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From birds to Mastodons

Two days ago, Twitter deprecated its streaming API. This means that third-party apps can no longer receive tweets and direct messages in real time, and have to wait 2 minutes to receive updates. As this is suboptimal for some people (and thus the #BreakingMyTwitter hashtag was born), people have started to search for alternatives. The most (if not the only) acclaimed candidate, at least in my circle of Twitter, has been Mastodon.

So what's Mastodon?

Mastodon is a decentraliced and federated social network. This means that there are multiple interconnected servers (called instances), and there's no central one (no instance is "above" any other, no instance has more authority than any other). You can follow and view the statuses of people in other instances by knowing their username and instance. Think of e-mail as an analogy: you can send an email from gmail to outlook, and there is no central email server.

Comparing Twitter and Mastodon

Mastodon is similar to Twitter, without the noise of ads or sorting algorythms. You get the statuses (or "toots", as they're called) in reverse chronological order. You can boost (same as retweeting in Twitter) and like toots, and of course, you can follow people. You have several third-party clients.

One key difference is that each instance has its own rules, and in some cases an instance can be more of a niche for a community in particular. You can, of course, self-host an instance for yourself or for more people, if you like. In joinmastodon.org, you can find a list of instances with their rules, though I guess there may be even more scattered through Internet, without counting the personal ones.

Another difference is that there are three home timelines: one where toots by people you follow appear; another one where all toots by the instance's users appear; and another one where all the toots from instances your instance knows about appear.

Lastly, Mastodon is open-source. This means that anybody can view its code and edit it.

Concerns

First, my user experience with the Mastodon official web client hasn't been as good as I'd like. Accessibility is lacking in some respects (mostly related to navigation and some unlabeled controls here and there). However, workarounds do exist, and I hope developers will listen to their users.

Also, I can see that IFTTT doesn't support it right now, so I cannot automatically post my updates and statuses from other services to Mastodon or vice-versa as easily as I'd like to. However, it can be done by using their API, with the Maker service (a fancy name for webhooks), which fires every time a certain trigger is used.


Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments, post them below or drop me a line. By the way, you can Follow me on Mastodon, if you like.

Phonetic symbols (part 1): reading

Intro

As an English Studies student, I've taken several courses which dealt with phonetics (Spoken English, English Phonetics, English Phonology, and some others). In these courses, I had to read and write IPA symbols. This series focuses on this topic. I will explain the alternatives and tools blind people have, along with their advantages and inconvenients. Our first part deals with reading the symbols. So, let's get started!

Speech synthesizers

First, as these symbols are not available in every speech synthesizer, we must choose which one to use. If we are on Mac OSX or iOS, thanks to the terrific support of Unicode symbols that Apple has built into the speech synthesizer, we are good to go. If I remember correctly, there are some symbols where the speech goes silent (they have no description), but apart from that, in general the situation is better than with any other synthesizer. If we are on Windows, we have several options:

  • Eloquence: With JAWS and the NVDA addon, the situation is really bad. Most symbols produce absolutely no output.
  • Espeak or Espeak NG: Comes integrated in NVDA. Includes most symbols, and if a symbol with no associated description is found, the Unicode value is said instead. In my opinion, the best alternative for Windows, despite its robotic sounding voice.

I have no experience with other synthesizers or opeating systems. In Linux, I assume the default situation is the same as in Windows with Espeak, as Orca uses that synthesizer by default.

Despite what I said above, if you still want to use your preferred synthesizer (Eloquence, SAPI, etc.) and the IPA symbols are not supported, you could make your preferred screen reader interpret these symbols for you (at least in Windows), by using a dictionary or a symbol table. I've found two guides for JAWS, which include already made symbol tables ([1], [2]). I don't use JAWS regularly, so I don't know how well they work, or how updated they are for new (or old) JAWS versions.

Braille

I don't know much about how screen readers behave when rendering these symbols in Braille. I know that both NVDA and JAWS don't display them correctly, but they offer facilities to include Braille tables. The links above include Braille tables for JAWS, but if you use a different Braille code for phonetic symbols (as Spanish speakers do) you are out of luck. I know that Fonos, a program to write phonetic symbols in Spanish which is included in Uni2Bra, includes a jbt file which uses the Spanish Braille code. I will talk about this program in another post.

Regarding NVDA, I know that there exists a way to convert JBT files into NVDA compatible ones. I will investigate this and update this post when I find something. However, probably a configuration profile would be in order, as some symbols would be replaced by incorrect representations.

Actually finding the symbols

Wikipedia is a great resource for IPA. It contains descriptions of all symbols, with sample sound files. However, their IPA chart is not accessible regarding vowels, as it is not put in a table. This is also the case with the official IPA chart. This chart includes an accessible version, with a link to a pdf with the Unicode values associated with the symbols (disclaimer: I made the accessible chart, based on the regular one). This is another resource for IPA and Unicode numbers.

When all of this fails

When all of this fails, things are out of your control. Pdf files are famous for making reading these symbols somewhat difficult, for some reason. However, it might be the case that the symbols used are old, non-Unicode (Or PUA) symbols. If this is the case, and if these symbols are in a Word or Powerpoint file, copying these symbols from Powerpoint to Word might halfly solve your problem, rendering legible pseudo-IPA symbols (I instead of ɪ, for example), instead of weird symbols. This is more common if the font used in the file is IPA-SAM. I don't know why this happens.


And we've reached the end of today's post. I hope you've enjoyed it. If you have comments or questions, just drop them here, or contact me. Thanks for reading!

