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.

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!

Summer Shines in the Winter

January 23, 2010

I have done it! I have gotten Linux installed on my Netbook. Specifically, I used Arch Linux for the Blind. Coming from Slackware, it made a good choice, since it already has Espeak installed, and I can get Gnome working out of the box as well. I believe I may even switch my desktop over, since Slackware 13.0 couldn’t even compile the stock kernels which ship with it. They require a newer version of gcc, which I installed, but that of course has broken some other things. I feel very impressed with Arch Linux so far.

I love having a portable computing device. The blind have had portable note-takers for years. I first got my Braille ‘n Speak in 1988 or so. I used and loved that thing for over ten years, then the company merged with others and became the Microsoft of the blind community. After that happened, I no longer had a constant computer at my side tow rite things down. I tried to fill the void with crap, but nothing satisfied me.

The Netbook has arrived in full force of course, and Linux accessibility provides incredible solutions. I can even ssh (log in) to my desktop upstairs while sitting in my living room recliner, and control it pretty much as if at the console. Can you do that with Windows? One crappy note-taker costs the same as thirty-one netbooks! They provide the lock, and GNU/Linux the key. Making a note-taking productivity suite under Linux has the advantage that I can port it to whatever machine I wish no matter what cool thing in the future comes out. As long as it runs an accessible version of Linux I can rock and roll!

I can’t reiterate how great this feels. I feel rejuvenated, like part of me has come back, now that I have this new medium of expression. I feel comfortable and free. This will go very well with blogging. I have Twitter running under Emacs. I also plan to make extensive use of Orgmode. “Your life in plain text” sounds just about right!

I find that suspend works far better under Linux. I disabled it under Windows, since it locked it up and didn’t seem as stable. Linux works wonderfully, I just keep the suspend mode active when I close the lid while on DC. It uses around one percent of battery charge per hour while in suspend. Then, I just open the lid and it pops right back up.

I now have my EeePC 1000HE in a very nice configuration. I kept the original 80GB Windows partition, and installed Arch Linux on the second partition. I now have a nice dual-boot configuration, though will do 99% of my work under Linux. I even have Firefox working under Gnome with Orca. Having Linux on a Netbook rules, and I would recommend it to anyone who has the time and desire.

It just occurred to me that I didn’t blog about what happened. The Thursday before last, a freak power surge took out the drive in my desktop. I’ve had to rebuild since then, and wanted to get my Netbook functioning, since I sort of needed it. Now things will work out, I will have a rocking new setup, and hopefully I can get the data off the old drive.

How to Find Peace within Twittering-mode

December 31, 2009

I love Emacs. I love using Twittering-mode to read Twitter from within Emacs. Only one thing bothered me about twittering-mode, and quickly browsing through its source-code showed me the fix. I also modified a tip on their page to give a text notification of new tweets. Just place these lines in your .emacs and enjoy. Modify as appropriate. Send me a tweet if you found this useful.

<br /> (add-to-list 'load-path "/path/to/twittering-mode") ; if non-standard<br /> (require 'twittering-mode)<br /> (setq twittering-username "yourtwittername") ; replace<br /> (setq twittering-notify-successful-http-get nil)<br /> (add-hook 'twittering-new-tweets-hook (lambda ()<br /> (let ((n twittering-new-tweets-count))<br /> (format "%d New Tweet%s" n (if (> n 1) "s" "")))))<br />

Guess the Algorithm

November 30, 2009

A few days ago while aimlessly surfing the world wide web’s waves, I came across [Vintage Basic.

](http://www.vintage-basic.net) I don’t even remember what weird tangent I had gone on to find it, perhaps something related to reading about Lisp and old computers, I don’t even know. While there, I saw their collection of old BASIC games. I felt so grateful, since I remembered them from my days as a child on my beloved Apple II/E. The computer still works, but a girl who will remain nameless (especially since I now host her blog) lost all the discs. I still feel rather annoyed about that, but this helped a little.

In the course of downloading and running these great old programs, I found guess.bas, a simple number guessing game. I wouldn’t have gotten it, except that I remembered it.

] catalog

Does that conjure any memories for anyone? I recreated how it might look as best as possible. The game works very simply: you put in the maximum number, the computer picks a number between 1 and the maximum, and you enter your guesses. The computer tells you if you guessed too high or too low. Simple, right?

Two lines of code caught my eye, however.

