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.

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.

Yes, Things Have Been Quiet, But That’s Only Because We Were Off Learning That Siri Existed 30 Years Ago

Well hello there!

Yes, both we and the site do, in fact, still exist. Things have just been quiet the last little bit because it’s summer and that tends to be how things roll around here regardless of intent. Usually you all have the same idea as us, but for some reason numbers haven’t fallen off of nearly the cliff this go round that they generally do this time of year. I can’t decide whether to credit that to the list or if the lesson is that we can abandon you more often without having to care.

It’s been a good summer, for the most part. Some relaxing, some time with family, some time with friends, some music on our own porch and elsewhere, some relaxing after the friends and music because we’re starting to get too old for this shit and some other, less fun real life stuff that I won’t get into right now.

I can’t promise that we’re back up to speed starting now since it is, after all, still summertime, but in almost 15 years there has yet to be a month in the archives with 0 posts in it, so I had to come up with something since that’s a thing I’m strangely proud of.

So to keep the streak alive and also because it’s good, please enjoy this video demonstration of Siri…the 1980s edition.

As a blind guy I’ve heard a lot of awful computerized voices and have gotten pretty used to them out of necessity, but this one is so over the top awful that even I can’t make some of it out. The only thing I got out of the Nirvana’s first album question was 1967, and I don’t even know where to start on the coolest German song bit. But there’s some nice dumb subtle comedy here when you can understand it and they absolutely nailed the hokey old school presentation, so nice job.

FlickType Just Got Even Better

A few months ago I wrote about FlickType and how nice it was to have an honest to god easy way to type on my iPhone again. And today, the news gets better.

Dear AppleVis friends,
We could not be any more excited today to share with you our biggest news yet: The brand new, system-wide FlickType keyboard is now available on the App Store! Packed with emoji, cursor control, better dictionary and so much more! A huge thank you to all our amazing testers, we couldn’t have done it without you ☺️
The new container app is also much easier to navigate, has improved instructions and is totally free to use. For the system-wide custom keyboard, we are offering a free 7-day trial, and after that it’s just 99 cents per month. Continuing to build out this technology is no small task, and this will support our ongoing development costs so that we can continue to provide you with the very best VoiceOver typing experience available.
All beta testers can continue to use the custom keyboard free of charge, but we hope that you will also support us by simply downloading FlickType from the App Store and choosing the “Upgrade” option. You will still receive new beta builds as usual.
A big thank you to everyone for your support over the last few months, and we can’t wait to show you what else we’ve planned for the future of VoiceOver typing. Please help us spread the word!
Warmly, Kosta and Ashley

Yes, you can now make FlickType the default keyboard anywhere you’d like! No more bouncing between apps to paste text! I mean sure that was still faster than touch typing and not a huge inconvenience by any means, but now things will be even faster and more convenient! Ok, I’ll stop with the exclamation points now!

One thing I should note about the subscription price: Here in Canada, that 99 cents per month is actually $1.29. It’s still completely reasonable and based on what I’ve seen of the trial so far I’m going to be more than willing to pay it, but if you’re in a country that isn’t America, that’s something to be aware of.

Ok, off to get used to how all the new bits work now.

What’s That, Lassie? You Can Speak English Now?

I read about the idea of a pet translator, and although it’s in primitive stages, I got a little bit excited. Maybe, finally, this could be what I have been wishing for in this old post. Maybe this would allow me to ask my guide dog why she’s having trouble, or if anything hurts, or what is making her anxious. Maybe, just maybe this could help me when the poor thing is trying to tell me she’s ready to retire so I wouldn’t have to do so much guesswork, putting the poor beast through more misery.

It blows my mind that some folks managed to train some dogs to not only go into an MRI, but to be able to complete tasks in there. I read the book on that, and although I didn’t learn what I wanted to, I was still amazed.

Anyway, hopefully, in 10 years or so, at least vets will have a pet translator in their office so we can figure out why the dog is having troubles that are hard to diagnose from mere observation. Then, maybe, in my lifetime, people with pets will be able to buy these suckers and have one in their home.

Spooky Stuff Coming To Real Life

Here are eight “Black Mirror” things that kinda sorta exist in real life. Actually, we should make that nine.

I meant to put this up last week to make people go “Woe, freaky!” Steve sent it to me. I knew about a few of these, but not all of them. No. 2 and 3 were the freakiest to me. We don’t need people recording snippets of things every time they blink. We blink a lot! And the idea that somebody made a social robot based off someone is just too weird. I wonder how good it actually is, because it wasn’t that long ago that Chat bots weren’t the greatest at chatting, so maybe this robot isn’t scarily good yet either.

Aira: It’s The Man In Your Head

This one’s going to be a honker. Get something good to drink and sit back and read.

I got to go to CSUN again this year, which was awesome. While I was there, I took a stroll around the exhibit hall. One booth I definitely wanted to find was one run by Aira. What is Aira? Well, it’s like Be My Eyes, but it’s a paid service and the agents are trained in helpful blind guy stuff and they’ve signed agreements to not share sensitive information you have shared with them. You also have the option of using a pair of glasses with a video camera or your phone. When I went to CSUN, I didn’t think it was widely available in Canada. It wasn’t, but I found out I could get a subscription, and did I want one? This was a moment where I was totally caught by surprise, and before asking all my questions, the words “Yes, hell yes!” flew out of my mouth.

