Sunday, May 25

Great news for audio books

Greetings. I received the following story from an email list. This is potentially great news for audio book distributors and their readers. Call me crazy, but I like it. Removing the DRM protection will, in my humble view, help to accelerate book sales. Hopefully the book industry won't make the same mistake at the music industry did not that long ago. Enjoy.

Publishers Phase Out Piracy Protection on Audio Books By BRAD STONE

Reprinted from the New York Times

Originally published: March 3, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO - Some of the largest book publishers in the world are
stripping away the anticopying software on digital downloads of audio

The trend will allow consumers who download audio books to freely
transfer these digital files between devices like their computers,
iPods and cellphones - and conceivably share them with others.
Dropping copying restrictions could also allow a variety of online
retailers to start to sell audio book downloads.

The publishers hope this openness could spark renewed growth in the
audio book business, which generated $923 million in sales last year,
according to the Audio Publishers Association.

Random House was the first to announce it was backing away from
D.R.M., or digital rights management software, the protective wrapping
placed around digital files to make them difficult to copy. In a
letter sent to its industry partners last month, Random House, the
world's largest publisher, announced it would offer all of its audio
books as unprotected MP3 files beginning this month, unless retail
partners or authors specified otherwise.

Penguin Group, the second-largest publisher in the United States
behind Random House, now appears set to follow suit. Dick Heffernan,
publisher of Penguin Audio, said the company would make all of its
audio book titles available for download in the MP3 format on eMusic,
the Web's second-largest digital music service after iTunes.

Penguin was initially going to join the eMusic service last fall, when
it introduced its audio books download store. But it backed off when
executives at Pearson, the London-based media company that owns
Penguin, became concerned that such a move could fuel piracy.

Mr. Heffernan said the company changed its mind partly after watching
the major music labels, like Warner Brothers and Sony BMG, abandon
D.R.M. on the digital music they sell on "I'm looking at
this as a test," he said. "But I do believe the audio book market
without D.R.M. is going to be the future."

Other major book publishers seem to agree. Chris Lynch, executive vice
president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Audio, said the company
would make 150 titles available for download in an unprotected digital
format in "the next couple of months."

An executive at HarperCollins said the publisher was watching these
developments closely but was not yet ready to end D.R.M.

If the major book publishers follow music labels in abandoning
copyright protections, it could alter the balance of power in the
rapidly growing world of digital media downloads. Currently there is
only one significant provider of digital audio books: Audible, a
company in Seattle that was bought by Amazon for $300 million in
January. Audible provides Apple with the audio books on the iTunes

Apple's popular iPod plays only audio books that are in Audible's
format or unprotected formats like MP3. Book publishers do not want to
make the same error originally made by the music labels and limit
consumers to a single online store to buy digital files that will play
on the iPod. Doing so would give that single store owner - Apple - too
much influence.

Turning to the unprotected MP3 format, says Madeline McIntosh, a
senior vice president at the Random House Audio Group, will enable a
number of online retailers to begin selling audio books that will work
on all digital devices.

Some bookstores are already showing interest. The Borders Group, based
in Ann Arbor, Mich., introduced an online audio book store in November
using D.R.M. provided by Microsoft. Its books cannot be played on the
iPod, a distinction that turns off many customers. But Pam Promer,
audio book buyer for Borders, said the company welcomed moves by the
publishers and planned to begin selling MP3 downloads by early spring.

A spokesman for Barnes & Noble said the retailer had "no plans to
enter the audio book market at this time."

Publishers, like the music labels and movie studios, stuck to D.R.M.
out of fear that pirated copies would diminish revenue. Random House
tested the justification for this fear when it introduced the
D.R.M.-less concept with eMusic last fall. It encoded those audio
books with a digital watermark and monitored online file sharing
networks, only to find that pirated copies of its audio books had been
made from physical CDs or D.R.M.-encoded digital downloads whose
anticopying protections were overridden.

"Our feeling is that D.R.M. is not actually doing anything to prevent
piracy," said Ms. McIntosh of Random House Audio.

Amazon and Audible would not comment on whether they would preserve
protections on their own audio books, citing Securities and Exchange
Commission restrictions surrounding the recent acquisition.

