Wednesday, August 31

Raw Emotion and Thoughts

Greetings. Its funny how a natural disaster, or a disaster of any kind, can put things in perspective for you. I'm sitting here contemplating doing any number of things: putting pictures up from my trip on my site, considering groceries I need to get in the next couple of days, looking at the pile of clothes left to sort through and put away, get a Braille display ready to send back to Freedom Scientific; and yet I'm drawn to CNN and their coverage of people affected by the hurricane.

As the title says, these are raw emotions and may not be in any sort of order. Anyway, how can I consider getting groceries when there are people in affected areas or heading to other cities that have agreed to help, such as Houston or Dallas, who need those groceries just as much, or more, than I do? It's probably impossible to help everyone, but yet I feel like I should do something. I would consider this disaster on the same level as the terrorist attacks in 2001, the main difference being that in this case, we knew the storm was coming and could prepare. But are we any better off for that knowledge? We're still going through lots of economic and every day affects because of the hurricane, and the people who did live in Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama, will likely be feeling the impact of Katrina for weeks, months, or even years to come.

I suppose that this leaves me with two things to say: donate and don't forget. I have information on my website with regards to making secure online donations to the Red Cross, or calling to make a donation. Please donate; do what you can, even if you can only give a few dollars. Or, if you would like to give in a more tangible way, then many groups will likely have fund raising events where they will accept food, clothes, and other practical items. Or, if you know someone affected by these events, then help them out.

And second, dont' forget. Its my guess that though it seems like the hurricane is all over the news right now, as it should be, after a week or two, the media will move along to other news. When that happens, or even several weeks or months from now, don't forget about those affected by Katrina. Continue to donate and/or pray for them.

I don't know what else to write, so I'll stop for now. I plan to donate, even if its just $20, but every little bit counts.

Remember: donate, and don't forget.

Journal: Sunday August 21

(Note: I am gradudally putting up pictures from my trip on the Guatemala Pictures page on my website. Please be patient as I get everything up. There's quite a lot of them.)

So far on the journey to Irtra, much of the drive has been through various things like sugarcane fields, palm trees, coconut trees, pineapples, and other
tropical-like things. About halfway into our trip, we had to stop at a government agricultural checkpoint, which someone last night called a "fruit check." Since agriculture is Guatemala's big industry, they don't want fruits to pass through that might have bugs or possible diseases. Thus, when we were stopped and when the people saw that we had apples, they took the apples. This seems kind of odd to me, that they would check the fruit but not ensure that the milk or beef was made properly.

At one point, we passed through a town that had an amateur bicycle race going on, with full police escorts on several sides to protect the riders.

We passed through another town that was having a different, and much more sobering, activity going on. We passed by a funeral procession. There was a pickup leading the procession of about 40 or so people. Behind the pickup truck was 2 costumed people, maybe representing Catholic priests or witch doctors. We could only see the back of them. Then there was a small pine-boxed coffin, the size of a small child or baby.

Soon after that we reached Irtra, which was where the water park was. I should say that the water park and hotel we stayed at were very nice in their landscaping an were meticulously manicured. There was an amusement park as well, but there was a separate fee for that. Anyway, the entire trip from when we left Guatemala City to when we got to Irtra only took about 2 and a half hours. The people that came over Saturday night said it might take 3 hours or more, so we made good time.

We stopped at the hotel to get information. While my Dad was inside doing that, my Mom and I stayed outside in the front area of the hotel, and looked around. The atmosphere was very pleasant, like a tropical feel. This tropical sensation continued when we got back to the hotel that night. The front of the hotel check-in area had a porch that was made out of smooth, large tiles. The front also had several large tropical trees in it, and some seating areas. You could hear birds nearby. It was very pleasant.

We had lots of fun at the water park, though it seemed more for kids than adults. There was quite a few kids slides and play areas. Adults could choose between the Lazy River, a wave pool, and 2 water slides. The slides were good ones though, going fast and having good twists and turns. Perhaps not as much as you might see at a water park in the States, but fun all the same.

In one part of the park, there was some netting set up over some lily pads. The idea being to hold onto the netting and cross over the lily pads. Many people tried this, and there were many loud splashes as they fell in the water. A few people made it across though, or at least made it to the next lily pad. I tried 3 different times and out of all of them, only made it passed the first lily pad. I had a slight advantage since my Dad went in the water and held the lily pad. But, when you're hanging from the netting and your feet slip off the lily pad faster than you can get a foothold, it's not much of an advantage. It was fun though. We got several pictures of my attempts and my splashing as I fell in the water.

The first time I tried, I thought maybe I could grab the furthest ropes from me and swing out over the lily pad, then step on the pad and go to the next like that. Well, suffice it to say, my plan didn't work. I barely got both feet on the pad before my limbs were going every which way, but the right way, and I let go. The second and third times were slightly better, but like I say, I never made it to the second pad. There were 4 pads in all that you had to cross. My Dad, though it was helpful to have someone down there telling me to step forward, twice told me to step forward and there was nothing but water to step on. Most times when this happened, I plummeted into the water, but a few times I managed to put a foot back on the pad or the starting point.

We hit a slide, the wave pool and the Lazy River before lunch and had lunch at around noon. The wave pool was interesting, since again there were tiles on the bottom of it, but mainly because the pool was the same depth nearly all the way through: about 3 or 4 feet. Even in the area where the waves were being produced, it was still shallow. After lunch, I think, though they disagree, that my parents broke some of the cardinal rules of water parks. Granted, they're my parents and may have become slower or less active in their respective ages, but still, these are things that you should not do at a water park: sleep and drink coffee. I can understand the sleeping thing, which my Dad did. My Mom and I talked while he slept. Anyway, people sleep at water parks I figure, on the sand or in lawn chairs, so though it still seems to break a cardinal rule as something you don't do at a water park, it's excusable. But having coffee? They tried to argue with me about this saying that I do the same thing with my sodas. However, coffee seems to be one of those, "Let's sit down, relax, and have a cup," drinks. Or, one that you are purposely still while drinking; you don't have to think. Soda, at least, you can carry around with you and remain active whiled drinking. In other words, you don't see people at Starbucks, or other coffee shops, playing basketball while they drink coffee. No, you see them sitting down reading a paper or munching on a muffin.

Anyway, these activities seemed to go against normal water park activities. After the coffee though, we had ice cream bars, which was welcome, but by this point, we had been in non-water activity for about 90 minutes or more, so I was ready to get back in it. So we did by means of water balloon fights. They had small structures set up and you could pay a small fee to get a bucket of water balloons, and then "shoot" them at each other through elastic mechanisms. It was very fun. And, I don't mind saying that I hit the other structure where my Dad was, several times, though I never got the balloon inside the structure.

We went down a few more slides after that and then left. By this point, it was about 5 and it was beginning to thunder. It wasn't clear if they were closing the park because of possible storms, or because it was closing time. Whatever the case, one of the water falls shut off as we were walking by, which was a sure sign that things were closing.

We went to our rooms and checked in. After we changed and had a short break, we went off to find a nearby Jacuzzi and soak for awhile. The Jacuzzi was pretty big and there was no one else in it. Again, there were tiles on the floor and all inside the Jacuzzi. It felt good, sort of, on my sun burns to soak. I had gotten burned a little early last week when I went with a friend to Six Flags back in Texas, but on Friday when we went to the hot springs, I really was burned in many places. Some of the most painful have been on my shoulders, upper back and upper arms. Particularly noticeable when trying to sleep. So, soaking in that fairly warm Jacuzzi water was quite good.

After that we went back to our rooms to change and get ready to go to dinner in one of the many dining rooms at the hotel we were at. The dining rooms were within easy walking distance. They were quite nice. I had a burrito and small tamales, called chuchitos, which were made of masa flour, potatoes and butter. They were quite good. I got a cup of cheso to dip my burrito and chuchitos in.

After dinner we walked around the courtyard area a little and then returned to my room. Due to whatever policy the hotel has and for whatever reason, even though there were two good sized beds in a single room, they limited rooms to 2 people, so we had to get 2 rooms. Thus, I got my own room, which had benefits as well. However, these are basic rooms: no TV, no Cable or other entertainment. There was the standard desk, side table with lamp and phone, and an open closet, but it was pretty much, What you see is what you get. Also, the hotel is moderately priced for Guatemalan people, which means that since things are inexpensive in Guatemala, compared to U.S. prices anyway, we got a good deal. My Mother said that the hotel would equal a Disney hotel in its quality. Consider how much you might pay at a Disney hotel. Now consider that we paid about $40 per room. In the States, that would get you a moderate motel and that's about it. So it was quite good.

We returned to my room and played Spades with 3 people (which can be done) for a little while before we split up for the night.

Odios for now.

Blind Girl On American Idol

Greetings. I'm not a fan of American Idol, but I have heard of a blind girl who is going to try out to be on American Idol. Her name is Milissa Garside, and you can read all about her adventures on her American Idol Journal. From what I understand, the show starts tonight with all the people that made it through try outs. Let's cheer for Milissa and her guide dog Jockey!

Tuesday, August 30

Hurricane Katrina Coverage and Thoughts

Greetings. First off, as I just put on my website, my thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. It's just dawned on me, as I think it has on many other people, just how widely impacted New Orleans in specific and the rest of us in general, are affected or will be affected by Katrina's damage. True, Katrina didn't damage as much of New Orleans as many people thought, but there was tons of rain and now the city's flooded because the leavies (probably misspelled so forgive me) broke. And, according to information I heard this evening, the water is still rising in parts of the city. Not to mention all those affected in Mississippi and Alabama.

