Jan 24, 2012

Skyvi and Evi - Siri for Android?

I've been playing with two apps for Android that mimic what Siri does for iPhone.  You know Siri, right? The sassy little app that responds to your requests and commands.  Well, Skyvi and Evi try to do the same thing.  How do they stack up?  Let's see...

Skyvi (free) - Very quick to respond, even in low data areas.  That is, it seems to be able to respond even when a data connection is tough to come by (something that happens frequently in Lower Arkansas).  I asked it to "find McDonalds" and within seconds, the female robot voice responded with WHERE it was and then provided touchable icons to get me there, based on which one I wanted.  I asked, "How are you?"  Skyvi responded, "You know, you deserve to have fun! Just say: Tell me when I am near Fun."

I tied to repeat what it had said, but was laughing so hard, my response came out somewhat garbled.  Skyvi replied, "Hum. Holla if you need directions!"  HOLLA!?  Awesome.

I asked it to "Create a meeting at 1pm in Hope Arkansas."  It understood all of the words, but simply asked me, "What do you do in your spare time."  That's not very Siri-like.  So, I tried, "create an appointment," to which Skyvi answered, "I don't think many people do that."

So, for lunch, I headed out to Mickey D's and put Skyvi to the test:

David (Me): "I'm hungry."
Skyvi: "What will you be eating?" (If I knew, I wouldn't be asking you! - I thought)
D: "Burger"
S: "How does it taste?" (At this point, I'm a little peeved.)
D: "I don't know. Find a burger joint."
S: "Would you like to know? That input matched my default category." (What the...??)
D: "Okayyyy..."
S: "Here's something: Beacons can help you find your way..." (then it blathered on about beacon features. I was hoping it was BACON... Nope)
D: "Find McDonalds"
S: "I found McDonald's 2.5 miles from you." And then it also listed other area eateries, which I thought was a nice touch.

D: "Find El Agaves" (A local Mexican food joint)
S: "I couldn't find any el agave within 30 miles..." (Stupid computer)

D: "Find Holiday Inn"
S: "I found Holiday Inn Express 2.9 miles from you."  (Each time it finds something, it provides links for calling, directions, a quick map, or allows you to create a beacon for that location)

From there, I tried Florist, Pharmacy, Wal-Mart.  Each time, it came back with an appropriate response and several locations.  And then, I got silly...

D: "Where to babies come from?"
S: "From their mothers." (Courtesy of Wolfram Alpha, which Siri also uses when it doesn't know)

D: "What is the meaning of life?"
S: "42" - ROFL, best answer yet! Nice!

D: "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?"
S: "The whole forest." - Once again, NICE!

D: "How much is a peck of pickled peppers?"
S: "I'm a chatting app, not a shopping app." - I found this reply both annoying and funny.
D: "Lovely."
S: "What are you saying is lovely?"
D: "Clouds." (why not, right?)
S: "What are you saying is lovely, clouds?"
D: "Yes."
S: "Aha."

D: "I used to be an adventurer like you."
S: "Maybe I can help you call places quickly. Say: Call McDonalds"
D: "I took an arrow in the knee."
S: "I can update your Facebook..."
D: "No, I don't think so."
S: "Why do you disagree?"  (Suddenly, this was taking back to the days of ELIZA, the computer program that pretended to be a therapist.)

D: "What is a tough it?" (Though what I said was, "What is a tuffet?"
S: Responds with a web-based definition of "tough."

D: "Holy crap."
S: "Your criticism is noted." - Again, funny under the circumstances.

D: "Where does milk come from?"
S: "Well, to see my abilities..." blah-blah, more features.  Yeesh.
D: "What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?"
S: "Your question is unrelated to the current topic of discussion."
D: "What is the current topic of discussion?"
S: "I believe we were talking about milk." - Ah, VERY nicely done ala ELIZA.
D: "Yes. Yes, we were."
S: "Come on. Far out. I thought we were." - Cute.

D: "Where's the beef?"
S: Responds with a local beef ranch. Impressive, though I was hoping it would give me directions to Wendy's.

