“Google+ is the greatest leap in social media technology since the invention of the telephone”
by Ken Smith
(Part two of a two part story)
In my earlier writings about the Google+ platform I suggested to my readers that this Google product was perhaps the most significant leap in social media technology since the invention of the telephone. After spending just over a month inside of the Google+ community of users, investigating and researching the features of the platform, I stand by that statement.
Before I leap into the rest of the story that I have written, I wanted to point out to the reader that Google+ is a community of diverse users and personalities and at the end of this story and journey I will describe some of the terms that are used throughout the story. Terms like Hangout, Troll, Circle of Friends and other assorted inside expressions that are easy for some of the users I have interviewed to discuss, as they have been using the tool since the day it opened, but for newbie’s like me, and maybe even you, it’s a help to get your mind around the entire community you have entered.
I am going to point out to you the reader here in this story, that this social media platform Google+ is a game changer for disabled veterans. In particular for veterans who are blind and veterans who are deaf. When I say it’s a game changer, I can’t emphasize that enough. You see, myself and a small group of veterans are experimenting right now, as you read this story, with ways to teach a blind veteran to sit inside of a Google+ hangout and make relay calls (phone calls) for a deaf veteran. This will happen when both veterans are communicating using chat inside of a hangout and when the deaf veteran types in a number to be called and when the blind veteran speaks to whomever answers that call, explaining it’s a relay call for his fellow deaf veteran and then types the message responses back and forth to the deaf veteran in real time. Sounds simple enough, and sounds like something that anyone could or should be able to do, but to the core group of veterans who are deaf or hard of hearing, having someone who can make a phone call , in particular another veteran, without any strings attached or government involvement, that accomplishment is huge, with a capital H. You will find out more about this breaking development and other projects that that this small group of dedicated veterans are developing inside of the story.
As most of you already know, I am an American disabled veteran’s advocate. In my work supporting combat wounded and disabled veterans I try to level the internet playing field for those who have given a piece of themselves while in services in the military, physically or emotionally, in defense of our country. You may agree or disagree with that statement, and honestly, I really don’t care. You see, the veterans that I know are not politicians, so if you have any beef with any particular war or incursion overseas by any aspect of our military, then that beef you have has to be taken up with those who ordered our armed forces into battle. The veterans that I know have little to say about where or when he/she goes into battle. All they are told is that a mission has been selected and an objective has been determined.
I begin part two of this column by telling you a thing or two about a blind veteran that I met who is being taught Google+, in particular Google+ hangouts and we are now attempting to find ways to get him into Google+ hangouts with Extras’, so far, the remote training all has an emphasis on Google+ Hangouts. This blind veteran is learning how to enter a hangout using software that blind people use everyday to navigate the Internet, (screen reader technology) and this vet is leaning how to post, how to chat with anyone who asks a question in a hangout and how to do the things that each of you do all day long without thinking twice about it. You see things on your computer screen while your hanging out but he can’t. It’s as simple as that. So, without being able to see, he has to use screen reader software that become his eyes. Sounds strange at first and even when you actually witness it, it is kind of strange, but in order to fully understand the impact Google+ and Hangouts in particular has had on this veteran, read his story first, what happened in Iraq, why he is blind and I will then get back to the rest of the column in a minute.
It hadn’t rained once at the Baghdad airport in the month and half that he was in country and the constant helicopter traffic that was landing and taking off across from his Bradley fighting vehicle lager position kicked up dust and gravel that was as sharp as shrapnel. It was late November of 2004 and 1st lieutenant Timothy Hornik had been in Iraq a total of 48 days.
“Another day” he said to his platoon Sargent at the 5am muster call where he assembled his platoon of 25 men and half dozen Bradley fighting vehicles for another day of mission patrol in Iraq. Another dollar.
