Tech for Me

Jym experiments with making his “new” iPhone 8 do the work of his MacBook Pro.

I love technology. I always have. I love technology like marathon runners and rock climbers love physical exertion. Like politicians and fast traders love money. Today I am indulging my passion over coffee and a cream cheese bagel at Panera. I am attempting to write a blog post using only my iPhone.

Up until now I have been using my laptop to do this. WordPress is my blogging platform. It’s like a combination of a word processor and web publisher. With WordPress you just type up your article, and then with a press of a button, you send your article to the Internet. Then people can see what you’ve written and respond to you. And you can talk back to them about the topic. That’s blogging in a nutshell, and the community of bloggers is called the blogosphere.

The reason I use the laptop for blogging is that I can whip off a 1000 word piece almost as fast as I can think. I can thank my dear old mother for that. By age 9 I had been identified as college material at my small town elementary school, even though my ancestors were farmers, tradesmen, and merchants. One day, unbidden, mom sat me down and informed me that she was going to teach me speed typing, because I would need it in my far off college days. No hunt-and-peck for me, she said. She had gone to business school—her boss, N. E. Kidd, had payed for it—and become proficient in shorthand and typing. Now she had dug out her old textbooks with the intention of equipping her sometimes just a bit too bright son with said skills. The typing skills took; the shorthand did not.

Unfortunately, my typing skills are rendered useless by the iPhone. You need a querty keyboard for speed typing, and lugging one of those around as a smartphone attachment undermines the portability and convenience of these pocket-sized devices. For a long time, dare I say it out loud for fear of turning over peacefully resting mother in her grave, I used the hunt-and-peck method on my iPhone.

Now I am way too impatient to persist in inefficient behavior for very long. I observed that the youngsters had devised a much faster method of data entry on their smartphones: they turned it sideways and used both their thumbs. As it turns out I have a physical challenge that precludes my use of the two-thumb smartphone data entry technique. My right thumb is deformed; it’s too wide and short. I never payed too much attention to it growing up. It didn’t stop me from becoming a whiz on the piano, but it’s way too stubby to poke out characters on the glass screen of a smartphone.

So then I got fairly proficient at “talking” my sentences into my hand-held device. By this I mean that you can use dictation on the iPhone. You can actually turn it on and off as you need it, and your great and glorious gadget transforms your speech into written words. Nifty as this is, you mostly have to do it in solitude. Your husband will complain if you try to use dictation during the evening news (even as he is wont to engage in the very same practice). Besides, your iPhone will probably spice up your literary masterpiece with sentence fragments it overhears from the TV, like “just in from New Zealand” or “showers expected later today.”

Oh, and then there’s autocorrect. Your iPhone thinks it knows English better than do you, and so it often throws in changes to what you have typed or said into the phone. Without telling you or asking your permission in any obvious way. And in social media like Facebook, Twitter or just every day messaging, autocorrect, I think, even makes changes after you poke the send button. This causes many garbled, embarrassing, or confusing communications.

Recently I have been experimenting with two more amazing advances in smartphone data entry: predictive text and something called “QuickPath.” Here’s what Apple says about predictive text: “As you type, you can see choices for words and phrases you’d probably type next, based on your past conversations, writing style, and even websites you visit in Safari.”

In Figure 1 below you can see what my screen looked like right after I typed the last sentence. Predictive text is offering me the choices for starting the next sentence based on past typing habits: Is, The, and Your. Those three “slots” are continually changing as I continue to type. So if I can keep my eye on them as I type, whenever I see the word I want, I can select it, rather than typing the rest of the letters in the word. It can save a lot of time, but I am still far from mastering this counterintuitive practice.

Figure 1.

I am much more excited about using QuickPath to speed up my iPhone data entry. Now you can type a word by sliding your finger from one letter to the next without lifting your finger from the screen. It takes a little practice, but soon you fall right into it. It’s definitely faster than hunt-and-peck, but not so fast as dictation. It has the strong “feel” of cursive writing. Also, by the way, mom, it is vaguely reminiscent of the shorthand that you so tirelessly endeavored to teach me. It’s actually a totally new writing technique made possible by advancing research into hand-touchscreen interface.

I have to confess that I did not finish writing this blog post during my breakfast visit to Panera. No, I carried it home with me. It was my usual busy day, doing laundry, making meals, ok, yeah, napping too, watching TV. But see, I had this marvelous little device in my pocket all the time, and so, ever so often, I could pull it out and work a few more minutes on my latest magnum dopus.

