Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Interstellar (2014) Time Travel

I just came back from the multiplex seeing Interstellar starring Matthew McConaughey, and I was very pleased with the science portrayed in the movie.  For statistical purposes, I am a Christopher Nolan fan and I appreciate most of the movies he makes.  From a pure ratings standpoint, I give it an 8 out of 10, with points off only for some unnecessary heavy-handed drama toward the end which could have been presented in a more natural way IMO.

Beware, spoiler alert.  I am going to attempt to explain my thoughts on a time travel issue  essential to the plot of this movie, so please don't continue reading if you haven't seen it yet (are excited to do so).  If you couldn't give a shit less about seeing it and are just hard up for some meandering thoughts about time-travel paradox resolutions, please continue on since my blog could certainly use some extra views.

Interstellar deals with messages through time, and it falls prey to the classic chicken & egg time-travel paradox most similar-type movies have limited ability to handle.  For instance, if a message is received from a "future" that turns out to be the sole cause for that "future" to even be possible, how did this particular "future" come into existence without the all-important message being received in the original timeline?  In Interstellar, Matthew McConaughey is led to a secret NASA mission to save humankind by certain binary messages he receives in his daughter's bedroom one dust-stormy day.  By him receiving these messages, he is able to do what he needs to do to be in a position to send back an important encoded message to his grown up daughter some 30 years later.  The problem: future Matthew is the one that sends the binary message to original Matthew.  If future Matthew doesn't exist or get there, original Matthew doesn't go to NASA and all of humanity is lost it seems.

This is a problem for a lot of viewers, I am finding out.  However, I believe I found a way for some of it to make more sense (at least in my mind) after pondering it for a few hours, so please let me explain.  We are told in the movie about 2 plans to save humankind, Plan A & Plan B.  Plan A is for current humans to solve a theoretical physics problem with time & gravity to build O’Neill Cylinder-inspired spaceships to take a significant portion of humans off our dying world and hopefully transplant them (eventually) on a Type-M planet in some other galaxy accessible through a newly-discovered wormhole.  Plan B is to simply continue the human race by sending embryos through the wormhole (with a caretaker) to start a colony on an agreeable planet and give up any rescue-plan for earthbound humans.  At the end of the movie (with lots and lots of heavy-handed drama thrown in for good measure), we thankfully find out both Plans worked, it seems, only because future-humans made it possible for the wormhole to exist and for Matthew to find a way to send the all-important messages back through time to himself & his daughter.

I concede that future-humans are necessary for the blackhole "tesseract" Matthew is able to use to send messages through time using gravity waves, as that is the only thing that makes sense.  My contention is that the wormhole was not future-human created and just appeared at a fortuitous time through natural or otherworldly means completely unrelated to Earth's current food predicament.

Ignoring the messages-through-time alternative timeline which we watched over a course of 3 freaking hours, the "original" timeline must have gone like this: Plan B succeeds completely without Matthew McConaughey flying the ship.  Plan A fails with everyone on earth dying.  Remember, they were going to launch anyway even before they met Matthew.  Future-human people (from Plan B) eventually figure out the extra dimensions and the possibility of sending messages through time using gravity waves, so a subset of them create the blackhole "tesseract" to enable a potential human to do this very thing Matthew does in the movie.  They probably had no idea whether it would ever be used or even work, but perhaps they heard about original Earth and Plan A and perhaps some of them wondered if it would be possible to, perhaps at this future point, save some original humans.

Unfortunately, this doesn't solve the future Matthew problem, but perhaps this can be one step closer to having this movie makes more sense.  Thoughts anyone?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Google Wallet Fail

Okay, I ordered one of them new fandangled Google Wallet physical "debit" cards because I wanted to look cool.

It arrived in the mail about 10 days later, and I promptly transferred some money to it from a prepaid VISA rebate card I just received from a drunken PSU purchase I made several months back at Newegg.  I set my purchasing PIN on the Google Wallet website and I went forth into the actual world to convert my virtual Google money into physical goods at the nearest Costco.

Silly me: I had this mistaken belief that since Google is one of the most forefront technologically advanced companies this world has ever known, surely my upcoming transaction at the cash register would go off without a hitch.  Nope, my shiny new Google Wallet physical card is unreadable and the purchase failed.   Of course, the credit card terminal had no problem reading my PNC debit card, but this was no way to impress the cashier.

I left dejected, only to try later that night at a bar.   The cool bartender took my fancy order of Grey Goose & Cranberry and I promptly handed him my Google Wallet card.  He was so impressed, told me this is the first one he's ever seen, and went to swipe my card.  FAIL again.  I curse Google under my breath, and ask the bartender to type in the entire card number to try to process the purchase that way.  Success, but wow what disappointment...

