Forgive Us Our Trespasses

People who follow BC know that Susan and I have spent the last month
at my mother-in-law’s home in Natick, Massachusetts a relatively
affluent suburb of Boston. This location, while not as ideal as
Cambridge or Boston itself has its charms. Most importantly, This
house in Natick is relatively close to the Riverside and Woodland
Green Line T stops. Thus, if I couldn’t get a ride into town, I could
have someone drop me off at one of these stations so X-Celerator and I
could ride into the city.

I doubt any of my mother-in-law’s neighbors read Blind Confidential as
none are blind and, frankly, BC isn’t all that popular. Just in case,
though, I would like to express my thanks to the people in this
neighborhood for providing so many Wi Fi networks without encryption
turned on. For the past month, I have freeloaded on some of the
neighborhood networks every day. I didn’t do anything even remotely
destructive and only “stole” a bit of bandwidth so I feel no guilt for
my trespass.

One of my favorite Christian phrases comes from the Lord’s Prayer,
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those against us…” In this
simile, the word “as” can have two different meanings. One can expand
the “as” to mean “at the same time” which, if read with precision
would mean that we who recite the prayer would ask the Lord to wait
until we forgave everyone who had trespassed against us before
providing us with absolution.

The second possible definition for the “as” would expand it to mean,
“in the same way.” Following this logic, those who recite the Lord’s
Prayer ask God to remove our sins in the same manner we have forgiven
those who have harmed us.

This famous simile, with the “as” defined in either of its possible
meanings and, when removed from the religious framework in which it
stands, becomes a truly radical statement. Can George W. Bush, who,
as a fundamentalist Christian (meaning he accepts the entire Bible as
it was written) possibly recite this phrase or the entire Lord’s
Prayer without hypocrisy?

Consider that the US “forgave” the September 11 terrorists by bombing
and later invading Afghanistan and, later, Iraq who had nothing to do
with the tragic events in 2001. Hence, President Bush, when reciting
the Lord’s Prayer, has either requested that God forgive our
trespasses when we finally get around to forgiving the terrorists or
has asked God to forgive us “in the same way we forgave said
perpetrators” and, by inference, has asked for our country to receive
a series of bombings far more severe than those on 911 that would kill
more than 1 million innocent civilians as we have done in Afghanistan
and Iraq.

Perhaps my Christian theology is incomplete and the New Testament
contains exceptions to the forgiveness clause in the Lord’s Prayer. I
have read about a half dozen different translations of the new
testament ranging from KJB to the Ebonics version published a few
years ago and didn’t see such an easy way out of forgiveness but,
alas, it may appear in a translation I’ve yet to read. Or, perhaps,
the exception comes in the event of one telling God that they have
forgiven the terrorists but will bomb the innocent civilians who live
near them just to make sure that we don’t have to forgive them again.
While such a rationalization may work in some twisted interpretation
of the simile I quote above, I can’t really see a guy like Jesus, with
all of the references to forgiveness in his words, accepting such an

A while back, I wrote an article for BC that asked the question,
“Where Do the Old Gods Go When People Stop Believing in Them?” The
more I study the new testament of the Bible, the more I feel that
Jesus can join the ranks of forgotten gods as, while his name is
tossed around like confetti at a bowl game, his message seems to fade
further into obscurity every year.

I think this is very sad.


In yesterday’s post, I included the phrase, “much more of a problem
than Capcha.” I agree with Darrell’s comment that, today, the
inaccessible visual verification items that seem to pop up in new
places is far more a problem than the 3D web as the 3D virtual
environments remain fairly few and easy to avoid. In the future,
though, if a trend toward 3D web sites continues, people who need to
access the Internet through non-visual interfaces will not need to
care if they can get past the Turing tests as, even if they do, the
site they have just entered may be 100% inaccessible due to lack of
foresight on the part of those who design, develop and sell access

I’d like to thank Joe and the Anonymous poster who provided links to a
pair of articles about accessibility and the 3D web. I read both and
recommend that BC readers do so as well.

We’re starting our drive south on Sunday. Anyone who lives near I95
in any state south of Connecticut who might like to get together for a
lunch or coffee or something should send me a private email.

— End

Subscribe to the Blind Confidential RSS Feed at: Blindconfidential

Three Dimensional Web Interfaces

By Will Pearson and Chris Hofstader

A couple of days ago Will watched Intel CTO, Justin Ratner make his
keynote address to
the Intel Developer Forum (IDF). Ratner addressed the “3D web” during
his speech.

The “3D web” is basically virtual reality environments, such as Second
Life, simulations, etc. Justin showed three “3D web” applications
during his keynote: one that was aimed at businesses and two that were
aimed at medical training and simulation. The “3D web” is nothing
new, people have been working on collaborative virtual environments
for years What makes it interesting now, is that it has caught the
attention of the CTO of one of the leading chip vendors.

What makes the “3D web” really interesting from an accessibility
perspective is that it is totally incompatible with the concept of a
screen reader. The
language of the “3D web” is based around simulations of real world or
imaginary objects and not text. So, the “3D web” is fundamentally
with a current generation computer access program like a screen
reader. . To make a 3D web application compatible with current access
technology will require changing the concept of the 3D web so
significantly that
it really just becomes part of the 2D web.

We think this is going to be a massive headache for the screen reader
vendors, and something that will be much more of a problem than Capcha
as, while the Turing tests may be the “Whites only” sign of the 21st
century, one can get help from a friendly sightie to get into a site,
clearly a sub-optimal approach and one that requires a degrading lack
of independence but an approach that will work in a pinch. The 3D web
must be addressed by web accessibility researchers, human factors
experts and, of course, commercial vendors of access technology. If
the predictions made by industry pundits are correct, a lot of the
community activities that
are currently run on things like email lists and web forums will move
into the 3D web.

There will also be a lot of training and simulation programs built
using the 3D web. So, it looks as though it will be essential that we
blinks gain access to the 3D web.

In conversations we have had with people at various commercial access
technology companies, Mike Calvo of Serotek seems to stand alone by
having committed to a major effort to support dynamic web sites
delivered through AJAX and other Web 2.0 technologies. neither of us,
believes that any vendor of a current screen reader has even started
working on a presentation model for the 3D web but I (BC) do think
that I heard that some research dedicated to finding a non-visual
solution to the 3D web started at one of the really large companies
(probably IBM but I do not remember exactly).

A number of years ago, an article called “The Guru of the News” a
parody of “The Wizard of Oz” got passed around various news groups,
email lists and was emailed directly to a lot of people as is the case
for many amusing Internet creations. The gist of the story was that
Richard Stallman, the legendary hacker, was actually the man behind
the curtain and that he worked to maintain a text only Internet as all
of the pictures and such simply distracted from the serious
information. As I said, this was a parody and written in fun.
Stallman never worked against the advances of the graphical web but
the story provides a few laughs anyway.

As recently as 2004, though, I have attended conferences in which
blind people and advocates for people with disabilities argued
strenuously against any web standards that did not conform to a purely
text presentation model. These people tended to use the Lynx browser
or the W3 emacs plug-in to read web sites. While these people
represented a small minority of computer users with vision impairment,
they shouted quite loudly and, in many cases, convinced web developers
to provide blind-guy-ghetto, text only alternatives to web sites that
worked quite well with JAWS or Window-Eyes. I think that the text
only people also caused a slow down in the adoption of web
accessibility standards and guidelines as, although the people who
worked on the WAI committees and other standards bodies around the
world devised many excellent ways to deliver text alternatives to
graphical information, the ghetto dwelling, text only ludites
continued to push for text only pages. My answer to those people who,
in 2004 still used Lynx or W3 was that they had the damned source code
to their browsers and should fix the problems with graphical
presentations themselves.

