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May. 31st, 2008

Twitter as Language Tutor

When I first started using Skype, I was puzzled to receive several calls from people I didn't know who lived in exotic places, couldn't speak English very well, and didn't seem to have anything to say.  A guy in Spain enlightened me: they were using Skype to locate native English speakers and practice English conversation.  In some businesses, in some countries, fluency in English opens doors. 

I admire the bravery it must take to call a perfect stranger and try to strike up a conversation in a language one doesn't speak very well.  It's not something I would feel comfortable doing.  And yet, having studied a couple of languages in high school and gradually having forgotten most of what I'd learned through lack of practice, I kind of wished I did have the nerve to try it.

After a while I stopped leaving Skype on and more or less forgot about the whole thing.  I got sucked into a couple of social networking sites for a while.  I also tried several others that didn't really stick, one of them being Twitter.  I kept hearing about Twitterholics, and of people I respected who were really taken with Twitter, so recently decided to give it another look.  I find it more interesting now.  I still didn't know many people to follow, so I tended to browse the public timeline.  There I found tweets in a multitude of languages, including those I'd studied in school.

I began looking at the profiles and previous tweets from some of these people.  I started following one guy who tweets in German.  He tweets about his iPhone, his young son, and his mundane day-to-day activities.  It's perfect.  Language lessons in 140 characters or less.

At first he followed me too, but then stopped.  Maybe it's because I tweet in English.  Maybe it's because I'm not interesting.  Doesn't matter.  With his tacit assistance (and some help from Babel Fish) I'm learning German again, and I love it.  In time, perhaps I'll even become brave enough to try a few tweets in German.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Apr. 28th, 2008

Web 2.0 Expo

I spent some time last week at the Web 2.0 Expo, a conference and trade show organized by O'Reilly, the publisher of all those technology books with the animals on the covers.

While roaming the Expo floor, a couple of things really struck me. First, the amount and quality of the swag was phenomenal. It reminded me of the dotcom bubble days. Besides the ever-popular pens, ball caps, and t-shirts, I saw Rubik's cubes, travel mice, gift cards for Starbucks and iTunes, stuffed animals, USB hubs, reusable bags, socks, laser pointers, golf ball sets, retractable power cords, frisbees, iPod speakers, iPod cases, well... you get the idea.

The next thing is that everything is free. I'm not talking about the swag; if you want that, you usually "pay" by watching a spiel or providing your contact information. No, I mean the products the people in these booths are pushing. Ok, not all of it was free - the enterprise stuff is mostly very, very expensive so you know how they are able to afford to pay their developers, rent expensive trade show booths, and give stuff away to almost anyone who walks by. But a very large number of the booths were touting end-user products that people can use on the web for free. Mostly, they appear to be ad-supported. In the case of some of them though, there didn't seem to be any opportunity to insert ads, which left me very curious about how they made money. (If they made money.)

Finally, there were a number of booths that were all about hiring. They weren't really pushing their products at all, just looking for new talent - or were straight out talent search companies. I've heard that Yahoo! is bleeding developers right now because of the Microsoft bid, but also there to hire were Google, Amazon, AOL, and other big and small names. All of this is stuff I hadn't seen since the dotcom bubble burst around 2000, so hmmm.

Thursday evening I attended a meetup with some folks who work for Flock. It was fun to meet some of the people who make a product I like so much, and to see a demo of the next version which hasn't been released yet. While watching a demo at the Expo Friday, I noticed that the IBM booth was using the Flock browser which I thought said something about both Flock and IBM.

While I was at the Expo I picked up lots of literature about some of those free web sites that I mentioned above, and if anything really catches my fancy (like the one that converts your RSS feeds to MP3 files so you can listen to them instead of reading them) maybe I'll blog about it later.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Mar. 15th, 2008

Lucky Me

I don't remember when I found my first four-leaf clover. I've found so many, I tell my family it is my superpower. I have found not only four-leaf clovers, but also 5-leaf, 6-leaf, and even a 7-leaf.

Most of these were found when I was a teenager. One of my chores was to mow the front lawn. We lived in a suburban neighborhood - the kind with no sidewalks. It wasn't a huge front yard, but a fairly good size and I mowed it with a hand mower. It was pretty boring work. Now, I would listen to my iPod while I was doing it and the time would probably fly by. Then, I entertained myself as best I could by watching the ground.

We had lots of clover in the yard, and gradually I learned to notice the not-quite-right look of a clover with more than three leaves. To preserve them, I pressed them between the pages of our encyclopedias. Over the course of a couple of summers I filled the encyclopedias with them, each pressed within a folded bit of waxed paper. A few were found in other locations, but I found most while mowing our front yard.

