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 myself a Taoist. I use Linux as my desktop and Android as my mobile OS. I eat gluten-free vegan meals. For the rest you'll have to read my blog.
I just gave a great talk at the Philly Cocoaheads group. We met at the life-transforming Indy Hall. I covered basic iOS accessibility, RubyMotion, and how the two go together. I’ve given serious thought to giving a similar talk at the RubyMotion conference in Belgium. We’ll see how that goes.
It all started last night at my first ever night owl session. Indy Hall has them every Wednesday night. They don’t count against your days, any member can go. They make a great social outlet and a chance to get a little work done. I did both.
I had started thinking about giving this talk, but didn’t know if I could actually do it, or if I should fly across the world to try. I met Mike on my first day there and that got me thinking about Philly Cocoaheads. I wondered if I could maybe persuade him into perhaps giving me a few minutes at the end of his meeting to give it a try. I messaged him on Twitter and he said he’d attend the night owl session. I got there and he found me.
“So what’s the agenda like for the meeting?” I asked, trying to work in my idea. He sort of laughed. “Well it’s pretty loose. Our speaker bailed at the last minute.” Perfect! I told him of my idea and he agreed. The pieces slid together like a puzzle.
I began preparing an outline then and there. I felt so excited. I took a break and wandered upstairs, where I found a girl named Kara cooking tomato soup and polenta. This place just keeps getting better! I ate and talked, working off my energy. I began wishing I could telekinetically teleport my beer from downstairs, then a girl brought it. That made me think about language as a lower form of telepathy. I finished the glass and wondered about more. Then they introduced me to the hard cider… Appleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee?!
I woke up the next day and finished my outline. I also got some tips from some blind developer friends as well as the awesome RubyMotion mailing list. Things really came together. I got an awful cab ride there. The interior smelled like an armpit and I wanted to vomit. I found myself at Indy Hall and had a quick smoke and word with Adam. He had recommended to me a service called Uber. I told him I would have to register for it for the journey home.
I went up to the second floor and found Mike and everyone else just hanging out. I had eaten so declined pizza, though would feel hungry later. I drank water and went over things one last time. I tried to stay calm and mostly succeeded. The meeting began.
They went over some business issues and had a cool show and tell period. One guy showed off some custom layouts he made for images. He encouraged people to publish them on github, which fit perfectly into my talk, as a number of developers have released open source RubyMotion apps. A high school kid showed a sweet jailbreak tweak he made to make the iPhone have a universal QR code scanner. I wanted to bring up the accessibility implications, but didn’t get a chance. Very cool! And great to see someone of that age doing this stuff. Keep it up man, just stay out of trouble.
The time for my talk had come. Mike offered a patch cord and suggested an audio demonstration. I hadn’t thought of that, but liked the idea. I tend to gloss over all this basic stuff, but forget most people have never encountered it before. I got everything set up and began. Listen for yourself.
First I covered VoiceOver basics, explaining just how a blind person uses an iPhone. The iPhone changed my universe as soon as it entered it. I wrote an article which went viral. So many amazing apps make such a difference. I mentioned Color ID, Looktel Money Reader, and BlindSquare as examples, though hundreds more exist. Someone asked a great question about how one would begin, in other words if they just walked into an Apple store what kind of help would they get? I told them of my experiences which I recounted in my very funny article entitled Rejoining the Apple Family. Someone asked if BlindSquare provides contextual information of your surroundings like a sighted person would have, they got it exactly. It also helps you not get ripped off by cabbies.
Next we turned to the exciting world of RubyMotion, which lets you write iOS apps in Ruby. I apologized in advance for pushing Ruby, even though I love the language. I also plugged TinkerLearn, a great course for learning iOS and Objective C. I recounted my initial experience hearing about RubyMotion, like a vision crystalized into physical reality. I covered some things that make Ruby great, and RubyMotion especially. I mentioned some common gems including BubbleWrap, sugarcube, formotion, geomotion, and Motionmodel. I also discussed creating views. We prefer to do it programmatically, which works better for a blind developer as well. To that end the Teacup gem provides a domain specific language for designing stylesheets.
