Recent Technology Changes and their Implications for Music and Books Series, Part 2

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Part II:  Recent User Experience Changes on Books, Music and Movies

In the first post in this series, we looked at recent technological changes; in particular, we focused on touch and intelligent voice interface. In this, second in the series, we’ll examine how these changes may play out with regard to media focusing on books with a brief look at music, and movies. We’ll look at the current implications of these changes and some potential unrealized. We’ll also look at use of voice and touch to do things other than make stuff happen, in others, look beyond simply seeing them as a replacement for keyboards and mice. Some changes, of course, are already underway. By the way, most of the examples of what I’ll be discussing come from Amazon. It, along with Microsoft (and especially XBox’s Kinect) are doing the most consumer based innovation on interacting with content. So what are the themes as we see technology change our interactions with content, especially regarding books:

  1. We’ll use whatever works best, including combinations of interfacing with it. 
  2. We’ll start doing some new things like bimodal reading
  3. We will do more sharing, commenting and creating of content in reaction to the content we consume.

Current State: Navigating and Syncing with Touch and Voice

If we look at e-readers, we see that voice and touch both already play a role. Starting with the Kindle Touch, we obviously see touch interface with the reader. This continued through the Kindle Paperwhite and the Voyage. Clearly, there are other e-readers that perform similarly.

AmazonKindleFontSelect

What the Kindle readers also bring is Whispersync for Voice. Now this is different from a typical voice interface since this involves syncing between audiobooks (hence, the narrator’s voice, not yours) and e-books. So, it’s neither an intelligent interpretation of words nor a way to directly interact with the book that were reviewing here. Rather, it’s using location recognition within a book that is available for both voice and E text to sync with one another so that you may start the e-book from the last place you listened to the audiobook and vice versa. (More on which here.) So it’s helping navigate, sure enough, in the sense that it’s getting you to the point that you want to be, but not based on voice commands.

Audible-Whispersync-Audiobooks

 

New rule – no rules, mix, match, notes, research: use touch, voice and everything else as needed. 

So that leads us to our first point, which is not all the updates using touch or voice are all about navigating or commanding. Our second point is that you should not limit yourself to one interface even with the same object. This is the “mixed martial arts” version of an interface, use what works. So it could be that you take a combination of pen entry and/or freehand drawing voice and text all to make your point, or convey information. As one of the beauties about Microsoft OneNote is the product’s built-in ability to use as touch, pen, voice, or keyboard – whatever works. That’s really what this is all about making stuff work making it work more easily make it work more quickly being more productive. OneNote can even take an image with text embedded in it and OCR that text to the point where it’s editable. It’s a little like Johnny Bench, it will take whatever you throw at it any way that you throw it.

ONeNoteSample

So, we don’t use new styles of navigation simply for the sake of being new, but they’re actually helpful. Changes in e-book interface using voice and touch are established. There’s also some other sensory data that play a role, for example, on the Voyage there’s a sensor that allows it to recognize the ambient light around the reader and adjust the light accordingly. So the interface is made brighter based on the environment. Also if we turn the device the print will translate to landscape. One of the nice things I like and using the Microsoft Surface tablet in the Kindle app is to put it in portrait mode for comics and there’s a feature where you can tap through sub- pieces of the panel within the comic and it will enlarge that area so it recognizes that you may want a slightly larger viewing area than the whole page and so it will expand out that part and dam and make smaller the rest of the comic so that it’s a little bit more clear and you can actually navigate from sub-panel the subpanel without ever going to the full panel. Practical and brilliant use of touch interface.

Screenshot (20)

We also must recognize what works well and voice and touch have their limitations. In the Voyage, you have the option of using the screen to navigate or using tactile presses called PagePress that are along the sides of the bezel. While the initial push was to mimic the process of reading a book on paper as much as possible, over time, we recognize this may not be the best way to experience an e-book. That sometimes means recognizing that it will involve a different process than paper. In the case of the Voyage, you see a step seemingly backward by now allow separate button-like pushes to navigate. This may simply be recognizing that while similar to a print books, it is different and some things work better than others in that medium. All this is to say touch and voice are already playing a role in how we interact with books, albeit, the voice interaction isn’t our voice directing things.

KindleVoyageFeatures

 

We Can Navigate – What’s Next?

But where could this be going? Well there’s some real clear ways you can see this process moving forward in terms of taking notes. One of the great benefits of having it on Kindle as you can note some highlighted passage and get back to that later for review or research. It would be terrific, if you could simply speak out your notes and their translated into textual notes and saved associated with that passage ala Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Enabling intelligent voice search within a Kindle would be terrific as well and then could be extended to intelligent voice search within an audio book. I can see having a more tightly integrated audible interface into the Amazon Echo, so that you can search, start, stop, and bookmark audible books via the Echo. All of this would simply be an evolution of what’s already there for touch and voice. Amazon also experimented with an artificial voice reader of text for those who have difficulty reading. This was never a substitute for a narrated book, but rather a stop-gap for those who could not read the text well. The Kindle Fire allows for binaural reading, which essentially has the text and the audio portion synced together as your reading. So the text dynamically follows along at the same pace as the voice. There are some studies that suggest the content is retained at a greater level when binaural reading is used. So, touch and audio aren’t necessarily all flash and amazing intelligence; they may work in such a natural and embedded way that you don’t even notice that they’re involved in your interface.

