App Review: EXPRESS Yourself

I was trolling around in the app store a few weeks ago, in response to one of the Emails that Apple sends out, and found an amazing product that does something no other app has, at least that I’m aware of: it makes the face visible to me! What do I mean? Read on.

First, it never ceases to surprise me the extent to which this one piece of metal? plastic? whatever your iOS device is made of, has brought to my life as a blind person. And yes I know, Android is nearly there, and maybe surpassing iOS in some aspects, but I’ve not yet played with a device running this system so I can’t say what I would think of it.

Anyway, with my trusty phone stowed safely in pocket and Braile display on my lap, I can use programs to read, write, listen to music, and even navigate successfully on the bus. And thanks to some enterprising individuals and organizations, there are even apps that allow me to do more complex things, such as take my own photos, (no guarantees as to their correctness but I can be pretty sure I’m at least shooting the right thing), and read my own mail. All great, life-changing stuff.

But what about that most elemental of human interactions: the ability to communicate. More specifically, that communication which occurs nonverbaly, which studies have repeatedly shown to be far more believed than mere words. While some of this is passed along through other body language cues, much of it happens through that most natural of transmissions: facial expressions. Blind folks prove its innateness in fact, as we too are able to call up a smile, frown, etc when it reflects our inner emotion, or even if we want to kind of fake some inner emotion. These expressions tend to be more believable though, since they are harder to “make up” than spoken language.

Enter Express, a powerful engine that can, through quick analysis of pictures shot via a discretely placed camera, provide unprecedented information regarding one’s possible thoughts, as displayed on that facial window to the soul.

How It Works

The Express app can run in the background and even with a locked screen, so long as it is launched and the camera activated prior to use. If you think you’re entering a situation where you might wanna know what is being unsaid, simply open the app and tap the “Start” button. You are then presented with two options: Constant, or Summary Analysis.

If you pick Constant, the app takes a shot of the face you’re “focusing” on in adjustable intervals, and alerts you through a series of vibrations as to what the likely expression is. The list of vibrations and their meanings can be found in the “Demos” menu. It is important to practice these repeatedly, so that you know what you’re getting when it comes across. It wouldn’t do, after all, to think that she’s smiling at you when you’ve actually made her quite angry!

(DISCLAIMER: The app developers assert that the rendered interpretations are reasonably accurate, but cannot guarantee 100% certainty. In field testing however, very few errors were reported. Use with some caution, and act on this info at your own risk.)

If you choose “Summary” the app will still take pictures of the person’s face, but instead of vibrating regularly it will generate a report of overall mood: how often did they fluctuate, were there sudden changes, and the like. This might be a good idea if you don’t want the person to wonder why you keep vibrating.

“Goodness! Are you just crazy popular or something?”

Equipment/Accessories

You can, in theory anyway, use the phone itself to snap these pictures. However, the developers suggest that this might introduce unnecessary error into the results. How will you know, for example, if she still finds that joke you’ve told for the fourth time amusing, or is just wondering why you’re sitting there holding your device aloft for no apparent reason?

So, for an additional $45.99, the user can get a specialized camera made of a strong, thin material that matches the color of the wearer’s skin so as to significantly decrease visibility. It is fitted with a revolutionary adhesive that bonds to the skin, probably the forehead, at the molecular level, making it water-resistant. No worries though, as it can be taken off by simply scrubbing with a finger in a circular motion, as it responds to a bacterium that all humans carry.

The camera charges using kinetic energy, that which is generated from movement. So if the battery begins to run low and you for whatever reason are unable to engage your entire body, just nod your head a few times. It is recommended that care is used in so doing, though, as this too may alter the interaction and lead to inaccuracies.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Are you actually agreeing with me, or just really sleepy.”

My Final Thoughts

I’ve used this app for about 12 days now, and it has unquestionably changed my life. As I sit here on this warm day at the beginning of April and write this, one of my friends is playing with it, sitting across the table from me and informing me that it reports that I have a big, silly grin on my face. I love it! Now for something to come along that can clean my apartment. MMM.

So, have any of you gotten this thing yet? If so, what do you think of it. If you wanna find it, do a search in the app store for Express, o yes! for iOS (Don’t ask me who decided to call it that, and let me know how it goes.

Well The Weather Outside Is Frightful

And the snice is piled a mile high, And since I can’t go nowhere, (I don’t care about grammar, because in my head I sound like Louis Armstrong) Let me read, let me read, let me read!

