[TUHS] In Memoriam: J. F. Ossanna

Eric Wayte ewayte at gmail.com
Fri Nov 30 03:41:51 AEST 2018

http://www.lostepcot.com/communicore.html - there's a description of
Phraser, which was the name given to speak at EPCOT.  I remember playing
with it, and getting it to say bad words!

On Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 12:08 PM Doug McIlroy <doug at cs.dartmouth.edu> wrote:

> > Joe sold the (not really existent) UNIX system to the patent department
> of AT&T,
> > which in turn bought the urgently needed PDP11. Without that there would
> be no
> > UNIX. Without Joe there would be no UNIX.
> That one's an urban legend. The PDP-11 was indeed a gift from another
> department,
> thanks to a year-end budget surplus. Unix was up and running on that
> machine when
> Joe corralled the patent department.
> Nevertheless the story is consistent with Joe's talent for playing (or
> skirting)
> the system to get things done. After Joe, the talent resurfaced in the
> person of Fred Grampp. Lots of tales await Grampp's popping up from Dave
> Horsford's calendar.
> > Runoff was moved to Multics fairly early: here's its entry from the
> Multics
> > glossary: "A Multics BCPL version of runoff was written by Doug McIlroy
> > and Bob  Morris."
> Morris did one port and called it roff. I did the BCPL one, adding
> registers,
> but not macros. Molly Wagner contributed a hyphenation algorithm. Ken
> and/or Dennis redid roff in PDP-11 assembler. Joe started afresh for the
> grander nroff, including macros. Then Joe bought a phototypesetter ...
> > Sun was sort of the Bell Labs of the time ... I wanted to go there and
> had
> > to work at it a bit but I got there. Was Bell Labs in the 60's like that?
> Yes, in desirability. But Bell Labs had far more diverse interests.
> Telephones,
> theoretical physics, submarine cables, music, speech, fiber optics, Apollo.
> Wahtever you wanted to know or work on, you were likely to find kindred
> types and willing management.
> > was that voice synthesizer a votrax or some other thing?
> Yes. Credit Joe again. He had a penchant for hooking up novel equipment.
> When the Votrax arrived, its output was made accessible by phone and also
> by loudspeaker in the Unix lab. You had to feed it a stream of ASCII-
> encoded phonemes. Lee McMahon promptly became adept at writing them
> down. After a couple of days' play in the lab, Lee was working in his
> office with the Votrax on speakerphone in the background. Giving no
> notice, he typed the phonemes for "It sounds better over the telephone".
> Everyone in the lab heard it clearly--our own "Watson, come here" moment.
> But phonemes are tedious. Believing that it could ease the
> task of phonetic transcription, I wrote a phonics program, "speak",
> through which you could feed English text for conversion to
> phonemes. At speak's inaugural run, Bob Morris typed one word,
> "oarlock", and pronounced the program a success. Luckily he didn't
> try "coworker", which the program would have rendered as "cow orker".
> Max Matthews from acoustics research called it a breakthrough.
> The acoustics folks could synthesize much better speech, but it
> took minutes of computing to synthesize seconds of sounds. So
> the Unix lab heard more synthetic speech in a few days than the
> experts had created over all time.
> One thing we learned is that people quickly get used
> to poor synthetic speech just like they get used to
> foreign accents. In fact, non-native speakers opined
> that the Votrax was easier to understand than real people,
> probably due to the bit of silence that the speak program
> inserted between words to help with mental segmentation.
> One evening someone in the Unix room playing with the
> synthesizer noticed a night janitor listening in from
> the corridor. In a questionable abuse of a non-exempt
> employee, the Unix person typed, "Stop hanging around
> around and get back to work." The poor janitor fled.
> AT&T installed speak for the public to play with at Epcot.
> Worried that folks would enter bad words that everybody
> standing around could hear, they asked if I could filter them
> out. Sure, I said, just provide me with a list of what to
> delete. Duly, I received on letterhead from the VP for
> public relations a list of perhaps twenty bad words. (I have
> always wondered about the politics of asking a secretary to
> type that letter.) It was reported that girls would try the
> machine on people's names, while boys would discover that
> the machine "didn't know" bad words (though it would happily
> pronounce phonetic misspellings). Alas, I mistakenly discarded
> the infamous letter in cleaning house to leave Bell Labs.
> Doug

Eric Wayte
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