D: "Define irony." (Hoping to get the quote from "Con Air."  Instead, I got...)
S: A web-based definition of IRONY

D: "Who sings Billie Jean?"
S: "Michael Jackson"

D: "Who sings any way you want it?"
S: "Do you often seek pleasure?" - HUH!?  I repeated the question several times, using quotes around the song title, etc. Nothing ever gave me the answer.

I tried a few other things, then opted to break out some old school Spanish:

D: "Como Se Dice Biblioteca?"
S: "(After converting it to 'Komo se do you say biblio tech') - I can Tweet. Just say: Tweet I'm having a great time." - Yeah, right.

I tried to make appoints, told Skyvi to call people from my contacts, etc. Nothin.

I tried the same questions and comments with Evi and got mixed results, mainly because most of the commands were never completed.  I was OFTEN faced with "Cannot communicate with our servers right now. Try again later." WASTE of time.

Evi (Free, Beta) - Evi couldn't find McDonalds.  As noted, much of the time, it couldn't even find its own servers.  All I got was frustrated.  I will try Evi again after the Interwebs have all dies down from reviewing it, abusing it, etc. I figure since word is just getting out about it, their servers are flooded.  We'll see in a couple days.

Siri notes - In the name of fairness, I borrowed a co-workers iPhone 4S and fired up Siri to ask the same questions.  Essentially, I got the same (or similar) answers that Skyvi gave.  Though the question regarding the meaning of life was met with something about deep, philosophical blah blah... "42" is a much better answer.  When asked about babies, Siri used the same Wolfram Alpha response as Skyvi.  And, milk?  Siri gave me a couple of grocery stores to check out.  The big difference was that Siri offered to search the web when it can't find an answer, rather than droning on about its cool features.  Also, Siri DOES call contacts, make appointments, etc.

Android knock-offs of Siri have a LONG way to go.  But, in the end, as far as general chit-chatting, they exhibit about the same level of competence.... Barely passing.  Of course, as life would have it, I managed to get an object lesson out the experiment...

When I got to McDonald's, I pulled up and ordered a McDouble with no onions and no pickles.  The burger had pickles.  Really, these apps aren't that different than humans after all.

Jan 22, 2012

On the iBooks Author EUA

Okay, this was a response to a post about the "whining" going on regarding the Apple iBooks EUA which states clearly that works published with iBooks Author, which are SOLD (not the free ones), then the author is not allowed to publish their own work on any other ePub site for sale.

Specifically, it says:
 “IMPORTANT NOTE: If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software (a “Work”), you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g., through the iBookstore) and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple.” 
A colleague of mine, Tim Holt, (who I think is convinced I am some kind of Apple-hater, when in fact, I am platform neutral and don't give a rip as long as the platform gives me what I want), posted his findings/response to my gripe.  The link to his piece can be found at the end of this response.

In general, the arguments made regarding this part of the agreement are summed up here (taken from Tim Holt's Tumblr):

  • If you create a book using iBooks Author and you plan to sell it, you have to sell it through Apple. (You can’t for instance, also sell it on Kindle, or Nook, or in the Android market.) 
  • It only works on iBooks 2 for iPad. 
  • You CAN give it away for free to whomever you want to. You can export it as a PDF file and give it away. But you have to use Apple if you want to sell it.

The responses to those of us opposed to that little piece generally include things like:

  • You don't have to use iBooks Author.
  • Go back to Word, you PC-loving moron (paraphrasing for the purpose of keeping things clean)
  • The output is akin to creating an app.  If you create an Android app, you can't just sell it on iOS just because you want to.  The output is not something like regular word processing output.
And, thus, my response was born:

First of all, I see no correlation between what Apple is doing and PC users. I use a Mac and a PC and my gripe with Apple has nothing to do with the software being "Apple-only." I don't use Microsoft Word on my Mac. I don't use Pages, either. So what? That has nothing to do with it.  I am sick of Mac fanboys crying "PC" and "Microsoft" just because someone doesn't agree with the almighty Apple.

Secondly, this is not about how the content is created, but rather the distribution of the content. In fact, if I do NOT use the program at all, I can not only sell the book through iBooks, but I can sell it in any number of open or device-specific formats I choose!  My books are currently available through ePub format on Lulu, Smashwords, iBooks, Kindle, and a myriad of others.