I then brought the two topics together, and discussed how RubyMotion helps accessibility. I started by restating my opinion that I just seem to get more work done in Ruby. It also sounds better with speech to me. I also know plenty of blind C programmers, so don’t take that as a generalization.
Now I got into one of the big points of the discussion. RubyMotion has unit testing, something quite cool in itself. This lets a developer write automated tests on various parts of their app. Not only that, RubyMotion also provides functional tests. This lets you simulate the effect of tapping a button in a view. And how does it know the name of the button? From its accessibility label! In other words, if you write specs like a good developer, you will have to label your buttons properly, the main complaint.
After making more fun of Xcode, I covered a challenge for blind developers. The iOS Simulator doesn’t work well with VoiceOver, so it doesn’t matter which language you use. Either way testing an app on an actual device works much better. This means that you can’t use the super cool REPL which RubyMotion provides. Instead you have to use the debugger. Based on GDb, it works well enough, but the developers intend to create a more friendlier and higher level debugger in the future.
I finished my main talk and opened it up for questions. Someone asked how I used Xcode when I tried it. “Oh, I didn’t try very much.” I responded matter of factly. That got a laugh.
I explained about interacting with items with VoiceOver on a Mac. Xcode has a very complicated layout. I had no idea. Mike asked about build settings. And of course you just add them in your Rakefile, just edit a plain textfile. Nice and easy. He also asked about constraints. Some of the gems I mentioned have begun supporting them, but I don’t know much about them yet. I understand more now though, thanks to the wonderful Cocoaheads.
Someone asked another good question, if I see difference in accessibility across Apple devices, an iPad vs an iPhone for example. I said they behave very similarly, though iPad screens do have more complicated layouts with more going on. The iPhone does give a more streamlined experience. I also forgot to mention Zoom, Apple’s large print magnification software. Someone asked about Siri. I said it works as well for me as it does for anyone, except for me it seems to have happened in reverse. I’ve always enjoyed having my text messages read to me. Now sighted people have finally discovered it.
Someone asked about any egregiously bad apps, in other words really inaccessible ones. My mind went blank. We always have one or two apps in mind and they change over time. For lack of a better answer I said the one I had most recently thought of: theLost Treasures of Infocom. I also recommended Applevis which has ratings.
My brain felt shot. Beer and tobacco sounded good. We made our way to National Mechanics. I had a bad opinion of this place because we came here after BarCamp and it sounded so loud. This time it had a more tolerable volume. I had a double cream stout, then felt hungry so ordered a veggie burger. I also wanted a beer from Belgium to get that vibe going, so got a Corsendonk Christmas Ale. You Belgians make some good beer!
I felt like a nice ride home plus I had gotten some credit for it so tried Uber. Within minutes a nice black car pulled up and brought me home. I had a very pleasant experience. I’ll take fake vanilla over real armpit any time.
As I sat down to write this article I got another delightful surprise. A guy named Drew mentioned me on Twitter. “Worlds collide.” he said. He referenced Alex, one of the organizers of Indy Hall, so I thought it had something to do with my talk. I asked if we know each other. He said he didn’t attend my talk, but he rememberd playing Barneysplat! I wrote that game in the nineties and it became insanely popular. It always warms my heart when someone else remembers it. It made my night.
I just went with a friend to a great vegan restaurant called Vedge. The same cooks used to run a placed called Horizons, which I also reviewed. As soon as I learned that I knew we had picked a great place. We had wonderful food and a wonderful time.
My friend Liz and I felt like going somewhere nice since we didn’t get to hang out over the holidays. My mom told me of Vedge, 1221 Locust Street. Directory Assistance didn’t have their number, so we began to wonder if they even existed. I found their web site, and eventually found their contact information. Why do restaurant web sites never have the location and phone number on the main page? This one proved no exception, but eventually I found the number and Liz called. She learned that we could not get a reservation, but if we showed up early enough we could probably get a seat. We figured we’d just walk right over since they open at 05:00 and just see what happens.
