Seeing Things Differently

May 2018, after the OMG Reunion, Rolling Hills OH.

Casey dodged the lawn sprinklers along the path to the central campus parking lot. The 6 a.m. shuttle had its motor running as the driver took her $20. She wheeled her suitcase to the back seat, hoping to avoid conversation after last evening’s fiasco at the OMG Reunion.

Her iPhone and the Whisperer curled in her suitcase beeped simultaneously. The message confirmed that she’d won the Whisperer decoration contest prize: five personalized versions of ‘Life Replayed’. CumuLinker’s prototype social media timeline wouldn’t let her forget her most memorable moments in her professional, romantic, community, and recreational life. Or, as the monster showed last night, CumuLinker’s idea of a best moment could be one of the worst to her. She feared her Whisperer might pile up a new line of chips on her shoulder if its replayed moments triggered unpleasant emotions or revealed secrets.

She looked up to see Patrick and Alice seating themselves near the front door. Patrick poked the driver to get moving. Alice mouthed in her direction, “Talk later”. Then she leaned her head on Patrick’s shoulder. Casey kicked the empty seat in anger as she reminded herself of missed opportunities to lecture students about “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty”. She’d use this episode for a blog post on “Tombstone, not Capstone, projects required for BS in CS degrees!”.

Leaving the reunion after only a few hours sleep forced decisions about her weekend. She was booked Monday into a hotel in DC for what she expected, and hoped, would be her last panel reviewing proposals for the National Science Foundation. Maybe this weekend could leave more time to renew a friendship with a long-time colleague still working on interesting projects. It wasn’t too early to text Sally Rhodes.

The return text stated that Casey would be welcome to stay at Sally’s condo in Arlington. Sally suggested meeting at the Ballston exit from the Metro where she’d be having coffee and catching up on her podcasts. “It will be good to see you again, kiddo, I’ve got a new project to show off!”

Transfer from the shuttle to the train went smoothly as Casey sleepily slumped into a seat in the quiet car. One pass through the tweets on her Twitter app after the usual Friday night news dump would likely bore her into a deep snooze, hopefully without drooling. She fumbled in her jacket pockets for tissues and ear buds and found a note from her reunion suite mates: “Sorry your nerdy experiment got out of control. Have a nice rest-of-life.”.

Casey cringed. Her profession, bringing into existence the Internet, then turning it over to nerds who thought a few ads wouldn’t be a problem, had screwed up society in so many ways she couldn’t count. And not done yet, as the “Great Trickster” continued to spread election snark while the economy adjusted to international competition.

She clicked on an unfamiliar Twitter hash tag #PinkPageFlu. Up came a series of messy screen shots with snarky remarks. She pulled down the window blind to better explore this pink weirdness. Stretching over a few months were reports of web sites turning into unusable, irregular, glossy, low contrast pages. Different browsers displayed variations of ugliness, especially if one dislike pink. A click on the Reader button customized readable stripped-down pages. ‘Like’s and other silly social media conventions were often slathered across the page as images.

“Hello, Pink New World!”, Casey muttered. Happy moments from her decades as an early netizen popped into her memory. She wished she could turn back the clock to the Dawn of Web Time,” “, continuing Usenet, Altavista, and her very first web page.

Casey shared the view that the WWW was really sick. But, she wondered why so few asked when this new disease started. Fake News, bots, and sheer nastiness had already driven many people back to TV or simply not caring any more. The WWW inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, had warned about increasing ugliness and awkwardness in his invention. The World Wide Web had started as hyperlinks then bloomed into graphics with browsers. Linking together the world’s information wasn’t a worthy enough goal, there had to be beauty and animation and brain ticklers. When the public could afford expensive phones, they wanted all web content for free, giving rise to surveillance capitalism and the Silicon Valley oligarchies. Nevertheless, Casey admitted, that Whisperer and its life-shaking ‘Life Replayed’ projection were a real kick!

This train ride had given Casey a bundle of blog post topics. Now, she was ready to enter another person’s, very different world in daily operations but sharing some professional outlooks and some interesting adventures back in the days of the Japanese Fifth Generation project. Casey’s friend Sally had decided to retire in the Capitol area to maintain proximity to government consulting as well as access to public transportation.

