Check Out Our Revamped Social Media Pages

Normally spring-cleaning is done….well, in the spring. But lately, we
have been giving the whole shop a bit of a dusting and clean out – in
particular with our social media channels.

Starting from today, you will now be notified on Facebook, Twitter,
and LinkedIn when we have published something. You can also do your
usual liking, sharing, discussing and poking, as one does on social
media.

We have individual dedicated pages set up for the four websites in the AKIC publishing family and here are the links.

We would be immensely happy if you would subscribe to everything and
tell all your tech-loving and tech-curious friends to subscribe too.
With each article we publish, you are guaranteed to learn something new,
informative and fun.

We are having some “issues” with our Switching To Mac Twitter
account at the moment – we will let you know when that is up and
running.

We are looking forward to seeing you over on our social media channels where our writers will be happy to discuss their articles with you.

Mozilla’s ‘Common Voice’ – a Crowdsourced Database For Voice Recognition Improvement

I get lots of compliments about my deep Scottish accent but when it comes to voice apps such as Siri and Alexa, my voice is a liability more than an asset. When Apple and Amazon were making their voice assistants, they didn’t seem to have a Scottish accent consultant on speed-dial.

If voice recognition is supposed to be the way of the future – and supposedly that is where we are meant to be heading – then search engines and voice assistants need to start doing a better job of understanding difficult accents. We don’t all have public English schoolboy accents.

Mozilla (makers of the Firefox browser) are attempting to try and solve the problem by asking people to volunteer their voices to a database called “Common Voice“. By matching voices to set phrases, Mozilla is hoping that their database will eventually be an invaluable tool in the future to any app depending on voice recognition.

Signing Up For ‘Common Voice’

Before we go any further, let’s get the privacy issues out of the way first, as I can already hear them coming in.

While it is possible for you to sign up using your Firefox account, Github account, or Google account, you could instead sign up via email. Just open an anonymous throwaway email account and no-one will be any the wiser it is you speaking.

Once you have made an account and logged in, you will see your dashboard.

There are two sections – Speak and Listen. The Speak section is where you are asked to contribute your own voice. Listen is where you listen to other peoples voices and compare them to the phrase they had to speak. You would then indicate if it was correct.

Speak

To take part in the speaking section, you will need a functioning microphone that will pick up your voice clearly. You need to also give the Mozilla site access to that microphone.

When you click on the Speak section, you will be given a set of five random phrases to speak. The instructions are very clearly on the screen and easy to follow.

You simply click the microphone icon below and then read the sentence in your normal tone of voice. Don’t put on an unnatural accent or speak really slowly.

The whole point of the exercise is that the database learns to understand peoples accents the way they are normally spoken. Speaking in another way just makes the whole thing pointless.

When the first phrase has been done, you will see in the top-right corner the options to either playback the clip and to re-record the clip if you are not happy with it.

If you are happy with it, it moves onto the next one and continues till all five phrases are done. Then click the blue Submit button to send your clips to Mozilla for checking.

If you now go back to your dashboard, you will see that you have been credited for those phrases.

Then it’s a simple case of rinse and repeat. The more contributions and different accents Mozilla can get in their database, the more successful the project will be.

Listen

Once people have submitted their phrases to Mozilla, they need to be checked to make sure the voice clip matches the phrase. This is something which is also being crowdsourced out to volunteers.

Back on the dashboard, you will see the Listen section on the right. You can see from the Top Contributors section that some serious stats have been racked up.

To start validating voice phrases, go to the Listen section and you will be given a phrase and a play button.

Click on the play button (make sure your speakers are on!) and you will hear the recorded voice. If you decide the phrase was spoken correctly, click Yes. If there was mispronunciation, something else said, or any other error, click NO.

Conclusion

This is just one of the many projects which Mozilla has going at the moment (go to the main Mozilla website and click Projects at the top – it changes all the time). Crowdsourcing is a great way for worthy projects to happen and it is always worth donating your time to help build something useful for the future.

