Throwback Thursday: Nokia “Candybar” Phone Box

I have a tendency to save the boxes for the electronics that I buy, at least until the item is out of warranty. It can be useful for warranty service and can add to the resale value of an item. Sometimes, however, things get lost in the shuffle and the boxes never get disposed of. I am in the midst of cleaning out my basement and found this:

It is the box to a Nokia 3585i “candybar” style phone from 2002. This is a CDMA phone for the US Cellular network. Note the literature that explains regional calling plans! Times sure have changed!

As for the actual phone itself, it may or may not be somewhere here in the basement…. 🙂

#throwbackthursday

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Throwback Thursday: Computer repair kit

In the late 1990s, I took a college class in computer hardware repair. It was one of the useful classes I’ve ever taken. Because of that class, for years, I’ve been able to work on my own computers. I have saved money adding my own hard drives and upgrading memory rather than hiring someone else to do it.

I took this picture today of the computer repair kit that I bought at RadioShack (remember them?) around the time I took the course. I’ve been using the same tools for 20 years now.

Here is what the case looks like zipped:

Here is what the contents of the case look like – notice that you can still see the instruction sheet in the kit. The object in the right-hand corner is a fold up magnifying glass.

Lots of fun memories here.

#throwbackthursday

Names, features, wishlists and new Kindle rumors

voyageThe tech world and the ebook aficionados have been buzzing with speculations on the upcoming new 8th-generation Kindle that was announced by Jeff Bezos himself last week.

The Digital Reader, Teleread and the eBook Reader all have great articles on both the speculation and the rumors about the new device, including the name. There are also a number of threads on Mobileread, KBoards and the Kindle forums discussing the new new device’s potential features.

So, here’s a brief synopsis/roundup of some of the speculation at this point:

Kindle or Tablet: Since Jeff Bezos said that this was going to be the eighth generation, most people assume that this device will be either an e-ink Kindle or possibly have a Liquavista color screen.

Screen size: The screen size for the device is unknown.

Name: Kindle Oasis – According to Mobileread, a page spotted on Amazon Japan (no longer available) indicates that the device will be called the Oasis. Now, there’s a lot of speculation as to what exactly that name refers to. Some are suggesting that it means the new device will have be waterproof. Others are suggesting that it implies a Liquavista color screen.

Features:  There’s been a lot of discussion on possible features for the new Kindle. There has also been some talk about a new basic Kindle. This would not be the first time Amazon has introduced more than one new product at a time. Bezos indicated the new Kindle will be “top of the line,” a position the Kindle Voyage now inhabits. Since the new device is apparently not called the Voyage 2, we can only assume the new model will add a number of new features.

Some of the possibilities are:

Better front lighting – Some of the early Voyage e-readers had problems with the front lighting and from what I read on the forums, some people are still not happy with the way the device looks now.

Waterproof – Since Barnes & Noble and Kobo both have waterproof readers, some think that this is a natural next step for a new Kindle feature.

Page Turn Buttons – Not everyone is totally happy with the haptic feedback on the Kindle Voyage. There’s still a call for device with dedicated physical buttons for turning pages.

Bluetooth – Initially, Bluetooth seemed an odd feature to add in an e-ink type of Kindle. However, a Bluetooth keyboard could be paired with the device for easier notetaking. Bluetooth would also allow for the use of a hands-free page turning feature.

Text to speech – The Kindle keyboard was the last Kindle with text to speech functionality. While all the Fire tablets are capable of text to speech, it’s one of the most requested features to be brought back to the Kindle line.

Battery Case: I have seen iterations of ideas on these cases: Some ideas suggest a thinner Kindle with the battery in the case. Others suggest speakers and Bluetooth integration in the case for either text to speech or audio book use. Still others are suggesting a solar powered case coming in the near future.

Who’s going to buy one?

While obviously no one knows for sure until we hear the details about the new Kindle, people seem to be falling into several distinct categories when discussing the possibility of a purchase:

  • I will definitely buy the latest Kindle that comes out.
  • I am trying not to be tempted (but may or may not cave when I see it)
  • I will buy one if it has ________. [Fill in the blank with a feature]
  • My current Kindle ______ works just fine. [Fill in the blank with a Kindle model]

In the meantime,  Amazon has slashed prices on its current lineup of e-ink Kindles and some of the Fire Tablets. Are they clearing out inventory to make way for the new models? The continued price cuts on current models, particularly the seldom discounted Voyage, seem to be further fueling the speculation.

