Archive for the 'Telephony' Category

Make it Ridiculous (Till it’s Awesome)

I’m finally getting around to writing up my presentation at the “Telephony is Sexy” edition of the SF Telephony Meetup on December 16th. I wish I’d spoken to Clay Shirky before I went out to California, as I have him to thank for the apt title of this post, a phrase he overheard used recently to describe the modus operandi of ITP, which over the last two years I’ve largely co-opted as my own.

My fellow presenters spoke about hacking up a windshield display using a pico projector and a mobile phone, replacing the expensive and proprietary handheld devices used by large enterprises to track inventory and maintenance requests with already ubiquitous mobile handsets—basically, “why isn’t there an app for that?”—, and using web sockets with telephony platforms like Tropo to create persistent connections (for games and the like). There was a lot of code and engineering speak, peppered with good-natured technical objections from the audience.

I spoke about the importance of playing, of doing things that seem totally useless but fun in the interest of stumbling upon new ideas that might not be so useless. I showed my perennial favorite, Generative Social Networking, the ever-popular Botanicalls, the ill-fated Popularity Dialer, and the soon-to-be-huge Megaphone alongside my Eliza project and my more recent forays into accented speech synthesis:

Call Iñigo and his ESL friends by dialing: +1 617-466-6212

If I’d had a bit more time, I would also have shown Sebastian Buys’s amazingly Rube Goldberg-y World of Warcraft phone-in project, which is tragically not documented anywhere. Because Blizzard doesn’t include any hooks for third-party developers in its code, Sebastian captured screenshots of the game, used OCR to turn the image of the chat box at the bottom of the screen into machine-readable text, and then fed it into an Asterisk script so that a remote user can call in and have his guild’s chatter read to him by a robot over the phone even when he’s not close to his computer. Amazing.

I might also have shown my knock-knock jokes:

Knock knock answering service: +1 617-682-9322

I was a little disappointed I didn’t get any objections from the audience, but I did get a couple of very nice emails!


I don't speak English - But I promise not to laugh at your Spanish.

I’ve been experimenting recently with the hosted Asterisk at, and I have to say, it’s the best API I’ve ever played with, especially after spending months wrangling an Asterisk server. They’ve abstracted away all the eccentricities of Asterisk and created wrappers for Ruby, JavaScript, PHP, and a couple of other languages.

And speaking of other languages, they’ve also included and easy-wrapped a bunch of cool text-to-speech and voice recognition modules for a number of languages. When I saw “Jorge” the Castillian, I had an idea: can a computer voice have an accent? I read a piece in the Times or on some feed that I can’t track down recently that argued that English-language learners have an easier time learning from teachers who share their accent. It makes sense.

I remember an American friend of mine’s mother in Madrid who could not understand why Spaniards kept on thinking she was saying seis (six) when she was saying tres (three). The reason, I explained, was that she was pronouncing tres (which is pronounced like “press” in English) as “trays” which is exactly how seis sounds.

I tell this story as a way of explaining how I arrived at my ESL answering machine. You can interact with it by calling:

+1 617-466-6212

Getting this to work required some reverse phonetic hacking. Here are a couple of examples, see if you can guess the language:

“Jelo. Mai nem is Inigo Montoya. Llu kild mai fáder, pripeer tu dai.”

“Chateau Haut-Brion 1959, magnifisainte waillene, Aille love Frinch waillene, layke aille love ze Frinch leinguaje. aille ave simpelte everi leinguaje. Frinch ise maille favorite. Fantastic leinguaje, especially tu coeurse wits. Nom de Dieu de putain bordel de merde de saloperies de connards d’enculis de ta meire. Yu si? itte ise layke waille pine yoeur asse wits silk. Aille love itte!”

I’ll be posting a bunch more little phone experiments soon, so check back, you hear!