As for how it will affect the rest of us: consider oil and gas prices, and the fact that Louisiana is one of the main entry/sending points for goods and merchandise in the U.S.

For more on the hurricane and how it is affecting life for those in New Orleans and Louisiana at large, check out Kaye's Hurricane Katrina Blog, which is written by a woman that lives in the affected area. I believe from her blog that she is a professor or teacher at a local school/college. I came across her blog while reading a story from USA Today. It looks like she knows what she's talking about, and her blog has gotten some media attention of late.

There are things I could write and speculate on, but I'm not going to. I don't feel like speculating when so much of the impact of the disaster is yet to happen. I'll leave speculation to the experts on CNN and Fox News. I'll just repeat what I started this post with: my thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this horrible act of nature.

Journal: Saturday Night, August 20

We had several couples over for dinner that all knew me, which was good. In my honor, we had hamburgers and potato salad. After dinner, we had a chocolate cake and either vanilla or coffee ice cream. After dessert, we sat around and talked. I got another glimpse into missions life. This might also tie in with English speaking missionaries. Anyway, as I listened to the other people talking, telling stories, and laughing. It occurred to me that this was a sort of bonding. Since there may not be many other English speakers or people from the same country you are from, you get together with the ones you know for dinners and desserts. It's times like that when they talk and deepen their relationships.

They all left about 9:15. One couple wanted to borrow "Shrek," which I agreed to, as long as I could get it back on Monday before I left, which they agreed to. We didn't watch the movie when they were over. My Mom did bring out a stack of movies, some new and some older, but we ended up talking for a long time. That was all right too.

Tomorrow we're driving to a water park in Irtra, which is in the northern part of Guatemala. There's actually an amusement park there too but I've been told we're not going there, since it has a separate fee associated with it.

Monday, August 29

Journal: Saturday August 20, 5:20 PM

More observations

Since Guatemala has no "ordinary" government, meaning none with laws or an active police force that catches all or most of the crinimals, the people are left to secure their own houses and businesses. This explains why there are so many walls and bars around them. And, what I forgot to mention before, on top of the walls are raiser wires or raiser fencing. So even if someone wanted to climb over the wall, they would be cut by the raiser wires on top. This seems strange to me, to have so many walls around. My parents' backyard is even surrounded by a wall, though one side is only 5 feet high while the other is 9 feet high. Still, its a distinct contrast to the fences and non-barred businesses that are in the States. I mentioned this to my Mom this morning, and she said that it took her a long time to get used to all of the walls and bars.

We left for Antigua about 11 and arrived about 11:40, though it took awhile before we found a parking spot. The streets in Antigua are made out of cobblestone, so they are very noisy when cars drive on them. They can also be uncomfortable to walk on for long periods of time.

Antigua itself is in a valley, as are many towns in Guatemala. Guatemala is very mountainous, and in terms of geography, it stretches more from east to west than north to south. The Pan-American Highway goes through the country and is probably the most traveled road in all of Guatemala. My parents said that if you wanted to hold a protest or demostration and get noticed, then you should do it on the Pan-American Highway. There were times when we drove south toward Mexico, and behind us, north, was South America. I'm not making this up.

We had lunch first since it was about that time anyway. The restaurant we ate at was called Los Palmos, whhich means "the palms." By coincidence, the T-shirt I was wearing had several palm trees on it. I had chicken quesadillas, which were very good. The tortillas that are made in Guatemala have a certain taste to them. I'm not sure if they taste better than the ones in Texas, but the Guatemalan ones do have their own distinct taste. My parents and our waitor took several pictures of us, with the palm trees as background. The restaurant itself was a building, but the part we were in was a courtyard or an atrium. There was a skylight above that held off the rain. There were colorful fabrics on the tables, with reds,bourgendy, orange--earth tones. The whole restaurant was lit with candles everywhere. There was a soundtrack of classical guitar in the background. This was particularly nice since in Dallas, some of the restaurants overdo it with Mexican singing and "traditional" music. The entire time we were there it rained very hard outside. It was nice to sit in a warm, cosey, place like that restaurant.

After lunch we went to a market. Wal-Mart doesn't have anything on this market. It had anything you could imagine, except a blind person's cane. I could not find one there, but they did have everything else. The first market we went to, according to my Mother, had practical things that you could really use. Most of the market was covered, but some parts, like the edges of it, was not. There was even a woman that was roasting corn over charcoals. Near the entrance to the market, there were quite a few people selling “black market” or “bootlegged” music. Though we didn’t see any, it’s fare to say that there was probably some bootlegged software that was sold there as well.

The second market we went to was called the Artison's Market, and though it probably had some practical things too, it mainly had tourist and suvineer items, like rugs, T-shirts, jewelry, wooden mats, articles for your home, toys (hand made trucks or cards that were painted, ),and many other things. This is where I bought a rug, T-shirt, and some other things.

By the time we left the Artison's Market we were ready to leave, and it was getting close to 4. Before we left town though, my Mother took several pictures of me standing in front of the Antigua arches. She said that the arches are what people think of and associate when they see pictures of Antigua and Guatemala.

One other thing before I close. While we were walking down the streets of Antigua, we saw several beggars. One was a girl with a cruch, and there were two blind men. One of the blind men had a radio that he had set up to listen to while he begged and collected money. My Mother said that she didn’t see any cane or stick beside him, so I concluded that he must have had someone “take” him to that corner for the day. Apparently this was a common thing to see him sitting there, since my parents said that they had seen him there before at various times.

Journal: Saturday August 20, 10:15 AM

Last night before dinner, we played a domino game called Mexican Train. Its very fun. What's great about it for me is that I can feel the recessed dots on the dominos, some of which can have as many as 8 or 9 dots on a single half of the domino. In addition, for the "sighties", the dominos are different colors. I suppose we have to accommodate everyone, :) Anyway, here's a great example of a mainstream game that can be played by anyone, whether blind or not.

After dinner, we watched one of the movies I brought, "Ray." The major difference here is that my movies have narrative tracks woven within the movie itself. So, when there's no dialog from the characters, a separate voice explains what might be happening visually, like, "A man walks intoa room," or something similar. I brought one other movie like this, "Shrek." We watched that on Thursday evening. Neither of my parents had seen "Shrek" and they loved it. My Mom had seen "Ray" but my Dad had not. I think they liked that one too. We're supposed to have company over tonight and my Mom suggested showing them "Shrek," so that they might know how I watch movies. These types of movies are called Descriptive Videos, even though "Ray" is actually on a DVD. Anyway, showing "Shrek" tonight will give us another excuse to watch it. That's probably my favorite animated movie ever! Shrek 1 is great and very funny; Shrek 2, well, its entertaining but not nearly as funny as the first.

We're supposed to leave pretty soon to go to a nearby town called Antigua, where we'll explore the market and shops, and hopefully get in a Net cafe where I can put up a short blurb of my trip so far. We'll also have lunch in Antigua. I'll write more about that later. An interesting note though before I go. Antigua was where my parents spent the first 5 or so months last year at the start of their Guatemala missions. They were in language school learning all the ins and outs of Spanish.


Sunday, August 28

Journal: Friday August 19

(I had 3 pictures with this post, but I had trouble posting them due to mislabeled buttons on Blogger. Therefore, I will put them on my website. I will tell you tomorrow where you can find them.)

On Friday, I had breakfast to the sounds of fire crackers and a mariochi band. Apparently in Guatemala, a celebration can happen at any time, day or night. It seemed kind of weird to hear fire crackers at 8:30 in the morning though. One of the neighbors was celebrating in their garage.

About mid morning, we left for some hot springs which are close to an active volcano, which is why the springs stay so warm or hot. That was a lot of fun. The springs were set in several natural looking pools, with stones all around the edges and tops of the pools. I found this particularly interesting since I love textures and shapes. There were about 4 or 5 different pools, each with a different degree of water in them. A few were really cold, and there were some that were really hot. I also discovered, much to my amazement and enjoyment, that all of the pools, or at least the ones I went in, had tiles on the bottoms of them. It seems that tiles are big players in Guatemala.

One pool was the hottest and next to it was one that was luke warm, not real cool but not burning up either. When looking on the wall of the luke warm pool, I found several holes that had PBC pipes inside them. There were several of these holes which were around the pool in various places. The water that was coming from all but one of those holes was warm, which led me to believe that there were several of those pipes fixed to the hot pool, and they went to the moderately warm one. There may have been other holes and pipes in the other pools. I don't know; I never went into any of the others. I had a lot of fun exploring this moderately warm pool and soaking in the hot one, so did my parents I think.

Another interesting thing about the moderately warm pool was it had a diving board, of sorts. The board wasn't really a board, since it was made out of stone, so you really couldn't bounce on it. The interesting thing I found was a sqrare or rectangular hole at the bottom of the pool right under the stone diving board. I was able to put one of my legs through the hole and to the other side, but I couldn't feel if there was a covering where my foot was. Thus, I concluded that this was another one of those holes, but this time, it went from the "kiddy pool" to the moderately warm pool. Why they put it at the bottom though, I'll never know. I should mention that of the pools I was in, the hot and the moderate warm one, they were not that deep. Maybe 3 feet in the hot one and about 4 or 5 feet, in certain places, in the moderate one.

