Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2011

Siri-an Revolution

I used Siri for the first time a week or so ago, and I was exquisitely underwhelmed. It's basically a somewhat decent speech recognition system attached to a crappy version of Eliza, which was a simple question-and-answer artificial intelligence program written over 30 years ago. All of which begs the question - why do people love it so much?

Simply, Apple succeeded by humanizing Siri and then marketing the hell out of it (her?), even so far as to inspire various parodies such as the husband and wife argument. I've watched people use Siri with fascination, trying to tease out "sassy" responses, and searching for Easter eggs beyond what was reported in the press. In fact, I've seen this use case much more than actually useful things. But it's interesting anyway to compare with Google Voice Search, which has been around way longer and shares a similar feature set.

Google Voice Search is the best speech recognition system I've personally used. It's been …

The King's Speech (and me)

Tonight, I finally gathered the courage to watch The King's Speech. Why did I need courage to watch a movie, you might ask? The reason is both simple and intricately complex:

I'm a stutterer (Edit: person who stutters; "stutterer" is not who I am, but something that I do from time to time), and I have been for as long as I remember.

Well, there it is - I've said it. To be fair, I actually don't remember stuttering when I was little. My first very distinct memory of stuttering was sometime in seventh grade, when I had trouble saying "nosotros" (we/us) in Spanish class. But I also remember knowing I was going to have trouble saying it, because we were going around the room, and I counted ahead to see what I was going to have to say. Which means by that point I was already stuttering. When did it start? That's a question for another day.

So why am I publicizing this fact now? First, I'm in the midst of a lifelong attempt to "cure" my …

Modern Technology Attention Deficit Tipping Point

I recently got back from a two and a half week trip abroad, and the comparative lack of connectivity was refreshing. I often feel that here in Silicon Valley, we're progressing ever more rapidly to a world in which no one looks up anymore, and relationships and friendships take place entirely in the unfulfilling desert of the virtual. Getting out every now and then is a good way to reset your perspective.

For instance, during the nine days I spent in Korea, I had a phone that was "merely" capable of sending text messages and making phone calls (to be fair, it was an iPhone 4, but the 3G was disabled). Knowing that you can't check your email even if you want to is glorious! I ended up checking my email once or twice a day at the hotel, and didn't miss it. The main thing I really missed was GPS. But believe it or not, it's possible to find things without it. And people tend to be helpful if you ask them for directions!

I then went to China, where G+ and Faceboo…

Piano, Language, and the Brain

I decided at the age of 30 that I wanted to learn how to play piano. Unfortunately, that's about 25 years beyond the optimal age if you ever want to get "good". But since I'm fascinated by both neuroscience and music, I figured it was at least worth a shot, plus I'd have the added benefit of being able to observe my brain as it tries to learn this new skill.

I think it was this TED talk that finally convinced me to start playing. Benjamin Zander speaks about music and passion, and how classical music can tell a story. At the time, I was living in my friend's basement, and there was a beautiful Kawai grand piano in the living room that went largely unused. One day, I went up to the piano, sat down, and opened one of the books to a random song. Although I knew how to read the notes (at least the ones close to the staff), I couldn't fathom playing two independent parts (left and right hands) simultaneously, while also keeping track of the pedals, tempo, volu…

I Hate My iPhone 4

A couple months ago I needed to get a new phone in Korea, but Galaxy S2 wasn't out yet, and the only carrier willing to sell me a phone was SKT, so I decided reluctantly on an iPhone4. It is to date my most regretted electronics purchase ever, but I'm stuck with it. Here are some reasons why I hate my iPhone 4:

1) It friggin' sucks as a phone.

Okay, call me old school, but I firmly believe that voice is by far the best way to convey a lot of information in a short amount of time. And unfortunately, my beautiful iPhone is near worthless as a phone. For some reason, iPhone on SKT is a terrible combination - reception sucks, 3G always drops out, and if I hold my phone like, well, a phone, the call drops. Sure, I can stick a lame bumper on it, but that's like buying a Ferrari and putting cardboard on the doors to protect it from scratches.

2) The UI is great in some places, terrible in others.

Why isn't it obvious how to mute an incoming call (I Googled it, but I shoul…

More Android Usability Issues

Second post in a series of problems and solutions for Android usability. I'm writing these because I love Android, and if these usability issues are fixed, it'll be even mo betta'. =)

1) No notification on receipt of SMS that needs to be downloaded.

WTF? I had a nice argument with the Android team when I was still at Google about something likely related to this. If you receive an MMS that your Android phone can't display, then there's no notification. None. You only notice the new message if you explicitly go into Messages to look for it (or more likely, receive a totally unrelated SMS that alerts you to check Messages). I was told by the Android team that no notification is better than a notification when you can't see a preview of the message. I got far too frustrated arguing with someone who actually believed this to be self-evident, and just gave up (one of many super detailed Android bug reports that never made it past the Android usability gatekeepers).

