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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.

Blind Skiing for the First Time

March 08, 2010

Last year, my family began doing something called Secret Santa, where everyone has to buy a random person a gift. This year, my brother got me an adaptive skiing lesson. I didn’t know if I would enjoy it, but went with a mixture of thankfulness for the gift, nervousness, and grudging acceptance. I feel glad I did. I loved it! Skiing rules!

My brother doesn’t exactly remember the sequence of events that led to us going, but as near as we can reconstruct things, he first called Jack Frost Big Boulder, and they had an adaptive program. It turned out they couldn’t book us, so he ended up talking ti Isabel, of the Pennsylvania Center for Adaptive Sports.. She told him of the skiing program at Camelback Mountain. It worked out for the best, because they had a great program, and we got in by chance on the last full weekend of the season.

I’ve had a lot going on, and didn’t know if I would enjoy skiing, but I pulled myself together and off we went – me, my brother, one of my sisters, and one of her friends. It took us around three hours to drive. By the time we got there, we felt hungry, so made the questionable decision to eat at Chilis. My brother described it as bad Mexican. I figured I could hopefully find something vegetarian, and ended up with a black bean burger, which I don’t want to speak ill of, but by the end of the meal I sort of felt that way. Still, at least I found something vegetarian. We paid rather more than we wanted, and didn’t really mind, until we stepped outside and saw our hotel right across the street!

A Safari-themed Howard Johnson’s in the Pocono’s seemed rather odd and out of place. It had a Safari-themed pool. Everyone else went in for a few minutes, but my stomach felt like a cement mixer and I wanted to get online. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get their network to work with my Linux setup, the DHCP IP Lease Attempt failed, and they only provided generic Windows instructions. They also used some sort of proxy, as the instructions said something about having to accept terms of service when you start browsing, which made me nervous, as it sounded a bit too much like Red China for my tastes. I took the time to relax and let my food digest. Later, we all hung out in the Serengeti themed bar, a fake canopy of leaves uneasily dipping under its own weight over our heads. We got to bed and the next day had breakfast in the restaurant, and didn’t feel as bad about eating at Chilis, as the quality seemed similar. We left for the mountain with weighted stomachs and no time to spare.

Before I continue, let me say for sighted readers that a blind person, if they have dealt with blind institutions and if they have developed discernment, do not necessarily equate volunteer instructors with altruism or infallibility. I could tell you some horrible stories I have heard or experienced, but I will save that for another day and purpose. I only wish to point out that when I dispense the compliments to follow, that I do it honestly and from the heart, having seen both sides of the coin.

We arrived at Camelback Resort, and made our way up a brutal hill. We went into the building to get our passes and rental tickets. We all preregistered, a good idea since it saves you time and gets you out skiing more quickly. I told the friendly assistant named Jason that the web site has an invalid SSL certificate which makes Firefox pop up a scary warning complete with a button which reads “Get Me Out of Here!” This could definitely cost them registrations. It freaked me out. To my pleasant surprise, he knew what I meant, and said he’d pass the word on to I.T.

After getting our tickets, we went over to the adaptive sports building. Everyone there acted very courteously, and I would consider them a joy to deal with. They promised that they would start with the basics, and only do what I felt comfortable doing, and they kept to that promise. At no time did I feel obligated or pushed, as I did when I had to go to a sports camp with Lyme disease and almost drowned in a pool. The fact that they work as volunteers, and that one only has to pay $42 for a lift ticket and lesson makes this an amazing opportunity to anyone with a disability. They help the blind, and people with restricted movement. I even saw a girl named Austin in a wheel chair going out for a nice skiing ride. You just can’t lose with these people!

As luck would have it, we picked a wonderful day with temperatures in the low 50s. They call it spring skiing for a reason. I brought a lot of warm clothes to prepare for feeling too cold. I didn’t realize I would have to prepare for feeling too warm,, but I did. I switched my down jacket with a lighter jacket which my brother let to me, and I Even removed my flannel shirt. I felt glad I did, but felt even more glad that I slipped my packet of Taza Chocolate into my pocket. I must have eaten a disc and a half during the whole trip. “Is that medication?” “No, it’s raw chocolate.” You had it right the first time!

