Keeping You In The Shmanda-Loop

You’re probably wondering what the heck’s a Shmandaloop. Well, it’s another nickname for Tansy. Steve came up with it one time when I was booking a Via Rail ticket. They always ask me what the name of the dog is, and in the background, Steve was petting her and said “Shmandaloop. S h m, a n d a, l o o p. Shmandaloop!” It was really hard not to start laughing.

She also gets called Joe with increasing frequency. Why Joe, you say? Well, long story time. Recently, especially when it’s hot, Shmans just flops down where she is and sprawls out. She also seems completely oblivious to people going by, and we’ve both nearly taken a header over her. There’s this sketch by the Vestibules called “Caspar Haboot’s movie music” where the guy sings what’s happening in the plot of a movie. If I could link to it, I would, but it’s impossible to find. At one point, he says something about “Look out, Joe! The fat guy is hiding…” When Tans has decided to lie in one of those awkward places and has tuned us out, when we are trying to avoid her, at the last second, we will sing “Look out, Joe!” at her. Now, we’ve taken to just saying to each other, “Remember that Joe is in the doorway.” or “Don’t move your chair backwards because of Joe.” Yup, we’re weird. But I wonder how long before Shmans starts responding to Joe.

Now that I’ve made you wonder about our sanity with these latest nickname choices, let’s get down to talking about Tansy. Amazingly, it’s only been a couple of months since the last update, but I was amassing quite a collection of notes so I figured I should go for it.

Poor Tansy had a bit of a rough July. We had the bladder infection at the beginning, and then after the antibiotics were done, her poop never went back to its usual solid form. Because I was about to go to Houston for work, I wanted her to be as regular as possible. So, I went to the pet store and got a probiotic. It didn’t take long for the probiotic to be doing its job. But when I got back from Houston, one of my coworkers noticed that there was a spot on Tansy’s face that was considerably lighter and looked like it didn’t have any hair on it. Um, eek? It turned out it was a hot spot, and a sizable one. How I hadn’t noticed, I don’t know, except that the fur is kind of rougher and thinner on the face, so it could hide better. But poor Tans, after getting off the other antibiotics, was given another course of them, plus some steroids to help make the spot less itchy so she would be less tempted to scratchity rubbity root root root at it.

I still don’t quite know what gave her the hot spot. Can probiotics cause hot spots? I did some googling, and it seems that usually they help pooches get over them rather than cause them, but I suppose she could have been allergic to something in the probiotic, and since allergies can cause hot spots, there we go. Or, did she come into contact with something in Houston? I noticed from time to time that she was rubbing her face weirdly when we were out and about and I had to keep making sure she wasn’t up to no good. I guess we’ll never know, but I stopped the probiotic and we started more antibiotics and steroids. When the vet last checked on her at her physical, she said there was a bit of a scab but it was much much better. So unless it comes back, I guess we’re in the clear.

The vet was very speicific that the antibiotics and steroids had to be given after food. They couldn’t be put in her food, I had to give them to her directly. This was the cause of many an amusing adventure, and I discovered that Tansy is more discerning about pills than I thought. She would come to me almost gleefully to get her antibiotics, but as soon as she sniffed or saw those steroid pills, she would run, hide, go quiet, whatever she could do to avoid them. Steve had to team up with me and catch her so I could give them to her. I was worried that she would end up being a pill-spitter, but I don’t think she ever spat them out, thank goodness.

I’m also pretty sure she got all the steroids because she started drinking tons of water and needing to pee more. I was scared that she had another bladder infection, but when she had to pee, she would unleash a river and that doesn’t usually happen with infections, and then I remembered steroids cause thirst and more needs to pee, so it was just the steroids having their side-effects. Thankfully, as the dose got smaller, she didn’t need so many potty breaks.

Then, after things had been normal for a while, her urges to pee went below normal. The first pee in the morning or the last one at night were really slow to happen if at all. This made me worry that there was some kind of blockage. Part of me didn’t think so because she could pee whenever she definitely had to, and if we were more active, she would pee more, but it was still weird. Thankfully, things came back to normal without me going to the vet for no reason.

You might think I’m really jumpy, more than my usual rate of jumpiness, but there is a reason. Before Trix retired, she just kept having medical issues, one after the other. There were bladder infections and increasing numbers of fat lumps and unexplained diarrhea and urgent needs to pee and random skin problems, you name it, Trix had it. And, statistically, Tans’s career is very similar in length to Trix’s. So I can’t help but notice these things.