Inside Echo Sound

Inside Echo Sound

From an audio perspective, obviously audio is already deeply involved with books. There are even experiments in providing a more immersive experience with books via background music and noises; a sort of soundtrack for the book. See, for example, Booktrack and read A Scandal in Bohemia complete with music, sounds of horse hooves along cobbled stone Victorian streets, the bell at 221B being rung and footfalls up the stairs. Also check out Soundtrack to a Book. While this may distract as much as immerse, it’s a whole new way to interact with books. For myself, I prefer imagination and a little book music.

booktrack

Booktrack

 

Listening to music is another place where voice and, even touch, have made little change.  Other than generic searches that lead to music, we don’t see much in the way of voice being used to access any of your playlist until Echo came along and changed that to some degree. Now voice can be used to search for music search for artists, request an album, and request a song via Amazon’s Echo. Clearly that’s a bit of a boon to those who are visually challenged, but it does take a practiced effort to get what you want out of the Echo. One of the things that I’ve noticed, for example, is that the search results returned an item as opposed to a list of items among which to choose. So if it’s not the version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that you desire, you don’t have an easy recourse other than more specific searching. In other words, were a long way from using natural English to elegantly interface with music players or anything else. While we have some touch-enabled interface, for example iTunes, Beats Music, Spotify or Xbox Music players on smartphones and tablets. So there’s nice ways to navigate there is well-presented albums and their respective covers, it still mostly around allowing touch is a way to navigate with your music in very similar manner as using keyboard and mouse. It’s nice that they’ve finally gotten to the point where they incorporate the idea that I don’t want to scroll through hundreds and hundreds of things to get to what I want and that search isn’t always the way want to go either. So like this idea of navigating to an album by clicking on the letter brings up the alphabet, then selecting the album beginning with that letter. On the PC it’s even a little bit weaker we see Xbox Music allow you to use touch interface is just as easy to do the same thing with a mouse why then select yellow submarine.

Amazon Fire TV Android App

Amazon Fire TV Android App

In other words, so far, there’s been relatively little effort into how we might interface with our music with touch beyond navigation. Do we want to do some mash-ups. Are there ways that we can use touch to more dynamically build playlists. How about I literally shuffle images to build a shuffle playlist. I honestly don’t think we’ll see a new shift in how we interact with interfaces via touch and tell we have some ability to mimic 3-D, then the possibilities will open up. Are there ways that we can visually represent the music via touch more readily or more creatively at least. So one of the things that I think will see changes not only is touch fused to navigate with our media, potential be used interact with our media. What if I want to build a video/slideshow by grabbing bits of music and pictures and even other video and mashing them up. I suspect there’s a way to do this with multiple fingers in such a way that it’s really creative and fun almost a game. Similarly with voice, not only do we went to navigate via our voice or issue commands, but possibly use a tone for voice to indicate a beginning of a song that we want to pull into a playlist. Hum a song and have it identified on shazam. Build riffs off of current songs that were listening to and place them within another context. Indeed, I think we’ll see that the next step in touching voice is less about navigation commands and making things happen, and more about interacting with the media itself.

XBox 360 with Kinect

XBox 360 with Kinect

Of course, of recent innovations with how we interact with content, XBox’s Kinect where motion is used to interact with the user interface as well as games. Windows also uses movement and gestures to interact with the OS; many people find this interface unintuitive, but it is innovative nonetheless.

Viloin with Books

 

We Creating, Not Merely Consuming

The technological impact on consuming media then it goes well beyond navigating and initiating via voice and touch. We see the enabling of information the idea of x-ray or IMDb together more information why you’re consuming books and or movies, the ability to insert your own notes and highlights and come back to those in the ability to share through things like good reads your experience within that content. In other words creating content sharing via various social media writing your notes bringing it together for a reading group or movie club are all going to change Artie have changed the ways that we consume the content. Will look at embedded trailers before we go to the movie or view it online. We’ll look at reviews before we purchase a book. All of that information changes, at least a little bit, how we interact with our content.

Example Kindle notes

Example Kindle notes

In other words creating content sharing via various social media writing your notes bringing it together for a reading group or movie club are all going to change Artie have changed the ways that we consume the content. Will look at embedded trailers before we go to the movie or view it online. We’ll look at reviews before we purchase a book. All of that information changes, at least a little bit, how we interact with our content.

X-Ray Example

X-Ray Example

A similar notion, using IMDB, holds for movies:

amazon-x-ray

X-Ray for movies

 

 

The Waiting Room

J. T. Frazier:

Cool review of “The Waiting Room” by Alysha Kaye from someone who does not normally love romance novels

Originally posted on sand between the pages:

The Waiting Room

by Alysha Kaye

The Waiting Room

Jude and Nina are the epitome of that whole raw, unflinching love thing that most people are jealous of. That is, until Jude dies and wakes up in The Waiting Room, surrounded by other souls who are all waiting to pass over into their next life. But unlike those souls, Jude’s name is never called by the mysterious “receptionist”. He waits, watching Nina out of giant windows. He’s waiting for her. What is this place? How long will he wait? And what will happen when and if Nina does join him? The Waiting Room is a story of not just love, but of faith, predestination, and philosophy, friendship and self-actualization, of waiting.

I tend to approach romance books like a 10 year old boy: Love!? YUCK!  It’s stupid really because I need love stories as a sub-plot to my murder mysteries, survival thrillers, and superhero stories. …

View original 397 more words

Martha Goddard’s Brilliant Film Short Gödel, Incomplete

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It’s funny how things come together. We have times where you’ll see similar themes emerge quite organically in culture. We’ve seen movies recently about mathematical and scientific geniuses like Alan Turing in The Imitation Game and Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. But clearly it isn’t just the smarts that bring us to the movies. There has to be a dramatic element and often a romantic element. I love to see this mix, this intersection of art and science, partly to connect to what would seem so foreign such as esoteric string theory and quantum mechanics or game theory and cryptography. Now, of course, Mr. Turing has built-in drama in his life and in his work during the war. Mr. Hawking has a embedded drama in his life as well in pushing beyond his terrible disease to keep working.

Martha Goddard

Martha Goddard

Austrailian Writer/Director Martha Goddard has a new short (15 minutes) out called Gödel, Incomplete starring Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby, upcoming Man from Uncle) and Matt Zeremes (Burke&Wills, Australian TV shows The Surgeon, Home and Away). This movie aligns itself well with the geek chic that we have seen in the last few years with everything from Numb3rs and comedy The Big Bank Theory to Sherlock and Elementary. Gödel, Incomplete celebrates the intellect and relationship whilst leaving an intriguing question about Kurt Gödel’s research that led to thinking on time-travel. Indeed, in a separate post, I’ll explore a little bit more on this coming together of worlds celebrated by geeks and others.

