# Thursday, September 6, 2018

GCast 12:

Azure Media Services: Live Streaming

Learn how to Upload, Encode, and Share a Video using Azure Media Services.

Thursday, September 6, 2018 9:22:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Bots are taking over.

A chatbot is an automated process that can respond to questions or commands via voice or text. They are useful for simulating a conversation and handling some of the tasks that would ordinarily require a call center staffed with people. Uses include processing orders, checking status, and answering questions. If you can understand the question and figure out the answer, you can probably write a chatbot to handle it.

Advantages of Chatbots

Chatbots have some advantages over human interactions.

Operating Cost. Labor costs tend to be among the highest cost of any business and operators in a call center can be expensive. Once deployed, a chatbot's cost tends to be a fraction of the cost of paying a person.

Availability. Chatbots can scale up to increase demand, so that users, customers, and potential customers do not need to wait for the next available operator. If activity rises unexpectedly, it is far easier and faster to deploy new resources to support a chatbot than it is to bring in more people to answer calls.

Speed. A computer can often look up information much faster than a human can.

Flexibility. A chatbot can be wired up to a variety of communication channels, allowing you to use the same code base to connect to different clients in different ways. For example, you can write a chatbot and connect to users via Facebook, SMS, a web page, or any number of other platforms.

Disadvantages of Chatbots

Of course, chatbots will not solve all your problems. Here are some disadvantages.

Startup cost. There tends to be a larger startup costs for chatbots. They must be programmed, tested, and deployed. This cost is only justified if they will yield sufficient savings over the lifetime the chatbot is deployed. Tools like the Microsoft Bot Framework can reduce development time; but that early cost still exists.

Impersonal. Chatbots are not people and some customers prefer talking to a human being over talking to a machine. The cost of human interaction is worth it when you wish to cultivate a personal relationship with your customer or partner. 

Too human. With advances in natural language processing, it can be difficult for people to determine whether they are interacting with a person or a computer. Some people are turned off by this ambiguity. They feel cheated when a computer represents itself as a person.

Real-time flexibility. For many interactions, it is impossible to anticipate every potential question or command from your customers. Humans can react to these very well. Generally, you need to program a chatbot to anticipate each question or command.


There is no question that chatbots are becoming more and more important as companies interact with their customers. But how your company uses them can determine how successful your chatbot strategy is.

Some scenarios call for starting an interaction with a chatbot; then bringing in a person only if the chatbot cannot adequately help the customer.

Understanding the needs of your customer and the problem you are trying to solve is a key to effective use of chatbots.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018 9:02:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, September 4, 2018

BraveNewWorldThroughout history, many societies have enforced a caste system, kept in place by either top-down authority or socialization that convinces people it is the proper order.

In Aldous Huxley's dystopian future, the caste system is maintained by defining each individual's level prior to his or her birth and conditioning that person to accept that level. The conditioning begins immediately after birth with repeated messages and chemicals to influence what environmental conditions they will like or detest. Some conditioning even occurs before birth. Embryos destined to perform menial labor are poisoned enough to stunt their mental capacities, so they will not aspire to more.

The casts are labeled with the first 5 letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. At the top of the system are the Alphas, who enjoy a relatively large amount freedom. At the bottom are the Epsilons, who perform the most menial tasks.

All the people are kept distracted by mindless entertainment; by the encouragement of promiscuity; and by the consumption of euphoria-inducing drugs.

Everyone in this Brave New World accepts their level, because they have been conditioned since birth to do so. Well, almost everyone.

Alpha citizen Bernard Marx recognizes that humans have sacrificed elements of their humanity for a general feeling of contentment. He resents the shallowness of everyone around him. Of course, he is shunned by his peers for this.

When Bernard travels to an Indian reservation (now called a "Savage Reservation"), he finds a society outside the drug-numbed control of the government. He also finds Linda - a former Beta woman trapped in the reservation years ago when she was separated from her Alpha companion. Linda now has a son John, the offspring of her and her Alpha. John who knows he is different from the other reservation children, but he has nothing to which he can compare his life. Linda and John are ostracized by the people of the reservation. Linda's promiscuity is at odds with the beliefs of the locals. The women hate her for sleeping with their husbands and the men ridicule her, but still have sex with her.

Bernard brings Linda and John back to his world, where conflict results almost immediately. Linda retreats into the escapism of the freely-available drugs; John falls in love with a woman but is repulsed by her aggressive sexual advances.

