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Twitter is a very interesting vehicle for opinion-expressers. Like the radio talk show host who hides behind his or her microphone, Twitter allows people spit out opinions in real time that they might well not say to a person's face because they're hiding behind their keyboard with the illusion of anonymity.

I, too, am an active Twitter user, and I must confess to also being very opinionative, often to my detriment. I have an opinion, I tell myself, it's world-changing, and I must, must, must share it or the world will be deprived. Or something like that.

As I read the tweets of others doing the same, or others who are using Twitter in a variety of ways to express themselves, I tend to react. And, not infrequently, such reaction is critical in nature. I see someone behaving in a certain way, and it annoys me, annoys me greatly, annoys me disproportionately. People shouldn't behave in such an annoying way, I tell myself. Darn right they shouldn't, I answer myself in a show of solidarity. I agree with me completely. And so, backed by that unanimous show of support, I am outraged.

Often, I'll tell my wife Caroline about my outrage. This can be a mistake, because she has this nasty habit of listening to what I'm actually saying. No good can come of that, surely.

So, maybe hours, maybe days, maybe weeks later, when I find myself doing the same thing that outraged me in the behavior of others, she gently reminds me of this.

And this brings home an important truth: We often get outraged by the behavior of others as a mechanism to hide from ourselves the reality that we do the exact same things. It's just easier to get mad at the other guy than it is to recognize a need for change in our own behaviors and attitudes. And when we finally do realize that we need to change those behaviors and attitude, when we finally do point the finger to our chests and say to ourselves, "Physician, heal thyself", it's humbling.

Of course, I'm not the first person to figure this out. Back in 1945, the Jack Benny radio program, in a successful attempt to boost ratings, sponsored an "I Can't Stand Jack Benny Because" contest. Amid all the hilarity sparked by the contest, the winning entry summed up what I've been saying in this commentary. It was written by Carroll P. Craig, and reads:

He fills the air
With boasts and brags
And obsolete
Obnoxious gags.
The way he plays
His violin
Is music’s most
Obnoxious sin.
His cowardice
Alone, indeed,
Is matched by his
Obnoxious greed.
And all the things
That he portrays
Show up my own
Obnoxious ways.

Yup, that about sums it up, and also reveals something which I need to keep remembering as I get hit, so frequently, by the criticism boomerang.
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Over the last number of years, I've heard the term "freedom of the press" invoked many times by the media, meaning a whole lot of things. When the government doesn't invite the media everywhere the media wants to go, the media cry foul, saying that freedom of the press is being violated. When the government doesn't release all the information to the media that it wants, the media make the same claim. I've even heard one media person say, and this is not a direct quote, "no one should lay a hand on another person [this was in reference to the alleged bodyslamming that took place a few weeks ago in the United States], especially a member of the media," as if freedom of the press gives media people an extra degree of protection from physical violence that the average person doesn't and shouldn't have."

So what does freedom of the press mean? Does it grant the media rights to go where it wants, to see what it wants, and to be even more protected from harm than the rest of us? Not in Canada, certainly, where all the above claims have been made. Canada has freedom of the press, certainly. But, lest you members of the media think this grants you special powers, all you're guaranteed is the right to express your opinions in the press. For that matter, it gives me, and any other lowly mortals the right to express our opinions in the press too. So the next time the government doesn't invite the media to an event and you have to dig for a story like your foreparents did before you, or next time they won't just hand you the document you want, or next time you and the fellow next to you gets a black eye and you want more protection than the other guy, don't invoke freedom of the press. It doesn't apply. If you want to express the opinion that you've been hard done by, though, that you can do, your freedom of the press guarantees it.
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Once upon a time, there was a town that had one plumber. His plumbing company had been a family-run business for generations, and the people were getting disillusioned. Being the only plumber in town, you see, he didn't always feel it necessary to charge low prices, or to finish the work in a timely manner. But he did finish the work eventually, and the town did have a reputation for having one of the best sewage systems in the country.

But the people became restless. They wanted change. "We're tired of the old school of plumbing," they said, "we need change at any cost."

A man stepped out of the crowd. "My name is Ronald Crump," he said. "For the past ten months, I've been reading every Popular Mechanics article I can find about plumbing. I know what we need to do to fix this town's pipes. Make me the town plumber, and we'll make this town's sewage system great again."

As time went on, the town plumber found it harder and harder to find work. People were boycotting him. And soon he realized that this town was now the wrong place for him, and he left, taking up a job with a big-city company, at half the salary he'd allotted himself before. Ronald Crump was now the town plumber, and the people rejoiced. At least the people who'd pushed to get him in did. Some of the others weren't so sure. They'd wondered if they'd made a mistake in not speaking up for the previous plumber.

Crump soon realized that Popular Mechanics left out a lot of important information in its articles. He had no idea, when push came to shove, how to do plumbing. Soon, half the town was under water from burst pipes. The other half had no running water at all.

And the people? Well, they were divided into two camps. One bemoaned the fact that the previous plumber was no longer in business. They realized that they'd always liked the guy, despite his occasional faults, because, bad as he was, the system had still all held together. Why hadn't they supported him more when they had the chance? The other camp, which was comprised of the people who had really pushed to get Crump installed as town plumber, were steadfast in the rightness of their decision. One was heard to say, as his furniture floated out the door of his flooded house, "We needed change. We're so lucky to have Mr. Crump as our town plumber. Someone wanna snag that couch, please? It's mine."
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I've talked a lot in these entries about things in my childhood which I took for granted, underappreciated, etc. One of the things that does not fall into that category, though, is my mom's delicious home-made bread.

This was not at all an uncommon scene for me growing up. My brother and I would get off the bus after school. Walking down the driveway to our farm, I would smell the incredible aroma of bread baking in the oven. "Mom's making buns," I would casually point out to my brother. My brother couldn't smell it, he thought I was just making it up. But sure enough, when we got inside, that's exactly what was happening, and I was greated with a plate of piping hot buns that you couldn't touch comfortably, they were that fresh. I'm sure these would have tasted great with butter, peanut butter, or something else on them, but I was never interested. When the buns were that hot, I just wanted to eat them as they were.

