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eBooks are not just for reading
(IDG) -- In December, Network World's Gearhead enthused about the Rocket eBook from Franklin Electronic Publishers. Since then, the product has performed reliably and been put to far more uses than Gearhead thought possible. For example, the eBook is a great way of keeping reports, notes and articles on hand during meetings.
While the eBook has always had the facility to store bookmarks and allowed you to underline text, a recent release of its operating system, RocketEngine Version 1.3.74, introduced the ability to add handwritten notes.
Late last year, Franklin's Nuvomedia division (the group created from the original company that developed the Rocket eBook) licensed the Allegro handwriting recognition system from Fonix Corp.
This is a great tool that appears to be at least as easy to use as handwriting recognition systems on Palm and WinCE devices, and it makes the eBook much more useful. Once the folks at Franklin get it into their heads that being able to export annotations is more than a nice idea, they may see sales go through the roof. That said, the addition of Allegro is hugely valuable.
Fonix also offers interesting products in speech synthesis. Unfortunately, Fonix doesn't provide try-before-buy schemes, so we have no idea how good these tools might be.
But Gearhead has found a couple of really neat speech synthesis systems that are available for evaluation. This week we'll take a look at Talking Stocks, from 4Developers. This product shows you what Microsoft's animated character helpers, or Office Assistants, could be, rather than the somewhat irritating distractions they are today (such as Clippit).
Microsoft Assistants, first introduced in Office 97, are described on Microsoft's Web site, along with information on how to drive this feature. Gearhead has had many heated arguments over the value of this technology but still believes that it has a useful role for new users despite its cloying cuteness.
Like the Microsoft Assistants, Talking Stocks (only $19.95) does have its quota of "Kute," in the form of a little man who poses and gestures excessively. All the same, his purpose defuses the saccharine - he's there to announce the time and report stock prices.
Unfortunately, the only character Talking Stocks offers is the little man. Gearhead definitely wants a robot to make announcements on the fate of our filthy lucre. We specifically want one that looks like Nova.
You can control the speed and pitch of the synthesized voice. You can also set the frequency of announcements and configure alerts and how they should be reported. Thus you can have the little man appear and announce "Bad news, eBay has fallen 100 points" or simply tell you the current prices of your shares every 20 minutes. Fun, useful, and a good conversation piece.
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