dogriver: (Default)
One of the things about social networking which is, in my view, both positive and negative is the ability to very quickly and without a lot of thought express your opinion. Instead of having to write a magazine article, commentary
to an e-mail list, or blog entry about what an idiot the next person over is, you can just zap it off in 140 characters or less. And heaven forbid that the next twenty people over are idiots: throwing out twenty or thirty tweets or Facebook posts is nothing. Everyone's put in their place and you still have
time for a cup of coffee before you leave for work. I've been guilty of this: sending out an opinion that hasn't really been thought through, and a little while later wondering, Did I really need to tell everyone that? Is the world a better place because I tweeted my righteous indignation about this delivery person or that customer service agent? Are my followers enlightened because I vented?

Among blind people, there seems to be a trend on social networking to let the world know just what a bunch of useless and cerebrally-deficient jerks sighted people are. If a sighted person doesn't intuitively know how to treat a blind person, or their guide dog, or if a sighted person dares to take courage and draw inspiration from a blind person's ability to do something when that sighted person simply can't imagine doing it without sight, to offer a few examples, then that sightless person is guilty of an insult so dastardly that he or she isn't worthy of an explanation. Too many people, I fear, regard sighted people as "the help": they're expected to, via some form of osmosis, know exactly what to say or think, when to say or think it, and precisely how to act. What's more, they're supposed to have a positive, respectful view of blind people, even though their human status, parentage, and right to be on the planet have just been called into question by these same blind people. Their (our, if I'm to be honest, I've done it too) own mistakes, shortcomings, and insulting words get conveniently forgotten in a litany of righteous indignation, entitlement, generalization, and unrealistic expectations.

Sure, maybe it's tough expending the energy to explain to someone what is expected of them, what is appropriate and what isn't, and why. We're all people, we don't always have the time or inclination to do this. But if you don't have the energy to educate, where did you get the energy to lambaste and rail against the uneducated?

Are there sighted people who act stupidly? Sure there are. People are people, it happens. But guess what? There are blind people who act stupidly too. Can you imagine sighted people tweeting or blogging about ways that some blind people have annoyed them? Getting publicly angry at a blind person who didn't know that a behavior was inappropriate or embarrassing? We expect sighted people to explain these things to us; we would be very upset if sighted people humiliated us because of what we didn't know. I know this, it's happened to me, it's probably happened to most blind people. So why then do we feel entitled to lambaste, to embarrass, to humiliate sighted people for their unawareness? IT's got to go both ways.
Over the last few years, I have really come to understand the importance of living by the Golden rule. Every comment we hurl out in blogs, articles, or social media deserves the question: Would I want someone to say this if the shoe were on the other foot?
dogriver: (Default)
This article may offend some people. If you're sensitive about your technology and your attachment to it, please, I'm not kidding, don't read this. It's only my opinion, and if my opinion is going to upset you, then stay away from it.

As my hearing decreases, one of the things that I find myself missing more and more is the interaction with those around me. With no sight, and less and less sound, my social sphere is gradually closing in on me, and I find this kind of sad.

It strikes me as interesting, then, that as my desire for social interaction increases proportionately to my inability to fill that desire, society is moving away from social interaction, or at least physical social interaction.

I'm not the first person to think this. Back in 1980, Douglas Adams, in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, was thinking along the same lines when he had the idea of elevators with precognitive abilities that allowed them to be waiting for you when you got to them, "thus eliminating all the tedious chatting, relaxing and making friends that people were previously forced to do whilst waiting for elevators." It didn't quite work out that way. Elevators are no more precognitive now than they were in 1980, at least not according to my practical experiences.

But people's dsires to do away with one-on-one socialization have definitely increased in the intervening 35 years, thus creating what I call the personal technobubble. When's the last time you talked to the person next to you on the bus, the train, or the subway? ARe you one of those screaming bloody murder at the airlines because they insist you turn off your cellphones during a flight? Do you know more about people on social networking whom you've never met than you do about the person living next door?

Smart phones are amazing devices, to be sure. For many people, a smart phone is a music player, a library, a radio, a TV, a map, an arcade, and a community center. The book Ready Player One, which envisions a world where virtual interaction has replaced physical interaction, isn't so far out. If most people don't have such a world, most people want it and would embrace it.

I think my dad would be saddened to see the rise of the personal technobubble. Dad was always one who could walk up to a person and strike up a conversation, just as easily as you please. I was sometimes embarrassed by this ability, but more often than not, I was envious. But in this day and age, when everyone is staring into a screen or plugged into their favorite music, when physical motions are more or less on autopilot, Dad's gift of the gab would be lost, useless, unwanted, resented.

Not long ago, I read a book in which a young lady's smartphone went on the fritz. She spent over a thousand dollars desperately trying to get herself set up again immediately so she wouldn't have to face the awful fate of being on a train without her beloved phone. The thought of actually having to take in, and interact with, her surroundings absolutely terrified her. I think the author meant it to be funny, but these days, it's becoming more and more of a realistic portrayal. With everyone's life wrapped up in one piece of technology, when that piece of technology no longer works, people are lost.

And lastly there's the shift in values. I've heard more than a few people say that economically, the average person is worse off now than during the depression. So I go back to my father, for a depression story or two. Dad told me that, one winter, my grandfather had to wait six months before being able to afford a stamp to mail a letter. I try to compare that to this day and age, when some people's idea of disaster is having to turn their phones off during the course of a two-hour flight. I think that the people comparing present-day hardships with the depression have, on the whole, completely forgotten what hardship means.

