May 2009


I suspect not. 😉

But because someone asked (which is a rarity), I did a quick bit of searching online to see if I could find an example of what my vision is like. I suspect there’s lots of irony there, or something. Indeed, given the nature of my not-seeing-ness I could be way off the mark.

Anyhow, the best example I could find was this image What I supposedly see accoring to Agencies for the Blind. from the VisionServ Alliance. I say take it with a bit of a grain of salt and the following caveats.

I have bilateral optic atrophy (or neuropathy if you prefer) which means it affects both eyes somewhere along the optic nerve (or maybe at multiple points… who knows!). I have a restricted field of vision nasally, laterally and above and below the horizontal. The distortion (and total “black spots”) aren’t as evenly distributed as that picture would seem to imply.

My initial vision loss started in around 1997 and deteriorated rather rapidly. The prognosis is unknown.

I think those are the central points, but questions are welcome.

UPDATE

How’s this for an analogy: a person with 6/6 vision is watching HD TV, I’m watching analogue TV without an areal on the edge of the reception zone?

Also, here’s a different image from a page about Optic Neuritis – different condition with different cause (related to MS) but a similar effect.

I don’t think either image quite captures it correctly, but each case is different.  Hopefully this gives some kind of impression at least.

UPDATE #2:  This is approaches the topic from a slighly different angle: from Blind Photographers Stitching Sight.

[Or It’s just the first step… I hope]

Really I’m writing in something of a frustrated mood. I feel a bit like I’m missing out here, and once again it’s because people don’t seem to have thought things through in the planning stages.

It seems these days that every third Tweet, fifth web page and tenth piece of spam has to do with the iPhone. Apple have reportedly sold over 21.4 million iPhones (both 2 and 3G), and so I guess I have to agree that they’ve done SOMETHING right.

What they’ve done wrong, what they seem to continue to do wrong has to do with the interface. For those of you who didn’t notice, Stevie Wonder attended CES and spoke about how touch screen alienate the visually impaired. Now there are 100 000 people with a Visual Impairment in NSW and the ACT (oddly I can’t find a national figure).

Having attempted to use a couple of iPhones to deal with issues at work, I find it nigh impossible. The screen has poor contrast and is totally unreadable to me. I did manage to fix the problems by randomly stabbing the thing. OK, wasn’t quite random, but I still have no idea what I did.

Now thinking about this, it’s not just those of my ilk that are cut out of the iPhone wonderland. Anyone who doesn’t have reasonable fine-motor skills is also going to have some pretty big barriers.

But lets look on the positive side for the moment. Apple have clearly done some special things with the iPhone. The integration of Internet connectivity (both using mobile networks and local wireless), and the operating system itself are clearly big wins for the company. So much so, that we can see Google playing a bit of catch-up with Android.

But Google seem to have fallen at the first gate as well. From what I’ve read (and someone please tell me I’m wrong here), they have not included any API hooks into the basic I/O systems which might allow for the development of alternative input and output devices – to the point that developing a simple screen magnifier looks hopeless. [Edit: Oh, I find that there’s some development here. Good Google. :-)]

Is it just me that thinks that we keep taking the wrong approach to interfaces? It would seem sensible, in terms of both hardware and software, to start taking a modular approach.

At the middle of any of these devices is a Processor, or processors, memory and other associated hardware. These bits do the actual work of the system, running the core OS and applications. At the top end of the OS we have the kernel, which is the user level interface. Imagine this: a box which houses the chips, battery, and other bits that do the actual work. This bit we can mass produce, we can sell millions of the things, so they’re cheep to make because of volume.

Having made this core, why can’t we slot in all sorts of various modules for both input and output? You can have a standard touch screen for the majority, or a screen and standard keypad or keyboard depending on preference. But maybe you want Braille output? Slot that in instead. Need a large keypad because of motor skills? Slot it in. Voice activation? Sweet. If we build these modules with the hardware and software (or firmware) to take the I/O data from the core, and handle the interface separately, then we’ve built a truly flexible system

Is this really that radical an idea? As we move along with technology, we see more and more modular designs, separating form from content. For large projects we treat code objects as black boxes, we don’t care what happens inside, we just need to know that if we give it a certain input it will give a certain output. It gives rise to a generic device which can be made accessible to anyone. OK, a Braille display is going to be more expensive than a standard output, but I think we can live with that when we know we’ve all got the same opportunities to access these new devices.

