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Fun Media News Software Technology

I don’t speak Dutch (yet)

Dutch Humour

Ik spreek niet Netherlands.

This week I moved to the Netherlands after 3 years in the USA. It is not the first time I go to live in a country where the population speaks another language however. In 2000 I moved to Italy.

I must admit that I sometimes fail to see my own limitations. I was under the impression that after a year or so I would be able to speak Italian. It would just soak in through the skin, like osmosis, and come out in perfettamentally formed sentences.

Alas after a year I was just about able to order a cappuccino at the bar, so I had to ditch the osmosis strategy.

I enrolled in a school for foreigners wanting to learn Italian. 6 hours a week. I continued for 4 years, and became remarkably good. 3 years in the USA and my Italian is now a little rusty but I can still speak very well, and at least me English ain’t as pour as it were thanks to an American education.

So 3 days in and how is the Dutch learning plan unfolding you may ask. Well experience taught me something, because I tend to only make the same mistake about 50 or 60 times before I learn, so I am not going to try osmosis. I took some lessons in the US before coming, and I was going to enrol on a course.

That was until I discovered Skype and their new toy, the voice translator.

Now this technology may be still under development, but Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Gurdeep Pall (the vice president in charge of Skype), demonstrated the technology last week. Watch the video here. There is a demo and an explanation of how the technology learns, including a description of its brain like capacity to relate one language to another, improving both.

It’s quite an incredible demonstration. Until the end of the conversation when a couple of errors creep in to the translation I was sure it was all a fake. Given the fact that so many of us work via computer today, a reality that is sure to expand even more, I think this technology could be a real breakthrough.

Now early stages in technological development means a 15 year history in this case, far longer than my foray into foreign languages. And technology develops quickly, the translator may even be on the market by the end of the year. My brain is not so quick, I will still be on chapter 3 of the first book by the end of the year. And I am sure that within a year of its release the technology will become completely mobile, I will be able to buy a battery operated portable translator and wear it like a fake moustache under my Google Glasses, by next summer I will be fluent!

The development of this technology may however also have the downside that it might help people avoid learning another language, and lead to a reliance on technology that might then make face to face interaction more difficult. Also we may miss out on the great advantages that speaking more than one language brings to an individual, the respect that other people have for you if you learn their language, the ability to appreciate a wider perspective and even more importantly, understanding the Dutch sense of humour.

Categories
Gadgets Media News Technology

Enter the Smartpen

I was an English teacher for many years in Italy, and every year I played a game with the students. In groups we had an hour to invent an incredible product, prepare publicity for it and act it out to the class.

I had a can of Happiness and the logo “Happiness, now available in cans”. Many of the inventions revolved around making your school life easier though, including the intelligent pen that could for example write the correct answers in the test or translate from one language to another.

Well girls from Liceo Secco Suardo your dreams have come true. You in fact saw the future. Roll out the Smartpen.

 

Learnstift's Smartpen
Learnstift’s Smartpen

The Learnstift Smartpen checks your spelling as you write. Incredible but true. Learnstift is a German Start up, and they are about to release their incredible product in English and German. It has 2 functions, one to help you write better that recognizes the form and shape of individual letters, and one that checks the spelling.

The pen has a tiny Linux computer inside that runs off a battery. It is fitted with a non optical motion sensor and a vibrating mechanism, so it can recognize the word you have written and if it is spelt wrong it will vibrate so you can try again.

It has wi-fi so you can connect to your phone or other hardware, and with a launch price of between $150 to $200 it is cheaper that paying me to come round to correct your homework.

Joking apart the producers hope the pen will become a valuable learning tool and of particular interest to dyslexic children. Although initially only in German and English as the project takes off more languages will be introduced.

Any of you who have learned a new language will understand how such a tool could be used in language learning and business communication, and as the pen can be made in ball point, fountain and even pencil versions I think there might be a fuchsia for it.

What do you think?

Categories
Browsers Computers Internet

Is updating Java really important?

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What do you know about Java? If the answer is not much, then you are not alone. In this article I am going to explore exactly what Java is, and why it is so important that you keep it up to date.