How To Write & Publish An eBook On a Budget

In the pre-Internet days (“The Dark Ages”), if you wanted your book published, you would type out your manuscript, post copies to various publishers and hope they would deign to read it. If they did, you would then have to be excited at the thought of earning 5% royalties on every copy sold (if you were lucky).

But with the Internet came Amazon, and Amazon brought along Kindle. Kindle has allowed anyone to publish their own books and cut out the traditional publisher network. We also have other eBook platforms such as Apple Books, Kobo, Nook, Tolino, Google Play, and many others.

I have ten books out so far in the last two years but it was a steep learning curve and mistakes were made. It has also been expensive producing those books. Which got me wondering. Can it be done on virtually no budget at all?

The Ingredients For Creating an eBook

To produce the eBook ready for uploading to the various platforms, you need the following :

  • Your manuscript (obviously)
  • A way to convert the manuscript to eBook format.
  • A cover for the book.

Let’s look at each one individually. It should be pointed out though that cheap poorly produced eBooks will not sell. So although you can cut costs here and there, don’t sacrifice quality in the process.

The Manuscript

How you type out your book is entirely up to you really. Some people I know swear by Microsoft Office but that is obviously not free. For the writer on a budget, you could use :

Line spacing should be either 1.15 or 1.5, and don’t get fancy with the font. One of the standard ones is fine. I prefer Arial or Garamond.

Keep an eye on the length of your book as Amazon Kindle imposes a strict limit on how big your book can be. Anything over 100,000 words should be slimmed down a bit to around 80,000-ish at the most (or consider turning it into two books).

Converting The Manuscript To eBook Format

Once you have your magnum opus finished and ready to go out, it’s time to convert it into eBook format. I’m assuming you’ve thoroughly checked and edited the manuscript first – right?

I use an expensive MacOS-only software app called Vellum, which I bought because I looked upon it as a long-term investment (and tax write-off!). But if you have no budget, there are other options.

First, turn the file into a PDF file. All of the word processing platforms – including Google Docs – have an Export as PDF button.

But Amazon and Draft2Digital (which can upload to the other platforms for you for a cut of your royalties) actually prefer Word DOCx files over PDF. They will then convert the DOCx file for you.

The other option is to use the free Calibre and turn your file into the necessary eBook format. Kindle uses .MOBI format and the others will request .EPUB.

The Book Cover

They say “don’t judge a book by its cover” but in truth everybody does. Whether or not you spend your hard-earned money on a book will depend partly on how much the cover draws you in.

So a really bad cover is going to really hurt you. You will need an image you can legally use for commercial purposes (to be safe, buy one from iStockPhoto for as little as $9 – cheaper than a lawsuit for copyright infringement).

Here are your options for making a book cover.

  • Adobe Photoshop – only for those who really know what they are doing. A free alternative is GIMP.
  • Amazon Kindle Cover Creator – inside KDP (which I will discuss in a moment) is a “cover creator” which makes rather basic covers. This should be considered your last resort.
  • Canva – inside Canva are templates to make book covers. The templates are free but if you use Canva’s clip-art, you may be asked to pay a couple of bucks.
  • Fiverr – probably the best option if graphic design is not your forte. You can hire someone to make a cover for around $40-$50.

Uploading To The Internet

If you’ve read this far, you’ve got your formatted eBook and your cover all ready. Now it’s time to get your Precious online.

As well as Amazon Kindle, there are LOTS of other eBook platforms. But instead of uploading individually to each one, why not use an aggregation service?

Draft2Digital – in return for 10% of your sales – will upload your book to multiple eBook platforms such as Apple, Nook, Kobo, and OverDrive (which puts eBooks in libraries). A huge timesaver.

For Amazon, make an account on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and then follow the steps for uploading your book (which Amazon explains every clearly).

Advertising & Promotion

Online marketing and promotion is a huge topic in and of itself. So to attempt to cover everything here would be a fool’s errand. And since most advertising and promotion involves money, we need to look at some of the things you can do if money is not something you have.