Interesting Korean Grammar (really!)

I think one of the hardest things about Korean (or any language, for that matter) is learning the subtle nuances and differences between grammatical constructions. Typically, when you're learning a new language, you start with super easy, often present tense constructions.

We eat food? You go store? I happy.

Then you start to learn how to form proper sentences, and learn various tenses:

I'm eating food now. She went to the store. I'm happy.

For most people, language learning never goes beyond the point of simple sentence construction. But for Korean especially, there are an incredible number of nuances in sentence endings and conjugational forms, and most foreigners either don't use them or use them incorrectly (myself included). Korean is a very indirect language, like Japanese, so simply stating what you think often makes you come across as rude. As a result, there are tons of ways to form "simple" sentences in Korean, all with different nuances. It's c…

Assorted Android Usability Issues

I like my Android phone. It's a quite functional device, and is actually pretty decent for making phone calls (for those of you unfamiliar with a "phone call", imagine a tweet, but longer than 140 characters, and transmitted via human speech). But it has a fair number of usability issues that constantly annoy me. Some have been fixed as the OS has evolved (for example, searching from the Google widget used to only allow vertical mode, but luckily they added landscape mode a while back), but others continue to linger. Here's an incomplete list of some of the usability annoyances I've found, along with simple fixes that would make the experience better.

Problem: "Next" and "Done" buttons in text fields. Their behavior is inconsistent at best, confusing at worst. Sure, I know that "Next" moves you to the next text field. But does your grandma know what a text field is? No. So this fails the grandma test.

Try handing an Android phone to a…

Reading and Language Learning

One of the super frustrating things for me in learning Korean is the speed at which I'm able to read. It's embarrassingly slow, and makes me feel really stupid whenever I have to read something. I can read in my head faster than I can read out loud, but both are well below "useful" speed. Lately I've been able to level up slightly by forcing my brain out of its comfort zone and trying to follow Korean raps. Rapping (which I love) is faster than normal speech, so I figure if I'm able to follow Korean lyrics in a rap as it's going, then eventually I'll be able to actually read. Working well so far, although I can still only get through about half of the subtitles in an average TV newscast.

Of course a big part of this is pattern recognition. When first learning Korean, you have to look at each component (jamo) in a character and consciously process how to put them together to sound out the syllable. As you get better, you start to recognize words. And I…

New Job

So, I decided to temporarily put my life as an entrepreneur on hold to become ... well, an entrepreneur =). That is to say, I recently started working with a startup back in San Francisco. I say with and not at because geographically I am spending part of my time here in Korea and part of my time back in San Francisco. Sure, there are time-zone issues, but in the grand scheme of things, if it's the right fit, that's a very small detail.

What made me go back to being gainfully employed? Well, I found an early-stage company doing very cool stuff, literally in the field that I read textbooks about for fun. I have the chance to work on the kinds of problems I always wanted to work on at Google, but was never quite in the right place. That's not to say that I didn't like the work I used to do - working on a product used by millions of people was actually pretty awesome, and adding features that you could show to family and friends who all use your product was pretty cool. I…

Korean Names, and Crazy Language Idiosyncrasies

Korean names are tough for non-Koreans. Before I came to Korea, I used to just be pretty bad at remembering Korean names, because they don't vary as much from one another as Western names tend to. I'm fine with remembering Korean names now, but Koreans have an annoying habit of making it exceedingly difficult to learn their names.

The first problem is that you never know what form of someone's name you're going to get. If I ask a Korean what their name is, sometimes they give me their English name, sometimes they give me their name in standard Korean family name/given name order, and sometimes they give me their Korean name in Western given name/family name order. It's most annoying when they give an English name that they don't actually use, because then you won't know when someone is calling them with their Korean name. If they give you both English and Korean names, you now have twice as many names to remember. And a lot of Korean names said backwards (i…

Resolve to Focus on Real Life Relationships in 2011

Well, it's a new year. Time and others have declared Facebook the ruler of the Internets, while Twitter has been crowned the best thing to happen to personal communication since the telegram. But since it's a new year, my hope and wish is that everyone will take a step back and focus on real-life relationships in 2011.

The world is more connected than ever, but the always-on connectedness has a somewhat ironic effect of isolating people behind self-imposed digital walls. How many friends do you have on Facebook? 100? 200? 500? Is your happiness directly proportional to that number?

Take a second to think back to your best moments of 2010. Were they spent in front of a computer screen, tending to your virtual crops and "liking" status messages? Or were the best moments, the moments of true emotion, honesty, love, and levity spent with other people, out in the world, right smack in the middle of this fascinating adventure called life?

Commoditizing friendship won't…