Category Archives: Software

What do Android App Developers need to know about Alexa Skills?

What Do Android App Developers need to know about Alexa Skills

Amazon has developed Alexa as an intelligent personal assistant for a variety of devices. Alexa enables users to accomplish a number of tasks – play music, get information, access news, manage shopping lists and operate smart home devices – simply using their voice. At present, Alexa supports several mobile platforms including Android. The users have option to download Alexa app for Android from both Google Play Store and Amazon Appstore. They can even use the Alexa App to manage their devices more efficiently with voice commands.

The latest version of the mobile app further enables users to communicate with their Echo devices by making calls or sending text messages. Amazon currently allows users to choose from over 15000 skills or voice experiences. The users even have option to install specific skills to interact with specific smart appliances or access specific apps, websites, or services. Amazon further allows developers to create and upload new Alexa skills using Alexa Skills Kit (ASK).

The tools, APIs, code snippets, and documentation provided by ASK help programmers to simplify and accelerate Alexa skill development. The Android app developers also have option to develop a variety of skills for Alexa. However, it is important for the Android App Developers to understand various aspects of Alexa skill development.

Understanding Important Aspects of Alexa Skill Development

Types of Alexa Skills

An Android app developer has option to develop a variety of skills for Alexa – custom skills, smart home skills, flash briefing skills and video skills. A custom skill must have the capability to handle any user request, whereas a smart home skill must enable users to operate/control cloud-enabled smart-home devices. A flash briefing skill needs to provide original content for a user’s flash briefings, while a video skill must enable users to find and access video content without invoking any specific skill.

Specific APIs

Alexa Skills Kit allows developers to choose from a wide range of self-service APIs. The Android app developer needs to use specific APIs according to the type of Alexa skill he wants to develop. For instance, while developing a smart home skill, the developer must use the Smart Home Skill API. The Smart Home Skill API defines the requests to be handled by the skill and the voice commands required to invoke the skills. The Android app developer must use the Video Skill API to develop video skills and the Flash Briefing Skill API to create flash briefing skills.

Voice User Interface

Amazon requires developers to focus extensively on voice user interface (VUI) while developing a new Alexa skill. The VUI creates custom voice experiences and enables users to interact with devices through voice input. While developing a new Alexa skill, the Android app developer must keep in mind the latest trends in VUI development – natural language understanding (NLU), automatic speech recognition (ASR), text to speech (TTS), machine learning, and Internet of Things (IoT). Also, he must refer to the Amazon Alexa Voice Design Guide to create skills that deliver voice experience based on human conversation.

Interaction Model

While developing an Alexa skill, the Android app developers must keep in mind the differences between voice user interface (VUIs) and conventional graphical user interfaces (GUIs). Unlike Android apps, the Alexa skill will require users to make requests using their voice and respond to the user requests by voice. Hence, the Android app developers have to learn how to make the Alexa skill interactive without including buttons, display boxes, and select options. They can use specific APIs to make the skills avail built-in interaction models. But the developers have to define their own interaction models while developing custom skills.

Steps to Create a New Alexa Skill

The Android app developers also need to learn and remember the steps in Alexa skill development. The steps may vary according to the type of Alexa skill. But the developer must follow the steps exactly to accelerate Alexa skill development. For instance, while developing a custom skill, the developers has to follow six important steps – design a VUI, set up the skill in developer portal, build interaction model using the voice design, write and test the source code of the skill, beta test the skill, and submit the skill for certification. The Android app developer must take advantage of the Alexa Skills Kit to follow the most appropriate skill building process.

Recently, Amazon announced its plan to reward skill developers based on the customer usage. It has already started rewarding game skill developers. Hence, the Android app developers can earn money by developing new Alexa skills. They can even measure the customer usage of a skill based on a number of parameters – number of new customers and average minutes of usage.