So in building the iPhone, which is something of a mini-revolution in and of itself, Apple missed the mark. But they’re not alone. I don’t think anyone has truly hit it yet. That is why the iPhone fails.

Soundtrack
The Resignators – Weirdos Superheros and Me
Radiohead – Creep
The Lyrical Madmen – Alarm Bells
Weezer – El Scorcho
Los Capitanes – Scene Queen
Dr Octopus – Repeat
The Bullet Holes – Our Fault
Dr Octopus – Last Time
The Living End – So What
Los Capitanes – Riff Raff
Addiction 64 – Learn to Dance
The Lyrical Madmen – Best Friend

[Or Starting to Bring it all Together?]

I’ve just spent some Monday catch-up time listening to last weeks’ At Nick Hodge, in which @NickHodge interviewed @mpesce on the topic How does a Futurist Future? It’s a most interesting chat that I recommend checking out.

The discussion raised a couple of questions which got me thinking.  Hopefully I can keep this on a narrow couple of topics and not have it develop into another 2000+ word essay that remains unpublished.  Also, trying not to look like a member of the #CultOfMarkPesce. 😉

Anyhow, two things strike me in particular from this discussion, if only because they can be linked back to my previous posts People Behaving Badly and No Man Left Behind. (At least I think they do). My initial thought was to DM a short form of these to Mark for a response, but then I thought better of it, and posted them here so that maybe people could add their own thoughts.

First: The kiddies and their mobiles.

During the discussion, Mark related a story of a discussion he’d had recently with some teachers, the upshot of which was that all the children bar one in a particular third grade class had a mobile phone.  He also drew our attention to the fact that it’s a connection device and questioned how this will effect their learning processes.

It’s an interesting question, and I’ve no particular intention of trying to form theory’s around that.  Where I want to take the idea is slightly different.

It was once said to me that the best way to change the practices and culture of an organisation is to remove all the workers and replace them, bringing in major change as you do it.  I’ve seen it happen on small scales, and I believe it to be true, if a little unethical.  Now clearly we can’t do this to society as a whole, however if we’ve got kids growing up in this interconnected world, are we best to leave the coming fundamental shifts to them, and continue to take a revisionist approach for the time being (see No Man Left Behind)?  Or can society actually adapt in the way that means new forms that  Pesce and others are speaking of can actually come to pass sooner, rather than later?

Secondly: Smarts and Hyperconnectivity

Mark Pesce reiterated an idea I’ve seen/heard from him on a couple of occasions before:  With information sharing, anyone can potentially be as smart as the smartest person who’s written something on Wikipedia. (As least that’s a quick paraphrase – feel free to correct me)

But how do we define smart?  Looking at Wiktionary, smart is defined:

Smart:

2. Exhibiting intellectual knowledge, such as that found in books.

(Edited for brevity, obviously)

So the question I have is: does access to this information allow one to “exhibit intellectual knowledge”?  Is it really the same thing?  If so, are we better to be teaching children methods to source information rather than other methods? Or do we need to ensure they are capable on analysing?

I’m not a teacher, and I have no training in any area related to teaching children.  I’m just interested is all.

And I feel the need to go back and re-read ABC of Anarchism by Alexander Berkman, which I’ve just found online at http://www.lucyparsonsproject.org/anarchism/berkman_abc_of_anarchism.html

But really, questions, comments, thoughts? Put fingers to keyboard, people! 🙂

Soundtrack:
The Lyrical Madmen – Alarm Bells
The Living End – Living In Sin
The Lyrical Madmen – All Alone
The Porkers – Aloha Steve and Danno
Area 7 – Torn Apart
The Lyrical Madmen – Tokyo Rock Explosion
Dr Octopus – Hey Boy
The Porkers – California Sun
The Allniters – Fame, Sex and Money
Weezer – Undone – the Sweater Song

If you’ve seen the Us Now film, then you’ll have seen a variety of online social networking and collaborative applications that have been used in a number of projects around the world, and specifically in the UK.  Even if you haven’t seen it (and if you’re in Sydney keep an eye on my Twitter stream for updates on a Sydney screening and discussion), the ever expanding ability to be connected, to share, contribute and collaborate can’t have escaped your attention.

However I always feel compelled to look backwards, and wonder about those who are behind me in being able to use the technology.  By no means do I consider myself at the cutting edge, but I’m certainly well ahead of lots of other people.