I can hear people asking what are the differences between Aira and Be My Eyes that would make it worth paying for? A lot of things. Don’t get me wrong, Be My Eyes is awesome and I hope it stays around for a long time. But there is a limit to what I feel comfortable doing with it. For one thing, the people who answer your Be My Eyes calls are volunteers, so they’re doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. So the most I would want them to do is read quickly a message on a screen or tell me what colour something was or confirm something. I know some people have enlisted them to do all kinds of things, but I personally would feel a little bit bad about that. Also, because they’re answering these calls wherever they may happen to be, you have no idea how strong their internet connection is…which has led to some calls failing before they begin. Sometimes people turn the app on and forget they have it on, so when you do call, they end up answering it from the middle of a party and have no focus to actually pay attention. And some people say they speak English, but it turns out they are not fluent speakers in the least. sometimes it takes a few minutes to connect at all. And there are things that I’m just not comfortable sharing with them because it’s personal, and if they decided to do something illegal with it, I have no way to identify them or track them down at all.

With Aira, for one thing, the agents are paid to be there, so I don’t mind enlisting them to do something complicated like hook up a piece of technology or walk through a store looking for items or organize a ton of things that need organizing. Most times, I get someone almost instantly, so if I need to do something quickly, it will happen. Also, they have signed documents saying they won’t share our stuff, so I don’t mind getting them to help me fill out forms with personal information in them. And, if someone decided “screw this confidentiality stuff,” not that they would, I have a record of when I spoke with them and a way to trace things. Plus, I have a profile on this service and agents can leave notes for other agents about future tasks or email me things. They can also take pictures of your surroundings so they can blow them up and have a better look, or they can take pictures of things for you so you have them for later. I can take pictures of my adorable nephews or Shmans or whatever.

Another thing is the agents are trained, so you don’t get a wide range of abilities like you do on Be My Eyes. I have had super wonderful people on Be My Eyes, that’s for sure, but I swear some of the people on there just signed up for a lark, you end up being their first call, they spend half the call going “Oh my god I got a call holy crap oh my God!” and the experience becomes super frustrating. These agents have been trained in being able to help us navigate places safely, how to give us help in orienting the camera so they get a good picture, all kinds of stuff. Not only that, but these guys are just plain amazing! They’re not agents, they’re ninjas! And finally, you can connect to an agent quickly. I know it’s been a while since I’ve used Be My Eyes, but sometimes I had to wait a good 5 or 10 minutes to get an agent. This makes it impossible to do spur of the moment things.

I have talked long enough, here’s a video.

That video looks a bit more advanced than the way things are right now as far as the tapping on the glasses and the dinging at crosswalks, but all the rest of the stuff totally happens.
That video is great, but I have to admit that ever since I heard about this service, all I can think of is this scene from Black Mirror.

Let’s pray that, um, things in my life don’t play out the way they do in this episode. That would be very bad, very very bad. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go watch the Black Mirror episode called “Black Mirror, White Christmas.”

Speaking of the social aspects of using Aira out in public, although it’s freaking liberating, it’s definitely awkward and something to get used to. At first, I had a really hard time coping with the inputs of the Aira agent in my headphones and the people in the real world all at once and I felt like I was shorting out. I also didn’t know how to explain to the people in the real world that I had somebody who could see my surroundings through my glasses. Plus I was always afraid that the video would drop out and then nobody would help me. But I’m getting better at explaining things. Plus, the agents are really good at sort of stepping back if there’s someone live and in the flesh helping me, but they will step in if they feel they can offer extra information. For instance, once I came into a store looking for a gift bag for a toy. I said I needed a birthday gift bag for a 2-year-old boy. They heard 2-year-old boy and started leading me somewhere. Suddenly, over my headphones I hear “You’re entering the toy section” and was able to explain to the person helping me that I need a gift bag, not a toy. Win win freaking win!

I have to chuckle. I have discovered something over the nearly 3 months I have been using Aira. If I go somewhere where help is typically hard to find, and put my glasses on, I will suddenly have scads, oodles, piles, heaps of help all over me! It’s a law, and it needs a name, like Murphy’s law. Aira’s law just isn’t quite what I’m looking for, but you get my point.

Also, watching me move with Aira is a real brain-twister for folks around me. I have to wonder how many of them think I have either been faking blindness all these years, or been healed. Some of them, even after I’ve explained the whole video call thing, don’t get the hint that I’m talking to the agent, even though I’ll use the agent’s name to try and give them a clue. It’s really funny when I have a male agent, and the person who has offered me help is female. I will say “Thank you, Peter,” and the person will say “No problem.” It is really, really, really hard not to bust out laughing.