One argument that we always had in the house was with my dad, who had grown up with bread that was, to our minds, rock hard. So when Mom was baking for Dad, she had to make the buns that way. Great test of jaw muscles, to be sure, and they were still delicious, make no mistake, but I, for one, preferred my bread to be softer.

I have a memory of me as a very, very young child. Mom was baking, and she pulled a pan of buns out of the oven and, as was her habit, put them on the ironing board, covered with a clean towel, to cool. Then she left the kitchen for whatever reason. Little Brucie, that's me, was very much aware of these buns, and was also of the opinion that the soft insides were the best part of them. So while Mom was out, I proceeded to scoop the insides out of the buns, eat them, and leave the shells on the pan. I'm not positive what Mom's reaction to all this was. I seem to recall she had a very hard time scolding me, because she saw the humor in the whole thing. She did seem to get the point across, though, that this was not to be done, since I don't remember committing any such crimes again.

Less common than the buns were the loaves of home-made bread that Mom baked. These made wonderful sandwich bread, or bread and butter to go with meat and potatoes. But what was really amazing was toast made from this bread. Getting such toast was very much a rarity. Mom always insisted on using store-bought bread for toast. "You don't make toast from home-made bread," she insisted. Until a very few years ago, I thought this was some form of pride, as if to say making toast from her home-made bread was some sort of insult. She never explained it, so I had to realize on my own that the reason she did not make toast from home-made bread was that the home-made bread wasn't quite as cohesive as store-bought bread. Slices tended to disintegrate a little in the toaster, leaving crumbs and pieces of bread that had to be extracted later. When I asked her if this was her reason, she said yes it was. Why she didn't just tell me that in the first place, I don't know.

Mom is well into her seventies now. Still going strong, she is definitely slowing down, and she can't make as much wonderful food as she once did. This is okay, she's earned a rest, and the food she does make is 100% as good as it ever was. And it's something special I can enjoy from time to time, an expression of the incredible love my mom has for her four sons. I have never tasted bread that tastes exactly as my mom's home-made bread does. A lot of other things can be learned by her daughters-in-law, but there is something special about the bread that no one else has been able to emulate. When the food from mom eventually stops, I think it will be a tie between the bread and the chicken noodle soup that I miss the most. But I am so blessed to have such wonderful memories; and, while the chance is still there, may I never pass it up.
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Over the last thre or four years or so, I have seen outcry after outcry by the media, particularly in Canada. It started with television stations, local stations, insisting that government policies should artificially prop them up, or else local news reporting was in jeopardy. Rather than address the fact that an increasing number of Canadians were considering television news to be less and less relevant, television stations wanted to keep on in the old, less relevant path, by imposing things such as carriage fees to distributors, exclusivity, etc., so that these traditional methods of reporting could go blissfully on in a vacuum free of consumer opinion or relevance. This is, of course, very alluring: it doesn't matter how many people watch your newscast if they're all going to pay for it regardless. These same media people tend to criticize the CBC (and rightly so) for operating in precisely the same way private media now wants to operate.

The media has also been crying foul every time a politician refuses to play the game the way the media wants it played. This sense of entitlement means that, if you are a politician not willing to kiss the feet of the press, you are opposed to freedom of the press.

Now the media is taking arms against its readers, viewers, and listeners. The media love to criticize ... in many ways this is their job, it's what they do. Unfortunately, many members of the media are absolutely horrible about graciously taking criticism themselves. A consumer says there is media bias. No, says the media, we're unbiased, we're just not saying what you want to hear. And no doubt this is sometimes true, but certainly not always. The media, composed of people, mere mortals like us, is going to have its biases. Fox News is going to be conservative, CNN is going to be liberal; the CBC and NPR are going to be liberal, some private news outlets, founded by conservatives who felt their views weren't being expressed, are going to be conservative. Most media outlets got formed because those people forming it felt there was a bias that needed to be corrected. Well, news flash: bias didn't end when you joined the fray; it existed before you got there, it continues to exist today.

Social networking, forums, web pages with comment facilities, these things have all led us into a society where the consumer of the news is no longer content to simply read, watch, or hear the news, they want to engage, to actually have opinions of their own, to agree or disagree with what is being read or expressed. And here is where traditional media people are faling flat on their faces. They prefer hiding behind their printing presses, their cameras, their microphones, where they have, in the past, been free to criticize at will. The only criticism they'd ever hear in return came from letters to the editor, which were themselves prescreened before being published. The new age doesn't allow for members of the media to hide in this form of semi-anonymity any more. Media suddenly need to be able to defend their opinions, to prove their lack of bias, and to be held accountable if they are unable or unwilling to do either of the above. And they don't like it.

I'm hearing people in the media say that we, the mere mortals who read their work, need to adjust to changing times. Well, that adjustment needs to include them as well. Are consumers finding local TV news less relevant than they once did? Well, whose fault is it? Maybe no one's, it's just a sign of changing times, to which the media must adapt. When I started in internet broadcasting, one of the things I was forced to realize is that no one is obligated to listen to my shows. It is my responsibility, as a broadcaster, to deliver a product that people want to hear. I wasn't going to get subsidies paid for by internet users who don't want to hear me; no one was going to put a law into effect to protect my product from irrelevance. The responsibility was, is, mine. If people don't want to listen to me, I need to change my program, broadcast to no listeners, or try some other endeavor. The day I blame the consumer for choosing not to listen to me is the day I absolutely just don't get it. But this is what the media is doing. They don't want to adapt to changing times, they don't want to accept that freedom of the press might also mean freedom from the press, they don't want to face criticism, they are the ones who need to reevaluate their product, to either make it relevant to us or to cut their losses and try something else.

