What a great start for the year 2000! A week before Christmas
1999 the Space Coast PC Users Group received a most welcome and
unexpected Christmas gift from our Site Host and Internet Service
Provider, Palmnet Online (http://www.palmnet.net).
We now have our own domain! You can now visit the SCPCUG Online
I'm sure you will agree our new web address is a lot easier to
remember. So please change the bookmarks and favorites in your
Last month we reviewed the free program BonziBUDDY
available at http://www.bonzi.com/BonziBUDDY/BonziBUDDYFREE.asp.
It features a Microsoft Agent character, Peedy (the talking parrot)
that lives on your desktop. We briefly mentioned MagicSpell
which I originally reviewed in my Feb/March 1999 Web Master
Wanderings column (http://www.scpcug.com/wmwand02.html).
In view of the many improvements and additional features Streambox
has added to MagicSpell I felt another look at this wonderful
program was in order. It is my understanding that approximately
99 percent of the original code has been rewritten.
MagicSpell is similar to BonziBUDDY in that it relies on Microsoft
Agent technology. Where the two programs differ is in flexibility.
BonziBuddy is basically preprogrammed for the user. There is
no capability to add, edit or delete things like jokes, songs,
comments, and no way to change characters if you get tired of
the parrot. MagicSpell on the other hand is a dream for those
of us that are not real programmers but like the idea of changing
a program to suit our taste.
MagicSpell's original claim to fame was it read your ICQ
Messages. Now it works with the Instant Messengers from AOL,
Yahoo, and Microsoft Network. This has opened up a much larger
audience. Even if you are not using an Instant Messenger, MagicSpell
is well worth getting because of all its other features such
as support for Windows Events, Voice Commands, Checking Mail,
Changing Characters, Auto Updating, etc.
MagicSpell comes with 582 items (some are jokes and some are
facts) in the Jokes folder and two songs in the Songs folder.You
can select the folder that items are read from, if they are to
be read only once, and the time interval (anywhere from "never"
to "Every 1 min" to "Every 12 hours"). Double
clicking on either of the folders reveals an edit window. For
example, double clicking the Jokes folder shows the first several
words of each item in a scroll down list. Here you can add or
delete items, or have your Microsoft Agent character (Merlin
the Wizard is the default) say the joke or fact. Double clicking
one of the Jokes folder items brings up an Add/Edit item box.
Here you can read the entire text of the item or have Merlin
say it. You can also select when you want that particular item
killed (from "Never" to "After 45 days").
Are you beginning to see how wonderfully customizable this program
A Scheduler is available which allows you to add/edit tasks.
You can program it to run programs of your choosing by typing
in the path. You have complete flexibility in that you can program
a specific time, on startup of MagicSpell, or at a specific time
interval (anywhere from "Every 1 min" to "Every
12 hours"). The task does not have to be a program. It could
be a wav file which would automatically play through file association
if you have the Windows Media Player set as your default player
for wav files. Thus you would have an alarm clock. Now this is
no ordinary scheduler. Along with scheduling the task you can
add text for your character to say and animation for the character
to perform. Each Agent character has a comprehensive list of
animations it can perform such as Announce, Explain, Gesture
(in various directions), Get Attention, Process, Read, Suggest,
Think, Wave, Write, etc. Merlin for example has a list of 57
animations. If you don't want to choose a specific animation
you can select "random animation". In addition you
can have the character change it's position on your screen by
specifying the x and y coordinates. As an example, I scheduled
Merlin to perform the "Get Attention" animation while
saying some text that I had typed in. I called my wife (Milada)
into the computer room just before the scheduled time. On cue
Merlin tapped on the inside glass of my computer screen (you
actually hear the tapping-on-glass sound) and says "Curt
you sure look spiffy today. Do you think Milada noticed?"
My wife was quite surprised. Do you see the possibilities of
having fun with this program? You can personalize it to say the
names of your children, grandchildren, friends, etc. along with
any text of your choosing.
MagicSpell will check your POP3 server for new e-mail and
can read you the number of messages, who they are from, and the
subject. You can specify the checking time interval. Along with
this you can program the character animation, position, and what
it says when it checks the mail. I have both Netscape and Internet
Explorer installed on my machine but use Netscape's Messenger
for my e-mail client. MagicSpell works fine with Netscape's Messenger.