I met my instructors, named Peter and Pat. Peter showed me my ski shoes, and how they work. I found it interesting how the boots have custom springs and fittings based on ones height, weight, and ability. They have an inner and an outer part, the inner part goes over your foot, and the outer part has clamps which function like shoelaces, and the outer part also connects onto the ski with a forceful click. The boots also have a safety lever so if the ski comes off, the lever digs into the snow. After I got on my boots, we headed outside, and my brother even got to come along, something he had wanted to do.

While talking about skiing, Peter said something noteworthy to the blind. He compared the feeling of skiing for the first time to the feeling a guide dog user has when using a dog for the first time. I’ve never had a guide dog and wouldn’t want one, but I’ve tried using them and know what he means. It feels like a sort of out of control running. You know the movement has a purpose, but can’t do much to control it. I’ve gone sighted guide with dog users, and they certainly clip along at a good pace, since they have oriented themselves, similarly to how a skier learns to regain their balance and orientation.

I first had to learn to walk in the boots. This requires shuffling toe-first somewhat roboticly. We walked to the top of the bunny hill, a small (in comparison to a mountain) hill for learning. We began by just putting on one ski, and having me move it back and forth to get its feel. I learned to feel my point of balance between heel and toe. After I became acclimated, we put on the other ski. Now I could learn to begin to move.

Peter and Pat showed me the basic skiing position – back straight, butt in, head slightly down, and knees flexed. At first, I did feel rather scared, as my skis slipped around. After coasting a little, they showed me how to stop, by pointing the skis inward in a wedge shape. Once we had the basics, Peter hooked a tether to my skis so he could help maneuver from behind, and Pat skied backwards in front of us, giving me audio queues. This system worked very well to get me started. I only fell once, and took it well. By the way, when you fall, you will not just get buried in snow, at least I didn’t. Getting up can seem a little awkward, but I did it.

After a few tries, I made it to the bottom of the hill without stopping. To get back up, you use a chair lift. A friend warned me to take care around them, and I saw why. A chair hangs by a cable, and a wheel turns the cable. The chair goes up and down the hill sans interruption, so you have to get on and get off very quickly. If you try too early, you fall and it can hit you. If you try too late, you can fall off and get hurt. Peter gave me a three count, and I sat on the chair as it rose up. I thought I would feel scared of the chair lift, but I came to love it and to consider it half the fun, almost like an amusement park ride outdoors. It has a bar which comes down to rest your skis and give your ankles some rest. At the top of the hill, the bar goes up and you unload and begin immediately moving, so the wedge comes in handy to slow down and stop. I fell the first time I tried it, but after a few times I did some good unloads.

At this point our lesson had ended, and as it had gotten to around noon, we all wanted lunch. Also, my brother received a text message from our sister which simply said “Done skiing” so we figured that we should check on her. My sister and her friend had gone off to do their own thing. Her friend took her to a black diamond trail, a very hard trail not for beginners. Her friend said “See you at the bottom” and left her to take off her skis and sadly walk down. We felt bad, and said she should join us. We made fun of her friend for the rest of the day, and things worked out.

We decided to go to one of the places they had for lunch. I enjoyed the eighties pop music playing throughout the resort. I considered it classic ski resort music. At one point, I even heard the song Once in a Lifetime, by the Talking Heads, while standing at the top of the hill waiting to go down. I’ve heard that song so many times in so many different circumstances, and it always seems just as fresh and relevant. Perfect! I also heard a bunch of old Genesis, and the Alan Parsons Project. I ended up with some cheese pizza, of which I could only eat half because any more would exceed my grease quota. We got fries, but all felt similarly apparently. I drank root beer the whole time. My instructors told me that they had a light afternoon, and to check back to see if we could get a second lesson. To our delight, we could, and did. It only cost another $20! Like I said, you just can’t lose with these people.

