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.

Starting a Chess Course

April 10, 2009

I’ve wanted to become good at chess for a while. It seems like something I should do well in – I program, I meditate, I love music, all the traits one hears about in good chess players, but I always get my ass kicked by the computer. I heard that the Hadley School for the Blind offered a chess course. Initially, I wrote it off – I wouldn’t want to go to some lame blind institution just to take a chess course. While talking to another blind friend, she said: “It’s online!” It looked great – free, you get to go at your own pace, so I figured I’d give it a try.

I swore I would never go back to college. When I went to Widener, I called it the bane of my existence, and meant it. I’ll take this course, and see how it goes, and go from there – starting with something fun. They seem pretty cool, and today I got my materials for the beginner’s chess course, the first of two parts. The teacher sounded nice too.

Along with the book, which I will get to in a moment, it came with a booklet of raised diagrams, and a free chess board! Wow! I thought I’d firstly evaluate the board, since others have wondered. It has nice big squares, and a nice finish. It has a great vibe! Wood gives off a vibe. The pieces, however, either don’t fit in well, or fit in too well, and come flying out when taking out the peace. A pawwn, the Unknown Soldier, met this fate once already. It also doesn’t have a storage space for captured peaces, something other boards have.

Also unlike other boards, it has braille along all four sides. This actually makes sense, making it easier to identify coordinates whether playing white or black, where the coordinates become reversed. Weirdly, it uses dropped letters for numbers. In braille, the number sign denotes that the next letter represents a number. Nemeth, or math braille, uses dropped letters as numbers. It goes against the standard and messes with my head. The spacing feels off between the characters. An upside down number 1 looks like a dot-5-P, which means “Part” in grade ii braille. Oh well. I still appreciate the free board, and will try to use it and enjoy its nice feeling.

Now, on to the course materials, a book called Chess for Beginners. Unfortunately, they only offered the materials in braille or on cassette. I would have preferred an electronic text, but oh well. I chose cassette, since I can listen much faster than I can read braille. This, however, meant finding a working cassette player.

It seems so funny, everyone used to do everything on tape. As a kid, my mom got me the hundred greatest books on tape. “I thought you’d appreciate them when you got older, but now….. do you even use cassettes?” she asked. All my tape recorders have long since stopped working, or at least don’t work like they used to.

I found one, a Handy Cassette, a great recorder for the blind. I plugged it in, and it released the Magic Smoke. For those who don’t know, the joke goes that electronics run on magic smoke – when the smoke comes out, the device stops working. It freaked me out hard. My girlfriend had to help me out. I still feel hypersensitive. Don’t laugh! I’ve always feared exploding batteries. People have gotten killed from them! A friend will lend me a tape recorder, and I will get a free one from the Library for the Blind, so it should work out. I’ll let you know.

The Genuardi’s Experience

April 05, 2009

I detailed the problems shopping while blind in the previous post, and won’t rehash that. After our harrowing experience with Acme, we decided to give Genuardi’s a try, per my Mom’s suggestion. We had a much better time. They have always prided themselves on customer service, and they lived up to that with us.

Firstly, they do not have an accessible web site, but their regular site does have a “Disable Images” link. Do this immediately for best results if you use a screen reader. It doesn’t solve all the accessibility issues, but it does go a ways to making things easier. Also, don’t even try going there with a text browser, such as lynx. You will have to use Internet Explorer, or Firefox. To add something to the cart, you will have to find the button with an image filename which contains “Add to cart” in its string. It takes a little getting used to, but it does work. The time selection when checking out can present a problem as well, as it presents a table with radio buttons. If you want delivery on a weekend, you will have better luck selecting a four hour window, again you will have to find the weird image button for that. Once you do that, just select the first radio button, and you will get the first available timeslot. You can go from there. They offer surprisingly good leeway in letting you change your

order, so don’t worry if you get the wrong time or something. They won’t jerk you around like Acme.

After placing it, we awaited the delivery from eleven to three on Saturday. Around twelve thirty, the lady showed up. She sounded enthusiastic and eager to please, as contrasted with the Acme guy, who seemed to have problems speaking. With the Acme guy, we could only make out four phrases: “Yes,” “All right,” “Kitchen,” and “Table.” The Genuardi’s lady on the other hand asked where we would like the groceries, and brought them into the kitchen. She then asked if we would like help putting them away, and without a word, began unloading them, reading them, and giving them to me to put away myself. We rarely experience this level of customer service. You would think people would like to help the blind, but it doesn’t happen as often as you might think or as we would like. It did here, however, and it left us feeling very satisfied.

