Some People Just Don’t Get It

People who have commented on this thread about Apple’s patent strategy have, as Matt commented yesterday have for the most part been, “carefully sidestepping the titular subject of this post.”  

Matt (is that Matt May?), did so intentionally so he could discuss the costs related to accessible web development and the difficulty that people who try to make web sites accessible have keeping up with changes in screen readers, browsers and their related DOM interfaces.  I still do not believe that screen reader vendors should give a discount to developers while we blinks pay full price but, on the matter of web standards, I recommend to all web developers to test with one of the many web accessibility test tools (I have a personal preference for Ramp from Deque Systems) and, if the testing tool suggests that you comply with the standards or guidelines that you should then report any misbehaviors that occur with one or more screen readers as bugs to their vendors as it is as much the job of the AT vendors to comply with standards as it is for web developers.

  Usability testing is much harder and I think Chris Westbrook’s idea of getting a web accessibility mailing list (like the one I started a couple of years ago) restarted will probably, if properly moderated and publicized, attract a pretty good group of volunteers.  It could even be a good opportunity for someone who wants to dedicate a lot of time and effort to the cause to start a non-profit that collects a small “dues” from a lot of web development companies and can offer both paid and volunteer services.  This could work like any of the voluntary membership driven standards and guidelines testing groups where an official “stamp of approval” can be issued to participating companies that pass both the automated compliance tests and the trials run by we “whining” blind people who are never satisfied.

Which brings us back to others who have left comments and, “the titular subject of these posts.”

Gabe, who has now posted twice on this subject wrote yesterday, “for one, Nice cheap shot you took on my writing on the last comments I posted, but in reality I didn’t expect such a childish response about obvious missed
keys due to fast typing.”  If Gabe’s previous post had just missed a few keystrokes, I wouldn’t have commented on it.  If you look back at his original, it missed entire words and sounded like it had been authored by a C minus ESL student.  But, neither his comment on the perceived “cheap shot” nor my response to it has anything to do with the central theme of these articles about Apple and its aggressive legal tactics.

Gabe continues, “You still seem to not get that if FS really seemed to genuinly care about its customers, it would lower down its price of its cheesy broken screen
reader,” and continues with a statement about the number of bugs in the most recent JAWS beta release.  I’ll leave the grammar in this sentence to others to criticize and ask, what does the price of JAWS or the number of bugs in its beta have to do with patent applications regarding self-voicing interfaces or an all-in-one user agent?

If I had been writing about the costliness or relative quality of different screen readers, Gabe’s comment would be apropos to the topic at hand.  Instead, he chooses to mix Apples with Sharks and doesn’t seem to grasp the theme of this thread.  Specifically, that Apple’s recent patent filings have the potential to limit choices for electronics consumers with vision impairments in the future.  I thought the detailed collection of definitions of various segments of US intellectual property law might have pointed him to the subject matter I’ve been discussing but, alas, blinded by the rainbow tinted glasses, he attacks me for “cheap shots” and Freedom Scientific, a company that is not a party to this discussion at all, for their pricing strategy and bug list.

In another attack on me and, seemingly anyone who agrees with my position, Gabe continues, “also, you and all the hum drum you’re trying to drum up is the reason why companies could give a damn about blind persons, when making a product. because
you sit here and wine and wine and eat your cheese with that wine and complain about big bad apple making a super duper all in one talking product, and
just because it doesn’t have the name blind in it some where in the description, you want to buck against it and call it bad because a known blind company
didn’t make it.”  Has Gabe been reading the articles I’ve been posting to Blind Confidential on this matter (there have been five prior to this one) or is he posting comments to a different blog?  

If I remember correctly, at least once in each of the previous five items on this subject, I included language that said Apple’s patents could prevent any manufacturer, AT or mainstream, from adding similar functionality.  I used the MPower as an example a number of times as it demonstrates published prior art to the Apple patent application on the self-voicing interface.  I also mention, though, that I would like to have this functionality in products not just from Apple but from HP, Sony, Panasonic and anyone else who wants to make a multipurpose talking device.  I understand reading comprehension has fallen in the US but rereading the posts I’ve made in the previous week demonstrates that I’ve repeated the idea that I would like to have these features on nearly any product I find in Best Buy or Circuit City and not just on products from AT specialty companies.

Gabe, in the quote above, also asserts that I don’t want Apple to make this product.  Quite the contrary, I want Apple to make this product and applaud them for adding a self-voicing interface to the iPod.  My objection is not to Apple adding these features to their products but, rather, to the patent strategy that they have taken which, if fully approved, can prevent other companies, mainstream and AT alike, from adding the same features.  Gabe obviously doesn’t understand the distinction between building products and adding new features to them versus taking a hostile legal stance vis a vis patents and competition.  Is this concept so hard to understand?  Have I been unclear about the difference between features of products and patents afforded them?

“I laugh at you and all the other hard core wining blind babies because it is because of you why we as a whole, group of the blind, will not advance, because
istead of worrying about more important stuff about taking on employers that wouldn’t give the blind the time or day, you want to work on apple who is
just trying to make life easier for everyone, not just blind people,” Gabe says.  Well, I enjoy a good laugh at my own expense.  I am not, however, laughing at the Apple patent strategy which is designed to make adding new features to other products much more difficult.  If they are trying to make things “easier for everyone,” they wouldn’t be assembling a legal strategy that will prevent all other portable media players, some mobile phone handsets and some PDA units from adding similar features.

Apple has a good, albeit not original, idea in adding a self-voicing interface to an iPod and gradually extending the iPod from just a media player to a multipurpose device that can act as a user agent.  These six items I have written about the topic do not criticize Apple’s ideas, their features or their products (in fact, at least once, I state that VoiceOver, if it provides everything a user needs, is a highly credible screen reader at a modest cost).  My criticism is of their legal strategy and their attempts to prevent other manufacturers, AT and mainstream alike, from doing the same thing and perhaps selling it at a lower price.  Thus, I have been saying, perhaps in language Gabe can understand, “features good, patents bad.”


Sorry for the cheap shots.  Sorry for the ad hominems that have plagued BC the past few days.  I just find it difficult to comprehend how anyone who has actually read these articles cannot understand the distinction between opposing patents while not opposing the features or ideas they cover.  I have been arguing in favor of promoting competition, for adding features and functionality that would make consumer products easier to use by people with vision impairments, for allowing Sony, HP, Diamond, Panasonic, Nokia and any other consumer electronics company to add the features Apple wants to hoard for themselves and for increasing the options available to we blinks.

Why can’t people understand this simple concept?  Have I been writing in Sanskrit, Aramaic or some other ancient language?  Has blogspot left out most of the text I’ve written or has someone hacked BC to change the content of these posts?  Or, is reading comprehension in this country really as bad as this seems?

BTW:  Gabe, not as a criticism but, rather, as a professional courtesy, I do recommend you get yourself a copy of or access to the online edition of “Elements of Style,” by Strunk and White.  Writing in clear sentences that follow the basic rules of our language, the way other people who comment here like Joe Clark, Matt, Chris Westbrook and others do goes a long way to helping get your point across.  You will find that you can express yourself in fewer words and people will take you more seriously if you can write reasonably well.

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Joe Clark: Brilliant Curmudgeon

I try to take at least two days per week off from writing Blind Confidential articles.  Mostly, this helps give my hands and shoulders a break and let’s me try to remain fresh and contemplate new ideas for this blog.  Yesterday, however, we received a comment from a celebrity, Joe Clark, noted author and web accessibility expert to which I felt I should respond.

Once again, a criticism to the thread on Apple’s patent strategy attacks me, corrects a few minor items in the piece I wrote yesterday and says nothing about the particular patents that Apple has filed nor about their possible effects on future choices by people with vision impairments.  I had expected better from Joe as he tends to have terrific insight into issues surrounding accessibility but, in this case, Mr. Clark, my favorite Canadian curmudgeon, chooses to assail my integrity rather than taking on the meat of the matter.  This sort of tactic, attack the messenger if you cannot find a hole in the message, falls beneath the bar of intellectual integrity that I tend to associate with Joe but, alas, we all have bad days.

In my own defense:

Joe starts by reminding me and other readers that I am a “former” VP at Freedom Scientific.  The key word in this sentence being “former” as nothing in Blind Confidential is influenced by Freedom Scientific and I rarely have contact with anyone who works there.  I admit I still have friends who work for FS and didn’t think this was a secret of any kind.

Next, Joe mentions my testimony on behalf of Microsoft in their antitrust suit.  If anyone reads my written direct testimony, which is available on the Internet, they can see for themselves that I did not speak to antitrust law (a subject in which I have no credibility) but, rather, I discussed how Microsoft was friendly to assistive technology companies and how they did their best to assist in the advancement of innovation in the AT industry, especially when compared to other companies in the OS business at that time.  If one looks at the date of my testimony and then checks the date Apple announced its VoiceOver screen reader, one can also observe that the Apple solution for people with vision impairments hadn’t even reached the point of rumor when individuals at FS, GW, AI^2 and others in the biz received frequent assistance from MS employees to make their AT products better.

Joe then points out some errors I had written in my explanation of copyrights and how they are granted.  I thank Mr. Clark for correcting my mistakes, his assertions are right and I did not do an adequate level of research on this matter.  What I did do on copyright was to write from memory which, as our regular readers know, is the style in which I run Blind Confidential.  Excepting when I quote directly from another article (in which I always provide attribution); Blind Confidential is an exercise in stream of consciousness writing.  After I complete a piece, I check that the entire item is in the same font (copy and paste can throw this off), I run the spell checker and, when rereading the item before posting it, I fix sentences that are truly miserable.  I do not claim to be a journalist but, rather, a commentator, critic and, occasionally, a writer of entertaining essays and stories.  

Nonetheless, my factual inaccuracies on how one can get their work copyrighted are only incidental to my description of how copyrights work and their distinctions from other forms of intellectual property law.  More so, the entire section in yesterday’s article about the three major forms of IP protections was to illustrate their differences and did not reflect on the primary thesis that Apple’s recent patent disclosures were both non-unique and potentially harmful to our community in the future.

Finally, Joe Clark asks me how I can argue against Apple’s patents when Freedom Scientific has its own patent on the books.  If you follow the link in Joe’s comment, it will, indeed, bring you to a page that lists the Freedom Scientific patent on its “whiz wheels” that sit on either side of a Braille line on their refreshable Braille displays.  I will start by pointing out that this patent was issued in 2002 and its application was filed by Blazie Engineering before Freedom Scientific existed.  I will also state that this invention and its associated patent covers a hardware device and doesn’t fall under the realm of a software patent.  If anyone knows the history of the LPF, the Free Software Foundation or my other actions on open systems and opposition to certain intellectual property structures, they will surely notice that my efforts have fell entirely into the software side of the argument.  I do not understand nearly enough about hardware hacking (electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, industrial or manufacturing engineering) to proffer even a marginally educated statement on the subject.  I do know, from hanging around the AT biz and having played with a wide enough variety of refreshable Braille displays that FS makes the only ones with cheez whiz wheels but virtually all other manufacturers have some kind of analogue (rocker bars, buttons, sliders, etc.) to perform the same or similar functionality so I don’t see FS using this patent to stop others from offering their users similar features.  As I stated at the top, I am a “former” VP of Freedom Scientific and one should go directly to them if you have questions about their intellectual property strategy as I have no influence over it.  I have not even visited the Fs facility in close to 18 months and, all of you readers can rest assured, I have no influence over FS, its products or legal strategies whatsoever.

