And ahora for meme chose completely different

My previous blog entry discussed fun with technology, and I alluded to the Firefox language extension. Well, that’s quite a simple idea just takes one random term on the page and provides a translation. Still, it’s a nice idea and perhaps there is more being planned. There are some other nice browsing tools too, like rikai, which can provide translations in tooltips.

Well, here’s something I’ve been wanting for a really long time …

Have you read A Clockwork Orange? Anthony Burgess’s characters use slang called Nadsat … here’s a description:

The use of a completely new syntax is utterly magnificent – a stroke of genius. And it proves once again Anthony Burgess’s remarkable ability and facility with languages of all kinds and with words in general. At a first glance the vocabulary of anti-hero Alex sounds incomprehensible: “You could peet it with vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom or one or two other veshches.”

Or: “So I read all about the scourging and the crowning with thorns and then the cross veshch and all that cal, and I viddied better that there was something in it. While the stereo played bits of lovely Bach I closed my glazzies and viddied myself helping in and even taking charge of the tolchocking and the nailing in, being dressed in a like toga that was the heighth of Roman fashion.”

Then the reader, even if he knows no Russian, get to grips with it, and it’s a very expressive and colourful read. Some of the meaning becomes clear from the context: “We gave this devotchka a tolchock on the litso and the krovvy came out of her mouth”, which approximately translated means, we gave this girl a blow on the face and blood came out of her mouth.

See? Nadsat is gradually blended in, and based on the context, you pick up the meaning. Just as children learn to speak, and expats learn the language of their new homes. Let’s see … firefox, rikai.com, Nadsat … are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Yes. It’s simple. Write a browser plugin – or HTTP proxy – that renders the page almost as is, but with words occasionally swapped with foreign terms. I realise there is a downside: it would probably be crude, wouldn’t necessarily handle verb conjugation, etc. But the upside in a world where people spend many hours surfing – huge!

And don’t get me started on splicing podcasts to achieve like effect :-D.

Technology + Languages = Joyful Learning Experience Occasion

Language teachers have traditionally tried to make language learning fun, employing tools such as songs and games. But then, a lot of that is contrived, and many learners – adults and especially teens – don’t take kindly to reciting nursery rhymes and clapping their hands together while sitting in a circle. Now, technology can be employed to induce genuine fun – Ravi Purushotma’s paper, “YOU’RE NOT STUDYING, YOU’RE JUST..” covers five cunning ploys to enhance the experience:

  • Playing games with foreign text (in particular, The Sims).
  • Browsing the web, with the “throbber” (that loading icon in the corner) replaced by a random term. (Of which, more in my next blog entry).
  • Learning how to type, and using a foreign language for input.
  • Listening to foreign lyrics and a translation at the same time (perhaps one in each ear).
  • Listening to language learning MP3s while walking around. (Old idea, but high-capacity MP3 players make it more practical.)

I’m going to add one I’ve used with success:

  • Exploiting DVD audio and subtitle options to listen in one language and read in another.

I’ve used this for Spanish and Japanese. Specifically:

  • I purchased foreign-edition DVDs by visiting shops while in Spain (e.g. FNAC) and Japan (e.g. any corner store), and also ordered from sites like dvdgo.com (for Spanish) and JapanCD (for Japanese).
  • I made sure each DVD had all four options: English audio, foreign audio, English subtitles, foreign subtitles.
  • I only took movies I knew well, ideally where I could recite large chunks.
  • I only took movies I was willing to watch a lot.

Then, I watched them in any combination I saw fit, paused, practiced if I felt like it. I found the most effective to be foreign audio with English subtitles, though it’s possible to cheat a bit and end up not listening much. So sometimes, all foreign works best. Also, if you use Power DVD on the PC, you can have two subtitles at once. For the times I’ve focused on Japanese writing, it’s really nice to see English and Japanese at once, as well as hear it pronounced.

Another us of technology is a tool like Supermemo, which I’ve used to learn Kanji using the Heisig method (though it’s going to be a lifetime pursuit … I’m still not there yet). This is very powerful as you can install it on a smartphone such as a Treo or XDA, so you can just pull it out for a couple of minutes while waiting for a train, and practice vocabulary or whatever. Supermemo, VTrain, and other tools work by tracking your progress, so they only drill you on things you need to know. That’s much more effective and interesting than old-school random flashcards, where you keep coming up against questions you know inside-out. Less pure fun than watching a Pulp Fiction DVD in Spanish, but still quite a motivating way to drill yourself.

Obligatory 2005 Predictions

General Technology Predictions:

  • This will not be the year of the podcast, nor the year of the corporate blog – though both will expand rapidly. They will have to wait until 2006. Instead, 2005 will be the year of customisation. Google or microsoft will provide something like a “My News” portal, based on a mix of RSS and their own monitoring. Yahoo has been doing this for years with My Yahoo, and now uses RSS, but it doesn’t have the traction of Google or MS.