<br /> 11 L1=INT(LOG(L)/LOG(2))+1<br /> 56 PRINT "YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO GET IT IN ONLY";L1<br />

After getting the maximum number in the variable L, it assigns INT(LOG(L)/LOG(2)) to the variable L1. In other words, it adds one to the integer (whole number) part of log base 2 of L. Why, I wondered, did it use this value for the number of guesses it should take you to guess a number?

For those who slept in math, the logarithm refers to the exponent that indicates the power to which a base number is raised to produce a given number. For example, the logarithm of 100 to the base number of 10 is 2. Since I slept a lot in English class, I ripped that definition off from my dictionary. I thought about the relation between logs, exponents, bases, multiplication, division, anything I could think of that might solve this fun little mystery.

I took a shower, and my mind wandered. I began thinking about how I would actually solve the problem myself. If I had to choose a number between 1 and 10, I would first guess5, the halfway point. That way, the answer would automatically eliminate half the numbers. I would then continue this process, each time eliminating half, narrowing down until i guessed the number. I think most people would solve the problem in the same way. It then hit me! The integer part of log base 2 + 1 would roughly compute this number. It makes total sense! Think about it! To illustrate, if L=10, then L1=4.

I find it interesting to reflect on this. You can tell a lot about a person and the time period by analyzing code. That fragment told me that whoever wrote that dinky little program probably had a background in math or computer science. Today’s kids pumped full of Java probably don’t even know what a logarithm even does! I took standard math in high school, then in college I took three awful semesters of discrete math followed by two semesters of calculus – pure Hell. Any system that bases itself completely around limits just doesn’t jive with my world view. To me, such a proposition denies the limitless nature of the universe and the soul, but I digress. I love all the wonderful opportunities modern home computing has brought to the masses, but sometimes I long for the days when you actually had to KNOW about computers and have some command of programming and math to use one. I confess it took me a little to figure out this mystery, but I think I did. Many greater than myself have come before, and

many will come after. I saw an entire legacy encapsulated in two lines of code. Don’t forget.

A review of Aria, the new Greek restaurant in Swarthmore

November 20, 2009

I had a chance to visit Aria, the new Greek restaurant that’s opened

up in town. You would think that a college town would have a few

quaint places to eat, but for the most part it really hasn’t. This

surprising lack made it feel good to find a place I can walk to and


I arrived with my brother and one of my sisters. We walked there easily. To me, it felt novel and nice to just walk into a building and sit down and eat. We got seated quickly, and waited for menus. In the background, a CD played of presumably Greek music. I don’t speak the language, so I don’t know. Suddenly, we noticed that the CD had started skipping badly. The skipping interspersed with the rapid tempo of the music made it sound like some new weird form of Greko-industrial. They must have noticed, because when I got back from going to the bathroom it had stopped.

The restaurant just started last week, so we had to excuse some things. They did not have menus, but would get them shortly. It didn’t matter, because the affable owner explained everything to us. I told him I eat a vegetarian diet, and he enthusiastically suggested his falafel. “I make a very good falafel sandwich.” “Sold.” “You want lettuce, tomatoes, onions, everything?” “Yes, load it up!” “Very good.” We all found the owner a joy to deal with, and it made the initial hick-ups that undoubtedly go with opening a place like this bearable. Give him a few weeks.

While waiting for our food, we discussed the place. My sister said it looked like a plain room, with nothing particularly Mediterranean about it. Businesses haven’t done well here, especially restaurants and bakeries. The place started getting more crowded as the evening progressed, and we felt glad about that. They brought out some excellent pita bread and some mild but still good hummus. We enjoyed that and continued chatting.

We got our food in a reasonable enough time, and we all considered it very good. My falafel had all the toppings as promised. My order came with two halves, each individually wrapped in paper. I ate both. The order also came with some interesting flower-shaped corn chips. The rest of my family ordered giros, and enjoyed them equally. We had to go, but I did get some baklava to go, and that tasted wonderful as well. All and all, my order came to a little over six dollars – not expensive at all, another welcome change.

I give Aria four out of five stars. We had to wait a little at the end to get our bill, the service needs some improving, but it certainly will improve as the restaurant matures. I wish it well, and give it my blessing. They have a full restaurant, and do take-out as well, so if you live in the area give it a try. I may even join you.

Walking home in a surprisingly mild November rain, it felt good to have this new restaurant in town. We will have one or two other new ones opening which I will also review. I’ve had a few reoccurring dreams where I’ve found myself eating at a restaurant here in town, something that up to now most of us locals haven’t done, at least none of the ones I know. Dreams come true.

Update – 2010May31

I have heard that they have not improved their service, and others have had some less than spectacular experiences. They’d better pull it together. I hope they do.

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