As of today, I am the official Director of Access Technology for Project GNU ( I will continue my work with RTFI and NPII ( and but as the representative from GNU which probably means that my activities there are not going to change much.

As GNU and most of the free e software world has (with obvious exceptions at Sun, Mozilla and IBM) been without any real leadership based in one of the prominent organizations, my role will, at first be collecting a lot of information, finishing the GNU Accessibility Statement (GAS) (possibly the strongest statement of commitment to accessibility), talking about accessibility and free software and how one cannot say they promote freedom while disenfranchising one or more minority groups and working with other leaders in the field to find and set priorities. My first public appearance in this role will be at the Libre Planet conference in the Harvard Science Center on Saturday March 20 at 3:00 pm local time.

I am very proud to be joining Project GNU and grateful to my old friend Richard Stallman, whom I’ve known for nearly 25 years, for facilitating my appointment to GNU’s august set of leaders. Richard Stallman, commonly called rms, and I co-founded the League for Programming Freedom ( many years ago and are credited with being the force behind Borland’s victory in when Lotus sued it claiming user interface copyright. Today, at least in the US, UI one cannot copyright a UI.

I want to take a little time to honor rms and his place in history:

Anyone who has paid any attention to free (as in liberty) software, has probably heard one or more versions of the Richard Stallman birthday party, immediately after which the free software movement began. My favorite one says that rms, walking back from a Central Square Chinese restaurant where he and friends celebrated his birthday, got back to the MIT Laboratory for Artificial Intelligence and was told by Richard Greenblatt (then Director of the Lab) that Symbolics, an early AI company that’s been defunct for a lot of years now, had stopped sharing its source code with MIT but used a lot of the code developed on the ninth floor in the legendary building on Main Street in Cambridge.

Angered by this news, rms went to the roof of the building, found the Symbolics microwave antenna, tore it off of its supports and threw it into the parking lot. Stallman then went on to, as a lone hacker, duplicate everything Symbolics did and gave it away for free.

Thus, the free software movement started. After some time, rms decided to do an entirely free version of UNIX and formed the Free Software Foundation ( as its home. Linus came along a number of years later and contributed a kernel to the body of free software and, sadly, today gets almost all of the credit for the free/open source movement. Today, at last count, a GNU/Linux distro contains about 1.5% code from the kernel Linux and about 15% from Project GNU with the rest coming from the community of contributors worldwide. So, we call the distros GNU/Linux to give credit where it is due.

Virtually all free software programmers know a number of the tools developed by GNU, including: bash, gcc, emacs, flex and far too many others to list them all in this blog entry.

GNU/Linux distros also include many famous works of free software, including: APache, Firefox, Drupal, and lots of other programs that have a free software license, GPL, Apache, MIT, BSD, etc. GPL sticks the most closely to the original goals rms had when he started the movement, it’s controversial but it does provide the most freedom (without the Scientific) of all of the licenses.

As another bit of history, let’s look back at 1995. The Interweb had few tubes and most users connected by dial up. Publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Mother Jones all said that the web would be important but nobody could figure out how to monetize a web site. Its success was not certain and early adopters were taking what then seemed like huge risks.

Meanwhile, big companies still sold WAN systems that sort of worked like the web. IBM had Domino, Microsoft had Exchange, Lotus had Notes, Novell had Groupwise, Oracle had something and there were a few other players in this space. Ask any IT professional who was around back then if they could get any of these systems to communicate with each other and, at best, you will get a laugh. This could have been the future of the Internet – big companies with proprietary interfaces that could hardly communicate with each other.

Then, it was free software to the rescue. Servers like Apache started to grab the largest share of the servers and, as anyone could view and modify the source, compatibility came swiftly. Free software gave us a robust Internet where the most problematic features, Flash for instance, cause the most trouble while free programs chug along nicely.

If rms hadn’t started the concept of free software that always included source, would the Internet have been so successful. What percentage of servers run some GNU/Linux distro? Could this be the reason for near universal compatibility?

Surely, rms was not solely responsible for the Internet but the openness, the freedom component of the net’s philosophy certainly started on the ninth floor where he still maintains an office.

So, can we build a universally compatible, free set of accessibility tools? We’ll certainly try.