  • More attention will be paid to asteroid monitoring. Most reports indicate that detection and communication technology could have minimised the tragic losses caused by the earthquake, and events like this are reminders that we need to seriously plan for seemingly impossible events. In an economy that’s doing quite well, funding can be directed to such efforts.

  • The BBC will continue to lead the way with podcasting, and will be the Adam Curry of the mainstream media podcasters, with more listeners than any other program on global current affairs.

Java Predictions:

  • Spring for new development projects, refactoring to Spring, Spring integration with open-source frameworks, Spring textbooks, Spring would be a nice-to-have for prospective employees. Spring. Spring. Spring.

  • Meanwhile, many Spring adopters will ignore one of the best things about Dependency Injection: testing with mock objects.

  • Twenty new aspect-oriented frameworks, a dozen new ORM tools, and a whole bunch of web UI package.

Agile Software Riffcast 2 of 4: The Methodologies

Here’s the second of four podcasts on agile software development. The first is available here. This 42 minute podcast is a survey of six methodologies and the men (yes, they are) behind them.

The methodologies discussed are (with creators or prominent proponents parenthesised).

  1. Scrum (Ken Schwaber)
  2. Crystal. (Alistair Cockburn) And here’s a link to Alistair Cockburn’s thesis that I mention.
  3. Pragmatic Programming (Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas)
  4. DSDM (DSDM Consortium)
  5. Lean Manufacturing(Poppendieck and Poppendieck)
  6. Extreme Programming (Beck)

Click to download the podcast mp3 Thanks to Tim Madden (via forret.com) for the icon. And thanks again to My Morning Jacket for making the lead-in track.

(Oh and all the best for 2005.)

Geeksquad in the Making?

A Tech Podcasters group – perhaps something like a tech version of the Podsquad- is in the making.

I needed a break during a longer-than-desirable Audacity session yesterday (yes, it will eventually crash on you, save often). Triggered by some comments in an In The Trenches podcast, I remembered this callout by Todd of GeekNewsCentral. He was looking for tech podcasters for a mysterious “endeavour”, and I fired off an email accordingly. Well, the endeavour is now public. The audio announcement is here and the email with plans – which indicates is fine to publish – is shown below.

I’ve boldfaced a few highlights and wrapped some links around some of the terms. The text is unchanged.


All of Thanks for being Patient!

All below is a open letter to each one of you, you are free to repost this and to report on it. The Site techpodcasts.com that is referenced you will find has a plain jane page with a solitary link in it to subscribe to the new mailing list. You all have been sent a invite to join that mailing list. This is where over the next week or so we will develop and enact a plan for that website, This is of course if you so choose to put your weight behind the project. OK here are the details.

Dear Tech Podcasters

First of all I want to thank all of you that have responded to my inquiry. I have spent some time on the Phone with Doug Kaye of IT Conversations, Robert Scoble and several other influential bloggers/podcasters. I want to thank Steve Holden ([email protected]) for getting my brain spinning at about a million miles per hour. He and I have hatched this plan and wanted to get all of the tech podcasters involved. I want to run down with you some ideas we have floating around.

This effort will be for the entire community and will be setup as either a coop or a non-profit with the intention to return any profits to the coop based on some formula that needs to be come up with.

I am not even sure this will make any money but here is my idea. It is but a idea and the infrastructure and site has to be built. But a domain has been reserved techpodcasts.com .org .biz .info .net

1. A site that features only tech podcasts 2. A site that pulls in your metadata from your podcast post and re-post it on the site 3. A area that resembles the NBC of Podcast a. Programming Lineup with schedule of Tech Podcast Releases b. Listings of TechPodcast in one XML c. A way for users to build their own show lineups 4. Real Reviews of each Show and a un-biased Rating system 5. Add you idea here!

We all must realize that their is a race on to monetize podcasting. I want to be sure that our interest are best served by ourselves. We all must realize that only a few shows will have the capability to reach the number of individual listeners by themselves.

Several things I want to get clear. First, joining the coop is voluntary, hosting of your own podcast will need to continue until we figure out a way to centralize the podcast.

Second we do not want to have anything to do with your creative process. The only thing we may ask in the future is that the podcasters in the coop carry a audio advertisement which you will get compensated for. (Details to be figured out at a later date)

The entry into the coop will not be free. We only want those that are serious about moving this movement forward. I am not sure what the price should be so that is open to discussion.

My thoughts are that the initial goal is build the Tech Podcasters Listenership to 100,000 listeners this in turn will attract real advertisers with real money that can be distributed to the coop (need to come up with formula for payouts in the charter) a sort of royalty system maybe.

Things that will help us get a initial boost to the site to make this happen

Robert Scoble has indicated he would be willing to host the podcast interviews for his upcoming book with techpodcasts.com in turn we pay for the bandwidth. He gave me a good analogy. When you build a mall you need a Macy's and a Sears on either end to draw traffic so that the little stores in the middle will benefit.

Roberts book on blogging will direct a lot of traffic to the site if we decide to host the data as he and others will refer to the site. This could be an anchor point for us. The price of admission though will be that we will have to take care of the bandwidth.

