Hey Google, It’s Time To Tweak The Background Noise Filter Again

Not sure about anyone else, but I’ve about had it with the new Best Buy commercials, the ones that say stuff like “hey Google, play my New Year’s playlist.” The damn things have set our living room Mini off at least four times already. And to make matters worse, it was four times in the same stupid night. Every single time it would try to play something on Spotify and we’d have to yell at it to make it stop. And it’s not just us. I was talking to brother Brad on the weekend and he said the ones where he works have been doing the same thing.

When I’m in charge, there’s going to be no more of this let’s intentionally try to trigger the technology business. If you slip a “hey Google” or whatever it is you say to Alexa into your commercials or radio station IDs, somebody is going to be legally obliged to hunt you down and kill you. End of discussion.

Pay TV Comes To Canada. Canada Yawns And Goes ON With Its Day

I didn’t think I was going to post this report about Pay TV’s impending arrival in Canada in 1982, but then it got to the part about costs and complications. Basic cable service could cost you around $8 per month, I was informed as I did my best not to spit tea everywhere. And say what you want about complications (I do feel for the people with those newer, fancier TVs with the built-in converters), but none of this has anything on Telefirst.

Cable TV just isn’t cutting it any more when it comes to home viewing options for Canadians. Thanks to Anik C, the latest Canadian satellite to be launched, a batch of new movie channels (among them First Choice and Superchannel) are coming, and their promoters are pushing them hard. But there’s a recession on and a subscription doesn’t come cheap, ranging from $25 to $50 per month. In this 1982 report for CBC’s The National, a skeptical Terry Milewski demonstrates the hardware and hears the pitch from companies that stand to get rich from pay TV.

If you’re wondering how rich they got, the answer is they didn’t, at least not right away. Only half a million people signed up for the original services, which was about half of what they were hoping for on the low end.

Computerized Christmas Shopping In 1962

I wasn’t alive in 1962, so I have no idea whether this computerized shopping assistant was considered amazing at the time. But sitting here in 2018, it seems like quite a bit of rigamarole to go through just to get a few gift ideas. I always have at least a person or two on my list for whom I have no idea what to get, but generally that’s solved by going to some stores and looking around for a while. I’m not sure this computer would be much faster than the I’ll know it when I see it method, but sometimes a list of suggestions like this would be nice to have as a starting point, if nothing else.

Does the New York department store guy sound more like Elmer Fudd or Mayor Quimby to you? I can’t make up my mind.

The Super Mario Bros. Theme, Now With Its Official Lyrics From 1985

That’s one catchy tune. And even though it doesn’t have words, once you hear it a time or two you’ll be humming it forever.

At least that’s what I’ve thought for the thirty some years between my childhood and this morning, when I learned that in fact the Super Mario Bros. theme song does have words.

The story goes that when the song was composed there were no lyrics, but that Nintendo liked this particular submission to a radio contest so much that they decided to adopt and release it.

Today, full of energy, Mario is still running, running
Go save Princess Peach! Go!
Today, full of energy, Mario runs
Today, full of energy, jumping!
Today, full of energy, searching for coins
Today, keep going, Mario!
Get a mushroom—it’s Super Mario!
Get a flower—it’s Fire Mario!
Goomba! Troopa! Buzzy Beetle! Beat them all!
Mario is always full of energy and strong!
Today, full of energy, Mario is still running, running
Go and beat the Koopa tribe, go!
Today, full of energy, Mario runs
Today, full of energy, jumping!
Today, full of energy, searching for coins
Today, keep going, Mario!
Get a star—become invincible!
Quickly, go save Princess Peach!
Lakitu! Blooper! Cheep Cheep! Beat them all!
Mario is always full of energy and strong!
Today, full of energy, Mario is still running, running
He’s made it to the castle and gets fireworks!
Lightly sidestepping the Hammer Bros.
Show the last of your power, Mario!
It’s been a long journey but it’s nearly at an end
You’ve done it, you’ve done it! You’ve defeated Bowser!
Princess Peach says “thank you”
Mario’s got a great big heart!
Mario’s adventure is over for now, but
Mario’s dream lives forever …

I think I’ll stick to humming it, thanks.

It’s Not My Fault That You’re An Idiot

So here’s a completely garbage road that I hope our courts are smart enough never to go down. If you send a text to a driver and they have an accident, you could be held liable: expert

An insurance and legal expert says texters could be held liable for any damages if they message someone they know is driving and that person has an accident.

“There’s an increasing public safety issue of operators of vehicles who are distracted while driving,” lawyer Jordan Solway said in a recent interview.

“And if you contribute in the same way as if you’re in the vehicle, and you interfere with their driving of the vehicle, you could be held responsible for that injured third party.”
Solway, vice-president of claim at Travelers Canada, pointed to a New Jersey court ruling from 2013 that said the sender of a text who causes a driver to become distracted and have an accident may be held liable.
The case involved an 18-year-old driver’s girlfriend who texted him about 25 seconds before his pickup truck crossed a median and seriously injured a motorcyclist and his wife. Both bikers lost their left legs as a result of the 2009 accident.

Solway said there have been no similar cases in Canada yet, but he believes it’s just a matter of time.
He compares it to what happens when a bar owner or the host of a party has to take responsibility for someone who is drinking, becomes intoxicated and gets into a vehicle.

“It’s analogous _ you’re putting someone in a position where they could cause harm to themselves or a third party,” Solway said.

To quote myself from at least one conversation I’ve had in real life with a wrong person, “it’s exactly like that, except it’s not.”

There’s no breathalyzer or eye test for stupidity like there is for alcohol. I can’t look at my buddy and say “George, you’ve had quite a bit of phone tonight, I think you’re too dumb to drive.” If I text George and it turns out that he’s got all the impulse control of a toddler at a candy dish and can’t wait until he’s in a safe place before he starts dicking around with his electronics, that’s nobody’s fault but his own. Saying that I’m responsible for George’s texting accident would be like saying it’s Justin Bieber’s fault that his song was so shitty that it made George take his eyes off the road and play with the radio, or that it’s the radio station’s fault for playing it when they knew he might be listening. That’s just goddamn ridiculous, and any judge who rules otherwise should be immediately fired and then committed.

Telefirst? More Like Teleworst

This is an interesting enough video if you’re wanting to learn a little about the over the air pay TV services that existed in the days before everybody had cable or a dish, but the best part for me is the last few minutes where they start talking about Telefirst.

Telefirst operated in Chicago for around five months in 1984. It likely would have lasted at least a little bit longer had it not been one hell of a terribly executed idea even by 1980s technological standards.

Let’s see. I can either drive to the store and rent a video because that’s a somewhat affordable thing to do now, or I can drop a few hundred bucks on a VCR and then pay this company $25 a month for a service so impossibly inconvenient that I have to stay up until the wee hours of the morning six days a week to make sure all of the shows record properly. But even though I’m already up anyway, I can’t just watch the shows live on television because the decoding process is fully reliant on the VCR. Oh, and the tapes stop working whenever the descrambler codes change, which happens seemingly at random. And you can’t rewind or skip anything efficiently because the descrambler isn’t fast enough to keep up with those functions on the VCR. Hmmmm…what ever shall I do?

It’s pretty obvious what they were trying to achieve here (simultaneous consumer convenience and movie studio comfort), but yeesh, what a way to get there. But you never know if you never try, I suppose.

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.