November 21, 2002

By Karen Kenworthy

IN THIS ISSUE

It never fails. Mention the venerable Power Toy, and the old mailbag starts to bulge. Release a new version, like we did last week, and the mailbag swells even more. Today, the bag's begun making funny noises. The mailroom elves are getting nervous. <gulp>

There's no time to lose! We've got to relieve that pressure, by answering some of the most common reader questions ...

Karen's Mailbag

Many of you have written, asking for help troubleshooting the Power Toy's speech functions. When working properly, the Power Toy can speak, using your computer's speakers. It can also listen via a computer's microphone - - responding to your spoken commands.

Usually, getting this to work is simple. But you have to follow the instructions on the Power Toy's home page carefully. There are several support files that must be downloaded, and installed, before all of the program's speech features will be available.

And there's the rub. Sometimes a file is downloaded, but not installed (by running the downloaded installation program). Other times, a file is skipped altogether, neither downloaded nor installed. Whatever the cause, omitting a file can cripple the Power Toy's powers of speech.

To diagnose Power Toy speech impediments, I recently added a few bits of information to the program's "About" window. To see these facts, first launch the Power Toy and ask it to display an Agent character. Then, simply click the program's "About" button.

When the "About" window appears, look for the following information:

TTSModeID: An entry here indicates whether you have installed a text-to- speech engine, allowing the Power Toy's agents to speak.

SRModeID: An entry here indicates whether you have installed a Speech Recognition engine, allowing the Power Toy's agents to respond to your spoken commands.

SRStatus: This value should be 0, indicating Speech Recognition is installed and working.

LanguageID: This entry will usually be "1033/0x409", indicating U.S. English.

Before we close the "About" window, let's take a moment and talk about two other items that adorn the window's surface. Both are checkboxes, enabling or disabling Power Toy features.

One checkbox, labeled "Enable advanced options", allows you to record the actions of your Power Toy character, saving them in a file whose name ends in .toy. These "Toy Scripts" can later be played back, causing the character to repeat its original performance. Developers, older children, and other advanced users will want to enable this option.

Disable the advanced options, and the Power Toy's record and playback controls disappear. They are replaced by a few buttons that cause the agent character to carry out basic commands, such as "Tell a Joke". This arrangement is ideal for young children who may not be interested in recording their own Toy Scripts, and adults who are easily amused. :)

The second checkbox on the "About" window reads: "Associate .toy files with this program". Check this box, and you can play a Toy Script simply by double-clicking the .toy file's icon. Windows will invisibly launch the Power Toy, causing your agent to perform on the Windows desktop. This option also allows .toy files to be played by the Timer Cop and Alarm Clock Power Tools, when a timer expires or an alarm occurs.

If you disable this option, you must manually Load each .toy file into the Power Toy, and then click the program's Play button, to view the script file's performance.

Power Toy Gallery

Several other messages have arrived recently, asking the same question: Why not provide a place on the web were people can share their Power Toy scripts?

This online storehouse would give the more creative among us a chance to exhibit the fruits of their gifts and hard work. And it would give the rest of us inspiration, ideas, and encouragement. It might even be a lot of fun!

All we need to get started are a home on the web (which I'll provide), a few ground rules:

First, submitted Toy Scripts (.toy files) can amuse, entertain, or even educate. Feel free to tell jokes, teach, or just demonstrate Agent capabilities. The scripts can be very simple, very complex, or anywhere in-between. They can be intended for children, adults, or adults who haven't grown up yet. <grin>

To submit a Toy Script, attach the .toy file to an e-mail message, and send it to toys@karenware.com. Include a description, any limitations, or other comments in the body of the message. You can also add this information to the .toy file itself, in comment lines at the beginning of the file. Comment lines should begin with either a semi-colon (";") or pound sign ("#"), and should not contain any tab characters.

If you wish, you may place restrictions on the use of your files. After all, the files belong to you even if you share them with others. For example, if a file should not be used for commercial purposes, say so. You can request donations, require shareware payments, etc., as you see fit. I can't enforce your restrictions, but I will display them on the Toy Script gallery web page, and make sure they are incorporated into the .toy file's comment lines.

You can contribute anonymously. I must know the identity of the contributor, but that information does not have to be included in the .toy file, or displayed on the web site. I hope this policy will encourage the more bashful among us to participate.

All scripts must be family-friendly and inoffensive. I'll make the call here. It's my web site, and I can include, and exclude, whatever I like. :)

Finally, I can't and won't be liable for any damage or other liability caused by the scripts. I hasten to point out that Power Toy scripts are harmless -- they can't spread or contain viruses, or do other harmful things. But here at the secluded Power Tools workshop we've got to keep the lawyer-elves happy. You don't want to see them when they're angry. :(

That's it! Let's have fun. And please don't be shy. The success of the gallery depends on you!

