Voice Recognition: What Could Go Wrong?

Hello, is it me you're looking for?

I impressed my sister the other day by talking into my mobile phone and ordering it to call her - which it did. I know, I know, you are all familiar with voice recognition technology. You tell your televisions to tune into Netflix and the next thing you know Bridgerton sails into view.

We are getting on a bit and all this razzamatazz is somewhat alien. The idea of any object, let alone a phone, being able to understand a word we say and then act on it is astonishing to us.

When we were children we lived on a farm and our telephone number had only three digits. Things have moved on since those days. Now you need a PhD in mnemonics to remember your mobile number.

Another innovation is Google’s voice search technology, designed to make life easier for people with accents. The technology has not yet been rolled out and no firm decision has been taken on whether it ever will be but patents have been lodged.

The idea is that how you speak is a predictor of what you may be interested in. The system could give different search results to people depending on their accent.

So presumably if you are in London and in a super posh accent ask your phone to find you a restaurant, you will be directed to some ultra swish eaterie where a dozen oysters cost you an arm and a leg. If you ask in your best regional accent, you will be given the address of the nearest fish and chip shop.

Data will be stored from people with similar accents and used to predict content they may like, the premise being that there is similarity between regional populations.

It's obvious that everyone with the same accent must like all the same things. Mustn't it?

Um, no. If my nephew the farmer who likes Westerns is looking for a film to watch then his daughter, the psychological thriller obsessed care worker, could get Westerns in her results too. My taste in music must be similar to that of my 16-year-old niece, after all we only live six miles apart. What could go wrong?

Call me old-fashioned (and people often do), but I would have thought there was as much diversity among people with similar accents as there was with the whole population.

So, please, people with a Devon accent like mine, do not go asking about war films, hip hop or designer clothes as I have no interest in any of them. I don't want you skewing my search results.

If you could limit your queries to include George Clooney, chocolate, books and, cheesy music, it would be very much appreciated. 

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Have A Drink On Me

I WAS shocked to learn that the middle-classes are at risk from alcohol abuse. Although I was born most definitely working class, I suppose I have, through my work, become middle-class so I fear they are talking to me.

(Yes, sweetheart, another glass of shiraz would be lovely).

It’s a ridiculous notion. Drink too much? Me?

(Don’t throw away that Irish coffee, I haven’t licked out the glass yet!)

I’m not even too sure how many “units” the Government is recommending. I’m presuming a “unit” is a bottle of spirits so I’m well within my limits. Obviously I’m not counting liqueurs (too sweet to be really alcoholic) or sherry in the trifle or red wine in the casserole, or pernod with the fish or any alcoholic beverage consumed while standing up. So you see, I hardly drink at all.

(It’s time we finished off that bottle of malt whisky or it might go off.)

Nope. When it comes to alcohol, I’m a responsible person and moderation ish my middle name.

Drunks are people who fall over in gutters. Yes, I know I broke a heel on my best shoes when I stumbled off the pavement onto a grating but I’ve never ended up staring at the stars from a gutter. Well, apart from that night in ….. best not go down that road.

(Who’s a pretty pushy cat? I mean pussy cat.. Yes, you are. Yes, you are. Yes, you are. Yes, you are. Yes, you are…..)

Drunks can never remember the next morning what happened the night before. Look, I remember only too well being witty, sparkling and the life and soul of the party before I ended up getting locked in the loo – where, incidentally, all my friends left me for a good two hours. I don’t know how that chair got wedged against the door so I couldn’t get out. Freak accident, I guess.

(Liqueur, yesh please. There seem to be lots of bottles with just half an inch left. May as well chuck them all in together.)

Sooooooooooo, where was I? Drink. Yes. No. I don’t have a drinking problem …… I’ve got plenty. Ha, ha, ha.

(For goodness sake sit down, sweetheart, you’re making me feel dizzy spinning about like that in front of me. What do you mean, you ARE sitting down?)

Time to go. I suffer from mild vertigo and it’s back with a vengence, no I mean venjence, or is it venjince? Vengeance, that's it. Anyway, it's back. Where did I put my shoes?

(Yes, I know it’s bedtime. No, I don’t need any help. Oops. Who put that door there? What do you mean, I'm not funny. I AM funny. I'm hil-bloody-larious. I think I'll just lie down on the bed. No need to get undressed. Just order me a complete blood transfusion for the morning, please.)

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The Queen and Her Tea Party Guest

When you get to the age of 96 and you are possibly the most famous person in the world, who do you ask to tea to help celebrate a special anniversary?

The Queen chose an iconic celebrity, the star of films and books - but not, in fact, from the UK at all but from Peru. Thousands of people gathered at Buckingham Palace for a concert to mark her Platinum Jubilee. Yes, she's been on the throne for an incredible 70 years. 

