Apology and Retraction

I have a tremendously bad headache this afternoon, the kind that feels like someone is jabbing an ice pick into my frontal lobe about an inch above my left eye so I really do not feel like writing right now.  The staccato sound of JAWS echoing my keystrokes through my Logitech headphones definitely does not help the headache so, do to my current discomfort, this item will be short.

I thank reader and commenter Stephen for correcting my history of scan and read machines for people with vision impairments.  As I’ve stated before in these pages, I write off the top of my head and do not fact check my articles.  I do not consider myself to be a journalist but, an author of creative non-fiction as well as the occasional short story.  Thus, I wrote from memory about the history of scan and read machines and will admit that my personal relationship with Jim clearly influenced my opinion of the history of scan and read products.  Ray Kurzweil, , whom I do not know personally, and regrettably I slighted his contributions and wrote an inaccurate correction to Stephen’s comment.

I did not wish to denigrate Ray’s contribution in any way but, rather, celebrate the lesser known contributions that Jim has made throughout his long and distinguished career.  As far as I know, ray Kurzweil is a great guy and, clearly, I got my history wrong.

I apologize for slighting Stephen by dismissing his remarks out of hand and using my memory, informed mostly by stories people have told me about the history of AT as I was just 14 in 1974, could see well then and scan and read machines didn’t cross my pot smoking, heavy metal kid head at that point in my life.

I stand corrected and am sorry for unintentionally denigrating Kurzweil’s contributions in favor of what I honestly believed to have been the truth.  

I do believe still that everything I wrote about Jim, his career at CalTech and fft based OCR technology is true.  I had not known that he, as well as Kurzweil, had sold OCR systems based on different algorithms before fft made it into the mainstream.

I, of course, still consider Jim to be one of a very small group of people I have known who have made profound contributions in this industry and to promoting access for people with disabilities in general.  

Now, I’m going to put a hot pack back onto my eyes and pray this headache goes away soon.

— End

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Men With Four Arms

The weirdness of Florida never ceases to amaze me.  People in the US tend to talk about the nutcases in California, the freaks in New York, the snobbery of Boston and the stupidity of Arkansas but no place in our great nation even comes close to the downright bizarre nature of Florida.  

Florida is so strange that I feel that Karl Hiaasen, John MacDonald and Dave Barry must have the finest creative minds in America as they write compelling fictional works that exploit Florida Weird without sounding too much like our daily newspapers.  Barry and Hiaasen both have day jobs at the Miami Herald where they spend their days immersed in the non-fiction weirdness of Florida but still manage to find ways to write great stories without just copying them from the news.

I’ve written about this throughout the history of BC and have discussed weird blind related Florida stories, weird Nazi stories and other general strangeness that goes on around us.  Thus, when I read the headline, “Crime: Blind Man Robbed Of Clothes, Cane by 4 armed men,” in Blind News, it came as no surprise that the event occurred in Florida.

I first wondered where the men with four arms came from but then started pondering other, more normal, places.
When I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city known for its extremely left of center attitudes, celebration of diversity and a collection of an oddball spectrum of humanity that all get along well together in a low crime city, I would, on a near daily basis, walk through a housing project to get from my bus stop to my favorite bar.  When people asked me if I ever felt fear in the PJs, I didn’t understand why I should.  The toughest gangster kids, in their Raiders and Kings colors treated me kind of like a local celebrity.  If a little kid played in the sidewalk, obstructing my path, the gangsters would yell to “Look out for the blind man, get out of his way.”  If a trash can or some other object stood in my path, one of the gangster kids would run over and say, “Lemme help you blind man, some motherfucker left a garbage can in the sidewalk,” and would guide me around the obstacle.  These kids joined the toughest gangs in the Boston area; they dealt drugs, shot at each other and, undoubtedly, involved themselves in all sorts of crimes.  They protected old people and people with a disability, though, as victimizing us would cause a loss of honor.  No gang banger got points for hurting one perceived as weak but, rather, they got badges from scars and violence against other tough guys.

As regular readers would know, I grew up in New Jersey.  I went to school with the children of prominent Italian mobsters.  Like the gangsters I would meet in Cambridge, these guys never hurt anyone without a reason.  Plain and simply, random violence and victimizing old or handicapped people was bad for business and would only bring on bad press.

Florida, however, has no rules and very little honor.  I am not as creative as Hiaasen or Barry so, I will end by pasting in the article intact from Blind News:

Local6.com, Florida
Monday, September 25, 2006

Crime: Blind Man Robbed Of Clothes, Cane by 4 armed men

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Police are looking for the men who robbed a blind man in Riverside, stripped him of his clothes and took his cane, according to WJXT-TV.

The victim told police he was walking home on Stockton Street about 8 p.m. Friday when four armed men pulled up beside him in a car.

The man said the men took his money, his clothes, and his walking stick before driving off.

Anyone with information about this armed robbery is asked to call Crimestoppers at 866-845-TIPS. Callers don’t have give their names and could be eligible for a cash reward.


I received a comment on my item celebrating Jim Fruchterman’s MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship that stated that Ray Kurzweil built a reading machine for the blind before Jim did.  In fact, Jim built his first talking scan and read device while a student at CalTech and, in the process, invented using fast forier transform algorithms for optical character recognition.  

Jim studied Aero/Astro Engineering at CalTech and worked on using fft algorithms for pattern recognition for use in smart bombs.  These explosives had cameras in them and the project intended to create software that could accept a photograph as input and the missile would find its target on the fly by recognizing the patterns in the photo.  Jim, a very decent person, saw that the same technology could find a beneficial application and he proceeded to prove his point by building the first truly high quality OCR engine and the first scan and read machine for blind people.

Ray Kurzweil did create the first commercial scan and read product used by blinks.  It contained an OCR engine that used Jim’s algorithm and, in many ways, demonstrated a lot of similarities with Fruchterman’s college project.  Jim has had great success with commercial OCR but he set up Arkenstone and Benetech as non-profits and, unlike Ray, hasn’t profited personally (except in the sense of the esteem he has received from the community) from his efforts in the blindness biz.

I do not object to profit making AT ventures at all.  I worked for the largest one for six years and, sometime in the future, I might make for profit AT software again.  Fruchterman, however, has enjoyed the luxury of making his fortune by selling products unrelated to disability and has chosen to do the work on blindness, learning disabilities, landmine detection, human rights and all of his other altruistic interests in a non-profit manner which, like the Bill and Melinda Foundation, should receive lots of applause.