*-*- *-*- *-*-

Arriving in DC, then transferring to the Red Line to Virginia, wrestling her suitcase up the long escalator, out of breath, Casey spotted Sally at the coffee/pastry shop,as promised. Their Whisperers attempted an interlock until Casey’s realized it was not being worn, wrapped into the suitcase. Casey suspected Sally had some use cases for her personal Whisperer due to her limited vision.

Sally paid her bill, then waved Casey out the door. She flashed a pamphlet showing a famous 80-year-old actress. Then she picked up her cane and stepped into the shopping arcade. “Are you up for a play at the Kennedy Center tonight?”, Sally asked. “Enjoy city life, forget social media, let’s catch up on culture.”

Casey stopped her. “Hey, Sally, I’m rusty about walking with a visually impaired person. You sent me your ‘Disability 101 guide’, but I’m confused. Do I walk to your right or left? Hold your arm or vice versa? ”

Sally laughed. “Relax! Walk your suitcase to your left, stay a bit in front of me, and I’ll follow. Is that crazy hat left over from the Trickster Election?”

Casey nodded, “Yes, I don’t get to symbolize often. Let’s stop at the wine bar across the plaza. I’m hungry!”

Seated at a window table with a white tablecloth, Casey pulled out a menu and looked at Sally. “I’ll bet you’re wondering why I’m here early.”.

Sally said, “Not really. I read about a Whisperer fiasco at a college reunion yesterday. It sounded like a nasty moment, and definitely not a promo for CumuLinker, not that they care.”

Casey scanned the menu. “What would you like? Should I read the menu to you or do you have a Braille version?”

Sally drabbed her iPhone. “Braille, nah? I could look up the restaurant and read the PDF, but I’m not picky. How about we share appetizers. I really like things that come on sticks. And a carafe of Chablis, too.”

Casey turned to Sally. “Ok, are you friend or foe of CumuLinker?”

Sally said, “Both. I’ve given up on privacy. I had to do that new Facebook to keep in touch with my family members in New Mexico. I joined the phony CumuLinker Accessibility advisory panel. When the Whisperer came along, I realized for the first time, I’d know who I was speaking with at a meetup.”

Casey smiled. “Interesting use case! I never thought about a Whisperer as assistive technology.”

“Actually, Casey, I’ve become a Whisperer voice coach. When the device speaks a partner’s profile into their ear, many people freeze up with what I call Synthetic Voice Shock. We Vision Losers listen to these voices all the time, even speed them up, and can eat and drink at the same time. Amazing, huh?”

Casey nodded, “Cool! I found Whisperer usable enough. I got my voices and earables tuned to my brain speed and capacity. Sally, you live in a different world! I envy your skills.”

Sally asked, “What else happened at the reunion?”

Casey shrugged. “Geez, I was only there for 3 hours, barely caught up with my friends Alice and Patrick. Hey, I won the Whisperer Adornment contest! I’m a techno-fashionista now.”

Sally raised her wine glass for a clink. “An what’s the prize?”

“Casey laughed, “I get five versions of ‘Life Replayed’. Professional, geographical, hobbies, romantic, I forget the other. I really don’t want to go back over so many life episodes, most out of context, some happy, some sad.”

Casey looked away and sipped her wine. “It’s life CumuLinker at the Pearley Gates. I’ll manage my own memories, don’t need no stinking algorithms or big data. How would you like your own life replayed?”

Sally flashed a book cover on the back of her phone. “I blogged my memoirs, ‘As Your World Changes’. But I’d be interested in comparing the result with Know-it-all CumuLinker. Which way is the restroom”.

Casey pointed her finger, then laughed at herself. “Three tables forward, one to the right, ladies on the left. Beware the hustling waiters.”

Casey ordered more wine. She scrolled through Sally’s blog to gather new information about her long-ago colleague. Sally was weaving her way back to their table as if she’d memorized the path. “Sally, I admire how you control your life. Changing the subject, do you know anything about that Pink Page Rampage showing up on Twitter?”

Sally chuckled. “Pink Page analysis is my new hobby. There’s a systemic vulnerability in the Web that makes it easy to deface web pages, well at least for insiders. Anybody mad at a company or person can mess up a website with just a few keystrokes.”