When we went back to the building, we found another delightful surprise in store for us. I heard people talking, and it turned out a reporter from The Pocono Record had come with a photographer. Of course I wanted to talk, I love telling reporters cool stories. We talked a little about my thoughts and feelings about the skiing program, and I enthusiastically told her how much I love skiing after trying it for the first time. The photographer took some pictures, and I hope they turned out well. They wrote an article about it. I love getting published!

The time had come for my second lesson. After skiing with a tether, I felt more confidant, and my instructors decided to try the next step. Instead of a rope tether, we would all hold onto a bamboo pole. Peter skied to my left, Pat to my right. We noticed that I would often move to the right, towards Pat, and that I didn’t have an awareness of the correct place to put my hands on the pole. Peter had some wire ties, and I had my Swiss Army knife, and soon we had a prototype. “I like a guy who carries a Swiss Army knife.” They also put a bungee cord on my skis, to give me a little more control, but to still help guide me. I needed to focus on keeping my right knee in especially when turning. Using the pole and bungee gave a new experience, as I had more freedom. I had to do more, but I also enjoyed it more, as my skis didn’t feel as restricted.

After making it down the hill a number of more times with increasing confidence and ability, the time had come for a real test. At the end of the hill, it would slope less, becoming almost flat. They had me ski unassisted. At first, I felt a loss of control and cursed, so they gave me back the pole, but a few seconds later I went for it and let go! I skied freely! Both instructors remained at my side in case of emergencies, but I made it down. I felt great!

After that we decided to take a little break at the lodge, since I still had time. My knees had started to hurt, and Peter said that I should have fun on my first day, and to only do what felt comfortable. We all met up at the lodge for $3 water and more root beer for me. We all talked, and I felt glad to take the break, so I could do the final runs feeling better.

For my final runs, we went back to using the bamboo pole. The second to last one went well. We skied down, and Pat and I took the lift up. For our final run, both instructors kept their mouths shut, letting me call the turns. I began to really enjoy it, sort of “seeing” or sensing the mountain’s contours through the skis. This went pretty well until something insane happened. A snowboarder for some reason could not figure out that he had to get out of the way of three people skiing in parallel all wearing bright orange vests saying “Blind Skier” and “Instructor”. We swerved. Pat whipped the pole out of Peter’s hands and I went with it, staying on my feet. We went around a half circle and came to a stop. We collected ourselves and finished my last run. I continued without queues, but they took over as we got to the bottom. What a way to finish.

I felt sad to have taken my last run, but exhilarated from the day as we went back to the adaptive sports building. We all talked and said our thanks and good byes. They said they love turning new people on to skiing, so I made their day, and that brings me joy. It will also bring me joy if this article turns some others onto skiing, especially the disabled. I will definitely go back next year. I felt sad that I discovered skiing on the last weekend of the season, but very glad that I discovered it at all. . Today completely changed my view of skiing and my life. The fact that it costs forty-two dollars should mean something to any Douglas Adams fan. You should really give skiing a try. I just hope I feel that way tomorrow. When I let my mind wander, I can still feel a sense of motion. If I get into the skiing stance, I can almost feel the long skis protruding.

My instructors both said that I did very well to ski for four hours on my first day, and said that I have high endurance. I credit that to meditating regularly. Pat mentioned a book called Inner Skiing. While reflecting (or perhaps self-reflecting), I began thinking about skiing metaphorically. It makes a good mirror for life. You stand before a big hill. You suddenly find yourself sliding down. You have to react, and go with the terrain, but ultimately remain passive, and do whatever you can to prevent yourself from falling. You finally reach the bottom, and collect yourself. You go over to the chair lift, go on a somewhat giddy and wild free-falling ride upward to start the whole cycle again. After it all, you end up with only your joy and your pain and a tattered lift ticket. This applies to the stock market as well. Skiing rules.

If anyone involved has any corrections or additions, please submit them in the comments below, or mail me privately. Thanks everyone for participating. Thanks Ari for the awesome Christmas gift. I had no idea how much I would love it. They have lots of fun programs, so it will give us an excuse to do cool stuff together and to get out of working. At the end, Pat said: “You’re a good brother.”


