Getting Ready with OrCam

I am still putting OrCam to the test! This week I had great fun working out how it can help me with tasks in my day to day life- like getting ready. The OrCam can tell the difference between two face cleansers in near identical packaging within seconds. It can also tell me the name and shade of the foundation that I need to pick up at the shop. It feels so good to be able to do this kind of task independently again. Fully sighted people take for granted that they can identify anything with minimal effort.

I was amazed that the OrCam could read the tiny information stickers at the ends of my lipsticks. From colours to finishes- It’s the little things that make me the happiest! 

Sometimes with the OrCam you have to refocus the camera and point again before it gets the text’s wording exactly right. In the case of the lipsticks it was easy to tell when I needed to retry because the OrCam would read numbers (presumably from elsewhere on the sticker) or beep.

OrCam are hoping to bring colour recognition in on the next software update, this will be the icing on the cake for me! This device allows me to be curious and to explore the things that I wouldn’t feel were important enough to ask someone else about. When you’ve got stacks of brown envelopes you need to go through, queries like: “what is this nude lipstick shade called?” Slip into the ether of unimportance.

This video is short and sweet but I wanted to show how versatile the device is and how, albeit with some perseverance, it can read even really tiny text! More OrCam findings to come! 

Trying the Orcam for the First Time

I have been following the developments of OrCam since 2013 when I first contacted Dr Yonatan Wexler wanting to know more about this peculiar gadget he was envisaging. Dr Wexler kindly kept in touch with me over the years as OrCam developed and grew. Last week I was loaned an OrCam MyEye to wear for a month, in order to test it out and review it from the point of view of a young blind person. It is a four year dream to get my hands on this technology and I can’t wait to share my findings with you.

OrCam MyEye is a tiny camera that is positioned on the top right edge of any pair of glasses. A black wire runs behind your ear and to a box which contains the device computer. It is light and can then be clipped onto your belt or clothes. When turned on the OrCam MyEye can recognise pre-saved objects/faces and read text to the user via a bone conducting ear piece. The device is discreet and excels in recognising text- both on screens and paper.

Below is a video of myself and OrCam trainer Judy as she introduces me to the device for the first time. As you can see I was sceptical at first as to whether it would read my favourite poetry book accurately. A week on and I am still amazed at what OrCam is able to do. I am so excited to be able to share this ground breaking new technology and to provide a realistic and grounded review of the product. From what I’ve experienced so far, I firmly believe OrCam could be instrumental in the lives of many visually impaired people around the world. I will be putting the device through its paces in the life of a young person with sight loss. In the UK there are already over 600 users of OrCam and worldwide there are thousands. So, are we looking at the beginnings of artificial vision?

 

My Mini Hadron Collider That I Couldn’t Do Without

When I was twelve my physics teacher sprinkled the class with enthusiasm in the best way he knew how- a BBC news clip and a print out. Like most physics teachers in the world he was eagerly awaiting the turning on of The Large Hadron Collider like a child awaiting Christmas. Of course no one in the class cared in the slightest until he told us it could potentially break the world and all that we know. At the end of the class he told me that I held in my hand a Hadron Collider, that in his day even the calculator on it would have taken up a room, minimised by this amazing piece of ingenuity. My phone. He retired from trying to make teenage girls enthusiastic about physics a couple of years later; passing his remaining lessons using last resort teaching tacitcs such as burning things and making dry ice out of fire extinguishers. He would then ask the class not to tell anyone until he bought new ones from B&Q. 

At the time I didn’t see my phone as something particularly powerful or amazing. I was feverishly desperate to get whatever latest model I could stick my pay as you go sim into, yet I didn’t do much with it post-purchase. Other girls were glued to their mobiles- passing round texts from people I’d never met. The most regularly used contacts in my phone were my Dad, Mum and best friend. I had only about a quarter of my classmates committed to its memory and the only people outside the classroom who knew my number were uncles and aunts. It is due to this that I didn’t really see the need for my phone, I never left the house without a parent and who else would I really need to contact?  When my sight started to get worse my father insisted I kept it with me and it gradually grew in use but (alas) not sociability. My sent items folder was mostly filled with “Where are you?” messages when I couldn’t find the car to pick me up after school in the Netto supermarket car park. If my phone was a person back then it would have been a recluse huddled in a dark room, occasionally checking the time before returning to some form of narcotic enduced slumber. 