So, as we move toward a 3D web, will we hear the cries of blind people
using JAWS, Window-Eyes, System Access, HAL, VoiceOver, orca, NVDA or
any of the other current screen readers to provide text only or 2D
alternatives to interfaces exposed by sites like Second Life?

To date, I (BC) have not spent much time thinking about a non-visual
presentation model for 3D web interfaces. I don’t know if anyone has
even started exploring a user experience for accessing 3D web sites
that one can use without any visual clues. I would like to hear from
anyone who has started thinking about this problem and would enjoy
reading anything that may have been published on the subject.


I’ve very much enjoyed the lively discussion in the BC comments area
lately and thank everyone for their constructive posts.

I would, however, like to point out to the anonymous commenter who
claims to having never seen such a “dysfunctional” group before. I
suggest that anyone who makes such non-constructive comments could
look in a mirror and see the single most dysfunctional person in his
or her life.

— End

Subscribe to the Blind Confidential RSS Feed at: Blindconfidential

Six Days Left

On Sunday, September 30, we will get on the Massachusetts Turnpike,
drive west, make a left turn into Connecticut and continue south for a
few days until we reach the god forsaken sandbar called St.
Petersburg, Pinelas County, Florida. Cambridge, Massachusetts, where
I have spent as much time as possible during our stay in the area can
be described as the intellectual hub of North America and, with a
little competition from some great University towns in Europe, can
probably call itself the intellectual capital of the world.

People who live or work in Cambridge have, collectively, received more
Nobel Prizes than any other place in the world. Even California, with
its great universities, has fewer Nobels received than does Cambridge,
a small city with a population less than 100,000. Cambridge hosts
Harvard University, which according to a BBC story last week topped
all universities on Earth in an extensive survey of college professors
around the world. Cambridge is also home to MIT, arguably the
greatest institution for the study of and research into all things
scientific and engineering. Combined, Harvard and MIT have received
more Nobel prizes than any other place of study in the world but
University of Chicago has received more Nobels than either of the two
Cambridge colleges when taken separately and City University of New
York has had more of its graduates receive Nobel Prizes than any other
educational institution in the world. To its north, Cambridge borders
Belmont, MAA – the city that boasts the most Nobel Laureates per
square mile in the world, most of whom work in Cambridge.

Needless to say, Cambridge, Massachusetts has a ton of really smart
people and I really enjoy the great conversations one can find in most
coffee shops and tea houses. I also enjoy spending time in a city
where X-Celerator and I can travel independently either on foot or on
the extensive network of subways and buses that go virtually
everywhere in the metropolitan Boston area.

Harvard Square provides a hugely diverse collection of eateries and, a
short walk to its south, Central Square provides even more diversity.
For one like me who enjoys flavors of nearly all parts of the world,
Cambridge and the cities that abut it give both New York City and
Toronto a good run for their money.

On pedestrian issues, the City of Cambridge realized that automobile
traffic moved too rapidly through Harvard Square to be safe. So,
rather than inconveniencing we pedestrians, the Department of Public
Works made the sidewalks wider in order to slow the cars to a safer
speed. Meanwhile, to discourage automobile traffic in the densely
populated cities like Cambridge, Somerville, Boston and Brookline the
Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (commonly known as the T) built
large parking lots at the most distant subway stops so motorists could
park their cars and, in much less time than driving, arrive at their

Finally, on the topic of pedestrian safety, Cambridge requires that
any construction site that disrupts either the sidewalk or the street
have a “detail cop” assigned to it 24 hours per day. While people
from less pedestrian friendly places might find it difficult to
believe, in Cambridge, if something blocks a sidewalk there will be a
police officer there to help anyone who might have trouble navigating
past the obstacle. As a result, when we lived here full time, I had a
friendly, first name basis relationship with many of the boys in blue.

I wouldn’t use the word “perfect” to describe Cambridge, the horrible
weather and incredible darkness for nearly six months of the year make
life during the winter months pretty damned uncomfortable. Of course,
one never needs to walk very far to get to their destination or to a
public transit stop to ride the T to wherever they want to go. Did I
remember to say that the entire public transit system in Massachusetts
is free to people with vision impairment?

One nagging winter problem for Cambridge pedestrians comes when it
snows more than a few inches. You might refer back to a BC article I
wrote a while back called “A Snowbird’s Tale” which details a day when
I had to get from my Cambridge condo to Harvard Square after we got
hit with a 38 inch blizzard on April 1, 1997. Snowplows push all of
the white stuff from the streets onto the sidewalks. The
responsibility for shoveling snow falls onto the owners or residents
of the homes in front of each patch of sidewalk. Some good people
clean up there patch of the pedestrian thoroughfare responsibly; most,
however, wait for the sun to shine and allow the warmth from it deal
with the effort. I will assume that using a guide dog would make
walking the streets during snowy days easier than doing so with a cane
as the snow causes nearly everything to feel soft and provide few
clues as to where one might actually be. Maybe GPS would be good too.

A Few Observations from our Month in Civilization:

On Yappy Little Dogs

Next door to my mother-in-law’s house in Natick, MA (where we’ve
stayed all month) live a pair of small and highly yappy long haired
dogs. They seem to think that barking at X-Celerator, a 95 pound
Labrador will have some effect on his behavior. The X-Dog ignores
them entirely and acts like they are not present. One day, the yappy
dog’s owner yelled at them, “That dog could eat you in two bites, stop
barking at him.”

Thus, I found myself identifying with the yappy little dogs. While I
tend to bark about issues related to access technology and civil
rights for people with disabilities, focusing mostly on issues
interesting to people with vision impairment, I also find that the
metaphoric “big dogs,” organizations like Freedom Scientific and other
profit driven AT companies seem to ignore all but an occasional bug
that I report and, if my barking annoys them enough, I will receive a
letter threatening legal action which, as I cannot afford a lawyer to
defend myself, is akin to putting a muzzle on me.

Pedestrians in Harvard Square versus Those in Manhattan

I have worked with X-Cellerator as a guide in only two urban settings:
namely, Harvard Sq., Cambridge and Manhattan, New York. I have made a
number of observations about the differences between the sets of
pedestrians in each location and how their actions effect how one can
work with a guide dog.

First off, many more pedestrians fill the Manhattan sidewalks than
those in Cambridge. I made the erroneous assumption that a less
crowded place would provide fewer challenges than the more crowded
one. As every block in New York has a traffic light, most of the
pedestrians either stop or continue walking as a group. Thus, in
addition to finding a curb and waiting for the traffic to pass so I
can instruct my dog to cross the street, I could follow the crowd
assuming that their intention has nothing to do with a mass suicide.