51.  Chen / The Arousing (Shock, Thunder)

          -- --
          -- --     above     Chen   The Arousing, Thunder
          -----
          -- --
          -- --     below     Chen   The Arousing, Thunder
          -----

     The Judgement

          Shock brings success.
          Shock comes-oh, oh!
          Laughing words-ha, ha!
          The shock terrifies for a hundred miles,
          And he does not let fall the sacrificial spoon and chalice.

     The Image

          Thunder repeated: the image of Shock.
          Thus in fear and trembling
          The superior man sets his life in order
          And examines himself.

     The Lines

     ()   Nine at the beginning means:
          Shock comes-oh, oh!
          Then follow laughing words-ha, ha!
          Good fortune.

          Nine in the fourth place means:
          Shock is mired.


     2.   K'un / The Receptive

          -- --
          -- --     above     K'un   The Receptive, Earth
          -- --
          -- --
          -- --     below     K'un   The Receptive, Earth
          -- --

     The Judgement

          The Receptive brings about sublime success,
          Furthering through the perseverance of a mare.
          If the superior man undertakes something and tries to lead,
          He goes astray;
          But if he follows, he finds guidance.
          It is favorable to find friends in the west and south,
          To forego friends in the east and north.
          Quiet perseverance brings good fortune.

     The Image

          The earth's condition is receptive devotion.
          Thus the superior man who has breadth of character
          Carries the outer world.

A review of Horizons, a Vegan Restaurant in Philadelphia

March 04, 2010

I just went to an incredible vegetarian restaurant in Philadelphia called Horizons. They only serve vegan food, so I felt right at home. I right this on the ride home, and I feel satiated.

We had to go out to dinner with Dad. I didn’t know what would happen, so I ate something beforehand. Considering we spent one Christmas Eve at Ted’s Montana Grill, this seemed like a wise precaution. Unknown to me, my brother picked this all vegan restaurant for me, and for Dad’s wife, who also eats a vegan diet. Needless to say, my stomach feels uncomfortably full.

We arrived, and had to go up a bunch of winding stairs. It reminded me of going up to an attic. My brother’s wife said that before this, the building housed a weird bar that nobody went into. I entered the floor, hearing the sound of a fountain, and got a good feeling. At this point, I still didn’t know that this place served all vegan food, but found out as soon as I sat down and got my bearings.

We read over the menus, and I felt overwhelmed in a good way. My Dad felt skeptical, and had some smart ass questions for our waitress, named Lisa by the way. True, a $20 mushroom dish might seem a bit strange to some, but you get some really good mushrooms! We decided to order some appetizers and share them, and settled on the Vietnamese tacos with tempeh and lemongrass, and Jamaican Seatan. Dad and some others got the Tame and Wild Mushroom plate, and I got the Grilled Seatan.

The Grilled Seatan tasted wonderful. Seatan makes a great meat substitute, and they made it moist and grilled, like one would barbecue meat. The Yukon Mash complimented it wonderfully, made with Yukon Gold potatoes. Don’t even mention the wonderful horseradish sauce! I only needed a little taste to know I loved it.

Needless to say, I got quite full quite quickly, but still wanted to try a dessert. I settled on the bitter-sweet chocolate tart. It came with smokey peanut butter vegan ice cream, and this weird orange stuff which balanced it out. I loved it. Unfortunately, they didn’t have anything with cacao, but this still satisfied me.

All and all, I loved my meal. It will take several times going there to even sample everything. Each of the entrees come from a different part of the world, so pick your favorite part of the world for eating and enjoy!

Getting a Nightguard for my TMJ

March 02, 2010

A few weeks ago, I went to the dentist for my regular cleaning. While there, I told them about my trouble with TMJ. One of the dentists, I think named Christi, said she had the same problem, and felt glad to know someone else did. She told me that when I came back for my filling, they would take an impression for a Nightguard. That happened today.

They started out by doing my filling. I have had this done before, so it went well. The old filling had become ground down, probably from my TMJ. The local anesthetic made my gums feel a little cold, as if exposed to ice. It always feels weird to have someone else working on your body, I felt like a computer on which I would work – all laid out, my hand grappling with a PCI card or a SATA connector. For a computer person, hardware pisses me off.