The Apple patents that I’ve been discussing for nearly a week now, are far broader than the FS “whiz wheels” and would cover any implementation of a self-voicing menu navigation system that announces the name of songs (both an obvious concept and one for which we have seen prior art in the MPower) and over the generic concept of a multi-purpose, wireless user agent type of device that has been discussed ad nauseum in sessions of V2 and many other articles and presentations around the technology world, mainstream and assistive alike.  So, Mr. Clark, in order to discredit the messenger rather than debate the message, chooses to compare Apples with Sharks (so to stretch a metaphor).

So, why does Joe Clark have such a resentment toward me and Freedom Scientific?

Typically, I try to keep personalities and ad hominem statements out of Blind Confidential.  I like taking the high road, writing about topics I find interesting and having fun with this blog.  Today, because I had planned on taking the day off from writing to rest my hands and shoulders and because Mr. Clark seems to take every opportunity to criticize me, I will retaliate by exposing a bit of his history and, perhaps, why he is often crippled by the weight of the chip on his shoulder.

My first encounter with Joe Clark came in a phone call we held while I sat at my desk at FS.  I don’t recall the details of how the call came about, nor do I remember who called whom.  I do have some vague memory of an email correspondence between the two of us about testing web sites for accessibility, the price of testing tools and the effect of this cost on independent web developers.

During our telephone conversation, Clark posited the idea that Freedom Scientific should sell JAWS at a reduced price to web developers so they can test sites for accessibility against the de facto standard screen reader without taking on the burden of the $900 cost of the software.  I asked why sighted independent web developers, ostensibly with businesses and clients should get JAWS as a development tool for less money than blind people who use JAWS for every other purpose.  Joe argued that by removing this cost burden from independent web contract businesses that more sites would become accessible.  I suggested that such developers use the variety of web test tools available without price reductions from MacroMedia, Microsoft and elsewhere.  I also suggested that these developers could hire a blind tester from time to time to help out testing for accessibility with JAWS.

Clark continued to argue that this was an unreasonable burden on small consulting businesses.  I asked if purchasing the web development tools from Microsoft, MacroMedia or which ever tools they chose were an “undo” burden.  I continued by asking about tools like PhotoShop and other expensive bit diddling tools that web developers must acquire.  Finally, I asked about licenses to various media servers, web widgets and other items that go into building a commercial web site.  Clark responded that these were all necessary tools of the trade and unavoidable expenses.  

Thus, Joe Clark, notable author of an excellent book on web accessibility, argued that, although independent web developers can justify the expense of all of their other tools, getting JAWS as a testing tool is, by following Clark’s argument, somewhat superfluous to the task of creating a web site.  In my mind, you can have it one way or the other – you can advocate for web accessibility or you can suggest, by requesting a reduced price on accessibility tools that an accessible web isn’t really worth the added cost.

I also asked Mr. Clark how Freedom Scientific should explain to its blind customers why sighted web developers were getting a discount so they can do their jobs but we blinks had to pay full price to do our jobs.  Clark had no response that I can remember.  Finally, I asked a question about the blind web developers (of which there are many) and whether or not they should pay full price, because they are blind, the discounted price because they are web hackers or some price in between?  If I remember correctly, both Clark and I had pretty well lost our tempers by then and I don’t think either of us uttered an intelligent thought afterward.

Since then, Joe and I have traded the occasional email and may have spoken on a few occasions.  We had both been members of what is now a dormant email discussion list about user interface concepts for users with vision impairments.  Also, in response to Clark’s arguments that there should be some way for web sites to be tested for accessibility without taking on the extra overhead of buying AT products to be used as test tools, I, along with a friend out in Berkeley, started a email list where web developers could post links to their sites and receive feedback by a group of volunteers who use JAWS, Window-Eyes and other AT products.  I stopped following the web test mailing list after I left FS and had to deal with my health problems as my primary activity but I think it has also gone cold due to lack of interest.

So, that’s the history between Joe Clark and me.  I respect his intellect and his work on accessibility issues, I learned some things from his book and, more often than not, Joe is on the right side of arguments surrounding people with disabilities.

A question to my readers?

I know people seem reticent to post comments here.  I don’t know how to add one of those surveys to my blog or to a web site in general and, if I did, I would put one up to ask this question.  As I am a poor web hacker, I will have to ask you to please post a comment with your answer to the following question:

Do you think that sighted people should receive discounts on assistive technology products to use as testing tools at a discounted price while people with vision impairments are required to pay full price?


I really, really didn’t want to type today.  I broke my rule of avoiding an ad hominem in BC and, to those of you who, like me, dislike such behavior, I apologize.  I still find it annoying that no reader, whether they agree with me or not, has taken up the issue of these two specific Apple patents and their possible effect on technology for people with vision impairments in the future.  

People have defended Apple, attacked Microsoft and have attacked me personally.  This is fine, although I have comment moderation turned on, I publish every non-spam comment without regard to my opinion of its content.  I have a thick skin as, for many years now, I’ve taken on controversial issues and have had to defend my positions in front of Federal Courts, the USPTO, on panels, in debates, presentations, question and answer periods and in nearly every other forum I can imagine.  I just wish my critics would make even a slight attempt to argue against my positions rather than dancing around Apple’s aggressive IP policies and finding ways to attack me, other companies or praise the almighty Macintosh.

Just because one believes that Microsoft, one or more of the AT companies, other mainstream companies or me personally have done things they feel are wrong does not mean that Apple is above fault.  If a political observer disagrees with George W. Bush on a particular issue, it doesn’t automatically mean that they support John Kerry or other members of the opposition party.  It doesn’t mean that people who decry Hitler and the Holocaust are saying that Mao, Stalin, Andrew Jackson and other genocidal maniacs were good people.  It simply means that they are criticizing a particular action by a particular company.  In this case, it was Apple.

I hope regular readers have observed that my articles in BC criticize a lot of different companies, technologies and discriminatory acts against blind people.  I also celebrate advancements in the state of the art, cool new ideas, interesting new developments and write about lots of other items that aren’t controversial.

One final question, is Joe Clark, noted author and web accessibility expert, the same Joe Clark who served as Canada’s Prime Minister?  If so, I can even further understand his general negative outlook on life as going through life being remembered as Canada’s Dan Quayle might make one pretty uncomfortable

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Apple Patents: Round 4

Blind Confidential set another record for readership yesterday at double our previous record (set on Friday) and approximately 6x our daily average.  I guess BC readers find Apple’s monopolistic practices interesting.  Today marks the fourth consecutive item about the subject, which I think sets another record for lack of topical variety on Blind Confidential.  Hopefully, the next article I write for this blog will take on a different topic, maybe Gonz will need to pay us a visit to lighten things up a bit.

Returning to the topic of Apple’s nasty patent practices and their long history of intellectual property aggression, I am proud to announce that Richard Stallman has offered to help us fight these patents and will act as a consultant to any blindness agency or other organization interested in maintaining free and open access to the concepts of self-voicing interfaces and user agents.  For those of you who don’t know of Richard Stallman, frequently called rms from his many years of using his initials as his login and email address, he owns the distinction of fathering the free software movement.  Long before Linus had developed a kernel, Stallman had started the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and Project GNU.  He authored the famous GNU Manifesto, GPL and Copyleft, the basis for all free software and open source licenses and copyrights today.  

Well before the GNU/Linux distributions started making some people rich, Stallman led the GNU hackers in building emacs (his personal baby), gcc, bash, bison, gawk, Flex, gnu chess, hack (one of the first MUD like programs), gnu go and many other tools still used today.  Stallman has lectured on intellectual freedom on virtually every continent and is an “A list” guest at virtually any conference that discusses GNU/Linux or other free software concepts.  

Stallman’s biography, “Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman’s Crusade for Free Software,” is available on for $15 new and as little as $6.75 used.  I do not know if there is an audio version of the book or if anyone has scanned it into an e-text format accessible to readers with vision impairments.  I no longer own a scanner with a sheet feeder so I don’t want to scan it myself but would be very happy if a volunteer steps forward either with a link to a place where people can download the book or to scan it themselves and send it to me so I can post it somewhere for blinks to get it.  [A peculiar feeling came over me as I waded through the generic crap that amazon puts on pages about any book in their catalogue, specifically, I wondered who would put this book on their wedding registry.  While I find rms and free software compelling, I cannot relate it to marital bliss in any way shape or form.]

Back to the subject at hand.  We will put up a petition similar to the one that got google to start making accessibility changes and to offer blind users an alternative to their Turing tests about Apple later this week.  This issue is far more complex than the one with google and it is oriented toward the future rather than the present so some people may not understand the urgency of defeating these patents.  People who agree with the position I take, that these patents filed by Apple are both non-unique and will possibly limit choices for blind people in the future, should do their best to explain to others what this problem truly entails.  Intellectual property law can be difficult to grasp and terms like “copyright,” “trademark” and “patent,” are often mistaken for each other.  

A copyright covers a specific piece of material.  The copyright to Blind Confidential (except where another source is cited) is my property.  I can sell these posts, give them away for free, allow others to republish them with permission or license them for a fee.  To copyright something, you merely need to add a copyright notice somewhere in the item you have written and a date and it becomes your property from then on.  You can register your copyright by sending a copy of your work to the copyright office along with a check for whatever fee it is that they currently charge.

When it comes to software, a copyright covers the specific implementation of a computer program.  Thus, Apple owns the copyright to its Tiger desktop; Microsoft owns the copyright to Windows and Adobe the copyright to Acrobat.  If a bunch of hackers sat down and created a Windows clone, they could sell it, give it away or do whatever they chose with it as the copyright would be theirs.  This became the law of the land when the Supreme Court ruled in Lotus v. Borland that functionality and appearance could not be covered by copyright law.  This ruling reaffirmed a previous decision by the Supremes that did not allow an artistic colony to copyright the appearance of a very unique looking wheelbarrow that they had invented.

Next, we have trademark.  A trademark is typically the name, logo or some other identifying feature of how a product is branded.  Thus, Coca Cola, IBM, the shape of a Coke bottle, Burger King, Macintosh and Microsoft Windows are all examples of a trademark.  If a name or logo is covered by a trademark, someone else cannot go out and use the same name or logo to start a similar business.  For example, I can write my own clone of the Tiger desktop and release it as free software.  I cannot, however, advertise or otherwise promote it by calling it Tiger, OSX, Apple, Macintosh or anything else that would lead a consumer to think that it might be the original Apple product.  If I like, I could call it “TINA” for Tina is not Apple just like Stallman avoided violating the AT&T UNIX trademark by calling his project GNU for Gnu’s Not Unix.

Finally, we get to patents, the most insidious of intellectual property “protections” available to a software vendor.  A patent can cover a particular invention, a process or a combination of functions.  The patent office, as I mentioned earlier in this series, was started by Benjamin Franklin and funded by an early US Congress.  For nearly 200 years, the patent office was funded by tax dollars and staffed by actual experts in many fields.  Sometime during the Reagan administration, the patent office lost its direct funding and had to rely on fees to support its existence.  Since then, the expertise of patent examiners has dropped as they could make far better salaries in the private sector and the patent office has started approving many more applications than ever before – ostensibly to increase the number of applications and, therefore, fees.  Thus, many more inventions one might consider obvious receive patent protection.  What makes matters worse is that patents are issued for concepts that have plenty of demonstrable published prior art that is never found as the prior art searches receive far less funding than ever before.  

When granted a patent, an “inventor” gets a 17 year monopoly on their “invention” and can use this legal document to foil competition and innovation as they see fit.  This seems to be Apple’s motivation for filing for patents on the self-voicing menu navigation system which has been selling to people with vision impairments since the original release of the Blazie Braille and Speak (if not before) and on the user agent concept to which I listed four publications that I personally have made prior to their application and assume that other people have disclosed similar concepts as well.

