Monday, September 21, 2009

Listen up

I haven't been able to talk for 10 months now, and frankly I don't know if my voice as I knew it will ever come back.

But maybe that ain't such a bad thing.

I mean, as I remember, my voice was in need of some refurbishment. For a guy, my voice was a little on the high side —maybe even shrill.

The good news is that, thanks to modern technology, I don't have to wait for my old voice to come back.

I can talk today.

One day at work last week, I stumbled on a feature on my office computer that I didn't know existed. Just by using a simple combination of keystrokes, my computer can turn text into speech!

Not long ago I learned that you can achieve this feat on a iPhone, but I had no idea that my two-year-old desktop Mac could do the same thing.

It's not an ideal way to communicate. For one thing, my computer isn't portable; for another, its speaker is somewhat tinny. Finally, it takes time to type out what I want to say and then highlight the text to make it audible. Not a lot of people are all that interested in hearing what I have to say to have to wait that long.

On the other hand, this spiffy feature does restore some of the powers of speech that I lost last year.

And best of all, my new voice is not anything like my old one. I'm not even limited to one voice. There are 10 personalities I can choose from, which almost gets me into Sybil territory.

All of the voices are somewhat robotic, and some are more appealing than others. "Alex" is a basic, functional male voice. "Bruce" make me sound like I'm underwater. "Fred" is kind of dopey. "Junior" is whiny, and "Ralph" makes me sound like Isaac Hayes.

And then there are the female voices. "Agnes" is shrill, "Kathy" is mousy, "Princess" is oddly common, "Vicki" is mature and "Victoria" is sheer annoying.

After I select a personality for my speech, I can then select a speed and one of 14 tones, including "Bad News," "Good News," "Bahh," "Bubbles," "Pipe Organ," "Hysterical" and "Deranged."

It's going to take me a while to get the hang of speaking again. In fact, by the time I get really proficient at using this new tool, my natural voice could come back. (You never know.)

But it's refreshing and empowering to hear my vocal cords vibrate again, even if it's that happening only through the miracle of computer technology. Steve Jobs, you rock.

I can't wait to spring that Isaac Hayes voice on the next telemarketer who calls.

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