Manx with children: Lego

Lego piecesIt’s school holidays so we have to find things to amuse and occupy our son. I’m keen on making sure that the line between using Manx at school is blurred into the home because research suggests that it is possible that children see their second language as being only for use in a school setting.

We try to use Manx in settings where it can be readily and easily applied, like getting dressed, going to the shops, etc. A holiday activity would be building Lego.

Counting and identifying pieces

Count pieces you need in Manx, nane, jees, tree, kiare, quieg, shey, shiaght, hoght, nuy, jeih …

  • Peesh beg – Small piece
  • Peesh mooar – Large piece
  • Peesh ruy – Red piece
  • Peesh gorrym – Blue piece
  • Breek – Brick
  • Hoght peeshyn – Eight pieces
  • Breek kiare-chuilleig – Rectangle brick
  • Breek kiarkyl – Circle brick
  • Kiare taggadyn – Four studs

Building

  • Cur eh ayns shoh – Put it here
  • Cur eh er shen – Put it on there
  • Coontey y taggadyn – Count the studs
  • C’raad t’eh goll? – Where does it go?

Navigating instructions

  • Toshtal dy jesh – Left to right
  • Jeagh er y jalloo – Look at the picture
  • Duillag sniessey – Next page

Feedback

  • Jeant dy mie – well done
  • Yindyssagh – Wonderful
  • Shen eh – That’s it
  • Prowal reesht – Try again

I’m not an expert by any stretch, but if this helps blur the gap between Manx at school and English at home, then it’s all for the good. If you think any of this could be improved, do let me know in the comments.

Amazon are evil, and you’re letting them be

Which tech. company has the biggest impact on our lives? Twitter? Meh, it’s now passé. Facebook? Full of … well, people. Google? It gets you to where you’re going, be it via their Search or Maps. All of the above trade in your data. The biggest risk is your reputation or a surprise Trump election (which hasn’t actually been as bad as we’d thought). Amazon, on the other hand, has real implications on our economy, and we’re allowing it to get more powerful.

Dishonest Customer Service

Their Customer Service is dishonest. Twice I’ve been promised recompense, twice nothing, they’re more keen on getting positive feedback for individual representatives. It makes you wonder where their priorities lie. By measuring the satisfaction with their overly-friendly reps, they’re not actually measuring the effectiveness of their reps. The way to solve this is to ask 5 days or so after contact for feedback, not immediately afterwards, with the representative almost pleading for a positive review as they close the call.

Gig economy to reduce costs

Everything about Amazon is cost. By shaving where they can and investing in what at first appearance looks like ridiculous technology (such as using drones to deliver, starting their own delivery infrastructure) As part of this, they use the gig economy courier Hermes. Hermes themselves save costs by not employing the same level of professional as other couriers. They don’t need that lower layer of distribution. They rely on the gig economy, unprofessional couriers in your area who use their own vehicles and time to meet that last leg of delivery. These people don’t have the same level of checks or rights as an employee. They are measured on successful deliveries, but this is not necessarily guaranteed. Our delivery agent deliberately marks packages as delivered when they haven’t. These people are essentially uncontactable when you miss a package or need to query something, because there is no “hub” or depot you can contact. No accountability.

Aggressive competition

I’m a believer in free market economies and competition can drive prices down and quality/range of service/products up. This is doubtless the case with Amazon. To the point that it has become detrimental to not only those bricks-and-mortar stores that we’re used to hear about struggling (RIP Toys’r’Us and Maplin, hope you can make it Debenhams, John Lewis, Mothercare and the rest), but also other online retailers. Through their “Marketplace” strategy, smaller retailers can supply their goods through the larger Amazon site (saving a tonne in hosting, development, maintenance, security), which is brilliant. Except the terms of that agreement is that retailers often cannot compete with their own position on the Amazon store, resulting in traffic to their own sites declining. It’s now too easy to “Click Once” on Amazon.