Am I opposed to technology? No, I embrace it. What I am opposed to is the way it is taking over the lives of people. Our society worships its technology. What kind of a system has the creator worshiping its own creation? You can say what you want about my beliefs, but I'm glad my God created me, and not vice versa.
dogriver: (Default)
First of all, please let me make it clear. By talking about people's reactions to these horrible shootings, I'm not trying to minimize anyone's feelings or opinions ... except, perhaps, the feelings and opinions of anyone who would take innocent lives.

It is very interesting, when a horrible event like a shooting occurs, to examine the reactions to these events. If the victim was a member of a minority, many immediately decide it's a crime of -ism. If the person is doing the reacting is a second-amendment zealot, there is immediate proclamation that what we need is more guns. There are guaranteed to be numerous potshots taken at Christians by people who look for any excuse to target Christianity as the reason for all the world's problems. And on and on.

I follow a variety of people of many ethnicities, races, and walks of life on Twitter. I, too have an ethnicity, a race, and a walk of life. So observing the various reactions to these atrocities, including my own, is a study in human nature.

First off, inevitably, is the shock, experienced by everyone. Whatever one's reaction, thankfully, among the people I know, everyone is horrified by these murders. If I knew people who took joy from them, I wouldn't want to associate with them any longer.

After the initial shock, though, things start diverging quickly. Most vocal is the crowd who preach for a kinder and gentler society that responds with slow and painful torture of the perpetrator, both here and in the hereafter which they temporarily believe in. Next, you have the people who take shots at Christians who offer their prayers. Next, you have the Christians who offer their prayers but do little else. If the perpetrator claimed to be a Christian, you have immediate calls for the abolishment of rights for Christians, and if the perpetrator claimed to be Islamic, you have immediate calls for more tolerance toward Islamic people.

Oddly, all of these groups, in my personal opinion, have a point. We do need to punish those who inflict such atrocities on their fellow human being. Slow and painful torture here and in eternity in the name of kindness and gentleness? I don't know. There's a reason I'm not in the justice system: I'm not wise enough to administer justice; trouble is, I don't know of anyone in the justice system who is. But the retribution seekers do have a point. Those who pray for the families and loved one, in my view, also have a point; As a Christian, I do believe in the power of prayer. Those who say that praying is a cop-out have a point as well. The Bible makes it clear that, while we are to pray, prayer without action is empty. Those who condemn Christianity have a point, too, in as far as using God to condone brutal murder is just plain wrong, and in my personal opinion there is no such thing as Christian murder, bigotry, racism, sexism, or any other -ism, so if you condone any of these sorts of evils, don't claim the title of Christian because I don't buy it. And those who say we shouldn't paint all Muslims with the same brush also have a point, as I've known far too many kind, wonderful Muslim people to think along those lines. So lots of good points all around, and we could all do to learn from all of them.

I have to be honest, though, there is a group whose point I just can't see, and that is the pro-gun crowd. This notion, backed by what I consider pseudo-science, seems to say that if we would just arm our nations to the teeth, we would have less crime and be a kinder, gentler people. I can't buy that, and you'll never convince me to. Guns don't kill people, people do? People aren't designed to kill people, guns are. I know there is a need for guns. But that need is extremely selective, and should have to be shown in no uncertain terms, in my opinion. They most certainly should not, in my opinion, be in the hands of the general public, and background checks should be abxolutely mandatory for everyone who gets their hands on one. IF we're going to ere, ere on the side of not enough guns being out there for the using. More guns, less crime? Nonsense.
dogriver: (Default)
Before I moved to education, I proofread books for a library for the blind. As such, I proofread many novels. A fair number of these were romance novels.

Since then, I have also talked to other people, and followed what's popular and what's not, and I've come upon a trend that I, as a non-romance-reading guy, don't understand. Mind you, I'm not passing judgment, I'm not criticizing, I'm just trying to understand here.

The most popular romances seem to involve a dominant male who forces himself on the woman he wants, absolutely refusing to take no for an answer. After trying to resist him for most of the book, the woman, secretly awash in sexual desire, finally yields, giving in to his desires, and realizes that he's just exactly what she's always wanted, and they are happy forever after.

In other words, the most popular romances among female readers, many of them feminists, involve precisely the kind of men feminists despise.

So why is it that so many women's ideal read is so different from these same women's ideal experience? Women don't want to be dominated by a man, I get that. They don't want men to treat them as sex objects. I get that. I agree wholeheartedly with both of these points. So why do these same women gobble up books where the behavior of the dominant male is, at best, sexual harassment, and at worst, outright rape?

My own theories? I honestly don't have one. Some guys would probably suggest that a woman's secret desire is to be treated like the women in the books. But I don't buy that. So this is going to have to be a blog entry that expresses my perplexedness, but offers no resolution. Perhaps it's just one of the foibles of the human condition that hound us all. That's as deep as it's going to get.
dogriver: (Default)
I think it's fair to say that all of us, either directly or indirectly, have in some way been affected by cancer. We may have had it ourselves, we may have had a friend or family member who has gone through it, or we may at least know someone we care about who has gone through one of these experiences.

If you have experienced the ravages and disruptions of cancer, you know how important are the support workers: the counselors, the people who offer living assistance, the people who do all the myriad things that doctors and nurses could not possibly do. These support workers, professionals who give so freely of themselves to help others, are so very essential, and just as important as the front-line doctors and nurses.