This particular mission that he had been handed at the morning command briefing by the “Old Man” (the company commander), was just like the other 30 or so other missions he had overseen as platoon commander of 4/5 (1st Cav). He was to patrol the most dangerous road in the world “Route Irish”. The Baghdad Airport Road is a 12 kilometer (7.5 mi) stretch of highway in Baghdad, Iraq linking the International Zone, (The Green Zone) a heavily fortified area at the center of Baghdad, to Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). It also links different parts of Baghdad to the Airport and connects neighboring areas to each other. It became prominent after the 2003 invasion of Iraq following its capture by the Coalition Forces in a book called “Thunder Run”; I highly recommend that book by the way. Although it was commonly referred to by the military Main Supply Route (MSR) designation Route Irish, the route from the International Zone to the airport stretches over two MSRs: Route Aeros, the section leading into and out of the International Zone, and Route Irish, which stretches east from the airport then turns south (past the junction with Route Aeros) to a junction with Highway 1 (MSR Tampa). Irish was the main road from the Bagdad airport, thru the green zone, and right into the heart of downtown Baghdad. In 2004 it was the most dangerous road in the world.
This particular mission had started out bad. One of the Bradley fighting vehicles had some kind of engine trouble and was held back by the motor pool officer. He was one track down for the day.
Your going to be down one Brad today sir, said the motor pool sergeant as Hornik’s soldiers assembled for muster.
“It is what it is” said Hornik, it’s always something.
Paroling this particular stretch of highway in Iraq with his small platoon of infantry everyday was always dangerous he thought to himself. IED’s, snipers, mortars, suicide bombers, you name it, they saw it.
Hour after hour, turn after turn, mile after mile the patrol was always on guard.
As the platoon commander, 1st lieutenant Hornik worked the communications systems connecting the platoon patrol and the company commander back at the airport with the battalion operations center located int the green zone.
Late in the afternoon of this day, after hours of almost nothing happening he heard his name called in his ear piece.
“Blue hornet 14” this is “Blue hornet actual over” it resonated with crystal clarity as it went into his radio headset.
Hornik answered with his radio call sign.
“Blue hornet 14, go head”
Blue hornet 14, this is Blue Hornet actual you are to take your patrol to coordinates Mike-lima 236799, do you copy, over?
Roger copy, move patrol to Mike-Lima 236799
Blue hornet 14, when on station, use code Alpha Alpha 237 for further instructions, you copy that?
Roger, Blue Hornet actual, I copy. Out
Crap thought Hornik, what the hell. It was late in the afternoon and their eight hour patrolling mission for the day was supposed to be up in less than an hour. What is this?
Hornik was adorned with all the usual ceramic body armor and assorted protective gear that everyone else was wearing, but for him, the last 48 days in Iraq had been an absolute hell.
You seem to sweat a lot more than anyone else lieutenant Hornik said one of his grunt dismounts? You ok?
I am just getting used to this heat, that’s all. Said Hornik
In reality, Horniks last duty station, just over 50 days ago, before reporting to god-awful hot Iraq, had been on the 38th parallel at camp casey up on the demilitarized zone in Korea, where it snowed the day he left. The difference in temperatures and climate was drastic. His body was screaming from the the moment he got off the plane in Kuwait.
Blue hornet 14, this is blue hornet actual over Lots of static in the air now made it hard for Hornik to hear.
Shhhhhhhh, 6799 and report to shhhhhhh, do you copy, over?
Ah, blue hornet actual can you say again over?
THIS IS BLUE HORNET ACTUAL, are you at the coordinates yet? Screamed the company commander.
Blue hornet actual, that’s a roger, over.
Then go up net and use your Iraqi interrupter and coordinate with the Iraqi commander on scene. Your platoon is going to help secure a perimeter around the Blue mosque on Route Irish. The Iraqi National Guard platoon will be doing an Infantry assault on that mosque looking for our bad guy Zarqawi, now, let me know when this mission is complete, over.
Roger Blue hornet actual, said Hornik, over and out.
Crap, another babysitting mission for the incompetent Iraqi National Guard he said to himself. Since the capture of Saddam, all missions had turned into an intensified hunt for Al Zarqawi. Since this al Qaeda madman had cut off the head of an American contractor on live TV, the missions to find, capture or kill this guy had come fast and furious all across Iraq. Word on the street was that Zarqawi was using this very same Blue mosque to hide and manage operations when he was in the Bagdad area.