Because I’m silly, I started calculating some stats. It’s a rough estimate because class time with Tans was shorter than Trix’s, but on August 18, Trix’s and Tans’s careers were the same length. At least I can say their time with me after graduation was exactly the same. On October 13, Tans will have spent the same amount of time home with me as Trix did. Because Tans started working younger than Trix did, this doesn’t mean they’re the same age. Those dates will be October 17 for age when Trix retired and December 12 for when Trix went to her happy retirement life with Brad. So, I’m a little easier to make worry than I usually am. I hope I don’t drive Steve out of his mind. For now, these issues are resolving, and I think I can consider them as one-offs or non-issues in the case of the reduced amount of peeing, but I just keep watching and hoping I catch things before she goes through the amount of agony that Trix did.

Like I said before, she had her annual checkup and they said she looked good. They gave her her Rabies shot and she didn’t have a reaction like that time in 2014. We decided that she should start taking fish oil to help with joint support because I notice she seems a bit uncomfortable and fidgety when she has to be in confined spaces like the floors of cars, and she takes a little bit longer to jump into a car. I don’t know if this is why, but I wondered if she’s calculating how to best do it without hurting herself. Trix started taking fish oil near the end of her career, in her case it was to help with skin issues, but I found that it gave her more energy. I don’t think I wrote this down, but we jokingly said that the fish oil gave her extra life points. I wonder if it will do the same for Shmans, not that she needs them. At first I thought it was doing that, but she seems to have calmed down. But if it helps her joints out, I’m happy to give it to her. I think it must be doing something because she does stay sitting on the bus longer.

It’ll be interesting to see if, when she lies down, we won’t hear so much of a loud thud. Back in August or so, when she would flop down, you would hear a definite thump. Ouch! That can’t be pleasant!

Another sign that Trix and Tans’s careers are about the same length is that their Attorney General’s ID cards both look equally as narled and beaten up. Incidentally, I wish the card’s actually had the dog’s name on them in Braille in case I accidentally mixed them up somehow. It’s unlikely, but it would be nice to check. The braille on one side is stupid. All it says is “Identification card.” Well, duh. That’s obvious by what it feels like. The other side has the number for Ontario Human Rights, so that’s cool. But where it just says Identification Card, the dog’s name would be a heck of a lot more useful, at least in my opinion.

Back in August, we went to my sister’s cottage and her little one, who has always been afraid of Tansy, made more progress. He was running around her when she was loose in the house, and he was out on the deck and she ran past him and he didn’t even care! She had so much fun at the cottage. She snorted and sprinted around the lawn chasing balls, and although she had to spend a lot of time on leash so she didn’t bowl over tiny kidlets, when she got loose, she had a great time. The little tool even stole some roasted marshmallows discarded by the one nephew who wasn’t the biggest fan of them. Shmans, always the opportunist.

I also went to Guelph and saw a lady I haven’t seen in years. I think she has been mentioned, or her dog has, a couple of times back in the Trixie days. It’s been so long since I saw her that Tansy has never met her. Unfortunately, when I did see her again, her guide dog had passed away. She was about Trixie’s age. I know it’s to be expected, but it’s still hard. It was hard when bunches of Trix’s cohort were retiring, but now they’re actually passing away. On top of this lady’s dog passing away, Rosamae left us a few months ago, and before that, Newmar passed away, and that’s just to name a few. Also, Beauty, my room-mate’s dog from the Trixie era, is dealing with cancer. She’s still pretty lively, but the fact is the time is coming. So yeah, lots of dogs around Trix’s age are leaving us.

Back to the subject of our visit, you would never know that Tansy hadn’t met this woman, because I let Tansy out of the harness to meet her, and when I did, Tansy gave her the biggest love fest ever. She must have known she needed it.

While I was in Guelph, I saw my old neighbour and the little guy we nicknamed the huppy. That is no longer an appropriate nickname. The little guy is 9 and talks and tries to solve problems just like his dad. I don’t think he remembers me, and was a little weirded out when I had baby stories about him. He also has a little sister who just turned 5 last week. I had never met her. Um, oops. Hopefully I can see them more now that Wroute is a thing.

