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Introducing Jott for BlackBerry

I just learned about Jott for BlackBerry:

We have a lot of happy Blackberry customers at Jott, and Jott for BlackBerry is the ultimate BlackBerry download. It is a simple, but very powerful tool that will let you reply to emails on your BlackBerry just using your voice – either speaking directly into your BlackBerry, or while wearing a Bluetooth headset. It is seamlessly integrated into the email application you already use, and is a huge leap forward for BlackBerry lovers in three ways: first, it is 3-5 times faster than ‘thumbing’ text; two, you won’t be known for sending just terse replies because you don’t want to thumb type out a normal email message; and three, you will be safer because you won’t have to take your eyes off the road.*
(*Jott does NOT encourage messaging while driving).

Jott for Blackberry makes an already awesome device even better.

The following is the body of a reply I just created:

Thanks for sharing this interesting service with me. It's definitely something that I'm interested in investigating and it's my intention to follow up very very soon. Thanks very much. Bye for now.

Sent with my voice via Jott for Blackberry ~ http://jott.com/bb

To listen: http://www.jott.com/show.aspx?id=e4eb3151-9007-448c-bd73-7de70ecc4766

In this example, the transcription quality was excellent. Note that the recipient is advised that the response was Jott’ed, and has the option of listening to the original audio recording. Nice!

Although I’m only at the testing stage, I expect to make extensive use of Jott for BlackBerry!

Note to Jott and Google: Please enable Jott for BlackBerry in the GMail for BlackBerry application.