Using platoon radios between the six Bradley’s Hornik soon had everyone up, ready and on the move.
Twenty minutes later the platoon was spread out in a V formation around the Blue mosque.
Something just wasn’t right Hornik thought to himself as he reviewed the layout.
There were no people out on the street and all the shop windows and doors were closed.
Crap, this is not good he found himself saying out loud.
Everybody, be on your toes he said into his radio, it seems they knew we were coming.
The dismounts (grunts), loaded out of each Bradley and made their way to whatever cover they could find, all with their rifles pointed towards supporting the Iraqi National Guard which was about to storm the Blue Mosque.
Then a single shot rang out, Zingggggg, instantly the call for Medic went out over the radio, “Medic, Medic up” was heard by everyone. One of the grunt dismounts covering for the Iraqi’s entering the mosque had been shot in the back by a sniper. The ceramic armor protection he wore saved him from being killed, but the round still penetrated and this young 19 year old dismount from Kentucky needed to get to a hospital soon, he had a collapsed lung and breathing was difficult.
SNIPER!!! SNIPER!!! SNIPER!!! Went the call on the radio
Everyone stopped and scanned and looked up at the four story buildings surrounding the mosque scanning and looking again at each field of fire that they were assigned to cover, just like in training thought Hornik, you could cut the tension of the platoon with a knife. Where was this guy thought Hornik? Everyone was doing what they had been trained to do in the event of a sniper; everyone had a particular part of the hands of the clock to cover. Jones had noon to 2, and Smith had 2 to four and Williams from 4 to 6, etc. There was complete 360 viewing of everything and yet no sniper could be seen.
The TC (tank commander) of the soldier who had been shot had left his position in his Bradley to attend to the wounded soldier along with the platoon medic. Since they were only 10 minutes from the e-vac hospital located in the green zone it was faster to drive the wounded soldier there themselves in a Humvee rather then call for a “Dust off” or a medical helicopter ambulance to evacuate this guy.
Can you take over as tank commander for me lieutenant? Asked Sargent Johnson, the tank commander of the Bradley. I am going to load PFC Williams into the medical Humvee for transport to the evac hospital.
Sure, said Hornik and he proceeded to move from his communications command position and into the upper turret position on Johnson’s Bradley. This Bradley was parked right at the spear point of the V, and was the one Bradley looking right at the front door of the blue mosque. Standing up in the turret with a set of field glasses pressed to his eyes, scanning right and then left, Hornik scoured the buildings around him looking for the sniper.
What Hornik didn’t know at the time was that the al Qaeda sniper had him squarely in his sites already. The Iraqi sniper was disciplined and good, real patient in his shot selection, and he took his time. He wanted a head shot. The sniper checked windage using the small flags he had planted two days ago on the buildings down the block and he rechecked his distances with the stakes he had placed yesterday every 50 meters from the mosque. He took a shallow breath, and then he fired.
BLAM, the round hit the binoculars Hornik was holding smack in the center of the adjustment bar and the ricochet tore through the top of Hornik’ s helmet which caught the full force of the small but deadly explosion of shrapnel. Glass fragments, metal shards and all kinds of plastic crap went flying into Hornik eyes. The last thing that lieutenant Tim Hornik remembers seeing, the last thing he actually did see were the pieces of the blown up binoculars moving away from his face. Then he fell down into the Bradley turret and Johnson’s driver located right below him caught him as he fell and saw all the blood.
The lieutenant is down, the lieutenant’s been shot, screamed the driver. Medic, Medic up. Those were the final words that lieutenant Hornik remembers as he slipped into a semi fog.
Fast forward to today.
Former captain Tim Hornik was medically discharged from the US Army in late December of 2011 as a 100% service disabled, combat blinded veteran. He is now a licensed clinical social worker, living in Kansas with his wife and young daughter.