Friday, May 23

Convention agenda released, with a twist

Greetings. For those interested, the 2008 NFB convention agenda has been released. This is the direct link to download the 3 megabyte Word document.

In going through the agenda, I see that there are a number of interesting meetings, sessions, and other items, in addition to the usual committee, division, and other group occurrances. One interesting item that I noticed at the end of he agenda was a thanks to a certain company/group for providing streaming services. Yes, after several years of various people requesting it, it appears that this year's national convention will be streamed live over the Web. No indication was given, but hopefully the sessions will also be archived on the NFB site for later retrieval and play. If you're hoping that every meeting/group item will be recorded, you might be disappointed. Only the Board of Directors meeting, General Sessions and Banquet will be streamed. If you want to know what goes on during the other times and days of the convention, then you might either attend and check it out for yourself, or read up on the convention round-up that will appear in the August/September Braille Monitor whenever it comes out. However, even with this small limitation, I'm very pleased and excited to see the NFB finally jump into the 21st century by streaming their convention, something that the ACB has done for many years and that the NFB has needed to do for some time now. To their credit, the NFB has streamed a number of state conventions, but as of yet not the national. So even if you can't attend for whatever reason, you can tune into the live stream and still keep up on the organization's business, interesting program items, and other information from the convention hall floor. I assume that more information will be provided as we get closer for tuning into the stream. That information wasn't in the agenda, but then again, if you take the time to read the agenda, its likely that you'll probably be at the convention. So why would you need streaming? enjoy.

The blind doctor graduates

Gretings. I have seen several stories on the following gentleman over the years, but it appears that he has finally graduated from medical school. Even though there are lines in this article about the ability for him to compensate for his loss of sight with his other senses, this being a all too common myth I've encountered over the years, the fact is that he has done something that many people said he couldn't do--become a doctor. So, I submit the following article about one man's triumph to do what seemed to be the impossible, attend and graduate from medical school. Since there are no dates on this article, other than month references, I'm assuming that he has graduated this month. Apologies if that is wrong. Enjoy.

Blind student earns medical degree, sees no limits

Picture: Tim Cordes works in a lab at Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.
Cordes, who is blind, graduated near the top of his med-school class.

By Andy Manis, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The young medical student was nervous as he slid
the soft, thin tube down into the patient's windpipe. It was a delicate
maneuver - and he knew he had to get it right.

Tim Cordes leaned over the patient as his professor and a team of others
closely monitored his every step. Carefully, he positioned the tube,
waiting for the special signal that oxygen was flowing.
The anesthesia machine was set to emit musical tones to confirm the tube
was in the trachea and carbon dioxide was present. Soon, Cordes heard
the sounds. He double-checked with a stethoscope. All was OK. He had
completed the initiation.

Several times over two weeks, Cordes performed this difficult task at
the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. His professor, Dr.
George Arndt, marveled at his student's skills.

"He was 100%," the doctor says. "He did it better than the people who
could see."
Tim Cordes is blind.

He has mastered much in his 28 years: Jujitsu. Biochemistry.
Water-skiing. Musical composition. Any one of these accomplishments
would be impressive. Together, they're dazzling. And now, there's more
luster for his gold-plated resume with a new title: Doctor.
Cordes has earned his M.D.

In a world where skeptics always seem to be saying, stop, this isn't
something a blind person should be doing, it was one more barrier
overcome. There are only a handful of blind doctors in this country. But
Cordes makes it clear he could not have joined this elite club alone.

"I signed on with a bunch of real team players who decided that things
are only impossible until they're done," he says.

That's modesty speaking. Cordes finished medical school at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison in the top sixth of his class (he
received just one B), earning honors, accolades and admirers along the

"He was confident, he was professional, he was respectful and he was a
great listener," says Sandy Roof, a nurse practitioner who worked with

Cordes as part of a training program in a small-town clinic.
Without sight, Cordes had to learn how to identify clusters of
spaghetti-thin nerves and vessels in cadavers, study X-rays, read EKGs
and patient charts, examine slides showing slices of the brain, diagnose
rashes - and more.

He used a variety of special tools, including raised line drawings, a
computer that simultaneously reads into his earpiece whatever he types,
a visual describer, a portable printer that allowed him to write notes
for patient charts, and a device called an Optacon that has a small
camera with vibrating pins that help his fingers feel images.

