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. To comment on what you read here, visit Disboardia, my bulletin board system.

Karate Demo

November 07, 2011

In late June, I completed an adaptive eight-week self defense course. I concluded the piece with the sentences: So even though I didn’t get a belt, I did get a cool t-shirt. The belt will follow. It has. Now I have a white belt, and to my amazement I will participate in a demonstration this Sunday at the West Chester YMCA.

From the web site: November 13, 3:00 – 5:00 pm Martial Arts Demo 605 Airport Road, West Chester Sponsored by the CerebralPalsy Association and Empty Hands Karate, an afternoon of fun and entertainment has been planned. A demonstration of martial arts will kick off the afternoon and light refreshments will follow. Come learn to use your disability to your advantage and find out more about the YMCA’s Adapted Sports Initiative. This event is FREE. RSVP for this event with Jess Honig at 610-524-5850 or jhonig@ccdisability.org.

When the self-defense course ended, a number of us wanted it to continue as a belt ranking course. That began around the autumnal equinox, and I’ve gone every sunday. Last week I formally received my white belt. It may not seem like much to some, since you get it for participating, but to me it means a lot.

The belt ranking course has a more rigorous feel, including a physical fitness portion. In class this often consists of lifting heavy exercise balls and doing push-ups. At home it now consists of lifting weights for an hour and doing push-ups. I can hardly believe that I’ve started working out for an hour every day, but since I try to spend comparable amount of time in meditation it feels like a good balance. The intense effort and change in lifestyle gives me the right to wear this belt.

After the workout, we get down to the martial arts portion. We have concentrated on three techniques which I will demonstrate. I will wait until the event to go over the juicy details, but suffice to say that all three defend against grabs, and one of them has a bunch of cool kicks. You will also love the ending, a real capper! These techniques will also demonstrate the use of a cane as a weapon, which feels very empowering since I always have one while in public.

Learning karate doesn’t just show you how to beat someone up. Learning karate teaches you a new kind of spacial and muscular awareness. I’ve taken an eight week course, plus this course has lasted for six or so weeks. In this time I have gained a finer sense of where people reside in relation to me in space. My muscles have started growing bigger and with it a better sense of their positions and functions. It continually amazes me how skills taught in class apply to normal life. Blind people will have learned the upper and lower protective positions, which translate over to blocks. A cane conveys all types of information. Women like guys who work out. I have already learned a lot in this class.

I feel honored to demonstrate these skills to the public. I’ve never done this before, but anticipate a smooth showing. Practice takes away pressure, as Sensei Ken reminded me. I even have a few jokes ready. If you live in the area I hope you can come and say hi. If not, I will have full coverage on my blog. This will include commentary, audio from my POV, and if someone can figure out how to hold my iPhone properly, video. See you on Sunday!

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!


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.


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.

Turn the Page

Search my Weird Life