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Spanish Flashcard Android App Review September 29, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Brilliant words.
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I plan to review as many Spanish language flashcard programs as are offered for FREE on GooglePlay.  If they all suck, I will make a pay version myself and sell it for US$0.99.  Yeah, sure.  What are the odds I can do better with nearly no knowledge of Spanish and with severely limited Java/Android skills  (I already made one, but I would have to re-write it for JAVA)?

4001 Spanish Verbs by panidiom@gmail.com is not really a flashcard program; it is a FREE conjugated listing of 4001 verbs (like it says), right down to the pluperfect subjunctive.  Gods, I can barely remember what that means, let alone find the time to require myself to memorize it (again). Very nice, but a little ahead of my needs.  Seems very functional enough, though.  I will use it later, when I actually have mastered a bit more Spanish (quite a bit).

Spanish Vocabulary by Robert Muth is a very nice package with rather more sophistication than I expect from a FREE program.  It is divided into topics, remembers your ability to remember each word/phrase, alternates between Spanish first and English first and provides example sentences for context.  Very slick.  Seems pretty functional to me.  I presume there is a pay version, but it’s unobtrusive, so far.  The advertising that supports this FREE version is unobtrusive, appearing only on the selection page (Adjectives, Everything, Top 100 and Verbs.  The pay version probably has more categories, if there is a pay version).  This one is pretty nice.  I’ll use it as well.

LangLearner Spanish by langlearner.com starts by downloading (over the air!) 250MB of Spanish lessons, over and above the installed application.  Turns out to be pictures and audio to illustrate the phrase.  Pretty, but the photos don’t add anything to the experience, although the pronunciation by a native speaker is certainly useful.  There are thirty-two categories and they are pretty well illustrated, but only the first six are in the FREE category; I am not reviewing the paid application (until it’s provided to me FREE).

All in all, not bad; the pictures might help, too, now that I think about it.  Who knows how the memory of any one person works to recall particular phrases?

Spanish Flashcards Free by RFX Labs is also a preview app, offering a paid version with 1000 words (sound familiar?) in 22 categories.  And it displays ads even in the FREE version with not many words…skip this one, I think.

Spanish Flashcards by Bradley G Hohn is a much better bet, with 3500 words and phrases, text to speech support etc. however, the reviews on the GooglePlay site are kind of unkind, mostly about the translations.  I can imagine that people’s interpretations may differ, but without being able to evaluate the reviewers’ skills in Spanish, I can’t tell much more—remember, I’m a complete novice.

Spanish Flashcards by movinapp.com was free, and the first forty cards  looked [gods, it’s hard to type one-handed while petting demanding cats] right and I knew their translations were more or less correct.  Very nice.  The translator’s computer voice was pretty good, too, using the Android engine (which it downloaded as soon as I hit the first “play the phrase” key).  I will continue with this one for a few days and see where I get with it, treating it like I would any other app I was debugging.  Wish me luck.

In my first session I noticed that the synthesized voice, which had received some negative reviews was actually pretty pleasant.  It may be that I have a very nice new Android 4.1 system to operate it on, however.  I am told that the speed of the synthesizer can be adjusted, but I haven’t had the need.  The translations were also knocked in the reviews, but I can’t see anything that isn’t more or less correct, so I give that  a pass as well.  The cards are grouped in categories: Basic Expressions,Greetings, Courtesy, Phone, Time, Dates, Chat, Shopping, Airport, Help, Directions, The Weather, Health, Number and Internet; as many as seventy or as few as a dozen.  One thing I notice when perusing the categories is that the application offers to download the speech synthesis module for Spanish each time I switch a category.  You can back out of the screen easily enough, but you shouldn’t have to do that, since the application apparently knows (or the download screen knows) that you have done that already.  Not terribly polished I admit, but if that’s the only bug I find I will consider this FREE application a very nice package, indeed.

All in all, I think this flashcard package is pretty sweet.  The largest drawback might be the small advertising area in the lower right area of the screen, which is always updating itself.  This could be a drain on someone with a limited data plan.  This is, of course, how this program can be FREE–the authors are selling your eyes to the Internet, just like any commercial webpage does. I like this app and will use it for a while.

The best of all, however, is AnkiDroid, which is free.  It keeps track of the things you are memorizing so well that you will be reminded things you are on the edge of forgetting.  It is, however, a crowd-source sort of thing; you have to go out and find sets of Spanish-language stuff to memorize from the Anki website through the AnkiDroid application.  Fortunately, this isn’t all that hard; you just keep on looking.  Of course, since AnkiDroid is a one-size-fits-all flashcard program, there are lots of other things to memorize, like other languages, flora, fauna etc.

You could get lost in there.

Anyway, the best one is AnkiDroid.  Use it, customize it for your best use, and be content.  It’s so good I plan to copy parts of it for my own little app when I make it.  Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.

Hope My Stepdaughters Like This September 20, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Toys.
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Especially the younger one.  She spent a lot of time with Mario.

