Michael J. Radwin

Tales of a software engineer who keeps kosher and hates the web.

VoiceXML for Hebcal

voicexml.gif I just thought of a new project for my Jewish Calendar website. I want to create a Tellme extension so people can call an 800 number to get candle-lighting times.

Over the past 4 years, I have used my hebcal.com site as an experimental test-bed for various web technologies. It all started when I wanted to learn Perl CGI.pm, so I created a web interface to the hebcal for Unix command-line app. Then I decided to add hebrew text, so I had to study up on Unicode and UTF-8. I even decided to learn PHP by adding an email subscription feature (might’ve been a little easier if I had written it in Perl like the rest of the website, but I wanted to learn a new language).

One particularly useful part of the website is the Shabbat Candle Lighting Times section (which tells you when the Jewish Sabbath begins each week). In addition to the regular HTML output, I have created JavaScript, WML, and even RSS versions of the same content.

The next obvious format to support would be VoiceXML. It looks pretty easy to hook into Tellme Studio so people could get candle-lighting times by telephone when they’re travelling. Instructions could be as simple as:

  1. Call Tellme at 1-800-555-TELL
  2. Say extensions
  3. Dial 00613
  4. Dial or say your 5-digit zipcode
  5. Listen to the candle-lighting times for your area

No fancy WAP-enabled cellphone needed. No clumsy embedded browser interface. Just a normal 12-button telephone and your voice.

Just gotta find the time to code the thing. It’ll probably get done before other ten hebcal feature requests that are in the queue.