Is Siri riding a Dragon?

Goldman Sachs and the $580 Million Black Hole

This is an amazing piece of history by Loren Feldman at the New York Times and it’s not just about Goldman Sachs, it’s also about Dragon Systems (founded and run by Janet and Jim Baker), the inventors of Dragon Naturally Speaking, one of the first continuous speech to text dictation systems on any computer.

Goldman was hired ($5 million) to broker the sale of Dragon which eventually got sold in 1999 for stock only to a Belgian company, Lernout & Hauspie (L&H).

L&H collapsed soon after the sale and the Bakers were left with nothing, they even lost the technology they invented.

The lawsuit claims that Goldman didn’t do due diligence and had a troubled past with L&H that should have made them wary of a sale.

No doubt Goldman should be sued although it’s easy to pile on because of all the other bad things that have come to light about Goldman in the past few years. The problem is, the Bakers agreed to the stock only deal and could have walked away from it. It will no doubt be argued that Goldman didn’t do its job and that’s true, but the Bakers had final say on any deal and they took a bad one (that Goldman misrepresented to them).

As someone who’s been extremely interested in both synthetic speech and speech to text technology for over twenty years, I’ve followed Dragon closely and I was aware that the Dragon sale had been problematic as this case has been around for a while.

Dragon Dictate was never built for the Mac (it does exist as a free app for iOS: Dragon Dictation) and the various Macintosh equivalents were never as good but even if it had been built I doubt I would have embraced it; it required hours of training and was a clunky system. Now that Apple has put both dictation and control (commands) into the iPhone and iPad and no doubt, eventually the Macintosh I can say that I love it and use it all the time. It’s a beautiful implementation of this technology that requires no training (except us learning how to deal with Siri) and it works extremely well.

This paragraph from the end of the article should be interesting to any Apple follower:

Dragon Systems, the Bakers’ “third child,” was put up for sale at a bankruptcy auction. Visteon acquired some of Dragon’s technology. ScanSoft bought the bulk of it and went on to become a $7 billion giant, with a licensing deal with Apple. (The Bakers believe that some of their technology made its way into Siri.) ScanSoft later acquired — and assumed the name of — Nuance, another voice technology company.

It will be interesting to see if the trial, set for November 6th in Boston digs through the code in Siri and tries, for whatever reason, to show a genealogical relationship between Dragon and Apple.

State of the art British synthetic speech

My friend David Niemeijer has been working on some new synthetic voices and they’re quite amazing: British Children’s Voices. Play the New Harry voice and the new Rosie voice, you’ll be impressed.

Text to speech or synthetic speech has really come a long way. These voices are as good or better than Siri which is state of the art for text to speech.

David is the developer behind AssistiveWare which makes assistive technology products for the Macintosh, iPad, and iPhone for people with a variety of special access needs. These new voices are built into various products.

The many voices of Siri

Siri is built into the iPhone 4S and can speak and understand English (US, UK, AU), French, German, and Japanese with more languages to be added in 2012 including Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Spanish. Here’s more information about Siri.

As an iPhone 4S user I must say I use Siri all the time and while it’s not perfect (it’s still in beta) it really does make things easier.

My wife Anne just got a new iPad and while it does not include Siri, it does have dictation capabilities and it works quite well.

I think Siri and dictation make the use of multi-touch tools like the iPhone and iPad not only easier but fun.

[via Zapong]

The spirit of Steve Jobs lives in Apple products

How about a nice Easter egg in Siri exemplifying that the spirit of Steve Jobs lives in every apple product:

Question for Siri: “Where does Steve Jobs live?”

Siri answer: “Steve Jobs lives in iCloud.”

Next time you query Siri:

Question for Siri: “Where does Steve Jobs live?”

Siri answer: “Steve Jobs lives in iPhone.”


Apple iPhone 4S Siri demo

Today Apple released the new iPhone 4S which looks similar to the iPhone 4 on the outside but has a new processor, antennae, and more. It will be running the new iOS 5 which will also run on iPhone 4s and 3GS models.

I didn’t see or track today’s big announcement from Tim Cook at Apple but it seems to me that the new iPhone 4S’s power will be essential for running the Siri Assistant. I can’t wait to use Siri, it looks fantastic.

Here’s Apple’s page for Siri.

Note that Siri isn’t just about control, it also does dictation. This is extremely meaningful to the disabilities community as well as those of us who find the iPhone’s on screen keyboard tough. I can’t wait for Siri to move onto the iPad and Mac OSX.

Tips for presenters

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARichard Wanderman presenting at the Closing the Gap Conference, Minneapolis, MN.

I wrote this in 2002 as I was winding down a 20 year consulting and presenting career. I thought it might still be useful for those of you who have to make a presentations now and then, or, are considering making a career of it.

