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.

AireTalk Android App Review

Just when we thought communications can’t get better than this, there are developers out there who outperform what is already there on the table. VOIP has been one of the prime focuses on development, and with the sudden burst in Android market, more and more developers are now pouring into creating state of the art applications that dramatically increase chatting, calling and messaging services. Recently, making its mark in this field has been AireTalk – an application by PingShow which attempts to provide these features on Android and iOS.

Nothing comes for free in this world, although the prices might not be visible or charged in a different sense which is neither direct nor hidden/masked. Being able to make free calls, AireTalk suggests that the calls will be made using the internet connection to any other AireTalk user and the caller doesn’t have to bear the charges of the carriernetwork.

Although this app might seem very similar to all other apps in this genre, AireTalk comes with an interesting feature which is inspired from Radio Stations and Yahoo’s famous chat room concept. This feature head is termed as “Studio”. This is like radio stations, which has different languages as “Stations”. Users can select a particular Language stationjust like chat rooms and enter, also invite their friends and chat in that language. A very innovative idea which still requires more polishing, all in all this can be used as a good language tutor guide and practice zone.

Walkie Talkie screen of AireTalk

Some most common VOIP features are added by default. What is interesting to note in AireTalk is its Walkie Talkie feature. Just as the name suggest this feature can be most useful in camping trips and adventure tours where you would want a quick chat or message to be delivered. Since internet services are at use here, this app like all others doesn’t have restrictions on international calling as well.

Since its initial launch, Android has evolved at lot both in sense of performance and user experience. Although, many apps on the market still need to upgrade themselves a lot to avail the maximum that Android has to offer its developers. AireTalk has still to go a long way in becoming seamless and intuitive in sense of user experience. The options bar is responsive, while both the landscape and portrait views show the same layout; it can be improvised further to enhance visual effects and transitions between screens.

Facebook login might have become a bit old fashioned nowadays; nonetheless it has become an essential part in increasing effective user experience and ease of customization. This app enables users to login using Facebook, this way users cannot just connect with AireTalk friends but also with their Facebook friends thus accessing a wider range of people set. If you have an inquisitive mind towards what other upcoming apps have to offer to their users, you can try AireTalk.

Some simple ways to speed up your Windows PC

According to StatCounter in August 2012, globally, Microsoft Windows XP, Vista and 7 accounted for the operating systems on 87.85% of computers around the world. That means that the majority of people own a PC which runs on Windows, as opposed to one which runs on iOS, MacOSX, Unix or another operating system.

An issue many Windows users often find is that after a while their computer seems to slow down. If this sounds familiar, then you should find this article extremely useful, as in it I am going to give you my personal tips on how to keep your Windows PC (XP, Vista and 7) running fast. This guide applies to both laptops and desktop PCs. 🙂

What Slows Computers Down?

The trick to understanding how to make your machine run faster involves working out what slows your computer down. It would be interesting to know what most people think slows their computer down, so if you have an idea, let me know in the comments.

The first and one of the biggest culprits which slow your computer down are background processes. These are things which go on in the background whilst you are doing things. Say you are trying to open up an internet browser, lets take Firefox as an example, then when you click on Firefox, it is very possible that plugins you have installed also try to start up and do things in the background. Until recently an really good example of this was the Google toolbar, which would start up a process to talk to Google and find out if it was up to date.

There are likely to be a lot of programs trying to do things in the background, whilst you are focusing on your task. Java, Apple, Google, Adobe (Flash Player and Reader) are big culprits, always whirring away in the background. If you have anything Google installed like Google Earth, Google Chrome, Google Talk etc. then the chases are it is taking a lot more resources than it needs. Likewise anything Apple like iTunes, QuickTime etc. are also likely to be slowing your PC down.

Another big culprit is disorganised hard disk files. Every time you delete something, move something, create a new file or folder etc. you change the layout of your hard disk and the structure of your files. This can often mean that related files can be put far apart on the disk, which is not optimal, also in order to get to a file, the computer may first have to locate it via following a redirect from where it used to be – this takes time.

The final major culprit I am going to address is unnecessary visual effects. Your computer can often get really bogged down trying to display fancy effects which you don’t really need, meaning you can’t get on and do what you wanted to do.

Now we know three of the main issues, lets fix them!

Stopping Unnecessary Background Processes

A tortoise with a rocket on its backStopping bad background processes is easier than you might think. There are a few ways to go about it, the way I find the most effective is though a tool named ‘MSConfig’. This can be found on Vista and 7 by typing in msconfig into the search box on the start menu, in in Windows XP by typing msconfig into the Run command box.

MSConfig allows you to make a lot of changes to your system, but unless you know what you are doing, I would stick to just two tabs, Services and Startup. To start speeding up your PC, go to the ‘Services’ tab and click ‘Hide all Microsoft Services’, which will stop you accidental stopping anything you need. Now untick anything you don’t feel you need. An example of a service you might want to untick is ‘Google Update Service‘, whilst an example of one you probably don’t want to is your Anti-Virus software’s one.

Remember stopping a service does not stop you opening a program. Say there is an Office service which you stop, it will not run in the background, but you will still be able to run Word, Excel and Outlook.

Now lets move onto the ‘Startup’ tab. Here you can also remove any service you don’t want to run, but this is specifically when you start up your PC. For example, if you have Skype installed, but don’t want it to run when your computer starts, then untick the Skype service. Likewise if you don’t want Google Talk to automatically start running, untick googletalk.exe – the Google Talk service.

Reorganise Your Hard Disk

Reorganising your files is really easy, it just takes time. A disk defragmenter is what you need for this, and Windows comes with one built in for free! There are third party ones available too, some of which are good, and others not so – your choice.

Simply start Windows Disk Defragmenter via searching for it in the start menu, or open My Computer >> right-click on the hard disk you want to defragment >> click Properties >> click the Tools tab >> click click Defragment now.

It may take any amount of time from 5 minutes to 12 hours (potentially more if you have a really big and messy hard disk) and during the process, I would advise against using your computer. Typically it takes an hour or two to defragment a hard disk.

Turn Off Unneeded Visual Effects

If you are happy to loose some of the sleekness your system has then this tip could really boost your computers performance.

First you need to open the visual effects panel. In Windows 7 right-click Computer on the start menu >> click Properties >> click Advanced system settings (on the left) >> then select Settings under the Performance section. In XP right-click My Computer >> click Properties >> click the Advanced tab >> then select Settings under the Performance section.

From here you can remove visual effects you don’t really need. If you like you can remove them all, but that could really change how your PC looks. Animate windows when minimizing and maximising, Show shadows under mouse pointer and Show window contents while dragging are all effects which really slow down your PC, but you are unlikely to miss. Experiment, and see which ones you can live without.

I hope these tips work for you, and have fun with your fast(er) computer!

Got any tips yourself? Why not share them below?