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116 - Make Your Computer Sounds Mean Something

As we use our computers, various messages are sent to us via sound. The most well known of these audible messages is the now famous, "You've got mail". More often though, the sound bite is a click, a pop, a chirp, a musical note, or a beep. If you're like me, you've had little idea what prompts these sounds to occur. That's a shame because there is a very useful purpose to be served by audible warnings. Unfortunately, Microsoft got carried away with it, and turned it into "The Boy Who Cried Wolf". Since sounds are used for too many events, and no one knows what the sounds mean, they are almost universally ignored.

The good news is, Windows gives us a way to configure our sounds. If we know what to do, we can fix it. To learn what to do, I conducted an experiment some time back. Armed with the results, I can now offer a recommendation. I will also describe how and why I came to my conclusions. As always, you can scroll down to the recommendations, or just use the titles to decide which parts of the topic you need to read about.

My Theory of How Sounds Can Be Made Useful -
I suggest that sounds should only be used to signal events that require our attention, and nothing else. The fact that the computer beeps and dings at us repeatedly, just trains us to ignore the meaningless sounds. I know people who actually turn off their speakers to avoid the annoying sounds!

Events that require our attention include such things as when a program asks us a question, sends us a critical error message, or tells us the battery on our laptop is about to run down. Audible messages are beneficial here, so lets use them. The research and my recommendations follow.

The Research (the Experiment) -
A while back, I hooked a microphone up to my computer and recorded custom sounds in my own voice. If Windows said that it had a sound event named "Exclamation", I recorded myself saying the word, "Exclamation". If they had a sound for "Low battery alarm", I recorded the words "Low battery alarm". Then, I replaced the default sounds that Windows used (the clicks, notes, and beeps) with my recorded words. For the next few weeks, my computer "spoke" to me, instead of dinging and beeping. It was very interesting and it taught me what was useful and what wasn't.

In the end, I left some of my recorded words in place, along with a few well chosen sounds. Why did I leave some recorded words in place? The rational for this is that some events occur very rarely and I will probably have forgotten what that sound signifies if I haven't heard it in a year. If this is a critical situation and I need to react quickly, then I need to know exactly what the warning is for. Finally, some other sounds were removed because they only occur when I point to something and click my mouse. If I don't realize that I just did that, a sound isn't going to help me!

Here's what I recommend you do -
Be aware that Microsoft has changed the sounds and the list of sound events from one version of Windows to the next. Since you understand the concept here, you can adjust based on the list you find on your version. I will use XP and 98 as my examples here.

I suggest you have sounds turned on for only these events:

XP & 98 Critical Stop (recorded voice)
XP & 98 Low Battery Alarm (recorded voice)
XP & 98 Exit Windows
XP & 98 New Mail Notification (I use one called "Bugs Mail", in the voice of Bugs Bunny)
XP & 98 Question (I like the owl sound from the "Dangerous Creatures" theme)
XP & 98 Start Windows>br> XP & 98 Empty Recycle Bin

XP only Critical Battery Alarm (recorded voice)
XP only Device Connect (recorded voice)
XP only Device Disconnect (recorded voice)
XP only Device Failed to Connect(recorded voice)

You are likely to have additional software loaded on your machine. Sound events may be listed for some of these and I typically leave them as they were originally set.

Where to find the sound settings, and how to change them -

1) Click on My Computer, Control Panel, and select the icon which has the word "Sounds".

2) If you have multiple tabs, select "Sounds".

In the box labeled "Events" ("Program Events" in XP) you will see a list of events. The events which have sounds enabled have a speaker icon next to them.

3) Select an event you wish to change by clicking on it.

4) In the box labeled "Sound", click on the down arrow on the right side of the box. A list of sound files will display. (If you have loaded my recorded voice sounds, you will use the "Browse" button to locate and point to the folder where these sounds are loaded.)

5) Select "None" (at the top of the list) or whichever sound you want to select.

Note that there is a square box with a black right-arrow in it. This is the "preview" button. You can sample all the sounds you want, using this button. Click on it and the sound you have selected will play.

Repeat steps 3 through 5 until you have made all your changes. Then, click the "OK" button and close the Control Panel window. That's it. Your sounds have already taken effect. Let's hear it for silence!!!

If you have a microphone on your computer, you can use the Windows "Sound Recorder" to make your own "recorded voice" event messages. If you would like to use any of the sounds I've mentioned, including the ones I recorded, just email me and I'll send them to you by return email. I can also install them for you on a later call, as you prefer.

Have a great week!

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