I love the media. I have lots of good friends in the media, and I have a great deal of respect for these people. They have made me think. Through their opinions and their criticism, they make me reevaluate some of the ideas or institutions which I have held dear all my life. And to their credit, many of my friends in the media are also good listeners. But not all. There are still many people in the media who are whining, complaining, crying foul, because their traditional approach is under pressure. The dinosaur of media must evolve, or else it will eventually become extinct. The media must do its part to make itself relevant to the consumer. This means not begging for artificial propping up by the government; this means not blaming the consumer for directing its attention elsewhere or for daring to question the thoughts and opinions of media outlets and people. It means that the media need to start doing what it is so good at telling others to do: change with the times, become relevant, stop trying to hold society back by clinging to the past, and work at thriving in the future. The onus is on the sender of the message, not on its intended audience. Society will move ahead, and you, my friends in the media, had darned well better move with us or be left behind.
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It's a long-running tradition that goes back to at least 2009: the annual Toews on the Waves Christmas Novelty Special. Even though Toews on the Waves is no more, there are two specials every year that live on. They are the Weird Al special and the Christmas novelty special. And yes, Christmas will soon be upon us, so it's time to start thinking of this year's special.

This year, the TOTW Christmas Novelty special will be airing on Saturday, December 17th, from noon until 3:00 PM Eastern time. In the UK, that's 5:00 to 8:00 PM.

For three hours, we play great Christmas novelty tunes from yesterday and today: Bob Rivers, Stan Freberg, Weird Al, Spike Jones, Bob and Doug, and so many more. And each year I try to play a few things I haven't played before, to keep things fresh, and this year will be no exception.

I will be taking requests before and during the show, so you will have plenty of opportunity to let me know what you think a good Christmas novelty show should include. You can e-mail bruce at MushroomFM dot com, or you can send a tweet with your request to @FunGuyBruce. Even if you don't have a request, I hope you'll still drop by to listen and laugh your way into the holidays, and maybe drop me a note to say hi and let me know you're there, because, as I always say, you the listeners make it fun for the Fun Guys.

So please join me on Saturday, December 18th, from noon until 3:00 PM Eastern Time, only on the Home of the Fun Guys:
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Every so often, I read an article by someone who doesn't like to inspire people. The argument goes something like this: I am being me, so you are insulting me by being inspired by me just doing what I have to do.

This angers me deeply, very deeply, on a number of levels. First of all, how dare you tell me by whom I'm allowed to be inspired by? You haven't the right to tell me I'm not allowed to be inspired by you, it's not your place. I don't presume to be in a position to tell you whom you're allowed to be inspired by. If you want to be inspired by me, maybe I don't understand why, but that doesn't mean you're wrong in being inspired.

What you don't get, oh uninspirational one, is that one person's normal life is another person's inspiration. Who inspires you? Surely someone does. Are all the people who inspire you Nobel-prize winning scientists, dimplomats and changers of the fabric of humanity? I doubt it.

We're all inspired by people who have an effect on us. That effect can be very personal. When my dad died, I was inspired by the perfectly average people who, before me, had faced tremendous personal loss. Had they done anything special in the grand scheme of things? Not really, but they had done something which, at the time, I felt to be unimaginable, made it through a personal loss. Their ability to do so inspired me to be able to do so as well. I grew up being the only blind person around for miles. So when I learned that there were other blind people who faced the same things I did as a matter of course, you bet I was inspired by them. Knowing how many bline people are angered because they inspire, I'm glad I didn't say so to them.

To many sighted people, the idea of being blind is incomprehensible. Therefore, to them, seeing a blind person leading a normal life is inspiring. It doesn't show them that the impossible can be achieved, but it shoes them that something which to them seems to be impossible can be achieved. Who am I to deny them that? Who is anyone to deny helping, simply by doing what you do, someone else to be more than they felt they can be? Because, I promise you, someone has, somewhere along the line, inspired you the same way. You have, I promise you, been inspired by people who didn't set out to be inspiring, who may not understand why they inspired you, but, nevertheless, did inspire you.
Next time someone says you inspire them, please don't get angry at them. Be glad you've made a difference. Be grateful for the chance to help someone else just by being you. Lofe's too short to be angry because you've made a positive difference in someone's life. Maybe they expressed it in a way you didn't like, but ... really, does it matter? Is it worth getting upset about? What are the returns for getting upset about it, versus the returns of knowing that you have done your part in helping others along the way, and to do it, all you had to do was to be you and to be gracious about it?

And finally, whether you want me to be inspired by you or not isn't going to change anything. If I find you to be an inspiration, your getting angry at me isn't going to change anything, except maybe to make me think that, in addition to being inspiration, you're an arrogant jerk. So just accept it, and feel good about yourself. It's far more enjoyable to feel good about yourself than feeling angry at someone else because they appreciate you.
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A joyous thing occurs tonight,
I 'wait it with such yearning,
And in twelve hours, to it
My attention will be turning.

We all have many things we like,
That please our hearts so deep,
For me, it's grammar? Clearly not,
Oh no, my friend, it's sleep.

My bed awaits, tonight I will
Be snoring up a storm!
In ecstasy, I'll lie beneath
My blanket, soft and warm.

So keep your music, booze, and such,
Books, too, you all can keep.
To me, these things, they matter not,
So long as I can sleep.


Nov. 14th, 2016 08:11 pm
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This Book of Shakespeare's MacBeth I do read,
In my view, aye, it stinketh foul, indeed.
More of this play I surely do not need,
But oh, the lightning it must intercede,
If I'm to keep from having to proceed.

For Shakespeare hath this twaddle sadly wrote,
In it, it hath no useful things of note,
On quality of content missed the boat
Hath Shakespeare done, oh toss it down a moat!

