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:, 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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I'm an accessibility advocate working on issues involving technology and people with print impairment. I'm a stoner, crackpot, hacker and all around decent fellow. I blog at this site and occasionally contribute to Skepchick. I'm a skeptic, atheist, humanist and all around left wing sort. You can follow this blog in your favorite RSS reader, and you can also view my Twitter profile (@gonz_blinko) and follow me there.

4 thoughts on “Men With Four Arms”

  1. Hi Chris in actual fact the original headline was shorter and red as “Blind Man Robbed Of Clothes, Cane”.

    Firstly the word “crime:” was put on at the start of the subject line because in a test project I’m am currently submitting articles to a selection of 12 different RSS feeds as I post them, and one of the feeds is “blind crime”.

    I know for a fact that a lot of crime against blind people goes under-reported in the USA. We hear about lesser scale but still serious crime against the blind, in the UK. But less serious but still serious stuff must go largely unreported there, at least I haven’t seen much of it after having read over 25k blindness related articles.

    So secondly being British I was horrified to read that four men armed with weapons had robbed a blind man. I’ve reported consistently on “blindcrime” in the UK with a dedicated section for the whole of 2005, at

    yet never has anything of this proportion been reported. As you may have read, we did recently have a shooting incident, however that was merely someone with an air rifle, and there was no robbery involved.

    Frankly I was shocked to think of this guy in Florida’s predicament and the atrocious treatment he got. I not exactly un-streetwise myself having gone to a compre-hensive school and lived all my life on council estates. I actually liked what you wrote about the sentiments and honour in some communities and would like to say the same here. In all my days of “hanging out” it was always a total offence not just in the law but on the street too, to take advantage of an elderly or disabled person. In fact a code violation by which the person(s) responsible had better watch their back for the rest of their life.

    So this particular article scored very high on the blindcrime scale as it were, so in my attempt to emphasise the seriousness, and I might add in somewhat haste, I added the words “by four armed men” from within the article to the end of the title, as I posted it.

    I’m not a censor but a high-speed voluntary news researcher/editor, and thought I’d comment here that in most cases on the blind news service I would not include a “blindcrime” article if it included sexual crime or too much violence, but I do come across them. E g I’ve skipped quite a few cases where people were violently blinded in domestics, and in one of the worst ones I ever read a woman beheaded her own mother before poking her own eyes out.

    On the lighter side now, just imagining men having four arms courtesy of your post, has made me smile. Would that mean 20 fingers to type with?? Could be handy,*grin*.

    Take care & all the best & right now I’m wondering what a guy like me’s gotta do to either (a) retire or (b) earn a crust.


  2. Howdy Comrades! Well, hell; the musically inclined geek from Brittan just spoiled it for me. This sort of crime is why I require all BPP members to carry firearms or, become adept in a marshal art or both. I am fond of the Beretta Laramie, myself and Savat. For those of fainter hearts, you are remiss if you fail to carry some kind of non-lethal device, such as pepper spray or a Tasar. The latter can be cool, but one had better know how to use them. Regards, Chairman Mal: Power to the Peeps!

  3. Let me try again. I don’t actually know much about Jim’s career at CalTech, but he graduated in ’80 with both a BS and an MS. Kurzweil Computer Products was founded in ’74, and demonstrated product in January of ’76. Is it theoretically possible that Ray Kurzweil grabbed his algorithms from a Freshman at CalTech at the last possible minute and jammed them into his machine? I suppose, but it didn’t happen that way. I started at KCP in ’81, and happen to know the OCR algorithms that were used and invented there – even the ones from ’76 – fairly well. Sorry, no FFT’s – given the fact that it used a general purpose processor, that would have been impossibly slow. In fact, FFT’s weren’t used by Palantir (the OCR company where Jim worked beginning in ’82) either – at least not once they patented their approach (see Patent 4,700,400). Jim has done extraordinary things, and I expect him to continue to do so. I just don’t understand the need to denigrate other people’s contributions along the way.

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