14th November 1997 at 00:00
Holly Potter, 15, hasn't been able to speak normally for 12 years, following a severe attack of croup. But now she is speaking volumes with the aid of Laureate, an experimental software system being developed by BT Laboratories.

A series of operations, the latest of which involves the transplantation of pieces of her rib cage into her throat to clear an airway, might enable Holly to speak naturally again. But in the meantime she can have long telephone conversations with friends by typing what she wants to say on a laptop, which uses speech synthesis to speak aloud her words in a young girl's voice.

Laureate was developed by BT scientist, Dr Andy Green, whose daughter provides the voice for the 20-minute script which contains the sounds necessary to reproduce natural-sounding speech. During synthesis, the system matches these individual sounds to the components of written words, covering the English lexicon.

(Yorkshire Post Interactive: http:www. The Britannica Internet Guide (, launched recently by Encyclopaedia Britannica, uses 25 academics in Chicago to sift through the dross of the Internet to grade some 65,000 Web sites by quality of information - which accounts for it being described as US-centric. The search tool, pet-named BIG, grades each site for: depth and quality of information; credentials of site authoring; elegance and clarity of design; ease of navigation; effective use of multimedia; and frequency of revision. Rankings will be reviewed as other sites are added to BIG, which, apart from traditional encyclopedic information, includes such topics as parenting, hobbies and leisure.

BIG is available free of charge at

The Internet has brought South Africa to Birmingham. As part of a "Twin Sister" project, 19 schools from the Gauteng township will be partnered with schools in Birmingham before the end of March next year, to develop educational, cultural and friendship exchanges.

Two of the first schools to take part in the project - Turves Green Girls School, Birmingham, and Morris Isaacson, Gauteng - have already established Internet links. They aim to work collaboratively on some curricular subjects such as geography, which includes town planning and comparative studies of cities and towns. Students at Turves Green will use Soweto as an example.

Details of the Twin Sister project are available from Doug Brown, Birmingham Advisory and Support Service, International Development Unit, Martineau Centre, Balden Road, Harborne, Birmingham B32 2EH. Tel: 0121 427 3669.

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