Posts tagged: flite

It’s TeleYapper 5.0: The Ultimate RoboDialer for Asterisk

We don't normally take a month off at Nerd Vittles which should tell you something about today's 10/10/10 column. We're pleased to introduce TeleYapper 5.0, a completely rewritten, Asterisk® 1.4 and 1.6.2-compatible version of our telephone broadcasting service.1 Using Cepstral text-to-speech, TeleYapper 5.0 brings individualized, text-based messaging and customized reminders coupled with the ability to capture recorded responses from every call.

WARNING: Because of changes in Cepstral, this application now requires an additional $200 license from Cepstral. We no longer recommend Cepstral for obvious reasons and will have a comparable system using Google's new Speech-to-Text application soon. Our apologies.

As part of the message delivery process, you now can customize and capture any one of four different responses from those that are called. And TeleYapper 5.0 will email you a CSV and/or XML file with the RoboResponse™ results when the calling process is completed including a list of failed calls and calls that were answered by an answering machine. In addition, you can have TeleYapper email certain call results to various individuals as the calls are processed if your requirements demand it.

For those with multiple outbound trunks, TeleYapper 5.0 supports simultaneous calls using multiple trunks. And now there are significant enhancements that detect answering machines and real people. This lets you deliver customized messages depending upon whether an actual human answers the phone.

Version 5 has been tested extensively with the Gold, Silver, and Bronze editions of PBX in a Flash 1.7.5.5, which provides support for the latest and greatest versions of Asterisk 1.4 and 1.6.2. And it should work well with other Asterisk aggregations with MySQL, Cepstral TTS support, and FreePBX 2.5 or later.

Overview. For those that have never used TeleYapper, here's a quick summary of how the new version works. It's an automated message broadcasting service commonly known as a call blasting or phone blasting system. In addition to loads of creepy uses, phone blasting has legitimate purposes as well. TeleYapper is licensed in several different ways for the following purposes: prerecorded phone messages for neighborhood association announcements, medical appointment reminders, school closings, tornado alerts, little league practices, municipal government reminders. It's free to use for non-profit, civic, and non-political purposes provided you don't solicit money or seek to sway someone's opinion or encourage a particular vote on an issue or candidate. All other uses require a commercial license. For commercial, political, and medical applications, please review our licensing terms below.

How it Works. Step #1 is to create a CSV or XML export from your favorite database application with the information that will be used to send the messages or reminders. This could be as simple as a list of phone numbers or as complex as a listing of doctors and patients with the dates, times, and places of their next medical appointments together with special patient instructions for activity preceding their visit, e.g. "Please remember to start flossing a month before your next dental appointment."

Step #2 is to create a config file with the robodial settings as well as the text which will actually be spoken during each customized call. If you remember form letters from your word processing days, TeleYapper's config file offers the same flexibility. A message can be as simple as "Take cover immediately. A tornado has been spotted at the end of your street." Or it could be a medical appointment reminder such as the following:

Hi. This is Allison from Charleston Family Clinic calling to confirm Jan's appointment with Doctor Quack on Tuesday, October 5th, 2010, at 10:30 a.m. in our Charleston office. Please remember not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the night before your scheduled appointment.

To confirm your appointment, press 1. To reschedule your appointment, press 2. To cancel your appointment, press 3. If we have reached you in error or if you do not wish to receive further automated medical appointment reminders, press 4. To hear this message again, please press 5 now.

And you can create a separate message which would be delivered in the event an answering machine takes the call:

Hi. This is Allison from Charleston Family Clinic calling to confirm Jan's appointment with Doctor Quack on Tuesday, October 5th, 2010, at 10:30 a.m. in our Charleston office. Please remember not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the night before your scheduled appointment.

If you need to change or cancel your appointment or if we have reached you in error, please call our office at your earliest convenience. The number is 800-123-4567. Goodbye.

Step #3 is to use your web browser to access a password-protected web page that will let you upload your CSV or XML data and your config file to kick off the dialing spree. Once the files have been uploaded, everything else is automatic.

Step #4 is to sit back and relax while TeleYapper executes your instructions and calling list. When the calling has been completed, the email address in your config file will be sent both CSV and XML reports of the results of all the calls. Either of these reports is suitable for import and manipulation using most spreadsheet applications.

Status Codes. Every call that is processed gets a status code entry whether the call is successful or fails. A status code of 0 means a call failed to both phone numbers provided for a particular callee. The second phone number is entirely optional. A status code of 5 means the call was answered but no response was provided by the called party. This typically would mean the call was picked up by an answering machine although it could mean Granny answered the call using a rotary dial phone. :roll: Status codes of 1 through 4 have whatever meaning you choose to assign to each option when setting up a configuration for a particular calling campaign.

Legalese. TeleYapper 5.0 is free for use by non-profit, civic, and non-political organizations provided you absolve us from all financial and other responsibility in conjunction with your use of the software. Non-profit use further requires that no financial benefit be derived from the substance of the calls. Simply stated, your Little League team can use the software at no cost to remind kids to attend practice, but it cannot be used to solicit charitable contributions or to sell doughnuts without obtaining a commercial license.

By using this software, you also agree to strictly comply with federal and state regulations including 16 C.F.R. Part 310. In addition, you agree to assume all risks associated with use of the software. NO WARRANTIES EXPRESS OR IMPLIED INCLUDING ITS FITNESS FOR USE OR MERCHANTABILITY ARE PROVIDED WITH THIS SOFTWARE.

WARNING: With certain limited exceptions, most robocalling now requires prior written approval from those being called. See this link for a summary of the federal requirements. Be advised that improper use of this software may subject the user to penalties of up to $16,000 per call plus monetary damages to injured consumers.

Creative Commons LicenseLicensing. You are licensed to use this software under certain conditions. You do not own it. We do, and we also own the copyright. It is licensed for use under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license. A Plain English summary is available here. We've done this primarily to do our part to stamp out the telemarketing creeps of the world. Those wishing to use TeleYapper for commercial or political purposes must first request and then purchase a commercial license after outlining your proposed terms of use. Telemarketers need not apply! For doctors, lawyers, and others falling outside the scope of our free license who wish to obtain a commercial use license, please contact us for pricing and details. Be sure to summarize your intended use in your request together with a sufficient factual summary to demonstrate that your use is in compliance with 16 C.F.R. Part 310. Please also indicate whether you will require assistance with installation and setup.

Prerequisites. As mentioned, you'll need a Linux-based Asterisk aggregation such as PBX in a Flash to use TeleYapper 5.0. This means you need a system with Asterisk 1.4 or 1.6 as well as FreePBX 2.5 or higher. For quality reasons, we strongly recommend you purchase a commercial Cepstral text-to-speech license for your server. While Flite would technically work, most folks don't respond well to calls from Egor so we have customized the code for use solely with Cepstral. You'll find Cepstral installation instructions in this Nerd Vittles article. The TeleYapper 5.0 code also relies heavily on Apache and PHP, both of which are included in every PBX in a Flash system.

Installing Cepstral. Cepstral installation is not the simplest application to get working with Asterisk so here are the commands for those running 32-bit systems with Asterisk 1.4 or 1.6.2. For details on purchasing and registering Cepstral (and a discount) and for 64-bit installs, read our previous article including the comments.

For Asterisk 1.4 systems running under 32-bit CentOS, log into your server as root and issue the following commands accepting the Cepstral defaults. Be sure to create the Cepstral directory when prompted!

cd /root
wget http://nerd.bz/bnTVjX
tar -zxvf Cepstral*
cd Cepstral_Allison-8kHz_i386-linux_5.1.0
./install.sh
echo /opt/swift/lib > /etc/ld.so.conf.d/cepstral.conf
ldconfig
cd /usr/src
wget http://pbxinaflash.net/source/app_swift/app_swift-1.4.2.tar.gz
tar -zxvf app_swift*
cd app_swift-1.4.2
make
make install
ln -s /opt/swift/bin/swift /usr/bin/swift
sed -i 's|David-8kHz|Allison-8kHz|' /etc/asterisk/swift.conf
amportal restart
asterisk -rx "core show application swift"
ls /opt/swift/voices
swift --reg-voice

For Asterisk 1.6.2 systems running under 32-bit CentOS, log into your server as root and issue the following commands accepting the Cepstral defaults. Be sure to create the Cepstral directory when prompted!

cd /root
wget http://nerd.bz/bnTVjX
tar -zxvf Cepstral*
cd Cepstral_Allison-8kHz_i386-linux_5.1.0
./install.sh
echo /opt/swift/lib > /etc/ld.so.conf.d/cepstral.conf
ldconfig
cd /usr/src
wget http://pbxinaflash.net/source/app_swift/app_swift-1.6.2.tar.gz
tar -zxvf app_swift*
cd app_swift-1.6.2
make
make install
ln -s /opt/swift/bin/swift /usr/bin/swift
sed -i 's|David-8kHz|Allison-8kHz|' /etc/asterisk/swift.conf
amportal restart
asterisk -rx "core show application swift"
ls /opt/swift/voices
swift --reg-voice

Installing TeleYapper 5.0 The real beauty of PBX in a Flash as an Asterisk platform is demonstrated by the ease with which you can install new applications such as this one. The drill is very simple. You download an install script, make it executable, and run it. Less than a minute later, the TeleYapper install is done. Here are the commands to execute to install TeleYapper 5.0 after logging into your PBX in a Flash system as root. On other systems, you are well advised to carefully review the install script and tailor it to meet the individual requirements of the platform on which you are installing it.

cd /root
wget http://bestof.nerdvittles.com/applications/teleyapper5/teleyapper5.pbx
chmod +x teleyapper5.pbx
./teleyapper5.pbx

The TeleYapper Database. We use the MySQL database management system to manage the list of callees for TeleYapper to dial. It can handle a database of almost any size and generally stands up well in performance comparisons with Oracle. So you're covered on the database front. For most users, you never should need to access the MySQL database directly. TeleYapper 5.0 handles the importing of CSV or XML files for processing, manages the call queue, and processes and emails CSV and/or XML-formatted reports to you when the calls are completed.

The install script creates the MySQL database to support TeleYapper 5.0. Should you need or want to manage the database directly, the easiest tool to use is phpMyAdmin which is accessible through the Tools tab in FreePBX on PBX in a Flash systems. You'll need to login as maint with your maint password to access phpMyAdmin. After phpMyAdmin loads, click on the reminders database in the left column. Then click the reminders table entry in the left column to open the file. Unless you really, really know what you are doing and appreciate how much coding will be required to support new or different fields in the reminders file, don't improve it.