This is where MacMillan Nurses comes in. These nurses work in hospitals, hospices, and homes across the UK to ease the pain for those dealing with cancer and their loved ones.
Treehouse Radio is a UK Internet radio station that is currently running a radiothon whose goal it is to raise 1000 pounds for this incredibly worthy cause. You can learn about the radiothon as a whole at www.treehouseradio.com/macmillanweekend. I will be playing a small part in this radiothon by doing a special Toews on the Waves "Bruce's Birthday Bash" edition. My show will air from 1 until 3 PM Eastern, which is 6 to 8 PM in the UK. I'm planning to playing a lot of fun music and comedy, the kind of thing Toews on the Waves was known for when it was a weekly program. I'd encourage you to go to www.treehouseradio.com and listen in, joining in the fun.
While you're at it, please consider giving, however small the amount, to this important cause. To help make it interesting, there are lots of contests and other incentives for you to enjoy as you do so. You can learn about all of these by heading over to http://justgiving.com/netradio.

So again, please join me from 1 to 3 PM Eastern, 6 to 8 PM in the UK, and help me raise some money for these wonderful support workers who do so much for the lives of cancer sufferers and their families.
dogriver: (Default)
When I was growing up, one of the things that we, as kids, always dreaded were the moms and dads who tried being like us. It never worked. Wearing the same clothes as their kids always looked as fake as it was; their attempts to use clichés and idioms that kids were using were equally fake. It wasn't cool to have parents carried out on stretchers because they put their backs out trying to be twelve. We wanted our parents to understand us, not try to be like us.

I was always grateful for my parents in this regard. Mom and dad were my parents. They were authority figures. They were older than I was, and I could always count on this. This, for me, was what parents were supposed to be. There was delineation between my pals and my parents. Not that I didn't consider my parents my friends, of course I did. But the distinction between pal and parent was clear: I knew what was acceptable and unacceptable in each group, the boundaries were clear. They were old, out-of-date, totally 1950s (or "so Model T", to use one of Betty's phrases from Father Knows Best), embarrassing, reliable, wise, and wonderful.

I remember, my dad would even take the idioms of my generation and butcher them. This served three purposes for him. First, it harmlessly annoyed the crap out of me. Second, it made it clear to me that he understood the idioms of us kids. And third, it made it clear that he wasn't one of us and had no intention of trying.

So what happened to mom? A few months ago, I was talking to her on the phone, and suddenly she was not using the words for things she'd always used with me. Suddenly she was trying to get all vernacular on me. It was as if she didn't want to pretend to be a part of my generation, but, at 75, she suddenly wanted in on my nieces' and nephews' generation. I wanted her to go back to speaking the way she'd always spoken, I wanted my mom back.

Parents out there, think it through long and hard before you decide to be chummy with your kids. Was that what you wanted when you were a kid? Were you even remotely impressed with the parents who tried? If you did, and if you were, then, well, you and I were obviously from different subcultures or something. But what I needed, growing up, was parents: old-geezer, mildly them-versus-us parents. Age gracefully, my parental aquaintances. In the end, once the rebellion is over, your kids will thank you.
dogriver: (Default)
Conservative and liberal Christians, in many ways, see themselves as being as far apart as night and day. I think it would surprise people in both groups, therefore, to have the suggestion made that both groups may have the same fundamental problem, and just be experiencing it in different ways.

The problem, then? It's simply that, instead of allowing God to define us, instead of recognizing that He has created us in His image, we, the people in both groups of Christians, insist on creating God in the image of ourselves we have created.

For conservatives, it's a question of selective legalism. These people believe God has an agenda, and by a startling coincidence, it just happens to be their own agenda! They take the issue that gets stuck in their craw, and they assign it and its importance to God. They may say, "I hate because God hates ." Or maybe, "I insist that people do this or that because God insists that people do this or that." The reality is exactly the opposite. They hate the group of people, or demand those particular actions, and to justify that, they decide that God, too, considers the group in question detestable and the specific action absolutely essential. It's kind of like cellphone companies charging a "system access fee" and saying the government made them do it, when in reality the government made them do no such thing. Meanwhile, actions, thoughts, or beliefs that aren't important to them get totally ignored. Their hatred, a violation of God's command to love their neighbor, somehow slips by the wayside. They have, convincing only themselves, redefined their God in their own prejudiced, hateful, hurtful, selectively legalistic image.

Before liberal Christians get too smug, I contend that they are just as guilty, and of a variant of the same problem. They also define their God according to their own image. To them, God is not a holy, powerful, mighty God worthy of our submission, loyalty, obedience, ore even belief; rather, they see God as a heavenly pet owner, maybe smilingly chiding His pets for being "naughty", but ultimately indulging their every whim and action. Even as some owners jokingly feel their pets really own them, so too these liberal Christians envision a God that demands nothing of His creation, to the point of letting them run over Him or even denying his very existence. They recognize the unconditional love of God, for the most part (though they can often be every bit as hateful as any conservative Christian), but have a complete disregard for His holiness, His worthiness, His might, His expectations.

Not all conservatives, and not all liberal Christians fall into these categories. While no one can truly grasp the immensity of God, least of all me, there are many people in both camps who truly try to balance their view of Him, try to allow Him to be defined according to His terms and not their own. There are conservative Christians who do not show prejudice and hatred; there are liberal Christians fully aware that God is more vast and more holy than they could possibly imagine; and there are people in both camps who truly try to live, talk, walk, and think in accordance with God's will.