Book Review: Building Telephony Systems with Asterisk

Asterisk is a Open Source framework for building feature/functionality-rich telephony solutions. And although it’s able to compete solidly with offerings from commercial providers, the establishment of an Asterisk deployment is involved. Thus D. Gomillion and B. Dempster’s book Building Telephony Systems with Asterisk will be useful to anyone intending to delve into Asterisk. The book is comprised of nine chapters whose content can be summarized as follows:
  • In providing an introduction, Chapter 1 enumerates what Asterisk is and isn’t. Asterisk is a PBX plus IVR, voicemail and VoIP system. Asterisk is not an off-the-shelf phone system, SIP proxy or multi-platform solution. This enumeration leads to a welcome discussion on Asterisk’s fit for your needs. The authors quantify this fit in terms of flexibility vs. ease-of use, configuration-management UI, TCO and ROI. Although the latter to topics are covered briefly, the authors’ coverage will certainly serve to stimulate the right kinds of discussions.
  • Chapter 2 begins by enumerating the ways in which the Asterisk solution might connect to the PSTN. Next, in discussing the four types of terminal equipment (hard phones, soft phone, communications devices and PBXs), the major protocols supported by Asterisk are revealed – namely H.323, SIP and IAX. Whereas H.323 is well known to many of those who’ve delved in videoconferencing, and SIP to anyone who’s done any reading on VoIP, IAX is an interesting addition specific to Asterisk. The Inter-Asterisk eXchange (IAX) protocol attempts to address limitations inherent in H.323 and SIP relating to, e.g., NAT support, configurability, call trunking, sharing information amongst Asterisk servers plus codec support. IAX is not a standard and device support is somewhat limited but on the rise. As of this book’s writing, September 2005, IAX2 had deprecated IAX – and that still appears to be the case. Guidelines for device choice, compatibility with Asterisk, sound quality analysis and usability all receive attention in this chapter. The chapter closes with a useful discussion on the choice of extension length. Highly noteworthy, and already provided as a link above, is the voip-info.org wiki.
  • The installation of Asterisk is the focus of Chapter 3. After reviewing the required prerequisites, none of which are especially obscure, attention shifts to the Asterisk-specific components. In turn Zaptel (device drivers), libpri (PRI libraries) and Asterisk are installed from source. (I expect packaged versions of these components are now available for various Linux distributions.) Asterisk includes a plethora of configuration files, and these are given an overview in this chapter. And although it’s not mentioned, disciplined use of a revision control system like RCS is strongly advised. The chapter concludes with sections on running Asterisk interacting with its CLI to ensure correct operation, start/stop the service and so on.
  • With Asterisk installed, attention shifts to interface configuration in Chapter 4. In working through line and terminal configurations for Zaptel interfaces, one is humbled by the edifice that is the pre-IP world of voice. Our introduction to the intersection between the pre-IP and VoIP universes is completed by consideration of SIP and IAX configuration. Again humbling, the authors’ treatment affords us an appreciation of the application of acknowledged standards like SIP (which is itself based on RTP) through implementation. The final few sections of the chapter further emphasize the convergence capabilities of VoIP platforms by exposing us to voicemail, music-on-hold, message queues and conference rooms.
  • Through the creation of a dialplan, Asterisk’s functionalities and features can be customized for use. Dialplans are illustrated in Chapter 5 by establishing contexts, incoming/outgoing-call extensions, call queues, call parking, direct inward dialing, voicemail, automated phone directory and conference rooms. Customization is involved, and it is in chapters such as this one that the authors deliver significant value in their ability to move us swiftly towards a dialplan solution. Also evident from this chapter, and to paraphrase the authors, is Asterisk’s power and flexibility as a feature/functionality-rich telephony solution.
  • Under Asterisk, calls are tracked with Call Detail Records (CDRs). Data pertaining to each call can be logged locally to a flat file or to a database running on (preferably) a remote server. The database-oriented approach for managing CDR data is more flexible and powerful, even though it takes more effort to set up, as this solution is based on databases such as PostgreSQL or MySQL. CDR comprises the least-invasive approach for quality assurance. The remainder of the content in Chapter 6 focuses on more-invasive approaches such as monitoring and recording calls.
  • Based only on the context provided by this review, it is likely apparent that an Asterisk deployment requires considerable effort. Thus in Chapter 7, the authors introduce us to the turnkey solution known as Asterisk@Home. Asterisk@Home favors convenience at the expense of flexibility – e.g., the flavor of Linux (CentOS) as well as support components such as the database (MySQL) are predetermined. The Asterisk Management Portal (AMP), a key addition in Asterisk@Home, Webifies access to a number of user and administrator features/functionalities – voicemail, CRM, Flash Operator Panel (FOP, a real-time activity monitor), MeetMe control plus AMP (portal and server Asterisk@Home management) itself. Before completing the chapter with an introduction to the powerful SugarCRM component bundled with Asterisk@Home, the authors detail required steps to complete the deployment of Asterisk@Home for a simple use case. It’s chapters like this, that allow us to all-at-once appreciate the potential for the Asterisk platform. (Packt has recently released a book on AsteriskNOW. AsteriskNOW is the new name for Asterisk@Home.)
  • The SOHO, small business and hosted PBX are the three case studies that collectively comprise Chapter 8. Sequentially, the authors present the case-study scenario, some discussion, Asterisk configuration specifics, and conclusions. In taking this approach, the authors make clear the application of Asterisk to real-world scenarios of increasing complexity. In the SOHO case, the SIP shared object (chan_sip.so) is not loaded as this functionality is not required. This is but one example of how the authors attempt to convey best practices in the deployment of a production solution based on Asterisk.
  • Maintenance and security are considered in the final chapter of the book (Chapter 9). The chapter begins with a useful discussion on automating backups and system maintenance plus time synchronization. Those familiar with systems administration can focus on the Asterisk-specific pieces that will require their attention. This focus naturally leads to a discussion of recovering the Asterisk deployment in the event of a disaster. Security gets well-deserved consideration in this chapter from both the server and network perspective. For example, there is very useful and interesting content on securing the protocols used by Asterisk with a firewall. Before closing the chapter by identifying both the Open Source and commercial support offerings for Asterisk, the scalability of Asterisk is given attention.

This book was first published in September 2005 and is based on version 1.2.1 of Asterisk. As of this writing, Asterisk’s production version is 1.4.x, and the version 1.6 beta release is also available (see http://www.asterisk.org/ for more). Even though the book is somewhat dated, it remains useful in acquainting readers with Asterisk, and I have no reservations in strongly recommending it.
Disclaimer: The author was kindly provided with a copy of this book for review by the publisher.

Jott Announces Local Numbers for Canada!