There are lots of amusing rms stories from years past. My favorite takes place at the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) freshman dance about 15 years ago. Gerry Susman (author of one of the most successful computer science text books in history) was approached by a young woman who he was advising.

Sussman asked, “Are you having a good time?”

Student replied, “Yeah, I’ve been dancing with this guy all night and he’s really nice and very funny. Only oddity is that he thinks he’s Richard Stallman.”

Sussman replies, “That is Richard Stallman.”

The student nearly passed out as rms had been a hero of hers for years, she had been dancing with him all night and, until gjs told her, she had no idea.

— End

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The Gonz Twitter Compromise

By BlindChristian

Yesterday, I put out a request for ideas on how Gonz Blinko should behave on Twitter. More than a few people had been confused as to where the fictional Gonz ended and where he strayed into reality.

There’s an interesting book of literary criticism called, “The Gang that Wouldn’t Write Straight: Wolfe, thompson, Didion and the New Journalism” (author name not remembered but it is available on It starts with the New York Tribune in the fifties which may have had the greatest writing team in US journalism history. The Trib had Tome Wolfe, Hunter Thompson, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Jimmy Breslin and many more who would create the “new” journalism.

This “new” journalism searched for truth and not facts (read Gore Vidal’s criticism of John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”) for an explanation of how facts can ruin truth.

After the Trib went bust, the gang started New York magazine and had most of the Trib gang plus people like Gale Sherry and others. It was in New York magazine where Wolfe would publish his now legendary “Radical Chic” article exposing the limousine liberals for all of their silliness. It was in NY where Thompson would first publish an article about the Hell’s Angels which would lead to the really long pieces in The Nation which, in turn, would turn into the book that really launched his career.

Gonz Blinko is mostly based on a cross between Thompson and me. I would blend fact and fiction and add lots of absurd twists as Thompson did throughout his career. This worked pretty well in the blog format as it had enough space to make the absurdity of it all quite obvious (excepting to the truly humor impaired like FS’s CEO Lee Hamilton). In the 140 character mode, sliding in and out of fact and fiction is much less obvious. Yesterday, I contemplated killing Twitter Gonz until a friend of mine suggested that we try to recruit other people to Twitter as fictional characters and play around purely in the absurd and silly and fictitious side of our worlds.

We will also look back at Gonz blog posts over history and use the fake names I used to describe companies, Freeman Scientology == Freedom Scientific as seen through the lens of real weird alternative universe play. We have names for real world human inspired characters as well and use them in appropriate context.

So, Gonz Blinko will be posting more absurd, flashback inspired tweets and BlindChristian will actually take the world mostly seriously. Readers should assume Gonz has gone over the top at all times and that BC may have fun now and then but will be far closer to the realm of reality.


This transfer from Gonz to BC for real items will take place over the next few days. You can follow Gonz at and BlindChristian at

If you would like to have a fictitious character in the Gonz world, crate one and introduce yourself to Gonz so we know who is real or not as letting us guess may be fun as well. If you want to take on one of the characters already known from the blog, please write to me as they all have certain parameters.

— End

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Gonz and Twitter

By BlindChristian

For many years, Gonz Blinko has entertained readers in the fictional blinkosphere invented by cdh intended to be an alternative universe where all sorts of things regarding blindness could be viewed through a very alternative lens. I’ve enjoyed writing Gonz stories and, based upon feedback, a lot of readers enjoyed reading them as well.

Recently, Gonz has taken to tweeting and his Twitter feed is laden with wisecracks, paranoia, silliness, actual comments about AT and inclusion of fact, opinion and weirdness. SOme people, however, probably those who do not know Gonz from this blog can’t seem to understand that he is intended to be humorous and doesn’t reflect cdh’s actual opinions all of the time.

In the blog, there is a context in which Gonz lives. In tweets, the 140 limit may make him sound a bit too stark and actually serious.

Gonz has never had a terribly consistent narrative but may be the tweets, as random as they are, cannot be seen as funny in such a medium.

So, should we kill the Gonz Blinko feed?

