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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.

A tip for M-Audio MobilePre USB Users

July 24, 2008

I just got a hot new mixer, which I will shortly write about. In the mean time, I wanted to just share a quick tip for users of the MobilePre, a beautiful USB-powered audio preamp made by M-Audio, which I use as one of the components in the mixer. I have it both as an output and as an input. To do this, first turn on direct monitoring. You can do this in the volume control, under playback controls. Make sure that under “advanced” you have the “1-channel input” option unchecked. Hook the mixer or whatever you want to use to the line input on the MobilePre. Now the kicker: The two gains on the front control all audio data coming over all inputs, not just the xlr microphone inputs. This really threw me. At first everything sounded all muffled, and in mono. I couldn’t figure it out, it certainly did not seem on par with M-Audio’s respectable reputation. After some fiddling around, I realized this property of the gain controls, which seems somewhat obvious in retrospect. So, first connect the line, and connect

headphones to the headphone out. With the direct monitoring on, you will hear the audio coming over the line-in. Carefully adjust the two gains on the front – one for the left channel and one for the right. Use your brain to balance out the sound until it sounds perfectly balanced. There you go. Turn off direct monitoring, then hook the line-out to your mixer and enjoy. I wanted to post this on my blog in case someone else has this problem, then they will hopefully find it through a search engine and save themselves a few moments’ panic. No, you don’t need to buy a new sound device just to record your beautiful mixer’s output. Have fun!

The Five Phase Magic Bean Model of Internet Media Platform Development

July 16, 2008

The Five Phase Magic Bean Model of Internet Media Platform Development

The Internet has allowed people and groups to establish media outlets, circumventing the restrictions of licensing and regulations placed on mainstream media outlets. This tend towards greater freedom represents the nature of information in general – seeking the quickest path to greater distribution in the same way that electricity seeks the quickest path to ground. Internet media does however present unique challenges. Some challenges exist in all projects with at least five people involved, other challenges exist unique to the medium. I have worked on several such projects, and have come up with a five-phase model of a project’s birth, flourishing, and death or transition to something better, circumstances depending. I relate them to the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, and will present it in this paper in an attempt to aide others struggling with the same difficulties. I also hope to give some understanding to those unfamiliar with the inner workings of such projects.

The story of Jack and the Beanstalk begins with Jack going to the market to sell his family’s cow, as ordered by his mother. On the way to the market, Jack meets a butcher who offers magic beans (five according to some tellings) in exchange for the cow. Jack accepts, and returns home. His mother becomes enraged, and throws the beans out the window, and Jack goes to bed supperless.

This represents the first phase of development, correlated with initial chaos. Fortunately, people will often help if they can in the beginning, and with a little luck and much perseverance, you will have your new media outlet in a month or so. Wow! Magic beans! Free radio! Free television! The word goes out, and people come to the site, only to become disappointed by the lack of a beanstalk, in other words a smooth slick appearance with content to match. Some curse and say they will never visit the site again. Others hang on, waiting to see what the morning will bring.

Jack awakens to find his room darkened. At first he assumes that he woke up early, or just that things suck, but then he realizes that a giant beanstalk obscures the light from outside. Without even getting breakfast, he gets dressed and goes out his window and climbs onto the beanstalk. He finds it sturdy, and climbs to its top. He feels fatigued and hungry, oddly ignoring the plentiful supply of beans on the way up.

As soon as he orients himself to his strange new surroundings – a barren land with dried rivers, a fairy appears. This particular manifestation of Goddess tells him that this magical land once belonged to his father, a kind man and a good ruler. Unfortunately, a giant who lives in the land has the sickness all elites have had throughout history, and considers himself more important due to his size, so kills Jack’s father and usurps the land. The fairy tells Jack that he must kill the giant to avenge his father. He can also take back the treasure, since it rightfully belongs to him. Feeling a new passion, Jack proceeds to the giant’s castle, which he quickly finds.

When he gets there, he doesn’t know what to do, so he knocks on the door to ask for some food. Why oh why did he ignore those beans? The giant’s wife, a kind enough woman, answers. How did this kindly human get hooked up with a big ill-tempered giant? So it goes! She agrees to feed him, but warns him that her loser husband will probably kill him if he sees him. Sure enough, half way through his meal, the house shakes as the giant comes in. His wife hides Jack in the oven. The giant smells fresh meat, and we first hear his terrible cry:

Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!

I smell the blood of an Englishman!

Be he live, or be he dead,

I will grind his bones to make my bread!

