Has the promise of the Internet been broken?

Posted by Buddy Brannan on April 8th, 2014 filed in Computing, Opinion
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Yesterday morning over breakfast, I read this article. It was probably not the best thing to read pretty much first thing in the morning, but there it was, and it gnawed at me all day. And kept on, even today. It disturbed me. No, I wasn’t surprised by it, hardly anything people do surprises me much anymore, especially if it’s bizarre and doesn’t make any sense. It did, however, deeply, deeply sadden me. Here’s what I wrote in the comments immediately after reading.

This makes me unbelievably sad. Just a couple thoughts. I’ve been on the Internet for 22+ years, a thing that scares me a little if I think about it. From those beginnings, when the Internet really was all text, limited to mostly educational and government users (along with some tech companies and very savvy folks–commercial ISP’s were pretty rare), it was, mostly, a free exchange of ideas. It was “the great equalizer”, where all you were in that space was what you said and how you expressed yourself. It was exciting. It was amazing. I had great optimism for this new medium, not because I could be whoever I wanted to be, but because I could be myself. Disability wasn’t a stigma. Nobody had to care that I was blind, only that I was (umm…OK, stretching a point) intelligent. To see this thing with so much potential for bringing very different kinds of people together being turned into, well, a playground for small minds and intolerance makes me despair anew. I, for one, am sorry. I also always read bios, because I think people are pretty interesting. I don’t know you. I’ve never seen you before, never read your tweets, know nothing more than this post from you. I, for one, am looking forward to changing that.

This leads me to a question. Has the promise of the Internet been broken?

Oh, sure. The Internet promised lots of things. It promised instant access to information and entertainment. Eventually, it promised easy and convenient shopping. It delivered on all that. (Of course, it also delivered lots of other things, like spam, but we’re not here to talk about that…or maybe we are, sort of.) The Internet has, indeed, delivered on all of that. I have access to more books than I could read in a lifetime, and better, at the same time as everyone else has them. I can do my own shopping and never have to hear some store employee who’d really rather be doing anything than help me say that “We ain’t got that”, even if it’s sitting right in front of his nose. I can write posts like this and have them read by total strangers, and I can be the total stranger who reads someone else’s opinions as well, and comment on them in real time. I can get news as it happens, unfiltered and immediate, which may not necessarily be a good thing, because I can also get all the rumors, misdirections, unconfirmed speculations, and contradictions from everyone needing to get the story first.

But what I can’t get, what Jamie can’t get, is that thing that was so liberating back when I discovered the Internet for the first time. I can’t think of the word for it. Respect? Equal treatment? It’s one of those things that you know when you see it.

Back when our online existence was limited to 25 lines by 80 characters, give or take, all anyone knew about yu was what you posted, and for everyone, that was text. Your thoughts, your opinions, defined you. It was a “level playing field”, and everyone had the same tools of expression. Oh, sure, there were the guys in their basements who never saw a woman before who would call for “gender check” on IRC and would virtually hit on any woman there, but for the most part, our exchanges were exchanges of ideas. I remember thinking that this was really how it should be. We should be able to get to know each other without prejudice, and, in doing so, maybe we’d all be better for it. That I was blind, or so and so was black, or a woman, or short, or didn’t speak well, or any number of things that would isolate someone, weren’t issues here. This one comic I remember summed it up well with its tag line: “On the Internet, nobody knows that you’re a dog.”

Except, now, they do.

That glorious time when our Internet persona was nothing more nor less than how you expressed yourself is gone. Commonplace, very fast connections have made it possible to have graphics, photos, and full motion video and sound. Now, all of those things that didn’t matter before have moved into this space as well. Now, the Internet is just an extension of all the ills of “out there”, but it’s even worse. Because there’s that distance still. People can still hide behind a keyboard and say things they’d never dream of saying to your face, because they aren’t. After all, there’s no one real on the other end. I once had some random person tell me, when my wife was recovering from a very serious heart operation, that we should consider euthanasia for her. OK, remember when I said very little shocks me anymore? That did. So all the prejudice, bigotry, venom, and invective that’s out there is amped up another notch in here, a place that used to be safe, a place where we discussed things as one human being to another.

No, of course it wasn’t all roses and candy way back when. There was alt.flame, after all. But still, things were a lot more civil, and the signal to noise ratio was much, much higher. On today’s Internet, I can’t read the comments often, because they make me too angry.

