Welcome to my homepage. I became blind at birth from retinopathy of prematurity. I developed an early interest in computers and radio. I use Linux, MacOS, and iOS. I have an extra class amateur radio license. I practice Qigong daily. I consider myself a Taoist. I don't eat meat, and have a genetic sensitivity to gluten. For the rest, you'll have to read my articles.

More mysteries of the EeePC 1000HE

July 04, 2009

Like a woman, a netbook has many layers and mysteries. I have solved two more I felt worthy of documenting as I freely write from my armchair in the living room.

Firstly, the switch on the bottom simply acts as a lock for the battery. When I first got it, I feared that it might do something catastrophic if switched, maybe switching the source of power, causing it to blow up like the train set we got as a kid. My dad never reads directions, and plugged the transformer’s wires into the “DC” terminals. Even as a child I knew what would happen, which it soon did. Not pretty! Not so with this beautiful creation, it simply acts as a secondary emergency lock.

Secondly, I wondered why I couldn’t get into the boot menu. I tried and tried to hold down escape, pressing it repeatedly, holding it down, and pretty much every variation thereof. Tonight, I learned that it requires entering the BIOS by hitting F2, then going over to the “Boot” options, and turning on “Quick Boot.” Then save the configuration, and then you can hit the escape key when booting to bring up the boot menu to boot from a thumbdrive, or so say the legends. This requires sighted help, of course, so I will let you know.

This just reinforces why I would love to sell these things to the blind, working out of the box with free software and an interface to match. We mustn’t let evil prevail!

In the meantime, I installed Cygwin while sitting on my front porch. If you want to dabble in Linux while still using Windows, I would recommend this, albeit the setup interface which one uses to add and remove packages needs some accessibility work.

Netbooks: the end of Notetaker Fascism

July 02, 2009

the blind have had notetakers for years. i remember first purchasing a braille ‘n speak, a wonderful beloved device about the size of a vhs tape. it used a braille keyboard and had acceptable (imho) speech. more importantly, it just worked. you turned it on, and could immediately start writing. the thing worked – no crashes, no needing to reload the software in the middle of an important edit, etc.

as its featureset improved, though without feature-creep syndrome, and as the internet and personal computers and th eneed to network with them became more popular, it outgrew its z-180 processor. blazie engineering tried to release a new unit, but it didn’t take, and at the same time the most awful thing happened: they merged with a few other companies to form freedom scientific – the microsoft of the blind world.

words cannot express the contempt i feel for this company. they destroyed a once great company and their outstanding reputation, replacing their reliable products with crappy crap that ran a crappy operating system (windows ce) with a crappy screen reader (pocket jaws) and crappy microsoft software. this began a new and i hope the final trend in notetakers.

companies began to think that they could just bundle some standard software on a crappy piece of proprietary hardware. sadly, this even applied to the linux notetakers. the trend continued even recently.

i remember purchasing an elba braillex, a linux-based notetaker. they designed a wonderful, though expensive, piece of hardware. they tried to put their own menuing system on it, but it still ran text-based software. normally i would not have a problem with this, i use most of the very same software on my desktop, and this led me to believe that i would enjoy this notetaker. unfortunately, their screen reading just did not cut the mustard. the insane price of the unit coupled with complete apathy on the part of the developers relegated that product to a prominent spot under a shelf. “what, what do you want?” one employee shouted at me during a phone call. “i want the sourcecode. i want support.” they promised they would release the code, but never did. i lost interest. when i received it, as i brought it inside, the simpsons played in the background. “what a waste of talent!” said principal skinner as i hauled the box through the door. that says it all.

meanwhile, back in the freedom scientific world, the world most knew, and the option indiscriminately pushed by most companies in the field, the madness continued. they continued pushing the pac mate, the previously described chincy piece of hardware running equally chincy software. people pay extortionate prices for this. i would love to smash one on video sometime, and if anyone would like to donate one for this purpose then contact me. to my knowledge this continues, despite ever falling sales due to an ever worsening economy.