There were several chairs, some regular and some lawn chairs, that were in the various pools so that you could sit or stretch out in the chair and soak in the warm or hot pools. This was really enjoyable. Also, there were quite a few shelves built into the ppools, especially in the hot pool, where you could sit or stretch out and put part or all of your body under the water, which felt good as well. Although, it took me awhile before I found comfortable positions on some of these.

Around the entire pool area there were several mountains. My parents said it was a beautiful view. My Dad even took several pictures of me in one of the pools.

We stayed either in or near the water for several hours, having lunch at some point during all that. We finally had to get out because it looked like rain. Guatemala has two basic times of the year, in place of seasons: its either the dry or rainy season. Rainy is from May to October and dry from November to April. So, if it starts sprinkling, it may be hard to tell if it's going to really rain hard or just sprinkle.

After we dried off and got changed, we stopped in a restaurant that was right by the hot springs. There were about 8 or so paraketes, some light and dark blue and some yellow. These created a good background noise to the restaurant. We all got ice cream bars on a stick, which were chocolate with almonds. When we finished we came back home. I think we might watch a movie tonight, but I'm not sure. The hot springs was the main activity for today. I think we might go to a shopping area tomorrow, which should be interesting.

Interesting observations or facts of Guatemala City:

As we were driving out of the car port and down our neighborhood streets, my Dad said he saw a man who was walking a cow on a rope leash, with the rope around the cow's neck. My Dad said that sometimes during the day, you might see several cows in a grassy field grazing, and then at night the cows would be "picked up" by their owners and walked back home.

The movie theater sells ice cream bars as part of their consession. I must say that I've never heard of being able to buy ice cream bars at a movie theater before. It was very good though. It was the same thing as the ice cream we had today, except without the almonds.

Guatemala City has 2.5 million people living in or around it. Thus, it's the largest city in the country. And, they have "rush hour" just like we do in the States, though some of their main roads are not nearly as big as ours, having only 2 or 3 lanes on each side. Also, there is only one English speaking church in the whole country, and it's in Guatemala City.

The people in Guatemala are very security conscious, many of them having walls or bars around their houses or businesses. My Mother said that for shopping at a business, you would go up to the bars and tell the owner what you wanted to buy. And then they'd bring it to you.

Same thing with our immediate neighborhood: there's a wall around several houses, and a guard stationed at the gated entrance. In fact, there was a wall around the hot springs area that we were at today.

There is public transportation, of sorts, here but it takes a different meaning. They don't have fixed routes for the busses. You just get on when you see one that stops, pay a fare, and try to find a seat. There may be times though that there are no seats, so you either stand, or you could climb on the outside of the bus. My parents say that there are people that actually do this, just pay the fare and climb onto the back bumper and hang on. Not the best method of travel in my opinion. In addition, none of the busses have wheelchair lifts on them, nor do any of them announce the stops for blind people. The state of disabled people is not good here, as I'll get to next.

If you don't want to ride on a bus full of people, you could take a pickup truck. Same as before, pay your fare and climb in the truck's bed. The drawback here is that you are exposed to the elements, whether they be sun, rain, wind, or others.

Disabled people here don't have much of a life. There's no government assistance, like Social Security, nor is there much of a chance for meaningful employment. If you're blind, then you're pretty much left to begging on the street. My parents said that its not uncommon to see a blind man (no blind women for whatever reason), walking along with a cane or stick, carrying a cup or bowl that they collect money in. I have also learned that you hardly ever see a blind person with a guide dog. I know that there must be some, but they just don’t go out into public for whatever reason. And, it need not be said that since there’s not many laws protecting disabled people, nor are there likely any laws protecting service animals (guide dogs), or allowing them to go into businesses. Like many other things, this appears to be one of those education areas, where you educate as you go along, except that there’s no laws to support your education of why your dog should be allowed in the business. My Mom said that there's much more opportunity for me in the U.S., and much more support. Though I didn't ask, I would imagine that there's not much in the way of organizations of blind people, given that most of the blind people are beggars. Also, on the same topic, my parents said that you don't see hardly anyone in a wheelchair. If nothing else, the state of people with disabilities here makes me appreciate the help and support I get living in the States. Even though government assistance may not yield much, its better than nothing, which is what they get or don't get in Guatemala.

That's about all for now. Until we talk again: Wayne.

Saturday, August 27

Journal: Thursday August 18

Greetings. Not a lot happened today. It was mainly a day of settling in and getting used to the altitude for me. IN the morning, before breakfast, my Mother gave me a good tour of their downstairs area and quizzed me several times on where different things were in relation to other things. Interestingly enough, the floor of the car port is also made out of tiles, or more accurately I should say tiles that are in some sort of a pattern.

IN the afternoon, we went to a mall in Guatemala City to see "The Interpreter," and that was fun. Personally, the movie jumped around a lot which kept me from folllowing what was going on, but my parents enjoyed it. We actually met up with some neighbors of my parents, and watched the movie with them. The ticket prices were much less than they usually are in the States. Try $3.75 per ticket, anytime, or better yet try half price onn Wednesdays. Also, the consessions were very affordable as well. There was none of the price hikes that you usually see in the U.S. For instance, in several cases, there were combos you could get, like two drinks and a large popcorn, or a drink, a candy bar, and popcorn. And the popcorn was in large tubs, which would surely cost a lot by themselves in the States.

The movie theater itself that we were in, was completely empty. A few people might have come in after the movie started, but I'm not sure. I found out that their movies have Spanish subtitles, except for the really popular ones, like "The Incredibles," and those are done completely in Spanish. And, just like in the States, they have commercials before their movies, which are all in Spanish. The theater was very modern, with stadium seating.

The mall itself was interesting as well. It was very open and echoed a lot. It felt like you were outside, but you were inside. My parents said that the mall has the modern stores, like clothing, shoes, and other kinds of stores you might see in the States. My Mom said that the stores may not have as big of a selection as they do in the U.S., but they are current stores. The mall was also modern in the sense that it had several escaelators and a covered parking garage with several security guards.

(Friday's adventures had several pictures associated with it, so it might take awhile to get that together, therefore, it will be posted tomorrow).

A Great Accessibility Opportunity

Greetings. I received the following on several of the NFB Net run email lists that I'm on. The following announcement is from Google. While they are looking for people primarily in the Bay area, don't hesitate to apply if you're not from there. The more blind people that participate and let Google know that we use their services (searching, Blogger, and others), the more they are likely to improve those services and make them more accessible to us. With that, here's the announcement:

Google is interested in finding out more about how blind and visually
impaired people use our products. We will use this information to help
make our products more accessible.

In The study we will ask you to use the Google search engine to look for
specific pieces of information on the Internet.

If you are blind or visually impaired and use assistive technology to
access the Internet, we would like to invite you to take part in this
usability study.

To participate you will need to:
o be at least 18 years old
o be visually impaired
o Be familiar with screen reading technology such as JAWS For Windows
o be willing to sign our Usability Non-Disclosure Agreement


Where: The Googleplex - 1600 Amphitheater Parkway. Mountain View, Ca. 94043
When: A 2 hour appointment will be scheduled between 9/01/05 and 9/09/05

Google will arrange and compensate for taxi-cab transportation to
and from your home. (up to $50 each way)

All volunteers will also receive $75 in American Express Gift Checks as
thank you from Google.

If you would like to be considered for this usability study, and you
meet the requirements above, please answer the following questions, and
email them to Please keep the same subject line
as this email.


1. What is your name?

2. Are you totally blind or partially sighted?

3. Were you blind from birth or did you develop blindness later on in
life (please give age)?

4. Do you have any other disabilities?

5. What assistive technologies do you currently use - please give
product name and version.

6. How long have you been using assistive technologies?

7. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your skill with assistive

8. Which operating system(s) do you use at home (Windows, Linux, Mac)?

9. Have you ever participated in any focus groups or user studies (yes, no)?

10. Will you require transport assistance to enable you to come to Google?

11. Are there any other accommodations or issues that are relevant to
your participation in this study?

12. Do you have a phone number at which you can be reached?

Preview of JAWS 7.0

For those that live in or near Texas, you might be interested in the upcoming preview of JAWS 7.0, which will take place in Austin on September 28. See the information below.

September 28, 2005
12:30 PM - 3:30 p.m.
JAWS 7.0 Revealed in the Lone Star State
Marriott Hotel South
Room: Ballroom A
4451 South IH35
Austin, Texas
Presenters: Eric Damery, Freedom Scientific Vice President of Product Management Software, and Bobby Lakey, Regional Sales Manager, will present and demonstrate
the upcoming features for JAWS 7.0.
For Reservations: Contact Bobby Lakey at 1-800-444-4443, ext. 1122.

Note that there will be a light reception and networking opportunity at 11 before the presentation starts. You will have to get lunch ahead of time though. Also, if you want to stay overnight, the hotel will extend the government rate of $85. Contact the hotel for more details. I don't have their number, but just look on the Net and you'll find it. Enjoy.

Friday, August 26

Journal: Thursday August 18, 1:29 AM

For whatever reason, I'm unable to sleep right now, so I figured that I'd update you on my journey: arriving, going through customs, meeting up with my parents, and settling in.

