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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bored, Hot, Angry, Annoyed: A Rant

Where did the nearly daily posts to Blind Confidential go?  Probably, along with my general mood and outlook on life, very far south.  The calendar reads mid-August, the Florida equivalent of mid-February in Boston.  While I swore I would never complain about the Florida heat as long as I didn’t have to endure another New England winter, I find the discomfort of doing nearly anything during daylight hour’s outdoors to feel a bit oppressive this time of year.  What makes matters somewhat more depressing is that, in Florida, we know we have a full month of September to go before autumn arrives.

The new dog enjoys walking quickly when in a reasonably comfortable situation, if it’s nice and shady or, even better, air conditioned, he and I glide along quite rapidly.  When, like it started to become as we left the diner where we enjoyed our breakfast yesterday, sunny, hot and humid, he slows to a snail’s pace and reminds me that I’m neither wearing a fur coat or going barefoot on hot concrete and that I should shut up and enjoy that I’m not walking into anything dangerous.  His skills remain entirely intact but his pace slows to a near crawl.  If we go to the mall, though, he shows off by weaving in and out of crowds of people, showing off everything he knows and we move at a near trot.  The heat, however, slows us both down.

I’ve wondered if the heat of the South really does get to the brain in a bad way.  Surely, the South has given us a great literary tradition with people like Faulkner, Capote, Eudora, Toni Morrison and far too many others to list.  But, American recipients of Nobel prizes in areas other than literature tend to reside in the Northeast or out west.  Economists tend to come from the northeast or U. Chicago.  I would guess that U. Texas is the odd exception but it is in Austin, home to a lively chapter of the BPP and medium cool music scene.  Austin feels more like Cambridge, Berkeley, Ann Arbor, and Madison – the axis powers of thinking America than of the rest of Texas or the south.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of programming these days.  I’m working on a pretty cool project using Visual Studio .Net 2005 and C#.  It is my first “real” C# program (real defined as not just a demo or experiment).  I find that a lot of my rusty skills come back quickly and that I’m adapting to .Net and C# pretty quickly.  I’m still dubious of all of the code generated for me by the IDE but, alas, my state of malaise provides me with the permission to ignore things that work and proceed with the portions of the program that actually effect usability.  Still, I find it pretty scary that I am sending things to the compiler without even looking at them first.

I also find that I spend between 50-60% of my time wrestling with the IDE and my screen reader.  .Net 2003 worked better than 2005, which my vendor does not claim to support anyway.  Thus, I get frustrated as programming is certainly better for blinks than it was fifteen or twenty years ago but not as good as it was two years back.  I’ve gone over all of the reasons why screen readers can fall behind ad nauseum in these pages so I don’t want to repeat myself lest I find myself returning to a psychiatric facility for suicidal observation due to the general ideation that life for we blinks will never get much better.

I spent a while yesterday, after reading an article in Blind News (link above) about the new revision of the Macintosh screen Reader, VoiceOver.  The author said they included some verbosity options so the users could make it less chatty, something Windows users have enjoyed for more than a decade now, they have added support for refreshable Braille displays (something the author struggled with conceptually), another feature DOS and Windows people have had for at least 20 years and, if I remember correctly, existed in outspoken, the broken old screen reader for Macintosh from Alva, a product that, along with Alva, died on the vine.  Finally, the sighted author was most impressed by the really human sounding voice that Macintosh and VoiceOver now support.  These have also been available for a long time on Windows and GNU/Linux systems but never let someone tell Steve Jobs that he wasn’t first to a party.

I can hear Apple defenders writing comments already.  Well, it’s only a second revision, JAWS, Window-Eyes, HAL and even outspoken have had years of effort so you should cut Apple some slack.  This is akin to saying that a new automobile company should put out something that performs just like a Model T, with a few improvements, this year and claim, “It’s just a start, we haven’t had the time to learn all of the things that Toyota, Ford and the other guys have learned in the past century.”  I don’t buy the excuse that “it’s a relatively new product,” Apple has JAWS, Window-Eyes and lots of other stuff to serve as models and should not put out a half assed solution that raises hopes that are dashed by the reality of the system.

Also, I am really sick of sighted critics of technology for blindness related products.  Typically, they first ask, “so you talk to the computer and it does what you tell it to?”  No, dumb ass, I can type, there’s nothing wrong with my damned fingers.  Then, they ask, “How can you understand that robotic voice talking so quickly?”  Because I practiced to get good at hearing high speed feedback so I didn’t have to spend my entire day listening to a nice human voice reading my email to me without getting anything else done.

