Roger Ebert using software to find his lost voice

Although he lost his voice to cancer surgery, Roger Ebert is sounding like his old self thanks to some innovative software.

The famous film critic, known for his spirited debates with the late Gene Siskel on their "At the Movies" show, has survived a difficult few years.

Diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002, Ebert underwent a series of operations that eventually robbed him of his voice and lower jaw, taking away his ability to speak, eat, and drink. To communicate with the outside world, he has relied on traditional text-to-speech (TTS) software that speaks whatever he types.

But … Read more

Create audio messages from song samples

Internet memes travel in waves. A fun site can lie dormant for years before suddenly being rediscovered.

The latest example I've found is Let Them Sing It For You, which has been around for years, but has been drawing new attention on blogs in the last couple of weeks. On Tuesday, I received my first personalized message through the service.

Created in 2003 by Eric Bunger, Let Them Sing It For You is a simple but fun Web application that lets you enter a text message, then translates the words into audio. The catch: it uses popular song snippets … Read more

Intel debuts text reader for the blind

Intel is doing its part to help people with sight or reading disabilities enjoy the written word.

The company announced on Tuesday the debut of the Intel Reader, a handheld text-to-speech device that can read any printed text aloud to those who are blind or have difficulties seeing or reading.

The Atom-powered device uses a high-resolution camera to capture images of any printed text, which it then converts into digital format to read out loud. The Reader can be used as a standalone device to snap pictures of text. But paired with Intel's Portable Capture Station, which can hold the Reader in place, the device can grab huge amounts of text, such as an entire book, according to Intel.

"We are proud to offer the Intel Reader as a tool for people who have trouble reading standard print so they can more easily access the information many of us take for granted every day, such as reading a job offer letter or even the menu at a restaurant," said Louis Burns, vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Health Group, in a statement.

A check at some of the retailers selling the Intel Reader revealed its base price to be $1,499, with the Portable Capture Station an additional $399.

Weighing one pound, the Reader is the size of a paperback book. The tactile buttons and voice-operated menus that control the device have been designed so sightless people can use it, Intel said. Individuals with poor vision can also zoom in or out of the display and increase the font size of its text.… Read more

Magellan Maestro 4700 unveiled with new look

Magellan has recently unveiled its newest model, the Magellan Maestro 4700 GPS device. This new unit features an updated aesthetic, a slim profile, and a 4.7-inch wide-format, color touch screen.

You can talk to the Maestro 4700 using its voice command feature; and it will talk back with its text-to-speech capability, using proper street and POI names.

A Predictive Traffic feature works similarly to TomTom's IQ Routes by analyzing past traffic patterns to predict and avoid known trouble spots. However, it looks like the Maestro 4700 does not receive live traffic updates.

The Maestro features Magellan's OneTouch … Read more

TomTom GO 740 Live is our GPS Editors' Choice

When we spoke with TomTom's representatives concerning the new GO 740 Live, the navigation device was described as offering a "God's-eye view" of the road. Now, the GO isn't omniscient, but it puts a good deal of information at the driver's fingertips with realtime traffic data, weather forecasts, live fuel pricing, and Local Search powered by Google.

Additionally, TomTom Map Share is a user-generated map correction system that allows for map data to be updated more frequently, while IQ Routes looks at historical speed data to calculate the fastest route from point to point. … Read more

TomTom XL 340 S: Bigger is usually better

Yesterday, we took a look at the TomTom One 140 S and found that we liked it, but wanted a bigger screen.

Today, we find ourselves on the road with the TomTom XL 340 S, which takes all of the features that we praised in the One (lane guidance, IQ Routes, Map Share, and text-to-speech) and packages them behind a larger 4.3-inch wide screen.

The result is an easier to read map, more accurate menu navigation and address entry, and a generally more enjoyable in-car experience. Even though we initially had our doubts about the new EasyPort mount, the … Read more

TomTom One 140 S benefits greatly from the trickle-down theory

It's always the case that what is now premium tier will one day be entry level. That's just the way it goes as products become more advanced and users more sophisticated.

Which brings us to the TomTom One 140 S. We've had a few short looks at the One 140 in previous weeks. At first glance, the One 140 S seems like the poster-child for entry-level portable navigation devices, with its small, 3.5-inch screen and unassuming form factor. However, look beneath the surface and you'll find features that were only available on TomTom's top-of-the-line … Read more

Box.net now lets files talk to you

Box.net has added iSpeech to its OpenBox platform, which lets users get integrated text-to-speech conversion on any text document they have stored on the service. Users simply have to add it to their list of used OpenBox services and it becomes a part of Box.net's contextual menus, meaning you only need to right click on the document and choose the text-to-speech option to get it going.

You do have to be separately signed up with iSpeech to get this to work. It's not a free service when it comes to processing full length documents. There is, … Read more

TomTom debuts XL 340 and One 140 series GPS devices

TomTom announced Wednesday that it's rolling out a few new models: the TomTomXL 340 and 340S and the TomTom One 140 and 140S. The new units now include maps of Mexico, in addition to maps of the United States and Canada. Furthermore, TomTom's Advanced Lane Guidance feature trickles farther down the product lineup, as these new models gain the highly useful ability to display detailed information about major highway lanes and where they go.

The TomTom XL 340 and 340S are 4.3-inch wide-screen models that both feature TomTom Map Share, which allows users to upload corrections to … Read more

Authors Guild: Contracts forced Amazon to flip on Kindle

Update 2:49 p.m. PST: to include comment from Amazon.

Paul Aiken and the Authors Guild aren't gloating.

The executive director of the 9,000-member guild isn't taking all or even most of the credit for Amazon's abrupt about-face on Friday. The retailer announced that it would allow publishers to disable the Kindle 2's text-to-speech feature on any titles of their choosing.

He says while Authors Guild managers were "vocal" with their objections to the Kindle's speech technology, including publishing an op-ed piece in The New York Times, much more powerful entities were leaning on Amazon to make changes: large book publishers.

There was one more reason Amazon was prompted to make changes, according to Aiken.

"Amazon realized the magnitude of the contractual problem," Aiken said Monday morning. "Many of the author's publishing contracts give publishers the right to publish e-books, but only without enhancing audio. A reasonable reading of those contracts shows that publishers didn't have the authority to sell e-books for use in a Kindle device with audio enhancement."

An Amazon spokesman denied being pushed into Friday's decision. As for whether contractual issues played a part, the spokesman repeated what the company said Friday: "Kindle 2's experimental text-to-speech feature is legal."

Aiken began criticizing Amazon soon after the Kindle 2's debut last month. He argued that the retailer was violating the author's copyright and was cutting them out of a potentially new and lucrative market. … Read more