 

Returning to the movie, however, there are some theoretical underpinnings posited by Mr. Gödel related to time travel. In particular, the Gödel Metric, timeline curves which could allow for a form of time travel, are well established. The application of rotating universes leading to time travel was thought by most of Mr. Gödel’s colleagues to be results of Mr. Gödel’s mental deterioration and paranoia. It was a work left undone. So, the title is a nod to both the Gödel Incompleteness Theorem (basically showing , using a self-referential mathematics, that all of math cannot be derived from a set of axioms) and his unfinished work on time travel.

Matt Zeremes

Matt Zeremes

The movie starts out with a young woman, who is a particle physicist, working late at a particle accelerator (in fact the LHC). When she initiates the smashing of atoms at enormous speeds, it seems to put her into a time warp. She is led once to an older Gödel and later to a younger. Now it’s hard to say much about a 15-minute film without giving away spoilers. What I will say is that this short film does what any great form of short story does. It paints in hints and short brushstrokes of brief frames to build a whole relationship, a development over time. It’s rather stunning that Ms. Goddard is able to build this world, this relationship, this idea of time travel with such a brief use of time.

Elizabeth Debicki

Elizabeth Debicki

There are so many perfect production touches in film; I’ll simply give away one (small) spoiler: on returning from an early time trip, our protagonist, Serita, loses her cookies. I can imagine a little bit of time travel might be disorienting. So too, might meeting an older Kurt Gödel. She even puts to good use a bad habit; our physicist smokes, nicely tying into an earlier time when many smoked. Each of these touches make it feel more real. The music (excellent work by Basil Hogios, sets much of the atmosphere of the movie), transition scenes into Gödel’s world, and clarity of the frames without being harshly stark all point to great production value despite being a short film. While the roles only provide glimpses, the actors really do a nice job communicating with eyes, body language and movement to sustain that sense of developed familiarity. As I indicated above, I’ll dive deeper into this intersection of science, mathematics and humanities, for lack of a better word, that seem to be bubbling up everywhere, but I simply love its expression here.

 

It would be fabulous to see this project extended to flesh out the relationship even further, to build out the notion of time travel and the effects that it has on both Serita, Kurt Gödel, and others in their circle. Mr. Gödel clearly had some demise in his paranoia; he was also one of the most brilliant men of the 20th century. I would even say he’s the century’s Fermat. Not only did he rebut Russell and Whitehead, propose the P versus NP problem (which figured nicely in a season two episode of Elementary), provided Einstein with solutions involving close time-like curves related to his theory of general relativity, he even dabbled in theology. In other words, he is an intersection point; back in the day we called them renaissance men (and women) So, it’s at least fun to posit that his theoretical underpinnings of time travel have some less theoretical application. Seeing more bones put on that in the context of this complex cross-time relationship would be intriguing and entertaining. In a mere 15 minutes, Ms. Goddard inflames that curiosity while also leaving us with a sense of, well I can’t say without spoilers (I know mean, right?).

GodelIncomplete_02

So, while it’s hard for most of us regular Joe’s (OK, pun intended) to get to a showing of this, I’ve been in contact with Ms. Goodard and she’s been kind enough to provide access to those interested. Contact her here. I think it’s been in New York and Miami, if you do have an opportunity to see on the big screen, take it. It’s some of the best 15 minutes you’ll spend

A Plea to Book Series Authors, Agents, Publishers and Audiobook Narrators

CausalAngelAudioBook

It’s always a bit of a challenge to switch horses midstream in any endeavor. It’s particularly difficult to change audiobook narrators throughout a series. As you come to know the characters, the setting, and have lived within the inner active dialog amongst those characters, you grow to know them fairly intimately. Sounds form memory. So, you associate pronunciation with people, tone with certain types of activity and pacing with narrative drive. A new voice comes along and now you have all sorts of challenges to that subconscious memory of the story. Everything feels a little off because you do not have those audio cues that tell you about the character, the narrative or the setting. A new narrator whose voice is starkly different from his or her predecessor makes the transition even more difficult. So, my dear publishing and author friends, while I get it’s a business, people have conflicting schedules and sometimes you cannot continue with the same narrator, if the narrator’s good, do all that you can to keep consistency. If the narrator’s not working out, of course, look elsewhere in the second book in the series (don’t drag out the transition).

Scott_Brick

Scott Brick

Even if you must switch, there are some things you can do to mitigate the challenge. One of which is to use the same dog-gone pronunciations. It seems to me the audiobook publishers are being a bit lazy or cheap if they don’t pay narrators to insure the transition goes smoothly by paying them for this transition time. This is not a matter of “a right way,” it’s simply a way to make the transition easier for the listener. I have listened to a series where the voices were relatively similar, where I barely noticed the transition. That’s rare. One of the most challenging transitions I have ever had is in the anazingly brilliant Jean le Flambeaur series (The Quantum Thief, The Fractal Prince & The Causal Angel). Now Scott Brick, admittedly, is one of my favorite narrators. I’ve heard him narrate everything from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged to being in the cast on Orson Scott Card’s audioplay Ender’s Game Alive (best audioplay ever). He is a prolific narrator. He narrates the first two books in the Jean le Flambeaur series. One of the reasons his voice lends itself so well to this series is that it takes on an ethereal, other-world quality. It’s a sci-fi series that includes virtual worlds within worlds, minds taken from living beings and placed within quantum machines and three of the four major players are female. While a number of male narrators do a nice job with females, it is particularly difficult to do well. Mr. Brick’s voice meshes well in this world. It has a softer, dream-like quality with nearly perfect pacing to match both the action and the introspection.

