progress means not having to finish things

WikiReader in the wildA few years ago, I started a project to build something I’d wanted for a long time: a simple device that could read Wikipedia articles and Project Gutenberg texts. I called it a WikiBub. The point was to create something dirt simple on the cheap, instead of the usual “convergence device” that does everything (and is priced to match).

Five years later, I can check it off my to-do list. I never got the hardware working, and I didn’t even get past the rough-sketch stage of the design, but other people met my goals for me. The WikiReader (pictured) matches the original WikiBub idea perfectly: it’s simple, cheap ($99), open to hacking, and designed to do one thing (reading Wikipedia) well.

Of course, the idea of a simple-to-use ebook reader without eyestrain or battery issues is no longer new; the Kindle took care of popularizing that one. I also moved on to another hand-held reading device you may have heard of, which (mostly) took away my need for a dedicated reader. Still, it’s nice to see something so true to the WikiBub spirit. I hope it flourishes.

tomayto tomahto

Speak & SpellI often see a word in print long before I hear it pronounced. That’s fine for most words—”antidisestablishmentarianism” isn’t actually that hard to deconstruct—but it can get me in trouble sometimes. For years I thought misled was pronounced “mizzled”, and I never did decide how envelope should sound.

Now that’s going to be a lot easier, thanks to a little programming trickery by John Tantalo. He created a handy bookmarklet that takes standard International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) transcriptions (as found on many Wikipedia pages) and runs them through a text-to-speech (TTS) system to speak them aloud.

Checking a few known pronunciations against Wikipedia’s IPA for them, I see that either the TTS server or the listed IPA needs some work. I suspect the latter, because the IPA for the Niger River entry (/ˈnaɪdʒər/) sounds great, while the IPA for Nagios (/ˈnɑːɡi.oʊs/) sounds way off (as I write this at least). Still, most entries work great, and I expect this tool to encourage more authors to include IPA as it gets used.