For such a short novel, Huxley packs a great deal.

Religion and God have been abolished; yet, people revere Henry Ford as a god-like figure. He is given credit for the technological advances that brought society to its current state. People have common expressions like "Our Ford" and "His Fordship", and they long ago converted all crosses into T's in honor of Ford's famous Model T car. They have even convinced themselves that Sigmund Freud was a pseudonym for Henry Ford, giving him credit for all of Freud's psychology writings.

Henry Ford's influence is obvious in this world. The ultra-efficient in-vitro birthing center resemble the assembly lines of Ford's automobile factories.

It's not surprising the government has encouraged the worship of science over worship of God. All science is controlled by the government and released or manipulated to maintain contentment among the populace.

And that is what Brave New World is about. The people have chosen contentment and happiness over liberty, freedom, individualism, free will - anything that would make them human and allow them control over their own lives. Those in power support this to maintain their power. Authority is maintained by distraction, rather than by force.

In this world, people and entertainment are mass-produced. People seek contentment, but never challenge themselves and the government likes it that way. Citizens question nothing because they are distracted by sex and drugs and mindless media.

There is no love; No marriage; No families; No commitment. There is only a seeking of pleasure and most have accepted that. Art, literature, and philosophy, and religion are gone. Even science is stunted by the goals of those in power. Labor saving devices are suppressed if they would provide too much leisure to the working class.

We see some of this today. People ignore abuses of the government if the stock market rises.
Mind-numbing reality shows and situation comedies and other recreations fill our free time and distract us from thinking about the real problems of the world.

It is this idea of the struggle between individual liberty and acceptance of society and its rules that form the focus of this book. It is about how the state can influence us without our knowledge.

The characters and the story are simply a mechanism for driving home this concept. The reader expects that Bernard will be the story's hero, because he questions the morality of the order of this world early in the book. But eventually, Bernard embraces society's mores when his fellow Alphas finally praise him for bringing John the savage for them to ogle. In the end, it is John who provides an outside perspective on the dominant society of Brave New World.

Brave New World is often compared with 1984, written by Huxley's contemporary George Orwell, who also predicted a dystopian society controlled by the state. But Orwell's government ruled through fear, while Huxley's overlords ruled by keeping the people happy and distracted.

I found Brave New World a chilling parable of society that could exist - a world that in many ways we are heading toward now.

"And that," put in the Director sententiously, "that is the secret of happiness and virtue–liking what you've got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny."

Tuesday, September 4, 2018 8:54:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, September 3, 2018
# Sunday, September 2, 2018

Today I am grateful to John for loaning me a necktie when I forgot to bring one.

Today I am grateful I was able to celebrate Kara and Christian's wedding with them  yesterday.

Today I am grateful to the bank employee, who unlocked the door when she saw me walking up yesterday, even though it was a minute after closing time.

Today I am grateful to have Nick visit for a few days.

Today I am grateful for lunch with Donovan yesterday.

Today I am grateful to visit the Adler Planetarium for the first time yesterday.

Today I am grateful my coffee machine is fixed after a weeklong nightmare.

Today I am grateful for:
-Lunch with Dan and his friends yesterday
-My first visit to the Irish American Heritage Center last night

Today I am grateful for 24 hours in southwest Michigan.

Today I am grateful for a walk around North Lake Park in Stevensville yesterday.

Today I am grateful for a long bike ride yesterday.

Today I am grateful my son saw me speak at a user group for the first time.

Today I am grateful for dinner and drinks last night with Suzanna and Paul.

Today I am grateful for lunch with Tim yesterday.

Today I am grateful to attend the Evanston Art & Fork Festival last night.

Today I am grateful for breakfast yesterday with Debbie and Diane.

Today I am grateful to see Electric Light Orchestra in concert last night and to reconnect with old friends.

Today I am grateful to present at a user group last night for the first time in 5 months.

Today I am grateful to see Stacy Keach at the Goodman Theatre last night.

Today I am grateful that a bunch of people responded yesterday to the emails I sent last week.

Today I am grateful for a walk along Loyola Beach yesterday.

Today I am grateful for a visit from Doug and Sherree and Sterling and Dylan this weekend.

Today I am grateful to attend an exciting Cubs-Nationals game yesterday.

Today I am grateful for late-night beers with Ondrej

Today I am grateful to attend Sarah's Going-Away party last night.

Today I am grateful for an annual physical exam yesterday.