I’m not sure why he wasn’t the narrator for the third book. Maybe other projects got in the way. I don’t know. [UPDATE: it wasn’t other projects (see comments below), he simply wasn’t asked. What?] I do know that any narrator after him would have large shoes to fill. Roger Wayne does a nice job narrating, but, due to the limitations in the industry, makes the transition hard; he is the narrator of The Causal Angel. Overall, Mr. Wayne’s narration isn’t bad. If fact, he strikes me as a more than capable narrator. I do believe that his voice is not ideally suited for this type of world, this type of story. It seems to have too much edge, too much hardness to it. However, that’s a mere preference and his voice would work well for other stories. I could easily see him narrating Clive Cussler or Tom Clancy. However, to exacerbate the transition, he pronounces nearly every name differently. For example, take the ship with a snarky AI personality, Perhonen. (All names mean or reference something in Hannu Rajaniemi’s world, this one means butterfly.) Mr. Brick pronounces the pair-ho-nen with a ho being light. Mr. Wayne’s is purr-HO-nen with the ho being heavy. It’s silly to argue who’s “right” but given that Mr. Wayne follows Mr. Brick’s two books, he ought to mirror Mr. Brick’s pronunciation. I end up involuntarily rolling my eyes whenever Mr. Wayne reads the ship’s name. Obviously, that pulls me out of the moment; it pulls me out of the book. Right, wrong or indifferent, that’s a slap in the face to anyone following the series, and let’s face it, the vast majority of folks listening to the third book in a series is going to have listened to the previous two. I understand about tight schedules, limited budgets and the trials of making a profit in the audiobook industry. If you’re going to get a new narrator, make sure the transition is as smooth as possible. Better still, don’t get a new narrator. Narrators matter; if an audiobook publisher doesn’t believe that, they should check out the sales differences between audie winners and others. I listen to more books than the average bear; there’s a number of books where I only get the ebook due to the narration. I doubt I’m alone. I also look for books done by my favorite narrators.

That should never be the aim of narrating a book. Just like great writing typically doesn’t bring attention to itself but simply provides a way into the story (hopefully a lovely, clear and endearing way), so too narration should not draw attention to itself. Good narration may be lovely, winsome and soothing, but it shouldn’t pull you out of the story. For example, I could listen to Emma Newman (author and narrator of the delightful Split Worlds series) all day long and revel in her narration in a way that, quite frankly, I never would listening to Scott Brick. Even with her dulcet tones, she never pulls me out of the story but envelops me in it with her voice. It seems to me that’s the epitome of good narration.

Emma Newman

Emma Newman

So here’s the plea: authors of series, their publishers and agents, if you’ve got a good narrator, fight for that person to stay on your series. Fight hard. If schedules conflict, in my humble opinion, it’s even worth a little bit of publishing delay to the audiobook. Narrators, if you are called to come into a series midway through, please listen to your predecessor(s) and try to match, as far as reasonable, both the pronunciations and the pacing. Audiobook publishers, please require and recompense narrators to make a smoother transition. I should not feel like I’ve just walked into a new world when I have a new narrator. Make the crooked straight and the rough places plain in my transition to a new voice within the same series.

Recent Technology Changes and their Implications for Music and Books Series

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Part I:  Recent User Experience Changes

In a three-part series, we’ll briefly explore relatively recent technological changes and on their impact on our interaction with books, movies, and music. While there are numerous implications for producing the content, I’ll mostly focus their impact on consuming content. It’s pretty clear that the time is coming when books, movies, and even music will be produced in different forms than they are now, but that would be a different series.  In this first part, we will focus on the changes we’re seeing, the second part will be about changes to how we consume the content and the final part will be the disruptions we’re already seeing and reflect on near-term changes.

SurfacePro3Touch

Some of the patterns that are emerging with this year’s technology, beyond wearables and connecting items that aren’t computing devices (“the internet of things”), are changes with the user experience especially using touch and smart, voice-enabled interfaces. In particular, we’re seeing embedding of OS-like features crop up within devices and applications such as search. There is a clear focus on voice requests/commands and intelligent voice search for taking on more tasks in more places. We’ve seen this with the intelligent speaker Amazon Echo (a.k.a. Alexa) and on our phones with Cortana, Google Now, and Siri. We also see less intelligent voice-activated search like “OK Google” which translates your search request but returns the results in a traditional manner.  Soon we’ll see it via Cortana in Windows 10. We have gone from disconnected PDAs to phone (connected) PDAs to phone computers to embedded intelligent personal assistants. Using these personal assistants went from a physical keyboard to a virtual keyboard, including Swype, to now using voice interface for straightforward tasks such as setting up appointments. We’re also seeing those assistants initiate actions such as rerouting our drive based on traffic or informing us when to leave for an appointment earlier than normal due to traffic.

So, we’ve been on this journey with touch as an interface for our computers and phones. Now were augmenting further with voice. I have been using touch on computers, specifically the Surface RT, the Surface Pro 3, Lenovo Yoga, and, of course, my Lumia 920 Windows phone. So, touch has been an integral part of my computing experience for roughly 2 years. While I don’t use touch for everything, and the keyboard/mouse combination still does the Yeomen’s work for creating content, I do find myself irritated when touch isn’t available. It is a natural response when I’m showing somebody something to touch the screen and expect it to respond. It has taken less than two years for touch to be an expected available interface. I suspect I’ll expect voice-enabled interface in an even shorter period of time. Currently, I use Amazon Echo at home; I also have an Amazon Fire Stick using an Android phone as the remote control with its voice interface to search and perform actions on the TV. Finally, I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking for initial draft writing. I’ve become spoiled quickly. On the Echo, for example, there is a physical remote control that I rarely use even if it takes me a few more times to make myself clear to Alexa (the “wake-up word for the Echo and the name by which our family knows her). I will train it rather than have to actually to pick up a remote. Pathetic, I know.

How will all of this verbal engagement with the objects around us change the way that we interact with them and others will be interesting to see. We’ve all seen the funny guy who appears to be talking to himself who’s merely speaking with his Bluetooth headset. We’ve come to understand that, typically when somebody’s speaking to thin air, there is a Bluetooth headset involved somewhere. Now we’re speaking to our phones, to our computers, and even interacting with our text messaging via voice. It becomes a little odder to be around this activity. For example, I can be in a normal conversation in our car, and receive a text while I’m driving. I’m verbally notified of a text coming in with my Bluetooth headset and I’m asked if I want to read it, so I say the words “read it” out loud with no context to anyone else. No one else heard the announcement since the headset’s in my ear. They don’t know what I’m talking to them about, then it dawns on them – oh he got a message. It’s funny how we get used to things quickly including non-contextual speaking unrelated to what’s going on around us.

