Oct 222014

Ars Technica profiles the Uni, a tablet that is designed to translate American Sign Language into spoken English and vice versa. The startup company behind the Uni hopes that the device will help the deaf and hearing impaired communicate in a variety of everyday situations without relying on a human interpreter. For the Uni to achieve widespread adoption among the deaf community, it will need to overcome a high sticker price and a limited vocabulary. The vocabulary can be expanded through software updates, but price might be a more difficult issue to address (something that is true for a lot of assistive technology).

The Uni seems to rely on a combination of hardware and software to achieve its goals. As the technology on consumer tablets and phones improves, perhaps an app (or even the operating system) will be able to perform these functions. It might be a more cost-effective solution. In the meantime, let’s hope the Uni can get enough traction to continue development.

Oct 212014

I don’t subscribe to Cinemax, but that hasn’t stopped The Knick from becoming one of my favorite new shows of the year. The Knick is a medical drama set in a struggling New York hospital at the dawn of the twentieth century, just as medicine (and surgery in particular) is leaving behind its grisly sawbones era and entering an age of innovation and revolution. The show has earned a reputation for its depictions of gory and decidedly unsanitary surgical procedures, but the amazing cast is the real reason to watch. Clive Owen is tone-perfect as an arrogant yet brilliant chief surgeon who embodies both the best and worst tendencies of his time. He spends coke-fuelled weekends in his lab devising new surgical procedures and instruments, yet he is openly hostile to the first African American surgeon to join the hospital staff (played with seething intelligence by Andre Holland).

Steven Soderbergh’s direction infuses every episode with a kinetic energy that is bathed in both harsh light and soft shadow. It’s probably one of the most meticulously composed shows since Breaking Bad. And Cliff Martinez provides an electronic score that should seem anachronistic but somehow fits with the show’s theme of messy, halting progression. The Knick was renewed for a second season before it even aired, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the show and its characters evolve. It may even persuade me to subscribe to Cinemax.

Oct 162014

It has become fashionable for technology writers to question the utility of the iPad. They point out that phones are becoming bigger and more powerful while competing tablets can provide the same functionality for less money. These observations are certainly true, but I remain a big fan of the device. Much of that has to do with my particular use cases for the iPad. The iPad allows me to read a book or watch video without being at my desk. And thanks to the addition of Switch Control in ios, I can operate the tablet with a single switch. No other tablet can beat the iPad in terms of accessibility.

When the iPad first debuted, many predicted that it would quickly supplant desktop and laptop computers. That hasn’t happened and I’m confident that the iPad will continue to thrive in a world of jumbo-sized phones. It will never match a phone’s portability, but it doesn’t need to. It needs to excel as a tablet, which it does.

Oct 092014

Americans are masters at freaking about things that really aren’t threats. Case in point: Ebola. 20% of Americans are afraid of catching Ebola; a ridiculously high number considering that exactly one case has been diagnosed in the country. As Jeffrey Young of HuffPo points out, the flu virus presents a much more significant danger to public health. Thousands of Americans will die from the flu in the coming months, yet I’m betting that most of the people in hysterics about Ebola won’t bother getting a flu shot.

If you are concerned about becoming sick in the next few months, get a flu shot. Tell your friends and family to get flu shots. A flu shot will provide actual protection against a real threat. Panicking about anything is rarely helpful and only makes us look incredibly silly to the eyes of the world.

Oct 072014

The Supreme Court doesn’t allow itself many progressive moments. And even when those moments arrive, the Court likes to be coy about it, presumably to give Scalia the opportunity to have a tantrum in private. Yesterday’s decision to let stand various appellate decisions striking down same-sex marriage bans is not the end of the struggle for marriage equality, but it perhaps marks the beginning of the final chapter. A lower court could still uphold such a ban, forcing the Court to issue an actual opinion on the matter. But it seems nearly inconceivable that the Court would uphold such a ban after yesterday’s news. The unconstitutional nature of these bans is now a settled matter.

The Court is likely to continue dismantling the Voting Rights Act, so we should try to appreciate these rare instances when the Court shows that it is still capable of demonstrating good sense.

Sep 302014

As the midterm election cycle draws to a merciful conclusion, it looks like the Republicans stand a good chance of taking control of the Senate. It’s still possible that Democrats–who are pouring money into get-out-the-vote efforts in states like Iowa and Colorado—could eke out a couple victories, but it’s difficult to ignore the gradual alignment of the various election prediction models pointing to a Republican-controlled Senate. At this point, neither result would surprise me.

A Republican Senate probably won’t change the political status quo much. Even if the Democrats retain control, it’s unlikely that any major legislation will pass in the next two years. Life could become more difficult for Obama’s judicial nominees and we might have to suffer another government shutdown, but America will muddle and bumble through as it always does.

That last statement isn’t meant to be reassuring. I’ve grown increasingly skeptical of our capacity to muster the political will to make life better for ourselves and our fellow citizens. Perhaps my optimism will return in 2016, despite Hillary Clinton’s concerted efforts to become the first robot to serve as President.

Sep 202014

No, I won’t be upgrading to an iPhone 6. My 5S is still more than adequate for my relatively basic phone needs and I have absolutely no interest in the gargantuan 6 Plus. I suspect that my 5S could serve me for another couple years until the iPhone 7 implantable chip is released, but I’ll probably upgrade next year to ensure a decent resale value for my current phone.

I did upgrade my iStuff to iOS 8, which seems to have screwed up the Switch Control functionality to a degree. I can no longer “flick” through pages, which makes it a little more difficult to scroll through articles and the like. Hopefully, Apple will respond to my pleas to crush this particular bug. On the positive side, I do like the ability to answer phone calls on my iPad (and, beginning in October, texts from non-iStuff users). I would gladly pay Apple a healthy fee to bring this capability to my PC, but that is about as likely as me purchasing an iWatch.

Sep 152014

Kanye West really doesn’t like it when people remain seated during his concerts. He is of the opinion that one must be standing to experience the full effect of the magic he is weaving onstage. If you don’t heed Kanye’s bidding to stand, you will suffer the consequences. Those consequences may include rendering Kanye unable to perform because he’s too busy cajoling you to stand up. Whether you have a legitimate reason for not standing is something that only Kanye is qualified to judge. Be prepared to present your “handicap pass” to Kanye for a thorough inspection. A follow-up interview with one of Kanye’s security personnel may be required to fully resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

Kanye only wants to lay down some truly mind-fucking beats for you. But he can’t do that if you’re just going to sit there like a jerk.

Sep 102014

The National Federation for the Blind is suing ride-sharing service Uber for discriminating against customers with disabilities. Several individuals allege that Uber drivers have refused to serve customers with service animals or have forced service animals to ride in the trunk. This seems like a pretty clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities, although Uber is trying to claim that it isn’t responsible for the actions of independent contractors. This lawsuit also raises some interesting questions about the “sharing economy” and its capacity to accommodate customers with disabilities. People with disabilities should be able to fully participate in this economy, but how do we ensure that private citizens–who are not employees-understand their obligations to provide reasonable accommodations?