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Death in the Family

Yesterday afternoon, I received a phone call from my friend Joe Simparosa.  He had called to deliver the sad news of the death of Susan Mallison, former Director of Documentation and Training at Henter-Joyce and, later, Freedom Scientific.  I have no details about the situation other than she had been attending work as recently as a month ago and that she died in a local hospital.

For those of you “old timers” who remember when the JAWS Basic Training Tapes were really more like the “Eric and Ted Show,” that sounded like they were recorded on a boom box and would include passages where Eric would show the user how to change their Windows color scheme and Ted would ask why a blind person would care to do so, you will undoubtedly remember when Susan joined HJ and started turning the giant ship of documentation and training around.

Her efforts and the solid team she kept moving forward took what was a very amateur, albeit entertaining, set of text and tapes and turned them into the best documentation any AT product has in the world.  Not only did Susan turn the JAWS documentation around but she also got the entire FS product line in shape as far as the documentation and training was included.  Susan’s group also took responsibility for translating the technical support notices from the odd English dialect spoken and written by programmers, testers and technical support specialists into the English spoken by most people.

In her tenure at HJ/FS, Susan also brought many intangibles and helped mentor younger managers and offered a lot of ideas in many areas outside of her department.  I’m sure the FS people will miss her tremendously.

On a more personal note, I remember Susan being someone with whom one could always share a joke, who could always help you find the silver lining in the dark cloud and who could carry on a conversation about many, many things.  Susan was an avid golfer and even went so far as to buy the Tiger Woods edition of the car she drove.  She would often talk about playing 36 or more holes in a weekend and was a regular in local women’s tournaments.

Lastly, on my last day at FS, Susan gave me the tightest hug and promised me that everything would turn out for the best.  I last talked to her about a year ago while I was working on a chapter for a book on AT and had some questions for her, I wished I had spent more time with Susan as she was a terrific teacher and great person.


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Jim Fruchterman: Genius

This morning, I found an item in my Inbox from Blind News telling me that Jim Fruchterman received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship.  I’ve pasted in the item from Bill Trippe’s blog where it had originally run below.  

I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this award than Jim.  His contributions to technology that we blinks use (including inventing the first scan and read machine, years before Ray Kurzweil thought of doing it) and fft based OCR, the basis for all modern character recognition software are incredible enough but, then, he moved on to creating his latest non-profit and spread out from projects for blind and otherwise print disabled people into a panoply of really cool projects.

Knowing Jim personally a little, I can say, without reservation, that the word “genius” may be an understatement when describing him.  When Jim enters a room, he brings his enthusiasm and seemingly infinite energy to the space.  It always seems as though everyone else gets smarter when he’s around.

Jim is on the PPO advisory Board and helped us with our incorporation.  He is also the man behind Bookshare and lots of other really cool things.

So, please join me in congratulating Jim on winning the award and, more importantly, for his lifetime of invention and contribution to society at large.

Original article:

BillTrippe.com (Blog)
Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bookshare.org Founder Awarded Genius Grant

By Bill Trippe

Jim Fruchterman, CEO of The Benetech Initiative, has been awarded a 2006 MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Each of this year’s 25 MacArthur Fellows learned this week that they will receive $500,000 in “no strings attached” funding over the next five years.

Jim Fruchterman, 47, is an electrical engineer turned social entrepreneur who adapts cutting-edge technology into affordable tools for the visually impaired and other underserved communities. In 1989, Fruchterman founded the nonprofit company Arkenstone to develop and manufacture a reading machine for the blind using optical character recognition technology. He delivered the reading tool in a dozen languages to 35,000 people in 60 countries.

In 2000, Fruchterman founded another nonprofit company, The Benetech Initiative, to create innovative technology solutions that address social needs. Benetech’s first project, Bookshare.org created the world’s largest accessible library of scanned books and periodicals providing people with visual or print disabilities access to a dramatically increased volume of print materials.

Posted by Bill Trippe at September 19, 2006 07:45 PM


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Ben Weiss

I read a press release in the Blind News (link above) distribution this morning that informed me that AI^2 got swept up in the merger and acquisition mania hitting the AT industry and that founder and president, Ben Weiss will leave the company in the middle of October.  The new owners, identified by a very generic sounding group called, The Investment Capital Corporation (TICC) and an unnamed private investor claim they will keep the current AI staff and management team (sans Ben) up and running in Vermont and will leverage its great success into the future.

Over the years, I got to know Ben Weiss as an industry leader and a colleague.  He and I co-chaired the ATIA AT/AT compatibility committee and worked together on a number of other ATIA related activities.  Ben, as an individual, is one of the brightest and most eloquent people on the AT circuit today.  He has also led the top low vision business in the industry for fifteen years.

Making a screen reader is a lot easier than making a magnifier.  Most blind people have similar needs: speech and/or Braille output from the screen.  Software for people with low vision related disabilities needs to address a huge array of different visual acuities, many of which are completely incompatible.  Ben Weiss and his team at AI^2 have solved many divergent problems for many different types of vision disability and have commanded an enormous share of the market by making ZoomText, their flagship product, the de facto standard in the low vision industry.

Unlike some businesses who, when they reach a commanding market share with one product, AI^2 did not “milk” the estimated 90% market share held by ZoomText while spending their loyal consumers money on new initiatives but, rather, fed their evergreen and kept it very healthy.  The end result is that, although Ben was in the position to sell his business, he did so with an ethical approach that did not cause him to lay off a bunch of his guys or stop ZoomText development to show an increased profit line and, therefore, an increased selling price for his business.  Ted Henter acted the same way with HJ which is the likely reason that FS has continued to do so well with its software product line since the merger.

One sad thing, industry wide, though, is that with Ted Henter, Dean Blazie, Jim Fruchterman, Russell Smith, Gil Papin, the Alva guys and now Ben Weiss, the trend toward diminishing influence from those who created this industry continues to drop.  Relative newcomers, Eduard Sanchez of Code Factory and Mike Calvo of Serotek remain the only founders with a major public presence and influence over the future of their products.  FS made a promising move by putting Jonathon on the payroll but his efficacy has yet to be noticed.

So, Blind Confidential and I on a personal basis would like to thank Ben Weiss for his more than fifteen years of service to our community, for his leadership in innovation in the area of technology for low vision users and for his unfailing dedication to quality software for people with disabilities.  I will add him to the Blind Confidential Hall of Fame, a membership that currently includes only Ted Henter so now Ted has someone to chat with during hall-of-famer meetings.

I hope that, in some capacity, we continue to see and hear Ben Weiss in our industry and that his genius and focus remain part of our community for a long time to come.


