Jim Carroll Dead at Age 60

“Teddy sniffing glue, twelve years old, fell from a roof on east two
nine, Cathy was eleven when she pulled the plug on 26 reds and a
bottle of wine, Bobby got leukemia 14 years old, look like 65 when he
died, he was a friend of mine.

Those are people who died, died!” – Jim Carroll

I suspect that some post punk, alternative, indie, modernist grunge,
deconstructionist act will kick out a quick “tribute” version of
“People Who Died” that includes Jim, who died this past week at his
desk in New York. Jim was sixty years old and had just completed a
new novel which the publisher was about to send to print.

Jim Carroll was supposed to be the poet laureate of punk. He hit the
writing scene at age thirteen when some of his pieces started
circulating around the super hip downtown scene. He caught the
attention of other New York writers, most notably some of the beats
like Alan Ginsberg and William Burroughs. His work reached Jack
Kerouac, still alive but incredibly down and out living in the Hotel
Detroit in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, who wrote that, at 13,
Carroll’s work was better than 90% of professional writers in America.

I was three years old that year so I don’t think any of Jim’s early
work made it into my awareness for another decade and a half or so.
In fact, I do not think I had any exposure to his written work prior
to his forming the Jim Carroll Band and releasing the very important
punk LP, “Catholic Boy.”

Jim was very much part of the punk scene and hung out at CBGB, Max’s
Kansas City and other of our haunts. I met him on many occasions but
I cannot recall having exchanged more than a sentence or two at any of
these encounters. I remember that Jim was actually fairly shy, very
tall and, when I did get to reading his written texts, I realized he
was also brilliant.

Jim Carroll, back before his band would do readings on stage during
breaks in a Patti Smith show, she wanted to get him as much exposure
as possible so as to promote punk poetry and the work of Carroll
especially as they were close friends. Jim fell in love with the rush
of live performance at punk events so he went out and started his own

Critics almost immediately crowned him as the “Bob Dylan of the Punk
Era” and the voice of my generation. While almost all of Jim’s
published work, to me at least, was generated out of genius, he sadly
leaves us with far fewer published works than one would expect from a
guy who was recognized by the big time when he was only 13. Some
people say it was heroin that kept his productivity poor but he had
kicked the smack addiction well before the band and the publication of
his legendary, “Basketball Diaries” work of non-narrative prose (a
must read even if you saw the movie as they are quite different).

“Too old to rock and roll but too young to die,” Jethro Tull

A whole lot of the greats of punk didn’t have the grace to check out
while young (just like Syd, dead at 21). Some of the people were
friends of mine, others casual acquaintances and still others with
whom my relationship was a nod or quick greeting of recognition as one
of the regular faces in the crowd.

In 2002 alone, Joey and Dee Dee Ramone and Joe Strummer from the Clash
would all die and the following year Johnny Ramone joined them. Like
the Jethro tull line quoted above, these guys all died young on US
census data standards but, with our crowd, it, as people might say
regarding a used car, wasn’t the years but, rather, the miles. Many
of our miles were off-road and involved smoking, snorting, drinking or
injecting serious poisons into our systems. Many of us survivors look
back and wonder why some are gone and others stumble forward as we all
shared similar and dangerous behaviors.

It’s sad that Jim didn’t leave us with more work. The Ramones, the
first ever punk band, may have been the most productive act from that
scene and are survived by an incredible catalogue of songs. Carroll,
even while alive, frustrated his fans as every time he came to town to
do a reading, the event would sell out but he would read the same old
stuff. Living up here in Cambridge, I stopped attending his spoken
word events and poetry readings when I could no longer wiggle my ass
onto the guest list. I think I last heard him read at some club over
on Lansdown Street (sometimes called Ted Williams Way) about 15 years
ago. By then, I was a full time hacker, married and modestly
respectable. Many of the early punks whose band, like mine, never
made it ended up with similar fates. A few still hang around either
the periphery of the “what’s hot” music scene pretending that being 55
years old and hanging around with kids who were born after Syd died is
still cool and a very small number actually made it as executives in
the recording industry who seem so sleazy when one encounters them.

Of course, a few of the bands made the big time and those who are
still going and making new music deserve our praise and
congratulations for keeping the fire alive.

I can’t say that I will miss Jim Carroll. I learned he had died last
week while on a phone call with my sister who had heard it on the
radio on the way to her teaching position. If she had told me that
Jim had been dead for five years or that he was coming to Harvard
Square for a reading, I would have believed her. While I include
“Catholic Boy” in my “All Punk” playlist on my iPhone, I hadn’t spent
much time thinking about him. I wondered if we had ever shared
needles but his obit said he had quit smack well before we would have
had the chance to meet so I guess the answer is no.

I’m not sure how to end this post. I really enjoyed Jim Carroll’s
work but can’t remember anything beyond a nod of greeting that I had
actually shared with him. He was undoubtedly a brilliant writer whose
body of work, while small, is very worthwhile. I guess I feel like
another chip of my misspent youth has been knocked off and my
attachment to cornerstones of that exciting era is gone.

So, kids, I’m looking forward to the Youtube video of “People Who
Died” that includes some lines about Jim Carroll as it is probably the
highest honor we can pay him.

— End

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Swimming in the Kool-Ade

In case you missed the flurry of press releases and general buzz
around the blinkosphere, Apple Inc. has continued its commitment to
universal design out-of-the-box with the largest number of accessible
products announced in a three week period. that I can remember These
include the brand new and much more powerful VoiceOver in the Snow
Leopard operating system upgrade, a highly improved VoiceOver on the
iPhone in its general purpose 3.1 release and a whole new and improved
iPod line of products all with a stripped down VoiceOver included.
Apple has shipped something like five new mainstream products that we
blinks can enjoy without sighted assistance as soon as we take them
out of their packaging.

I don’t want to spend any time or space here in the blog describing
the new features as I may mix up what is in which product and I will
undoubtedly leave out someone’s favorite feature or most annoying
bug. I will repeat the economic argument I made in the last blog post
and talk a little about my attitude lately.

On the financial front, all of Apple’s new line of products come to
people with disabilities with the accessibility built in at the
factory. These are mainstream products so we get to enjoy the
economies of scale that have forever existed outside the access
technology world. Using the universal design metaphor, though, lets
us choose whether or not to buy a product without even contemplating
the cost of the AT needed to make it useful. So, the Snow Leopard
upgrade costs us 30 bucks, the new fully accessible iPod Shuffle costs
only 60 smackers and so on. A new Macintosh laptop costs less than a
single JAWS license and the iPhone is incredibly usable and so are
many of the popular applications that are available for less than five
dollars and some for free. The out-of-pocket costs are minimal.

Back in the sixties, Esquire magazine featured a cover that depicted
the great pop artist Andy Warhol swimming in a can of Campbell’s
Tomato Soup. Andy loved the image and kept copies of the cover around
in The Factory until his death.

If someone were to PhotoShop me in a glass of Apple grape Kool-Ade, it
would not be an inaccurate representation. I am overwhelmingly
impressed by everything Apple has done over the past year as regards
features that people with vision can use if they so choose. This
stuff is cool but not without flaw but I don’t want to list bugs here
as this item is about products released in a condensed period of time
and not a review of said products, some of which (the iPods) I haven’t
even touched yet.

So where is the cynical, crusty old hacker jerk BlindChristian? Well,
I fell into a swimming pool of grape Kool-Ade and while I’d like to
get out and turn on the grumpy old self, I find that as soon as the
cynicism rises, Apple does some kind of minor update that fixes some
problem I find annoying and their bug fix turn around is pretty amazing.

Also, from the start of BlindConfidential I have promoted the concept
of access technology being built into mainstream products to provide
the numbers of units needed to keep the costs under control. Apple is
doing this. One might also ask if Microsoft’s new attention to and
financing of NVDA might be there answer to a no-cost blindness
solution. VO, however, has all sorts of slick documentation,
tutorials and a hefty number of “experts” in its user community
available to answer questions for others who need help. I’m pretty
sure NVDA has a good community of users as well but all of the slick
documentation and tutorials do not seem to exist.

So, c’mon in, the Kool-Ade feels great when one swims in it.


Look for a cynical, Gonz Blinko post soon.

— End

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AT&T, iPhone and the Edge of Weird

Last week, The New York Times reported that, due primarily to iPhone
usage that AT&T 3G bandwidth gets so flooded that during “peak” hours,
it is virtually impossible to get a signal in New York, San Francisco
and a number of other major cities. I have not experienced any such
trouble in Cambridge but I haven’t crossed the river into Boston
during any of those hours either.

Although dropped and virtually non-existent signals present a high
degree of problematic behavior for the iPhone user, we should take a
look at the cause. No other technology product that I can remember
has held a buzz for as long and as loud as the iPhone. In the first
few days the lines spanning blocks in major cities and suburban malls
alike would make one think that a new Beanie Baby had hit the
streets. In the summer of 2009, the iPhone 3G S became the king of

The iPhone, however, goes well beyond cool rims for the SUV, a
Rolex, and most other truly ornamental but cool objects that fashion
followers buy. AT&T wouldn’t have their signal slammed if the iPhone
was just another high tech gadget that people could show their friends
and enjoy the envy.

Smart phones have been around for quite some time. Most fell into one
of two camps: Windows Mobile or Symbian, two competing and
incompatible operating systems for handheld devices. Then came Apple
with the iPhone and, as if by magic, the whole marketplace got tossed
on its ass.

Why didn’t perfectly good AT&T Windows phones like the Blackjack 2
cause the usage meters to ring tilt? Why didn’t the Nokia N82, the
most powerful and memory laden handset on the market shut down the
grid? The answer is: people bought them but, due to their very
clunky, desktop simulator interfaces, people hardly used any of the
features or added more applications onto these devices. Some people
used the music player features but little else in the now not-so-smart
phone market.

Apple, long known for its excellent designs actually made a phone with
an interface that one, sighted or blind alike, not just can use but
that they actually do use. With so much a tap, flip or rotator away,
a user is watching a YouTube video, downloading a new album, sending
a text message, checking the weather for their current location and a
plethora of other web based tasks, that add up to a whole lot more
bandwidth than one would use on the clunky Windows or Symbian based
operating environments.

So, AT&T is crippled by the major advances in smart phone user
interface on the Apple iPhone. I can attest to the fact that I use my
iPhone at least ten times as much as I did my other handsets as the
things I want to do are right in my face and, for the majority of
programs I’ve encountered, are also accessible.

The iPhone 3G S marks a transformative moment in the world of mobile
devices in general and telecommunications in particular. Apple rules
the day.

Some other AT&T and maybe Apple issues that annoy me: If I try to buy
and download an application of more than 10 megabytes, I get a
dialogue telling me to switch to WiFi. I’m paying for unlimited data
service from AT&T and that’s what I want. Of course, my WiFi network
is much faster but its the principle we’re talking about here.

The New York Times article included a number of other features that
AT&T is delaying lest they make the bandwidth worse. I don’t care
about most of them but I was looking forward to using tethering while
we drove back south to Florida at the end of the month.

Thus, we still don’t have all of the features and the awesome Apple
design is already killing the AT&T capacity. This, in a bizarre way,
is really cool just to observe such a tectonic shift in such a huge

Back during the hateful George W. Bush administration, At&T admitted
that it spied on American citizens for the government. President
Obama has not ruled out spying on Americans so, the following bit of
very weirdness gave me pause the other day:

Because of the work I do, I need to be in contact with people around
the world. Sometimes Skype isn’t good enough so I went to the AT&T
customer page and checked that I wanted them to turn on International
dialing. The web site reported that I had to call a number so I did.

The phone was answered by some sort of phone-bot and I sat on hold for
about a half hour – keep in mind that all I want to do is sign up so I
can pay AT&T more money every time I dial a number in Asia.