Within the next month or 6 weeks I will have a major announcement that if we are up and running would provide another anchor point. Several of you are in the know but are sworn to secrecy and will confirm what I am not announcing.

I am sure some of you are in this for the fun. But as a long time geek who started out on a 300 baud modem podcasting has some major steam behind it. I feel we are already 6-8 weeks behind as I think others are already headed down this path. If I could bank-roll this whole thing I would but I don't think it's fair. As a group I think the calculated risk of not doing it is to high. This project is to be for the benefit of all I want this to be a community effort.

Hell it doesn't even have to be non-profit we can indicate we want to be profit from the get go.

Join the newsgroup and fire me your thoughts, Second get this onto the airways and on your Blogs!

Todd & Steve Todd ([email protected]) Steve ([email protected])


E-Commerce Transaction Minus the Life Story

The B&H Photo Video Pro Audio Checkout Page lets you bypass the registration process if you want, and just buy the damn product. Brilliant!

Registration is a big barrier to E-Commerce transactions. It’s time-consuming, error-prone, and forces people to remember yet another password – or reduce security by reusing an existing password. I recall studies showing how many people gave up at each step of the process, and registration is a big reason for a potential customer to throw in the towel.

I am trying to buy a microphone (for podcasting) from the above-mentioned site, and I will rarely, if ever have a reason to buy something from them again … it’s a microphone, not a tube of toothpaste! So why labour through the registration process?

Since many people are already registered with Amazon or E-Bay, they will pay a premium to use those sites. To be sure, the premium applies for other reasons too, such as customisation and familiar look-and-feel. But it definitely makes a difference that they don’t have to register to purchase, and – thanks to cookies and browser auto-completion – they may not even have to log in. So when a site like B&H lets users bypass the registration process, they’re knocking down the advantage of the online megacorps.

The funny thing is how simple it is to implement such a feature … basically just a small change to the workflow. But no more need for Captcha, logins, passwords, and other irrelevancies. If the site’s workflow is architected in a modular manner, it should be very easy to let the user choose on registration.

Wearable Devices Set To Take Off?

For years, there has been talk of walking around with geeky gadgets sewed into your sleeves, strapped around your waist, slung around your neck. With ubiquitous mobile phone usage, ipod accessories galore, and tiny devices, maybe wearable is starting to happen. Here’s a really simple one that makes a lot of sense – the Burton Headphone Beanie (salute Gizmodo).

And here’s the kind of ridiculously small device that will make it seamless to embed devices – a 128MB chip that’s even smaller than mini-SD.

Rent-A-Book, Anyone?

Amazon has just released a DVD Rental service (Motley Fool write-up here).

Predictably, there is talk that this is a threat to NetFlix, UK incumbents, etc. But here’s the thing: this could be about renting much more than DVDs.

Already, some services offer console game rentals as well. Amazon will probably get around to that. But Amazon has a great opportunity to handle book rentals. I don’t know about public access to libraries in the USA (though I’ve heard bad things), but in the UK, it’s a frustrating experience. I was accustomed to walking straight into any university library, with myriad texts and journals, back in Australia. But doing the same here in the UK is near-impossible, and council libraries offer nothing like the selection that Amazon could offer. Even when I could access libraries in Melbourne, any siginificant literature search led to half a day driving around to several libraries across the city. A for-pay book library would have saved so much time..

Books have traditionally been sold for permanent use, but I’d expect many books are used for a period of a few weeks, then only occasionally if at all. When doing research, I’ve sometimes had to purchase books which I knew I’d only look at for a couple of hours. This happened recently, for instance, when I was writing a paper and needed to check a referenced source. If I could walk into a library and read such a text for an hour or two, I would have no need to purchase it. So I would be glad to pay a significant proportion of ful price — perhaps a third — to access the book for a few weeks. I’m sure many students and researchers are in the same boat.

Likewise, I could imagine a certain proportion of readers would gladly switch from reading new books to reading used books if they could find them easily. Trawling through old book shops has always been too difficult for people who want to save a few bucks on a $10 novel. In contrast, Amazon’s service makes it a no-brainer to locate a book, and even offers numerous ways to get recommendations.

Admittedly, larger books can’t be sent as easily as DVDs and will degrade over time. But, books are still quite portable compared to most products – indeed, Amazon originally began selling books simply because Bezos viewed them as the best product to sell online, and a big reason was to do with ease-of-sending. Also, a single scratch on a DVD can cause it to be obsolete, but that hasn’t stopped DVD rental sales from flourishing.

Amazon may have offered used books sales for some years (which was controversial with publishers at the time they released it, but they have stuck to their guns). It has also experimented with purchased downloads, but it’s a long time until all books are exclusively electronic – most people don’t want to read on PDAs or PCs. So Amazon, with all their inventory and knowledge, is well placed to create a substantial book rental market.

Update Dec 22 Next day (Dec 13), Google announces massive online library project. It might accelerate the end of dead tree books, or at least those not printed on-demand. But I maintain there is a viable market over the next decade for renting books a la DVDs and games. Amazon can still be the biggest library on earth!