Here's the layout of the MySQL database table for TeleYapper 5.0:

  • id - System generated record ID
  • acctno - Account Number (12 alphanumeric characters)
  • provider - Provider Name (30 alphanumeric characters)
  • recipient - Recipient Name (30 alphanumeric characters)
  • apptdt - Appointment Date (MM/DD/YY format)
  • appttime - Appointment Time (HHMM format using 24-hr clock)
  • apptplace - Appointment Location (30 alphanumeric characters)
  • instructions - Free-form text (65535 alphanumeric characters)
  • phone1 - Primary Phone (NNN-NNN-NNNN or NNNNNNNNNN)
  • phone2 - Alternate Phone (NNN-NNN-NNNN or NNNNNNNNNN)
  • status - Status: 0=failedcall 5=ansmachine 1,2,3,4=user-defined
  • failedcalls - System Generated Number of Failed Calls

Tweaking PHP for TeleYapper. Depending upon your PHP setup and the number of calls you plan to process, you may need to adjust the default PHP resource settings on your server. The main reason is because TeleYapper generates a custom sound file for every call to be processed before the calling ever starts. If you plan to make thousands of calls, this can take some time. The PHP settings are stored in /etc/php.ini. You must log in as root and restart Apache after making changes to these settings: service httpd restart. The settings that matter are the following:

max_execution_time = 30 (we recommend 900 which is 15 minutes to process)
max_input_time = 60 (we recommend 300 which is 5 minutes to upload a file)
memory_limit = 100M (OK as is)

post_max_size = 8M (we recommend 100 megabytes which should be ample)

file_uploads = On (OK as is on most systems)
upload_max_filesize = 100M (we recommend 100 megabytes which should be ample)

Tweaking Crontab. TeleYapper relies upon a cron job to kick off its calling sprees so you'll need the following entry in your /etc/crontab file unless you used the install script which inserts it automatically:

* * * * * root /var/www/html/appt-reminders/gen-reminders.php > /dev/null 2>&1

Formatting CSV Data For Import. You don't necessarily need an external database in order to use TeleYapper 5.0 although it is designed to support almost any database or spreadsheet application in the marketplace so long as it can export data in CSV or XML format. A CSV (comma-separated values) or XML file is the middleware that makes everything work. Each line in a CSV file represents an entry to be processed by TeleYapper 5.0 when the CSV file is uploaded. Each item in a line is called a field. Every field begins and ends with double-quotes, and fields are separated from each other with commas. Do NOT include any quotation marks in your actual text, or you'll get a disaster. All fields are required, by the way, but only the Phone1 field must have an actual entry. The remaining fields may each consist of nothing more than a pair of double-quotes. Note also that the id, status, and failedcalls fields (shown in red below) must consist of a pair of double-quotes and nothing more. Here's the actual CSV format which must be used, and all of the data must appear on the same line so disregard the WordPress formatting below:

"id","acctno","provider","recipient","apptdt","appttime","apptplace","instructions","phone1","phone2",
"
status","failedcalls"

Here's what the CSV entry used for our sample medical reminder shown near the top of this article would look like. We've excluded the special instructions and Phone2 entries below only to simplify the display because of constraints inherent in our blog formatting:

"","12345","Quack","Jan","10/05/10","1030","Charleston","","4049876543","","",""

The XML Alternative. If you'd prefer to upload XML file templates for your calls instead of CSV data, a sample XML file is included in the distribution to show you the proper formatting. Here's a sample entry that matches the CSV data above:

<!-- Database: reminders -->
<reminders>
   <!-- Table: reminders -->
    <reminders>
       <id></id>
       <acctno>12345</acctno>
       <provider>Quack</provider>
       <recipient>Jan</recipient>
       <apptdt>10/05/10</apptdt>
       <appttime>1030</appttime>
       <apptplace>Charleston</apptplace>
       <instructions></instructions>
       <phone1>4049876543</phone1>
       <phone2></phone2>
       <status></status>
       <failedcalls></failedcalls>
    </reminders>
</reminders>

Direct Uploading with SAMBA. If you've activated SAMBA on your Asterisk server, you can upload TeleYapper files for processing directly. Be sure to name your CSV or XML file as reminders.csv or reminders.xml. And name your config file: config.php. Copy the files to the /var/www/html/appt-reminders/upload directory on your Asterisk server. That's all there is to it. If you need hints on SAMBA installation, see our Best of Nerd Vittles tutorial. Pay particular attention to the sections on Security Considerations and Firewall Settings. Before using the SAMBA, be sure to upload some test CSV/XML files using the web interface. There is no error checking when you use the SAMBA option!

Configuring TeleYapper 5.0 Calling Scripts. Now let's address how we transform a CSV or XML entry such as the ones shown above into a personalized phone call to Jan, the actual patient in our example. Every TeleYapper session can have an individual configuration file associated with it. If none is specified, then a default configuration is used. In this way, you can customize call procedures and calling scripts for different tasks. The easiest approach is to always upload a config file with your CSV or XML data file. Then you won't get unexpected results when the calling begins.

HINT: It's a very good idea to create a sample upload with your own phone number and some sample configuration data to test things out before you start calling thousands of clients.

A default configuration file (config.default.php) as well as sample CSV and XML templates (reminders.csv and reminders.xml) come with TeleYapper 5.0 and can be found on your Asterisk server in the /var/www/html/appt-reminders directory. Make a copy of them, and move the copies to your Mac or PC. Then, using TextEdit or Notepad, open the files and have a look. Before addressing other configuration options in config.php, let's tackle the setup procedure for calling scripts.

The actual boilerplate message to be delivered to the called party is stored in $msg. Notice that you can substitute data out of your database in the boilerplate template by enclosing any desired fields in braces. Just make sure the fieldname exactly matches one of the fields in the reminders database. So our entry for the sample call above would look like this:

$msg="Hi: This is Allison from Charleston Family Clinic calling to confirm an appointment for {recipient}, with Doctor {provider}, on {apptdt}, at {appttime}, in our {apptplace} office. {instructions}";

Just a comment that, for those with large data processing systems, you may find it more convenient to generate the actual text for each reminder on your mega-machine. In this case, all of the data (up to 65,535 characters) could be loaded into the instructions field for each callee. So each upload record might consist of nothing more than phone numbers and instructions. In this scenario, the $msg entry in config.php would look like this: $msg="{instructions}";

The key press choices that are provided to the called party are configured using the $options field which would look like this for our example:

$options = "To confirm your appointment, please press 1. To reschedule your appointment, press 2. To cancel your appointment, press 3. If we have reached you in error or if you do not wish to receive appointment reminders, press 4. To hear this message again, please press 5 now.";

Don't confuse the 5 option which is automatically included in the TeleYapper dialplan code with status code 5 which means an answering machine picked up a call. Status code 5 is system-generated and is not stored based upon a callee choosing to listen to a recorded message more than once. The two 5's are not the same even though options 1-4 are actually used to define what the first four status codes mean on your system.

As we mentioned, the system has the smarts to usually figure out if an answering machine took the call. When it detects this, the $ansmach message is played instead of $options. A sample entry might look like this:

$ansmach = "If you need to cancel or reschedule this appointment, if we reached you in error, or if you do not wish to receive appointment reminders in the future, please call 777-123-4567 at your earliest convenience. Thank you for your assistance. Goodbye.";

Finally, for each of the four choices (1 through 4), there is a response message which is played if the callee chooses that option. Here's a sample template to get you started:

$chose1 = "Thank you for making Charleston Family Clinic your medical home. Your appointment has been confirmed. Goodbye.";
$chose2 = "Thank you. A representative will be calling you to reschedule your appointment. Goodbye.";
$chose3 = "Thank you for making Charleston Family Clinic your medical home. Your appointment has been cancelled. Goodbye.";
$chose4 = "Thank you. We will update our systems and apologize for the call. Goodbye.";

Thus, when a callee responds to the boilerplate call by pressing 1, $chose1 is played in response. If an email address has been entered for $chose1email, then a copy of the log entry for that call is sent to the specified email address using the customized email subjects (shown below) in addition to being placed in the master call log. The same process occurs when the other options are chosen. Particularly with medical appointment cancellations, it may be important to receive immediate notification when an appointment is canceled or a patient requests a change in scheduling. So the software includes the flexibility to generate instant emails to various email addresses depending upon which option is pressed. As noted, the optional instant emails will be generated using the email subjects entered for the following fields in your customized configuration file:

$chose1subj = "APPOINTMENT NOTIFICATION CONFIRMED BY PHONE";
$chose2subj = "APPOINTMENT RESCHEDULING REQUEST BY PHONE";
$chose3subj = "APPOINTMENT CANCELLATION REQUEST BY PHONE";
$chose4subj = "APPOINTMENT SCHEDULING ERROR REPORTED BY PHONE";
$chose5subj = "APPOINTMENT NOTIFICATION LEFT ON ANSWERING MACHINE";

Uploading Data & Config Files to TeleYapper. Simple web pages are used to upload CSV and XML data with config files to TeleYapper 5.0. WARNING: These web pages have NOT been sanitized for use on the Internet. They are designed for use on your local area network behind a secure firewall. On PBX in a Flash systems, the web pages are password-protected and require a valid user account login for access. This will NOT be the case on other Asterisk aggregations without tweaking your Apache configuration. Sample entries can be found in teleyapper.conf in the /var/www/html/appt-reminders directory. On PBX in a Flash systems, you can log in using maint, wwwadmin, or meetme accounts. Or you can create an additional account to use with TeleYapper 5.0:

htpasswd /usr/local/apache/passwd/wwwpasswd teleyapper

There are separate web pages depending upon whether you wish to upload CSV or XML data. For CSV data, the web address is http://ipaddress/appt-reminders/uploadcsv/. For XML data, the web address is http://ipaddress/appt-reminders/uploadxml/. Substitute the private IP address of your Asterisk server for ipaddress. Here's a sample of the CSV web form. You can, of course, substitute your own logo on the right if desired.

CSV Web Form

Other TeleYapper 5.0 Config Options. In addition to the boilerplate text for TeleYapper calls, there are a number of other settings which can be adjusted to meet your individual requirements.

The database settings should never need adjusting so just leave them alone. They look like this:

$db="reminders";
$fi="reminders";
$dbuser="root";
$dbpass="passw0rd";

You can manually set a starting and ending time to begin and end the calling sequence for a particular upload. Never set these in the default configuration! Only set them in a config file to be uploaded. If the entries are blank, calls will commence shortly after the upload completes and will end when all of the entries have been processed. Note that there is no current flexibility to schedule individual calls based upon the time of the appointment. This typically would be handled by selecting particular records for processing in your primary database. For example, for medical appointments, you would select records in which an appointment is scheduled for tomorrow and then upload the list to TeleYapper which would place the calls today. We probably will expand this functionality down the road, but it's not there yet. So it's up to you to upload call lists which basically are ripe for calling now.