Thirdly, I know I don't have to use it. In fact, I can't use it because it requires Lion, which is a piece-of-junk GUI overlay - Apple's equivalent of Vista. Yay for us Mac users.  I can (and do) use a variety of products to create my electronic documents. And, like it or not, an iBook is just that - an electronic document. iBooks Author ties the creation process to the distribution process.  Many folks believe it should be no different than choosing which program they'd like to use for their next presentation: be it Prezi, Powerpoint, Keynote, FlipCards, etc.

Fourth, I see tying the program to distribution as ludicrous. What would you all say if Adobe required you save any and all photos you edit with their products to their site only? Yes, there are other programs, but humor me. The output is open-source JPEG/PNG/you name it (in that example). Now, if iBooks Author ONLY outputs the file as some proprietary Apple-only format, then by all means, have at it (though such user agreements are ridiculous in today's connected, digital world, but we'll save that for another day).

What does the PRICE have anything to do with anything? Ah, yes, because if it is FREE then Apple isn't missing out on reaming its customer base (that is, its status quo modus operandi).  But, if Apple thinks it is going to miss out on 33% of your sales, then, by golly, it will do what it can to keep that from happening!  As an aside, if you choose to publish your work through Apple (outside of iBooks Author, I mean), Apple "requires" that you do not sell your book any cheaper than the price you have listed in the iBookstore.  Ridiculous.

iBooks Author may be a "cool tool," but self-published authors who wish to reach the widest possible audience will happily use the myriad of other solutions anyway. The fact is, Apple limits its own users (again, standard for its own operating procedures). You can cut the EUA any way you want, it still spells out a restricted distribution channel in black and white.

Now, being a self-published author, the Apple EUA *does* make sense if one compares it to that of a traditional publisher. If my book is published by Random House, for example, then I can't very well load it up on iBooks, Lulu, CreateSpace, Smashwords, or anywhere else without RH's permission - which they would never give.  And *THAT* is exactly what the Apple EUA is telling us.

This is very much about the DISTRIBUTION of the content one creates using the program.  The arguments made above really have nothing to do with what people seem to THINK Apple is doing.  What they ARE doing is providing a tool to their distribution channel.  You don't have to use it.  But, if you *DO* use it, then you agree to sell your books ONLY through Apple's distribution.  Frankly, I don't see why "free" makes a hill of beans difference.  I suppose that was Apple's bone to the user. I dunno.  They should just say that ALL WORKS created with the program require their own distribution system.  I don't think anyone would have said much.  Well, yes, they would.  Why?  Because we hate being forced (used loosely here) into some corporate mold.

User beware: If you choose to use the program, you choose to have your distribution limited to Apple. Plain and simple.

Tim's article appears here: http://holtthink.tumblr.com/post/16238066331/ibooks-author-eua-much-ado-about-nothing

How the "Facebook knows you cell name" works

Much of technology is the modern-day equivalent to a vaudeville magic act in so many cases.  It uses lights, a flashy gimmick, and the audience (that's you and me) sits there stunned, shocked and amazed at what is actually something pretty simple.

Today, I bring you the wonders of the latest Facebook "feature:" Facebook Knows Your Cell Phone's Name.

Here is the premise: By entering the last three digits of your cell phone into a carefully, and purposefully, crafted formula, Facebook will return the "name" of your cell phone.  If you haven't seen it, here are the steps:
  1. 1st step: from your mobile number number, take the last 3 numbers. Example- 780-496-9684 , take "684"only
  2. 2nd step: Write this @*[684:0] in the comment box below, replacing the 3 numbers with your own. 
  3. 3rd step: remove the * sign and press enter in the comment box.
Now, go ahead and try it. Open a new browser tab, window, whatever. I'll wait for you...

Scary, right?  Not really.  The formula simply provides a shortcut to a Facebook ID, returns the user's real name, and provides it to you.  The ":0" at the end removes the hyperlink to the user's account/page.

So, if you do NOT add the :0 in there, you will actually get a link (or should, anyway) to the page that matches your three digits.

It also works for many, but not all, 4-digit numbers, 5-digits, etc.  Why?  It ties back to a Facebook ID, remember?  We *all* have Facebook IDs.  That's how FB keeps track of its users.  