So how about you?  Have you heard any other good rumors or have a feature to speculate on? Is there a special feature on your personal Kindle wishlist?Are you waiting with bated breath for the new device announcement?Do we have a pool going for the news release?  How does Tuesday or Wednesday sound?. 🙂

Could the language barrier actually fall within the next 10 years?

welcome-905562_1280By David ArbesĂș, University of South Florida

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to travel to a foreign country without having to worry about the nuisance of communicating in a different language?

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, technology policy expert Alec Ross argued that, within a decade or so, we’ll be able to communicate with one another via small earpieces with built-in microphones.

No more trying to remember your high school French when checking into a hotel in Paris. Your earpiece will automatically translate “Good evening, I have a reservation” to Bon soir, j’ai une rĂ©servation – while immediately translating the receptionist’s unintelligible babble to “I am sorry, Sir, but your credit card has been declined.”

Ross argues that because technological progress is exponential, it’s only a matter of time.

Indeed, some parents are so convinced that this technology is imminent that they’re wondering if their kids should even learn a second language.

Max Ventilla, one of AltSchool Brooklyn’s founders, recently told The New Yorker


if the reason you are having your child learn a foreign language is so that they can communicate with someone in a different language twenty years from now – well, the relative value of that is changed, surely, by the fact that everyone is going to be walking around with live-translation apps.

Needless to say, communication is only one of the many advantages of learning another language (and I would argue that it’s not even the most important one).

Furthermore, while it’s undeniable that translation tools like Bing Translator, Babelfish or Google Translate have improved dramatically in recent years, prognosticators like Ross could be getting ahead of themselves.

As a language professor and translator, I understand the complicated nature of language’s relationship with technology and computers. In fact, language contains nuances that are impossible for computers to ever learn how to interpret.

Language rules are special

I still remember grading assignments in Spanish where someone had accidentally written that he’d sawed his parents in half, or where a student and his brother had acquired a well that was both long and pretty. Obviously, what was meant was “I saw my parents” and “my brother and I get along pretty well.” But leave it to a computer to navigate the intricacies of human languages, and there are bound to be blunders.

Even earlier this month, when asked about Twitter’s translation feature for foreign language tweets, the company’s CEO Jack Dorsey conceded that it does not happen in “real time, and the translation is not great.”

Still, anything a computer can “learn,” it will learn. And it’s safe to assume that any finite set of data (like every single work of literature ever written) will eventually make its way into the cloud.

So why not log all the rules by which languages govern themselves?

Simply put: because this is not how languages work. Even if the Florida State Senate has recently ruled that studying computer code is equivalent to learning a foreign language, the two could not be more different.

Programming is a constructed, formal language. Italian, Russian or Chinese – to name a few of the estimated 7,000 languages in the world – are natural, breathing languages which rely as much on social convention as on syntactic, phonetic or semantic rules.

Words don’t indicate meaning

As long as one is dealing with a simple written text, online translation tools will get better at replacing one “signifier” – the name Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure gave to the idea that a sign’s physical form is distinct from its meaning – with another.

Or, in other words, an increase in the quantity and accuracy of the data logged into computers will make them more capable of translating “No es bueno dormir mucho” as “It’s not good to sleep too much,” instead of the faulty “Not good sleep much,” as Google Translate still does.

Replacing a word with its equivalent in the target language is actually the “easy part” of a translator’s job. But even this seems to be a daunting task for computers.

So why do programs continue to stumble on what seem like easy translations?

It’s so difficult for computers because translation doesn’t – or shouldn’t – involve simply translating words, sentences or paragraphs. Rather, it’s about translating meaning.

And in order to infer meaning from a specific utterance, humans have to interpret a multitude of elements at the same time.

Think about all the contextual clues that go into understanding an utterance: volume, pitch, situation, even your culture – all are as likely to convey as much meaning as the words you use. Certainly, a mother’s soft-spoken advice to “be careful” elicits a much different response than someone yelling “Be careful!” from the passenger’s seat of your car.

