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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 identify as 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.

The Death of Steve Jobs

October 05, 2011

Steve Jobs has died at age 56. Family said he passed peacefully in his sleep. This has sent shockwaves around the net, and I thought I’d throw in my own little tribute.

I became blind at birth. I always loved technology and done well with math. My parents used computers for their business, and could see their potential. They wanted me to have an advantage, so got an Apple II/e as soon as they learned that a blind person could use one. I think this happened while in the second grade, which would have made me seven years old.

Mom still remembers our trip to the Apple store. They hadn’t even unpacked yet. I remember the smell of boxes and new computers. I’ve always loved the smell of new computers, Apple products especially. I also remember some of the computers had puffy paper apples on top of them. I wanted to buy the computer with the paper apple just because I liked it. I also remembered feeling glad that the computers didn’t make any noise, something Steve Jobs insisted upon.

We took the thing home. I remember the family trying the discs which came with the computer, something called Apple Presents. I think it came with some games too. My brother and I enjoyed playing the simple games. But it couldn’t talk yet.

One Saturday, Mom and our friend Kristen put in the card. This meant opening up the computer, inserting a card, plugging in a speaker, probably connecting some jumpers, and who knows what else. They also had some beer, which seems to go well with hardware work. I didn’t know what to do, so just kept encouraging them. By the end of the day they had done it! They felt exhausted and I felt ecstatic. I knew something awesome had just happened! I could use a computer!

At first, I only knew a few commands. CATALOG gave a catalog of files on the disc. RUN would run a file with an A in front of it. I learned that stood for Applesoft BASIC. BRUN would run a file with a B in front of it, meaning binary, machine language. And with that I began my journey.

For a while I had fun running programs on the games discs, trying various demos, and I may have tried to use a word processor. I remember one or two games would not work. I couldn’t understand why. I thought computers just did things. My parents explained to me that computers don’t actually think, they just follow instructions, a program. I thought I understood, but didn’t know how to fix the problems, so felt frustrated. I wanted to play the games. Why won’t they work?

One day, I remember playing the classic Eliza program. This program has existed for years, and simulates a conversation with a psychiatrist. It does very primitive textual analysis to try to come up with the proper response, and sometimes it does quite well. Other times it doesn’t. Still it intrigued me.

Afterward, I sat and thought. I wondered about commands I might not know. I felt something more. I have no idea where this thought came from, or why I thought of it, but I thought to type the command LIST. I remember thinking it must list something, maybe a short list of files, or who knows. But I figured since computers deal with lists maybe it will do something. Sure enough it did.

The LIST command lists the code of the currently loaded program, Eliza in this case. I saw line numbers and print statements. Suddenly I understood perfectly. You type in these instructions and the computer follows them. I knew then and there exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Since then, I have always loved computers, programming, anything like that. It all started with that moment. I remember feeling so proud when I fixed a problem in one of the games. I wrote tons of little programs of my own. I had endless hours of fun with that machine.

Time passed. The PC became popular and I reluctantly moved over. I felt very sad to say good bye to my Apples, but also excited about the future. Still I will always treasure those first days. MSDOS came and gave way to Windows. I just couldn’t take it so switched to Linux. I loved its open nature. You can explore anything and learn so much. The text shell makes a natural interface for a blind user. Still, I always had to find ways to do the things sighted users enjoyed. I got by as best I could, and had a nicely tweaked netbook as a notetaker.

Then last June I got an iPhone and my universe changed forever. It can do so many things, thanks to the endless selection of apps. I can identify currency and household items, check news, stocks, the weather, Twitter, even listen to the changing colors of a sunset. I cannot imagine life without my iPhone. I upgraded to the iPhone 4 when it came out, and loved the combination of glass and metal. Just so cool! After falling in love, I heard the call of the Apple family once again. I knew I had to get a Mac.

I went to the Apple store and had an exciting adventure. It certainly had changed since the first time we had gone. Now it had become a bustling marketplace. I told everyone there I wanted to buy a Mac, that I started on a II/e (which they probably didn’t understand), and that I felt overjoyed to rejoin the Apple family. The manager of the store told me that the accessibility didn’t start until Steve Jobs had returned. I thanked Steve silently.

I got my iMac last September, just in time for something amazing. My iPhone article went viral. I receive so much awesome feedback and attention from it. My Mac quickly proved itself, functioning beautifully within this chaos. It seemed so stable. Plus, it runs on top of a flavor of BSD, so I consider it two computers for the price of one. I just could not believe this new experience, a graphical user interface I could actually use. For the first time I could actually use a trackpad, something the sighted have enjoyed for years. I knew that Apple had created the cutting edge accessibility experience.