To our delight, they could take us. We quickly met our waitress named Alison. She helped us the whole time and took good care of us. I had a Cadillac Mountain Stout and Liz had some red wine.
Alison started naming all the wonderful things they had and my brained turned a summersault. As with Horizons, you can easily get overwhelmed. I eventually decided on Korean spring rolls and squash pierogis in a wine sauce. Liz got some wonderful turnips and kale, and a lentil crepe thing. We shared portions and sampled each other’s and had a good time. I could eat those spring rolls every day, and you can’t lose with squash pierogis in wine sauce. Liz enjoyed her’s as well.
I felt a little confused by the meal format. They have starters and main entrees. At first I didn’t know if I’d get enough food, but as I ate I began to get very full indeed. I called it an incremental feast.
We both felt so content, both from the alcohol and the wonderful food. Of course I had to save room for dessert. I got this triple chocolate thing with a pretzel crust on the bottom and peanut butter. It also came with some stout beer ice cream which tastes exactly like how it sounds, and some chocolate bar. I don’t know exactly what I got, but I described it as intergalactically good. It made me hallucinate. Liz got some vegan cheese cake and loved it. Alison also gave us some dessert wine. Even though they call it wine, it seemed a lot more potent, and I felt glad we just had to get a cab home, which they called for us.
As with Horizons, I highly recommend this place. They have similar food but with differences. A lot of the food had subtle flavors. This doesn’t apply to everything, those spring rolls had some real spice, but it seemed to hold true for the main courses. And those desserts left us speechless. Make a reservation ahead of time, or show up right at 05:00 and you will have an unforgettable night. We did.
At long last I have finally come to Indy Hall, a coworking space in Philadelphia. Many people told me I HAVE to check it out, and now I see why. The web site has testimonials of people saying how it feels like home. I agree. I love it here!
I signed up for a tour on their very accessible page. The email said to reply with any questions so I replied and made sure they could assist me. Adam wrote back and said of course they could. He also checked out my blog and said it blew his mind. Good.
I don’t live far, so took a cab. The ride only cost me nine dollars. I stepped out of the cab and heard some people talking about hackers and knew I had found the right building. I pulled out my tobacco pipe and lit up. “Is that legal now in Pennsylvania?” a guy quipped. “This is just tobacco.” I said. “Oh I know.” he laughed. “But it will be legal soon enough.” I added. I think I will fit in just fine here.
I went inside and Adam met me at the desk. He wanted to know what I saw with echolocation. “I see a big space with a lot of desks.” I said. “That’s exactly what it is!” He showed me around the two floors. The actual tour didn’t take long. They have done a lot to bring a good ambience to the place. They have lots of art and plant life, as well as an aquarium with a turtle. They have a full kitchen, a healthy snack machine, and plenty of caffeine. And they have two wi-fi networks.
I didn’t really know what to expect at a coworking space, but I quickly got the idea. People rent desks, and the open area lets people talk and mingle as they choose, or work when they need to. Some people come in a day or two per month, some come every day. You can choose the plan that works best for you. And on Wednesday nights they have their night owl sessions. As a night owl myself I appreciate this, and will go to one very soon. “We also tend to drink more beer then.” “Then I’ll definitely have to go.” See I told you drinking beer made me more friends!
Adam found me a desk and said I could just hang out. I didn’t bring anything specific to do but figured I could read mail or something. I met Mike who sat across from me. I quickly dove into my email and spent a half hour doing that.
A friend of Mike’s named Corey came over and they started talking. I overheard something about the Shindig app of which I wrote about. I had wanted to talk to the developers about improving the app’s accessibility, and now by chance or design I found myself sitting with them. “That’s great! We’re all about that.” they said. Mike also runs the Philly Cocoa Heads group. Cocoa refers to the frameworks used in Mac OS and iOS. I promised I would show up for sure. They also want to know more about RubyMotion which I raved about despite still learning it. I spent the remainder of my time writing this article.