So, while, unlike the google issue which prevented us blinks from accessing their web site on the day the petition went up, the Apple situation is about whether or not they are granted these patents and whether or not they are used to limit our choices in the future.  This is a lot more abstract but, compared to the google situation where we could opt to use other web sites, Apple can, if granted these patents, prevent any other vendor from selling similar products.  Thus, the future we blinks face can be marred by Apple’s legal maneuverings and our choices can be limited by their actions.

I hope this explains the issue well enough.  I’ve spent a lot of years reading about IP law and various nuances thereof and, although no expert, I’m pretty strong with definitions and potential outcomes.

Words from Apple aficionados:

Although we have set records for readership in two of the previous four days, comments on the Apple issue have been fairly minimal.  Only two people posted comments to Blind Confidential and a few others have sent me email.  

One of the emailers is also the person who convinced me not to dismiss Apple’s VoiceOver screen reader out of hand but, rather, to go out and give it a try, which I did.  That’s how I came to the conclusion that VoiceOver had a lot more value than I had previously credited it with and, if it provides all of the functionality a user needs from a screen reader, that the $600 Macintosh Mini can serve as a perfectly useful and cost effective alternative for blind consumers to include in their list of possibilities.  The email this person sent me yesterday included two especially enlightening statements.  The first accused me and another advocate of open systems of “giving Apple too much credit,” because we actually thought that Apple might behave as a decent corporate citizen.  He stated that the Macintosh and its very clean look and feel often blinds him to their corporate evils and he concludes by saying that, “Steve Jobs is a definite jerk,” and is, “not someone you would want in your collection of personal contacts.”  I thank him for his honesty and for being able to remove the Apple rainbow colored glasses and take a clear look at the company as the entity it truly is.

All of the other emails I received on the subject supported my position and some suggested more radical action than a petition and letter writing campaign.  I left the radicals to their own devices but did like one suggestion.  If a bunch of we blinks go out and buy 1 share each of Apple stock, we can attend their shareholders meeting.  If we get enough people, I’ll post the lyrics to “We shall Overcome” and we can start practicing at home.

We received only a single comment from an Apple supporter who chose to remain anonymous rather than even having the courage of Gabe to argue against the positions I state in Blind Confidential.  As this comment was short enough, I’ll quote it in its entirety, “Can’t be bothered to read this article – suffice to say Apple have innovated far more in the technology field than most others and Windows ONLY exists because of a badly worded agreement when apple was run by accountants!”

To rebut:  First off, if this reader had read the three articles I had written on this subject (Friday, Saturday and yesterday) he may have noticed that I never suggest that Apple does not innovate.  For years, with their “blind people need not apply” sign hanging on the Macintosh user interface, Apple continued to raise the technical bar with nearly every OS release.  Putting a hard disk into an iPod certainly revolutionized the way we think about portable media players and, going back to 1984, releasing the Macintosh as the first ever computer to come standard with a software speech synthesizer certainly demonstrated a tremendous level of innovation.

I do not say that Apple doesn’t innovate, I protest Apple’s use of sleazy legal tactics to stifle competition and innovation in the market at large.  The two particular patents I have discussed for the past five days do not express any innovation on the part of Apple and both seem to have a library of prior art in academic publications and assistive technology products.  Thus, I protest Apple’s claim of monopoly on these concepts which were not original and would, if approved, keep other companies from adding similar features to their products and letting us as consumers choose which product we want rather than being forced to accept the Apple product as the only solution.

If Mr. Anonymous would take off his apple shaped, rainbow colored glasses; he might also realize that Microsoft Windows exists because windowing systems have grown extremely popular among consumers.  If he had signed his message and would engage in dialogue like a normal adult, I would ask him if he thought that gnome, Motif, the Symbian windowing system, Palm OS, the B-OS system, the NeXT machine that a sulking Steve Jobs sold, the Xerox Star system which Apple based their ideas on, Greenblatt’s windowing system that the guys at Xerox used to build the Star, X-Windows, upon which many other GNU/Linux and Unix windowing systems are based and the countless other windowing systems out there for virtually every platform on the market are also the result of sloppy contracts written by Apple when it was run by accountants?  I’m especially curious about the Xerox Star and the Lisp Machine at MIT as they came well before the Lisa and, in the case of Greenblatt’s windowing system, even before the Apple II.

Thus, I believe that market forces and not some sloppy language in a contract made MS Windows and all of these others possible.  If any in this group has claim to ownership of the idea, it would be Greenblatt and MIT, his employer at the time, would “own” the intellectual property behind the concept if such legal strategies were permitted back then.  

So, to conclude day four of the Apple Patent Siege of Blind Confidential, please send me any prior art you can find to these patents, send letters to the PTO and to Apple, buy a single share of Apple stock and join me at their stockholders meeting, write to the advocacy organization of your choice to ask them to make official statements opposing these patents and, by all means, remind everyone to innovate, not litigate.


I am feeling a bit quixotic in my quest against Apple.  This isn’t the first time I’ve taken on giants but I’m not as young as I once was.  While I deplore these particular patents, there may be others out there that will limit choices for people with vision impairments in the future.  I hope that others who support me in this battle will join in and publicly state their position and help organize our community and our friends to help stop these patents from being granted.  I’m just a guy with a blog, I need to work for a paycheck (a time consuming task) and I cannot do this on my own.

On a completely separate topic, does anyone know of a laptop computer that can run JAWS, is powerful enough to use as a development machine and doesn’t get so hot that one cannot use it effectively while wearing short pants?  I live in Florida, our nation has an energy shortage, the world’s oil production is about to reach its peek, people should conserve energy so I keep the air conditioning at a comfortable setting rather than the polar freeze of many homes in Florida to be a good citizen and be a bit frugal with the electric bill.  At the same time, the laptops we have in our house (a Toshiba and a Sony) both get so hot that I need to wear long pants to keep from burning the hair off of my calves.  So, is their a “cool” laptop?  Maybe I should just get a Blue Tooth keyboard and stop complaining.

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Rebuttal to Criticism About Criticizing Apple

On Saturday, I found it surprising that Friday’s article on Apple’s ridiculous claim to having invented the self-voicing interface and having made it all the more unique by adding the fairly obvious idea of reading a song track to a user had received no comments.  On Saturday, as I wrote the article about their patent application that seems to make an attempt to grab a monopoly on the user agent concept, one person posted a comment to Friday’s item telling us that the MPower does, in fact, provide both a self-voicing interface and, indeed, it reads the track name from the MP3 or other media file, thus, our readership has demonstrated public prior art and disclosure of the invention.  I hope Apple takes notice and does the right thing by admitting Humanware beat them to the punch and recalls their patent application.

Yesterday, someone named Gabe took an alternative position, supporting Apple and attacking me for having a bias toward Freedom Scientific and other Windows based products.  Gabe does not, in any way, address the issue of Apple’s patent filings nor does he speak to whether or not they could limit choices for people with vision impairments in the future.  First off, Gabe should either retake English 101 down at his local community college or, perhaps, by a copy of Strunk and White (there is an online edition) so he might learn a bit about the English language and expository writing and, possibly, learn how to present an argument that doesn’t sound like it came from an angry ideologue.  Gabe also attacks both Jay Leventhal and me for publishing propaganda against Apple because we criticized VoiceOver.  He obviously neglects to notice that Jay printed an extensive update in Access World correcting his factual inaccuracies and, in my post on Friday, I actually led with the statement that I had spent time lately using VoiceOver and had grown to like it a bit.

The articles about Apple’s patent filings and ridiculous legal maneuvers addressed these monopolistic actions specifically and did not, in any way, speak to their screen reader or the quality of their products.  I will also point out some factual inaccuracies in Gabe’s posts.  First, Freedom Scientific didn’t even exist during the time when both Henter-Joyce and GW Micro argued against Microsoft including a full blown screen reader in their OS.  Second, neither HJ nor GW ever threatened legal action against Microsoft but, rather, spoke out against a screen reader that might not meet the quality standards set by JAWS and Window-Eyes.  Ted Henter made the most articulate statement on this topic in his 1996 speech at the NFB conference which I believe remains online for your reading pleasure.

Ted’s thesis, one which I have discussed in Blind Confidential, expressed doubt that a company that makes a wide variety of products for mainstream purposes could maintain the commitment to and focus on properly maintaining a product for a niche market like users of a screen reader with the same level of intensity as a business dedicated specifically to that purpose.  I do not recall Doug or anyone else from GW having made any public statement on the matter and, if one does look at Doug’s statements over the years, he disagrees with Ted on concepts like MSAA and other accessibility API concepts conceived outside of the assistive technology industry.  If one goes back through the archives of old mailing lists, one can also read how Doug and I have traded jabs about approaches to screen reading and in no way can we be accused of having been involved in some kind of secret collusion to maintain Microsoft’s primacy.

Madelyn Bryant McIntyre, when Director of the Microsoft Assistive Technology Group (ATG), addressed the 2003 meeting of the Microsoft Assistive Technology Vendors Program (MATVP) described other incidences in which Microsoft sold off niche products because they do not have good skills at managing and supporting low volume programs.  Specifically, she described selling SourceSafe, the revision control system, to Rational because Microsoft couldn’t do a good job of maintaining its quality or provide adequate support to their customers.  Without actually looking up sales figures, I will venture a large bet that there are far more SourceSafe users than users of all screen readers combined.

Gabe also asserts, “I’ve been using a Mac since 94
back then I use outspoken back with all the so called blind community was bitching that it too was not accessible. I’ve been on the www in about 96 with
outspoekn.”  Aside from his obvious language and typing impairments, I can only ask Gabe why outspoken no longer exists?  If the Windows version hadn’t totally failed and the Macintosh version had actually proved useful to more than a few hardcore Microsoft haters, one would assume that the market forces would have made it into a thriving success.  Instead, Alva has fallen into the AT history books and, although Optilec has purchased its assets, I would doubt that hoards of outspoken for the Mac users keep Larry Lewis up late at night pounding on his door to purchase copies.

The outspoken screen reader failed because users didn’t like it.  Alva itself, in its home office in Holland, became the largest JAWS dealer in their country.  Alva, although willing to give a user outspoken for free with their Braille displays found that their customers would pay full price for their Satellite plus full price for JAWS.  If you cannot give a product away, one must assume that the usability falls far below the line of acceptable.  When Apple shopped for a partner to make an OSX screen reader, Alva was the clear front runner but they refused the gig as they assumed that the market couldn’t bear the development costs.

Other than these third party references, I won’t state an opinion on the actual quality of outspoken as I have only tried it out a couple of times.  If someone out their in readerland wants to chime in as to why they believe outspoken for both Macintosh and Windows died a forgettable death, please add comments.

Gabe continues, “I am sorry that you have this beef but I wish you would write nutrally instead of so harshly about a company who wrote in a full functioning great screeen
reader for free.”  I can only respond that “for free” doesn’t mean with freedom but, rather, without additional cost to the user.  In my post Friday, I agreed that VoiceOver was a pretty good screen reader and that, if it performed all of the tasks a user needs, it is a reasonable alternative.  I know, without a doubt, that I cannot perform my job using VoiceOver alone.  The Windows screen readers, especially JAWS, give me the tools I need to get the richest contextual information available from any screen reader out there today.  To wit: I often work on large documents in a highly collaborative environment.  JAWS and, to a lesser extent, Window-Eyes, make the incredibly useful collaboration, version control and other writing tools accessible to a professional who writes for publication in a team.  JAWS gives me the tools to navigate Excel spreadsheets quickly and with a level of efficiency unknown to any other screen reader (except possibly Window-Eyes which I haven’t tested thoroughly in a spreadsheet) and profoundly more so than anything I can do on a Macintosh with OSX or with outspoken ever.  It’s the same story for PowerPoint and other presentation packages, VisualStudio and other programming tools and in Internet Explorer and Firefox with JAWS or Window-Eyes.  Gabe pointed out that I have criticized Freedom Scientific in these pages and, somehow, this means that I shouldn’t criticize Apple for hiding behind patents instead of actually innovating.  Thus, because I’ve criticized Microsoft, does that mean that I cannot criticize Sun?  Or if I criticize Sun that I cannot criticize IBM?  Where is the logic here?