Maybe the Internet didn’t intend to promise that we’d evolve as human beings and we’d be able to take our level playing field of ideas to the wider world. Maybe it didn’t promise that to anyone but me. Maybe it didn’t promise anything at all, but I just assumed that it did. I wish I knew. I wish we would grow up as a race, as one race (that being human), and value each other for who we are individually. That was the promise I saw back in 1992. Instead, we are divided, we tear each other down, screw the next guy so long as I get mine, you have no value because you’re different from me, and there are no consequences for my being a complete ass, because this is the Internet and no one knows who I am.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. I wasn’t so sure when I started, only that I needed to sort out my feelings about it. I don’t have answers. I don’t know why we can’t just leave our bigotry and prejudice at the door. I understand and accept that as human beings, we all have prejudice. If someone tells you that he does not, he is lying, either to you or to himself. It’s an unfortunate part of the human condition. One of the really great things about being human, however, is that we have reason. Well, we’re supposed to have reason anyway. So can we not use that reason to acknowledge that, yes, I have a prejudice, or such and such kinds of people make me uncomfortable. Recognize this, then resolve to go beyond it. Simple to say, harder to do, but an we please start by veing polite and listening respectfully to other people’s ideas and viewpoints? Maybe if we can see something from the other guy’s point of view, we can all get along better. Maybe we can then find the things that bring us together rather than the ones that will tear us apart. It’s a start, anyway.

Well, I guess i didn’t really answer the question, and I also didn’t really clear this up in my own mind. I’m not really feeling any better about it either. Zero for three this time. Sorry. Better luck next time.


Review: The 33: Pramantha, Part 1 of 4

Posted by Buddy Brannan on February 1st, 2014 filed in Opinion
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The 33 Episode 1 CoverHave you been wondering what J. C. Hutchins has been up to since the Seventh Son trilogy came out?

Oh wait. You don’t know who he is, or what that is? Well, that maybe is for another time. I’ll link to it later. Work with me here, OK?

j.C. hasn’t been idle, no sir. He’s been working on interesting things, including a publicity campaign for the recent Fox series “Almost Human”, among other things. He seems to be Mr. Transmedia. That’s a fancy $50 word for things that transcend different kinds of media, like books and games and Internet, audio, and goodness, people who are a lot smarter than I am should probably explain it. Besides that though, he’s been hatching this idea that he brought up way back when he was still updating the Seventh Son trilogy. Now, he’s unleashing it on an unsuspecting public with the first installment, Pramantha, Part 1. This is a four-part story, set in a universe that will have lots more stories, some multipart, some standalone, and, if this first one is any indication, stories that will grab you right away and won’t let go. Kind of like a teleport across the world, except without the puking, but I’m a bit ahead of myself.

Here’s how Hutch introduced the story to me:


The 33 is my new episodic fiction project, which debuts this Friday (Jan. 31). It’s a sci-fi/supernatural thriller series about a group of 33 misfits tasked with thwarting a cabal of baddies keen to jumpstart the apocalypse. It’s The A-Team meets The X-Files, with a dash of Hellboy and Global Frequency added for apocalyptic spice.

Whew!

So how was it? In short, go get it immediately. While it’s a bit of a mystery why it begins the way it does, we don’t start with anyone’s idea of a slow buildup of action or background. We jump in with both feet. This must be a Hutch thing. It’s sort of like starting the first book of Seventh Son: Descent with “The President of the United States is dead. He was murdered in the morning sunlight by a four-year-old boy.” Pramantha begins in similarly dramatic fashion. I was left at the end of the story wondering how the beginning connected, but I’m sure all will be revealed in due course.

This part of the story introduces us to the 33, (or at least, a few of them), just as one of its newest members learns about this secret anti-apocalyptic organization. They don’t deal with things as mundane as religious fanatics and airplane hijackings. Their stakes are higher. A more mismatched group of misfits would be harder to find. With such varied backgrounds and appearances, it’s hard to see how these people are going to interact, much less work together to foil whatever plot they’re assigned to foil, but that’s just the beginning of what I’m sure will unfold in the coming months. For instance, what are their secrets? What was the deal they made with their mysterious…boss? Benefactor? Blackmailer? Clearly, this series has, and will have, lots of layers. Kind of like ogres, except maybe not so nice as the PixR type ogres.