 

Gearing up for an “App”y Shopping

On Monday when I tried to open Myntra on my laptop, I was in for a big surprise. In bold letters it said,

DOWNLOAD THE MYNTRA APP NOW
Your choice. Your taste. Your style.
All on your most personal device.

Obviously, I hadn’t followed up on the news and was oblivious to the fact that Myntra had shut down its website on 15th May 2015 and became an App only platform. It is rumored that Flipkart the parent company of Myntra would also follow suit in almost a year. Buoyed by the fact that almost 95% of the traffic at Myntra takes the mobile route and mobile commerce contributes to 70% of their sales, Myntra is all set for the metamorphosis. Recent proliferation of smartphones and tablets (especially in tier II and III cities) and greater access to the internet via broadband, 3G, 4G etc helped build the foundation of an ever growing online consumer base in India.
According to a recent Morgan Stanley report, ecommerce penetration in India is set to grow from 9% in 2013 to 36% by 2020 and most of it being contributed by mobile users. Indeed, I remember, one of my friends was busy adding items to the shopping on a popular ecommerce site on his iPhone coz he would get X% discount more for shopping via the mobile app. Agreed, most of us are deal hunters and we swim with the current but who wouldn’t like a bit of a personalization. With eCommerce companies encouraging customers to download and use the mobile app, it certainly means that app only culture is in the offing. Only Myntra is the first eCommerce company in the world to implement this bold step.
Needless to say, shopping is a personal experience and Myntra is trying to cash in on this. However, personalizing this experience to a level that it is only available on your personal device could actually make or mar the profits of the company. Not all users are of the same composition. While some would feel irritated of the constant notifications indicated by a beeping handheld device, there would be others who would feel neglected with very few notifications. It all depends upon Myntra now to hold and keep its customers on its mobile because we all know that an app can be deleted with greater ease than what was required to download it. Also, there is a fine line that separates engagement from intrusion.
I have shopped on Myntra a good number of times in the past and I was happy with the experience. I may even download the app for now. But whether I will shop only from Myntra is a matter of “choice”. This is because I cannot change my shopping habit. I love to browse through various eCommerce sites when I look forward to buy something, compare prices, add items to the cart and depending upon the urgency, proceed to check out which could be from a handheld device in case I did not complete the action on my desktop.
What would be the repercussions of app only platform for software developers. Well more work possibly; demand for flawless work undoubtedly, greater attention to incorporate better UI/UX into the app definitely and increasingly better career opportunities for mobile app developers. In fact if this step leads to success, Myntra will have a first mover advantage for sure but there will be many other eCommerce sites and boutique online shops that will follow suit with varying degrees of success.
I keep my fingers crossed. At this point of time I am left to wonder how relevant that small icon on my mobile phone would be in the times to come. Only time will tell…

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My First CRM Project…

…and that too was in Spanish. It just went over my head. I was feeling like I was juggling frogs.

Looking Back…

The rigorous training I received was a great support for me. It was hard work and I got myself acquainted with the different components of Dynamics CRM within couple of weeks. I would not have been able to work on the application without the help of my teammates and my lead, who constantly guided me and inspired me. It was as if there were two dozen hands guiding me lest I go wrong. It was complete team work at work. I would like to thank all of them for their help at each and every step.

Positive Part…

Fortunately, the project was going to introduce me to almost every component of Dynamics CRM, as it was getting migrated from an older version to new. Okay fine…. I said to myself, it was difficult for me because of the foreign language, but this is the positive part, I have the opportunity to learn a great deal from this comprehensive project  and I looked forward to it.

Going on…

During the development phase, I faced many difficulties. But who is going to stop me, when I was so inspired by the words of Alan Saporta who had said: “The best way to escape from a problem is to solve it.“, was showing me the path.

And yes, as my team says I was in Dot NET domain, so, it is not going to be tough on my part, but I believe they were the only the driving force, who made it easy.

