Inspiration is…cheap?

I have a friend who is a guide dog user in Canada, and she says this about as well as I’ve ever heard. Have a look at what she says in this post. Consider her words, and consider the questions she asks. For another perspective, watch this this Ted Talk by the late (and much missed) Stella young.

Before you get your inspiration and then move on, consider: what skills or talents might that inspirational person have to offer, beyond the fact that they got up to do what needed doing in their day? You never know what you might have missed.

Is It Possible To Be Too Polite And Accommodating?

Marlon will appreciate this.

Not long ago, I made a friend. Yes, I know, it happens to the best of us, and sometimes, to the rest of us. But I managed it somehow, and, after chatting online a while, we managed to meet in meatspace. Since then, we’ve managed to meet up a few times, and she’s helped me out with errand running and shopping and things like that. I’m the first blind person Andrea’s really ever met, or at least been friends with, the case probably more often than it isn’t, but we developed a natural rapport without lots of awkwardness. Even so, a bit of miscommunication in the name of polite accommodation (on both our parts, I hasten to add), now gives us one more thing we can laugh at.

Anyone who knows me knows that I walk at a pretty decent clip. Melanie claims that I don’t walk, that in fact what I do (especially with Leno or one of his predecessors) is run. I think that may be stretching a point, but that’s what she says. Anyway, I told Melanie, after one of my shopping trips with Andrea, that “She’s a pretty slow walker, but at least she’s good company, and she doesn’t complain at the length of my shopping list.” This in sharp contrast to the Walmart greeter who helped me a couple times, who, had he walked any slower we would be going backwards, commented at the length of my shopping list, and would say things like, “Oh, hey, we’re really getting through this list” every 5 minutes or so.

This past Monday, Andrea took me downtown in among both of our errands to renew dog licenses, and to get Hilda her lifetime one. She told me where we were parked, and off I went, then remembered that I maybe should wait for her to catch up. I thought nothing of this, as this isn’t too unusual. Dog licensing completed, we did her shopping and my shopping. It took us a while, time passed, and the day got away from me, but that’s another story.

We were chatting last night, and Andrea mentioned that I was “kind of reckless” crossing streets. I protested that I certainly was not, at least not most of the time, When crossing near the municipal building, I had the traffic light and everything. She says that she was amused, and surprised. I asked, “Why surprised?” She responded, “Because we snail crawl through stores.”

Oh yeah. The lightbulb went on.

She was trying to accommodate me by slowing down. She’s never had a blind friend before, so how did she know? I never said anything, assuming she was just a slow walker…some people are, and I didn’t want to rush her if she was a slow walker. How did I know? After all, when someone’s guiding you, you walk at her speed, right? So here we were, both trying to accommodate a need neither one of us actually had. “My mama taught me to be polite,” I said. “Lol well, at least we can’t be called rude. Slow. Turtle like. Passed by a snail. But not rude. ” It’d probably be a great scene for somebody’s sitcom. You’re welcome. Anyway, we are both relieved that we don’t need to be so polite anymore.

So, just remember. It really is possible to be too polite and accommodating. Y’all blind folks, don’t assume those sighted people really need special accommodations. Sometimes they do, and we have to take their affliction into account by, for example, remembering to turn lights on. Sometimes though, not so much.

Just For Fun: Introducing Milton

Just for fun, my favorite daughter and I introduce you to Milton, an electronic game produced by Milton Bradley around 1980. This may well have been the first talking electronic game not primarily designed as a teaching aid. (Yes, I know Speak And Spell predates it.) If it wasn’t, it was one of the first at any rate. Considering the technology of the day and what they did with it, it’s pretty phenomenal. Here’s the Wikipedia page all about Milton. Enjoy this blast from the past…I know I did!

HumanWare: Final Resolution

This morning, I received a call from Renee Gosselin, HumanWare’s customer service manager, regarding our email communications over the past week.

First, she apologized several times for the way Humanware communicated with me. She was on vacation and was unaware that no one had called me prior to sending the email from last Friday. Reading my second email must have clarified this to her, anyway, as it is true that no one had called to tell me what the problem was. This, Renee tells me, is what was supposed to have happened. In theory apparently, before the email I got went out, I was supposed to have received a phone call. I never received one. Even so, she assures me that their email template will be updated.

