Saturday, March 24

Anniversary, taxes, interesting people, and more

Greetings. I realize that my posting rate has slowed down drastically in the last month or two. I apologize for that. It seems that as things have gotten busier for me in my life, my blog posts have come less frequently. To be sure, I still have plenty to say, but finding the time to say it in when I get home, well, that’s another matter.

Currently at work, I am one of three full time instructors. We do have a forth, sort of, but he only teaches one class, so the lion’s share of the classes are mainly left to the three of us. Sure, we’ve hired a fifth person that will eventually teach a class or two. Since they’re still going through the initial training though, and probably won’t be done until May, things are tight for the moment. And, throw in the possibility of absences from time to time, or requests for covering classes for whatever reason, and things get even more stressful. Thankfully though, we should be having a sixth and final person start soon, which will eventually lighten the load and make things more manageable for everyone. I’ve thought of posting several times, but then I put it aside and think, “Oh, I’ll do it later.” And we all know where that thinking gets you.

Anyway, the tightness of the situation really hit home for me yesterday. I’m usually the one in my department to turn in the reports for new students early in the month, or at least in the middle. Due to the things I listed above, plus whatever else might come up, yesterday afternoon was the first time I was able to sit down and devote time to my 6 reports. And, I’m glad I did that. I at least got through 4 of them. Getting the other 2 done by the deadline won’t be any problem.

In my on and off posting here, some significant things have happened that haven’t made it to this space until now. First, on February 1, I observed and celebrated my one year anniversary at my current job. On that day, I couldn’t help but smile to myself when I was buzzing myself into the building, and when I walked down the hall toward my office. To add to these good feelings, I found myself in the position of paying off the remaining debt that I have—er, had,  That was a good feeling as well. Not only did February2007 mark the one year point for me, but it also marked the point of freedom, where I was truly able to say, “I’m debt free!” I don’t know that I’ll be so bold as to say that I’ll be debt free forever, but at least I am until my next big purchase. Which looks like it will be technology, as in a new computer.

Another significant thing was on February 12, when the “new guy” started. Sure, he won’t be teaching classes for several months, but at least we’ve got him on board. I’ve enjoyed sharing information, building a working relationship with him, answering his questions, and helping to ease him in. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I was the “new guy,” and I certainly remember what a transition that was for me. Initially, I was reluctant to give up the title of new guy, but actually, its kind of nice not being the new guy. And being someone who helps the new guy get settled in.

I’ve paid my taxes for 2006. That’s a good feeling as well. I went to the same place I went to last year, but they had moved across the street, so it took a little longer to get there. I realize that not everyone knows everything about interacting with a blind person. However, I don’t expect them to. That said, much of this interaction I believe is pure common sense. As sometimes happens though, when some people see a blind person, they freeze up, kind of like the deer in the headlights, and think, “Oooh! Blind guy! What do I do?” And whatever they do or say is then filtered through this “freezing up” response. The result of which can be quite humorous. For instance, the woman who asked me, while we were walking at a brisk pace, “How do you get around campus without going up steps?” To which I responded, “Well, I guess I don’t.” Or, the person who asks me if I can go down steps when we’re standing at the top of a staircase, and then proceeds to gasp in utter awe that I can. Or, the clerk in the college bookstore who, excuses themselves so they can go to their boss and ask them if I can indeed go down steps. And all I hear is something like, “Yes, he can. I’ve seen him do it before..” All of these things have happened to me, along with countless others.

Why do I bring all this up after mentioning that I paid my taxes? Because, one of these types of people initially helped me in the tax preparation process. Let me state here that not everyone “freezes up” when they see me. But there is a certain level of this that goes on with people I don’t know or don’t know very well. And, occasionally with people I do know. Anyway, at the risk of putting you on the floor with all of the happenings with this woman at the tax place, I’ll just highlight a couple. For instance, when she said to me, “I don’t think that this is your W2 form..” When I asked why, after a pause, she goes on with, “Well, because, …, oh, there’s your name at the top. Never mind.” Or, one of my favorites, when she tells me that she needs to see my identification. I ask why and she says that she just needs to see it. I ask her if she needs the ID number, and that I could give it to her. She says, “No, I need the date of expiration.” To which I tell her when its set to expire, and her response remains, “Ok, well, I still need to see your ID.” I consent and then asked her for a phone to call my driver, since I didn’t bring my ID with me. I don’t remember needing it last year, but who knows; perhaps I did show it. Her response to my request is, “Oh, I’ll dial for you.” To which I reply, “Oh, I can dial the number, I do it all the time on my phone.” And her response: “Oh, well, we don’t have a phone near here.” I wonder to myself: *There’s no phone even though she just offered to dial for me*. I shrugged, and pulled out my own cell phone and start turning it on. The woman gasps and says, “You have your own phone?” “Sure, don’t you?” I ask.