The following message just arrived in my inbox:

From: “Jott Networks”
Date: February 13, 2008 1:39:32 PM GMT-05:00
To: ian DOT lumb AT gmail DOT com
Subject: Canadian Local Numbers Announced
Reply-To: feedback AT jott DOT comHi everyone,

We are happy to announce that Canadian local numbers are finally here!

As most of you know, we have had a Toronto Jott number (647-724-5814) for some time and have been working on acquiring more local numbers across Canada.

Still confused as to why we are not releasing a toll free number? Jott requires caller ID to know who is sending a Jott to what contact information. In an effort to protect your privacy, most Canadian mobile providers have blocked caller ID information from being passed to toll free numbers. This leaves the alternative of using local access numbers across the country, so that everyone can send Jott messages without having to pay long distance fees.

Below is the list of available Jott numbers in Canada. Find the number in your area code and program it to your speed dial today!

AURORA : +12898020110
CALGARY : +14037751288
EDMONTON : +17806287799
HALIFAX : +19024828120
HAMILTON : +19054819060
KITCHENER : +15199572711
LONDON : +15194898968
MARKHAM : +12898000110
MONTREAL : +15146670329
OTTAWA : +16136861502
QUEBEC CITY : +14189072209
SAINT JOHNS : +17097570047
SHERBROOKE : +18193401636
TORONTO : +16477245365
TORONTO : +14168001067
VANCOUVER : +17787868229
VANCOUVER : +16044841347
VICTORIA : +12509847093
WINDSOR : +15198000031
WINNIPEG : +12042728154

Brought to you by Jott.com – 1-866-JOTT-123
300 East Pike Street, Suite 200
Seattle, WA 98122
Click here to stop receiving emails like this.

This is excellent news!

And just in case this is your first visit to my blog, you can read other Jott-related posts here.

Jott Meets the Semantic Web

While walking my husky after work yesterday, I Jott’ed myself:

Another great work out today on the electrical, you had over 3 kilometers and over 550 calories burned in 32 minutes. Nice work and then some good wait listing …

Most human readers would automatically parse this Jott as:

Another great workout today on the elliptical, you had over 3 kilometers and over 550 calories burned in 32 minutes. Nice work and then some good weight lifting …

Even though I don’t know a lot about Jott’s transcription engine, I’ll share my perspective on the identified differences:

  • “work out” vs. “workout” and “wait” vs. “weight” – These are subtle differences. Differences that can only be resolved with an understanding of context. In other words, a human reader knows that I was attempting to capture some data on my lunch-time exercise routine, and re-parses the Jott with contextually correct words. In order to correct such subtle ‘errors of transcription’, Jott will need to develop semantic filters. Filters that can take context into account.
  • “electrical” vs. “elliptical” and “listing” vs. “lifting” – These are glaring differences. I know, from past experience, that Jott has words like “elliptical” and “lifting” in its ‘dictionary’. Therefore, I regard these as errors originating from Jott’s inability to ‘hear’ what I’m saying. And although a context-based filter may also help here, I feel I must share some of the responsibility for not clearly articulating my Jott.

What does all of this mean?

Meaning, indeed, is the root of it all!

What this means is that some future version of Jott will need to do a better job of capturing meaning. What I had intended. The context in which I framed my Jott.

What this means is that in the longer term, a few major releases of Jott down the road, Jott will need to become as interested in the Semantic Web as companies like Google are today.

And as we’re experiencing with search engines like Google, this’ll take some effort and some time!

My Next-Gen Mobile Platform: A Plain Old Cell Phone Plus Jott Plus flipMail?

In April, I stated that my next-gen mobile platform could just be a Plain Old Cell Phone (POCP) with Jott’s solution for “Mobile Note Taking and Hands-Free Messaging”.

In so suggesting, I thumbed my nose at the BlackBerry (my existing mobile platform) and the highly anticipated iPhone.

I’m not down on the BlackBerry or the iPhone, I’m just impressed by the Lowest Common Denominator (LCD) effect of the POCP when combined with Jott. (Please see the Aside below for more on this LCD effect.)

Even though it’s only been a few months, my next-gen mobile platform has just improved significantly – and I haven’t lifted a finger or spent a $!

