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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.

Playing Video Games when you Can’t See the Screen

April 13, 2018

I always enjoy going on The Pulse, a news show on WHYY, a local public radio station. This time I said a few words about video games for the blind. The interviewer compared audio driving games made for the blind to having a backseat driver. This made me laugh.

A clip of the game Top Speed plays while I talk. I enjoyed playing that game when I ran Windows back in 2006. That game had heart. At the time I didn’t care that it acted like a back seat driver. We didn’t have a choice.

The article discusses an interface designed to make racing games accessible. I like the idea. I haven’t tried it, but wouldn’t mind. I tried playing racing games with my brother while growing up. We found it difficult.

I didn’t know that Electronic Arts has started considering accessibility. In college one of the other guys had the first steering wheel for the PC. Another guy once wondered if I would like to try driving his car in the parking lot. After I tried playing the Need for Speed he rescinded his offer, probably for the best.

A good racing game models the real world. If we can design an interface to navigate a simulation, then we can design one to navigate the real world. I consider this the most profound realization of this experiment. Enjoy the article.

An Essential Change in my Health

February 26, 2018

My world has changed in several Essential ways of late. I usually don’t share personal health problems, but I figure that I’ll have to explain this to a bunch of people, so I may as well put it on my blog. It might also help someone else in a similar situation.

I have an eye condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity. I used to go for checkups all the time while growing up, and I had two surgeries. My condition more or less stabilized by the time I became an adult. I thought I didn’t need to worry about any more eye problems. I thought incorrectly.

One day in 2005, my left eye felt like shards of glass had ripped it apart. I went to my retina specialist and he said that my cornea had hemorrhaged. We treated it with atropine and Prednisolone eye drops. Every so often it would flare up and I would use the drops and they would work.

Nothing unusual happened for a few years. I moved into the city. Once in a while I would use the drops, including when I went to Belgium. In general though I didn’t think much about the health of my eyes.

That changed a month ago. My eyes started hurting and the drops didn’t help. I became concerned when it didn’t stop. I made an appointment with a retina specialist at Wills Eye for Friday. This happened on a Monday. I kept taking some old drops and waiting. Finally Friday arrived.

The retina specialist said that my corneas have begun getting thinner due to not seeing light. They have also begun calcifying. This gives the corneas an uneven surface, and my description of it feeling like sandpaper or glass comes pretty close to the truth. He said I’ve likely had this with me for a while. It happens as a result of my eye condition. He recommended using artificial tears and lubricating ointment, both over the counter. He recommended against the prescription drops because they might further damage the eye. We do not want my corneas to get a hole. He recommended I see a cornea specialist which i did a week later, and he said the same thing. I will go back in three months and we will see how things have progressed.

Meanwhile I have to deal with my problem. As it stands I still have painful times, but I do think my eyes have slowly started healing. Sometimes I wish I could use something stronger, but I understand the reasoning and agree. This really has changed everything. It has affected me physically and psychologically. I wanted to note a few of the things I’ve done which have helped.

The pain has affected my posture. I can’t help it if sometimes I have to curl up in my chair. Simple stretches can help with that, and I love my massage pillow. Floating feels amazing. It helps with the physical issues as well as stress.

My productivity has reduced. Somehow I have kept working. I have an even weirder sleep schedule than usual. Sleep deprivation really affects me. I can’t help it if my eyes keep me up until 05:00 AM.

Meditation has become an act of physical rebellion. I’ve meditated since I became a teenager, and it frustrated me deeply that I couldn’t do it. For a few days I kept trying to find my center, my eyes tearing up with pain. Finally I began to find a little oasis, and gradually I could begin expanding my awareness in these little pain-free points. I don’t think I could have done this without years of previous experience. I remember one night I sat down to attempt another meditation. When I finished I didn’t think much time had past, and gloomily checked the time. To my delight I had spent twenty-five minutes, a respectable length. This whole experience has further convinced me of the benefits of meditation. I’ll have more to say about that in the future.

I added a turmeric supplement to my daily regimen. Curcumin, the active ingredient, has strong anti-inflammatory properties. It has a long history of safe use in the long term. It can’t hurt. Anyway, I love Indian food. Scientists found that a chemical in black pepper boosts curcumin’s effectiveness 2000%. The ancients got it right yet again.

I quickly learned that ice packs bring immediate relief. Sometimes I will just wrap some packs around my head. Sometimes I will hold these little packs on my eyes with a towel. I also have an eye mask, but of course it has holes cut out for the eyes, since most people want to see out of them. Not me! I want them covered with nice cool gel.

We have dry air in the winter, and having forced air heating in my condo makes it even dryer. I finally got a real humidifier, something I meant to do for a while. I even scored a good Amazon Warehouse deal. The description said that it had significant cosmetic damage to the top and sides, but I didn’t care. After I got it, a sighted friend said that she could see nothing wrong with it.

I immediately noticed the difference when coming up into my loft. I can verify the change in humidity with my Nest thermostat so I know it works. Not only does it help my poor eyes, it also helps my poor electronics. This winter my computer rebooted after I zapped it with a static electric charge. Goddess only knows what that has done in the long term.

As the days have begun getting lighter I discovered something else annoying. My eyes have become sensitive to light. The bright light of the sun, once a source of comfort, now stabbed my eyes relentlessly. I had looked forward to going back onto the roof deck when it got nice, so I knew I had to take action. For the first time in my life I considered wearing sunglasses.

I remembered getting some mirrored glasses while really young. My parents went to some auction and I felt fancy wearing my cool glasses. I liked how they made my eyes feel, but I couldn’t quite articulate that as a child. Later in middle school my mobility teacher tried getting me to wear some special ultraviolet blocking sunglasses, but they looked too dark and gave me a headache. That put me off to sunglasses.