She sipped her wine. ” I’ve heard there’s a Silicon Valley female who got screwed over, or maybe a group of over-40 old folks. These experts use Tor to secretly channel advice to attackers. Actually, it’s not even clear there’s a crime since the page content is intact, just unreadable. Well, except for us with the skills and tools to sneak under the style stuff.”

Casey sputtered, “but, it costs to fix…”.

Sally continued, “Yes, defacing a website is ‘denial of service’, but only for companies not on top of their maintenance and recovery practices. Pink Page Flu might cure the Web of some unhealthy designs and clutter habits.”

Casey threw down her napkin. “No, we algorithm designers and data scientists have already messed up the world. Literally, like electing the “Great Trickster”. I did enjoy that a disgruntled employee snipped his Twitter feed for all of 11 minutes. I’ve been thinking about forming a posse to catch those Pink Page marauders and teach them a lesson. What do you think?”

Wearables Take A Hike (A Spoof)

Here is Casey’s homework for her lifelong learning writing class. Enjoy!


July 13, 2018 Dellville, AZ.

Post by (pseudonym) Jill Tricker on her blog “Living Longer Through Learning”.

Today was the annual LLoL hike up the iconic Big Toe Butte, led by Jack Fast and me. Last year’s hike had bad troubles. Jack’s headlong stumble into a boulder sent him home early. His visiting mother took him to Urgent Care. Ironically, I, too, tumbled and broke my right ankle. Crossing paths in the Emergency Room, we guessed that both our accidents were due to dehydration, having failed to reach the well at the top of the hill. We vowed to be better equipped for future trips, thanks to the wonderful world of wearable computing devices.

We gathered early, 9 a.m. with the temperature 80 degrees, and daily humidity likely to rise as the afternoon storms gathered. Our group met at the picnic tables below the trail, which looked like it headed 30 degrees toward a sheer cliff peeking into a hazy sky. Among many stands of healthy trees were sections of scraggly trunks after the recent pine beetle attack. A mile off toward the Little Heel mesa was a blackened hulk from a long ago monsoon lightning storm. Printed signs alerted us not to disturb nesting Peregrine falcons.

Jack had gone whole hog and bought Google glasses, now selling for under $100. He also received a special deal on Hearables, enough for all 10 hikers. His GG, as he fondly calls them, loaded Whisperer social media profiles to better acquaint all trip members. Our profiles included mundane facts like hometowns, pedigrees, horoscope signs, last job title, and favorite LLOL courses. Two Sporty hikers reprised the Buckeye-Wolverine rivalry. Our companionship had begun, thanks to CumuLinker’s careful pair wise introductions.

Doctor Bob is our Health Gadget guy. He equipped us with blood pressure measuring bracelets that transmitted to our smart phone app and then off to Quantified Central. He wanted to assure nobody’s heart gave out on the steep uphill climb.

We were all curious about our physiological changes, as we learn to live in the new world of continuous body monitoring. For several days we had entered our calorie and liquid intake. However, our different apps yielded inconsistent calculations. Predictions on our hydration management, i.e. fluid input/output, varied from p=5 to p=15. We knew this hike would last at least 2 hours.

Hiker Ted, unfamiliar with wearing a bracelet, got his arm entangled in a vine-crusted cactus. Eventually we got him unpricked but it took 15 minutes of haggling to figure out which first aid cream to apply. Someone forgot to bring the emergency kit instructions.

Jack’s family history worried him so much he had installed a Dementia Detector app to filter social media profiles. The last thing a trip leader wants is a hike member wandering off. Jack explained to me that the Dementia Detector was good at predicting based on Facebook posts that change vocabulary mid-rant. This seems creepy to me, but may have helped when Max’s Hearable alerted us that he was rambling and occasionally turning around on the trail.

My ankle was recovered from last year’s injury. I’d purchased blister-resistant hiking boots. This smart liner fabric detects skin changes even before a blister appears. However, I couldn’t figure out how to adjust the skin texture setting. That formula attracted ants and I was under creepy crawly attack every time I stopped walking.

Speaking of crawling things, Alice had a snake warning detector module for her hearable. A hiss or rattle could cause immediate alerts which she had set to “tingle and yell”. This gadget goes back to the vendor, with a big #fail warning on Twitter. It appears that Ted’s bird identification app emitted noisy signals as he leafed through bird-call demonstrations. Some sound effects tricked Alice’s earable into warning “Possible rattler to your left at 10 o’clock”. She was a nervous wreck most of the hike.

