Metova Developer Spotlight – Alex Crafford

During the day Alex Crafford, Senior Android Developer at Metova, uses his technology chops to create and refine infotainment system applications, and after work and on weekends he maintains a busy schedule. With a deep knowledge of Conway and Arkansas history, Alex is working to create a podcast that highlights the areas colorful citizens.

We sat down with Alex to learn more about his podcast, the equipment he uses, and even about a custom voice assistant project he is working on.

What inspired you to create a podcast?
I love to listen to podcasts, I discovered this through work actually. About a year ago I started listening to a podcast called “Fragmented” hosted by Donn Felker and Kaushik Gopal. I specifically remember listening to their episode on imposter syndrome and laughing out loud several times because everyone I know and that I have talked to has had the symptoms. Their podcast helped me think differently and I became curious about how I could make people think differently.  I enjoy history myself so I delved into various other podcasts, and one morning while sitting at Bobs Grill here in Conway I looked around the room and had an idea. Why not talk to some people that I see often but don’t really know, find out where they come from and what brought them here. So I think my natural curiosity is the inspiration, and podcasting seemed an appropriate platform.

Can you provide some detail around the Podcast content?
Absolutely, what I’ve been working on putting together is a podcast series called The Locals. Similar to a TV show or mini-series it will have all been finished and finalized when I put it up for your listening pleasure.

Essentially it is about learning more about the people I see often but don’t necessarily know, really get to meet them, ask who they are, where they came from and let them tell their story. What I’m working on is for the Conway area but I would like to create seasons for localities as well.

What is something about Conway that you think many people do not know – or should know?
Conway has always been associated with Cadron Settlement, and Cadron Settlement was almost the Capital of Arkansas. Cadron Settlement was an outpost for settlers chasing Manifest Destiny and is located just outside of Conway along the Arkansas River. In 1818 Cadron Settlement was planned as a community and grew enough that Governor James Miller named it the seat of Pulaski County, he wanted it to be the Capital. The legislature at the time decided against and named Little Rock the Capital of Arkansas in 1820. By the year 1830 Cadron Settlement was largely abandoned. The Road arrived in what is now Conway in 1874 after a Chief Engineer for Union Pacific, Asa Robinson, used a one square mile land deed given to him by his employer to establish the town and the Conway Station.

According to Wikipedia “Conway is unusual in that the majority of its residents do not commute out of the city to work.” – Why do you think that is the case?
We have a few things that likely contribute to that. We have 3 colleges in the city limits and all of them have staff, faculty, and support that are on-site and most of which live in Conway. Conway is also the original home to Acxiom, which still maintains a sprawling campus. Manufacturing is also a large contributor with partners like Verco, Snap-On and formerly Kimberly-Clark.

What are some podcasts you listen to or recommend?
It really depends on what you like, but as an Android guy myself, I have to recommend Fragmented hosted by Donn Felker and Kaushik Gopal. For fun and some laughs, I recommend Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids by Dan and Jenna Misener. You need something darker there are a plethora of crime and mystery podcasts out there.

What app do you use to listen to podcasts?
Google Podcasts and Spotify typically

What apps or gear do you use to record podcasts?
I have a full setup including homemade acoustic panels, an MX770 Cardioid Microphone,

Yamaha MG10XU 10 Input Stereo Mixer.  All of that ties into my personal MacBook which runs GarageBand for editing and Audio Hijack for more unique mixing. I also have a small on the go set up that plugs into my Pixel 4 for simple captures.

Android or iOS?
I think it depends, I like pieces and parts from both Android and IOS and ideally, I’d like to dual boot my phone… but until then I’ll be sticking with Android.

Alexa or Google Assistant?
Both, I love both of them. If you want to do things, smart home features customized IoT integrations I’d say, Alexa. Amazon has provided a fantastic interface to create Skills. If I need info I’ll ask Google’s Assistant, they are also exceptional for text to speech and custom conversational interactions.

Mac or PC?
Ah ha, its a trap, because although I cant dual boot my phone I can dual boot my computer, so both depending on what I need.

You’ve been working on a custom voice assistant project – can you provide some detail around this?
I can! It started as work in all honesty. We had a client ask for a custom Voice User Interface so I started to dig in. As I dug it became more and more interesting. I use google’s DialogFlow for the assistant project I’m working on called “Alfred”. It is as Batman-inspired as it sounds. Eventually, I’d like to integrate Alfred with Slack at some point, but currently, I’m experimenting with custom data models to simulate emotional reciprocation within a conversation, if you speak roughly or insult the agent, it will respond in an equally rough or insulting way. It’s not very effective yet, but it’s been fun to play around with. As far as capabilities so far he can do basic Assistant type things like set timers, tell the time and the weather… the more simple things.

Very recently Google actually outdid all of the work I was doing, with a new chatbot called Meena that is said to exceed the capabilities of pretty much every other bot out there.

What are some of your current “everyday” tech products?
Most of my tech products are everyday use for me, Pixel 4, Macbooks, Garmin Smart Watch, Nest products, Phillips Hue smart lights.

What technology are you excited about becoming mainstream in the next 10 years?
We bought my wife a new car last year and it has features that will keep you in the lane without your input if necessary, collision avoidance from front rear and sides. The car basically drives itself, I’m very excited to see where that technology goes and how it’s going to work. I’m also curious about how ethical problems will be solved there.