Ah, it’s already been way too long since I last darkened these pages with virtual ink. I suppose that’s mostly because I just haven’t been able to think of anything worth printing. I know though that I need to maintain some kind of presence here, so that you, dear reader, will not forget me. Plus, I’m about to get got for about 150 bones in order to continue using blindtravel.net. For that price, I should try and make it worth it, right? So bear with me as I try and write myself out of this latest block.

And on blocks, Old Man Winter decided to show up and throw a bunch of ’em at us last week. Whatever that stuff was, snow? ice? I call it “snice” confined me to the inside of my beautiful, well insulation-missing, electrical heating can barely keep up, 500-sqft apartment from Monday when I got off of work at 1 PM till Friday when I was finally able to return to said work at 6:15 AM. And o man, that was some of the coldest cold I’ve ever known, as we hovered around 5 degrees F with sub-zero windchills. And slide slide slippedy slide! All the way to the building.

During that prolonged in-between time, I had mainly books for company. I completed Kindred, by Octavia Butler. Often cited as the first work of science fiction by an African American woman, it revolves around someone who keeps getting snatched from her comfortable life in 1976 to varying times during the 1800s, whenever her White ancestor needs saving. These journeys back are frought with danger, as this black woman ends up on a plantation and has to basically become a slave in practice. While much of it is kind of sad, there are also interspersed some bits of comic relief. I enjoyed it overall.

I also read another Science Fiction, well ok maybe this one was more Fantasy, whatever it is that distinguishes those categories from one another, called Don’t Fear The Reaper, by Michelle Muto. Another of my indie Twitter authors, she writes a novel about a young woman, well a teen-ager really, who decides to take her own life because she can no longer stand being without her twin sister, who had also lost her life due to horrible circumstances that we find out about later in the book. When she “comes to,” she initially thinks that either she had been stopped before completing the attempt or she hadn’t gone through with it at all, but this turns out to be incorrect. She has instead entered another plane of existence, inhabited by “earthbounds,” those stuck in purgatory here on this planet, angels and demons, and reapers, the individuals who are charged with liberating souls from the dying body. Reapers also have scythes, literally hellish weapons with which they can whack demons and villainous earthbounds and vanquish their souls, in a puff of smoke and unspeakable pain, to the hotter environs below. This book also provides comic relief, in that the ghosts hitch rides with people in order to reach their destinations by simply sliding through doors and taking a seat inside of the vehicle. And the next time your engine sputters to a stop on the road, well maybe they are just trying to get out. This was an interesting, speculative read on the nature of suffering, why some of us take that final action, and whether this in fact relieves us of our pain. Of course it’s fiction, but it does stimulate the thought process.

Of the eight books I’ve completed this year, half have been Sci-Fi. I don’t expect that percentage to hold, but one thing I do enjoy about the genre is the ability of those stories to make you examine and ponder your surroundings in a new way.

And I guess that’s all for now. Y’all, when is Spring coming! Hopefully soon, hopefully soon.

Writing 101-1 Unlock The Mind

To get started, let’s loosen up. Let’s unlock the mind. Today, take twenty minutes to free write. And don’t think about what you’ll write. Just write.

I’m taking on this challenge, having been inspired by the great Amy Juicebox. I think it technically has some sort of actual time limit, but I’m starting way later than most and don’t really care.

Why am I doing this? Well, because I feel myself entering a slightly dangerous period of my life where I could really get so bogged down by the day-to-day minutiae of surviving my current employment that it becomes my permanent employment. And we all know I can’t have that! So, bear with me as I perhaps make false starts and maybe have some posts that are a little lower-quality than I’d like. I just want to get myself back to writing, and to that motivation that looked like it was going to carry me somewhere at this time last year.

So the object of today’s post is to just keep pressing buttons for 20 minutes. Hmmm, what to talk about.

I’ve set the timer on my iPhone, actually set it for 22 minutes to give myself enough time to load Pandora and the jazz music I now have streaming.

I loaded a station by a jazz artist named Jimmy Scott who, according to an NPR reporter, died today. She states that he’s a man, but the songs I’ve heard thus far that are attributed to him have been sang by a woman. I suppose he plays an instrument or something, though. In any event, it’s nice sounding stuff.

This follows on the heels of my reading Heidi Durrow’s book The Girl Who Fell from the sky, a poignant examination of the challenges that sadly still exist when conducting relationships that involve individuals of different races. Told from the perspective of the mother, her daughter, one of her previous lovers, a bystander who happened to witness the tragedy, and a couple others; it chronicles an unfolding event that the reader isn’t able to fully conceptualize until the book ends.