I have often said, loudly for anyone who will listen to hear, the enemy is not conservativism, it is not liberalism, it is extremism. The very nature of an unfathomable God dictates that our interpretations of Him and His word will vary, it's inevitable, and God understands this. But it's when we go to extremes, whatever extremes these might be, that problems start. Neitehr extreme liberal Christianity nor extreme conservative Christianity is any better than the other, and when one realizes the surprising similarities between the two, the image changes from that of a line with conservatives on one end and liberals on the other, to a circle with the two extremes camped out right next to each other on one side.

Maybe all Christians need to ask themselves how they are being selective in their interpretation of Scripture. Are they allowing their own prejudices, their own desires, their own values to dictate the God they want, or are they allowing God in His fullness to determine the values, ideals, and beliefs that govern their life?
dogriver: (Default)
Not long ago, a friend of mine had some fairly serious accusations made against him via an anonymous accuser. The accusations could have easily been refuted, and the process would probably have developed into a good, win-win discussion.

But because the accusation was anonymous, there was no constructive discussion, my friend felt deeply hurt, and nothing positive came out of the experience.

I always try to attach my name to the things I write. This is very deliberate. For one thing, it's a check-and-balance. It holds me accountable, because I know that what I say can be traced back to me, I may well be held responsible for what I say. And indeed, this has happened more than once: I've said something inappropriate or hurtful, I've been called on it, sometimes in humiliatingly public ways,I've seen what I did wrong and why it was wrong, and I have apologized and attempted to change as a result. Anonymity in this regard means that, while I might get the temporary rush of saying something "profound", or of "getting even with" someone at whom I was angry, in the big picture no one was served by what I said.

If you are tempted to respond to someone or something anonymously, or if you want to take a shot at someone anonymously, ask yourself why. Why don't you want your name associated with what you're saying? Once you've established your reasons, ask yourself if it's worth it. Does anyone actually benefit from what you have to say anonymously, and if so, how? Do you yourself gain anything more than a brief spurt of "righteous" indignation? Are you really trying to be anonymous because, deep in your heart, you know you really shouldn't be saying what you are about to say?

There may be good reasons for anonymity. It's not for me to judge the reasonings of others. But I do know that in the vast majority of situations, anonymity accomplishes nothing, except revealing the identity of the anonymous person, if only to him- or herself, as a coward. If you have something to say that's worth saying, stand behind it. If you're not willing to do that, let someone else say it, or maybe decide that it's not really worth saying after all.
dogriver: (Default)
Over the last little while, there has been a great deal of talk about the potential for self-driving cars. Nowhere has this been more prevalent than in the blind community, where the concept of a self-driving car is viewed by many as the great liberator. It's not difficult to understand why this is so. One of the biggest frustrations experienced by blind people is the inability to get from point A to point B by simply getting into a car and going there.

But I, personally, believe that blind people are in for some major disappointments with respect to the possible car of the future. I think blind people will find themselves surprised and upset by the results of what is currently an experiment into the potential of self-driving cars.

For starters, it's not going to happen as quickly as a lot of people are predicting. I'm hearing numbers like ten to twenty years, and I say not a chance. While some remarkable things have happened in the self-driving car experiment, it is still a very far-from-proven technology. Testing in the real world has been roughly the equivalent of sticking a toe in the water for a nanosecond. There are so many variables in the real world when it comes to automotive transportation, it's going to be impossible to program all of them into a computer, and it will take a very long time to program a computer to intuit the variables for which it has not been programmed. A small subset of these variables includes weather; animals crossing the road; other unplanned obstructions; protests blocking the road; power outages; police situations; construction; school children in school zones; computer failure either in the car in question or in another vehicle; engine failure; earthquakes. As I said, the list of variables is far greater than this, but it gives you an idea.

And let's say self-driving cars eventually come of age and become the norm. Do blind people really think that these cars will have no way for humans to regain control, should it be necessary? And will regulatos allow cars to be on the road with no one in them capable of gaining control, should it become necessary?

I, personally, think that blind people expecting to be zipping around in self-driving cars any time before the end of the century should think again. Don't hold your breath, it ain't happening.
dogriver: (Default)
A few days ago, I was required to take a "respectful workplace" seminar. Going into the seminar, I was expecting a lot of fluff, nothing to really learn. I consider myself reasonably respectful of others, and I didn't feel I had anything to learn. But, thankfully, I also approached it with an open mind in case I did have something to learn. My employer was paying me to take this seminar, and it was my obligation to learn what I could from it. As it turned out, I did learn quite a bit. It was a useful exercise, and I am a better man for the experience.

One thing of which I was reminded at the seminar was that when someone tells me something in confidence, that information remains the property of the person who told it to me, it is not mine to share. It's an area where I need to constantly remind myself. I don't think I'm a major gossip, but the fact that I expressed the opinion at the seminar that the information belonged to the sender and the recipient made me think, and rethink my position, and I realize that the facilitator was absolutely right: the information belongs to the sender and only to the sender, and should be treated as such.

But the big lesson for respectful workplaces, and respectful civilizations in general, still remains: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Not as they have done unto you, not how you think they deserve being done unto, not do unto others as your righteous indignation would dictate, but always, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, without exception.

And obeying this can be even more subtle, because sometimes it involves respecting someone else by not doing something with which you personally wouldn't have a problem, but rather respecting the other person's values as you would want your own values respected.