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Indecent Exposure

I listened to Terry Gross’ “Fresh Air” for Thursday September 7.  She had two guests, the first was the multiple award winning executive producers of the highly acclaimed PBS documentary series “Frontline” and the second was the new head of the FCC.  They discussed the new decency drive from within the FCC and the huge jump in fines for an investigation the FCC performs that determines that a complaint made by any random person watching television or listening to the radio shows that a program contained “indecent” material.

Frontline held back broadcast of an “on the ground” documentary that included real life combat scenes from Iraq until the FCC ruled on the decency of the language in the uneditted version of “Saving Private Ryan” shown on a commercial network.  When the FCC said that Tom Hanks, in the heat of a ficticious battle, could say, “Fuck” so PBS went ahead and broadcast their documentary containing real life soldiers, in a real fire fight, with real bullets and real people dying using the same words.

Many years ago, when I still drank regularly, I shared a set of season tickets to the Boston Red Sox with a handful of friends.  Dave, one of my best friends who died in 2004 at age 43 to a sudden heart attack, and I sat in our seats on the first base line for a late season 1989 game against the Cleveland Indians.  Dave and I got fairly primed before the game started at a local watering hole and continued our beer swilling after arriving at Fenway Park.  A business owned six consecutive seats behind us and, on that night, whoever working there who had the tickets sold them to a terrific bunch of very gay women from Cleveland out to root hard for their Indians and drink hard with their new friends, Dave and me.

A new guy to our section sat in the row in front of us with his son.  Most others in our section, including a couple of celebrity authors, all knew each other pretty well.  We all drank and used “adult” language through out our description of the goings on in the game before us as well as discussions of politics or anything else we jabbered about.  All of us tended toward suspicion when regarding new people in our section.

Dave and I got into a conversation with the gang of Cleveland lesbians about which Red Sox had the nicest butt.  I went hard and heavy for Ellis Burks, a sentiment shared by Steven King, a couple rows ahead of us.  Dave went for Dwight Evans and various people in the section chose different butts to admire.  

Neither Dave nor I went for men in a romantic sense but admiring a butt formed on a man isn’t a whole lot different than doing the same with a woman.  We had no interest in touching the butts but any man who fears saying something nice about another man’s appearance is definitely some kind of closet case who worries far too much about what others think than about his own identity.  Women do it all of the time without being gay and gay men and women admire the physique of people of both genders without any sexual attraction. So, guys, it is fine to admire Evander Holyfield’s cut form and doesn’t mean you are queer if you do.

Back to my story, our new lesbian friends from Cleveland, Dave and I and the long timers in our section continued to eat, drink, act merrily and use profanity in a manner that wove a tapestry of collective indecency that still hangs over Boston harbor as a monument to Dave’s life, the camaraderie shared by the people who sat together for so many games in our section and to Jean Shepard from whom I stole this simile.

After a while, the August heat, the Cleveland Indians 15 run lead and the constant jabbering of Dave and I, our lesbian friends and the regulars in our section created an irritation in the new guy in front of us who, as his teenaged son turned red, jumped up and started yelling at Dave and I and those around us for using such disgusting language.  We collectively and politely used Dick Chaney’s favorite phrase and told him to “go fuck himself,” and carried on as he stormed out of the ballpark.

The following night, Dave and I and most of the regulars returned to our seats.  So did the prudish dad and the embarrassed son.  Dave and I could still feel the hangovers from the night before so pretty much laid off the beer and stuck to Coca Cola and those Fenway Franks, guaranteed to contain absolutely nothing that exists in nature.   Our new lesbian friends were gone, replaced by a half dozen guys from the shipping department from the Charlestown Company who owned the tickets.

In order to make up for the previous night’s offenses, Dave and I decided to replace all of our profanity with an appropriate synonym.  “Greenwell really tattooed that one,” I exclaimed when the Red Sox left fielder hit a triple in the bottom of the first.  “Yes, he really knocked the tar out of it,” responded Dave.

“There was a real heater,” I said after Roger Clemmens blew one past David Justice’s swinging bat.  “I believe I could feel the wind from up here,” added Dave.  We continued using every antiquated baseball term we could remember and a few we made up that evening.  Batters would “knock the stitching” off a ball and fielders would weild some really hot leather.  Those around us who knew Dave and me and had witnessed the scene the night before enjoyed the joke and joined in.  JD Salinger, quite the baseball fan who sat two rows behind us, tossed in a few jokes about the vision impairments of the umpire and others discussed how the effect the lard in Rich Gedman’s seat kept him from moving with much speed.

Meanwhile, the truckers from Chucktown behind us lost track of the game, had no idea why we spoke 1910 baseball language and would emit sentences like, “I couldn’t believe that fucking fat fuck when he fucked up again, the fuckhead!”  A sentence worthy of Samuel L. Jackson and a real life proof of George Carlin’s assertion that “fuck” can be used properly as nearly every form of speech.

Occasionally, Dave and I would turn around and scold the Townies for their language and they would laugh, call us “fucking assholes” or threaten violence.  So, we continued our anachronistic description of the play on the field and enjoyed the company of the other regulars as they joined in our fun.  Finally, after a particularly amusing description of an over the head catch made by Elis Burks in the center field triangle, the individual, who the night before yelled at us for our profanity, got up and yelled at us for mocking him with our clean but creative language but neglected to mention the juxtaposition with the foul mouthed townies lest he find himself involved in some real ultra violence.

Dave worked in a collectibles store called Bay State Coin on Bromfield Street in downtown Boston.  Back then, Bromfield Street was populated with used camera stores, pawn shops, buy and sell jewelry and gold places and lots of guys carrying guns who did a respectable business fencing stuff along with running their shops legally.  Andy, owner of Bay State coin, remained one of the straightest guys on the street and avoided buying anything he knew had probably been stolen.  One evening, after I had gotten off work but Dave had not, I hung out in the store waiting for him to head up to the ballgame.  The father and son, who had sat in front of us and complained about our language, profane or otherwise, came into the store to look at some collectable cards.  We said hello and they explained that they got seats in the no alcohol section at Fenway and enjoyed this season much more than the one they spent in front of us.  I could only ask, “How do things look from left field?”

One man’s profanity is another’s poetry and does profanity have anything at all to do with decency?  I can think of a number of statements I have found “indecent” on broadcast television recently and others that, due to their historical nature, get repeated often.  To wit:

“I think Brownie’s doing a heck of a job,” said vacationing President George W. Bush as Americans drowned in their safe American homes.