Reseña de Offcloud y Rclone

Introducción

Hace unos meses, cuando mi disco externo de ~640 GB (~598 GiB) dejó de funcionar, decidí comprar almacenamiento en la nube. Después de investigar por varios días, decidí comprar el servicio premium de Onedrive (1TiB por 69€/año). Tras hacer esto, pronto me di cuenta de que un disco externo me venía mejor por mi velocidad de Internet (tengo ~3Mb de bajada y ~1Mb de subida). Pero ya que mi disco externo dejó de funcionar porque se me cayó alsuelo, no quería comprarme otro. Entonces, ¿qué opciones tenía? ¿Había un servicio para descargarme cosas directamente a la nube?

Offcloud

Offcloud es un servicio que permite hacer tres cosas:

  • Descargar cosas usándolo como proxy ("Instant downloading");
  • Guardar cosas temporalmente en la nube de Offcloud ("Cloud backup");
  • Descargar cosas a uno de tus servicios de nubes de almacenamiento (Dropbox, Onedrive, Google Drive...) o a través de ftp o WebDAV ("Remote upload").

Pero seamos más específicos sobre estas "cosas". Pueden ser:

  • Enlaces directos y páginas web (estas últimas pueden ser descargadas como html o pdf)
  • Vídeos y archivos de varios servicios de almacenamiento (gratis y de pago) (lista de sitios soportados)
  • Archivos torrent y enlaces magnet
  • Archivos .nzb

El sistema es bastante sencillo. Pegas un link o subes un archivo torrent o .nzb, eliges tu método de descarga y esperas a que termine. Luego, puedes borrar la entrada de la lista de descargas (o el archivo, si está en la nube de Offcloud), o descargarlo en agún otro lugar. Puedes descargar tres enlaces al mes gratuitamente. Si eso no es suficiente, puedes comprar enlaces ilimitados para un mes o para un año, o comprar solo algunos enlaces. Tiene una API que te permite añadir enlaces desde otras aplicaciones, tiene plugins para gestores de descarga y navegadores, y funciona con IFTTT y Zapier. Y por supuesto, las descargas a la nube de Offcloud o alguno de tus servicios de almacenamiento funcionan incluso si apagas tu equipo.

Regístrate en Offcloud (Enlace sin afiliación)

Bueno, esto es genial. Puedo subir archivos a mi nube, a una velocidad mucho mayor que la de mi conexión de casa. Pero el espacio de mi ordenador está bastante limitado (tengo un disco SSD de ~103GiB), así que no puedo descargar muchos archivos a mi equipo si quiero pasarlos a, por ejempo, un lápiz de memoria USB. Por suerte, hay un programa para solucionar esto.

Rclone

Rclone te permite gestionar tus servicios en la nube sin necesidad de sincronizarlos ni abrir un navegador. Esto incluye:

  • Transferir archivos y carpetas entre nubes, o entre carpetas de la misma nube;
  • Transferir archivos y carpetas entre tu equipo (y los dispositivos conectados a él) y la nube;
  • Renombrar y borrar archivos de la nube sin descargar nada; y
  • Acceder una nube por http, WebDAV o Fuse.

Te permite aplicar filtros para gestionar archivos y carpetas, así que no te hace falta recordar nombres de carpetas y archivos largos (yo los uso solamente para esto) , o para filtrar basándote en otros criterios. Se usa por línea de órdenes, y está disponible para Windows, Linux y Mac. Y es libre y de código abierto.

Conclusión

Este es el procedimiento que uso ahora: descargo uno o más archivos utilizando Offcloud a Onedrive, y luego lo copio a un lápiz de memmoria USB (que, estaréis de acuerdo conmigo, es menos propenso a caídas) usando Rclone. Y mientras tanto, ahorro espacio en disco y ancho de banda.

Syntax trees for blind people

Introduction

As I study English Philology, I have to take a course called English Grammar. In this course, I need, among other things, to analise sentences, and make syntax trees of them. Yes, those trees where you disect a sentence into phrases. But how do I, a completely blind person, do it? Images and arrows are inaccessible for me, and the Arboreal and ArborWin fonts, although I haven't tested them, seem to be inaccessible too. Here, I'll show the method I use.

How I do it

To draw a tree, I use Excel spreadsheets. To draw a node (an item of a tree) which has two branches, I use a merged cell, which splits into two cells below it. Then, if one of the cells has further branches, I do the same thing.

With this procedure, I can draw a tree with an arbitrary depth, and an arbitrary number of branches by node (although normally I work with two branches per node for this kind of tree). I think that with this system trees are easy to draw, or at least, easier than other systems I have tried. Visually, it works too, which is a plus.

Why I don't use brackets

I don't use them because trees can get really complex. I don't know if linguists use them for large trees, but I think that, in trees with brackets, fixing mistakes is harder than in my system. But, if you don't know how to use spreadsheets, or simply you want a more conventional system, this one may work for you.

Other systems

Of course, the possibilities are endless. If these systems don't convince you, and if you reach an agreement with your instructor (or your student), you may invent a system of your own. Also, if you are a better programmer than me, you may use something like nested dictionaries in YAML1 or the Natural Language ToolKit.

Conclusion

I hope you have found this post helpful and informative. If you have any comments, send me an e-mail or contact me through Twitter. At the time of writing, I haven't added the possibility to post comments yet, but if it's available when you read this, and if you prefer a more public comunication, post a comment. Also, contact me if you have any doubts, and I'll try to answer your questions. Thanks for reading!


  1. I used YAML (although without any programming involved), and although it worked, I found it too space-consumming. 

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