Some other programs that check e-mail will only work with Internet
Explorer's e-mail client, Outlook Express.
Need a Reminder pad? MagicSpell has one. It works similar
to the Task Scheduler but in this case the character will only
read your note. You cannot program animation or character position.
This makes sense as a reminder is a essentially a note to yourself,
so reading is what the character does. Options are available
for specifying the day of the alert, how often to notify you,
and when to start and stop notifying you.
How about a Media search capability? Call up MagicSpell! The
search is done by the Streambox site search engine which looks
for audio, video, or live event links to streaming media on the
net in the Widows Media Player or Real Player formats.
Okay, remember that capability of programming your character
with text to say, animation, and position on your screen?
You can associate that with a Windows Event Command. You can
now make opening and closing a program like Wordpad or Calculator
interesting. For example when I open the Windows Calculator,
Merlin starts stirring a boiling and bubbling pot of green liquid
(the "Process" animation) and says "Hey Curt are
we making big money in the stockmarket today?" When I close
the Calculator, Merlin puts on goggles, a propeller pops out
of his hat, he flies across my computer screen, waves his magic
wand and says "Let's party with all that moola!" The
programming is so simple you can change the animation, text,
etc. as often as you like in less than a minute.
MagicSpell has just too many features to go into everything
here but one of the best is Voice commands. Yes you can actually
talk to Merlin and he will respond. As part of the install process
MagicSpell goes back to the Internet to install the Microsoft
Agent core components. At that time you are given the option
to download the Microsoft speech recognition engine. This is
an extra 6 MB download but well worth it for the fun you can
have. All of the Agent core components including the speech recognition
engine are free. The downside of this free speech recognition
feature is it comes with only four global commands. The window
of the Voice commands tab under Settings in MagicSpell is blank
and waiting for you to add commands. The four global commands are: "Hide"
(Merlin disappears to the System Tray), "Merlin" (Merlin
pops on to your screen), "What can I say" (opens a
Voice Commands Window) and "Close Voice Commands Window".
Maybe future versions of MagicSpell will come with some sample
preprogrammed voice commands like "Page Down", "Enter",
"Find", "Save", "Close", etc. For
now you will have to add your own voice commands. That seems
simple enough for opening specific programs. I easily programmed
it to start Netscape, Wordpad, Calculator, and my midi player
You can also have fun with the voice commands. Before my brother
came for a visit I programmed the voice command "We have
a visitor". When my brother came over I was showing him
Merlin and said the command. Recognizing the command Merlin performed
the "Acknowledge" animation (a nod down and up) and
said "Oh! Who could it be? Why it's big Al Potsic, your
brother. Hey big Al, are you making any money in the stock market
lately? Curt is always using that calculator to figure his profits."
Please don't get the idea that MagicSpell can take the place
of a full blown voice recognition program like Lernout &
Hauspie Voice Xpress (http://www.lhsl.com/voicexpress/),
IBM ViaVoice (http://www-4.ibm.com/software/speech/)
or Dragon Naturally Speaking (http://www.dragonsystems.com/products/index.html).
The voice recognition in MagicSpell is very basic and relates
to only limited commands of windows events, not dictation. Another
thing is you have to press the Scroll Lock button on your keyboard
each time you want your character to listen for a command. Your
character will remain in listening mode for only a few seconds.
Microsoft Agent was not designed to be in a continuous listening
mode. But for anyone curious about the subject of computer voice
recognition this is a wonderful way to get your feet wet. And
the recognition is amazingly accurate.
In addition to all of the great features mentioned above MagicSpell
allows you to easily change Agent characters whenever you like.
Many Microsoft Agent characters are available for free
on the Internet at http://www.msagentring.org/agentchars.html.
So if Merlin does not suit you, just select another. On my computer
I have Merlin, Peedy, James, Genie, and Wartnose.
Streambox has done a wonderful job of integrating so many
features into MagicSpell. The program has come a long way from
its start of simply reading your clipboard and ICQ messages.
However one area in which I would like to see improvement is
in the Help file. While its integrated Help file is adequate,
I would have preferred several specific examples (and more detail)
of the program's features, especially in areas where programming
was involved like the Voice commands and Windows events commands.
This review is based on Streambox MagicSpell Version 1 Build
#24. Perhaps we will see such improvements in future builds.
Note: Web Master Wanderings
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