Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Thursday 30/05/2002HELLO RUPERT, MY NAME IS DR SBAITSO.I AM HERE TO HELP YOU.

Thursday 30/05/2002

HELLO RUPERT, MY NAME IS DR SBAITSO.

I AM HERE TO HELP YOU.

The doctor is in, and he's ten years old! I know there's some other anniversary on at the moment, but Dr Sbaitso -- copyright 1992 -- is back on my PC and that's all that matters. If for some reason you weren't messing around with PCs in the late 80s and early 90s, Dr Sbaitso will mean nothing to you: if you were, though, he'll have left an impact of Freudian proportions.

Sbaitso -- the name stands for SoundBlaster Artificial Intelligence Text to Speech Output -- was a freebie bundled by Creative Labs with their new sound hardware as a way of demonstrating it didn't just do music and sound effects... no, it could speak as well! Amiga owners sneered, as their computer did that out of the box, but... hey, who's laughing now (admittedly in an annoying Professor Hawking monotone)?

In either a stroke of marketing genius or just plain disorganisation, the Doctor wasn't mentioned in the documentation that came with the card. You found it by looking at the directory of the floppy and wondering "What's that, then?" So, unprepared, you typed the command and bang. Guess who's coming to dinner.

What made Dr Sbaitso so scary was simple -- some twisted genius in Creative's HQ had coupled the speech engine to an Eliza-style psychiatrist program. You sat down, typed in your innermost secrets and heard them chopped up and regurgitated by a mad robot. And it doesn't cost fifty quid a session!

It was, briefly, a big hit at parties -- well, the sort of parties I threw -- in those innocent, far-off days. Now, of course, it's merely a footnote for nostalgia buffs. It doesn't even run properly under XP: it looks for yer actual SoundBlaster hardware, and turns its nose up at virtualised drivers. The text bit works, but that's hardly the point.

However, in scouring the Net for more information, I found the fix. Type your question at the good Doctor, and read out the reply yourself -- just breathe in while you talk. It works! Try it, and you too will be transported back in time. Remember to resume exhalation afterwards, though...