Monday, June 22, 2009

BeVocal vs Voxeo - Which one is good for a beginner?

Recently I have been learning ccxml and vxml. To begin with, I chose to do ccxml. But I recognized that I had to understand how vxml works before I could do something on ccxml. So in the past 2 weeks, I've begun working on vxml.

I signed up two free accounts with BeVocal and Voxeo respectively. Here are my simple comparison as an IVR beginner.

Category BeVocal Voxeo
Customer Support
and Forum
Worst! I have never got a response from them. I guess they are not entertaining any free account members. If so, they should mention this in their site. In addition, I am still unable to access their news forum discussion groups either. Extremely efficient, fast response. I have no problem to access their forum discussion boards.
Text to Speech (TTS) Sound more natural. I've seldom needed to do some customization in code in order to get a better speech. BeVocal sounds better than Voxeo, especially in reading a long sentence or a paragraph. A short sentence or a few words interpreted by voxeo TTS are okay. Otherwise, there is a tweak work, like manually using <break> or using comma to break the sentence into a few words together so as to make the speech more natural. This could be a problem if the text is instantly interpreted to a speech on the fly as soon as TTS engine receives text from a Web application. Voxeo claims that the speech will be better with their pay voice version. In addition, some words from voxeo TTS are never right to my ears. For example, slash or the punctuation / is always pronounced as flash. The word project sometimes is read as pro-jack or pro-ject.
Voice Recognition Acceptable. Frustrated. You'd better code with DTMF (telephone keybad input). I am not sure if voxeo's voice recognition engine is coded with genetic algorithm so that it could learn in the long run.
HTTP Integration As of my writing now, I still don't know where/what the actual voice URL of BeVocal is. Thus, I cannot forward the application control (using <goto>) back to the particular dialog of the vxml on BeVocal server. I need to duplicate all the scripts on my Web Server in order to continue the application. BeVocal probably has published the HTTP connection information somewhere in their site. However, for this moment, I just want to test and see how my Web application works with voice dialogs.

When you're serving your vxml via HTTP to BeVocal voice server, your vxml file must set CONTENT-TYPE header to application/voicexml+xml. Otherwise, an error is expected.
I like voxeo approach using Web URL as their voice browser URL. It is a lot simpler for a beginner like me. The concept is very simple and easy to implement. With Web URL approach, I can simply use <goto> fetch my vxml files or return to any <form> of the same vxml file. There is no file duplicate needed on my Web server. And I don't need to research how to do HTTP Integration either at my early learning stage.

Voxeo will process your vxml with CONTENT-TYPE header set to either text/html or application/voicexml+xml.
Grammar and Syntax It is hard to say which one will be easy to work with. I cannot tell which one is more straight on the W3C spec either. They are slightly different.

For example, For BeVocal, we must have this; otherwise, it will be error out.
    <vxml version="2.1" xmln="">

For Voxeo, we can have:
    <vxml version="2.1">
    <vxml version="2.1" xmln="">

For BeVocal, it accepts the following and your script runs without any problem:
  <form id="q">
    <subdialog name="result" src="#personalInfo">  
For Voxeo, your scripts will never be run but it won't generate an error for you that makes debugging very difficult. I have left a note to their support team and hope that they will speak to their engineers about this.

To work around this, it is better to follow the W3C specification 100%. If something goes wrong, check the spec first.
How Easy to Test
an Application?
BeVocal displays 1-800 number + pin, a direct number and SIP on every Web page saying for application testing. For unknown reason, I can only use the direct number. The 1-800 number and SIP have never worked for me. Voxeo provides 5 ways to test every application: 1-800 + pin, a direct number, Skype, FWD, SIP and even iNum number. Every method works for me like a charm.
How Many Applications
Can be Tested
at a Time?
One. BeVocal only allows you activating an application for test at a time. Many. Each application will be assigned to different numbers and pin.
Application Debugging BeVocal's Log Browser can be used as a tool to debug your vxml but you cannot view that particular log while you're executing the application. Each log can be reviewed after execution with color highlighting. All errors will be highlighted in red, letting you know exactly which line it is, similar to other programming debugging tool.

Their Vocal Debugger will allow you walking through the script and even pause your application at certain point. The pause is not a break point unlike other programming tool where you can set it beforehand. You only set it when you run the application.

If you don't like to use a phone to test your voice application, you can use their Vocal Scripter. It simulates the dialing process for connection and convert your response in text to voice back to your application. But I am not fond of it. I would like to test the voice quality as well.
Voxeo only provides a single tool called Application Debugger. You can have it open while you are testing your application. When an error occurs, it will highlight it in red. Unfortunately, the error is not exactly what we are looking for in our script. They are mostly Java stack trace error with the line numbers that we don't care. It is good for Voxeo supports or their developers for further diagnostic. I like BeVocal giving me exactly which line of my script is having a problem.

Unlike BeVocal debugger, Voxeo debugger won't allow you walking through the application directly. But it provides the execution messages as if it documents the call scenario so that you can look at the output and see if there is any abnormality.

Their error logs can be retrieved in a later time but as soon as you close your debugger, all the color highlighting is gone forever. The log is in plain text. Within a day, you can easily view it with your browser. Otherwise, you have to download it first because Voxeo will put them in a .GZ file. Because of this, I guess, Voxeo provides another tool called Prophecy Log Search. Still there is no color highlighting. At this moment, I don't find it useful but instead dislike it. To me, the tool is too heavy. The search is slow. JavaScript error is everywhere. It doesn't support both IE 7 and Sea Monkey 1.1.14, which I use intensively for my Web development.