Arriving. Well, not much to say here--we arrived, :) Arrival was pretty uneventful. I was offered a wheelchair when I reached the front of the plane and turned to go down the jetway. I politely refused, which seemed to puzzle the woman who brought the chair. I told her that wheelchairs were, "... for people who aren't mobile; I am, so no thanks." Then, for whatever reason, they paired me up with a guy who didn't speak any English beyond a few words. This may not seem all that strange in an airport in Guatemala, but I speak no Spanish. Additionally, I like knowing about my surroundings, especially if they are in a country that I've never traveled to before. So, as we're walking down the winding ramps of what must have been the jetway, and through the initial hallways of the airport, I'm trying to get some information from this guy, and all he's saying is, "Customs," whenever I try to ask a question. I did verify though, several times, that he did not speak any English.

Customs. I have to admit that I was somewhat worried about going through customs. Most people I've talked with said its no big deal--you give them your passport, they may ask you a few questions, they stamp the passport, and you go on your way. I honestly didn't know what to expect, and was prepared to answer questions, if need be, from whoever was in customs. However, none of this happened, the question answering anyway. We walked up to what I now know were different booths, like maybe cubicals in an office. The Spanish speaker asks me for my passport, by simply saying, "Uh, passport?" I gave it to him, he confers with the person doing the reading and stamping, I hear a loud click which must have been the stamp being applied, and then I was given back my passport. This is where things got interesting though.

I had decided that I was tired of not knowing any information, and said to Seniore Spanish Speaker that I wanted someone who spoke English. I mentioned this several times in several diferent ways, so there would be no miscommunication.

We've reached the point where I think, looking back, that God was watching over me. A woman (whom I later found out was another passenger on the plane) came up to me and asked what the matter was. I thought she was from the airline or with the airport, so I said that I wanted an English speaker and wanted to talk with someone that I could understand. She conferred with my Spanish friend, and then offered her assistance. She asked me if Spanish Speaker could come along with us, to which I said, "That's fine. I just want to be able to talk to someone and get information. That's all."

From that point, things were pretty uneventful, except for the fact that I was asking this woman quite a lot of questions, like about what we were walking through, what things looked like, and so forth. We finally got to baggage claim, and after about 15 minutes, my bags were retrieved. Thankfully, my sister in law, Brandy, put some pink ribbons on my bags so that they were easy for the people to spot. Otherwise, I'm not sure what I would have done. Anyway, we got my bags and then went on to the exit. One other interesting thing about the baggage area was that you could here the barking of the drug sniffing dogs not far away. The woman I was with didn't know what kind they were, but she did say that they were big dogs.

In Guatemala, or at this airport anyway, people without a ticket aren't allowed inside the airport, period. There's a main exit, and as the pop culture saying goes, "... If you don't have a ticket to ride, you can't ride." When outside, you're covered by a roof, but you can clearly hear the taxis and other cars. This structure took me a little while to fully grasp. Anyway, my Mother came over and greeted us. My Dad was not far behind. Then, with me still thinking this woman was with the airport or airline, like I always do in the States, I pulled out a 1 dollar bill and tried to give it to her. My Mom said later that she tried to tell me before I could pull it out, but I was too quick for her. The woman politely refused, much to my puzzlement, but finally my Mother was able to tell me that this was one of my fellow passengers, to which I accepted and put my dollar away. Then, as we were walking to my parent's car, the truth of what my Mother had said fully sunk in and I realized the kinds of questions I was asking this passenger, were ones that she probably didn't know the answers to. Such as, "Since English speaking people seem to be sparse around here, is there any way that I can reserve one for when I come back to the airport for my return trip home next week?" I must say that this puzzled her (I now know why), but after asking Spanish Speaker, she relayed that he said that there would be an English speaking person at the airport when I was to leave. Beyond that though, in terms of that question and its material, she admited that she didn't know.

My parents live about 20 to 25 minutes from the airport, which actually is closer to DFW Airport than their house in Dallas. They live in what Dallasite's might call a subburb. As we drove back to their house, I told them my adventures with the Spanish speaker and with what turned out to be a fellow passenger. I was surprised a little to realize that the roads in Guatemala City, in spots anyway, aren't as well paved as I'm used to in the States. In fact, as we drove further away from the city itself, the roads got worse and worse. My Mom said that there were potholes in various places, some filled with water which I did not need to know, and hacing other non-U.S. road conditions. In addition, my parents live up a hill. And, what I also didn't realize is that Guatemala is at about 5,000 feet altitude. This is not so good news for me since it has, over the years and through many trips to Colorado, taken me longer to adjust to the altitude than others due to shortness of breath and other things.

My parents have a two story house where tiles, blues, and steps are very common themes. In other words, there are lots of tiled floors and in the bathroom tiled walls, blue is a very common color of these tiles and of the bedspreads and pillows, and there are steps everywhere. And I'm not just talking about the spiral steps that go from one floor to the next. There are literally steps to get in the bathrooms (you have to step up at the threshold), steps to get in the showers (most of which are steps up or steps over, but I actually saw one shower with a step down), and in other places. This would not be an Americans with Disabilities Act compliant house for people in wheelchairs, :)

Due to the delay in takeoff, we got home about a half hour later than we might otherwise have. The rest of the evening was interesting. My Mother gave me a mini-tour of the stairway and upstairs. The house is very spacious with plenty of room for a number of people to live and stay in. My parents said that they have had mission teams with 6 or 7 people in there before, and them, and everyone had enough room, if that gives you an idea. In fact, they said that sleeping bags could be put out on the floors on the first floor, and not cause too much of a problem, except for stepping over bodies. We didn't do a full tour of the house, but one thing that stands out is the deck. They have a "car port" or garage for their SUV, but on top of the car port is a deck, that one can access from one of the rooms of the house. It's a good size concrete deck, not too big but big enough for several people to sit out on. What was also interesting is the fire crackers and gun fire we heard before we all went to bed. Apparently, Guatemalans are prone to celebrate whenever the occasion arises, and what better way to do that than by firing off guns in the air or fire crackers. It was kind of odd at first, but then it seemed to go into the background for me. Like I told my Mother though, "As long as they shoot them up and not sideways, I'll be fine." She assured me that I was safe with them.

Not too much else to tell. I did get a glimpse into what my parents go through emotionally. Brandy packed a second suitcase for me to take that had various items for my parents to have, like things they might have forgotten. She also included some pictures and a constructed booklet of pictures and drawings from my 3-year-old nephew, called "Finley's
Artwork." After my Mother looked at these things for awhile, she said that she was lonesome for her grandsons. It was then that I got a small glimpse into how the other half lives; how life is like for my parents who seem to live on pictures and emails and the regular phone call, and who may not have as ready access to their family.

That's about all for now. I think that by the time I edit all this, I'll be closer to going back to sleep. Until later, this is the tired but satisfied, Wayne signing off.

Journal: Wednesday August 17, 5:25 PM

Greetings. Its about 5:25 PM Guatemala time, and I'm in the air on the way to Guatemala City.

The airport stuff, check-in, security, etc, all went fine. One funny thing that happened when going through the baggage check area. The man asked me about various items being sneaked in my bags without my knowledge, and any weapons I might have stored, and then he asked me if I had any film, cameras or disposable cameras in my bags. I paused, looked at my older brother who came with me, and then said, "Uh, no. I don't carry any of those things with me." I smiled and the baggage guy said, "Well, you never can tell." As we were walking away, he called after us, "I've been surprised before."

Everything else went fine. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy going through security was. My brother and I walked down to another security check point that was farther from the initial entrance and ticketing area, but which ended up having a lot less people in line. My brother said that if we had stayed at the first one, we might have waited easily an hour before going through. In the second one, we only waited about 10 minutes or so. Anyway, usually when I go through security, for whatever reason, I set off the metal detector and they end up having to hand scan me. This didn't happen this time though, much to my relief. We found my gate easily, though it had one of the higher gate numbers so we walked for quite awhile. Everything else went smoothly.

About a half hour before boarding, I got a skycap to assist me to a nearby Subway mini-restaurant and got my dinner for the flight. I had been told some conflicting things about getting even drinks on board, so I went ahead and got a meal and a drink. However, as it turned out, I might not have needed to. They offered, for a fee of course, a couple of food options, like a snack box and sandwich and other things, and the usual sodas and other beverages. I thought this was good, and was much relieved by it frankly.

There was about a half hour delay before takeoff. There had been some thunderstorms south of the airport, and though they were over, the runways were slowly being opened back up. They said we could use our cell phones though, so I called my mother and told her of the delay, which she appreciated hearing about.
Other than those minor events, things are going good so far. I'll write more later about arriving, going through customs and meeting up with my parents. One other thing that I was pleasantly surprised with: the head flight attendant was very nice, and didn't seem to be thrown by assisting me in filling out the immigration cards and in getting assistance in going through customs and such. I don't mean to imply that I expected him to have reservations in these things, but in my experience in about 12 years of flying, often, flight attendants can get nervous when you say that you'll need assistance. I'm not on the ground yet, so perhaps I shouldn't get too complementary of him, :) Anyway, some of them, when you say you need help, start asking rapid fire questions and assuming you'll need a wheelchair and such. That brings up a whole other issue: basically, since I can walk, I don't need a wheelchair. Blindness is a sensory disability, not a mobile one, as it seems many people mistake it for.

I did, as it is my custom, offer the flight attendant some educational material about blindness (a National Federation of the Blind Kernel book, which contains firsthand accounts by blind people about their daily lives), to have him read and pass along to the crew. He said that he would and was very appreciative of it. This may not make a big impact, but each attitude you can change goes a long way to helping blind people as individuals and as a group. I always have these little books with me when I travel, to offer to airline people, skycaps, cab drivers, or anyone whom I think might need a little enlightening. And, possibly, even to the wheelchair promoting and slightly pushy people, :) Anyway, that's about all I have to say for now.