Now, the next part took a bit of thinking, and I am not 100% sure it's right, but I'd be willing to bet it is: Where did your "cell phone" go to school?  I bet Harvard.  Or, Harvard is in your "cell phone's" network, anyway.  Well, so long as you only use the last three digits.  How do I know this amazing information?  Is it magic!?  Some kind of weird sorcery? No.

Take the digits you used to find your cell phone's "name," and add it to this:

  1. Open a  new tab, window, whatever in your web browser
  2. Copy the following URL into your newly opened web browser tab, window, whatever: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=XXX, 
  3. Replace the XXX with your numbers. Ex: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=123
  4. Press enter
Did you get someone's page?  Did they have Harvard listed in their networks? Probably. Why? How?

Stop and think a moment. Where was FB developed?? Harvard. So, who would have low-number IDs? Harvard students. Anyone *not* in the Harvard network either removed Harvard at some point (early FB required a school network, remember?) or was an outside invite in the very early days, though that is highly unlikely - it was specifically for Harvard students to rate each other, remember?  TheFacebook was a knock off of "Hot or Not."

Oh, and if you try the last 4, 5, or all 10 digits and come up empty?  Most likely, that user has either completely deleted themselves from Facebook or that number just hasn't been used yet.

Ah, yes, I know - I just pulled the curtain back on the ol' wizard.  

Jan 13, 2012

AIM-ing for a name

When Entergy shut down the town's power last night, Emily crawled into bed with me and my wife.  She brought her stuffed penguin, "Pengy" with her.  My wife asked how the penguin got its name.

Emily said, "In the book, Clementine, the girl names her stuffed animals by going into the bathroom and reading words.  She named on animal, 'Moisturizer.' So, I went into our bathroom to try find a name for my penguin. I was gonna name it 'AIM' because we don't have a lot of words in our bathroom."

We're glad she chose "Pengy." :-)

Jan 10, 2012

Daily Devotionals for Razorback Fans

One of the things the kids and I got Shan for Christmas was a daily devotional.  The twist is that each day connects a Razorbacks moment, thought, etc with the scripture for the day.  We actually got it on sale at Lane's Toys and Gifts in Texarkana, but you can find the book online at the link below.  Note: I get no proceeds or anything for mentioning the book.  No, I'm not the author or connected in anyway to the author.  I just think some of the stories in the book are worth sharing!


Jan 7, 2012

RPC Error trying to renew IP address

While working on a computer this weekend, I came across a problem I had not encountered before.  The computer would not connect to my local wireless network.  The machine had been infected with a virus/malware but had been cleaned prior to coming to my possession.

I finally got it to connect to my network (it was an adapter setting), but the computer would still get online.  I dropped to a command prompt and saw the machine was using a self-assigned IP address.  That's no good.

When I tried to renew the IP, I got an error: "The RPC server is unavailable."  After searching for a while, I came across several back-up related forum posts about the error.  None of those applied. Start again.

I searched around some more, changing the terms a bit, and came across a post with people having the same problem.  Okay, getting warmer.

One suggestion was to run sfc /scannow.  That usually cures system file issues, but it did nothing for this situation.  However, one of the comments to the article had exactly what I needed!

I looked in SERVICES and saw that DHCP Client was not started.  When I tried to start it, I got another error: 1075 Dependency is not loaded.  The fix is actually pretty easy:

"Just delete the registry entry and reboot the system. It should work just fine. it worked for me. 
  • Click Start, 
  • click Run, 
  • type regedit in the Open box, 
  • and then click OK. 
  • In Registry Editor, locate and then click the following registry subkey: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Dhcp 
  • Right-click the DependOnService entry, 
  • and then click delete. 
  • Click OK enough times to get out. 
  • Reboot the computer."

That worked!  Once I rebooted, the computer and it (eventually) found my network and connected. Whew!

Hope this helps someone else.

Jan 6, 2012

Black-Eyed Peas, who knew!?

