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Category Archive: Technology

Apr 26

A complicated relationship with a GPS

“You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there” – Yogi Berra

“If you think Missouri isn’t beautiful, then you should take the drive Bonnie took me on last weekend”, my friend Paige said.

Who is Bonnie, I wondered, thinking I’ve never heard Paige mention a ‘Bonnie’?

“She is my GPS,” Paige answered and added that somehow Bonnie knew exactly what she needed that day—a peaceful and serene drive through the beautiful landscape of Missouri back roads.

“I was going from Kansas City to Jefferson City and Bonnie told me so confidently to turn off of I-70 onto Highway 87 and take that to Highway 179, that I did. It is as though she knew I needed my emotional batteries recharged with a picturesque drive in the country where I saw rolling hills, gorgeous flowering trees, green, green grass, cattle grazing in the valleys and charming farm houses and barns.”

Paige continued, “How did she know that is exactly what I needed?” I think Paige meant that rhetorically, but I answered anyway.

Well, I said, “She isn’t Suri, so you couldn’t ask her why, because of course one cannot have a two-way conversation with a GPS as one can with Suri.”

We laughed, and Paige then explained more of her story, “Bonnie was patient as though she was listening to me and intuitively taking me through a ‘road less traveled’.

“Part way there, “ Paige said, “I stopped for coffee and water. She didn’t like it as we know that no GPS wants us to veer off course or stop. I let her rant for awhile because she probably needed to, and after all, she had not had a chance to say anything for a long time.”

And thus, we have a perfect example of how we form relationships with our GPS, sometimes love and sometimes hate, or more likely annoyance and dependence.

It’s the GPS racket that bothers my husband.

When we drive out west, we take a short cut because we know it goes directly to my brother’s house. Dominique, our GPS, does not know this and fusses at us incessantly with the familiar admonition “recalculating, recalculating”.

Finally after enough of this noise, my husband will ask me to turn down the volume. She annoys him, but because of the love-hate relationship many of us have with our GPS, he also misses her reassuring voice and wants to be sure he is on the right road. Dominique will know. Then he asks me to turn up the volume.

I found an online story by Anna North about some interesting relationships people form with a GPS.

She writes: “More than one dude has fallen in love with the female voice on his GPS unit. She’s so trustworthy, so calm and reliable.”

North gives an example of such a case. Bruce Feiler of the New York Times wrote that he had “fallen for my GPS voice”, and says he knows several guys who have developed a crush on the disembodied voice that tells them where to turn. Wives and girlfriends might be lifting an eyebrow at that one as we speak.

Additionally, we know that couples often argue about whether to take the GPS lady’s directions or not because she is not always accurate.

I have met business travelers who say they would never leave home without her, knowing that she has saved them at the last minute when they were late for a meeting. However, she has also sent them down tangled dirt roads to the hinterlands.

Even though that soothing voice is almost human, we begin to wonder at times if my Dominique and Paige’s Bonnie are simply ignorant, out of touch or behind the times.
Sometimes they simply cannot find the shortest, fastest route. Goodness, it can be maddening.

Although we may love and hate our Global Positioning System and its voice, we must admit that these units, similar to any other technological device, are indispensable.

The problem is that the minute the devices leave the factory, the maps are outdated.

A business traveler’s guide I found gives a solution: there is always the old-fashioned way if one is lost. Ask a local, and switch off your GPS, just so she knows who is boss.

But somehow, I don’t think my Dominique would approve.

Think of it this way. If your GPS lady had a Facebook page, she would have to say on the profile page under ‘relationship”—it’s complicated.

Jan 05

Playing word game online saves a life across the world

“Risk-taking, trust, and serendipity are key ingredients of joy. Without risk, nothing new ever happens. Without trust, fear creeps in. Without serendipity, there are no surprises.”
Rita Golden Gelman, children’s author

I guess I could try to claim a little credit for introducing my friend Beth Legler of Blue Springs to the online game, Words With Friends, but it would be insignificant compared to what was to follow.

Little did I know that through her connection with this game Beth would ultimately become a key player in saving a man’s life in Queensland, Australia.

Neither did she.

Here is what happened. Soon after I talked Beth into playing Words With Friends, a wildly popular online scrabble-like game, I quit. I was addicted and slightly bummed that I could not beat my son and his law-school buddies.