"It was kind of whatever worked," Cordes says. "Sometimes you can psych
yourself out and anticipate problems that don't materialize. ... You can
sit there and plan for every contingency or you just go out and do
things. ... That was the best way."

That's been his philosophy much of his life. Cordes was just 5 months
old when he was diagnosed with Leber's disease. He wore glasses by age
2, and gradually lost his sight. At age 16, when his peers were getting
their car keys, he took his first steps with a guide dog.
Still, blindness didn't stop him.

He wrestled and earned a black belt in tae kwon do and jujitsu. An
academic whiz, he graduated as valedictorian at the University of Notre
Dame as a crowd of 10,000 gave him a standing ovation.

Cordes finished medical school in December but still is working on his
Ph.D., studying the structure of a protein involved in a bacteria that
causes pneumonia and other infections.

Though he spends 10 to 12 hours a day in the lab, Cordes also carried
the Olympic torch when it made its way through Wisconsin in 2002 (he
runs four miles twice a week) and has managed to give a few motivational
speeches and accept an award or two.
He's even found time to fall in love; he's engaged to a medical school

But Tim Cordes doesn't want to be cast as the noble hero of a Hallmark

"I just think that you deal with what you're dealt," he says. "I've just
been trying to do the best with what I've got. I don't think that's any
different than anybody else."

He also shuns suggestions his IQ leaves his peers in the dust.
"I just work hard and study," he says. "If you're not modest, you're
probably overestimating yourself."

Through the years, plenty of people have underestimated Cordes.
That was especially true when he applied for medical school and was
rejected by several universities, despite glowing references, two years
of antibiotics research and a 3.99 undergraduate average as a
biochemistry major.

Even when Wisconsin-Madison accepted him, Cordes says, he knew there was
"some healthy skepticism." But, he adds, "the people I worked with were
top notch and really gave me a chance."

The dean of the medical school, Dr. Philip Farrell, says the faculty
determined early on that Cordes would have "a successful experience.
Once you decide that, it's only a question of options and choices."
Farrell worried a bit how Cordes might fare in the hospital settings,
but says he needn't have.

"We've learned from him as much as he's learned from us ... one should
never assume that any student is going to have a barrier, an obstacle,
that they can't overcome," he says.

Sandy Roof, the nurse practitioner who worked with Cordes in a clinic in
the town of Waterloo, wondered about that.

"My first reaction was the same as others': How can he possibly see and
treat patients?" she says. "I was skeptical, but within a short time I
realized he was very capable, very sensitive."

She recalls watching him examine a patient with a rash, feel the area,
ask the appropriate questions - and come up with a correct diagnosis.

"He didn't try and sell himself," Roof adds. "He just did what needed to
be done."

Cordes says he thinks people accepted him because most of his training
was in a teaching hospital, where he blended in with other medical
students. One patient apparently didn't even realize the young man
treating him was blind.

Cordes grins as he recalls examining a 7-year-old while making the
hospital rounds with Vance, his German shepherd guide dog. The next day,
he saw the boy's father, who said, "I think you did a great job. (But)
when my son got out, he asked me, 'What's the dog for?' "

With his sandy hair and choirboy's face, Cordes became a familiar sight
with Vance at the university hospital. The two were so good at
navigating the maze of hallways that interns would sometimes ask Cordes
for the quickest route to a particular destination.

Some professors say Cordes compensates for his lack of sight with his
other senses - especially his incredible sense of touch. "He can pick up
things with his hands you and I wouldn't pick up - like vibrations,"
says Arndt, the anesthesiology professor.

Cordes says some of his most valuable lessons came from doctors who
believed in showing rather than telling.

"You can describe what it feels like to put your hand on the aorta and
feel someone's blood flowing through it," he says, his face lighting up,
"but until you feel it, you really don't get a sense of what that's

Dr. Yolanda Becker, assistant professor of surgery who performs
transplants, noticed that Cordes had a talent for finding veins. "I tell
the students, 'You have to feel them ... you just can't look.' For Tim,
that was not an option."