Today I am grateful to attend a celebration last night for Girl Develop It - Chicago.

Today I am grateful for my new Echo Dot.

Sunday, September 2, 2018 4:33:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Friday, August 31, 2018

The Galactic Empire has existed for thousands of years and seems to be powerful with a bright future. But not to psychohistorian Hari Seldon.

Using advanced mathematics and his newly-created science of "psychohistory", Seldon predicts that the Empire will soon collapse and be followed by a dark period lasting 30,000 years, until a new Empire will finally rise again to restore technology and culture to the galaxy. The collapse is inevitable, but Seldon has a plan to reduce the dark period to 1,000 years. That plan involves the Foundation - a colony of scientists placed on a remote planet at the edge of the galaxy and a set of crises that must be overcome over the next centuries.

This is the universe of Foundation by Isaac Asimov.

Long after Seldon's death, he continues to influence the society he founded. He periodically appears in a recorded holovision to announce the arrival and resolution of a "crisis" - crises that he predicted would occur and for which he accurately predicted the resolution.

Foundation is told in a collection of short stories, set many thousands of years in the future. Each story takes place a few decades after the one before it, so we have little time to get to know the characters - only how they influence their society. The characters are less interesting than Seldon's master plan and his application of psychohistory to each crisis. The forces that motivate society, such as politics, military force, religion, and commerce take center stage in these stories. Seldon knew he could not predict the behaviors of individuals not yet born, so he combined sociology, mathematics, and statistics to look at the behaviors of populations in aggregate and predict what how entire societies would react to the forces around them. Of course, this idea is applied today - both in the real world and in speculative fiction.

Three quarters of a century after its publication, Foundation remains a strong novel. It was published as part of a trilogy in the early 1950s, and Asimov later released many sequels and prequels. Eventually, he tied together these stories with his popular Robot novels, setting the Foundation, Empire, and Robot series all in the same universe.

Science fiction has been heavily influenced by Asimov and his Foundation series. Other writers have written about mankind's colonization of space and a galactic empire. Certainly, George Lucas was aware of this series when he created the Star Wars universe. And in 1966, the prestigious Hugo Award declared the Foundation trilogy to be the Best All-Time Science Fiction Series.

And it all began in the 1940s, when a 22-year-old Asimov published a short story that would later be compiled into a book that would be volume 1 of a trilogy that would launch a universe that would influence the world.

Friday, August 31, 2018 12:48:14 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, August 30, 2018

GCast 11:

Azure Media Services - Uploading, Encoding, and Sharing a Video

Learn how to Upload, Encode, and Share a Video using Azure Media Services.

Azure | GCast | Screencast | Video
Thursday, August 30, 2018 9:29:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Azure Storage allows several options for managing replication of your stored data. You can read about these options in this article.

You can set the Replication Type when you create an Azure storage account (Fig. 1)

Fig. 1

But, at first glance, it appears that you cannot change the Replication Type after you create the account. The "Overview" blade (Fig. 2) lists the Replication Type, but you cannot change it here.

Fig. 2

However, the "Configuration" blade (Fig. 3) also lists the Replication Type.

Fig. 3

On this blade, you can click the "Replication" dropdown (Fig. 4) and change the type.

Fig. 4

Click the [Save] button (Fig. 5) to make these changes permanent.

Fig. 5

Wednesday, August 29, 2018 4:05:20 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A caption file can enhance a video file by displaying any dialog as text at the bottom of the video. This is helpful for people who are hard of hearing, for people who do not understand the language spoken in the video and for those who want to play a video at low volume or muted.

Azure Media Services allows you to quickly create a caption file for your saved videos. The steps are:

  1. Create Azure Media Service
  2. Upload File
  3. Encode Asset
  4. Analyze Video
  5. Download VTT file
  6. Upload VTT file
  7. Share video

I described in detail how to perform steps 1-3 in this article.

Analyze Video

After you have encoded your video, you can use the "Analyze" function to generate the following files:

  • A caption file in the TTML format.
  • A caption file in the SAMI format
  • A caption file in the WebVTT format

I have no statistics to back this up, but I see WebVTT used more than the other 2, so I typically stick with this.

To run the "Analyze" function, open your Azure Media Service in the Azure Portal and open the "Assets" tag as shown in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1

Click the Asset corresponding to the asset corresponding to the encoded video to open its blade, as shown in Fig. 2.

