Archive for April, 2012

God Takes It Away, but Technology Gives It Back!

April 27, 2012

Now since I have been an adult, I have not been a real religious fellow. Maybe it is because for most of my adult life I have lived with a visual impairment and for the last few years pretty much total blindness. Of course being me, I have had to find someone or something to blame for my life situation. That blame has landed at the feet of the invisible man upstairs. If there is a heaven and hell, lets just say hopefully the good that I have done in my life will outweigh all the times I have taken God’s name in vain. To keep this a family oriented blog, lets just say I have called the man upstairs several four letter names. There has been a lot of anger directed at him. Don’t judge until you are in my position.

Maybe there is a better way to view this, but this is the way I view things. God has taken a lot of things away from me. He took my ability to play sports, my career in the movie business, my enjoyment of watching sports, my ability to watch and enjoy TV, my ability to read, my ability to read and see things on the computer, and my ability to watch and enjoy movies. That is just naming a few things off the top of my head.

Now I am not throwing my hat in to the ring here for the whole God versus science debate. That would be an endless blog. I am just touching on things that I personally view that God has taken away from me making me the way he did, and now the things that technology is given back to me. The whole spiritual versus science debate is something that goes way over my head, and I can see parts of both sides of that argument.

Last weekend, after listening to yet another amazing instructional podcast by David Woodbridge of Vision Australia, I was alerted to Samnet now being accessible to the mac. Samnet is an application built and maintained by blind people for blind people. I first became across Samnet about 8 months ago, but was disappointed at the time to learn that it was a windows based application. Samnet is an application that you can run on your computer and it has a screen reader functionality it also has several topics with links for blind people, some of the topics include News, Entertainment, Sports, Weather, Social Networking, Email, and many more. When I first heard about Samnet, it really peeked my interest, you could imagine my disappointment when I found out that at the time I could not access its content on the mac. Fast forward to a few months ago. Google who has really ignored the blind community as most google applications are quite inaccessible released googlevox, an extension that you could plug in to their web browser, google chrome. A few months ago, I played around a little with googlevox to my disappointment it wasn’t that easy to use on a mac. I went back to using my built in Voiceover on the mac, and didn’t give Googlevox a second thought.

Last week, after listening to David Woodbridge’s podcast where he walked me through using Googlevox with Samnet, my interest was peeked again. I went back to Googlevox, and was pleasantly surprised by the improvements Google had made in their latest update to GoogleVox. It took some time, but I took the tutorial and played around with GoogleVox learning a lot of the keyboard shortcuts. I then signed up for a free trial of Samnet. Samnet is pretty simple for use even for someone who is blind and not a computer whiz. You can easily navigate the entire site using the tab, shift, arrows, and enter keys. I of course have learned some quicker ways to navigate the site, as I am impatient and a much more advanced computer user.

My main interest in checking out Samnet was for one particular area, Descriptive Video Content. What is Descriptive Video Content DVC? DVC is very similar to close captioning for the hearing impaired, but for blind people. It is a track that is set to a movie or television show that describes all the action that is going on, making it possible for a blind person to follow along. I expected to go to Samnet’s DVC area and get what I usually get not a lot of movies to choose from, and a fairly old and outdated library. Well, quite the contrary. I was pleasantly surprised to see New Release section with the label of uploaded in the last 30 days. I then went to the comedy section and was amazed that there were over a thousand movies to choose from. The movies range from classics to the latest releases. WOW. I watched my first descriptive Video movie The Ides of March with George Clooney, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ryan Gosling, and Paul Giamatti. It took some getting used to listening to a movie with DVC, but compared to the alternative of not watching movies at all, it is amazing.

I am now on to my third movie, the latest Mission Impossible movie. Another great thing about the site is you can bookmark any part of the movie, and come and pick up where you left off. Great for me, as I am always doing a million different things. So thank you David woodbridge, thank you Vision Australia, thank you Google, thank you mostly Samnet. Technology has now given me back something that God has taken away from me! my ability and enjoyment of watching movies!