After I left home, I didn't find (or look for) four-leaf clovers very often until about 15 years ago when we moved to a former military base for a while and I lived in a neighborhood with grass and clover again. On my way to my bus stop one morning I noticed some clover that... didn't look quite right. I continued to find 4 and 5-leaf clovers there and I started saving them again. I don't know what happened to the clovers I found as a teen, but now I started framing some of the nicer ones and using them as small gifts and to wish people good luck. I even got an inexpensive flower press.

I've often wondered why it is so much easier to find four-leaf clovers some places than others. Did our front yard (and the military base) contain something in the soil that caused them to mutate? Are some strains more likely to produce clover with 4 leaves or more? Maybe I just needed more luck some places than I did in others.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Feb. 23rd, 2008

Greeting Card Holidays

Now and then I hear someone refer disparagingly to Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and some other holidays as "greeting card holidays." I completely understand the sentiment that it is better to show the people you care about how important they are to you throughout the year. I even agree with it. And yet, I don't feel an annual reminder hurts either.

I think it's good to get an annual reminder to be thankful for about how fortunate we are by way of Thanksgiving Day. I think it's good to have annual reminders of a lot of things, whether they include a custom of sending greeting cards or not - important events associated with one's faith, events that bring us together as a country, and especially things that bring family and friends together.

And actually, I have grown to love greeting cards. Living far from relatives, I found the sending of greeting cards an easy way to keep my son in touch with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives that he sometimes didn't see for years at a time. It was a lot less intimidating to him to write a couple of lines in a card than to try to write a letter. Each missive from him was short, but we made up for it in volume - every holiday for which I could find little packets of cards - even St. Patrick's Day. Or sometimes handmade cards. At age 15, he still sends them, and I know it really brightens the day of our elderly relatives especially.

Unquestionably I would have lost touch with many more of my friends and family if it were not for the annual sending of cards. I live far from where I grew up. I have lived and made friends on both coasts and several places in between. And many of my friends and family members have moved elsewhere too. It is often via a card that I learn "we have a new address now." And I have to admit, even my mom would probably not hear from me as much if I didn't have the deadline of writing a letter in time to get her card in the mail so it would get there before the holiday.

Plus, cards are fun. My kids often make their own cards. I really treasure those. I have a girlfriend I used to work with who deserted me to marry a guy on the other side of the state. I get the most wonderful cards from her on "greeting card holidays" - it's her little reminder to keep in touch and I'm always so happy to hear from her. I find it an easy way to share something clever, or funny, or thoughtful to brighten someone's day.

No one should have to celebrate a holiday if they don't want to, but if you feel like it, you can send me a card any time.

Jul. 11th, 2006

Evil Pays

Google is evil. This SFGate article doesn't go into any of the things I think make Google evil, but it provides an example of how well evil can pay: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/07/11/BUGSOJSQDR1.DTL

May. 3rd, 2005

Fun with Mona Lisa

Ah, the things kids find while ostensibly doing homework.

Mona may have been hot for 1500 but today... maybe a little more pouf to the lip, shave a little off that nose... give Mona an extreme makeover at http://www.drcomenge.com/apothia/default.html (don't forget to randomona!).

Of course you've seen Mona Lisa's secret smile, but have you seen her secret look of disappointment? Disgust? That and more at The Interactive Mona Lisa: http://www.cite-sciences.fr/francais/ala_cite/expo/explora/image/mona/en.php#

More seriously, The Exploratorium uses Mona to illustrate how seeing something familiar from an unfamiliar point of view makes one less likely to notice differences: http://www.exploratorium.edu/exhibits/mona/mona.html

Jan. 27th, 2005

Another creative funding effort for parks

At http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/northcounty/20050126-9999-1mi26wifi.html the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that California State Parks are partnering with SBC (which is also in the news today for its offer to buy AT&T) to provide WiFi access at California State Parks.

Folks who subscribe to SBC's "Freedomlink" will have unlimited WiFi access. Others will have free access to park & State government web sites, but will be charged a daily or monthly fee for accessing any other sites - of which the State receives 10%.

If successful after a 2-year trial, other companies could bid to provide the service.

Dec. 2nd, 2004

The Lamprey Building

Today's San Francisco Chronicle asks readers which building they would most like to disappear. My vote goes to SFMOMA, "the lamprey building."


Nov. 29th, 2004

But what will we use as packing material when we move?

"Young people just aren't interested in reading newspapers and print magazines. In fact, according to Washington City Paper, The Washington Post organized a series of six focus groups in September to determine why the paper was having so much trouble attracting younger readers. You see, daily circulation, which had been holding firm at 770,000 subscribers for the last few years, fell more than 6 percent to about 720,100 by June 2004, with the paper losing 4,000 paying subscribers every month."

I bet you can guess what they discovered.

Nov. 22nd, 2004

The Un-Thanksgiving

Each Thanksgiving there is an Indigenous Peoples ceremony at sunrise on Alcatraz Island.

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