So in my first day I made some new friends, found a new user group, and a new place to work. I know i will come back here regularly. It feels so good to hear people talking about programming, HTML, games, whatever. They have created something very special here, one of Philadelphia’s gems. Anyone with similar interests should come to Indy Hall. The more the merrier! Oh and by the way they have seventy-two quartz of Baskin Robbin’s ice cream.
Ever since I moved into the city I have wanted to become more social. We have so much more going on here than in the suburbs. I’ve needed to ease myself into things. I call this process Social Yoga. It has mainly involved watching football and drinking beer with my brother, as well as a few incredible excursions.
Yoga means union. Most people think of doing postures. in that case the yoga refers to the union between body and mind. In the case of social yoga, the yoga refers to the union between the self and a social act. And just like with an exercise regimen, I planned to just start by doing little social things to make myself more comfortable with doing bigger social things.
It actually started in May. A girl in our building had a party. Usually I would shy away from such things, but I decided to pull myself together and go. That started some new friendships. Now I know a bunch of my neighbors, including a few board members. I knew I made the right choice by going.
A few days later they had a block party. There I learned that I like good beer. I didn’t drink at all before moving into the city, but everyone drinks beer in Philly, and when in Rome… This new interest has made me new friends by itself.
Shortly thereafter I learned echolocation. This incredible skill has totally helped in my social yoga, because it makes me feel more immersed in the world around me, like plugging in to something larger. I could have or would not have done some of the other things I’ve started doing if I didn’t know it. It lets me go to a new surrounding and into a new building and feel much more confident.
The summer came and we started going on the roof deck. Everyone loves the roof deck. It gives a great view of the city, and has better quality air. I also swear you get drunker up there, perhaps because of the height, but then I read that actually doesn’t happen, so perhaps it just happens as a placebo, or perhaps just because of the different setting.
Autumn came, and that means football. I used to listen to football on the radio around age twelve or so. Since then I stopped following it, and regarded it as a stupid distraction set up by the new world order to keep people focused on crap that doesn’t matter. Bread and circus. My brother likes watching it, and invited me a few times, but I never did. One day my brother texted me to come over and watch the game, or if not to at least turn it on. I tuned in and felt glad I did, because I watched the end of a close game. The Eagles lost of course, but I still enjoyed it.
It got me back into the vibe though. It made me feel like a kid again. I resolved to go to my brother’s the next weekend and did. We continued this tradition all through the season. Some friends wondered about my metamorphosis, even expressing concern, but I had a method to my madness.
I learned some things while watching football. Firstly when I say watching I really mean listening. They like the television for the video, but everyone agrees the commentators suck. You just can’t beat Merrill Reese! He has provided the voice for the Eagles since 1977, the year of my birth. Hearing his homely voice brought everything back for me. I especially enjoyed his optimistic comments during this awful season such as: “It’s still mathematically possible.” “It may be impossible for [the Eagles] NOT to turn the ball over.” and “There’s not much less we can say without losing our jobs.” Everyone felt glad I insisted on the radio despite the delay. For me Merrill made the game.
Speaking of the delay, we really wanted to resolve the issue, but in the end just dealt with it. The video comes through first, so they would see the play and possibly react, then we would all hear it. They tried to keep their reactions down for my sake. We wanted to hack together something to sync the two, but it takes a lot of effort. Why?
The answer came over and over again from several different people: “Because the NFL are dicks.” This really came home for me when I listened to the disclaimer at the end of a television broadcast. It said something to the effect that any rebroadcast is prohibited, understandable, but also any description of the game. Really? So if I told you that the Eagles lost their final game on a sad penalty I would technically violate their license. I hardly believe that of course, but it still made the point.
I had to buy NFL Audio Pass on my iPad. But it won’t stream the games on an iPHone, just a tablet. No technical reason exists for this restriction. Why? Because the NFL are dicks!