As corporate citizens where people with vision impairments are involved, I think FS stands pretty near the top of the heap.  They have added more truly innovative concepts to screen reading than anyone else and have built their market share through honest competition and quality.  I put GW Micro near the top of the pile as they have valiantly pushed HJ/FS with their good ideas and high quality and have continuously helped to raise the bar for screen reader functionality.  Apple has certainly made its contribution by providing a usable, albeit feature poor, screen reader at a very affordable price.  Apple gets points for lowering the cost to entry but loses in areas of providing the tools many people need to do their jobs get an education or play games and enjoy computing for all sorts of purposes.

To Gabe and all of my other readers, please do not take either my word or your personal experiences as the defining factors when comparing screen readers.  While I often accuse Jay of being too nice to too many products and having an “everything is beautiful” approach to criticism, AccessWorld has much higher standards for its critiques than any individual might.  It also affords the companies whose products it reviews space to provide counter points.  If you do not like AccessWorld or AFB for some reason, I suggest then that you create a huge table with the names of screen readers across the top and features running down the first column.  Use the manuals, help files, tutorial information, technical notes and any other materials you can find to build the list of features.  Then, under each screen reader, put in a simple 1 or zero as to whether or not the particular screen reader provides the functionality and then, when you are at the bottom of the exhaustive list, sum up all of the columns and see who, in terms of raw numbers offers we blinks with the largest number of tools that we can opt to use.

Then, to make this a little more scientific, survey the users of the different screen readers included in the survey and ask them to place a value (0-9) on each feature, whether their screen reader provides it or not.  Then, you can play around with the raw data a bit to determine which items our community wants the most and which of these are available in the existing screen readers.  Once again, I’m highly confident that, given a large enough sample, you will find that JAWS, followed by Window-Eyes, will dominate both the list of raw numbers as well as the weighted values.

Moving onto the API exposed by an operating environment, I have spent years working with Microsoft, Sun, IBM and, yes, Apple in forums and conferences in which we “so-called” experts gathered together to come up with a canonical API that would work for both AT and OS vendors alike.  I spent many hours studying all of the results and, back when Peter Korn and I exchanged some items about such, brought myself up to date.  In my opinion, the API created by Sun for the gnome desktop and User Interface Automation from Microsoft both afford the AT, the application vendor and the OS to expose truly rich information about the data on the screen rather than simply the words and numbers without any context.  Apple’s attempt is certainly an improvement over MSAA but Apple had many years of reading about the problems with the first Microsoft solution to avoid some of its mistakes.  Apple did not, however, take the notion of delivering rich contextual information to users with vision impairment very seriously and, in its API, provides very little ability for AT, even if its written at Apple, to access interesting bits of useful data that may not appear on the screen but has tremendous value to the user.  This includes data points like whether or not a word is misspelled in a word processor without running the spell checker, whether or not a line of text has been modified by a collaborator or not, where a button in a dialogue layout program is located and whether or not I am dropping it on top of another control when I make programs and, in a spreadsheet, whether or not a cell’s content is the result of a formula or not.  Looking forward to using multidimensional audio information to express concepts like that is shown in a flow or organization chart will be impossible without the ability for the AT to suck out context from the application in the manner afforded a programmer with a MS DOM, UIA or with the gnome accessibility API.

Once again, my last two articles specifically criticized Apple for its two most recent patent disclosures and the lack of innovation they represent.  I also pointed out that Apple has had a long history of aggressive use of intellectual property law to stifle competition and innovation at other companies.  As previously stated, these two new patents may prevent a number of innovations from happening if companies believe they will need to meet Apple in a courtroom and do the high priced battle there rather than in the market where we consumers can choose which device suits us best.  I also pointed out that these kind of patents will not just limit choices among AT products nor on Microsoft platforms but, rather, could possibly prevent other mainstream companies from putting self voicing interfaces and user agent functionality into their products.  Regular readers of this blog know that, wherever possible, I stand for technology transfer and adapting mainstream consumer products for use by people with vision impairments rather than creating “blind-guy-ghetto” solutions.  If someone decides to make me king, I would have talking interfaces right out of the box on almost everything sold at Best Buy or Circuit City.  Even better, I would have all of them wirelessly expose a common interface that people with all sorts of disabilities can access via a user agent designed to meet their specific needs.  Apple’s two recent patent disclosures seem to suggest that they should be the only game in town as regards such advancements.  Thus, if Sony, HP, TI, Diamond, Bose, Mitsubishi, Panasonic or any other consumer electronics company tries to make something similar, Apple can possibly keep them from market.  Is this in any way a good thing?

To conclude, my criticism of Apple was directed at its patent strategy.  As I state above and in Friday’s post, VoiceOver is quite an acceptable screen reader for people who only need to use information that it exposes.  Try comparing the actual feature sets of the different screen readers on all platforms and see which provide the user with the greatest number of tools they can employ to perform various tasks if they need or want to.  Take a look at the full documentation of the gnome accessibility API, UIA and the Apple accessibility API and determine what may or may not be available in the future on each of these platforms.  Finally, take into account that Microsoft and Sun have not filed patents that might, if fully enforced, limit choices for us blinks.  No company is above criticism and, once again, I find myself attacked not on the content of my articles but, rather, for suggesting that the almighty Apple does do bad things.

Innovate, don’t litigate!

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More on Apple’s Patent Follies

Yesterday’s Blind Confidential post about Apple’s ugly legal tactics must have struck some nerves as the hit count for this blog broke its all time record.  The article received approximately triple the average number of hits which says something about the controversy over using predatory intellectual property tactics and the passion with which some people either love or hate Apple.  I also found it curious that, although we nearly tripled our typical number of visitors for a 24 hour period, not a single reader left a comment.  Was I absolutely correct in my assertions, are the Apple devotees struggling to come up with a counter punch or have those who pray at the altar of the almighty Macintosh chosen to assume that old Blind Christian is an infidel and better off ignored.  

Having reread the article this morning, I did notice a few problems for which I should make corrections.  First off, I misspelled the word “tactics” in the title, I use “Blogger for Word” a really useful little button bar that one can use to write and publish blog entries from directly within Microsoft Word.  Unfortunately, JAWS 7.0 doesn’t read the title field with a say line command and, since the title caused the edit box to scroll, I couldn’t hear the last word properly.  In yesterday’s post, I mention a product called “BookNote” I am uncertain if such a beast exists and think I had intended to write “BookWorm” in its space.  Although I compose Blind Confidential pieces as a stream of consciousness and only spell check and edit truly horrible sentences, yesterday’s piece had a few more grammatical and punctuation problems than the average BC item.  I apologize to our regular readers for such sloppiness and hope that new people won’t use yesterday’s post as an example of the regular quality here.

Now, onto more Apple Patent Follies:

In the May 5 edition of MacWorld UK an article titled, “Apple patents hint at future ‘iUber’ iPod,” describes a patent they filed in December 2004 but only announced to the public this week that covers a wireless enabled product that they describe as “a portable shopping cart.”

“The patent posits a device that’s capable of connecting to a store using mobile phone networks or WiFi networks,” describes the article.  This new super iPod will provide functionality that a user can employ to select items while in a store over its wireless network, to pick out songs from iTunes to download to their home computer later and to use for a wide variety of other purposes, including making telephone calls, sending text messages and looking at web sites.

In short, Apple is claiming that they have invented the universal user agent (UUA).  If coupled with the self-voicing technology described in yesterday’s BC post, it would turn out as an incredibly cool device for use by people with vision impairments.  As more smart technology gets installed in public places like shopping malls, hotels, universities, libraries, etc., a user agent becomes an increasingly important part of an individual’s gadget collection.  Putting user agent functionality into a multi-purpose device makes it all the more usable.  To wit, a PAC Mate, an MSP enabled iPAQ or an MPower with a wireless system (802.11 for instance) turned on and software installed to access smart technologies can make a terrific user agent for people with vision impairments.

Once again, the pair of Apple patents discussed here could provide them with an absolute monopoly on a multi-purpose, talking user agent.  Thus, adding user agent functionality to a PAC Mate may cause it to violate Apple’s patent.  I suppose a third party software developer could probably create a program that turns a PAC Mate, iPAQ or MPower into a user agent without violating the patent as they are not selling a multi-purpose unit that can serve as a user agent for we blinks but, rather, building an add-on to a multi-purpose device that will serve the same purpose.  This is one of those fuzzy areas in the realm of IP law that no one can really answer without some litigation and case law to clarify the issue.  So, even if a hacker writes a program for PAC Mate to handle this functionality, Apple can, at the very least, play litigation games in which the multi-billion dollar Apple computer could squash a smaller player by creating a legal bill so enormous that a company like Freedom Scientific, Code Factory or Humanware could never recover.

What makes things even worse is that this patent seems to preclude any mainstream manufacturer of a portable multi-purpose device (any of the other media players, an iPAQ, a Palm Pilot, etc.) from offering the same functionality.  Thus, if HP chose to add its own self voicing interface to their iPAQ line of products and also provide user agent functionality, they may be stopped by Apple’s attorneys.  Once again, Apple’s legal strategy, intentionally or not, looks like it will, if fully approved, be able to dramatically limit choices for people with vision impairments.

The notion of using a handheld computing device (the iPod is, in fact, a computer that passes itself off as a media player) is not exactly unique.  I’ve heard the topic discussed in the V2 committee meetings and I’m sure it has been presented publicly prior to December 2004 as I remember discussing the PAC Mate and other talking devices as possible user agents in my presentation at the December 2003 ICADI conference where I talked about using a PM as a user agent in a smart house.  Then, in March 2004, at the CSUN conference, I sat on a panel of V2 members that discussed this very same problem and I described how, if such smart technology had been installed at the LAX Marriott, I wouldn’t need to hold elevator doors open with my cane but, rather, could have used my PM to wirelessly talk to the elevator with far less hassle.  In a recent BC post, I mentioned the panel on which I sat at the RERC on Wireless Communication held during spring 2004 where I also discussed and demonstrated the PM as a multi-purpose, talking wireless device that could perform both communication and command control functions.  Finally, I wrote an article that discussed the PAC Mate as well as a number of other devices as user agents for a column in the IEEE magazine, “Computer.”  This is my personal collection of published prior art.  I’m sure that the austere group of BC readers probably knows of other publications in which such technologies had been discussed and I recommend that they be brought to the attention of the patent office before they waste too much time and money on Apple’s frivolous attempts at monopolizing technology that has been conceived well before they filed their paperwork.

Will these Apple patents definitely cause doom and gloom, higher prices and fewer choices for people with vision impairments?  This question is difficult to answer.  If Apple chooses to aggressively protect their so-called “inventions” the situation could get very bad.  Small companies will probably avoid working on useful concepts like user agents and other talking technologies as Apple can destroy them with legal fees alone.  Larger companies could try to release similar products but could be forced to hold them from the market by a simple injunction written by a judge who has no special background in patents, technology or talking computers.  If Apple uses these patents purely for defensive purposes to prevent themselves from lawsuits by companies who may violate Apple’s patents but where Apple may infringe on their IP as well.  A defensive use is less bad than an aggressive strategy but it could, at some level, prove to stifle innovation as a smaller company with a legitimate patent on a real invention may be prevented from protecting their IP because Apple can threaten them with these frivolous filings and, once again, the little guy won’t stand a chance.  If Apple donates the patent to an advocacy agency or group thereof and they agree to split up a small licensing fee to be used to promote funding additional developments for people with vision impairments, it could possibly have a useful outcome if the licensing fees were kept small enough that they wouldn’t create a cost prohibition on entering the market sector.