If you wish to use the $startcalls and $endcalls features in your custom config files, the syntax should look like this: YYYYMMDD,HHMM where YYYY is a 4-digit year, MM is a 2-digit month, DD is a 2-digit day of the month, HH is the 2-digit hour based upon a 24-hour clock (aka Military Time), and MM is the 2-digit minute. Note that calls will not end precisely at the $endcalls time. Any existing calls already in process will be completed including redials and calls to an alternate $phone2 number. This process can take up to 10 minutes to complete.

CAUTION: Be very careful using the $startcalls option! Nothing precludes your scheduling a thousand reminder calls to kick off at 0200 which is 2 a.m. Not really a good thing if job security matters to you.

To restart the calling process on the following day, log into your server as root and switch to the /var/www/html/appt-reminders directory. Then edit config.php and adjust the $startcalls and $endcalls for the remaining calls. Then run: ./gen-calls.php. Any existing database entry with a status=0 will be called when the calling process resumes. You can monitor the calling process by running: ./showcalls.sh. Press Ctrl-C to terminate the call display. It usually takes a minute or two for the first call to be placed.

$callerid is used to set the CallerID of outbound calls if your telephony provider supports it.

$trunk is used to set the outbound dialing trunk for calls. The default works for most purposes.

$channel is used to set the outbound dialing channel for calls. The default works for most purposes.

$maxcalls and $spacing are used to set the number of simultaneous calls and spacing between calls respectively. Be very careful with these settings. You must have sufficient outbound trunks to handle the number of simultaneous calls you schedule with $maxcalls, or you will get circuit busy conditions which are recorded as calls to busy numbers. Keep in mind that TeleYapper tries every call twice with 2 minutes of separation. So, if you only have two outbound trunks, don't set $maxcalls above 1, or you will get trunk busy conditions whenever original calls to an individual fail, i.e. line busy or no answer situations. In addition, remember that TeleYapper 5.0 supports a second phone number for each called party. These are triggered whenever the original two calls to the primary number fail and must also be considered in setting $maxcalls properly. If your logs show a disproportionate number of failed calls (status=0), this may be a tell-tale sign of trunk busy conditions.

$waittime is the number of seconds a call to any given number will ring. 45 seconds is about 7 rings.

$email is the email address that will be used to send the logs at the completion of the calling process. $chose1email through $chose5email are the optional email addresses if you want instantaneous feedback on certain types of status results. This means you get an immediate email if a certain call results in a certain status code. Leave the ones blank for $status conditions on which you want no immediate feedback and simply wait for the logs to arrive.

$csvreport and $xmlreport are used to set which type of completion report you wish to receive. If you want both of them, set them both to 1. Otherwise, set the one you don't want to 0.

The Old Fashioned Way. For those of you that preferred the older method of entering data directly into MySQL, you still can use phpMyAdmin or some other front-end tool to enter the data directly into the reminders.reminders table. Just leave the id field blank since it automatically gets generated by MySQL. And either leave the status and failedcalls fields blank or set them to 0. They also are system-generated. Once you have your data in place, log into your server as root, and...

cd /var/www/html/appt-reminders
Configure config.php for your calling campaign
Run ./gen-mysql.php to kick off TeleYapper 5.0

In Closing... Finally, let us issue our usual tinkerer's warning. Don't delete anything from the /var/www/html/appt-reminders directory tree. Just because you don't know its function doesn't mean it doesn't have one. Aside from that, the documentation above should get you started today. Be advised that TeleYapper 5.0 still is a work in progress. So check back every week or so for new comments on this article to see what's been changed, added, or fixed since you originally downloaded the application. Enjoy!




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


whos.amung.us If you're wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what's happening. It's a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you're seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity's DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here's a deal you can't (and shouldn't) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won't get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, Vitelity's rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest...

  1. Special thanks to my dear wife, Mary, who did much of the system design work for this project, and to Community Health Centers of Florida for underwriting some of the design and development costs. []

Asterisk TTS: Introducing Today in History

If you're a history buff and want a convenient way to find out everything that ever happened Today in History, then this week's text to speech (TTS) application for Asterisk® should be just what you need. Pick up any phone connected to your Asterisk system and dial T-O-D-A-Y (86329 for the spelling-impaired). The script will retrieve today's historical events and today's birthdays of interest from Yahoo News and play the results back to you over the phone using either Flite or Cepstral to handle the TTS translation. To speed up the retrieval process, you can also set this up as a cron job to download the latest events each day while you're sleeping. Thereafter, when you dial T-O-D-A-Y, the results are played back for callers instantaneously.

Prerequisites. If you're using PBX in a Flash, then all of the tools you'll need are already in place. And we have a script for you that will install the application in just a few seconds. For other users, you'll need an Asterisk server with PHP5 and either Flite or Cepstral to handle the text-to-speech chores.

Overview. If you've previously installed other Nerd Vittles text to speech applications, then the drill this time around is quite similar. There's a PHP/AGI script which gets stored in /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin. In this script (nv-today.php), you can change the default Flite TTS engine to Cepstral by changing the $ttspick variable setting from 0 to 1. Then there is a snippet of dialplan code that needs to be added to the [from-internal-custom] context in extensions_custom.conf for FreePBX installations. Once you reload your Asterisk dialplan, you're ready to go.

How It Works. The PHP/AGI script only does real work once a day. It always checks to see if there is an existing /tmp/today.txt file with today's file stamp. If there is, it exits gracefully. If today's file doesn't exist or if the file's time stamp is earlier than midnight, then the script downloads the latest information for today in history and creates a text file of the data. Then either the Flite or Cepstral TTS engine is called to convert the text file into /tmp/today.wav. The dial plan code is used to answer calls to extension 86329. Then it runs the PHP/AGI script, and finally it plays back /tmp/today.wav. Note: The PHP/AGI script, if run as a cron job or from the command prompt, should never be run as the root user, but only as the asterisk user. Otherwise, the today.txt and today.wav files cannot be replaced by the script when it subsequently is run from the dialplan.

Script Installation. If you're using PBX in a Flash, log into your server as root and issue the following commands:

cd /root
wget http://bestof.nerdvittles.com/applications/today/today.pbx
chmod +x today.pbx
./today.pbx

Automatic Updates Using crontab. If you'd like to automatically generate the Today in History files each day, add the following entry to the bottom of /etc/crontab:

01 0 * * * asterisk /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/nv-today.php

Manual Installation. For those using a different Asterisk aggregation that includes PHP5, FreePBX, and Flite, add this code to /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf in the [from-internal-custom] context:

exten => 86329,1,Answer
exten => 86329,2,Wait(1)
exten => 86329,3,Set(TIMEOUT(digit)=7)
exten => 86329,4,Set(TIMEOUT(response)=10)
exten => 86329,5,Flite(Please stand bye while we retrieve: Today in History.)
exten => 86329,6,AGI(nv-today.php)
exten => 86329,7,Playback(/tmp/today)
exten => 86329,8,Wait(1)
exten => 86329,9,Hangup

Then issue the following commands from the command prompt after logging in as root:

cd /root
mkdir today
cd today
wget http://bestof.nerdvittles.com/applications/today/today.zip
unzip today.zip
rm -f today.zip
cp nv-today.php /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/nv-today.php
chmod 775 /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/nv-today.php
chown asterisk:asterisk /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/nv-today.php
asterisk -rx "dialplan reload"

Running the Application. Now you're ready for a test run. Pick up any phone connected to your Asterisk system and dial T-O-D-A-Y. After a brief pause to download the data, today's events in history and today's birthdays will be played back over your phone using your favorite text to speech voice. To eliminate the pause the first time the application is run each day, simply add the crontab entry as outlined above. Enjoy!



Free DIDs While They Last. Sipgate is giving away a free U.S. DID with free incoming calls plus 200 free minutes for outbound calls. Better hurry. Here's the trunk setup for FreePBX-based systems:

Trunk name: sipgate

type=peer
username=ACCTNO
fromuser=ACCTNO
secret=ACCTPW
context=from-trunk
host=sipgate.com
fromdomain=sipgate.com
insecure=very
caninvite=no
canreinvite=no
nat=no
disallow=all
allow=ulaw&alaw

Registration Strong: ACCTNO:ACCTPW@sipgate.com/YOUR-DID-NUMBER

ACCTNO is the account number assigned to your sipgate account. ACCTPW is the password for your account. YOUR-DID-NUMBER is your 10-digit DID.

Finally create an inbound route using your actual 10-digit DID and assign a destination for the inbound calls.



Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


Twitter Magic. If you haven't noticed the right margin of Nerd Vittles lately, we've added a new link to our Twitter feed. If you explore a little, you'll discover that the user interface now brings you instant access to every Twitter feed from the convenience of the Nerd Vittles desktop. Enjoy!


whos.amung.us If you're wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what's happening. It's a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you're seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity's DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here's a deal you can't (and shouldn't) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won't get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, Vitelity's rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest...

Introducing Telephone Reminders for Asterisk 1.4 with Phone and Web Scheduling

If you loved your ‘Speak and Spell’ when you were a kid, then prepare for a childhood flashback… except the Nerd Vittles version is more akin to ‘Spell and Speak.’ Today’s edition of Telephone Reminders for Asterisk® 1.4 not only lets you schedule reminders by phone using your own voice, but now you can use a clever (if we do say so) web interface as well. Just fill out a simple web form to set your reminder or recurring reminder in motion, and Telephone Reminders for Asterisk will swing into action with Flite or Cepstral’s Allison to deliver your typed message to the phone of your choice at the appointed time. It’s the perfect tool for bugging the hell out of your friends without ever picking up the phone. Wanna wake your worst enemy in the middle of the night with a nice reading of the Gettysburg Address? No problem. Actually, there is a slight problem. It’s against the law to make irritating phone calls. But it’ll be great for calling all those politicians back to thank them for the hundreds of telephone messages they delivered while you were eating dinner. And, yes, we’ve preserved all of the recurring reminder functionality that you’ve grown to love. So you can schedule one-time reminders, weekday reminders, daily reminders, weekly reminders, monthly reminders, and annual reminders. Wowee! Our special thanks to the PBX in a Flash Pioneers that really shook the bugs out of our beta release, most of which were thanks to the Deprecation Aficionados on the Asterisk Development Team. STOP DEPRECATING COMMANDS! It has no place in the business community. </rant>

To celebrate the FreePBX Training Seminar being held in our Hometown U.S.A. this week, we’ve even added a new FreePBX Interface to Telephone Reminders for those of you that like FreePBX as much as we do.