Eventually he gives up searching and contents himself with his supper. Afterwards, he demands that his wife bring him his magical golden hen, which lays golden eggs on command. After forcing the hen to lay a pile of golden eggs, the giant falls asleep, and Jack absconds with the hen, and returns home to his joyful mother. They soon have a beautiful pile of golden eggs of their own.

This second phase, correlated with discord, represents the initial growth of the project. New hosts come on board, as well as new help, often with mixed results. Jack ignoring the beans represents ignoring potential help and opportunities. Jack learning of his father and his cause feels similar to the feeling of wanting to make something new and different to challenge the mainstream media. Everyone recognizes the evil, and they want to fight it. This leads them onto the giant’s castle, so to speak.

Each of Jack’s confrontations with the giant represents a challenge to the project. This first encounter finds the giant’s wife mostly friendly, but wary, and with good reason. As soon as things feel like they have finally settled down to a steady easy path to good fortune (i.e. Jack eating his meal), the giant enters. This represents the masses of new users. At this point, their terrible cry first becomes heard:

Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!

I smell the blood of an ombudsman!

Be he live, or be he dead,

I will grind his bones then make a thread.

Ombudsman: noun.

  1. A government official appointed to investigate complaints made by

individuals against abuses or capricious acts of public officials.

  1. One that investigates reported complaints as from students or

consumers.

The first sense applies to the world at large, people demanding answers from their government, as heard through the alternative media. The second sense refers to the poor administrator who gets swamped with the complaints regarding the platform. People want to find someone so they can either tell them about the problem, or failing that, kill them. We will concentrate on the latter definition. A thread in this case refers to a new discussion topic on an Internet message forum.

Despite these inevitable growing pains, the project continues growing and doing well. The hen with the golden eggs represents that first time when everything finally seems in order – a full schedule, a relatively stable platform, and happy enough users. This sets the perfect ground for the confusion to follow.

After some time, Jack decides that he must go back up the beanstalk, since he must eventually kill the giant. He does so, again ignoring the beans. This time, according to one telling, he pleads with the giant’s wife twenty-two times, before she lets him in on the twenty-third. Apparently, a certain young hoodlum stole the giant’s hen, and he feels none to happy about it. He blames the wife and treats her thusly, but she stays with him for one of those unknown reasons that we may never figure out. Again Jack begins eating, again he gets interrupted, and again the giant comes thundering in.

Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!

I smell the blood of an Englishman!

Be he live, or be he dead,

I will grind his bones to make my bread!

After an intensive search, he gives up, and grumpily eats his supper. Afterwards, he demands that his wife bring him his bags of coins. To Jack’s amazement, the wife brings the giant two huge bags, one filled with silver, one with gold. The giant counts each several times, and secures them, before again falling asleep. Jack, with a little more effort, carries off the bags and goes back down the beanstalk, though a big more slowly this time. Of course, Jack’s mother feels overjoyed to see the coins. Jack has yet to complete his quest, however.

This third phase of confusion sees the project at a peak. Users pick up, hosts enter their stride, and the project moves along at a comfortable pace. Nevertheless, the terrible cry again issues forth:

Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!

I smell the blood of an ombudsman!

Be he live, or be he dead,

I will grind his bones then make a thread.

Sometimes things can take a little nagging to get done, but they happen, with relatively easy reward. Things continue on well enough. The future looks exciting. Everyone loves the project, until the confusion broiling under the surface emerges, like a drunken giant lumbering out of an overly splendid castle.

Jack realizes he must go up again, since he still hasn’t defeated his enemy. He does so, but this time finds the giant’s wife even more hard to convince to let him in. Apparently, some young punk made off with hubby’s bags of coins, and he swears he will kill her if this ever happens again. Still, she stays with the loser. Half way through Jack’s meal, the giant comes rumbling in. The giant’s wife hides Jack, but this time the giant’s awful cry will not go unrewarded:

Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!

I smell the blood of an Englishman!

Be he live, or be he dead,

I will grind his bones to make my bread!

He finally stops looking for Jack after turning up the entire kitchen, luckily ignoring that barrel in the corner. After supper, he demands that his wife bring him his golden harp, which plays on command. After amusing himself with the harp and ignoring his wife, he again falls asleep. Jack scampers out to snatch the harp, but this time the harp cries out in a human voice. “Master! Master!” The giant wakes up, and sees Jack. Jack runs out of the castle, the giant in pursuit, though Jack has the advantage. He nimbly climbs down the beanstalk (inspiring another story perhaps) and as he sees the giant coming down, he chops the beanstalk down with an axe. The giant falls to earth, dead. Jack and his mother live happily ever after. The magical land of Beanstalkville becomes restored! The giant’s wife becomes the new queen, and whether she finds a real man or not, this tale does not tell.