So, yes, I do present worst case scenarios in the articles about Apple’s patent strategy.  As a blink who has grown quite accustomed to hearing about really cool technical possibilities and then finding out that they are superfluously inaccessible, that a screen reader company doesn’t find it important enough to support or that the cost barrier is so large that only a few research types and really rich people can afford them, I have grown very dubious of many corporations and generally find that cynicism protects me from further disappointment.

The Macintosh was once sold as “the computer for the rest of us,” Apple seems to be saying that the iPod is, “the technology just for us!”

Please write to the USPTO, to Apple and to anyone else who you may think might listen.  Please help stop legal maneuvers that may threaten our freedom of choice.  Please remind all technology companies to innovate rather than litigate.

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Patently Ridiculous: Apple’s Ugly Legal Tactics

A few weeks, maybe an entire month has passed since I last blasted Apple Computer on this blog. In the time that has passed, I have spent some time playing with a Macintosh “Mini” and familiarizing myself with VoiceOver, the screen reader that comes built into OSX. I will admit publicly that, where VoiceOver works, it does a pretty good job. VoiceOver doesn’t have the rich feature set of programs like JAWS or Window-Eyes and, frankly, I think Safari doesn’t reach the web browsing standard set by IE and Firefox but, overall, the system does a decent job in the fairly rare programs with which it works.

This morning, I had planned not to write a Blind Confidential entry. My wrists and hands feel sore from typing too much over the past few days and I thought I should take a rest. Then, while reading my emails from Blind News, I came across the article, “Apple files for audio navigation patent,” originally published in Ars Technica Online, a web rag that I had not heard of before.

In Blind Confidential, I have written a lot about my personal history. To recap a piece of my past apropos to today’s item, back around 1990, I co-founded an organization called “League for Programming Freedom” with Richard Stallman and some others who felt that IP law had moved from its intended purpose of promoting the useful arts into a realm where it became less a tool of protecting one’s invention to one used to create roadblocks for competition. If you search the Internet, you can probably still find an article I wrote back then called “Patently Absurd” that ran in the Boston Business Journal if I remember correctly.

For those of you interested in some of the core theory beneath why software patents should not exist, you should consider the fact that mathematical discoveries cannot receive patent protection. The Supreme Court ruled against IBM and Benoit Mandelbrot when they tried to patent fractal geometry. The Supremes ruled that all mathematics already exist in nature and are, therefore, discovered and not invented. Thus, patents do not apply to mathematical discoveries as they are reserved for inventions and not discoveries. As most students of computer science can explain to you, any computer algorithm can be expressed using the lambda calculus (the theory upon which the Lisp programming language is based). Hence, software is not actually invented but rather represents a discovery of a different functional expression in the calculus. On top of the theoretical issues, there remain many practical reasons why software patents do more harm than good but, as that is not my topic this morning, I recommend readers search the Internet for articles by Richard Stallman, Pamela Samuelson and others who have studied this problem in greater detail.

Upon reading the headline, I assumed that Apple had invented some new type of GPS or other “way finding” technology that could add to the tools one can use to navigate their car, while walking, boating or hiking. In fact, Apple has filed for a patent for a, “audio user interface that assists the user of a portable device,” navigate through the devices command set.

“The patent, which was originally filed on November 4, 2004 and released to the public today, describes an audio feedback system where the “device” not only voices the user’s input commands (play selection, next selection, previous selection, stop selection) but also sounds out the name of the track that has been selected. The song names would be generated from the ID3 tags attached to each .MP3 or .AAC file, and sounded out using a “text-to-speech conversion engine.” Does anyone other than me feel that we’ve already seen this invention?

While patent attorneys hone their skills at finding ways to write applications that worm their way through published prior art to find a way that the under funded and under staffed USPTO will find it fit to grant them a monopoly on their invention. The article continues, “the main question that arises whenever new technology patents like this bubble to the surface is: has there been any prior art? Often, the answer to that is a matter of opinion. There have certainly been audio navigation interfaces before: any user of software for the blind knows that. But have any of these interfaces automatically generated song titles on a portable music player? That seems to be the core of this particular patent.”

As I write this item, I have my PAC Mate and my iPAQ running MSP beside me. Does Pocket JAWS or Mobile Speak Pocket read me the names of the track in Windows Media Player, Pocket Player and probably a few other players I haven’t installed. Absolutely. They even do me the favor of not telling me the track name if I don’t want to hear it. I plead ignorance about the BrailleNote, the MPower (does the “m” really stand for Mosen?), the BrailleSense, the Book Note and any of the other devices designed specifically for us blinks. I haven’t tried using any of the “after market” speech programs that people have made available for the iPod and some other portable devices but, I’ll take a wild stab in the dark and make the assumption that they too can tell you what you have chosen to listen to.

“Apple is certainly interested in enhancing their iPod line as much as possible in order to hold on to their dominant position in the market. Over the years the company has experimented with different colors, added photo viewing, and most recently video. While an audio navigation system may not seem like much, it’s one more little extra to convince potential customers not to go with cheaper alternatives.” Thus, Apple seems to say that, although Benjamin Franklin, who started the USPTO and the Congress that first funded it, had been wrong when they suggested its purpose was to promote innovation and invention in the sciences and useful arts.

Apple has done absolutely nothing innovative with this invention. Lots of programs can look into a media file (Windows Media, Real Player, WinAmp, Pocket Player and others come to mind) and, through a very well documented API, pull out the track name. Self voicing user interfaces have existed for many generations of the rapidly emerging world of technology, both in and out of the blindness market. Screen readers like Pocket JAWS and MSP can read this information, all of the navigation commands and do profoundly more with their synthesized speech interfaces. I would assume that the self-voicing products like BrailleNote and its cousins can do the same. Apple has invented nothing but will still try to stifle progress and choice for people with vision impairments and others who would enjoy a talking media player.

I do not know the patent status of most products in the AT industry but I do know there seems to be a mountain of what appears to be published prior art. The USPTO can also refuse a patent if it demonstrates a fairly obvious concept. Between everything that exists in the world of products for blinks plus the fact that Apple’s “invention” does nothing more than look in a well documented spot in a file for a track name shows that other inventions have precedence and the single possible enhancement that Apple included is both obvious and has demonstrated prior art in every software media player on the market.

In my first article to feature Apple, I discussed how simple it would be for them to put a talking interface onto an iPod. Now, they seem to have actually also been thinking of such a concept, for some reason have been holding it back from market and, now, in their typically arrogant manner, Apple is acting like they invented an idea so obvious that people at the USPTO should be laughing loudly at their application.

So, Apple seems to have taken a step forward in making their products more accessible and is trying, through possible litigation to stifle innovation. They did this in their lawsuit trying to protect their user interface in Apple v. Microsoft and, quite fortunately for the entire computing world, they lost that case. Now, their legal department has reared its ugly head once again to try to derail competitors from adding the one feature that will truly benefit our community.

What should we do?

I propose that the community of people with vision impairments, friends who support our goals, advocacy organizations and AT companies temporarily put aside our counter-productive sectarianism and competitive urges and work together to defeat this patent application and to let Apple know that, as a community, we will not sit back and let their lawyers poop on us and work to limit the potential of increased accessibility in the huge media player market.

What actions can we take?

While I oppose software patents on principle, I recommend, as a protection to our community, that all AT companies and others who have done work with self-voicing interfaces to look through any patents they have in their files to determine if Apple, in VoiceOver or in this latest application, does anything to violate any item in any existing patent. If Apple wants to play legal games to prevent the spread of self-voicing technologies on media players, our team must also resort to the “nuclear option” and use any tools in our arsenal to stop Apple from further hindering access and innovation.

Next, all advocacy organizations who claim to have the best interest of we blinks in mind should publish open letters in their various publications calling for Apple to either withdraw their patent application or, if they find a patent examiner who has hit the pipe often enough to actually see something inventive in their application, to place the patent into the public domain or to contribute it to a collection of advocacy organizations who can manage its future.

As individuals, I think someone should start an online petition like the one that seems to have succeeded in forcing Google to take the blindness community seriously. I also suggest that my fellow blind bloggers and members of technology related mailing lists suggest that our readers write directly to Apple to express disgust with their legal manipulation of our futures. Finally, I suggest that blind people boycott Apple products until they start behaving like good neighbors in the community of technology that people with vision impairments can use to better enjoy their lives.

This feels like déjà vu all over again. I last called for an Apple boycott during their user interface copyright feud with Microsoft. I was the guy who purchased the thousands of day-glo stickers that depicted a nineteenth century prostitute with the slogan, “Only a whore charges for a look and feel! Boycott Lotus and Apple” and then, during a COMDEX, rallied a team of volunteers who paid homeless people all over Vegas to slap the stickers on everything they saw. I had also been the person who recommended the old “Fanged Apple” parody of the Apple logo that appeared with the slogan, “Keep Your Lawyers Off My Computer,” that the LPF put on buttons, coffee mugs, posters and all sorts of items that went all around the world. On a more serious note, I did the lion’s share of organizing the signatories to the friend of the court briefs filed by legendary computer scientists (including Stallman, Rod Brooks, Marvin Minsky, Geoffrey Knuth, Guy Steele, Bob Boyer, John McCarthy and so many others) in Apple v. Microsoft and Lotus v. Borland where, ultimately, user interface copyright was struck down.

All of that occurred a long time ago. Since then, I’ve found lots of fault with Apple’s entirely post 508 attempt at making the Macintosh accessible to people with vision impairments. After playing around a bit with the Mini and VoiceOver, I thought that Apple and I might reach peace or at least a state of détente. No such luck, their lawyers, like the dragons who live in the sewers beneath Manhattan have resurfaced with a truly bold, in your face attack on potential improvements in accessibility to the entire range of media players on the market.

So, I’ll start reviving our old slogans:

Innovate Don’t Litigate!
Keep Your Lawyers off My Computer!
Stop Software Monopo Lies!
Boycott Apple!

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Edible Braille?

Regular readers of Blind Confidential know that, although my Braille skills have improved, I cannot claim to actually “read” the dots but, rather, I “unspell” information and process it a character at a time.  When I pick out a CD from my collection, I might read “c… o… l… t… r…” realize that I have interpolated my way to the Coltrane section of my shelves and then I’ll start reading the album titles one at a time until I find the recording I want to hear.  Clearly, this system can be improved in many ways but it works for now and I am trying, with the help of my friend Roselle and some printed Braille books to learn both grade 2 and to read more rapidly.

I tend to argue in favor of nearly any technological or mechanical solution that will provide greater accessibility to people with vision impairments.  Although my personal expertise relates to audio techniques, I do enjoy learning and working with some tactile projects as well.  When I read about having Braille embossed on food (not its packaging but the food itself) I grew both curious and a bit squeamish.  The refrigerators in the Freedom Scientific lunch room leapt into my mind.  The thought of people fondling food until they found the item they wanted eat sort of turned my stomach.  I really don’t want to eat anything that someone else has read.

The invention that makes this possible, though, will provide increased accessibility and, as accessibility is my goal, I will not discriminate and today I will write about the prospects of Braille food.

In an article that came over Blind News last night titled , “Gourmet impression, LLC: Da Vinci Code Messages On Foods – To Be Revealed,” from a publication called Newswire Today, I learned about a company that just, “invented the only food embossing and impressing tools in the world.”

The article begins, “It is rumored that the world would be ready to get his coded messages only when a great mind appears and invents a unique tool. Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452.  The fictional prophecies of the Da Vinci Code Messages will be revealed when the world discovers the existence of “edible billboards” and “when foods can talk.” The secrets will be revealed and appear in all languages (including Braille), embossed or impressed onto a plethora of foods when served or presented by those bearing the messages.”