Streets in Manhattan have a wonderful regularity to them. When
walking north or south, each block is roughly one eight of a mile.
When walking east or west, each block takes roughly one eighth of a
mile. Excepting places where Broadway (one of Manhattan’s rare
angular streets) or in Greenwich Village, a very old, pre city
planning part of the city, crosses an Avenue, all corners are right
angles. Cambridge and Boston, with the exception of a few more modern
neighborhoods, had their streets laid out following the patterns
followed by the largest number of cows whose owners would bring them
into the commons to graze. Some may find the absolute regularity of
Manhattan as borderline fascist in design and, quite definitely, the
pre-revolutionary layout of the streets in metropolitan Boston does
add charm to the city but, when navigating with a guide dog, the
predictability of the Manhattan sidewalks makes the flow of pedestrian
traffic easier to predict and, as a result, one will experience fewer

In Harvard Square, where streets take a number of rather peculiar
twists and turns, one will, with some degree of frequency, find
themselves face to face with another pedestrian coming from one of the
unpredictable directions. Also, because fewer people use the
Cambridge sidewalks as those in New York, they take various liberties
afforded them by the lack of crowds. In Manhattan, if one stops to
gawk at something, they might get trampled by the ever moving crowd.
In Cambridge, pedestrians will stop and assume that others will go
around them, not a difficult task for a guide dog. Pedestrians in
Harvard Square and its surrounding neighborhoods frequently fail to
concentrate on their destination and will walk into a blink guided by
a dog. When this happens to me, I decide whether the offending
pedestrian is female and will grope a bit as she apologizes for
walking into me and, if male, I will ask, “Are you fucking blind?”
Which tends to illicit laughs from other pedestrians?

So, while Cambridge provides an excellent level of independence for
the automotively challenged, one must accept the occasional bump from
a clueless pedestrian wandering around contemplating some things
entirely unrelated to walking to a location. Fortunately, the
clueless ones tend to walk slowly so said collisions cause little pain
and can work as a way to meet interesting strangers.

The Hip Factor

A few years ago, the Utne Reader named Davis Square, Somerville (two
subway stops north of Harvard Sq.) the “hippest place in America.”
I’ve hung out in Harvard Square since autumn of 1983 and must admit
that, in fact, it has lost a lot of its cool. As Cambridge real
estate has ballooned in value (something I appreciate as we still own
our Harvard Sq. condo), the Square has decreased in hipness. I
believe that there exists an inversely proportional relationship
between real estate prices (including rental rates) and the maximum
amount of “cool” any place can claim.

When I first came to the area, I got an apartment on Newton Street in
Somerville. This five room, one bath apartment located within walking
distance to Harvard, Union, Inman and Central Squares rented for $350
per month and provided the four of us with ample room to live quite
comfortably. I cannot even guess at its current rental rate but I
have a close friend living in a similar location who pays $1200 per
month for a small basement studio apartment.

I’ve observed this dynamic in a number of metropolitan areas. An
affordable neighborhood sees an influx of artists, musicians and
others into very cool activities. Next, these people rent some
abandoned storefronts and open up galleries that promote the local
artists, a used clothing store or two, maybe a used book store and, in
lofts, they ignore the zoning and liquor license regulations and open
nightclubs that will feature performances by the neighborhood
musicians. This level of very cool will cause similar people to
“discover” the neighborhood and as they move in, the landlords will
start to realize that they can get a little more for the crappy
apartments they own. Following the second wave of artists, writers
and performers, the gay population usually shows up to open eateries
and fancier galleries amidst the still cool neighborhood.

Enter the posiers who claim to play music, make art, take photographs,
perform in some manner and, when they deliver you a meal at one of the
eateries they identify themselves as one of the dreaded AMWs
(actor/actress, model, whatever). This is the sign to start looking
for the next hip location (which may mean you need to move out of your
current city) because the next class of individuals to move in will be
the old ladies with the afghan dogs which signals the conversion of
your affordable apartment into a very high priced condominium.

I have lived the entire cycle I describe above in Manhattan’s Lower
East Side then occasionally called Alphabet City, now called the
fashionable East Village. My old haunts, the real dive bars with pool
tables and drug dealers have been replaced with fern bars and drinks
with names that do not list their ingredients. The area remains
medium cool with a warming trend that cannot be reversed. My aging
hip friends have all moved to Williamsburg in Brooklyn and complain
about the speed with which that area has lost a lot of its cool. I’m
told that Coney Island has started attracting the very cool.

Thus, in the 24 years that I’ve hung out in Harvard Square, I’ve
witnessed the later phases of its deterioration into hyper-trendy with
minimal cool. The all night cafeterias where one could get a meal for
a couple of bucks, all replaced by stores and restaurants that no
students, even Harvard students can afford to eat in or buy the
clothes, jewelry or whatever over priced item they sell. The used
book stores have fallen victim to the big chains and online shopping
and their replacements sell more boring overpriced crap.

Harvard Square definitely remains somewhat cool but not as obviously
so as in the past. Even the street performers have upgraded from a
folk singer with an acoustic guitar or a magician or juggler to fairly
slick shows with amplified music and lots of rehearsal.

We can’t go back. Once a neighborhood loses its cool, it takes at
least a century for it to reach a state of deterioration that can
fertilize a new movement and the cycle will begin again.

On the Debate between Mike Calvo and Will Pearson

I’ve very much enjoyed watching Mike and Will debate the concepts of
user interface innovation for software used by people with vision
impairment. I also enjoyed Darrell’s comment on the importance of
broadening the types of applications supported by screen readers.

I believe that both advancements in the presentation model to increase
the amount of semantic information that a screen reader user can
receive simultaneously and the broadening of applications supported
out-of-the-box by screen readers are both important tasks for screen
reader vendors to pursue. I also do not believe these tasks are in
any way mutually exclusive and that, especially the richer AT
companies like Freedom Scientific, Humanware and AI^2 have the duty to
their users to work on these and other features that will broaden and
streamline the user experience.

When I worked for FS, various research groups invited me to join their
advisory boards and participate in discussions about the work they did
in areas of rehabilitation engineering. When I left FS, I also left
most of these boards as I hadn’t the financial wherewithal to continue
traveling to universities that hosted Rehabilitation Engineering
Resource Centers (RERC), Centers for Assistive Technology (CAT) and
researchers funded through other programs. I continued with the U.
Florida RERC on Technology and Successful Aging because we can drive
to Gainesville in a couple of hours. All of these groups have pleaded
with AT companies like Freedom Scientific, GW Micro, Humanware, AI^2
and probably others to come to their meetings and conferences to see
and comment on how their scholarly pursuits might fit into commercial
access technology products. At the same time, these academic
researchers would love to see their work show up in products from the
leading AT companies. Unfortunately, the AT industry leaders either
want to avoid the expense of learning the different discoveries made
in the research centers or feel that they have enough market share
that they do not need to expose themselves to highly innovative
concepts that might distract them from milking their loyal customers
out of their money without making any interesting improvements from
one release to the next.

I leave my friends at Serotek and ViewPlus out of the set of
businesses that do not innovate. Clearly, some of the ideas in the
presentation model exposed by System Access provide a different and
enhanced experience from their competitor products. Also, the SATOGO
distribution model is probably the single most interesting thing any
AT company has done with the Internet since JAWS introduced the
virtual buffer in version 3.31 back in 1998. Meanwhile, ViewPlus,
with its Accessible Graphing Calculator (AGC), has raised the bar for
blind math students and their Tiger line of embossers has redefined
the state of the art for Braille printers and tactile graphics. Is it
any wonder that these two companies both have blind people in charge?

One issue on which I disagree with Mr. Calvo is his suggestion that
Will Pearson “become a capitalist,” get into the screen reader
business himself and put all of his interesting ideas into a new

First of all, I don’t think the screen reader market needs another
program and I believe that most, if not all screen reader developers
can afford to include many more innovative features if they choose to
do so. These companies all seem pretty healthy and adding an HCI
expert to their product management teams could be done with little
pain to their bottom line.