I am also completely sick and tired of reading articles by sighties who stumble across assistive technology for the first time and suddenly think they are experts in the field and must tell the world about it.  It’s 2006 and I still see at least one headline per week which says, “New Technology Gives Blind Access to Internet” and, upon further reading, realize that someone is writing about JAWS, Window-Eyes, Freedom Box, HAL or any of the other products that have been kicking around for a long time.

I really can’t stand the articles that tell me that K1000 “helps” me read books.”  No, K1000, OpenBook and Fine Reader, are tools that I can employ to hear text converted to speech.  This doesn’t “help” me, it gives me a damned tool that I can use or not.  If Ray Kurzweil wants to “help” me, he can come over and mow the lawn or do the forms layout stuff in the IDE which is really troublesome for a blink.

While I write the “kids these days” articles about programming and how different it is between then and now, I’m growing very tired of the “blinks these days” statements made by people blind far longer than me.  I hear all about how much better it is today than it was twenty years ago.  Fortunately, I don’t live twenty years ago but I live now and a lot of stuff still sucks out loud.  AT companies provide partial solutions (due largely to mainstream companies lack of compliance but also to a reticence to invest in innovation).  Mainstream companies fight compliance with such vigor that it would probably be simpler and cheaper to comply than fight.

I’m fortunate, I get to live in a fairy tale world of academia where our primary purpose is innovation and, while I am constrained by budget, market forces don’t play too hard on schedules and such.  Still, I bump up against the “no blinks apply” boundaries when I need to spend twice as much time to accomplish the same task as a sighted counterpart.

Somebody, please, send me some good news…


8 Comments:

Blogger Chairman Mal said...

Howdy Comrades! BC’s rant receives five, yep; five candy apple red stars of approval from Chairman Mal today, despite the bitchy little damning with faint praise comment about the medium quality Austin music scene. Here’s an idea. All BPP operatives are hereby ordered to call Dell Computer, and when they ask, “What can I build for you today?” ask them. “How about building a fire in my lap Asshole?!” I expect no invitations to Michael’s house anyway, that capitalist swine drop-out! We are pleased to have you back, BC! Regards, Chairman Mal: Power to the Peeps!

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Peter Meijer said...

I'll mow your lawn if I ever drop by. :-)

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Mike Calvo said...

I got some good news for you.
Hey BC I just saved 15% on my car insurance!

4:16 PM  
Blogger Leon Gilbert said...

Hi BC I'm afraid I've got some baddish news. I'm taking a holiday from the blindnews list for (at least) around 2 weeks. I guess nobody trawls like me, 2 days ago I found out the google news search limit! It's 1000 articles. There's a geek for ya, grin. Well this break may be bad news for subscribers, but it's surely good news for me.

Okay I'll try cheering you up now. A buddhist goes up to a hot dog vendor and says

"make me one with everything"!

Part 2, the vendor does so & the buddhist pays him, then says "where's my change?". To which the vendor replies

"change must come from within."

Take care, you wanna try the UK in hot weather sometime, it's something else. LWG

9:30 PM  
Anonymous Jake said...

Hey BC great to have ya back as always! I'm actually rather bored myself, but we're working on that. There's a job fair of sorts in my area at the end of next month, and hopefully I can get at least a tidbit of good advice there. Long story, but I've been dropped by VR. Guess that's kinda a good thing though, if ya know what I mean. But I also have some good news to share. Earlier this afternoon I walked to the nearby grocery store, pretty much unaided by a sighted person. A sighted person was with me, but she just walked alongside me and I used my cane. That doesn't happen much in my new area, or at least it hasn't happened in a while mainly due to ongoing construction. But I used my cane to get to the store and she went sighted guide with me on the way back. We had to pick up a couple items for an event this evening.

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Will Pearson said...

Good news, is that meant to exist in this post 9 11 era? Come on, get with the program. According to the world of Bush we now live in a world filled by doom and gloom, a world where everyone wants to blow everyone else up or otherwise destroy the fabric of society. Yep, the optimism that filled the nineties and the turn of the millennium has surely gone. Mind you, you don't believe Bush do you?

For a bit less distorted view of the world take a look at http://www.medialens.org

2:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Age of humankind aprox 3,000,000 years. Age of earth aprox 4,500,000,000 years. Age of universe aprox 15,000,000,000 years. So, the good news is: in terms of looking at the big picture, most "human issues" are not even a blip in the radar. Dont worry be happy!

3:00 PM  
Blogger TheBlindTech said...

Come on BC you love Apple, Steve Jobs and of course me! I am the beloved BlindTech. and oh yeh to the person who said they got dropped by VR they tried that shit with me and they got a big ol' WTF? I is why you exist now go make me some coffee! hey BC buck up man now show me a big Smile!
This comment was brought to you by the word Vodka where life is a glass of orange juice away.

9:14 AM  

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