And now I’m finished. I really didn’t cheat; I did it all on my already out of date iPhone 8. Just one of the many reasons that I really do love technology.

Impeachment: a Break in the Clouds

This morning it is winter in every way. Outside, there is snow on the ground, it is cold and foggy, the cars zip by down on the street like worried groundhogs. Inside, I’m up and dressed, and a hundred details of the day are filing through my mind. I haven’t posted a blog in quite a while, due primarily to two reasons. Stephen and I had a personal crisis a few months back; not between him and me, it was something we had to deal with. Since that crisis went unresolved for a few months, I didn’t write about it. But also as the months of the Trump presidency have degraded into years, one recurring sobering thought has kept my fingers off the keyboard and me in suspended animation: whatever wisdom I thought I had doesn’t seem to be applicable to this mess our country is in.

When mad power takes over a nation, there isn’t much that those citizens who are concerned can do. I keep wondering where are the really big mass demonstrations that might have an impact. I keep puzzling about my friends who blissfully live in a Fox News bubble and who are grateful that someone is finally saving our nation and resentful at those who oppose them. And of course as a full time caregiver to a declining spouse, most of the time these ponderings only hover vaguely in the background of a more pressing concern.

One thing that has improved my mood lately is my Democrats’ impeachment and subsequent Senate trial of Donald John Trump. Stephen and I have been intermittently watching the proceedings of the trial for hours at a time. Of course, as a trans person with a progressive political outlook and a commitment to multi-cultural outreach, DT and the Republicans have absolutely nothing to offer me. Zilch. They have been hard at work tearing down every last vestige of the edifice of moderate liberalism left by the Obama administration. The GOP is apparently anti-science, anti-reproductive rights, anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant, and more recently anti-anyone who disagrees with the vagaries of Donald Trump, no matter what they may be. It took the Democrats a long time to discover that the only way to fight a wild patriarch is tooth and nail.

It took the Democrats a long time to figure out a potentially effective response to a Republican Party that only accepts total victory, no compromise, and is willing to do anything, despite appearances of or actual injustice, to have that victory again and again. Now some of these Republicans feel that the end justifies the means, since for the last half-century there has been seeming legal progress in this country towards reproductive rights and equal rights for the LGBT community, and these things are anathema to them. Others, like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, are not only playing a political game that they intend to win, but also in that pursuit proudly displaying their arrogance in front of that vacant space that once possibly contained a human heart.

Clearly the voters in 2016 put a majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives, this despite various crooked manuverings by the Republicans in red states to tilt the playing field in their favor. The Senate, which much more represents our nation’s privileged citizens that does the House, has effectively shut out bipartisan efforts. The Republicans elected a criminal president with the help of Russian interference and used him to get their coveted tax cuts for the rich and hopefully eliminate “entitlements” and undesirable immigrants and other “nasty” people. The Senate, which used to be thought of as home of our wiser politicians, is now, under Mitch McConnell, a machine for turning the federal bench back, hopefully as close to pre-emancipation times as possible. In short, the Republicans are on a fast track to make the liberal point of view legally impossible to attain. They want to make this country a machine where the rich get richer, provided the greater majority of them are white straight males who don’t profess some “strange” ethical, religious or political points of view. And that would include having a basically science-denying point of view.

There are two points I wish to make about this unfolding impeachment trial. There has seldom, if ever, been a more carefully researched, planned and executed presentation of evidence of wrong-doing by a president. It’s pretty clear what Trump did. Insecure that he could win the 2020 contest on his own merit, he set about to flood the media with fake information that would set people to questioning Joe Biden’s legitimacy as a presidential candidate. He tried his best to extract a public statement from the newly elected president of Ukraine that they were investigating Joe’s son, Hunter Biden, for corruption. He extorted that president by withholding congressionally approved military funding and assistance in its war with Russia. He involved many hlgh-level appointees in this scheme, cooked up by Rudy Giuliani and lapped up by himself. He fired loyal career diplomats when they stood in his way of essentially replacing U.S. public policy with a shadow policy designed only for his own personal interest. Every day the disgusting, unsavory panorama of this scheming, law-breaking president becomes more starkly etched in the media record. And the house impeachment managers have masterfully inscribed every detail of this criminal wrongdoing on the public TV screen.