Also, I can’t speak for will on this issue but, coming from my
personal experience, I know I can define very interesting user
experiences to be delivered through non-visual stimuli but I also know
that I have very poor skills as an entrepreneur – a fact proven by my
track record of failed attempts at making a start-up fly. Anyone can
be a capitalist by accepting the principles of a free market economy
but not all capitalists need to also be entrepreneurs. Mike Calvo has
very good user instincts as well as good skills at making a start-up
work; I do not have such skills and I suspect that Will doesn’t
either. That we cannot successfully run companies does not, however,
discredit our work as researchers.

If the AT industry actually cares to move toward a new generation of
user experience which increases the productivity of computer users
with vision impairment, they don’t have to listen to Will Pearson or
me (I do think we have good ideas though) but, rather, get involved
with the research centers around the US and the world that work on
ideas that the AT biz can employ to make major improvements to their
products. Most universities license their technology relatively
inexpensively, probably for less than it would cost to hire a person
to figure such things out, and such research centers are begging the
AT players to listen to what they have to say.

— End

Subscribe to the Blind Confidential RSS Feed at: Blindconfidential

Do Screen Reader Developers Have The Skills To Design The Future?

One of my research projects involves designing a user interface for
delivering mathematical equations through an auditory system. I,
therefore, find myself thinking a lot about human short term memory
and the amount of information a typical student can retain while
listening to their computer speak an equation. I also need to concern
myself with techniques to deliver this information in a unambiguous
manner, a task equal in difficulty to the short term memory issues and
possibly more important as my users can review the equation with
cursor keys to refresh their memory but would struggle to calculate
the correct answers to problem sets if our system cannot properly
disambiguate the information.

I have spent a lot of time over the past few years thinking about and
working on models to improve the efficiency with which a person can
use devices which expose their interface through audio. This
obviously includes screen readers and other programs that people with
vision impairment employ to more easily perform various tasks. I also
concern myself with other applications for speech and audio user
interfaces; namely, I study the application of auditory user interface
concepts on mainstream devices and look for ways to leverage the
market size of consumer electronics as applied to access technology.
Finally, my research includes looking into auditory interfaces for
people who may have a temporary disability (motorists can only safely
use one hand and no vision when driving, military personnel cannot
take their eyes off of a target or their hands off of their weapon,

As I’ve documented throughout the history of Blind Confidential, I
struggle badly with repetitive stress injuries and have started
calling my form of RSI “Screen Reader Syndrome” because of the
disproportionately large number of keystrokes that a person with
vision impairment must use to achieve the same goal as a person with
sight using the same software packages.

I have a very high level of respect for the software engineers who
write screen reader software. I have met most, if not all, of the
lead technical people at the various vision related software
businesses and all have impressed me with their intellect and
dedication to the work they do. Doug Geoffray and his team have built
a really solid code base and continue to deliver relatively
interesting upgrades on a steady schedule. Mike Hill, of Dolphin, has
always impressed me as one of the smartest guys with whom I have
discussed technical issues. Matt Campbell certainly deserves the title
of hottest newcomer to the biz as he continuously creates interesting
solutions to very difficult problems. Of all of the people working on
different solutions for people with vision impairment, I know the
least about Willy Walker, the Sun Microsystems lead developer on the
orca screen reader, but I do find his answers to questions and the
other information he sends to the orca mailing list to be very useful.
I’ve only tried NVDA and Thunder a couple of times and don’t know any
of the folks involved in their development so I will withhold comment
on them. I have met Travis at Apple who works on VoiceOver and he
also seems like a very smart guy.

Of all of the people in the biz, I know Glen Gordon much better than
the others as we talked on a near daily basis for six years. In the
nearly 30 years since I started working on software professionally, I
have enjoyed the privilege of working with a lot of really smart
people on all sorts of interesting problems. Glen Gordon stands at
the top of my list of truly great hackers along with Richard Stallman
and many other really smart folks.

While Glen, Doug, Mike, Willy, Travis and Matt all have excellent
technical skills, do they and their teams have the skills necessary to
take the audio user interface paradigm to the next level, one in which
people with vision impairment can use software with a level of
efficiency similar to that of our sighted peers?

If we explore the skills most necessary to build the current
generation screen readers, we find two major skill sets: really low
level operating system hacks and taking information from API and DOM
and organizing and presenting it in a manner that a person with vision
impairment can use effectively. Peter Korn would argue that the
operating system hacks insert a level of instability to the screen
reader and to the entire system and he may well be right. At the same
time, gathering information from an API or DOM will miss information
that an application developer neglected to code properly to conform to
the API or DOM upon which the screen reader relies. Thus, the low
level techniques might produce instability but can often deliver
information unavailable to an API driven solution; meanwhile, screen
readers that rely on API can provide really excellent information,
including contexts and relationships that do not lend themselves too
well to the screen “scraping” techniques. Obviously, both systems
have their strengths and their problems. As far as I know, all of the
Windows based screen access programs use a hybrid of operating system
hacks and API/DOM to collect information while orca and VoiceOver both
rely entirely on API and DOM for their data.

In my six years at HJ/FS, I hired quite a number of people into
software engineering jobs to work on JAWS, MAGic and our other
programs. In virtually all cases, we looked for people who had at
least some low level hacking experience because JAWS, like its Windows
counterparts, uses a lot of operating system hacks to collect data
with which it populates its off screen model (OSM) and MAGic, like all
Windows magnifiers, must do some very delicate bit twiddling at the
operating system level. Thus, we looked for programmers with a bit of
silicon under their fingernails and a solid understanding of Windows
drivers and low level graphical functionality.

The last large step forward to improve the efficiency with which a
screen reader user can hear information came with the introduction of
the Speech and Sounds Manager in the JAWS 5.xx series. By using the
Speech and Sounds Manager, one can cut down on the number of syllables
they need to hear while also hearing a sound simultaneously with text
read by their synthesizer which, depending upon the application which
the user needs, can cut down on a substantial amount of time required
to achieve a given goal. I know that Serotek System Access uses some
sound augmentations when in a browser, that HPR did some of this in
the past and I’ve heard people tell me of some now defunct screen
readers doing a bit of this as well. No one, to my knowledge, though
has implemented a system nearly as comprehensive as the one in JAWS
which one can use in many areas of their computer usage to deliver
more than a single dimension of semantic information at any given

Before Speech and Sounds Manager, JAWS defined the state of the art
with its incredible collection of information augmentations gathered
from various DOM in the Office suites and other applications that
exposed a rich API. In most cases, these added data items did not
appear anywhere on the screen but contained very useful information
for users of these applications. For example, in the time prior to
JAWS’ adding DOM support and information augmentation to its support
for Microsoft Excel, a person with a vision impairment could open and
even edit Excel files but, especially when trying to read an Excel
worksheet that someone else had made, they had to spend a lot of time
poking around just to find which cells had data and what the row and
column headers might say to identify what the value in the cell might
mean. All of these initial augmentations were delivered in a textual
format read by the speech synthesizer. Thus, JAWS users could learn
more from and with a greater level of efficiency work with
spreadsheets and other interesting applications.

These augmentations provided a screen reader user with a lot of extra
semantic information about the document of interest. It cut down on
the amount of time and keystrokes a user had to spend while working
with said document as the augmentations provided them with a way of
ignoring information that they had no interest in and for finding the
items of greatest interest to them within a specific task.

In the years that have followed, most of the Dom based methods of
improving efficiency through delivering additional meaning to the user
and the quick keys method of navigating a web page more rapidly than
had previously been possible have been imitated by most other screen
readers on all platforms. The Speech and Sounds Manager remains the
only major method of increasing the semantically interesting
information in any given amount of time that resides entirely in JAWS.