E-Mailer Tips

It's funny how things run in cycles. Sometimes, an older Power Tool will rest quietly, drawing little attention. Then, all of a sudden, I'll receive a lot of e-mail about it. That's happened recently, to the E- Mailer Power Tool. Suddenly it's getting a lot of attention.

This popular Power Tool lets you compose messages, and stores them on your disk. Later, the E-Mailer helps send those messages on their way. The actual sending of a message can be triggered by:

  • The Countdown Timer II program, when an event's time arrives.
  • A batch file or MS-DOS command line that runs the E-Mailer
  • Double-clicking an E-Mailer shortcut icon
  • Windows' Task Scheduler
  • Or any number of other ways clever readers have devised. :)

The E-Mailer does a lot. But it doesn't transmit messages all by itself. For that, it needs the help of an "MAPI-compliant e-mail client."

Now, if you're scratching your head, wondering "where do I get one of those?", don't worry. It's just a program. And you probably have one sitting on your hard disk right now.

Recently we talked a bit about e-mail clients. As you may recall, these programs enable human beings to compose, send, and receive e-mail messages. But there's more ...

Thanks to a Microsoft standard called MAPI (Mail Application Programming Interface), some e-mail clients can be controlled by other programs. This enables those other programs to compose, send, and receive e-mail messages, just like a human being. And now you know the E-Mailer's secret -- it uses MAPI to get e-mail clients to do its bidding.

Fortunately, most popular e-mail clients, including Microsoft's Outlook and Outlook Express, and Qualcomm's Eudora, support the MAPI standard. So there's no shortage of the "MAPI-compliant e-mail clients" that the E- Mailer needs.

Unfortunately, that hasn't prevented users of the E-Mailer from encountering problems. The most common problem involves what MAPI calls a "user profile."

When defining an e-mail message, the E-Mailer asks for a user ID and password. Later, these two bits of information are passed to the e-mail client, just before a message is sent.

The user ID and password identify a particular user of the e-mail client. For example, if two people share the same computer and e-mail client, one user ID might be "Bob's E-Mail", while the other might be "Tom's E-Mail". Or perhaps you use your e-mail client to access messages from two different accounts. In that case, one user ID might be "Office E-Mail", while the other might be "Home E-Mail".

It's important to note that none of these user ID's are actual e-mail addresses. They are simply IDs that identify a user of the e-mail client. Knowing this ID, and its associated password (if any), grants access to that user's "profile", or collection of settings and accounts.

This distinction has confused many readers. Some have assumed that the E- Mailer needs to know their actual e-mail account name and password. But that information is part of the MAPI profile, and doesn't need to be specified here. Only the name of the profile, and optionally the profile's password, need be revealed to the E-Mailer.

Does that make sense? Well it gets even more interesting ... If your e- mail client has only one profile, is configured for just one user, the E- Mailer may not need a user ID or password at all. In that case, just leave the E-Mailer's user ID and password fields blank.

Whew! I can see why some folks get confused. MAPI is an important technology. But it has more than its share of idiosyncrasies.

For those, and other, reasons I'll soon be releasing a new E-Mailer. The new E-Mailer II will be able to bypass the local e-mail client, sending messages directly via an Internet e-mail server. It's also easier to use, and will be supported by other Power Tools (including an update 'Net Monitor) ...

Until then, if you'd like to give the original E-Mailer a try, visit its home page at:

    https://www.karenware.com/powertools/ptmailer

And don't forget the Power Toy's home page at:

    https://www.karenware.com/powertools/pttoy

There you'll find the Power Toy itself, plus several other bits of free software used by the program. As always, each program's Visual Basic source code is available too.

And while you're on the web, don't forget check out my CD at:

    https://www.karenware.com/licenseme

Each CD has the latest version of every Power Tool, including the newest Power Toy, and E-Mailer II. It also contains three bonus Power Tools not available anywhere else. One of those bonus programs, Web Update, automatically keeps your installed Power Tools up-to-date!

You'll also find every back issue of my newsletter, and a few even older articles, in the CD's library. All that, plus a special license that lets you use your Power Tools at work.

Best of all, buying a CD is the easiest way to support the web site and this newsletter.

Until next time, work on your contribution to the new Power Toy Gallery! I'll work on mine, and polish a few new Power Tools too. And if you see me on the job, or on the 'net, be sure to wave and say "Hi!"