One important thing that I learned within these two weeks is about a shadow variable. In the beginning of my learning, I was confused by this term being used in IVR. A variable is a variable. What does it mean a shadow variable? If I am correct, it is similar to a read-only property of an object. When we use one of the pre-defined tag element such as <record>, we are sure able to access its attributes. But this <record> tag consists of other properties available after the code execution like duration, size, termchar and maxtime. They are all read-only. In IVR world, such read-only properties are called shadow variables.

In closing, as a beginner, I would like to work with voxeo because their support encourages me to do more in their products, which I could not find this with other companies. Although I am frustrated by their voice recognition all the time, I found a way to work around it. Of course, I wish that voxeo could improve it in the future soon.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Common ASP.NET problems related to IIS

The page cannot be found - return 404 for ASP.NET pages
OK button is grayed out while adding an IIS file mapping
Missing ASP.NET tab on IIS Manager
Parser Error: Could not load type

The page cannot be found - return 404 for ASP.NET pages

Make sure IIS is accepting the correct ASP.NET version. ASP.NET tab on IIS
On Windows 2003, you also need to ensure ASP.NET version is set to Allow for that ASP.NET version in Web Service Extensions. If you don't see ASP.NET extension, follow "Missing ASP.NET tab on IIS Manager" to install and enable it. After that, if you're running into the following error, your ASP.NET page probably has to run some shell command that requires additional permission.
   The compiler failed with error code 128.
   c:\windows\system32\inetsrv> "C:\WINDOWS\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v3.5\csc.exe" ...
In this case, go to Administrative Tools and select Services:
  • In the Services pane, locate World Wide Web Publishing Service.
  • Right-click World Wide Web Publishing Service, and then click Properties.
  • Click the Log On tab.
  • Click to clear the Allow service to interact with desktop checkbox.
  • Click OK.
Be sure to start the IIS and kill the browser before running the application again.

OK button is grayed out while adding an IIS file mapping

It is a small bug on IIS 5.1 with Windows XP.

To work around this:

After selecting the executable via the Browse... button, click on the textbox itself and the path will then be fully expanded. It in turn enables the OK button. [ref]

Missing ASP.NET tab on IIS Manager

Please ensure you have installed .NET framework first. For ASP.NET 2.0 or later, at the command prompt, do the following to install and enable ASP.NET on IIS:

%WinDir%\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v2.0.50727\aspnet_regiis -i -enable

Parser Error: Could not load type

You may experience the following error on IIS after you've published your ASP.NET application. But everything works fine in the Visual Studio. For example,

Parser Error Message: Could not load type 'SysAdmin.RunBatch'.

  • Check the Application Settings of your Web site or virtual directory, and then make sure there is Application name for it.
    • On IIS, right click the Web site or virtual directory, and then select Properties.
    • At Home Directory of Directory tab, click Create button to create the Application Name if it doesn't exist.
    • Execute Permissions must be at least set to Scripts only.
    • Click Apply and then OK to exit.
  • Check and ensure that the associated bin directory is resided with your aspx pages and Web.config. It is similar to the directory structure when you developed your application.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Add a file extension mapping on IIS for ASP.NET handler

  • Right click the Web site or the virtual directory and then select Properties.
  • Select Configuration button on Home Directory tab (for Web site) or Directory (for virtual directory).
  • On Mappings tab, click Add.
  • For ASP.NET 2.0 or later,
    Executable C:\WINDOWS\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v2.0.50727\aspnet_isapi.dll
    Extension the file extension you want to map, e.g., .simple

    Here is an example.
    Add File Extension to IIS
  • Click OK, then Apply or OK.
  • Exit the wizard

Thursday, June 11, 2009

VMWare: Defrag or convert your 2nd virtual hard disk

In order to defrag or convert the 2nd disk, you need to reference or create the corresponding disk descriptor file that points to your 2nd disk. A disk descriptor file is simply a plain text file with the same extension as your virtual disk (vmdk). Its file size is usually about 1 or 2 KB.

  • Go VMware Server Console (VMware Server v1) or VI (VMware Server v2).
  • Select the VM.
  • Stop/shutdown the VM if it is running.
  • Select Edit Virtual machine settings.
  • Swap your 2nd disk node with the first HD node. Make sure the end result of your 2nd disk is at (0:0) node position:
    • In the Hardware tab, select Hard Disk at (0:0) node if you are using VMware Server v1; or select Hard Disk 1 for VMware Server v2.
    • Change it to other node. For Server v1, click Advance for selection. For Server v2, the selection should be at the right pane and named with Virtual Device Node.
    • Select your 2nd hard disk and change it to (0:0) node position.
  • Click OK and exit Virtual Machine Settings.
  • A new disk descriptor file in plain text is produced and named under your 2nd HD name with a VMDK extension, e.g., W2008My2HD.vmdk.
  • For Server v1, you can directly defrag the VM via the console. Or like v2, you can use virtual disk manager for defragmentation. With VMDK text file, you can do whatever you want with Virtual Disk Manager.

Don't forget to change it back to the original setting when you're done; otherwise, your VM won't boot.

Please remember that there is no need to use virtual disk manager to defrag a virtual machine (VM) if it is created in one big flat file or a set of preallocated 2GB files. Such a VM is only needed to defrag at the Windows level.

I would recommend to use flat or preallocated 2GB type for your 2nd, 3rd, ...and etc hard disk so that you don't have go through this hassle.