  • Give the first book away for free – assuming you have more than one book planned, why not give the first one away for free to build up a fanbase? Set up your website and on there, add a mailing list form from Mailerlite. When someone signs up for the book, they will be automatically sent an email with a download link.
  • Send free copies to reviewers and influencers – decide who would enjoy your book and hopefully recommend it to others. Then email them a free eBook copy.
  • Social media – it costs nothing to set up social media accounts. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram should be the three to focus on. You can run giveaway contests, create hashtag campaigns, and more.
  • Make promotional graphics on Canva – make leaflets, social media graphics, email graphics, and so on in Canva.
  • Make YouTube videos – if you have the know-how, set up your own YouTube channel and promote your book in its own movie-style trailer.

When it comes to marketing and promotion, your imagination is the only limit.

Conclusion

This is only just an abbreviated version of getting your own eBook set up, but hopefully it has given you a good idea of what’s involved and how easy it is.

How To Track Someone Down Using Online Sources

It used to be that if you wanted someone found, you would hire a private investigator and let them “work their sources”. Of course you can still do that but private investigators are expensive. If you are looking for someone, you can quite often find them on your own using the Internet.

A lot of people try their level best to avoid being online but truth be told, you end up online these days whether you like it or not. So if you are looking for someone, you just have to know the right online places to look.

Social Media

The first obvious port of call is obviously social media, in the form of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Twitter is very limited in what they can tell you about a person (apart from their photo and location – if they enter that information). 

But Facebook and LinkedIn? Well, that’s a whole different ball-game because they are designed for people to reveal everything about themselves – and they do.

I have read books by former US Marshals involved in the Witness Protection Program who said that a lot of people in the program were eventually found by their enemies because they kept updating their social media pages!

Facebook

Whether or not the person you are looking for is on Facebook will depend on how old they are and how “into tech” they are. Generally speaking, those under 50 will most likely have a Facebook account. Anyone over 50….well, then it’s a tossup.

Finding the person will depend on things like :

  • how unique the person’s name is. Zachary Zucker is more likely to show up clearly than John Smith.
  • If they are still living in the same area where you saw them last. If they have a common name and have moved to the other side of the world, identifying them might be a problem.
  • If they have information on their profile that makes it obvious it is them – photos, former schools, former employers, etc.

Another thing to try (if you know it) is to see if their former school has an alumni Facebook group. Most schools have Facebook groups set up by former students who upload old class photos and talk about the old days. You might find the person there.

LinkedIn

If you strike out on Facebook, try LinkedIn next. I have had an incredible amount of luck with LinkedIn because it has become the one-stop place for anyone wanting to build a career. This means there will be photos of the person, their entire work history, location, schools, etc.

It can also be incredibly satisfying to look up the former school bullies and discover they are flipping burgers in Burger King or cleaning toilets!

Search Engines

If the person is not on social media, the next step is the search engine which more or less means Google.

Google can throw up a huge amount of information about people. Newspaper articles can be indexed on Google so maybe the person did something noteworthy that got them into the news?

Or maybe they committed a crime and went to prison, in which case the trial would have been covered? Then there are the obituaries which told me a friend was dead when he suddenly dropped off the radar one day. Finally, see if the person has their own website.

Here are some specialist search engines you could also try. Most will give you basic information with a nominal fee required to access more advanced information. But the basic information will cover things like names, addresses, relatives, and maybe phone numbers. 

The slightly annoying thing though is that many of these websites cover the US only.

Phone Books

Many countries now publish their phone directories online, making the days of getting bulky print books a relic of the past. A Google search of “phone book” + “your country” will bring up the directories. But when checking for this article, the site for US numbers was down. The British equivalents are BT and 192 Directory Enquiries.

Prison databases

If you discover from Google that they have gone to prison, or you just want to tick prison off the list, the next step is to look on the right databases.