The Secretary of Homeland Security saying, “We haven’t heard what has been happening in the Superdome…”  Obviously, the huge budget that his huge department spends cannot include a television as Solidad looked so sexy in those hip waders on CNN and Fox had their cameras on the spot as well.  George W. Bush and Bill Clinton both used this excuse for not killing Ben Laden at a few events covered by CNN, BBC, Fox/NewsCorp and other news outlets.  I guess someone at NSA should put Wolf Blitzer on the payroll as he and the CNN gang seem to scoop our intelligence agencies pretty often.

What about the historical phrase, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”  Shouted by then Alabama Governor George Wallace.  Today, this indecent phrase gets replayed on historical documentaries but, back then, when it played on live television, it was an official and very serious statement made by a sitting governor.  Meanwhile, if anyone opposing his position said, “Fuck racism!”  They would have not gotten beyond the censor.  Which statement is more indecent?

Yesterday evening on NPR, I heard the phrase, “The Pentagon has now confirmed that more Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan than in the terror attacks on 9 11.”  This “indecency nearly made me throw up.  Of course, if the commentator said, “War is fucked up,” the FCC would have shown up with their censors and fines.

Howard Stern, whose comedy offends many of my sensibilities gets slammed by the FCC and gets rewarded with a $500 million satellite contract.  While I find much of Howard’s humor offensive, I find him far less indecent than a president who insists that seeing more Americans die as the result of his orders than at the hands of really nasty terrorists is a preferred manner of action and that “we should stay the course.”

I find it indecent when, for the sake of “balance,” a network brings on a member of the KKK, American Nazi Party, National Front or other hate organization just to “balance” the advocate for racial, gender, religious and maybe even disability equity.  If we live and believe in the Constitution of the United States, there is no voice for hate that needs to be included for the sake of showing a “fair and balanced” bit of reporting.  The fundamental laws of our land protect the rights of the hate groups to say whatever they like but such free speech does not mean they have the right to free access to the media to spout their entirely discredited beliefs.

Also, who decided that science and experts in such fields are now open to “balance” from people who choose not to “believe” the results of work in these endeavors?  People on the left, right and center seem to have joined together in a movement against credulity, skepticism and empiricism.  My mother’s maiden name is Seiverson (the ethnically Norwegian name my grandparents chose to use when the changed from the ethnically Pollish name Sitarski).  My father’s dad was a union guy, a regular working man who installed and repaired telephones for Ma Bell.  Because my parents started dating during the fifties and because my mother’s parents went to college, my paternal grandfather would refer to them as the “Stevensons” due to his admiration for Adlai.  What happened to the days when everyone in a town would celebrate the one student, William Faulkner for instance, who would leave town to go to Harvard?  When did the working people of America stop respecting those with an education, stop trying to work three jobs to send their kids to a top university and stop believing in the truths that brought us to the moon, generated the “miracle” drugs and vaccines and brought us into the information age?

When did great conservatives like William F. Buckley, George Will, Bill Safire and others get replaced by Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson and others who seem to believe that the louder one shouts, the wiser one becomes.  What became of conservatives who cite sources and debate issues with their colleagues without resorting to a single ad hominem?

The liberals and those on the left don’t do much better.  When did people like Ken Galbraith (who, sadly, died earlier this year) get replaced by the likes of Al Frankin.  Why have Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn been replaced by rap stars and gossip types?  How has Michael Moore, a fellow I sort of respect but wish he would avoid stooping to using fictional scenes without stating so in his documentaries, replaced the hard hitting documentarians that have brought us things like Frontline and all of the great work done by Cronkite, Murrow and other great journalists?

Why do we, as a nation, love to hate experts but grow to approve more authority and accept spoon fed media every day?  For those of you who haven’t read George Orwell’s “1984” recently or John Dean’s excellent, “Conservatives with a Conscience” should do so as soon as possible.  Dean, who we remember as the guy who came clean on Watergate, shows us, using very scholarly techniques how America no longer heads toward fascism but that we’ve already arrived there.  To with: let’s look at Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” in which the employees change news and history to fit the leader’s motivations.  Now, let’s take a look at recent American history and a few more “indecent” quotes that often get repeated in documentaries and histories of the recent past:

“Osama Ben Laden is a fighter for the right of free religious expression of all of the people in the world,” President Ronald Reagan on why he sent arms to help the then “freedom fighter.”

“I have made an executive order permitting extraordinary rendition of terror suspects,” then President Clinton in the speech in which he declared that Osama Ben Laden should be taken dead or alive, thus providing the security infrastructure with a legal means to torture human beings without the oversight of US law.  

“The Taliban are important partners in the war on drugs,” Donald Rumsfeld said in April 2001 when he shipped them $40 million worth of weapons still being used today to kill Americans in Afghanistan.

“We have removed Saddam Hussein and Iraq from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism,” President Ronald Reagan in a speech in 1983 when he told us that we would be helping Iraq fight for freedom everywhere by helping them defeat Iran.

So, Ben Laden, once a good guy, now an “evil doer.”  What did Ben Laden change?  His target.  Saddam, a great ally, now another evil doer on trial in a place off limits to the international community, ostensibly to prevent a global media from hearing him discuss his days as a friend of the US.  Manuel Noriega, once on the payroll, then on the hit list.  Libya and Qadafy, formerly big time hit list, now our new found ally in the fight for freedom in his region.  

It’s getting difficult to keep track of the thugs without a scorecard.  At least we can count on a continuing hatred of Fidel Castro that is if he lives.  

A lot of years ago, Gore Vidal wrote a sequel to “Myra Breckinridge” in which Myron, for whom the book is titled, starts emerging from beneath his female persona revolting against his sex change in the first book.  This book came out shortly after the strangely ambiguous Supreme Court ruling stating that “indecency should be judged by the local community.”  A decision which resulted in one justice being quoted as saying, “Pornography?  No, I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.” And, in the famous Florida versus 2 Live Crew obscenity case, an eighty year old lady from Miami who sat on the jury saying, “They said it was up to the standards of the community and I hear far worse on the city bus every day.”

To avoid being banned in, perhaps, Peoria and Boston but sold in New York and Cambridge, Vidal changed all of the potentially profane words to the names of the Supreme Court Justices and other defenders of censorship.  I had started thinking of doing the same but many of Vidal’s choice names are of people dead and/or forgotten.  Thus, I think the Blind Confidential readership, in order that we not cross the line into indecency, choose the names of high profile individuals who find profanity more indecent than killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Katrina, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Indonesia, Serbia, Bosnia and any other place where such activities go on, with or without the consent of the US Government.

Personally, I think that Colin Powell’s son “Chubby” Powell could serve as a nice replacement for testicle.  “Wendy drew my Chubby Powells slowly into her hot and juicy,” has a certain pornographic ring to it.