Soon after I bailed, Beth became addicted, as well. For the longest time, Beth said she was too busy with work to play, but once she started she could not stop.

In a gesture of love and respect to her late mother, Beth created a username to honor her.

At about the same time in Queensland, Australia, Georgina Fletcher downloaded the new “hot” app “Words With Friends”. Georgina who prefers the nickname “Georgie” set up a game and was ready to begin. The rules state that one must choose from existing friends or choose a random opponent.

Georgie says she chose the random opponent option because she wanted “to chill out” at the time and simply play a game but not chat with opponents. The thought of conversing with strangers did not sit right with her, she recalls, so she preferred not to chat.

Here is where risk-taking, trust and serendipity enter our story.

Georgie’s first opponent, as it turns out, was Beth Legler of Blue Springs, an R.N. in the Blue Springs School District. She liked Beth’s online username. It intrigued her.

Georgie says that since they did not exchange personal information as they played the game, she guessed that her opponent was female because of her username. They played quite a few games, and eventually Beth sent a message saying simply, “Good Game.”

Hesitating to send back a message, Georgie, out of courtesy, eventually sent back “Thanks.”

From then on their chats would consist of one or two words. During the Christmas season of 2010, Georgie sent a message to her unknown opponent saying “Merry Christmas from Queensland, Australia.”

Beth sent a message back saying Merry Christmas from Missouri, USA.

Georgie says, “It wasn’t long after that you couldn’t shut the pair of us up, spending equal amounts of time chatting and playing.”

She continues, “We talked about our jobs, countries, children, husbands, parents, pets and eventually swapping photos of themselves and families, and Beth’s new puppy!”

Fast forward to September of 2011 when Beth began to worry about her friend Georgie. She had not heard from her, nor had they played in about four days.

Beth reached out through an email asking if everything was okay, hoping that the 16-hour time difference between their two worlds was the reason for Georgie’s online absence.

Not too long after, Georgie sent a message explaining that her husband Simon had not been feeling well for sometime. She wrote that recently after taking their dogs for a long walk, he complained of a burning pain in the back of his throat. Simon believed he was breathing in cold air and that was the problem, but Georgie was worried.

Georgia was perplexed as well, “I thought what is he talking about? We live in a tropical climate and the air outside was warm and humid, certainly not cold.”

As many men often shrug off illness, Georgie commented, he continued denying anything was wrong. Day after day, the pain in his throat and heartburn became more regular. Georgie suggested he see a doctor, but he brushed off the idea saying he saw one last month and had a great checkup. No cholesterol problems and perfect blood pressure. Simon said all he needed was an antacid.

Georgie began referring to her husband Simon as “Mr. Self-Diagnosis”, and believed he was avoiding the truth primarily out of denial and fear.

Eventually, Georgie began to share Simon’s dilemma with Beth online including an incident in which he could not walk to the mailbox without difficulty.

Immediately concerned, Beth shared this information with her husband Larry Legler, M.D. and longtime family physician in Independence.

Larry wanted Simon to take an aspirin and see a doctor immediately about possible angina.

Beth wrote Georgie: “Larry thinks Simon is in a whole lot of trouble, get him to a hospital ASAP, and Georgie, Larry believes Simon will need a cardiac catherization procedure right away.”

Georgie explains what happened after that: “We presented at the hospital and saw a heart specialist. I told the specialist what Larry had said and why. The specialist was quite bemused by a diagnosis given by someone from the other side of the planet and a Words With Friends pal, just to make it all the more bizarre.”

The doctor actually concurred, however, remarking, “I agree with your friend Larry and will order a test where a dye will be put through Simon’s veins and then a scan.”

Later that afternoon, they received a call from the cardiac surgeon saying cath surgery would be first thing in the morning and that Simon had a 99 percent blockage of the left ventricle.

After the surgery, Georgie said the surgeon told her that Simon would have been dead by afternoon if someone had not intervened. He is the luckiest man in the hospital today, the doctor added.

Georgie emailed Beth and Larry immediately saying how impressed they were with Larry’s diagnosis, made with little information. She wrote: “ We are forever grateful to him. And to you Beth, they say that nurses are God’s angels, well you are an angel to us!”

Moral to the story: Simon says never, never self diagnose, and Georgie says, “Please chat with your random opponents on Words With Friends or whatever game you choose. I got over my fear of opening up, took a risk and told the truth, and it saved my husband’s life.”