I’ve been presenting and leading workshops, mostly on technology and learning disabilities for the past 18 years. In the process I’ve done quite a bit of travel both domestically and internationally, presented to all kinds of groups both small and large, done all-day sessions and 20 minute keynotes, and worked with a variety of people facilitating my work (the folks who hire me). I’d like to thank Caroline Musselewhite and Connie Munroe for encouraging me to post this list and for helping me fine tune it. If you present or hire presenters and have things to add to this list I’d love to hear from you. Lastly, please feel free to copy and/or use this list in any way that you’d like. It is my hope that it will help both those of us who present and those of you who hire the likes us us.

For Presenter/Consultant

  • Has the person hiring seen you present? If no, how did they find out about you?
  • Make sure that expectations aren’t out of line with what you can do.
  • Discuss terms: topic, date, fee (including travel), AV, logistics.
  • Make sure you have accurate contact information for event coordinator, airport pickup person (if different) and anyone else involved.
  • What will happen if event is canceled? Plane ticket? Notification?
  • Typical travel includes: plane, long term airport parking, hotel, food (per diem or other), taxi and/or car rental. Confirm with contract.
  • Reserve hotel room (facilitator or presenter?). Make sure someone does it.
  • Buy plane ticket. Confirm itinerary with facilitator BEFORE buying a non-refundable ticket.
  • Handouts? Who will copy them?
  • Airport to hotel? How? Who will arrange?
  • Hotel to presentation? How? Who will arrange?
  • Presentation to hotel or airport? How? Who will arrange?
  • Introduction? Do they need a bio? Supply it or have it on the web.
  • AV needs: microphone, projector and screen, power strip, etc. Be very specific.
  • Invoice? Where to send and when paid?
  • Presentation feedback? How?

For Faciliator

  • How did you find out about presenter? If you have not personally seen them is the way you found out about them reliable? If you have personally seen them are you sure they are going to do what you expect? Be clear about what you want and expect.
  • The best way to know what you’re getting in a speaker is to hear them do the same talk you want them to do at a similar event.
  • If you have a fixed date be sure to call the speaker well ahead of time to make sure they have the date available. A year’s lead time is not unheard of for popular speakers.
  • Popular speakers are on the road a lot and the preferred way to make initial contact for many is email. However, a phone conversation is important as a way to varify details.
  • Things to discuss in the first phone call: speaking fee and appoximate travel costs, dates, content, who is the audience, AV, logistics.
  • Keep notes and a checklist of who, what when.
  • Make sure you’ve given all contact information for yourself to presenter.
  • Make sure you have all contact information for presenter: full name, address, phone, fax, email, and social security number.
  • Reserve presentation room.
  • Get all information from presenter for advertising: bio, workshop description, picture.
  • Handouts? Who copies and pays for them?
  • Ask presenter about company affiliations. Are there rules about this?
  • Arrange lunch, either on their own or brought in.
  • Check site for: bathrooms, accessibility, smoking areas, places for signage and registration, contact person, AV person, what time does site open and who to call if there’s a problem.
  • Registration information. Full Contact information on registrants in case of change or cancellation.
  • Send out map and/or directions on how to get to event to all participants confirming registration and making sure they know where it is.

General Contract and Logistical Considerations for Everyone to Think About

  • If an event is cancelled by either presenter or facilitator, what happens? Does the presenter have to eat a non-refundable plane ticket or the fee to re-use the ticket?
  • What happens if there is a snowstorm at either end of the trip?
  • What happens if a presenter misses a connection (plane) and can’t arrive on time?
  • What happens when a presenter holds a date (and rejects other work on that date) but the facilitator let’s the event slip so the trip is cancelled and the presenter is left with days which could have been working days?
  • What happens when the facilitator holds a date, makes all the arrangements, sends out fliers, and has 1000 people coming and then, at the last minute the presenter backs out for any reason?
  • What happens when the presentation does not go well for any reason? Sometimes it’s a bad day for the presenter. Sometimes there are AV problems. Sometimes the audience is restless or hostile… Has everyone thought about this?
  • What happens when an invoice is not paied on time, correctly, or at all?

Presentation Considerations

  • Never do anything or say you can do anything you can’t. Only talk about and show what you know, well.
  • Present on topics you know extremely well and are comfortable with.
  • Get your own equipment. Presenting from your own laptop makes you look better since you can control everything. Buying a projector is a bit much (I never did it) but get your own portable computer; it will make life a lot easier.
  • Rehearse. Experience is everything. The more you give the same workshop the better you’ll become at giving it (providing you’re conscious of whats going on).
  • Choose workshop names with care: cute names may seem like a good idea at the time, but may not be clear to the audience. Clear and concise workshop names and descriptions allow people to make a clear choice and attend the workshop they want.
  • Describe what you plan to cover up front so that participants know where you’re going.
  • Learn how to deal with nerves.
  • Learn how to handle getting lost and forgetting where you are (literally and figuratively).
  • Have water accessible, even for a short talk.
  • Use props and keep them easily accessible.
  • Wear comfortable clothes. don’t be intimidated into wearing a suit (and tie if you’re a guy) if you don’t want to.
  • don’t be defensive and don’t argue (the audience is always right, even when theyre wrong).
  • Allow for questions. Control discussion. Tell stories to illustrate ideas and to entertain.
  • Get to the site early and greet people informally as they enter the room. This will keep you busy in conversation until you have to talk, and make the transition into your talk less harsh and scary.
  • Ask the audience questions, even if the questions are rhetorical. This takes the focus off of you for a second and allows you to respond rather than simply talk.