While the entire application has been designed for 15-second installation on PBX in a Flash systems, it’ll work equally well on any Asterisk 1.4 system with an Apache web server, PHP, FreePBX, and Flite or Cepstral support. But why make things difficult when PBX in a Flash is so easy to install? And, did we mention? It is and always will be free… with no tricks, ever. Visit pbxinaflash.com to download your copy today.

How It Works. The original functionality of the application has been preserved. Dial 1-2-3 on a phone connected to your Asterisk 1.4 system and enter your password. The default is 12345678. Then you can record a reminder message, specify the phone number to which the reminder should be delivered, schedule the date and time for delivery, and decide whether to enable recurring reminders of one of the flavors outlined above. The Web Interface to Telephone Reminders lets you do exactly the same thing using a web browser. The only difference is that, instead of recording your reminder message, you type it and let Flite or Allison record it for you before the telephone reminder message is delivered. The FreePBX Interface to Telephone Reminders provides you the same web interface inside the FreePBX shell by adding a Reminders option under the Third Party Addon section of the Tools tab. As was true in version 3, both the telephone and web interfaces can be customized to meet your needs. See our detailed tutorial for customization tips. You now can also specify whether to use Flite or Allison for your web reminders. So let’s get started.

Installing Cepstral. If you want a perfect text-to-speech system for applications such as this one, then look no further than Cepstral. And we strongly recommend using the Voice of Allison that we’ve all grown up with in the Asterisk community. It’s the best $30 you’ll ever spend. Just follow our Cepstral installation tutorial, and you’ll be up and running in about 10 minutes. If you’ve already installed Cepstral on your system, then log into your server as root and make this one simple addition so that the Web Interface to Telephone Reminders can find the Cepstral application when it’s time to generate your text-to-speech phone reminder.

ln -s /opt/swift/bin/swift /usr/bin/swift

A Hint for the Early Pioneers. For the many pioneers that helped us get the bugs out of the beta release, THANK YOU! The best way to make sure you have a clean install of today’s release of Telephone Reminders with all the bells and whistles is to delete what you’re using now and start over. We will not delete any scheduled reminders, and it’ll only take a few minutes. Here’s how to clean off the old version on your system. Log into your server as root. First, edit crontab: nano -w /etc/crontab. Look for the two lines that look something like what you see below. Delete the two lines using Ctrl-K. Then save your changes: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter.

0 0 * * * root /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/run_recurring > /dev/null
3 0 * * * root /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/run_reminders > /dev/null

Second, edit the extensions_custom config file: nano -w /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf. There are two sections of code that need to be removed. The first will be found near the top of the file in the [from-internal-custom] context. Use Ctrl-W to search for 123, and you should see a clump of code that looks like the following. Use Ctrl-K to delete each of the lines.

exten => 123,1,Answer
exten => 123,2,Wait(1)
exten => 123,3,Authenticate(12345678)
exten => 123,4,Goto(reminder,s,1)

The second section of code to be deleted will be near the bottom of the file. Use Ctrl-W to search for reminder. Delete each line of code including the context headings from the following contexts. Hint: It’s a big chunk of code!

[reminder]
[reminder2]
[reminder3]
[reminder4]
[reminder5]
[reminder6]
[reminder7]
[reminder8]
[reminder9]
[reminder9a]
[remindem]

Then save your changes: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter.

Now let’s delete another group of files, and you’re all set. Just execute the following commands to delete the original files:

cd /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin
rm checkdate.php
rm checktime.php
rm reminder.php
rm run_recurring
rm run_reminders
rm /var/www/html/reminders/index.php

If You’re Not Using PBX in a Flash. Only read this section if you’re not installing Telephone Reminders for Asterisk 1.4 on a PBX in a Flash system. It’s still possible to use this application without running it on a PBX in a Flash system. The major difference is that it is up to you to assure that the prerequisites are met and properly functioning. For those running trixbox 2.x systems, that is next to impossible until the trixbox developers decide to support Flite… unless you use the commercial Cepstral product. The good news is that Cepstral apparently works. The other good news is that the telephone module of Telephone Reminders does not require either Flite or Cepstral; however, the Web Interface does. As long as you’re willing to live without the Web Interface (i.e. version 3 functionality), keep reading. First, download both the install script and the payload file and manually determine what needs to be placed where. Our recommendation is to build a /root/reminders directory and execute the following commands to get all of the code:

mkdir /root/reminders
cd /root/reminders
wget http://bestof.nerdvittles.com/applications/reminders4/reminders.pbx
wget http://pbxinaflash.net/scripts/reminders.tgz
tar -zxvf reminders.tgz

Unless you’re using PBX in a Flash or trixbox, carefully read the Telephone Reminders 3.0 tutorial on our Best of Nerd Vittles site. Then review the reminders.pbx script and make any necessary placement adjustments. Next, review the directory tree created below /root/reminders and be sure to copy and create the files and directory structure into the appropriate locations on your system. Make certain that you set ownership and file permissions properly for your system. The following assumptions are made in our setup. The root of the web server is located in /var/www/html, and Apache runs as user asterisk. AGI and PHP scripts for Asterisk are stored in /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin. Logs for this application are written to /var/log/asterisk. Finally, the PHP and Asterisk configuration files are housed in /etc/asterisk. We don’t provide support for any installs other than on PBX in a Flash systems. Life’s too short!


 
Installation on PBX in a Flash Systems. We’ve saved the best for last. The entire install on a PBX in a Flash system takes about as long as it will take you to cut-and-paste the following commands. 15 seconds should do it! The script reportedly works on trixbox ce systems as well although we have not tested it. Log into your server as root and issue the following commands:
 

cd /root
wget http://bestof.nerdvittles.com/applications/reminders4/reminders.pbx
chmod +x reminders.pbx
./reminders.pbx
amportal restart
ln -s /opt/swift/bin/swift /usr/bin/swift

Test Run of Web Interface to Telephone Reminders. Assuming you have Cepstral running on your server, the web interface is ready to go since it comes configured to use Cepstral as the text-to-speech engine. We’ll show you how to change back to Flite in a minute. Using a web browser, go to the following site using the IP address of your Asterisk server: http://192.168.0.178/reminders/. Fill in the blanks including a reminder message. If you enter a date and time in the past, the phone number you enter will start ringing as soon as you hit the Schedule Reminder button. That’s a good way to be sure everything is working without having to sit and wait for a return call.

When Things Go Wrong. Immediately after scheduling a reminder, be sure to check for the pending reminder by clicking Review Existing Reminders. You should see both a .call file and a .gsm with otherwise matching file names. If the .gsm file is missing, one of two things has happened. If you haven’t installed Cepstral and you haven’t changed the default TTS engine, then solve it by doing one or the other. If Cepstral is working on your system (swift “Hello world.” at command prompt), then you may be missing the sox application. To install it, log in as root and type: yum install sox.

Test Run of Telephone Reminders for Asterisk. On PBX in a Flash systems, the application will run once you complete the install as outlined above. Dial 1-2-3 from a phone on your system and enter the default password of 12345678 when prompted. Record a message and press #. When prompted for the phone number to which the reminder should be delivered, press # to choose the number you are calling from. When prompted for the date to deliver the message, press # to choose today. When prompted for the time, enter a 4-digit time with a 2-digit hour and 2-digit minute. Military time (24 hour clock) is fine. Make sure the time is at least 5 minutes in the future, and make sure the time on your watch and server match! Accept the settings, hang up, and wait for your reminder call.

Configuring Telephone Reminders for Asterisk. The phone interface to Telephone Reminders and the web interface are two separate applications so you’ll need to configure both of them. Let’s start with the phone interface. At a minimum, you’ll want to change the default password to something more secure. Edit /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf using either nano or the FreePBX Config Edit option in Tools. Search for 123 and change the password in line 3 which looks like this. If you want to change the phone number to dial to enter reminders, simply replace 123 on every line with the number you wish to use.

exten => 123,3,Authenticate(12345678)

Update: A user on the PBX in a Flash Forum has pointed out that you can substitute the line below for the “Authenticate” line above, and the system will accept the existing voicemail password associated with the phone making the call:

exten => 123,3,vmauthenticate(${CALLERID(number)})

In order to take advantage of the new number conflict checking mechanism in FreePBX 2.4, we also recommend you add a Misc Destination for Telephone Reminders under the Setup tab. The entries should look something like the following:

Description Reminders
Dial 123

Once you’ve made the entry, click the Submit button and then reload the Asterisk dialplan when prompted.

The other changes you can make are accomplished by setting variables in the reminders.php application which is stored in /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin. For a complete list of the variables and what they mean, take a look at the Telephony Configuration section in our Best of Nerd Vittles article.

Configuring the Web Interface to Telephone Reminders. The variable settings for the web interface are identical to those above. In addition, the text-to-speech engine can be set to Flite (instead of Cepstral) by changing the value of $ttspick from 1 to 0. The file to edit is index.php in /var/www/html/reminders. For more details, take a look at the Web Interface Configuration topic in our Best of Nerd Vittles article. Some may also find it desirable to secure the web interface to Telephone Reminders with a password. Here’s how.

Installing the FreePBX Interface to Telephone Reminders. After installing Telephone Reminders, a new Module will be available for installation in FreePBX by accessing Tools->Module Admin. Scroll to the bottom of the listing and click on Reminders and then the Install button. Once the installation completes, reload the Asterisk dialplan when prompted. A new FreePBX interface to Telephone Reminders then will display in the Third Party AddOn listing under the Tools tab in FreePBX.

Special Thanks. We want to extend our special thanks to Sangoma for their generous, unsolicited contribution to the PBX in a Flash project. While everything we produce is freely given for all to use, projects such as Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash still require money to fund research and product development. On behalf of the entire PBX in a Flash Development Team, thank you. SANGOMA ROCKS!!

Best of Nerd Vittles Tutorial. For those of you that prefer to read manuals, we also have a new Telephone Reminders 4.0 tutorial on our Best of Nerd Vittles site.

Need More Help? That’s what the PBX in a Flash Forum is for! Even if you don’t need help, stop by and let us know what’s on your Wish List! And remember, the Donate button at the top of Nerd Vittles makes wishes come true. Enjoy!


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

Text-to-Speech Bonanza with Cepstral and Asterisk 1.4

There's almost too much to celebrate today. It's Valentine's Day, of course. You didn't forget, did you? And PBX in a Flash turns 3 months old with well over 1,000 downloads a week under our belt. Wow! Who woulda thunk? Thanks, Joe! Thanks, Tom! Get the latest scoop on our forums.