“Then, as she caressed my Rumsfeld, I could hardly keep myself from screaming…”

““She retreated, grabbed my face and pulled it onto her left Kathryn Harris as my hand started to stroke her Barbara Bush and finger her Condi…”

Now, that’s some real porn on the cob  Please send in your favorite public figure for addition to the lexicon of indecent individuals.


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Who Do the Less Fashionable Gods Do with Their Time Part 1

Recently, while on the telephone with a friend I made at guide dog school, we started wondering what happens to a God when he or she goes out of favor.  Both of us describe and share in something of an ecumenical polytheist view of the spirit world.  I feel that I clearly understand the Christian and Jewish belief systems the best as those surrounded me as I grew up in Northeast New Jersey.

I don’t understand Islam very well as it seems to me that every expert on the religion I hear talk on the radio, from Muhammad Ali, whose extreme pacifism landed him in jail and got him the nickname, “Buddha in Boxing Gloves,” to the really mean and violent Osama Ben Laden who, even if he chose a different enemy would still scare the poop out of me.  I hear all kinds of people in between talk and each seems to have a different variant on their belief system.  

I realize that there exist numerous Christian and Jewish sects that do not conform to each other and, in many cases, to any translation of the Bible that I’ve read but very rarely (excepting radicals in the Middle East and those who bomb abortion clinics and gay clubs) do they break out in collective violence and, in the vast majority of cases, religious based violence is condemned by the majority of Christian and Jewish leaders.  Many Islamic leaders denounce violence but others lead their faithful in chants of “Death to America!”  While others call for the killing of movie producers, cartoonists and authors.  Thus, I don’t really understand the Moslem faith and will try not to comment on it until I read something more substantial on the subject.

But, we do have to acknowledge that the big three Middle Eastern Semitic religions with their variations on the same God of Abraham do a lot of praying to this individual they collectively choose to worship.

The world has nearly a billion Hindus, a very interesting belief system with lots of interesting Gods.  Different Hindu sects view different Gods as more or less important as some of the other sects but they all seem to accept the whole gang of major Hindu Gods.  Hinduism also permits one to add their own Gods to their pantheon so one can be a Christian Hindu by adding the divinity of Jesus to an acceptance of the divinity of Vishnu, Krishna and the other Hindu Gods.  I enjoy collecting statuettes of Hindu Gods as I like the tactile sensations of all of the different ones based on animals, the monkey being my favorite.

Off on a tangent, the monkey God is very popular in the South of India.  A colleague of mine and I went to Bangalore together while working on a project back in September of 2004.  Monkeys, in this part of the subcontinent, seem as common as squirrels or pigeons in New York.  Literally, monkeys are everywhere.  So, shortly after we checked into our hotel, I called the front desk that sent the IT guy over to my room to help me get my laptop onto their wireless network.  While he tinkered with the old Sony, my colleague returned to her room to get her cell phone which she had forgotten.  I wondered what took her so long to return as she typically moves quite swiftly.  When she finally got back, the IT guy still tinkered away as he struggled to get me online, she entered the room somewhere between terrified and laughing loudly.  Apparently, when she had first gone into her room to unpack, she opened the living room door to her porch so as to get a breeze going.  When she returned to the room to get her phone, a monkey had opened the screen door and wandered into her living space.  She screamed and ran into the bedroom, locking the door behind her and calling the front desk to send someone to get the monkey out of her suite.  Thus, I take my colleague’s fright to be a little omen that put me into direct contact with the monkey God and I find myself consulting him periodically.

There are also hundreds of millions of Buddhists who worship in their own way.  There are a number of aboriginal belief systems kept alive around the world and there are still those who favor Voo Doo and other ancient spiritual arts.

So, what happens to the Gods that have few or no people left worshipping them?

Do Thor and Horace hang around talking about the good old days when they kicked up big storms and heavy winds?  Or, do they consult with the currently popular and much younger Gods in sort of a mentoring system?  Sometimes, I think I can still notice Pan’s antics in the world of the living as people seem to panic over a lot of things they can’t see.

Where is Odin these days?  Do he, Zeus or Apollo if you prefer, teach the current Gods about warfare and being the big boss or do they act like former CEOs or guys like Rudi Giuliani wandering around the spirit world giving motivational lectures to angels and others who still respect but don’t work for them any longer?

Just listening to the nightly news reminds me that Dis, the ancient God of Chaos and the root of words like discord and disagree, still roams the Earth spreading death, dismemberment and a constant state of confusion.  If Dis isn’t behind this, who?  Mars?  Siegfried?

So, where do the less popular Gods spend there time and what do they do?

I’ll end here and write more on this topic in the coming weeks.  I just think it is interesting, how, one century, a God can be all powerful and worshiped by millions and, a mere few centuries later, nearly forgotten.  God’s can be damned but, as immortal, they can’t die.  Thus, they must be somewhere and doing something.


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STEM Subjects and Blind Students

When the word “stem” shows up in most news sources these days, it tends to refer to the cellular biologists and their work with stem cell research.  This work has great importance and may result in cures for many types of blindness as well as many other horrible diseases.  This article, though, refers to STEM (in all capital letters) subjects in schools and how blind students often miss out on learning about them.

STEM, the acronym, means, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  Beginning with pre-school, most of these subjects come with very visual teaching materials.  Those of us who grew up with vision can synthesize many images of everything from chemistry experiments to drawings of a bored Galileo watching the incense urn swinging while timing it using his pulse to discover one of the most fundamental rules of physics.  The language of mathematics, with Nimith and Gardner providing good writing systems for blind readers, has been somewhat conquered in a tactile sense but I haven’t experienced a very good audio description of anything beyond the most basic equations.

Ted Henter, who, with HenterMath (link above), attacked this problem has a lot of basic arithmetic working in Virtual Pencil and also has an algebra module that does a great job for people trying to learn these subjects who have vision impairments and, through an unexpected side effect, also seems to have found a niche among students with a learning disability that causes trouble understanding symbolic information when read visually.  Thus, a package designed for blind students seems also to work for LD which makes the market potential much larger and should attract more investors and grants to such a task.

Presidents Bush, Clinton and Bush the Elder all spoke to the basic facts that the US is falling behind the other western nations in education for all students in the STEM subjects.  The matter seems far worse among students with vision impairments.  When a blind student asks most high school guidance counselors about college choices and career opportunities, they tend to be steered toward the humanities, social work and other fields where there are jobs but fairly low pay scales.