RajaniemiQuantumThief

Hannu Rajaniemi, author of The Quantum Thief

We have biometric security. We have devices that tell us to get up to go for a walk, what our heart rate is and how many calories we’ve burned. We have devices that tell us when to go to a meeting, when our next task is and to go early due to heavy traffic. We can touch, talk, listen and, yes, even type with various devices to get them to do what we want. They are being embedded in our lives in ways they have never been before. They manage the temperatures in our house, our refrigerated foods, our home security and lights, and our cars. We are depending on them to augment our memory and help us easily retrieve information. We have yet to determine how they change us and what this dependence means. (For a cool novel that ponders these questions, especially about our dependence on intelligent devices, see Alena Graedon’s The Word Exchange.  Hannu Rajaniemi also explores the issue in The Quantum Thief (but continues that exploration in the rest of the Jean le Flambeur series) with the use of exomemory (memory storage) and gevulot (public/private key handshake protocol) where politeness and societal standing dictates how much you share of yourself (open your gevulot) and keys dictate access to everything including your exomemory.

GraedonWordExchange

Alena Graedon, author of The Word Exchange

So here we are in this touch, voice, and learning OS world where there is predictive searching, predictive commands, and predictive keyboards; a world in which search results are pre-fetched based on patterns of use. This makes things easier and more convenient. The challenge, of course, is the security, safety, and privacy of our interactions with the computing devices and all of that lovely data. When Cortana can tell I’m near a store and remind me to get the milk, it’s a beautiful thing in terms of convenience and avoiding spousal chiding for forgetting once again (not to say that’s ever happened to me). However, that means Cortana is aware of my location, my intent (at least from a shopping perspective), and my history, especially on responding to such suggestions. That’s not to say that to do things more efficiently we should never risk anything. It’s simply to say we need to be going in with eyes wide open, be prepared to deal with the fallout from stolen or misused data, and push companies to mitigate the risk to a reasonable level.

Finally, we don’t know how these changes in our interactions affect us long-term. We could do, for example, some studies regarding executives from the 40s through say the 70s who used dictation devices and/or secretaries to extrapolate to our experience with voice interaction. While there is some difference in knowing that a human is on the other end of that dictation, even if it’s a human listening to a dictation device, effects on our thinking by a verbal approach to wording and any other behavioral changes could be similar. It’s also not to say that all the changes would be bad, it simply that we need to look at them. It may be, for example, that touch interface allows us to mentally automate some actions to free us up to deeper thinking and may involve more disparate parts of the brain throughout the process which builds synapse bridges and improves our thinking. In summary, we need to research, review, and be willing to adjust based on what we discover about the different types of interface.

DragonNaturallySpeakingSennheiser

One nice benefit I’ve noticed in writing with voice dictation for the initial draft is that I more carefully my review of the text. In other words, if I did an initial write-up by typing, I subconsciously presume that what I typed is what I intended (despite a plethora of evidence to the contrary). It was hard to catch things like typos, omissions or poorly phrased paragraphs. My best method for catching these was to read what I had written out loud. While it’s not fool-proof (and no substitute for having a genuine editor review the work), it helps reduce errors considerably. However, prior to using voice dictation, I would reserve this level of effort to high-profile communication (such as email sent to the company-at-large, writing for public blogs, or for freelance writing) and not do it for less formal writing. If the draft is done through voice, however, I always review and review more carefully. While Dragon NaturallySpeaking does a tremendous job (especially paired with my old Sennheiser headset) of translating my speech to text, not only does it have some errors, mostly due to my enunciation challenges, it also has some punctuation and capitalization challenges (not because you can’t insert them via voice, but I don’t always speak out punctuation or capitalization). So, review is always warranted. Essentially, I am able to use voice dictation for written communication that ups my game in terms of polish while requiring no significant additional time or effort than typing. Clearly, we see a behavior change based on technology.

We looked at some trends in technology with some general questions raised about their implications. In the next part, we’ll begin to explore those implications as applied to books, music and movies.

Tech Armor Ultraclear Ballistic Glass: Screen protection that actual works

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Recently, I joined the throngs of tech buyers pushing Apple’s profit to all new highs when I bought an iPhone 6 for my wife. Now, smartphones are pretty tough customers, considering they’re mostly glass (OK, very tough Gorilla Glass – see our friends from Mythbusters on The Glass Age) and plastic and metal. They’re constantly with us and go through substantial abuse. Hence, the benefit of cases and screen protectors. Cases to mitigate the affects of a drop; protectors to mitigate scratches.

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I’ve always thought it a wise idea to have something between that gorgeous screen and the cold, cruel world of scratching things. On the other hand, you now have something between your eyeballs and that gorgeous screen. So, it needs to be crystal clear as well as protective. Long gone are the days where you’re primarily looking at contacts to dial on your phone. You’re surfing the web, you’re looking at videos and your Skyping. You really want a clear screen for those activities. I remember when I got my first Android smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy S (Epic), back in the Gorilla Glass 1 days, and bought a Zagg Invisible Shield to protect the phone and the screen. While I know I’m not going to be a brain surgeon anytime soon, my eye-hand coordination isn’t utterly pathetic. Yet, trying to apply the Invisible Shield so that it aligned perfectly was beyond my purview. Moreover, no matter what I did, I could never get the screen part of it to be completely bubble free. I watched the videos. I applied the special water. I use the squeegee. I did it in a quiet room when no one could bother me. There was no hope. I finally got it reasonably well on and, as the folks at Zagg indicated, most, but not all, of the bubbles went away. This, after much blood, sweat, and tears. I also finally determined that having my really beautiful screen obscured with a protective “invisible shield” film wasn’t worth it. I took it off, threw it away, and haven’t looked back since. I’d rather take the risk than noticeably diminish my visual experience on a daily basis.