“Mushroom Max”, as he is known, was deliriously happy to find his favorite morsel near last year’s location. The moist spot had been stomped on by geocatchers but several delicate fungi survived. Dreaming of a juicy fresh mushroom omelet when he got home, he texted his refrigerator to check for eggs.

MyFrig app texted back: “Max, you have 2 eggs. Do you want to upgrade your Amazon Instant for delivery by the next drone?”

Max (via Siri): “No. Please retrieve ‘Deliriously Delicious Omelet’ recipe to my iPhone.”

Delaying one minute, MyFrig announced, “Max, Google Now observes that last year you suffered a 3 day diarrhea bout using that recipe. Would you like a tutorial on mushroom identification sent to your iWatch or that nearby Google Glass user?”

Max via Siri: “Cancel recipe!”

Siri mis-understood him. His iWatch rapidly scrolled the illustrated mushroom tutorial which then appears on Jack’s glass screen. All devices in the Nearby connectivity region displayed the voluminous text. Everybody halted their uphill climb to reboot.

MyFrig texted again with a sad face emoji: “Sorry, Max, your home Control system crashed. ‘Feature Interaction error’ message has been sent to Wired Please repeat, what was it you wanted from the refrigerator?”.

Max was so annoyed he was about to stuff a mushroom down his throat. We calmed him, and good thing too. His blood pressure bracelet LED lights were flashing.

One more home communication snafu occurred. Carol remembered mid-hike that she forgot to fill her dog’s water bowl. For safety and reassurance, she messaged her home water system but could not remember the pet bowl spigot identifier. With too much light on the mobile screen, she was virtually blind and could not find the right location button to push. I explained Apple VoiceOver which would read off an iPhone screen. However, she was equipped with a half-vast Google Sprinkles operating system. Defaulting, she three times turned on all the spigots for 30 seconds, expecting Snuffy to be running around the house in great anxiety due to the strange cascading noises. Carol texted me after the hike that Snuffy was fine and the messes were all cleaned up.

Reaching the top of the hill, we took a break. Bob, Carol, Ted, and Alice all ran out of battery juice. Jack and I lost our cell connectivity. Max stuffed all his gadgetry into his backpack and stopped talking. The ever-quiet Sue was listening to a book on local Native American history with flute songs wafting outside her ear buds. She seemed so at peace.

Jack and I led the group to the shade of a boulder where we expected to find the well. I was looking forward to splashing myself with cold water then taking a long drink from the pure liquid. Instead, we found a granite-colored tube dangling from a thin line swinging under a tree limb.

Jack lost his cool. “Dammit! Someone have moved the well faucet. Look here, some geocachers left us a logic puzzle to solve to find the new well location. Is anybody good at these games?”.

The puzzle began: “Four friends, Bill, Tom, Connie and Alison, live in Glendale, Eagle Rock, Pasadena and Arcadia. They work as accountant, physician, engineer, or teacher. …more clues…”

Nobody had any paper or pencils to work out the answer. Sue volunteered, pulling out her small solar keyboard that attached wirelessly to her Whisperer. The rest of us watched as she glanced at the puzzle, typed a line of something, continuing until her earables spoke the coordinates.

“Oh, great,” Bob shouted, “these coordinates say the well is half-way back down the hill!”

Sue explained that she had studied such puzzles to enter law school, and that it was easy to adapt her Whisperer Logic App to follow heuristics recommended by an LSAT study guide. We’d just trained CumuLinkr to connect lawyers, geo-cachers, and logic puzzle solvers.

After a quiet downhill sprint, our gadgets all came alive with the annoying LLoL survey. Jack and I assessed our hike’s success. Great, nobody went to the Emergency Room! Some products will be return for money back. We learned about using our gadgets in bright sunlight, dry heat, and encroaching vegetation. Nobody believed that their gadgets protected them or made the hike more pleasant. Several comments expressed a desire to learn Sue’s puzzle solving methods.

“Well, see you next version,” shouted Jack, as he wobbled off on his Segway. Turning around, he waved to show off the Segway’s Autopilot. Unfortunately, the Segway’s feature recognition system wasn’t yet trained for mountain lions!