Unfortunately, I have not seen any truly innovative user interface
improvements in any screen reader release since the JAWS 5.xx series.
Certainly, Window-Eyes and System Access have added a large number of
new features in each of their releases but, for the most part, they
have been catching up to the 2003 releases of JAWS. Meanwhile, FS
hasn’t done much to raise the bar that its competitors must reach to
catch up in the past three or four years.

In terms of innovation, FS seems to include incremental new features
of little interest and the other screen reader vendors, on Windows,
GNU/Linux and Macintosh, seem hell bent on creating a JAWS clone. In
conversations both Will Pearson and I have had with people at various
screen reader companies, the notion of increasing the number of
semantic dimensions delivered to a screen reader user in a single
instant has been called a “gimmick” and some individuals have told us
that, “it can’t be important, none of our users have asked for it…”

Many years ago, when HJ still made JAWS, we commissioned a market
research project to help us determine what our users actually wanted.
One of the results most difficult for us to understand was the line
that said that less than 2% of blind computer users wanted to use
Excel. I recall discussing this with Eric Damery and we concluded
that blind users would use Excel if it worked reasonably well with
JAWS. Thus, although the market research told us that no one cared
about a spreadsheet, we hired a contractor to write scripts for Excel,
I worked closely with the contractor on features and such and today,
about eight years later, many people who use JAWS and most other
screen readers also use a spreadsheet. Thus, the argument that “no
one has requested a given feature” continues to be baseless as the
majority of screen reader users don’t know they want something until
it shows up in their AT. It’s a classic chicken and egg problem.

What user interface structures might help improve the efficiency with
which a blink can interact with their computer? A number of different
theorists and researchers could provide a lengthy list of ideas
ranging from concepts like synthetic vision to 3D audio to a method
with which a screen reader user can quickly move their attention from
one conceptual group to another (the method which a sighted person
employs unconsciously by moving their gaze. There are a fairly large
number of other ideas bouncing around the research community but
absolutely none of the screen reader vendors seem to spend any time or
effort seeking the next major step forward for their users.

At this time, I cannot blame these companies for their lack of
enthusiasm for finding a more efficient user experience. Many of the
products out there spend most of their time trying to catch up or jump
past JAWS and, perhaps more to the point, none of these companies have
people with the design skills to invent a model that will improve user

Thus, the titular question of this article, do the screen reader
vendors have people with the skills necessary to move the state of the
art forward? I think not. I do think that all of the screen reader
vendors act in good faith and believe they make the right decisions
regarding user interface but, unfortunately, they do not have anyone
on their staffs dedicated to studying such problems, suggesting and
designing new UI metaphors and improving the efficiency of absorbing
information delivered by a screen reader.

The missing skills can be a bit obscure. The first necessary skill
would be in human computer interaction (HCI) with a strong background
in non-visual interfaces. It would also be valuable to have people
who understand cognitive psychology, learning theory,
psycho-linguistics and other disciplines that can be applied to
defining the next step in audio user interface design. Such people do
exist and many have computer programming in their skill set as they
tend to demonstrate their models in software simulations.

Today, the only groups I am aware of who are exploring
multi-dimensional audio interfaces for use by people with vision
impairment are the people like David Greenwood who make really cool
audio only real time action games. Shades of Doom, Greenwood’s most
famous title, plays up to 32 simultaneous sounds and a user can
understand what is going and, react to the situation, kill the mutants
and save the world from the mad scientist. Obviously, the information
delivered by a action/adventure game would differ substantially from
that delivered by a screen reader in a word processor but Greenwood’s
work and that of the other audio game hackers proves that blinks can
understand much more information than the single syllable or pause
produced by a speech synthesizer.

Will the screen reader vendors try to move the state of the art
forward? I certainly hope so. Audio user interfaces will start to
appear in mainstream products. People with a number of smart
appliances, blind or otherwise, will not want to look at a display
every time they want to change the state of a device in their house.
These people will want to issue verbal commands and receive audio
feedback. These people will also expect their systems to function
very efficiently as a smart home and smart appliances that take longer
than their predecessors to function will be rejected out of hand. The
screen reader companies do have a lot of knowledge about blind users
and their needs and, in my opinion, if they added people to their
staffs who could help them develop systems that deliver richer
information, they will find themselves on the cutting edge of design
for non-visual interfaces for both people with disabilities and for
the mainstream consumer.

— End

Subscribe to the Blind Confidential RSS Feed at: Blindconfidential

More on the Blogger Interface

On Sunday I had the chance to talk to Darrell via Skype. He explained
that the blogger interface works reasonably well with JAWS if the user
had gone into the settings page and turned off “compose mode,” which
blogger has on by default. Thus, I do not think that my troubles
resulted from user error as, unlike the gmail page which has a link to
use “basic html” suggested for screen reader users, blogger makes no
such suggestion. System Access works reasonably well without turning
off compose mode but it also works much better with the WYSIWYG
interface turned off.

I think the blogger people should add some text suggesting that screen
reader users would have a better time using their interface if they
turned compose mode off. Even with the settings changed to better use
blogger with a screen reader, the experience remains somewhat
sub-optimal as using the “f” quick key to go to the next form field
doesn’t always announce the proper label for a edit control but, one,
with a little practice, can drive the interface with good success.
The blogger page has one more fault in that it now requires that one
get past a CAPCHA to post an entry and, as I wrote the other day, I
find that the distortion added to the audio versions on the various
google sites makes them impossible for me to use so I have reverted to
sending the posts by email from my gmail account.

So, while I accept Will’s assertion that user error is really the
result of a poorly designed user interface, I think that the problems
I’ve discussed with blogger fall in the lap of the people who designed
the site rather than those who make the access technology.

I can only think of one thing that the JAWS team could do to make the
blogger interface easier to use. Currently, if one opens a Microsoft
Word file in a viewing mode with which JAWS does not work, the screen
reader will announce that fact and tell the user how to get into a
mode with which it performs better. Thus, it would be valuable if
JAWS could announce that a particular mode on a popular web
application works poorly with it and provide instructions on how to
change any settings whose values can make the user experience less

A while back, Serotek created their C-Saw utility which provides an
interface that their users can employ to label inaccessible web sites
and upload their augmentations so others can enjoy them as well. A
few years back, Mike Calvo, CEO of Serotek, offered to make the C-Saw
system open to the entire screen reading industry so that users of all
of the programs can share labels for poorly crafted web sites while
waiting for the web developers to start following the standards and
guidelines that have been published by a number of bodies throughout
the world.

Some people, I admit I was one of them, balked at suggesting that
screen reader users label web sites that do not adhere to
accessibility guidelines as taking such action would provide web
developers with an excuse to postpone building truly accessible web
pages. Over the years, though, I have found that my position has
softened a bit as I now think that giving the users the ability to
make a site accessible, even through a hack like C-Saw, provides a
level of value and “empowerment” that would otherwise not exist at
all. I would say that my current view of the matter pushes for
adherence to the guidelines first and fore mostly but, if the web
developers refuse to make changes to come into compliance with
accessibility standards and guidelines, having the ability to label a
web page can make a huge difference in whether people with vision
impairments can access information which they may need or desire
rather than being entirely shut out.

