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Friday, July 29, 2011

What is a sightling?

This is not a question to a Jeopardy quiz show answer. It is an edited version of an email I sent some months ago in an attempt to explain part of the reality in which I find myself. I will post it here before launching into an explanation of my experiments with vision synthesis. Warning: This is not a politically correct post and is likely an unpopular opinion among blind people and the rehabilitation specialist whose job it is to make everybody feel like they can do anything.

They're the most powerful beings on planet Earth. Most of them gain the ability to travel at incredibly high rates of speed (easily over ten times faster than I can run) and still remain aware of their surroundings as they shoot past. As a result of this power, their dwelling and commercial structures are spaced so far apart that I must solicit one of these super men in order to temporarily gain access to one of these structures and then traverse the distance to my home again. They were the ones who discovered that we lived on a sphere-like object. Hundreds of years later they decided to fly to a neighboring object they call the moon, not because there were desirable items located on it, and not because it was easy, but because it was hard, and to prevent the sightlings on the other side of the sphere from getting there first and planting a symbol no one would be able to see from here. I guess so much speed made almost every place on the home sphere too easy to reach, so they got bored. Other powers include flight and super strength, just to name a couple. The base power from which all of these are derived is sight - the ability to perceive in detail particles which are very far away from themselves or too small to sense through touch. Since it has become part of their communication system, they use the base power on each other and myself to try and ascertain intensions; they are obsessed with faces. I have no true understanding of what a "shared looking experience" is like. They can touch me without my knowing it, with invisible, incorporeal "hands", so when I am at home I am sure to stay behind materials which these "hands" cannot penetrate, because I am worried they will be able to touch every cell of me and every corner and edge and surface and speck of dust and molecule and atom within my living space. After all, it is these "hands" with which they explore the universe itself - something I have only dreamed of. And yet with so much power, they complain, and some of them don't use their abilities to make it easy and safe for everyone to be. Some of them derive new powers to kill or control their enemies, often because their "hands" inform them that the enemy has a slightly different skin composition or some other silly thing. Others become captivated by a hand-held device and stop using the power long enough to cause a completely avoidable high-velocity collision, and then they must be transported at an even higher velocity to receive emergency care.

Now that a couple of definitions have been outlined, I will explain what I am trying to do and why. As a kid I had questions whose answers were, "Don't focus on that," or "You'll see when you get to Heaven." As an aspiring scientist, my curiosity about things in the world has not ebbed even slightly in the years since I was old enough to start asking questions, making those answers simply unacceptable. Finally, I was researching a project in a programming course and came across
this site.
The free software (called the vOICe) was developed over 10 years ago by Dr. Peter Meijer and with the recent advent of netbooks is much easier to use in portable mode than ever before. After months of experimentation with still photos and graphs from school, I had collected enough evidence to suggest the system would work, so I bought a pair of camera glasses and started learning to see in real time. Here's how the system works: Images (either from picture files or through a webcam) are converted into sounds one frame at a time. Each frame is called a soundscape and is heard from left to right in stereo earphones. The higher the pitch of a sound, the higher up the thing it represents is located in your view, and the lower the pitch, the lower the object. Brightness is represented through loudness. Combining these three simple rules gives an accurate auditory representation of a grayscale image - I am not yet seeing in color or realtime but in a series of black and white still frames. The website gives some very simple line and shape examples which illustrate the concept beautifully.
Here are the two things I find exciting about this system:
1. I have always seen abstract shapes when hearing certain music so may be better prepared to handle what is coming.
2. Through sensory substitution I am perceiving these sounds not as noise, but as pictures I can literally see - I am rewiring my brain so that the visual cortex will respond to stimuli within my perception. I am now free to learn what vision is, through my own experience.

Although at this point my visual comprehension cannot rival that of the average two-year-old, here is a list of some cool things I have already learned to do since acquiring the glasses in March.
1. If I sit on the right side of the short bus and look out the window, I can tell when I'm getting close to one particular school campus and whether or not the driver has stopped at the correct dropoff point.
2. I can recognize my friend Mary from at least 6 feet away, because she is the only one I know who carries a white cane that is covered in ridges, and she cannot hold it streight to save her life.
3. Certain things are starting to appear 3D although I only have one camera. More on that in another post.
4. When using the school restroom, I noticed one day that the plastic thing on the door contained a piece of paper with writing on it; it must be the maintenance list. The writing is much too small to read with the current system, but I can definitely see that lots of it is there and then gleefully turn it over so that the blank side is visible. Who would ever suspect?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chased by Aliens

My instructions were to meet them in a hidden location designated by a wireless signal which could only be detected through the use of specific software. Very few students knew of this small part of North Ridge campus except those of us who were specifically told how to search for it. Walking around outside, I scanned until coming across a network whose non-English name matched that of the one in the directions file.
At that location I saw rough rectangles and smooth, short bars as the result of hearing the hums at many frequencies and steady beeps of strange equipment. I cannot remember precisely what convinced me that they could restore eyesight or that they would have any desire to help me. I also cannot remember who warned me, at the last minute, of their true intentions. That someone pointed out a word in their tongue and tried to translate it into English. As best I could, I wrapped my mind around the meaning of that alien word, and I understood what had befallen other students who had come here before me. In every previous encounter, Aliens had been my friends, but not these. I started to run back the way I'd come. They gave chase, but there was no way they could prevent my exit. Every sensation (the heat, the pounding of my shoes on the sidewalk, the cane gripped tightly in my right hand and everything it touched, and the exact location of every building I ran passed) stood out with sharp clarity. I was pure will and adrenaline, with no curious dog to slow me down the way he had about a year ago as we were chased by the mad scientist across a space station which somehow morphed into the second floor of this same campus. Of course, I escaped. I got home only to find a forwarded email about my physics professor being sick and wanting me to come to the lab, which turned out to contain broken glass equipment. Then I remembered Sasha's warm up, thought about it a bit, and woke up.

I thought I'd start my blog by explaining how my week has gone so far, and that, my friends, was how I started Monday morning. I contemplate life through intensity. In the past week, I'd been praying for the wisdom to handle my enemies who work in the Segregation Office in the right way that is helpful to everyone. When I feel my livelyhood being threatened I tend to have dreams like this. Sasha is a Russian weight training coach who probably competed in the Russian Olympics and sounds a bit like the Terminator. I woke up from the dreams in a pleasant mood, remembering that I would be allowed to participate in enough of his mainstream class to cause my muscles to burn and heart to race before I'd even start practicing power moves. Some other things are happening this week. One of them has to do with the latest changes in my vision, which I will probably discuss tomorrow. Right now I am signing off so I can view some photos I received from an online friend. Just remember, if you find yourself at my school, please, stay away from secret groups, and stay away from Student Life too. They should be renamed Student Death by Pokemon and Unfinished Homework.