While this first installment is self-contained, as in “Things happen, and there’s a good stopping point”, remember that this is the first part of a four-part story, which will be released a month at a time. You’re not going to get resolution at the end of this installment. There isn’t even a whole bunch of action yet. But this story lays the groundwork and gives us a small glimpse of what lies ahead, should we follow these five maybe odd characters. And what lies ahead promises to be very, very interesting.

You can find out more about the series and buy your own copy of the story in either Ebook or audio format by visiting this page, And if you really did miss the Seventh Son books (really, it was a total of five), along with other original fiction, on this page.


Initial Review of the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

Posted by Buddy Brannan on January 28th, 2014 filed in Uncategorized
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Last month, I wrote up a review of the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX for the Serotek blog. You can read it here.


Rebuttal to Things Guys Always Lie About

Posted by Buddy Brannan on November 12th, 2013 filed in Uncategorized
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I got this article off Twitter: “Things Guys Always Lie About”. Well, the title should have tipped me off, because when something says “Always” or “Never”, it’s usually just a thing to draw you in. I guess it works, because, even knowing this, I clicked the link anyway. Predictably, I have issues. Here are my reactions as I read them; I already have issues with the first three.

15) Strippers don’t do anything for me. Well…OK, so why would you go see them then? I actually think she’s got a point on this one. Except, well, strippers really don’t do anything for me. Mostly because, well, you can look but you can’t touch. Ah well. Next?

14) The dreaded question: Does this make me look fat? That this question is on the list at all is totally, completely unfair. As the author rightly points out, we can’t win on this one. Because if it does and we say so, we get in trouble. If it does and we lie, well, we’re lying. If it doesn’t and we say so, we’re suspected of lying. Don’t ask this one. ever. For the record, I’ll just probably say, “Hell if I know.” So I’m safe. But still. Don’t ask. Ever.

13) I never view adult web sites. Well, I actually don’t. Would I if I could? Maybe. Do I read the occasional steamy story? Damn skippy! But mostly to laugh at them, although, admittedly, not always.

12) I’m an integral member of my company. I can’t even bullshit a resume, so the likelihood I’d try to impress anyone with what I do for a living, or how much sway/importance/clout I have at my place of employ is pretty low. I don’t know how common this really is, but I can tell you right off that it’s not my thing at all.

11) I love you too. See, the biggest problem I have with this kind of article is this right here. They make guys all look like massive dicks. True, some are. Maybe a lot are. Maybe a lot just say that to get into a woman’s panties, or because they want to avoid conflict (and I suspect many if not most women would expect the former more than the latter). But it’s not always so, and I’m really kind of offended at the assertion that men always lie about this. It’s another one of those things that we just can’t win on. You know, men supposedly don’t express emotions well. True, some don’t. But if one of us does, he’s lying because, you know, men only want one thing. Right? No. Not right at all. Next?

10) I’m 6’2”. See, I just don’t understand this one. Lying about your physical appearance, either by adding height or subtracting weight or whatever just seems kinda stupid to me. If you never plan on meeting the person, I guess you can keep up the charade, but if you ever do meet, the jig is up, and you’re exposed for being a schmuck. This is what you do when you’re 14. This is not what you do when you’re a grown up. It’s also not the exclusive purview of males. Sorry, just sayin’.

9) I swear that’s the number of people I’ve been with. Yeah, what she says here. But really, why would you ask that in the first place? What, do you want a list? You wanna compare notes? I don’t get it.

8) Of course I don’t think (of insert your friend’s name) like that. Can’t win, but seriously, first, why are you asking? Are you really that insecure? Also though, I think maybe there’s a way for him to express that he find someone else attractive, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to A) do something about that, or B) that it really matters anyway, because he’s with you and not the person about whom you’re inquiring. Well, unless he is, but then you’ve got bigger problems.

7) I have so many interests. Again, offensive to the max. Are you saying that men are just super one-dimensional beings who just are interested in TV and farting? Maybe some are, but some aren’t. It will become pretty clear whether a guy’s interests go beyond TV and farting, but to assume he’s lying if he says that they do is kind of crappy on your part. Why bother then? Now excuse me, because there’s this TV show I need to watch. Oh man, that was a good one. I wonder what would happen if I lit it?

6) I swear I’m 23. Yep. Not just limited to the guys. I’m just a freak of nature I guess, because I have no problem with my age. Hell, I worked hard to get here, and I earned every year, every gray hair, all of it. Would I want to be young again? Hell no! I already did that once. It was a pain in the ass some ways…why repeat it?