During the course of the season I attended a PANMA talk. While there I made a new friend named Christine. We stayed in touch, and it turned out that we both picked this season to begin watching again. She wrote an article about her re-initiation as well. We started texting each other during the games. She said: “Football is always better with friends.” and I agree.
We picked a terrible season to get back into the Eagles. They finished with a four and twelve record. Long-time fans told me that this would harden me. If I could last through this season it would make me a better fan. And they’ll get better draft picks next year. So here’s to 2013!
Every time the Eagles score a touchdown at home they sing the Eagles Fight Song. We all would sing it as well, irrespective of their location. In a way it felt like the best part of the game. Too bad we didn’t get to sing it very often.
Fly Eagles fly, on the road to victory
Fight Eagles fight, score a touchdown one two three
Hit ‘em low, hit ‘em high, and watch our Eagles fly
Fly Eagles fly, on the road to victory!
(then my favorite part)
E! A! G! L! E! S! Eagles!
I would also like to mention some commercials, since they make up part of the experience. I award the best commercial to Dietz and Watson even though I don’t eat meat. They have Momma Dietz do the commercials which adds a homely quality to them. And for the worst, hands down the award this year goes to KeenanAutobody.com. It has an annoying song that you cannot get out of your head, no matter how you try or how many beers you drink. I figure they must have done it on purpose. I also thought it very funny that PNC Bank sponsored the broadcasts. At every break, sometimes after an awful play, they would have to say “PNC: for the achiever in you.” I could picture some guy at PNC going SHUT UP! Don’t say that now.
My social yoga continues even though the season has ended. I gave a great speech at BarCamp. On Monday I will check out Indy Hall. And my brother and I have already begun making plans to listen to baseball while drinking beer in his new rooftop pool. The future looks very bright and very social. I feel fantastic.
This weekend I attended BarCamp Philly. Everyone promised a life-changing time. They spoke the truth. I had a lot of fun, met some great people and even ended up giving a presentation.
I first heard of BarCamp at the PANMA talk I went to. THe organizer also spoke then, and enthusiastically encouraged everyone to sign up. I figured why not? Unfortunately, when I went to purchase my ticket, I found the submit button totally inaccessible. I could not submit my order. I sent a message and to my delight Sarah responded within hours and straightened everything out. I had my ticket.
My friend Nick said he would go, so we began to make plans. As the day drew closer Nick said that I should consider giving a presentation. Another friend named Rachel said the same thing as soon as I told her about it, so I had already started considering it. At first I thought I’d do something about technology, but more and more people wanted to know about echolocation. I emailed a few people to get their opinions. Had I gone insane to even consider giving a presentation at a conference I’ve never attended including a topic I had never given a presentation about? Apparently not, because everyone said go for it.
Along with the official conference, BarCamp includes a pre-party and a post-party. And no, they don’t call it BarCamp because it happens in a bar, though much of it does. The name BarCamp actually comes from the programming convention of using foo and bar as metasyntactic variables. Tim O’Riley had a closed conference called FooCamp. In reaction to this, a group of San Francisco hackers started BarCamp, an unconference with nothing set at the beginning. Presenters show up that day and create the schedule in real-time. This format worked to my advantage.
The time for the pre-party had come. I had the same problem getting a ticket for that, but again Sarah helped me out. I arrived at an office building, having no idea what to expect. I found security guards and people cleaning floors. I wondered if I had come to the right place. Fortunately, a guard checked me in and showed me to the Zivtech suite.
Echolocation helped me once again. I would have felt so scared to do this before, but this time I tromped right in and found my way to the congested room with beer and sandwiches. I got a foamy Dogfish 60 minute IPA. A woman who worked at Zivtech offered to give me the grand tour. They do Drupal development, so we quickly found things to talk about. And yes, they do have an accessibility specialist.
I saw their cool office suite including a fish tank and two big conference rooms. I found my way to a beanbag chair and talked to some people about Ruby. I have to get one of those chairs! The girl who gave me the tour also brought me a spicy vegetable sandwich. I began to really like this.