I will, for about the zillionth time, restate that I do not find “text
only” or “basic html” alternatives to the mainstream interface exposed
by a web site to constitute a reasonable accommodation. I have long
found the mainstream interface on annoying and difficult to
use with a screen reader (I haven’t looked at it in a long time so, if has improved recently, I didn’t know about it) but, at the
same time, I found their text only alternative pages to actually
provide a worse experience. In the number of times I visited the text
only, I found lots of bugs, I found that the text only
pages show fewer items in the results from a search and, therefore,
require that one look at more pages to find what they are looking for
and I find that the missing features available to one who uses the
mainstream interface but not the text only one are often useful but,
in the blind guy ghetto, deemed unnecessary.

So, to conclude, web developers should try to adhere to the guidelines
as closely as possible and screen readers should also expose
information based on the user agent guidelines. In situations where a
web site has followed the guidelines but the screen reader either
ignores or works poorly with information crafted in such a manner,
then the screen reader is clearly at fault for ignoring guidelines
published years ago which they have had more than enough time to
comply with. If the web developer does not comply, a utility like
C-Saw can make a big difference on pages that people with vision
impairment want to use but that remains inaccessible.

Finally, even if C-Saw makes a web site readable, I recommend that no
blink spend money on such a site until the authors bring it up to the
standard set by guidelines.


Whether you know her or not, I recommend reading the article about our
friend Roselle Ambubuyog at

If you
don’t know her, she got into the AT biz as a consultant to FS and has,
for some time now, handled support and product management for Code

— End

Subscribe to the Blind Confidential RSS Feed at: Blindconfidential

User Error or Screen Reader Deficiency?

In the item I wrote yesterday about the interfaces to a pair of google
online applications (gmail and blogger), I stated that JAWS required
one to switch to the basic html view on gmail, which is definitely the
case. I also stated that JAWS works deplorably on the blogger pages,
to which, Darrell Shandro, my friend and a guy I trust a lot posted a
comment saying that blogger, in fact, works quite well with both JAWS
and System Access. As Darrell has used the blogger interface for
quite some time and I have rarely used it, preferring instead to post
my Blind Confidential items via the blogger for Word button bar with
the old blogger interface and with its email feature in the new
interface, the problems I experienced with it are as likely to be user
error or a lack of familiarity on my part as deficiencies in JAWS 8.
I will defer to Darrell’s assessment and, therefore, make the
assumption that the blogger interface can be used with JAWS in a
reasonably accessible manner and will go back to blogger to
investigate further.

One problem I have experienced with the google and, for that matter,
various Microsoft online features have nothing to do with screen
reader access but, rather, the distortion they add to their audio
alternatives to visual verification. I recently had my hearing
checked and the results said my hearing is above average. Thus, I
don’t think the problems I experience result from my audio input

So, I believe that in their attempts to provide an accessible
alternative to the visual CAPCHA while maintaining a high degree of
security, google and Microsoft have inadvertently created a system
that continues to stand in the way of my getting past a Turing test.
Yesterday, I had a Skype chat with Darrell about an unrelated issue
but he mentioned that he could successfully use the google audio
alternative but not the one that Microsoft offers, so your results may
vary from my own. In the google sounds, I can pick out some of the
characters it plays but I have yet to actually get all of them and, in
a system that requires one enter the information exactly as presented,
I find myself unable to do so. On the Microsoft site, I don’t think I
heard a single thing that it required me to type in. Either way, I’m
SOL with either site.

For blogger, I will install Word 2007 and check out its blog
interface. As all three of the Windows screen readers I use with any
frequency perform reasonably well with Word, I’ll predict that this
feature will work pretty well with all three. Of course, my
predictions tend to be wrong so, for all I really know, the actual
results may suck out loud.

I haven’t spent more than an insignificant amount of time with any
Office 2007 applications other than Word and Outlook so I can’t say
anything about the entire suite. When one gets the knack of using the
Word ribbon interface, I think they will generally like it primarily
do to its context sensitivity. In previous versions of Word (I’ve
been using it since version 3.0 for DOS back in 1986), I have found
myself searching around its interface to get to features that I do not
use often. The new Word interface, because of its contextual nature,
makes finding features related to what one is doing much simpler than
in the past.

I find the Office 2003 keystroke compatibility feature of Word 2007
quite confusing because it doesn’t contain all of the keystrokes I’ve
grown accustom to using over the years. In general, when a program
claims keystroke compatibility with an earlier version of itself or
with a competitor’s product, I find that such causes confusion if some
of the keystrokes with which one has familiarity do not work. I
believe that one will lose confidence in a compatibility layer when
they need to remember which keystrokes work and which do not.

Well, this post has wandered pretty aimlessly so I’ll just end it here
so I can get on with my real work.

— End

Subscribe to the Blind Confidential RSS Feed at: Blindconfidential


Since arriving in Massachusetts, I’ve had access to a wireless network
but I do not have my father-in-law’s password for what was his Comcast
account and the huge ISP/Cable/Phone Company requires authentication
to use its outgoing server and it doesn’t permit anonymous rerouting
to other SMTP servers. And, no, I cannot ask my father-in-law for his
password as he died in March and hasn’t spoken to me since.

Ordinarily, I write Blind Confidential in MS Word and use the “Send”
item under the File menu to email the post to Once the
Blogger for Word button bar stopped working, I found that the email
approach, described to me first by Jeff Bishop (link to his Desert
Skies blog above) in a phone conversation a few months ago, suited my
needs better than anything else I could find. I understand that Word
2007 has some kind of interface for people who write blogs that sends
information directly to the host but I only have Office 2003 on the
laptop I brought with me up north and cannot comment on how well it
works with a screen reader.

So, in order to stay in touch, post blog entries and communicate with
people on my various research projects, I created a gmail account and
also tried to use the blogger online interface. On this laptop, I
have two Windows screen readers installed namely, JAWS and System
Access so I cannot comment on HAL, Window-Eyes or any of the others.

When one goes into the gmail page with JAWS, they quickly learn that
they cannot use the site unless they click on the link that reads, “If
you are using a screen reader, click here for basic html,” or
something very similar. With System Access one can start using the
site and the dynamic content is updated properly, tables are
recognized as such and the links that JAWS reports as plain text
actually work.

Even in the “basic html” interface, JAWS exhibits some peculiar
problems. In the multi-line edit fields, when one tries to type a
capital letter that is also one of the quick keys in the JAWS virtual
buffer support, the leading screen reader announces that “This feature
is only available when using the virtual buffer on the Internet.”
Oddly, this only happens the first time that any of the capital
letters are typed in such an edit field per session. Thus, capital F,
O, I, B and the other quick keys cause a temporary error when typing.
This isn’t an enormous problem unless, like me, you type very quickly
and, when you review your message later, you find that some words are
missing their initial letter. Still, this is more of an annoyance
than anything else and I’d assume that it would be an easy bug to fix.

Because I’m running Visual Studio a lot, I tend to also run JAWS as
the scripts that Jamal Mazrui and the guys on the blind programming
mailing list have written as a team, are so good that VS .Net works
better with JAWS than any other screen reader/IDE combination out
there that I have tried. [If you are interested in these scripts or
any of Jamal’s cool and highly accessible programs, go to his web
site: or one of the other sites that
provide ways to download this software.] I don’t always feel like
jumping from one screen reader to another just to read mail or send a
quick response to someone so I have grown kind of accustomed to using
JAWS with gmail although I would prefer the System Access level of

The blogger interface also works better with System Access than with
JAWS but it is not as smooth as the SA gmail support. Yesterday, as
many of you noticed, my post “The RIM, RAM, SAM Scam” contained a
bunch of garbage and two copies of the text I copied from MS Word and
pasted into the blogger edit field. I don’t know how or why this
happened but, somehow, the text I copied from Word got combined with
text in the JAWS virtual buffer and when I pasted it into the edit
field, it looked pretty crappy. I did the blog post right as my wife
and I were running out the door to visit an old friend in Jamaica
Plain so I didn’t review the post and, given my luck with web
interfaces lately, it, of course, came out miserably.