One simple command, the Golden Rule, if lived, if truly and fully lived, would solve so many of the world's problems: poverty, war, biggotry, and so much more. Whether you are a Christian or not, I urge you to heed these words of Christ, even as Christians would do well to heed the wisdom of people of other faiths. And indeed, most faiths teach something similar. It's getting along basics.
dogriver: (Default)
It'd December. Many people are gearing up for Christmas, and ACB Radio Treasure Trove is no exception.

This year, we are planning on providing you with great Christmas programming on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so if Christmas old-time radio appeals to you, you've found the right place.

It all starts on December 23rd at 10:00 PM. We are going to be airing, in their entirety, two childrens' classic radio serials: The Cinnamon Bear, and Jonathan Thomas and his Christmas on the Moon, from 1937 and 1938 respectively. Each of these series is composed of 26 fifteen-minute episodes and have been popular among children and adults alike for well over half a century. We will be alternating between the two serials, with Cinnamon Bear airing at the top and bottom of the hour, and Jonathan Thomas airing at 15 past and 15 to the hour. This 13-hour block of programming will air twice, starting at 10:00 PM Eastern, December 23rd and going all the way through Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Day, starting at midnight Eastern, we will be airing a twelve-hour package of Christmas shows drawn from all over old-time radio, in the United States and the United Kingdom. You'll hear Christmas versions of all your favorite comedies and dramas: some serious, some thought-provoking, some just plain silly and fun. This twelve-hour block will air twice, so if you miss a show the first time, you'll get another crack at it.

On December 26th, we will be reverting back to regular ACB Radio Treasure Trove programming, but hopefully these two days of holiday programming will be ones you and your family will enjoy. If you know of someone who will be lonely this Christmas, why not tell them about ACB Radio Treasure Trove and the programming we have to offer. You, or anyone, can tune in at www.acbradio.org/trove.

Finally, from all of us here at Trove, have a wonderful, a joyous, a fun, and a safe holiday season.
dogriver: (Default)
Chronologically speaking, it's fair to say that my life is about half over. Reading has always been an important aspect of my life - a majorly important one, in fact. So I thought I'd come up with a top-five books list for that first half.

I'm not inclueding the Bible in this list. To me, the Bible occupies a special spot, and indeed, it's more than just a book, to me. So don't read anything into its exclusion in this list other than the fact that it is more special to me than a mere book. So here we go:

  1. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I first picked up this book on March 31, 1983. I couldn't put it down. To this dey, the book defines humor to me. This book and its series of sequels and other incarnations have helped me laugh during so many dar times in my life, I can't say enough for it.

  2. 11-22-63 by Stephen King. I am not a Stephen King fan, never have been, probably never will be. But I am a fan of science fiction, particularly time travel. This book grabbed my attention fairly soon after a bit of a shaky start. IF you overlook this book, don't let it be because you're not a Stephen King fan: this is very different from any of his other work, and it is outstanding.

  3. The Martian by Andy Weir. This book hooked me from the beginning. It is very realistic science fiction, a very plausible plot, and suspense that makes the book very difficult to put down.

  4. Innocent Graves by Peter Robinson. I am a huge fan of the Inspector Banks series, by Mr. Robinson. For whatever reason, this book stands out for me as my favorite. Maybe it's because Robinson shows a protagonist making a pretty major mistake, and actually apologizing for his error.

  5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronté. What can I say? I really admire the character that Jane shows in this book. It's exceptionally well-written, in my opinion.</ol? Favorites are fluid. What may be my top five favorite books of all time today may not necessarily be so tomorrow. Sometimes if I reread a book, suddenly it becomes my favorite. But I think this is a good top-five list expressing my book-reading feelings over the last 44.5 years.
dogriver: (Default)
Sometimes, I think, the parallels between computers and humans are uncanny. With computers, over time, things become unstable, a little untrustworthy, data get misplaced, etc., etc., etc., and the computer may become a little (or even a lot) ornery. I think humans are the same way.

The difference is that with a computer, this kind of thing can be fixed with the touch of a button: reboot the system, get all the data back into the right places, and the computer behaves as it should. With people, since people are more complex than machines, the process is more involved. The person must realize his or her eratic behavior, determine to act upon that realization, and then actual follow-through. Miss any of these steps, and the emotional reset simply does not happen.

I've seen this happening in my life lately: I've taken a number of emotional hits with events in my life, and over the time, I've become more unreasonable, more opinionative than I ought, and, in many ways, more ornery an unfair to people. IT's not a pleasant realization to encounter, but if it happens to you, encountering that realization and not liking it are key to resolution.

I am so far from perfect, it's crazy. I overreact, I lash out verbally, I respond inappropriately. Somehow, through all this, I've managed to hold onto some wonderful friends. In other cases, I've pushed people away in a wave of righteous indignation that isn't righteous at all. ?No excuses: there are no excuses, I offer none. It's simply time to push the reset button on my own mind, my own emotions; to try again to not get to this point, because it's a point I don't like, a point of which I'm not at all proud, a point to be avoided.

If you've been at the receiving end of my, for lack of a better word, orneriness, please accept my apology: another chance would mean a lot to me. I won't say it'll never happen again, because I don't like making promises I can't deliver on. But I will try.

So consider that emotional reset button pressed. Let's try this again.
dogriver: (Default)
This blog entry is an opinion piece. It is not a prediction, it is not a technology review, it is not authoritative, I make no claim to be an expert, these are just my thoughts and I'm entitled to them, as you are to yours.

I was a reluctant iPhone purchaser. There are a variety of reasons for this: I didn't want to jump on a bandwagon; I wasn't sure it was worth the expense; I didn't think I had a use for a phone to do anything but make and receive calls.