She wasn't able to attend as she has some mobility issues - well, she is 96 after all! But she surprised everyone by sending this video of her entertaining an icon. It made me laugh! I hope you enjoy it too.

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Forget Boxercise, Try Chocercise

Picture is not me. I wish...

Thought for the day:

As long as you put "ercise" on the end of something it's good for you, like boxercise and clubbercise. I've got a busy day ahead of chocercise, meatpiercise, winercise and bookercise. Want to join me? 😂

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The Best Interview Questions

I was having a bit of a declutter and came across a few notebooks from my time working on local newspapers. In one of them were notes of interviews for a new trainee reporter.
All these earnest young men and women trooped through our doors, clutching their cuttings and nervously answered our questions - or, is some cases, cockily answered our questions. We would make a choice and hope we had made the right selection. 

Intelligence, writing ability, an inquiring mind, interviewing skill and network of contacts all helped but they were never the full story. You could still get lumbered with someone as pleasant to work with as a typhoid carrier. Unfortunately, rigorous though our interview procedure was, the candidates were never asked all the right questions. They should have been grilled on the following:

1. How often will you bring cake to work? What type of cake will it be? (Points added for chocolate and cream, deducted for plain.)

2. Do you have any unsocial habits? (Points deducted for crotch-scratching, nose-picking, farting and regular belching.)

3. Are you full of useless bits of information, like who won the FA Cup in 1992 or who sang Rhinestone Cowboy? It’s very important to be well-versed in trivia for random office conversations.

4. Can you listen to long and tedious stories from older colleagues without yawning or raising your eyes to heaven in that, “What’s the boring old fart on about now?” kind of a way? This would be important to me personally.

5. Similarly, can you simulate uproarious laughter when older colleagues tell what they perceive is a joke, even if it's as funny as having a bucket of cold custard thrown over you?

6. Do you know any celebrities about whom you can gossip? Exaggeration is perfectly acceptable, although there must be a glimmer of truth in the story. 

7. Are you a smart arse? Smart arses who always think they are right are certainly not acceptable colleague material. There's only one person in this office who is always right - and you're talking to her.

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Marriage - '60s Style

I was at secondary school in the '60s. In those days there wasn't much in the way of sex education. We were shown a video which mainly featured rabbits with some brief explanation of how this related to humans, which left most of us totally puzzled! (I wrote about this HERE.)

There was not even a nod towards equality between the sexes when it came to marriage. The man was in charge. End of.

This is an actual mind-boggling extract from a sex education school textbook for girls, printed in the early 60s in the UK:

When retiring to the bedroom, prepare yourself for bed as promptly as possible. Whilst feminine hygiene is of the utmost importance, your tired husband does not want to queue for the bathroom, as he would have to do for his train. But remember to look your best when going to bed. Try to achieve a look that is welcoming without being obvious. If you need to apply face-cream or hair-rollers wait until he is asleep as this can be shocking to a man last thing at night.

When it comes to the possibility of intimate relations with your husband it is important to remember your marriage vows and in particular your commitment to obey him. If he feels that he needs to sleep immediately then so be it. In all things be led by your husband's wishes; do not pressure him in any way to stimulate intimacy. 

Should your husband suggest congress then agree humbly all the while being mindful that a man's satisfaction is more important than a woman's. When he reaches his moment of fulfilment a small moan from yourself is encouraging to him and quite sufficient to indicate any enjoyment that you may have had.

Should your husband suggest any of the more unusual practices be obedient and uncomplaining but register any reluctance by remaining silent. It is likely that your husband will then fall promptly asleep so adjust your clothing, freshen up and apply your night-time face and hair care products. You may then set the alarm so that you can arise shortly before him in the morning. This will enable you to have his morning cup of tea ready when he awakes.

Now, ladies. I suspect you have been disobeying some of these rules after retiring to the bedroom. Time to get back on the straight and narrow. After all, should your husband suggest congress you should agree humbly. Start practising those small moans to encourage him - don't forget this: Should your husband suggest congress then agree humbly all the while being mindful that a man's satisfaction is more important than a woman's.

How times have changed. At least, I hope they have!

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How To Slow Down Old Age

I'm not particularly worried about getting old as I intend to spend the twilight of my years as disgracefully as I can. I say "getting old" but I'm afraid I have to admit to myself that I have "got old".

Even so, I have made sure daytime TV, milk puddings, elastic stockings and discussing my health with random strangers do not figure in my life. 

In fact, you could well see me out and about in an Afghan coat, platform shoes and bell bottom trousers. If you do, don't assume I have lost my few remaining marbles, I will be endeavouring to slow down my gallop into old age.

Let me explain, I recently read some research which found that recreating your heyday could trick your mind into thinking you were living in that era and your body would follow suit.

