Sadly enough, it seems that Wacky Willys will be no more as of this coming Sunday. I recommend heading over there to pay your respects and bid farewell to the I stopped by this weekend and picked up some general supplies, but scored an interesting device called the "Small Alltalk". The unit is a little larger than a laptop and has tape in/out jacks, a mic jack, a built-in speaker, power jack, and a built in rechargeable battery pack (which I actually can't find at the moment). The top is covered with a touch-sensitive, grid-based screen in which paper(?) overlays were once installed (mine has no overlays). The touch mechanism seems very similar to the touch and tell.
(The only photo I could find online, and it's horrible quality and doesn't exactly match my revision)
From what I can tell, the apparatus was used in developmental rehab classes and was helpful for people with certain handicaps, like those that prevent people from speaking normally. Unlike other similar pieces, this one used actual recorded speech and could be reconfigured/rerecorded (sounds an awful lot like a 1986 sampler, eh?)
When I got it home, I plugged it in and started pressing random buttons. Oh wonderful grating noise belched forth from the speaker...but it was near impossible to tell what I was actually pressing without an overlay. A few more presses and the noise subsided. A few more, and it entered a strange mode that prevents it from making any more sound.
Unfortunately, there's very little information online about the Small Alltalk built 20 years ago. Through much digging, I discovered the name of a place that repairs them, and I tried calling at 10:30 last night. When a woman answered half asleep, I apologized, said that I had the wrong number, and hung up. While at work today, my phone range and a gentleman asked why I had called his house at 1am! I apologized again and explained that I was trying to reach a service business and dropped the name of the device. Sure enough, this nice old guy used to build the things!
Well, we had a really great chat and he filled me in on a little history. I asked about the company that manufactured them (Adaptive Communication Systems, or ACS), and he indicated that the owner just one day closed up shop (sounds sad and eerily familiar, eh?). He seemed to think that he might have a few manuals and/or overlays in his shop, and he obliged me by offering to send one! If all goes well, there will be a resurrection!
I've been banging around on another pd abstraction that's turning into a nice sound generation tool. As with most pd interfaces, it's not much to look at, but it's being called "caradisio" and it looks something like this:
I'm posting prematurely and apologize for not having sample audio yet.
Although the number of controls is smallish, this thing can sound like an epileptic seizure in a field of cold mud, rusted metal, and broken glass. The concept is pretty straightforward: Take a wavetable synth and evolve the waveform in nasty ways (in this case, pin, lin, and sin). With some reverb, it starts to sound nice and thick...and sometimes there are secret eerie voices that creep in from the muck.
When I finish and clean it up more, I'll post it to my pd page.
(Aside: I think that if pd ever gets antialiasing [for both fonts and controls] and gets more/enhanced drawing primitives for data structures [hello...arc or circle!], we could start to generate some decent interfaces.)
Oh, and I've recently started associating with the newly started dorkbot pdx collective. It's still in its infancy, but the people seem smart and interesting, and I'm sure we can turn the group into something wonderful.