But one reason I cited from the beginning was that I felt it very possible that Apple would one day get bored with accessibility and leave its blind users stranded.

Could it be that this last concern is starting to be realized?

Now, I'm not saying the sky is falling. I have no insider information, and it might well be that Apple intends to address the host of accessibility issues that have been introduced into iOS 8. So I'm not saying Apple has given up on accessibility. I'm saying I have a concern, and I don't think it is entirely unfounded.

Since the first beta of iOS 8, there has been a slew of VoiceOver bugs. Throughout the beta cycle, through the release of 8, 8.01, and 8.02, and now through the beta cycle for 8.1, Apple has fixed many bugs, but, really, none of the VoiceOver bugs. Maybe it means nothing, but it is markedly different from the iOS 5, 6, and 7 beta cycles, where we did see major VoiceOver bugs addressed and fixed.

Am I frustrated? Very. A lot of the bugs that exist are important to me, personally, and very negatively affect the way I use my iPhone. Your needs may negate the severity of the bugs, but, as they say, mileage will vary. I really hope that these will be addressed sooner, rather than later. Apple has been politely made aware of the bugs' existence, and it's now in their hands. Do bugs of accessibility count in the eyes of Apple? We'll have to see.

Draw your own conclusions, or not. I have not drawn any conclusions, except that I believe there is cause for concern. Should my concern be unfounded, I will be only too happy to admit it and only too happy to embrace a robust iOS 8 version of VoiceOver.
dogriver: (Default)
One of the innovations that Freedom Scientific has implemented in the upcoming JAWS 16 release is an extension of its Convenient OCR feature which allows inaccessible PDF files, such as those comprised of document images rather than the documents' text, to be optically recognized and read by the screen reader.

FS has faced some criticism for this feature. The critics argue that, if the screen reader can recognize inaccessible PDFs and read them, PDF file designers will not feel compelled to create accessible PDF files.

While I understand this viewpoint, I cannot share it. It may well be true that a small number of PDF producers who might otherwise have considered making their PDFs accessible may now decide that it is no longer necessary, but consider the alternative in a reality where there will always be some PDFs that are not accessible. Should the blind consumer be locked out of access to these files because some other blind people opposed this JAWS feature? Inaccessible PDFs can mean lost business opportunities, even lost jobs. These are more than just inconveniences in a world where making one's living is already difficult enough. Is it worth that, on the grounds that, hey, at least I didn't give in by using OCR on their PDFs? I think not. Blind people should not have to sacrifice because of inaccessible PDFs; nor should they have to sacrifice because other blind people refused to accept an innovation based on a principle. Principles are good, we all have them, we all need them. But some principles are important and thus much more worth fighting for. And is the cost of fighting for this principle worth it? How important is the gain of perhaps encouraging a few people to make their PDFs accessible (and there are certainly no guarantees) versus the cost to members of the blind community?

My father always taught me to pick my battles. Choose the battles, he said, where you stand a chance of winning. If you expend all your energy on exercises in futility, you won't have any left for the times when you actually can make a difference. Also, he said, look at the big picture. Consider that your actions will affect not just you, but others as well, and in ways you may not have considered.

It's easy to stand up against this brilliant use of Convenient OCR in JAWS when you have nothing personally riding on it. It is also selfish and narrow-minded, and does not take into account the person your fight may in fact be hurting.

Should creators of PDF documents be compelled to make a PDF accessible? In most cases, absolutely. But there will always be PDFs that, for one reason or another, are not accessible, and I applaud Freedom Scientific for providing computer users with yet one more tool to help level the playing field.
dogriver: (Default)
Dear Winnipeg Blue Bombers,

When I was twelve years old, I decided I wanted to understand football. For years, I'd heard the great Bob Irving calling the games, but it was a drone to me, I didn't understand it. Being blind, I hadn't been able to watch it on TV, so it was incomprehensible to me, and I decided to learn. So, with the help of my dad, my brothers, and my cousin, I did just that.

I loved being a Bomber fan. It was easy. I understood the game, I'd met one of the players years before and had someone I could call my favorite, we had some of the great players of all time on our team. I loved it. We always made it to the playoffs, and I always came away feeling we'd put in a good effort.

I've been a fan ever since, yelling and screaming at the radio, celebrating when you celebrated, feeling your pain when things started going wrong.

The golden age, as I see it, came to an end in the early nineties. All of a sudden things didn't go as well. The revolving door of Bomber head-coachship started turning a little faster. But, I was assured, give us a chance to fix things, we can. So I did.

And indeed, there were times when I thought maybe we we were turning a corner. 2001 was exciting, so was 2007. Maybe? Maybe? I never thought the Bombers actually earned their place in the Grey Cup in 2011, but the pundits kept insisting, so maybe I was wrong? Maybe? We've also seen some great players, even in these troubled times: Doug Brown, Khari Jones,Milt Stegall, and others. Could these players lead us into another golden age? Maybe? Maybe?

But with each blip of excitement came another slump: a drought of bad playing and seemingly empty promises, with pleas to "just give us another chance, stick with us, let us turn things around."

A guy can only take this sort of thing for so long, then he starts getting disillusioned.

I turned off the game yesterday at half time, and resolved not to check up on it. I'm still not sure what the final score was, all I know from people who did check is that we got clobbered by an expansion team, handing them their second victory and their first against a team in our division.