This combines the fourth phase of bureaucracy, and the fifth phase of aftermath. In the fourth phase, the showdown comes, with forces too evenly matched. Most users have no idea of the turmoil behind the curtain, but the vibe changes. Things go on as best as possible, but a change must come.

Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!

I smell the blood of an ombudsman!

Be he live, or be he dead,

I will grind his bones then make a thread.

In the fifth phase of aftermath, one of two things can happen. On one hand, the parasites who have infested the project reach critical mass and influence, crowding out the few good people to make room for their own egos’ agenda. The project destroys itself from within, resulting in a classic catabolic collapse. On the other hand, the good people band together, neutralize the parasitic influence which has crept in, and move the project into the next evolution of the revolution. I listed the first one first for a reason. At this point, the fate of the project lies within your hands, so tell the truth.

This concludes the Five Phase Magic Bean Model of Internet Media platform Development. I hope you find it of value, or at the least a good laugh. The Goddess prevails! Remember Beanstalkville!

Born Again Vim User

July 10, 2008

I have discovered vim, vi improved. For those who don’t know, Bill Joy, of Sun Microsystems, first wrote vi in the seventies to serve as a more humane alternative to other line-oriented editors at the time. Thirty-plus years later, people still use it, and now I know why. I love it. I feel born again.

Several years ago, I began writing my own editor called e, made for the blind. Now I feel weird setting that asside to learn vim, but I love it so much, and feel that the end result will prove worth it – the inspiration vim will give, etc.

I just wanted to let you know that if you need a rocking powerful unix editor, and felt intimidated, learn vim! It takes time, but you can really do some awesome things. I’ve only used it for a few hours. I still have to figure out how to get wordwrapping working the way I like, you really have to get down and dirty with it, but such goes life, such goes Unix.

A Question of Liability

June 27, 2008

I posted this after the event in question. I repost it now because of the referenced bout with godaddy, who I can now tell to SUCK IT!

Recently, Wesley Snipes received a three-year jail sentence for not filing a tax return. The accountants who he hired received stiffer sentences, but the question remains: should Wesley Snipes go to jail based on the bad advice of others? This brings up the issue of liability.

It reminds me of a recent bout I had with GoDaddy technical support. You see, I have to use a screen-reader, so javascript mouseclick events tend to not work as optimally. In this case, I refer to activating various functions within the GoDaddy control panels menu, a rather essential feature. I told the well-meaning tech this, and he first asked if I could get a sighted person to help me with my account. It royally angers me when people suggest this, as if a blind person has an army of sighted servants at all times. It doesn’t work that way, just so you know. He then told me that he could not alter my account, for “liability reasons.” This took the cake for me, as I just spent a respectable amount of money transferring my domains to them.

This started me thinking about liability. If I have to get a friend to help me modify my account, and his machine gets compromised without his knowledge, and some cracker gets my administrator information and uses it for ill, whom would I hold liable? Some would say the friend, or ultimately the cracker, but a closer look reveals the true culprit: GoDaddy, for not making reasonable changes to my account, and forcing me to go to a potentially insecure third party in the first place.

To apply this situation to the Wesley Snipes case, GoDaddy represents the accountants, my hypothetical friend represents Wesley Snipes, the cracker represents the IRS, and I represent the universe, randomly doling out self-modifications as I see fit. Consider this, and the answer to the Snipes’ case will become clear. Speaking of, while writing the first draft of this article, Windows abruptly closed for no discernible reason, and I lost the article. What does GoDaddy know?

Epilogue: When I finally canceled godaddy, they told me I had to do it online. I mentioned my situation, why I canceled, and they said, “Oh, well we can get someone to help you with that.” They wouldn’t go out of their way to help me modify my account when I needed, but they would go out of their way to help me cancel it. To me, this smacks of bad management. Shame on them!

An Open Letter to Tori Amos

June 27, 2008

I will repost a series of articles I wrote for my old blog, as well as on my blog at breakthematrix. I will start with this classic. Unfortunately, no longer exists, but my complaints remain justified.

An Open Letter to Tori Amos

From Austin Seraphin – au@sunbeem.net

Dear Tori,

I write this letter to express both my joy and concern. Your music brings me inspiration and solace. As someone blind since birth, I feel overjoyed that you have begun offering your concerts for digital download. As an audiophile, I feel overjoyed that you offer them in FLAC, giving a CD-quality file with lossless compression. My concern began as soon as I saw that you used an exclusively Java-based download manager. Doing this makes your site inaccessible to the blind, and limits your customer base in general. I would like to suggest that you offer an accessible version of your site.

