Tag Archives: app

The Dudes Do ATIA 2013: Day 2 – Of Schedules, Starbucks, and Support

Having a Master’s degree may qualify you to practice as a Speech Pathologist or Special Educator but it doesn’t prepare you for one of life’s trickiest of tasks: planning your schedule at a conference [1]. If you have a Ph.D. in Cryptography or 20 years of Project Management experience, you might just be able to get through two days before everything falls apart and you end up crying into your cocktail at the pool bar. Otherwise the best strategy is to walk into any room at random and when the session ends, follow a group into another. Given that 75% of all the sessions at a conference are going to contain information you’ll find useful, statistically speaking you’re likely to find the random approach very productive.

However, this year, the folks at ATIA  made it really easy to keep track of your time by offering a free mobile app for Android and Apple platforms. You could also use a web-based version but that has been available before – and it’s the app version that’s more useful while wandering around the conference hall. Unlike some folks who seem to be happy to carry around a bag the size of a small car, I’m more inclined to adopt a minimalist approach and try to carry as little as possible. This means my wallet (back right-hand pocket), trusty Droid 3 (front left-hand pocket), fountain pen of the day (front right-hand pocket), and bright red Quo Vadis notebook (carried). And this year, instead of stuffing sheets of paper with session information into my notebook, I downloaded the ATIA app to my Droid and all was well!

ATIA 2013 app feedback

ATIA 2013 app feedback

The feedback on the app shows that most folks have it on an iPad, then iPhone, and finally an Android. It would have been nice if the feedback had offered a “No sir, I don’t like it” rather than the biased “Tell us what you like it on” but presumably the reasoning is that folks who don’t like it won’t use it. Still, maybe next time…

There was another amazing piece of Assistive Technology I stumbled across for the first time this year; the Starbucks vending machine! OK, so maybe you don’t count this as “assistive technology” but it certainly helped me.

Starbucks AT

Starbucks AT

All you do is pop a cup under the spigot, swipe a credit card or debit card, press a few buttons, and out pops a cup of Starbucks’ java without the need to talk to a human being. Or in the case of the Caribe Royale Conference Center, without the need to get into a car, head out of the hotel, take two right turns, drive about a mile, and pull up at the nearest actual Starbucks store.

The exhibit hall was busy during the morning. As might be expected, it was awash with tablets, all looking surprisingly the same as everyone and their dog joins in the frenzy to create the “next great AAC app” which looks just like the “last great AAC app.” And in an effort to adapt tablets to do the job of a dedicated AAC device, you can now attach an array of “peripherals” that are doing a great job of completely destroying the idea that having an iPad “makes you look like everyone else.” By the time you’ve bought a box to fit it in, speakers to make it louder, an interface box to add a switch, and a mounting kit to make it fit to a wheelchair, the thing looks more like a Rube Goldberg/Heath Robinson contraption than a sleek piece of technology.

In the new world order of consumer AAC, there is no “evaluation” along traditional lines. Rather than assess an individual to determine their needs and then select from a range of potential devices, the new consumer goes to Best Buy, asks the “expert” which iPad to buy, and then looks for anything on iTunes with 4 stars and downloads it. Problem solved.

But of course, it isn’t. Those of us who have been in AAC since the advent of the personal computer in the 80’s (and yes, there WERE devices with speech output before the iPad, whatever Apple may want you to believe) know that just dropping a device in someone’s lap – sometimes literally – does not solve the problem. In fact, simply providing a piece of technology and then walking away is called abdication, not intervention. There is a frightening tendency to think that “there’s an app for that” applies to everything, when there are many, many factors involved in helping someone succeed with an AAC system.

I’ll say again, because Apple zealots seem to disagree with me, that my beef is not with technology – and being in the technology and software vending game myself should be proof enough of the pudding – but with the lack of support given in the choosing, teaching, and long-term supporting of clients with communication needs, the solution to which is only partly aided by a device, whatever flavor that may be. I do not doubt the sincerity of anyone who is trying to help provide a way for folks with communication impairments to express themselves. But when there are over 150 apps labeled as “AAC” apps, how does anyone decide which to use? And more fundamentally, once a choice is made, how do you then support it – because I guarantee that no matter how much money your school district is spending on providing “communication solutions,” it’s spending a whole lot less on employing more staff to actually support it! If it took one teacher 2 hours a week to work with one kiddo with an AAC device, how many does it take to work with 5 kids with iPads? The answer appears to be “one, because that person has to work 5 times harder.”

Cartoon of man exercising

OK, rant over. I’ve taken a deep breath and a shot of tequila [2] and am beginning to mellow. Tomorrow sees me doing the first of my presentations and having to go to several meetings. Thank goodness I have the ATIA conference app to remind me of when and where I need to be for my session!

Notes
[1] There is another conference-based task that has a similar level of complexity; splitting the bill at a restaurant. It’s inevitable that if you’re doing it right, at some stage during a conference you’ll have a rollicking, riotous good time with a bunch of new and old friends at some great restaurant or bar. Until the check arrives and you have to split the bill 14 ways. This not only causes your server to suffer from raised blood pressure (“Can we have separate checks – all 14 of us?”) but there’s no way anyone wants to simply divide the bill by 14 because Annette, Betty, and Cheryl shared two bottles of wine, but Erica only drank water, and Frank and Gerry were having a shot-drinking contest, while Harry insisted on a fresh lobster but Ian only had soup and a salad, and only Jan, Karen, and Larry had a desert…

The best way to address this one is to wait until ONE person goes to the restroom and then everyone else makes a run for it. This won’t, of course, work twice with the same group.

[2] If you read yesterday’s post and recognized this sentence as an example of syllepsis, congratulations! If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, go there right now and find out what syllepsis is ;)

Small Object of Desire: The Monteverde Invincia Stylus fountain pen – and Keyword Vocabulary

Those who follow the Speech Dudes on Twitter (@speechdudes) may recall a mysterious tweet from December 28th, 2012, that referred to something called the Monteverde Invincia fountain pen.

Tweet from DecemberAnd those who are regular readers of this blog may vaguely recall that one of the Dudes has a passion for pens that marks him out as being either very old-fashioned, slightly quirky, or perhaps requiring of medication. But the Invincia is a pen of such style, charm, and delicious darkness that I’m guessing at least one of you out there will be ponying up the $75 just to get one of these wonderful objects of desire in your hand. Literally.

Monteverde Invincia Stylus fountain pen

Monteverde Invincia Stylus

But first, because this is, after all, a blog written by SLP’s for other SLP’s, educators, language lovers, and all moms and dads with a curious bent, let’s talk a little bit about vocabulary.

In the field of augmentative and alternative communication, where the Dudes earn their daily crusts, it’s common to talk about words as being either core or fringe. Actually, up until five years ago, it wasn’t always that common but the proliferation of apps for tablets has seen the words core and fringe become almost essential to the marketing blurb of any of these apps – whether or not it’s true. Just tossing the words out doesn’t make an app a good communication tool, nor does copying what other folks have done and dropping it into a few pages make it any better. No, app creators need to learn what the words really mean before using them as sales jargon [1].

But if you are serious about creating a word-based solution, you can use the following definitions to help you in your quest:

Core Word: A word with a high frequency-of-use value that is also what you might expect to see statistically when you compare it to a large reference corpus.

Fringe Word: A word with a low frequency-of-use value that is also what you might expect to see statistically when you compare it to a large reference corpus.

Keyword: A word that has a higher frequency-of-use than what you might statistically expect when you compare it to a large reference corpus.

You’ll notice that I have purposely defined these as statistical phenomena and not as actual words that may be referred to as “useful,” “necessary,” “essential,” “uncommon,” or any other such subjectively nuanced adjectives. You’ve hopefully also picked up on the notion that there needs to be a “reference corpus” of some sort. The best reference corpus I suggest is one I like to call “the English language” because that is the thing that we all need to use in order to communicate with one another. So using the Corpus of Contemporary American or the British National Corpus is fair game. And when it comes to core vocabulary, you’ll find that even if you look at the small vocabulary lists that have been collected in the AAC field from different age group across different situations, you’ll find the same words are common to all [2].

If you’re already working in AAC, you may not be familiar with the use of the term keyword but it’s taken from the world of Corpus Linguistics and I find it a very useful concept to apply. For example, in the world of education, when folks talk about “core words” in relation to Core Communication Standards, they are really talking about keywords; the word vertex is a “core word” in math but is a keyword from an AAC perspective.

Keywords are words which are significantly more frequent in a sample of text than would be expected, given their frequency in a large general reference corpus. (Stubbs, 2010) [3]

So, let’s go back to my encomium [4] on the Monteverde Invicia Stylus pen and see what we can learn about core words, fringe words, and keywords.

The first thing is that the world of pens and paper has specialized vocabulary – or more specifically uses some words in specialized ways. This would be keyword vocabulary within the domain of “Fine Writing.” Thus, the word nib is statistically a fringe word when compared to a general vocabulary but becomes a keyword within the context of discussing fountain pens. In essence, keywords are typically domain-specific items and a sub-set of fringe.

To give you a feel for what keywords you might find, I did a quick(ish) analysis based on a 10,000 word corpus created from a popular blog about fountain pens and their use. Using WordSmith 6 software, I created a word list based on the text from the blog, then used the KeyWord facility to determine the top 2o keywords in the sample i.e. those words that were being used statistically more than you might expect when compared with a standard reference (and in this case, my standard reference is the British National Corpus).

The following “league table” illustrated keyword vocabulary in the domain of Fine Writing.