Nick arrived and I really began getting into it. We started asking people what they thought about me giving a presentation. Everyone said I should, and again they really wanted to hear about echolocation. I began to resign myself to the fact that I would give a speech with sixteen hours of notice. Whatever, all hail Discordia!
I ventured to the beer room and got a Goose Island IPA, since they had a problem with the other. I started debating with myself. Should I do a talk about technology, a talk about echolocation, a talk combining the two, or two talks? I asked the organizer named Tim, and with great bravado he told me that nobody should do two talks. That settled it, I would give one talk and sort of combine the two topics under the broad heading of technology to help the blind. After all, echolocation uses the most powerful computer on Earth, the human brain.
The party started winding down. Nick and I and Nick’s friend Ruth started wandering around, and eventually found ourselves at a ping pong table. Can the blind play ping pong? I guess we’d find out.
I couldn’t actively echolocate the ball, but could find it passively, in other words hearing the sound of the ball hitting the table gave the location, then I would compensate for the bounce. Different people began giving me different advice on how to play. One guy named Jerry seemed to actually know how to play and showed me how to bounce the ball over the net. I actually started getting into it, then the place closed. I will have to explore ping pong more.
I caught a cab home, my brain buzzing from the IPA and the adrenalin from playing ping pong and the thought of giving a speech the next day. I started preparing my presentation in my head. At about 01:30 in the morning, Nick texted me. “You know, I was thinking you really should have some business cards for tomorrow.” As luck would have it, Nick works as a graphic and web designer, so printed out some right then. Check out Wingnut Art for a good local designer. He sure came through for me! I just made one or two suggestions and they came out perfectly. He even gave me a metal box to keep them in, since apparently cards produced on a laser printer will distort if kept in a pocket.
I awoke at seven o’clock after a light sleep. I usually stay up late, so this felt totally weird. I pulled it together and got ready. Nick said he’d arrive around 08:15, but ended up closer to 09:00. Maybe I would arrive too late and not even have to give a presentation. Part of me felt relieved, but a greater part felt disappointed at the prospect.
Nick introduced me to his cousin Roxy. She and I would spend the day together since he would have to leave early. We soon found out that we both enjoy smoking a lot of tobacco. I used an entire pipeful with her. We got along well. I could not have done this without her.
Nick texted Ruth from the previous night. She thought about giving a talk about cooking with leftovers. I suggested the name Leveraging your Leftovers and they loved it. They worked it out that if she texted someone at BarCamp to put us on the schedule we’d wait for her. So we waited. And waited. Nick texted her: CMON!
Finally Ruth came down apologizing and handing out Clif Bars. I thanked her as I really needed something. Ruth also had procured our time slots. We came up with Austin’s Accessibility Adventure for mine, and I would present at 02:15. It would really happen.
We arrived at the Wharton School of Business and had some bagels. They didn’t have much else by then, but we got by. They gave us our badges and a paper with a unique wifi key and password. They told us it would only work on one device, but we later learned it would work on three. They lied to us! Fear and loathing!
They told us to get the Shindig app. This provided a constantly updated schedule, perfect for this event. Unfortunately, some key parts remained inaccessible. Most notably, the venue info would just say “Venue Info” instead of the actual information. I singled them out in my presentation but later felt kind of bad about that when I found out that the local developers had attended BarCamp. They come from this place a few people have told me to go called Indy Hall. I will have to check it out.
We had now collected everything we needed, and could now go to any conference we pleased. We started by attending a fascinating talk about 3D printing put on by David Clayton of Nextfab Studio. He passed around actual objects for us to feel. I felt some screw tops, a flywheel, a bottle opener with a penny inserted into a slot for the tab, and a kind of creepy face and hand. It seemed kind of futuristic feeling objects actually generated by a computer.
I asked how 3d printing could help the blind. I thought of tactile objects, but he instead talked about the medical application. Some people have actually started researching printing complex cell structures. Absolutely amazing! Who knows, maybe one day if you want a new kidney or a new eye or even a new house they will just print it.
