I went to Mountain View and saw fair and
Zack this weekend. fair's house gets my vote as one of the
finest places in the Bay Area to get quality hacking done.
Fast DSL, comfortable couch, nice folks, and unlimited
quantities of strong Earl Grey tea! I made lots of new
additions to alice, the car computing software that I've
been working on. The biggest addition is a new module
called PrefMgr, that acts as the central source for
retrieving and saving configuration data throughout the
system. Right now there's a file called
alice.config, which has UNIX style line separated
name/value pairs in the form VARNAME=value. When
the PrefMgr client starts, it reads the config data into a
hash table in memory, then opens a socket connection back
to the event distribution server (EDS), which is the
central core of the application. When other clients
connect to the EDS (like the speech i/o module, mp3 player,
etc) they register with it by sending a service name. The
EDS then passes this to the PrefMgr, which sends back a
list of current configuration settings for the service.
These are passed back to the client, which then continues
loading, using the options given.
Ideally I'd like to hack up a little web-based interface that would allow the user to easily set and change available options, rather than having to manually edit the config file each time. I considered initially using the speech rec. system to do this, but rejected it as impractical, because most of the options are set-and-forget (IP addresses, log file locations..), and setting the options in this manner would be a bit tedious. 'Set the Ee Dee Ess Aye Pee to one two seven dot zero dot zero dot one..', and so on.
Every time I add to alice, it gets closer and closer to being an application server for voice controlled programs. I think I like that.
I found an interesting article on the social aspects of talking computer systems last week -- http: //www.tlc.utexas.edu/articles/barchas.html
It talks a little about the interesting stories of how some people came to be the very recognizable voice within automated systems. UTexas' Tex class scheduling system, AOL, and the Wildfire personal assistant are mentioned. This passage amused me:
...Now, the fan groups and fascination spawned by the Wildfire voice are an indication that Harnett and company have been successful in their task of making the computerized assistant seem real.
Some men have become preoccupied with Wildfire, calling the company to find out information about her, sending her Christmas cards and starting Web sites to speculate about what she looks like and how she acts in person. For this reason, Wildfire's identity is still a secret. She lives in the Boston area. She has a day job. She thinks the foofaraw over her voice is interesting but tries to keep it in perspective. "She's not the girlfriend of the lead engineer anymore," Harnett said, "but they're still on very good terms."...
I got on a plane for my Australia vacation 5 hours before the WTC attacks. Consequently, it was an strange, although still enjoyable vacation. Shortly after getting back to SF, I moved house.
Aaargh! Does anyone know how to configure multiple soundcards under Linux? I have two Creative AWE32 (ISAPnP) cards that I want to use simultaneously, each with a different /dev/dsp (/dev/dsp0, /dev/dsp1, perhaps?) I've looked high and low for this information, and can't find out how to do it. I'm currently running 2.2.14-6.1.1.
A very sad day for me. A favourite great uncle of mine, Bill Scammell (obituary), died on
September 5th in Adelaide, Australia. He was a great guy,
a fine businessman and educator (former Chancellor of Adelaide University),
and loved car racing. I have fond memories of driving
around Adelaide in his Porsche, and managing to
accidentally lock him out of the car radio. He'll be very
much missed, and I'm sad that he passed on a mere two weeks
before I was going to be in Adelaide to visit him and other
Many condolences to Pat Scammell, his wife, and my Dad, who was close to him also (though they don't read Advogato).
Rest in peace, Bill.
I'm hoping that the readers of this entry can provide me with an opinion, regarding a design choice that I have to make before the first release of my car computer software (see previous entries).
I'm torn between providing (1) a limited range of high quality synthesized static voices, or (2) Using a much lower quality (on par with Macintalk) dynamically synthesized voice that will permit a far wider range of responses to be made. This isn't a rhetorical question, and I'd really appreciate hearing opinions (even a couple of sentences), if you could send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
So close to a first release of this software... it's very exciting, and I'm happy that my Blade Runner car draws closer :-)
A little background on the project, and in the process, myself. I think that I was born about 150 years too early. I spent quite a bit of time jealously watching the Star Trek crew seamlessly interact with their highly intelligent ship computer. I've also always dreamed of having a vehicle with even a fraction of the capabilities of those seen in movies and TV shows like Blade Runner, Knightrider, Batman, The Fifth Element, and so on. I think every geek has at some point. I also work as a military aircraft restorer for the March Field Air Museum, and have spent quite a bit of time working on the SR-71A Blackbird (#975) there. The desire to incorporate elements of this futuristic technology (yes, I know that the SR-71 was created in the 50's) into a working vehicle seemed like a fun project, so I started working on this voice controlled computer system. I'm happy to see that other folks are pursuing the hardware side of things. Mark's Custom Kits makes beautiful functional Knightrider instrumentation and dash panels.