There is a reason that, when you visit a major US university ranked in the top thirty for science and engineering that you find so many students from abroad.  Simply put, the US has too few high schools like Bronx Science and too many that cater to the middling student and too few students who can excel at the university level as they never built the groundwork necessary for such studies.  Again, this tends to be far worse for students with some kind of vision impairment as school systems look at the current text books and educational theorists all seem to work to improve test scores for the mediocre and ignore discovering new metaphors that can be deployed using today’s technology with a bit of solid design work and a way to educate the educators.

Why are the STEM subjects important to people with vision impairments?  Simply put, a blind software engineer with five plus years experience, just like a sighted counterpart, in a solid market can earn $100,000 per year or more.  Science teachers and college faculty make a large premium higher than their liberal arts compatriots.  A lot of fields considered outside of the STEM fields require them to understand.  Finance, for instance, can be very restricted to a person with vision impairment as, if you can’t do differential calculus, you can’t do quantitative equity analysis (for instance) and, therefore, cannot take one of those super high paying analyst jobs on Wall Street.

If you don’t understand the basics of physics, all kinds of engineering from the highly abstract DSP sorts of things which are more like programming than electrical engineering, to problems in civil engineering where a blind person may not be the best choice to work on the aesthetics of a structure but certainly could handle a lot of the calculations for things like stress loading and such.

With very few exceptions, major league athlete, taxi driver, air traffic controller, there seem to be very few careers that a person with vision impairment cannot learn to do some or most of.  Unfortunately, the educational infrastructure, except in cases where very motivated parents, very motivated students and a very motivated system (Cambridge, MA for instance) combine to provide the blind students with the tools they need to work in the most lucrative jobs.

How can we change this?  First off, we can look at the tools that exist today.  Products like Virtual Pencil and Gardner’s Accessible Graphing Calculator and things I haven’t heard about should be brought to the attention of educators around the US.  HenterMath and ViewPlus are not among the biggest players in the AT business and neither has a lot of marketing power.  Both, however, have excellent products.  So, in order to push this topic, you can send a letter to your local School committee or Board of Education or whatever it’s called in your area and tell them that these tools exist and describe the compelling argument that without such, the poor employment record and relatively low salaries among blinks will continue forever but, with some tools that exist today, a major change can happen in the future.

If we can start a fire with VP and AGC, we can probably start attracting grants and investments into teaching other STEM subjects from pre-math for pre-school students to surreal numbers for post-doctorate students.  We can better provide companions to text books for people with textual impairments so they can study economics with augmentations that make the text books make a bit more sense to people who can’t process printed symbols.

I have my ideas on how to approach some of these problems but I am neither an educator nor educational theorist.  I’m just a hacker from New Jersey who went blind and started hanging out with other blinks and made some pretty good software for my community.  I hope to learn more about how to build UI metaphors that will improve efficiency and, perhaps to learn more about the educational concepts so I can participate in making these tools in the future.

As I got to grow up with vision, it’s difficult for me not to synthesize images of all kinds of scientific and mathematical information when I think about them.  Unfortunately, blind children today will not have the same opportunities I did and, to improve the lot for our entire community, we should start a letter writing campaign to help promote the tools that exist and try to convince researchers and AT companies to start taking this educational divide seriously.


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August 2005

By Chris Hofstader

Notice, the byline on this post is Chris Hofstader.  This item is not written by BlindChristian nor is it by any other alter ego like Gonz Blinko, Sy T. Greenbacks or James Blink Secret Agent GGJ.  This is all me with the patina of fictional commentator stripped off.  This is not an easy item for me to write as it is very personal and dives into areas involving addiction and mental illness.  I hope it serves as good reading material and, for anyone who is going through something similar, I am available via email and Skype to talk about such issues.  While these issues are very personal, other than the specifics, they are not unique to me so I hope this serves the Blind Confidential readers and anyone else who receives this by email or a repost well.

I find that I struggle to think back on August 2005 with anything but terror as I felt horrible for the entire month.  I cannot remember feeling as poorly since I gave up booze and illicit drugs in March 1997.  My depression grew so bad that I had to go to a locked ward at Sun Coast psychiatric hospital for a short stint followed by an 8 week outpatient, full day, five day per week program at Windmoor Mental Health Clinic.

I can’t quite recall the order in which the events leading up to the suicidal ideation that brought me to the Sun Coast emergency room occurred during August 2005.  Some major events over the previous nine months and longer certainly contributed to the collapse on August 30, coincidentally my wife’s birthday, last year.  I left a job I heled and loved for six years due to medical and other personal reasons in November 2004.  I spent a long time before that and after trying to find a solution to the extremely painful RSI issues from which I suffered.  While working, I had two choices: feel a lot of pain or numb myself with pain killers, neither option works in a position where one thinks, directs and manages for a living.  The cognitive impairments caused by pain or Vicadan made work at my level impossible, my injuries had defeated me and I had to stop.

Shortly after leaving, I went through a series of doctors who kept increasing my prescriptions for Vicadan, the heavy pain killer, and Soma, the equally heavy muscle relaxant.  I also received heavy steroid injections directly into my spine and the area of the chronic muscle pain.  I now understand why so many professional atheletes behave so irrationally – steroids do really horrible things to one’s psychi.  I would often burst into tears over a sad event on a stupid television program, let alone the state of my life.

Thus, in the months leading up to August, the opiates and steroids dominated my conciousness which didn’t seem so strange to me as it did to others.  Meanwhile, I had a lot of legal problems going on around me with lawsuits threatened that, to me (then as now), made little sense.  By August, I felt that I may never work again, the pain had not decreased by much, a lot of people would call me and ask for advice (and you wonder why the AT industry is so fucked up, they would call a certifiable crazy person for ideas) but none seeking wisdom wanted to pay me for my time.  I had spent six years working in the blindness biz and few of my mainstream contacts remained intact.

By August 1, I moved almost full time into my bed.  I took between 3000 and 4500 milligrams of Vicadan daily.  For those of you unfamiliar with opiates, 1 mg of heroin is equal in strength to 10 of morphine which equals 100 of codeine.  Codeine is the active ingredient in both Vicadan and Soma so my daily dosage had reached more than a bundle of heroin per day.  The damnedest thing, I never got high.  I had worked my way up the resistence scale to a point that I never noticed the effects of the drugs, people around me saw that I had become pretty weird but, on the inside, I only felt an increasing darkness surounding me.

At some point during August, I went out fishing with my friends John and Jay.  Without knowing it, this very hot, very slow fishing day near Fort DeSoto may have become my last.  We did have a good time and I hooked but did not land some of the most desirable fish in our waters.  Metaphorically, it fit in perfectly with my month, a bit of leader pulled out, the drag would yell and, suddenly, all would go slack.