Java or JavaScript?

Java and JavaScript are completely different things, however many people confuse them as one and the same.

JavaScript
JavaScript is a scripting language (like PHP and HTML) that is used in browsers to help render websites, and is also now used to create [relatively simple] desktop games.

We use JavaScript on our blog. One example can be found in our comment form; if you don’t tick the box to confirm you have read the comment policy and click Post Comment, a box comes up reminding you that you have to tick it to proceed – that works via JavaScript.

You can disable JavaScript, but so many websites use it nowadays, your browsing experience would be significantly affected.

Java
Java is a programming language, which is capable of doing far more than JavaScript. Java can be used to create new programs and applications that run virtually on their own, or via a browser.

Most computers come pre-loaded with Java, as do many other devices, including some cars, printers, parking machines, ATMs and more. A printer doesn’t use JavaScript, as it is a browser based language.

Malicious Java

It is possible for someone to gain access to your computer via Java. All you would need to do is visit a website with malicious Java code on it, and unknowingly to you, you could be being hacked. Some websites allow you to add your own code to their site, (like forum’s for example) so it might not even be a malicious website you are visiting, just one page which contains malicious code.

Oracle's Java logoWhen you visit a page with a malicious Java application, your browser will usually start to run the code, which will open up a direct link between your PC and the hacker – remember browsing the net is a two way process, every time you request data from a server, the server can request something back.

On face value, a page with malicious Java could look completely normal and trustworthy, as you wouldn’t be able to see the code – your browser would render it for you.

Malicious code can give a hacker almost complete access to your machine, via the internet. They could potentially browse through your files and open applications, and even receive feedback from input devices like a webcam and microphone.

Java Update

When Sun Microsystems (who are now owned by Oracle) developed Java, they didn’t plan for it to be used maliciously, and still don’t. Like with most code, hackers exploit loopholes and flaws in the language, to enable them to perform malicious activity.

Oracle's logoLike with any software, to combat malicious activity, when flaws are discovered, developers create patches and launch new versions to protect uses against their installation being misused.

Many of the know ways Java can be used to gain access to your computer are preventable, if you have the latest version installed.

It is important that you not only keep your computers version of Java up to date, but also your browser’s version. Many browsers come with a Java plugin, and this can become outdated, even if your system version of Java is up to date.

You should check to see if your browser’s extensions and plugins are up to date ideally once every week. If you have Premier IT Support, or your computer is updated by an external provider, you shouldn’t need to update Java, as that should be taken of care for you.

Categories
Business Gadgets Technology

Technology and the future of work

Technology is always changing and advancing the way we live our lives, unless you are a luddite and live in an Amish community that is! Some people oppose technological change, and I respect them for that, but personally I embrace it – techie all the way!

Technology is likely to improve the way we do business significantly in the near future, but how? In this article I am going to write about some of the latest and greatest technology which is going to revolutionise the way we work!

Portable Laser Keyboards

Okay, so you may be thinking that we already have keyboards that are pretty portable, you can get role up ones that you can take almost anywhere. The problem with these is of course, they do take up space, and often they cannot connect to your smartphone or tablet.

The future solution to this problem is already here: The Magic Cube. The Magic Cube is a super portable wireless laser keyboard, which has been developed by a company called Celluon. It is basically a little box which can project a laser keyboard onto any flat surfaces, and then works out what you are typing by where your fingers break the lasers.

A wireless laser keyboard called the Magic Cube
The Magic Cube – a wireless laser keyboard

This is no ordinary keyboard though, it can connect via Bluetooth to most smartphones, laptops, tablets and desktops, so wherever you are, no matter what your device, if you have your Magic Cube, you have a keyboard!

Hand Motion Technology

In the very near future, we will be able to control screens using our hands, and not by touching the screen (that technology already exists) but by simply waving a hand in the air.

The 2002 film Minority Report featured futuristic hand motion technology where detectives could push images off to the side and bring up more content just by waving their hands in the air. This was in the movie, because the film makers heard that the technology was being developed.