It seemed like night and day to compare and contrast Genuardi’s with Acme. We will definitely go back there to shop online, especially because they have some of our favorite desserts. Forget Acme. We still love our local co-op of course, but when we can’t get them, or if we need things they don’t have, we will go with Genuardi’s every time. Nice job!

The Acme Experience

April 03, 2009

Shopping while blind presents several obstacles. The idiot dorks at independent living centers tell blind people that they must behave like sighted people at all times, applying standards which in some cases do not apply. In the case of shopping, this means firstly finding a way there, then standing around for half an hour at the service counter until someone notices a blind person with no purchases obviously in need of assistance. It then means telling the person what you want while they go and get it. Some of the more extremist counselors will even tell you to memorize the store’s layout yourself, since they consider asking anyone for help verboten. As anyone who has shopped at a store for more than a week will attest, the layout can change radically over night. After getting groceries, it then means finding the way back to your place, and let me assure you that carrying a bunch of bags while wielding a white cane presents many issues. Try it some time.

Usually, we order food from the local co-op. We email in a list, then they call and we settle any differences or ambiguities. It works well, as they just reside across the street. They do have somewhat high prices, and only deliver on Tuesdays and Thursdays, though the nice lady said we could call in on weekdays if we just needed something little.

Recently, someone suggested that we use Acme, a store with an accessible web site. Firstly, it took some rankling to get the URL in the first place, as going to the main domain just yields “index.html” and nothing else. This should have tipped us off to what would eventually happen.

After getting the address for the accessible version, which we could have never found on our own, we began shopping. Immediately, we noticed problems. Searching would sometimes tell us that “The URL could not be found.” This even happened in some cases when trying to go to aisles, or “Ailes” as the site displays. This seemed sporadic. Once in a while, we would even get a site error. This worried us, but we kept on shopping, adding things to our cart.

Suddenly, it logged us out, and we had to go back in. My girlfriend had a user ID of longer than ten characters, and she didn’t realize that it only lets you have a ten character maximum until going back to the new user form. After logging back in, she realized that it saved some items to a list and not to the cart. She moved them over, and it looked like we had an order. By this time, we had such a time that she forgot to add ice cream, the one thing she really wanted, but whatever. Upon checking out, it gave us a glorious Microsoft Visual BASIC Run-time Error. It always makes me nervous when it pauses or gives errors when entering credit card information, and we wondered if the order even went through, or if we would receive a run-time error as part of our order! The order arrived today on schedule. We noticed that it didn’t seem complete as we put away the food. We went upstairs to check, and she received a receipt via email. We noticed three problems.

  • Some items in the cart did not even show

    up in the initial confirmation email. </p>

    • Other items did show up in the confirmation, but not in the receipt.
      • Still other items did show up in the receipt, but with a total of $0.00. </ul> Given that we hadn’t eaten, we started getting pissed off, and my girlfriend decided to call them. “Hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorn.” so I figured we’d get some answers. We didn’t. Basically, they just gave her the runaround, and told her that the problems probably came from using the accessible version of the site. We doubt this somewhat, because at one point she did try using the regular inaccessible version, and still saw the items in her cart. On the checkout page, it says to indicate if they should call if they need to make any substitutions. On the phone, they told my girlfriend that “They probably wouldn’t have called, because they work late at night.” “Good,” she responded, “We’re awake.” They told us to put it, then did not even honor it!

        Once again, the blind get screwed, and now we have no food for the weekend. I don’t think we will shop there again, unless at the utmost of need. Perhaps for average crap it will work, but we have special needs, like actually wanting to eat healthily. Oh well, live and learn. I hope this blog entry will benefit the blind community as a whole. By the way, this once again also demonstrates why nobody over the age of twelve uses BASIC for any serious work.

        Next, we will try Genuardi’s! We still love the good old co-op!

My Awesome New Cherry Keyboard

March 06, 2009

I finally got a serious keyboard. I spent $60 on amazon for the Cherry classic 104-key keyboard with a PS/2 port. I got so tired of typing on crap, and just using whatever crap I had lying around, and knew that I deserved better. Now, I know what it feels like to really type, and I remember the good old days of IBM keyboards. Initially, I even considered purchasing a good old clicky keyboard, but I decided to just find a good one on Amazon and throw it on with the order containing my phone. I didn’t know if I would regret my decision or not, but now I feel good about my purchase.

