Thursday, January 28, 2016

Playing Straight Man to a Phone

Jeannie, The Virtual Assistant
Jeannie, The Virtual Assistant
For the past few days, I have been "auditioning" virtual assistants for my phone (although what I really need is a new phone, but that's another story...). Haven't found any suitable yet. But I have found one which, while not quite up to snuff as a virtual assistant, is quite the conversationalist. Her name is Jeannie (you can find her at the Google Play Store), and this is the first time artificial intelligence has ever gotten the best of me.

As part of the "audition," I thought I'd ask a trick question: Who will win the Super Bowl? I figured I'd get a list of search results with statistics, odds, etc. Nothing could be further from what happened....

Me: Who will win the Super Bowl?

Jeannie: If I knew that, I'd be in Vegas.

Me: How would you get to Vegas?

Jeannie: Practice, practice, practice.

(Insert rim shot here.)

She set me up, and I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. I sure didn't see that coming.

Maybe there is a career in being straight man to a phone?

If you have an Android phone, here is a link.

Monday, January 25, 2016

It Shouldn't Be This Hard.....

Just to get it on the record here.... Setting up this blog has in a few ways been a real pain in the butt. And most of the pains have, I think, been because I am using the Blogger platform to do this.

Gee, do you think there's any competition?
(Photo courtesy of Annie Mole - London Underground Tube Diary.)

To be honest, I prefer WordPress over Blogger as a blogging and site management tool. I've built a couple of extremely complicated sites in WordPress, including one that contained a full-fledged ecommerce shopping area.

WordPress is extremely flexible, adaptable, and customizable. It has a gazillion plugins that make it do anything you want to do. And to me, at least, its arrangement is very intuitive. 

So why am I on Blogger? Well, because Blogger does one or two things that WordPress does not do. Or, more accurately, a site hosted at Blogger allows you to do one or two things that a site hosted at WordPress does not allow you to do. I could always do the self-hosted WordPress approach, and then do anything I want, because I am hosting the site myself. But that would defeat my main purpose here, which is to not host the site myself. I want to get rid of those headaches. So I am willing to take a couple of one-time headaches at the beginning, in exchange for losing the ongoing, long-term headaches I would have by self-hosting.

.   .   .   .   .

One big headache, ironically enough, has been configuring the site for mobile viewing. I say this is ironic because Blogger is owned by Google, and Google has recently had a big push of trying to get webmasters to make their sites mobile-friendly -- to the extent that sites are now penalized in Google search results if they are not mobile-friendly.

So then why Blogger, owned by Google, does not have a built-in plugin to create a compact mobile menu is beyond me. But it doesn't. Instead of "click and it's done," I spent three or four days searching all corners of the Internet for code to do this. I assumed (erroneously, it turns out) that finding some pre-written code would keep me from having to reinvent the wheel.

I was wrong. I found all kinds of code, but none that really did what I wanted it to do. I finally ended up rolling my own anyway, which surprisingly took only a couple of hours. I guess sometimes it really is easier to start from scratch. Who knew?

Another headache -- and I'm not sure if this is related to the mobile menu code or not -- is that when you view the site on a mobile phone, there is a small "x" underneath the "Menu" link. I have no clue where this "x" came from. I have searched through the template code, the plugin codes, everywhere. Can't find it. I have removed the mobile menu code. The "x" is still there. It doesn't show up when you view the site on a computer, only on a mobile device. That should be a clue, but I still can't figure it out.

Here, too, I've wasted enough time. I'm giving up on it for now. Please ignore that "x" if you see it, but I am launching the blog while it is still there. One of these days, maybe I'll find where it comes from and eliminate it.

Some things really shouldn't be this hard....

Update, January 30, 2016:  After all that aggravation, I decided to use a different sort of arrangement for the blog, which made that mobile menu unnecessary. So I deleted it. But at least now I know how to do it if I need something like that elsewhere. And the damned "x" is still there...

Monday, January 11, 2016

Italian-ness, or What Does This Category Mean?

I called this category "Adventures in Italian-ness," but I'm not 100% sure what I'm going to post in it. I've been Italian all my life, and I've had some adventures -- even some adventures related to being Italian. (Hmmm... A good story comes to mind. Okay, now I know what's going to be another post....)

An official building (I sort of forget exactly
which official building) in Rome, Italy.
Photo: Ed Perrone
But I put the category here mainly because recently my Italian-ness has taken a new and unexpected turn.

I have always been one of those hyphenated "Italian-Americans." Our parents or (mostly, for my generation) our grandparents came over to this country from Italy, and we were raised with one eye toward our heritage in the "Old Country" and the other eye toward the future in this country.

But just a couple of months ago I followed a link on a website and discovered that I was actually a bit more than "Italian-American." Under the laws of Italy, I am legally an Italian citizen.

There are several ways this works, but the basic concept is that someone who is born to an Italian citizen is also an Italian citizen -- regardless of where they are born -- and they can pass that citizenship down to their own children.

(This is the same as if U.S. citizens are living out of the country and have a child. That child is automatically a U.S. citizen, because it was born to U.S. citizens, regardless of where it is born. Depending on the laws of the country where it is born, it may also be a citizen of that country.)

In my case, my grandfather came from Italy to this country in 1913. But he did not become a U.S. citizen (and thus give up his Italian citizenship) until 1924. In the meantime, in 1922, my father was born. Because my father was born in the U.S., he was automatically a U.S. citizen, of course. But because my grandfather was still an Italian citizen at that time, my father was also legally a citizen of Italy. And then when I was born, since my father was a citizen of Italy, so was I.

No one ever told me this. They may not have even known. When you emigrated to another country in those days, you were pretty much cutting all of your ties. You couldn't just jet back for a quick visit with the family who remained behind. So the esoteric legalities of citizenship probably didn't mean a whole lot, even if they did know. They had settled here, they had become U.S. citizens, anything else was irrelevant.

But for me, in the 21st century, the possibility of dual citizenship is a revelation and opens up a massive number of opportunities. It is exciting. It is likely to lead to even more adventures.

The first adventure is actually the claiming of my citizenship itself. Even though I have technically been an Italian citizen since my birth, I now have to gather together the documentation to demonstrate this to the Italian government. (Just like when you apply for your U.S. passport, you have to bring them your birth certificate and other documentation to prove you that you are indeed a U.S. citizen.)

So now I am collecting up all of that documentation, having it certified, having it translated into Italian, etc., etc., etc. From what I gather from others who have been down this road, it will take some months to get this all together, and probably will become its own adventure. Then I will need to meet with the officials at the Italian Consulate in Houston to have them go over this paperwork. If they find it all in order, they will officially recognize my Italian citizenship, and I will be officially a dual citizen.

And then the real adventure will begin.....