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April 2017
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Why Don’t We Design a Better Wheelchair?

In the 1990 film Awakenings, Robin Williams plays Dr. Sayer, a fictionalized Oliver Sachs, who discovered seemingly miraculous effects of the drug L-DOPA on patients who had been trapped in unresponsive states for more than a decade by Encephalitis lethargica. In the film, the doctor is constantly, loosing, dropping and breaking his eyeglasses.

“Where are my glasses?” Dr. Sayer asks.
“On your head!” his patient exclaims.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Sara Hendren the woman behind the Abler accessibility site, asks Why are Glasses Perceived Differently Than Hearing Aids? or wheelchairs, or prosthetic limbs, screenreaders, braille displays, miracle drugs, Stephen Hawking’s voice…
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Introduction to “Divided we fall”

#UID: 412789512M0

Dear Mr./Ms. <<%NULL DATA FIELD%>>

Orbcorp would like to thank you for choosing this personalized E-book. We have taken careful measurements of your reading habits, socioeconomic background as well as your political and/or religious beliefs in order to provide you with this optimized reading experience guaranteed to tastefully reinforce your worldview and never offend. Have a gloriously nice day!


Charle’s J <<%DECEASED%>>

President and CEO of Orbcorp Unlimited

+++ ~ATH0 <NO CARRIER>~~~~~1tr#€€$¥!”$~~~

“…(My) greatest fear is that as we drifted towards this blandly amorphous generic world view not only would we see the entire range of the human imagination reduced to a more narrow modality of thought, but that we would wake from a dream one day having forgotten there were even other possibilities.”
— Margarate Mead

Hanukkah and Jevon’s Paradox

Last year I published a GreenProphet article explaining the history of artificial lighting. I explained that modern LED lights could run for months on the one day supply of Hanukkah lamp oil that miraculously lasted for 8 days. And yet, even with these enormous gains in efficiency, we use far more energy than we did then. This pattern of our energy use is known as Jevon’s paradox and it  is an excellent example of why the solution to our energy and environmental problems cannot rely on technology alone.

iPad not designed for iFamily

Microsoft Windows PCs are now fairly easy to configure with different access levels for different family members with products such as Windows Live and NetNanny.

But laptops and desktop PCs are no longer primary internet access devices for kids. iPhones, iPads and similar devices are becoming much more common for school aged children. Some schools are actually requiring them! But iPads/iPods and other ‘i’ devices can’t have separate accounts for kids. Apple’s marketing model is geared towards individuals each buying their own device, thus the ‘i’ prefix to iCloud, iTunes, iPad, iPod, iPhone…

I later learned that it is possible to make separate accounts on iPads only by “rooting/jailbreaking…” the device. But the US made this illegal yesterday with yet another pro-monopoly DMCA provision. Unless someone cares enough to sign the petition against this pro-monopoly DCMA provision, my fancy new iPhone won’t do what “I” want it too.  Monopoly-locked iPhones are also useless outside of a carrier’s region or if a carrier goes bankrupt. Which is why I decided that it is a good choice going with an Android tablet. It allows ‘I’ to do what ‘I’ want far more than the iPad does. Android’s latest version 4.2 OS does have multiuser capability but some Android devices are so inexpensive it is much more practical to have one device per family member.

Apple tablets, phones and iPods aren’t bad devices, but they’re targetted to a particular market, young, urban, singles and dual income no kid couples. The rest of us, are more focused on ability to share, freedom to customize, ruggedness price and portability between networks than on slick eye candy. At least that’s what iWant.

Take no prisoners ‘justice’ claims another victim in the US

Aaron Swartz helped create the RSS technology which made blogs, podcasts, facebook and twitter possible. He also created Reddit. He made some mistakes, one of his biggest might look something like this:

wget -r http://www.{website containing scientific journals of tax-funded research}/*

Wget and curl are tools used by web developers, researchers and internet archivists. Similar tools are used by Microsoft’s Bing , the internet archive and Google every day to find, cache and index websites. These tools automate browser “save as” for every _public_ file on the website. Yes I used the word public intentionally because curl and wget are not magic hacking tools. They simply automate what your or I or great-grandma Moses could do with their web browser.

But if the site has no security (for example, a simple robots.txt file or CAPCHA can help distinguish scripts from browsers), the above wget command might download millions of files.  So the US federal prosecutor pushed for a 30 year sentence and up to $1,000,000 fine and ultimately drove Aaron Swartz to suicide. This is just the latest example of what I call a take no prisoners approach  which has corrupted the US justice system.

Academic and free information activist Lawrence Lessig put it well in his article entitled, Prosecutor as Bully:

For remember, we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House…  Somehow, we need to get beyond the “I’m right so I’m right to nuke you” ethics that dominates our time.

You hit the nail on the head Mr. Lessig. It’s what I’ve called take no prisoners justice. I’ve seen lives ruined or severely damaged when the US justice system turns a correctable mistake into scorched earth.  One of my most gentle and intelligent friends could not be faulted for never wanting to again set foot in the US after a minor traffic accident almost destroyed his family. It’s the sort of thing you might expect from totalitarian states. I don’t believe the US has yet sunk to that level, but in order to prevent this we need to know how dangerously near we are to the edge.