I'm very disillusioned, Bombers. I've given you chance after chance after chance, now, for twenty years since that golden age. I've stuck up for you, I've stuck out my neck time and again telling people, "I have a good feeling about them this year", only to have my hopes dashed again by ridiculous penalties, poor judgment, and more turnovers each year than a pastry chef could make.

I understand slumps. I understand giving your team chances, having faith in a team that's not at the top of its form. But how long can you, Bombers, expect your fans to keep supporting you if you won't support us by rewarding our loyalty? We need something tangible to show us you're serious, and we need it now. If we don't get it, those stands are eventually going to be emptier and emptier, not to punish you, but because we're tired of being punished by you, we're tried of having our loyalty mocked. We need something from you, Bombers, we deserve something, we deserve more than we've gotten, much more than we've gotten, in the last twenty years.

So I'm turning the tables on you. It's time to stop asking us to give you another, and another, and another chance. Instead, I'm appealing to you to give u, the fans, a reason to give you a chance. At this stage of the game, you have to start earning your "one more chances". You no longer have a right for a chance without a reason, now you need to put up the reason if you want us to give you a chance. We love you, but we're tired of being made fools of, we're tired of people around the country laughing at us for being loyal to a team of losers.

We're not asking for perfection, we're just asking for a reason, a real and a prolonged reason, to hope. Please give it to us. Honestly, after keeping you, the team, alive for the last twenty years, you owe us.

Sincerely,
Bruce Toews
dogriver: (Default)
There is a concerted effort among blind people these days to let sighted people know that, whatever they do, they are not to feel inspired by us, or amazed at what we can do. To a point I understand this: Why should you be amazed by what to me is just ordinary life?

So while I somewhat understand the sentiment, I strongly disagree with it. What is life if we don't have people who inspire us? And the truly inspirational people aren't the celebrities, the newsmakers, the people who want to be inspirational. I'm not inspired by athletes or actors who work six or eight months out of the year for twenty times my annual salary, not unless they've done something that specifically inspires me, something which typically has little or nothing to do with their celebrity status. The people who inspire me, at any rate, are those who show me through their own lives and actions that it is possible to do something I can't imagine doing, or through circumstances I can't imagine traversing.

Some years ago, a friend of mine had a stroke. I watched as he dealt with the repercussions of that stroke: the need to relearn what had once been second-nature activities such as walking, talking, typing, etc. I was inspired by this. I couldn't imagine going through these experiences and coming out the other side the way my friend had. But my friend showed me that it could be done. Did he consider himself especially inspiring? I rather doubt that he did. But that was okay, he was inspiring to me, nonetheless.

I've been inspired by far too many people in my life, people who didn't feel they were doing anything particularly inspiring, to let it bother me when someone says to me that the way I handle my blindness inspires them. Sure, to me it's just life, doing the things of life. But to many people, the idea of going blind is something akin to the end of the world. They can't imagine how they could deal with it. The fact that we can, that we do, deal with it inspires these people. And what's so terrible about that? I am losing my hearing. To me, the thought of going deaf is similarly an end-of-the-world scenario. The fact that I know deafblind people who not only survive, but thrive, inspires me. It gives me hope. IT encourages me that someday, when I do become deafblind, I will be able to move on and still make a difference, because the people who now inspire me showed me that it can be done. What right to I have to get angry with people who are inspired, or even amazed by what I can do? Is what I do anything special? Well, that's sort of a matter of perspective, isn't it? To me, it's not. To me, it's moving on with life. But for someone who simply can't imagine surviving blindness, and there are people like that out there, what is ordinary and mundane to me might be extraordinary to them. Again, I've been far to inspired by far too many people who do not consider themselves inspirational to refuse to do my bit.

A friend of mine told me a story. A little girl had spent a lot of time building up the courage to talk to him. He was blind, and she wanted him to know how amazed she was that he could do the things he did. He brushed her complements off as inconsequential. Later, he was told that the little girl had run off in tears, because her feelings had been labeled as invalid or pointless. When I used to sing, back when I could sing, and someone complemented me on my singing, my dad sternly told me not to brush off the complements, but rather to simply thank the people who made them. This was very sage advice.

Am I special and inspiring and amazing? Well, to me, heck no. As blind people go, there are a zillion better role models than I am. But to someone else, I might be, and that's okay. We all are, in our own way. We all deal with things that other people might not be able to imagine doing themselves. And that means you, whoever you may be. But unless you are willing not to be inspired by anyone for any reason ever again, you have no right in the world, in my opinion, to not let others be inspired by you. Instead of being angry and ranting about it in blogs or on social media, thank the person, and allow yourself to feel good because, just by being you, you made a difference in someone's life (I can think of many worse things one can do), just as, by being themselves, other people must surely have made a difference in yours.
dogriver: (Default)
It was one of the strangest things that has ever happened to me online. I was trying to send money to someone on Paypal, and somehow the money got sent to some company I'd never heard of. In 13 years as a Paypal user, I have never experienced anything like this.

It happened on June 27th. I was trying to send someone some money via Paypal. It was early morning, and everything seemed to go normally, it was a standard transaction. Later that day, I was talking to the person to whom I'd sent the money, and I asked them if they'd gotten it. They said no. They checked with Paypal, and still, the answer was no.

Now I was concerned. This made no sense. So I checked my Paypal records, and to my horror, the money had gone to a company called Global One Tromix Inc. I'd never even heard of these people before, I still don't know what they do, all I knew was that somehow, they got my money. To this day, I don't know how such a mistake was even possible.

