Orange, An Interview (Fiction)

By: Boris Throbaum


“It must have been 1953, right after my sophomore year at Fairleigh Dickenson,” said the retired Exxon executive.  “I got an internship with General Foods in their food coloring division.  I majored in chemistry and it was a good fit.”


“What did you work on?”  I asked.


“The first summer, our objective was to find the color for the shit that would later be called Tang.  I thought the stuff tasted horrible but GF thought they could sell it and I worked on the color.”


“In lay terms, our readers probably don’t understand a lot about chemistry, can you describe what you did?”


“Well,” he continued, “ in the laboratory, we developed different compounds that would likely not make people sick that ranged in hue from a sort of a sandy very pale yellow to a natural juice color all the way to a shockingly bright orange that we all kind of laughed at.”


“And…” I prompted.


“We got sent up to Harlem, right across the street from the AT&T building on the west side to see which colors the customers preferred.”


“Why Harlem?”


“Because, as our boss explained it, if any of our colors make anyone sick, no one really cares if its only negroes (the word he used at the time) so we were minimizing risk.”


“What followed?”


“We spread out the drinks in different colors all the way from least colorful to most.  Most of the pitchers contained some color of the Tang mix, one contained actual orange juice and a couple had the juice but watered down a bit.


“Except for those with real juice, all tasted identical, that was sort of our control in the experiment.”


“What did you learn?”


“We had to go back to Jersey and work on some more colors.”




Nearly 100% of the tasters chose the brightest colored drinks.  It didn’t make sense, real fresh squeezed juice versus the crap we built in the lab in Jersey, where people do believe in better living through chemistry but this made no sense.  Tang tastes like shit but people overwhelmingly chose the brightest color.


“So, we went back to the lab and came up with even brighter colors and back to Harlem with an array that contained really delicious fresh squeezed juice in its natural color and a variety of brighter shades that ran all the way to LSD 25 orange, a color that looked as though it came from the Manhattan Project.”


“And what happened?”


“Are you just stupid or have you never seen Tang?”  Asked the retired oil man.  “The blacks picked the nuclear orange and the taste tests went the same around the rest of the country.  People, it seems, don’t give a shit about taste when they can get their drinks in a brighter color.


“We were so proud when NASA picked Tang as the beverage to send to the moon.”


“What happened after your electric tang tests?”


“I went back for my junior year and the following summer we worked on making Lipton Noodle Soup as orange as we could.”


— End

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Blogs and Press Releases

Recently, I have read a lot of blogs that focus on blindness and technology simply repost press releases with no commentary or criticism.  Thus, having google news alerts on “Freedom Scientific,” “Window-Eyes,” and others in the biz, I find that I get hits on posts that, for all intents and purposes contain identical material.


Most recently, I must have seen at least a half dozen reposts of Dan Weirich’s statement on the FS v. GW patent lawsuit.  Weirich says some interesting things in his short statement but one only need read it once, perhaps directly on the GW blog or in the press release directly if you receive such.  I think this shows a general laziness and lack of courage on the part of the blindness blogosphere as receiving a statement and simply copying, pasting it and posting it with no analysis, commentary or criticism, positive or negative, provides those of us who read a variety of these blogs with a lot of duplicated information and absolutely nothing that the bloggers we respect enough to read regularly think about the issue.  I have spoken to some of these people on the phone since FS filed the suit and there is no shortage of opinion or analysis going on but the public statements from independent parties are few and far between.


One blogger did title his repost of the GW statement as “GW Responds to the Idiotic FS Suit,” which at least said that he thinks the lawsuit is idiotic.  While I oppose all software patents on principle, I can say that “idiotic” is probably not the right adjective as a

US Federal District Court

felt it had enough merit to warrant a hearing and judges at that level don’t take many whimsical cases onto their docket.  The blogger spent no time explaining why he felt the suit was “idiotic” but, rather, just pasted Dan’s statement in and let it ride.


Patent and other IP law can be very complex, seemingly ambiguous and even appear contradictory at times.  There are many very nuanced bits of language in the FS patent and possible ways for GW to respond both in the court of public opinion and in the District courts.  I would think that instead of simply reprinting posts by Weirich and Lee Hamilton, the bloggers should provide commentary, opinion, and something else to turn their posts from simply repeating the various corporate propaganda and proffering editorial information that can better express their stance on the suit and why they think one or the other side is correct.


It might be an interesting exercise for the blind blogosphere to try to organize an amicus brief on behalf of one of the parties in the suit or one that takes neither side but provides an explanation of the technology, its user community and the potential effects that a decision favoring either company would have on us.  Providing those who follow the blogs as their primary form of information would benefit from we so-called experts dissecting the corporate statements and delivering the information in a manner more friendly to our readers.


I suppose I’ve ranted enough.


— End

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CNN Spam

For the past few years I have used the spam filter (called “junk mail”) feature in Outlook 2003 and 2007.  Consistently, it has done a terrific job of filtering out virtually all spam sent to the handful of email addresses I use.  Recently, though, emails claiming to be from CNN containing my daily news alerts have been passing right through the Outlook filter and into my Inbox.