More A11y inspirations

I’m making some progress on data driven accessiblity testing using mago+ldtp2.  I’ve also built enough atspi2 to get atspi over dbus to work on Solaris.  There was no smoking gun with respect to performance except that the dbus_daemon consumed the most time within syscalls (you knew that didn’t you?)    I suppose I should see what syscalls it’s spending the most time in but that would require rebooting into Solaris.  Stay tuned…

I’ve also set sight on some long term projects.

  • Use mobile phone accelerometers, GPS and camera data to create a community ‘best accessible path’ with (optional) community tags.
  • Horizontal and vertical obstacle recognizer using conventional phase/contrast detection AF and cylindrical lenses
  • Fourier optic shape recognizer
  • Plenoptic camera in face/environment recognition system.
  • Music as an I/O method
  • Using observability tools (e.g. dtrace) to glean a11y information from badly behaved “closed” applications.

None of this makes much sense yet but I’ve written it down here so I don’t forget about it.  A year ago I considered buying an arduino, beagleboard or hawkboard.  Now it looks like I should be buying a smartphone since my old symbian smartphone died in Spain.  Since I intend to do some opensource and a11y hacking, I’ll stay away from Apple.  I’d like an android with a qwerty keyboard for about 200 Euro which seems to be an impossible goal here in Ireland.  Wish me luck.

Inspired by accessibility team

two kids and daddy hack shortly before Aegis/Gnome accessibility hackfest

Family hacking

So now I’m inspired to try to help accessibility by:

  • Formalizing the standards for different types of accessibility so that they can be written as rules which are pulled into data-driven automated regression tests.
  • Improve Accerciser, add capability to use automation tests in a plug-in. Add link from interface view to documentation, improve general documentation.
  • Build ATSPI2 and orca on Solaris so I can do some dtrace exploration of the cache misses Mike mentioned and try to dig out the root cause of other performance issues.  I have this running at the moment and the dbus-daemon does spend far more time in syscalls than anything else.  This isn’t a smoking gun because it seems to be doing usual daemon type things.
  • Use dtrace to glean accessibility information from inaccessible apps (Adobe are your ears ringing?)
  • Have a look at other applications of OpenGazer technology and orca. (I already tried to build it on Ubuntu but it seems unhappy with my choice of cheap webcams)  There are many possibilities which make use of community weighting, mobile phones, GPS and image recognition.  When trying to figure out a simple fast method using optical FFTs to separately detect horizontal and vertical obstacle, I realized that I was reinventing aspects of how our vision works.  Hmm.

Aegis conference & gnome accessibilty hackfest

I just returned from the First international Aegis accessibility conference and Gnome hackfest in Seville, Spain. I began with a presentation of my automated accessibility testing prototype. I intended for this to be a round-table discussion rather than a one way presentation but things got off to a slow start and Peter gave a detailed presentation of the Aegis testing framework background so I tried to wrap up quickly. I did get some excellent feedback and more importantly, I began to get to know some of the talented people who work on Gnome Accessibility.

Joanmarie and API suggested that I organize the test classes around roles rather than application. Applications are accessible with the application role. We need to get together to discuss the rules. If possible, I’d like to see the rules expressed in a parseable format which can become part of the documentation. We also discussed several levels of report, similar to a compiler’s warning/error/pedantic reporting flags.

Shaun pointed me to blip, a really nice reporting tool which he wrote and which would be a nice central place for test results as well as linking the maintainer to the code and allowing us to notify the correct person.

Mike was working on some dbus performance issues with ATSPI2. We were wondering about those ubiquitous bounce events. Why are they being sent over the bus and could we improve things if we only sent stuff over the bus when there were registered listeners for that event.

I met with Gerry later to go over the technologies and design. He liked what I’d been doing and would like to try to help if possible. I could use help! The Accessibility team could use help. The people are brilliant but there are too few of them. It’s quite a blow when big companies pull out talented people such as Willie Walker for no coherent reason. If it weren’t for Mike, Joanmarie, Eitan, API, Mario… opensource desktop accessibility might have been set back years.

I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with this team. I only realized earlier today that my interest in accessible technology goes back to the late 1980s when I build a hardware text-to-speech device and used the tuner from an old radio in place of the crystal so that the speech rate could be varied.  I found that designing a katakana to phoneme translator in Commodore 64 basic was much easier than designing an English to phoneme translator.

Thanks to all of the people I met in Seville. I’m looking forward to working with you and seeing you again soon.

it was…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, an age which celebrated the diversity of the human spirit, it was an age when differences were feared and outsiders were loathed. It was the epoc when we knew we could bring our dream to the world, it was the epoch when we thought we would fail. It was the season of shared knowledge, it was the season of hoarded, hidden truths, it was the spring when we were on the verge of an open and enlightened world, it was the winter when our dreams were crushed by the depth of evil to which humans will descend, we had technology and spirit and and wisdom and life, we had nothing– but hope.

Story Spectrum prototype

Here is a story spectrum application I’ve been working on. It highlights “purple” prose as well as prose which appears in Shakespeare or Canterbury tales

Here is the facebook application I’ve tied to it: