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Speak & Spell Hacking For Fun And Profit 214

Bowie J. Poag writes "Pete Casper has created a number of truly bizarre Speak & Spell hacks, and case mods (!) suitable for live performances. The highly modified Speak & Spell can be controlled either by the membrane keypad or using an Atari joystick of all things. Tons of photographs and MP3 samples included.. I want one. Now."
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Speak & Spell Hacking For Fun And Profit

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  • Anyone remember how freaky those things sounded?

    I remember as a kid being scared of it because of that crazy deep rumbling synthesized voice....

  • by marcsiry ( 38594 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:03PM (#5090773) Homepage
    >Tons of hotographs

    Now Slashdot is only linking to images captured in the infrared spectrum? Great, now I'm going to have to spend the dough to update to the PowerBook with the face-burning screen, in addition to the penis-scorching base.
  • by AKA da JET ( 280057 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:05PM (#5090781) Homepage
    "Tons of hotographs." Looks like the /. editors could use a Speak & Spell. ;)
    • Don't you mean the slashdot submitters? Since for once this isn't an editor typo.
      • Re:Speak & Spell (Score:2, Insightful)

        by LordNimon ( 85072 )
        Editors are supposed to correct the spelling mistakes. That's why they're called editors.
        • Re:Speak & Spell (Score:2, Informative)

          by sweetooth ( 21075 )
          Editors aren't supposed to correct spelling errors in direct quotes they are supposed to point out that there is an error with [sic]. However, most people don't know what that means, and many submissions have too many errors to bother fixing them all. In that case a better submission should be chosen or the editor could write thier own summary of the article.
          • Re:Speak & Spell (Score:2, Insightful)

            by LordNimon ( 85072 )
            Story submissions are not quotations. They are articles written by individuals (some would say unpaid employees of Slashdot), and thus need to be edited before publishing.
          • An editor generally only uses [sic] to make the original author look stupid.
          • Uh, if that's true, then why is has the error been corrected?
  • hotograph? (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    What's a 'hotograph'? Is that like a 'icture'?
  • by skryche ( 26871 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:08PM (#5090801) Homepage
    I had a Speak n' Spell when I was young. It eventually got whacked a few too many times and its database somehow scrambled:

    SnS: Now spell: "Erkngwhkfzgnkil".
    Me:[A] [P] [P] [L] [E] [Enter]
    SnS: Incorrect. Please try again.
    Me:[M] [O] [N] [K] [E] [Y] [Enter]
    SnS: Incorrect. Please try again.
    Me:[S] [T] [U] [P] [I] [D] [Enter]
    SnS: Incorrect. The correct spelling of "Erkngwhkfzgnkil" is: S A U C E R.

    It was great! Sadly, it sounds nothing like the "Random Noise" or "Glitch" mp3s. I'm disappointed.
  • by Shamanin ( 561998 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:09PM (#5090809) (and their was much rejoicing).
    • Anyone who's hung out on the Analogue Heaven [] or Synth-DIY [] mailing lists has known about these kind of mods for years (i'm talking mid-90s and earlier here).

      It is SO MUCH FUN to play with old sound-making gear and randomly bypass resistors and short chips just to see what will happen. I've broken one synth doing this randomly, after that i always bought schematics :-) But with schematics you can do All Sort Of Cool Shit. It doesn't really work with newer, "System On A Chip" kind of gear, but who cares - it's only the late 70s and early 80s stuff that you get at garage sales for $10 anyway. Even if you're not musical and just an EE head it's a ball to go in and connect shit up and make it go "wheeeeeee" "waaaarrgggghhhh" "w00t".

  • hotograph? (Score:5, Funny)

    by kirkb ( 158552 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:09PM (#5090810) Homepage
    Tons of hotographs and MP3 samples included..

    My browser doesn't seem to have hotograph viewer support. Is that one of those new 3-D hologram thingies?
  • He has the schematics of what he put into the thing, and lots of pictures of the thing, but allas, no step by step hacking process, guess if people want there own they can figure it out.
  • The sounds are very odd/distorted/creepy to me (especially in the rythmic loops). Maybe this is actually an attempt to be contacted by aliens...I mean hey, E.T. had one of those....
    • I think ET learned how to talk from it, or the other way around. They sound the same. Maybe aliens planted the technology so we could get use to the way they would sound... Hmmmm, where's my tinfoil hat?

      My other sig flys
  • by Scud_the_disposable_ ( 639695 ) <trvanden@telus.nPARISet minus city> on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:11PM (#5090822)
    What's the point??

  • MAME... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tsali ( 594389 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:11PM (#5090824)
    Can we MAME this one?

    Do I need an original Speak & Spell to apply the mod patch?

    Will the Speak & Spell manufacturer put a stop and desist order for mod chips?

    Will we? Will we?

    How long until we kill this invention?

  • by the_real_tigga ( 568488 ) <nephros@users.sR ... net minus distro> on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:11PM (#5090825) Journal
    Just for those of you who are not old enough or, like me, not American enough to immediately understand what exactly is an Speak and Spell device which that guy modded, here some clarification (ripped from the first or second google hit):

    Plenty of toys become hits, but only a select few make history. One of the finest examples in the historical arena is Speak & Spell. Not only did this toy educate its users, it spoke to them using brand-new computer technology. Simply put, this toy managed to pack a computer's worth of top-flight technology into a plastic shell that was small enough to conveniently fit in a backpack. As a result, it became a favorite with kids and one of the most successful educational toys of all time.

    Texas Instruments, a company best known at the time for its calculators, introduced Speak & Spell in 1978. This electronic marvel was design to teach its users spelling skills with vocalized lessons. What made this toy impressive was that it pulled this off without using a tape recorder or other conventional recording device. Speak & Spell created convincing speech sounds through a method called digital speech synthesis. In other words, it used computerized circuits to create a replica of the human vocal tract that would synthetically "speak" words aloud when prompted. This was the first use of this kind of technology, making Speak & Spell a toy for the history books.

    Speak & Spell offered five different spelling games to occupy the user. For the most part, these games revolved around Speak & Spell's saying a word aloud for the user to spell. This was accomplished by punching in the proper combination of letters on the toy's alphabetical keypad. As each letter was pressed, Speak & Spell would say it aloud so the l'il speller could hear his choice. Other buttons allowed the user to hear a word repeated, retype the answer before entering it, or even receive a clue.

    Another nice thing about Speak & Spell was that its electronic brain could be expanded to keep up with its users as they grew older. Speak & Spell pulled this off through new learning modules--little cartridges inserted in the back of the machine that could add new words to the games to increase the level of learning up to an 8th grade level.

    Speak & Spell's unique combination of technology and fun made it an instant hit with kids. Its popularity with its target audience was given a further boost when a certain adorable alien used it to help him "phone home" in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Both parents and educators appreciated its value as a teaching tool, and their combined seals of approval made Speak & Spell a common sight in homes and schools alike. Its popularity also led to sequel electronic games for other areas of learning like Speak & Math and Speak & Read.

    Speak & Spells are not made today, but their popularity continues to live on. It has become a popular possession for Generation X adults who want to relive their youth, and musicians often sample Speak & Spell's vocal sounds to create trippy yet oddly familiar effects in their music. Having already outlived its own shelf life, there is no doubt that Speak & Spell will long occupy a place in the hearts of the grownups it once educated.
    • by ncc74656 ( 45571 ) <> on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @08:18PM (#5091233) Homepage Journal
      Just for those of you who are not old enough or, like me, not American enough to immediately understand what exactly is an Speak and Spell...

      They were available outside the States. I remember seeing a TV commercial for it in England in the mid-80s. The funny part of the commercial was the word went something like this

      S&S: Please spell "color."
      Kid: [punches in C-O-L-O-R]
      S&S: That is incorrect...try again.
      Kid: [punches in C-O-L-O-U-R]
      S&S: That is correct.

      They localized it for that market...IIRC, it spoke with a somewhat Brit accent. I don't know if it was sold in any non-English-speaking countries, though I'd think that the type of speech synthesis employed ought to work at least for most Western languages.

      • Yep, *some* UK Speak'n'Spells had British accents. Very "RP" if I remember correctly. Oh, and as the parent post mentioned, the words *were* spelled correctly :-)

        The Speak'n'Maths didn't have a British accent though, and very early Speak'n'Spells had UK spelling but US voices...

        And let's not forget Depeche Mode, who called their first album "Speak'n'Spell"
    • It should be noted that the S&S was the first consumer application of a Digital Signal Processor (DSP chip). The most common application of DSPs today is the digital cell phone. Who would have thought that the S&S would lead to wireless access to prOn? -- Jack
  • of course, I didn't use it so much for spelling as I did to get it to pronounce dirty words :) This synth hack seems far more practical!
  • Look on his second page of pictures, he has a few pictures of his cats, no hacked gadgets in sight, one is left to assume that he us useing this device to either torture the cat's ears or is useing mind controle from it to controle his cats.
  • by 6 ( 22657 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:13PM (#5090843)
    I played with one of these when I was a girl. Later as an adult I heard a Steven Hawking lecture and my first thought was, "Oh My God, it's my first spelling teacher."

    I keep waiting for him to in the middle of some physics lecture or interview say, "spell Schwarzschild radius."