i sincerely hope that the netbook will put an end to these profitiering gluttons, these parasites upon the blind community, preying upon the suffering of the disabled. like microsoft, they consider themselves the best because they have the biggest market force and legal team. this does not make it so! a blind person needs no longer to spend $2500 plus to get the same or better features of a netbook. of course, many will still feel they have to purchase their awful screen reader, jaws for windows. at least some compeditors exist, including gw micro’s window eyes, system access, and the free and open-source ndva, which i have previously referenced, and wish nothing but success. i also have good feelings towards gw micro, since they started back in the day, on the apple ii/e, and do their work for the right reasons. i think they have a notetaker, but i haven’t heard much about it. humanware, another oldschool company, sells a notetaker for $4500, very expensive as well. they made the keynote, the very first laptop adapted for the blind, a toshiba t1000 with msdos 2.1.1 in the rom! i had good experiences with them back in 1988, but don’t know how they have fared. a friend described their notetaker, the braillnote, as an amish brailler, due to its clunky sound. hah!

i primarily direct my rage and this rant at freedom scientific. may they soon fall from their false glory. may the netbook deliver the final death blow to a bloated parasite, long past its usefulness.

I must also say that in a very important way, GNU/Linux has become more accessible, not just in terms of usability, but in economic terms as well, something of increasing importance. I know those evil scum at Freedom Scientific want to find a way to profit from this Netbook mania, and will probably try selling one bundled with JAWS for a hefty price tag. I will dedicate myself to working to defeat them using free software. Won’t you join me? Give me Linux or give me death! I smell roses as I write this outside on my new Netbook. I feel calmer now.

Some basic tips for the EeePC 1000HE

July 02, 2009

I finally got a text version of the manual for the 1000HE. It doesn’t look pretty, but it works! I wanted to share a few tips to help get acquainted.

If you have ever used a laptop, the keyboard shares a lot of characteristics. The bottom row goes like this: left control, left windows, fn, left alt, spacebar, right alt, application menu, and right control. The four arrows reside to the right, with the left arrow, down arrow, right arrow, and the up arrow above the down arrow. The right Windows key sits above the right arrow. I hope this makes sense. On the top of the keyboard, you have the escape key, followed by the twelve function keys, then pause, snapshot, insert, and delete.

Now for our featured presentation: the extended keys. To get these, you hit the fn key, which again resides to the right of the left control key. Fn-up arrow acts like pageup, fn-down arrow acts like pagedown, fn-left arrow acts like home, and fn-right arrow acts like end. This may seem a little weird, especially when using combinations like control-end, which you’d do by hitting control-fn-right, but it works. Now, for the function keys, again remember you hold down fn and one of these.

  • F1 places the EeePC into suspend mode.
    • F2 toggles the wireless networking and bluetooth. It defaults to wireless on and bluetooth off, and cycles through the four states.
      • F3 turns off the touchpad!
        • F4 adjusts the screen resolution.
          • F5 decreases the display brightness.
            • F6 increases the display brightness.
              • F7 turns off the display backlight. This saves power.
                • F8 toggles between the internal monitor and an external one. It has four states: lcd only, crt only, LCD CRT clone, and LCD CRT extend.
                  • F9 runs the task manager.
                    • F10 mutes the speakers. Watch out for this one if you use speech!
                      • F11 turns down the volume.
                        • F12 turns up the volume.
                          • Space</a> cycles through power-saving settings.
                            • Insert acts as numlock, making part of the keyboard act like a numpad.
                              • Delete acts like scroll lock. I don’t think anyone knows what scroll lock does. Did it ever do anything? Sorry, I had to add that. </ul> I hope this comes in handy for someone. Now for some power saving tips. The blind don’t need to worry about the monitor, so turn down the brightness by hitting fn-f5 repeatedly. Press fn-f7 to turn off the backlight, which you don’t need and which will save batteries. You will have to turn off the backlight whenever you power on, but your brightness setting will remain.

                                If you use Windows,yu can do some of these things with some included programs. Click on the EeePC Tray utility in your system tray. Disable the web camera and bluebooth if you don’t need them. Next, right-click on the EeePC Super Hybrid Engine icon, which also speaks. If you use a screen reader, use the application key to do this. From here, you can select a different power level, for example lower power. You can als go to “My Computer Control Panel Power” Select the “Max Battery” tab. You might also like to turn off the stand by function by tabbing over to it and hitting down arrow until “Never”. This presents problems especially when using speech, so you may as well disable it. Speaking of disabling things, disabling the touchpad will save you lots of annoyances if you can’t see and don’t use one anyway.