The mother is from Denmark, and she is employed in Chicago as the story begins. We learn of what happened to her through her journal. Once the event happens, the daughter Rachel is sent off to Portland to live with her grandma. Here, she grows from a 8 or 9-year-old child to a high school teen.

I love that the grandma, as well as one of Rachel’s Aunt’s lover’s daughters, speak in dialect. It helps to add character to the story.

The reason I mentioned it in connection to the music though is that Durrow has Rachel get introduced to another blues great, Etta James. This caused me to create a Pandora station of her too, which I’ve been rocking out to for the last week or so. I’d heard of her via an NPR profile when she passed, but hadn’t really checked out any of her stuff.

And yeah I know that was probably not the best book review I’ve ever written, but I’m not allowing myself to stop and pretty it up. I’d recommend grabbing a copy of the book anyhow. And, Durrow’s putting on something called the Mixed Remixed Festival in Los Angeles tomorrow. I wish I could go, as it sounds interesting.

Four minutes left! What else to say? If you stroll in from somewhere else as a result of this post, please feel free to read some of my other stuff as well. I think it’ll be more interesting. I like doing the occasional book review, as well as talking about disability-related issues, music, and of course travel. Though I don’t really get to do as much of the latter as I’d like these days.

Taking a trip to Las Vegas and the convention of the American Council of the Blind in 29 days though! I’m already bummed that I chose to stay only through that Wednesday, having to leave on an early 9:30 flight, because I will miss the presentation of the NLS narrator, usually my favorite part. But such is the way that west to east air travel works: I’ll lose so much time coming back that I couldn’t afford to depart later in the day than that.

So, nice to meet you? Say hi, drop your email in the subscribe box, and help me keep this thing going! Thanks, and have a great weekend.

Book Review: Cruising Attitude, by Heather Poole

Right on the heels of my Audio Mo challenge success, well so-so that is, I’ve learned through a blogger I met on Twitter via AudioMo of another challenge that might well be more up my alley. This one, hash tagged #31WriteNow, dares its participants to write a blog post every day for the month of August. I have absolutely no idea if I can live up to that kind of commitment these days, and especially given that I’m starting class and have some kind of job, no matter how tenuous the latter may be at the moment. But, I can always use the stimulation of the attempt.
I’ve cashed it in on this week regarding the day job, opting to take tomorrow off and work on some more productive things. We did nearly nothing all of this week, but have some hope that things will begin to revive next Monday. We’re just having to pound through the summer doldrums.
My section partner didn’t show up today either, meaning I had no one to talk to. So I decided to start Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet, by Heather Poole.
A well-known flight attendant via Twitter and other social media forums, I’ve followed Poole for almost 4 years now. But upon already reading about a quarter of this book in one sitting, I can say that I hadn’t known as much as I thought about what her job really entailed.
Her tales begin with a couple of fairly recent stories about passengers experiencing medical issues onboard and the measures taken to assist them. Some were humorous, and others were sad. With these, Poole immediately establishes in the reader some of the wild emotional swings experienced by one who engages in this line of work.
In the following chapters, she takes us through her journey into being a flight attendant, noting that this was initially meant to be a short job while she awaited her bigger career as, well something. Just as so many of us young folk struggle with, Poole was having a hard time figuring out just what she’d wanna do.
After an adventure-filled stint with a small, very low budget carrier, she managed to make her jump to the big dogs of the sky. This involved a move to New York City that required quick adjustment to a life that she’d not anticipated and while building a friendship with a southerner who was also adjusting to the flight attendant role.
I obviously have a ways to go. But I’m sure that if her descriptions of intense training at a flight attendant academy, preparation for and survival of life in a chaotic Queens-area crashpad, and encounters with intimidating co-workers as she got started are any indication, her remaining stories will be a lot of fun.
I particularly enjoy Poole’s writing style. It gives the impression that one is sitting across the table and asking questions about how she got to this point. It’s all very conversational. As one who can’t get enough of travel stories, see my enjoyment of the Betty In the Sky with A Suitcase podcast, I unquestionably love this book. This book also brings home what I often hear attendants say: their job is about more than just serving drinks and pretzles. It’s about keeping us safe when we choose to be suspended far above the ground in a metal tube, and any attendant worth his or her salt really takes that seriously. If you check it out, you’ll see what I mean.