Becker soon became one more member of Tim Cordes' fan club.
"He was a breath of fresh air," she says. "He appreciated the fact
people took time with him to feel the pulse, feel the grafts, feel where
the kidneys are. ... He asked very good questions."

Cordes' training included observing surgery, helping treat psychiatric
patients at a veterans hospital and traveling beyond the hospital walls
to the rural corners of Wisconsin.

For six weeks, he experienced the front lines of medicine with Dr. Ben
Schmidt, accompanying him from house calls to the hospital, tending to
everything from heart trouble to chicken scratches.

They took time, too, to indulge Cordes' passion for cars. Cordes, who
reads Road & Track and Car and Driver magazines faithfully, is a Porsche
fan. Knowing that, an internist in Schmidt's clinic brought her
husband's metallic gray Turbo 911 to work one day. Schmidt took the
wheel, roaring down the road with Cordes in the passenger seat - his
keen hearing detecting the sounds of the valves opening up.

Cordes also enjoys camping and canoeing with his fiancee, Blue-leaf
Hannah (her exotic first name comes from a character in "Centennial," a
James Michener novel). They met when both interviewed for medical

"I was just mostly curious how he was going to do it," she says. "I must
have asked him a million questions."

"I figured she was just sizing up the competition," he teases.

She was impressed. "He was smart and pretty modest," she says.

"Handsome, too," he adds.

"Yes, handsome," she laughs.

They began dating and will marry this fall. It's a match made for Mensa.
Hannah is now in medical school. She already has a Ph.D. in pharmacology
- her dissertation was on a human protein implicated in heart disease
called thrombospondin.

"Too long for a Scrabble game," Cordes jokes.

The two have talked about starting a research lab together someday.

Looking back on medical school, Cordes says he savored the chance to
help deliver babies and observe surgery - things he's probably not going
to do again. "I just made it a point to treasure them while I had them,"
he says.

He once thought he'd become a researcher but is now considering
psychiatry and internal medicine. "The surprise for me was how much I
liked dealing with the human side," he says. "It took a little work to
get over. I'm kind of a shy guy."

Cordes plans to attend graduation ceremonies in May.
For now, he's humble about his latest milestone.

"I might be the front man in the show but there were lot of people
involved," he says. "Everybody was giving a good effort for me and I
wanted to do right by them."

Saturday, May 17

Quiet car observations

Greetings. I received the following email from a list. The original list that this was posted on was the Quiet Cars list. Incidentally, if you'd like to join this list, send a message to:

And put the word subscribe in the subject of the message. Leave the body blank and send, then just reply to the confirmation message, and you will be subscribed.

Hi Everyone-

It's Larry Rosenblum writing - the perceptual psychologist conducting
research on quiet car audibility. I thought that as you contact your
congressional representative, you might find the following
information useful. Pasted below is an op-ed piece I wrote that's
been published in a few newspapers. The piece makes the following
main points:

1) Research shows that the human brain is exceptionally sensitive to
approaching sound sources.
2) This brain sensitivity means that the audibility of moving
vehicles is an issue for everyone, blind and sighted alike.
3) This brain sensitivity means that only a very subtle enhancing
sound for quiet cars, at only low speeds, will be sufficient to fix
the problem. Loud beeps or chirps will not be necessary.

Hope this helps,

Larry R.

Don't worry: Hybrid cars won't beep, chirp, or make the world noisier

It's a noisy world, and getting noisier. This is likely why there has
been such strong reaction to a new congressional bill designed to
examine whether hybrid cars should be made more audible for
pedestrians, especially the blind. But as a scientist studying the
problem and advisor to the Society of Automotive Engineers, I bring
good news. We can have it both ways. Hybrid cars can stay quiet, and
still provide enough sound to be safe for us all.

The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008, introduced last month,
proposes a two year study determining the most practical way for
hybrid and electrical vehicles (EVs)-cars that are functionally
silent at slow speeds-to provide non-visual cues for pedestrians. The
solution will likely establish a minimal sound level for these cars.
The automotive industry will then have two years to incorporate this
change into new vehicles.