Tom Miller, someone else I know, is the executive director of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) of the USA. A little over a month ago I wrote an e-mail to Tom asking for his help in trying to locate blinded American veterans who were users of Google+ technology, or blinded veterans who were somewhat computer savvy. He sent my request for assistance down his chain of command where it landed on one of his capable staff members desks, Christina Hitchcock, and within a week Christina had sent out an e-mail newsletter request asking the thousands of veterans across the country that were part of the blinded veterans Association if they wanted to participate with a writer (me) who was writing a story on the accessibility of the new social media platform Google+.
That was how I found and was introduced to Tim Hornik. Here is where the story actually begins.
Imagine that you are blind for one minute, a full 60 seconds. Close your eyes and make believe. It’s hard to do, because you can actually open your eyes at any time and the make believe part goes away. That’s not how it works for anyone who is blind. The make believe part is the reality part for those who are blind and they just can’t open their eyes and see again. Memories of what things looked like, memories of colors and other images float across the distant horizon of their mind when they talk to you or me about any subject. Most everyone has been told at some point that when you lose your sight your other senses attempt to compensate. That’s true. You can smell better, you can feel things and touch things better and of course you can actually hear a whole lot better.
Now, imagine you are deaf. This is not easy. We are surrounded by sound everywhere we go. Google+ is almost 50% audio and 50% visual. You may have a radio on in your house right now as your reading this story or you may be hearing the wind against your window during a rain storm, or maybe you can hear a jet flying by way up in the sky. You surely can hear the neighborhood dogs bark when the newspaper boy delivers his papers in the morning and you can hear the phone ring and you know someone has called to talk to you. It’s just the way it is for most of us. But when you can’t hear, the whole world has changed. You can see of course, but there is no sound to what you see so you are trapped in a dimension of space and time that is all about being alone. You can see other people talking and you wonder to yourself what they are talking about. You can watch some TV, the small amount of shows on TV that are “Closed captioned”, but for the most part, TV is not really fun. You can read of course, and you do with a passion. You read everything you can lay your hands on about any new development in the science of hearing. You follow the most obscure research developments and you wait. You wait for the miracle that will return your hearing.
In the mean time, in order for you, a deaf veteran to make a phone call, to call the VA hospital and change a medical appointment, or to call his daughter at college and wish her happy birthday, or to call Dominos and order a large peperoni, all of these things come with challenges. It’s hard to find the way to make communications happen. Deaf veterans lose out because they can’t just call someone’s cell and start talking, they can’t hear, and if they can’t text, or don’t answer their email quickly, their at a huge disadvantage. It’s just not fair you think to yourself. It’s hard enough learning to live with hearing loss and now they have to learn to live with the loss of communication, they have to learn to be alone in a world that is mostly sound. They just can’t use the phone as they don’t know if anyone picked it up. It’s just not fair.
Google+ and the Answer
Now, comes +Robert Anderson and +Gary Levin and +Tim Hornik and +Mark Wilson and Google+ Hangouts. This small team of veterans and this software platform, all dedicated to working on the accessibility issues of combat wounded and disabled veterans has come upon an idea whose time has come.
To those of you who use Google+ hangouts you know that if you and I were in a hangout right now, and we wanted to call my friend Mark, I could easily use the “Invite” feature, then the phone feature and then I could actually enter in a US based phone number, call that number for free and I could include Mark in the hangout as a conference call participant with you and me. This is the “Lighting in the Bottle”, secret sauce that is going to make it possible for Blind veterans to sit in a hangout someday soon and when asked, make real time relay phone calls for veterans who are deaf.
You may be asking yourself, “What?” making what?
Relay phone calls. Imagine the deaf veteran comes into a hangout and enters in his/her phone number that he/she wants called in the “invite, phone” feature, and the blind veteran actually hears the conversation with the caller who answers the phone, and then the blind veteran chats the results back to the deaf veteran in real time. The deaf veteran will be able too communicate (using chat), having the blind veteran ask questions to the caller, get answers, change appointments, order Pizza, call a cab, you name it, its now possible. Thus, we call this communications leap, lightning in a bottle.