Busy, busy, busy…

Within no time, I was busy in creating the needed components one by one according to the specifications. The work was divided between two other developers including me. Oh, how I forgot our excellent QA team, who also did a marvelous job in digging the system to find all the bugs they could. We as a team completed the job and delivered it to the client, much before time, much to his surprise and delight.

Conclusion…

Expecting some morals, right?, Here it is…

If you’re going through hell, keep going”. – Winston Churchill

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Learning @ Live 360! (10-14 Dec 2012) Orlando, FL

Attending Live 360! Conference in Orlando, FL provided me a great opportunity to learn a lot about Microsoft technologies.  Mindfire Solutions has a unique CTC program under which I got the opportunity to attend this international event. It was a 5 day pure technical event where various workshops and sessions on different Microsoft technologies took place. This conference targetted not only Visual Studio track but also various other tracks like SQL server, Cloud etc, so people (speakers/audience) from various roles like developer, DBAs, IT management etc could get together and share experience and knowledge.

Continue reading Learning @ Live 360! (10-14 Dec 2012) Orlando, FL

OSI Days 2012

As a software deSubharanjan veloper, I sometimes attend sessions, seminars, training on specific technology related to my work, to increase my knowledge. This time it was a conference I attended in Bengaluru. OSI Days – 2012, the premier open source conference in Asia, targeted at nurturing and promoting the the open source ecosystem. This was scheduled to be held from 12th-14th October, 2012 at Nimhans convention center, Bengaluru. This opportunity was provided by Mindfire.

 

Back in September, I got a mail regarding my name being included in the list of attendees from Mindfire who will be attending the conference. I was very much excited and started looking for the day when I along with other six colleagues will be attending the OSI Days.

Day before 12th Oct:
Completed the work, sent the status and left office early to fly from Bhubaneswar to Bengaluru.

Day 1:
As this was the first day of the conference we reached the conference location little earlier. After a short registration process there at the venue we stepped into the Audi 1 where the keynote session was to be given. The conference started with a welcome note followed by the session on usage of Open Source and Commodity Computing in Government projects. Mr. P. Varma, Chief Architect and Technology Adviser to Unique Identification Authority of India(UIDAI – Aadhaar) gave a nice presentation on Commodity Computing and Opensource technologies those are used in one of the large government project in India. It was really interesting to know that the whole project is built upon open-source technologies, open standards and the relational database being used is MySQL. Technology like MongoDB, Hadoop Stack, Hive, Apache Tomcat etc. are used for this big project which handles around 200 trillion biometrics matches per day and 2 Peta Bytes of raw data are being stored. Got to know about different APIs it is providing to banks, financial institutions like eKYC API, Biometric Device API, Biometric SDK API etc. After this, we had a coffee break.

After the break, the presentations started to flow in,one by one. The whole day was for Cloud Computing. Speakers from Sify Technolgies, HP, Torry Harries were there to speak about the Cloud. Got overall idea on Public, Private and Hybrid cloud. Mr Lux Rao gave a very good presentation on this. Atul Kumar Jha, speaker from CSS Corp. talked about OpenStack. Openstack is an open source cloud computing platform for creating public and private clouds. Got to know that any organization can create and offer cloud computing services running on standard hardware.

First day at the conference was awesome. Food was OK. All the sessions were mostly on Cloud Computing, but sometimes I felt that some speakers were doing a kind of marketing of the cloud solutions they provide. Anyway I have now some idea about what exactly a Cloud is.