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A colleague of mine recently showed me somthing new: Tech Armor’s ballistic glass. The protection was a solid piece of clear plastic rather than a flexible film. It looked great on his phone. So, it was with some excitement and trepidation that I  decided to take the plunge again and try this new screen protector. Oh what a difference new technology makes. I approached it with the same care that I did the film versions. I made sure I was going to be uninterrupted. I had a clear working space. I carefully prepared the phone for the installation. Man, I could’ve relaxed a lot more. It went on easily, with no angst. I didn’t have any noticeable bubbles to squeeze out. While the alignment, is not utterly perfect,it  is well done. I could feel the tension leave my body when I realized that I was not playing the game of Operation and losing, where losing meant either having a diminished phone experience or throwing away my money and the protector. No, Tech Armor was dead easy and spot on.

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So, now the slings and arrows of outrageous key scratches are no longer a worry. My wife originally couldn’t even tell the protector was on until she looked a bit more carefully. You simply see right through the screen protector without even noticing it’s there. This is the way consumer tech needs to be. Straightforward, while doing the job. Now, Gorilla Glass 4 is some seriously amazing technology. Not even it can totally eliminate scratches, nor will Tech Armor’s Ultraclear Ballistic Glass. It will, however, protect the underlying screen from getting those scratches. If, for some, reason the glass gets scratched up to the point of being bothersome, I’d much rather pay $10 or $15 to replace the protector that the $100 or more to replace an iPhone screen.

I heartily recommend tech armor for your phone. I personally own one of the toughest phones on the market, the Nokia Lumia 920; its ability to withstand the harsh realities of life is legendary. I would order a Tech Armor screen protector for it, if they carried it. They do not. The only Windows phone for which they have a screen protector is the HTC M8 because it’s the same outer hardware as its Android cousin. They do, however, carry  most of the popular lines including recent iPhones, iPads, Samsung, LG, Google and HTC Android phones, as well as Amazon’s Fire. Seriously, check them out if they carry your device.

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Janelle True’s Painted Pianos Album is a Musical Treasure

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Janelle True’s sophomore album, Painted Pianos, demonstrates both her raw talent and her growth both as a song writer and singer. (Go here for more on her debut album, Swept Away).  This will become evident as we dive deeper into the album. Three of my favorite songs are found in the center of the album: “I Am Found”, “Forevermore” and “A Little Bit of Everything.” They show off her ability to write beautiful lyrics, just flat out sing a ballad,and switch to a lighter beat with a great message of learning to avoid confusing a lack of many different experiences with naïveté.

“Treasure” epitomizes setting values aright. I especially love the line “I’d rather be a poet/Writing sonnets on my hand/than a prim and proper porcelain doll/with her keys to all the land./Oh I’d rather help the broken/Singing songs they understand/Than to sit upon a throne inside, the castle made of sand./Oh I’d rather do what I love,/than to try to fit like a glove.” Knowing what we are called to do, why we want to do and holding true to the call despite the allures of other options seems to me to key in being at peace with ourselves.

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Ms. True makes a brilliant choice in “Worthwhile” by matching the lyrics to the musical rhythm – the individual ukulele strumming matches the idea of listening to the rain – music and words come together. We find succor in recognizing life’s not easy but it is worth the challenge in fully living. It’s great encouragement to recognize that we have a new opportunity each day, let’s live it. She reminds us that it is the small things that make worthwhile.

Ms. True starts with nice melodic opening to “Just the Same.” The song is an homage to true friendship, whether included in a romantic relationship or not. It plays on the notion that I will be with you, beside you, supporting you no matter what comes up. Whether it’s good weather or bad weather, good times or bad times. Even as the world and relationships change, I will still support you just the same.

“Something Beautiful” reminds us that there is no day that the Lord doesn’t care. He reminds of us His care in the world He has given to us. Despite the fact that it is fallen, that we are no longer in Eden, it retains His creative touch and His purpose.

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Janelle True

Now, one of the challenges and one of the benefits of Ms. True’s singing is her distinctive voice. She is distinctive in both senses of the term: distinctive in terms of her sound and she has a distinctive voice in terms of the material that she brings to the table, the content that she sings. Clearly the benefit is that she has the ability to stand out in her singing. If you ever hear her voice, you will notice that she sings with a unique tone. In a musical world where there are thousands of good voices, having the ability to stand out is surely a great benefit for Ms. True. The challenge, however, is that when you have such a strong, rich, distinctive voice, the timing, tone and type of songs that you have as part of your musical arsenal need to vary more than for most artists. In other words, if you sing fairly similar songs because you have such an overpowering distinctive sound, the songs are going to start to sound alike. So one of the steps that Ms. True has taken with Painted Pianos is to have a little bit more variety than she had in her debut album Swept Away. However, I would love to see for Ms. True to extend even further that variety, even crossing over into different genres. That’s not to say, that the songs she has on Painted Pianos aren’t worthwhile. Indeed, each song is captivating in its own way, as we’ve seen and will continue to detail. It’s simply that for the sake of her career, given the fact that she has such a strong voice, even more variety is warranted. We’ll see a little of the focus on variety in the next three songs.

“I Am Found” is sonically one of my favorite songs of the album. The lush entrance with piano and violin really set you up for a slightly different experience from the other songs. This is an extraordinarily beautiful song of how we’re found by Someone who loves us so much that he would fight for us, that he would die for us.  When I say “fight,” I don’t mean get into a bit of fisticuffs, but rather fight death itself. The extraordinary grace that we receive from Jesus Christ are well expressed, in both sound and word in “I Am Found.”

“Forevermore” is about chesed, everlasting loving-kindness, expressed on the cross by Christ: “But now forevermore/It will always be assured/That no kings or queens or the death of me/ Not any former things or things to be/Not even height or depth or anything/Can pull me from your love.” Once again, content and vessel are perfectly match – the lyrics and music complement one another well.
A Little Bit of Everything” is sweet little song that has a slightly different beat. It’s a little more upbeat and speaks to young, genuine love. Despite the appearance of naïveté, she really knows what she’s looking for and would rather spend the time doing everything focused with that person then a bit of everything with everyone else.

