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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Touching Christmas Eve Video

On Christmas Eve, we gathered around the tree in my brother-in-law's home in Edmonton to enjoy the company of family members and celebrate together. We also watched a video that touched us very much.

If spirituality is not your thing, please skip this post: I absolutely respect your position. If you can appreciate a little God-talk, especially at this time of year, check out this video.

Warm, honest, moving - beautiful.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Much-hyped Word Lens Fails to Deliver

Ok, there's a lot of breathless hype about a new iPhone app called Word Lens which translates signs and text between Spanish and English on the fly - just by pointing your device's camera at them. If you watch the demo video above your jaw will drop. It's an amazing piece of augmented reality, better than kicking an AR soccer ball around, for sure.

While the concept is brilliant, the execution is disappointing.

I've been speaking Spanish since I was 19 and wanted to test the tech. So, I downloaded the app and sprung for the $5 Spanish to English and $5 English to Spanish modules (other languages are in the works).

Yes it's cool seeing the "translation" appear. But it is not even close to being as smooth as the demo portrays. The words on the screen constantly, constantly, shift until you lock them in. It's a major annoyance.

Clumsy translations
On simple signs you get clumsy translations, which admittedly are still of value because you could make use of them in a place where you didn't know a word of Spanish (or English). But if you try it with anything slightly more complex, sometimes even a book cover, you get a different set of words every time you lock the translation in. The software is simply not robust enough to settle on a translation in one go. So it generates major visual noise as it tries to make sense of the text - words are always jumping around.

Another problem is the translations are word for word. This makes sense in a way. You can't fit five words on a three-word sign. But it's limiting as well.

Among the many pieces of text I tried was this simple phrase, "Sunday will come" in English, which should be "El Domingo Vendrá" or "El Domingo Llegará. Word Lens rendered "Domingo Voluntad Venir." Voluntad refers to a person's free will.

I have no doubt that this is the beginning of something special in the realm of AR. Kudos to the developers for it. But the demo video sleight-of-hand is really not appreciated. It's the visual equivalent of a disingenuous news release that overpromises and underdelivers.

So sure, if you want to experience the novelty of holding up your phone to a sign and watch it magically morph into another language, wonderful. It may come in handy if you're vacationing in Cuba or Mexico and need a bit of language help.

But if you want to use it for marginally more serious purposes, there is much more work to be done on Word Lens before it begins to deserve all its good press.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Five More Ubercool iPad Apps

CORAL GABLES, FL - OCTOBER 28: Sixto Ramos (L), a Verizon representative, helps Ron Katz with the purchase of two iPads at a Verizon store on October 28, 2010 in Coral Gables, Florida. Verizon stores started to sell the popular Apple product today. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
picTransfer - Send pics to your iPad from your iPhone without a tedious iTunes sync. Works well, keeps its promise. What more can you ask?

ColorSplash - Once you've got your pics loaded, use color splash to auto-convert them to black and white and daub color onto the areas you want. Pretty slick. Great tutorial.

I-Prompt Pro - Remember the free TelePrompTer @shareski used in his 2010 K-12 Online pre-conference keynote? This is the app. Spring for the $80 remote and you're really in business.

web2vga - Let's you hook your iPad up to an LCD projector or TV and take your audience to your favorite websites. All you need is the Apple Composite A/V cable.

Cam for iPad - Load this puppy on both devices and transmit streaming video and audio from your iPhone to your iPad. Baby monitor in a pinch? I know which device will run out of juice first.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Jealous of My Duct Tape Twitter Wallet?

If you haven't heard of duct tape wallets before, they're pretty cool. I mean, I've heard of things being held together with duct tape, but not made out of it.

Andrew Cardona runs a local business here in Winnipeg called Custom Pockets and he offers various styles of wallets to choose from, and tons of graphics to go with them.

"Could you do a Twitter design for me, Andrew?" I asked him. "You got it," he said, and this was the result.

He gave it to me tonight at a church Christmas dinner and I was so impressed. It's cool, inexpensive, and although I currently use a bungee wallet, I'll keep this one around as a working conversation piece.

If you'd like to get your own, check out Andrew's wares at

Great Canadian Tweeters' Stomping Ground

Manitoba and Saskatchewan may have the two least glamourous handles of all the Canadian provinces, but this wide expanse of...well, frozen tundra right now, is home to a few big name edtech tweeters.

Among those who live and learn here on the great Canadian prairies are Darren Kuropatwa, (@dkuropatwa); Dean Shareski, (@shareski); Clarence Fisher, (@glassbeed); Alec Couros, (@courosa); Mike Nantais, (@miken_bu); John Evans, (@joevans); Andy McKiel, (@amckiel) and others.

If you've ever wondered why folks would settle and stay in communities with off-the-beaten-track names like Winnipeg, Falcon Lake, Saskatoon, Regina and Moose Jaw, the casual introduction above should give you an inkling.

Social Media-Powered Adventure
This homey little vid comes to us courtesy of Alex and Luke, an intrepid young couple from Toronto who hit the road armed with only a blog and their Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla and YouTube accounts.

They meticulously chronicled their excellent North-American adventure as they threw themselves entirely at the mercy of Facebook friends, tweeps and blog followers for recommendations on what sites to see at each stop.