— End

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My First White Cane

My First White Cane
By BlindChristian

In the summer of 1991 or 1992, a bunch of us then working at the now defunct Turning Point Software (TPS, not to be confused with TPG) decided to hold a comrade’s bachelor party in Las Vegas. Being the organizational sort and designated cruise director for the gang we hung with in and out of the office, it fell to me to handle the arrangements.

So, I got us a block of rooms at the Riviera, plane reservations on the only non-stop from Boston to Vegas, fight tickets for Chavez versus Camacho and a few other tasks that elude me.

Like many people who have deteriorating vision, I felt some shame that I would sometimes need help and, more so, I didn’t want anyone to know of this ever worsening problem with my vision.

I still drank alcohol and used the odd illicit drug back then. Sometimes, when in a bar or restaurant, I would trip over something I couldn’t see. Instead of explaining to the bartender or other employee of the establishment and showing them my Massachusetts Commission for the Blind ID, I let them think I was drunk and accepted getting tossed out on my ass. I would much rather have been thought of as a drunk than a blink. I didn’t want any help and used drunkenness and other causes for doing something as a result of my bad vision. The humiliation of acquiring a disability caused me tremendous, albeit irrational, emotional pain so bad that I’d rather be thought of as a drunk, a drug addict, a public nuisance and anything else that people would accuse me of except blindness.

I went through extreme personal anguish during those last couple of years. I didn’t know of screen readers so I made my own crappy little tool for Macintosh. I thought it would be impossible for me to return to software engineering so I enrolled in a creative writing program at Harvard (a program I would quit when HJ made me an offer). Other than quitting the booze and drugs, and enjoying my classwork,very little seemed to go as I would have liked until the offer from Henter-Joyce.

The thought of blindness seemed so isolating and freaky that I couldn’t handle accepting it. I didn’t know any other blinks and made the assumption that most were shut ins who hid from the dangerous real world. No, I wasn’t going into the night of blindness without a fight that I was destined to lose.

The Vegas trip got me thinking about getting a cane. I knew that out there, I would need to hold onto elbows of our all male gang. Without a white cane in my hand, people may assume that my friends and I were gay. Herein lies a strange quandary: some of my friends are gay. I had lived in Greenwich Village for six years before the virus hit and was, therefore, emerged in gay culture. I would hang out with friends in gay bars and my band played a couple of gigs at the notorious Ramrod Club on West Side Highway. Homophobia, no way, not me?

Alas, I found that I would rather be seen as blind than queer – even though I’d flirt with gay friends and listen to Cher and Judy Garland records from time to time. The notion of being considered gay pushed me to make a handful of phone calls and found a place in the Boston area to buy a cane.

I never had any orientation and/or mobility training. How difficult it be, if I hit something solid, don’t walk there as we can’t occupy the same space at the same time. On one of my earliest ventures, I went to a Red Sox game (we had season tickets back then and I could sort of see well enough to keep track of the action) and, as I often did, I decided to walk back to our Cambridge home. On Prospect St. in Cambridge, a car was parked across the sidewalk and I missed it with my can and I came crashing into it.

The motorist yelled, “What are you, blind?”

I said, “Yes.” He saw the cane and I gave him my Commission of the Blind ID. He had identified himself as a cop so I got especially polite as I really didn’t want to spend a night in the clink.

My new cop friend offered me a ride home and I agreed with one provision: that I could ride in the front seat. I’d been in many a police car but always in the back and often handcuffed. He agreed. I then asked if I could play with the siren, he said, “No.” but did laugh.

The trip to Vegas went off really well. It’s a city where no one really cares how drunk, blind or gay you are as long as your money is green. After the trip, I was much more comfortable using the cane and accepting “blind” as a description of myself.

Still, though, when I reflect on those months leading up to my getting a cane, flashes of shame come back but they are accompanied by very funny memories of Vegas and other places where things grew amusing.

If you have deteriorating vision and want to know whether to get a cane and want to talk, you can find me on FaceBook, Twitter and elsewhere.


This article was written by BlindChristian who, for the most part, is actually me. The account above is entirely true as far as my recollection of some drunken nights can be. You can follow BlindChristian on twitter:

There also seems to be some confusion about where cdh/BlindChristian ends and Gonz Blinko begins among the twitter folks. Gonz, as always, is over the top, somewhat outrageous, paranoid and is purely a fiction. Gonz statements on twitter and elsewhere are intended to be amusing, outraging and just fun. I dig into weird parts of my creative mind to keep Gonz going.

If you want to follow Gonz on twitter,

— End

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The Velvet Blinkerground (fiction)

By Gonz Blinko

“White light going messing up my mind, Don’t you know it’s going to make you go blind, White light, White heat…” – Lou Reed, Velvet Underground.
Samhara had just arrived in one of our undisclosed locations deep in the Glades.  El Negro took off on his Harley to collect new girlfriend and hang out at South Beach.  I received secret communication that said Lou Reed, the heart of the Velvets, the Rock and Roll Animal, the transformer, the man who took us for a walk on the wild side had grown vision impaired in his advancing years.  Not only had Lou lost some of his vision, he actually went out and had a programmer make a special “ghetto” application to make his iPhone  easier to read.
I would have preferred if he had chosen Zoom but to find an artist of his caliber actually taking action and diving right into AT was amazing.
“Sam?” I said, “I’ve got to get to New York.”
I explained about Lou Reed getting into the blindness biz and that I had to get the story for Blind Confidential.
“So, you had the boat brought down and hidden so you could return to New York in two days?”
“It’s not about the boat, it’s the dirty boulevard.  It’s about a major player from the never ending scene jumping right into the belly of our beast,” I said with emphasis.
“What makes him so important?”
“Have you noticed that all cool people, especially men, in the New York scene dress like he has for years?” I asked rhetorically, “Look at the string, Springsteen, The Ramones, even the hip hop kids – black leather jacket, Ray bans, t-shirt, jeans, leaning against a wall on St. Marks Place, smoking cigarettes and acting so entirely nonchalant that one would think their existential realism might make them disappear in a cloud of apathy.”
“And you were once one of these kids?” asked Samhara knowingly.
“About 30 years ago…” I mumbled.
I hitched a ride on a friend’s private jet from Fort Myers to New York and, using numerous evasive maneuvers, found myself at my condo on Joey Ramone Blvd.  The X-Dog and entered through the back door, got upstairs and made a pot of coffee.
“Allie,” answered the familiar voice.
“I’m in New York,” I told her.
“Cool, what’s up?”
“It’s Lou Reed.”
“Did he die?”
“Oh, well then what do you have to discuss with Lou?  By the way, is he still married to Laurie?”
“Don’t know about marital status, his vision got really bad and he’s making AT these days.”
“I’ll get us an appointment.”
We sat down with Reed in a Middle Eastern place called Mustache on a side street in the West Village.   We started with a bit of chit chat about the early days of punk and how many of our old friends had already died.  Jim Carroll, the most recent made us the most sad.  It always seems that reunions from that period start with a “who died” topic and then move into happier subjects.
“You look great,” Reed said to Allie with his heavy Long Island accent.
“I look old,” she quipped.
“We’re all looking older,” he said, “You just look better than the rest of us.”
Allie laughed and we started talking vision impairment.
“Well, I couldn’t use my iPhone too well,” said Lou, “So, I had a programmer friend make me the contacts programmer.”
“Why didn’t you use Zoom, the program on your phone that makes everything bigger?” I asked.
“Zoom?  What’s Zoom?”
Allie took Lou’s phone from his hand and turned on its magnifier.
“Holy shit!” blurted Reed, “And this works in all programs?”
“Yup,” I replied, “and it comes built into all of the iPhones Apple sells.”
“No shit?” asked Reed again.
“Truth,” added Allie.
“Well it’s not as pretty as my contacts program,” said Reed, “we took a lot of time designing our program.”
“I’m sure you did and maybe your custom program will be useful for you and others but the real solution is getting the technology onto all handsets without modification,” I lectured.
Lou agreed to join our band of blinks and work, in his own way, toward universal accessibility.  He clings to the thought of artsy fartsy custom interfaces but we need all of the help we can get.
We took some additional evasive Maneuvers returning to the condo on Joey Ramon Blvd. where we had a pizza delivered from a trusted source.  Allie and I catted about how Lou and his commitment to art hadn’t changed, we did a toast of espresso  to Andy Warhol and talked rapid fire like the old days.  Allie fell asleep on the sofa and I went to the bedroom.
“Well, Lou Reed is in the fold,” I said to Samhara as I got back to the house boat carefully cloaked in on of our favorite secluded locations.
“So, are you going to say hello?”  asked Sam.  “I got here and you jumped off and sped to New York.”
“Oh, uh, sorry about that,” I stumbled, “Hello, hello, hello, I repeated and leaned over to give Samhara a peck on the cheat.”
There is one strand of truth in the story above, namely, Lou Reed has, had a magnified contacts program made for him that runs on the iPhone.  Other than that, I know nothing about his vision, computer use and I’ve not said more than three words to the man in 25 years or so.  He remains a musical hero of both Gonz and BC and, if you don’t know of him, check out the 1960s recordings by the Velvet Underground (an invention of Andy Warhol in which Lou played guitar and sang) and lots of recordings that Lou has released  as a soloist since.  He is also a poet and art photographer.
If you want to follow Gonz Blinko’s interesting and twisted  thoughts on almost every topic, sign up for his twitter feed at:
If you would like the more rational BlindChristian tweets, go to
You can “friend” me on FaceBook, just search on Chris Hofstader.
And, if you care to share an IM chat, send me a buddy request at
Happy Christmas everyone!
— End 
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Social Networking

Recently, primarily because everyone is talking about them and I thought I’d stick my toe in, I’ve set up accounts on various social networking systems. I’ve also broken my long term policy of eschewing instant messenger programs and set up a couple of accounts for them too.

On FaceBook, you can, if you are interested in the banality of my existence, “friend” me using “Chris Hofstader” as your search criteria. I update my status about once per day and have no idea why anyone reads my little statements.

On twitter, I set up an account for myself, where I will probably tweet about random topics in a manner like this blog. I’ve yet to post anything as I’ve no followers signed up and am not sure if a tweet falls in the woods and no one is present to hear it…

Gonz Blinko also has his own twitter account: He also has yet to post anything but I think his followers can expect gonzo headlines about the absolute weirdness that is reality.

Someone told me that I am on LinkedIn and am signed up for the League for Programming Freedom group. I got an email about a month or so ago saying that someone added me as a contact but, otherwise, I have never visited its web site or used its service in anyway.

I have an IM account on MSN with the email address, which I only have two people to chat with so it’s all pretty boring.

Twitter keeps asking me if I wasn’t tweets sent to my mobile phone. I can’t imagine that anything that a twitter person would would be important enough that it can’t wait until I sit down with some free time. I would understand this if I was involved in protests in Iran, Honduras or some place where a tweet may mean life or death but listening to Sarah Palin tell us that she changed her socks can wait.

So, I think the gonz_blinko twitter account may be fun and suggest that of the above it will probably be the most interesting so sign up to follow it right away. People who like the general content of BlindConfidential might also sign up for the BlindChristian feed as it will contain short form headline like things that refer to issues BC may cover in this blog.

Otherwise, all of my new and boring contact information is above so feel free to join me at anytime as I’m often bored and lonely enough to enjoy a chat on the phone or online.

— End

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Writer’s Block

First I tried to kill BC but got so many emails of support that I decided to revive it. Of course, since then I think I’ve only done two or three posts and, for the most part, I am struggling through a period of minimal imagination and lack of interest in the AT biz.

My gonzo alter-egos aren’t speaking to me in manner that is conducive to telling their stories. I feel that they are acting more like imaginary friends than sources for gonzo journalism . None have died or anything and I expect something will trigger them to come back.

From the AT world, I pretty much use either VoiceOver on Macintosh OSX or orca on GNU/Linux distros. I have not done much to keep up with the news and have heard few rumors lately.

I have been told that JAWS 11 does a pretty awesome job with relatively complex web 2.0 applications (googledocs and the like) and that the others are working to catch up. I’ll give JAWS 11 a test drive one of these days but, for now, I’ve heard its praises from a number of very credible sources so I’ll assume they are correct for now at least.

I guess the biggest rumor from around the campfire is that MS plans on following Apple and building a very usable screen reader into some future Windows 7 update. This would certainly cause a tectonic shift in the way blind people choose to spend their money. It also raises the question of whether MS is buying or building a new screen reader – rumors on this question are all over the map so are probably as much guess as knowledge.