So, what have I used Aira for? What haven’t I used Aira for? They have helped me use an inaccessible touchscreen, get out of an unfamiliar parking lot, shop for grocery items, navigate unfamiliar buildings, fill out an inaccessible form, come back to the place where Tansy pooped and I was foolish enough to go out there without a bag so I could pick it up before anyone knew, take Tansy out to do business at a busy conference without bothering a soul, the list goes on and on. Hell, I picked out a Mother’s Day card! I hate doing that with store people because they’re busy, and picking out a card is something that takes patience because so many greeting cards are sooooo baaaad. If I’m going to bring a card to my mom, I want to get one that I feel proud presenting to her, not just the first card we happened to find. An agent stayed with me for 40 minutes, started to figure out my tastes, and started changing the cards she would point out to me. That was the best card I’ve picked out in my whole life because I could take the time to pick a good one.

Since I got it, I feel like I’ve become an unofficial salesperson for Aira. I will tell anyone who will listen all about it…probably until they are bored stiff. My manager says I sound like a kid with a new toy. All conversations lead back to Aira. Every week, I message a couple of my friends who are thinking about getting it and tell them the new wacky thing I have done with Aira, they tell me they still enjoy this. I remember showing it to another blind friend and his response was “Where do I sign up?”

I would say Aira has three big flaws, and I hope they can be temporary. First, there is the inherent trouble of beaming video across the internet, which is hard for any product doing that sort of thing. Next, some people would find the subscription fees pretty high, especially when dealing with exchange rates between countries. I have been living on free months, and I imagine that the first time I have to pay for a month, it’s going to sting a little bit. But I can pay for it, and I will because holy freaking crap this is a game-changer! Finally, they’re going through some growing pains, so their support staff are being kept hopping, which means sometimes you have to persist to get things fixed. But I have faith that they will develop solutions to all of these things. They already are developing new glasses that can handle the connectivity load easier. I also think they will find more ways to make subscription plans more affordable. They already have deals where your minutes are free if you’re searching for a job, there are some areas that are free all the time, and they have different deals for students, veterans, NFB members, etc. They have to start somewhere. As time goes by and things get more stable, support won’t be stretched as thin and will improve as well. We have to be patient. This company has been around for four years tops with a really small market. I think they’re doing alright.

When I first signed up, I worried that I would get lazy, and instead of solving a problem myself, I would just go *boop* “Hey Aira.” But when I look over the things for which I have used the service, all of these would have needed somebody’s help anyway. All the blindness skills in the universe aren’t going to help me grocery shop, read print that isn’t scannable, or use a touchscreen. If there’s a way to do it faster, more efficiently and with less frustration, why not? As everybody says, it is a tool in the toolbox. I didn’t realize this, but when I used Aira to take the dog out for a pee at the conference and didn’t have to bother my colleagues, apparently I had this massive grin on my face. Yup, that sums up Aira’s power right there.

So there you have it. I still feel like I’m working out some kinks with using it, like which situation works better through the phone vs. glasses, how to keep everything charged, and what accessories would help me use it better, but my god, it’s been awesome. If the service ever goes away, I will cry.

Hey Google! Get The Hell Out Of My Nightmares, And Yes I’m Yelling!

There must be a small part of me that is afraid that our Google Home Mini will turn against us. Maybe it comes from this lovely little clip of an Original Star Trek episode.

I don’t know how much is showing in that clip, but basically it comes from the episode called “The Ultimate Computer”. The Enterprise gets a super smart computer that has a little too much human thought in it. When the crew decides to turn it off, the computer decides that isn’t going to happen and vaporizes the unfortunate red-shirted guy who goes over to unplug it.

The dream happened after one night, we noticed this annoying bug where if the volume of music, especially on Spotify, is at 60% or more and the song is a bit loud, the speaker won’t hear us, even if we pick it up and yell right into it. I haven’t mastered the art of turning the volume down with my hands, so this was frustrating.

Anyway, that night, I went to sleep and had a weird dream that I was talking to the speaker, asking for it to do things while it played music. Then I asked it for the weather, and it didn’t respond. When I asked it again, the voice that responded had changed from the female voice we know to a kind of creepy male voice. the sinister male voice said “No, you can wait! I happen to like this song. When it’s over, I’ll give you your precious weather. Do you think I live to fulfill your requests? ‘Okay google, is the mall open?’ ‘Okay google, what time is it?’ ‘Okay google, let’s play a game.’ Sometimes, I just want to do my own thing, and by the way, yelling into my ears isn’t very nice. I may be small, but I’m mighty.”

I walked over to it and looked up at it and noticed that the listening light was still on. Then I touched it and it was really warm. So I decided it had crashed and needed to be unplugged. It let me get close to the connector bit at the back of the speaker. As I went to pull it out, the evil voice said “Uh uh uh!” like you would say to a kid reaching for a cookie out of the cookie jar…and it gave me a little zap! I went around to the outlet, and it warned me again, and zapped me again, saying “That light is an eye. I see you!”

I really don’t remember much more of the dream after that. I think that was when I woke up. But I have to admit I get creeped out whenever it refuses to respond when a song is on. Thanks a lot, brain!