My first clue that these emails were junk came with my not having any recollection of signing up for CNN news alerts (I use google news for such).  So, without even opening the first of these notes I found in my Inbox, I went directly to the Outlook Actions menu, selected “Junk Mail” and then “Add to Blocked Senders.”  Since then, Outlook hasn’t caught a single of these phony CNN posts and, for each one, I have gone through the Outlook junk mail procedure in hopes that it might start to catch on.  Sadly, I find four or five of these CNN mailings sneaking in every day.


Does anyone out there have a strategy for stopping these?  Does anyone know what it is that these spammers did to break the Outlook filter for their messages that 99% of the other spammers haven’t figured out? 


I can’t say this is the worst issue I’ve ever encountered but it is quite annoying and I would like for it to go away.


— End

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I love words.  In another life, I could imagine myself as a philologist, linguist or lexicographer.  In this life, for better or worse, I became a software engineer and manager thereof.


Software has always had its own jargon and vocabulary used by people in and around the biz and universities.  Many of these have even leaked into the mainstream.  With the explosive growth of the Internet, people who ten years ago had no computing skills frequently use words like “spam,” “bug,” “blue screen,” “crash,” “interface,” “CPU” and so on.


Recently, I have dedicated nearly all of my time to working on access technology programs that fall into the category known as “free software” by some, “open source” by others and a few other terms used by different groups of people to try to describe the licensing schemes applied to different software.


Richard Stallman, the individual who most credit with coining the term, “free software,” and the somewhat more descriptive, “free as in freedom” and I have discussed finding a term that can distinguish between these different licensing schemes and declare accurately which are “free as in freedom.”  The word I suggested, libertyware, seems to contain the concept very well.


The word “free” can mean a number of different things when applied to software.  One may think it means without monetary cost or gratis which is clearly a legitimate definition.  Free might also mean “without restriction” which would include all of the software that is covered by GPL and some other libertyware licenses.  In the access technology field, we have an additional monkey wrench tossed into the vocabulary gears as, in the world of technology for people with vision impairment, the largest company,  the one that sells JAWS, the most widely used software in this particular market niche is called Freedom and is spelled with a capital “F” as it is a proper noun


Deconstructing the vocabulary of how the words “free” and “freedom” apply to software in our field led me to inventing the term libertyware as all of the possible combinations and, therefore, definitions can get very confusing and result in highly ambiguous statements which the author thought held a level of precision far greater than readers who come from different backgrounds might think.


To wit:  “free software” as in software that carries GPL affords the right to sell the software as long as the same liberty is passed to everyone else who can decide to sell it or give it away for free.  The many GNU/Linux distributions that are sold for a price remain free software as one who pays for it can give it away without cost, has the source code and can take the liberty to make changes (as long as they provide their altered  source code under the same license).  Stallman referred to this as “free as in freedom” which causes a problem for screen reader users as, by default, no screen reader will announce whether a word is capitalized or not so a layer of ambiguity is added to the word “freedom” as one can be left wondering whether the author meant freedom in the liberty sense of the word or if they mean Freedom as in Freedom Scientific, which led me to start describing such software as “free as in freedom with a lower case f” which is cumbersome and meaningless to anyone who is unaware of FS, JAWS and access technology in general.  Hence, libertyware.


The rats nest of definitions and terminology that surrounds the different licensing schemes outside of access technology and our added issue of distinguishing between software from FS and “free” software whether gratis or with the liberties afforded by the GPL and other similar licenses is difficult for all but the serious students of such who study the rather dry prose in these agreements and learn the details, nuanced as they may be, that distinguish one license from another.


For instance, the term “freeware” is often applied to software given away without cost but also without source code thus restricting the user’s ability to enhance, fix bugs or learn from the techniques used by the programmer who wrote it.  This is often referred to as “free as in free beer.”


Some software, typically found in third party libraries that developers use to perform some tasks where they have learned that it will be cheaper to buy than build include source code which, in a narrow definition of the term, can be called “open source.”  The people who buy the library do not, however, have the liberty to share the source code with others so a program can be open source without being free (in the sense of beer, in the sense of liberty or from Freedom Scientific).


Other programs can include source code, hence be open source, but not be libertyware as their license will include restrictions on how the software can be distributed and, in some cases, will permit the developers using the code to leave their changes out of future distributions and not, therefore, contribute to the community that built the source code upon which some of their program is based.  I’m not sure if such licensing schemes has a term to describe it.


So, for the purposes of this paragraph all uses of “free” is in the sense of as in freedom with a lower case f, we can have free software that is not open source, open source programs that are not free and software that is partially free.


I’m confident that if Stallman was here with me, we could think up a whole lot more complications that surround the terms “free” and “open source” so, today, (after bouncing the idea off of rms and receiving his blessing) I offer the word libertyware to mean software without restrictions, software covered by GPL and similar licenses like Mozilla and Apache.


Now, I guess I should go over to wikipedia and add the word there and hope it catches on as I’ve always wanted to be credited by the Oxford English Dictionary as the inventor of a word.


— End  

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