I spent a lot of time talking to people on the phone and over Skype that month.  I spent a lot of time listening to DVS movies stream from Freedom Box.  I rarely showered, my eating habits fell far from healthy but I never missed a pill.  I spent most of my time feeling sorry for myself, counting all of the so-called friends who called when I had a big swinging dick job but now ignored my pathetic self.  I received a phone call threatening litigation if I continued working on an open source project.  I started receiving the heaviest doses of steroids thus far in my treatment plan.  By the end of the month, I could not remember the last day in which I didn’t cry my eyes out.

On August 30, poor Susan’s birthday, she went out to some sort of event with the local Democratic Party.  I felt that, if I couldn’t work due to pain or drugs, that I couldn’t even help out on open source work, that people watched everything I did, listened to everything I said, I still felt the intense pain no matter how many pills I stuffed, I hadn’t even thought to get my wife a fucking birthday present.  I reached the end, I would take every pill in the house and, including all of the codeine, the various psych meds, including benzos, the sleeping pills the NyQuil, I should certainly succeed in doing what seemed to be best for all involve.  I would check out.

I hadn’t written a note and wanted to make sure I sent a final “fuck you” to all of the right people and a final loving message to the others.  I didn’t feel like writing and fell asleep or at least went into the nod for I don’t remember how long.  Susan came home.  She came upstairs.  I told her that I planned on taking all of the pills.  She asked me not to.  As it was her birthday, I agreed to postpone any such a decision.  Susan hid the pills.

The next morning, we went to the emergency room at Sun Coast and I got admitted for the suicidal ideation.  The psychiatrist there immediately Baker Acted me, thus certifying me nuts and, by the law of the State of Florida, required that I remain in the protective custody of this locked psychiatric ward.

Right before I kicked the booze and other drugs back in 1997, I went to Melrose/Wakefield hospital and later to Bornwood Hospital, both in Massachusetts.  Melrose/Wakefield is a terrific facility.  You get a really good class of nut, really good food and the group sessions always filled us with laughs.  My first encounter at Bornwood happened two weeks after I stopped the booze and drugs.  I went into a state in which I couldn’t sleep and I started to hallucinate.  They brought me to what the patients fondly call, “The Bug Unit.”  My wife seemed a little concerned at the 9 inch tall red letters on the door that said, “Keep Locked, Escape Risks.”  I told the doctor that I didn’t belong in such a place and pointed to the hole in the wall behind him where all of the roaches were climbing out.  There was no hole; there were no bugs.  They gave me a very nice pill and put me to bed.

On August 31, 2005, I found myself back in a very similar place.  The ward door remained locked 24/7 and one had to get buzzed in or out.  There were no carpets, just tile as some of the other inmates were incontenent.  The noise level high, the echoes off of the tile loud and the other nuts pretty scary.

First, the people at Sun Coast did what they could to remove all dignity.  They took away my cologne as I might decide to drink it.  They took away my pajamas, lest I hang myself with the drawstring.  They took away my casette player lest someone steal it.  They took away my shoes and sheepskin, Gucci loafers and replaced them with foam rubber analogues with smiley faces on them.  They took away my ball cap, my belt, my shower gel, my facial scrub, my little ball for washing myself and all other items that one would regard as personel.

Then, they escorted me to my room.  The matresses felt like hard phone rubber one might buy in a slab at a hardware store.  The pillows were filled with some substance that certainly does not exist in nature.  The sheets and blankets clearly had petroleum in their past.  I wanted my 300 thread count, Egyptian Cotton designer sheets, my real goose down pillow and my nice comforter.  I wanted pajamas made of silk and not the polyesther they gave me.  I wanted my silk bathrobe back.  I wanted to go home but, when I tried to check out against medical advice, they reminded me that I would remain there under state law as their charge until the psychiatrist approved my dismissal.  I went to my bedroom and cried myself to sleep.

The following day, someone woke us up, a nurse practioner spent about a minute with me and said I remained crazy and we nuts gathered in the day room for a miserable breakfast and spent our time until lunch watching Katrina on Fox and CNN.  We got our lunch, ate and returned to viewing the television.  I asked about things like group sessions and anything therapeutic and they said they had a schedule for such but had to finish other chores before we could get to them.  In 72 hours, I spent less than four total in anything resembling a healthy session and spent the rest in the day room watching Americans die on live television while the president said, ”I think Brownie is doing a great job,” from his vacation in Texas.

I made friends with a mentally challenged 19 year old woman who was in for observation pending an arson trial.  She seemed harmless to me and, on the day I got to leave, she gave me some pictures she made for me from her coloring book.  

One afternoon, while watching Katrina with my illiterate arsonist, the day room phone rang and someone announced the call was for me.  To my surprise, after I took the receiver and said hello, I heard a familiar voice say, “Hey Chris, it’s Ted.”  He had spoken to Susan and called to cheer me up.  Thus, a legend of our industry, a true hall-of-famer, called me in a psychiatric ward to discuss life, business and some issues of a legal nature.  This one phone call made a huge difference in my attitude toward everything.  Suddenly, the nasty ward seemed profoundly more tolerable and, while I can’t say that time flew by, the remainder of my visit included a bit of hope that hadn’t existed when I arrived.

After getting sprung from the ward, I noticed that the pain in my shoulder had dropped a huge amount.  This likely came as a result of the big steroid shots earlier that month which may not have had only poor effects.  I stopped taking the big pain killers and switched to Advil.  Susan and I went to see “The Aristocrats” and I can’t remember laughing so hard in years.  By the time we got home, though, I told Susan that I felt poorly.  She touched me and said she had never felt a fever so bad, my lungs were congesting and my head filled with snot.  I took some NyQuil and went to bed.  All night, I swung between freezing and sweating.  I assumed I had caught a nasty flu while on the ward.  

The following morning, the sickness really hit.  I would either sweat profusely from all over, most especially at the joints or feel so cold that I had to put on a heavy sweatshirt and get under the covers.  The auditory hallucinations started.  Then the visuals, “It’s a miracle, I can see!”

Anyone who has felt dope sickness knows the rest of the story.  Needless to say, I had to return to an emergency room to get the blood pressure evened out and had to spend weeks drinking gallons of water per day.  I spent a lot of time in restrooms during September.

