did not fit with Merlin's image.
Enter the next option. If you don't care for Merlin there are
many more characters available for download that work with the
Microsoft Agent. Checkout Microsoft Agent Character Gallery
Here you will find info on 22 of the most popular Agent Characters
and links to where they can be downloaded. A few are Peedy the
Parrot, Genie, Robby the Robot, Max the Dog, Oscar the Cat, Birdie,
Do you get the idea this whole thing is bigger than just MagicSpell
for ICQ? You're correct. This Microsoft Agent thing is a whole
movement of program developers and people interested in characters
that can talk and interact. If you want to get educated go to
the Microsoft Agent Web Ring (http://www.webring.org/cgi-bin/webring?ring=agent;list)
for a list of 94 sites. For Microsoft Agent Character Data
go to http://www.microsoft.com/msagent/characterdata.asp.
It has info on installing the characters and using them with
Microsoft Agent 2.0. To find out more about Microsoft Agent
2.0 go to it's home at http://www.microsoft.com/workshop/imedia/agent/default.asp.
Microsoft defines it's Agent as "a set of software services
that supports the presentation of software agents as interactive
personalities within the Microsoft Windows interface".
So what if you do not have ICQ? Is there an alternative that
will let you try out this Agent Interface? I'll give you two
but I am sure there are more. I have not tried either of these
programs so you are on your own. Both are available from the
ZDNet Software Library (http://www.zdnet.com/swlib/).
Do a search for "Talking Email" and "Speak &
Mail". The home of Talking Email is http://www.4developers.com/util.htm#TE
and the home of Speak & Mail is http://www.shadisoft.com/speak/index.html.
Well I think that's it for this month. Now to have Merlin
read me all this text back. Oh yes, I have found Merlin quite
useful as a proof reader. He picks up things the spell checker
misses like when the misspelled word is actually another word.
Example: "trail" when you thought you typed "trial".
_ _ _
NOTE: For an Updated Review "MagicSpell
Revisited a Year Later: Review of the new Streambox MagicSpell"
read the Feb 2000 Web Master Wanderings.
Note: Web Master Wanderings
articles contain links to external web sites. Web addresses are
constantly changing. There is no guarantee that the information
links provided in this article will remain unbroken or up-to-date
beyond the date that this article is originally published.