Having said this, you'll find the first version of software released to be disappointingly sparse. The design is highly modular, however, so adding new functionality should be surprisingly simple to do, and I expect new releases regularly.
If the software is successful (and stable!) enough, I'd like to investigate the possibility of starting a small business, writing custom modules and adding additional AI and personalization functionality for people who want to use and enjoy the system without spending months having to dig through the codebase themselves. The core system would always stay free and open, however.
Comments? Questions? Let me know...
Today concludes three weeks of intensive late night hacking with the computer that I've installed in my car. When I removed it from the trunk a month ago, its control interface was a minature VT100 terminal. When it's installed next week, control will be solely via speech recognition. In three weeks, I've spent days at a time pounding my head against the monitor, working through tough design problems. I've also learnt a ton about multi-threaded server / client design, data routing, sockets, lock objects, TCP, and the horrors of termios :-)
It's a great stage to be at, and I'm really glad that for the first time, I didn't just come up with losing hacks to get everything working. Having a solid core architecture to build this set of computing services on is going to make expanding it further so much easier!
I've named the project since I wrote last. The system is named Alice (and recognizes her name when spoken). The name was chosen partly because it's short, easily pronounced, and continues the long standing tradition of 'Alice Bots', a popular set of AI chatbots. Finally, Alice as in Alice in Wonderland, since I've been chasing down rabbit holes lately, and finding new worlds within :-)
The architecture I've built has an EDS (event distribution server) at its core, to which clients (speech processing module, MP3 module, LCD control module) connect, and send and recieve data, which is routed appropriately between the connected modules, which then process the data and perform the appropriate I/O.
Arguably the coolest piece of the system is the little speech processor that I've written. The system relies on an external application (CMU's Sphinx) to convert the speech waveform to a text string. The speech processor takes in the text string, and using a simple weighted network algorithm, causes the output of the module (which is passed to the EDS) to become progressively more accurate over time.
Everything's been written in Python so far, apart from the speech synthesizer and recognition systems, which are external (GPLed) applications. I've been programming in Python for about two years, but it took a big project like this to really drive home what an amazingly versatile and capable language it is. The structure of the language really made it easy to experiment, make rapid changes, and keep the code easy to read.
Now to put the system into the car, and drive with it for a few weeks. It'll be exciting to see how well it works, and I look forward to posting more regular diary entries with progress reports.
Today was a slow day at work, so I started working on a
couple of single frame comic strips, using the Windows
paint tool. Slowly, Vinnie the Vulture, and his trusty pet,
Dun, a TCP packet, emerged from the chaos, and set
out on the first of their adventures.
All of the strips are available on the embryonic Vinnie the Vulture
page. Just pretend to laugh... the term "comic" is
used loosely here, and most of the comic aspects
consist of obscure inside jokes, and bad rhyming
schemes. Fortunately, the quality of the art makes up
for all of that.
Apart from this, I spent the day hunting down bugs, and trying to triage a departing coworker's bug queue into something slightly more manageable. Nothing very exciting, however I did have a nice Indian dinner with my friends Greg and Tague.
In hacking news, the speech recognition component of my car project is almost ready for installation. Most of the Python glue code to interface Sphinx with the LCD server and MP3 player applications is done, so I'm getting excited about the project again. What I really need to be doing is fixing bugs in the current installation (and there are many), but adding new features is much more fun!
First diary entry in a while... I've spent the last two
weekends on the road, which has been pretty fun. On
June 8, I went to Reno, Nevada for the 14th Blackbird
Reunion, and this weekend, ventured down to San
Diego to visit an old friend from school. Standing in the
line to get my boarding pass for the flight back, I heard
my name called, and looked up to see someone who I
momentarily didn't recognize. It was my old geometry
teacher from high school! We ended up sitting in the
same row on the flight home, and had a nice time
swapping stories and reminiscing about 'the old days'.
He retired in 1997 after 32 years of teaching at the
school, and seemed to be enjoying his retirement.
San Diego was great fun. I took Monday off work to spend an additional day down there, which turned out to be a good strategy (taking time off from work is never bad). Mike took me to see the downtown area, and we walked around by Horton Plaza and the El Cortez, before taking a Red Line tram back into the Old Town area. Stopped for a very welcome margarita and snack at a local TGI Friday's, then headed back to his home.
Monday, we drove around some more, and visited the San Diego Aerospace Museum, the Mission, La Jolla, and UCSD. It was fun seeing my brother's alma mater, and we wandered around above Black's Beach for a while, watching the gliders take off over the cliffs.
I don't have any new hacking news to report, apart from the fact that I finally got my 40 GB disk working, but I don't believe that that really counts :-P
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