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New Features

Apologies for yet another ‘non-story’ post, however I thought these new features were important enough that I needed to draw everybody’s attention to them. I promise I’ll try to keep these updates brief, and limit them as much as I can, but whilst I’m still getting things set up and working as they should there may be a few more to come yet!

Anyway, this was actually prompted by a reader who had some issues accessing the site using adaptive/assistive technology, and whilst I was exploring the options to make things a little more accessible I stumbled across some fantastic technological advancements which hadn’t been available the last time I played with web development, so I couldn’t resist having a play. ๐Ÿ™‚

Firstly, when viewing the site from a large screen device (PC, laptop, tablet etc.) you should now see two small, floating toggle switches on the right hand side – the top option is to enable/disable a high contrast mode, which will hopefully be useful to some readers, and the bottom option will automatically increase the font size on the page to make it easier to read.

More impressively, to my mind at least, is that we no longer actually have to read the story ourselves at all! I may have sold my soul to Amazon in the process, haha, however we now have an audio version of each chapter which has been uploaded so far, which can be accessed using a small in-line player at the bottom of each chapter page. There will even be one at the bottom of this post, if you want to give it a try to see how it works.

It’s powered by a text-to-speech engine, so it’s not going to be as natural as having a living person read it to you, but I’m pretty happy with the end result, and I hope you guys all like it too.

The player widget will only play the current chapter you are viewing onscreen, so you’d need to flick to a different post and then start playing again, but the next idea I’m looking at is to roll them out as a downloadable option (you can actually do this for individual chapters using the button on the left of the player) and potentially a podcast – watch this space. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I should be grateful for the change of policy where the story used to be hosted, as it’s only through this that I’ve taken the opportunity to explore all of these fantastic new ideas which wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. Happy reading/listening.

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Audio Version of Chapter
Published inAnnouncements & Site Info

5 Comments

  1. Imouto Kitten Imouto Kitten

    Wow, the TTS on the site player actually sounds a lot better than my screen reader… and it lacks the odd intonation of the TTS on my talking book reader… Seriously, I might’ve been convinced if you told me it was an actual human reading the announcement… I suspect the illusion will break on the actual story chapters, especially when characters start chatting to each other, but I’m wondering what TTS engine is being used here and if I can install it on my desktop for my screen reader to use.

    Give me a way to bulk download and I might even give the whole story another read from the beginning.

    • Piddly Piddly

      Yeah I was quite impressed by it too! Much more natural sounding than anything else I’ve come across. As you say, it doesn’t work quite as well on the story chapters, but still definitely passable, far less robotic than when I tried listening to a Kindle book using the built in TTS recently, that was painful haha.

      It’s the Amazon Polly system, using the British English ‘Amy’ voice. https://aws.amazon.com/polly/

      What I’ve done with it on here barely scratches the surface in terms of it’s capabilities, so I’m looking forward to digging deeper and having a proper play when I’ve got a spare few hours to really tinker with it.

      The podcast is working now, so if you drop this RSS link into a podcast capable player (I’ve tested it with iTunes on Mac, and Acast for Android so far, but it should work with any) then you’ll be able to access the 81 chapters uploaded so far. I’m working on a way to bulk-download the MP3 files, but AWS access control is a B*tch haha.

      http://theforgottenhomework.co.uk/feed/amazon-pollycast/

  2. Imouto Kitten Imouto Kitten

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m using the default espeak male voice here for my screen readers, which while leagues better than the robotic voices JAWS used back in the Dos and Win 3.11 days(boy am I glad I didn’t need screen readers back then) is still clearly on the artificial side of the uncanny valley. My talking eBook Reader(A Blaze ET from Hims Inc.) has more human sounding voices, but has some odd pronunciations and intonation that makes it fall into the uncanny valley when reading actual prose(though it’s great for the Blaze’s menus and operating it’s general media player functionality)… But what you’re using for here… Well, for reading something like a news article or this announcement, I’m not sure you could get much better. and when I decided to give one of the actual chapters a listen, my only real complaint is that the narrator and all the characters have the same voice, though that’s kind of to be expected(Telling the system which parts to read in which voice is a lot of extra work on a human user’s part than just having it read the whole thing in the same voice, and it would take AI unrelated to the actual TTS to have the system autodetect when to switch voices, and while a competent human reader could act out the lines, the even yet not monotonous delivery here probably works better than if the computer tried acting. Does make me wonder if they offer a British Girl voice(This British woman voice sounds perfect for Lucy’s mother, But Lucy is only 11 and while the difference isn’t as prominent as with males, there’s still an appreciable difference in female voices of different ages).

    This might be the first time where I find myself thinking TTS might finally be climbing out of the uncanny valley on the human-like side… and I think this is the most excited I’ve ever been about advances in TTS.

    • Piddly Piddly

      I thought there was only me old enough to remeber the days of Dos and Win 3.11 ๐Ÿ™ˆ๐Ÿคฃ.

      Know what you mean about the same voice for Al characters, it would be great if it was possible to differentiate, but as you say that would be quite a task! I don’t doubt it can be done, anything is possible after all, but probably beyond the realms of my capabilities at this stage.

      I use Audible for audio books to listen to when driving, and it’s almost invariably a single narrator voicing all parts, although with the advantage that as a real human they can change their intonation subtly to make it more obvious when different characters are speaking.

      There’s quite a selection of voices available, although only 3 British English, with this being the best, and as its set in the UK I think it needs to be a British voice really – when the story is finished though I may have another play. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Imouto Kitten Imouto Kitten

    Yeah, sifting through the link you provided, it seems Poly’s biggest weakness(aside from being cloud-based and charging by the word) is having only one male and one female voice for most languages with the main exception being for languages with major geographical splits. I’m sure one could use voices outside their native tongue, but unless you were trying to voice an Hetalia fanfic or something, you’d probably be better off keeping everyone with the same voice.

    I haven’t used Audible(being a Linux user and not having a smart phone, my Echo is probably the only thing I own that can play Audible or read Kindle eBooks, and that thing isn’t very portable), but I do own several audiobooks on CD and have quite a bit downloaded from BARD(Braille and Audio Resource Download), which is provided to legally disabled individuals in the US courtesy of the National Library Service or extract from digital cartridges(glorified flash drives with a housing about the size of a 4-track audio cassette), and yeah, most are single narrator, though many do an excellent job acting the various roles. I do own a few full audio dramatizations on CD(Including an excellent performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol) and a few actual Radio shows(Including the full run of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the radio show versions of Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back) though most of my reading is still listing to my screen reader monotone as it reads serial web fiction(both original and fanfic)

    My family’s first personal computer(not counting a Commodore 64 that my older brother learned to program on) was some off brand Win98 machine, but before that, I attended a school whose lab had a mixture of Apple IIe, IBM Dos, original Macintosh, and a single machine running Win 3.11. That was in 96, so I’m pretty sure those where mostly leftovers while the Win95 machines where reserved for the older years. Haven’t run Windows serious on my own mchines since the XP days though and I’ve never owned an Apple product. Quite over here in Penguin land with my talking Killer Whale helping me surf the web with a hot fox while doing everything from the command line.

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This fictional work features children and has themes including wetting, Omorashi and toilet regression which may be considered to be adult in nature. The story does not include ANY sexual or erotic content.3

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