Keywords "Fine Writing"

Keywords “Fine Writing”

The words fountain and pen appear separately but when you look at the concordance data, the two actually appear typically as fountain pen, so I wouldn’t regard fountain itself a keyword – the keyword is the compound noun, fountain pen.  If I’d taken a few more minutes, I could have put the singular and plural forms together so we wouldn’t see separate entries for pen(s), ink(s), cartridge(s), converter(s), and color(s).

Knowing about such keyword vocabulary is, in fact, very useful. My enthusiasm for my new pen can be explained to you much more succinctly if I can use the keywords. For example, I recommend that if you want one of these pens, you are better off with the medium-sized nib because that will spread the ink out to facilitate clearly writing. Furthermore, since one of the great features of the pen is that it includes both a cartridge and a converter, knowing the words cartridge and converter is helpful! If I then explain that a converter is a small barrel that you can use to suck up ink from an ink bottle, you now know that by buying different inks you can choose which ink colors you’d like to have.

Vocabulary lesson aside, the pen is indeed a stylish addition to anyone’s fashion accessories. Its brushed metal, matt-black finish and fine ribbing give it a distinctive appearance with a hi-tech accent. Its darkness is reinforced by having a shiny black stainless-steel nib, which makes it look like the sort of pen Darth Vader might have used to sign the order authorizing the construction of the Death Star (“You don’t know the power of the Dark Side!”) or that Batman has somewhere on his utility belt (“Quick Robin, use the BatPen!”)

Pen showing internal converter

Pen showing internal converter

It writes smoothly and has the merest hint of a squeak as it glides across paper, which is not a bad thing in the world of fountain pens. It’s classed as a heavy pen (1.4 oz. or 4.0 grams) and so has a much more solid feel than some cheap, plastic ballpoint.

Monteverde Invincia Stylus fountain pen nib

Even the nib is black!

To boost its hi-tech credentials even more, the cap is tipped with conductive rubber so it can be used with a capacitive touchscreen; in short, you can write on your favorite tablet device! I’ve tested it with the Galaxy Tab 7″ display, the 10″ display model (my favorite), the iPad 3 ,  a Motorola Droid 3, Microsoft Surface, and all have worked just fine.

Conductive rubber tip

Conductive rubber tip

There is a white version of the pen available but that doesn’t appeal to me. It’s the blackness that makes it sharp! And with a retail price of $95, it may sound steep to those who are new to the world of fountain pens. But you can get it from Amazon for $75, and other Internet sources are quoting $65, so there are deals to be had.

Long term, there are lots of different inks to choose from. Monteverde offer a range of inks but you should check out Glenn’s Pens where there is a good article on Fountain Pen Ink along with a dizzying array of brands and color options [5]. Another great resource is The Goulet Pen Company, where you’ll also find videos related to pens and paper.

Oh, and it you do buy the pen, drop us a note – then we know who we won’t be able to impress by whipping out our Invicia’s!

Notes
[1] And while we’re at it, there is a special place in the nine circles of Hell (possibly the 8th) reserved for anyone who claims their app is “intuitive,” “ground-breaking,” or, heaven forbid, “game changing.” If it takes me fifteen minutes and four or five keystrokes to find a word like already, and if there is no way for me to actually find it other than hitting key after key after key until  I stumble across it, you have NO right to talk about “intuitive,” “ground breaking,” or “game changing” – unless the “change” in question is to set AAC back 10 years by providing sub-par sops that do nothing more than provide a 10-minute solution that then requires hours and hours of fiddling to add all the stuff that was missing in the first place.

Just sayin’…

[2] If you want a list of a many vocabulary sources, there’s one available via this Dude Link! Link to list of vocabulary articles

[3] Stubbs, M. (2010). Three concepts of keywords. In M. Bondi and M. Scott (Eds.) Keyness in Texts: Studies in Corpus Linguistics. John Benjamins Publishing: Philadelphia. Available via this Dude Link Link to article on keywords

[4] Here’s one of those wonderful words that deserves to be taken out of the box now and again, dusted down, polished up, and tossed into a sentence just to brighten up an otherwise lexically turgid day. The OED defines encomium as “a high-flown expression of praise.” It come, via Latin, from the Greek enkomion (ἐγκώμιον) and ultimately eulogia (εὐλογία) or “eulogy,” which means “praise.” And yes, the logia element does mean “speaking” and is the same root as logos meaning “word.” Only the Dudes would bring you Classical Greek and make it interesting!

[5] My favorite ink at the moment is made by Diamine and called “Syrah,” a splendid dark-red that looks particularly fetching against the ivory paper of my Quo Vadis Havana journal. I use it in my Cross Torero Bourdeaux Croc, which is a broad-nibbed red colored pen that lives in my travel bag.

Cross Torero Croc red fountain pen