I don’t know why, but Tansy has decided that her bed isn’t the best place to sleep. Sometimes she sleeps on the floor next to it, or on the floor by the side of our bed. Who knows why. She usually only does this for part of the night and then goes back to bed. Also, for a while during the night, she would stay put in her bed and not bound out unceremoniously to meet Steve, but recently she has started that up again. Thankfully he has already been up each time she did it, but still. Shmans, you keep me guessing.

At work, sometimes she gets lazy and tries to mindlessly follow coworkers. This is probably somewhat to be expected as she gets older, but it makes me nervous. It also makes me nervous when she just can’t control herself and darts out of my office area to meet a dog as they go by. I always worried if the first sign of her edging towards retirement would be her impulse control going bye-bye. But for now, I’m just going to think she’s having a frisky moment because it’s not happening all the time.

The last thing I have to talk about is funny, but would be funnier if I had a picture. In a previous update, I mentioned a colleague bringing his dog in, and she and Tansy trying to figure out how much interaction they can have. Well, this dog has figured out that I have treats and will try to steal them. She will also stick her head in the harness when I’m looking for Tansy. It’s a good thing she’s really fluffy and yellow, for starters. The guy always jokes that before she wants to work for me, she had better find out about what benefits I offer. Some day, I will get photographic evidence because it’s too funny.

And that’s about it. Tansy can amass quite the list of updates. Hope you enjoyed the ride.

Anony-Something

Like I’ve said before, our house is bugged, so this shouldn’t surprise us. We were having breakfast and “The House” was on, and they had a clip of Trump butchering the word “anonymous”.

Immediately, Steve said that somebody should set that butchery to the tune of that muppets song, you know, this one.

I thought it was a great idea and was going to make it. Then Steve wondered if somebody already had, and…

Yup! So, thanks, YouTube person, for saving me a ton of work. But you probably won’t remain…anomma…nomomma…amo…you know the word I’m going for…

The Ballad Of Billy John

One night, we were sitting out on the balcony enjoying a Spotify daily mix. It was a pretty good mix and we were having fun. Then, this song came along.

Boom! All conversation stopped cold and the music wasn’t just the background, it was the focus. I don’t think either of us said much through the next song while we thought about it.

Billy John was a simple man, worked in the fields most his life
He provided for his wife and kids and left his dreams on the side
One day when the kids left home billy picked up his guitar
It had been awhile but his fingers still knew how to reach the heart
Played a song about life and love, his hopes and regrets
Then with a little proddin’ from the Mrs. he put it on the internet
When the views started pouring in, tears of joy started to fall
Then they scrolled to the comment section and this is what they saw
Eat a bag of shit cuntface
Go blow your fucking dad
This shit just raped my ears never heard nothin so bad
I hope you fucking die
And I hope you get aids
You should just kill yourself
You’re a fag
Lol gay
Billy John’s wife watched her husband as he shrugged and tried to smile
He put his guitar away and stopped and stared at it for awhile
She knew he felt like a fool and he’d never play again
So she turned on her webcam and let her message begin
She said
The man you’ve hurt tonight, I’ve watched for 35 years
He’s got a kind and gentle soul and thanks to you
That soul is in tears
And the people said
Shut the fuck up fatty
Show us your tits
One out of ten I wouldn’t bang
I bet she’d try to eat your dick
You should go get sterilized
So that you cant have kids
Then they photoshopped a bunch of pictures of her covered in jizz
Well the video went viral
Fifty-seven million hits
Billy John’s wife became a meme on the internet
They played the clip on cnn and read tweets about her weight
Cause I guess that’s the sorta thing that the news does nowadays
Billy John and his wife did nothing wrong, and they weren’t dumb
They just hadn’t paid attention to what we’d all become
But a couple weeks later, after avoiding it for some time
A broken down and changed Billy John finally went back online
He found a page of a blogger, still makin’ fun of his wife
He signed up, made an account and this is what he typed
Eat a bag of shit cuntface
Go blow your fucking dad
Your shit just raped my eyes, never read nothin’ so bad
I hope you fucking die
And I hope you get aids
And the world lost a Billy John and it gained more of the same.

Are you having the same experience we had?

I had to ask Steve if he thought he was being more funny than serious, and we decided he was being funny to make a point, and what a sad point it is.

I only have one question. Why haven’t I heard of Trevor Moore? We listened to his whole album “High in Church” and there is some serious gold on there. Come to think of it, I think I might have seen him doing “Drunk Texts To Myself” on the comedy network once, but it’s a very hazy memory. Give him a listen.