Please make sure to follow the people I mentioned in this blog on twitter David woodbridge @dwoodbridge, @Googleaccess, Samnet @SeroTalk, @VisionAustralia, and of course Nash and me @blindgator, @NashtheGuideDog, and @LaughForSight


Is Your Guide Dog A Rock n Roll Hoochie Poo?

April 9, 2012

No, I am not talking about that kind of poo, the title of the blog is a play on the classic rock song Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo. Now that we got that out of the way. Since Nash and I moved out here to the boonies in the middle of nowhere Queens, we have been dealing with a lot of problems. I am not even sure if I could put them in order of most annoying, so today we will just address one that is pretty damn near the top. An Asshole Neighbor situation. The complex I am living in was definitely very poorly constructed. Now the wind isn’t going to blow it over, as today would have done so, but lets just say that if you are living below people that have absolutely no consideration of other living people, than you are going to hear everything. To quote George Costanza, “You know we’re living in a society!” The people that live above Nash and me have never heard that mantra!

The upstairs noise comes in all kinds, banging, bouncing of what sounds like a large marble, shuffle board sounds, constant construction sounds meaning hammering, sawing, and drilling. Yes, I have already considered that Dexter lives upstairs. I have taken the appropriate steps when dealing with an asshole neighbor situation. I tried speaking with them. They didn’t answer their door. I had security try speaking to them, they didn’t answer their door. I spoke to the apartment complex board, that did nothing. I even called the police to file a noise complaint, and well, I got a response that the police did a drive by and didn’t hear anything. Yeah, that did a lot. I feel that I have exhausted all the proper channels. Now it is time to quote Alice Cooper, No More Mr. Nice Guy!

Today I tried an alternative take, as I hooked my iPhone up to my portable speakers, and turned the volume all the way up. The good news this drowned out any sounds from the upstairs neighbors. The bad news, Nash is not a fan of loud Rock n Roll Music. I don’t think Nash is a Bang Your Head kind of a dog, and he definitely didn’t appreciate me blasting Aerosmith’s Dream On, and singing along to it. Than again, I am not a great singer, so maybe my singing is what Nash didn’t appreciate. I finally blasted Alice Cooper’s No More Mr. Nice Guy, and tried getting Nash in to it, but he is not a fan of loud music. So while I thought this might have been a strike against the neighbors, I am not sure it is going to work for Nash. I think for my next move, I am going to have to look in to some ear plugs for the little guy, because I am looking for the loudest air horn I can find, and I figure a few times of blasting that at two in the morning when the neighbors have no consideration for me might be what the doctor ordered, but I definitely will want to protect the little guys ears first.

I think Nash even gave me a look of you damn kids with your Rock n Roll. I am guessing that Nash would have liked that town in Footloose, and I’m talking about the original Footloose. Did anyone actually see the remake, and if so why? Nash would like a town of no music and dancing. I can at least agree with him on the second part.

Is There An Overeaters Anonymous For Dogs?

April 4, 2012

Well, at least with the hit sitcom Mike and Molly, overeating is becoming topical once again and being discussed in open forums.. What do you do when it hits close to home and to someone you love? That is the situation that I am currently living in. Now my guide dog Nash definitely loves me, but there is something he loves even more than me, food! It is both unhealthy and hurtful. I guess I have known about it since we were introduced three years ago. I noticed that when it was time for Nash to eat, he would inhale his food. I thought to myself, how is he able to enjoy his food inhaling it like that. Well, it is now three years later, our relationship has blossomed, but he is still overeating and inhaling his food. To make things worst, he is constantly looking to eat something. I will take him outside to go to the bathroom, and he seems more interested in eating the grass than doing his business. Also, after I eat something, actually anything, Nash will come over to check out the area to see if anything dropped on the floor. He gives the area a very thorough inspection, than heads back to bed. If I am preparing something in the kitchen, and a piece of it drops on the floor, it is gone before it hits the floor.