I know the problem: for some reason my magnetic stripe on my new card has lost its magnetism.  Okay, simple enough, I need to cancel the card and order a new one.  Looking on the Google wallet website, I easily find the "Cancel Card" option but it's silent on whether I can easily order a new one after doing so.  So, I call a friendly Google Wallet representative, (855) 492-5538 for those who may be wondering, and I expect to be greeted with the most knowledgeable technologically astute representative of all time.  Silly me: wrong again.  She barely understood the English language (understandable), she wouldn't listen to my clear description of the problem with the magnetic stripe, kept trying to solve a problem I wasn't having, and refused to transfer me to her supervisor when I started to get irate.

During an irritatingly long 5 minutes on hold, she must have finally talked to someone nearby who understood how credit card terminals worked, and told me to cancel the card online and I would then immediately be given the chance to order a new one.  Sheesh!  Why couldn't the website have just told me this to begin with?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Google Glass and the future of technology

Exciting days are ahead for individuals with mobility impairments, especially those who have little use of their hands or arms.  Google is in its final stages of releasing the most technologically advanced augmented-reality accessory this world has ever seen.  It is called Google Glass; a wearable computer that you look through with your right eye that interacts with you and the world around you.

For starters, it will be voice activated to provide information on what you are looking at, it will photograph or record video on your audible command, it will let you stay connected to your social networks all without touching your phone, and it will (most likely) provide a voice-enabled interface to your cell phone to make/receive calls, video calls, text messages, and emails.

This is a game changer, even with the estimated $1500 price tag.  On top of that, Google is going to open up a development platform for people to create their own uses (apps) for this awesome technology.  One project is already underway to use Glass's (expected) eye tracking capability to accelerate and steer an electric wheelchair.  For those of us who have difficulty driving our wheelchairs with muscles that don't work very well, the future looks bright as technology comes to the rescue again.

I encourage you to check out the project on Indiegogo to watch its development and possibly contribute to its success.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Disabled Advantage

According to a recent New York Times article, some people are under the impression that reasonable accommodations, made for people with disabilities to compete in sports  alongside able-bodied competitors, can actually give that disabled individual an unfair advantage.

I have a physical disability and use an electric wheelchair, yet I compete every week in a USBC-Sanctioned bowling league with my team. About five years ago the USBC decided to look into the issue of accommodations for wheelchair users, and to make a set of rules to guarantee the right of individuals with disabilities to compete in bowling leagues and tournaments.

It used to be illegal to propel a bowling ball using anything but your hand, but now the use of rails (stationary, or mounted directly on wheelchairs) or other mechanical aides are allowed. However, just because there is a rule protecting my right, this doesn't necessarily preclude issues I may have with other bowlers who may feel that I have an advantage propelling my ball with my wheelchair instead of my arm.

What I have found is that just about everyone is initially thrilled and encouraging when I roll up onto the lanes with my team and bowl and participate in the activity. However, let's not forget that this is a competitive sport… and when I got good enough to start influencing the skill of my team, and started excelling, some of those same people started more than a few fights claiming that I had an unfair advantage. I have heard accusations of not having to deal with approach stickiness, grip problems, release inconsistencies, and lots of other complaints. However, from my vantage point, able-bodied bowlers still have the advantage because they don't need to deal with wheelchair motor jerkiness, inability to adjust rotation or ball speed or loft, or a myriad of other difficulties I have had to overcome.

When I rolled a 246, was it harder or easier for me to do so than an able-bodied bowler?

Monday, November 12, 2012

BlueAnt S4 to the Rescue?

On my continuing journey looking for the perfect cell-phone system for someone who can't use his/her fingers, my stop today takes me to the BlueAnt S4. As I mentioned in a previous post, I require a truly hands-free solution to make and receive calls since God chose to make my life just that much more interesting.  Anyway, as you may recall, I have tried several voice-triggered devices that work in conjunction with a cell-phone, like the DriveBlue and the Moshi Bluetooth speakerphone, but I always felt that I still hadn't found what I was looking for...

I still feel that way, even after trying the BlueAnt S4, but at least I know what I want now.  The BlueAnt feels like the more refined older brother of that bitch Moshi. He has a deep manly voice, and he sounds a little stern ordering me to "Say a Command" when I utter the magic words, "BlueAnt Speak to Me".  Mr. BlueAnt is very similar to Ms. Moshi in many ways, but he seems to be more specifically designed for today's smartphones and refuses to even pair with my old Sony Ericsson T637. On top of that, BlueAnt is not designed to dial any of the contacts directly... and he makes your smartphone handle all of the heavy lifting to figure out if you want to call your friend Steve. I understood this from the start, and set out to find the correct smartphone to pair him with to make my life easiest. After extensive research, and hours upon hours of reading blog posts and Amazon reviews, I settled on the original Motorola Droid RAZR. See, I'm not satisfied with just making and receiving calls... I'm always looking for the most adaptable solution to needs (or wants) I may have in the future, and the RAZR seemed like a good candidate. Since my fingers don't work to slide/tap/long-press/pinch/flick whatever images or words appear on the magic glass-like screen, I needed a phone that would give me the option of using an alternative input device to interact with it. For the longest time, no elegant solution existed for the smartphones on the market... until EasyBlue... a little Bluetooth dongle for the PC that pairs correctly with most Android 3.2 or higher devices, and enables the (mostly) full control of the phone using the mouse/keyboard (yes, and even voice software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking) you already own (check out this YouTube video for a great demonstration). I want to try to focus on the BlueAnt for now, so I won't get into all the particulars of the EasyBlue or the RAZR, but I will say that the path I went down works the best for me at this point and the voice commands built into the RAZR work pretty darn good (more details below). Sure, I wish I could've gone with the iPhone 5, but Apple (to this day) refuses to allow a Bluetooth mouse to interface with its iOS (even through EasyBlue) and I am dependent on this technology to work with my phone in certain situations. I am a fan of Android however, and I love the open-source feel to all of it, but man... Siri would have been nice.

Anyway, back to BlueAnt... first impression is that he is much bigger than I thought he was going to be, and heavier. This wouldn't be a problem if I planned on using him on my visor in my car, but since my voice is weak I still need him pretty close to my mouth and hanging him on my shirt looks extremely goofy. Fortunately, I quickly discovered that the BlueAnt can hear me just fine, and I am pleased to report that BlueAnt uses a microphone-array setup that filters out background noises and amplifies my voice better than anything I have ever used. He understands almost all of my commands, and when I am speaking commands to the RAZR to dial Steve (for instance), I've had very good results. On top of this, everyone I call is reporting that (for once) they can hear me loud and clear. This has allowed me to take him off on the front of my shirt (when I go out) and hide him inside my shirt pocket... the quality is ever so slightly diminished, but voice commands and phone calls work almost just as good so I am happy. I still wish that there was an external microphone option so I could mount him permanently on my wheelchair somewhere, but what are you going to do?

Pairing him with my RAZR presented no problems, and all of my phone book contacts were automatically transferred into BlueAnt. When a call comes in he will announce either the name of the caller (weirdly in a female text-to-voice kinda way) or the phone number (in his voice), and will then ask if I want to "answer or ignore". As long as the choice is made fairly quickly, these voice commands work wonderfully. Unfortunately, there is still no way to hang up the call by voice, and I miss that feature every-single-freaking-day and wish someone would bring it back. When not on a call, BlueAnt is always listening for his command phrase, "BlueAnt Speak to Me" and he is very quick to respond when that exact phrase is spoken anywhere near him... and thankfully, he almost never false-triggers because of the complicated phrase. Some users have complained about this in their review of the S4, but I am happy he doesn't go off every time I sigh (like Moshi did). He also hasn't locked up on me yet, and has survived a drop to the floor already. He will last almost 2 full days between charges (I leave him on day & night) and the speaker quality is excellent. However I hate the touch-sensitive buttons on the front for volume & trigger... they are not responsive when you really need to use them, but they will react like crazy when someone is trying to slide him into my pocket or put him on the charger.

After triggered with his command phrase, he will ask you to "Say a Command" and he will respond if you ask him to "check battery" or "call back" the last incoming call or "redial" the last outgoing call or "cancel" if you changed your mind. He will also allow you to "pair" him with more than one phone simultaneously or adjust the "microphone sensitivity" or to turn on/off the "LED lights". He also will directly dial Bing-411 using the "favorites" command and then a certain service like "weather" or "news". If you forget the commands, you can always ask "What Can I Say" and he will quickly spew off everything he knows.

Of course, it would have been nice if he was able to directly dial your contacts by saying "call Steve at home", but alas he cannot. To accomplish that goal, you must say "Phone Command", and BlueAnt will take way too much time by saying "activating the built in voice commands on the connected phone"... and will then hand you over to your phone's internal voice command options. The RAZR has a pleasant female voice, and she will first tell me to "please wait", then she will ask me to "Please Say a Command". The most useful commands I have found, strictly using my voice, start with "Call" then the name of one of my contacts like "Steve Kelly". I can follow it up with a certain phone, like "Mobile 1" or "Home 1" or I can wait till my female RAZR voice confirms and dials or asks me which phone. If she wasn't sure what contact I wanted to call, she will ask "Did You Say..." and wait for confirmation after saying a name. Otherwise, I am instantly connected. I discovered, quite happily, that she can also directly dial any phone number I say aloud, so a command of "Call 614 555 1212" will get a confirmation from you (with a few alternatives of what she thought she heard, if you answer in the negative) and then a dial out of the number you spoke. I love this feature, and I won't be dependent on only calling people/businesses I have already pre-programmed in my phone. Other useful commands I have discovered include "check battery" and "check time".