Day 2:
Day 2 started as usual at the right time. This was a important day as the day was for Web development related topics, on which I work at Mindfire Solutions. Out of the sessions “Off-line Web Applications Using HTML5 Local Storage” was an informative one. HTML5 local storage is a way for web pages to store data inform of key-value pairs locally, within the client web browser. This data persists even after you navigate away from the web site, close your browser tab, exit your browser. Unlike cookies, this data is never transmitted to the remote web server (unless you go out of your way to send it manually). The speaker Mr. Janardan Revuru, Project Manager, HP, Bengaluru demonstrated this with some simple examples. Session on “Test Driven Development And Automation” by Mahesh Salaria from Kayako.com was another good sessions. He gave an overall idea on TDD by providing some lights on the tools that are being used for the TDD and automation like PHPUnit, Selenium, Code Sniffer, xDebug, NetBeans, PHPStrom etc.. Jacob Singh, Director, Acquia India gave a talk on “Drupal Revolution and the Enterprise projects”. Role of Acquia in training people to take-up Drupal to next level and how Drupal is being used in enterprise projects were discussed by him. Also got to know about “Typescript”, “REST Applications With The Slim Micro-Framework”.

Day 3:
The Database Day: Speakers from Oracle talked about MySql new developments and new features. This was really informative. MySQL Cluster, MySQL Performance Schema techniques etc were discussed. Speaker from Cloudera solution gave a presentation on HBase. Hadoop Ecosystem was also discussed by Vaitheeshwar Ramachandran from TCS. I gained some knowledge on bigdata trends on which I was completely unknown.

This was the last day of the conference. I with my colleagues also talked to the representatives from companies like Oracle, PostGreSQL Enterprise DB, Microsoft India who were having stalls at the conference. Overall the conference was informative. Attending the OSI conference was very valuable for me as I got to know about many Open Source technologies that are being used or the future of Open Source.

Thank you Mindfire for giving me this opportunity to attend OSI 2012.

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Experience of Web & Database Testing Workshop

Knowledge as we know is not limited. We cannot say we have gained all the knowledge that we had to . Each day is a learning process, each person we meet we learn something from them, each work we do we learn something and the list is endless. And when it comes to our career , we would always want to have the best of our knowledge be it through learning , through training , etc.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the 2 day workshop on Web and Database testing. Since the trainer was a senior industry veteran, with almost 20 years of experience, everyone was looking forward to attend and learn something new from the training. It was a 2 days training session with 25 QAs attending. There were many interesting topics covered in this session .

Continue reading Experience of Web & Database Testing Workshop

Mindfire wins Red Herring Award

I am in Mindfire Solutions and I am a Winner

Winning is a special thing. In every aspect of life winning gives a satisfaction, endless happiness and helps  prepare a path by showing a ladder of success to the next level. And of course , winning moments are the best moments in life. It has been more than a year since I am associated with Mindfire Solutions and I feel like a winner. Because being a part of a winning team makes you feel like a winner and Mindfire Solutions is a winner for 2012. It is not just me and my co-workers saying it, leading management consulting firms and industry leaders say it too.

Continue reading I am in Mindfire Solutions and I am a Winner

Netscape Vs Internet Explorer

The Browser Wars 1993-2004 – Part 1

Netscape Vs Internet ExplorerThe First Browsers

Browsers began to be taken seriously around 1993 . The first were the Unix browsers such as Line Mode Browser, ViolaWWW, Erwise and MidasWWW, and MacWWW/Samba for the Mac. In a short span there were more like Cello,Arena,Lynx,tkWWW and Mosaic. The most popular was Mosaic. It was designed by National Center for Supercomputing Applications(NCSA) to run on multiplatforms.

Marc Andreessen, a founding developer of Mosaic, started his own Mosaic Communications Corporation and his first product was Mosaic Netscape. The company was renamed Netscape Communications Corporation and the browser Netscape Navigator. The Netscape browser was much better interfaced and reliable than other browsers of that time but the best thing was it was free.

Corporates soon recognized this as a new market and many more IT companies jumped in like Browse, IBM’s Navipress, SlipKnot, Web Explorer, UdiWWW, Omni Web, Web Rouser, Mac Web . And then one day Bill Gates took notice of Netscape and soon Microsoft introduced it’s own Internet Explorer 1.0.