I first discovered your music as I began college, in 1995, shortly before the release of Boys for Pele. Your emotional insight helped me get through that turbulent time. More recently, I rediscovered you after hearing American Doll Posse. I feel a renewed connection to your music and to a part of myself. I really wanted to attend the Philadelphia concert, but only found out about it two days beforehand, making it impossible – or at the least, highly improbable. When I read that you would begin releasing your concerts for download, I could hardly believe my apparent good fortune. When I saw that you offer them in FLAC, I felt like Goddess herself had blessed me. Your music has such breadth and depth. Offering your concerts in CD quality shows that you know and care about your audio and your fans.

As said, I became blind at birth. I started using computers around age seven, and quickly began to teach myself to program. I use a speech synthesizer to access my computers. It reads everything on the screen, and everything I type. This describes the ideal situation, such as under a text-based environment like Linux. Windows however presents a challenge to a blind user, since the crappy screen readers made for Windows can only do their best to interpret a visual environment. Think of the difficulty, confusion, and rage you have likely felt when trying to use windows. Now imagine doing that on a monochrome monitor with a shaky vertical hold and which goes blank from time to time for no reason forcing you to reset the computer. That approximates how it feels for a blind person to use Windows.

As though Windows did not present enough of a barrier, Java adds a whole other layer of complexity. Web sites can do things in real time either by running a program on the web server itself, or by running a program on the user’s computer. Running programs on the server does not inconvenience the user at all – they don’t even know it happens. Running a program on the user’s computer presents many issues not just to the blind, but also to the sighted. Something like Java actually runs a virtual machine – a program that emulates a separate computer. To the blind, it means that the screen reader has great difficulty, since the Java machine runs outside of Windows in a sense. Java also presents security risks which obviously effect both the blind and the sighted. Many users have Java disabled, and refuse to use sites which employ it extensively. Additionally, both the blind and the sighted feel confused while using such sites. It just effects the blind more rapidly and obviously, like many things in life. Either

way you look at it, you have limited your customer base, and I highly doubt anyone took the time to explain this to you. “Yes ma’am, they can download your tours. Now go announce it to the world!”

I tried going through the proper chain of command, in other words a single email address. I explained my problem and they wrote back a form letter. I replied again and they responded and apologized. They promised they would help me get the FLAC version of the Philadelphia concert. They did not know what to do and asked if I had any suggestions. Since they manage a download server, I figured they could just put the file on a private server for me to download, then remove it. They couldn’t do that, and suggested I get someone sighted to do it. This kind of suggestion always pisses me off! Blind people do not have an army of sighted people, waiting on them hand and foot. Additionally, I knew that the solution did not actually solve the underlying problem. I mentioned I have a server to which they could upload it. They agreed, and I created them a private account with a private directory. It felt wild to see the user “tori” logged in. I checked the directory during the transfer, and to my shock, saw the mp3

version of the concert. I quickly sent them email, since I know you have the excellent policy of offering the mp3 version until the FLAC version becomes available. I promptly received the following reply:

Hi Austin,

We will be unable to do the FLAC as an FTP upload from the support offices.

Just too large of a file.

Considering the amount of effort we are putting into getting you your

concert, we are hoping you will enjoy the MP3 version instead.

Support

I could hardly believe it. Frankly, this explanation seemed ludicrous. I also did not care for the brusque tone. They run a download manager! If I ran this thing, I could have done what I requested in a matter of minutes. Two hours later, I received the final email, the one that did it, the insult to the injury:

Hi Austin,

This upload has completed. Sorry the system has been giving you so much

trouble, but we wanted to make sure you got the show you purchased. Enjoy!

Support

So there you have it. I couldn’t get anywhere. As a Philadelphian, I knew I had to do something real, as you so elegantly and humorously stated during the concert. As a Discordian, I believe that a Crazy Woman runs the material universe, and I knew that change would have to come from the top down – from a crazy woman! As a programmer, I knew what I had to do. I published this letter on my blog, in hopes that readers will use the social bookmarks to bring it to your attention. I hope it finds you. I also hope you consider instituting some changes to your download manager. They could even keep their fancy Java-based solution, I simply request a solution accessible to the blind, as well as to the security-conscious sighted. I know you will do the right thing. Kick some ass! Contact me if you need some help.

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