Tag Archives: technology

Recently read: Small Change

Money, money, money. Unless we return to bartering I believe it will stay with us and be an important part of our lives for a long time. And with it the question how to spend it wisely. Via Tim Harford I came across an interesting book about just that topic:

While it didn’t teach me as much new as I had hoped it reminded me of a few things and gave me a few things to think about, namely:

  • The importance of seeing the money you’re spending, also called the pain of spending money. In our modern world more and more of our money is spent cashless, you don’t really see the money disappearing from your wallet, so you don’t feel the pain as much. While certainly convenient (and I use it all the time) it makes it much easier to lose sight of how much you’re spending (which at least partially is intended, as it gets you to spend more).
  • Opportunity costs. If you spend £4 on a coffee/tea/hot chocolate, what are you not spending (or saving up to) it for? If you spend an hour on Facebook/Twitter/othersocialmedia, what are you not doing instead (e.g. writing a blog post like this)? What can you not buy/do by spending money or time or something? What is more important to you?

Neither of these were new to me, I had either read about them before elsewhere or learned about them during my education. But they were good reminders of things to think about more. In particular opportunity costs I think about much more now.

Other readers might learn other things or be reminded of other things from the book. I think it’s a good read, well worth the money (it might pay for itself if you learn something from it…).

The Bennie Railplane of Milngavie near Glasgow, Scotland

The things you find when browsing the interweb on a Sunday morning. Via a post on vowe dot net about the Google Arts & Culture app I found the Google Arts & Culture site, where in turn I came across this picture of a Railplane trial line near Glasgow. I was intrigued.

A quick search helped me to find out this was the Bennie Railplane. It of course reminds a bit of the famous Wuppertal Schwebebahn. While sadly it wasn’t a success and almost nothing physical remains of it today there are at least three videos of it in action, first from the National Library of Scotland:

Second a short video on British Pathé:

Third a longer documentary also on British Pathé:

A few links to further information:

Certainly a very interesting invention, must have looked very futuristic back in the 1930s. Well, it wasn’t meant to be.

The drone hit that almost certainly wasn’t

A few days ago the press was full with reports about a drone allegedly hitting a plane (see BBC, Telegraph, Guardian). The reports all called for tighter regulations, more controls, they predicted dire scenarios of planes crashing if nothing was done, yet hidden in the articles it was also is mentioned that the plane was ‘believed to be hit’ and that no debris off a drone had been found. In other words, there was no proof of a hit.

I was sceptical of the reports when they first surfaced for a number of reasons. To start with the reports indicated that there was little or no damage to the plane which contradicts the claims of dire consequences should a plane be hit. Surely if the plane had been hit there would have been damage? Next the reported height of 1700 feet when the plane was hit. While not technically impossible it is quite difficult to reach such heights with a standard consumer drone. The newer models of the DJI Phantom (a picture of which is usually used to illustrate the reports) all have built-in height restrictions below the levels indicated in this report and many other sightings. Admittedly these can be hacked and overwritten, also older models don’t have this restriction. However, the ability to reach and maintain such heights is severely limited by in particular the battery capacity of the drones. If if a consumer drone was to reach these heights it almost certainly would only be able to remain at that level for less than a minute before having to descend or even descend automatically to ensure a safe landing with enough battery capacity.

Then the calls for tighter regulations including an US style drone registry. To start with there is already regulation requiring drone operators to only fly at safe heights and not near any airports. I firmly believe that the majority of people flying a drone will follow those rules, but as with pretty much anything there will always be some idiots will break the rules and ruin it for everyone (just think of the people driving vastly in excess of the speed limit or texting while driving, which in many cases has led to deathly accidents). A drone registry would only be helpful if any identifiable debris of a drone had been found, otherwise what would you look for to identify the owner? In this case nothing had been found so there was nothing to identify.

Now the first reports are starting to surface that the alleged hit might not have happened at all or that the alleged drone might have been a plastic bag. There was no damage to the plane at all, not even a dent. Still no debris has been found. All this indicates that almost certainly there was no strike, most likely not even a drone.

Transport Minister Robert Goodwill in my eyes reacts very sensibly and seems to have a very good understanding of the situation. Tighter rules won’t stop terrorists and will only have a limited impact on reckless idiots (see the earlier mentioned speeding and texting). The technical limitations of a drone (e.g. battery capacity) will make it much more likely for terrorists to use other, simpler means to achieve their goals. Of course there should be continued education about the rules and safe flying for all drone users as well as punishment for reckless idiots, but both of that is already happening as various press reports indicate.

Update on my speech recognition software test

Two weeks ago I wrote that I was testing speech recognition software. Back then I said I was going to report back in approximately four weeks, turns out I made my decision much quicker. As I was pleasantly surprised how well the trial was going I have purchased a full version of Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium now.

While not perfect I’m very impressed how well the software is working and recognising what I am telling it. Of course there are a few problems, especially around place names on Islay (although I managed to teach it to recognise Islay quite quickly) and a few other things, but I’m confident that over time this will improve. Also I feel that I haven’t fully learned and explored the various capabilities beyond just writing text but to operate the computer the software has.

Again and again I’m finding opportunities for the speech recognition software to make my life easier. One example is writing my shopping list: I’m using Google Keep for my shopping list. After creating the blank shopping list I just go into the kitchen, check what I need and dictate the things I need without having to sit down at the laptop to type it.

Writing this entry I’m also hardly touching the keyboard, instead I’m leaning back sipping a Bruichladdich Islay single malt whisky while letting the thoughts flow. Very nice and relaxing.

A quick thanks to vowe, who inspired me to test the software after his positive experiences when he used it to keep writing after breaking his hand.

Testing speech recognition software

Recently I have experimented with speech recognition software on my Android phone. I have only used it for short sentences but found it quite useful. It allowed me to easily write short updates and Tumblr posts.

Encouraged by those small successes I have now decided to try it on my laptop. I have now installed Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium on my laptop (the trial version for now) to see how useful it is on the laptop. I’m actually speaking this entry instead of typing it. I have to make some minor corrections but it recognises almost everything correctly.

I don’t think I am faster than I am with typing but over time I think it will actually be quite helpful. Nevertheless, I’m using the trial version for now, in a months time I will make a decision if I am going to pay for the full licence.

Having only used it for a couple of hours now I’m quite encouraged with how well it is working so far. It’s a different way of writing but I think it could save me time in the long run. While I can type reasonably fast speaking is still much faster. What’s different is that I have to think in complete sentences, when typing I can think in fragments and complete or change sentences later.

That’s all for today, I’ll probably post an update in about a month or so.