My purchases over these last couple of months have been from the retailers themselves, rather than via Amazon. For a few moments extra time to research, it is possible to find the same products with an improved level of attention to customer service. It’s almost embarrassing as a consumer, having follow-ups and almost-pleading messaging on sites to keep you and have you return. So far, I cannot say I’ve had a negative experience.

Overbearing employer

The plight of Amazon workers is well documented. Their rights are minimal, their satisfaction around the same. Huge warehouses with awesome technology looks good, but there is inevitably the need for humans to pick, package and post items. The rights of a worker even reportedly impinges on basic bathroom breaks. Now, they want to track their employees hand movements. Workers also avoid going to the bathroom. This race to the bottom for employees and their rights inevitably means there will be redundancies.

Prime: Pay to Pay

Amazon have managed to create a scheme whereby you pay a subscription to get benefits such as quicker/cheaper postage, films and music streamed, access to e-books, etc. A lot of benefits, for sure. Look deeper and you find it’s not that good a deal. So what if you have to wait an extra day for your package? So what if it costs slightly more, just batch your order. Try finding a film on Amazon Prime, you’ll probably have to pay for it (again). That’s right, you’ve paid £7 a month to pay another £6 for Office Space. Just pay the £7 for the BluRay and keep it. (You know, because they can withdraw that title at any time they like even after you’ve bought/rented it). Work it out. £7 a month is the same as a BluRay/DVD a month you get to keep. They have become so arrogant that they’re willing to lose sales by limiting accessibility to actual disc content to Prime subscribers. Then we get to the confusion between Amazon Prime Music and Amazon Music Unlimited.

Alexa

Only 5 years ago, if you’d have been offered a gadget that listens to every word you say and now even has a camera next to your bed, you’d express concern. Apparently, not now. We are definitely in a data economy, whereby companies are competing for our data. Now we are paying money to put gadgets into our homes to give these companies even more data. What is the real benefit here? A few gimmicks such as “Daily briefing” or home automations are less than convincing. It’s not even particularly good, with requirement to use “trigger phrases” and structured questions so we’re still a long way away from natural language recognition. Every demo I’ve had of Alexa has ended up with failed requests and frustration.

Jeff Bezos is now approaching richest man status and is literally going to go to space on your money. From what was a really useful source for text books at university has turned into the default choice for sourcing and buying products. It is globalisation on a micro-scale. Bricks-and-mortar stores, other online retailers and employees have already started to accept their loss. They’ve used supposed competition to build out the infrastructure but who ultimately suffers? You, the consumer. The fact you haven’t realised it yet is a bonus.

Would the last user of Windows Mobile please turn out the lights? (2/3)

If you haven’t arrived here from what brought me here, you might want to start there.

Without rehashing what came before, in leaving Windows Phone I find myself at odds with my ecosystem and being pulled back in to Google’s data black hole.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Windows and what it was/could have been. UWP and Windows 10 and x86 apps on ARM are exciting. I dislike Android and respect myself too much to buy in to Apple.

Call me old-school. But I can’t be alone. For a phone, I just want it to be fast, good looking, be easy to use (so a physical keyboard) and be reliable and secure. The industry is careering towards exactly the opposite. Apps suck battery power and require Octa-core performance, all phones I can see are just slabs, no phones (bar one) have a physical keyboard instead relying on increasingly “smart” (annoying) autocorrecting on-screen keyboards and the most secure platforms (Windows Mobile, BlackBerry) are essentially dead in the water. Even the respected brands for build quality and security, Nokia and BlackBerry, have failed and are now retooling as façade-brands whilst the same Far-Eastern-manufacturing-factory-drones as everyone is using are charged with trying to maintain the trust, build quality and heritage of former platforms – but cheaper, much cheaper.

So, I switched.

The industry has failed me, producing nothing interesting, differentiating or exciting. It’s all just a bunch of black slabs differentiated only by the marketing wrapped around what is otherwise the same phone.