Pick Of The Litter: A Fun Little Movie About Guide Dogs

I’ve been meaning to write about this movie, but I wanted to see it first. Now I have, so here I go. It’s a documentary about GDB, the school that trained Trix and Tansy, and it’s called Pick of the Litter.

It’s the story of five guide dog puppies, and the process they move through as GDB figures out if they will become guide dogs. Basically, it answers pretty much every single question I get asked by the public about the process of training guide dog puppies. It’s available in theatres in select cities in the states, and I know it was shown in Toronto back in May but I don’t know where else it’s getting shown in Canada. But now, it’s available for rent from places like iTunes and Hulu. The great thing about watching it through iTunes is getting the audio description is as simple as making sure it’s on in your media settings under accessibility. If you watch it in the theatre, you have to download this app called “Actiview and do this kind of cumbersome thing where it needs to hear the movie so it can sync the descriptions. I’ve never done it, I’m sure it’s awesome, but this felt a little easier, even if I could find some random theatre near me where I could watch it.

It’s definitely very cute and has some sad moments in it, but it makes it clear how many people are involved in raising a guide dog puppy, and how nothing is a guarantee.

Then, after you’ve watched the movie, you can take the Pick of the Litter quiz and see which puppy in the litter is most like your pup. I was sure they would say Tansy was like Phil, but apparently the quiz thinks she’s like Patriot. Hmmm. Not sure I agree, but hmmm. It thinks Trix was like Primrose. Hmmm. I would have put her as Poppet. I’m not doing well at this.

So if you like puppies, are interested in how guide dogs get to be guide dogs, or both, check it out. It seems pretty well-done.

Eat It, Twitter!

Since Twitter has decided to go and screw all the third party Twitter clients, I realize how much I don’t go and check my direct messages unless I know there’s something there to find. Consequently, my responses have become really slow. The default solution is to download the 183-MB official Twitter app, (no thanks), and get all the notifications back that way.

Steve had a flash of inspiration. Is the Twitter by text service still available? Why don’t we just turn that back on, receive all our notifications that way and then reply in Twitterrific? And it still works.

If you feel the same way we do, this helpful guide will get you everything you could possibly need.

We’ve both gotten it up and running and for the most part, it’s working. The only thing it can’t seem to handle is quoted tweets, which is weird because isn’t that just a glorified retweet? But mentions and DM’s and a whole bunch of other stuff will work just fine.

I guess the only person this wouldn’t work for is the one with multiple Twitter accounts in their name, like if you have a personal and a business one, but for most folks, this gets around the Twitter breakage and bloatware quite nicely. Happy tweeting, and now I won’t take an aeon to respond anymore.

Ya Fix Sixteen Faults, And What do Ya Get, One Eye Implant And A Life Full Of Debt…

I had a really weird dream Tuesday night and felt it needed a place in the totally out there dream archive. I think my brain decided it was time to brew up a thought soup, and this was the result.

It started off with me watching a TV show about this girl who was graduating high school and was getting ready to go to university. She found out about this app that had some kind of implant that she had to put in her eye. Once it was in, she could interface more directly with her phone and do more multi-tasking. I think she could just place items in her calendar by thinking about them. Notes would appear in the air in front of her and she could read them out of the air. She could do wicked multitasking and she felt like a superhuman.

Then, suddenly I wasn’t watching the show anymore. I had become the main character in the show. Notes would appear in front of me in the air, but they were Braille. The implant had become a blind person helping app, transcribing images of restaurant menus before I got there, doing GPS maps in front of my face, that sort of thing.

Sometimes, unnerving things would happen, like I would think about someone and then my phone would pop up a dialog asking if I would like to call, text, Facebook message or WhatsApp the person I was thinking about. I would think about going somewhere and my phone would ask if I would like an Uber right now to get there. It felt a little bit out of control.

One morning, I was at home and my mom noticed that there appeared to be a giant wading pool outside and wondered where it came from. I said I must have wished for one and my crazy new app must have built it. My parents were blown away, and everybody decided to go check it out. The next day, my brother commented that there was a cool-looking drone fluttering around outside near the pool, and he suggested that we go play with it. Everybody headed out to play outside except me for some reason. It was then that the app decided to pop up unbidden with a dialog that freaked me out. It simply said “You have some defects.” Against my better judgment, I clicked the button to learn more. It said something like “A diagnostic test has been performed and several defects have been detected in your body. Would you like me to fix them?” There was a list of defects, most of which I knew about and a few I didn’t. There was also a question of how I wanted them changed. There was an option to make them worse. I stared at the dialog, and then got that prickly feeling and hit cancel.