Fig. 2

Click the [Analyze] button (Fig. 3) to open the "Media Analytics" blade, as shown in Fig. 4.

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

Check the checkboxes next to the Closed Caption file formats (and other files) you wish to crate; then click the [Create] button at the bottom to begin creating these files.

This creates and schedules a new job for this Azure Media Service. You can click the "Media Analytics job added" link (Fig. 5) at the top of the blade or you can open the "Jobs" blade for this Media Service and click the most recent job added. Either method will display the blade for this Job, as shown in Fig. 6.

Fig. 5

Fig. 6

Jobs run asynchronously in Azure Media Service, so you can continue to work or stay on the Job blade to monitor its status. The status changes from "Scheduled" to "Queued" to "Processing" to "Finished". While processing, the blade will display the percent complete.

When the job is finished, you will see a new asset in the "Assets" blade for the indexed video, as shown in Fig. 7.

Fig. 7

Click this asset to open the blade for the Analytics files created by this job, as shown in Fig. 8.

Fig. 8

To make these files available for download, you must publish them. To do so, click the [Publish] button (Fig. 9), which opens the "Publish the asset" blade, as shown in Fig. 10.

Fig. 9

Fig. 10

After you have published these files, you can download any or all of them. They are listed at the bottom of the Analytics files blade (Fig. 8)

Click the file with the ".vtt" extension to open a blade for this file, as shown in Fig. 11.

Fig. 11

The important information is the DOWNLOAD URL field. You can copy this value to your clipboard by clicking the icon to the right of this field.

### Download VTT file

Use CURL to download this file. If CURL is not installed on your computer, you can install it from https://curl.haxx.se/download.html.

Open a command prompt and type

curl -o "fffff.vtt" "http://xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx"

where http://xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx is the DOWNLOAD URL copied from the blade; and fffff.vtt is the name of the local file you want to create when you download this file.

Verify that a new file was created.

Upload VTT file

Now upload this VTT file to the video asset. Open the Azure Media Services "Assets" blade and select the Asset for the originally uploaded video to open the blade for this video asset, as shown in Fig. 12.

Fig. 12

Click the [Upload captions] button (Fig. 13) to open the "Upload caption file" blade, as shown in Fig. 14.

Fig. 13

Fig. 14

Click the [Select File] icon (Fig. 15) and select the VTT file you downloaded with CURL.

Fig. 15

Share video

Now, you can share the video, using a Media Player.

A simple one to use is the Azure Media Player, available at https://ampdemo.azureedge.net/

Information on using this player with Azure Media Services is in this article.  http://davidgiard.com/2018/08/21/UploadingEncodingAndSharingAVideoWithAzureMediaServices.aspx.

You will need the URL of the video to play, which you can by selecting the Encoded Videos asset from the "Assets" blade to open the properties for this asset, as shown in Fig. 16.

Fig. 16

Copy the Streaming URL at the bottom of this blade under the "Published URLs" section. (NOTE: If nothing is in this section, you need to publish this asset.)

In Azure Media Player, copy this URL into the URL field, omitting the "http:", as shown in Fig. 17.

Fig. 17

The copied text should look something like this:


It will end with the name of your video asset, followed by ".ism/manifest".

Click the [Update Player] button and verify that your video plays properly.

If it plays properly, check the "Advanced Options" checkbox to display more options and scroll to the bottom, as shown in Fig. 18.

Fig. 18

Click the [Add Track] button to display new track information, as shown in Fig. 19.

Fig. 19

At the "Kind" dropdown, select "Captions"

At the "Track Label" field, enter "English" or the name of the language in which the video is recorded. This text will display in the "Closed Captioning" control.

At the "Language" dropdown, select "English" or the language in which the video is recorded.

At the WebVTT URL, enter the URL of the uploaded VTT file. This will be identical to the video URL. The name of the VTT file will replace the name of the video asset, followed by ".ism/manifest".

It should look similar to this:


Fig. 20 shows these fields completed for my video.

Fig. 20

Click the [Update Player] button.

Now, when you play the video, you should see a "CLOSED CAPTIONING" icon at the bottom right. Click this to reveal the CLOSED CAPTIONING setting and select the caption language you just added (English in the case of the video in Fig. 21)

Fig. 21

With the captions enabled, you should see text below your video whenever anyone is speaking, as shown in Fig. 22.

Fig. 22

In this article, I showed you how to create closed captioning and share a video that includes this captioning.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018 9:38:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, August 27, 2018