Now, at the same time, what is amazing to me is that Google+ and the Google+ hangout senior engineers have embraced this concept with open arms. I think they see what we see. If we can make this concept of relay calling using blind veterans helping deaf veterans work for American disabled veterans, we can then make it work for any country that has a community of hearing loss and vision loss citizens. And at the same time, this is possibly a way for the vision disabled community to find some work. Yes, I said it, work.
The development of this experiment came from the “+skunx works” meetings of the ‘Veterans Workshop”, which is a loosely affiliated group of American veterans with visions of technology accommodations for their brothers and sisters who have combat injuries. Finding useful ways to capture off the shelf software and cloud based technology to help in the integration of an American veteran who has given so much to you and me is the goal. Think about it, some veteran who gave the use of his ears, or her eyes, or his arms or her legs, think about that for a minute, some veteran who lives in east pork chop USA has in the defense of our nation made a huge sacrifice on our behalf. Do we as a community within Google+ owe these wounded warriors anything? I think that where ever they may live, we owe them at least the chance to be as much like you and me in the use of the Internet and the social media communities we all share? I think so.
I said in an earlier story (part one) that I would speak about the title to this story “Google plus and the L-shaped Ambush”. For the non veterans who are reading this story, an L-shaped Ambush definition is “An L-shaped Ambush is when a short leg of firing units are placed to enfilade (fire the length of) the sides of the linear kill zone. In other words, a unit is in the shape of an L and the enemy walks into that shape.
It is my opinion that Face book has walked into an L-shaped ambush sprung by Google. Face book is larger as a social media tool than Google+ that’s a fact, but if you take the time to talk to FB users and G+ users you will see that the differences in the communities is the ability of G+ users to actually communicate, not just post something on a wall, or post an image, but to actually, physically, communicate. That is a game changer in my mind.
I spoke in the last story about the actual Google+ engineers who are making this all happen, I don’t need to beat a dead horse here, we all know that Chee Chew and his team are responsible. Here are some other G+ users you should find, circle, and read what they post. They have tremendous insight on what is happening within this community. Before I tell you who they are, remember this. When you meet someone from Google+ outside of the virtual world, that is called a HIRL. That stands for “Hangout in Real Life”. I know about this, as I did one recently. It was special. Now, here are some folks to find and circle.
It starts with +Robert Anderson – again my teacher and a sure fire obi wan kenobi of the way that this tool works, and who uses it.
+Gary Levin – the Navy eye doctor who has spent countless hours getting the right definitions and the right access for those who have lost their sight. A surgeon and a smart as a whip friend of the veteran.
+Tim Hornik – The main feature of this story, but a veteran who personifies the very essence of sacrifice.
+Amanda Blain – Now, I haven’t spoken to her personally, but she is a force here in the community and someone that is gracious and considerate of others. If you get the chance, you should find her in here.
+Daniel Fontaine – Now, if your smart, you will find this guy, circle him and watch for his posts. He is concise, accurate and right on target when it comes to the use of this tool
+Bruce Garber – Another user who has his arms around the way that this tool box works. He has tons of posts that are helpful and insightful. Look him up.
+Guy Kawasaki – This is one of the significant movers and shakers within this community. This guy (no pun intended), is like E.F Hutton. When Guy talks, everybody listens.
+Paul Roustan – This is an artist within the community that has by far, the most interesting work I have ever seen. You need to find and follow this guy for sure. You won’t be sorry.
+Eric Offenberg – Former chair of the Newport Chamber of Commerce. Low profile, powerful guy.
I have found myself on a couple of occasions going to this hangout, and you should too: It’s called Tech and Coffee, you will find this hangout online almost all the time. When you go, here is who you will find, if you click their name, it will take you to their page in Google+. You need to add them to your circles, it will be worth the investment of time. I have spoken to George Doscher a few times and to Yvonne, who are both very nice and attentive to newbies like me, and in my last visit to the hangout, I met the Bishop, Bruce Turner. All of these people are nice and you should find the time to stop by their hangout and chat.