5) Oh honey, I’m huge. Umm. Why? Seriously, it’s like the height thing. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

4) Nothing’s wrong, I’m fine. Again, not exclusive to the guys. I’ve been on the receiving end of that a time or two in my life, as well as being on the other end. Sometimes, though, it isn’t that we don’t want to talk about it, it’s just that right then isn’t a great time. Sometimes I really don’t know what’s wrong, or how to express it, or especially how to express it in 25 words or less. Maybe we should all learn to say “I’ll talk to you about it later”, “Now isn’t a great time”, “I really don’t know”, or something more appropriate? But this really isn’t just the guys, and we all know that 68.5% of statistics are made-up on the spot anyway.

3) I can’t wait to visit your parents this weekend. I really can’t imagine saying this. That is all.

2) I love working out. Umm. Yeah. And also sitting on the sofa with the TV and farting. Yes. Well. Which is it? The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Or the…whatever it is that people eat that isn’t pudding. I was about to say, “What, are we 15?”, but I know that there awesome women who emphatically would answer “Yes!” to this question.

1) We’ll talk about it later. See the one a couple of paragraphs ago. So maybe some people would say that this is tied to that. The thing is, if I say “We’ll talk about it later”, I probably mean that at the time. “Later” may just not come because I’ll forget. I have a pretty short attention span. But if I say “Later”, I, at least, generally mean that and not “Screw you, go away, I don’t want to talk about it.” If I don’t want to talk about something, I’ll generally say that.

I’d like to see the companion “Things Women Always Lie About” piece.


I gotta pay how much to use Facebook?!

Posted by Buddy Brannan on July 3rd, 2013 filed in Assistive Technology, Computing, Opinion
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Today, GW Micro announced a new product called SocialEyes. This is a piece of software that is meant to give blind Windows users a more accessible, consistent interface to Facebook and all of its features. As you can imagine, discussion of this new offering on the GW-Info Email list was quite heated, both for and against. Some people said that it was ridiculous to charge for access to Facebook, and it would be well to just include better Web support in Window-Eyes to begin with, while others said that those guys should be grateful for the work that GW is doing and quit their gritching. This is a somewhat simplified accounting of the discussion, but it’s the usual sort of thing. Find below my contribution to the discussion.

Hi,

My comments about product naming aside, I guess for better or worse, I’m weighing in, too.

OK, GW Micro asks what people want to see better access to. Consumers (you and me, except I didn’t) respond. GW listens. This is excellent, actually, since GW Micro listened to the needs and wants of their users and put something together to accommodate.

But it’s too expensive! Sighted people don’t have to pay $50 to use Facebook.

Neither do you. What you do have the option to pay for is something to make using Facebook more convenient. You can choose to have that convenience, or not. Yes, convenience. You know those little stores on the corner? Like 7-11, Circle K, Diamond Scamrock, places like that? They’re called “Convenience stores”, and their prices are generally higher than similar or identical goods in a big box store or grocery store. Why? You’re paying for the convenience of not having to go all the way to a grocery store, search the shelves, and get what you want. You’re paying for the convenience of a short drive and a quick nip into the store for a gallon of bread and a loaf of milk. In similar fashion, subscribing to this app, or the Socializer in SAMNet, or GW Connect, can be viewed in a similar way.

Beyond that though, full disclosure. It’s no secret that I work for another AT company, I’m fairly sure that most people probably know which one. Even so, I’m a Window-Eyes user. I’m also an NVDA user. And, of course, a System Access user. And a Mac user. And an iPhone user. And to a limited extent, a Chromebook user. Yep. Fingers in lots of pies. Anyway, all that to say, I have some idea of what goes into making some of this stuff go, especially as concerns things like keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of things like Facebook, things that change on seemingly nothing more than a whim. Keepin up with that takes people. People gotta eat. In our current system of doing things, this means money, and that’s got to come from somewhere. If this was a do once and forget it kind of deal, that would be fantastic, but it’s not. Anyone who’s ever looked at the Facebook site from month to month, even week to week, knows that. So if the product is needed, and enough people see the value in it, it will get bought and maintained and succeed. If not, it will fail, and the developers will go off and do something else for a while. Pretty simple. TANSTAAFL and all that.