Until later, this is the Guatemala bound Wayne signing off.

The First of Many

Yes, for those that have been waiting for it, it's starting, or as some would say, "It's here ..." I'm speaking of my journal. I know I said Saturday, but heck, I'm sitting here in front of my computer, editing the journal, and thought: Why not? So what I will put up are the first two posts, covering my plane trip down to Guatemala and the first night. Note that I have given the posts date/time stamps. So, the normal date/time stamps you see from Blogger, on when the post was written, may not actually be correct. In any case, I throw that out for anyone who might say, "I don't understand. It says you wrote it on August 18, but the date on the post is August 26. What's the deal?" So there you go. Also, to distinguish my journal entries from other posts, I'll put "Journal:" before the date/time stamps, since I will likely be making other posts on other topics.

With that out of the way, here we go!

He's Back ...

Greetings. He's back, and I'm not talking about me. I'm talking of Jonathan Mosen. For those who have not yet experienced a Mosen Explosion (his terms, not mine), you really should. Jonathan has done Internet broadcasting in various forms for some years now. He's back and with his own show on Shellworld Radio. You can get MP3 modem and broadband streaming links from his Mosen Explosion website.

For those keeping track at home, Jonathan will broadcast from 6 to 10 PM on Friday evenings, that's Central time. If you're interested, you can also get his show in podcast form, though he warns that it might be a rather large download, like over 100 MB, so subscribe at your own risk. I prefer to listen to the live show though. Jonathan also has a pole on his website and various features during his show, such as: interaction through MSN Messenger, a comment line, technology news, world sporting news (since he is from New Zealand even though he lives in Texas temporarily now), and other things.

If you listen to radio, it doesn't have to be Internet radio, long enough, there are some people that you hear on air that, no matter what they play, you can just listen to them talk anytime. Jonathan is one of those kinds of people for me. He just has his own type of show presentation that has to be heard to be enjoyed. So, go and listen, and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 24

Cool Blogger Tool

Greetings. Thanks to Ron Graham for sending me this article, which first appeared last Thursday. It talks about a new add-in tool for Blogger, allowing you to publish your posts from within Microsoft Word. Read more below. And, as always, please excuse any formatting errors. Enjoy.

Google Releases Blogger for Microsoft Word
Deborah Rothberg

Users of the free web log service, Blogger, now can publish directly from inside Microsoft Word.

Google announced earlier this week the release of Blogger for Word, a free add-in,
downloadable from the Web,
that allows users of the Web log service Blogger to post directly to their sites from Microsoft Word.

Once the add-in is installed, three additional buttons appear on a user's Word toolbar: Publish, Open Post, and Save As Draft. These allow users to publish
new posts directly from the text document, open and edit their last 15 posts in Word, and save posts without publishing them.

In order to use the Blogger for Word add-in, users must have a free Blogger account, and be running Microsoft Windows 2000 or higher, and Microsoft Word
2000 and higher.

"There are millions of people who live in Microsoft Word — especially people who write stuff for a living…. What doesn't make sense is that if you want
your words to wind up on the Web, you have to trade this writing environment, and the tools you're comfortable with, for a flaky text area," said
Evan Williams, a founder of Pyra Labs, on his Web log.

Blogger was developed by Pyra Labs in 1999, and
came to Google with their purchase of Pyra in 2003.

Google has warned that users who don't have the
Windows 2000 Service Pack 4 Rollup,
the latest Windows Installer, the latest Office Service Packs
may have difficulty installing and using the plug-in.
Users also may encounter problems with the plug in if they are running Outlook and Word at the same time (if Word is their e-mail editor), Google warned.

"We designed this for maximum compatibility with older version of Word going back to Word 2000 on Windows 2000," says
Jason Shellen, Pyra Founder and Google product manager, on his Web log. "
That means that this is a very simple toolbar, but once you try round-tripping a document (publish, view on the Web, make some changes, view again) you
will see that it is powerful as well… The trade-off was that we couldn't support images, tables, or some of the wackier formatting in Word."

Shellen added that he had tried to find a good developer to make a Mac-supported version and came up short.

Early reviews of the add-in have been positive.

"What makes this tool so attractive to those who like to ensure their copy is properly spelled and punctuated is the ability to push the 'Publish' button
on the toolbar and see their work actually posted on their blog," opined Chris Richardson, a contributing writer for
WebPro News.
Gina Trapani, author of computer productivity Web log,
said that she was pleased with what she found.

"After typing out a post, I clicked Save as Draft. Blogger for Word promoted me for my account and password and then loaded the post quickly and correctly,"
she blogged.

Google's Blogger competes with MSN's Spaces, Six Apt Ltd's Movable Type, hosted Typepad and LiveJournal services, and blogging services from ISPs and portals
such as Lycos and AOL.

Google has made several changes over the past year to Blogger. It has
encouraged users to create revenue from their site with Google Ads
; phased out a paid version of the service; and
released a major revamp of Blogger in 2004.

Promises Promises

As I sit here wondering when the pain and discomfort from my various sun burns are going to go away, I'm contemplating the pending posts for my Guatemala journal. This is not a delay announcement, but rather an assurance that the first few posts will be up by the weekend. My Dad was able to burn all 43 pictures to a CD for me before I left. Granted, not all of those pictures will make it on the Web, one or two of which I've been made to promise never to post:), but many of them will. We've got some great ones of myself and my parents, and of the Guatemala environment and landscape. My big job now is to figure out how to put pictures with my post. It looks easy, but we'll see. I'll try to put captions or descriptions for the blind/visually impaired readers of what the pictures are. Either way, it should be fun.

So, expect the first day or so of my time in Guatemala up by sometime Saturday, if not sooner. I'm not sure how long it will take to put it all up, but I will. You can be sure of that.

Until later: make it a great day!

Tuesday, August 23

I'm Back

Greetings. I returned from my trip today. It may take me a few days to gather the information from my journal to post, but that will come by the weekend. My parents took many pictures of me and them while I was there, so some of those may make it onto the blog/journal entries as well. For now, I'm unpacking and settling in for a half week of work. I've got a rather troubling situation to sort out with my PAC Mate. I will have to send it in for repair. I'm hoping all that can be worked out in a timely manner.

Anyway, wanted to post and let everyone know I'm back home. (It felt good to be in an English speaking dominated airport when I landed). It also felt good, after a bit of a delay, to be with an escort from the airline, who has helped blind people before and gave me good information as we went through immigration and customs.

Until this weekend when I can get the first few entries up, have a good rest of the week.

Saturday, August 20

Guatemala Update

Greetings. I am having a good time with my parents in Guatemala. Today we are in a town alled Antigua. We will do some shoppng when we post this. We just came from a restaurant where we ate lunch. I will post more details when I put up the journal, but that won´t be until I return next week. Thank you to those that said they would pray for my trip. There have been some noticeable things because of those prayers, like an angel in the aiport, good talk time, and good fun times with my parents. Keep praying though since the trip ain´t over yet.

Tomorrow we are going to a waterpark that is located near the Guatemalan Mexican border. Please pray that my return trip goes well. I was somewhat thrown for a loop when I discovered that there were hardly any English speakers at the airport. I am sure they are there, but for whatever reason, I didn´t come across them.

That is about all for now. Again, thanks for your prayers, and my apologies for not being able to post more often. But hey, some of these things can´t be helped.

Talk soon, Wayne.

Tuesday, August 16

Another Adaptive Concept Going Mainstream

Greetings. Here's another example of an idea that came out of an adaptive product and is being used in the mainstream market, either by accident or design. For several versions now, you could record your documents in MP3 files with the Kurzweil 1000, so you could load them on a portable device, such as a BrailleNote, PAC Mate, Book Port, etc. Well, if I understand the following article correctly, you can now do the same thing in a mainstream OCR (optical character recognition) package called OmniPage. Interestingly enough, OmniPage is using one of the same speech engines that Kurzweil either is using or has used for several versions. Check it out. And, as I always say, please excuse any formatting errors. Enjoy.
Monday, August 15, 2005

Converting PDFs to Audio Formats Means Easy Listening
By Don Fluckinger

Opinion: Who's got time to actually read documents these days? New
software from ScanSoft lets you convert your PDFs to WAV or AIFF and listen
to them on the go.

"Time Is Tight" says the title of one of my favorite Booker T & the MGs
tunes. At the moment, I'm taking lessons from a jazz master-tuning up my
keyboard improvisational skills so I can eventually hack my way through some
Booker tunes in a throwback soul-jazz group, manning the Hammond.

At first, my teacher found it interesting that I record my weekly lesson
with him to a DVR (digital voice recorder), dump it on my computer and rip
it to my iPod to review some of these new-to-me concepts-like chord
voicings, harmonic rhythm and such-while I'm out walking our dogs.

Seems like a big, convoluted runaround, he suggested, when I first
explained it to him.

But two months later, he's gotten himself a DVR to listen to his
Spanish-language tutorial tapes ("A year from now, I want to speak as well
as a 5-year-old growing up in a Spanish-speaking country," he says) while
he's exercising.

Why do we do two things at once? Because time is tight. Seems like we
waste half our lives sitting in traffic because the homes are too expensive
near where we work, and the jobs where we live don't pay enough.

So what if you could do the same thing to PDFs? Forget about reading
them-just save them to WAV format and rip them to your iPod. Or burn them to
AIFF and play them over your car stereo's CD player in traffic while driving
to and from work.

