Thursday, February 25, 2010

thumbs way up

I follow Roger Ebert's blog in my reader, but I haven't gone in there lately. Another blog pointed me to a recent Esquire article about Ebert that blew my mind. It is more a look into his current life and how he got there, than an interview, although Ebert would call it one. And as harrowing as his photo may at first seem—unapologetically showing what cancer has done to him physically—it is his words and the strategies he employs to get the most out of life that make the biggest impression. He's still Ebert and he's still out there, watching movies, being a Chicagoan, but primarily, being a writer. Writing, writing, writing. He's also a technogeek and one of the most moving passages of the article for me was Ebert's collaboration with a Scottish company to recover his speech, his voice—something that doctors and multiple surgeries have failed to accomplish.
Ebert is waiting for a Scottish company called CereProc to give him some of his former voice back. He found it on the Internet, where he spends a lot of his time. CereProc tailors text-to-speech software for voiceless customers so that they don't all have to sound like Stephen Hawking. They have catalog voices—Heather, Katherine, Sarah, and Sue—with regional Scottish accents, but they will also custom-build software for clients who had the foresight to record their voices at length before they lost them. Ebert spent all those years on TV, and he also recorded four or five DVD commentaries in crystal-clear digital audio. The average English-speaking person will use about two thousand different words over the course of a given day. CereProc is mining Ebert's TV tapes and DVD commentaries for those words, and the words it cannot find, it will piece together syllable by syllable.

Read more:
In his writing, as always, his voice is loud and clear. In his blog, sometimes he waxes nostalgic, sometimes not even remotely about movies, sometimes even philosophical, but it's still a good read. Rock on, Roger. And I hope you get your voice back, although we can still hear it, strong as ever, in your writing.


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