Sound noisy? Well it isn't, and here's why. First, hybrid and EVs are
functionally silent only when traveling in electric mode below 20
miles per hour. Faster than that, and all cars produce enough tire
and aerodynamic noise to be audible from a safe distance. Of course
it is at slow speeds that cars are closest to pedestrians, whether in
parking lots or backing out of driveways, and where the greatest
danger exists. But it is only at these slow speeds that some change
is necessary.

Secondly, only a subtle enhancement of sound will be needed. Hybrids
will not beep, or chirp, or produce an alarm. Beeps and chirps turn
out to be much more distracting than they are perceptually useful.
The enhancing sound, used only at slow speeds, will likely be either
the simulated sounds of a very quiet engine (think cooling fan), or
of rolling tires. For purposes of both auditory utility and simple
familiarity, the safest sounds are car sounds. And these sounds will
be barely noticeable for most of us. Not much sound is needed for the
auditory system to warn us about hazards, as long as it's the right

You have your brain to thank for this. The human brain is exceedingly
sensitive to approaching sounds. Research shows that when you hear a
sound approach-vs. recede or remain stationary-brain regions
associated with attention and motor action are quickly recruited. The
auditory brain also possesses a disproportionately large number of
cells sensitive to increasing sound loudness: one of the primary cues
for perceiving approaching sounds. Our brains have been designed to
use approaching sounds to avoid hazards. And this is true of
everyone's brains, blind and sighted alike.

This sensitivity of the brain likely means that we all use car sounds
to keep us safe, even if we are unaware of doing so. The auditory
system often works at an implicit level in warning of nearby dangers,
allowing us to concentrate on more conscious tasks. Your ability to
safely cross a parking lot while talking to a friend, manage your
children, or daydream, is facilitated by this implicit auditory
warning system. If there is too little sound to engage the system, as
is the case with hybrids at low speeds, then any normal distraction
becomes hazardous.

Thus, while the proposed bill was initiated by the needs of the
blind, a slight enhancement of quiet car sounds at low speeds will be
safer for us all. This will be even more true as the mean age of the
country increases, and more of us become sensory compromised. Perhaps
in ten years, we'll be thanking the blind community for making us all

While there are not yet definitive data showing that hybrids are
involved in more pedestrian accidents, these cars are still too new
for solid data to emerge. There are data however, suggesting that a
majority of the hybrid early adopters are particularly conscientious
drivers. But as hybrids and EVs become cheaper, and come in more
styles (a hybrid sports car appeared this year), a wider range of
drivers will be behind the hybrid wheel: a good reason to address the
problem preemptively. And needless to say, waiting for concrete
evidence of injury or death before addressing an obvious hazard is
not a sensible approach. This is especially true when the solution is
so simple and unobtrusive. Hybrids don't need to be made loud, they
just need to be made audible at slow speeds.

If you've not yet been surprised by the seemingly spontaneous
appearance of a moving hybrid in a parking lot or driveway, you will
be. Let's hope that when this happens, neither you or the driver are
talking to a friend, managing children, or daydreaming. Better yet,
let's hope you'll soon hear that hybrid make just enough quiet sound
so that you're not surprised at all.

Lawrence D. Rosenblum
Department of Psychology
University of California

Tuesday, May 13

Another trade-in program from FS

Greetings. I just read of another trade-in program for current HumanWare customers to obtain a new Pac Mate Omni, until October 31. Read more from Freedom Scientific on the official press release. At first glance, it looks like the prices being offered are better than the last trade-in program prices they offered nearly two years ago.

Personally, and this is just speculation, they may just be offering this trade-in opportunity out of the goodness of their hearts. However, again simply speculating here, I'm inclined to think that if they're giving an opportunity to trade in at reduced cost for a PM Omni, then there may be something juicy coming down the line for the Omni, perhaps in the convention season. Time will tell. As if having an Omni wasn't enough of an insentive, you also have this speculation to consider. So what are you waiting for? Trade in that old outdated BrailleNote for a brand new, versitile and Windows-like Pac Mate Omni! If you need more convincing, consider the fact that you don't lose any data if the battery runs down to 0, or if you perform a hard reset. Also, consider the words of a former BrailleNote user, Jonathan Mosen, as quoted in the press release link above.