Except, maybe BlackBerry. BlackBerry have moved to Android (probably a smart move) and they’ve tried to transition the established trust they have developed in their brand (key of which is security) towards what is the most insecure platform available for mobile phones. They’ve sort of succeeded, too. Add on a physical keyboard and you get to the BlackBerry Priv. Alas, it looks like this was the first and last phone users could trust for build quality, as their production is now handled by the same Far-Eastern-manufacturing-factory-drone previously mentioned. But this isn’t a Priv review.

But, it’s a struggle.

I don’t know how you people manage on this platform.

  • No Live Tiles. Widgets and tiny overlays on a grid of icons just don’t come close
  • You have to turn your screen on to see the time, no ‘Glance screen’
  • Fussy, inconsistent UI. Notifications about everything, delivered inconsistently. Only sometimes do I get told of my email, more often I get told I unplugged my headphones (yeah, I know, because I just did it with my own hands)
  • I’ve had to reboot every day. Rebooting was almost unheard of with Windows Phone 8.1, though became a regular requirement for Windows 10 – but not daily.
  • Things just stop working. APN settings, my primary email account four BlackBerry Hub. Then, they start working again.
  • Settings, settings, settings, everywhere. With great configurability comes great confusion.

About that Priv …

  • Poor screen in daylight. Almost invisible.
  • The radios (particularly Wifi and Mobile Internet) aren’t that great. I seemed to get better reception for both on my Windows Phones.
  • Headphone socket on the bottom of the phone. Even worse, just to one side. Result is I have to put my phone in my pocket upside down to listen on headphones and can’t expect to extract it without the lining of my pocket.
  • Going back to wired charging is like going back in time. And Micro USB to boot.
  • But, …
    • It is secure. So secure I had to factory reset when I locked myself out after forgetting my unlock pattern!
    • The slide is reminiscent of the old Nokia N95-2 (one of my favourites)
    • The BlackBerry software is neat, particularly the Hub. All the things in one inbox. It’s how I like to work. One app to rule them all, and in the inbox combine them.

Next job, trying to recreate my Microsoft ecosystem comfort zone, in someone else’s world

Would the last user of Windows Mobile please turn out the lights? (3/3)

Where am I? Read about how I got here.

Here I am in someone else’s platform. I need to migrate over to Android from Windows Mobile but retain the Microsoft ecosystem that has served me so well. Windows Central recently wrote their own piece on what is fast becoming a frequent task, but that was for switching to iPhone. This is my version, for Android.

Install the Microsoft apps

Microsoft have been busy building for everyone else’s platform whilst their own platform burned. Often, these apps were even better than the Windows Mobile equivalent. Nice. Kick your users whilst they’re down.

There are a tonne of apps available for Microsoft users, and I’ve focused on Office 365 and some consumer apps:

  • Microsoft Outlook
  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Office Lens
  • Microsoft OneDrive
  • Skype
  • Groove (though it can’t read music on your SD card!)
  • XBox

I also included the MSN News apps, but quickly realised that without Live Tiles, I don’t have the same pull in to the app.

There’s actually an app “Microsoft Applications” which lists all Microsoft’s applications that can be installed. Well worth a look.

Reacquaint myself with Cortana

A feature I always used on my Lumias was Cortana. She was awesome. Excellent speech recognition, fast, clutter free and integrated in my ecosystem. Android has a Cortana app (one of my red lines) so I was hoping we could reacquaint with each other fairly fast.

Alas, she’s just not the same. She hasn’t got the same over-lock-screen access, she’s a little less available to my fingers and she doesn’t talk to me anymore. (I miss her “Wa-wa-waa”)

Sharing to other apps

Other than that, she’s been fine with everything I’ve thrown at her. She also notifies me on my Windows 10 desktop, as she used to with my Lumia 950 XL. I am counting on Cortana filling that gap between my phone and my ecosystem. She does still let me send text messages from my Windows 10 desktop, but the first message will likely fail because she needs permission.