After the rest of the family came in from the pool, I told mom about it and said I was uncomfortable with what the app had asked. I thought maybe the developers of the app would make me feel like I owed them something, and it was all a setup where somewhere down the road, all the users of the app who had been healed could be asked to do some job and would feel obliged to say yes because they would feel indebted to them. Mom thought maybe this was the case and said I was smart to refuse.

A few days later, I was walking somewhere. I might have been at work, I might have been in a school, but all at once I felt like I was being followed, and inside my head, clear as a bell, I heard the strains of “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

It got louder and louder as I ran up the stairs, tried to skip around corners and evade whoever this person was, but eventually, he caught up to me. For some reason, he would only speak in whispers.

“I am from the app,” he whispered. We have been watching you, and we are perplexed. You have been offered the chance to see, to no longer require your medications, to be free of any imperfections and you have turned it down. We would like to know why. We would like to encourage you to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity. We do this out of love.”

I told him that the app was very handy, but sometimes it was doing a little too much guessing at what I wanted, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to fix me. I don’t remember the whispering fellow doing much reasoning with me. He just kept urging me to hit the “Fix all defects” button, and telling me that he would stay with me until the process was complete and I would love the result. I eventually got frustrated and asked if I could have the implant removed because I had decided I had had enough. He obliged, and the device was sucked out of my eye.

The dream fast-forwarded and I was sitting with some other friends and we were all talking about the year ahead. One of them said that she knew someone who was going to this super high tech university, and everybody who went was encouraged to get this new app that would help them take notes with their mind and multitask and be this ninja student, at which point I started screaming, sure that I was correct that the developers were trying to amass an army of willing participants for some job down the line…and the dream ended.

What in the actual hell was that?

Strangely enough, I think I know where most of that stuff came from, but boy, did I ever create a masterpiece.
The implant in the head that talks to smartphones comes from so many Black Mirror episodes. It really reminded me of “Nosedive” when he sucked the device out of my eye.

That splorching sound at the beginning of the clip is exactly what you think it is. If you want DVS, it’s probably not on YouTube.

The idea of the app proactively offering me things kind of reminds me of things Groupon or Spotify does at creepily opportune times. Sometimes Groupon will offer me a deal on hot air balloon rides after we have simply talked about getting a ride for someone as a present, for example. Or, I will worry about my weight or my teeth, and Groupon will offer me teeth-whitening or weight loss-related deals. Spotify has a tendancy to play a song we’re thinking about. Steve and I often joke that our house is bugged…and before someone says it, this came before the Google Mini came along.

I definitely think Aira wormed its way into my dream, especially at the part where the device was reading menus and stuff. But where it definitely influenced the dream was when the whispering man showed up and was offering to help me understand the opportunities the app could provide for me. It was a very twisted version of a program that Aira is trying to create where avid users help people who haven’t used as much of their minutes have more success with it. There was a time where I wasn’t sure how these pairings were happening, and I think it got a little bit misrepresented and sounded like people who weren’t using as much time were being paired with people without their asking to be paired. I think it’s more that the offer is there if people are feeling like they’re not getting the full potential out of an expensive service, but my mind decided to put a nightmarish spin on it.

I think the idea of my family playing with a pool constructed from nothing, and thinking the drone buzzing around said pool was a great toy represents the ability of technology to sneak into our lives and many of us being more accepting of it than we should be until we smash into some unintended consequence.

As for the thing about curing all my imperfections, I think it comes from reading a weird and kind of disappointing book called the gift by Dave Donovan, in which some representatives from an alien race can cure people of their physical limitations. I thought the book was kind of meh, but I guess it went into the soup. But the idea that you could make your imperfections worse comes from that Body Integrity Dysphoria that some people have, and actually give themselves a disability.

As for the “Sixteen tons” song, it’s been playing on that wacky radio station we like to listen to in the mornings. When the station started playing it, it made me think about being in Grade 4 and learning the ukulele and how cool my teacher was, because he taught us that song. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was definitely a fun, cool guy. Just imagine listening to a bunch of 9-year-olds belting out “St. Peter, dontcha call me, ’cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store,” and you get the picture.

And the last bit, the bit about a whole university getting implants reminded me of The “Outer Limits” episode called “Straight and Narrow”. I haven’t watched that episode in years, but my brain coughed it up anyway.