It would be one thing, if Nash’s overeating and food addiction just affected me. It doesn’t. When we go to a family member or friends house, and someone is in the kitchen, there Nash is, giving them a false sense of affection. As he is really being sneaky looking for a handout that he can eat. And forget about holidays, as Nash will follow around the person eating the most. He especially loves it when there is a little kid around that he can take advantage of, and share whatever treat they are enjoying. He is a sneaky little guy.

This past week I think he hit rock bottom, as I think he was giving bulimia a try. He would eat his food and then shortly there after he would throw it up. Not a good look for a guide dog, but more importantly, not healthy for his stomach or his teeth.

We have gotten to a point where his overeating has become a concern, as he must have a really fast metabolism as he is still in great shape. One of us has got to stay in great shape, and it probably isn’t going to be me. Maybe an intervention is called for, where we can get a bunch of Nash’s friends and fellow dogs in a room, and everyone can go around the room and tell Nash why they are concerned about his overeating and how it is hurting them. then, maybe we can get to a point where one day, I can be sitting next to Nash and hear him say, Hi my name is Nash, I’m a guide dog, and I’m an Overeater!

DISCLAIMER: This blog entry was written completely from a satirical standpoint about a dog’s love of food, and more to the point a labs love of food. There is no seriousness intended or cause for concern.

Does Your Guide Dog FaceTime?

April 1, 2012

Guide Dog work is not all work and no play. For years, guide dogs have been tasked with leading blind people around. They are trained to go from corner to corner. Now I have no idea about the history of guide dogs. I am sure there was some caveman out there who was blind and slapped a harness on the back of a T-Rex. And that is how it all began. When dinosaurs became extinct, blind people had to find a new animal to lead them around, and who better than the family friendly dog? Then came guide dog schools to train the dogs, and the great people who raise the dogs before heading off to the guide dog school, the puppy raisers. And things have pretty much progressed since there.

With technology being what it is these days, and everyone having a camera and GPS system on them at all times, I am sure the future of guide dogs will be interesting. Guide dogs already have GPS chips in them in case they get lost, so they can be found by satellites. Pretty amazing, try explaining that one to World War II vets. With GPS becoming more and more advanced. I can see a time pretty soon where the guide dogs harness comes with a chip in it that will help a blind person navigate even down to the slightest millimeter. With my great guide Nash now, I still have to rely on the kindness of strangers to help me find the door to a business, especially a place that I have not been before. If there are a bunch of stores in a row next to each other, and I tell Nash left to the door, I can still be at the wrong store. With a GPS system built in to his harness where I can click a button and have a bluetooth earpiece in, I could find the door on my own, if GPS directions get down to it. That would be quite a nice world to live in.

Now that we have covered the work part, lets get to the play part. Does your guide dog FaceTime? For those of you not familiar with FaceTime, it is a program built in to all macs, iPhones, and iPads, allowing you to chat via video with someone else running FaceTime. I believe it is the same concept as Skype. The problem with Skype is it is no longer accessible, meaning that a blind person who uses a screen reader, in my case, voiceover over the mac cannot use it. There are several programs and websites that are inaccessible and we are not going to get in to that today, as that is a long topic. When a site or app is inaccessible it means that the site or app has not been properly designed where a screen reader cannot read the page elements. That is a novice understanding of it. I am sure a computer programmer could explain it in much more detail to you. You do have to remember I was in college at a time when the internet and email hadn’t blown up quite yet, and we were still just using it to download pictures from Entertainment Weekly. Remember Prodigy?

So now that you have a basic understanding of FaceTime, what good is a video chat to someone who is blind? None. Yes, the person you are speaking with can see you, but you can’t see them, but to a guide dog, it can be quite fun, and a way for him to see those family members and friends that do not live near you. I have Facetimed a few times with friends and family. And I know what you are thinking, how does Nash get anything out of it? I didn’t think he was either, until I noticed that every time I FaceTime with my Mom, someone who Nash knows quite well, he wants to lick the screen of the iPhone when he sees her face! Sorry to let you other people know, Nash doesn’t do that when he sees you. Pretty amazing, as I know he is color blind, but he is obviously differentiating between my Mom and everyone else I have Facetimed with. So, yes, my guide dog does FaceTime!