So can computers really interpret?

As the now-classic book Metaphors We Live By has shown, languages are more metaphorical than factual in nature. Language acquisition often relies on learning abstract and figurative concepts that are very hard – if not impossible – to “explain” to a computer.

Since the way we speak often has nothing to do with the reality that surrounds us, machines are – and will continue to be – puzzled by the metaphorical nature of human communications.

This is why even a promising newcomer to the translation game like the website Unbabel, which defines itself as an “AI-powered human-quality translation,” has to rely on an army of 42,000 translators around the world to fine-tune acceptable translations.

You need a human to tell the computer that “I’m seeing red” has little to do with colors, or that “I’m going to change” probably refers to your clothes and not your personality or your self.

If interpreting the intended meaning of a written word is already overwhelming for computers, imagine a world where a machine is in charge of translating what you say out loud in specific situations.

The translation paradox

Nonetheless, technology seems to be trending in that direction. Just as “intelligent personal assistants” like Siri or Alexa are getting better at understanding what you say, there is no reason to think that the future will not bring “personal assistant translators.”

But translating is an altogether different task than finding the nearest Starbucks, because machines aim for perfection and rationality, while languages – and humans – are always imperfect and irrational.

This is the paradox of computers and languages.

If machines become too sophisticated and logical, they’ll never be able to correctly interpret human speech. If they don’t, they’ll never be able to fully interpret all the elements that come into play when two humans communicate.

Therefore, we should be very wary of a device that is incapable of interpreting the world around us. If people from different cultures can offend each other without realizing it, how can we expect a machine to do better?

Will this device be able to detect sarcasm? In Spanish-speaking countries, will it know when to use “tĂș” or “usted” (the informal and formal personal pronouns for “you”)? Will it be able to sort through the many different forms of address used in Japanese? How will it interpret jokes, puns and other figures of speech?

Unless engineers actually find a way to breathe a soul into a computer – pardon my figurative speech – rest assured that, when it comes to conveying and interpreting meaning using a natural language, a machine will never fully take our place.

The ConversationDavid ArbesĂș, Assistant Professor of Spanish, University of South Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Posted under a CC license.

A ebook reader’s wish list for 2016 and beyond

kindle-266556_640I am seeing a lot of posts right now that are either “Best of 2015” or “Predictions for 2016.” Instead of that type of piece, I  am going to talk about the top ten changes I would like to see in in the ebook world. Think of it as a ebook reader’s wish list. 🙂

1.Price:

In my opinion, this is still one of the biggest issues with ebooks. And, yes, Big Publishing, I am talking to you! Indie authors have done great work turning out quality products at reasonable prices and still making money, so we all know that it can be done. So here’s what I would like to see:

No more protectionist pricing. An ebook should not be priced high just to protect the print versions. And hardcover versus paperback pricing? And windowing releases. No. The world doesn’t work that way any more. There are lots of books that are reasonably priced that I can instead.

I would like to see publishers factor in the age of the book in the price. A fifty year old book should not cost as much as a new release or a bestseller. I My current I-am-dying-to-re-read-it-but won’t-pay the-price-book is James A. Michener’s The Source.   It was released in 1965 and is priced like a new release. Once upon a time, copyright law would have ensured that a book that old was freely available: A 28 year copyright term and  1 renewal meant a book would be in the public domain, and therefore reasonably priced. It could be formated and made distributed for free as an ebook through a service like Project Gutenberg.

When questioned about prices in the past, publishers had indicated that prices would go down after an ebook had been out for a while. I use EreaderIQ to track prices, and I can say with absolute certainty that every BPH book I track has gone up in price the longer it has been out. The prices sure haven’t gone!

Can we also nix sales that last for a few hours? Or pricing the first book in a series at $1.99, then 12 dollars an ebook for the rest? I see those and immediately say no thanks. I know what a loss leader is.

And finally, publishers, please ease up on the library pricing. I personally refuse to pay more than $9.99 for an ebook. Yet my tax dollars purchase ebooks that cost $85 or more. What’s wrong with this picture?