We're pleased to introduce our first hosting service provider, Aretta Communications, for those that would prefer to run PBX in a Flash in a secure, hosted environment with regular backups. Your hosted service in Atlanta will be one millisecond away from the Internet backbone. You can't do any better! And, we're excited to welcome VoipQ as our new European gateway host and contributor for PBX in a Flash. You now can access and download all of our resources through their 100 megabit connection in The Netherlands: pbxinaflash.nl. And there are two new European domains that link back to our main pbxinaflash.com site as well: pbxinaflash.eu and pbxinaflash.be. Our special thanks to Dillard and VoipQ for their support! We're also delighted to announce VoxZone as our new MidWest host for PBX in a Flash downloads. Thanks, Dinesh! And finally, we want to welcome Ad Hoc Electronics as our third West Coast host for PBX in a Flash downloads. Thanks, Jeremy! We hope you'll keep all of these open source supporters in mind when you're shopping for VoIP services and hardware.

To celebrate today's events, we thought it'd be a perfect time to introduce five newly customized Nerd Vittles applications for PBX in a Flash to take advantage of the Cepstral text-to-speech engine with Allison that we introduced last month. So today we bring you Weather by Airport Code, Weather by Zip Code, Worldwide Weather, NewsClips, and MailCall. The weather apps are self-explanatory. NewsClips reads Yahoo news feeds on any of 10 different news topics, and MailCall reads you your email by phone for one or many POP3 or IMAP email accounts. Now these new applications support both Flite and Cepstral. Once you hear Allison reading the news and your email, you'll never go back to Egor. And we're pleased to announce that we'll have a web interface to Telephone Reminders in a few short weeks. With the new Cepstral technology, you'll be able to generate single or recurring text-to-speech reminders from your web browser with delivery at the dates and times you specify... to any phone in the world. Whoa!! As a birthday bonus for Nerd Vittles readers, you can email Cepstral for a whopping, once-in-a-lifetime 15% discount code to use on your next Cepstral download and purchase.

For those using PBX in a Flash (and why wouldn't you!), all of these new applications are a 15-second install away using the downloadable scripts from the Nerd Vittles script repository. And, of course, there are dozens of additional scripts available from our PBX in a Flash Script Site which is run by Tom King.

First Install Procedure. If you've never installed an application that's on the menu today, make certain that you have first installed Cepstral. Our tutorial is here, and it only takes a few minutes. Then the process is painless with PBX in a Flash. Just log into your server as root and type the following commands... depending upon the application you wish to install. Do NOT use this procedure if you have previously installed the application on your PBX in a Flash server. We'll get to that in a minute. As mentioned, each install takes about 15 seconds. Then take a look at the instructions by clicking on the application link on the Best of Nerd Vittles site.

Weather by Airport Code. After logging into your server as root, type the following commands. Documentation is here.

cd /root
wget http://bestof.nerdvittles.com/applications/weather-airport/weather.pbx
chmod +x weather.pbx
./weather.pbx

Weather by Zip Code. After logging into your server as root, type the following commands. Documentation is here.

cd /root
wget http://bestof.nerdvittles.com/applications/weather-zip/weatherzip.pbx
chmod +x weatherzip.pbx
./weatherzip.pbx

Worldwide Weather. After logging into your server as root, type the following commands. Documentation is here.

cd /root
wget http://bestof.nerdvittles.com/applications/weather-world/weatherworld.pbx
chmod +x weatherworld.pbx
./weatherworld.pbx

NewsClips from Yahoo. After logging into your server as root, type the following commands. Documentation is here.

cd /root
wget http://bestof.nerdvittles.com/applications/newsclips/newsclips.pbx
chmod +x newsclips.pbx
./newsclips.pbx

MailCall for Asterisk®. After logging into your server as root, type the following commands. Documentation is here.

cd /root
wget http://bestof.nerdvittles.com/applications/mailcall/mailcall.pbx
chmod +x mailcall.pbx
./mailcall.pbx

Choosing Flite or Cepstral. As installed, the five applications all rely upon Flite as the default text-to-speech (TTS) engine. If you'd like to change it, here's how. There are two places in which text-to-speech is used for these applications. The first is a little code that is inserted in your dialplan in the /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf file. The second is in the PHP code that does the heavy lifting for each application. You can choose Cepstral as the TTS engine in either or both places for each application. We'll walk you through modifying the Weather by Airport Code application to support Cepstral, but the process is identical for the other applications. The two things you'll need to know to make the changes, are the number to dial for the application, e.g. 611 for Weather by Airport Code, and the name of the PHP file, e.g. nv-weather.php. Here's the info for all five apps just so you don't have to do any hunting:

  • Weather by Airport Code... 611, nv-weather.php
  • Weather by Zip Code... 947, nv-weather-zip.php
  • Worldwide Weather... 612, nv-weather-world.php
  • NewsClips from Yahoo... 511*, nv-news.php (No editing of dialplan 511 code is required)
  • MailCall for Asterisk... 555, nv-mailcall.php

Changing DialPlan Code to Cepstral. Log into your server as root and edit the extensions_custom.conf file in /etc/asterisk: nano -w extensions_custom.conf. Now search for the number to dial from the table above. For example, for Weather by Airport Code, you'd press Ctrl-W, then type 611, then press Enter. You'll be positioned on code that looks like the following:1

exten => 611,1,Answer
exten => 611,2,Wait(1)
exten => 611,3,Set(TIMEOUT(digit)=7)
exten => 611,4,Set(TIMEOUT(response)=10)
exten => 611,5,Flite("At the beep enter the three character ↩
airport code for the weather report you wish to retrieve.")
;exten => 611,5,Swift("At the beep enter the three character ↩
airport code for the weather report you wish to retrieve.")
exten => 611,6,Read(APCODE,beep,3)
exten => 611,7,Flite("Please hold a moment while ↩
we contact the National Weather Service for your report.")
;exten => 611,7,Swift("Please hold a moment while ↩
we contact the National Weather Service for your report.")
exten => 611,8,AGI(nv-weather.php|${APCODE})
exten => 611,9,NoOp(Wave file: ${TMPWAVE})
exten => 611,10,Playback(${TMPWAVE})
exten => 611,11,Hangup

Notice the semicolons at the beginning of the two lines of code. Those indicate comments in the PHP world, and those lines are not executed. You'll note that both of the commented lines include the word Swift which, as you learned from the installation tutorial, activates the Cepstral TTS engine. Immediately under each of those lines is an identical line to activate Flite. So, to swap TTS engines, simply comment out the two Flite lines and uncomment the two Swift lines. When you're finished, your code should look like this:

exten => 611,1,Answer
exten => 611,2,Wait(1)
exten => 611,3,Set(TIMEOUT(digit)=7)
exten => 611,4,Set(TIMEOUT(response)=10)
;exten => 611,5,Flite("At the beep enter the three character ↩
airport code for the weather report you wish to retrieve.")
exten => 611,5,Swift("At the beep enter the three character ↩
airport code for the weather report you wish to retrieve.")
exten => 611,6,Read(APCODE,beep,3)
;exten => 611,7,Flite("Please hold a moment while we ↩
contact the National Weather Service for your report.")
exten => 611,7,Swift("Please hold a moment while we ↩
contact the National Weather Service for your report.")
exten => 611,8,AGI(nv-weather.php|${APCODE})
exten => 611,9,NoOp(Wave file: ${TMPWAVE})
exten => 611,10,Playback(${TMPWAVE})
exten => 611,11,Hangup

Don't change anything else. When your code looks like ours, save your changes by pressing Ctrl-X, then Y, then the Enter key. Reload your Asterisk dialplan to make the changes take effect:

asterisk -rx "dialplan reload"

Changing PHP Application Code to Cepstral. Log into your server as root and issue the following commands using the name of the PHP file for the application you want to change:

cd /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin
nano -w nv-weather.php

At the top of the file, you'll notice several lines with variables that can be changed.

//-------- DON'T CHANGE ANYTHING ABOVE THIS LINE ----------------

$debug = 1;
$newlogeachdebug = 1;
$emaildebuglog = 0;
$email = "yourname@yourdomain" ;
$ttspick = 0 ;

//-------- DON'T CHANGE ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ----------------

To activate the Cepstral TTS engine, just change the value for $ttspick from 0 to 1. Then save your changes: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter. Now try out your fancy new weather application using Cepstral by dialing 611 from any phone on your PBX in a Flash system.

Upgrading from Previous Installs. If you have already installed one or more of these five Nerd Vittles applications, here's a quick tutorial on how to update your code to the latest and greatest with full Cepstral support. We've already preconfigured the code below to use Cepstral. If you want to use Flite for some of the apps, make the changes following the instructions above. Log into your server as root and issue the following commands:

cd /root
mkdir cepstral
cd cepstral
wget http://nerdvittles.com/wp-content/cepstral.zip
unzip cepstral.zip

For each application that you've already installed, copy the PHP file from /root/cepstral to /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin and then set the proper ownership of the new files:

cd /root/cepstral
cp nv-mailcall.php /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/nv-mailcall.php
cp nv-news.php /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/nv-news.php
cp nv-weather.php /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/nv-weather.php
cp nv-weather-zip.php /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/nv-weather-zip.php
cp nv-weather-world.php /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/nv-weather-world.php
cd /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin
chown asterisk:asterisk nv*.php
chmod 775 nv*.php

Now we need to edit /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf and clean out the old dialplan code for these applications and then replace it with the new dialplan code. First, make a duplicate of the file in case something goes wrong:

cp /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf.bak

Then edit the file: nano -w /etc/asterisk extensions_custom.conf and search (Ctrl-W) for the beginning of each chunk of dialplan code using the phone numbers for the various applications that are shown above in the Choosing Flite or Cepstral section, e.g. 611, 947, 612, 511, and 555. Using Ctrl-K, delete each subsequent line of dialplan code that contains the phone number for that application until you've removed the entire section of code for each application. Then search for the next phone number and repeat the process. Once you've deleted all of the existing code for these five applications, cut-and-paste the following code just below [from-internal-custom] at the top of the file. NOTE: Do NOT paste in a section of the code below if you haven't previously installed that particular application!

