Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Excellent analysis of the overarching problem baked into Microsoft Word

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I have increasing problems with Word as documents grow larger and more frequently revised. Sometimes Word will suddenly change the entire document—e.g., dropped caps vanish, stuff stops being centered, etc.

The problem, as Edward Mendelson explains in the NY Review of Books, is that Word developed its architecture top-down, logically, chunking out the tasks and goals. WordPerfect (which, like Mendelson, I greatly preferred) was built bottom-up, and as a result fitted the task better.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 October 2014 at 12:27 pm

Posted in Software, Writing

Siri helps those with autism

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Siri has more patience and is more even-tempered than most people, and that makes Siri a good interlocutor with someone who is autistic. Judith Newman writes in the NY Times:

Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my 13-year-old son deep in conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” on the iPhone, is currently his B.F.F. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms — an hour in which, thank God, I didn’t have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:

Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”

Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?”

Siri: “Thank you, but I have very few wants.”

Gus: “O.K.! Well, good night!”

Siri: “Ah, it’s 5:06 p.m.”

Gus: “Oh sorry, I mean, goodbye.”

Siri: “See you later!”

That Siri. She doesn’t let my communications-impaired son get away with anything. Indeed, many of us wanted an imaginary friend, and now we have one. Only she’s not entirely imaginary.

This is a love letter to a machine. It’s not quite the love Joaquin Phoenix felt in “Her,” last year’s Spike Jonze film about a lonely man’s romantic relationship with his intelligent operating system (played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But it’s close. In a world where the commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, it’s worth considering another side of the story.

It all began simply enough. I’d just read one of those ubiquitous Internet lists called “21 Things You Didn’t Know Your iPhone Could Do.” One of them was this: I could ask Siri, “What planes are above me right now?” and Siri would bark back, “Checking my sources.” Almost instantly there was a list of actual flights — numbers, altitudes, angles — above my head.

I happened to be doing this when Gus was nearby. “Why would anyone need to know what planes are flying above your head?” I muttered. Gus replied without looking up: “So you know who you’re waving at, Mommy.”

Gus had never noticed Siri before, but when he discovered there was someone who would not just find information on his various obsessions (trains, planes, buses, escalators and, of course, anything related to weather) but actually semi-discuss these subjects tirelessly, he was hooked. And I was grateful. Now, when my head was about to explode if I had to have another conversation about the chance of tornadoes in Kansas City, Mo., I could reply brightly: “Hey! Why don’t you ask Siri?”

It’s not that Gus doesn’t understand Siri’s not human. He does — intellectually. But like many autistic people I know, Gus feels that inanimate objects, while maybe not possessing souls, are worthy of our consideration. I realized this when he was 8, and I got him an iPod for his birthday. He listened to it only at home, with one exception. It always came with us on our visits to the Apple Store. Finally, I asked why. “So it can visit its friends,” he said.

So how much more worthy of his care and affection is Siri, with her . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 12:48 pm

Whisper: The ‘anonymous’ messaging app that reportedly tracks your location and shares data with the Pentagon

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I wonder whether we are going to start seeing services and products whose covert purpose is to monitor communications and locations for government agencies, with the agency acting assisting in development and funding in return for use of the service in surveillance. Brian Fung writes in the Washington Post:

It turns out Whisper — the social networking app that lets users post messages to the service anonymously — may have been tracking its users’ locations, sometimes even after the users opted out of the service’s geolocation features.

That information has occasionally been shared with the U.S. government, including agencies such as the Pentagon, using a lower legal standard than is commonly used by other tech companies, according to an in-depth reportby The Guardian.

Reporters from The Guardian recently visited Whisper’s headquarters in Los Angeles. What they discovered over the course of three days showed that Whisper not only kept tabs on accounts it deemed interesting — “military personnel,” a “sex-obsessed lobbyist,” and political staffers, to name a few — but that it retained that information for far longer than its Web site suggested.

I’ve reached out to Whisper for comment; I’ll update this post if and when I hear back. Whisper told The Guardian it “occasionally” uses user IP addresses but does not store usernames, phone numbers or personally identifiable information.

When a user opted out of the geolocation tracking feature, which allows users to see Whisper posts that are “nearby,” Whisper was still able to collect rough location data on a case-by-case basis from certain users’ phones, according to The Guardian. When Whisper found out that The Guardian was preparing its story for publication, the company reportedly rewrote its terms of service to allow the collection of general geolocation data even when users have turned off the feature.

One question moving forward is whether revising its terms of service is enough to protect Whisper from an inquiry by the Federal Trade Commission, which can pursue companies that engage in “unfair or deceptive” acts and practices. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 10:55 am

Synthetic performers

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An extremely interesting 10-minute video at Verge on the creation of (in effect) synthetic Justin Biebers. Worth watching, IMO. It’s the video at the top of the page.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2014 at 10:12 am

Posted in Software, Technology, Video

Nice Chrome extension to help with Netflix

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The Younger Daughter just pointed out this little extension. I’ve now installed it and will post again after I get some experience with it.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 October 2014 at 7:24 am

Posted in Movies, Software

Cool clock

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2014 at 10:05 am

Posted in Software

More on becoming fodder and compost for corporations…

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 September 2014 at 4:10 pm


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