But mine is not to question this great work,
Although it surely driveth me berserk,
I hate to spew forth venom like a jerk,
But what can I say? I just don't like it.
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I am a prolific user of Twitter, as many reading this will no doubt know. I enjoy the social interaction, I learn a great deal from it, and I have found it much easier, as a blind person, to use Twitter than Facebook. Unfortunately for me, most of my sighted counterparts prefer Facebook to Twitter, so I do try maintaining at least a utilitarian presence there.

On Twitter, a popular practice is to either quote or retweet the tweets of someone else. This is done either to help distribute information, or perhaps to show agreement or disagreement with what someone else has said.

It's the retweeting of opinions that I want to address in this blog entry. Both a positive and a negative aspect of Twitter is the ability to respond to something very quickly. We see a tweet, decide we agree with it, and retweet it, all in the span of ten seconds or less.

The positive aspects of this practice are fairly evident: it allows for a close to real-time sharing of opinions and ideas. However, the negative aspect of quick retweeting is also very present, and needs to be considered.

People are reactionary. I read something, my gut response it to react to what I have just read according to how it makes me feel. Does it pique my interest: Do I hope someone else will be interested too? Does it make me feel happy: Is it a positive message? Does it make me feel satisfied: Does it support a point I have been trying to make? Does it make me feel vindictively satisfied: Will it put someone "in their place" or get back at someone"? Does it make me feel angry: Do I want to lash out in response? These are probably the core reactions that prompt retweets, but doubtless there are more.

Some people have a nasty habit of retweeting something that sounds good to them, but they really haven't throught through what has been said. I think all retweeters, myself included, do this from time to time, but I'm talking about those who see something, think "Yeah, yeah," and hit the retweet button reflexively. Often, when I question such a tweeter, they'll say "Oh, I don't feel that way, I was just retweeting." To me this is a fairly flimsy method of damage control.

Retweeting can be a means of disagreeing with the person whom you retweet. You do this with a tweet before or after the retweet expanding on your own position on the matter. A quoted tweet is even better, you can attach your comment right to it.

But if you send a tweet out there without a position, you are telling the world that the views expressed in what you are retweeting are also your own. this is powerful.A retweeted opinion is still an opinion, so if you sign on to an opinion by retweeting it, you had better be willing to be taken to task for that opinion just as if it had been something you wrote. If you preach love, love, love, love, love, then retweet your joy over the misfortunes of someone else, for any reason, be prepared to answer to a seeming double standard. How do you lovingly say "I wish so and so were dead", or "I'm glad so and so got hurt", etc.? You can't. but I see this sequence of events played out constantly. What people of every political and religious stripe need to realize is that it's easy to love those with whom you agree; where the "love, love, love, love, love" preaching gets put to the test is with your response to someone with whom you disagree, or to someone whom you dislike, or to someone who dislikes or even hates you. If you are unwilling to love everyone, your "love, love, love, love, love" preaching is pretty empty and meaningless.

The above protracted example is one I often see with retweets on Twitter. People need to take ownership of their retweets in the same way they do of their tweets, if they want any credibility. By all means, take issue with someone by retweeting them, but make sure it's clear that that is what you are doing. Perception is reality on Twitter nine times out of ten. Rightly or wrongly, you will be judged by readers according to how they interpet your words or the words you retweet. So thinking about not only your intent, but how your words are likely to be received, becomes paramount.

You, and I mean you, are worthy of your opinions, of your thoughts. You, and I mean you, have something to bring to the table. Bring it. And make sure we all get the meaning you intended.
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Many of you will no doubt be aware of some of the problems I am having with Microsoft Outlook on my Windows 10 machine. But you may not have heard the whole story, or you may not have heard any of it. So here is the complete story of the problem and what I have done to try dealing with it. Any constructive advice would be most appreciated.

It started back in late April, when my CD-ROM drive stopped working. I was convinced that the problem was software-, not hardware-related. I decided that a complete reinstall of Windows might do the trick, so I did just that. Sure enough, my CD-ROM problem was completely solved by this move.

I then proceeded to install Office 365, as a matter of course. I expected this to all go smoothly, as it had in the past. But when it came to running Outlook, things started going badly. When I finished the steps needed to creat my account, I got an "internal Mapi error", whatever that means, and I was told to contact my system administrator. My system administrator, being me, was completely mystified by what was going on. I tried reinstalling Office a few times, but always got the same error. I tried another reinstall of Windows, and still got the same error.

I finally saw a recommendation to try running Outlook as an administrator. This got rid of the Mapi error, and I was able to create my Outlook account. When I tried running Outlook again after this, I got an error stating that Outlook was not my default mail client, which is odd, because Outlook was absolutely my default client. Again, running Outlook as an administrator solved the problem, for many months.

I am a Windows Insider. Two days ago, I started having a problem where my screen reader would not properly read the e-mail information to me on the messages list. This meant, effectively, that I could not find out who sent me a message without actually going into the message. This is both a time-waster and a security risk, as far as I'm concerned. I tried restarting Outlook, I tried restarting JAWS. Neither helped. I tried a repair of Outlook, and then a repair of JAWS. Neither helped. I tried running Outlook without running as administrator. Suddenly the messages read, but I still got an error stating that Outlook is not my default client, and new messages would not come in for me. If I ran as administrator, JAWS wouldn't read my messages properly, if I ran not as administrator, Outlook wouldn't work properly.

I then tried a reinstall of Office. That didn't work. I'm using Office 365, by the way. I tried a complete, utter reinstall of JAWS, that also did not help. My final last gasp of an effort was to try reinstalling Office and making sure it was the 32-bit version. None of these things have made a difference. So that's where we stand now.

UPDATE: At the suggestion of Brian Hartgen, I took my issue to the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk. This is the first time I have ever had to deal with this resource, and I have to say I was very pleased with how it turned out. They were initially quite sure I had my e-mail settings wrong, but once it became clear that I didn't, they worked remotely with me. Turns out there's a know bug in Office that prevented me from running Outlook without running it as administrator. They reverted me to a previous version of Office, which did the trick, and assured me that they are working on a fix for the problem.
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When I left Internet radio earlier this year, I had no intention of coming back, at least not for a long while. I felt I'd lived out my lifelong dream of being a broadcaster, I'd taken the dream as far as I could, and I just wanted to move elsewhere and see where life tok me. Through no fault of the station or its people, the process just wasn't fun for me anymore, and I saw that as my cue to make a dignified exit. Besides that, there was this whole business of getting married that required my immediate attention.

So no one was more surprised than I was a few weeks ago, when I tuned in to Mushroom FM and heard my voice on the air again. What had happened? Had I been drafted, forced back on the threat of being force-fed Pepsi? Roped in?

The answer was the latter: I'd been roped in ... by the lure of new technology, something which, to me, is often an irresistible force.

The process itself, called voice tracking, is nothing new - it's been around for decades. The basic idea is that a broadcaster is presented with a playlist for the program to be aired, then he or she records the voice breaks for that program, and if it's done right, the listening public has no idea the poor broadcaster hasn't been sitting there all night enthusiastically introducing his or her tunes. I've heard it done, with varying degrees of transparency, since my childhood in the seventies, when a low tone was used to signal the tape machines to be in sync with each other. Pretty smart stuff, really. You might be surprised at how many "local announcers" are really professional voices from across the continent being paid to sound local.

So if the technique is not new, where does the new technology come in? Combine the ingenuity of the people behind Station Playlist, which makes much of the software that comprises the backbone of Mushroom FM, with equally ingenious forward-thinking on the part of the Mushroom FM management past and present, aided by some, dare I say it, ingenious JAWS scripting on the part of Hartgen Consultancy, and you suddenly have a system whereby a broadcaster sitting on a couch in his living room in Winnipeg (that's me) can voice track a radio program housed at, and broadcast from, the station itself in New Zealand. Throw in a lot of hard work by Mushroom FM staff to mark the spot in the songs of the station's library where the vocals begin, and you have, at least for me, all the elements to turn that new technology into the irresistible force I mentioned earlier.

The result is that I now probably put in at least as much time with Mushroom FM as I did before, but I am doing it on my terms. I have ten minutes to spare? Great, I'll voice a few more tracks for Friday's show. I have to do five fifties shows for the week? No problem, as long as they're done on time, it doesn't matter when I do them. I don't feel like hand-picking my show content? That's fine too, the computer's come up with a playlist for me that I can choose to use or override at will.

So let's take a typical program for me, one of my Funny Fridays shows. I start by logging in to the playlist editor and navigating to the time during which my show is scheduled to air. The time slot is already filled up with comedy from the station's library. I have lots of choices here. If there is a song I don't feel like playing this week, I can just remove it, and replace it with something else, either from the station's library or from my own personal library of comedy. If I decide that two songs would be better off played in a different order, I can easily, using standard cutting and pasting, move the songs around however I want them. In this way I can create themes, use what the computer has picked for me, or hand-pick what will be aired. Often I may not like what the computer has picked, but the computer's choice suggests something I'd rather play instead, which can be really advantageous.

After I've organized the playlist into the show I want to broadcast, which I may have done over several sessions in multiple days, I go back and insert the voice breaks, something which itself may be done over multiple sessions. The irresistible technology has again made this very easy. All you need is a working microphone of decent quality and an on-air presence. The software is provided by the station free of charge for you to use. You go to the song before which you want to insert your break, press two keystrokes, start talking, press another keystroke, and pat yourself on the back (optional). That's the shrot version, anyway, but it really is just that easy. If, as I am, you are prone to flubbing the simplest of lines, you can redo them to your heart's content. The software does the rest, putting the voice breaks in precisely the right locations. Because the songs in the library have markers denoting the start of the vocals, markers which the software recognizes and uses, your voice breaks will end right where the vocals start, making your show sound, for all intents and purposes, live. If, also like I do, you have a penchant for not stopping right at the correct moment when doing a live show, this feature is a godsend because the software does it all for you.

Once your voice breaks are created, all you need to do is save your work, which involves an automated upload of all the required files to the station, and then you can sit back and listen to the station put it all together for you.

Does this sound simple? Does it sound like something you would like to do yourself? Well, all I can say is that this new procedure has breathed new life into the broadcasting dream for me; broadcasting is fun again, and I am thoroughly enjoying once more being one of the Fun Guys. If you think this might be for you, I encourage you to visit and look at the official explanations of what I have just talked about, as well as information on how to be a live DJ, if that's what you'd like to do. There is a very nice audio demo put together by Jonathan Mosen that lets you hear all the voice tracking procedures in action - it was this demo that got me excited about the possibility.

So check it out, and maybe someday soon, you too will be one of the Fun Guys!

My Pillow

Jun. 15th, 2016 11:24 pm
dogriver: (Default)
I have a special pillow,
It lies atop my bed.
And soon I will be lying down,
My pillow 'neath my head.

The memory foam supports me,
As I lie slumbering,
And though my mind be fast asleep,
My sleeping heart will sing.

Is there any greater pleasure
Thand the blissfulness of sleep?
Is there a time of more contentment
Than when my sslumber is complete?

You clicked a link to read this poem,
Fifty seconds gone for good,
I wonder, do you now regret it?
I know that, if 'twere me, I would.
dogriver: (Default)
Before we begin with the article, an update. Within a day of the announcement, Freedom Scientific came out with an episode of its FSCast podcast in an effort to help answer some questions that the public may have about the acquisition. I highly recommend that interested people listen to the podcast to see if any questions you may have are answered by it.

It was an announcement that surprised many people, including several who tend to be in the know; VFO Group, a huge player in the field of access technology, is acquiring Ai Squared, one of their biggest competitors.