Moreover, there has seldom, if ever, been a more relentlessly pursued and closed-mindedly resisting counter offensive to a serious political charge of wrong-doing than the disdainful farce we are witnessing from Senate Republicans. And since the evil doings of this president and his minions are so well-documented, Senate Republicans really only have two offensive moves (in both senses of ‘offensive’). They can either deny the facts, slamming and denigrating the Democrats in the process, or they can cook up what they claim are similar facts about their opposing party (the Hunter Biden scheme). The result is unconvincing rhetoric. My mama told me frequently, “Jim, two wrongs do not make a right.” The one thing they cannot do, cannot ever speak of, is the actual evidence that is being presented.

I’m proud of my Democrats. You can say that they went on too long, that they were too repetitive. You can call them unsavory names. But they made this Nation look at the facts. If this Republican scoundrel president is elected for a second term in 2020, no one can blame the Democrats for not trying to unseat him. And if he is elected, our reputation as “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” as “a shining city upon a hill,” as a beacon for human rights—already dragged through the mud and slime of white supremacist bullshit—will exist no more. What price victory?

For just a few dozen hours, the pain of humiliation and helplessness hiding in my heart was eased. I heard my representatives—not the elected ones in my state, but those who represent my views—speaking truth to power in one of the last remaining venues the Constitution provided. I thought they all did spectacularly well, Adam Schiff, Hakeem Jeffries, Zoe Lofgren, Jason Crow, Val Demmings, I know their names and I see their courageous and, yes, self-righteous faces. You have made a difference. No matter what happens, this cannot be unseen, out-tweeted. Your courage is my inspiration. I will never give in to this affront to human dignity.

What Is Pride, Anyway?

We are now at the 50th Anniversary of the gay rights movement, which exploded into the public eye on June 28, 1969 with the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar and was frequented by lesbians and gay men, drag queens and transgendered people. The NYC police engaged in a systematic program of harrassment of the gay bars of the time by raiding the bars and randomly arresting people attending there. On that historic day 50 years ago, many of these citizens fought back, drove the police into protective hiding and did considerable property damage. In a sense, the gay community finally rose up in rage at being constantly harrassed and not allowed to live their lives as they saw fit. Within a year, pride demonstrations had spread from coast to coast. Within another year, gay student organizations sprang up at colleges across the country. The subject of gay liberation was constantly in the press and other media.

Continue reading “What Is Pride, Anyway?”

Bad Trip

Jym describes his somewhat limited experience with cannabis.

Fifty years ago I was in the second year of my doctoral program in philosophy of education at Indiana University. This was something of an achievement for me, considering that I had left one good job in 1961, backed out of a mathematics masters from Ohio State in 1963, languished at my parents’ home for a year, graduated from OSU in 1966 with a masters in philosophy of education, and then had spent another year, 66-67, studying philosophy at OSU. This wasn’t exactly going nowhere fast, but it was very close to going somewhere very slow.

Continue reading “Bad Trip”

On Remarkable Mathematicians: Goro Shimura is Dead

I read in today’s New York Times this obituary: Goro Shimura, 89, Mathematician With Broad Impact, Is Dead. The man is justifiably famous. As the article notes, Shimura was “a mathematician whose insights provided the foundation for the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem and led to tools widely used in modern cryptography.” Upon reading this, I was immediately plunged into a sea of memories, for I once had a friend who spent hours daily reflecting on that one-time diamond of mathematical pursuit, Fermat’s Last Theorem.

Continue reading “On Remarkable Mathematicians: Goro Shimura is Dead”

How an Ethics Course Changed My Life

When I was an undergraduate at Marietta College, I was fortunate to take several philosophy courses with Elizabeth Steiner Maccia. Her classrooms were overflowing with students eager to learn this esoteric subject from her, and her reputation was well-established when my fellow classmate and mathematics student, Jim Murtha, said “You ought to get a course from Liz Maccia; she’s good.” I think it is fair to say that Elizabeth Maccia’s course on Ethics changed my life.

Continue reading “How an Ethics Course Changed My Life”

A Mother’s Day Tale

arthurVictorine Dorval Munier Andris was the grandmother that I never met. My own mother, Ella Lorene Sullivan Andris fortunately planted and kept alive in my mind the memory of “Torienne.” I don’t know too much about her, but story telling and genealogical excavation have allowed me to reconstruct some of the story of her life. One thing is clear to me, though. If it weren’t for Grandmother Andris, I wouldn’t be here.

Continue reading “A Mother’s Day Tale”