The Admin people are:
- +Eddie Allard IT Genius
- +George Doscher Linux Guru
- +Christopher Fiffie AV Specialist
- +Yvonne R Welcomer to the chat
- +Joseph Youssef Microsoft Gigolo
- +Fabrizio Alcaro LinuxLama
- +Marie Axelsson Lover of Open Source, Linux Guru
- +Stacey Beauchamp Linux Newbie, Photography
- +Duke Carico Mister Gadget Tech
- +Nathan Cranford Lover of all things Linux
- +Shawn Fritz VOIP, Windows, RSA Tech Head
- +Duram Gallegos Hi-Tech Scooter Tech
- +Aaron Gooch Android and Linux Tech
- +Vladimír Kincl Linux Head and Hypnotic Pee Specialist
- +Keith Milner Linux, Telcom and Acting Specialist
- +Elliott Salazar Model Plane Crasher, Windows IT Tech
- +Eduardo Temes SEO & SEM Specialist
- +Bruce Turner The Bishop Of Tech, Linux Newbie
There is an unofficial permanent hangout called “the network” hosted by the biggest jerk on the planet. As I said in part one of the story, this guy is a colossus of a loser and you should steer clear of him if possible. I actually found out that he is actually a Troll. What is a troll you may ask? Good question.
Trolls- (definition provided to me) is someone in Google+ who is being falsly provocative, they pretend to have an emotion. It’s a form of mental illness I have been told.
Anatomy of a troll:
Above the Neck
- Thorny Crown of Political Correctness: emblematic adornment of their self imposed suffering.
- Mischief Factory/Flame War Generator: may include but not limited to using false emotion and stating opinion as fact.
- Furrowed Brow: result of strongly focused and possibly misguided anger.
- Green Eyes: jealousy is a powerful monster.
- Permanently Up-turned Nose: makes it easier to look down at everyone else.
- Blood Thirst Gland: to each their own is not a empathetic emotion the troll is capable of.
- Hearing Loss: trolls are deaf to anything but their own yammering.
- Extra Molars: for gnashing teeth.
- Tusks: mostly for intimidation purposes… and they do look kind of cool.
Below the Neck
Hunched Shoulders: so the forum troll can appear larger and more important than the actually are.
Pity Eradicator / Pity Generator: usually displayed and cultivated in pity exchange posts.
Rage Inducing Sector: see above.
Bile Mass Production: usually cockled in the cauldron and on the lips of media. Often celebrated in the SVU division of the news.
Bitter Irony Housing: trolls often live in glass houses but paradoxically insist on throwing stones in order to perpetuate victimhood and insist on unequal treatment for others while demanding special conditional treatment for themselves. Often refereed to as “equal treatment” under a suspended state of logical and often arbitrary inclusion/exclusion of self referencing rules of relativism, i.e.. George Orwell’s Animal Farm. “All Pigs are Equal. Some Pigs are More Equal.”
Below the Belt
Biological Bits: as a basis of argument centered around perceived and or pseudo prejudice of orientation, diminutive accusation or association and false projection.
Shoes that are Too Small: being in a perpetual state of discomfort helps maintain their boundless capacity for antagonism.
Perpetual Shadow: indicative of the pall that they cast over an entire forum community.
Know thy trolls. Don’t feed the trolls. They grow up and tend to suffer from moral insanity as well as enjoy careers as crusaders of the absurd. The truth is often much sadder than the hype.
Until you have at least literally scrubbed a third degree burn patient don’t talk to me about or claim to be the victim of a flame war. It is the internet and according the the TOS you are an adult. Cull your circles, use your filters or simply turn off your computer, go outside and smell the roses. Unless you have allergies to that too in which case I recommend that see your doctor.
Finally, a special message to all flame war contributors, bystanders and pundits; “bullies, trolls and those who feed them, you suck.” Life is short don’t be such a dick.
I will be adding additional stories from time to time and am interested in any interesting stories that you may have. Please pass them along to me.