I felt very impressed. So impressed that I bought a MacBook Air as soon as they came out. I love my MacBook Air so much. It makes a perfect notetaker. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Plus, it has a tactile glowing Apple on the back! Sometimes I find myself just feeling the apple and admiring the form of the machine. The same holds true for the stunningly beautiful iPad 2.

Yesterday Apple announced the iPhone 4S. It will have the Siri assistant. As I wrote, this introduces the next paradigm of the artificially intelligent smartphone. Very soon, people will have conversations with their computers, just like on Star Trek! Apple has helped bring that perfect future closer.

Now I sit here surrounded by all of this incredible Apple technology. It amazes me that one man could help bring all this about. I feel especially appreciative. Steve had a vision of a computer which anyone could use. Apple Building accessibility into all of their devices means that a blind person can purchase a device from a store and use it immediately. We have never had this before. For the first time we can use the same devices as our sighted friends, family, and coworkers. Apple’s line of accessibility technology has opened the world up to the blind. No other corporation has done what Apple has done.

Thank you Steve. You have changed my world forever. You have changed the world of the blind forever. You have changed the world forever. May you live forever through your works.

What Today’s Apple Event Means to the Blind

October 04, 2011

Today, Apple had their “Let’s Talk iPhone” announcement. As usual no one knew what to expect. Many hoped for a redesigned iPhone with a curved surface, much like the beautiful iPad 2. Apple also previewed iOS 5 at their developer’s conference in June, so we knew a lot of the cool software features to expect. I looked forward to the notification center and Twitter integration. We also learned of Apple’s acquisition of Siri, and their plans to integrate voice navigation with the iPhone. As today drew near the rumor sites said that we would not see a new iPhone, but rather an upgraded iPhone 4. I felt a little disappointed. I wanted the sleek and sexy iPhone 5, and I had only used iPhone’s voice navigation by accident once when something else in my pocket pressed the on button for a few seconds. Still, I got psyched for this real life sporting event.

It started with them talking about how the Mac does very well, something I enjoyed hearing. I love my Macs. Then they started talking about greeting cards, and a Find My Friends app. Something about cameras or photographs. They refreshed the iPod Nano. Video games. More with the greeting cards. Everyone felt bored. Then it came to talk iPhone. The whole net suddenly seemed effected. All the major sites went down. So we all sat, gathering what information we could. A blind iPhone friend called me for parts of it as well, reading to me from a live blog. Eventually we pieced it together.

The rumor sites got it right. Apple announced the iPhone 4S with an A5 processor, twice as fast as the one in the iPhone 4. It also has a better camera, an improved antenna system, and for the first time it comes in a 64 GB model. Hopefully the better camera will mean better OCR and image recognition, two things which the blind need. Apple devoted the end of their event to talk all about Siri, demonstrating its impressive voice navigation. It actually lets you have a conversation with your iPhone. It definitely looked cool. Then the event ended and Apple’s stock dipped. Apparently other people wanted the sleek and sexy iPhone 5 as well. I relaxed and thought.

When the iPhone 3 came out, the blind had no interest in it. After all, we couldn’t use it. We had to wait for the upgraded version, the 3GS, with a powerful enough processor that would run VoiceOver, the software which enables the blind to use the iPhone. For us, this upgrade made a world of difference. The same holds true in this case.

Apple has unveiled the new paradigm of conversing with an artificially intelligent computer. The Siri Assistant gives us the type of interface we see on Star Trek, the one we’ve always wanted. You never see them bumbling around their computers unless something goes seriously wrong. They just tell the computer what they want it to do and it does it. I put on an episode of Star Trek and began to get excited. If all goes well, the masses will have this kind of technology in a few weeks!

Accessibility helps everyone. Apple has made it mainstream. The blind have enjoyed text to speech for years. Now the sighted can enjoy eyes-free operation as well. Voice recognition and a wealth of data complete a perfect picture of universal accessibility.

In 1987 I had turned ten. I entered the fifth grade, and got my first PC, sadly saying good bye to my beloved Apple II way of life. Meanwhile, Apple made this video. It presents their concept for Knowledge Navigator, and shows a professor talking to his tablet computer and getting back intelligent responses. Weirdly, his calendar displays the date September 16th, and he references a five-year-old paper written in 2006, making the year 2011.

On October 4, 2011, Apple released the new iPhone with the Siri Assistant. The page features a video. It ends with a blind woman hearing a text message and dictating a reply. Meanwhile, Amazon has released their totally inaccessible Kindle Fire. What a difference! Thank you Apple! We love you!