ScanSoft, which has been acquiring companies left and right for years as
the speech technologies market consolidates, has enabled such a rip-mix-burn
capability in its OmniPage 15 optical-character recognition software,
released last week.

By integrating RealSpeak text-to-speech technology-which ScanSoft acquired
in its 2003 merger with SpeechWorks-into OmniPage, it's possible to make
PDFs (or pretty much any document in any format) talk to you through your
iPod. And that's not just electronic files: OmniPage can make paper
(provided you have a scanner) or image PDFs-bitmap files of scanned
text-into WAV files as well.

"The idea is to take any piece of paper, any PDF, any image file, and
covert it to a WAV file that can be put into your iTunes, burned onto a CD,
or put into any of a number of audio devices-so that you have a portable
audio file of your text document," said Chris Strammiello, ScanSoft director
of product marketing.

The Peabody, Mass.-based company didn't incorporate talking documents into
OmniPage just to prove to the world it could, or to entertain ex-SpeechWorks
engineers. Strammiello said a group of doctors in one of ScanSoft's focus
groups-the medical market represents one of the company's key
verticals-asked for the feature.

"They were talking about not having the ability to read information all
the time, and wouldn't it be great if they could listen to it?" Strammiello
said. "The genesis of the idea [was making information] more accessible to
them. When we rolled that concept out to a horizontal section of our user
base beyond the doctors, we got a real positive response, and that's what
led to rolling RealSpeak [into OmniPage]."

It made sense to OmniPage's developers that not only doctors would use
audio document files, but other user groups as well-such as people who
proofread documents by listening to them being read aloud, and visually
impaired people who rely on screen-reader software to read text to them.

The whole idea of taking documents in a digital format and moving them
back to an analog format seems contradictory to the spirit of PDF, which
liberates knowledge managers from paper-on desks, in filing cabinets and
warehouses stuffed full of the stuff. It seems ironic, no?

"I don't think it's ironic," Strammiello said. "One of the things that
ScanSoft endeavors to do is take paper processes and streamline them, make
them more efficient by supplanting them with digital, electronic processes.
But one of the things that can also be done is making electronic processes
even more efficient . . . supplanting inefficient electronic processes with
more efficient, more convenient and more flexible ones. I think that's a
natural evolution."

After all, time is tight. The more high-tech innovations we can use to
save a few minutes, the better.

Sunday, August 14

Passports Might Get Smarter

Along the lines of my pending trip, I found this article from USA Today particularly interesting: Electronic Passports Set to Thwart Forgers.

Explaining and Traveling

Well, we've come to the time when I inform you, the reader, about my pending trip, and explain the reason why I've been posting so much in the last few days. The reason, is from tomorrow, August 15 to the end of next week, around August 25 or 26, I will be active each day and likely won't be able to post too much.

One of my parents' birthday presents to me this summer was to cover the cost of me going to see them. For those that don't know, my parents are currently missionaries in Guatemala. They moved down there last year and agreed to serve at least 3-4 years. This Wednesday I will be leaving to go visit them, and will return on August 23, which is the following Tuesday. Consequently, my work schedule will be messed up as I work in the days around my pending trip. Even though I only work part time, I need the money. As I understand it, there will be a workshop at my work on August 26, and I might be called upon to work that day as well. So, in all likelyhood, even though I return on Aug. 23, I won't have a break to get some "rest" until the weekend of August 27-28. Not that I'm complaining, that's just how things worked out.

So, that's why I've been posting so much in the last few days, since I may or may not be able to post in the next two weeks. That's not to say that I won't post. Quite the contrary. I will attempt to keep a log of my trip, travels through the airports, going through customs, and experiences/observations in Guatemala City itself, when I have or can get Net access. So as not to bore you with the details, I've setup an email address that will allow me to post remotely. I'm not going to give the address out, since part of the purpose of a vacation is to get away after all. But also because, as public email addresses go, it will probably be flooded with spam. Anyway, if this works, it will allow me to compose posts on my PAC Mate (note taker) and send them out later. Or, if opportunity allows, to send the posts through my parents' Net connection. However, if I don't post and you don't see any new material for a few days, don't worry. Rest assured, I will make every attempt to chronicle my journey on my PAC Mate and post when I can, even if that means in the Guatemala airport or when I return.

Anyway, all that aside, I'm very excited about my trip, both the travel aspect and seeing my parents. Plus, I've never traveled internationally before and there's bound to be some stories in airport stuff alone. Not to mention any possible language barriers in Guatemala. It's occurred to me that I'm going to a place where English is not the native language, where it really is English as a Second Language. One of my friends who has traveled to Switzerland before, has said that the language thing is weird; to be in a place where everyone speaks a different language from you.

Anyway, that's my story. If you have any questions about my trip or individual entries, then reply to the posts that you do see, or to this one, and I'll attempt to answer them when I can. I will post a few more times today and perhaps even in the next couple of days, but Wednesday, the real fun begins, :)

Saturday, August 13

Football Is Starting Soon

Shortly after the top of the hour from when I'm writing this, football begins! No, I don't mean the football game from Jim Kitchen; I mean the real thing. Sure, its just the pre-season and I likely won't watch much beyond the first half of any pre-season game, but it does mean that the "real thing" isn't that far away. And not just for the NFL, but also college football. It seems like forever since the Superbowl back in February, but now the wait is nearly over. I don't get into baseball very much, so when football ends each year, there's a bit of a lull. I do like hockey (when they play that is) and basketball, but not as much as the gridlock on the grid iron, the debates of natural grass verses artificial turf, and the over all feel of football season.

I don't expect the Cowboys to make it very far, in terms of play offs, but hey, its football! (Are you noticing a pattern here?) Besides, its not just about the Boys, its also going to be fun to follow the Texas Longhorns, the Aggies, the UNT Eagles (my alma maddar), and many of the other college and pro teams in the sport.

I've already got all the games for the Cowboys and a few from the other teams I mentioned scheduled in my PAC Mate's calendar. I'm all set.

So, for all the football fans out there, "Hut, hut, hut, hike!"

An Interesting Idea

Greetings. Today, I went to the monthly meeting of the National Federation of the Blind's Dallas Progressive Chapter, that is held the second Saturday of the month. In case anyone's reading this from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, we meet at the Charcoal Broiler, which is at 413 W. Jefferson, in Oak Kliff, which is south Dallas. The only months that we don't meet or don't have a meeting are July and December. The reason we don't meet in July is that is usually when the national convention meets, and we like giving our members a chance to travel to and from the convention, since the meeting time might conflict with the convention scheduled. And, in December we have our Christmas party. The meetings are from 1-3 PM, and people are encouraged to arrive early for lunch, which is very affordable.

Anyway, we had a guest speaker this time from the University of Texas at Arlington. She works with various other people on the Connect Project, which essentially attempts to make technology more accessible for disabled people. Today, she was showing and telling us about a cell phone with AT&T/Cingular in which you could receive accessible text messages on. In that, once signed up with the study, since they are testing this, you could go to a website online, write in any number of messages, and those messages would be delivered to the phone at different times that you specified. For the blind or low vision person, the messages would be spoken, and you clear them with one of two buttons on the phone. I'm not sure what speech engine/program they are using. Anyway, the cell phone is a modern model, with Bluetooth capabilities, and many of the other standard things you find on other cell phones. From what she said, none of the other parts of the phone would be accessible, and the user would be responsible for paying for rate plans and such. One pay off though is that if you signed up, and used the phone through the testing period that the Connect Project specified, then you could keep the phone, so that's something. However, I have a few thoughts on this.

First, as for the people in the Dallas chapter, not many of them are really computer users. Out of the 12-15 that show up fairly regularly, I can think of only about 5, including me, that either have or might have a computer. So, for the rest, they would need to go to another location, either a friend's house, a business, or one of the "free" computer places (library, Net cafe, etc), to use a computer. The speaker seemed to imply that this is not hard to do. However, this implication makes me wonder how much research she and the people she works with did on the blind/low vision community and how we access computers. Because, before we can use a computer, whether its ours or someone else's, it needs to be accessible to us. To her credit, the speaker was familiar, at least by name, with JAWS and other access technology, but my point remains. Though it can be done, its kind of pointless (in my view) to dictate to someone else, what you want to type and where you want to go on a computer, if there's no acccess technology on that computer. In other words, its not as easy for the blind/low vision person that doesn't have a computer, to actually get to a place where they can use a computer, much less the transportation involved in even getting to said location. I'm not saying that these things are a big deal if you can't do it, but if you have to jump through that many hoops to participate in the study, then is it worth the effort? Not to mention that computer skills are learned skills for the blind/low vision person, since they will be not only learning how to use Windows, but also how to use the access software and how that interacts with Windows.

The other point about this study that the chapter president brought up, that looks at the broader outlook, is: what would be better than having messages delivered to a cell phone and spoken, is to actually be able to use the cell phone for other things. In other words, what blind people need are cell phones that are accessible and that they can use. Then we can worry about getting messages from them.

Don't get me wrong, this is a novel idea and I hope the speaker and the Connect Project make some headway with it. I just think that they're going about it the wrong way. I stuck around for a few minutes after the meeting ended in hopes of telling her my Internet concerns, but there were several people talking with her, and I ended up leaving to catch my ride, not wanting another Paratransit incident, :)

I don't usually journal like this in my blog, but I thought that this was an interesting concept and wanted to write my thoughts down on it. When chatting with some people on part of the ride home, they agreed with me that computer access, much less accessible computer access, is hard to come by for the blind person that doesn't even have a computer. What do you think?

