Another Needed Innovation

It’s a huge, hulking piece of work. I bet you usually stop by on your way into or out of the office, not giving it a whole lot of thought. But at least in my corner of the US, it’s still stuck in the 20th Century, like the taxi waiting for a Uber to come along and supplant it. I’m talking about the vending machine, snack or drink.

Apparently one of the longest lasting forms of human machinery, my cursory Wikipedia search suggests that vending machines have existed in some form ever since ancient times, but that modern iterations began to appear in the 1880’s. These initially dispensed postage stamps, but snacks and games were added as incentives to buy more stuff. (Hey, do they still have those little machines outside of grocery stores where you insert a coin, back in my day it was only a penny but I know that would no longer be the case, and get a piece of gum or sour candy? My sister and I did that regularly on shopping excursions with our mom. Ah, the joys of childhood).

Anyhow, I have a lot of beef, or should that be chips? juice? with them, because of the way they typically operate. I don’t know if all of my blind readers will agree, but they can be quite a pain! As I did in my taxi entry, I’ll walk you through a use case, a recent one, that will show you every issue I have with them.

Picking a Product

Given that I work at a place that is mostly for individuals who are blind, it isn’t surprising that our machines, well at least some of them, have big, shiny Braille panels beside them that list their contained items. Only these numbers don’t always remain static, and I guess the cost and hastle involved in changing them is usually not deemed worth it. This means I might press 56 for a snickers and instead get a bag of skittles. Ah, I wanted my chocolate!

What happened to me as I attempted to get a drink was probably more annoying than that would be, though. On this particular machine, one with long buttons that allowed Braille labels to be affixed directly to them, one could hardly read the labels anymore, so faded were they with time. I had no idea what the first two choices were, but saw on the third (Unintelligible)(Unintelligible)awber(Unintelligible)(Unintelligible). Ok, strawberry? I liked that juice when I had it last time. Cold bottle cradled in my arm, I make my way outside with mouth watering in anticipation. And… that’s just what I got, water! For a dollar. Well I sure hope that stuff was vitamin enhanced or had run in the Nile 2000 years ago or would keep me awake as long as I needed to or something more than just what I get out of my tap.

Inserting the Currency

Ah, but of course we’ve actually omitted half the fun. I repeatedly smooth the dollar against my shirt, trying to remove the folds that suggest a well-traveled existence. I know also that the middle feels tender enough to tear, and the sides are kind of bent. So I’ll concede that it may not make the best candidate for acquiring something from a machine, but it’s all I had.

I wiggle waggle and get it to suck in once, and it slides back out. A second time facing another direction, out again. Flip? Reverse! Two more times. Out again and again. Soft unpleasant utterancs issue from me while louder ones come from the folks behind me who are wishing to get something.

“Hey, we only got 15 good minutes for lunch pal!”

“I’m sorry! Not my fault I have to perform calisthenics in order to get the darn thing to accept my dough.”

The sweet sense of relief when that thunk comes that lets me know the money has been taken for good.

Possible Solutions

I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems my iPhone can do almost all of this stuff better than that machine can. For instance, I can take a picture of my money with an app, several apps actually, and no matter how I have it faced it will tell me I’m holding a 1, 5, 10, or 20 dollar bill. Can they not build readers that don’t need the money to be placed just so in order for recognition to occur? I did like the one we had at our university right before I left that would allow you to swipe your ID to get the goods. That or a debit card swipe might be nice, though I’ve heard talk that people fear large scale implementation of this as it might turn us all into roving monkeys. Well, perhaps.

And as for the selection of choices, can we get some sort of text-to-speech engine that would make it easy to know what is there? I guess practically speaking, it could take a while for people to make their selection if they had to scroll through the whole menu, but maybe things could be categorized. Which kind of snack or drink do you want first, then which specific one would you like. They could add voice recognition for more fun, and have folks screaming at the machine “No, I said snickers. … No, not dorritos, SNICKERS! Geez.”

Obviously this isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of problems that need solving, but it is something that I’ve been thinking about lately. I know that some of this stuff might actually already be in use, but as previously noted things tend to change a bit more slowly in these parts sometimes. That noted, have you in fact seen a better model?

Job Days No. 4

Ah, we’ve reached that time of year when I do my annual review of where I stand in my job: what has changed and what is the same. It helps me assess whether I’ve grown or am becoming stagnant. I’d venture to say it’s no small part of why I ended up in grad school, about which I will wax a little at the end of this post.

Job Days
Job Days Redux
Job Days No. 3

I am, at least for a little while longer, with my same employer. I find it hard to believe that I’ve already gone through three plus years there, residing in this apartment also longer than I had been in Carboro. It seems to defy the possible that so much time has passed, but therein little alterations have slowly led to big change.

As I noted in the prior Job Days post, I figured that my time in Light Sticks, in which I stuff boxes with said items and fling them at an airport-style conveyor belt, is now more or less permanent. I had been initially hired to work in Master Lock, but this lasted only about five months due to a shortage of product that occurred that summer. It’s been so long since I’ve been over there that I have little memory of how that was even done.