I celebrated the passing of the first decade of the second millennium by getting in touch with the futuristic technology of the day- iPhone 4. Suddenly the collection of people that I wished I knew in real life could be interacted with in my genuinely real day to day life. Smart people who said things I wish I’d thought of. I no longer depended on reality to make my phone ring. Online friends blurred into just friends; first with the introduction of the Facebook app and then with time the additions of twitter, tumblr, kik, whatsapp, etcetera etcetera. “It’s not the phone, it’s who you have on it!” I remember announcing to my bemused father, having thought through the statement for some time since my enlightenment. This was lucky as it was also the first phone I had to commit to by contract without the leeway of divorce; should I get bored or drop it. But suddenly it was in my pocket all the time. Suddenly I cared if I was to drop it down the stairs (a regular occurrence with its ancestors). As my sight dropped the manufacturer caught me like Newton’s apple falling from the tree with bigger fonts and ever improving accessibility features. When my contract eventually ran out I was excited to get a new phone in my life, but ever grateful to my old one’s years of service. 

I’ve had my current phone for nearly two years and it’s contract change time again soon. Maybe it is with me getting older, getting more perspective on things or more techno-dependent but I often think how amazing the thing I hold in my hand really is. I talk to people all over the world through it. I can be with anyone at any time. I can document my moments with photos and postings. I can do and talk about the things I love. I still agree with what little me was saying, it is the people not the phone model. But the internet made the phone for me as I think it has for so many others. Now I, like many others, just have friends. Ones I encountered through cyber space and ones I met face to face. My mini hadron collider has fused friendships which would otherwise have withered from the strain of geographical distance. Technology has shrunk what would have been a tower block’s worth of computing into an ever thinning slice of metal in our hands, and I think that is pretty awesome. 

  

Flying, Trees and Unfiltered Beauty

Dalby forest has always been one of my favourite places to be. For exactly that reason, it is a place to simply be. For a person who spends the majority of their time on the internet in one form or another I am surprisingly against the way technology has crept into every corner of our lives. I think it is harder to develop ideas due to this: as soon as one thought comes into your head you tweet it, and with a zap of wifi it is gone from your head and given to others instead. No one pays much attention to where they are anymore- they will find a spot of beauty to put on instagram but in the bright lights of their phone screens they will not notice the beauty of the tree bark, or the stars, or the clouds ambling above. What isn’t being realised is that social media is acting as a filter for our senses and our minds, we are remembering through facebook status’ and not the way things felt, looked or tasted. It isn’t enough for your mind to store things for you anymore, it has to be burnt into cyberspace and shared with others as if their minds are sociological hard-drives for backing up your personal memories. Stop. Just stop. This advert from 2011 makes my point.

I’m not trying to sell you a holiday here, but you get the idea. One of the things I like about Dalby Forest is that it is a signal black spot, not a jot of signal to be found in the entire forest. This is probably partly to do with it being situated in the North Yorkshire Moors (a location not renowned for its connectedness to the outside world) and partly because it is just acre after acre of very tall and beautiful trees. So even if you do take pictures on screened devices while you are there you at least get time to take in your surroundings, and the reason you felt taking a picture to be necessary, before sending it into social cyberspace. There are a lot of things to take in too, you don’t need to look very hard to see the unavoidable abundance of nature and greenery. However in the words of William Blake:

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”

Even if you aren’t quite as enthusiastic about trees as myself you will at least note the height and expansiveness of these particular ‘green things’. They are everywhere. And yesterday it was in these trees that I climbed.

Go Ape is an adventure outward-bounds type assault course suspended in the tree tops of the forest. There are several places around the country that you can try similar, but be warned it is not for the faint hearted. I took on the challenge of Go Ape with a friend and despite me being the one in the team who is not scared of heights it was still slightly hair raising at times. I am not a monkey, nor a bird, and being 120ft in the air is not the ideal place for a humble human. After signing some documents in case of fatal injuries we were given a rigorous half hour training session, which involved mostly learning how to attach yourself on and off each platform and the importance of being attached to something at all times. Once actually on Go Ape we were confronted with many challenges: from your average balance beam to tarzan swings into cargo nets. Just in case you were to forget whilst on the huge wooden structure that your life was in your caribbeanas’ metallic gates, there were giant yellow signs on each activity with a picture of a falling man on. The poor man who was careless with his caribbeanas…

We managed to survive the adventure just fine, and definitely kudos goes to N for getting someone with low vision around the course in one piece. The highlight was certainly the zip wires which flew me through the air and between the trees in line with the birds. It is a strange feeling to be doing nothing, literally just sitting, but to be travelling so fast and doing something that humans were never really meant to do. I could feel the space around me; in my toes I could feel the ground they are accustomed to walking on so very far below and in my hair I could feel the oxygen that the trees had pumped fresh from their leaves for mankind to hold in their techno-addicted lungs. That’s when, at 120ft and approaching the ground, that I decided that beauty is found in different ways, in different things, by different people. Like William Blake says, what I don’t notice is someone else’s Mona Lisa. Then I hit the soil.

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