Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Talk Like A Foreigner

Technical, shmecknical.

So I had this idea. Hey.

Everybody these days has some kind of pocket phone. Smart phones. Smartphones. Carry them everywhere.

You go just about anywhere on the web and you see still photos, you see video clips, you read about apps. People use phones for photos, recording street scenes, and for finding out where they are. Besides calling home every now and then.

They even write blog posts and upload them from, like, wherever they have enough juice left and can get a signal.

And then there's Siri. You've heard about Siri.

Sure, there will be other services like this all too soon, but it got me thinking. Siri isn't just a Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface. Not anymore. And not just a way to kill time when you're lonely and want to hear your phone talk.

Siri is more like a way of approaching reality.

So, jeez, I think, what about travelers?

So then, see, I figure, the next step is some kind of smartphone app that will let you talk to foreigners. Any foreigners. Anywhere.

This could be really handy for travelers and expats.

Way beyond the usual iBooks, TripAdvisors, and cheap flights stuff. Way beyond Siri even. An app to find the next funky cafe is great, but how many travelers need only that?

So I got a copy of "How To Write an iPhone App in 14 Days", registered as a developer, learned Objective C, and got busy. Surprisingly, it all seemed pretty easy, though I went way over the two week limit.

So then, what about testing it?

Well, what's the most culturally diverse city around?

Not Dickinson, ND. It's OK but, honestly, will never win any awards.

Instead I took a vacation and headed to Los Angeles, the Number One Diversity City in the U.S. of A. Right?

And the good news is I didn't even have to leave the airport (they call it LAX down there).

Considering this is inside my own country, it's practically just around the corner.

They have people there. People. Lots of people. Of all kinds. From all over. So I went, and wandered around between flights.

And guess what? My app worked. I pre-recorded some basic phrases, and when I played them for some foreign-looking people, they talked back into the phone.

So far so good. I was on a roll.

Then the phone told me what they were saying.

This was a real eye opener. Here I had spent a bunch of time, learned to program, bought a phone and all ($399.99 for a two-year plan), and these people were putting me down.

What they said was "You know how to talk, don't you? You just open your mouth and make sounds."

Technology meant nothing to them, nothing. And they are probably the most sophisticated bunch of people on the planet, with or without opposable thumbs.


I guess some things you have to do the old-fashioned way, so now I sit on a park bench with a phrase book and listen to people. Sometimes I say the wrong thing and they come over and yell at me, but sometimes I get it right too.

That's when they smile.

And I'm on much better terms now with people in general. I get out of the house more, and I've made some friends. I never had friends before.

Now I have friends.

I kind of like this.


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