Second, my problem was liquid damage around the play button. She explained that she was able to examine the damage; I’m not sure if this was through the mentioned pictures of the damage or the actual unit. So, I guess it must have gotten splashed at some point. Fair enough. She explained that sometimes, such damage can be easily repaired, but sometimes not, and sometimes they will repair rather than replace if they are easily able to do so, although such damage is not covered under warranty, being as it’s accidental damage and not a product defect. (I did not suggest that perhaps some additional protection against liquid damage might go into the product design…like sealing the spaces around buttons maybe?)

Third, she has offered to replace my Stream free of charge, due to the poor way this case was handled on their part. I should be receiving this replacement sometime next week.

Finally, I thanked her for resolving this case, and for her apology for the way this was handled. I then asked specifically about the problems I mentioned with deaf-blind customers not getting assistance when they called using relay operators. She said that this shouldn’t be happening, and that they even do internal calls where they set up test calls pretending to be relay operators. All the techs and service people should be aware of how to handle these calls, and it’s important that they do so, since they do have deaf-blind customers and even specific products for the deaf-blind. They even have at least one deaf-blind person in product development, so clearly this shouldn’t be a problem. She suspects that there may be a problem with the receptionists, who are sometimes students, or in any case, may not be waiting long enough or don’t handle relay calls correctly, and she will address this with that department. Finally, she tells me that any such problems should be brought directly to her attention, and she will handle these concerns personally. She did not, however, give me an extension or a direct email address. She wrote to me from the info at HumanWare address. Also, individual email addresses appear to take the form first name.last name at humanware, so one can try that route.

Renee seems very sincere about changing their customer service interactions. I’d like to take her at her word on this, but I think it’s incumbent on the rest of us to do so as well. If you have less than great experiences with Humanware’s customer service, get in touch with Renee. Hold her to her commitment. I, for one, am eager for their service to equal the quality of their products, and I look forward to that happening more.

HumanWare Follow-up: Too Little Too Late? You Be The Judge

Four business days after my initial email from my previous post went out to Humanware, I finally received a response. Without further comment, as I think both their response and my response to it speak for themselves,, here is the latest exchange. I referred to Renee by first name, in part because I am informal, and in part because calling a male Ms. or a female Mr. would probably be even more offensive.

Humanware’s representative said:

Mr. Brannan,
Let me start off by saying that I am sorry to hear that we offended you.   We do appreciate  your constructive criticism and we will take the time to re-evaluate  both our marketing and email messages. Please be assured that HumanWare cares about its customers and we are determined to continue to offer quality products and service.   Feedback from our customers will help us achieve this objective.
Sincerely,
 

                                                       
   
Renée Gosselin
    Directeur, Relations Clients
    Customer Relations Director
   
 

I responded:

Hello Renee:

Thank you for your note, and for your apology on behalf of HumanWare. I’m sorry to say, however, that you seem to have missed at least some of the point. Perhaps it’s my fault for not being clear, so I will attempt to clarify.

First, you failed to answer the important question relating to my case specifically, which should be simple, seeing as how you have pictures. What, exactly, was the damage to my particular unit? I still don’t know, and, of course, this is a fairly major point of contention.

Second, while it’s true that I was offended on a personal level, it is as true, and more important, that I felt that not just I, but your entire blind customer base, was disrespected. You disrespected us, not only by not providing information that it should have been obvious would have been helpful, but you failed to provide said information while at the same time being accusatory and confrontational. Just one of those two things would be bad enough on its own, but both in the same Email is pretty inexcusable, especially from a company that should know better.

In part, your email says:
“Please be assured that HumanWare cares about its customers and we are determined to continue to offer quality products and service.”

Unfortunately, I have no proof that this statement is true. Your saying so doesn’t make it so. In fact, since the community has gotten wind of our exchange, I have received several public affirmations that, in fact, quite the opposite is true, and that bad customer service is not uncommon. I had at least one person tell me that she now refuses to purchase Humanware products because service personnel refused to accept calls from a relay operator for the deaf, and that she couldn’t get service until a hearing friend called on her behalf. While this was, apparently, several years ago, it certainly does not back up your claim that HumanWare cares about its customers. It makes my exchange seem petty and insignificant by comparison.

