Welcome to my home page. I became blind at birth. I started programming computers at a young age. I also earned my general class amateur radio license, KA3TTT, a hobby to which I have returned with great joy. I practice Qigong, and consider it the most important thing in my life. I cook gluten-free vegan meals. I use Linux as my desktop and Android as my mobile OS. For the rest you'll have to read my blog.
I have some good news for blind hams. I wanted to find an accessible logging program. I settled on YFKlog because it has a text interface. I noticed an easy change to make it more screen reader-friendly and emailed the programmer. He quickly completed a fix and released v0.6.0. Now the blind have logging software with minimal system requirements and good accessibility. To my delight, Handiham published my announcement in this week’s issue of Handiham World.
73, Austin, KA3TTT
In 2010 I appeared in a documentary about interactive fiction called Get Lamp. You may also know interactive fiction as text adventure games. I loved playing them as a kid on my Apple II/e, later the II/GS, and on my Keynote PC+ running a crappy version of MSDOS 2.1.1 burned into the ROM. Infocom made many of the well known games. Authoring tools allowed anyone to create these games, and thanks to these tools the art form continues to this day.
At some point - I don’t even remember when - I received an invitation to join the accessibility testing committee of the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation. The blind have always enjoyed text adventures, but they have become less accessible as the technology has changed. This committee wanted to help by writing a report to the interactive fiction community. I agreed, and the quest began.
Meetings happened off and on for some time. In 2016 they got Jason McIntosh to manage things. He wrote a blog post of his own. We began having biweekly meetings. Authors wrote two games for testing. Earlier this year we recruited testers. We did not get as many screen reader users as we had hoped, so a few of us put out the call and luckily some of you answered. Finally we bring you the finished report!
This report will permanently live at this address, so make sure to bookmark accessibility.iftechfoundation.org and share it to all relevant communities.
A lot of time has passed since I have last written. My healing journey has continued with a lot of success. I wanted to share a fascinating revelation I had while floating in a sensory deprivation tank.
A few years ago i received echolocation training. This enables a blind person to see by making a tongue click. I use it all the time. It really does work.
To make a proper click, you need to keep the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth while snapping the middle part of the tongue. Explaining it makes it seem even weirder. I finally understood it by imagining the sound one might make to call a dog, but sharper. This pronounced sharpness gives the click as high a frequency as possible, which gives the highest resolution.
Learning to make a consistently high quality tongue click requires several weeks of practice. The muscles in the tongue take time to build. While developing this skill, my trainer recommended making an “Shshshshshshsh” sound. This produces a fuzzier image than a sharp tongue click, but it works, and requires no training. You could start using it right now.
I have gotten deeply into traditional Chinese medicine to heal myself from chronic pain. I use all four branches, especially Qigong. I practice for at least two hours every day. I find it extremely helpful.
In traditional Chinese medicine, each of the body’s five organs have energy meridians which branch out to the sensory organs of the body. The liver connects to the eyes. The five organs each store a different type of emotion. The liver stores the emotion of kindness if healthy, or anger if unhealthy. I wonder if this explains the seemingly large amount of angry blind people. If someone has anger towards their eyes then this would create a negative feedback loop.
Many Taoist traditions have an exercise called the Six Healing Sounds. Each of the five organs has a sound to cleanse it of its type of negative emotion, and the sixth sound clears the body of excess heat through the triple heater. The liver has the healing sound of “Shshshshshshsh.”
How interesting that the Healing Sound for the liver, which connects to the eyes, can help the blind to see. It also soothes a headache, my other major symptom. I love Qigong! By the way, Spiritual Tao sells an excellent version of the Six Healing Sounds. My Qigong instructor Iris also taught me a standing form. Find a version and give it a try.
I wanted to list some of my new year’s resolutions to bring everyone up to date on my progress and goals.
Catch Up on my Blogging
I’ll put this one first because I haven’t published anything on here since the summer, and some interesting things have happened.
I practice QiGong for two hours every day. I love it. I will have a lot to write about it as my practice continues.