I don’t know why my brain decided to process all those thoughts, but there it is. Hopefully your dreams were much more pleasant that night.

Let’s Be Smart About This SmartCane

I appear to be on a smart cane jag today. I saw this one on the news, and good lord, getting the video clip to replay was a giant pain in the neck. If you want to get it to play, maximize your screen, I think, then go down to the h1 that says video player, I think, and then tab around and some buttons should appear. Then left click play. If it changes to pause and nothing is playing, tab over to the volume button and left click it. Then hit the rewind button to catch what you missed. I think that *should* work. Yuck!
Although this isn’t as recent, this old video should give you the gist of things without going through all that garbage.

Let me start off by saying that Riya Karumanchi is going to go far in whatever she does. She has the determination to try and build a technology, she started from only an idea, she has pitched her idea countless times, sought out contacts and gone from idea to developing a team and a plan and she’s 15. That’s awesome! But, I think the idea could use some tweaking because I don’t know how well-received it might be in its current form. It has potential, don’t get me wrong, but maybe it could benefit from some reshaping.

Riya, if you’re reading this, just so you know where I’m coming from, I myself am blind and have been blind since birth. Until I was 28, I used a cane, but now, I “rely on” a guide dog as you put it in your news story, but the reason I use a guide dog is not solely for the benefit of avoiding overhead obstacles. She allows me to move a lot faster than I ever could with a cane. A cane with technology in it is still a cane, and I will still be moving it about to encounter things. Yours might find things a little faster because of the sensors, but I still think I would move a lot slower than I do with the dog. I would absolutely love to be proven wrong, but that is my suspicion.

Let’s start off with the good things. A cane with the ability to detect overhead obstacles sounds like a pretty darn good idea. That is the one area where the poor cane does not do well. Also, putting some vibratory feedback in a cane handle that is linked to GPS might be handy, especially in noisy areas. Nothing wrong with that. I also saw in that other video that you thought about having an emergency button. You know what? That might not be such a bad idea either…as long as it doesn’t get triggered all the time by holding the cane. I don’t want to be the first one to pocket call 911 with my cane. *grin*.

I know you have incredibly high hopes, and high hopes are wonderful things, but I doubt your cane will replace caregivers. If a person is in need of a caregiver, they have not figured out how to travel independently because there are other things going on. Either they have just gone blind, or there are secondary disabilities, or maybe they simply haven’t been given the skills to travel on their own. Handing them a piece of technology will not fix this because they don’t know how to fill in the inevitable gaps that there will be. Problem-solving can only be taught by training and experience. I understand the desire to fix a problem with a piece of technology. I am guilty of this time and time again with my own relatives. I wanted to get my grandma an Amazon Echo because it would allow her to get the news and the weather and perhaps it could read books to her. But I forgot that the way of talking to these things isn’t something a senior is used to, and she already is having enough problems that adding something else to learn won’t help, and it won’t feel intuitive to her like we think it will. There are a lot of us that don’t have or need caregivers, and the ones that do don’t have them solely because of blindness.

There is something you need to take into consideration about GPS. It rarely takes you directly to the door of a business anymore. Many businesses are in plazas set back from the street. I would love to take your cane and have it help me find the Shoeper Store on Fairway Road in Kitchener, for example. My GPS always gets me close, but it’s the last mile, or last few feet, where I inevitably need to ask for directions. So, because I’m a hope-dasher all over the place, I have to say I doubt your cane will remove the need to ask for directions either. GPS’s level of precision is fine for people who can look around and see where the building is, but for people who can’t, it always leaves us with a wee smidge of guesswork at the end. I still love GPS, but I’ve never had it take me directly to the door. Also, a lot of us don’t have standalone GPS devices anymore. Much of that has been taken care of by apps on our phones. Maybe there are folks who don’t have a smartphone who might have a GPS device, but I’m not sure how big a chunk that is, simply because, as you say in the one video, the standalone devices are really expensive. Just to put it into perspective, I’m on a mailing list for one of the major makers of these devices from when I got one second-hand nearly a decade ago, and I haven’t heard a peep out of the list for a year or two. There have been no new members and anyone who might still be there never says anything. I think that speaks volumes.