Again, thank you for writing, though I would appreciate a fuller explanation of the damage not covered under your warranty, if only for my own education.

Cordially,

What To Do About HumanWare?

Back in August, I purchased a second generation Victor Reader Stream from HumanWare at a promotional price. While I thought that the included accessories were a bit stingy (a case with no belt clip and no SD card), I thought the device itself was well designed and well executed. The user interface was a worthy follow-up to the first generation. It has easy-to-use controls that are intuitive, and really, I liked mine so much that I often used it instead of other players I have around here, including ones on the iPhone.

Back in February, my Stream developed a problem. Some important controls (play, fast forward, rewind, and the sleep timer button) started acting strangely. They would either intermittently not work, or they would intermittently act as though multiple buttons were pressed at the same time, or one button was pressed multiple times. Both hoping the problem was a fluke and would clear itself up, and also because I had more important things to deal with at the time, I put the player aside. When, recently, I pulled it out again and the problem persisted, and my other irons in the fire were well into resolution, I called HumanWare tech support and sent my Stream off for repair. They received it Tuesday, and I received the following Email from them today:

Recently you sent us equipment for repair.

After evaluation,  the technician found out that the damages caused to your unit cannot be repaired.
We will have to replace the unit.
He also found out that these damages are not manufacturing issue and so cannot be covered under warranty.  We took some pictures.  If you need copy of them, please let us know.

Please find attached a copy of the quotation for a replacement unit.  As soon as we receive your purchase order or payment we will proceed the order and the unit will be sent to you.

Please take note that after receiving this quote, if you do not wish to proceed with the replacement unit, HumanWare will return the unrepaired unit and freight will be at your expense or a diagnostic fee, if applicable.  In case you do not require the unrepaired unit back, HumanWare will dispose of it for you. Failure to reply will lead to unit disposal after a period of 3 months following quote issuance.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact the customer service department.

Sincerely,

Customer Service,
HumanWare Inc.

My first reaction wasn’t disappointment over my problem not being covered under warranty. (I did read the attached PDF and saw that I can get my out of warranty problem replaced for half the cost of a new unit.) No, my first reaction was to marvel at the sheer rudeness of the email. The problem wasn’t a manufacturing problem, it’s your fault, and we’ve got pictures to prove it. Rude and confrontational all on its own, but remember, this is a company whose primary audience includes people who are blind. This specific product’s main users, and buyers, are people who are blind. Those would be people who cannot see pictures, no matter how damning the evidence.

Of course, if this were merely an oversight, it might be excused, but it’s a pattern. HumanWare has put out several marketing campaigns with product teasers that were purely visual in nature. Hey, look at the picture of our new product! We won’t tell you what it is, nor will we describe the picture, but you’ll love it! Oh, by the way, it’s a braille display, we find out later. Really?

I should stress here that I don’t find fault with their conclusion necessarily. After all, I could have accidentally done something or other to break the thing. That sort of thing happens sometimes, in spite of our best intentions. My problem is with their delivery, which struck me as abysmally bad customer service. I therefore replied with the following:

Hello:

Thank you for your Email regarding my damaged Victor Reader Stream. While I appreciate your telling m that the repair is not covered under warranty, not being a manufacturing defect, I can’t say I appreciate your delivery. You have pictures and are happy to send them? Great! This would do me, as a blind person, and by the way one of your primary markets, any good, exactly how? Would it really have taken you that much more time to have explained, in plain language, what the problem was? “Unfortunately, it looks as though your Stream got splashed with water.” Or “Unfortunately, we found foreign matter in your play button.” Or perhaps, “Unfortunately, a peanut butter sandwich will not fit in the SD card slot.”? Really, an Email that says, “Sorry, it’s your problem, and we have pictures to prove it” is rude and confrontational, besides being terribly unhelpful to a blind person, who is, I may stress, part of one of your primary markets. I would suggest that this is an unacceptably poor level of customer service.

Allow me, if I may, to craft an Email that you may use in future dealings of this nature. I’ll even give this to you at absolutely no cost. Feel free to use it in full or in part. Do not, however, use the Email you sent me in future dealings of this nature.

———-Cut———-

Dear [Insert customer name here]:

We are writing to follow up with you regarding your recent repair request, with RMA #XXXXXX.

