The first contractions started around 2am, early that morning in late January. My wife gently nudged me into a semi-conscious state to share the news that our first child was actively on the way. In my stupor, I thoughtfully suggested that since the contractions would likely take a few hours to pick up steam, we could go back to sleep. I did just that. She did not.
A restful night is difficult when your better half keeps reminding you that she is about to give birth. I finally got up, and like any good computer nerd, I rushed into my study, fired up my Macintosh II and printed out a spreadsheet where I could log the time, duration, and intensity of each and every contraction. To the guy-side of my brain, this seemed like a perfectly good idea.
By sunrise, my wife thought it advisable to move carefully into our Oldsmobile Cutlass and drive to her obstetrician's office. As I had not driven a car for more than a decade, I simply smiled encouragingly from the passenger side as she stopped the car every few blocks to breathe through another contraction. After the exam, the doctor said we should go home and wait a few more hours. Haltingly, my wife drove us back. I did my part -- I made notes on my spreadsheet.
Around noon, my carefully constructed charts indicated that it was time to go to the hospital. Amazingly, my spouse already knew. Fortunately, I had asked a neighbor to be our emergency transportation. We made good time and shortly thereafter waddled into the emergency entrance. We quickly checked in and waited in the hallway for the Labor and Delivery staff. The nurses brought out a wheelchair and whisked my wife down the long corridor. For several moments, I stood there dumbfounded. I could not move. The nursing staff continued to rush down the hall. The sound of rubber wheels on tile and the nurse's squeaky white shoes rapidly faded as they approached the elevators. I heard the doors whoosh open and then close. My wife was gone. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere with only a stupid spreadsheet. I had forgotten my white cane.
I have spent much of my life successfully getting lost. Indoors or outdoors, I am really quite good at it. I have unexpectedly run down a flight of stairs in the Texas State Capitol. I have stumbled half-frozen down wintry Minneapolis streets hunting for my hotel. I have tried to find the master bathroom in my own house, in the middle of the night, and then wondered why it was surprisingly small, fully carpeted, with rows of clothes hanging on both sides.
Developing strong orientation and mobility skills was an exciting challenge as my vision failed. I was an adept cane user for many years and I've been a confident and content guide dog handler for even longer. I have enjoyed decades of independent travel across the country and have always managed to make it home alive and uninjured. Even so, I have sat down, in many different places, with my arm over my guide dog's shoulders, pretending that we actually knew exactly where we were.
Still, canes and dogs have their limitations. For much of my adult life, one of my pet peeves has been going places in our family car, with no idea of where I might actually be. For me, our minivan was an opaque vibrating box and everything outside was a mystery. Although my wife has offered to narrate routes, I could not imagine that being fun for her. So, I just played the role of passenger with a virtual bag over my head. Although I almost always recognized the steep hill that climbs into our neighborhood, much of the time, I have remained ignorant and waited for the cheap thrill of the occasional speed bump.
I have often imagined the utility of knowing exactly where I was, especially when traveling alone in different cities. In 2010 and 2011, I was traveling more than ever and periodically found myself paying wildly divergent fares for identical trips. Since I was always accompanied by my iPhone 4S, I decided to hunt for a GPS app that might tell me in real time exactly where I was en route.
I bought Navigon, my first iPhone GPS app. My needs were simple. I did not need turn by turn navigation. I did not desire walking directions. I just wanted to know where I was when traveling in a car, cab or other conveyance. Back then, I could not find a simple way in my app to limit audible feedback to what road I was on and what streets I was crossing. However, I did discover an awkward workaround. If I set the destination to the place I was leaving, Navigon would sound like an emotional wreck constantly telling me each and every street that I could take to turn around. Clumsy, but informative.
In time, I did find a tool more to my liking. I learned about Blind Square through AppleVis and was intrigued. I purchased the app and was initially overwhelmed. It blabbered like a three year old on sugar. It insisted on telling me everything about every landmark or point of interest, whether it was accurate or not. However, in short order, I had tweaked the settings so that I only heard what street I was on, what direction I was traveling, and what intersections I crossed. Once constrained, I delighted in what Blind Square had to tell me.
Of course, I am always looking for the next best thing. Several weeks ago, I heard of a promising new iOS GPS package. I spent a few days reading about Nearby Explorer on the AppleVis forum and convinced myself that I needed the new tool. I decided to consider this acquisition as a birthday present. It was not cheap and it was not my birthday, but my manufactured excuse was all I needed. I pressed the Buy button.
Nearby Explorer has been fun. From its Home screen, I can very easily adjust what subset of location information I'd like to hear. Although it offers destination navigation, I am most happy when I just know where I am. There is still much left for me to explore within this app. Right now, its maps are limited to the US and Canada, but I would love to someday take it to Nagpur and Paris.
Even though my canes last forever, and my guide dogs keep me forever safe, there is a definite benefit in knowing exactly where I am located on the planet. And, the ideal place for a GPS app is on the one tool I carry with me everywhere, my iPhone. Nowadays, most of the time, I can actually figure out where I am and where I need to go. Eventually, fortunately, I always seem to end up where I belong. On that fateful day back in 1988, I did manage to get some directions and a guide to Labor and Delivery. I found my wife and together, several hours later, we greeted our dear son. Thankfully, as my son grew up, I never lost him. Well, not too often.
*** G. Morgan Watkins spent thirty years at the University of Texas at Austin, most of it in information technology leadership. He also enjoyed thirteen years on the Board of Directors at Guide Dogs for the Blind. After retiring from the University , Morgan served as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Acting President and CEO.
Morgan is now happily retired again, playing with his dog and writing for pleasure. Morgan has created thirteen other blogs for AppleVis, including “Sleeping With The Stars: Old Time Radio and my iPhone”, “Small Talk: Speaking up on VoiceOver and the iPhone” and “Lesson Learned: iPhones and Orange Bugs”.