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Hearing what you're doing.

Hearing what you're doing

Normally, computer users expect their computers to be quiet -- except for an occasional beep when an error surfaces, the hum of a fan or the click of keystrokes. Graduate student William W. Gaver of the University of California at San Diego, on the other hand, has deliberately programmed his Macintosh computer to be noisy. He provides sound effects to go with operations such as erasing a computer file, moving information from one place to another or checking how much of a computer disk is filled.

Gaver's experimental SonicFinder program includes a variety of everyday sounds. When he instructs the computer to perform a certain function, it also emits the appropriate sound. Erasing a file sounds like a heavy object dropping into a trash can. Copying a file sounds like water pouring into a glass. The pitch goes up as the copying nears completion. Shifting a file evokes a scraping sound. The arrival of mail -- an electronic message -- produces a characteristic thunk depending on the message size. "Such sounds have a short duration, yet they convey a great deal of information to the user," Gaver says.

As it stands now, Gaver's sound-effects program doesn't really add any new information. "But it makes the [computer] world more real," he says. "I use it all the time. If it's not on, I feel as if I'm walking around with chalk in may ears." It also means that a computer user doesn't have to pay attention to the computer screen all the time to keep up with what's happening.

"This is just a prototype," says Gaver. He is thinking about how the system can be extended to provide information not otherwise available to a computer user; for example, when two operations are going on at the same time.
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Title Annotation:computer program creates sound effects in operations
Author:Peterson, Ivars
Publication:Science News
Date:May 28, 1988
Words:298
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