Someone, or someones, mentioned NVDA. NVDA is fantastic. It’s well done, it’s matured nicely, it does lots of great things, and it’s free. Let’s be clear though, NVDA is free software in the GNU definition of free. This means that you have the freedom to redistribute it, to modify it, to share your modifications. It also happens to be no cost, or “free as in beer”, but it doesn’t have to be in order to be “free software”. But I digress somewhat.

You’ll note that development of NVDA, even though it’s free, takes money as well. Some of this money is had through grants from big companies. These grants, to some extent, likely also drive the direction it goes (i.e. it will have better support for Adobe Reader because Adobe threw money at them). Some of this money comes from you, the end user, which is why you are asked to donate every time you update. You can choose to, or not, but understand that someone, somewhere, has to pay something. Even if no on pays anything, the developers pay in cost of their time, which could be spent doing something that did pay them. TANSTAAFL, again.

Would I like everything to be free and work for us without any extra effort? Damn skippy I would. In my ideal world, we wouldn’t need companies like GW Micro, Serotek, Freedom Giantific, and the rest, because access would be built in, would not be an afterthought, and would work 100% of the time for all populations who need it. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality, and it likely will never be the reality. Sure, it’s a lot better now. The fact that we’re even entertaining this discussion, that we can even think about expecting such access, would have been unheard of five years ago. It will likely get even better in the future, and a day when universal access is the norm rather than the exception seems likely to me. (This will present its own set of problems, but this post is long enough already.) And anyway, that day isn’t here yet.

So, yeah. Buy it if it’s useful and convenient for you. Don’t if it isn’t. It’s really pretty simple. Even though I have the Socializer, and even though I use lots of other things, it is likely that I’ll buy it myself, if for no other reason than to have another option, because it’s convenient.


Words That Sound Alike But aren’t

Posted by Buddy Brannan on June 19th, 2013 filed in Just Stuff, Opinion
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Just posted the below to a blindness-related buy/sell/trade list. People were asking to see it, so here it is…

 

Hi,

Sorry, this is bugging me a little, and I’d really like for people to put their best foot forward. Like it or not, people judge you by the words you use, so it’s probably a good idea to use the right ones, so people don’t misjudge you.

If you’re selling something, that item is “for sale”. That’s s-a-l-e. You may have something to sell, that’s s-e-l-l, and the item you’d like to sell is for sale, that’s s-a-l-e. Of course, you can have a boat for s-a-i-l (well,OK, s-a-i-l-i-n-g, but only if it doesn’t have a motor).

So, I’d like to sail my boat, which I’d like to sell, and I’ll have it for sale at the end of its sailing voyage, but the sail is not included in the sale, sorry. This should make its selling price lower than if I included the sail in the sale. Confused yet? Isn’t English wonderful?


A Note of Thanks to Amazon

Posted by Buddy Brannan on May 8th, 2013 filed in Assistive Technology, Computing, Opinion
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I just sent the following note to Amazon, and hopefully it goes to the right place. Last time I sent a note to them about Kindle, it was a lot less happy than this one.

You can send your own feedback to kindle-feedback@amazon.com . Please do, actually. Here’s mine.

Hi,

It’s been a week, and I’ve been remiss.

I’ve been remiss in expressing my sincere thanks for the accessibility improvements for blind readers that have been made in the latest version of the Kindle app for iOS. I’m sure that you’ve seen the excitement surrounding this, and I hope you’ve gotten many notes of appreciation and thanks.

Since I connected to the Internet for the first time 22 years ago (yes, really), I have seen that the Internet could,and would, afford more access to more information to people with print disabilities than we’ve ever had. This has been true, in spite of many artificial barriers that we’ve had to conquer from time to time. But even with as much access to information, not to mention pleasure reading, that we’ve had due to having open and ubiquitous access to the Internet, we knew that there was still much that was off limits to us. Now, with ebooks surpassing print books in popularity, this is a new world. The Amazon Kindle app becoming usable for print disabled iPhone users, it is safe to say without any danger of hyperbole, truly is the beginning of our information age. This is to us a bit like Gutenberg’s printing press, where we have books available to us on a scale that was absolutely unheard of two weeks ago. Even better, it is technologically possible for us to have these books in braille or synthesized speech or large print, as our needs dictate. (The high cost of braille displays is another matter that needs addressed, but I won’t address that here.)