Better Integration

In the future we are likely to see much better integration of all technologies. Mainly thanks to the likes of cloud computing and improvements in wireless technology, it should become easier and easier to transfer files from device to to device.

Apps

Smartphones and tablets have and are still revolutionising the way we do business. Smartphones and tablets have significantly improved the way we do business and communicate, but it is the apps that you can download onto them that are likely to significantly change the way we do business in the future.

We already have apps that can scan and store your business cards, store details on your asset and save your important documents, but in the future you can expect many more effective, impressive apps. Some examples of apps which we may see developed in the future (or that are being developed now) are the likes of more powerful, real time translators, high performance graphic design apps, apps which make paying, transferring and receiving money much easier, human quality text to speech apps, and many more.

QB Robots

A US based company called Anybots have created a very cool little robot called QB, which uses the latest in wireless technology to create a portable webcam, so when conference calling, you almost feel as though you are in the room (thanks to your movable position) with your colleagues.

Anybots QB Robot
The head of one of Anybots wirelessly controlled QB robots – notice the webcam eyes and screen inbuilt into the head

The robots have freedom of movement, so they can go anywhere in the office. On the head section of the QB, there is a webcam, so that you can see what the robot sees, and a screen, so you can be seen by those in the office.

QB means that you can be anywhere in the world, and yet still check up on those in the office, meaning that working out of the office is so much easier than ever before! QB could also help to significantly reduce the costs to businesses of travel, as fewer employees will need to be on the move.

3D Printing

3D printing is a new technology, which some critics say will be as big a revolution as the internet! 3D printing will allow firms to print products to order in store, bringing huge savings to firms in terms of transportation. Some predict that by the end of the decade, 3D printers will be a common household object, where we can print things, in 3D out of a whole range of different materials. I plan to write an article in the near future about 3D printing, so stay tuned!

UPDATE: I have now written that article, and it can be found here: 3D printing – a revolution on the horizon?

So, the future looks very exciting, but what do you think of it? Have you heard anything that I haven’t?

Categories
Apps Reviews

MobiReader Pro Android App Review

Misplacing a valuable work document or losing the biz cards of important contacts is every businessman’s nightmare. Having to locate some paperwork just before a conference or hunting through scores of cards to find a particular phone number is indeed stressful. I recently found an Android app called MobiReader Pro that solves this problem.

If you are looking for a iPhone app for business card scanning, check out my review of WorldCard Mobile, it has loads of features and is a good tool.

What is the app about?

MobiReader Pro scans business cards and documents. The contact details from cards are sorted out and saved in the respective fields of your phone’s address book. Printouts of your projects, text from books, magazines or newspapers and any other paperwork can be scanned quickly and saved on your phone.

MobiReader Pro Android AppHow does it work?

The app works on OCR and transfers details from business cards and documents to your iPhone. It focuses on a card automatically, captures an image of it, recognises the details on the scanned card and saves them in the correct fields. There is a virtual card holder that sorts out cards according to contact or company names.

Scanned documents can be organised in folders, edited, converted to pdf, renamed, deleted, sent as MMS or through email and uploaded onto Google docs. This app can even recognise the structure of a document in addition to its ability to recognise text.

Special features

The app has an image correction function that improves the quality of scanned content. It is efficient in organizing your documents and has a separate indication for pdf files, making it easy to locate documents when you have many in your folder.

As MobiReader Pro can process text written in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Russian, you don’t have to worry about receiving cards with information in different languages. Details like the contact’s name, designation, the company’s name, phone number, postal address, email address etc., are sorted out by the app with a high level of accuracy and you don’t have to manually type in the info. You can use this app to translate your documents to as many as 54 languages.

I found the augmented reality function to be very useful getting info about a location by recognizing the details in the address field of a business card. The convenience of looking up word definitions in a dictionary, without having to type in words through the keypad, is another feature I found very helpful.

Low points

The only low point is that the OCR is not hundred percent perfect. I did encounter a few errors and one needs to have a keen eye to spot those. But as any OCR based app, I assume there are some kinds of readability problems attached to them is no surprise.