Scrivener

September 07, 2011

I have discovered an awesome writing tool for the Mac called Scrivener. They also make a version for Windows, but I cannot use Windows for psychological reasons, so will only speak of the Mac. I love Scrivener! I have already felt its power, and know that it will help me write a book which could change the world.

For years I have wanted to write a book about meditation. I discovered the proper technique around the winter solstice of 2010, and began writing. Things started out well, but gradually became overwhelming, and I hadn’t worked on it as much as I would have liked. I need to get this thing out there!

While searching in the Mac App store for writing tools, I came across Scrivener. I actually decided to go to the web site and download their free thirty day trial, which I would recommend. It comes with a tutorial which you need to go through before beginning. It may seem like it has a bit of a learning curve, but once you get through it you will understand. The developer even fixed a VoiceOver issue I submitted.

I began to feel Scrivener’s power as soon as I began converting my book. I saved what I had done in rich text format, then imported it into the “Research” folder which the default template helpfully includes. I then began going through the original text and pasting the parts in the proper order. As I did this I realized Scrivener’s paradigm, and my mind opened.

Remember in elementary school when they made you write research papers, and they made you use those stupid note cards? As a blind student I always hated doing it, because you can only fit so much on a braille card, and eventually the whole thing would become unwieldy and impractical. I quickly learned the advantages of writing an outline. It lets you see the structure of your writing, improving your ability to organize it. Memories of writing outlines on a braille writer came flooding back. If you do a really good outline you can convert it to a paper and have it ready in two nights of medium work. Trust me.

A flat textfile just doesn’t cut it for non-sequential writing. One does not just write from the beginning to the end nonstop. I therefore wanted to format my book as an outline. I wanted a way to jump between parts, and view how the parts fit into the whole. Scrivener does exactly this and more. At first I pictured that my Draft folder would just have a piece of text for each chapter, and I would jump between chapters. That would have satisfied me or so I thought.

I read on their site about the metaphor of the cards and suddenly all these visual metaphors made sense. I could have folders within folders, containing little pieces of text that when stitched together would make up the chapters and the book as a whole. Beautiful! Now instead of thinking of the book as a large flat endless plain of text, I can think of each little piece of text, each card, and nothing else. Just write about this topic on this card and don’t worry about anything else. When it comes time, the Scrivenings mode lets you view the whole folder or any arbitrary pieces of text contiguously. Splendid!

I love it when a program does exactly what you need it to. The description said it helps a writer get through that all important first draft. It gives me strength to know that others have had these problems enough to inspire them to write a program. Scrivener works well for the Mac, and will work even better with VoiceOver as development continues. Now that I’ve learned the rudiments of this software, I have to actually get down to some serious writing. And yes, I really do believe that my book could change the world.

Earthquake!

August 23, 2011

A5.8 magnitude earthquake occurred today at 01:53 PM with its epicenter in the Virginia area. I felt it here in Philadelphia. My experience doesn’t really differ from others, but since local news stations had random people on all day I figured I should at least write an entry.

I sat in my home office talking on the phone. Suddenly, I noticed that everything started slightly shaking, as if vibrated from a powerful source. I figured they had started doing more construction and didn’t think much for a moment, but even then something felt wrong, different somehow. The vibrations didn’t stop, they increased, and everything started shaking. It felt like waves on the ocean, a very strange sensation. The once stable ground had become more like a liquid. It also felt like waves as if from a powerful subwoofer. Even at this low magnitude (around 3 here) I could sense this. I wondered if we had an earthquake. I’ve never experienced one before. I felt a little freaked out, and my friend in the city also felt it.

It past about thirty seconds later and I went outside, not knowing what else to do. I felt kind of stunned and disoriented. I don’t know if the ground continued shaking slightly or if I just felt on edge. When I came outside my neighbor asked if I felt something. Sure enough, the news began reporting the earthquake. No real damage, some windows blown out in high-rises, but no fatalities.

Now I feel totally freaked out about earthquakes. It just happened all of a sudden, without any warning. My Mom remembers one happening when she grew up, and this one tied with the record for this area set 67 years ago. I felt slightly shaken for a little afterward. It felt very weird to experience. I never want to again. Now I know why the Maya have lots of myths about earthquakes. Some even believe this age will end in an earthquake. Though small in intensity, it changed me forever. Now I can say I lived through one.

How to Make a Million Dollars with an iPhone

August 18, 2011

Sorry for the spammy title. I wanted to get your attention, plus I figure it will draw a bunch of traffic from search engines. This article actually discusses ways a blind person can use an iPhone to aide them in their trading and investing.