I read the Dan Brown novel shortly after it hit the bookstore shelves and somewhat before the thriller hit the fever pitch of disproportional coverage and Harry Potter like fanaticism.  Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Science Channel, A&E, History Channel and nearly any other outlet the broadcasts docutainment programming has done one or more productions about the concepts in the fictional book.

I admit I enjoyed reading the novel.  Dan Brown created a terrific page turner.  He also plays fast and loose with facts.  At the beginning of the book, before we start on our adventure, Brown includes a single page that states that the Priori of Scion is or was a real organization and that Leonardo, among other luminaries, had chaired the secret society – unfortunately, no actual living historian will make the same claim and point to the document Brown uses to support his argument that such an organization did or does exist having been shown to be a forgery a decade ago.  Next, on the same page, Brown states that Opus Dei is a real, very orthodox Catholic organization based in New York, on this matter he is correct, Opus Dei does exist, it does profess a particularly traditional form of Catholicism and it is based in New York.  Finally, in a statement which, having read the book makes me cringe, Dan Brown says that “all of the art history has been well researched and is factual.”  He then concludes by saying that everything else in the book should be considered fictional.

The fact that there is no basis for proving the existence of the Priori (brotherhood) and that he uses the name “Da Vinci” to refer to Leonardo, something no art historian would ever do as “Da Vinci” is not the great artist’s last name but, rather, a label that says he was born out of wedlock in a place called Vinci.  Leonardo, in all of his paintings, notebooks and other surviving works never used “Da Vinci” to describe himself.  Brown, who claims that his art history is entirely factual, might have noted this.

Within the first few Chapters, Brown reminds us that his art history had not really been the focus of his research and that, when it worked for him, he would alter facts of the artworks to which he makes reference when it suits his story.  My wife Susan read me this book aloud so we could enjoy it together.  We do that from time to time when we agree on a book to read and she finds the patience to go through it at a spoken pace rather than her much faster reading speed.  I can distinctly remember the evening when, near the beginning of “The Da Vinci Code” I yelled out that a “fact” of art history had changed radically only a few pages after we read Brown’s statement that his research was impeccable.

Personally, my art history background puts me into the category of dilettante and not even a really high functioning one.  I would succeed as a docent at a museum about jazz, certain areas of classical music, a couple of museums of science and industry, probably at the Boston Computer Museum and, if restricted purely to the visual arts, I could probably do a respectable job as a back up volunteer at a collection of Edward Hopper works.  I would fail miserably at Le Louvre, arguably host to the world’s finest collection.  Thus, I found myself amazed that an author of a best seller would toss down the gauntlet of “all of the art history is factual” and, then, early in the book, make such an obvious mistake and make it central to the action of a scene.

If you’ve read the book, near the beginning, right after our hero Harvard professor is saved by our sexy French heroine when she grabs the Leonardo masterpiece, “Madonna of the Rocks” off of the wall in the great hall and, placing her knee against the back of the canvass, holds the painting hostage so she and the egghead can escape.  Unfortunately, Brown conveniently forgets the part of art history that tells us that people did not paint on canvass for nearly a century after Leonardo’s death and that the particular work to which he refers was painted on wood and, along with its frame, I find it highly unlikely that this extraordinarily sexy and petite young woman would have the strength to lift the masterpiece, let alone carry it across a room balanced on her knee.

I don’t mind artistic license nor do I think facts should stand in the way of a good story – especially in a work of fiction.  I only find Dan Brown offensive for insisting that his art history had been thoroughly researched and then, throughout the book, he changes history as he sees fit.  The New York Times ran a terrific article a couple of years back that list all of Brown’s artistic anachronisms and also says they wouldn’t have grown angry if he hadn’t challenged his readers to find factual errors by claiming that none existed.  The many television programs about the truth within the book almost never mention the art history but that would probably bore the Wal-Mart shoppers (I know, I promised to be nicer to these people in yesterday’s post) but the television programs do seem to have credible historians who punch a ton of holes in the fundamental theory behind the fictional “Da Vinci Code” and the book “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” which suggests the same theory as fact.

Ok, it’s my blog and I can rant if I want to.  Back to the tactile food topic:

“Consuming and digesting the written word, will leave not a crumb of its secrets,” continues the article which then goes on to describe a new invention which has, “patent pending protection in 128 countries.”

“Gourmet Impression’s “Roller” is used to roll your message onto long foods or borders of many foods, while the “Stamper” is used to stamp messages onto varying shaped foods. Even a child, can now beautifully transform foods from pizzas, breads, vegetables, melons, pastries, cheeses and even ice-cream banana sundaes into ‘literary works of art’.”  Does this disgust anyone other than me?  I found my nieces and nephews far more fun to spend time with after they got past the age where the concepts of food and toy had distinguished themselves.  Now, some inventor suggests that kids should emboss their letters from camp onto uneaten pizza or cheese?  What will the mailman think when his bag starts to smell of rotting pepperoni?

The same company will, in the coming months, announce its super secret wand product which will be, “It is used for creating initials or custom logo stamping onto hot food items in an oven or on a stove with a longer reach, It’s like a hot branding iron except the food is hot and “The Wand” is not.”  Of course, I thought, this may just be the invention that all of mankind has been waiting for, it’s right up there with the artificial heart and may just be the most important product to hit the culinary world since the Indians invented curry or Columbus introduced the Italians to pasta.

I wonder if the same children insistent on doing their homework on the side of a Twinkie (banana or vanilla cream) might also use this wand to torture animals.  Maybe we can identify the future Jeffrey Dommers this way, give the kid a food embossing wand and see if the little snot nose graffitis the dog.

The article concludes, “Leonardo da Vinci would be proud.”  Somehow, I doubt this.  Doing some quick research on Leonardo’s inventions, one can find helicopters, submarines, hot air balloons, parachutes, tanks, all sorts of medical devices but nothing that my admittedly quick Internet search would identify as having any relation to the culinary arts.  In fact, I couldn’t even find a reference to a recipe he especially enjoyed.

Leonardo left us with great works, including the Last Supper, central to the Dan Brown novel and he left us with his amazing notebooks.  The Last Supper painting seems to be the only reference to food that I could find in his many masterpieces.  The only other reference I have seen to Leonardo and culinary delights resides in the MGM Grand hotel in Vegas and it is a terrific Italian restaurant named for the great man.

So, please, do not hand me a Brailed graham cracker nor send me an edible birthday card.  I don’t want my food to contain secret messages nor do I care to have children composing poems on pizza.  Call me a traditionalist, a Ludite if you must, but this is definitely an invention that exceeds any level of silliness that I want to experience.


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Audio and Music in Advertising

On February 27, I posted a Blind Confidential article about an item in Business Week describing the use of tactile clues for marketing mainstream products in a global market.  The article is still in the archives so refer to it if you find the subject interesting.  I received an articled titled, “Sounds Subliminal: Branding the Future with Audio,” originally published in the UK’s New Media Knowledge from our friends at Blind News.  The article describes the new marketing science of “sonic branding” and how music can function in a distinct manner for identifying products.

Below, I’ve pasted in the entire article as I found it of great interest and I expect that some BC readers would as well.  As I read the article, which does include discussion of 3D audio and applications for people with a vision impairment (a topic I’ve been very close to for some time now), brought a lot of commercial jingles into my mind that have sat dormant for years.

I think of the Barry Manilow composition that “bought the world a Coke,” the heavenly coffee sold by Chock Full of Nuts, “McDonald’s is your kind of place, it’s such a happy place,” “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should,” the “By Mennen” tones that made it into a Seinfeld episode, “Taste me, Taste me, C’mon and taste me,” “Bum Bum Bumblebee tuna, I love Bumblebee, Bumblebee tuna,” “Double your pleasure, double your fun” and so many more.

I can also remember products associated with pop tunes and pop tunes ruined by their product associations.  “Anticipation…” sang as the ketchup slowly poured from the Heinz bottle, “Start me up,” as the Windows ’95 start menu appeared on the screen, virtually any song George Thoroughgood stole from an African American blues musician and turned into an advertisement for beer.  Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” selling us middle aged former punks relaxing cruises (yes, we do get old).  “London Calling” used in an advertisement for Jaguar made me sad but the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” seems fitting in a beer commercial.  I suppose another sign of turning middle aged is that the revolutionary songs of my misspent youth have turned into commercial jingles played during family programming.  

“You deserve a break today,” “Maxwell House is the coffee you can count on,” “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce cheese on a sesame seed bun,” “In a Chevrolet, In the USA,” “Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet,” “Meet the Mets, Come on down and greet the Mets, Bring your children, Bring Your wife, Guaranteed to have the time of your life,” “Clearwater Mattress, Tampa Bay’s way to sleep,” “I’m a pepper, you’re a pepper, would you like to be a pepper too?” “Boller Coller, Boller Coller…” “The most rewarding flavor in this man’s world, Schaeffer is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one,” “Would you offer a Tiperillo to lady?”

It seems that many of the most memorable jingles have an association with alcohol or cigarettes.  I wonder if their subliminal message touches a pleasure center more so than some breakfast cereal jingle that I have long forgotten.  

Years ago, in a different lifetime altogether, a friend of mine came to the US from Sweden as a foreign exchange student.  I had already known her for a long time having first met her at a ski resort in Austria.  She started dating a friend of mine and his family, a very cosmopolitan New York area group who brought her too many places of interest to her and her amazingly beautiful mother who would often come to visit as well.  So, when my friend Lou and I brought her to Glens Falls, NY to meet her host family, she, Lou and I found ourselves largely under whelmed.  

The host couple described themselves as an “artist” (the wife) and a “composer” (the husband).  Thus, we were expecting an Adirondack couple like Stieglitz and O’Keefe.  In fact, the “artist” made lumpy ceramics sold at weekend, flea market craft fairs and the composer wrote jingles for radio commercials – none of which could anyone present, other than himself and his wife, could remember.  I was hoping that I had met the guy who wrote, “The best music, 77 WABC, Cousin Brucie!”  Or some other icon of my then 23 year life but nothing at all of nostalgic value had come from this man’s piano and staff paper.  

Needless to say, tension grew between our Swedish friend, the host family and the families of her friends.  The host couple included not just me but my parents in their hatred.  They wrote us all identical letters, photocopied from a typed original that reminded us of Mayor Koch’s Playboy interview where he described people upstate New York as, “wearing those gingham dresses and Sears’s suits.”  The letter continued to accuse us of having poor moral values (in my case they were right but my parents didn’t deserve this abuse) and of having ruined their time with their exchange student by having shown her things like the Empire State Building (we hadn’t) and the World trade Center (we may have pointed at the towers but didn’t go into them).  They just didn’t get it.  

We brought the young Swedish woman to see things in NY that she would find interesting, MOMA, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, CBGB, Studio, the Metropolitan Opera, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, really hip eateries, St. Mark’s Place for clothes and leathers and funky jazz clubs down the village.  They thought her disappointment with their version of the trip had to do with having already been exposed to great attractions like the top of the tall buildings, the Staten Island Ferry, brunch at the Plaza (a hotel that is only good for the fact that it is still home to trader Vic’s) and a horsy cab ride around Central Park.  Her disappointment hadn’t to do with having seen this stuff before, she hadn’t, it had to do with her desire to go see art, hear music and enjoy the culinary delights of the capital of the world.  Upstaters just don’t get it.