Enter flipMail from TeleFlip:

The Teleflip beta story At Teleflip, we love creating exciting and innovative services for our customers. Three years ago we introduced our original service that allowed you to send an email to a cell phone as a text message. That service is now called flipOut. Since we first introduced the service, millions of flipOuts have been sent.

We’re very excited to launch our new service called flipMail beta. flipMail allows you to get your email on your cell phone for free.* No new software, no downloads, no new phone necessary. It’s that simple. Because we’re in beta, we invite you to share your ideas, suggestions, and feedback about how we can make this new service even better.

* SMS charges may apply – this, of course, depends on your plan.

This means I have email on my POCP. It could even be a Jott-generated email!

Because this is an SMS-based offering on the POCP, SMS-based limitations do apply:

What is a fliplette?A fliplette is a text version of your email that we flip to your phone. fliplettes are limited to 120 characters each. When an email is longer than 120 characters, you receive a series of fliplettes.

On my BlackBerry, I have the native BlackBerry email client. In my case, this client is integrated with The University’s enterprise messaging platform (IBM LotusNotes). I also have a native client for GMail on my BlackBerry.

So, even on my BlackBerry, I can see the value in making use of flipMail for email services that are not available natively for the BlackBerry.

Aside on the LCD Effect

Nicholas Negroponte’s USD 100 laptop is an excellent example of an attempt to raise the bar of the LCD in developing countries.

Whereas this laptop is intended to “… revolutionize how we educate the world’s children …”, the POCP plus Jott and flipMail embraces and extends the connectivity possibilities for those that already have cell phones:

The international implications for the service are even more impactful, as Teleflip solves a significant issue by providing e-mail access to millions of cell phone users in emerging e-mail-developing countries. As many as 70 percent of the world’s current 2.5+ billion mobile phone users do not have access to the Internet or e-mail. By establishing a flipMail account through Teleflip, this large population will now have instant access to send and receive worldwide e-mails on their regular cell phones, and again, without any new software downloads, special mobile Internet plans, or any new hardware or devices. So their existing cell phone number will be their onramp to the worldwide e-mail network.

While such a platform could have an impact in developing nations, where cell-phone usage often eclipses land-line usage, the POCP++ platform may have a broader global impact.

And although the USD 100 laptop has WiFi (including wireless mesh) capabilities, it may also benefit from cellular-based connectivity. Such a possibility could be enabled by, for example, adding a Bluetooth capability to the laptop’s already impressive array of technical specifications. In other words, with Bluetooth on both the laptop and cell phone, there exists an alternate vehicle for minimizing the connectivity gap.

Negroponte’s vision for the USD 100 laptop is compelling.

POCP++ could be a part of it – or some other humanitarian effort.

Google & Jott: A Natural Fit

The first time I wrote about Jott, I stated:

I expect Jott to be an excellent acquisition target for the likes of Google …

And for those who like to have everything integrated, Jott would have much more value if it was a part of some existing solution like Google Office (GMail + Google Docs & Spreadsheets).

Just over four months later, it’s clear that Google’s interested in voice:

  • Google Voice Local Search (GVLS) is available from Google Labs
  • Google Phone is getting attention and it doesn’t even exist – or does it?
  • GoogleTalk is a natural target for voice-enablement along the lines of Skype and a host of others …

Given this interest, and the current state of GVLS, there are clearly some synergies for Google with a voice-processing solution such as Jott’s.

Even if Google isn’t sold on Jott’s existing value proposition, Jott’s voice-to-text capabilities are of significant value on their own to make acquisition attractive.

Jott: An Enabler for Working Moments

During his keynote address at yesterday’s Cisco Networkers event, Rick Moran (Vice President, Market Management) referred to the concept of working moments.

In other words, rather than blocks of time, for many the reality is that they have matters of minutes to get things done.

While listening to Mr. Moran speak, it occurred to me that Jott is a wonderful enabler for those having to survive on working moments.

As a case in point …

While driving to the Cisco event yesterday morning, I thought about an email message that I needed to write and send. Once I had some clarity on the content, I Jott’ed myself. Then when I arrived at the event, I edited my Jott on my BlackBerry, and emailed the completed message.

Once done, my mental self caught up with my physical self – which was already at the event 😉

Jott’s a great enabler for working moments!