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Blairsville man among early adopters of Google Glass device

| Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Steve Slezak demonstrates his new Google Glass device at his home in Blairsville.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Steve Slezak at his home in Blairsville takes a photo of his daughter Lilly, 2, with his Google Glass device Jan. 20
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Steve Slezak has his eyes on the future of mobile computing as he uses his Google Glass device Jan. 20 in his Blairsville home.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Steve Slezak displays a photo of his daughter, Lilly, 2, after creating the image with his Google Glass device Jan. 20 at his family's Blairsville home.

Steve Slezak has Blairsville ahead of the curve when it comes to wearable computing thanks to his wife, Cassie, and other family members who chipped in to make him one of a select few to get early access to Google's newest gadget — Google Glass Explorer.

The tiny computer and camera — mounted to a lightweight frame that looks similar to a pair of eyeglasses, sans lenses — is still in the testing phase and is available by invitation only. Content is viewed through a small angled mirror above the right eye.

“They've been out about a year. There were originally contests for people who could get them. It was mostly famous people that got them or developers,” said Slezak, 42, who lives with his wife and 2-year-old daughter, Lily, in Blairsville and works as a therapist at Torrance State Hospital. “They had 3,000 pairs out there maybe about a year ago, but in November they offered people that already had them, the higher-ups in the company, a chance to give three invites out. My brother-in-law, Pat Riley, he works for Google out in California, so he was able to get me (an invite).”

Slezak's wife and other relatives teamed up to spring for the $1,500 price tag and surprised him with the high-tech gift on Christmas morning.

“Whenever I opened up the gift, I was so shocked because I just figured it's so much money. They all went in on it,” he said.

Slezak started using Glass immediately, prompting many inquisitive stares once he debuted the new technology around town.

“Probably 50 percent of people now that see me with it on, once I tell them about it, they know, they've heard of it at least,” Slezak said. “I'd say 10 percent know what it is before I say anything. Another 40 percent have read about it, and the other 50 percent just outright don't believe you and say, ‘I've got to see that. I've never heard of that.'”

While the futuristic eyewear may be a common sight in Silicon Valley, its novelty in Western Pennsylvania is enough to elicit double-takes. Slezak said there's no official site that lists every “Explorer,” as the early adopters are known. But, pointing out a map on the Google Glass website, he noted, “There's only one other person in Pennsylvania that's signed up on the whole map.”

The device, which connects via Bluetooth to Slezak's smartphone or to wireless Internet service where available, has a limited array of software available through the official Google app store during this early testing phase, but a growing library of third-party apps is available by “sideloading” them on to the device.

“I'm really looking forward to more and more features coming out for it,” Slezak said. “I wish I, myself, was a programmer. I tinker with it and I have some great ideas for some apps for that, things that would actually work better on (Glass) than they would on a phone, but I just don't have the knowledge.”

Even with limited software options, Slezak finds his new gadget is capable of offering many of the same conveniences of a smartphone in a less distracting package.

“I equate it to just having your cell phone out all day and looking at it, checking the news, checking scores,” Slezak said. “You can do that with (Glass) without having to look away from the road or look away from where you're walking. To be able to just glance up like that, I think it's a good thing. I don't know where it's going to go, though. It's interesting.”

Slezak said he's particularly interested in exercise-related apps for Glass. “Jogging, that's something I've done with it,” he explained. “You can race yourself. You run and then the next time you run, it shows you where you were at last time.”

He considers the device's built-in GPS one of its better features. “I can actually look where these are at on my phone,” he noted. “So, if they ever got stolen or lost, it shows the precise location.”

One of the biggest criticisms of Glass has stemmed from its camera. While convenient for the user, some are concerned it might infringe on the privacy of others since the device makes picture-taking so inconspicuous.

An online movement at stopthecyborgs.org, for example, distributes anti-Glass signage for businesses and raises the issues that “wearable devices socially normalise ubiquitous surveillance,” and, if such technology becomes the norm, it would “create a society where we expect to be recorded.”

Slezak said he has noticed the camera on his headset does make some people nervous at first.

“If I had designed them, I would have put a little flap or something so you can cover up the camera so people do feel more comfortable if you're in a bar or somewhere people just don't want to be filmed,” he said.

While the public can now apply to join the waiting list for Google Glass Explorer invitations, the company hasn't yet released a consumer version for retail sale. Google hasn't set a date for the release of a consumer version of Glass, but tech industry experts anticipate the device to hit shelves some time this year.

Despite stipulations in the user agreement prohibiting Explorers from selling, renting or leasing the device, an eBay search for Google Glass Explorer returns more than 100 auctions with sellers hoping to cash in.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or greinbold@tribweb.com.

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