[Author’s Note:  Having just reread the paragraphs about the nice, albeit provincial, host family; I feel I owe them an apology.  Although I haven’t thought of them in twenty some odd years, I still hold a level of the righteous indignation that only cosmopolitan, intellectual snobs like me can truly carry.  Why should I resent these people, it’s not the woman’s fault that she did not meet my expectations of meeting a living Georgia O’Keefe and that her husband had no interest in modern compositions like those from Philip Glass, John Adams, Steven Reich or even some of the other twentieth century greats like Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Stravinsky, Ellington, Charlie Parker, Big Momma Thornton, Miles Davis, Coltrane or even the Rolling Stones.  Deep down, these people had a good nature and, although their tastes and lifestyle differed from my own, who am I to pass judgment?  

Perhaps, it is stories that this Glens Falls couple undoubtedly repeats when they are reminded of their year with our Swedish darling that turns those “regular” people against us intellectuals.  Maybe we need to clean our side of the street, put aside the snobbery, live and let live and, if outsiders have questions, don’t start with a condescending sigh but, rather, perhaps actually provide them with an invitation to learn about the things we find interesting and maybe a state of détente can grow between we hated “elitists” and the majority of the people in the country.  Maybe some outreach will do something to build a bridge between the highly distrusted academy and the people on Main Street.  Maybe this could lead to a return to trusting scientific and other scholarly experts rather than hearing statements like, “Well, sure Stephen Hawking says that but Billy Bob down at the end of the bar disagrees and Billy Bob never steered me wrong.”

Just don’t expect me to say nice things about Disney, paintings of clowns, large eyed kitties or music by Kenny G.]

Back to the topic at hand, the article that follows describes all sorts of interesting ideas regarding auditory concepts for advertising and object identification.  It gets into some of the work I’m interested in with the use of sound to represent spatial relationships.  I hope you enjoy it and don’t mind my stream of consciousness rant above too much.

New Media Knowledge (UK)
Saturday, April 29, 2006

Sounds Subliminal: Branding the Future With Audio

EXTRACT: “The team is also working with blind artists to find ways of interpreting music for people with visual impairment. The future of sonic branding is surround..”

Ringtones, radio and TV audio branding, MP3s and podcasting – all yet more ways for brands to connect with consumers. Add the Sony PSP, the PlayStation3 and the XBox360. This event on 23rd February 2006 looked at how marketers and brands can use audio as a way to engage and build relationships with consumers in the digital space…

This was a joint NMK / MusicTank event
Report by Robert Dennis
Chair: David Jennings – DJ Alchemi

David started off by saying that the aim of this event was to explore how sound creates different identities, how it can be used to create particular messages and how sound is used to communicate those messages.

Music in particular is inherently ambiguous, but its meaning can become more explicit depending on specific contexts, eg advertising, radio, tv, games and podcasting.

David drew attention to recent research that shows that although 83% of all commercial communication is visual, 75% of our emotions are influenced by what we smell while there is 65% chance our mood will change when we hear a new sound (BrandSense).

Bernard Carey and Michael Spencer – Sound Strategies

Bernard started his talk with an impromptu rendition of Andy Williams’s Happy Heart: (“There’s a certain sound always follows me around”). Brands and companies want to be followed around by a certain sound. However, the exact way to ensure that the right feeling accompanies a brand’s sound is far from clear. There’s very little research on how music and sound reacts with the brain to produce emotional responses.

Visual corporate identity is promoted alongside strategy, culture, products and services to create an image of the company. Visual identity should be strengthened by sonic identity, which needs to be created and developed by careful research and analysis. Sonic identity should also be used in a disciplined way. This helps build familiarity among stakeholders and enhances the brand’s reputation. However, there is no silver bullet: music is essential in branding, but it’s how we use it as part of a strategy, and how we choose it, that counts.

Most new media offer what Sound Strategies call “sonic opportunities”, but these are not being used to full effect. Currently only 8 of the FTSE100 companies use sound on their websites. Even companies that do use sonic branding don’t have a fully-defined sound strategy.

Music in the human development context

Michael pointed out that music has always been a very valuable means of communication, and there are strong links between music and the development of language and our emotions.

How do we apply this knowledge? We need to understand what music is and how it relates to our development. There are musical elements in the way we speak, and speech patterns directed at children have the same reaction anywhere in the world, regardless of the language. Anthropologists studying the development of language have found that music has always been an important part of human communication.

All societies have music, and it is linked with social bonding and religion. Above all, music produces powerful emotional responses in humans. Music promotes cognitive development, crosses national boundaries and stays with us for a long time.

Music can also drive consumer behaviour, but we have to choose pieces carefully as a piece of music can the opposite effect from what we wanted.

One problem that Michael highlighted is that we tend to rely on the music of the last 30 years, or contemporary music – we don’t explore genres. Also, we don’t have a way to talk about sound in the way we can do with visual. We need a descriptive but transferable vocabulary that enables advertisers and clients to talk to each other about sound in the same way that we are able to talk about visual. Above all, sound has to fit in with a company’s individual requirements and the imperatives of its brand.

Andrew Ingram – Radio Advertising Bureau

Andrew started by asking what have we learned about the way radio advertisers use sound. Commercial radio is over thirty years old, but what do know about the way music reacts on people?

The main attraction of radio advertising is that it’s a cheap, but the real difference between radio and TV advertising is that it’s much harder to avoid radio ads.

Both radio and cinema have much lower levels of ad avoidance than other media, in particular TV (with PVR technology now a major factor) and online. Radio is also much better for increasing outreach.

How can you use sound in a way that when people hear your sound they will remember you? While orthodox advertising doesn’t link to brands very well on radio, there is still great scope for using a distinctive sound – including music, rhythm and melody – to create an emotional impact on the listener and to make your brand more memorable.

Andrew cited the comments of Carphone Warehouse’s Charles Dunstone (who built his brand through radio) that it is a good medium for leaving a few basic ideas in people’s heads.

Andrew played some examples of familiar ads from the 80s, including the Toblerone song, and a recent ad for Coke featuring an African choir. Both of these radio ads use music to produce a powerful, memorable effect on the listener.

Dan Jackson – Founder Sonicbrand

Dan described how he started the first sonic branding agency in the UK. He has spent seven years trying to make a market in audio branding and helps brand owners and agencies decide what kind of music they should use. However, as Michael Spencer pointed out earlier, people don’t have a vocabulary for defining music in brand terms.

Dan’s three fundamental laws of music for brands are:

1. Music has to match the emotions of the brand 2. Music has to be right for the medium being used 3. Music has to match the brand’s message

Dan played a number of sound clips to illustrate his three laws, including ads from BA, the US Cheese Marketing Board, the Kia-Ora ad from the eighties, the Simpsons and the McDonald’s sing-for-your-burger ad – all of which use music to achieve a strong emotional response in the listener.

The key thing is that branding has to be consistent. While this is relatively easy to achieve through the use of visual imagery (eg, logos), it’s not so straightforward with sound. Companies often just want to put the latest piece of music on their brand. Since a lot of commercial music has become more like muzak, the association with the brand may not be strong enough.

Dan also picked up the point about how we talk about using music and said that commercial radio in the US and mainland Europe are way ahead of the UK in being able to do this effectively.

Dan Kirby – DKPM / Sonic ID and Martyn Ware – Illustrious

We live in audio-visual age, but while we spend most of our time considering video, we spend less time looking at the audio side when it comes to branding and marketing. Sonic ID was set up as a partnership to address this issue: using sound to reinforce a brand is ‘the difference between being seen and being heard’.

Martyn explored the cultural and artistic aspects of sonic branding. He explained how using revolutionary 3-dimensional sound technology, Illustrious are able to create (apparently) solid sound objects that move around in space for indoor and outdoor events.

Martyn has also encouraged companies to develop a bespoke compositional imperative for creating a new kind of branding. Advertisers tend to scour the marketplace for contemporary, hip music because it’s a safe option. Sonic ID want to encourage companies to develop original music and to help them to develop a free-thinking approach to how consumers’ emotions can be manipulated through music in connection with brands.

As a Visiting Professor in the digital music department at Queen Mary College, London, Martyn has been looking at music information retrieval technology, (including meta-tagging) and the reality of having a personalised radio station.

The team are also working with blind artists to find ways of interpreting music for people with visual impairment.

The future of sonic branding is surround. Martyn’s team will be delivering a series of mini-lectures called the Future of Sound (organised by the Arts Council) later this year. Artists, games designers and cognitive scientists will explore the links between sound, the mind, the arts and commerce. There is huge interest in exploring the power of sound and its psychological effects. Having worked with 3D, Martyn is convinced that the way we perceive sound and space are linked.

As well as doing conventional branding, Sonic ID is looking at other experimental ways of using sound, including attaching sonic signatures to buildings and designing immersive 3D spaces, often combined with digital projection.

Sonic branding is not just about radio and using music in advertising – there is also huge potential in developing spatial applications. Sourcing original, bespoke music, rather than just using off-the-shelf tracks, can also help create a strong brand identity.

Dan then talked about how these artistic and cultural developments can be applied in a commercial context, especially in an age when there is less actual stuff to package.

There are five key reasons why sound and music is important for brands:

1. It brings the brand to life
2. Builds a strong emotional response
3. Allows the listener to experience the brand
4. Transcends language and cultural barriers
5. Works on a subconscious level – when you’re not watching / reading

Advertising is traditionally about interruption. Sonic branding, however, can be a great way of allowing a message to seep in unnoticed.

Sound should be an important building block in creating a brand, although it has tended to be something of a poor relation to visual. It’s important that sound and music are integrated into an overall brand strategy.

Sound can be used to partition areas of a store and as a wayfinding device for websites. It can also be used to brand buildings and public spaces. Sonic ID have used sound to create both external and internal brand identities, similar to the internal-only sound component for Peugeot which was used as a PC start-up sound and hold music. They also used sound to brand an awards event for BP, which included ‘sonic searchlights’ and tension music.

Dan concluded by saying that the future of sound is linked to the future of brands.

John Broomhall – Broomhall Projects

John spoke about the use of sound in video games. Sound is now a crucial and highly-developed element of any game. One title that John is currently working on for Sony has at least forty licensed tracks. Sound and music are a massive part of gameplay experience.

There are three types of music in games:

1. Bespoke music specially composed for the game. Gamers will develop a deep relationship with this as it is ubiquitous and heard over a long time.
2. Licensed music: games often introduce new bands and tracks.
3. Hybrids of 1 and 2.

Music and sound help create the mood of a game, determine its pace and deliver key messages. Music makes the game more immersive and compelling, eg by creating a sense of threat. It can also underpin the narrative, support geographical references, and create a feeling of reward.

However, music can also be overused in games. As with film, the key questions are what and who is the music for: when it is used well, sound can make all the difference, but sometimes the grammar of film music is misapplied.

Music should be used to support the brand. This is done primarily through association, eg by using a distinctive theme in connection with the brand (eg Star Wars, Harry Potter). There are rights and costs issues involved as well – for example, games that John has worked on involve licensing the appropriate tracks to complement the street culture of the game.

Another issue is quality. Some WW2 games, for example, require an AAA orchestral score. Getting the right sound may involve commissioning original work (eg Paul Oakenfold’s Fifa theme) and it is crucial to consider the additional commercial exploitation of the music (eg, through ringtone sales), especially where music is an integral element of the game (as in Pop Idol).

One of the problems facing the composer writing music for games is that you cannot predict how someone will play the game itself, the route they will take, or how long they will spend playing. It is essential to have variation over a long period of time. Music can be created to allow a dynamic response (as in a film) when something significant happens. Delivering music in segmented form and in layers allows greater interactivity. Using pools of motifs and features that can be combined dynamically requires considerable creativity and ingenuity on the part of the composer. Music for games is accordingly written in linear and vertical sections.

Characterization is another important aspect of using music in games: each character can have their own music, which again enhances gameplay. Game states can be signalled through music, eg to indicate when the character is in a state of danger, or when their health level falls or rises.