Generally, though, the screen readers I tried (more so in the JAWS
case than SA) need to improve a bit before I would say that the gmail
or blogger interfaces are truly usable. SA, as I state above, does an
excellent job with gmail and performs adequately in blogger. JAWS
requires that one use the blind guy ghetto “basic html” interface for
gmail and works dreadfully in the blogger pages. I’m told that JAWS 9
is supposed to do revolutionary things on the Internet so I hope that
when 9.0 is released, it does at least as well as System Access on
pages built with AJAX that have a lot of dynamic content.

Mike Calvo wrote an interesting post on the “Who’s to Blame” topic on
the Serotek blog yesterday ( I recommend
that BC readers check it out as I think he provides a more
comprehensive discussion of the issue than any of the other blogs I’ve
read recently.

I still think that ATIA, the industry association for access
technology companies, should try to coordinate an effort to develop a
document that web developers can use to better understand what AT
users will see, hear or feel when on their web sites. The precise
design of user experience should probably remain in the hands of the
AT companies as features like Quick Keys and others are issues on
which these companies compete and I, for one, want the screen reader
vendors to continue to try to innovate in order to beat each other at
the cash register. At the same time, though, I feel strongly that web
developers should have a easy set of reference materials on which they
can set expectations for how their pages will work with AT.

Mike Davies, the actual author of the blog post I accidentally
attributed to someone else last week, said in a comment he posted that
he would not like to have different expectations for behavior in
different screen readers and that he would also not like putting a
“best if read with screen reader X” statement on a web page as this
would be bad for standards and guidelines and would likely muddy the
waters of web accessibility. I believe this sort of thing is
inevitable whether the web sites state that they work better with one
screen reader or another or leave such a statement off and let the
users guess which AT might work best on which sites. I feel strongly
that the AT companies should try to adhere to the user agent
guidelines as closely as possible; sadly, though, I think that the
leading screen reader vendors will do whatever best suits their
business model rather than what best suits their users and rely on
companies like google to provide a blind guy ghetto “basic html”
alternative to all of the cool new dynamic content that people who do
not depend on AT can enjoy.


As the easiest thing I could find to fix the “RIM, RAM, SAM Scam”
article was to delete it and repost the entire thing, I also deleted
the comments posted before I put the corrected version up. Will
Pearson and Chairman Mal had sent in interesting comments and, if they
read this, I hope they will repost their comments as I found them
entertaining but I don’t think they were online long enough for many
others to see them

— End

Subscribe to the Blind Confidential RSS Feed at: Blindconfidential


By Gonz Blinko

“Hello, “I said as I picked up the telephone’s receiver.

“I haven’t figured out how to decode it yet,” said Clebsch Molotovski,
a blind Polish immigrant, MIT graduate student and hacker

“Huh?” I had answered the phone and recognized Molotovski’s voice but
I had no idea what he was talking about.

The subliminable messages, of course,” he replied.

“Of course? What subliminable messages might you be talking about?”

“The ones in that spooky, science fictiony tune that it plays at
start-up.” Stated Molotovski as if this statement had been self

“When what starts up?” I responded curiously.

“RIM, RAM, SAM, all of the stuff from SerenityTech.”

“What?” I asked somewhat exasperated with Molotovski’s assumption
that I should know what the hell he was talking about.

“How quickly can you get to Cambridge?”

“Clebsch, why do I need to go up to Cambridge,” I said sitting on my
sofa in my condo on Joey Ramone Place in the Village.

“BC, his dog and wife are already here,” he stated as if my joining
them up north might have some value.

“So what?”

“We’ve got to get working to crack the code in the subliminable messages.”

“Will you please explain what the hell you’re talking about?”

After finishing the call with Molotovski, I called Samhara to tell her
to meet me at LaGuardia near the USAirways counter. I told her we
would fly to Boston for a project and that I would most definitely
need a lot of legal advice.

“There’s a code we need to crack,” I told Samhara as our plane left the ground.

“What sort of code and when did you become an expert in cryptography?”

“Molotovski seems to believe that subliminable messages hidden in the
start-up tune that plays when Any SerenityTech product launches. He
says it takes control of people’s minds and that some of our friends
have turned into pod people.”

“Pod people?”

“Like in the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They seem to have lost
control of their will and have handed it over to Mickey Bald.”

“Ok, let me get this straight, Mickey Bald and Soupy Campbell have
devised a subliminable algorithm that takes control of the minds of
their users? Sounds pretty pretty damned unlikely. I want to go back
to New York; Allie is tossing a party tomorrow for just us girls.”

“Let’s see what Molotovski has to say and decide whether we want to
fly back tonight or actually work on solving this problem.”

Molotovski’s subterranean office sat off of MIT’s infinite corridor.
Samhara, the X-Dog and I had to walk the equivalent of 20 city blocks
through the bowels of the great university. Upon arriving at
Molotovski’s space, we walked right in as he had left his door open
and we assumed he expected visitors to enter without knocking.

“Hey Clebsch,” said Samhara announcing our presence.

He either didn’t hear her or chose to ignore the greeting so I said,
“Molotovski, wake up, you summoned us here and we want to know why.”
He remained silent.

Samhara slapped the hacker on his back and Clebsch Molotovski jumped
out of his chair. “What the fuck do you think you are doing?” He
yelled loudly. “Oh… Hi guys, I was lost in thought, trying to get to
the bottom of the subliminable messages. I’m also trying to find a
way to immunize other blinks from the intense draw of the hypnotic
tune that, if they hear it enough, they lose control of their minds.”

Samhara asked the obvious question, “What evidence do you have that
leads you to believe that RIM, RAM and SAM can take control of a
user’s mind and turn their will over to Mickey Bald?

“A few months back, I noticed that some of our friends had started
behaving strangely.” Stated Clebsch in a matter of fact manner.

“In what way?” I asked.

“Well, it seemed to start with BC,” added Molotovski.

“What started with BC?” Asked Samhara.

“Well, you guys know how BC loved JAWS. You guys must remember how he
would write articles and tell people that, if he only had one screen
reader to use he would always choose JAWS.”

“Right, so what?” I inquired.

“Well, a few months back, he started making public statements about
how much he loves SAM.”

“Sam who?” Asked Samhara.

“Not a who,” explained Molotovski, “more like a what.”

“A what what? I interjected.

“SAM, Serenity Adaptation Module, the program Bald insists will
conquer the world of people with vision impairment,” he explained.
“He and Soupy seem to do much more than innovate, they take control of
their user’s computers and, over time, their minds. So, people who
once would advocate on behalf of JAWS or Window-Eyes now sing praise
to SAM.”

“How do you know that BC doesn’t think the software is really great?”
Asked Samhara.

“At first I thought that might be possible but then I noticed this
plague spreading.”

“Continue,” I said.

“Captain Capcha fell prey to the tune shortly after BC,” stated
Clebsch in a matter of fact tune, “He started kissing The Cardinal’s
toes under the dark Desert Skies. Soon, the Cardinal gave up his knee
jerk support for Window-Eyes and also started singing the praises of
Mickey Bald and the SerenityTech software.”

“Again, how do you know that they all had lost control of their will
and didn’t just actually like the software,” I asked.