  • SASS (Score:5, Informative)

    by AKA da JET ( 280057 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:13PM (#5090844) Homepage
    There is a Speak & Spell simulator for Windows here [] if any of you want to relive those great S&S memories. :-P USA and British versions are available.
  • .. then they'll have a beowulf cluster of case modded speak and spells. I hope I'm just being facetious but as someone else pointed out, they do seem to have a lot of time on their hands.
    • ".. then they'll have a beowulf cluster of case modded speak and spells. I hope I'm just being facetious but as someone else pointed out, they do seem to have a lot of time on their hands."

      Actually, that isn't really such an outlandish idea.

      Do a search for John Cage's "Imaginary Landscape #4" and then add in some computer-automation. This isn't really a very odd or unworkable idea. Hmmm....
  • by Drachemorder ( 549870 ) <brandon@cCOMMAhr ... .org minus punct> on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:15PM (#5090861) Homepage
    Didn't E.T. already do this twenty-some-odd years ago?
  • Oooh (Score:2, Funny)

    by grundie ( 220908 )
    Today it was announced that a new toy product was lauched on to the market.

    "Speak and Tinnitus" is an updated version of the popular 1980's toy "Speak and Spell". Unlike the original which taugh kids how to spell. The new varsion gives children the condition known as Tinnitus, also known as ringing in the ears....
  • ....but wow. I thought Bowie dead. Deader than JFK, as some would say.
  • Hmm (Score:3, Funny)

    by Drath ( 50447 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:18PM (#5090877)
    I was thinking the other day that there weren't enough bad techno songs out there yet...
  • finally i know how alec empire [] made his hypermodern jazz - lp ;)
  • could have told me would be avaiable to me in the future ten years ago, a speak and spell I WANT, would blow my mind the most....
  • Anyone want to submit a joint patent application for the hotograph? With a snazzy name like that, I bet we could sneak a real whizbanger past the patent inspectors. "Device and Method for Producing Intense Gonadal Discomfort" or something like that.
  • by agent oranje ( 169160 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:20PM (#5090896) Journal
    Long ago, I came across Carrion Sound [], which has been tweaking toys and instruments of today and yesterday into noise masterpieces. Mp3 examples are there, too. A bit more on the artistic-side, but many of his examples are quite impressive. And although many-a Speak-and-Spell were destroyed in this man's work, he destroyed many, many, many, many other things, too.

    Anyone who can turn a Pikachu doll into something even more disturbing should get a medal.

  • by mediahacker ( 566995 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:21PM (#5090903) Homepage
    Common in the electronic music community - very fun stuff... Google for "circuit bending" and check out some of the sites.
  • The new aphex twin album to me. :P
  • by larsoncc ( 461660 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:22PM (#5090910) Homepage
    IANATE (I am not a trained ear), but...

    Here's my take on the tracks presented:
    1. Slow Melodic - Between the deep "bong" noises (bong noises, indeed), you can hear the faint cry of an abused robotic child. They have tortured the soul of this Speak N Spell.

    2. Rhythmic Loops - This is almost too short to care.

    3. Loop N Pitch - This has an enjoyable mid-eighties video game flare to it. If I didn't know better, I'd think that this came from a mutilated Atari.

    4. Slow Loop N Pitch - It's the same as #3.

    5. Rythmic Loop 4 - Is neither. It sounds like an abused telegraph.

    6. Glitch Pitch - probably the most interesting of the collection, I'd imagine that this is similar to a robotic death.

    7. Rythmic Loop 1 - This track has the annoying qualities of an alarm clock coupled with the repetative nature of your boss. Not recommended for those with heart conditions.

    8. Random Noise - Sounds EXACTLY like the intro to Metroid Prime. It's scary.

    9. Glitch - Sucks. Nuff said.

    10, Rythmic Loop 2 - is the closest thing to outputting something worthy. This has coffee edge with 9-volt-battery-on-toungue power.

    11. Loop w / Randomize - I think this is the sound my bathtub makes when emptied.

    12. Distortion - SATAN has possessed the Speak N Spell. It's actually pronouncing things - but in this case, at best, it sounds like a smoker that has a tube cut in their throats.

    My end analysis:

  • He circumventing a digital device! How long until the company claims a DMCA infringement?

    Seriously though, if the copyrights are still held, we are getting to ap oint when even doing hacks on devices we own will get us in jail. Hmmm, time to turn my gamebot into a robot controller, oh wait... nevermind
  • Krusty: Shitzu


    awww... look at 'im.

  • *ziiip* Can you spell copyright infringement?
  • by sup4hleet ( 444456 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:30PM (#5090937) Homepage
    Alien Devices []
    Anti-theory []

    Both sites are way cooler than the story's link and have sound samples and howto guides on circuit bending. Enjoy!
  • by Andy_R ( 114137 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:31PM (#5090945) Homepage Journal
    Wrong. The correct spelling of photograph is p-h-o-t-o-g-r-a-p-h.