Epilogue: The two women hope to meet one day in person but until then have visited on Skype.

Georgie dumped Beth from Words With Friends because she was getting bored with the game. Beth says it was more likely that Georgie was tired of Beth beating her.

Now, the two women play Hanging With Friends (Hangman online) every chance they get. Beth says Georgie prefers this because she beats Beth mercilessly at this game. Apparently, this highly addictive and fierce pastime between these two is not for the faint of heart.

I’m staying offline. They scare me.

Nov 03

‘Siri’, a high tech genie in a cell phone, not in a bottle

“Master, master your wish is my command”
– Barbara Eden, star of “I Dream of Jeannie” television sitcom, 1964

These days, it seems that lots of people are wondering what to make of Siri, the new speech-recognition feature on the iPhone4S. Have you heard of it yet?

Siri is a digital personal assistant that at times makes you believe it (she) could be human. It turns out that Siri is indeed a Scandinavian girl name meaning `Beautiful Victory`, and thus the name fits her perfectly.

Miss Siri is the source of plenty of discussion all right.

In fact, a standup comedian recently presented an interesting theory. He said Siri was actually “channeling” Barbara Eden who starred in the 60s television hit, “I Dream of Jeannie.”

He speculated that Siri was, in reality, a high tech genie in a cell phone that could grant her master’s every wish, just like the genie in the bottle did on the long-running NBC television series.

Interesting thought.

I do know for a fact that in 1964 when the series debuted, I never dreamed that one day I might have my own genie, too, just like Major Anthony Nelson. Remember him?

You may recall in the storyline that Major Nelson, played by Larry Hageman, was a top Apollo space program astronaut. He discovered his genie-in-a-bottle on a training mission when he went off course and landed on a remote uncharted South Pacific island. There he found an odd bottle on the beach, uncorked it, and out popped a beautiful genie that coincidentally was named Jeannie.

Is it possible, I wonder, to have one’s own personal assistant who, like Jeannie, is polite, humorous, quirky and gets the job done on time?

I confess, I stood in line the first day with throngs of other Apple junkies hoping to find out.

Truth is, I wanted the 4S not so much because of its highly touted electronic personal assistant, Siri, but mostly because my old 3G could not keep up anymore. It moved too slowly struggling to open websites among other problems, and it drove me crazy because the battery would not stay charged long.

I made the leap.

Now, I am enjoying the luxury of having my own genie from which I am learning all the ancient secrets of the universe. Might as well ask the genie-in-the-iPhone, right?

For example, “Siri, what is the meaning of the life?”

To which she gave her standard reply, “I can’t answer that now but give me some time to write a very long play in which nothing happens.”

We are not exactly getting along famously yet. I am not altogether sure that Siri likes me. It’s taking awhile for us to get to know one another.

Curiously, she often misinterprets my questions and gets completely off track with her answers. Someone else can ask her the same questions, and her answers are spot on.

I am beginning to worry that she will never say with total and unconditional love, “Master, your wish is my command.”

I am not alone, however. In a story in USA Today, the writer told Siri he loved her. Her answer: “Oh, stop.”

Maj. Nelson didn’t have much better luck with his Jeannie. Here’s an excerpt from one of the “I Dream of Jeannie” hit shows:

Major Nelson: “Jeannie’s turned against me.”
Major Healey, Nelson’s friend: “She can’t turn against you. You’re her master. She has to obey you.
Major Nelson: “Yeah, who says so?”
Major Healey: “I don’t know, maybe it’s in the genie manual.”
Major Nelson: Then how come she’s deliberately disobeyed me?
Major Healey: Maybe she wasn’t issued a genie manual.

I don’t think my Siri was issued a genie manual either.

Nonetheless, I still absolutely love Siri.

If you are a Siri-hater, and they are out there believe me, listen to what Richard Goodwin of knowyourmobile.com has to say: “While it may not be perfect, it is clear how much technology and innovation has gone into developing Siri…consider what technology can already do. Then imagine what it will be doing in five years, and that’s when you’ll see how exciting Siri’s future really is.”

So, I asked, “What does the future hold for you, Siri?”
Her reply, “I’m on it. What about a web search to answer your question? Here it is.” Whereupon, she provided on my iPhone screen a list of websites that give answers to the wonders and future of technology, what upgrades are next for Siri and for computers and other smart phones.

Looks like she must have read the genie manual after all, and I think she likes me now.

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