“So Long to the City” is a lovely homage to country-side and to slowing down from the frenetic pace of the modern city: “So long to the city/I cannot help but share my pity/You move so fast and never slow/All your lights and your committees/Your brick and glass they’re very pretty/You build your castles to the sky.”

“Catch Me” is about risking love. We all worry about whether those we care about will catch us, if you let us fall. It is sung from the perspective of person who, too readily, gives over her heart, who possibly trusts a little too soon and thus is more easily hurt or at least more frequently hurt. Unfortunately, after having learned those lessons the hard way, she questions if should she change. Should she be more careful with her heart? Where is that balance between being foolish and recognizing that all love involves risk. We all worry, don’t we if the person to whom we give our love won’t catch us?

Oh the joys and challenges of transitioning to new seasons in our lives. We leave what we know, both emotionally and physically, and there are those moments when we really recognize that the place which we took for granted will no longer be ours. Even if I return, it and I are changed. “Belrose Drive” beautifully captures these mixed feelings and the seemingly sudden realization that what we dismissed as prosaic and old will soon become dear to us. “A corner turned/That’s where I used to learn/Right down the road/Oh how I’ve grown/And all my friends/Here since before it all began.”

I commend Ms. True’s Painted Pianos to your listening pleasure and look forward to the next phase in her career.

Diane Setterfield’s Bellman and Black, An Exquisite Character Study in Perfect Prose

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Bellman and Black is a dark, brooding and brilliant study of a man whose life is at first smiled upon and then struck through with utter disaster. From the beginning, he was especially talented and diligent businessman whose whole life eventually revolved around work. A number of reviews have remarked that this book was a let down after her utterly brilliant debut in The Thirteenth Tale. Indeed, some have gone on to say that it seems to be written by a different author. That puzzles me in that this seems to be exactly the kind of book she would write; it is in keeping with her writing style, her focus on characters and dark events overshadowing lives. Admittedly, it doesn’t have the narrative drive of The Thirteenth Tale, but it seems to match in almost every other way.

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Dianne Setterfield

The protagonist, William Bellman, starts life a fairly normal lad with a bit of ambition and talent whose uncle runs the cloth mill, the villages main industry.  Through his tutelage, William quickly becomes indispensable at the mill. He goes on to marry, Rose, the perfect girl, and have a grand family. Alas, he always worked a bit too much but not excessively so. That beings to change as he takes over the mill. Alas, tragedy strikes his life and his life is his work. He also now views his life through the lens of a mission; what he believes is a purpose to which he agreed. He made a kind of bargain with, what appears to be, a Grim Reaper with a nod to Norse mythology.

William Bellman spends his days delivering on his “deal” in spades and, at the same time, doing incredibly great distance. There are occasions that make William stop and reflect, something he is loathe to do. Unlike his business dealings, he does not deal with his inner devils straight on or, if he can help it, at all. Work allows him to avoid them. From time to time, we encounter Mr. Black, his silent partner, his inner demon. William does try to confront him, but only in terms of his deal, never dealing with his own issues. We even see a bit of the circle of life.

Through Bellman and Black, Ms. Setterwhite looks at what drives us, how we can use excuses to do what we want to do anyway and how we confuse doing things for a life:

Bellman nodded. Thought and memory. Time slowed while he applied himself. Here at Bellman & Black, he had thought of nothing but death for the last decade. Yet he had failed to devote a single moment to the thought of his own mortality. It was—almost—ludicrous. However had he come to forget such an important thing?

The descriptions of life, of work, of people and, yes, of rooks, is delicate, precise and, at times, hauntingly beautiful:

He is quite the opposite: a magician of the real. Ask your eyes, What color is light? They cannot tell you. But a rook can. He captures the light, splits it, absorbs some, and radiates the rest in a delightful demonstration of optics, showing you the truth about light that your own poor eyes cannot

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Jack Davenport

As I am wont to do, I went between the Kindle and Audible audiobook. Jack Davenport (of Pirates of the Caribbean and Coupling fame) is the perfect voice for this book. The tone of his voice, the pacing of the narration and phrasing and emphasize of the words are absolutely spot on. It’s one of the best examples of straight narration I’ve heard. Whilst I recommend reading the book to linger on the language, I equally recommend this book based on the fantastic performance Mr. Davenport provides.

This is not a page turner or mystery in the normal sense of the term. There is no big reveal at the end, at least none that you might not guess. There is, however, language and drive, people’s dreams and loss and beautiful prose to portray it all.

For those that don’t need a fast ride, this meandering stream will provide many delights.

– Banner based on photograph by Edward Rhys found at deviantart

Annie Movie Musical 2014 – Exuberant fun in an Updated Musical

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So there are a lot of haters of the updated Annie. It’s not even just the purist who are upset; criticism comes from all corner. I guess I’m here to give the minority report: I had unmitigated, all-out, fun watching Annie. In fact, I laughed more during this Annie (and not at it) than any other Annie I’ve watched. But then again, I’ve always been in the minority because my all-time favorite Annie is the version with Alicia Morton, Victor Gerber, Audra McDonald et. al.

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Almost everyone prefers the version with Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney, Ann Reinking et. al. I don’t even find it close. While it has an amazing cast, with the exception of Bernadette Peters, they shouldn’t be in a musical.

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I digress; Annie – 2014, for me, was a fun, light and well done updating of the musical which kept the spirit of the piece. Before diving into the details, for the purists, I would like to remind you that Annie has undergone previous permutations, the Broadway musical only one of them. We need to remember that Annie wasn’t necessarily meant to be a nostalgia piece; the poem “Little Orphan Annie” that inspired the original comic was published in 1886. The comic strip itself started in 1924 (that’s right, prior to the Great Depression) and the musical arrived on the scene in 1977 (the same year Star Wars first appeared). So, while some want to treat this as sacred ground, it has come under a number of alterations already.

The opening of the movie gives us a taste of the contemporary feel for the musical. It’s a mashup of various songs from the musical but played out somewhat Stomp-style on the streets of New York with the melody drawn from cans, jack-hammer, car horns and New Yorkers singing. It’s a brilliant introduction making clear that this isn’t your Daddy’s Annie, while still being reminiscent of the original.