I think you need to accept that your device will only offer another choice. It will never replace everything that’s out there. Others have had similar aspirations, and I don’t think they have succeeded. A stick has been a stick since 1921 because it works. It is less about the stick or the dog and more about the person with the skills to interpret the feedback they’re getting and navigate accordingly, and they’ll still need those skills to operate your device. I’m not trying to slag your friend’s grandmother who was knocking her head and shoulders on things, but I would venture a guess that she was still learning about this blindness thing. Most of us don’t walk around tripping on stuff. We occasionally bump into something, even people who can see occasionally bump into something, but if we have learned some skills, we usually don’t end up covered in bruises. If we’re new to the whole blindness thing, what we need, as I’ve said before, is training and practice, not another piece of tech.

Also I have a question. Your older video referenced putting braille into the cane. Are you still considering doing that? I’m worried that having scrolling braille in my cane would serve as more of a distraction than a help. Navigating is hard enough as it is. There are many inputs happening already. I don’t know if I would find another to be beneficial.

I’m glad you’re involving users now for feedback, but I wish you had involved folks who are blind and have low vision of several different levels of ability at the development phase rather than waiting to get our feedback at the testing phase. There is a saying in the disability community. “Nothing about us without us,” and it is so very important. I know you’re just learning this, but I hope that maybe it will help you in the future. This story might illustrate what I mean. I am not saying you haven’t done research and I’m not saying you have no clue. All I’m saying is it’s good to get as many inputs from actual potential users as possible as early as possible. If you did, and the news helpfully cut that whole piece out, I’ll take back this paragraph.

And please, I’m down on my knees, begging you to stop saying we “rely on” our guide dogs and canes. I know it probably sounds like I’m playing with semantics here, but that phrasing is demeaning. It’s the difference between saying someone is confined to a wheelchair versus them using a wheelchair. We use our guide dogs and canes and we’ll use your device. You use a computer to do your research and reach out to people. Would you say you rely on it? Probably not, even though you do. It changes the whole tone of what you’re saying. Here’s a page full of stuff about ableist language and some less than awesome words to mull over. I admit that some of this stuff is kind of confusing and brain-twisting. The bottom line is try and leave the people who you are trying to help with as much dignity as possible.

The last point I’m worried about is the price point. $500 is quite steep for the average consumer of this stuff. I know you referenced $50000 for a guide dog, but a lot of that is breeding and training cost, and that is paid for by the schools’ donors and isn’t directly carried by the guide dog users themselves. Also, some people receive assistance in paying for the regular $40 white canes. I bet your intention is to get this onto something equivalent to the Assistive Devices Program, but at least here in Ontario, the program is pretty tight with what it approves, so it may be an uphill climb. But beside the point, you may not want to rely on agencies to set your market value. If they don’t bite, frankly, you’ll be screwed.

I’m not trying to smash your hopes and dreams. I just worry that you may end up getting discouraged if you don’t tweak a few things. This thing has potential, but it cannot replace training and experience or be an all-encompassing solution.

Feel free to shoot me an email or comment if you want to talk more. Seriously. And, good luck with everything. You are going to do awesome things.

WeWonder

I’ve been slow at getting this one up here, but I might as well do it now.

Someone else has decided to build a smart cane. It’s called WeWalk, and it’s supposed to make your cane even more awesome. Since I always get a little suspicious when people start putting high tech stuff in a low tech solution, I had to look.

First off, the main site isn’t very informative. I’m going to hope it’s because the folks who wrote it don’t speak much English, so they went light on the words and heavy on the pictures, but heavily relying on pictures for a device for blind people doesn’t seem like a good idea. But there is part of me that thinks they aimed that site primarily at donors, and somehow thought those donors would not include blind people. Referring to us as “the target group” doesn’t send a good message.

One sentence that did make me laugh was this one: “*Only Cane with Sound Notification”
Uh, guys? Every cane has sound notifications. Tap, clunk, bonk, clang, sploosh. Those are all notifications of what you might encounter, and they’re sound. A sentence like that kind of destroys credibility, at least for me.

Since I couldn’t discern much from their actual website more than it being a smart cane that can interface with other apps, I went looking around and found a more informative article.
I also found a video, which informed me that Dr. Oz is involved. Hmmm.

