Pages

Mac: Have you met Alex?

For all the advances in personal computing technology there is one area that seems to have advanced very little: Text to Speech. Since I have not had a personal need for accessibility features I have only watched this as a typical consumer. The first time I saw a Text to Speech feature was back in the 1980s and what's odd is that up until very recently the voices produced sounded pretty much the same.

With the release of Leopard Apple also introduced us to Alex, a new "voice" for text to speech that is extremely life like. When Alex speaks the voice introduces breaths in between sentences and has incredible inflection. Though it still sounds like a computer it is a dramatic improvement over the older voices that have been out there.

You can use the Keyboard Shortcuts feature to have your Mac simply read any text you highlight, which for users that don't have an accessibility need can use for entertainment. My favorite use is to read acerbic comments from people in blogs. There's something very funny about hearing a computer voice go through a rant on why they love or hate Macs or Windows.

Also, Growl can create events that use the text to speech feature, as can products like Adium (which also can use Growl).

If you haven't heard Alex speak yet go into your Preferences / Speech window, change the System Voice to Alex and hit play. It's pretty cool.

10 comments:

eric said...

Speech to text recognition is just as cool!

http://www.speakables.com/

David Alison said...

@Eric: Very cool. Just finished playing with it, though I don't see it being anything more than a curiosity right now. Partly because I feel like I have to yell and enunciate every word so carefully, partly because I feel like an idiot when I repeat over and over "Quit this application... Quit this application... Quit this application..." in different tones and inflections. Still, it is cool - thanks for the tip!

Peter Knapp said...

Thanks for the tip David. Finally found the speech shortcut option. Preferences>Speech> tick 'speak selected text when the key is pressed' and put in your key combo.

This should be useful - the new voice is much better. I'd like an English voice too though. Something like Stephen Fry.

Karl Otto said...

open terminal type
say no milk today
or type
say -v alex no milk yesterday either
or change alex to what ever voice you want to use from the library. :)

Marco said...

Yes, I love the Alex voice. I use this feature almost everyday to read articles online without sitting at the computer. For instance when I am browsing the internet in the morning, I may find an interesting article, highlight the text, then press the keyboard shortcut i have mapped to have Alex read me the highlighted text while I make some coffee.

David Alison said...

@Peter: While you are stuck with an American accent you can play with the pitch and speed to make Alex sound like he's gone on a bender the night before (or is currently in the process of one).

@Karl: The fact that I can have Bash shell scripts now speak to me opens up some possibilities. Thanks man! I can inspect exit codes for terminal based applications and say something colorful if it fails. I like it.

@Marco: That's a pretty cool usage. When my Mac Pro arrives at the end of the week I'll have some serious speakers behind the machine so it opens some interesting possibilities.

Murr said...

David: Contrary to everyone's first instincts, speech recognition works best if you speak in a relaxed, casual voice. Yelling and enunciating REDUCES recognition accuracy.

sd said...

on the other hand, if you are short of disk space and do not need Text to Speech, you can delete /System/Library/Speech/Voices/Alex.SpeechVoice
and save 700 MB!
(see http://www.jonathansaggau.com/blog/2007/10/yeah_it_breathes.html )

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if you could use this as a way to improve your writing skills? I entered in some text from on of my articles and listened to it. It's different to hear your words spoken.

Neil Anderson said...

Text to speech is definitely good for editing one's work. :)