That brings us to the novel part of the visit, taking the impression for the Nightguard. I have to put it in my mouth at night when I sleep to help align my jaw. Dr. Miller couldn’t promise that it would cure me, but that hopefully it would help. She asked if I wanted to postpone it and go to a TMJ specialist, but added that many patients just come back for a Nightguard anyway. My gut said go for it so I did.

The other dentist named Yetta (she wanted me to get the spelling right when I said I would blog this) started mixing up this nasty-sounding crap in a bowl. She described it as kind of like making cake mix, and compared it to play-dough. I asked if this would taste really nasty. She said not really, it has a slight mint flavor. They have flavors to go with it, but they just make it taste worse. Good to know.

She put the stuff in a tray, told me to open my mouth, and smushed it down over my bottom teeth. It molded and felt weird. It hardened in about a minute. We repeated the procedure on my top teeth and roof of my mouth. I rolled some of the “dough” into a little egg, and watched it harden. I also got some of the crap in my beard, which sort of sucked. I got cleaned up well enough though, and rinsed my mouth out. I will come back in two weeks, and they will have it ready for me. I’ll let you know. I hope this helps others with TMJ. I still feel sort of out of it, but good. By the way, if you live in the area then you should go where I go. I’ve gone there since childhood.

Decrescenzo, Dante:

145 N Narberth Ave.

Narberth, Pennsylvania

610.667.6630.

Tell them I sent you!

Network Administrator

February 24, 2010

I haven’t blogged in a while. I have had a lot going on, including having my living room repainted. I wanted to share a funny thing that happened tonight.

Last weekend, I helped my brother fix his wireless network. Today, his wife called. “I can’t get my laptop to connect to the network. The message it gave me said to contact the network administrator for help.” I knew the message she meant. We laughed. “It said to contact the person who set up our network, and since you helped set it up, I’m calling you.” I didn’t mind of course, but still silently cursed Microsoft for yet another completely unhelpful message.

It struck me as really funny. Why the hell does Windows XP Home still have that stupid message? In a business environment it makes sense, but Windows has such wide use in the home sector, it just seems ridiculous. Most home users will not have a network administrator to contact. Give me Linux any day.

We did get the network working. We had to disable McCafee and reboot. Of course, I then had to tell her that she didn’t have to worry about the scary looking message informing her that she had decided to customize which programs run upon startup! Oh the horror! We can’t have the slaves doing that! Give me Linux any day.

Speaking of Linux, I have Talking Arch Linux running on my netbook and on my desktop as well now. It works nicely for the most part, though I have experienced some problems with the latest Firefox and Orca. It’ll work out.

A Token Gesture to the Blind

January 24, 2010

Last week, a friend called to tell me that he had just seen a commercial for the commemorative Louis Braille silver dollar coins. Immediately, I saw it as a literal token gesture. If they really want to help the blind, why don’t they mark currency so we can identify it by touch?

The coins crack me up. They have the standard symbols and sayings as American currency. On one side, it has a portrait of Louis Braille, the inventor of braille, the system that a decreasing amount of blind people use to read by touch. On the other side, the coin has a picture of a boy with a bookcase of braille books behind him.

Now for the life irony: The coin has the letters “brl”, the contraction for braille, embossed in braille on it. Grade II braille has 189 contractions to shorten the amount of characters in this already bulky medium. “brl” stands for braille, any American braille reader would know this. Embossing “brl” on the coin just makes me laugh, sort of like the story I’ve told here before where the hotel had “NO SMOKING!” signs outside of each room. Why not write “Print” in print on it? They should emboss “$1” that seems much more practical.

If they really want to help the blind deal with money, they should emboss or mark the currency, as they do in Europe. Some currency has actual braille on it, and other currency has special markings. I actually like this solution more than standard braille, because the markings don’t ware down as easily, and it requires less special equipment and overhead, which means less excuses from sighted bureaucrats. If Europe can do it, certainly America can! Stop giving us these token gestures! Do something real!

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