; -- Begin New Nerd Vittles Code to Support Cepstral TTS

; Worldwide Weather Forecasts
exten => 612,1,Answer
exten => 612,2,Wait(1)
exten => 612,3,Set(TIMEOUT(digit)=7)
exten => 612,4,Set(TIMEOUT(response)=10)
;exten => 612,5,Flite("At the beep enter the code for the weather report you wish to retrieve.")
exten => 612,5,Swift("At the beep enter the code for the weather report you wish to retrieve.")
exten => 612,6,Read(APCODE,beep,1)
;exten => 612,7,Flite("Please hold a moment while we retrieve your report.")
exten => 612,7,Swift("Please hold a moment while we retrieve your report.")
exten => 612,8,AGI(nv-weather-world.php|${APCODE})
exten => 612,9,NoOp(Wave file: ${TMPWAVE})
exten => 612,10,Playback(${TMPWAVE})
exten => 612,11,Hangup

; Weather by Zip Code
exten => 947,1,Answer
exten => 947,2,Wait(1)
exten => 947,3,Set(TIMEOUT(digit)=7)
exten => 947,4,Set(TIMEOUT(response)=10)
;exten => 947,5,Flite("At the beep enter the five digit code for the weather report you wish to retrieve.")
exten => 947,5,Swift("At the beep enter the five digit code for the weather report you wish to retrieve.")
exten => 947,6,Read(ZIPCODE,beep,5)
;exten => 947,7,Flite("Please hold a moment while we contact the National Weather Service for your report.")
exten => 947,7,Swift("Please hold a moment while we contact the National Weather Service for your report.")
exten => 947,8,AGI(nv-weather-zip.php|${ZIPCODE})
exten => 947,9,NoOp(Wave file: ${TMPWAVE})
exten => 947,10,Playback(${TMPWAVE})
exten => 947,11,Hangup

; Weather by Airport Code
exten => 611,1,Answer
exten => 611,2,Wait(1)
exten => 611,3,Set(TIMEOUT(digit)=7)
exten => 611,4,Set(TIMEOUT(response)=10)
;exten => 611,5,Flite("At the beep enter the three character airport code for the weather report you wish to retrieve.")
exten => 611,5,Swift("At the beep enter the three character airport code for the weather report you wish to retrieve.")
exten => 611,6,Read(APCODE,beep,3)
;exten => 611,7,Flite("Please hold a moment while we contact the National Weather Service for your report.")
exten => 611,7,Swift("Please hold a moment while we contact the National Weather Service for your report.")
exten => 611,8,AGI(nv-weather.php|${APCODE})
exten => 611,9,NoOp(Wave file: ${TMPWAVE})
exten => 611,10,Playback(${TMPWAVE})
exten => 611,11,Hangup

; NewsClips from Yahoo
exten => 511,1,Answer
exten => 511,2,Wait(1)
exten => 511,3,Set(TIMEOUT(digit)=7)
exten => 511,4,Set(TIMEOUT(response)=10)
exten => 511,5,AGI(nv-news.php|topstories)
exten => 511,6,NoOp(Wave file: ${TMPWAVE})
exten => 511,7,Playback(${TMPWAVE})
exten => 511,8,Wait(1)
exten => 511,9,Hangup

; MailCall for Asterisk 1.4
exten => 555,1,Answer
exten => 555,2,Wait(1)
exten => 555,3,Set(TIMEOUT(digit)=7)
exten => 555,4,Set(TIMEOUT(response)=10)
;exten => 555,5,Flite("At the beep enter your e-mail password.")
exten => 555,5,Swift("At the beep enter your e-mail password.")
exten => 555,6,Read(PWCODE,beep,4)
;exten => 555,7,Flite("Please hold a moment.")
exten => 555,7,Swift("Please hold a moment.")
exten => 555,8,AGI(nv-mailcall.php|${PWCODE})
;exten => 555,9,Flite("Thank you for calling. Good bye.")
exten => 555,9,Swift("Thank you for calling. Good bye.")
exten => 555,10,Hangup

; -- End New Nerd Vittles Code to Support Cepstral TTS

Once you get all of the code pasted into extensions_custom.conf, save your changes: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter. Then reload your dialplan and add a symbolic link to Cepstral:

asterisk -rx "dialplan reload"
ln -s /opt/swift/bin/swift /usr/bin/swift

FreePBX Patch. Something about our applications gives FreePBX fits when you attempt to do a subsequent dialplan reload. So here's the patch to fix that. While still logged in as root, issue the following commands:

cd /root
wget http://pbxinaflash.net/scripts/fixconf.zip
unzip fixconf.zip
chmod +x fixconf.sh
./fixconf.sh
chmod 1777 /tmp

Aretta Communications for Hosted PBX in a Flash Service. We've saved the best for last today. Many of you have been asking for recommendations on hosted PBX service. And today we finally have one for you. Aretta Communications is the premier provider of hosted Asterisk solutions worldwide. Based in telecom-savvy Atlanta and pioneering the business VoIP triple play, Aretta is the first provider to combine hosted Asterisk-based servers with an integrated, high voice quality SIP Trunking offering, and pre-configured VoIP handsets that arrive at your door ready to plug in and start making calls. No longer do you have to try and cobble together components from different places for your PBX in a Flash server. It's finally all available from one company that understands Asterisk and has the flexibility and in-house expertise to work with any kind of custom configuration or application. Every hosted PBX in a Flash server sits in secure telco hotels with UPS power and on-net connectivity to the major Tier 1 providers.

Using software virtualization, Aretta is able to dramatically reduce the cost of a hosted PBX in a Flash server. The hosted offerings scale in a virtual environment to up to 32 simultaneous calls per virtual server. Beyond 32 calls, dedicated dual processor PBX in a Flash servers are available that can handle 48 to 96 simultaneous calls. These can be stacked to provide high density systems. For those large hosted TDM deployments, Aretta can handle on-net termination of T1 or T3 voice circuits into dedicated PBX in a Flash servers with TDM cards. Aretta has a standard weekly backup offering for all of its hosted servers and nightly backups can also be accommodated. Backups can even be sent to geographically disperse datacenters for the ultimate in disaster recovery.

Aretta literally is changing the game in the hosted PBX market by pioneering a brand new pricing model. Forget the old per-extension pricing we've all seen where you get nickeled and dimed for every little feature you want to add to your individual lines. Finally, you pay one low monthly price for an entire system with a complete feature set and the ability to add an unlimited number of extensions. Aretta's pricing is customer-friendly, based on the number of active calls going through the system at any given time. This allows you to start small and grow as needed. PBX in a Flash hosted plans start at 2 channels and expansion is easy and automatic to four, eight, sixteen channels and beyond. Every feature within Asterisk is included in the monthly price. The only a-la-carte option is for help configuring your system. This is available as a one-time initial configuration option when you sign up for your hosted PBX in a Flash system or on a per-incident basis once it is installed.

The NetSIP trunking offering from Aretta provides SIP origination and termination in a variety of configurations. You can choose to pay by the minute or reduce your calling rates with bundled packages of minutes. Unlimited flat-rate inbound-only DIDs are available in 46 countries worldwide. DIDs in over 6300 rate centers in the United States are available in either 'Local Inbound' or 'Enhanced Local Service' configurations. Aretta has also developed a streamlined online number porting system to allow for automatic LOA generation making it easy to port numbers from other providers.

Aretta also offers pre-configured Polycom and Linksys handsets through its online store that arrive at your doorstep ready to plug-in and start calling. Priced competitively with the added bonus of coming configured, IP phone configurations are done automatically while the devices are in transit. Through its extensive customer deployments, Aretta has navigated the QoS and NAT related issues that can occur with typical IP-PBX deployments. Aretta builds and sells pre-configured edge routers based on the open source DD-WRT software to provide a low-cost premise edge device to keep local extension calls on the LAN and provide a great solution for voice QoS.

Last, but not least, in addition to hosted PBX in a Flash systems, Aretta has the flexibility and expertise to build and host custom applications using PBX in a Flash as the core underlying technology. Examples include:

  • Hosted VICIDIAL - outbound and predictive dialing based on Asterisk
  • Hosted A2Billing - the leading open source prepaid and calling card platform for Asterisk
  • High Availability Asterisk - two separate geographically disperse Asterisk servers running in a High Availability configuration with failover
  • Custom IVR development
  • IAX Trunking

If you can dream it and run it with PBX in a Flash, Aretta can build and host it for you. So what are you waiting for, visit Aretta Communications today and take advantage of their special offer for new PBX in a Flash customers.

Nerd Vittles Cepstral Showdown with Allison TTS (courtesy of les.net). You now can take today's Nerd Vittles projects for a test drive... by phone! The current demos include all five new applications preconfigured for Cepstral with the Allison TTS voice: (1) MailCall for Asterisk with password 1234 (retrieve POP3 email by phone), (2) NewsClips for Asterisk (latest news headlines in dozens of categories), (3) Weather Forecasts by U.S. Airport Code, (4) Weather Forecasts by U.S. ZIP Code, and (5) Worldwide Weather Forecasts.

Here's where it gets interesting. We decided to let you compare the voice quality of the calls using our Comcast home cable service versus Aretta Communications' Hosted PBX in a Flash service. The same code is running on both systems and both systems are using les.net for origination. The only difference is that our home system is running on a $199 WalMart Green PC. To make things interesting, we're not going to tell you which phone number goes to which location. Clue #1: Neither system is actually in the Nerd Vittles Valley Girl Headquarters in California. Clue #2: One system may or may not be in the same city as its area code. Give us a little credit. We're smart enough to assign DIDs to any PBX we happen to like... especially if it might confuse our readers. So don't just pick a favorite number because you happen to know that Aretta is in Atlanta and so is the 678 area code. We're tempted to actually swap the DIDs around once or twice just to keep everyone on their toes. And, of course, Comcast may have some additional tricks up their sleeve to make this more interesting.

So... let the voting begin. Dial away on the two numbers shown above and report your results in a comment. If you get a message that Allison isn't available or if you just get silence, simply try your call a little later. We weren't smart enough to limit inbound calls to one channel, and FreePBX doesn't seem to be able to do it either. We can't wait to read what our judges have to say. Enjoy!


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest...

  1. Join the following line with the original line whenever you encounter the ↩ character. []

Allison’s Text-to-Speech Trifecta: Cepstral, Asterisk 1.4 or 1.6, and FreePBX 2.4

If you've longed for a text-to-speech Asterisk® toolkit that sounds just like the default Allison prompts that ship with Asterisk 1.4, then today is your lucky day. We're going to walk you through installing Cepstral with Asterisk 1.4 or 1.6 and FreePBX 2.4. The icing on the cake is a new Cepstral voice that sounds just like the twin sister of Asterisk's Allison. And guess what? Just like the two Darryl's on the Bob Newhart Show, the twin sister's name is Allison, too. What a coincidence! Well, not really. Allison is actually the first TTS voice created using Cepstral's new VoiceForge™ technology. For the complete history of the development of Allison's voice for Cepstral, you can read all about it here.

Update: For the latest news on Cepstral and app_swift, visit the PBX in a Flash Forums.