Finally, a cranky woman came on the line and started interrogating
me. This was far more than the last four digits of my social security
number or mother’s maiden name; I was asked questions like, “Where
were you living when your Social Security card was issued?” “Have you
ever held a job in Biloxi, Austin or Durango, Colorado?” “How often
did you leave the United States in 2009?” “Have you ever lived in
Pennsylvania?” And they continued with personal questions that, as
far as I can see it, they should not know the answers.

I had my radical days when I was young. I sang for an anarcho-punk
band, attended demonstrations, got arrested more times than I’d like
to recall but I have never been a spy. Although Margaret Atwood wrote
an excellent novel called, “The Blind Assassin,” and I personally know
blinks at CIA and NSA, I’m really not good at subterfuge nor secrecy,
my life is a pretty open book and, if you read through the past few
years of blog entries, you’ll see that I admit to almost everything
short of the Kennedy cover-up, no grassy knolls in my history, I

Why then is AT&T giving me the third degree just so I can call my
charter accountant in New Delhi? It simply boggles the mind.

Of course, my mind is boggled by AT&T on my very kick-ass iPhone which
does kind of soften the blows.

— End

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Apple Releases OSX 10.6, Snow Leopard Edition

As Apple gives all of its OSX releases a cute wild cat name, everyone
who writes professionally, as a hobby, on mailing lists, in blogs, on
Face Book and virtually anywhere that one can publish text, they use
some sort of silly kitty related cliche in their title. I, therefore,
in this, the first Blind Confidential story since I pulled it out of
mothballs, have elected to use the most boring but descriptive title I
could think of on a single cup of coffee.

As the title asserts, Apple has released the latest version of its OSX
operating system and, as a consequence of the two being intertwingled,
a new version of its VoiceOver screen reader. As a general computer
user, SL -proves to increase the speed of the Intel based Macintosh
computers and does so in a highly perceptible manner. SL also
contains a lot of cool goodies and if you are interested, I recommend
reading any of the bazillion reviews in mainstream press. I
especially liked the New York Times review as it actually mentions
VoiceOver and the features for people with disabilities.

Since its release on Friday, I’ve been using SL and the new VO but
other pressing activities have kept me from doing anything like a
thorough investigation of the software. Thus, I give you my immediate
impressions and suggest, if you are looking for a whole lot of user
feedback, that you search for other VoiceOver related blogs and
mailing lists of which there seems to be new ones popping up daily.

VoiceOver, however, adds far more than performance improvements to
the world of people with vision impairment who use computers. For a
comprehensive list of such features, go to the Apple web site and go
to the Snow Leopard accessibility pages for a long and highly
informative read.

To begin with, the Apple accessibility team fixed a whole bunch of
bugs. While I’m sure I will find a few over time, all of my favorites
are gone and I won’t miss them.

Apple has added a VO preference setting to allow one to turn off its
pathological insertion point related speech and turn on the insertion
point speaks the item to its right (a Peter Korn invention from back
in his days making outSPOKEN) it can now, for people who have used
virtually any other screen reader, speak items at the caret as they
would expect. A few hardcore Macintosh worshippers say that the way
VO spoke the contents at the cursor is how “sighted people perceive
its location,” a notion that is pure bunk as, when the insertion point
visually sits between two characters or words, its location is
ambiguous – it is both to the left of one character and to the right
of another. Peter and his team back in the cave man days of screen
reading saw this ambiguity and selected to speak the item to the right
as, to a screen reader user, the notion of “between” is a very
difficult or even impossible one to convey with any efficiency.

One of my favorite new behaviors in VoiceOver is its extensive use of
sounds and TTS attribute changes to denote a lot of different actions
a screen reader user may take. Other screen readers may have
different or altered speech when changing cursors but Apple provides
special sounds when one is moving backward or forward (among lots of
other things) that are really nice and they have definitely moved from
the 1 dimensional sequence of syllables and pauses into a 2D sequence
of syllables, pauses and audio effects providing an interface far more
rich than I’ve used before.

When one first starts the new SL, its verbosity is set to “high” and
the user will hear a whole lot of new information. For a user new to
VO or one who is an infrequent user, these augmentations are terrific
as they help guide a user through a sometimes complex world
translating a very visual environment to one that can be reasonably
navigated by a blink with relative efficiency. Some of these
enhancements are pretty verbose and can be turned off if a user finds
them to waste time.