Clever Little Vampires, They Are September 14, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Publishing Tools.
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Stuffilike.net has an RSS feed app for your Android phone…actually, anyone can make one from their RSS feed at appyet.com.  It ‘s a clever way for the appyet.com people to get lots of other folk’s RSS feed to show ads for them and make a bit of money.  Pretty nice business model, if you ask me.  I may try it myself.

The app creation that their website does is actually a painless introduction to how to publish an app on play.google.com, so I recommend you walk through it just to be able to say you did.

Cute, Isn’t It? September 14, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Hello Kitty, Japan, Mutants, Uncategorizable.
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I’m pretty sure words fail at this point.

Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold September 12, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books.
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Diplomatic Immunity is a reasonably fast-paced tale of Miles Verkosigan’s second foray into service as the Emperor’s Voice in the Barrarayan Empire, officially off on his honeymoon when diverted to a converted asteroid in order to solve the mystery of a murdered security officer,  soothe an interstellar fracas caused by idiot military types (redundant?) and stop a war initiated by agents provocateur with a more subtle agenda.  Miles is hindered by amazing and complex technology of his mostly unknown enemy and his/her/its inscrutable motives, aided by a long-time friend, accomplice and now employee/paid informant and most ably supported by his new wife. 

The plot hums right along without rest, as does Miles, since everything keeps happening even when the hero should be on his honeymoon or at least have time for a catnap in the several days this adventure takes.  It is kept from overwhelming by a nice sense of timing and a few of what look like breaks in the action but which are just bridges between actions, and by Miles’ running dialogues with himself, which are pretty entertaining in their own right (I often have these kinds of carefully stifled thoughts myself.  At least, I think I stifled them because I’m still married, still have my job, and still have all my teeth).

Another very creditable, entertaining book by Lois McMaster Bujold, who has written maybe a dozen and a half of these books.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes September 12, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words.
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Zoo City was awarded the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award, the  2010 Kitschies Red Tentacle award (for best novel, as the book that "best elevates the tone of geek culture"???), and nominated for World Fantasy Award, the  BSFA Award (actually won for artwork on the cover–go figure), the 2010-2011 University of Johannesburg Creative Writing Prize,the 2011 M-Net Literary Awards and the Nielsen’s Booksellers’ Choice Award. Helena Spring won the film rights to Zoo City (the only movie she’s produced that I have seen is Cry, The Beloved Country, although I think American Kickboxer is something that people have at least heard of.  Surprisingly, I seem to have missed that one), but IMDB does not say it’s in production.  I think this would be hard to film coherently, although it reads like a dream due to Justine Eyre , the "Canadian-born, Philippine-raised, British-educated, Kiwi-fathered, multi-lingual actress and narrator" who sounds the part pretty convincingly for someone who isn’t from Johannesburg. She needs all the multi-lingualism she can get as she narrates this tale of <takes deep breath>

Zinzi December is the first-person present narrator of her comings and goings in the course of a missing persons noir thriller with supernatural overtones.  Overtones, hell; she has a familiar, as do all people worldwide who commit murder.  Her familiar is a sloth, a consequence of an apparent bad drug deal resulting in the death of her brother and loss of her ear.  With the familiar comes a magical talent; Zinzi can find lost things.  This would be great if this talent didn’t lead her into sewers, to live kidnappings and to mine tailing graveyards.  It would be nice not to have to use this talent, but she’s in debt up to her eyeballs to her drug dealer and earns him money by 419 scams (which she’s really good at writing up). 

Lauren Beukes’ style is delightfully complex, with first-person present narration forming the walls and framework and wikipedia entries, newsreadings, e-mail, SMS chats and newspaper reports making the gingerbread trimmings on this delicious house.

This review is frankly not doing the book justice; it’s just terrific.  I’m not sure anything can do it justice, but there’s a neat review of it at http://audiblesff.tumblr.com/post/13173509889/audiobook-review-zoo-city-by-lauren-beukes, which does a better job than I do.  Get the audiobook and be very, very happy you did.

Another’s Treasure September 11, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Uncategorizable, Uncategorized.
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chicken lamp

Because I live in the most beautiful city in the world, I may have a somewhat jaundiced view of the world at large.  This Tiffany-style rooster lamp may once have been the cherished possession of somebody’s grandmother, for pointed example.  This delightful wicker flamingo may have been equally cherished by another.

flamingo 3

I found both of these treasures in a thrift shop window (the same window, by the way) in the urban hub of the North Valley, Yuba City.  It’s right next to a Thai restaurant that closes just before we get there, every time.  At nine o’clock on a Saturday night, you would think that restaurants in a sleepy little town would still be hungry for custom, but you would be deceived.

The Venezuelan Poodle Moth September 10, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Mutants, Photography.
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Venezuelan Poodle Moth

No kidding. Found by zoologist Arthur Anker of Brazil’s Federal University of Ceará, this thing looks like an Indian buffet nightmare.