Next week, in Part 2, we'll build the Nerd Vittles' Stealth AutoAttendant in FreePBX to answer your incoming calls with a separate IVR to process calls when you're not around. For those new to Nerd Vittles, the Stealth AutoAttendant answers incoming calls with a message like this: "Hi. You've reached Total Telephony Solutions. Please hold a moment while we connect your call to the next available representative." Or, for home users, the message might go something like this: "Hi. You've reached the Mundy's residence. Someone will be right with you." While the greeting message is playing, you can press keys on your phone to transfer to an extension, activate DISA, or retrieve your voicemail messages. Because the options aren't advertised in the greeting, other callers won't know they're available. We'll protect the IVR options with passwords, of course. The NoAnswer or Unavailable IVR will also include options to leave a message, transfer to your cell phone, or drop into an applications AutoAttendant. The difference in the 2008 version of these AutoAttendants is that, this time around, you can customize all of the IVR announcements and options to meet your specific needs in less than a minute. And we'll design, develop, and deploy the entire solution using FreePBX's web interface and no custom code. All of this becomes possible thanks to FreePBX and Cepstral's Allison, who will be on your payroll once we get finished up with this project.

Prerequisites. To get this working won't cost you a dime. But, once you've played with it and like it (and we know you will), you'll need to spring for the $30 to license the Cepstral Allison voice for your Asterisk system. Our advice is simple. Try it first. Then you can buy it. You'll also need a robust Asterisk 1.4 platform with Linux, Apache, SendMail, PHP, and MySQL preconfigured to support text-to-speech applications. Not that we're biased or anything, but may we recommend you give PBX in a Flash a try. You'll find complete installation instructions and the free download here.

And, during the FreePBX Training Seminar in Charleston, we'll walk you through revising the Nerd Vittles weather, news, and email text-to-speech applications to take advantage of the tremendous power that Cepstral and Cepstral's Allision now bring to your Asterisk platform. See what you're missing by not attending the FreePBX Training Seminar. Don't worry!! We'll share all of the code with you anyway, but the seminar participants will get to play with it first.

Installing Cepstral. For today, we're going to walk you through installing Cepstral with the Cepstral Allison voice. But there are numerous other voices. You can check all of them out on the Cepstral demo site. Just be sure to select only the 8kHz voices which are specifically designed to support telephony applications. Once you find the voice you like, you can decipher the download link here. Be sure you choose the correct i386-Linux version for your system. You can't use the 32-bit version on a 64-bit CentOS system, e.g. the new 64-bit ISO of PBX in a Flash 1.2. But the same license key works for both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the same voice. Upgrades to the 5.0 Cepstral voices are available here.

CentOS 5.x 32-bit Install. For the 32-bit version of PBX in a Flash 1.1 or 1.2, log into your system as root and enter the following commands:1

cd /root
wget http://downloads.cepstral.com/cepstral/i386-linux/↩
Cepstral_Allison-8kHz_i386-linux_5.1.0.tar.gz
tar -zxvf Cepstral*
cd Cepstral_Allison-8kHz_i386-linux_5.1.0
./install.sh

CentOS 5.1 64-bit Install. For the 64-bit version of PBX in a Flash 1.2, log into your system as root and enter the following commands:

cd /root
wget http://downloads.cepstral.com/cepstral/x86-64-linux/↩
Cepstral_Allison-8kHz_x86-64-linux_5.1.0.tar.gz
tar -zxvf Cepstral*
cd Cepstral_Allison-8kHz_x86-64-linux_5.1.0
./install.sh

After you've read the license, type yes to install the voice on your system, not -yes- as the instructions imply. Don't ask how I know. Accept the default locations for the installation. When the installation completes, issue the following command:

echo /opt/swift/lib > /etc/ld.so.conf.d/cepstral.conf
ldconfig

Now plug some speakers into your PBX in a Flash system, and type: swift "Hello World." If you want to get fancy, try this one:

swift "Hello <break time='200ms' /> World"

You can read up on Cepstral's Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML) here. Before we continue, you need to write down the name of the installed voice. You'll need this to register the voice later and to get Asterisk set up properly to use Cepstral. Here's the command to retrieve the voice name(s) that you've installed:

ls /opt/swift/voices

Installing app-swift. There's another important piece in getting Cepstral to play nicely with Asterisk 1.4 or 1.6, apt-swift. In the words of the author, it does four things and does them well:

* Doesn't keep the caller waiting in silence while the app generates the entire TTS output to a temp file
* Doesn't unceremoniously kill off the swift engine when done, upsetting the Cepstral license server and eating a concurrency license
* Has configurable in-memory buffering of the swift output to balance memory usage vs Swift process concurrency
* Responds to user DTMF during the speech by setting a channel variable and optionally doing a goto of the extension entered

Asterisk 1.4 Install. To install apt-swift on your PBX in a Flash/Asterisk 1.4 system:

cd /usr/src
wget http://pbxinaflash.net/source/app_swift/app_swift-1.4.2.tar.gz
tar -zxvf app_swift*
rm *.gz
cd app_swift-1.4.2
make
make install

Asterisk 1.6 Install. If you're using the newer versions of PBX in a Flash with Asterisk 1.6, you will need Darren Session's 1.6-compatible version of app-swift:

cd /usr/src
wget http://pbxinaflash.net/source/app_swift/app_swift-1.6.2.tar.gz
tar -zxvf app_swift-1.6*
rm *.gz
cd app_swift-1.6.2
make
make install
cp swift.conf.sample /etc/asterisk/swift.conf
chown asterisk:asterisk /etc/asterisk/swift.conf

Finally, you need to add a link in your search path for Cepstral and modify /etc/asterisk/swift.conf to tell it which voice you want to use with Asterisk and then restart Asterisk. Assuming you installed Allison-8kHz, here are the commands.

ln -s /opt/swift/bin/swift /usr/bin/swift
sed -i 's|David-8kHz|Allison-8kHz|' /etc/asterisk/swift.conf
amportal restart

Testing Cepstral in Your Dialplan. To be sure that everything is installed and working with Asterisk, issue this command:

asterisk -rx "core show application swift"

You should receive the following response:

-= Info about application 'Swift' =-

[Synopsis]
Speak text through Swift text-to-speech engine.

[Description]
Swift(text) Speaks the given text through the Swift TTS engine.
Returns -1 on hangup or 0 otherwise. User can exit by pressing any key.

If everything is working swimmingly, let's modify your dialplan a bit to give Cepstral a test run. Edit /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf (nano -w filename) and search (Ctrl-W) for 1234. You should then see a string of code that looks something like this:

exten => 1234,1,Playback(demo-congrats)
exten => 1234,2,Hangup()
exten => h,1,Hangup()

Let's modify it so that it looks like this:

;exten => 1234,1,Playback(demo-congrats)
exten => 1234,1,Swift(Congratulations! You have installed Cepstral.)
exten => 1234,2,NoOp(Key pressed: ${SWIFT_DTMF})
exten => 1234,3,Swift(You pressed ${SWIFT_DTMF}. Goodbye.)
exten => 1234,4,Hangup()
exten => h,1,Hangup()

Save your changes (Ctrl-X, then Y, then Enter). And restart Asterisk: amportal restart. Now dial 1-2-3-4 from an extension on your PBX in a Flash system. Presto! Welcome to the World of Cepstral on your Asterisk 1.4 PBX. Should you have problems with the install, kindly post a message on the PBX in a Flash Forum. Enjoy!

Licensing Cepstral Voices. If you've made it this far with no hiccups, it's probably time to cough up your 30 bucks and make the nag messages disappear. (HINT: Read all of the comments, and you might save some money.) Keep in mind that it's $30 per simultaneous connection using Cepstral! If you're an application designer, you probably need to keep this in mind. It doesn't tie up your Cepstral voice very long to read a sentence. But reading a 7-day weather forecast is another matter. For the latter type application, it makes more sense to conserve your voice licenses by quickly generating a .wav file with Cepstral and then releasing the Cepstral engine. The same applies with IVR applications. Using Cepstral is the same PHP syntax as flite except you substitute the swift command, e.g. system("swift -f $inputfile -o $outputfile"). You then can play back the .wav file using other tools within Asterisk. Now go to this link to pay the piper. Be sure you select U.S. English language, Allison-8kHz voice, and Linux platform before you check out, or it's money down the drain. Write down the name, company (optional), and key that is issued once you fill in the blanks. Then it's back to your PBX in a Flash system as root and enter the following command. Note: it's two hyphens before the word reg-voice.

swift --reg-voice

Fill in the blanks with the information you wrote down, and you're all set. Dial 1-2-3-4 from a phone on your system again, and the nag message should be gone.

Your Name: John Q. Public
Company (if applicable): Acme Widgets
Voice: Allison-8kHz
License Key: xx-xxxxxx-xxxxxx-xxxxxx-xxxxxx-xxxxxx


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest...

  1. Join the following line and the original line with no intervening space when you encounter the ↩ character. []

Get Your Email By Telephone: Introducing MailCall for Asterisk 1.4

Well, it's Happy Birthday to Us week at Nerd Vittles. This week marks our Third Anniversary, and today we're publishing our 200th column. Wow! Eighteen months ago, we first introduced MailCall for Asterisk®. It joined dozens of other telephony applications named MailCall with one important difference. Ours is FREE! What do it do? Well, it reads your email messages to you over the telephone. All you have to do is dial up your Asterisk server from any touchtone telephone. Can it handle multiple email accounts? Absolutely. Do the email accounts have to be on the Asterisk server? Nope. Does it work with POP3 and IMAP mail accounts? Yep. Which email messages can it speak? We've tried it successfully with messages from Yahoo, and HotMail, and Google Mail, and Comcast Mail, and RoadRunner, and Outlook Express, and Notes Mail, and Entourage. And it works with plain text messages as well as those with attachments although it doesn't deal with the attachments. No, it can't tell you what kind of picture is lurking in your inbox. Maybe someday. If you happen to be running a current version of PBX in a Flash, then deploying MailCall for Asterisk 1.4 will take you about 15 minutes to set up. For other versions of Asterisk, you'll need to install Apache, PHP, the php-imap library, FreePBX, and the Flite voice processing system. You can scratch around on Nerd Vittles for most of the tutorials. But the easiest way to get this up and running quickly is to install PBX in a Flash and get the latest updates using our tutorial. You can't beat FREE!

Overview. The way MailCall for Asterisk 1.4 works is pretty straight-forward. You add a code snippet to the extensions_custom.conf config file for each mail account you wish to activate. This is where you tell Asterisk which extension to dial to play back your messages. Then you drop a PHP script into the AGI script directory. Finally you create a configuration file for each email account you wish to set up. The config file tells MailCall the name of your provider, your username, your email password, and the 4-digit password you wish to use to access your messages by phone. Once you reload Asterisk 1.4, you'll be off to the races.