When my driver and I returned, I quickly discovered that I had someone else that was going to help me with my taxes, to my great relief. As it happened though, when I mentioned that I had my ID to show him, the man who was now helping me asked, “Why? You don’t need it to file.” I don’t know if this was the woman’s first day on the job, but its incidents like that that remind me of the state of the average person in the world today with regards to how they view blind people. To be fair, the gentleman that helped me prepare the taxes was very good, taking time to read things to me and explain things. He completely made up for the first attempt. He even gave me his card so that I could use him again next year, which I hope to do. Its people like this gentleman that make things worthwhile.

That’s about all I have for now. I’ll try to post more often than I have been, but don’t be surprised if my posting stays at the twice a month level of late, at least for the next month or two. Until then.

Thursday, March 8

More on Dadnab and other services

Greetings. Here is more information on Dadnab, which is taken from an email I sent to everyone in my department. This will hopefully give you a better idea of how to use the service. At the end, there are links and information for similar services in other locations. Enjoy.

Dadnab is a service that you can send text messages to in order to find out bus schedule information. There is a demonstration of the service on their site, with a combo box for selecting the city and then an edit field with preselected text in it. You can of course put
your own text in there. Currently, the service is in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle, how ever they are looking into adding several
other cities, including New York, Salt Lake City, and others. There's no charge for the service, aside from normal text messaging rates (provided you're
not already in a texting plan, in which case its free). This seems like a powerful service, and one that provides another option when waiting at the bus

Some examples of things you could query would be:

4 and Congress to 49 and Sunshine
4 and Congress to 49 and Sunshine by 8:00 pm
49 and Sunshine to Anderson and Foster by 7:30 am on Saturday

Or even "loc," without the quotes in the message of course, for location, and then an intersection. If there's lots of busses that go by that stop though, you'll get lots of messages back. They recommend
using an intersection verses a street address for best results. Provided that the city has a trip planner and its schedules online, the service can work
with them.

When texting, you will send the message to:

Where “city name” is the name of the city you want to search for schedules in. Then put the query in the text area. Refer to the site for instructions on specific numbers for different cell carriers. If you text Dadnab a lot, and
you have to put the email address in the message itself (which is necessary for a few carriers), you can setup a template with the address already in there.
Then you insert the template, and then you only have to write the query. Enjoy.

Addition: If you don’t live in a city served by Dadnab, then perhaps you might find the following services of interest. You can get schedule information from the site or by text messaging. Refer to the individual site for details.

Hop Stop,
offers bus and subway directions for Boston, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.

Google Transit
offers directions and information for cities in the following states: California, Florida, Hawaii, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington. Only selected cities are listed so refer to the site for more details.

Monday, March 5

Exciting service for getting transit information

Greetings. Dadnab is an exciting new service where you can obtain information about current or upcoming transit schedules via text message. The way it works is you message a certain address and then you can write in a number of things. For instance, in Austin, I can write "4th and Congress to 49 and Grover by 3:30," and after 45-60 seconds, I would get information on the next bus going that direction and appropriate times. The service is free, provided you're in a text messaging plan with your cell provider. Otherwise, normal rates apply, which are 10 cents per message you send or receive. There is a demonstration of the service on the Dadnab site. Currently, the service is in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle. I attended a meeting this afternoon at the transit authority of Austin (Capitol Metro), where all this was laid out.

This is a great idea. I can see definite uses for this, like for instance, you're at the bus stop and want to know the next time for a route, but don't want to fight through the voice response system or you don't want to wait on hold for who knows how long. Instead, you can simply pull out your cellphone and send a text message for the information. Though it is not in many cities yet, there are plans to expand to other parts of the country, such places in the Northeast. Aside from the cost of a text message, for a blind person, the only things necessary are a cellphone and the software to access the phone, like Talks or Mobile Speak.

The Dadnab site has more information, including special numbers or instructions based on what carrier you use. Check it out and enjoy.