(Perhaps its my own “disadvantage” that makes me think about this… and yes, it’s hardly a disadvantage in most cases.)

So in looking backwards I ask “what about them?”  We’re blazing ahead, embarking upon a fantastic journey, but how do we keep everyone involved?  It’s easy to see the more involved everyone is, the better the end result – greater than the sum of its parts, as it were.

How can we motivated, educate and ultimately involve everyone in this new collaborative world?

I’m up for your ideas, people!

Post Soundtrack:
Forth Floor Collapse – Drink Till You Drown
Cartman – Justify My Love
The Smallgoods – This is the Show
The Lucksmiths – A Hiccup In Your Happiness

[Or: Can society really look after itself?]

Things have been going a little crazy of late, with respect to the various attitudes people hold towards women.  Obviously there’s the whole NRL story going on, then there’s the issues around the NetRegistry and other stands at CeBIT this week. (Props to Kate Carruthers)

Adding to this my own little experience yesterday, where a person waiting to cross Gibbons Street in Redfern said: “Get away from me, you diseased animal”.  The response to my “what?” was “you blind diseased animal”.

Charming, no?

Mark Pesce‘s  presentation/post Sharing Power (Aussie Rules) delves into the cloud, and the cloud vs. the hierarchy (and is a wonderful piece of writing – maybe the ABC should pay attention? That’s another topic).

However I am forced to wonder that given these sentiments around, whether the cloud is even close to being ready to take over?  At times we all want to distance ourselves from various parts of society,  I certainly did last night.

Are we in a position to discuss our views, freely and openly, to educate each other and come to a true consensus on what is the acceptable way to behave?

These things happen from time to time, whether its the NRL or Bill Hensen, lots of discussion takes place in the traditional, community and social media, but do we actually come to any kind of consensus or conclusion on these matters?  Do we end up educating ourselves, each other and society as a whole?  Or do we just leave things hanging?

Not sure, myself… what do you think?

[Or: Screaming Into the Void]

Frustration, Frustration, Frustration, Frustration
The Allniters – “Frustration”

It’s surprising how often you see the “You Just Don’t Get it, do you” sentiment these days.  It’s poped up twice in my Twitter stream yesterday morning (Once on a weird review of @scottsigler‘s book on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/pobusa and @stilgherrian‘s blog post http://tr.im/kWh3) and these guys clearly aren’t alone.  I’m happy to admit to my own frustrations too.

Of course the whole point of the cliched meem is that people are not beeing communicated with effectivly, and that leads to me asking myself why?

Clearly messages aren’t getting through, so that’s a problem with the receiver, the sender, the medium or the message.  So lets look at this in turn:

1.  The Receiver
Unfortunately this is where a lot of communication falls down, and often times there’s not too much you can do about it.  However, one should at least ask: is the receiver attuned to the medium of communications? If so, are they actually capable of receiving and interpreting the message?  Of course percussive maintenance of the receiver may be the only option for those who just don’t want to listen.

2.  The Sender
This one you can do lots about.  Are you sending an incompatible message?  Are you sending a message the receiver can’t understand? There is no point shouting at a deaf person.  Are you sending the message to the right person? It’s probably not work asking the plumber to fix your lights.

3.  The Medium
Are you using the right medium to reach the receiver.  I wouldn’t try and communicate with my mother via email, she’s not a technology person.

4.  The Message
Are you communicating clearly?  Are you starting the message at the right point, or are you assuming knowledge that the receiver doesn’t have? Are you leading the receiver through a narrative they can follow?

Communications processes aren’t just about sending a message, they’re about ensuring the message is actually received at the other end, and sometimes we all take it on faith that effective reception occurs.  At the end of the day, if the process doesn’t work, then you need to find what does.

Of course, sometimes we all just get frustrated and need to shout at the void.

To that end, I choose the do that here and now, though as this is a society gripe, maybe this is the best I can do.

Why do people insist on walking around with headphones on and music blearing?

Anyone who reads my regular commuting bitch-streams on Twitter will know that amongst other things I complain about is the number of people that just don’t watch where they’re going and bump into me at Redfern station.

To make two initial points: The white cane is an international symbol of visual impairment. If you see someone walking along, waving a long white stick (with a red bit at the end usually) in front of them, its a Good Idea (TM) to move out of the way. (And I say that because some people clearly don’t get it.)  Secondly, these are provided to the visually impaired (in NSW and the ACT) via Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and while they don’t cost the visually impaired anything, each one costs the resources of the association, which receives no government funding.

