22 Oct 2001 rupert   » (Journeyer)

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 found the article in a serendipitous fashion. I was searching for "You've got Leprosy!" in Google (recent Simpsons quote that I wanted the sound-byte for), and it was the third result returned.

My birthday is on Wednesday. I'll be 22. Ack! I feel really old, now. On my wishlist --- Lego Mindstorms, flat panels, a Dremel tool, one of those little blue Photon Lights from ThinkGeek, and some grab bags of toggle switches, LEDs, DC motors. And maybe a Cisco AiroNet 802.11b card too :-). And a BGSystems CerealBox (multi chan A/D converter w/RS-232 interface).

--- Rupert (rupe@arrow.yak.net)

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