How it’s working out …

  • I am really liking the Share contract that lets me select Share from any app and select which app should receive the Share. (Another feature killed from Windows Phone).
  • My weekly shopping trip using OneNote as a live-synced Shopping List still works. With the Recent Notes Home Screen widget, it’s actually easier. But the syncing isn’t as slick as Windows Mobile. There is no feedback to the user to indicate that a sync is in progress or that a sync has finished and what the changes are.
  • Microsoft Outlook doesn’t seem to be able to manage my Contacts, which is disappointing considering my primary repository is my Microsoft Account.
  • I’m really liking the keyboard. Much of this blog was written on a physical mobile phone keyboard. Finally, I have freedom from my desktop to perform equivalent actions. No need for Continuum, either.
  • Android Pay is awesome. I don’t think I’ll every use my card again. It’s so slick you actually doubt that the payment has worked and walking off feels far too like being a thief. Microsoft have Microsoft Wallet, but of course (with many things Microsoft), it’s only available in the US.

 


Ironically, Microsoft have gone to the effort of writing an app, “Switch to Windows Phone“. Perhaps they would have been better creating an app, “Switch from Windows Phone” to try and match what users loved from their own platform but with some degree of confidence in the longevity of the platform.

 

Would the last user of Windows Mobile please turn out the lights? (1/3)

Nokia Lumias 920, 930, 950 XLOk, I’ve finally given up the good fight. I tried, I evangelised, I contributed development effort, I bought 5 phones; but one man on an island cannot save Microsoft’s total lack of effort or enthusiasm for their own mobile strategy. I was an island on an island.

I’ve endured mockery, lack of support from broadcasters, companies and governments, absence of interest in support from peripherals (try to find a pair of headphones that has inline controls that work on a Microsoft Mobile phone); now even my partner has left (not me, the platform).

What went wrong?

App -gap. I’m not a fan of “apps”. They’re expensive to develop, inconsistent to use and difficult to support. Until the industry realises that the world’s best and most compatible app has always been available (it’s called a well written site on the internet), we’re stuck with native apps and companies who develop on one should develop on them all – or leave a percentage of customers (Windows Mobile) in the cold. Unless your app has good reason to be native, such as games or requiring access to hardware, all you’re doing is replicating what your mobile site is probably already doing – but worse. As app developers came and went, the reason to stay reduced. It was SmartThings what done it, in the end.

Windows 10. Windows 10 was an abomination when it first landed on our computers. Every aspect of its launch was a botch. Overly aggressive deployments of an operating system that was clearly not ready for market do nothing to help users. The idea is a grand one, and one which is appreciated, but some things must remain stable and reliable. Windows 10 is essentially always in beta. It’s much better now (though still wide of the mark of what Windows 7/8.1 was), but that first public version was Vista-in-miniature. The effect on hardware that demands performance and reliability, mobile phones, was even more acute. Older phones were left out in the cold, effectively abandoned; battery life suffered and apps were downright buggy. Yet, the Universal Windows Platform is awesome and very exciting for developers – but why are people like SmartThings not even bothering despite its benefits and ease of development? It’s a vacuum into which Google will fit with its Chromebooks.

Microsoft. I’ve often said there can be no greater curse on a Microsoft product than Microsoft itself (Silverlight, Windows Media Centre). They create awesome platforms and applications which identify key user requirements, yet successfully damage and burn their own products. Windows Phone launched in an aggressive marketplace and had to stand out, and it did. Not always in a positive way, but that would be improved, it brought a unique experience to the market: Live tiles, deep social media integration, Groups, Rooms, Kids Corner, Apps Corner, the list goes on. As the platform struggled, instead of doubling down and making a big deal of these unique selling points, each of these was strategically extinguished. Now, what used to be a unique platform with limited uptake has become yet-another-hamburger-menu platform with an even more limited uptake.