I’m on FaceBook and you can “friend” me using my full name: Chris Hofstader.

I’ve thought about setting up a twitter account but what good is tweeting if no one listens? If a tweet falls in a forest…

I am collecting a set of pan-disability ideas for technology projects, I think we have blindness well covered but I could use help in most other areas. We hope to post these as “challenges” and try to work with people to get these projects launched through a wide array of different means. If you have any ideas, please send them to me directly and I’ll add them to the list for our web site.

Some friends and I are starting a “Bullshit Detector Database” that will contain information about bogus cures for various different causes and symptoms of vision impairment. Way back in my late teens, early twenties, when expert ophthalmologists at great centers of medical knowledge (Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Wilmer Institute at Johns Hopkins, New York Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat and some others) told me that retinitis pigmantosa had no cure and that, eventually, I would lose the rest of my vision. With the desperation of a man who knows he is going to go blind, I chased all sorts of bullshit remedies for my family malady. I spent a huge amount of money on everything from acupuncture to enemas, macrobiotics to herbology and, along with the expense, the crushing emotional side of having hope and watching it get crushed time and time again, not to mention the discomfort some of these procedures caused motivate me to create a space where people with the same desperation I felt back then can go to check out the validity of the claims of the modern version of snake oil salesmen.

If one googles on “cure for retinitis pigmantosa” they will get more than 40,000 hits. The “sponsored links” (about a dozen in the last search I did) were all intended to sell bullshit to people who have lost hope in actual science. These predators will take your money, send you something (nobody entirely knows what may go into these witchy potions) and, when you don’t improve, blame you for doing something that invalidated their cure.

Some people will say that the science based medical establishment is conspiring to cover up the offerings of these voodoo doctors because it doesn’t fit their model. These naysayers, sadly, do not understand the scientific method nor the process in which claims are reviewed. Anyone who actually presented a cure for RP or, as some claim, blindness in general, would probably win the Nobel Prize for Medicine and make the front cover of virtually all serious scientific publications. Hiding actual cures is fundamentally against how not just science but capitalism itself works.

So, if you’ve been duped by or have avoided such by doing a bit of actual scientific inquiry, please send me a link so we can make sure the bogus claim you found has made it into our database.

Note: I’m not a database guy and don’t really know anything worthwhile about mysql and am relying on other people to help with this part of the web site and would appreciate any volunteers who may also want to help. For now, we’re focussing exclusively on bogus cures for blindness but, perhaps, in the future we’ll add other disabilities.

— End

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Normally, I take a very cynical view of world affairs, I believe that
climate change is irreversible and that all wars are unwinnable. I
find very few good guys and a vast crowd of “evil doers” but my
definition of such extends to governments and not just outlaw
terrorist groups. I feel strongly that George W Bush is an evil doer
and so are many members of his cabinet and other officials who worked
for him.

President Obama actually filled me with something resembling hope; So,
throughout this year I have been giving him the benefit of the doubt.
When he hired Larry Summers instead of Paul Krugman, I got a bit
nervous as Summers is a racist, sexist and was responsible for the
Clinton White House’s support of the massive deregulation that led to
this disaster. Then he hired Reuben instead of Steiglits; another
Goldman Saks guy, it’s beginning to remind me of GW Bush’s finance
team who also came from the same bank.

Then Obama pushed off getting rid of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and I
accepted that it would happen in the near future. Then he announced
support for the absurd Defense of Marriage Act.

His promises to bring home troops from Iraq is woefully behind
schedule and, this week, he is contemplating sending another 40,000 of
our young people to the mountains of Afghanistan.

This week, the Dalai Lama will be paying a visit to Washington.
President Obama is refusing to meet with him as he wants to downplay
the human rights issues in his discussions with China. Is the same
Obama we heard speaking so eloquently about such important issues in
sweeping platitudes this time last year? Where did that guy go.

My cynicism is back and for many more reasons than the highlights I
note above. It’s just too depressing to think about how rapidly Obama
turned from hero into back slapping old boy. As Zappa said, “the
torture never stops.” As Gore Vidal said, “We don’t need a third
party; we need a second party.”

— End

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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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