Even though the change had been implemented a while ago, I’d still been assigned to the Master Locks supervisor up until really about a month ago. This meant I had to attend what they call “Huddle”, an employee meeting that happens in each section of the plant, in locks, then run over to sticks to work with little idea of what had been discussed there. Because of this, I didn’t understand the priorities applied in that section and the volume of work I needed to put out. I’m not really sure if the choice was mine, theres, or a little of both, but finally a slow transfer began to happen. Now that I also have that supervisor in Sticks, I notice that communication is easier; from getting the monthly bus passes I need to commute to and from, requesting days off, and even just being able to hear and talk to the coworkers with whom I collaborate all day. So I’m glad I have finally made that happen. It results in a vastly iproved quality of life, and given that work is so much of one’s life that is important.

Another important indicator of life quality is one’s routine. I don’t think my routine has changed a whole lot since last year, but in order to see how much it may have I want to write this year’s normal calendar without taking a look at the previous one. So, here we go.

  • 4:30: Wake up. Fifteen minutes later than I used to, but this does make a little difference (when insomnia doesn’t strike, as it did today yawns).
  • 4:45: Flick on WRAL News on the iPhone, so that I can leave a little more informed, and inevitably sadder. I do this instead of listen to music, because neighbors don’t wanna hear that at early hours.
  • 5:15: Hopefully stumble out of the door on time to make for the bus, although I usually forget this, that, and then end up nudging towards 5:22, meaning I must hurdle towards stop for any chance of avoiding bus sailing through crosswalk as I arrive there.
  • 5:50: Wait at Durham Station, which becomes more interesting as the weather warms. Listen to people nearly scuffle over sports and gossip about the latest work happenings, and hope next bus isn’t late.
  • 6:00: Board next bus, settle in, and fire up podcasts and Braille display for some multitasking. Fight attempts to drift off.
  • 6:30: Reach job, slide into chair at break room. Same ol same as previous years from then on.

Preparing to Move On

So the biggest change, obviously, has been my entrance into online grad school at Queens University of Charlotte. I haven’t talked much about my thinking on what it’s like going to school in this way. Well it’s different certainly, but there are some advantages. Namely, all I have to do is read the text; no lectures required. It’s also relatively easier to respond to people on the discussion board, resulting in even the shier among us, myself included, having a voice in class conversation.

I have talked about the challenges of said, especially with regards to making connections. but I think that something is happening by the blogging I have to do in class, as there seems lately to be an explosion of people noticing my writing and asking me for different sorts of things (hi, anyone who’s dropped by through search! I do appreciate you.) It makes me feel like things are starting to get on the right track, and that perhaps this will be my last Job Days post from the workshop? We shall see. More next year.

My 2016 Primary Voting Experience

For the third time in my life, and yes that may be too few given that I’m 36 years of age, I have cast a ballot. This was my first primary, which feels different because it doesn’t have the same energy as the General Election. I think also that maybe the standards aren’t quite as high either.

The first part of successfully voting is ensuring that I arrive at the correct polling place. I knew that Facebook would have their little box at the top of the app when I launched it saying that the North Carolina Primaries are today and would I be voting? It has a section within where one can easily check where to go, but unfortunately I couldn’t tap into it with VoiceOver. Frustrating, but I guess I wasn’t entirely surprised.

So I spent the next hour after work trying to find another way. Through our local news app, I found a link to the NC Board of Elections site. It took me maybe 5 tries, but I finally got this neighborhood’s strange address inputted and verified that the polling station was the same as it had been when I voted in 2014. So I punched up the Uber app, one of the biggest reasons I can now much more easily go and do my Civic duty, and took the 3-minute ride over to the location.

When I arrived, there was no line extending off of the sidewalk as there had been last time. I went straight in and tried to plug myself in behind the person who was standing just inside, but the greeter plucked me out of the line and insisted that I go ahead in where I could fill out the form to check my registration and ID. I’d already known about the recently instituted Voter ID laws here in our state, so was adequately prepared. All of that went smoothly.

Next, I was taken to the automark machine, the one that talks and allows for blind people to independently fill in their ballot. I was somewhat disappointed though, because this time it was right in the room and I had about five people standing right over my shoulder and breathing down my neck, making me feel under pressure to finish quickly. The room volume was also loud enough to make it difficult for me to hear, so I had to turn the machine way up with the headset on. Even so, I took the time to deliberate and select the individuals I had intended to. I had also used the Voter Guide on our local news app to generate the ballot I would see and learn about all of the candidates. I have to believe that this technology is democratizing us in ways that have never been possible, but of course only to the extent that we are willing to dig deep and make our preferences known. Tired as I was and as crazy as the initial process had been, I had only to remember that people fought, lost everything, and in some cases even gave their lives so that I could be sitting in that seat. I don’t take that lightly.

Anyhow, I printed the ballot, inserted it, and exited. The entire process took fewer than 10 minutes, which is crazy. My return Uber ride, well not so much a return as a grudging trip to the grocery store, also showed up quickly. Oddly, all three fares (from Dunkin Donuts to the polling place, polling place to the store, and store to my apartment) were exactly $4.80. I won’t complain about that, though. They had slapped an “I Voted” sticker on me, which I think inspired my shopping assistant to go and vote too as she said she was getting off at 6. Good stuff.

If I can help it, I will continue to vote from now on. I will also constantly make an effort to become a better advocate and a more informed citizen. I watch the movement on Twitter called #CripTheVote that is attempting to highlight disability issues. Sadly, I’m not sure that many candidates give this much thought to this point. But this is a big reason why I write, right? More later.