It’s true that we want, and need, access to hardware Kindle devices, not to mention Kindle on other supported platforms, for the field to be truly level. With this recent release, I feel confident that Amazon will indeed deliver on this need. Had you asked me two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been so confident, but I’m glad that you guys took the time to do it right, instead of hurrying to do it right now. Here’s hoping for more in this vein, although hopefully in a shorter time. I, for one, would love to whip out a Kindle full of books, although, I must admit, I’m very content with a phone full of Kindle.

If you’d like to read my thoughts on the NFB press release about the release (obviously, I have some, and they don’t seem to agree with it by much), you can do so here:

http://buddy.brannan.name/blog/2013/05/amazon-kindle-accessibility-what/


Amazon Kindle Accessibility: What?!

Posted by Buddy Brannan on May 3rd, 2013 filed in Assistive Technology, Computing, Opinion
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This week, the blind and visually impaired community got a surprise, one that we’ve been waiting for for a long time, and one that, it’s safe to say, most of us weren’t expecting. (This would be why it was a surprise, right?) Amazon announced that its Kindle app for iOS now had new accessibility features, thus making the app usable by blind and visually impaired iPhone users. They also promise improvements to accessibility on their other platforms. You can read about it at this link. I downloaded the app, with a great deal of excitement and anticipation I might add, and it appears to be everything they say it is, with access to not only the reading of books, but also highlighting, Emailing excerpts, notes, looking up words in the dictionary, and searches. In short, this app seems to have done it right, rather than doing it fast.

The day after Amazon’s announcement, I got an Email from this press release. I thought I was responding to an Email list–it was early still, and I was still waking up, but I instead seem to have Emailed instead to either the NFB’s other PR person or to the guy that runs iBooks and the Nook reader from Barnes and Noble. I think, though haven’t looked in a while, that it may well be better than KNFB’s own Blio, which should probably embarrass somebody. So, specifically, what improvements would we suggest?

In this Email, I neglected to mention Kobo or Google Play books, both of which have at least some access features, or at least, work to some extent with commending of a far inferior implementation in 2009, this current press release almost sounds angry that Amazon did anything about the problem.

I’ve played a bit with this newly accessible Kindle app, and it’s good. It was done right. Where’s the acknowledgement of that? Why commend a half-baked effort that is unsuitable for more than the most casual reading on one hand, but practically spit at a stellar example of what can be done on the other? Could it be because Amazon did it without asking for the NFB’s blessing or input first? In fact, it looks like they may not have asked for anyone’s input, as this came as a real bombshell of an announcement with no leaks.

Really, those of y’all in the national office, would a “Good work, guys, thanks” and virtual pat on the back really be that difficult? Would it hurt you so much? It would certainly do a lot to raise your PR standing in the community. Absolutely do not back away from the stance that access to Kindle on other platforms is necessary, even vital. Please don’t. Such access is critical, and we should not rest until we have it. I have no quarrel with that. But would some recognition of a good effort in which you did not have a hand really be so bad?

By way of full disclosure, I am an active member of the National Federation of the Blind. I have been one for over 20 years. Until a more effective membership organization that mirrors my own philosophy of blindness comes along, I expect to continue to be thus affiliated. That said, I fully expect that this post will not make me very popular among the leadership.

Update: The NFB’s technology center has published a review of the Kindle app, which you can read on the center’s blog. I think that the justifications for grading are fair, and I also believe the criticisms are equally fair. As I haven’t tested all these features myself, I have no reason to argue with their findings. I may well have weighted things differently, and I might have been a bit more forgiving for this being their first run at it. I may not, too. At any rate, I have no quarrel with the review, and if Amazon endeavors to improve the accessibility features they’ve implemented, we’ll all be better for it. Watch this space, I guess.

Even so, I stand by my opinion that the tone of the press release could have been more positive and supportive of these initial efforts on the iOS platform, long time in coming though they are.

Update #2: 05/07/2013:

Here’s a link to a different take on how Amazon did with implementing accessibility features. This review is much more positive, and it doesn’t seem to have run into the same problems that the NFB technology center did in their review. While some might say I’m waffling, I also have no quarrel with this review, think its points are also valid, and believe that it was conducted in good faith and as objectively as possible, excitement over access to over a million titles notwithstanding. It’s certainly possible that the reading experience differs between iPad and iPhone, where bugs may exist in one and not the other, and there may also be problems with braille display driver implementations or conflicts. I think all of us will be interested to see how more hardware combinations do with the new Kindle app.


An Annoying Encounter: Be Careful Out There

Posted by Buddy Brannan on April 11th, 2013 filed in Just Stuff, Opinion
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The more I think about this, the more annoyed I get.