One of the companies under the VFO Group umbrella is Freedom Scientific, maker of, among other things, the JAWS screen reader. Ai Squared, in turn, is the maker of, among other things, Window-Eyes, which has traditionally been going head-to-head with JAWS in the screen reader market. It is as a user of screen readers that I am writing this article. There are other products, such as screen magnification software, of which I am not in a position to comment, so I will restrict any comments here to a subject about which I at least know something.

Also, anything stated here must be construed as conjecture on my part. I have no special knowledge on this subject, so like most of you, all I can do is speculate, so this response to the merger must be regarded as such.

From what I have been reading, the biggest concern people have is that VFO Group will be gaining a monopoly in its field. I do understand this concern. Monopolies tend to scare people, and not without reason. ?However, I would like to make a few observations.

First, we don't know what is going to happen with the two screen readers. The implication is that they will continue to be made and distributed as separate entities, at least for the forseeable future. Will that continue, and if so, for how long? Maybe the companies themselves don't know the answer to this one yet, who can tell?

Next, we have much more choice when it comes to screen readers than we have ever had, at least for Windows PCs. When I started using Windows back in 2003, there were three choices: JAWS, Window-Eyes, and Hal. In 2016, the options include JAWS, Window-Eyes (which as yet is not going anywhere), Hal, System Access, NVDA, and for basic no-frills computing, Windows Narrator has become surprisingly useful in the last year. One of these competing screen readers, NVDA, is also a free product, something which forces any products expecting to be purchased to innovate. If pooling resources - financial, technological, human - might increase such innovation, I have to say I'm for it. We didn't have a free competitor in 2003. True, these two companies are merging, but I contend that, given what I have said earlier, the competition is still more robust than it was in 2003.

Finally, I almost never hear anyone complaining that there is only one screen reader available to users of Apple products, VoiceOver. And I'm not saying that people should be complaining: Apple has worked hard to allow unprecedented mainstream device accessibility. It still thrills me to be able to get an iPhone still in its cellophane and make it fully voicing without any sighted assistance. All I am saying is that, at least to me, it seems something of a double standard to worry about a monopoly on the PC side of things while not being at all worried about the monopoly which, one can't deny, does exist on the Apple side of things.

Mergers and company acquisitions are, of course, nothing new. The history book of human selective memory tends to only recall the mergers that have impacted people negatively. Many more mergers throughout history have been positive experiences for everyone involved.

What does the future hold for VFO Group and Ai Squared as a result of this acquisition? I honestly don't know. But I'm willing to give it a chance. Will this result in monopoly, or unity, or something else? We'll just have to wait and see, but I won't be doing my Chicken Little imitation just yet.


Jun. 6th, 2016 03:42 pm
dogriver: (Default)
by Bruce Toews

I reach out for your hand, it isn't there.
I listen for your voice, I'm in despair.
For once I've been with you,
Nothing else could ever do,
This burning pain of absence I can't bear.

I want to wrap my arms around you tight,
I want you with me morning, noon and night,
There's nothing so sincere
As the joy when you are here,
But when you're not, how can things be all right?

I lie in bed and cry myself to sleep,
Since you're not here, I cannot help but weep,
You are so much to me,
I know we were meant to be,
our love next to my heart I always keep.

The border separates us, cold, uncaring,
No pain I've felt before is worth comparing,
But the boundaries, they will end,
And our love, it will transcend,
Sweetheart, we will move forward, bold and daring.

But for now, my hand is empty, you're not here.
Again, for I so miss you, my eyes tear,
I've got to carry on,
For this pain, it shall be gone,
And our future will be bright and full of cheer.
dogriver: (Default)
When I first met Caroline, I was excited because I had made a new friend, a female friend with no pressure of romantic interests attached to it. That's how I saw it initially. Caroline was no more interested in romance than I was, we were both a bit lonely, and we saw friendship in each other.

I had just recently surrendered my romantic interests to God, telling Him that I was convinced that He wanted me to be single, and I was finally okay with that. My desperation to find romance had caused me and others a great deal of pain in the past, and I simply didn't feel it was worth it, not for me, not for anyone. Romance, for Brucie, was dead, and good riddance to it. This is what God wanted, I wanted what God wanted, it all lined up, right? Wrong.

It didn't take long until the old romantic interest thing started flaring up again. Some years later, I even came across an e-mail from the time, to a trusted friend and coworker, begging him to talk some sense into me, because I didn't want to fall in love. For the record, my friend made no effort to stop me.

My roommate did. He said I was just in love with the idea of falling in love. He launched a major campaign to break Caroline and me up, a campaign which did not succeed. To his credit, he and Caroline are now friends, and he was one of the best men at my wedding.

It was clear that this romance would not be stopped. So I took it to my pastor. I wanted his guidance: Was it love? Was I doing this for the right reasons? Was I setting Caroline up to be hurt by me, something I truly did not want to do? Was God actually behind this relationship that I craved so much? Not surprisingly, my pastor answered none of these questions - it wasn't his job to do so, and he wasn't about to try. What he did, however, was ask the right questions to help me work through my situation, something a good counselor does. When I concluded that my feelings for Caroline were genuine, he suggested to me that I tell God that I was going to push forward with the relationship until and unless God said no. This made sense to me, and it's what I did.

By now, a lot of friends were putting loving pressure on me to take the next step with Caroline, to marry her or at least bring her over to live with me. Living together outside of marriage was not an option. If I was going to put the relationship into God's hands, I needed to proceed with it according to His commandments. Caroline felt the same. We knew that proposal was inevitable, but the question was simply when. I wasn't going to propose because of pressure from outside. Outside pressure is rarely, if ever, a good reason to make a momentous choice such as this.

It happened last May, some eight years after Caroline and I started going out. I was in the middle of a visit with her, and I felt God telling me that the time was right to propose. Knowing what the answer would be, I did so. I got the answer I was expecting, along with an unusual request: Could I please ask her father for permission to marry her. I'm not sure if that's part of my heritage or not, but it was something Caroline wanted, and she was sure there would be no problem, so I said okay. Like so many aspects of my relationship with Caroline, the asking of her father for his permission was done over Skype. The response from him was, basically, "We were wondering when you were going to do this. Welcome to the family." Both Caroline's parents have welcomed me with love, a love that is returned, and I am grateful.