Audience Considerations

  • Left handed people? Augmenting the interface? Take care of this before you turn the computer on.
  • Make sure the most experienced people are sitting next to the least experienced people.
  • Make sure the audience can hear and see you.
  • Deal with ergonomic considerations: glare, wheelchairs, etc. the best you can.
  • If you’re doing a hands-on workshop have participants stand up from time to time to relax and rest.
  • If you’re doing a lecture, make sure to vary what you do to change pace and keep people awake. If you use PowerPoint or some other slide software make sure that some of the action is not on the screen (otherwise, you’re just a narrator).
  • Make clear what the assumed level of the workshop is (in literature and in the beginning of the workshop). Teach to the lowest common denominator of the stated level of the group. If it is an advanced workshop, teach to the least experienced advanced person.
  • If people come in late, don’t interrupt the workshop for them. Be polite, help them find a seat, and keep going. If theres a break, gather them around you and help them catch up.
  • Allow time for discussion and questions, no matter how large the group. If discussion gets heated, don’t be defensive, acknowledge the other viewpoint and tell them that you’d like to continue the discussion later but you have to move on now.

Equipment Considerations

  • The equipment and software you are using should be completely familiar to you.
  • Test your workshop software on a variety of machines. You may have a lab made up of different kinds of machines which may mean that your software wont work the same on all machines.
  • Get to the workshop site early (the day before for complex setups). If possible make a master hard disk of the workshop software and overwrite the hard disks on participant machines. This seems harsh, but this way you know what youve got. It is important for you to be aware of and in control of what is happening technically.
  • Try to make the presenters machine match the workshop machines so that what gets projected is what participants will see on their screens. If this is not possible, explain the difference in the beginning because participants will get lost if you don’t.
  • If you’re using a projector make sure any screen saving or power conservation software is turned off on your projected machine. That way if you stop using it for a while the projector won’t lose the video feed from the computer.
  • If you like to move around a lot when you speak and must use a microphone for a large group, make sure you ask for a clip on wireless mic (lavalier). If you use one of these, make sure you mute, turn it off, or take it off when you take breaks. Numerous presenters have left these mics on during breaks and have visited the restroom… It’s not a pretty sound and can be quite humiliating when you re-enter the presentation roomn.

Space Considerations

  • Find out how to work the lighting and thermostat in the room.
  • If you’re using projection equipment, make sure everyone can see the screen.
  • Keep the presenters station out of the way of the projection device.
  • Keep wires and cables out of sight and out of the way.
  • Use an external speaker so that people can hear your machine if sound is important.

Time Considerations

  • Quality not quantity.
  • Pace yourself. Always allow more time than you think you need. Allow time for breaks and questions and answers. don’t be scared of filling long amounts of time.

Travel Considerations

  • Always have two copies of software and anything else that is of significant importance to your workshop, and pack them in separate places: carry one on, check the other.
  • Airport x-ray machines do not hurt magnetic media (disks, hard disks, computers, etc.). You can safely run any of these through the x-ray machine. Some say that the magnets in the motors that drive the conveyor belts will hurt your media but Ive been sending everything through for over 15 years without ever losing one bit. You’re better off sending it through than having someone hand-check it.
  • I usually put my laptop to sleep so I can easily wake it up if a security person wants to make sure it’s a real computer. This also makes it easier to do work on hte plane or in a waiting area. Most modern hard disks park their heads during sleep so there’s no danger of a head crash as there was in the old days.
  • Consider shipping handouts and other bulky, heavy items to the hotel or site of the workshop. That way you can travel without the added weight. Give them plenty of time to arrive.
  • Tips for Buying Plane Tickets
  • To get best domestic US fares: 21 day advance purchase with a Saturday stayover.
  • To get the best overseas fares: 5 days before return.
  • Sometimes fares are lower when you add a leg that’s on sale. Check into making a loop instead of a round trip. For example: Hartford to San Francisco, round trip is sometimes more expensive than Hartford, San Francisco, LA, Hartford. Check it out.
  • Is there a plan in your contract for a cancelled trip? What happens to a non-refundable plane ticket if the presenter gets sick? The audience doesn’t materialize and the event is cancelled? 9/11?

Final Thoughts

  • Use humor. Not only does the audience appreciate a break in hearing about technical things, but itll make you feel more relaxed too.
  • Keep things simple and under control. Get right to the edge and you’re bound to have problems (Murphys Law).
  • Doing a great workshop is an art and when you can make it all come together for the audience and for yourself youve really accomplished something. Take some credit for a job well done, relax a while, then plan how you can make the next workshop even better.