The Milkweed Triptych, by Ian Tregillis September 5, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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It’s 1939. The Nazis have supermen, the British have demons, and one perfectly ordinary man is caught in the middle.

Oh, it’s ever so much more complex than that, bucko.  The aforementioned supermen are the results of horrible torturous experiments on post-WW1 orphan children in the now-famous grotesque Nazi fashion.  These people are really messed up psychologically by the treatment (as one might imagine) and then by becoming supermen, and then by losing their supermen status, and then by…I may be getting a bit ahead of myself, here.  Suffice it to say that the British, upon learning that they were dealing with frankly impossible beings, turned to other impossible beings for help.

Later, of course, they wished they hadn’t. 

Tregillis here is a fine writer, showing the thinking processes of the most damaged, heroic, bitter, angry and insane persons; each in turn, and each with credibility.  And the pacing sucked me right into it.  As I have said before, I don’t really care for horror very much, but this audiobook dragged me right into it.  I found myself still listening after my commute, something I rarely do with audiobooks.  I feel a little silly sitting in the car in front of my house for an extra twenty minutes each day.

Anyway, this Triptych is three books, and I have only gotten through Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War so far.  The third, Necessary Evil, has yet to come out, but I shiver in antici…pation. Surely it will have repurposed Nazi technology, monsters from beyond space and time, plucky Englishmen and Englishwomen, righteous fury, and hopefully a happy ending; it looks pretty damn grim two-thirds of the way through.

On the other hand, I don’t think there will be any more barbecued pyromaniac necrophiliacs.  So there’s that.

Phone Magic September 4, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Uncategorized.
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I hate my WinCE phone, an HTC Wizard from about 2006 or so.  It’s old, slow and parts on it are broken (little useful bits like the phone earpiece, the charging port and headphone jack.  You know, things that make it a telephone and not an electronic brick); it has only 2GB of storage (although that was a great deal in 2006); and WinCE is no longer being supported by Microsoft, which has probably upset developers a lot more than me.  It only had tepid support in any case, which is why phone makers are currently reluctant to build Windows Phone 8 hardware except Nokia, which is now partly owned by Microsoft.  Another thing I strongly dislike is my AT&T plan, which is based on bad assumptons by me of how much my family talks and costs more than twice what I think it is worth.  I should have fixed this as soon as the plan expired, but shopping for phones and phone plans is a swampful of alligators.  And Burmese pythons.  And confusing as hell.
One thing I do like about my WinCE phone is that I have all the tools I will ever need to write little apps for it, which I have done (to my satisfaction, at least). In the sidebar you will find a category for them; see what I mean by simple?
So, my happiness in PhoneLand now has three requirements: low-cost data/voice/text plan, robust hardware and the ability to write little apps if ones I need do not become available.  I thought about the iPhone (because the wife and kids like them, and they have lots of apps that look pretty cool on TV), but the minimum requirements for writing apps is learning Objective C on a Mac, which I do not own.  $1100 for a learning platform is out of the question, over and above the iPhone cost which isn’t cheap either.  So, this pretty much leaves me with an Android phone, but whose?
It turns out that there are only a few multiband phones [allowing the owner to change phone companies without buying a new phone] around, presumeably because the people committed to buying them in quantity are the same phone companies that would like to lock their customers in at high rates for very long times.  I have already been down that road, so no thank you.  Besides, buying a contract data plan from ANY carrier is a big money-losing proposition, as I have discovered.  Also, the latest version of the Android OS is usually not part of a phone company’s priorities–they need to keep costs low, and don’t want to support lots of different OSes.  Can’t blame them.
I ended up getting a Google Galaxy Nexus, a multi-band GSM phone with the latest Android operating system on it (actually, it OTA updated itself the second day I had it…close enough).  The Nexus is multiband so I can switch from AT&T to T-Mobile and back depending on who has the lowest cost, best coverage or whatever.  It’s now my choice.
It seems that T-Mobile offers a $30 per month pre-paid plan with 100 minutes of conversation and unlimited (slow) data and texting.  I bought it at Walmart, which is where you get this plan, not through T-Mobile’s website or stores.  You can also buy a $0.99 SIM card through the website, but I forget what that gets you, as I went with the prepaid thingie I already mentioned.  AT&T offers something similar, although I think it’s $50 per month for unlimited talk, text and data.  Not much of a saving for me, and I don’t talk all that much, so there.  Nyah.
Anyway, it’s a predictable amount of cash per month, so I’m OK with it…now to see if I can get AT&T to give up my previous telephone number, and T-mobile to take it.
EXCITING UPDATE:  yeah, I got it. Now I can resume being unhappy about ATT service, pricing and the annoying Bluetooth interference when handing off between towers.

In a related note, my stepdaughter is starting engineering school and OMG the books are heavy, filling a backpack and a side back.  Together the books weigh about half her weight..she’s getting a tablet as soon as I can manage it.  Must be a ten-inch tablet, because the illustrations need to be clear.  I will be reporting on the state of tableture soon enough for you, my (few) loyal readers.