    Now spell...
  • Bizzare, Live Performances, Membranes, Joysticks and ... Hoto Graphs?
    And the inventors name is what? Pete Casper?
    I don't know, but this sounds pretty gay to me.
  • Casper Electronics is going to get sued by Texas Instruments under the DMCA []!
  • Is it network compatable so I can interlink them for Surrond sound?
  • WTF?? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Eagle7 ( 111475 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:39PM (#5090990) Homepage
    Perhaps I am too much of a bottom-feeder to recognize the value in this, but does anyone think that those MP3s sound like complete shit? I was expecting to hear the thing rapping the Random House Children's Dictionary, and instead it sounds like a SnS having a seizure. Hell, I used to do *that* when I was a kid by hitting the damn thing really hard.
  • He hacked one in the movie E.T. the Extraterestrial in 1982 in order to call home. I took the E.T. ride at Universal a few weeks ago where there were some S&S.
  • He's got the Loop 'n Pitch, now if he can just get the "Loop 'n Bitch", I can replace 98% of the people in my life with a Speak & Spell!
  • ...that all the speak & spells on ebay with a 'buy it now' option have all _just_ been bought in the last few minutes?
  • Can't really look too much at the linked site right now (no sound on the computer i'm at at the moment), but if this interests you:

    You may also be interested in the hacking Charlie Clouser [] (you'd know him from Nine Inch Nails) did to his speak and spell [] (see partway down the page).
  • by WinterSolstice ( 223271 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2003 @07:51PM (#5091065)
    The "Learning Books" series are pretty similar. The one my son has makes the "h" sound like CB static.

    Especially funny since he actually pronounced it that way until we corrected him. Never let a child use one of these things unsupervised!


  • Didn't ET hack a speak 'n spell to phone home? Good thing the DMCA wasn't around then. He might be sitting in prison now for the mods.
  • Somebody call Trent Reznor!
  • I don't mean to downplay the effort that goes into something like this but am I the only one that thinks the results sound like, well, crap?

    Sure, sure it's kinda cool that it can be done but let's be honest, does this really mean that it should be done?
  • Does "Slow Loop 'n Pitch" remind anyone else of Terry Kath doing Free Form Guitar []? (Which is to ask, are there any other geezers on /.? ;-)

    Also, "Random Noise" sounds suspiciously like he dumped the ROM contents straight to the DAC. Some 20 years ago, I did exactly that with my Trash80 Color Computer, with similar results.

    Spell nostalgia.

  • It's from Japan. It's similar to a photograph, only you read it from right to left.
  • Why havent they been slashdotted yet? They have downloadable snippets and they're still up? Damn.
  • buy an unmodified Speak & Spell for our Taco friend.
  • Way back in 1980 I interviewed with Texas Instruments. One interviewer had been involved in testing the Speak and Spell. He told me during testing they used lots of dirty words, and everyone hoped the test code never leaked to the public.
  • I could have sworn I heard some of those loops on Amnesiac somewhere.
  • I'm a little shocked this kind of thing is considered news. That aside, there are certainly better sites to bring up the topic.

    I've never heard it referred to as "hacking" (though I suppose it's quite appropriate) or case modding, but circuit bending toy keyboards has been commonplace for years, particularly in experimental music. Noteworthy circuit-benders include Not Breathing, Skincage, Dead Voices On Air, Chris and Cosey, and manymanymany others. I'm even picking up the tools to start doing it, likely for tweaking the hell out of a speak and music.

    Anyway. For people more interested in the nitty-gritty elements of this, rather than this lacking article, check out the following: - reed ghazala's excellent circuit-bending tutorials. - anti-theory workshops. - lots of bizarre and exotic instruments, plus a special gallery of circuit-bent toys. most instruments have sound samples available. - well, it's not a toy keyboard..but who could resist a modified megaphone outfitted with fx pedals? loooove the obnoxicator. - dave wright/not breathing's site o' circuit bending goodness. plenty of sounds, pictures, and other happy things.

    A little more meat next time, eh guys?
  • I had heard once that the USSR used to import Speak & Maths in the early '80s to use the chips on their ICBMs

    Can anybody out there shed any light on this, or is it just some urban legend?

  • I mean eh... this [] is obviously R2D2 screaming "Let me the hell out of this machine!".

  • Have you read the site? Sheesh. Methinks this guy needs to keep at least one of the poor speak-and-spells in its original state ... and make use of it ...

    From "schematic.htm":

    This mod has 3 controls; on/off, course tune and fine tune.

    Many of the glitched sounds that the speakandXs make are atleast referencial to its original use

    These three mods have a veriety of effects.

    it activates a programm that makes sound

    pushbutton pitch controll and volume gate

    These controlls are basically the same

    And so on..

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein