Tag Archives: technology

James Burke Predicts the World in 2030

Today’s World this Weekend, on BBC Radio 4, contains reflections by the science writer, James Burke, on the developments he believes will take place by 2030.

Amongst Burke’s predictions is that by 2030 humans will be able to live autonomously, in a location of their own choosing, people will be able to create anything using nanotechnology, we can “forget privacy”, and climate change will be solved by technological developments, for example the production of artificial meat negating the need to keep livestock.

I am no scientist (my degree being in history and politics), however Burke’s view that science will solve all problems strikes me as overly optimistic, and that’s putting it mildly!

Whilst I’m sure that some of the things predicted by Burke will come to pass – indeed some, such as the use of nanotech to solve health issues are already baring fruit – I’m sceptical of the timeframes postulated. Also his implied view that we don’t need to change our way of living to tackle climate change (as science will solve everything) is not one shared by most scientists and I, also am unconvinced by Burke here.

I am a believer in individual liberty and I’m extremely wary of governmental intervention in the lives of consenting adults. However individuals don’t exist in a vacuum. We owe duties to one another and our lives are enriched by friendships and other social interactions. Listening to Burke’s broadcast it is, to my mind to individualistic and lacking in an appreciation for the complex relationships, institutions etc which make it possible for individuals, families and communities to live the good life. His view does, I believe chime with libertarians (of left and right) rather than with the one-nation Conservatism which, broadly speaking shapes my outlook on life.

You can find Burke’s interview approximately 25 minutes into the podcast, which can be found here, https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000cnbw.

Free Broadband

A Labour supporter named Bland
Said, “I welcome free broadband,
But as for freedom of choice
And the British taxpayer’s voice,
These concepts I just don’t understand!”.

My review of 2 Alexa skills: Poe Reader and Poem A Day

Below you will find my reviews of Poem A Day (both the web based version and the Alexa Skill), and a review of Poe Reader, an Alexa skill enabling the user of an Amazon Echo to listen to the poetry of Edgar Alan Poe.

I was pleased to come across Poem A Day from the Academy of American Poets. On it’s website the Academy describes Poem a Day as follows:

“Poem-a-Day is the original and only daily digital poetry series featuring over 250 new, previously unpublished poems by today’s talented poets each year. Launched in 2006, Poem-a-Day is distributed via email, web, and social media to 500,000+ readers free of charge. The series highlights classic poems on weekends, and weekday poems are accompanied by exclusive commentary and audio by the poets. The series’ weekdays are curated by twelve poets from across the country who have wide-ranging expertise and editorial perspectives. Poet Sherwin Bitsui serves as guest editor for November 2019”, (see https://poets.org/poem-a-day).

As the owner of an Amazon Echo, I thought that I would give the Alexa skill of the same name a try, particularly as the information on Amazon’s website indicates that the poems are voiced by the poets themselves, (see https://www.amazon.com/Academy-of-American-Poets-Poem-a-Day/dp/B07HRGCGH6). However, on asking Alexa to launch Poem A Day, a message is generated stating that the Echo is unable to launch the skill. Having tried to use the Poem A Day skill (without success) for several days, I am unable to recommend the Alexa version of this product. I can, however recommend the web based alternative, available on the Academy of American Poets website.

Being a fan of Edgar Alan Poe’s work, I also tried the Poe Reader, which is available as an Alexa skill from Amazon, (see https://www.amazon.com/worldengine-Edgar-Allan-Poe-Reader/dp/B077KJR5ZP). The Poe Reader enables the user of an Echo to request a random Poe poem or, alternatively a specific poem can be requested.

Whilst I was successful in being able to listen to several Poe poems, including A Dream Within a Dream, on attempting to enjoy The Raven Alexa stopped speaking only a few lines into the poem. This happened several times (and not just with The Raven), which indicates to me that there is a problem with Poe reader.

In conclusion, I would recommend the web based version of Poem A Day from the Academy of American Poets (but not the Alexa skill of the same name). As for Poe Reader, my readers may wish to try out this skill, however, from my experience it is likely to cease voicing mid sentence.

My review of Go Emily, an Alexa skill enabling the user of an Amazon Echo to listen to the poetry of Emily Dickinson

On 1 November, I reviewed The Bell of Amherst, an Alexa skill which enables the user of an Amazon Echo to listen to the poetry of Emily Dickinson, https://kmorrispoet.com/2019/11/01/the-bell-of-amherst-how-best-to-enjoy-the-poetry-of-emily-dickinson/. As you will see from that review, I was disappointed with The Bell. Consequently I enabled Go Emily which, as with The Bell, allows users of the Echo to listen to Dickinson’s work, https://www.amazon.com/Appbly-com-Go-Emily/dp/B01LX3SF9I.

There is, so far as I can ascertain from having used both Go Emily and The Bell of Amherst, no difference between the 2 skills, Indeed, if I where a smoker (which I am not), I would say that one could not put a cigarette paper between them! As with The Bell, Go Emily uses Alexa’s voice to recite Dickinson’s poetry. In addition, both skills close immediately after a single poem has been read, there being no facility for the user to request that a further poem is recited.

Both Go Emily and The Bell of Amherst could be improved by allowing the user to request that a further poem be read, or to ask that a named poem of Dickinson’s be recited.

As with The Bell of Amherst, I am not a huge fan of the Go Emily skill, and, in my view, anyone wishing to enjoy the poetry of Emily Dickinson would be better served by reading one of the collections out there.

Kevin

My review of the British Poetry Alexa skill

Being the owner of an Amazon Echo and a lover of poetry, I recently enabled the Alexa skill of the same name, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adam-Krell-British-Poetry/dp/B07B269592.

The British Poetry Alexa skill enables the user of an Echo to ask that a poem is read. There is also the opportunity to play a game to test your knowledge of British poetry.

Turning first to the read a poem feature, I found this rather hit and miss. For example on asking for a poem by the famous composer of humorous verse, Edward Lear, a poem by Sir Thomas Wyatt was voiced by Alexa. Just how Edward Lear can be equated with Sir Thomas Wyatt astounds me! I had more luck when requesting that a poem by Shakespeare, Wordsworth or William Blake be read. Had British Poetry not found the latter poets I would have disabled the British Poetry skill.

I previously favourably reviewed the My Poems Alexa skill, https://kmorrispoet.com/2019/10/31/my-review-of-my-poems-an-alexa-skill-enabling-the-amazon-echo-user-to-listen-to-poetry/. In that review I commend the fact that the poetry in My Poems is voiced by human actors. Unfortunately this is not the case with the British Poetry Alexa skill.

As regards the facility enabling the user of British Poetry to play a game, I enjoyed using this aspect of the app. The player is read the first few lines of a poem and then asked to say who the poet in question is. There are 3 options to choose from and I must confess to having crossed my fingers on several occasions and made a wild guess as to who the poet in question was!

Whilst (as mentioned above), the facility enabling the user to request that a particular poem is read is rather hit and miss, I did enjoy the game aspect of the British Poetry Alexa skill, and I shall return to play another day. However the My Poems app is, I believe of much more value to the lover of poetry.

Kevin

My review of “My Poems”, an Alexa Skill enabling the Amazon Echo user to listen to poetry

This review is of My Poems, an Alexa skill which can be enabled for the Amazon Echo, enabling the user to listen to poems, and “pin” their favourites for future easy access.

Back in 2018, I purchased and reviewed the Amazon Echo (Second Generation), https://kmorrispoet.com/2018/09/25/my-review-of-the-amazon-echo-second-generation/. The Echo is a versatile device controled by voice, enabling the user to do many things, including listen to music, enjoy audio books from audible.com and check the meaning of words/have them spelt. In addition the user can enable various skills, including the free My Poems app, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Opearlo-My-Poems/dp/B071D96QLW.

As mentioned at the start of this review, My Poems enables the user of an Amazon Echo to listen to poems and pin their Favourites for future easy access. In addition its possible to have a poem repeated and to skip through the poems.

I downloaded My Poems yesterday evening (30 October 2019), and I am enjoying using the app. All of the poems are recorded by actors and thus far I have been impressed by the quality of the readings.

Each time the user hears a poem Alexa gives him/her the opportunity to have it “pinned” to “Favourites”, or to hear another poem. I have already pinned a number of poems and have returned to listen back to them.

On the Amazon website it states that users can request that their poem is added to the My Poems. Whilst it is not entirely clear what this means, I suspect that the user can request that a poem composed by them be added to My Poems, rather than it being a means whereby he/she can ask that a poem (not yet included by, say Shakespeare) be added.

My Poems is an enjoyable way of listening to poetry, and I would recommend to anyone who has access to an Amazon Echo to give it a try.

Kevin

Is your blog accessible to blind computer users?

My thanks to Chris Graham (AKA The Story Reading Ape) https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com, for drawing this article on why much of the internet is inaccessible to blind people to my attention, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-49694453.

As many of you who follow my blog will know, I lost the majority of my eyesight at 18-months-old. I am unable to read print and use software called Job Access with Speech (JAWS), which converts text into speech and braille enabling me to use a Windows computer or laptop. For anyone interested in finding out about JAWS, please follow this link, https://www.freedomscientific.com/products/software/jaws/.

The article linked to above, details a number of problems faced by blind users of the internet, many of which I have experienced whilst navigating the World Wide Web. For example, the piece explains how blind computer users can be faced with unlabelled links on a webpage meaning that what is heard is next to useless. I have myself been faced with a page where JAWS reads “link, link, link”, meaning that the only way in which I can ascertain what the content of a particular link may be is by clicking on said link. This is, obviously a very tedious undertaking and, in many instances I have given up on the site in question and visited a more accessible alternative.

Turning specifically to sites hosted directly on WordPress (such as my own blog), these are, on the whole accessible. For example all the social media sharing buttons on kmorrispoet.com are labelled so anyone using a screen reader such as JAWS will hear “Twitter, Facebook” etc voiced by JAWS. Likewise the comments form is clearly labelled as such meaning that anyone logged into a WordPress account can easily post a comment.

In contrast I have found that many of the self-hosted WordPress sites are not as accessible as those hosted directly on WordPress. For example I often come across unlabelled sharing buttons on self-hosted sites so the only way in which I can determine what the button in question may be, is by actually clicking on it.

Whilst some comments forms on self-hosted sites are labelled with fields such as “comment”, “your name”, “email address”, others are not. In the latter instance the JAWS (or other screen reader user) is forced to guess what each field is or, more often simply to give up on their intention of posting a comment and navigate away from the site/blog in question.

In my experience the vast majority of bloggers care about their readers and wish to ensure that everyone is able to access their sites equally and enjoy the same ability to participate in discussions. However, unless a blogger is themselves blind (or knows a blind screen reader user), its perfectly possible that they have little (if any idea) as to how blind web users access their site/blog.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has links to useful guidance explaining how webmasters can ensure that their sites are accessible to those with site loss. For anyone who is unsure whether their blog and/or website is accessible, you may find it helpful to visit here, https://www.sightadvicefaq.org.uk/independent-living/accessible-website.

Kevin