I grew up "Yankee" as they say here in the South.  That means I grew up eating pork, sauerkraut, and hot dogs for New Year's.  But, in the South, they have a tradition of eating Black-Eyed Peas for luck.  My Aunt sent out a neat story about the tradition, and I started checking it out to get more info.  Well, that opened up a whole can of, er, well, peas I guess.  Here are several takes on the tradition of eating BEP:

From my Aunt:

"The Real Story is much more interesting and has gone untold in fear that feelings would be hurt. It’s a story of war, the most brutal and bloody war, military might and power pushed upon civilians, women, children and elderly. Never seen as a war crime, this was the policy of the greatest nation on earth trying to maintain that status at all costs. An unhealed wound remains in the hearts of some people of the southern states even today; on the other hand, the policy of slavery has been an open wound that has also been slow to heal but is okay to talk about. The story of THE BLACK EYED PEA being considered good luck relates directly back to Sherman 's Bloody March to the Sea in late 1864. It was called The Savannah Campaign and was lead by Major General William T. Sherman. The Civil War campaign began on 11/15/64 when Sherman 's troops marched from the captured city of Atlanta , Georgia , and ended at the port of Savannah on 12/22/1864. When the smoke cleared, the southerners who had survived the onslaught came out of hiding. They found that the blue belly aggressors that had looted and stolen everything of value and everything you could eat including all livestock - death and destruction were everywhere. While in hiding, few had enough to eat, and starvation was now upon the survivors. There was no international aid, no Red Cross meal trucks. The Northern army had taken everything they could carry and eaten everything they could eat. But they couldn’t take it all. The devastated people of the south found for some unknown reason that Sherman ’s bloodthirsty troops had left silos full of black eyed peas. At the time in the north, the lowly black eyed pea was only used to feed stock. The northern troops saw it as the thing of least value. Taking grain for their horses and livestock and other crops to feed themselves, they just couldn’t take everything. So they left the black eyed peas in great quantities assuming it would be of no use to the survivors, since all the livestock it could feed had either been taken or eaten. Southerners awoke to face a new year in this devastation and were facing massive starvation if not for the good luck of having the black eyed peas to eat. From New Years Day 1866 forward, the tradition grew to eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck." (Source: email, unknown origin)
According to TexasScapes.com, the tradition was invented by Elmore Torn, Sr (who happens to be the dad of Rip Torn).  It is rather lengthy, so I'll just provide a link.  In essence though, he invented the story as a way to sell a product no one wanted.(http://www.texasescapes.com/CFEckhardt/The-Great-Blackeyed-Pea-Hoax.htm)

Still, someone else wrote the following on a discussion board about the subject:
Not true. The "good luck" traditions of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day are recorded in the Babylonian Talmud (compiled ~500 CE), Horayot 12A: "Abaye [d. 339 CE] said, now that you have established that good-luck symbols avail, you should make it a habit to see Qara (bottle gourd), Rubiya (black-eyed peas, Arabic Lubiya), Kartei (leeks), Silka (either beets or spinach), and Tamrei (dates) on your table on the New Year." A parallel text in Kritot 5B states that one should eat these symbols of good luck. The accepted custom (Shulhan Aruh Orah Hayim 583:1, 16th century, the standard code of Jewish law and practice) is to eat the symbols. This custom is followed by Sepharadi and Israeli Jews to this day. The first Sepharadi Jews arrived in Georgia in the 1730s and have lived there continuously since. The Jewish practice was apparently adopted by non-Jews around the time of the Civil War. (Posted by pippinsrosy on http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/584205)
Still, another person responded with the best reason anyone does anything because of "tradition:"

People invent traditions because they have hope... they believe and want future generations to carry on these things.
My Great Grandmother was born in 1901 and told me (before she recently passed) that EVERY New Year's in her life included blackeyed peas... for luck in the new year. One pea for every day of good luck in the New Year. Unless she didn't start getting lucky until '47 (and she had two teen daughters by then, so I'd say she got a bit lucky) then I'm sticking with her rendition. And I have at least two hundred blackeyed peas as leftovers to eat tomorrow. :-) Happy New Year, everyone! (Posted by Ideabaker on http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/584205)
  Well, whatever reason you have for doing it, I still think Black-Eyed Peas are nasty.  However, I did eat two over-sized spoonfuls. Just in case.  I also had my dawgs and kraut!

Jan 3, 2012

The "Un-Internet" and educational application

I posted this to a statewide edu-tech list to which I belong.  I thought I would post here for another avenue of discussion.  This is in response to (or rather, a sharing of) an article published yesterday (Jan 2, 2012).

This article (linked below) is mainly about business practices, but I can see some of the same discussions surfacing in education circles regarding content (bandwidth not withstanding and bandwidth quickly becoming a non-issue), blocked sites, etc.  Sure, we have CIPA and COPPA to contend with, but the days of "Network Nazism" are quickly coming to an end. As well they should be.  I enjoy seeing the emergence of actual Technology Committees at various districts: Administrators, teachers, community members all reviewing sites submitted by teachers and students to be reviewed for educational use.  This has worked very well in the district for which I am one of the "community members."  In fact, we recently blocked one site and opened another based on that group's input.  We have to protect our students, but we also have to realize that our teachers and students *ARE* the users/customers, and unless we work WITH them, they will find ways to work around or without us.

Jan 1, 2012

Welcome to 2012

Happy New Year!

First, a look back and then a look ahead.

On January 9 (just a few days away), Commodore revealed the Commodore 64.  The computer cost $299, which was not horrid back then, but not exactly peanuts either.  The real downside was that EVERYTHING was extra - floppy storage was another $179 for the original 1541, if you could find one.  Most folks started off with the $99 tape drive.  Yes, kiddos, before games came on DVDs (or there was anything remotely referred to as 'the cloud,'), we had games that were stored on cassette tapes.  Oh, wait. You might not even know what cassette tapes are.  Yeesh.  Before MP3s and CDs, we had these plastic cases with a think ribbon of 'tape' that held our music.  Well, the same technology to store music was used to store data.

Aside from the affection Mac owners are known to have for their computers, Commodore owners probably 'loved' their computers the most.  No other company (again, aside from Apple) garnered such admiration for a line of computers as Commodore.  Even today, you can ask people about their old '64s and watch as their eyes glaze over, their head tilts slightly to one side and their mind wanders back to a time of 8-bit wonders.

Some time ago, several years actually, several groups/companies came up with C64 emulators that would run on PCs.  Now, you could have all the nostalgia running in a window on your computer while you surfed the web, played other games, or did just about anything else you wanted to.  The entire C64 collection of games fits on a series of DVDs.

And then, Commodore was reignited and a new company brought forth a C64 clone.  The new machine is a PC running the emulator.  It also costs over 3x as much as the original, listing for $999 from CommodoreUSA.  No thanks.  Even if I bought the emulator and the DVD series, I'd still have change left over for my card hobby.  So it wouldn't LOOK like a C64. Who cares. I digress.

As for looking ahead, I managed a paltry 80 posts in 2011.  I posted more than that during my first year of blogging when I really had no idea what I was doing or why.  I am not a "resolutions" kind of person, but I absolutely resolve to post more in 2012.  What accounts for the lack of posts?  I'm ashamed to admit it, but Facebook and Twitter have become my main outlet streams.  That's not a bad thing, really, but I am a huge proponent of blogging, especially in education, and so I need to champion that which I, er, champion.

Of course, the first round of solid postings will come from the annual "American Idol" rundown.  I also plan to post some of my more in-depth musings on here and let those take on a life of their own here and in the social networking realms.  For instance, my thoughts on public breastfeeding sparked quite a conversation on Facebook.  It would have been fun to start that here and then follow it in both circles, possibly cross-posting back here as to additional comments, etc.

I have been putting off two novels as well.  I don't mean reading them - I mean writing them.  So, the next "resolution" on my list: Write 'em.  I've actually decided that "Summer Breaks" will become a larger version of itself to be entitled, "Extended Summer Breaks."  It will be cleaned up and several elements expanded based on feedback I've received from friends and reviews.  The other novel, "Somewhere Main and Maple Meet," is already 2/3rds complete in first draft, so I'm looking to finish it up and get it published as well.  In fact, I plan to shop that one through Christian publishing circles to see if I can get a tradition publisher to pick it up.  I'll keep you posted.

My final "real" resolution relates to my bucket list.  I am picking one item to cross off the list and will focus my attention throughout the year to make it happen.  Not sure which item yet, but once I choose, that will be the one I try to knock off.

Thanks to everyone who comes by to read my ramblings and musings, and I hope to provide you much more entertainment in 2012 than in 2011.