About an hour ago, I had an encounter with someone who came to my door as I was making my lunch. Melanie’s nurse answered the door (interestingly, Fiona didn’t bark, and only Alena heard the knock), and told me that there was this guy who wanted to talk to me about my alarm system.

As we are giving serious thought to replacing our alarm system, I was intrigued. Of course, I was also intrigued that some guy would be asking about this, especially as our alarm system monitoring contract is coming up soon for renewal. It’s one of the reasons we’re looking at a switch, we want a cheaper alternative. We’ve been looking at SimpliSae because monitoring is less expensive and there’s no contract. The disadvantage would be having to replace, not just the alarm panel, but also all the sensors. Still, we’re annoyed enoughwithcontracts and inaccessible touch screen panels that I’m OK with that.

So I go to the door, and there’s this guy. And he says he’s with GE, who manufactures my security system, and starts asking about it. I tell him, yes, my contract is nearly up, and we were looking at a change. After one thing and another, he says he can get me a security camera, as well as cut my monitoring per month by $5, and would I like to replace the touch panel keypad with one that has buttons? He can get us that and the camera for free if I sign up today. Well, of course, after getting pressured into other sign up today or it’ll be gone tomorrow things, I asked him for his card, I’d like to talk it over with my wife and get back with him. He said he was only seeing a couple of houses today, and what’s there to think about anyway? Immediate red flags. I told him, again, if he didn’t have a card for me to get in touch with him, because I wanted to give it some thought, there wasn’t much more to discuss. He said he had one, but he didn’t seem all that eager that i should have it. Eventually, I just said, “I think we’re done here”, wished him a good day, and closed the door.

Matt, melanie’s nurse, told me that he was wearing an APX hat. APX was the company we’d initially got set up with on our contract. Trouble is, they haven’t been APX for a couple years. And he told me he was with GE, not APX or Vivint, the current name for APX. Him telling me that didn’t set right with me in the first place.

So what can I take away from this?

1) Don’t get pressured into anything. If you can’t sleep on it, or if the guy at the door isn’t willing to give you his card or some way to get in touch with him later, that makes your decision for you.

2) OK, even if he says “this deal might not be available tomorrow”, he should still be willing to give you some contact info. But anyway, I’d find anything that’s “sign up right now, I’ll do this and this and that” a little suspect, especially since he didn’t disclose the length of any new contract.

3) Go with your gut. Something felt wrong about the guy.

4) The alarm contract is not in my name, but he called me by name. True, it’s my legal name and not Buddy. He would have maybe gotten this from the real estate records or somewhere? Of course, I sort of noticed that at the time, but didn’t analyze until later.

Anyway, be careful, guys. I think this guy might have had me pegged for an idiot.


A Profound Lesson I Learned With My First Guide Dog

Posted by Buddy Brannan on April 5th, 2013 filed in Guide dogs, Opinion
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This afternoon on one of the far too many Email discussion lists I’m on, someone posted to remind people getting new dogs that, no, your dog really doesn’t like you yet, and this takes time. He also mentioned where to stick your dog in the car while traveling, but I don’t really want to talk about that. i mention it only for reference purposes, as I bring it up in the below Email that I posted to the list.

—–Email begins—–

While I won’t comment on dog placement in vehicles, after all, we all do the best we can–I mean, leaving the house is a dangerous proposition, as is staying home–I do want to echo what Mike says about our dogs liking us, or not, when we meet them.

I learned what is, I believe, one of the most valuable things I’ve ever heard from my first guide dog class, at another school, lo these 17 years ago. During the lecture preceding our getting new dogs, when we were being told what to expect and everyone found out what everyone was getting, yeah they do it differently there, our instructor, Dan, said the following. This was so profound to me, and so valuable, I think I have it memorized verbatim:

If someone were to ask your dog, he would say that he has no interest in meeting you, much less in becoming your lifelong partner and companion.

Dan went on to say that, because of this fact, it is incumbent upon us, and entirely our responsibility, to make friends.

This is so at odds with the popular literature, all those feel-good books and stories where the dog is looking forward to his life’s work, where he just lives and waits for you, that special person, to enter his life. To learn, in such blunt terms, that this is not, in fact, the case, was a real revelation, even though, looking at it from the dog’s point of view, it made sense pretty quickly.