With technological developments in consoles (eg the Xbox 360) and increasing computing power, the capacity is now available to achieve the same level of sound quality as in a film. Overall, music will play an increasingly important role in the branding of games.

Alex Bellinger – Audacious

Podcasting is one of the most talked-about developments in the audio world. With no gatekeepers and a simple distribution mechanism, podcasting has been widely taken up by large numbers of individuals, and organisations, including radio stations. However, unlike traditional broadcasting, podcasts are about the niche, not the numbers.

Podcasting can be considered as online radio to go, appealing to the individual tastes of the listener. RSS allows listeners to access just what they want, on their own terms, and developments in mobile technology mean phones are becoming an increasingly important platform and market.

The great advantage of a podcast is that you are in control: you can listen whenever you want. But time-shifting obviously has implications for advertisers. Podcasts work because they are personal, engaging and persuasive. Voice can convey far more than text.

Alex described the journey radio has made from Marconi and the early pioneers, through to its development as a means of mass communication, where numbers are everything. However, with the advent of the web, ways of individualising content such as podcasting are gaining favour over the “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Podcasts are a great way of differentiating your brand. Businesses need an individual voice and identity – and a successful podcast should reflect the style of the individual podcaster. Firms need to capture the ear of their customers, staff and stakeholders. Podcasting is ideal for tailoring the message to the individual.

The key difference between podcasting and broadcasting is that with a podcast the individual has selected the content. Recent hits such as Ricky Gervais’s podcasts show, there is an appetite for the medium.

Pocasting is also changing our perceptions about media: for example the Daily Telegraph podcast is now effectively competing with Radio 4. With mobile phone penetration expected to reach 1 billion users by 2009, the potential for personalised, downloadable content is enormous.

Alasdair Scott – Filter

Alasdair opened by saying that mobile is becoming the most prevalent digital platform. This has been driven by advances in mobile technology, allowing the distribution of full, high quality music tracks to phones.

Filter has developed its BlueCasting technology, a proximity marketing system that allows fast, free and relevant downloads to people within range of its signal.

Filter supported the release of Coldplay’s X&Y album through blucasting exclusive free content to anyone who wanted to download it, at concerts as well as in public spaces, eg mainline railway stations.

Running a campaign over a fortnight, with around twenty DRM-free assets, they achieved an opt-in rate of over 20% (4% is considered a good rate for direct marketing). They not only helped increase mobile sales, but received additional press coverage due to the novelty factor of the technology.

There is a huge demand for mobile content that will only increase, Al noted. Brands can benefit from sonic elements, especially if they are unique, viral and free.

See the original EVENT page


About the Speakers:

Bernard Carey and Michael Spencer – Sound Strategies (

Andrew Ingram – Radio Advertising Bureau (

Dan Jackson – Founder, Sonicbrand and author of Sonic Branding: An Essential Guide to the Art and Science of Sonic Branding (

Martyn Ware – Musician and record producer, founding member of Human League, Heaven 17 and the Illustrious Company ( with Dan Kirby DKPM/sonic ID (

John Broomhall – Broomhall Projects (

Alex Bellinger – Partner, Audacious Communications (

Al Scott – Founding Partner, Filter (

CHAIR: David Jennings – Founder, DJ Alchemi

© 2003-2006 New Media Knowledge
Version 1.2.9

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Happy May Day!

Yesterday, I received another email from Kropotkin who seems to hold the position of spokesman for the Blind Panther Party (BPP).  Of course, he may actually also be its only member so he potentially wears many hats in the organization.  This time, my net hacker friends could trace his email back as far as Austria and there it dead ends.  Like his previous communication, Kropotkin shows through his prose that he subscribes to the anarchist school of writing as well as of political action.

Kropotkin reminded me that today’s date, May 1, means “labor day” in all parts of the world outside of the US.  He also reminded me of the large scale demonstrations, national boycott and general strike planned by immigrant groups around the US today.  Finally, he suggested that we blinks do something similar.

In my reply, I suggested that we choose a day on which fewer other groups had planned events or risk getting lost in the publicity sauce.  I also agreed, upon threat of retaliation that I would write about the subject in Blind Confidential today.  I don’t allow a whole lot of people to push me around but I’m uncertain (but have suspicions) as to the identity of Kropotkin and others who may also have joined his BPP effort.  Although they claim to embrace non-violence and use a lot of rhetoric from Gandhi and Martin, I don’t want to take any chances.  What if the BPP is the political wing of a more sinister Red Blinkgade or Badder-Blinkhoff terror group?  Could Kropotkin be the blind version of Jerry Adams suggesting pacifist, political solutions but, in reality, just stand as the front guy for a band of violent Blinks?

What if we blinks chose a day, the birth day of Helen Keller, Louis Braille, Eric Weinmeier, Ray Charles, or some other blind hero (did history leave us with a known date for Homer’s birthday?) and decided we would all stay home or attend rallies on that date.  Would the 1.5 million people n the US classified as profoundly or totally vision impaired generate the critical mass to get the media to actually listen to our concerns about unemployment, underemployment, poor transportation and the general discrimination we are subject to as oppressed people?  Or, would a few media outlets send along a camera crew to show how adorable it is that a bunch of blinks, armed with white canes and cute dogs, came out for a day of protest for some obviously precious little reason?

Ok, what if the estimated ten million others labeled as having a moderate to severe vision impairment joined us?  Would 11.5 million BLV individuals cause the same ruckus as 12 million undocumented aliens?  This many people might actually raise the eyebrows of some media outlets, most of whom would probably cover the demonstration as a curiosity but maybe Amy Goodman and Bill O’Reilly would find us notable or bizarre (respectively) enough to bring a quote or maybe even an interview onto their programs.

What if we invited the tens of millions of Americans with other disabilities, our comrades in wheelchairs and with hearing impairments, to join us for a general disability day?  Would they take notice that so many of us are unemployed, underemployed, veterans and patriotic Americans who feel like the big dream has left us behind?

Then, I start pondering the problems.  As the unemployment rate among blinks and people with other disabilities is large, which employers would even notice?  Freedom Scientific has a bunch of blinks working there, so does Federal Express and MCI.  There are a lot of us at SSA and other government agencies but would anyone miss a bureaucrat for a day? [Author’s Note: to all of my friends who work for the government, I am just kidding.]

As our constituency has a lot of unemployment and underemployment and many of us who have jobs work in call centers and other fairly poor paying positions, would a nationwide boycott be noticed?  Do people with disabilities spend enough in any given day to show a difference on Wal-Mart’s take for a 24 hour period?

Then comes the other problem of many blinks having been co-opted by the oppressor.  Many blind people of European ancestry simply refuse to accept that we are a minority group and have far more in common with our black, Latino, gay, Asian and other minority neighbors than we do with our own white families.  I can’t count the number of blinks who have told me (to paraphrase), “Sure, W. is horrible on disability issues but he is sure tough on those miserable faggots/immigrants/welfare queens/minorities of all sorts…”  Then, when I ask them about their SSI check, they claim some kind of superiority over the poor fifteen year old black mother who, due to the liberal Bill Clinton’s reforms, must work at McDonalds to ensure she has milk money for her baby.  Some of these SSI blinks have good educations and, rather than using the safety net for emergencies (I do agree that it is much harder for a blink to attain gainful employment and that the community should have some kind of safety net for rainy days) but many have turned the Federal welfare system into a lifestyle decision.

I also hear blinks say that immigrants “are taking our jobs.”  I would like to meet the last blind person who lost out on a job to an immigrant, documented or otherwise, at a farm picking fruits and vegetables, working in a hotel changing bed linens, on a construction site, mopping up piss in a hospital or sewing clothing in a San Diego sweatshop or any of the other crappy jobs our ancestors did when we were kicked out of respectable European nations to seek the American dream via Ellis Island or the Golden Gate.

I hear blinks tell me that outsourcing has caused them to lose their call center jobs.  At the same time, they will defend President Bush’s tax cuts for companies who outsource work to Asia as being stimulating for our economy.  I think the only people “stimulated” by these tax cuts are those who screw American workers by taking jobs to third world nations.  

Then, I hear more from the blinks who support the GOP for religious reasons, the “any day now” rapture, the Intelligent Design folks who, according to their “expert” testimony in Dover also accept that astrology meets the burden of proof to be a scientific theory taught in our schools and those who care about the nativity scene on the City Hall lawn as if that would help them find a meaningful occupation.

Next, there are the racist blinks.  I heard from a lot of them during the flood in New Orleans.  They supported babs Bush’s claim that the Astrodome is probably the best those people ever had it.  They decried any claims made that, while the evacuation got most white people out of the city, it was only the poor blacks who had to sit in piss, blood and raw sewage at the Superdome for a few days.

In the racist comments, the worst I’ve heard include the, “some of my best friends,” at the beginning and continue to describe how none of their black friends use the verb “aks” in place of “ask” and they “have jobs” and “contribute to our society.”  Hearing this from people who collect SSI and do little to improve their own skills so they can get a good job feels a bit hypocritical to me.  Also, the “aks” pronunciation, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is an acceptable pronunciation of the word “ask.”  You can go to the OED, the closest thing to a canonical source about our language and look it up.  The etymology of the “aks” pronunciation goes back to Scotland, where it is still in common use, spread to Northern Ireland with the immigration of what would become the Scotch Irish, who would later immigrate to the US and, whether rich folks who owned slaves or poor, “white trash” who worked in conditions worse than the slaves, brought many of their pronunciation habits to the American south, including “aks.”  The OED includes it among accepted alternative pronunciations for “ask” as it is in popular use among people in Scotland, Newfoundland, among rural American southerners and African Americans.  It is part of our language, deal with it.

Finally, I’ll include people like me and some of my blind friends in the group of blinks who have, in the past, present and future, held their tongues when they witnessed an action or event that might be good for their personal wealth and well being but might not serve our community in an optimal manner.  We know who we are and some of us feel guilty about having made certain decisions in the past or having not spoken out at what we perceive as an injustice.  At other times, I include myself in this group, we rationalize our behaviors in the same ways as Shelby Steele and Justice Thomas, by telling ourselves that through our intense hard work, our long resumes and the contributions we’ve made in the past, that we deserve our six figure incomes, nice homes, killer fishing gear and other trappings of the upper middle class.  We will say to ourselves, “If I can do it, anyone can.”

I have a couple of blind people close to me who, a year or so ago, pulled down six figure salaries in the fast paced technology sector and who now receive a disability check as their situations went badly in the past twelve months.  Like many of our sighted colleagues, the technology industry ain’t what it used to be and, for us blinks, it’s a lot harder to secure a good job.  I had the advantage of a bit of celebrity, a known record of notable publications and a bit of infamy for speaking my mind coupled with a great resume and contact list that finding my next situation required little more than a phone call.  Others, including the friends I refer to above, have fewer advantages and, due to our lack of true discrimination protections, must answer the question, “Can a blind person write programs using a visual environment?”

Thus, even those of us who do well should be speaking up, if not against the specific injustices we are willing to swallow for our salaries or organizational misbehavior, for the general discrimination and oppression we blinks endure under a system that has law that explicitly excludes us from certain rights every other American accepts as a birth right.

So, we clearly have reason to do a general strike, a boycott and to demonstrate our displeasure with our second or third class status in this nation.  Can we, however, overcome our different political biases and leanings on issues other than blindness, employment and civil rights or will we perpetuate the counter-productive sectarianism that keeps people with disabilities from being noticed, can we start an invisible fifth column like the one in my “1986,” happy ending sequel to the Orwell classic?

If we can come together on a day of disobedience, demonstration and solidarity, what should we demand?  Could we imagine an answer to this question?

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