The new VO adds a number of features, like nice table navigation, that
it probably should have had in the past. It also adds some very cool
new features to enhance web browsing and, in my not at all humble
opinion, makes many web sites work as well or better than JAWS, the
reigning champion.

Snow Leopard and VO add the ability to use a multi-touch pad to
navigate data on the screen. I do not have one of these track pads
yet but I have been using the iPhone with its version of VO and its
multi-touch gesture based interface and, once one grows familiar with
it, they will find all sorts of advantages to being unbound by the
keyboard and cursor keys. I’ve heard other blinks report on this new
feature in SL and look forward to getting the appropriate hardware to
use it.

I don’t want to repeat a lot of stuff you can find in the
documentation or in lots of other blog poses out their in the
blinkosphere. I do however want to discuss the economics of this
upgrade as it compares to other systems accessible to those of us with
vision impairment.

NVDA and orca, because they are GPL, free as in freedom with a lower
case “f,” software never have an upgrade price. System Access
announced at one of the conferences earlier this year (ATIA or CSUN)
the “death of the SMA” and have stopped charging for upgrades. The
screen readers with the largest number of users, JAWS (with an
overwhelming worldwide market share) and Window-Eyes (a distant
second) both charge a hefty sum when they ship upgrades to the
software. If one has an SMA to JAWS Professional, the FS yearly
upgrade costs them one half of the SMA price or something over a
hundred dollars. I don’t recall the GW Micro upgrade policy but it is
similar to FS in terms and costs.

One thing I can say for sure is that the Windows screen readers with
upgrade and SMA charges will take one of these expensive upgrades from
their users in order to run Windows 7.0 when it is released. Thus,
users will need to pay MS for the OS upgrade and FS or GW for their AT
upgrade, putting them somewhere in the $300 range.

Snow Leopard, though, came with a $29 price tag for both the OS and
the VoiceOver upgrade all on a single DVD. No, I didn’t leave out a
digit, SL, VO together cost $30 or roughly 10% of the market leaders.
I also cannot recall a screen reader upgrade with as much new stuff as
VO coming out in years (if pushed, I’d probably say JAWS 3.5 but
others will have their favorites as well).

The SL version of VoiceOver introduces the ability to write scripts to
tweak the performance of the screen reader and to allow for
communication directly to other applications. This powerful tool is
exposed as AppleScript, a widely used and long included scripting
language on the Macintosh with a bazillion people who understand it
and tons of examples out in the real world one can use for reference.
There are also a lot of AppleScript tutorials of varying value that
one can find with a google search. This, in a way, echoes the GW
Micro approach to scripting by using a feature built into the OS
rather than sticking to an ancient proprietary system that will have
problems every time a new version of the screen reader is released.

If one decides today to go out and buy a new Macintosh and want to use
a screen reader, they can go to their favorite Apple store, Best Buy, newegg.com
and other vendors and, for around $800 – approximately the price of
a Windows screen reader – they can walk away with the only platform
that a blink can configure entirely from its first start up forward.
The Macintosh will start VoiceOver if it perceives that a new owner
has taken too long to interact with the initial dialogue – very
slick. Macintosh has no long locking code so one needn’t find a
sighted person or call MS for the Windows upgrade nor, if they do not
read Braille, need to find said sightie or call FS to get their copy
protection working and their system talking. So, a blink buys a Mac,
brings it home, plugs it in, hits the on button (all things I was able
to do sort of by instinct when I got my MacBook a year or so ago),
wait a minute or so and start hearing the screen reader talk, asking
you if you want a brief VO tutorial or to continue with the new
computer set up. This is super slick and avoids all of the
aforementioned hassles inherent in platforms that insist on copy
protection and relying on third parties to make screen readers rather
than building them into the OS.

Needless to say, I’m impressed with Snow Leopard and especially with
the new revision of VoiceOver. Give it a spin at an Apple store and
see if you may like it too.


I am out of practice writing extemporaneous blog posts so please
forgive the clunky prose above.

— End

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