2.Rights:

Publishers, if you are going to refer to selling, buying and owning ebooks, give readers the rights those terms imply. Let us loan and re-sell the books we buy, with no device limits or text-to-speech limitations.  If you are only going to license limited rights, price the books accordingly.

And let’s get rid of territory rights while we’re at it. No more geo-blocking and “This book is not available in your country” messages. Everybody keeps telling us that we live in a global economy… PROVE IT.

3. DRM:

See the above part about rights and pricing accordingly. Let’s keep it simple: If I legally bought and own it, you can’t DRM it. And if you are putting DRM on it because it is only a license, it is going to be really cheap, right? 🙂

4. Formats:

Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have dedicated e-reading devices that can natively read all formats.When someone buys a book, they should have the right to convert it to other formats. Most of us own multiple devices that use different formats. I own iPads and Nooks as well as Kindles. I should have the right to read an ebook I legally purchased in any format I want. Better yet, give it to us in all formats when we buy it. Many small publishers and distributors like Smashwords have shown that you can indeed offer a book in multiple formats.

5. Availability:

Despite what anyone says, there are still titles that are not available as ebooks. Like Walter M.  Miller’s  A Canticle for Leibowitz. Or J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Or One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (the English translation).

And, personally, I would love to see more transparency on why certain books are not available as ebooks. Let the readers know if it is an orphan works issue or one of an author or an estate refusing to grant rights.

6. Series availability and consistency:

There are certain genres like mystery and science fiction that have large number of books written in series. For readers, when we like a series, we want to read the whole thing. Unfortunately, many times, all the books in a series are not available in an ebook format.

Sometimes, availability is such a mishmash, reading an entire series is either complicated or so expensive, the cost makes it prohibitive.

Case in point, I recently started Elizebeth Peters’ 19 volume Amelia Peabody mystery series. I bought the first volume, Crocodile on the Sandbank,
for$2.99. Later titles were priced at the $8.99 and $9.99 price point. I checked to see if Scribd had any of the books in the series. Scribd had only 12books out of the 19 series titles. Of those 12, two books were available in audio only and two only as ebooks.  It was set up so that I couldn’t read the entire series all in one format without buying them.

So please, publishers, make the entire series available and in all formats! And a bigger bonus: Sell the entire series at a reduced price as a collection. Trust me, it will find an audience.

7.  P, E and A: 

We need to have books available in all three formats: print, ebooks and audio. Each format has an audience and meets a particular need. Many people utilize two or even all three formats, depending on where they are, what they are doing and sometimes, even depending on the particular book.

Programs like Amazon’s Immersion Reading offer the ability to switch back and forth between ebooks and audio. How many more people would take advantage of this type of a feature if it were available on other hardware?

And, shouldn’t bundling an ebook with a print purchase should be a no-brainer?

8. Subscription and streaming:

In certain ways, the current subscription models are a mess. I’d like to see it fixed.

Publishers are asking subscription services to pay them for a sale when a book is read. So the publisher is basically getting  the same price for a loan as it is for someone supposedly “purchasing” the book and they don’t even get to keep it. There is something wrong with this picture.

As I noted above, it is difficult to get complete series of backlist books on a subscription service. All publishers are not on board with subscription service (Random House, I am talking to you!). Making some books available as audio only may also be a way of limiting subscription reading, especially since Scribd is now charging for so-called “premium audiobooks.” I know that I am seeing more and more titles that I want to read only available as audio, and premium ones at that. All of this degrades the subscription service model and makes it less desirable for the reader. But maybe that’s the point!

9. Give us more control over our devices:

Besides more control over ebook rights like lending, simultaneous usages, and formats, there are a lot of readers who want more control over their own devices. Shelving and collections are still no where near they need to be in order to be considered truly user friendly. I constantly hear readers asking for more ways to organize their libraries and customize their home screens. People want to install more apps make the device their own. Why shouldn’t we be able to install an epub reading app on a Kindle or a Kindle app on Nook or a Kobo? (Besides the whole locking us into an retailer thing, that is….)

