Speech Central: Web Text to Speech

Once upon a time I used an app called VoiceBrief, I loved it! But it was buggy, often crashing and it never got updated before finally disappearing from the App Store. I have recommended the likes of ‘Capti’ and ‘Pocket’ to learners to curate material and listen on the go (we always have places to go and listening on the go can increase productivity) but I have never come across any app that came close to VoiceBrief, certainly some could read web pages but I never found them able to read from social media and certainly not effectively. Fast forward a few years and I  am commuting more than ever and consuming so much audio media I have been finding it more difficult to access new content having exhausted most material. The app allows you to listen to key headlines and then, when interested, add the headlines as articles to read [out] in full later, with the app highlighting the tezt as it is read out. The app is straightforward and does not have a big learning curve, but what really appeals to me is how much you can customise the app – including the voice and controls.

The developer States that “The app is tested to be accessible by visually impaired users. It has many features specifically tailored to users with disabilities like integrated Bookshare service, support for DAISY books, dyslexia friendly font, many visual settings, keyboard shortcuts for the most of commands available (with various options to navigate the text) in the app and on the iPhone it can be controlled with headphone or Bluetooth hands-free buttons and functions of those buttons can be customized. Combined with the interactive web feature available in the app the latter may make the web much easier to access on the mobile device for a person with eyesight or related disability.”

The ability to skip and add articles via the remote is an excellent feature and really increases the usability of the app.  This is an app that I feel is going to really play a key role in my commute once I return after the summer break, or for anyone that can take the opportunity to consume content on the go and not just for the accessibility benefits the app offers.

Here are the app store pages for Speech Central:

The App Developer has provided me with this product for purposes of providing a personal review and I have received no payment for this unbiased review.

Pocket App (& Capti Update)

Pocket Logo



Although I am the world worst for looking into new things there are those occasions when bookmarking is a pain (particularly between devices) when I am on the go and the worst aspect is that I simply do not have the time! Enter ‘Pocket’, a simple browser plugin and associated app that I am using with Chrome and my iOS devices that allows me to bookmark and recall wherever I am. The real sweet spot for me when using Pocket is the ability in most cases to Listen (TTS) Text-To-Speech  to the majority of pages I bookmark, meaning that I can listen to those relvant items on the go from my iPhone or iPad.

It doesn’t like PDF’s, but you can always pass them to Capti! [See previous blog post http://wp.me/pspi8-k9 ]

Capti Logo

Capti has seen a recent number of overhauls, not limited to the expansion of other systems it can interact with, originally…

  1. a browser
  2. clipboard
  3. GoogleDrive
  4. Dropbox.
  5. Instapaper
  6. Pocket
  7. Bookshare
  8. A existing document that is sent within your device

it can now interact as well with Gutenberg & OneDrive. More importantly Capti now has a system for bookmarking within a browser( not as nice as a Pocket icon it is a bookmark itself that you drag to your favourites, clikcin on the link will add the current page to your reading list. You can also elect or install Capti’s own software on your desktop or utilise the online system. See https://www.captivoice.com/capti-site/public/entry/download#



A novel and interesting way to share content comes along in the form of Chirp, in the form of an App and as ‘Chirp for Chrome’, enabling you to share via audio your files and websites. An end to having to post URL’s to virtual learning environments or having to write on the board and hoping you get it right and learners do too? a method to move from desktop to mobile relatively seamlessly? or maybe just a lot of noise [sic]?

  1. find a site
  2. open chirp on mobile device (so it is listening)
  3. open chirp on desktop (have your audio turned up)
  4. click the chirp yellow button with the  “lightning” symbol

Most things such as PDFs or images can be saved to you device. Shame I cannot push websites to my browsers on my iPhone and have to remain in Chirp (I have certainly looked to see if I can on an iOS device) but the app is in early development. I also cannot send a site from my iPhone to Chirp for Chrome as it does not have a listen function currently – one to watch maybe?

Update: the above post was written without actually trailing in the field. This however has now been able to take place by chance rather than planning…

Working with Apprentice Learning Technologists I needed to discuss a number of videos that I had been given a link to a YouTube playlist. Unfortunately due to being at a different campus I had no phone near the desktop pc’s I could use and I really did not want to dig out my laptop unless necessary. This is where chirp came in – I installed the chrome extension, fired up my chirp app on my iPhone, chirped the link – I was then hotfooting it to a side office with phone where I could discuss points as I went through the playlist. Seamless.



Strong Memorable Passwords

I don’t get it! How many time do you come across somebody with the same password, or an obvious one, or they make a list? far too many. Normally this does not bother me but I think the last month I must have come across this issue close to double figures and I think its becoming or likely to become an epidemic…

Multiple passwords used to be the domain of the nerd, but with the range of devices, systems, apps and websites we are all likely to be swamped so please spread the word once you watch the video clip – https://youtu.be/L8AgezVfPlo 



Volume OSD – 3RVX

My keyboard has died, and my spare does not like the fact that my current desktop, for some obstinate reason, will not install any dot net framework from Microsoft since v4.0 despite my best efforts. This has resulted in the lose of my volume OSD (On-Screen-Display), and do I miss it!

It did not even cross my mind to look for an alternative for a few week, however much I missed the OSD to my annoyance. Then I stumble on 3RVX, from Matthew Malensek, a highly customisable solution. Happiness restored.

If you have never had a volume OSD you must try this (I am running v2.5 whilst v3 is in final development), you’ll wonder why you have been checking the system tray all this time!