Next, we wandered into Ruth’s talk. I love cooking, so enjoyed hearing her talk about how to use leftovers creatively. I learned that you shouldn’t store apples near anything else, since they give off something that makes fruit go bad. I also thought about growing some herbs in my windowsill, I love mint and basil. The talk made me feel hungry, and Ruth said she intentionally scheduled it before lunch. Nice move!
But no, we had one more hour. The organizer named Tim gave a talk with the title: Who’s doing this horseshit to our internet? He had promoted it at the PANMA event, so I wanted to see it. Plus this topic always gets me fired up. Old white men who probably don’t even know how to send an email feel they have a right to regulate the internet. If you do not understand it then you have no right to regulate it.
It pisses me off how these copyright parasites act like they want to protect the artist. Music copyright laws originally existed to give white record executives control over black jazz and blues musicians. All of that early music existed because the musicians could use parts from other songs. Think of how many blues songs use exactly the same chords and melodies. Under today’s copyright law they could not do that. Before you believe their altruistic talk, remember how they began, with racism and greed!
It also gets me how they get all freaked out about piracy. Every time some new medium comes along these executive squawk about how it will bring the end of the industry. When radios came out with tape players, they said it would destroy the record industry, because everyone would tape songs off the radio. When VCR’s came out, they said that videos would kill the movie industry for similar reasons. Same with CD burners. And same with the internet. We will find a way to evolve, we always do. And we can do it without intrusive government regulation.
With those fiery thoughts I headed to lunch. This also served as my final chance to get my speech ready in my head. We only had an hour. We found our way to a pizza place and I scarfed down two slices of good veggie pizza and root beer.
I had lunch with some fascinating people. I especially remember Thomas Dixon. He suffered traumatic brain injury after getting hit by a car. As a result he has lost his episodic memory. He keeps track of what has happened with a private Twitter account, and of what will happen with a calendar. He does this on a Kindle he carries around.
I had to cut my lunch short and quickly walk back to the building. Things felt so surreal. In just a few minutes I would stand up in front of a small crowd and give a presentation with only the most general outline of it in my head. We arrived to find seven or eight people waiting around. More streamed in and eventually I had around twenty. The time had come. No going back.
I started by giving some basics about how a blind person uses a screen reader. Macs use VoiceOver. Linux has Speakup and Orca. Most screen readers for Windows cost money, but a free one does exist called NVDA.
Next I got into the iPhone, which has its own version of VoiceOver. I talked about the article I wrote which went viral. People enjoyed my experience using Color ID and realizing that you need light to see. I mentioned my appearance in Get Lamp, and told the joke I told about not needing a light source when playing a game. I gave some other good apps for the blind, including Money Reader and BlindSquare. Later on someone asked about games and I thought of Cribbage Pro since it just had an update which made it accessible. I also threw in Shredder and Chess-Wise. And even though I didn’t mention it, if you want a cute game try Stem Stumper.
Someone asked about Kindle. I delivered the sad news that Amazon clearly does not care, and have made their products totally unusable by the blind. I made fun of their fake concerns of using text-to-speech to pirate books. Everyone laughed. I pointed out that iBooks and iTunes U work just fine.
At one point I went on a mini rant about like buttons. The Disconnect and Adblock Plus plugins help eliminate a lot of this crap, and less crap means more accessibility. Someone asked to name the web site with the most accessible experience. So many exist and I couldn’t think of one, so instead I said that the Thesis framework for WordPress makes a very accessible site. I got a bunch of questions about app usability, so recommended a site called Applevis which has usability ratings.
I finished the technology portion by talking about coding apps. I first had some good success with a great Objective C course called TinkerLearn. However, as soon as I found out about RubyMotion I shifted to that. I even wrote an article about it. I encourage anyone interested in an exciting new way to write apps to get involved.
