First, I would like to thank Bob Click, "The
DealsGuy," for posting a couple of my Web Master Wanderings
articles in the "Other Articles of Interest" section
of his web site http://www.dealsguy.com/.
Bob's column, with the latest and greatest software and computer
related gadget deals, appears monthly in "The Space Coast
PC Journal" as well as many other user group newsletters.
His web site has the current and past columns along with some
personal insight into the man getting us all of those great deals.
Now on to my current wanderings. I recently found that the
program MagicSpell (reviewed in the Feb 2000 Web Master
Wanderings at http://www.scpcug.com/wmwand13.html)
is no longer available from Streambox.com (http://www.streambox.com/products/#magic).
So I have found a similar type program and it's free. It's called
CyberBuddy and is available at http://www.yeayou.com/cyberbuddy/.
As with MagicSpell, CyberBuddy uses the Microsoft Agent core
components and the Lernout & Hauspie TruVoice Text-to Speech
Engine (which provides speech output for the Microsoft Agent
Characters). If you already have these installed on your computer,
as I did, your download will be only the 1.35 MB CyberBuddy program.
Those using the Windows 2000 or Windows ME operating systems
already have the MS Agent core components installed. All required
files are free and downloading them is no big deal. CyberBuddy
will walk you through the process as part of its installation.
If you are curious you can view the required additional files
at Web Workshop-Microsoft Agent Downloads (http://msdn.microsoft.com/workshop/imedia/agent/agentdl.asp).
That page will also allow you to download each of the agent characters
created by Microsoft, i.e. Peedy, Merlin, Genie, and Robby. However,
you don't have to limit yourself to just those characters. The
best place I have found to find out anything to do with the Microsoft
Agent application interface is the Agentry at http://www.agentry.net/.
As of this writing there are 341 agent characters and 158 applications.
Some of the applications such as CyberBuddy are freeware.
CyberBuddy is written by John M. DeFino, a former IBM research
engineer, who is now Director of Engineering for an Automotive
Electronics company in Texas. John gives true meaning to the
term telecommuting. He has been telecommuting from his home in
the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania to Texas for over a dozen
years. CyberBuddy was originally written as a fun program for
John's own computer. Then he thought others might also enjoy
it. CyberBuddy is totally free. There are no ads. Nobody is trying
to sell you add-on modules. Any quality program that is free
like this, gets my attention! Besides, I love having my computer
talk to me. It saves me having to read everything and this program
provides some entertainment at the same time.
CyberBuddy resides in your System Tray and provides you with
a buddy who will periodically tell you the Time, check to see
if you have any Email, read you the latest News Headlines, check
your Stocks, and inform you of the local Weather Conditions.
In addition your agent character can read a web page, text documents,
or any text copied to the clipboard. Your buddy will also pop
up every once in a while to compliment you with a "feel
good message," give you the "thought of the day,"
and tell you a joke. If you need a reminder, you can program
your buddy to give you advance notice of appointments, meetings,
events, etc. I like this feature because if you ignore the reminder,
the character becomes insistent and will not go away until you
click on it, indicating you got the message. That's just a partial
list of what CyberBuddy can do.
I have Peedy the Parrot as my main character. He greets me
when Windows 98SE finishes loading to tell me the day and date.
I have the program setup to start when Windows does. A CyberBud
shortcut appears in my StartUp folder located in C:\WINDOWS\Start
Menu\Programs\StartUp. If you prefer to start the program manually
move the CyberBud shortcut from the StartUp folder to the Disabled
Startup Items folder in your Windows 98SE Start button cascading
menu. However, be sure you have a CyberBud shortcut created on
your DeskTop so you can manually start the program whenever you
wish. CyberBuddy can also be setup so the character performs
his tasks without talking and the accompanied sound effects by
going to "Quiet Time" on the program's General tab.
This can be useful if you are using the program at work.
unique feature of CyberBuddy, which I have not found in other
agent programs that I have tried, is you can have multiple agent
characters. By going to "Characters and Speech Options"
from the General tab you can set this program up with different
characters for Main, Time, Email, News, Weather, Reminders, Stocks,
etc. provided you have as many different characters installed
on your computer. All of the MS Agent characters reside on your
hard drive in C:\WINDOWS\MSAGENT\CHARS. The file extension for
MS Agent characters is acs. If the character is capable of a
lot of animations the file sizes can range upwards toward 4 MB.
I currently have 5 characters installed which provides variety
within CyberBuddy as each has different characteristics and animations.
CyberBuddy even allows for many options with each character.
You can change the agent size, default positions, and selected
voice as well as the pitch, speed, and volume of the selected
Messages your CyberBuddy characters speak are completely customizable
by going to the General tab and clicking on "Custom Messages."
This brings up 10 categories of messages. You can personalize
the lists of existing messages and add to them giving more variety
to the program.
CyberBuddy works both on and off the Internet. Obviously,
certain features like getting the News and Weather or checking
Email and Stocks will not work if you are not connected to the
Internet. I did find one interesting phenomenon. When you are
connected to the Internet, periodically your buddy will tell
you your average Internet speed in bytes/second. After I had
been on the Internet for a while and had been told my speed several
times I disconnected but continued to work on my computer. After
a while my buddy popped up again and told me my Internet speed.