To conclude, MobiReader Pro is a smart and quick way to digitise your cards and documents and carry them around wherever you go. By efficiently managing your cards and documents, it takes the strain out of your work life. The app is available in the Android market for US $4.

EDITOR NOTE: This app no longer exists, so links to it have been removed – note by Christopher

Categories
Apps Reviews

Learn Japanese from your iPhone

The other day, I was thinking of enrolling for a crash course in Japanese when my friend, Gina, recommended an app which she said was as good as having a personal tutor. On her advice, I downloaded the Japanese Phrases iPhone app and found it to be a handy application that helps users sharpen their listening, pronunciation, reading and speaking skills. It lets you learn conversational Nihongo (the Japanese lingo) wherever you are – at school, at home, while commuting to office or at the gym.

The Japanese Phrases app is more than just a learning resource. It gives users adequate training and practice to pick up a language that is not their own. The app teaches the basics of the language through more than 700 words and phrases that are used in day-to-day conversations.

Japanese Phrases iPhone App Screenshot

It is a practical app that has the right tools to facilitate easy comprehension and retention. As the phrases are voiced by a native speaker, users learn them with the correct pronunciation. And by repeating the phrases continuously, it becomes easy to memorize them. As all the phrases are displayed as flashcards, learning the language is quick and interactive. The grammar lessons are interesting and I was able to grasp the concepts almost instantly although a little effort was needed. There is also an email option that helps users to mail phrases and I used it to get a few clarifications from Sun, my friend who introduced this app to me in the first place.

I like the idea of displaying phrases and words in a random manner as it helps me recall the familiar ones and learn the new ones as well. The study bank helps in saving favourite phrases or ones that you would like to refer to later. The phrases are categorized to make learning easy. Japanese Phrases has also a search tool that helps in looking up phrases both in Japanese and English.

This app helps you learn the language at your own pace. You can quiz yourself to find out about the progress you are making, The app eliminated all the apprehension I had about learning a foreign language. It made me feel confident and helped me build my Japanese vocabulary in no time.

All said and done, this app will attract only a few people as it caters to a very niche audience. The app is available in the Apple iTunes store and can be downloaded for free.

Categories
Apps Reviews

Worldictionary – The Perfect Travel Companion

Have you found yourself staring at signboards in an attempt to decode the unfamiliar words written in a foreign tongue? Have you sighed in despair wondering why you didn’t think of carrying that bulky multilingual dictionary when you set out on your world tour? Wouldn’t it be unnerving to find yourself lost in a strange land?

If it wasn’t for Worldictionary, I would have felt like a fish out of water during my recent trip to Germany. Thankfully, a friend of mine had told me about it earlier and I was able to make the most of my vacation. With the simplest and most efficient translation tool in my hand, I didn’t have to pore over tourist brochures or look for assistance from locals.Worldictionary iPhone App Translation ScreenshotDesigned to be the best travel tool, Worldictionary is an iPhone app that provides instantaneous translation of words. It recognizes words in several languages like traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean, French, Germany, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Norwegian, Polish, Hungarian, Russian, Czech, Slovak and Romanian and translates them immediately.
This app is synonymous with versatility. All I had to do was point my iPhone’s camera at a word and Worldictionary swung into action! The word was translated in a flash. And I didn’t have to manually type it in or take a snap of the word. This is indeed technology at its best.

Worldictionary keeps a record of the words you’ve searched for, making it easy to come back to them for later reference. This feature is indeed of great help to those who are interested in learning a new language. There is also an option of taking a picture of a line of text and getting it translated word by word. I found this feature to be quite helpful. Images of words saved in your phone can be easily translated too, without any typing.

The only improvement I would hope for this app is the ability to recognize and translate handwritten fonts too. Though there were places where I couldn’t use this app due to the unavailability of a network connection, I still think it is the perfect travel companion one can find.Worldictionary iPhone App Dictionary ScreenshotThanks to this app’s instantaneous translation services, you need not fret when you come across words on a signboard, in a menu or in a newspaper that are in a language that’s not your own.

Download Worldictionary now and visit exotic holiday destinations all around the world. Its available in iTunes for £3.99.