Of course, I have a wish-list of other things I could do entirely by voice... hanging up by voice is on the top of that list, speaking dial-tones to be able to select "3" when prompted by some automated answering service sure would be awesome, and sending/receiving text messages completely by voice prompts would be great as well... which leads me to a thought that I perhaps chose the wrong phone for BlueAnt. I have tried several different Android apps which supposedly allow you to receive/send text messages directly by voice, but none of them seem to work through BlueAnt. I don't know if it is a specific BlueAnt communication issue, or a problem with the RAZR not tying the voice prompts correctly in the Bluetooth stack to the BlueAnt microphone, but something isn't working. The best I can do is to run the official BlueAnt android app that will (sometimes) read out incoming text messages over the speaker. That is something, but after seeing some examples of how Siri can interactively prompt you to respond to text messages entirely by voice, I am envious. There is a review of the S4 on Amazon which seems to indicate that BlueAnt works well with Windows Phones using version 7.5 (Mango) that also have the type of built-in voice texting reply prompting that I want... look at this YouTube video to see what I mean. Fortunately, I'm not on a contract with Verizon so I may get the chance to try BlueAnt on a Windows Phone someday... and I sure hope it works like it looks like it does.

Anyway, I am mostly satisfied with my new cell-phone solution. At least I feel like I'm living in the 21st century now and not tied down to an old T637 candy-bar style phone anymore. I wish I could do more things by voice directly on my RAZR, but thankfully the world seems to be heading in that direction.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Obama the Lightning Rod

My sister came in town the other day, and refused to go with me to a Barack Obama rally that was happening in downtown Columbus. This led to an interesting discussion that gave me a slightly better insight to where this rage toward Obama is coming from on the right. It's still incredibly fuzzy, and I wholeheartedly disagree with their position, but at least I kind of have a tiny little bit better underst... oh hell, who am I kidding?

My sister Stephanie's highly paraphrased quote on Obama: he's the most socialist, food stamp making, Israel hating president ever... she basically said she hates the man (which, coming from a Christian is illuminating). When I confronted her with similar comparisons to Clinton, Bush (food stamps, marginal tax rate, etc.), she quickly dived into a different-reality-based reason: the end times are being ushered in faster with him as president, and her facts come from her relationship with God more than anything else... She is especially troubled with Obama's stance that {though we still support them *mostly* unconditionally} Israel needs to work with others in the region and learn to get along with them.

We {me & her} cannot agree even on what the *facts* are, because we are interpreting things from different beginning points. At that point I didn't know where to go. The bubble that Bill Maher talks about, I better understand now... it isn't a conscious plot to lie to others, but these people truly have a different worldview that isn't based on rationality. It is based on a faith that something *other* is better, and more correct, than what we see around us... that *other* thing can be family values, religious experience, societal pressures, etc., that are much more likely to improve {in their mind} if Obama isn't in the White House. He is the lightning rod for their rage about America and what its citizens and society have become {Internet porn watching, food stamp receiving, single parent gay activists}. And untruthfulness, dishonesty, and irrationality {when talking about these things} are common tactics... Because the end {getting Obama out of the White House} will justify the means to them.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Fuck the Olympics

The Olympics is a celebration of what a physical body is capable of. I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which is a degenerative motor neuron disease, and all it is good for is TAKING AWAY everything that the physical body is capable of doing. So, I am an expert at what the physical body is UNABLE to do... I can't walk, I can't speak loudly, I can't reach out and touch anyone, I can't feed myself, and I can't express many outwardly physical emotions.

As I'm watching the opening ceremony tonight of the 2012 Summer Olympics, all I'm reminded of is the millions of people around the world who are physically unable to display any type of grace, expression, or excitement BECAUSE of their physical disability. Sure, there is a segment of the Olympics that occurs after the regular games (the Paralympics... typically unaired on national television, of course) that includes those with physical impairments, but it is still focused on what a person is physically capable of doing.

I am physically capable of moving one finger to drive my electric wheelchair, and I'm physically capable of speaking well enough for a software program to convert my speech into text. Where it is the celebration for what I am physically capable of doing? Who is TiVoing the program where my physical abilities are expressed and shared with the world?

Am I bitter? Perhaps... I must admit that I have been drinking tonight... but this does trouble me. In a world where it seems that the only thing that matters is what one is physically able to do, I wonder where I fit in. Sure, some of these thoughts tonight are probably a result of me being single... and the fact that I am constantly reminded of how difficult it is to attract a mate without the ability to reach out and touch... but it is there.

I apologize for the negativity tonight... wait, no I don't... fuck that... this is what I'm feeling.... I hope you enjoy the 2012 Summer Olympics, as I'm having a hard time doing so.