Nadella. Since Satya Nadella took over Microsoft, there has been a fundamental shift in Microsoft’s strategy, and one which is both welcome and exciting. Open-sourcing of Microsoft code with contribution from the community, free development products and cross-platform support of key Microsoft assets such as Office, SQL Server and Visual Studio have all been welcomed by the industry, even by the haters. But it is unfathomable when the apps developed for Android and iOS are better and updated more frequently than on their own platform. They are subscribing to the very same logic that has cursed the Windows Store: there’s not enough people to warrant the development effort.

Of the 10 people I know who have used Windows Phone/Mobile, only one remains with the platform, and I don’t suspect that is down to choice alone.

And now, I’ve left too. I held out, through the Nokia purchase (Nokia phones were always awesome, even before they were involved in Windows Phone), through the marked decline in product quality as Microsoft took hold of the Lumia line and into the “nothing to share” phase; waiting, always waiting for that distant Surface Phone to be realised into an actual product. But why? They want to redefine the Mobile platform, but when and how? All we have to look at is a patent filing. I’m not interested in a foldable phone, or a phone that is a hologram or anything else. I want a phone that works. If a Surface Phone was released tomorrow (or more likely, at this year’s MWC), there would still be a lack of support for it. It’s already dead.

So, I have chosen

Ned Maddrell lecture 2016: Bringing up a child through a minority language

The Ned Maddrell lecture this year was as high a calibre as any previous and just as thought provoking. The subject this year was particularly close to my heart, based on the research of Dr Cassie Smith-Christmas titled “The Affective Landscape of Intergenerational Language Transmission: A Case Study of a Scottish Gaelic-Speaking Family”. (You know it’s going to be a good research project when you see the word “affective” in the title.)

The talk was principally about how a minority language such as Gaidhlig could be used within the family to support the language passing on to future generations through the children in the family starting to learn and use the language. The subject is close to my heart, I’m planning on sending my own son to the Manx-Gaelic immersive-learning school, Bunscoill Ghaelgagh.

Dr. Smith-Christmas stayed with a Gaidhlig-speaking family and was able to record conversations which on the surface appear to be mundane but revealed how children adopt a minority language, even though it isn’t natural or easy. There were a number of takeaways from the lecture I can share.

  • Don’t let the use of the minority language become associated with authority. These can be quite easy situations to avoid. If there are authority figures in the home speaking in the minority language or if the only uses of the language become disciplinary.
  • “Recast” (a word Dr. Smith-Christian used I quite liked) the child’s words or sentences in the minority language, without judgement. Dr. Smith-Christian illustrated this with a transcript of her subject child using the Gaidhlig word “clach” for rock instead of English within an otherwise English sentence. I find this works well, particularly with nouns (for myself being able to be fast enough to recast, rather than expecting a response in the minority language.)
  • Going hand in hand with avoiding relating the use of the minority language in disciplinary or authoritarian modes, maintaining an association with the language being fun is important. Dr. Smith-Christian showed us another delightful exchange within her subject family where the child counted in Gaidhlig, again within an otherwise English sentence. I’ve found my son also loves to count things and it’s a great way to keep things fun. Meanwhile they can be learning advanced concepts such as mutations, plurals and pronunciation.
  • Children’s use of the minority language, even when a community is lucky enough to have an immersive teaching environment, is often limited to school and to authority figures such as teachers. When children socialise, they tend to use  a more liquid language such as English which is widely understandable and readily accepted across groups of friends. Therefore, reinforcement of the language outside of school is needed to help blur the lines of where the language can be heard or used. After-school clubs with similar social groups are an ideal opportunity for this.

The opportunity to learn this language transmission, both as a student of Manx-Gaelic and as a parent, was invaluable particularly as there are scant resources on the internet to help answer some of the inevitable questions that pepper a parent’s role.

The Lecture

Q&A afterwards

Post-Lecture Interview