I turned eighteen in 1995. Of course, at that age I had other things on my mind than my long-term financial planning, if you catch my meaning. By 1999 the dotcom bomb had begun, and I realized I had better start paying attention. I noticed my account going down because of large positions in tech stocks. I warned my bankers to get out. I didn’t need a degree in economics to know that AOL sucked! Continuing questioning just resulted in boring talk, mindless consolations, and a cookie. They did nothing and I suffered for it.

After extricating myself, I didn’t know what to do, so had various people manage my money. They met with varying levels of success. Still, I had my own ideas which proved correct as time went on. For example, I wanted to buy gold at $280 per ounce. Most laughed and called me a kook, accusing me of paranoia over Y2K and suggesting I get some “real” friends. As I write this gold currently sits at $1824.60 per ounce, a 651% increase. Not bad. Eventually I realized that, like so many things in life, if I wanted to do something right I had to do it myself. But how?

In the autumn of 2009 my Dad gave me a few thousand dollars to play with, so I could start learning about trading stocks. A long-time friend of the family became my mentor and we embarked on my quest. At first, it felt like entering a strange new universe. I could perceive the exchange of information but it lacked context, like a bunch of alien robots gibbering away. Over a few months things began to cohere and I started figuring out the pieces of information I needed to make successful trades. Sighted people rely on a lot of graphs and charts to derive useful information. I had to find ways to compensate. I have a good mind for numbers so that came naturally, but I still needed ways to see trends.

When I heard a stock chart while standing in the AT&T store, I knew I had to have an iPhone, and that it would help give me the financial freedom I needed. The iPhone allows me to keep track of all the information I need. I can execute trades from anywhere I can get a signal. As with other areas of life, this constant connection increases confidence and security. When it came time to declare my intentions to take more control of my money, I wrote that having this on my iPhone means I literally have the situation in my pocket at all times.

Now I have a brokerage account with Fidelity. I particularly like their iPad app. I find it much easier to navigate than their web site. It allows for the kind of rapid scanning and execution one needs when computing with the elites and their electronic trading. A lot of people think that buying a stock involves an arcane process of talking to a man who uses a computer to relay orders to anonymous men on a cocaine-fueled floor. Actually it requires only slightly more skill than buying or selling something on Amazon.

While the act of buying or selling doesn’t take much effort, knowing what to buy or sell does. You need information, and lots of it. The web has lots of free information. You might like to familiarize yourself with some of these sites, such as Seeking Alpha, Investopedia, and of course our old friend Yahoo! Finance. An endless amount of experts exist, ready to give you advice to support any point of view you may have. Find sources which you can understand, and which have a proven track record. Many offer paid newsletters and other services which can help. I like Investech, the Trends Research Institute, Solari, the Trading Doctor, and a tip of the hat to Ron Paul.

A collection of apps also help. The core Stocks app provides good basics, and I hear that this will improve in iOS5. The Fidelity app provides news as well. I also like Bloomberg and Gold Live for tracking different things. You can even find apps to recommend trades, such as Stock Genie.

On the Mac side I’ve used two programs. I really like MPortfolio. It has a very accessible layout, but it has had some problems with Yahoo! Finance. It bothers me that so many programs just use Yahoo! Finance as their data source. Give me real-time! I’ve recently begun using Portfolio mobile. The developer has become very open to accessibility, and we have worked together to make the next version quite usable and cool. It also has the ability to sync between my Macs, a feature I need. Unfortunately the iOS version still needs accessibility work, but we will tackle that after we get the Mac version straight. I also love an awesome program called Soulver. It lets you do calculations using variables, and stock symbols can themselves become variables. So let’s say you have Apple (AAPL) configured and you want to know how many shares to buy to spend $5000, just do $5000/aapl.

So can you really make a million dollars from the information in this article? I’d like to think so, but who can tell? Past performance does not guarantee future results. Imposition of order = escalation of chaos. God is a crazy woman!

In the Star Trek the Next Generation episode In Theory, the Enterprise needs to maneuver through a dangerous section of space . They decide to send a shuttle ahead of the ship and relay the guidance information. Picard says he will pilot the shuttle and Riker objects, reasoning that the Captain’s life has too much value to risk on this mission. Picard says: “I believe our best chance of escaping this situation is for me to pilot the shuttle. I’ve got to do this. It’s my ship Will.” Even though Riker may have an advantage, Picard has the most interest. I feel the same way. Now I control my ship with an iPad, a device straight out of Star Trek. Make it so!

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