This caused me to laugh as when I disconnected he told me I had
lost my connection. I do find the "being told I lost my
connection" feature helpful.
Another feature of CyberBuddy I find very useful is checking
Email. CyberBuddy will check Email for up to 50 accounts. It
only works with POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) accounts. POP3
is a standard mail server commonly used on the Internet. CyberBuddy
does not work with web based Email accounts.
In configuring CyberBuddy for Email you have a number of options.
You can have your character read complete messages, just the
"subject," or just the "from." You can instruct
the character to check for new Email at specific intervals or
check only when you tell it to. Originally I had CyberBuddy configured
to check for new Email every 10 minutes and to only read me the
"subject" and "from" parts for new messages.
When new Email was discovered I was told the number of new messages
in addition to the reading of the selected parts. The new messages
were left on the server and I could then decide if these new
messages needed my immediate attention or I could read them in
detail later using my Netscape Messenger Email client. Then I
decided to check the "Email Popup" box on the Email
tab. This was better yet! Now I could actually see the list of
messages and choose to view text based messages, have my buddy
read them, or delete them. CyberBuddy basically has a built-in
mini Email client. This is a great way to head off spam to your
regular Email client inbox. CyberBuddy even provides an Email
Filter for deleting or ignoring spam. For those new to the Internet
who may not have heard the term "spam" before, a definition
is in order. Spam is a slang name for unsolicited Email where
copies of the same message are sent to large numbers of people
on the Internet. This is usually done to advertise some product
or service as well as to broadcast some political or social commentary.
I'm not sure if it is really an acronym but I saw one definition
saying it stood for "Spontaneous Personally Annoying eMail."
I think of it as junk mail.
CyberBuddy will read text documents like other MS Agent programs
but a feature I always found lacking was the ability to pause
the reading midstream. This capability becomes extremely important
if you are having your buddy proofread documents and need to
pause periodically to make corrections. It also comes in handy
if you are interrupted by a phone call or person (read that wife)
entering the room. CyberBuddy does have this feature and it is
implemented beautifully except for a minor glitch. Left clicking
on the character pauses the reading. After one minute the character
reminds you that he is still paused. After another minute the
character whispers "Still waiting, 2 minutes now."
After another minute I'm told the character can't wait any longer
and if I still want it to wait, to click again. If I don't click,
the character should start reading the document from where it
left off. The minor glitch is that after you click to pause,
the remaining part of the sentence the character was reading
gets dropped (not read) and the following sentence is read before
the pause takes effect.
If you are a investor in the Stock Market (aren't we all?),
CyberBuddy will be your market watcher. Just type in your Stock
and Mutual Fund symbols and CyberBuddy will check at time intervals
you designate for any price change, a positive change, a negative
change, or price change outside of limits you set for each entry.
Your buddy can also report the trade volume and last transaction
time. Here again I found my buddy unexpectedly entertaining and
amusing. A stock in my list has the symbol VOL. My buddy reports
that as "5 O L." He must be into roman numerals! Better
yet, he reports my Munder mutual fund with the symbol MNNCX as
"M N North Carolina X" and another mutual fund with
the symbol PRSCX as "P R South Carolina X." Guess he
knows his state abbreviations! CyberBuddy uses Yahoo! Finance
to get this data. You can also add indexes to the lookup but
you need to know the proper symbol. For example the symbol for
the Dow Jones Industrials is ^DJI and for the NASDAQ Composite
CyberBuddy has additional features built into it such as the
ability to check web pages you designate for changes and to send
and receive instant messages. The instant message feature is
similar to the program ICQ (http://www.icq.com)
in that you will know when your friends are online but the messaging
is unique in that your messages can be read and animated by your
character. You can even send voice messages. It was quite funny
to see Peedy the Parrot's beak moving but my voice coming out.
After installing CyberBuddy and starting the program the first
time, I would advise taking the tour to get a quick overview.
The program also has an excellent Help file and more information
can be found on the CyberBuddy web site. The web site has pages
of Screen shots (http://www.yeayou.com/cyberbuddy/Page5.html)
as well as FAQ and Troubleshooting (http://www.yeayou.com/cyberbuddy/Page7.html).
An additional free program on the web site called CyberBuddy
Story Builder (http://www.yeayou.com/cyberbuddy/Page36.html)
may be of interest to parents (or grandparents) with youngsters.
One feature MagicSpell had that would be great in CyberBuddy
is speech recognition! Well guess what? John DeFino must have
read my mind. As I was about to submit this article to meet the
April PC Journal deadline I did one more check of article links
to ensure they were correct. Checking the CyberBuddy home page
I found versions 3 and 4 with speech recognition capability are
now available. Both new versions use the Microsoft Speech Recognition
Engine. Version 4 also includes a telephone function for Speech
Phone Dialing (with an internal phone book) and Caller ID. Unfortunately
versions 3 and 4 are only available via a CyberBuddy CD-ROM and
not by direct download. Read all about CyberBuddy with Speech
Recognition at http://thecyberbuddy.com/speechrecognition/.
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.