I don’t speak Dutch (yet)

Dutch Humour

Ik spreek niet Netherlands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter the Smartpen

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

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

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

 

Learnstift's Smartpen

Learnstift’s Smartpen

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

Is updating Java really important?

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

Java or JavaScript?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malicious Java

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

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

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

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

Java Update

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

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

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

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

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

Technology and the future of work

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

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

Portable Laser Keyboards

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

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

A wireless laser keyboard called the Magic Cube

The Magic Cube – a wireless laser keyboard

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

Hand Motion Technology

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

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

Better Integration

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

Apps

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

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

QB Robots

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

Anybots QB Robot

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

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

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

3D Printing

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

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

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