Neuroplastic Pain Reduction Training
Along with Qigong I also underwent a process called Neuroplastic Pain Reduction Training with a woman named Helen Rice. It has taught me to think about pain in a whole new way.
I switched to Android.
I may as well break the news. It happened in the spring, I just wanted to wait for time to pass so I could gather an opinion, and I have needed to focus on my health. I have an Essential Phone. Several people have confused it with an iPhone X, which always makes me laugh. It goes much better with Linux, which I use as my primary desktop.
Switch to a non-systemd version of Linux
Speaking of Linux, I have had it with systemd. It breaks the Unix philosophy, and I end up cursing at it every time I have an emergency. Enough! I’ll likely switch my desktop and laptop machines to Slackware, specifically Slint64. I will also migrate this server to a new one running Slackware, which I have already purchased.
In case you don’t know, systemd refers to an init system for Linux. It provides system initialization functions after the kernel loads. I hate it.
Have Fun with Radios
I know I’ve resolved to do this a few times, but this year I really mean it. I have a general class amateur radio license. This summer I purchased a Kenwood THD-74A as a birthday present. I still need to really use it. I want to have as much fun as possible from my city apartment, a hostile RF environment. I also want to venture into the world of software defined radio.
I have wanted to write a bulletin board system since running one as a teenager. I made a first serious attempt a few years ago, and learned a lot. I began the new version before my health issues started. A client ripped me off, which burned me out on programming for the rest of the year. The BBS needs to return. Before the internet we would run our own small social networks, though we didn’t use that term then. I have a coherent vision and intend to implement it in Ruby.
I want to learn a functional language, probably Clojure. I don’t know if it will happen this year, but I enjoy learning new ways to think. Lisp has such a rich heritage.
Mystery Fun Projects
A few other fun projects might happen. I wrote a popular BBS door game which some people apparently want to see revived. I have a few interesting ideas about spreading accessibility awareness. I will likely write some code related to internet radio. Who knows what else?
I wanted to give another update on my health. At the end of my previous update I had started taking artificial tears and ointment indefinitely, and had a new pair of glasses. I had resigned myself to this routine for the rest of my life. I have had a long time interest in meditation and the like, so decided to try acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine.
I went to get a haircut at Citrus Hair Salon, one of the only places in the city where you can get your beard trimmed well. While making conversation I mentioned my interest in trying acupuncture. The barber, a woman named Juju, comes from the Philippines, and said that her grandmother would use it because they could not afford more expensive healthcare. She recommended that I go to South Philly Community acupuncture, so I made an appointment. I had no idea what to expect.
I had my first consultation in a private room, though subsequent sessions would occur in a community area. Justine, a licensed acupuncturist, asked me a number of questions about my medical history and reason for seeking treatment. She explained to me that the energy meridians of the liver connect to the eyes. Anger imbalances the liver, and I wondered if that explains why so many blind people seem so damn angry.
I lay down on a heated massage table. Justine diagnosed me by feeling the pulses on my wrist. She explained that reading pulses has its own branch of study in itself. She said my pulse felt wiry as often happens to someone in pain. I said I felt in pain and completely exhausted. I also felt a little nervous about needles.
Before beginning I asked if I could touch one of the needles. They feel very thin, like a piece of hair connected to a thicker stalk. She inserted into two points over each eye. It definitely hurt a little but I wanted to persevere. She put in two needles at my temples which felt great. She also put in some needles in my legs for my kidneys and liver. She put a final needle into the crown of the head, and I had already begun feeling energy gathering there.
I had a problem though. The needles over my eyes had seriously started to hurt. They brought up pain and I could feel it clearing, but I didn’t know if I could take it. I almost called out. Suddenly, the needle over my right eye, the worst one, fell out. The pain went away. Later she said that meant that my body had enough. After the session I felt like something subtle had changed. I felt less weary.