10. Ebook management systems:

I want to see a good third-party alternative to Calibre, even if it isn’t free. Yes, Calibre is a wonderful tool. But it is non-intuitive, difficult to learn and isn’t a good fit for everybody. (Me, for one.) KDEasy does some things, but not all and it doesn’t work for epubs. Online systems like library Thing, Goodreads, and the Booklikes don’t do the job either. Some people need a simpler, easier alternative.

So, what’s on your e-reading wish list?

Are you having a problem reading?

books-1082942_640I ran across this article on Medium by Hugh McGuire, Why can’t we read anymore? Or, can books save us from what digital does to our brains? At first, I thought it was your typical print book versus ebooks screed. It turns out, its not, but I am not exactly sure what it actually is….

Last year, I read four books.

That’s a strange statement from the man who started LibriVox and Pressbooks, but there it is. He goes on to talk about concentration, digital distraction, dopamine and essentially digital addiction (without actually calling it by that name). He quotes a neuroscience study on multitasking (which turned out to be from a paid PR post).

His ultimate conclusion as to why he can’t read books:

  1. I cannot read books because my brain has been trained to want a constant hit of dopamine, which a digital interruption will provide

  2. This digital dopamine addiction means I have trouble focusing: on books, work, family and friends

Oh, yeah, and television is a problem, too.

McGuire goes on to talk about how he solved his problem, he can read again and it’s wonderful, etcetera….  And, BTW, he’s also starting an email newsletter about books that we can sign up for.

So here’s my confusion: I get that digital addiction is a real thing and that he had a problem with it. But that doesn’t mean that WE can’t read anymore. And I certainly don’t get how books are going to save US from what digital does to OUR brain. What is the benefit of turning what obviously is a personal issue into an TL;DR allness statement that claims-to-be-but-isn’t-really about the nature of books and reading? How is this OUR problem?

Somehow, I manage to muddle along, work on a computer all day, check my email and social media, watch an couple of hours of TV daily, write, blog, podcast and still read more than a hundred books a year. All digital books, too. And I am sure I am not alone.

How about you? Are you having a problem reading?

Can we finally kill Hello Dolly?

1024px-Louis_Armstrong_restoredRight at this moment, I would love to writing new posts for this blog. Instead, I am going through each of my WordPress themes and deleting the plugins that get re-installed EVERY TIME that you update the software – most specifically, the Hello Dolly plugin.

In case you have never bother to activate it, all Hello Dolly does is display a random lyric from the song Hello Dolly. Yes, that’s it. But it has traditionally been included with WordPress since earlyin the software’s development.

A lot of blog posts have been written about this over the last few years (Google delete Hello Dolly plugin and see what I mean). One post refereed to Hello Dolly as “some kind of zombie plugin that would rise from the dead every time I updated WordPress.”

While some people have learned to write plugins through studying the Hello Dolly plugin, more people seem to be frustrated with its continual ressurection. In this 2009 poll from Digging into WordPress, 78% of those who responded voted to remove Hello Dolly from WordPress. And yet it is still here.

Hello Dolly was written by Matt Mullenweg, one of the co-founders of WordPress, and that is probably the reason it remains bundled with the software. In fact, this post from Webnovate suggests that we should keep the plugin installed as a thank you to Matt Mullenweg for WordPress itself.

But there are actually some very good arguments for deleting it, along with any other unused plugins:

  • Plugins use server resources. They also affect your pages’ load times.
  • Plugins can interact and cause conflicts and unintended side effects.
  • Plugins require constant updating, even if they are not active.
  • Plugins can be huge security risks. Sometimes, the risk is from the plugins themselves, sometimes, it is from plugins being out of date.  According to WPExplorer, “Out of date plugins are prime targets for those in search of security weaknesses and can also break when newer versions of WordPress and other plugins are released.”

I use security software to track login attempts on my blogs. Every time WordPress updates, there is a surge in bots trying to access sites, hoping to catch a new vulnerability or exploit a flaw brought about by the new software. Given the security risks that are out there, I don’t want any plugins installed that I am not actively using.

And that’s why I think it is time for Hello Dolly to finally stop being bundled with WordPress. It is too big of a security risk for the world we live in. I know the song says, “Dolly’ll never go away again.” But, hopefully, we are not taking that too literally. I’d rather spend my time doing something else….

Louis Armstrong Image from Wikipedia Commons