I chose Cherry keyboards because they have mechanical switches. Most keyboards nowadays just have crappy membrane or cheap switches. Typing on them feels like typing on a wet blanket sitting on moist sand on a dismal beach. Typing on this new Cherry keyboard feels like typing on something from the near future or perhaps the past. Either way, it combines past and future values to create a wonderful keyboard that once again makes typing a joy. If you have never typed on a real keyboard then you owe it to yourself, especially if you actually USE your computer.

The action on this keyboard feels exquisite. The keys have a springiness to them lacking in lower grade garbage. Your fingers glide on and off the keys sans error. You can also slam it down though for a decisive stroke, it will feel how you want it to feel. It maximizes my typing speed. I enjoy typing on it so much.

I did have to get used to the numpad layout. It has an extended numeric keypad, rather than the group of six keys above the arrows on most keyboards. This puts everything much closer together, and actually makes things more accessible. The numpad enter has a double length, but the numpad + (plus) only has a single length, allowing more keys on the right. The numpad – (dash) takes up the second key length above the + (plus). Above the 7 8 and 9 Going to the left sit the numpad * (star), / (slash), and numlock. The three keys above the – (dash) replace the print-screen, scroll-lock, and pause keys that usually sit in a line above the keypad. This leaves the six keys above the numlock, and here sit the insert/delete, home/end, and pageup/pagedown. As said, it takes a little getting used to, but the ingenious design works quite efficiently.

I give this keyboard ten out of five stars. Get a good keyboard! You will not regret it! Think about it, you spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on the components of your computer. Doesn’t it deserve a good keyboard, the thing you actually use as an input device? I say yes!

Panasonic TG9332T

March 06, 2009

I have gone through several cordless phones since they became popular. At first, I didn’t use them, then got one, then realized their convenience, and now I worry about the radiation. Anyways, despite the health risk, I still use one. More recently, I began buying telephones with talking Caller ID. This says the name of the person calling, which comes in handy for the blind. I’ve bought all Panasonic for this, I think the only company making such phones. They all have had similar designs. My first one worked nicely, my second one sucked royally, and now I have gotten a third.

All these phones work basically the same. Don’t even try accessing the menus, just dial the number and enjoy. Rather, hit start, then dial the number, or dial the number then hit start. At the end of the conversation, hit end. The first such phone I had would announce the names in the phonebook, but the next two did not. I wish this one would. The one I had previously to this acted terribly. It operated in the 5.8 GHZ range, and failed often. I also felt irritated by the high frequency on an energetic level. With some apprehension, I purchased another phone in their line suggested by my girlfriend. It looked just like my crappy one, but I soon discovered that I got a new model.

This model operates in the 1.92-1.93 GHZ range, and I do not feel the energetic irritation, at least not as pronounced. I also feel very glad to say that it works reliably. One phone has lasted me the whole day – no more switching handsets only to find the other one does not work even though I put it on the base hours before. That other one sucked, and I can’t wait to break it on air. I give this new phone four out of five stars, only because it doesn’t have total accessibility, but if you want a good talking Caller ID phone then try this out. The final number in the model number denotes the number of handsets and additional base units shipped with the base. You can expand the system up to six handsets. Oh yeah, and don’t bother with the online manual, it won’t tell you anything useful, except not to eat the batteries. If you need to, get a sighted friend to help you figure it out. The blind can hack their way through most normal functions. The handset does have soft keys which change function, but most of

the time you won’t have to worry about them.

It also features an answering system which you may use. I use Verizon’s voicemail since it works while busy, so don’t forget to turn it off if you don’t need it. The base unit handles this. The top buttons record and play your greeting. Below that, you will find the arrows with buttons around it. The upper right one turns the answering machine on and off. The lower right one locates the handsets. The upper left one erases messages. I don’t know what the lower left one does. The center button plays the messages.

The handset has the mute button on the top left, the on or start button below it, and the speaker phone button below that. The on button has a raised dot. In the middle you will see the arrows. On the right side you will find the off button with a raised dash, and the redial button below it. Below these buttons sits the keypad in the standard layout with a raised dot on the five key. Below the keypad, you will find two smaller buttons – flash/hangup on the left and hold on the right. You can put a caller on hold, then either push start or end. If you push end, you can save power and then hit start to resume the call.

I hope this rambling review helps someone. Remember to put in the batteries!

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