                                I hope these tips will help people, especially the blind, get their netbook started up properly. Some of these tips use Windows, and I will find and post their Linux equivalents when I discover them. I can’t wait to get this thing running Linux, but feel sort of glad that I investigated the Windows side, if only for a little while. Bon appetit!

My first post from my Netbook

July 01, 2009

During my Summer Solstice Lord of the Rings party and ritual, I dubbed this the Summer of the Netbook. Shortly thereafter, I ordered one, an Asus EeePC 1000HE. It ranks as the number one best seller on AMazon, and it has a long battery life. Users have also had good success installing Linux on it, which I plan to do. This seemed good enough for me.

Two days ago, I received it. I felt impressed by the unit. It has a keyboard with 92% the size of a normal one. Typing feels very natural, not cramped at all, something one would expect on a laptop. I still have to figure out a few of the buttons and a switch or two, and I will document my findings to benefit the blind. I just need to figure out how to disable the touch pad, something sighted users will not have to worry about, but something which will annoy blind users.

Unfortunately, it runs Windows right now. I will change this as soon as possible. It has a recovery feature, hitting f9 thrice reinstalls the stock image, which I had to do once already after getting it locked into a loop after trying to alter the boot settings without sighted assistance. Bad idea! Installing Linux will require this.

Currently, it runs Windows XP (not Vista!). For a screen reader, I use NVDA, an open-source screen reader. It works very well, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and an eye. I used Windows Narator and System Access to Go to get NDVA installed, and now have a fully accessible Windows system without shelling out any more money, which I feel at least somewhat proud of. I figured if I had to run Windows for a few days I’d at least make it more tolerable, so installed Firefox 3.5.

And as I relight my pipe and enjoy the outdoor ambience, I reflect on the implications of this wonderful technology. I never used wireless networking before, largely out of paranoia, but grudgingly activated it and now I can effortlessly use my netbook while sitting on my back deck, smoking tobacco and drinking a fresh cup of Cacao. The air feels slightly humid and warm, with a pleasant breeze. This has become the Summer of the Netbook indeed. NVDA provides wonderful access with Firefox, at least I can write this entry for now. I just touched the touchpad with my thumb, damn!

Now that I have gotten my feet on the ground so to speak, I must consider my options to install a more mature operating system. I have a few options, including Ubuntu Netbook Remix, and some other related projects, including Easy Peasy, and Eeebuntu. Vinux also deserves a mention. I will probably need some sighted help to get it booted properly, then hopefully I can get Orca running and install from there. We shall see.

In conclusion, I love the hardware, and have made the software tolerable for now. The 1000HE has a great battery life, and a 160GB hard drive, partitioned into 2 80GB ntfs partitions by default. I look forward to upgrading the operating system.

I wonder how its mobility will effect things. For example, how will writing outside change blogging? Perhaps the altered and relaxed atmosphere will inspire some interesting entries. Only time will tell. I certainly feel freer. Now I can get some fun in the sun and still do computer things. Very cool! Everyone should get a netbook! Eventually, I’d love to market netbooks for the blind running Linux, but I will save that for a different post and site. I welcome any suggestions, tips, links, experiences, and the like.

Remembering my friend Ben King

June 28, 2009

Every year at this time I remember my friend Ben King. We met via my bulletinboard, since I had written a popular game called Barneysplat!. I introduced him to Discordianism, and to Esperanto. We went to an Esperanto course in 1995 and 1996. In 1996, he bought surprise tickets to a Weird Al concert. While driving back from the concert, we got into a car accident, and he died.

I remember us making comics for La Bulteno, the newsletter of the course. Our favorite one showed an older woman walking down the street in San Fransisco, where the course resided. “Chu vi havas kanabon?” asks a yyoung guy. “Jes, du gefiloj.” she responds. “Mi amas San Fransiskon, la popoloj estas tre amikaj!” she remarks. Hilarious! I have so many memories, and share more every year. Check out the archive of this year’s memorial.

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