Immediately, I wrote to the e-mail address associated with the Paypal transaction. When I got no response, I checked to see if the company has a Website, and they do, as indicated above. So I wrote to the contact e-mail address on the Website, and still got no response. I was polite, I was apologetic, and I really hoped they would do the right thing.

This morning, after still receiving no response, I decided to write to them one more time. I did this. I got a nice e-mail back, and the lady who responded to me told me that she had mistook my e-mail for spam, which is understandable enough, but that she would look to verify that what I said was true.

Shortly after that, I got my money refunded.

I don't know anything about this company, as I have said. All I do know is that, in this case, they did the honest thing: they were not legally obligated to return my money, but they did. For that, I am very grateful.
dogriver: (Default)
Recently, I had cause to read 11-22-63 by Stephen King. In my opinion, this is one of the best works of fiction so far in the 21st century, a great book. So how is it that one of the books for which King gets the most praise is The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition?

For starters, this edition is neither complete nor uncut, nor is it unedited. King admits that there are still some pieces he left out, and that he attempted to update the book to be set in 1990 instead of 1980. This reality alone should raise red flags for the average King fan but, mysteriously, doesn't.

First, you may wonder, why did I read this thing in the first place? The answer is that I had to. As a braille proofreader, they don't let me choose my books. If they want me to read a defense of necrophilia, I read a defense of necrophilia. Yes, I've had to. And the same applies to The Stand. In fact, when I finished the book, I purchased the DVD edition of the movie, for the express purpose of snapping the disks in half.

So let's start from a purely literary standpoint. King has tried to update this book to be set ten years later, as I said earlier. This updating effort is one of the worst examples of a quarter-hearted effort to do something I've ever seen. Yes, he's changed the year from 1980 to 1990. Yes, he stuck a footnote in one spot about VCR's instead of film projectors. A few little things have been changed. But all the cars mentioned are mid-seventies models, there's no mention of personal comptuers, compact disks, or a myriad of other things which would have been very different in 1990 than they were in 1980. Even his descriptions of talk radio studios would horrify a talk radio personality from 1990, causing him or her to dive into the history books. So what you have, instead of a book set in 1990, is a book set in 1980 with a few number changes and a footnote. It's pathetic, yet it gains high praise from King fans. I'm the world's biggest fan of Douglas Adams, but if Adams had attempted a lame updating such as this, I would be just as hard on him as I am on King in this case.

Also, to call something complete and uncut when it is not is, well, wrong. Call it expanded. Call it something, but don't say it's complete and uncut when it's neither.

Which brings me to my next point. There are one or two scenes which were cut fin the original release which should most definitely have been left in, such as the opening scene of the book, which very appropriately sets the stage. But many of the scenes that were originally cut should have remained so. I'm no prude: I accept that foul language and descriptions of fornication are considered a reflection of reality and are thus considered to be literary devices in the modern age. I wouldn't write that way, but maybe that's why I've never made a penny from my writing. But there are some scenes in the so-called complete and uncut edition which can only be described as gratuitous, not moving the story ahead, not answering any questions. The rub-by-rub description of the rape of Trashcan Man, for example. Who benefits by reading that? There are other examples, but that to me is the most glaring.

Put this book alongside 11-22-63, and there is, to me, no comparison. The latter book is a well-thought-out, well-told, engaging story, and the former looks, to me, like a hormonally-overendowed high school kid in need of a cold shower and a valium.

But I say this is an opinion piece, because the book is very highly-praised among readers. I seem to be very much in the minority with my views, so clearly, these opinions are my own. I think I have good taste in literature, but I also think ketchup enhances steak, so what do I know?
dogriver: (Default)
Over the years, I've seen a lot of different approaches taken to advocacy for the blind. These range from the angry demanding to the diplomatic requesting. Usually it's in regard to what a company has done or, at least as often, hasn't done.

I've had the opportunity, though, to witness something all too rare in the field of advocacy for the blind: proactive advocacy. It was with respect to Twitter. Jonathan Mosen, a very well-known name in the area of technology for the blind, saw a possible area of concern in some Twitter experimental features that were being tested. Read about it here.

Without restating the already stated, Mr. Mosen was simply expressing a concern, a potential future reality as Twitter attempts to reinvent itself with more visual appeal. No rage, no whining, just a real concern, expressed in a polite, matter-of-fact manner. I applauded Mr. Mosen at the time for bringing this to our attention. Had it been me, I probably would have skipped right over this potential area of concern. As it was, I was made aware of it, I agreed this was something to watch out for, I moved on.

Mr. Mosen's blog entry caught the attention of the Twitter people themselves, and they actually took the time to respond to Mr. Mosen's concerns. You can read about that here. In sum, Twitter said they are aware of our concerns and the number of blind people using Twitter, and have every plan to maintain accessibility.

MR. Mosen has come under fire for, say the scoffers, his "sky is falling" approach. They (the scoffers) couldn't be further off the mark.

What Mr. Mosen did was identify a potential problem, bring it to our attention, and even have it addressed by the company before it became an issue. IT's far easier to build accessibility into new features as they are developed than it is to retrofit features with accessibility. Those who believe the best advocacy is screaming at companies when they make mistakes should consider how much more effective it would be to try to respectfully prevent the mistakes from being made in the first place, as Mr. Mosen has here done.

This is an example of advocacy at its best and most effective. Anyone who knows us both will tell you, Mr. Mosen and I disagree on a whole lot of things. But when he's right, he's right, and I tip my hat to him for showing us how advocacy should be done.

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Bruce Toews

June 2017

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