In the UK, there is no actual database. Instead, you must email the Prison Service and request that they look for you. Then the prisoner has to consent to their location being given

However, in the US, forget about prisoner privacy! The Federal Bureau of Prisons maintains a database for federal inmates. And this website links to prisoner locator tools for every state in the US.

Local Newspaper Archives

One other thing you could try are local newspaper archives. Some newspapers allow search engines to index their stories, but many do not. Instead, they put their archives behind paywalls. Newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post are notorious for this, as well as many smaller local community newspapers.

So see if newspapers in the region have archives, pay the nominal fee, and have a look around for the person you’re looking for. I have had success before so it’s worth it.

If All Else Fails – Follow The Friends & Relatives

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean in a creepy stalker-ish way, hiding in the bushes with a long-range camera lens. What I mean is that if the person you seeking is not showing up – and you know their friends and relatives – look for them. If they are in touch with the person, you could find them that way.

This is probably the best bet if someone has changed their name due to marriage and you don’t know the new name. Look in the friends and relatives’ friends lists on social media – see if the person is there under a new name.

If you don’t know the relatives, go to ancestry.com . Enter the person you’re looking for then it will tell you their relatives’ details. It’s all public record so you’re not doing anything wrong.

What Reverse Image Search Is & How To Use It

Imagine for a moment that you are looking at a photo online. This could be a social media photo or an online dating photo. Or perhaps a photo from a news story? Looking at it, something doesn’t quite add up and you are suspicious. How do you check to see if the image is real?

Lots of online scam artists and identity thieves steal peoples photos and pass them off as themselves. So that good looking blonde woman you’re admiring on Tinder could actually be a big fat Russian guy in St Petersburg, hoping to get your bank account details. In this day and age, it pays to be safe, and there are a few online services to help you with it.

Google Images

Google is not the only mainstream search engine to offer reverse image search. Bing and Yandex both offer it too. But obviously, everybody’s first stop is going to be with the big G.

Let’s say you were swiping around on Tinder and you came across this rather dashing gentleman.

He claims his name is Luigi and is a billionaire Italian entrepreneur. But wait, doesn’t he look familiar? Didn’t you see him in a movie once? Or maybe he is the local pizza delivery guy?

Google Images has a feature where you can upload photos and see if you get any hits. Go to Google Images and click on the camera icon.

You then get two options – paste in the direct URL to the photo if it is online. Or if it is on your computer or mobile device, you can upload it directly to Google.

I clicked “Upload an image”, navigated to the photo in Windows Explorer, and it started uploading.

Right away, Google has identified “Luigi the billionaire Italian entrepreneur” as some lowlife fraud called “Hugh Jackman”, who is some kind of “actor”. Whew, close escape there! We all know what these actor types are like.

TinEye

TinEye is also another reverse image search engine and has a good reputation for getting the job done. For a price, they also scan images you give them and send you email alerts if those images appear online suddenly somewhere else. 

However, one big difference with TinEye is that they are not very good with peoples faces, even if those people are high up in Google search results, like Hugh the actor. Instead, TinEye focuses more on more general images such as artwork, proprietary images such as photography and designs, that kind of thing. If you are an artist looking to protect your work from online plagiarists, this may be your best solution.

Let’s say someone offered me this “unique just-painted” painting for sale but I have a sneaking suspicion it has not just been painted and might have been around for a while.

How well can TinEye do with this one? Let’s find out.

Right away, TinEye brings back over 13,000 results identifying it as “American Gothic”. A quick web search says it is by Grant Wood, and it is hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago. So another close call averted there.

Closing Thoughts

Reverse image search is not perfect. There are so many variables which can change a picture such as change of hair color, adding or subtracting glasses or facial hair, changing the tone of the picture quality, and so on. There are pictures of me online but reverse image search didn’t find a lot of them.

Police, lawyers, and private investigators will have better reverse image search tools available to them. But for ordinary Joe Public, we have to make do with what we have but this is something that is only going to improve with time.