Q & A

NOTE: This FAQ for our 2013 fundraiser is out of date

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Questions and Answers

1. What will this accomplish? The most important immediate benefit will be that instructors (including teachers, parents, and self studying adults) will be able to use any text with any vocabulary as the basis of a self-contained reading and pronunciation practice assessment exercise. For example, professors will be able to use text with the jargon specific to their field of research in order to train second language learning students in the field they are working in. Likewise, parents and grade school teachers will be able to select texts with a student's most troubling vocabulary for practicing reading and pronunciation, and observe the score progress as the student repeats attempts to correctly read and pronounce that vocabulary. Those capabilities do not yet exist and they will substantially improve basic through graduate level reading, and spoken language instruction.

2. Why try to raise $15,000? First, I intend to make the resulting English speech and reading instruction system available to everyone for free, and while the site will offer premium services to those who wish to pay in order to support the free primary offering, there will be up-front operating costs in the $10s of thousands. Second, I intend to take at least a year off of my regular contracting to devote full time to starting and running the initial site, and helping those who wish to install it for other languages and locally at schools and ESL centers. Third, the ample up-front costs for exemplar phrase recording collection require a substantial amount of money to commence work (5,000 words of initial content with a statistically significant set of exemplars requires purchasing about 15,000 sentence recordings. While Amazon Mechanical Turk workers will make recordings for less than a dollar each, native English speakers on AMT will demand nearly that amount in quantity.) Originally this project was slated to be funded over Summer 2011 by a major university, and I will follow the plan in the project milestones from the original proposed contract.

3. Are you seeking donations only, or programming help too? Several of the necessary components are already working in C, Perl, and PHP. The plan in the milestones is to stick with PHP for the remaining work, plus Android Java, Objective C for Apple iOS, and C and Python on OLPC systems. If you have any of that experience, I would be glad to have your help. Even if there was unlimited volunteer labor for this, we would still need to raise enough money to pay for at least 15,000 recordings to establish a good database of audio exemplars for the initial 5,000 words of content. That should certainly be done before going live, because a sufficiently large and engaging set of initial phrases is essential to bootstrap the initial utility of the system, and after that we can price premium offerings to pay for continued acquisition of exemplar recordings.

4. How can I help support this project? Please spread the word about the sponsorship fundraiser, and ask those who you think may be able to contribute to consider helping. If you are associated with an educational institution or a government, please send me your thoughts by email or blog comment so that I might share them with others. Endorsements and open letters of support are most welcome from anyone. If you're part of a business, please see if your company has a matched giving program and let me know if I qualify.

5. You've been working on this for fifteen years, so why don't you have a better demo? The "Speech Training Aid" patent by Robert Series et al. (UK) expired in November 2011. Because I tried to license it, I had to be particularly careful about not even appearing to make any commercial use of the technologies involved until now. Before I became aware of the pertinent details of the patent, I had sold some ReadSay PROnounce handheld systems but then had to stop when I determined I was probably infringing the patent. I then negotiated with the patent holders regarding licensing terms. They were originally amenable, but as we got closer to agreement they increased their offered fee by more than five times, and the went after large corporate infringers, causing large price increases (more than 10x) of some very popular products. Because of those concerns, I was advised to refrain from any substantial work until December 2011, and I had prior commitments until now.

6. Where can I learn more about this technology? Try the links in this 2008 Stanford Open Source Laboratory presentation and demo abstract with updated links or ask on the SLICS project blog here.

7. Why aren't you using Kickstarter or a similar crowdfunding tool? Sadly, our latest Kickstarter only reached 20% of our goal, but we are persuing royalty financing and other options in addition to your kind donations.

8. Are donations tax deductible? Maybe, but don't count on it. I have applied for a 501(c)3 charitable tax exemption, but there is no guarantee that it will ever be approved, and no guarantee that it will happen in time to file your next tax return. If and when the tax exemption application is approved, I will notify all donors immediately.

9. Which software license are you using and where are you hosting the code repository? The software will be licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 or the CMUSphinx BSD-style license.

10. When do you plan to ship the donation incentives? 2013 donors should have recieved their incentives. If not, please email.
logoJames Salsman
February 27, 2014
Q & A