Their videos provide an honest little glimpse of their visits, and, in this case, of the sweet prairie jewels that serve as stomping grounds for some capital-'t' Canadian tweeters - and wannabees like me (@raysadad).

So, put your feet up a bit. Enjoy the slightly hoser-esque banter between these two, and be sure to check out some past episodes where Alex and Luke stomp around more than 60 regions of the U.S. and Canada - likely including your backyard.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Five Ubercool iPad Apps to Download Today

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: A young woman waits to purchase Apple iPads in Regent Street's Apple store on May 28, 2010 in London, England. Apple iPads went on sale today in countries including Japan, Australia, Germany, Italy, Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom as part of Apple's global roll-out of the hugely successful new device. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
SoundHound - If you think Shazam is cool, hum or sing a phrase of your favorite current song into SoundHound and watch it identify song title, artist, videos and more. Yes, your jaw will drop like mine when my son pulled up Simple Plan's Perfect World that way. A real pleasure to browse and the interface is much cooler than that of its more popular rival.

CBC Radio - Gorgeous app, a delight to use, and under the slick design, a truly Canadian heart. All your favorites are here - everything from Ideas to As it Happens, to Q and The Current - plus live streaming from any of 31 Canadian cities. Whacks of great programming. And the best part? You can actually get past episodes of Terry O'Reilly's brilliant series The Age of Persuasion. Be still my heart.

iA Writer - Awesome, no-frills writing application. Don't be fooled by the plain vanilla simplicity. This is a highly functional app that's a joy to write with. Puts useful punctuation up where you want it. Tells you the time it will take to read your prose (copywriters take note). Unlike Pages, iA Writer gives you - wait for it - the ability to scrub back and forth through text without lifting your finger. Oh, and did I mention the Dropbox sync? Find your muse again.

SpeedText HD - Your handwritten words magically snap into sentences - in notes which become searchable when you forward them to Evernote (is there anything Evernote can't do?). Press the info button for a whack of controls. With a bit of practice you'll find lots of uses for this one.

Flixster (with Rotten Tomatoes) - Download this visually slick app and never search for newspaper movie listings again. Showtimes, reviews, trailers, ticket purchases, and a lot more.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Book that Opened a World to My Son

This past summer, my 14-year-old son blew me away by learning Spanish in about two months flat. Naturally, I'm not talking about complete fluency. But Ryan is now what I consider functionally bilingual.

Besides having a heck of a lot of determination, he owes a big part of his success to a book. Here's the story.

One day, suffering from a case of floppy summer boredom, Ryan asked me, "Dad, how did you learn Spanish?" I told him about taking Spanish lessons, striking up conversations with the Chileans there during breaks, listening to shortwave radio, frequenting a Latin-American store downtown, buying Condorito comics and other Spanish magazines, and generally hanging with a community that in some measure adopted this intrepid gringo.

Then I mentioned Spanish Made Simple.

It was a book I pored over every night, slogging my way through its 50 chapters, repeating the dialogues out loud, working through the half dozen intense exercises after each chapter. That nightly effort yielded me functionally bilingual status after about a half year.

He asked, "Can we still get a copy?"

"Gee, I don't even know if it's still in print," I said. But we called up McNally Robinson and were able to order it in.

I see that it's been given a graphic facelift for a new generation, but the dialogues and the exercises haven't changed a bit since I picked it up 30 years ago. It's the same book only prettier. And you can order it for your Kindle or Kobo reader, too.

So, Ryan starts to study seriously, often bugging my wife and me to practice with him, listening to Spanish pop songs on YouTube, and increasingly becoming smitten by all things Español.

In the evenings, he's working through the book - doing exactly what I did decades ago.

He starts Facebooking his cousins in Edmonton, then our relatives in Chile. Lo and behold, he understands them, and they him.

The kid is hooked.

My wife and I never taught our two boys Spanish but used it as code for talking to each other without the boys understanding us. Now, there's nothing we can say around Ryan in Spanish that he won't get. This is not convenient. But the upside is we have another Spanish speaker in the house.

My eldest, Mark, is good-natured about being out of the Latin-American loop. He graduated from French immersion and, parallels between romance languages being what they are, he can still sometimes figure out what we're up to.

Anyone who speaks a second language knows the world opens up so much wider. Not only do you learn the language itself, but you're enriched by another culture and - more importantly - other ways of thinking; including the realization that the North American way of viewing the world isn't the only way.

You get a foot in both worlds and that's a healthy thing.

Yesterday, my son hooked up with a Chilean relative he's never talked to before on Facebook. Today, he asked us to speak nothing but Spanish to him for an hour. Tonight, he was asking my wife what English sounded like to her when she came to Canada from Chile as a 12-year-old.

Ryan now has a language skill that can play a big role in his life. Of course, it was his own curiousity and drive that propelled him forward, and he still has lots to learn. But the book was a huge help in giving him a basic grounding in grammar and speech.

As much as I like admire change and keeping things fresh, I'm thrilled that the same words and exercises that inspired me when I was 19, have done the same for him much earlier.

Who knows, maybe one summer his son will ask, "Hey dad, how did you learn your Spanish?"

Also read, Who Really Taught Me Spanish - Was It My PLN?