Tag Archives: machines


On Tuesday 23 September I picked up my home phone (landline) to make a call. The cordless handset produced only static and I was unable to dial out. I tried an experiment with my mum calling me to ascertain whether it would be possible to receive incoming calls. The phone failed to ring. It did, however make a slight noise and on picking it up the sound of ringing, but no mum’s voice could be heard.

On Wednesday morning I contacted my Internet Service Provider (ISP) who also provide my phone service, to report the fault. I fully expected to be asked 20 questions by the automated system prior to being privileged to speak with an actual flesh and blood person. However from start to finish I had no interaction with a breatheing entity.

An automated voice asked me to explain my problem (my inability to make or receive calls using my home phone). I was then asked whether I would like to divert calls to my mobile while the fault was being investigated. I answered “yes” and was asked to say my number. The system then repeated it back to me and asked me to confirm that my number was correct by saying “yes” or “no”. It wasn’t and I then had to enter my number using the buttons on my telephone.

Over the next few days I received regular texts updating me on progress. The first one confirmed that tests indicated that there was, indeed a problem with my line while the last one, received on Friday 26 September informed me that everything should now be working and asked that I confirm the position by text. I picked up the phone and joy of joys was able to make a telephone call. I texted my ISP confirming that the phone was now working and my interaction with a robot was at an end.

The whole interaction with Mr or Mrs robot was surprisingly painless and efficient. Other than the automated system not understanding the mobile number which I relaid using voice, everything worked smoothly. I have visions of an android engineer twiddling with dials, checking connections until, finally my telephone connection was restored to working order. Of course there was no android diligently working on restoring my telephone connection. It was a living, breatheing human being but, in the future who knows.

I must confess to having been sceptical as to whether the automated system would relay messages regarding my phone problems correctly. Surely something would go wrong? Well it didn’t and I admit to being impressed with the automated system employed by my ISP.

In theory at least the automation of tasks such as resolving faults should enable organisations such as my ISP to free up resources for customer services so when I have a query about my account which can not be answered by the online system, an actual person will pick up the phone, in double quick time and deal effectively with the query. Well I can live in hope!

So Long And Thanks For All The Dots

I became blind at about 18-months-old as a result of a blood clot on the brain. I have some useful vision including the ability to see outlines of objects, I can not, however read print.

As a young child I was taught how to use Braille, a system of raised dots which blind people touch in order to decipher text. Growing up Braille was central to my life. I read Braille books voraciously, my school examinations and university exams where in Braille and I could not have progressed easily in life in the absence of those strange, bumpy dots!

Today there is growing concern that Braille is under threat. See, for example the following article, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11258778. The growth of digital technology makes it incredibly easy for blind people to access printed material without having to use Braille. I am typing this with the assistance of Jaws which converts text into speech and Braille on a standard Windows computer allowing visually impaired PC users to access the internet, send and receive e-mail etc. While Jaws does work with Braille displays allowing visually impaired PC users to read Braille via their machines, Braille displays are not essential to the task of reading. My home laptop on which I am writing now is not hooked up to a Braille display and I don’t feel the lack of the technology. I can cope perfectly well in the absence of a Braille display.

Amazon Kindles are equipped with a text to speech facility which allows the reading of books without looking at the device’s screen. Apple products such as the iPad have voiceover which enables visually impaired people to utilise various apps including the one for reading Kindle content. Safari and other key apps are also accessible.

From the above one might conclude that braill is, like the parrot in Monty Python well and truly deceased. However Braille remains incredibly useful. Most medicines are now labelled in Braille which allows blind people to find their medication without having to rely on sighted friends, neighbours, family etc. Again some household products contain Braille labelling (next time you go to the supermarket take a look at the bottles of bleach many of which are labelled with “bleach” in Braille.

Despite the proliferation of digital technology I still enjoy reading Braille. It is lovely to sit in a comfortable armchair leafing through The New Oxford Book Of English Verse or Poe’s “tales of Mystery and Imagination”.

Braille is certainly declining but there remains fight in the old beast yet!