Lest you grow too concerned that this movie will go far afield, the inimitable Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and the other girls in foster care, all of whom have fabulous voices, calm the pace down to a more traditional versions of “Maybe” and “Tomorrow”. “Maybe” captures the sad longing of those who are without family whilst also holding onto hope that they aren’t fully abandoned. The pacing and harmony in the song is stunning considering the age of the girls involved.  “The Hard-Knock Life” kicks it up a bit with a recognizable melody with a modern beat.

One nice bit about the movie is that everyone can sing, albeit Cameron Diaz is on the weak end of this. Her voice isn’t bad, it’s just not strong. Of course, Kathy Bates isn’t exactly a songstress and Carol Burnett, whom I love, well, pales in comparison.

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The musical was at it’s best when it was humorous, especially when Jamie Foxx had screen time. When he began to sing, which he does well, it felt like a different movie, disjointed from the rest. All of the sudden, it became all about Jamie Foxx singing.

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Rose Byrne was delightful as Grace, both in her relationship with Mr. Stacks (Foxx) and Annie. Her little asides about the fact that she had real friends were handled with just the right touch. That being said,”I think I’m going to like it here” seemed a bit forced by one and all.  

Cameron Diaz, as Miss Hannigan, did not work well. She was a bit too intense with the girls. She seemed to push just a bit too hard, especially compared to Kathy Bates deft handling of the role.

‘There is some morphing of the storyline – Daddy Warbucks is replaced with Mr. Stacks who built a cell phone business to become a billionaire who is running for mayor. Rooster is replaced by Mr. Stacks’ campaign manager, Guy, who pushes Annie on Stacks as a way to get good press for his campaign. Annie, of course, with her pluck and positive personality wins the hearts of Stacks and Grace. We particularly see that in a turning point when Annie does some impromptu singing at a campaign event.

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If you like upbeat, funny musicals, I think you’ll like the Annie. It’s funny, fresh and well executed. If you think it’s a bit much for people to break into song and dance whilst chatting, then you might want to give this a pass. It’s not perfect but no performance fully detracts from the joy of the overall movie. It also has a great soundtrack. When I started playing it this morning, both my wife and daughter gave out a spontaneous “Yay!.” That might not sound like much, but it really is saying something. Sia (and Beck) are great additions to the album. For more on the soundtrack, read here.

Visuals: 3.5/5

Story: 3.5/5

Singing: 4/5

Acting: 3.5/5

Overall movie 4/5 (the whole is greater than it’s parts)

Fun factor: 4.5/5

Lara Schiffbauer’s Finding Meara is Fun, Fierce Contemporary Fantasy

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Lara Schiffbauer provides a quick paced, well thought-out contemporary fantasy adventure in Finding Meara. The story begins in the “normal” world where Hazel and her friend, Tavi finish a run. On her return to her apartment, Hazel’s world literally explodes as a monster blows her door out and flies away with her in his clutches through a portal into a fantasy world. Chaos ensues, adventure begins, relationships are forged and dangers loom.

Lara Schiffbauer

Lara Schiffbauer

So what sets Finding Meara apart? There is an ebb-and-flow between worlds. Often in these stories, you step through the proverbial looking glass and don’t return to the “real” world. People (and others) travel to and fro between Boulder, CO. and Adven Realm. Also, at least for me, I’ve read a lot of teens/pre-teens who are involved in these adventures; in this case, it a twenty-something, which lends a slightly different flavor. (Indeed, there are a couple of quick sexual references that you might not want your teen to read.) Another nice change of pace is that the protagonist Hazel and her companions are good. They aren’t perfect but they aren’t bad with hidden good inside. They are willing to sacrifice for one another. I love that the humor is organic and natural to the story. Finally, the writing sets it apart. While it is conversational and casual, it’s matched exactly to the tone of the characters, the story and the adventure. Ms. Schiffbauer eschews the oft used convention of having the folks in the fantasy world talk as if they live in circa 1700 whilst the contemporary people sound as if they were unable to pass eighth-grade English. All speak in a reasonable contemporary manner. Finding Meara is a perfect example where the writing is great not because it’s quotable or perfect prose, but rather because it does its job – it deftly moves forward the story and the characters.

I’ve read a number of novels lately where the protagonist just isn’t an enjoyable character; not so here. Hazel is more than just nice, she’s interesting, likable and willing to lead her own life without being unrealistically brave or clever. She’s fully human, with a number foibles, but is, on the whole, someone you would like to have as a friend. You have an opportunity to see her grow throughout the story.

What did I love about Finding Meara?

  • a likable protagonist who doesn’t seem to have an ax to grind, but is fully her own person.
  • Good “good guys”
  • Genuine dialog, settings and people. You didn’t get a sense of anything artificial about this made up world or the characters who people it.
  • Smart, diverse action that fit together into a single story.
  • It was just plain fun to read. Ms. Schiffbauer never had to use artificial literary tricks to get the reader to stay with the story. It was never a question of “finiding out what happened next” but always a desire to delve more into the story and the people.
  • Fredrick (wild “cat” extraordinaire)

What was I less fond of?

  • Hazel’s fairly impatient with her relationships. It seems like if there’s any lack of clarity from the guy, it’s off. Maybe you might expect that from a teenage girl, but not a woman in her twenties.
  • There’s a point where Hazel comes to realize how much she cares about Quinn (a younger boy and family relation), but there was little real build up to this moment. Unlike most of the story, the familial affection seemed to just happen and didn’t feel organic.
  • There’s a scene that involves an invisible fence and dogs; I don’t think they have quite the power suggested in the story.

Clearly those are quibbles. Overall, this is a fun read with smart writing, a real protagonist, loyal friends and well-paced action. Saying any more would involve spoilers. Besides, the joy of reading Finding Meara isn’t in any one element of the book. Dissecting each aspect belies the fact that it’s how the whole comes together. In this case, the whole is greater than it’s parts. So, just buy & read d the book. You’ll be glad you did.

Writing – 4/5 stars

World/Setting – 3.5/5

Characters/Relationships – 4/5

Narrative – 4.5/5

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