NewsBrain, and Thirty Years of MacinTalking

On this thirtieth year anniversary of the Macintosh, you may have seen replays of the very first introduction of the Mac that Steve Jobs made. ( In it, after showing its screen, the very first thing he demonstrated was... speech! That first 128K Mac had speech built in, and Steve had the Mac introduce itself in its own voice.

Since then, the Mac has always had text-to-speech abilities. From the stilted, robotic, weirdly accented speech on the first Mac, a feature they called "MacinTalk", up through the current Mavericks version of Mac OS X, which offers a large selection of voices in many languages (I vote for "Ava" as the best English voice:

Voice has played an important part in the iPhone and iPad devices as well. The "VoiceOver" feature uses voice to describe the visual elements on the screen, announcing what buttons, icons, switches and controls are being touched or adjusted, so that visually impaired people could use the screen-based, touch-based iPhone. Later, Siri was introduced, which com pined the voice output with speech recognition input, to give users a full voice I/O system that lets you do many things without having to look at or touch the screen at all. And now, with iOS 7, Apple has given the developer community access to the speech output system.

I've always been interested in computer generated speech. In 1974, I first encountered it in the form of the Votrax system. That was a small device that hooked to a computer through its serial port, and it was controlled by sending codes that told it to make sounds - phonemes - individual vowel and consonant sounds, and by stringing them together, you could make it say anything. It predated, but sounded very much like that voice in the original Macintosh.

I had hooked the Votrax up to the mainframe computer of the day, the IBM S/370, but with a much better computer that fits in my pocket, I was delighted to be able to add text-to-speech to my latest app - NewsBrain.

NewsBrain is a perfect application for speech. NewsBrain gathers articles from all across the Internet, picking them up from the millions of news feeds out there. It selects articles that will be most interesting to you, and shows them on your iPad or iPhone screen. With speech added, it can also read the articles aloud.

NewsBrain can now read interesting articles to you while you drive, jog, exercise, commute, or whatever. You can keep your device in your pocket while you listen through your earbuds or via AirPlay. You can send it to your car stereo system through Bluetooth, or even show it on your Apple TV. While it reads to you, it shows the accompanying article images on the device screen, the lock screen, or on the Apple TV. You can even have it show the text as it is speaking, closed-caption style.

With speech, NewsBrain is a great hands-free, eyes-free, commercial free way to get news, information, or any articles of interest safely while on-thego.

NewsBrain is the latest application to take advantage of the decades long legacy of speech, built into Apple devices going back to the very birth of the Macintosh. Enjoy!

NewsBrain 1.1 Reads the News Aloud

NewsBrain 1.1 adds a major new feature - Speech!

NewsBrain 1.1 reads articles aloud! It will speak the most interesting, most recent articles continuously and commercial free, for as long as you like. Perfect for the car, jogging, commuting, or anywhere on the go.,

Touch controls let you tap to pause, swipe to hear the next article, or just use the regular audio controls on the Control Panel, lock screen, headset, or Apple TV remote.

Have it speak through your Bluetooth speaker or over AirPlay. It even shows the article images on the lock screen or Apple TV while it narrates.

A full set of options let you adjust speech speed, which parts of the article it reads, if it should show the text it is speaking, and more.

To start it speaking, simply press and hold on an article until a menu pops up, then select “Speak”.

All the details are on the online help Speech Screen page here.

Get NewsBrain now, and watch for this free update to appear very soon!

NewsBrain: See how the learning process is going

Topics in the Interest Profile

You've been rating some articles, and now it would be interesting to see what NewsBrain has learned about your interests. Here's a way to check it, and help the learning process along as well.

NewsBrain has about two thousand topics it tracks, and it predicts your interest in each of them. To see what it has learned about your interests in these topics, check out your Interest Profile.

On the iPhone, tap the "Profiles" icon at the bottom of the screen once to twice until you see "My Interest Profile" listed. On the iPad, tap the list icon (the one with several horizontal lines near the top left of the screen) to pop up the list, then tap the "Profiles" icon.

Now tap "My Interest Profile" and the screen slides over to show the top level of topics that it is tracking. Here, we see a few very broad topics listed. Each one has a set of subtopics, and most f those have sub-sub-topics, and so on, but there is a better way to see all of the topics and check its learning.

Tap the menu icon in the top right of the list (it looks like a box with lines in it) to make a menu pop up. In the menu, tap "View As..." and then tap "a List by Interest Level".

Now, you will see the full list of topics, sorted with the most interesting topic at the top. You can scroll through this huge list, seeing all the topics. Along the right edge of the list are tiny versions of the familiar smiley faces, and by tapping or sliding up and down over them, you can quickly zip to topics at the corresponding level.

The Interest levels show what NewsBrain has learned so far about your interest in each topic. When you rate an article, the topics relevant to that article have their interest levels adjusted accordingly.

If you see some topics who's levels seem way off, don't worry:

* The topics are all interconnected. "Sports" has "Baseball" and "Football" under it, for example. When the level of any of those three topics are adjusted, the other two will be adjusted as well, by a lesser amount, and in turn, topics connected to them get even lesser adjustments, and so on. And articles themselves are connected to topics relevant to them. In fact, when you rate an article to show your level of interest, a hundred topics or more might end up being adjusted - first the ones relevant to the article, then the ones connected to those, and so on. After you've rated a bunch of articles, a large number of topics, included many not directly related to the articles, will have some learning attached to them. The bottom line is, don't worry too much. Even if NewsBrain is off about its prediction on a topic, the many other connected topics will smooth things out and make up for it, and future learning will tend to fix these outliers.

* You can make corrections to the topics directly! It's very easy, and helps the learning process greatly. When you see a topic in the list that could use some correction, just adjust it the same way you do with articles - press on the interest level to make the slider pop up, and set the proper interest level. That's it! Don't be surprised if the adjusted topic seems to disappear, it didn't. It just moved to its proper placed in sorted order. Don't forget to go to the bottom of the list and raise the level of topics NewsBrain mistakenly thinks are uninteresting as well. Remember the topics are interconnected, so changing the level of one topic usually causes a bunch of related topics to auto-adjust themselves as well, by lesser amounts. If the bouncing around of topics as you adjust them bothers you, you can always do this in another view, such as by topic name.