I went back for my second session four days later and then it happened. I felt so relaxed. I went in with no expectations and an open but critical mind. Half way through I felt all the pain fall away. For the first time I went back to the time before I had any of this horrible pain. I could then expand this state like I had already learned to do in meditation.
That convinced me. Justine crafted me a custom herbal prescription. I began acupuncture regularly. A few weeks went by but something didn’t seem quite right. Justine said the herbs would take away the gross night sweats which I forgot to write about before, but they mostly continued. On that Sunday she emailed me. She wanted to make sure that I knew that the prescription said to take five grams twice a day, but that the scoop only measures one gram. I had cautiously assumed that one scoop meant one dose, so had taken one scoop twice a day. I had taken one fifth of the amount. As soon as I began taking the proper amount the night sweats went away. I’d pay for that alone.
Along with treating the evident physical symptoms, we also began working on the related less physical ones. Chinese medicine really shines here, because it also addresses the anger, depression, and general lack of energy that comes with chronic pain. I have heard it compared to pealing away the layers of an onion.
A few times when I have felt especially irritated, they have given me an ear seed. This involves taping a mustard seed to an acupuncture point in the ear. In this case they use one called Shen Men. If you feel like you need an extra boost you can press on the seed. Celebrities have gold plated stubs. I’d prefer the mustard seed. They can move mountains.
The traditional Chinese medicine system also includes QiGong, its own version of yoga. I decided to give it a try and immediately fell in love. I have searched for an energy cultivation system for years and have finally found it. Specifically I learn Medical QiGong, which for me includes exercises focusing on the eyes and liver. It deserves an article of its own.
Justine recommended my QiGong instructor named Iris, and we meet once a week. I practice for an hour or two on most days. Even my meditation has become integrated into it. Iris told me about some Taoist techniques which I find quite powerful.
I have become convinced that denying the existence of Qi, the life force, has led us to our current state in western society. We feel like we have collectively lost something. We deny the life force and wonder why we don’t care about life. I found it in QiGong, and I never would have started learning it if I didn’t have my pain. The universe works in weird ways.
I learned something interesting. In Japan, blind acupuncturists have a deserved reputation as some of the best. This article tells a powerful story about the first blind acupuncturist, and caused me to have a healing awakening. An acupuncturist described it as like reading braille in the body. I realized that I could transfer my braille reading skills to energy healing and everything fit together
A few weeks ago I had my three month follow up appointment at Wills Eye. I considered this a day of judgment. I wondered if all of my alternative medicine did any good. The cornea specialist felt impressed with how my eyes looked, relatively speaking. During our last visit he mentioned a “Minor procedure” to scrape off the calcium, but recommended against it because it might further damage my eyes. This time he added the detail that it would cause intense pain for two weeks, and said that my eyes looked better enough that I did not need to consider it. Good!
I noticed that I had better muscle control when asked to move my eyes around during the examination. I have done this since birth so know the drill. Before I could hardly exert any control, but now my eyes felt much stronger. When I first came I ranked my pain at 7-8 out of 10. Now I’d say 0-4 out of 10. My efforts have worked and I have the results to prove it.
I want to make something clear before I close. I have not thrown away western medicine. I have exhausted its limited options. The two systems compliment each other. Community acupuncture centers charge on a sliding scale, and I have never felt pressured. Justine recently told me that she does not want me to become a professional patient. I also wanted to mention that even though I only wrote about Justine, I have had great experiences with all of the acupuncturists I have worked with, including Nicole, Kelly, and the owner Lauren. The receptionists all know me as well, and we often end up chatting.
This pretty much brings things up to the present. I went to acupuncture twice a week, and have brought it down to once a week. Eventually I should only need to come as needed. I have QiGong class once a week, and spend a lot of time focusing internally.
I have had low energy and have slowly begun getting it back. It feels like waking up from a very long sleep. I know myself and don’t want to rush back into things. I need to take it easy. I also plan to only work on my personal projects and current obligations. I need to consciously control my stress and anger levels. At least I have my system. I will likely have another exciting health update in the future about something else Iris told me about, so stay tuned.