The subjects of this research began the study with varying degrees of immobility and ill health. They were taken back to the 1970s, spending a week in a house which  had all the trappings of that glorious era, complete with a Teasmade, fondue set, pineapple and cheese on sticks, swirly wallpaper and lurid carpets. They were cut off from contemporary television and newspapers.

They began to forget their aches and pains and get a new lease of life as they not only remembered their glory days but began to live them all over again. It was quite uplifting and showed how important a positive mental attitude is when it comes to ageing. The six went through a battery of physical tests when they started the experiment and again when they left the house. All of them showed a significant improvement.

The study was run by Professor Ellen Langer who passionately believes we can all be healthier in old age. As there are more people in the UK over 80 than there are under 16, it is vital to improve the health of the elderly.

I've decided to drift back to the 1970s too and wear those clothes I mentioned early. So I'm on the lookout for some "props". If anyone has an eight-track player, fondue set or Betamax video recorder tucked away in their attic, let me know - I'll be round on my Lambretta to pick them up.

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Desirable (?) Collections

There I was up in the attic looking for some Tupperware I stored away in the 1990s -  my young neighbour having shown some interest in the brightly coloured plastic containers - when I came across a box of what I can only describe as "sundry items". There were albums, ornaments and postcards in varying stages of deterioration.

Word of advice. Never admit to collecting anything. Not unless every birthday and Christmas you want to be given more of those ‘desirable’ objects long after your herd of elephant ornaments has packed its trunk and trundled off up to the attic.

I myself have been guilty of taking the easy way out, buying gifts with little thought, because what could be easier than to find a present for a collector? 

 I don’t suppose children these days collect stamps but everyone did when I was at primary school. It was quite exciting finding stamps for all the countries and sticking them in your album…exciting for about a week.

A couple of terms later with those albums consigned to the darkest reaches of a bedroom cupboard behind the jigsaw puzzles with one piece missing and the counter-less Ludo sets, fond elderly relatives were still giving me little packets of brightly-coloured stamps, from countries like Sverige, Ruandi Urundi or Helvetia.

In my 20s there was a brief period when I collected ornaments shaped like shoes and handbags. I still have them somewhere and harbour a hope that one day people will suddenly wake up and decide that all they want to make their life complete is a four-inch high pottery handbag with matching shoes and is willing to pay a ton of money for the privilege.

Dinky toys are another collectable and these little cars which cost a few pence in the 1950s are now worth hundreds if they are in good condition. My brothers had dozens of these when they were young - if only they had kept them, preferably in their original boxes. But like all normal children they threw away the packaging and played with the toys until they fell to pieces.

Then I came across a story on the internet about a Winnie The Pooh fan. Unlike most people, her passion for Pooh (ew!) never waned and over the years she spent $100,000 on Winnie the Pooh memorabilia.

Although no value has been put on this pile of Pooh, among her 8,900 items is a limited-edition bee worth $1,000 and bears dating back to 1960 which could also be worth hundreds of dollars each.

So I’m back up to the attic to look for my box of ornamental shoes and handbags. Maybe among them is a rare facsimile of a Christian Louboutin shoe which will make me enough money to go out and buy a whole wardrobe full of the real thing.

I live in hopes. 

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Don't Worry, Be Happy

Extreme ironing; Don't try this at home, folks!

It's a sad fact that the Covid pandemic has seen an increase in mental health problems, particularly in young people. It's heartbreaking that many teenagers, who should be embracing life, are struggling.

When I look back to my own teenage years, I can’t remember a lot of angst beyond worrying about whether my latest boyfriend was going to dump me and trying, usually in vain, to get my homework done on time. Exams were stressful but I was blessed with two parents who told me only to do my best and not that I was washed up for life should I fail Grade 2 in Underwater Basket-Weaving and Extreme Ironing.

I wasn't worried about my image. My father often shook his head in despair at what I was wearing - my purple maxi coat with the puffed sleeves springs to mind - but I carried blithely on. The only way I would have known if I had put on a few pounds would be if my school uniform got tighter – because I never weighed myself. Now experts warn that an epidemic of anorexia is sweeping through schools.

There is a huge list of things teenagers are worrying about including bullying, featuring negatively on social media, grades, getting into university or college, body image, family conflict, friends turning on them, sex and relationships and global warming to mention a few.

There was very little bullying in my school and social media wasn't in existence. In fact, there were no home computers in existence. Yes, I'm that old!

I don’t doubt that I am looking back through rose-tinted spectacles and I know there were times when I felt like the whole world was against me, but my friends and I never reached the stage where we required mental health treatment.

I don't know what the answer is but Unicef has given some advice in Four Things You Can Do To Support Your Teens Mental Health.

If you are worried about anything, listen to this little song - guaranteed to cheer anyone up!

And to cheer yourself up even more, read this book!

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