 The War

By 1995 Netscape Navigator in only about a year was more than 80 % of the web browser market. Microsoft released Internet Explorer 1.0 with licenses from NCSA’s Mosaic on its Windows 95 Plus! Pack in August. Some time later Netscape was free only for educational institutes and non profit organizations while Internet Explorer 2.0 was released as a free download. Everybody realized how competitive the new market had become and started to provide free installation with new updates appearing regularly at a rapid pace

On October 1997, when Internet Explorer 4.0 was to be released, Microsoft had a 10 feet “e” logo put on the lawns of Netscape office with a sign “From the IE team … We Love You”. Netscape responded by knocking it down and setting their Mozilla dinosaur mascot on top of it , with a sign reading “Netscape 72, Microsoft 18” representing the market distribution.

Internet Explorer 4 was a turning point. It was introduced as a part of Windows to exploit the already dominant personal computer market of Microsoft. IE 4 was free and already there with Windows and thus no need for users to get another browser.

The U.S. Government soon took notice of this and was concerned because Microsoft had already had some trouble over monopoly rules in the past. Microsoft defense was that Internet Explorer was not a separate product but an upgrading feature for Windows, although the IE was part of the Plus! Pack which was sold separately from Windows 95. Microsoft in its reports said that the government, under influence from its competitors, was trying to constrain the Windows business.

The Trial – Part 1
 

 

On May 18, 1998 the U.S. Justice Department and the Attorneys General of twenty U.S. states sued Microsoft for illegally obstructing competition in order to protect and extend its software monopoly and for violating a 1994 consent decree by forcing computer makers to include its Internet browser as a part of the installation of Windows software.

Bill Gates himself was brought to trial. But his attitude was reported to be “evasive and non-responsive” and saying ‘I don’t recall’ so many times that the judges got irritated. Intel Vice-President Steven McGeady, called as a witness, quoted Paul Maritz the senior Microsoft Vice-President as to “extinguish” and “smother” rival Netscape Communications Corporation and to “cut off Netscape’s air supply” by providing Netscape Navigator’s clone for free.

To prove that IE 4 was an upgrading feature of Windows, Microsoft provided videotapes that demonstrated that removing IE 4 from Windows caused slowdowns and malfunctions. Interestingly Microsoft Vice-President James Allchin had stated the video to be a seamless segment filmed on one PC, but the prosecutors found some icons mysteriously disappear and reappear on the PC’s desktop, and thus claimed it to be a fake. Allchin confessed and blamed his staff, “They ended up filming it – grabbing the wrong screen shot,” he said. Microsoft had to drop the the claim that removing IE slowed Windows and got irritated by the lawyers’ “nitpicking on issues like video production”. Microsoft submitted a second videotape to demonstrate how easy it was for America Online users to download and install Netscape Navigator onto a Windows PC. Microsoft’s video showed the process as being quick and easy with the Netscape icon appearing on the user’s desktop. The government produced its own videotape of the same process, revealing that Microsoft’s videotape had conveniently removed a long and complex part of the procedure and that the Netscape icon was not placed on the desktop, requiring a user to search for it. Brad Chase, a Microsoft Vice-President, verified the government’s tape and conceded that Microsoft’s own tape was falsified.

Continued in the next part

Author- Soumendra Barik

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DoEvents – The good, the bad & the ugly.

.NETApplicaton.DoEvents() processes all Windows messages currently in the message queue” is how the msdn defines it. It has been a developer’s tool to organize the response of forms in .net. But it has got its own limitations attached with it.Its own good, bad and ugly attributes. So, let’s see the different faces of it.

talking cars

Talking and Tweeting Cars: Future Belongs To Intelligent Vehicles

90% of innovation in automobile industry is driven by electronics and software according to IEEE New York Monitor. It is not talking carssurprising to find that all leading software giant,IBM, Microsoft,Google and Cisco have plunged headlong into the automotive sector. The major development seems to be centered around the concept of ECS – Electronics and Control Software to make commutation less hazardous and free of traffic snarls. Although GPS-based navigation systems,smartphone apps with real-time traffic updates are already in use,traffic congestion haven’t decreased. In fact, a study reports that an average American spent 34 hours in traffic,costing $808 in 2009, the total loss caused by gridlock was placed at $115 billion!