A year later, I’m working again.  I’m even doing research into aging related disabilities and digging it.  I’m working with the guys on Blind Programming on building a tutorial to provide useful information to blinks who want to learn programming in VS .Net 2005.  I’m working on some more project proposals for the university.  Some of my legal issues followed me into 2006 but haven’t reared their ugly head in quite some time.  I can’t say everything is perfect, hell, I’ll find something to complain about in paradise, but no real shit is flying, I have few fears, I’m doing alright no matter what the world or I thought in August 2005.


Our buddy Gabe left a comment on my “Don’t Blame the Victims” item yesterday.  In it, he cites the “income of AT vendors” and suggests that they could and should be doing much more investing in development.  He suggests that those who defend them on the smaller than Sun, IBM, Apple or Microsoft do so without understanding how the AT companies milk the VR system.

My question in response is to ask Gabe to cite his sources on the income of AT companies.  It will be one year and nine months since I left FS tomorrow and I have no access to their top, bottom or any line in between.  I don’t know how much debt they are carrying nor what their expenses might be.  I know even less about AI^2, GW Micro, Dolphin and Humanware.  I do know that Mike Calvo isn’t spending his days smoking chronic, sipping drinks with umbrellas and being surrounded by bathing beauties on his yacht so I don’t think Serotek is rolling in the dough.

So, if these guys have so many spare dollars, how did Gabe learn of it?  I thought I got a lot of industry gossip but he must be the master.

Also, even if the AT companies had the bucks to invest in more application support, I would not put Open or Star Office in the top ten list of applications to support.  I would first say, get the MS Office suite singing in every feature, every screen, every dialogue and add more augmentations to make the applications work better for blinks who need to work in collaborative projects.  Then, I would suggest MS VisualStudio and Eclipse as many blinks make a really good living making software and, if the screen readers worked better with these programs, then I think it will pave a way for the blind hackers to greater opportunities for promotions and greater flexibility in their career options.

I would then focus on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) areas of educational material.  Studies show that poor understanding of the STEM subjects among blind students graduating from high school keeps them from studying such in college and, as a result, further narrows their career options.  I would encourage the AT companies to work more intensely on audio editting and music software as, while it is a stereotype, many blinks really like this stuff and many use such tools in their jobs.

Now that Microsoft owns and advertises Great Plains accounting and database software, I think the AT vendors should explore working with the boys up in Redmond on making these talk.  For years getting a professional accounting job has been nearly impossible for blinks as virtually none of the vendors of the software cares a wit about accessibility.  Intuit is nearly hostile toward blind people and AT companies but I have heard a few blinks have been able to square peg QuickBooks into something JAWS can sort of work with.  Thus, for businesses large or small to hire blind bookkeepers and accountants is nearly impossible today.

Then, following my dream list, the AT vendors would go in and figure out to provide 100% accessibility for every application they advertise they work with.  If they had such money, I’m sure they would have already done so.

Next, I would suggest that AT companies do some hardcore UI research to hopefully make screen readers less one-dimensional and, hopefully, improve a users efficiency so they can grow to be more productive in this very competitive work environment.

After all of that is done and in the box, they can start working on the next versions of all of the stuff I mentioned above so the blinks can keep their jobs when the products they currently need are upgraded.  If they can accomplish all of these things that blind people really need, then they should consider a second or third office suite.

The reality is that any of these AT companies could have profoundly larger development budgets and still not find that Open or Star Office is a high priority.  We have MS Office and it works really very well with most AT.  Sure, in an ideal world, Star and Open Office would be nice, I would enjoy having more choices over which products I buy.  The pragmatist in me, though, says lets get as many job oriented categories covered as broadly as possible and then work on the competition issue.  Sure, freedom of choice would be nice and, as I mentioned in the article that drew Gabe’s comment, no one is stopping Sun and its two former FS employees from writing the scripts or using the JAWS API DLL to build in accessibility for their programs.  They have the tools, they have appropriately skilled employees, they really want to see this done, they do, by the way, still have boatloads more money than FS or GW and they should shut up, stop whining and, if they truly want accessibility, DIY!


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Jonathon’s New Job

As you all know by now, Jonathon Mosen has joined Freedom Scientific as Vice President of Hardware Product Management.  Since this became public, I have received a stack of emails, phone and Skype calls asking for BlindChristian or Gonz Blinko or any of my other alter-ego authors to write an article about this.  For two days, I’ve thought hard about trying to come up with something satirical, amusing or even a harsh farce about the entire AT industry.  Gonz and I talked last night and he said that he heard that his friend Moes Jonathonson had been hiding out somewhere in New Zealand but may have joined Freeman Scientology and, therefore, will no longer be a source for his writing.

My personal feeling about Jonathon, whom I’ve had a friendly, albeit distant, relationship with for many years now is that I’m happy to see him land on his feet in a challenging position working with some really talented people.  My thoughts on FS are that I am happy to see that, for the first time since the merger, they have hired a blind person into a senior management role.  In any AT business, it is always difficult to juggle qualifications and user experience in hiring decisions as, once again, we have a chicken and egg situation, if no blind executives exist, where do you find one with the skills to take on such a job?

Reading various items from Humanware people being passed around the usual emailing gossip circles shows me everything from graceful farewells to some normal nastiness to some sour grapes.  I just hope that HW does not try to take any legal action against Jonathon on issues regarding non-compete, non-disclosure or trade secrets.  I don’t know New Zealand law and I don’t know if FS has indemnified Jonathon but living under the threat of harassing lawsuits is truly horrible.  Also, I hope Humanware, even if they have such agreements in place, choose to waive litigation as doing so will do nothing more than publicly quiet the voice of a very bright and talented blind person and possibly keep his ideas out of the hands of the consumers who pay all of the salaries at all of the AT companies.

A number of years back, the NFB officially made a statement deploring restrictive covenants between blind people and their employers in the AT biz, as, if enforced, they deeply restrict the job possibilities for blind people, an objective to which NFB and AT companies both claim to promote.

I’m sorry to see Jonathon’s blog go away as I often found it both entertaining and informative (when he wasn’t trying to subject me to listening to he and his kids washing dishes or going on endlessly about his soul mate) but there are lots of other good blogs written by and for blinks out there (look above for links) but Mosen has a certain journalistic style that is both professional and concise which I will definitely miss.

So, congratulations to Jonathon Mosen on landing a seat at the table with some of the highest powered people in the biz, I’m sure he’ll learn a lot very quickly.  Also, applause to FS for putting a blink in a high profile role for the first time since the merger.  I wish all of you well and, to my readers disappointed at my approach to this topic, I’ll do something funny soon but felt this subject, as it effect real people’s careers and lives felt a little to close to home to satirize too heavily.

Thus, the kinder, gentler BlindChristian shows his face.  


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