Friday, August 12

TV Channel Will Include Disabled

Here's an interesting idea for a TV channel. Wouldn't it be cool if you could get this on Cable or Satellite? Hmm, there's a thought. Anyway, here's the article. Enjoy.

TV channel will include disabled
By Valerie Brew-Parrish
Suburban Chicago Newspapers (IL), August 05, 2005

Lights, camera, action! How many actors or actresses can you recall that
have disabilities?

Let's see. . .There was Geri Jewell. She was the cousin of Blair on the
"Facts of Life" sitcom in the 1980s. Geri's disability is from Cerebral
Palsy and I haven't seen her on TV in years.

Christopher Burke, who was born with Down Syndrome, had a recurring role on
"Our House" during the 1980s. A few times, he also appeared on "Touched by
An Angel."

My favorite actor was another angel, the late Michael Landon. He was a
champion in promoting actors with disabilities. Few people know that Matthew
Laborteaux who played the role of Albert, son of Charles Ingles, on "Little
House on the Prairie" series is autistic. When Landon introduced "Highway to
Heaven," he also launched the acting career of James Troesh. Never before to
my knowledge, had a real actor with quadriplegia using a sip and puff
wheelchair been shown on TV.

Most importantly, the role Troesh played as Scotty was dignified. Scotty was
a successful attorney, and married to a nondisabled woman. Landon frequently
had themes in his shows about the negative attitudes the public has about
people with disabilities.

When a young punk deliberately parked in an accessible reserved space,
Jonathan the angel used his powers to plop the auto upside down! Oh, how I
wish I had those powers to zap cars out of those coveted spots.

Landon also wrote and directed shows about Tom Sullivan, a totally blind
person who climbed mountains, and had a family.

It staggers the imagination to realize that worldwide there are over 600
million people with significant disabilities. There are approximately 54-56
million Americans with disabilities, and the numbers keep increasing.

Yet, the mainstream media never focuses on real live people with
disabilities. Move over CNN, FOX, ABC, NBC, and CBS. On the 15th anniversary
of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the People With disabilities
Broadcasting Corporation (PWdBC) formally unveiled its Web site creating and
maintaining an electrifying new disability media presence.

This new corporation will create the first 24-hour, seven day a week, TV
channel "of, by, and for persons with disabilities."

This channel will feature dramas, sports, news and other features. It will
also promote and design programming that will be accessible for everyone.

The PWdBC was founded by Howard Renensland who has an adult daughter with
developmental disabilities. Renesland believes that too few people with
disabilities appear in television and film.

Likewise, people with disabilities are not represented in the creative
behind the scenes processes of networks. This new corporation aims at true

I was pleased to read that James Troesh will be a board advisor along with
several other movers and shakers on disability rights for this innovative
and long overdue broadcast corporation.

Somehow, I believe Michael Landon is looking down from heaven with a big
grin on his face.

For further information, check out this Web site:

Mark Your Calendar for Another Virtual Conference

Hi again. If it seems like I've been posting a lot of entries, then you're right. I'll explain the reason in a few days. Until then, enjoy this submission, which is a press release about the upcoming web conference from, this time on AMD. Read more for all the information.

Placentia, CA - August 9, 2005 and AMD Alliance International joined forces today to announce the AMD Awareness Conference on September
22-24, 2005. The all-online conference will be held during AMD Week September 19-25, 2005, and will focus entirely on age related macular degeneration
(AMD), the most common cause of vision loss in the developed world. The event allows consumers and industry professionals to participate in high quality
information and education offered through an online conferencing system. The conference schedule can be found at

“We’re thrilled to partner with the AMD Alliance International, and support them with their mission of raising awareness of macular degeneration. Through
our cutting edge technology, we will enable the Alliance to reach thousands of consumers and professionals from around the world, and allow them to participate
in live presentations by AMD experts, and interact live with exhibitors, all without the expenses and inconvenience associated with conventional tradeshows”
states Dr. Lou Lipschultz, CEO of, LLC, the producer of the event.
The AMD Awareness Online Conference provides our organization, and all Alliance member organizations, an opportunity to reach thousands, and possibly millions,
around the world in a very cost effective manner,” states Steve Winyard, Vice Chair, AMD Alliance International. Virtual conferences such as this are the
technology of the future, Winyard stated. We certainly encourage anyone with an interest in AMD to become involved.

About the AMD Alliance International
The AMD Alliance International is a global non-profit coalition of 55 organizations in 21 countries working to raise awareness of age-related macular degeneration
(AMD), the leading cause of vision loss in the developed world. The Alliance promotes prevention, treatments, rehabilitation, and support services for
AMD, and advocates for ongoing medical research and health care policies that will make treatment and rehabilitation options accessible and affordable
for everyone.

About OcuSource
California based, LLC is the owner and operator of ,
an internet portal dedicated to assisting the low vision and blindness industry with essential online resources. OcuSource’s mission is to enhance access
to products, information, and services to individuals with vision impairment, as well as the professionals who assist them, through a set of integrated
web-based resources. Founded in 2003, the company launched its subsidiary, LetsGoExpo (
in May, 2005. The accessible online conferencing system allows organizations in any industry to provide online tradeshows, conferences, and meetings, all
in an integrated accessible voice-conferencing venue.

Contact information:
Louis Lipschultz, OD, President & CEO, LLC
Phone: 888-299-6657 ext 701

Contact information:
Wanda Hamilton
Executive Director
AMD Alliance International
Phone: 1-877-AMD-7171

For Those Behind a Desk All Day

I found this article in the Washington Post a couple of days ago. It's dedicated to those that work behind a desk all day, or those that find themselves doing the same thing for hours on end. Please excuse any formatting errors. Enjoy.

When Bruce Bartlett was the deputy assistant secretary for economic
policy at the U.S. Treasury under George H.W. Bush, boredom
occasionally drove him from his cushy Washington office to seek relief
at the movie theater. One afternoon, he ran into a friend who was a
senior official in another department.

"It was kind of awkward," he said.

Bartlett had a secretary, staff, an important-sounding job and the
paycheck to go with it. But, like many workers, he found himself
underemployed and bored out of his mind.

"There is a reason why prison is considered punishment," Bartlett
said, comparing it to his former job. "You may be in a gilded cage,
but if you're just forced to sit there for eight hours all day long,
staring at the wall, it can be excruciating."

Be it at a desk at the Treasury Department, a spot on the factory
floor, or a drab blue cubicle, boredom is a condition that can be more
stressful and damaging than overwork, according to those who have
studied the issue.

"We know that 55 percent of all U.S. employees are not engaged at
work. They are basically in a holding pattern. They feel like their
capabilities aren't being tapped into and utilized and therefore, they
really don't have a psychological connection to the organization,"
said Curt W. Coffman, global practice leader at the Gallup
Organization, whose large polling group measured employee engagement.

Bartlett's problem was that he was deputy assistant secretary for
economic policy when the president "just didn't care about economic
policy, only foreign policy. . . . Because the White House didn't want
to do anything, there wasn't anything we could do," he said.

That problem -- a lack of autonomy and a job that has very specific
instructions -- hits workers from the highest to lowest echelons of
the working world. Many spend their days surfing the Internet, writing
e-mails or taking care of personal business.

Bartlett spent his days writing for academic journals. Boredom has a
permanent seat in many workplaces, no matter the level of employee.
And people are miserable.

Kristina Henry started her career as a government contractor in the
early 1990s. Her job left her so stressed, that she started grinding
her teeth and was constantly looking for new work. And that stress
came from the fact she had nothing to do.

"It was like Dilbert," she said. "I learned a lot about FAA regs and
flight rules. And I learned a lot of acronyms. . . . . A lot of times
it was just tedious, and I was thinking, I can't believe I'm here and
being paid for this."

So how did she and her co-workers cope? Occasionally, they too sneaked
out to movies and to museums. And she brought a copy of "War and
Peace" to work. She finished it in two weeks.

Although workers may dream of days surfing the Internet with nothing
to do, the busiest employees are the happiest, according to a survey
by Sirota Consulting LLC. Of more than 800,000 employees at 61
organizations worldwide, those with "too little work" gave an overall
job satisfaction rating of 49 out of 100, while those with "too much
work" had a rating of 57.

"Those who are saying their workload is heavier rather than lighter
are more positive," said Jeffrey M. Saltzman, chief executive of
Sirota. "When you say you have too much work to do, other things are
happening in your head: 'I'm valued by the organization. They're
giving me responsibility.' That's better than being in the other place
where you say I'm not of value in this place."
Boredom is "one of the biggest contributors to work-related stress,"
said Douglas LaBier, a business psychologist who runs the Center for
Adult Development in Washington. The less someone works at work, the
more pressure they feel.

Jean Martin-Weinstein, managing director of the Corporate Leadership
Council, a division of the Corporate Executive Board Co., cited
findings from a survey of 50,000 workers around the world who were
asked questions such as: "Do you love your job? Do you love your team?
Are you excited by the work you do every day?"

Thirteen percent came out saying no, no, very much no.

"They are disaffected, because they are basically completely checked
out from the work they do," Martin-Weinstein said.

Employers suffer when employees are bored, as well.