I've been to many weddings, mostly as a musician, sometimes as a family member, once as a toast-to-the-groom guy, and a few times as just a humble guest. But I never paid attention to how these things were put together: they just ... were, that's all. Somewhere, someone waved a magic wand and before you could say Coke Is It, the wedding just magically got planned, right? Wrong again. For those of you who've never done it, let me tell you that planning a traditional church wedding with a semi-traditional reception is no easy task. It requires thinking, something my brain isn't naturally cut out for; it requires tact and sensitivity to others, areas where I could most certainly use help; it requires the love, patience, support and prayers of family and friends, and thankfully I have that in abundance.

While all this is going on, life is going on too. It doesn't stop for you just because you're getting married. Medical issue, financial issues, interpersonal issues, they all continue to happen, they all continue to matter, they must all continue to be dealt with. The financial matters get even trickier, because, let me be blunt, a wedding as described above is really darned expensive.

Well, with God's help, we made it through all that, and the wedding happened in the middle of last month, on May 14th. I can't hear the recording, even now, without shedding a tear. It was the culmination of so much love, so much support for which I felt and feel so unworthy, and so much hard work on the part of many people.

And it's not over. Leaving your girlfriend in another country is hard. Leaving your fiancée in another country is harder. Leaving your wife in another country? It's emotional torture.

During the honeymoon, I could reach over and hold the hand of the woman I love. I could put my arms around her, I could kiss her. Now, I reach over, and there's just the junk beside me on the couch.

I know I did the right thing to marry Caroline, our love just keeps on growing and growing. But it is so hard, so very hard, to know that the woman to whom you've made a lifelong commitment is in another country. The pain of distance can be emotionally excruciating. And the knowledge that finally sealing that distance is going to require lots of money, lots of beurocracy, lots of governmental red tape, and lots of dealings with government officials who really don't care how much I love Caroline seems daunting at best.

This should be the happiest time of my life. And in many ways, it is. I have a precious gift, Caroline. But the responsibility that now falls on us is weighing very heavily on me. It's been causing me to lash out sometimes at people when I don't mean to, to react too quickly to things I hear and read, not thinking through those reactions. In many ways I'm not myself these days: I'm a lovesick, scared, lonely kid.

If I had it all to do over again, would I? You bet I would. Caroline is so worth it, and someday, when this is all over, it will all have been worth it. But right now ... right now, it's very difficult. Being separated from the one you love by a cruel, impersonal border is very tough.

But Caroline, the pastor said at our wedding that the vows we made give us power over the future, and he was right. The promises I made to you onMay 14th mean that, come what may, I will be by your side. It is because of those promises and what they mean that we will make it through this together, and someday, someday, we will be together in the same country and live like a married couple should. In the meantime, I give you my love, freely and unstoppably.
dogriver: (Default)
On Friday, April 22, my iPhone 5S became inoperative. Nothing I could do would revive it. I noticed that I had only $22 to pay off the phone and my contract. I contacted Rogers via Twitter. The interaction number was I932554641. I asked about purchasing an iPhone SE, explaining what I was doing, how my phone no longer worked, and that this was a replacement. The CSR, with whom I have absolutely no issues, told me that there were some SEs in stock and asked what color I would like. I asked for gold. I was told that gold was out of stock, but that there were silver ones available, would that be okay. Since the important thing is not the color, but getting the phone, I said that would be fine, and the order was placed. After several days passed with no shipping notification, I asked about the delay and was told not to worry. This afternoon, after almost a week had passed, I asked again, and was told that my phone, rather than being in stock, is actually on back-order, and there is no estimate available as to when it will be in stock. Not only is this runaround not acceptable, but it is of concern to me on a number of fronts. I am blind. My phone is not just a phone, it is my safety line in case I am in trouble and need assistance; it is often the only way I have of determining where I am; and the list goes on. I am also leaving the country to get married in about two weeks, and since I have been told there is no guarantee I will have my phone by then, this is cause for concern. If my old phone were working, I would not be so upset over this, but I am now with no phone, after ordering a phone in good faith that I was told was in stock. A multi-week delay of this magnitude is completely unacceptable and an unreasonable expectation. If Rogers were truly interested in cleaning up its public image, as I have been told, efforts would be made to accommodate me after I acted in good faith: a phone in another color, or with a different memory capacity, for example, at the same price. But all I am being told is that there's nothing to be done about it. I will be sharing my experiences in my blog, and would much prefer to be able to report a resolved issue. Furthermore, I will excalate my complaint to any avenues available to me if this is not resolved quickly. I am not at fault here. I acted in good faith, I assumed Rogers meant it when I was told my phone was available. As a blind consumer, and as a consumer in general, I have a right to better treatment than this. Any help in resolving this issue would be very much appreciated. Thank you.
dogriver: (Default)
One of the downsides of the digital age is the fact that it has enabled us to react quickly and unthinkingly, but very publicly.

Several years ago, in my previous job, I proofread a book about which I harbored a very low opinion. So as soon as I got home, I went to Amazon and wrote a very derisive, sarcastic, and mocking review of the book. All proud of myself, I posted the review, and thought nothing of it again for over ten years.

It was last year, as I looked through my e-mail, that I saw a response to my e-mail. The response was as unkind to me as I had been to the author of the book. The difference was that, as I realized immediately, I deserved it. I looked back at my review, and I was not at all proud of myself; in fact, I was very ashamed of myself. So I wrote back to the person who had commented, telling them that I was indeed ashamed of my review, that I had been unkind and unfair, and that I was going to pull the review if Amazon permitted me to do so. Thankfully they did permit me to do so, and that review is no longer posted with the book. I only hope the author didn't read my review, he did not deserve the words I wrote about his efforts. Has my opinion about the book changed? No, it's still definitely not my kind of a book. But what has changed is my understanding of my opinion, and my way of expressing it. I was very, very wrong in what I did and how I did it.

With the advent of social media, it's very easy to make comments about people, places and events, hidden behind our keyboards and touchscreens, not realizing that we are talking about real people with real feelings, real hearts and real souls. It's easy to say "I hate that narrator", or "I hate that author" or "That person is stupid [or worse]". How would you feel if someone said they hated you because of how you spoke or how you wrote? It's perfectly simple to think it through, and express an opinion without having to resort to unkind and hurtful commentary. I could have, and should have, simply said that the book in question just didn't interest me, or wasn't my kind of a mystery ... or any number of other things. Instead of saying "I hate that narrator", I could simply say that they probably matched the wrong person with a particular book.

And it's not as if this thinking things through requires huge, vast amounts of time. Five or ten seconds of asking myself how I'd feel if the comment were leveled at me and my efforts usually does the trick. That five or ten seconds won't kill me, but it might well make me look an awful lot better in the future, and feel a lot better about myself when and if my own comments get scrutinized.

I can't remember the name of the man who wrote the book I so ruthlessly insulted. I wish I could. I'd like to tell him how very sorry I am for treating him, a real person, the way I did.
dogriver: (Default)
When the Harry Potter books really started making a lot of commotion at around the turn of the century, I was fairly quick to condemn the series, along with many other Christians. I dismissed the series as a bad idea, a negative influence, a promotion of ideas and beliefs I didn't feel should be promoted to Christian children. I found some good friends who shared this "assessment", and I was comfortable with it. IF I was asked for my opinion, I gave it, but I basically kept it to myself.

After a while, I started paying attention to the people who outspokenly enjoyed the series. It started to occur to me that I had passed judgment on a series I had never read or picked up. What's more, I was basing this opinion on the judgment of others, most of whom had not read the series either, but were themselves passing judgment. Basically, I decided, this "Harry Potter is evil" business was a rumor mill, and you had to trace the rumors a pretty long way to find someone who had actually read the books. I decided, at that point, that I didn't know if Harry Potter was an evil series or not. I still didn't bother to read it, but at least I had suspended judgment.

I then started to try reading it. As a blind book reader, I wanted audio narration, and this proved to be a problem. I didn't like the audio narrations available in North America commercially. I also wasn't a fan of the narration from CNIB, the library for the blind here in Canada. Nothing against the narrators, the books just weren't hooking me.

So one day I happened upon a copy of the British audio edition, read by Stephen Frye. Suddenly the series came alive for me, and I couldn't put it down. This was well after the seventh book had been written, so I was able to read the whole series over a very short period of time.

So, now that I have actually read it and have the right to an opinion, what exactly is that opinion? What do I consider the Harry Potter series to be?

Let me start by saying what I don't consider it to be. I don't consider it to be a manual promoting witchcraft, black magic, the occult, and the countless other things detractors say the series promotes. The series is fantasy, pure fantasy, and this fact should be obvious to anyone who reads and pays attention.

On the flip side, the series is not, in my opinion, some great treatise on Christian principles and values, as some have tried to suggest. The book is not, by my interpretation, either pro- or anti-religion. It's a story, clearly fantasy, and should be taken as such. It has some themes: the triumph of love, friendship, loyalty, the need to steadfastly stick to the side of good, which I do enjoy, but it's not some great Christian epic, nor is it oppositional to Christianity or any other religion.

The one area where, in my personal opinion, the detractors do have a point, is when they point out that Harry lies rather a lot. It's true. I noticed this especially in my third reading of the series. I wish Rowling could have cut back on that aspect of things, or at least have had Harry get into trouble for lying and learna lesson or two from it. But no book or series written solely by human hands is perfect. My favorite series of all time, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, is itself far from perfect, as was the series of papers I wrote as I went through school.

So, if I had kids, would I have a problem with them reading and enjoying the Harry Potter series? Absolutely not. As with anything, I'd simply want the kids to talk to me about what they're reading, let me answer back, and we could all learn. This is good advice for any kind of children's reading. I, personally, really like the series, and am very glad I allowed myself to overlook my initial prejudices.
dogriver: (Default)
A lot of people on the Net are having a lot of laughs at the expense of The Little Drummer Boy this year, stating that it is ridiculous to think of a kid beating on a drum while a newborn baby is trying to sleep.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not a fan of the song either. It's nowhere near being one of my favorites. But it's gotten me thinking about how we tend to see the rest of the world through our own perspective, and how narrow our view of the world thus becomes.

When we in the Western World think of drums, we think of drum kits and really loud clashing, banging, rattling, and beating. But this isn't all that drums are to everyone. In many cultures, drums are the main musical instrument. The drums convey messages, and are often far from being loud and pervasive.

So imagine a woman growing up in such a culture. She becomes pregnant. In the womb, as the child develops a sense of hearing, he hears these sounds. Even if not, he is constantly exposed to the soft rhythmic beating of his mother's heart. Is it so far-fetched to imagine this child being soothed upon entering the world, by a soft, consistent, gentle drum beat? I think not. I've heard Native Canadian drumming, and I can, with no difficulty, imagine a child falling asleep in the family's tent while villagers outside lifted up their songs in drumming. It's not ridiculous at all.

But we in our modern Euro/American perspectives, expect everyone to be like us. To us, drumming means loud, it means harsh, it means intrusive, it rarely means peaceful. So naturally, drumming is the same around the world, and no kid could possibly be soothed to sleep by drumming, right? Wrong.

Before we laugh at concepts we don't understand, perhaps it would be advisable to try to understand them. We might learn a thing or two, we might come away just a little more enlightened. We might lose the laugh, but we stand to gain a great deal more in the exchange.


dogriver: (Default)
Bruce Toews

August 2017

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