Dial the extension and enter your password for this account. MailCall for Asterisk 1.4 will connect to your mail server and tell you how many messages are sitting in your mailbox. Press 1 to play the most recent message. After it plays, you can press 5 to replay the message, press 6 to play the next most recent message in your mailbox, press 4 to play the previous message (if any), press 0 to retrieve a specific message, press * for a list of options, or press # to exit. These are the same buttons you press for these functions in the Asterisk voicemail system, formerly Comedian Mail. We tried not to reinvent the wheel although the options aren't especially intuitive. We've also built a quick-and-dirty web interface to let you test access to your email accounts. The idea is to get PHP working with your email account and then copy the config file settings to your MailCall config file. You'll find it easier to debug connection problems using a web browser rather than using a telephone.

Getting Started. Let's take first things first. Before proceeding with the installation, make sure you are running an Asterisk 1.4 system with all the necessary components outlined above. If you're still running a system with Asterisk 1.2, read our old tutorial instead. Unless you're running PBX in a Flash, you'll need to install and configure Apache, PHP, the php-imap library with all dependencies, SendMail, and the Flite speech synthesis engine. Once you get all of the pieces properly configured and talking to each other, you'll be in the same place as those that used our tutorial to set up PBX in a Flash in about 30 minutes. We've also got a 15-second MailCall installation script for PBX in a Flash users. If you use it, you then can skip the remaining installation steps below and just do the configuring.

Running the PBX in a Flash Install Script. Only use this script if you're running a PBX in a Flash system. It is design-specific and will break things if it is run on other Asterisk 1.4 systems. The remainder of this tutorial will walk you through manually installing the software on other implementations of Asterisk 1.4. On PBX in a Flash systems, log in as root and execute the following commands:

cd /root
wget http://bestof.nerdvittles.com/applications/mailcall/mailcall.pbx
chmod +x mailcall.pbx
./mailcall.pbx
amportal restart

Once you've run the script, you can skip through the installation steps below, but you still need to configure both the web component and the Asterisk component so that MailCall knows how to retrieve your email. It'll just take you a couple of minutes.

Missing Pieces. Unless you used our install script, two important pieces are missing on most out-of-the-box systems including the base install of PBX in a Flash. The first is php-imap support for Apache. And the second is a simple tool to send fax and email messages from within your server. You can test whether your system includes php-imap support (which allows you to access and read from pop3 and imap mail servers) by creating a simple one-line PHP application called test.php in /var/www/html and running it from your web browser. If you care about the security of your web server, do NOT leave this application on your server after the test!!

<?php echo phpinfo() ; ?>

From a web browser, go to http://192.168.0.1/test.php using the correct IP address of your server. Immediately after the Apache HTTP Headers Information section, there will be an alphabetical listing of each of the modules supported on your Apache server. Look through the list and be sure you have an entry that looks something like the following:

imap
IMAP c-Client Version   2004
SSL Support   enabled
Kerberos Support   enabled

To install php-imap support, run the following commands after logging into your server as root:

yum install php-imap
apachectl restart

For the missing mime-construct component, execute the following commands:

cd /usr/local/bin
wget http://nerdvittles.com/trixbox123/mime-construct
chmod +x mime-construct

Installing the Web Interface. To install the web interface that you'll use for testing PHP access to your email account, log into your server as root and issue the following commands:

cd /var/www/html
mkdir readmail
cd readmail
wget http://nerdvittles.com/mailcall/webstuff.zip
unzip webstuff.zip
rm -f webstuff.zip
cp config.php config.bak.php

Testing Your First Mail Account. While you're still in the readmail directory, let's set up your first email account to make sure everything is working. If you've configured an email account previously in Outlook Express or some other mail reader, take a look at your configuration there and write down the settings. We'll need to know the fully-qualified domain name for your mail server, the type of mail account you have (POP3 or IMAP), the port used to access your mail and whether it's encrypted, and your username and email password. Here's what the settings for Gmail accounts should look like:

$MAILSERVER="pop.gmail.com:995/pop3/ssl";
$USER = "yourname@gmail.com" ;
$PW = "yourpassword" ;

If your email domain is hosted by a hosting provider such as our favorite, BlueHost, then here's the way the settings should look for your POP3 account:

$MAILSERVER="yourdomain.org:110/pop3";
$USER = "username+yourdomain.org" ;
$PW = "password" ;

For an IMAP mail account, the settings should look something like the following:

$MAILSERVER="yourdomain.org:143/imap";
$USER = "username+yourdomain.org" ;
$PW = "password" ;

Some ISPs require both your username and the domain as your login name. Others only want your account name. Whatever is working with your current mail client to successfully retrieve your email is what you should use here. Note that you must add both :portnumber and either /pop3 or /imap onto the end of your mail domain entry. We've made a duplicate of the config.php file for you just in case you mess up. Once you have your settings in hand, edit the config.php file in the readmail folder: nano -w config.php. Make the necessary entries and be sure you preserve the quotes around the entries as well as the semicolon at the end of each line. When you're finished, save your changes: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter. Now open a web browser and go to http://IPaddressOfYourServer/readmail/. You should get a list of messages in your Inbox. When you click on a message, it should display in the browser. Get this working first before proceeding. Don't worry if some of the messages don't look quite right. We made some improvements in the MailCall application after the web interface was completed.

Newbie Alert: We ALWAYS love to hear from the Nerd Vittles Fan Club but ... If you have problems getting this to work, DON'T SEND ME EMAILS ASKING FOR HELP. Post your setup and your problem on the PBX in a Flash Help Forum and someone (maybe even me) will respond. This assists not only you but also anyone else with a similar problem. The blog format used for Nerd Vittles just isn't suitable for tech support ... and neither am I usually.

Modifying Your Dialplan. As indicated above, we need to add some code to the extensions_custom.conf file for each mail account you want to access. The basic code looks like this:

exten => 555,1,Answer
exten => 555,2,Wait(1)
exten => 555,3,Set(TIMEOUT(digit)=7)
exten => 555,4,Set(TIMEOUT(response)=10)
exten => 555,5,Flite("At the beep enter your e-mail password.")
exten => 555,6,Read(PWCODE,beep,4)
exten => 555,7,Flite("Please hold a moment.")
exten => 555,8,AGI(nv-mailcall.php|${PWCODE})
exten => 555,9,Flite("Thank you for calling. Good bye.")
exten => 555,10,Hangup

The only change you need to make is in the extension number (555) on each line. This tells Asterisk what number you'll be calling to retrieve your messages. If you want to access more than one email account, then you simply duplicate the above code with different extension numbers. Just be sure that all 10 lines of each code snippet have the same extension number. If you don't like four-digit phone passwords, you can change the length of 4 to anything that makes you sleep well (in line 6 above). Now open up Admin web interface to FreePBX. Then choose the Tools tab and click Config Edit.Once phpconfig opens, click on extensions_custom.conf. Add the above code in the [from-internal-custom] context at the top of the file. And click the Update button once you've adjusted the extension number to meet your needs.

Installing MailCall for Asterisk. Now we're ready to install the actual application. Log into your server as root and issue the following commands in order:

cd /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin
wget http://nerdvittles.com/mailcall/mailcall.zip
unzip mailcall.zip
rm -f mailcall.zip
cp nv-config-555.php nv-config.php
chown asterisk:asterisk nv*.php
chmod 775 nv*.php

Configuring MailCall for Your Email Accounts. The zip file contained two files: nv-mailcall.php (the MailCall for Asterisk 1.4 application) and nv-config-555.php (the email config file for extension 555). And we made a backup copy of the config file: nv-config.php. The important point here is that you must create a config file for each mail account you wish to access, and it must be named correctly, or nothing works. The file name is important because that's how the application retrieves information about your mail account. The file naming syntax is pretty obvious: nv-config-extensiontocall.php. Just make sure your config file name matches the extension you used in the dialplan code above. Once you get the config file named correctly, edit the file and personalize it to your mail settings which we tested with the web interface. Be sure to also replace the phone password entry of 1111 with a four-digit numeric password that you will use to access your email. Save your changes and then reload Asterisk: amportal restart. Now pick up a phone on your Asterisk system and dial 555. Presto! You've got email!

Remote Access to MailCall for Asterisk. You may or may not want access to MailCall from phones outside your Asterisk system. If you do, here's a simple way to implement it. In a nutshell, you'll want to set up an account with a provider such as les.net that provides a DID number with free incoming calls. Or just add an extra DID number to your TelaSIP account. Then add an extension number to your system using freePBX and configure it to always forward calls to 555 or whatever number you used for MailCall. Finally, create a Miscellaneous Destination in FreePBX for extension 555. Then you can tell FreePBX to forward the inbound DID calls to this extension.

Adding Additional Mail Accounts to MailCall for Asterisk. Now you'll want to set up a way for the Little Mrs. to check her email, too. Call it an early Valentine's present. Step 1 is to add 10 more lines of dialplan code (as we did above) to your extensions_custom.conf file using a new extension number, e.g. 556. Second, add a new MailCall config file in /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin for this extension, e.g. nv-config-556.php. Third, edit the new config file to personalize it to your spouse's email settings and add a dial up password. Finally, restart Asterisk: amportal restart. Now dial the extension and be sure it works. Then you're off to impress the Little Mrs. Enjoy!


FreePBX Training Still A Deal... Until Friday. We raved last week about the upcoming FreePBX Training Seminar, and today we want to add a couple of tidbits for your consideration. In addition to some fantastic training and the fine cuisine of Charleston, rumor has it that you're also going to be treated to some once-in-a-lifetime hardware deals on the very finest Asterisk-compatible hardware cards and servers for your business. If you're a reseller, you can easily cover the cost of your training with the savings you'll realize on these products for your customers. Suffice it to say, you're never going to see comparable prices unless you build the hardware yourself. Without getting anyone in trouble, that's all we can say at this time. You'll just have to trust Uncle Ward on this one. And, the FreePBX Team also has announced that this Friday is the last day for the $600 early-signup discount so don't procrastinate. We're looking forward to meeting all of you and showing you a grand old time in our hometown.

Hosting Provider Special. Just an FYI that the Nerd Vittles hosting provider, BlueHost, has raised the bar again on hosting services. For $6.95 a month, you now can host unlimited domains with 600 gigs of disk storage and 6 terabytes a month of bandwidth. Free domain registration is included for as long as you have an account. Their hosting services are flawless! We oughta know. We've tried the best of them. If you haven't tried a web hosting provider, there's never been a better time. Just use our link. You get a terrific hosting service, and we get a little lunch money for our Birthday Bash.


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