Although the study cited above was conducted in the USA,the finding can be related to other countries too,which explains why automobile companies are going for complex software to make cars safer and more efficient. Automobiles that can be managed with the help of smartphone apps (such as Chevrolet Volt whose energy level can be monitored by a smartphone app ) are already in use. Microsoft and Toyota are collaborating to network Toyota cars with Microft’s Azure cloud computing platform to bring telecommunications and GPS data, multimedia content and battery management capabilities. If features like streaming music and infotainment in general are introduced, can social networking be far ? Especially after the success of location-based social apps like Foursquare and Latitude which are really helpful when you are in a new city and chances are, when you are entering a new city, you would be in your own car. Apps that quickly find your places of interest or locate your friends and create best routes to reach them would be cool.

As a matter of fact, Ford did test run a tweeting car, a Ford Fiesta with cloud connectivity to explore how car safety and efficiency can be enhanced with cloud connectivity. The cloud-based car apps on a road trip labeled “American Journey 2.0 was able to to tweet, use Foursquare to locate nearby restaurants, gas stations and parks and even auto-blog (pun strongly intended).

Audi Autonomous TTS
Audi Autonomous TTS LA

However the latest frontier is that of vehicular communication or cars that “talk” to each other and with the grid and autonomous/ semi-autonomous cars. Many automobile companies are at various stages, developing these “autonomous cars”. German researchers have developed a car that can be controlled by thought while Virginia University students have developed a car that the blind can drive. Audi show cased its autonomous vehicle technology by letting its robotic car TTS successfuly complete a race to a peak through a rough terrain and of course, without a driver at the wheels.Volvo’s S60have been part of the first successful road train or platooning setup where the semi-autonomous cars have been programmed to follow the lead car by monitoring its speed,direction and distance.  Google’s autonomous cars that use artificial intelligence software to mimic human behavior have accumulated 14000 miles and are some of the best examples self-driving cars.

But large scale implementation seems more likely to be  on the lines of the Ford model that uses wi-fi signals to talk with other cars and has shown crash avoidance system using wi-fi signals,emitted 10 times a second and GPS data to communicate with the other car 900 feet away. In contrast to the current crash avoidance systems that use radar and require a a straight line to detect hazards,wi-fi and GPS mechanism provide a 360-degree visibility and are hence considerably advanced.  With the ability to communicate with other vehicles as well as  surrounding infrastructure, these “intelligent cars” can make commutation far more safer and efficient by sharing real-time data on traffic,speed,weather condition etc.  In fact the US Department  of  Transportation believes that that vehicle-to-vehicle communication has “potential to save a lot of lives” and has launched the Connected Vehicle Technology Challenge.

Of course, every new technology brings with it, its scope of being misused or exploited. How well the security measures are implemented would be crucial not just from the individual/ owner’s perspective but  from the social perspective also. Last year we saw attack on real time systems in the form of the worm called Stuxnet. One of the most sophisticated cyber-attacks in the history of computing, the Stuxnet worm was successful in sabotaging one of Iran’s nuclear plants and was one of the first instances of such a sophisticated  attack targeting industrial software. Though not identical, parallels can be drawn between the systems on the role software plays in both and the damage that can be caused by subverting it.  Apart from that, there are also threats of rogue hackers breaking into networks and causing havoc. In March 2010, more than 100 of drivers found their cars unusable or honking after a disgruntled former employee thought of taking revenge by abusing the web-based vehicle-immobilization system normally used to get the attention of consumers delinquent in their auto payments.  This was just an example, a terrorist or a psychopath is unlikely to be contented with that, the likely scenario is nightmarish.