After inspecting your [product name], our technicians have determined that the damage cannot be repaired, and a full replacement of the unit will be required. We found the following problems:

* There was foreign matter dropped into the controls.
* Liquid damage from [water, coffee, etc.] is apparent.
* A peanut butter sandwich will not fit in the SD card slot. Please do not attempt to put one there.
* A crack in the control board indicates a drop from a significant height.
[And so forth]

If you wish to inspect the damage as outlined above, we can provide photos upon request.

Unfortunately, this damage is not covered under the limited manufacturer’s warranty, as it is not a manufacturing defect. Please see the full statement of warranty here:
[insert URL to limited warranty]

Since your [product] was returned to us within the warranty period, we are prepared to offer you a non-warranty replacement at half retail price plus applicable shipping and tax. Please reference [invoice number] when you phone if you would like to take advantage of this offer. For your records, we have attached an accessible PDF with full offer details. This offer is good for 90 days from today.

Alternatively, if you wish to have your damaged [product] back, we require that you pay return shipping charges. If you do not wish to take advantage of our replacement offer and do not want your damaged [product] back, we will be happy to responsibly dispose of it for you at no additional charge.

If you have any questions or concerns, please phone or Email. We are available weekdays from [range of hours], Eastern time.

We appreciate your business. Thank you for being a HumanWare customer.

Sincerely,
Joe Schmoe
HumanWare Customer Service

———-CUT———-

Let me stress here that I have no doubt that you really do have pictures of the damage. I also have no problem believing that the problem is not covered under the warranty terms, not because I know what caused the problem (I don’t), but because, let’s face it, stuff happens, sometimes stuff even happens of which one is unaware. It would, therefore, be really helpful if you could tell me, in plain language, the nature of the problem, so that I know what caused the keys to do the strange things they were doing. I would really appreciate this information.

I really love the Stream. It’s a fantastic product. It does what it does very, very well. It is well designed and easy to use, and I’ve found that I have started using it in favor of other book players I have around here, including ones on the iPhone. So, yes, it really is a great product for the tech savvy blind guy, too. I would even like to get a second one for my wife, who has just lost all of her remaining vision, has very little feeling in her fingers, and is not at all technology friendly. She has a first gen Stream and likes it a lot, and I know she’d like the new one even more. Unfortunately, due to the nature of your communication, I honestly don’t know what I want to do about either a replacement or a second unit. How can I, in good conscience, support a company with so little regard for its target audience? After all, your Email is only one of several such instances; I reference the several years of product teasers (at least one of which was for a braille display) that were purely visual in nature. Can I, indeed *should* I, support a company who, essentially, thumbs its collective nose at the population it purports to serve?

Cordially,

Whether HumanWare was right or wrong in their determination isn’t really the point. Well, I guess it kind of is, because I have no idea either way, having been given no information about it. But even if they were correct in their assessment, their handling of how I was updated on my repair status left pretty much everything to be desired. In short, their Email was a great example of how not to do customer relations. If you do customer relations this way, stop it. Please. Just don’t.

The Budcast: Fopydo Scanning Stand

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve posted anything like a podcast. True, this isn’t much like much of anything, but I wanted to get it out as soon as possible, without a lot of fuss. So, in my usual, casual, unedited and sloppy style, here it is.

The folks at Fopydo have developed some low-cost stands for general photo taking and document digitizing with an iPhone, tablet, or digital camera. After expressing some interest in these, I was able to test some of their offerings. The latest is a stand that Fopydo has designed specifically with the needs of blind and visually impaired OCR users in mind. At a projected selling price of $10, this is going to be a hard one to beat. In this latest Budcast, I describe the stand and put it briefly through its paces.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the stand, or about a projected availability date, drop Fopydo an Email as directed on their web site. Tomek is definitely interested in our needs and in making a product that will be of benefit to us.

One thing I forgot to mention in the recording is that there are holes in the back of the stand to assist with raising the stand to capture larger documents. These guide holes help to ensure that both sides of the stand are level and the height is predictable. The guide holes are on both sides where the L-shaped base wires fit in the back of the stand.

Has the promise of the Internet been broken?

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

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.

I gotta pay how much to use Facebook?!

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.