Tuesday, May 6

The end of an era

Greetings. The following is an announcement I received via email from the Media Access Group regarding the future in described videos. Basically, its short. DVS videos have played a big role in my life personally, and while the end of their video sales was not a surprise given today's technology and where we're going, it is the ending of a significant chapter. I haven't bought a described video from them in a few years, but I still have around 15 of them at my apartment, and another few at my parent's house that I chose not to bring when I moved. If you want to have a piece of history, then read on and perhaps even purchase some of the remaining titles they have. Links are provided where appropriate. Note that the end of sales does not mean the ending of their services. Enjoy.

DVS Home Video Sales Effort Comes to a Close

Deep Discounts Offered for One Week on Remaining Inventory

Boston, MA. May 6. DVS Home Video, a project begun by Boston public broadcaster WGBH in the early 90's to make movies on video accessible to the nation's
blind and visually impaired viewers, will end as of May 12. The Hollywood studios have ceased manufacturing VHS or tape versions of films for sale and
rental. WGBH's work to make media accessible via description goes on, with efforts focused on television, feature films in theaters, DVDs and online video.

The DVS Home Video effort, started over a decade ago with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, resulted in more than 300 videos made accessible
through narration of key visual elements inserted into natural pauses in dialogue. From the very first DVS Video's debut, the reaction of the community
was immediate and actually profound. Films came alive in a whole new way, and the eagerness for new titles only grew. Many of the videos sold over the
years were purchased by libraries and schools, which multiplied the number of individuals and families who took such enjoyment in described movies.

Films are now being distributed for sale and rental on DVD, BluRay DVD and through video on demand (either rental or download to own) services via the Internet.
WGBH's Media Access Group, home to the Descriptive Video Service, has been working to transition the home video efforts to DVD and to these online movie
delivery outlets. Lack of available memory space on DVDs has been stated as the reason why more description tracks, created for theatrical release in
the over 300 movie theaters with WGBH's Motion Picture Access® (MoPix®) systems, are not making the migration onto DVDs. WGBH maintains a list of DVDs
that have description tracks on them at the Web page listed with other description-related links at the bottom of this post.

Advocacy is needed from the community of description fans to make this transition happen. Please see the link below for a list of Hollywood studios' home
video/home entertainment divisions. Help show the providers of video on these formats that there is a market and that you would be willing to purchase
movies with a description track included as an optional feature.

For the next week (until May 12), DVS Home Video titles remaining in stock will be sold at a deep discount. Videos that previously were available for $15.01
and above will be sold for $10. Videos retailing for $15 and below will be now be available for $5.

To access a list of available titles, please visit the Web site

To hear a list of titles, and/or to place an order, please call: 317 579-0439 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

All of us at the Media Access Group appreciate the unyielding support our efforts have generated over the years, and we are looking forward to the next
chapter. Here is a list of links to information about ongoing description work from WGBH:

DVS on Television

DVS in Movie Theaters


Link to Contact List for Hollywood Studios

(please include "Home Entertainment Division" in the address)

Mary Watkins
Media Access Group at WGBH
617 300-3700

Saturday, May 3

Another story on hybrids

Greetings. This time, its a short video which shows the training of guide dogs on how to deal with a hybrid car. The dogs in question are from Leader Dogs for the Blind. The other major schools likely use similar methods with their dogs. Enjoy the video on training dogs to recognize hybrids.

Guide dogs and GPS travel

Greetings. Here's an article I found on two different guide dog scools that conduct GPS training regularly. Remember, the GPS technology that we enjoy is not a replacement for taditional travel methods, such as a cane or dog guide. Rather, it can enhance one's travel. Also, in an effort to conserve labels, I'm placing any guide dog related stories or information in the "Seeing Eye" category, even if its from or about another school. Finally, according to the blog stats, this is the 400th post on this blog since it started over 3 years ago. Quite a marker for something that I've often wondered if I could keep up, or how I would keep up. I hope you've enjoyed reading this blog almost as much as I have writing it. Anyway, on to the article, which first appeared in USA Today. Even though the article's date is nearly 2 years ago, I know that boht schools mentioned are still conducting GPS training. In fact, I believe that they have even increased the number of training sessions and students since they started. Read more in the article called GPS Helps Lead the Way for the Blind. I like the fact that the article gets quotes from many different people, both in the guide dog training and assistive tech arenas. Enjoy.