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Technology Road Trip Blues

I haven’t been traveling as much over the past couple of years. For the past 30 years or so I have been globetrotting. It was a dream come true for a poor kid from Indianapolis. I started to list countries in Africa I hadn’t been to as a way of keeping track of the ones that I had visited. The same thing could be said in the US; which states hadn’t I Visited. For the record, I have not been to Alaska, Hawaii, South Dakota and Montana. While there is a large swath of Asia and South Asia that I’ve yet to see, I made a pretty good dent in China. I spent most of a December freezing in Moscow. I drank my first Mojito in Havana.

When you travel that much you get into a technological rhythm. You learn all the tricks of how to stay  connected no matter where you are. I used to write a blog for The New York Times  website on the subject. During my travel hiatus, I got used to being connected to high-speed broadband at home and Wi-Fi everywhere else. Even if I wasn’t around a Wi-Fi connection, my iPhone is 3G and, while that seems slow by today’s standards, it’s blazingly fast compared to a 300 baud modem connection.

I’m practical about technology; the purpose is to get things done. I really don’t care anymore what’s under the hood. I used to despair that most people can’t drive a stick shift or that an entire generation of kids can’t read a clock face. If the car gets me from one place to another, does it matter if I don’t know which gear it’s in? If I want to know what time it is, it doesn’t matter if the answer is analog or digita.  Age hasn’t necessarily made me wiser but I know that’s not a good idea to walk across a cow pasture barefoot.

I’ve never understood Luddites.

I thrive on progress and innovation. In my case that statement is literal. I’ve always had poor eyesight and it’s hard to convey the joy of getting my first pair of glasses at age four and to be able to clearly see the faces of my family from across the room. Oh, I had to put up with all the silly nicknames – four eyes, Mr. Magoo, Mr. Peabody and Coke bottles. The insults meant nothing to me because I could SEE! I climbed trees. I played Little League baseball. I had snowball fights and ran full tilt around the neighborhood like the rest of the kids. But the most wonderful thing about eyeglasses was that I could read. Reading was a big deal in my family. Getting your first library card was a rite of passage. I am really that person who reads the back of cereal boxes. I read everything.

The home of my first dream job

During high school and part of college I worked at the main city library. My job was to put the returned books back on the shelves. It Could have been boring and tedious but I was assigned to different sections so I’d be exposed books that I wouldn’t have thought to read otherwise. The travel section obviously had an effect but philosophy, religion, biographies, fiction of all types and how-to books of every description.

What would have become of me if I had lived in an era before the invention of corrective lenses? I certainly would not have been much of a hunter. Incidentally, I earned a marksmanship merit badge when I was in the Boy Scouts.

My eyesight is getting worse but thanks to technology I’m able to overcome the limitations. For example, the zoom function in Microsoft Word let’s me increase the size of text so that is easier for me to read and edit. I’m also dictating this using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I’m perfectly capable of touch typing and I’m really fast but talking to my computer is so much easier. I have a text-to-speech program that will read anything generated on my computer with a pretty convincing human voice. Since I do a lot of speeches having my text read back to me gives me a sense of how the audience will react to the phraseology and rhythm of my speech.

I still love to read the text of most printed books is too small and mine really expensive reading glasses are not as much help as they used to be. Along comes the e-reader. I’m back to reading books at a voracious rate because I can adjust the font size. Oddly enough, I’m reading faster with a larger font on my Kindle screen I take in more at one glance and I page through faster. Though I do have a worry of developing Page Control Thumb(PCT).

Even though, e-readers have given me back my access to books, I need another solution for all the newspapers magazines and other printed matter that are not  in an e-book format. Technology is come to my rescue again. I have several apps on my iPhone that lets me keep up with the news via podcasts.  Stitcher Radio is my favorite. It lets me pick from a range of news programs that are automatically downloaded and that I can listen to wherever I am. I listen on the subway, buses, Shopping and while walking. I have always been a News Junkie but access to these podcasts gives me a greater perspective on the news of the world than I get from any of domestic services. My news playlist comes from Great Britain, Germany, Africa, , Australia, China and the Middle East. Too much exposure to the BBC has caused me to make linguistic slip-ups .It is sometimes hard for me to say Afghanistan without a British inflection.

I just got galleys of a book that I want review. Since it hasn’t been published yet, there is no electronic version for me to download. Unfortunately, Scanners and book readers for the visually impaired are incredibly expensive. I have just started to look into these devices and it seems that the underlying technology is widely available and inexpensive but the specialized nature of the devices — customization for a niche market — brings up the prices. I wish it was simpler and cheaper.

Accessibility is one of those words that has little meaning  until you one up against it personally. Many years ago my wife had a serious leg break. While she recovered she had to use a wheelchair. It was then that I understood how important wheelchair accessibility was. I still notice when a subway stop has an elevator for wheelchair access.

If I could just gets SIRI to read my e-mail on my iPhone

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