The WeWALK consists mainly of an electronic handle, with a regular “analog” white cane inserted into the bottom.
While the tip of that conventional cane is used to detect ground-level obstacles, head-level obstructions get pinged by ultrasound pulses emitted by the WeWALK. Whenever such hazards are detected, the device lets the user know by buzzing their hand through either of two (left or right) vibration buttons.
There’s also a front LED to help partially-sighted users see in the dark, along with a touchpad, which can be used to remotely operate a Bluetooth-connected iOS or Android smartphone. This phone connectivity means that users can utilize the WeWALK’s built-in speakers to receive verbal directional cues from supported apps such as Google Maps, or use its near-field mic to confer with Amazon Alexa, which is also supported. Additionally, because the technology is built around an open platform, third-party developers could add their own smartphone-based functions down the road.
One USB charge of the battery should be good for up to five hours of use.

Ok, now that we know what it is and what it does, let’s talk about some good and bad things about it.

I’m glad it doesn’t require a whole heap of extra devices, and that a regular cane is fitted into the fancy handle, so the regular cane is taking all the bangs and clangs, not the electronics. I’m relieved that if the battery dies, you can still use your cane as a cane. You just won’t have all the bells and whistles. I also appreciate what they’re doing with detecting overhead obstacles. That is definitely a problem that the cane has.

Maybe I would have to actually see one, but I don’t quite get the idea that it would be easier to manipulate my smart phone from my cane. I would still have to stop moving to screw with it.

Also, how much stuff is coming from my phone and how much is integrated into the WeWalk? Could I leave my phone at home and set off with the WeWalk and plan a route to the store solely on the WeWalk? If so, where does it get its data from? Or, is the WeWalk just acting like a glorified Bluetooth keyboard, taking all its awesome power from the phone? If so, how can these apps be called integrations with WeWalk?

On the flip side, what is the point of connecting my phone to the WeWalk by bluetooth? Is it only to be able to control the phone and do things like send text messages from the cane without taking the phone out of my pocket? Does it do anything else? Why would I want to drain two devices at once if either, on their own, does the job?

On a side note, how big is this touchpad? I can’t envision how a touchpad would fit easily on a cane handle without me bonking it as I’m just using the cane. But of course, I’m saying this without seeing one.

Have they tackled the problem that some devices have with draining the battery faster in the cold? At least with a bluetooth headset, I can mainly keep my phone warm. I couldn’t keep my cane warm.

My final worries are with cost and repairs. I couldn’t bring myself to pay $500 for a cane, especially since a bunch of the stuff it’s doing is already being done by a smartphone. Plus, if it needed repairs, could I take the basic cane out of it before sending the handle back? This very well could be the case, but I would want to know this.

I guess my thoughts are maybe it has some potential, but I still have a lot of questions.

A New Spin On The Old Refrain Of Please Refrain From Grabbing Blind People

Here’s another article about people’s need to grab blind people in an attempt to help. It’s saying a lot of the same things we said or mentioned before, but with the addition of an aspect I hadn’t thought of, how it must feel to experience this when you’re new to the whole blindness thing, and how downright terrifying it would be. I’ve definitely had some terrifying instances, like when I was new to KW, and some woman grabbed me and started trying to drag me through the bus terminal without asking where I was going first, and I wasn’t super familiar with the area, but most of them, to me, are just annoying and demeaning. It’s amazing more of us aren’t dealing with severe anxiety. Or maybe we are and I’m just blissfully unaware.

So, please, unless I’m about to die and there’s no time to explain, ask me how you can help. And sometimes, what looks like struggling actually isn’t. If I’m searching for the rail to get on the bus, it’s not for balance, it’s to get a sense of how far I have to step to reach the bus. Seizing my wrist in a death grip actually makes things worse and makes it more likely I will slip and fall. Words are wonderful things, you should use them.

Somebody’s Cheesed Off Now…

This story about two men in their 70’s fighting over cheese samples is a funny enough scene on its own. One fellow repeatedly cut in line at free sample stations in front of this other fellow until they had words about it and the line-cutter hit the other guy. But for some reason, there’s a part of me that wonders if, in a couple of years, my dad could be one of the guys in the fight.

My dad is in his 70’s, a scary fact I know, and sometimes he can be a little bit cranky. Steve and I joke that he has a limited supply of chipper tokens and when he runs out, there are rough times ahead. I think for now, the only ones who are aware of the loss of tokens are family, but what does the future hold?

In my dad’s case, it would probably only amount to dad having some choice, probably hilarious, words with a guy cutting in line. I couldn’t see dad cutting in line or smacking anyone. But I definitely could see a future where he would lip someone off for doing something like that if he was especially frustrated. Hopefully I’m wrong. I’m glad he doesn’t have a Costco membership…for now.