I then got into Echolocation – the topic a lot of people wanted to hear about, and the only one mentioned in the description. I think some people got confused at the abrupt topic shift. Hopefully now that you’ve read up to this point you understand how I basically had to jam two separate talks together so I wouldn’t go insane. To make it perfectly clear, this skill just involves the human body and brain. It does not use an app, though someone asked about the vOICe, but I couldn’t say much since they don’t make it for iOS.
It amazed me how interested people felt about echolocation. I plugged WOrld Access for the Blind, the only organization teaching this amazing technique. And even though I forgot, I should also mention The Beginner’s Guide to Echolocation, for which I wrote a review. I only found out about echolocation a year ago. I took a three-day intensive at my condo, and have used it since.
I tried to explain the experience, though it enters into an intangible realm of mixed senses. Images appear like dark forms. It gives all the information a sighted person gets, except for color and fine detail. Materials have different sounds. Glass has a cool “glass” feeling. Wood feels organic. Water sounds kind of like glass. Pillows sound puffy. And to everyone’s amusement, people sound very pillow-like.
All of this comes from using a discrete tongue click. I use it to navigate areas, appreciate trees, an even look at sculpture. It has totally changed my life and I want to do what I can to help promote it. It causes a feeling of greater immersion in the world, of plugging into something around you. It gives the missing piece of the puzzle, long-range vision.
That did it for the speech. You can listen for yourself. I think it went well. I only wish I would have done a little demonstration of echolocation, since it seems so fantastic. Nick and I both had the exact same thought afterward, of using one of the BarCamp shirts and his iPad to do some simple panel exercises. I can tell the difference between these two items easily, and can also pinpoint their location around me. I also could have self-promoted a little more. I wish I would have mentioned my strong desire to create the best note taker for the blind, so they don’t have to settle for crap. Oh well, now I know for next time, and knowing is half the battle.
I felt pretty worn out afterward, and pleaded with Roxy to come with me for a smoke, but instead we ended up at a talk about podcasting. I couldn’t concentrate very hard, but I had done my share of podcasting, so didn’t really need to. Darnelle Radford of Rep Radio gave a fine introduction. He made the point that you just need a simple digital recorder to create a podcast. I agree, though prefer to spend a little more money on my equipment. I recorded my speech on an Olympus DM620, by the way. I prefer the DM520’s design, but there you go.
That concluded the day’s conferences. Roxy and I had a much needed smoke, then walked to the auditorium for the closing remarks. We arrived before anyone else, and I took a few minutes to meditate. People started coming in and we learned about the party bus that would take us to National Mechanics We prepared ourselves for the final phase of this unbelievable trip.
We found the busses outside. Getting on one kind of reminded me of going to school, until someone took out a bottle of whiskey and passed it around. What the hell, we each had a little taste. It felt uniting in some way. A few minutes later we arrived at the bar. My pipe had begun to get down to the end, but I smoked it anyway, and braced myself to enter this loud environment.
Places like this make me feel disoriented, but I stuck it out and feel glad that I did. They didn’t have much vegetarian food, but Roxy found me enough to keep me going. I had a Yards Pale Ale and tried to relax. I envisioned an alternate after-party for those of us who prefer quiet conversation in a more intimate setting, and with good healthy vegetarian food. I thought about leaving as soon as I finished the beer, but then it started working.
I don’t remember very much after that. I had two Flying Dog Imperial Pumpkin Ales. Tim, the organizer of the event, drunkenly told me he liked my talk the best. I talked to two dudes named Mike and their girlfriends. I know I talked to a bunch of other people and gave out more cards. I hope they held onto them, because I could never remember all their names.
Late that night Roxy and I took the El into center city, and I got a cab home. I used echolocation to find my way inside, once again thanking myself and my teacher for teaching me this wonderful ability which comes in so much handy in these kinds of situations. I love you all.
I woke up the next day. Fortunately I had begun drinking water and eventually switched to water entirely, so felt pretty good. I pondered what had just happened. Someone said that the best part of BarCamp happens afterward, from all the connections you make there. Good things have already started happening. Now I sit here finishing this article drinking from my complimentary BarCamp pint glass full of wonder and good beer. BarCamp has changed my life.