Saturday, January 12, 2013


This isn't a post about hearing loss or steno. It might be relevant if you're a freelancer, though, or possibly even if you're not. To be perfectly honest, this post is a meta-post. See, I've got a goal in Beeminder that makes me blog once a week (on either the StenoKnight Blog or the Plover Blog), and I'm currently 4 hours from derailment. When I finish this post, it'll reset and I won't have to blog again for another 7 days, though I'm going to try not to let it skirt so close to the edge next time.

What is Beeminder? So glad you asked, since over the past year or so I've turned into a frothing convert. It's an online self-binding tool. What's self-binding? It's a technique to help guard against akrasia. What's akrasia? Ah, now we're talking. So I'm firmly of the school that believes happiness is not a state of mind, but a habit. Doing things consistently, improving at them incrementally, and eventually realizing that you've become pretty good at them and that their presence in your life is actually really satisfying. Akrasia is the force working against all of that. It's what makes you break your resolutions, dodge your commitments, succumb to entropy, and spend your entire life on the couch eating Goldfish crackers and playing video games. Self-binding is a really effective way to make you realize that you're not getting as much done as you think you are, and to keep you honest as you slowly and gradually lay the groundwork for the great things you want to achieve in the future.

I've found that having a system to nudge me when I'm not doing anything to help with my long-term goals is really helpful. Similarly, having a graph to show my history of doing the things I want to do over the long term makes me feel like I'm actually accomplishing something, and gives me more incentive to keep it up even when my initial enthusiasm for it has waned somewhat. I've found Beeminder to be a really good way to combine both the nudge and the graph. It's free to make commitments, but they get their money from people who break their commitments and then want to try again. Currently I've got eight open goals:

* Blog more often
* Eat more fruits and vegetables
* Go to the gym
* Learn Python with Codecademy
* Answer my email on a regular basis
* Eat less junk food
* Practice for the RMR Q&A (Yeah, just learned that I didn't pass my last attempt, sigh. Next time for sure, though, if I can keep those blasted nerves in check. I've definitely got the speed.)
* Sort through my email every day

I'll probably add another goal pretty soon so I can have a nice even grid of nine, but I'm not sure what it'll be yet. (Suggestions welcome!) For now, I'm managing them all pretty well. I haven't had to pay Beeminder money yet. The Gmail Zero goal is especially nice because I don't even have to enter my data manually; it just counts all the read messages that are in my inbox several times a day, and if I don't clean it out completely at least once a day, I lose. My Reply Zero goal, on the other hand, is a bit more flexible; I send it to my reply folder, and I have to get it down to zero at least once a week.

Anyone who finds that their daily habits are not quite what they should be, or that they're not achieving their long-term goals in the timeframe that they'd like, might like to try Beeminder out for a while. I don't receive any compensation from them; they've just helped me enormously with building good habits, and I like spreading the word about them. Let me know if you start up your own goals! I'm always curious about what things people are invested enough in to start tracking.

Okay! Blogging goal achieved for another week. See you guys in fewer than six days! (I hope.)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Augmented Reality Captioning

So this December, for the third time in a row, I captioned the New York Public Library's Holiday Songbook via closed device captioning. I wrote a post about it from 2010, talking about its pros and cons, but here's an actual candid shot from the audience, taken by a caption viewer using an iPad.

It's definitely better than nothing, but as I mentioned in the original post, it has significant drawbacks, such as having to constantly look away from the stage and adjust your eyes between far vision and near vision. In performance situations like this one, open captioning is usually far preferable, since it's on the same plane as the people on stage. For the same reason, many people who use captions in movie theaters prefer open captions to the Captiview devices that sit in a viewer's cupholder. But there's a new accommodation that's starting to be used in both live theater and cinema: caption glasses.

I've heard mixed reviews from Deaf and hard of hearing patrons who've used these glasses. On the one hand, it's nice to be able to have the captions superimposed over the picture. On the other hand, they're apparently quite heavy and bulky (as this cartoon from That Deaf Guy gets across so well), which can cause neck, nose, and ear pain, since you apparently have to hold stock still or else the captions jump around all over the screen.

I've been interested in augmented reality for a long time, both in its application in CART and captioning specifically and in the possibility of being able to compose text (blog posts, novels, emails, etc.) while walking without bumping into things. It's been on a mostly theoretical level up 'til now; when I wrote my What Is Steno Good For: Mobile and Wearable Computing article, I said "It's a problem that still hasn't been solved to anyone's satisfaction, even after several decades of trying. They're too heavy, too fragile, too stupid-looking, too headache-inducing. But let's posit that someday soon the problem will be solved, and we'll be able to go out and buy lightweight, stylish augmented reality overlay monitors that look just like ordinary pairs of eyeglasses."

Well, the problem might not have been solved completely; there are a few AR glasses such as:

The Vuzix M100


Google Glass

Which are currently releasing prototypes to developers, and which are expected to have widespread commercial release in 2014. As you can see, they don't look just like ordinary eyeglasses, and it's unclear to what extent the eyestrain issues that seem to have been endemic in all previous AR solutions have been fixed. It will probably take a few iterations to iron out all the kinks.

Thing is, it's all gotten a lot less theoretical to me recently. I'm currently working with a first-year dental student. When he becomes a second-year dental student, he will begin working in the clinic with actual patients. Having a tablet display mounted somewhere near the chair is not a very good solution; he'll have to look back and forth between the patient and the tablet, and it will probably be both awkward and inconvenient when trying to do his job. A much better solution would be a pair of AR glasses, and I'm actively looking into my options there. I've joined the AR Glasses LinkedIn group and I've been doing a bit of research on my own, with an eye to purchasing a pair (probably as a developer, since consumer models are still at least a year away) sometime this summer. Of course, like any technology, there's that paradox where the longer you wait, the better the technology you're going to get, but the more you put it off, the less time you have to make adjustments and adaptations so that it works the way it's supposed to. I don't know whether I'll be able to make it work out of the box -- just bring up a browser window, adjust it so that it fills the lower 1/8th or so of the visual field, and have the captions displaying from StreamText without any other modifications -- or if I'll have to commission bespoke software to get my captions onto the glasses without completely obscuring my client's vision.

I'm also concerned about WiFi strength, battery life, physical comfort, and the all-important eyestrain. I wish I could just go try out both the Vuzix and the Glass head-to-head, asking questions from their manufacturers, but I suspect it'll be a bit trickier to get the information I need, and if I wind up buying one of them, it'll be at least $1,500 or so, plus any fees involved in getting customized caption-display software written. Also, dental clinics can be messy places. If the glasses get spattered with water or other less savory substances, can they be cleaned and sterilized without damaging them? Will my client's rapport with the patients be compromised by wearing this strange-looking headgear, or will it blend in with the rest of the dental equipment? There are a lot of questions still to resolve. I'll keep you all updated as I go along.