I decided to try a pair made by Foster Grant from CVS. They provided a little relief, enough to convince me to go for something more higher end. I went to inner Vision Fine Eyewear, and met Lauren. I first called on the phone and briefly explained my situation. When I arrived she showed me a pair of Maui Jim Guardrails. I liked them as soon as I put them on. Lauren had me try the next lighter lens, but I noticed the increased light, and went with the darkest, the neutral gray, the one with the greatest light reduction, and the only one with mirrored surfaces.

I noticed an improvement right away. It reminded me of wearing the mirrored glasses so many years ago. It makes the light appear softer. Instead of having to squint away from it I can relax into it. Of course if my eyes hurt then it doesn’t matter, but even then it seems to take the edge off. Wearing glasses also prevents me from rubbing my eyes, which further aggravates my corneas. They also look cool according to several friends and family I trust.

That brings things up to the present. If I don’t start feeling better sooner I will call back. I can’t do this for three months. I do think things have slowly started improving, and I’ll take that over slowly getting worse. For a few days it really started feeling good, but then it flared up again, teasing me like the record breaking temperatures outside. At least I got to test my cool shades on the roof deck.

My Grandmother’s Magic Disk

January 16, 2018

We will have my grandmother’s funeral today. She turned one hundred and one last August. She taught English, and told me to speak quietly in order to get a crowd’s attention. Her life began with the introduction of electricity and ended with us having a video conference with our cousin on a cellular telephone. I used to go to her house all the time for sleepovers while growing up. She had so many fun and interesting things to play with, including a magic disk which could answer yes or no questions.

It looked like a thick plastic cylinder measuring two or three inches across as well as in height. The top and bottom sides had a metal depression into which A ball would fit. The ball had a chain attached to it, forming a pendulum.

If you imagine the disk divided into four sections, the north and south sections said YES, and the east and west sections said NO. Interestingly, on the other side, the disk had BUY and SELL written on it. This would supposedly allow someone to get advice on the stock market. This item came from the golden age of spiritualism.

My grandmother gave me simple instructions. To use it, just think about a question with a yes or no answer, then pick up the chain and allow the ball to swing. She explained it in a very simple way; your mind knows the answer, and the muscles in your arm move the chain. She never got into any supernatural theories.

I don’t even know how she ended up with it. The family story goes that her sister used a divining rod to find water on her farm, but my grandmother had a down to earth outlook on life mixed with a sense of humor. She would have regarded it as a fun curiosity.

This item has a name. We call it a dowsing pendulum. I know that skeptics will point to studies which show inaccurate results, and I would certainly never advise buying and selling stocks on its recommendation. Still, I will fondly remember going to my grandmother’s house where I could ask her magic disk questions and seemingly get responses. I’ll probably never see it again.

RIP Ruth Talbot 1916-2018

Siri vs. a Dowsing Pendulum

Just for fun I decided to use a dowsing pendulum to predict the results of the NFL divisional playoffs. Which will have better results, dowsing or Siri? I didn’t have my grandmother’s magic disk, but I followed her instructions. Siri uses Yahoo Sports to source its data.

Game Dowsing Siri Winner
Eagles vs. Falcons Eagles Falcons Eagles
Patriots vs. Titans Patriots Patriots Patriots
Steelers vs. Jaguars Jaguars Steelers Jaguars
Vikings vs. Saints Vikings Vikings Vikings

To my shock, I picked all four of the games correctly. Many picked the Steelers to defeat the Jaguars. The Saints came from behind and almost beat the Vikings, but the Vikings scored an unexpected touchdown in the last seconds of the game and won. I know that statistically I had a one in four chance, but it did feel eerily magical when the Vikings scored that touchdown.

I dowsed on Friday night, but have the idea to write this article while watching the Eagles game, so didn’t publish the results beforehand. Make of them what you will. A believer would say that I have tapped into my natural abilities, and might even suggest that my grandmother has amplified my powers. My grandmother would attribute them to coincidence and probably tell me to get back to more serious work. If nothing else, I’d say that it shows that we will never tire of trying to find ways to predict sporting events.

Caller ID Spoofing Gets Personal

December 16, 2017

Last night while eating dinner I received a text from out of the blue.

Sorry, I can’t talk right now.

I recognized the automated message, but I hadn’t contacted this person. I did not have them in my contacts or in my recent calls. After a bit of thought I came to the most likely hypothesis. A telemarketer had spoofed my number using their caller ID.

When caller ID first came out, the telephone company controlled it. All calls occurred over what we call the Plain Old Telephone System. It would take some real hacker know how to alter caller ID data. Then we invented VO/IP and everything changed.

VO/IP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol. It covers the class of technologies which allow voice and video communication over the internet. Software such as Asterisk and Freeswitch allow anyone to freely configure a software based telephone system which would have required custom hardware and software in the past. I wrote the Philly Touch Tours phone line in Freeswitch.

Unfortunately, telemarketers can use these same tools to easily make anonymous international calls. Instead of their telephone company sending the caller ID data, their software switch sends it. Anyone can easily make their number read as anything. Any reputable VO/IP service provider would ban them, but these people do not care about reputation.

I can’t confirm that this happened in my case, but the facts fit. A random person received a call from someone with the same area code and exchange. This makes it appear like a local call. The recipient sent an automated text message, which as the true owner of the number I received. This left both of us feeling very confused. I explained it to them and they thanked me for the info, so I decided to write this article.

It pains me to see the plain old telephone system abused in this fashion. I remember when I would pick up the telephone and feel delighted to hear another human’s voice. Now I just expect to get scammed. We should not have to get rid of our land lines or nervously respond to unknown numbers on our cell phones, and Jolly Roger Telephone agrees. They make bots to waste telemarketers’ time, breaking their business model. Check out this great example!

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