This, much more than the mechanics of guide work, is what is most important about class, I think. Learning proper commands, foot placement and hand signals, and all the rest, is really pretty easy. The tricky bit is adapting those lessons to a very unique other being, and gaining that other being’s trust and confidence, as both of you get to know each other and learn to, at first, work together, and eventually, love each other. Both hearts are willing in their own fashion, I think, but not in the way that all the fairy tales would have it.

The amazing thing is that this stuff works at all.

Have fun out there, guys.

—-End—–

This bit of wisdom has stood me in good stead through all three dogs. The romanticized thing that we always see, in the kids’ books about guide dogs, even from guide ddog users who write about the guide dog match (sometimes from the dog’s supposed point of view), even in guide dog school literature, is a nice, feel good thing. Sure, we all want to think that our dogs are just waiting their whole lives to meet us. The story we tell each other is they know they have this special purpose, that they know that they’re destined for some greater, selfless life. This is so at odds with reality though, no matter how good it makes us feel to tell each other the story. I’m not sure it serves any useful purpose though; certainly it doesn’t give the prospective guide dog user a real picture of what’s involved. Maybe it makes donors feel good, although I think that how things really work is pretty darned amazing even without the fairy tale. The real story, though not as rosy and full of destiny and misplaced anthropomorphism, really is as interesting, as exciting, and ultimately, as heartwarming, as the fairy tale.

These dogs are specially bred for a particular purpose, it’s true. All the guide dog schools have had breeding programs for decades, where they keep track of health problems, temperament, suitability to the work, soundness of mind and body, all sorts of things. I’m sure that they’ve got charts and graphs and family trees and dogs rated on this or that characteristic. In fact, Jack Humphrey, one of the guys that was instrumental in the Seeing Eye’s earliest days, compiled such a list and published a book with a study on the desirability of certain traits in working dogs. I understand that much of Jack’s initial training and selection work is still the backbone of the Seeing Eye’s work today, some 75 or so years after he finished putting it all together. I’m sure the other schools have similar records and procedures, and I know there’s a certain amount of knowledge shared between programs.

True as this is, however, the dogs don’t know any of it. THink of the transitions they go through in just a couple of short years. At eight weeks or so old, they’re taken away from their mother and go to live with a family. This family raises them and loves them, and new puppy loves the family. This is his world. He forms an attachment to these people, and he learns lots of useful things, like how to sit, lie down, ignore tempting things, stay off furniture, how to behave in public, react calmly to noise and unusual situations. Then, he’s taken way from his family and “goes to college”, except that he doesn’t know that’s what he’s doing. He just knows he’s getting taken from his family. And he eventually gets to know the trainer(s) and kennel staff. And he learns new things. Interesting new things. Interesting new things that he becomes happy to do for these new people. He has no idea that he’s going to meet some blind person and have this greater purpose, he just does these things because it pleases his new pack leader to do them. That he can learn to walk in a straight line, stop for things that aren’t at all natural for him to stop at, learn his left from his right (which, by the way, lots of humans don’t know), avoid traffic and guide a human around obstacles and not go under things that he can but a human can’t, all of that is pretty amazing, don’t you think so?

He may have to get used to new people a couple times before he meets his new partner. He has no idea that he’s going to do these things for this new person, he’s perfectly content doing them for the old person. But eventually, his loyalties do change, and two very different beings learn to work together and act as one. Like I said, it’s amazing that this stuff works at all. Even without the fairy tales.

One might suppose I’m a killjoy. After all, what’s the harm in a bit of poetic license? Far from it, I think these are amazing, amazing animals, and I think it’s important that we celebrate them for what they are, not to mention all of the wonderful and selfless people that mold them into the confident, poised, competent, and just plain amazing guides that they are. As I say, the story is amazing enough without adding in things that just aren’t so.

Of course, the debate rages: do they know that we’re blind, or are they just playing a game, the same game they learned to play with their instructors? I happen to believe they know. Dogs are very perceptive. Some are extremely perceptive and empathic. They all know, though. There are even scientific studies that prove that dogs think they can get away with things if they believe the humans can’t see them. Regardless, I think that once they start working with us, as opposed to the sighted trainers, they do know that we’re blind. Whether they connect this fact with their job, I don’t know. I do know that sometimes a dog that works great for a trainer decides it really doesn’t want to do it “for real”, so maybe they do make the connection.

Regardless, it’s truly amazing stuff. And I, for one, am glad that Leno does what he does, no matter why he does it.