Pebble Smart Watch

I now own a Pebble smart watch, The black plastic model, coming in at only £75 with delivery with thanks to Amazon for their “black friday” sales week. I know the Apple Watch is due for release but this is not until just prior to the summer and is likely to be in the region of £300+. The Pebble purchase was in part to see if there was an actual need for a smart watch and to ascertain the potential benefits of a better smart watch prior to parting with hard earned cash, I don’t see any harm in buying a cheap £40 watch that lasts a year, this was a safe(ish) bet.

A few weeks in and I must admit to loving this timepiece and if it does nothing else then the following I am happy with my purchase:

  • 2 hour charge for 4-7 days (dependant upon heavy-light use)
  • Hundreds of watch faces, beyond the in-built three, to choose from
  • Alarms
  • You can assign 2 app shortcuts, whereby you can hold one of two buttons to instantly call up an assigned app
  • Shake to turn on backlight
  • You can “load” up to 8 apps (16 on the metal version)
  • Control Music (pause/play, skip forward or back) update: holding in the middle pause button replaced the skip buttons for volume buttons !
  • Receive phone notifications
  • Receive incoming calls – reject or accept (no actual listen/speak facilities)
  • It’s waterproof due to sealed components (yes I have tested this)
  • My god the strap is comfy!

The smartphone pebble app itself allows you to find, upload and manage your apps and any unwanted app can be unloaded but kept in the pebble app “wallet” to upload again should you require it. I mostly have my phone on silent, often missing calls or getting annoyed at nuisance callers (I have not been miss-sold PPI), and having the watch allows me to instantly pick-up notifications and calls, and it vibrates (and can give you a notification on some watch face designs) when you become out-of-range from your phone.

I will be posting about a number of apps over this coming week.



Plantronics M55 Bluetooth Headset

This is an absolute gem of a device, especially at around £20, this has become my new best bit of kit. I haven’t used bluetooth headsets for ages, mainly because I used to do short journies that did not need them but as of late these are getting less frequent. There is a lot to like about this headset:

  • Great method for holding in ear, very quick to fit and stays in all the time! – very sceptical but found that I love it! (there is an over the ear adapter if you don’t get on with it – its clear so keep an eye out for it when opening the packaging)
  • Lightweight and small
  • About an hours charging gives 11 hours use time (comes with a 4″ micro USB lead and a Car USB adapter!)
  • Deep sleep mode has the battery lasting for 5 months! (not that I have used it that little!)
  • Voice commands – “Incoming call, [say] answer or ignore?” (not had opportunity to test yet, this can be switched off)
  • It gives you a battery indicator next to the bluetooth symbol (iPhone)
  • There is an App (Plantronics Hub) that you can refer to on how to use as well as button and light identification
  • Multi-point pairing capability, quickly switch active connections between two phones (have not tried this one yet)

I’m an insomniac and often spend silly hours on the PC being productive until the kids came along and I needed sleep, I often listen to podcasts that let me drift off rather than getting up (that does not mean they are boring!) and have often found headphones wrapped round my neck or under my back, this is where this device comes into its own. It includes the A2DP Bluetooth profile that allows audio streaming so I can listen to music, podcasts, radio stations and even GPS directions from your smartphone (no more having to hush the family when trying to listen to sat nav). So I am finding that I don’t take my headphones everywhere with me, so they should last a bit longer, in fact I haven’t used them at all.

The downsides – my wife reckons I look daft with it sticking out the side of my head when I’m pottering around the house!


Blank Outlook Tile on the Surface RT

office SP1

My outlook tile is blank after what seems a recent update. Checking for recent updates still outstanding has not solved the issues, as well as trying to remove and reinstate the tile. On further enquiry it seems there is a service pack (SP1) for the office 2013 installed on the RT.

  1. Swipe from the right for the charms menu
  2. Select settings
  3. Select change PC settings
  4. Select update and recovery
  5. Select Windows update
  6. Select View details (if SP1 is shown skip to step 9)
  7. Select the Back Arrow
  8. Select Check Now button
  9. Check the checkbox under Office 2013 and next to Service Pack 1 for Microsoft 2013 (KB2850036) RT
  10. Select the Install button
  11. The update process will take a few minutes
  12. Select the Restart Now button

You should now see the Outlook tile restored 🙂


iPhone Tethering (via Bluetooth) to the Surface RT


This week I had the opportunity to finally connect to my iPhone (well I did not really I just did not have local WiFi password when I needed it)

Simply put it is a case of turning on your Personal Hotspot and once your surface picks up your phones name input the password that is set, the problem is this will cost myself £5/Gb. Not something that I want to worry about. Connecting via wire/USB is not an option as you cannot install the drivers required on the Surface RT but you can by Bluetooth…..

Follow instrustions on how to connect bluetooth given by microsoft:

  1. On iPhone turn on Bluetooth (swipe up from homescreen to ensure Bluetooth is turned on, or settings > Bluetooth > on)
  2. Turn on personal hotspot (settings > personal hotspot > on)
  3. On the RT Surface swipe from the right to access the3 charms menu
  4. Select Change PC setting,
  5. select devices,
  6. add device
  7. Accept pairing on the  iPhone and surface as instructed
  8. To allow internet access on the Surface RT go to the control panel > Hardware and Sound > View device and printers
  9. Select the iPhone and you will find that more option appear above
  10. Select “Connect Using” and then click on drop down menu and Select Access Point.

I have found this is sufficient for reasonable access. Don’t expect it to be consistent/stable.