"It casts a pall on the whole organization and can create a
demoralized atmosphere," LaBier said. "It blocks creativity, which can
undermine any company, which can keep it from staying abreast of the
marketplace, competition. When you have that boredom, that can produce
a kind of pervasive cloud. It can build like a critical mass that
hurts the company's performance and market position."

And in jobs where safety is at stake, boredom can be dangerous.

The Transportation Safety Administration, which is charged with
employing and training workers at airports, rotates its screeners
every half hour or so, which "allows them to stay sharp and keenly
focused," according to Yolanda Clark, TSA spokeswoman. "We want eagle
eyes at each of those posts."

A worker may go from an X-ray machine to a position checking boarding
passes, and then change environments completely, to the baggage
screening area. Duty changes throughout the day keep the employees
intent on the job at hand. "We like to say there's never a dull day at
TSA," Clark said.

But for many workers, a shift change every 30 minutes is a mere dream.
For them, the only remedy to combat boredom may be to find new work.

Henry, for instance, left the federal aviation world to join alumni
affairs at Washington College. She now is a marketing and development
coordinator for a small museum near Annapolis. She also writes
children's books.

And today, Bartlett is busier than he ever has been as an economist
with the National Center for Policy Analysis. "I'm constantly
working," he said. "The day goes by so rapidly, it's absolutely
amazing to me."

Blogger Survey

If you blog with Blogger and have not filled out the Blogger Survey yet, then please do so! This would be a great way of letting Google and Blogger know of the trouble that blind people have been having with the visual verification code that Blogger has used in the past. Even though they have corrected the problem or are in the process of doing so, it still doesn't hurt to reinforce the point. After all, if there's one thing that sticks out in my mind from the big debate of this verification code problem, that happened several months ago, was a representative from Blogger that specifically said that they never heard from any blind people about the problem. And, that they were willing to change it, but they made clear that its hard to address a problem if no one says anything about it. So do your part and fill out the survey. Its completely annonymous and only takes about 10-15 minutes. Even if you don't use Blogger, consider filling it out anyway.

Thursday, August 11

Guide Dogs, Canes, and GPS Training?

One of my coworkers sent me this story by email and its unique enough that I thought I'd post it here. Please excuse any formatting errors. If you're interested in GPS training, then you should contact Leader Dogs for the Blind. Currently, they are not training with the PAC Mate's new Street Talk application, but it's only a matter of time before they do, if they want to stay open to PM users that is. Anyway, enjoy.

GPS device gives the blind new freedom to explore
Web-posted Aug 11, 2005
Of The Oakland Press

ROCHESTER - Two blind people are the first in the nation to be trained at Leader Dogs for the Blind on using a "revolutionary" portable Global Positioning
System to get wherever they want to go - whether that's a neighbor's house, a city park or a restaurant in Times Square.

The lightweight GPS device, called Trekker and manufactured by VisuAide, a division of Humanware of Longueuil, Quebec, is worn around the user's neck and
looks like a fancy calculator with up-and-down arrows and menu buttons to input data. A microphone close to the chin is attached to the Trekker around
the user's neck so he or she can give commands, ask questions and hear Trekker respond.

"I think the biggest fear of the blind is getting lost," said Al Paganelli of Las Vegas, who is undergoing Trekker training with Gail Selfridge of Denver.

"With GPS and Trekker, I'm not likely to get lost," said Paganelli. "Usually a blind person takes a job within walking distance of their home, but with
this technology, I can work and go anywhere.

"This completely revolutionizes the way blind people navigate."

The training takes five days, and the Trekker device costs $1,640, said Selfridge, who has been completely blind for 20 years.

"This is the talking version of a map," she said of Trekker.

Leader Dogs does not charge for the training and provides room and board for trainees. Selfridge and Paganelli both use guide dogs and started their training
Monday. The Trekker device will be used in conjunction with Paganelli's guide dog, Trouble, and Selfridge's dog, Maggie. It can also be used by a blind
person who prefers using a cane instead of a guide dog.

"This is going to change my life radically," said Selfridge. "Technology is changing faster and faster. I had no idea when I was growing up (in Melvindale)
that I was going to be able to do what I am doing, getting around so easily with so much information at hand."

The Trekker, which only works outdoors because it needs to have a clear line of sight to pick up signals from three orbiting satellites, can pinpoint exactly
where a person is in real time anywhere on the planet.

Users also can learn about area attractions and instantly get point-to-point directions to wherever they want to go, using maps stored within Trekker's

A variety of detailed maps are available covering most Western countries, a brochure from Humanware said. Maps can be bought and downloaded online, or ordered
and delivered on CD or Compact Flash cards.

Rod Haneline, director of services at Leader Dogs, said there already is a waiting list for training in the use of Trekker.

"We are providing services through this new training that is not available anywhere else in the country," said Bill Hansen, CEO of Leader Dogs.

"Over the years that we have provided dogs, the environment has become more complicated," said Harold Abraham, director of technical services at Leader
Dogs. "Hybrid cars are quieter than gas-powered vehicles, so there will always be a need for guide dogs."

It was noted that dogs can see an approaching vehicle and prevent a blind person from stepping in front of it - which a Trekker, of course, can't do.

In addition to pedestrian travel, Trekker has several other travel modes. For instance, while traveling in a car, cab or bus, Trekker will "speak to" owners
with their current locations, street crossings and vehicle speeds.

It'll also "tell" the user that a less-than-honorable cabbie is driving you in circles because Trekker is constantly mapping your position and will announce
"off route."

The device has a "free mode" for unmapped areas such as parking lots, business and college campuses or bodies of water. "Points of Interest" can be created
along a walking path and then detected on return trips, so users won't get lost. Trekker automatically signals when owners are coming back to a mapped
street network.

When Paganelli went outside a Leader Dogs building during a demonstration Wednesday, the Trekker was set to announce "Points of Interest." "Winchester Mall
is to your right," it told him through the microphone.

"This really isn't challenging to learn," Paganelli said of the Trekker system. "(But) it makes it easier if you know how to use a computer."

Trekker even helps when the user is hungry.

"If you walk into a hotel and say, 'I'm hungry and don't want to walk more than five minutes,' the Trekker will search 'Places of Interest,' " Haneline

"It'll then announce that there are five restaurants within the parameters the user set. Then, the Trekker can pin down the type of food you want by announcing
nearby restaurants, whether it's a pizza, a Mexican tortilla or a hamburger."

Monday, August 8

Farewell to a Legend

Greetings. As I sit in front of my television, watching ABC's World News Tonight, I'm reminded of the man known as Peter Jennings. I only knew him from his newscasts, but he will be missed. ABC will aire an hour long special on Tuesday evening this week, at 7 CDT, remembering this newsman who might have changed the news media today. Whatever you may think of Peter, put aside your opinions and recognize what he contributed to the media, by for one thing starting the World News Tonight broadcasts on ABC. I'm too young, at 30, to know if Peter and ABC were the first to start such nightly broadcasts, but who cares. One doesn't need to be the first to be the best or to cover stories the best. I'm not saying that Jennings was the best, but I really liked listneing to him talk. Being a blind person, I just couldn't deal with Tom or Dan, but Peter's voice had a certain crispness to it; a 'this is the news' type of feeling.

But for more of the personal reflections: As some may know, in my many majors that I tried, journalism was one that I took some classes in. It was always interesting to tune into the nightly wrap up on ABC and hear Peter recap the news. This wasn't my only news source, but it was one that I looked forward to in a way.

I've been wrestling all day with whether to write an entry on this or not, but finally figured, "Why not?"

So, for those who were fans of Peter Jennings, or to those that were fans of keeping up with the news and the media, or to Peter himself: farewell; you have contributed, and you will be missed.

Daylight Savings Change Coming

Yes, the government is going to change the start and end times of Daylight-Saving Time yet again, to start 3 weeks earlier and end 1 week later than they do now. Who would have thought that a simpel change could cause so much possible confusion and trouble across many different industries? My Ways News has a good article on this change, entitled, Daylight-Saving Switch May Cause Tech Woes. Personally, as the years go by, I tend to agree with others who say: Why don't they just decide on a set time, either behind or ahead, and stick to it, instead of switching the time every few months? Some would point out that there are parts of the country that don't change the time, such as Arizona and parts of Idaho. However, they still change time zones when the rest of the country is changing times, so it still proves to be a hassle in some sense. I suppose that if I had to pick between changing time zones or changing times, I'd pick the time change. After all, I would think that it would be a pain to have to keep track of which time zone you're in, especially when looking at the TV schedule: "Am I in Pacific or Mountain this month?" Although, I suppose that if one grows up in that environment, then one is used to the changing zones. Oh well. We do come full circle back to the question of why we can't figure out what time style we like best, and why we can't stick to that style all the time?

Wednesday, August 3

JAWS Crash Reports

I spoke with Dennis, a Freedom Scientific tech support representative, earlier today, and he told me that the new crash reports that are generated by JAWS 6.2 are sent to Freedom Scientific. So, if you get a dialog saying that an error has occurred, and asking you if you want to send or not send the report, be sure to choose Send. Dennis said that the report would go to Microsoft of course, but that it would then go to FS. He said that FS has an agreement with MS to receive those reports.

I've gotten quite a few of these error report announcements recently, especially if my computer's been running for a couple of days without a restart, and have wondered about the error reporting and where it actually went. Dennis said that although its tempting to dismiss the dialog by choosing the Don't Send button, he assured me that FS would be grateful to receive the reports so they can further troubleshoot JFW and improve its stability.