Now, the long cane is not a subtle device.  The tip rolling over surfaces is rather noisy, and in a tiled railway station concourse it’s quite loud.  Even if the visually impaired person isn’t directly in your line of sight, you should be able to hear them. (Unless you’re deaf).

You should be able to hear, but if you’re deafening yourself with your choice in portable noise, then you won’t hear.

Don’t get me wrong – listen as much as you like on the train/bus/ferry/tram/whatever.  I listen to lots of different stuff on the train every day.  But when your arse leaves the seat, switch the thing off.

After all, if you can hear someone like me coming, noisy as I am, then anyone could be sneaking up on you.

Of course, some people are just too stupid and/or self-absorbed and/or selfish, and despite the absence of headphones they still don’t pay attention.  In these cases, there’s a case for that percussive maintenance mentioned earlier.

[Edit: “or Why @SilkCharm is the Best Thing Ever”]

OK, that is quite clearly hyperbole and there have been plenty of things invented that are at least as important, and many that are more important, than Twitter.

Like many people I first heard about Twitter, and I couldn’t quite wrap my head around why someone would want to use a service that limited you to 140 characters of text.  After all, its harly enough to say anything, is it?

Obviously this is the point at which many people start, and there are those who’ll take the plunge and give it a go, and there are others who won’t.  At the time I was diving back into Social Networking for work-related stuff, having been successfully ignoring it all for a few years.  I’ve had other things on my plate after all (some of you know what I’m talking about, and for the rest of you it probably doesn’t matter).

So, having gone through the obvious (MySpace – To garish and inconsistant; Facebook – lots of stuff and too many people wanting my attention and all those annoying frakin’ quizzes!) I finally got to Twitter.  I did the first logical thing – follow some Community Radio stations.  Then some people who work in the sector, etc, etc.

Basically, I found myself expanding the circle of people I follow through these links – people who followed those who I followed popped up, and I started following them. Occasionally people would follow me because of what I said in my tweets, and I’d follow them back because they seemed interesting.

This, I think, is a typical experiance if you’re not one of the 60% that bail out after the first month.  At the risk of paraphrasing @SilkCharm poorly, you don’t get instant gratification from Twitter, you’ve got to work at it.

So back to why Twitter is the best thing ever.

Twitter is just text, plain and simple.  With 140 characters you can say an awful lot, including URLs. The fact that it’s just text gives it untilmate portability.  It’s the fastest thing to transfer over a network, and just about anything with a UI can deal with text.

Again, to quote:

@SilkCharm: I think I just got how Twitter works.
@adevenish: @SilkCharm Should I ask?
@SilkCharm: @adevenish it was an insight into the total openness of the platform. I particularly like Twitter for ARGs and extended storytelling
@adevenish: @SilkCharm From a vision impaired perspective I was thinking the other day that its a big leveller – it’s all just text.
@SilkCharm: @adevenish Agree, text makes it fast & easy. & Twitter stuff is discoverable/random in a way that gated communities like Facebook are not.
@adevenish:@SilkCharm Yep. I find that I work at Facebook much harder that Twitter, and the interestingness of twitter is a better reward.

And that simple exchange basically encapsulates why Twitter is the best thing ever.  It’s so simple – portable, fast and accessable.

  1. Simple:  It’s text, and it will carry characters in lots of different encodings, so it’s not even limited to English, or Latin based character sets.  Globally accessible.
  2. Fast: 140 characters of text – 140 bytes (plus some headers and other junk) means that even on a slow 2G/GPRS/dialup connection you can still communicate easily in virtually real time.
  3. Accessible:  As simple text, you can have it read to you by a screen reader, enlarge it with a magnifier, speak it with voice recognition software.  It goes on your computer, your phone, PDA, etc.

And as text the content is as creative, interesting, involving or boring as you can make it in 140 characters.  With a description or link, you can share interesting articles, photos, video or anything.  It creates a gateway to the web, a gateway to people and a gateway to the world.

And THAT is why Twitter is the best thing ever. 🙂

SOUNDTRACK:
The Living End – End of the World
Rubix Cuba – The Pie Song
Save Ferris – Goodbye
Los Capitanes – The Underpants Song
Golden Earing – Radar Love
The Daisycutters – We Deserve Better
Sex Pistols – Who Killed Bambi
The Resignators – Emotional (Its All Good)