“They don’t just like or even love SAM, they evangelize for it, they
tell everyone they can about it, they are acting like a bunch of
junkies on a serious run. So, I started investigating and found the
subliminable messages in the SerenityTech science fiction tune.”

“What do the messages say? I asked.

“Eat Campbell’s soup, Mickey Bald loves you, embrace change, come into
the world of serenity, JAWS will eat you alive, Geoffray Giraffe is
dangerous and one or two others.”

“I’ve heard the tune and never heard any words in it,” I said.

“That’s the trick, they speed up the phrases to a point that they
sound like they are part of the tune and the subliminable messages
slowly infect the user’s mind and the next thing you know, they are
wandering around with a vacant look on their face giving SerenityTech
as much free advertising as they possibly can.”

“How did you find the messages?” Asked Samhara.

“First, I inspected the wave form of the tune when played backwards,
kind of looking for a Paul is dead statement embedded in the sound.
That didn’t give me anything useful so I generated a wave form from
the beginning and sped it up, still nothing. Next, I took a guess and
tried slowing it down and I found some anomalies in the curve. I
clipped these out and slowed them down even more and found that they
contained the messages.”

“Shit,” I added, “What can we do to stop the madness?”

“We need to figure out how to get the messages out of the tune,” said
Clebsch. “They have embedded some kind of scheme that causes one’s
system to download a fresh copy of the tune if they detect it has been
tampered with.”

“So, why exactly did you need a journalist and lawyer to help you?”
Asked Samhara somewhat miffed.

“I thought you were a doctor,” said Clebsch.

“Yes, a doctor of journalism, not a medical doctor or psychologist,” I

“Close enough!” Proclaimed Molotovski.

Samhara and I checked into the Charles hotel in Harvard Square and
walked to a Starbucks as our caffeine levels seemed to be dropping.
Our task was to find as many blinks infected with the SerenityTech
mind control virus.

“How can we find them all?” I wondered aloud.

“Let’s start with BC,” answered Samhara.

“Do you know where he might be hiding out?”

“Yes, I do,” added Samhara confidently. “He’s sitting a couple of
tables away from us pounding shots of espresso as fast as he can get
his hands on them.”

“Hey BC,” I shouted.

“Yes,” he responded. And then, “Hi Gonz, what brings you to town?”
He sounded as if he was talking in his sleep. I cannot recall ever
hearing BC sound so dream-like without opiates involved.

Samhara went to his table and asked him to join us. As soon as he sat
down at our table he started talking. “Have you tried Freeman Crate
Serenity Adaptation yet?”

“Once,” I responded.

“Don’t you think that it is the greatest screen access program ever?”

“I didn’t really spend much time with it.”

“Why not?” Asked BC as if I told him I had decided to be celibate for
the rest of my life. “It is incredibly innovative, easy to use and
crashes less frequently than most any other screen reader.”

“I’m pretty happy with orca these days.”

“Linux? Have you gone mad? What would entice you to even try such a
thing? Linux people are like those damned pod people from that old
science fiction movie. They walk around praising Stallman and Linus
as if they would provide answers to all of their prayers. They are
worse than the weirdo Macintosh freaks.”

“I think it works great,” I added.

“See, you have fallen into their trap. Let me take a guess, you are
using Ubuntu?”

“Yes,” I replied, “How did you know?”

“I’ve been doing some research into its start up tune. I’ve found
that it contains subliminable messages.”


“If you really slow it down it repeats phrases like, eat corn at every
meal, Mike Pedestrian loves you, Sun will always shine, Mickey Bald is
the devil and so on. I advise you to get as far away from Linux as
possible lest you turn into another pod person.

“We’re here to save you from a similar fate.”

“I haven’t been infected with the Linux mind control virus.”

“No, you’ve been taken over by the SerenityTech mind control virus.”

“No such thing!” Shouted BC as he jumped from his chair.

Samhara picked up BC’s chair from the floor and suggested, in the sort
of tone one reserves for small children, elders suffering from
dementia and those with downs syndrome. BC obeyed. Samhara then said
in her soft tone, “You have been acting strangely lately.”

“What do you mean?” Asked BC.

“In a blog post you wrote recently you pronounced that you believed
that Soupy Campbell had eclipsed Gore Glendon as the premier screen
reader hacker out there these days.” She said softly.

“Well, that’s the truth,” responded BC.

“Maybe so, but, you have also announced that you absolutely love SAM.”

“SAM who…”

— End

Subscribe to the Blind Confidential RSS Feed at: Blindconfidential

On Comments

Most of the post I wrote yesterday contained corrections to the item I
had written the previous day. I apologized to Joe Clark and to the
author of the post I had quoted the day before for crediting the wrong
person for writing the terrific article that started this thread.
Nonetheless, Joe Clark felt it necessary to post a comment attacking
me and the work I’ve done in the past.

I do not know Mike Davies and when I looked around the Isolani web
page (link in yesterday’s post) before writing, I didn’t see a name
anywhere. I checked a number of links on the page including the the
one labeled “Contact” and found no reference to an individual. Thus,
I wrote the piece with a reference to the web site as, anyone who
reads BC with any regularity knows that it tends to come off the top
of my head and that I don’t spend a lot of time doing research for
these posts as I need to spend my time doing the research for which I
am paid.

Next, Joe Clark accused me of not knowing how to put a link in my blog
post. He wrote this after I had sent him a private email in which I
described the process I use to write BC while on the road and needing
to use web mail for anything I wish to send. Specifically, I write
the articles in Microsoft Word, as I do when I am at home, the major
difference being that when at home, I use the Word “Send” feature to
email the post to blogger which I cannot do here. So, after spell
checking, I did a select all, copy and then paste the entire item into
the text editor google provides for making blog posts. In the MS Word
version of the post, I had links to Jeff Bishop’s Desert Skies blog
and to the Isolani article as well. What I didn’t know was that the
links would get stripped out in the copy and paste and that they
wouldn’t appear in the blog post. So, go ahead, crucify me, I was
using a technique with which I was unfamiliar and made a boo boo.

Next, Mr. Clark states, “You’re one of the managers responsible for
inflicting Jaws on an unsuspecting blind public…” I am quite proud of
the work I did on JAWS for the six years in which I worked for HJ/FS.
I cannot recall the name of the Canadian researcher who published a
web accessibility scorecard comparing screen readers for a number of
consecutive years at CSUN. In the first year, the current version of
JAWS came in a close second place to IBM Home Page Reader and in
subsequent years, JAWS and HPR were either tied or JAWS held the top
position. At FS, while I had any influence, we worked hard to come as
close to the user agent guidelines as we could. It’s true that we
never reached a perfect score but JAWS came substantially closer than
any other general purpose screen reader and any web accessibility
expert should have known this little fact.

Finally, Joe Clark says, “I reiterate: You are always eager to put
words in my mouth.” I wish he would provide a reference to anything I
said that attributed statements to him that either he didn’t make or
for which I did not post a correction. When I accidentally attributed
the item Mike Davies wrote to Mr. Clark, I did so with glowing
commentary about the article so, quite obviously, I had not intended
any malice toward Mr. Clark. And, after receiving more of his anger,
I wrote a correction and even included a link to the page he uses to
raise money for his research, clearly not something an antagonist
would do but Joe Clark simply cannot accept that I am not an enemy and
that while we might really dislike each other, we are on the same team
and both are trying in our own way to promote accessibility on the web
and elsewhere.

— End

Subscribe to the Blind Confidential RSS Feed at: Blindconfidential