Sunday, February 13, 2005

Pecaw's Gift / Chapter 18 - Mr. "C"

“I found a software program that will run on that lap top to allow us to hook up a speech synthesizer. It should only take a few moments to check it out.” Vern took the cover off the computer and exposed the inner workings. Everything was neatly arranged; beautiful dark green wafers with silver mazes had been snapped into place. Each one represented a function that the computer was capable of handling. Vern found an empty slot, and with a turn of a screw, had removed a rear panel tab. He pushed a new wafer into place and it was done. Replacing the cover and plugging a male jack connector into the newly added female port, Vern had completed the addition of the synthesizer, the speaker box and the built in software.

“Will this really work?” Bev asked, but was all ready pretty sure that she knew the answer. She wanted to have a conversation, of nearly normal parameters, with Sinclair. As it was, she would have to turn away from him to read all of his replies. Bev was glad that he could respond at all; but if it were possible to restore, or even simulate the human voice, then Bev was ready for the chance.

“How about a test run so I can adjust the tonal qualities of the synthesizer? It may sound somewhat distorted at first; but according to the data that came with this unit, It can be set to emulate just about any characteristic of the human voice. It has male/female, alto/tenor/base, full/diminish and it even has a selection for foreign language accents. The more Vern read the more excited he became. “Okay, it says here that. . . yea, enter VSP as a subdirectory in any of the popular word processors.”

Bev watched as Vern typed in, “CD \WS5\VSP” and hit the enter key. “What do the letters VSP mean?” Bev had already become familiar with the “Word Star” program. She was aware that the “5” designated which generation of the program, with its improvements since the very first “Word Star”, was being used.

“They stand for Voice System Procurement, which is the name of the company that produced it. A friend of mine works in their product development division and he sent this as a chance to work the kinks out of it. If it works as well as he seems to think it will, then Sinclair may never want to use his own voice again. You might even get him to sing in the choir at church.”

“That would be interesting. The only time he sang in the choir was when he first joined the Church. If they had heard him sing first; well, they never would have asked him to . . .”

“I resEMBLe tHAT remARK.” Sinclair’s words jumped out of the little speaker. It was a harsh mechanized voice. The first letter of each word was nearly silent; then as the volume peaked, the middle of the word crackled and distorted the sounds.

Vern quickly glanced over the list of adjustments on the control board. “Ah ha, Metering and Gain controls.” He turned the miniature knobs in opposite directions as indicated on the quick reference flip chart.

“I resemble that remark? Let me guess. . . You died and came back as Henny Youngman? Ok, let’s try the musical scale, if it’s all right with you . . . Mr. Pavoratti?”, Vern chided Sinclair into the next stage of the equipment checks. He wanted to get as much out of the opportunity as he could. “Come on; and a one, and a two . . .”

“ dOEe








“Very cute, but I think that will do for now.” Vern turned to Bev still shaking his head as he enjoyed the light hearted spin that Sinclair had taken. "Better not book Carnage Hall just yet. Mind you now, this synthesizer won’t kick in until you get into “Word Star”. According to this”, Vern pointing to the small owner’s manual, “I can get the software to analyze the results of the voice tests that we just did and it will offer its own adjustments based on the default settings.” Vern continued to read the “Setup” instructions. “It says here to type in the command “VOICE.ADJ” and a secondary menu screen will appear on the command line.” Vern hit the enter key and a window appeared in the top right corner of the monitor. There were several boxes with different headings. One box was highlighted and blinking. “Voice Gender: “M” or “F”.

“Ever been to Denmark? . . . ; never mind.” Vern punched in the letter “M”. Each box in the window had its own set of simple questions for specific qualities of the voice. “Age: 20 - 30, 31 - 40, 41 - 50, 51 - 60, 71 +.”

“How old would you like to be Sinclair?”

Bev jumped in, “Let’s try 20 - 30. It might be nice to have a younger man around.”

“iS aLL thIS reaLLY nECeSSaRY ?”, the speaker crackled.

“I don't think there’s an attitude adjustment command, but if there is it must be set on Testy”. Vern continued to read without looking up. “This is almost like the graphic equalizer on my car stereo; as a new menu popped up on the screen.” He glanced at the command line that was once again flashing. “F-1 controls frequencies 31.5 (Hz) db, F-2 controls 63 (Hz) db, F-3 controls 125 (hz) db, etc.”, until all the audible adjustable frequencies were covered. “Press ^S to store and assign values. The VSP software has been designed with the ability to store as many as eight distinguishable voices.”

“This is awesome ! If I understand this right; we can program just about any file in Word Star to come out as a personality.” Vern flipped to the back of the booklet. “I was right! All we have to do is assign a given area of the file a “dot command” and it will be interpreted by the synthesizer just like the printer accepts font changes.”

“sO I coULD beCOMe thE rICH liTTLe Of tHE nexT deCADe ?”

“Pipe down while I read, so far you still sound like the warning buzzer in my wife’s car.”

“I alWAYs wanTED TO sOUNd lIke peRRY cOMO.” As Sinclair connued talking, Vern adjusted and customized the resulting voice until it came reasonably close to human.

Bev sat quietly in the chair and listened. With her eyes closed, she tried to match the voice she was hearing with the one that filled her heart. “Have him say a few words that will make it easier for me to compare; words that he uses a lot.”

“How about some peanut butter and jelly, open face on toast and a large glass of chocolate milk?” Sinclair’s basic voice pattern was smoother; but lacked personality.

“Oh, its so hard to describe . . . maybe a little more F-3, I don’t know.” Bev took the booklet in hand and read over the pages while Vern and Sinclair worked through minor adjustments to the over all sound.

“You know, I haven’t had real food in three months. I wish I hadn’t thought about that peanut butter and jelly.”

“That’s closer.” Bev heard something in the tones that softly touched her. “I could live with that.”

“I still want a little Perry Como. Try some more power to the middle bands.” Sinclair’s voice began tailing off at the end of words and showed signs of powering up for emphasis when certain phrases came into play.

“Give me a break. Let’s settle for acceptable and later on you can fiddle with it all you want.”

“Vern’s right, Dear. I can stay and enter the changes and let him get back to work.”

“I really do have to get back to work. Jack, the guy I work with down in Maintenance, lately he’s been asking a bunch of questions. So far the only people I’ve told are my wife and my friend at VSP. If word got out that you had this rare gift; well, it might make things very difficult. I’m so glad that the people here at the hospital have been able to keep a lid on this.

“Hey, glad you had some time to visit.” Sinclair stopped and listened to his voice. “Not bad, not bad. Still needs a little. . .”

“I know, a little Perry Como.” Vern smiled with a feeling of accomplishment. Turning slowly back to look Sinclair square in the face, “I love you,” clearing his throat and then looking at Bev, his voice returning to a less strained octave, “the both of you.”

A warm rush of blood fought its way to his face, the tension of speaking his heart bothered him. “I have to go now”, looking away to avoid direct eye contact, “ . . .get with you later.” Vern was not sure how to exit the room. It had suddenly gotten cluttered and seemed much larger. The distance to the door was no longer proportional as he hastened to leave before his words might be heard, or understood.

Sinclair’s eyes were moist and when he strained to look over at Bev he noticed that she was welling up also. Straining his eyes to focus on a point higher on the ceiling, and trying to keep the moisture from dripping down his cheek; Sinclair sniffled out, “I love you too Vern.”