The concept of net neutrality is one of those things that makes a lot of sense to tech savvy nerds, but which can be difficult for those same tech savvy nerds to explain to their friends and family who may not have a good grasp of the nuances of how the Internet works. This piece in the New York Times does a good job of breaking it down to the simplest possible terms. The only explanation for anyone in office to be against net neutrality is willful ignorance or, more likely, a desire to keep their pockets lined with lobby money. Enjoy, and pass it along to those who may benefit from it.
It’s the final day of the Haven Lost virtual book tour today. The first stop is at Straight From the Library, which includes an interview. The second and final stop of the tour is over at Welcome to My World of Dreams and includes a short essay on how I write. Thanks for following the tour, and I hope you will read and enjoy Haven Lost.
This is the best holiday commercial I’ve seen in years. Just watch it.
It’s day two of the Haven Lost virtual book tour today. There will be two stops on the tour, the first of which is at Long and Short Reviews. Check it out for a special glimpse into Emily Haven’s character in a piece that has not previously appeared anywhere.
Today’s second stop is at Deal Sharing Aunt and includes an interview and an excerpt from Haven Lost.
This is one of the better blogs I’ve read summarizing the recent Markdown controversy. I pretty much agree with all of it, but I wanted to emphasize a few points.
Jeff Atwood has, as a coder, completely missed, an din fact tried to subvert, the purpose of Markdown, in my opinion. Markdown is intended to be a tool for writers. It is not, as originally conceived, a tool for developers. In fact, its very nature makes the lives of those writing conversion tools difficult specifically because it is intended to make writers’ lives easier. It moves the burden of composition, mainly for the web, off the shoulders of writers and puts it squarely on implementers.
The creation of “Standard Markdown”, now dubbed “Common Markdown” following the uproar, sought to transfer that burden back to writers, and it did this by attempting to redefine what canonical Markdown is, as well as its intended purpose.
As someone who enjoys both writing prose and developing software, I can be sympathetic to the difficulties that developers face when writing tools to convert Markdown to other formats, but I’m also strongly in the camp that, generally speaking, it is a developer’s job to make life easier for the end user, even if that means more work for the developer.
Markdown, in a real sense, is a platform to build upon. It is a solid foundation for plain text prose that happens to be very useful for converting to more complex formats. Building new or expanded variations on top of it is an extraordinarily useful endeavor; subverting it into something less useful and extensible is harmful to the community that has sprung up around Markdown. By choosing the name “Standard Markdown”, Atwood was clearly attempting to accomplish the latter.
I’ve added this page to document the various services I’m currently using as alternatives to Google’s current and past offerings as part of my ongoing campaign to go Google free. As things change, I’ll update the page.
Since the release of Overcast, my new favorite podcast client, I’ve been reevaluating the podcasts I subscribe to, as well as deciding which ones are shows that are “must listens” for me, as opposed to shows that I dip into only on occasion.
One thing that I’ve noticed is that my taste, or perhaps it is my mood, for certain types of podcasts is very cyclical. I might listen to a particular show obsessively for a while, forget about it for a few months, then return … or not.
I wanted to document some of these shows here, in the hopes that it might, perhaps, help someone find a new show they enjoy. I plan on revisiting this topic periodically as shows catch, or lose, my interest.
The podcasts below are listed, roughly, in the order by which I, personally, enjoy them. All are shows that I have listened to consistently for at least six months and are still currently being produced. Great shows that have ended their run are not included.
- IRLTalk, Formerly Geek Friday, Is a Geek-Centric Comedy Show … Sort of. Really, It Doesn’t Matter What They End Up Discussing, and Believe Me They End Up Discussing Everything, Because It Is the Chemistry and Personalities of Its Hosts, Faith E. Korpi and Jason Seifer, that Carry It. It Took Me a Few Episodes to Get a Feel for the Show, and I’ve Been Hooked Ever Since.
- The Accidental Tech Podcast Is a Technology Discussion Show Hosted by the Incomparable Marco Arment, John Siracusa, and Another Guy. (Just Kidding, We All Know Who You Are Now, Casey Liss).
- GrammarGirl provides tips and tricks for writing, not always restricted to just grammar. Mignon Fogarty has been doing this successfully since the early days of podcasting, and is there any wonder why? This show is a fantastic resource that she manages to keep both informative and entertaining.
- NPR Ask Me Another is a trivia game show for geeks by geeks, featuring the music of the talented Jonathan Coulton.
- The British History Podcast covers British history in a fascinating, conversational way. The show’s host is engaging, funny, and an incredibly talented podcaster. There is also a members’ only feed with additional content that I highly recommend as well.
- The Talk Show, hosted by John Gruber of Daring Fireball, includes discussion with a range of guests on all things Apple and tech.
- The Frequency is a news and talk show covering stories from the real world, the tech world, and sometimes the weird world. The show is fun and entertaining. Dan Benjamin, of 5By5 fame, hosts the show with Haddie Cooke, but Haddie steals the show every time with her energy, wit, and humor.
- Mission Log chronicles the Star Trek franchise, one episode at a time. They’ve already covered the entire run of TOS, TAS, and the first six films. Recently, they’ve begun examining the TNG era, which is a bit difficult for me, since I find TNG to be the weakest of the Trek series. Apple fans may recognize the voice of Ken Ray on this show from the popular Mac OS Ken podcast. John Champion, the show’s other host, provides a wealth of Star Trek trivia.
- Stuff to Blow Your Mind provides fascinating looks into a wide range of topics, most scientific in nature, that will often surprise you. The material is great and the show’s hosts, Robert Lamb and Julie Douglas, have engaging personalities, great chemistry, and are fantastic at framing difficult or complicated subjects in a way that’s understandable to all.
Thanks to Overcast’s Recommend feature, I’ve recently been discovering new shows that I’d either forgotten about or which had just never hit my radar, so I expect this list to change and grow. For instance, I just began listening to Just the Tip, a comedy podcast that is, so far, proving very entertaining, and Mac OS Ken, a show that I used to listen to regularly and which got lost in the shuffle at some point.
If you check out and enjoy one of the podcasts above, or if you have a podcast you’d like to recommend to me, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.
From the press release:
Orbit Research LLC and the Transforming Braille Group LLC are pleased to announce an agreement to produce a low cost, refreshable braille display. Orbit, an international engineering company based in Wilmington, Delaware, specializing in high quality, low cost products for blind and partially sighted people, will be undertaking the research, development and manufacture of this unique product.
The Transforming Braille Group LLC is a global consortium of organizations of and for the blind which is investing $1m in the project.
The objective of the project is to produce a stand-alone 20-cell refreshable braille display for $300 (or £200) which will bring refreshable braille within the reach of children in developing countries and will provide libraries in developed countries with a viable alternative to hard copy braille. The product will be launched at CSUN in 2016.
I really want this to be true, and maybe it will be. The red flag that it sends up for me, personally, is the abundance of hype with no details on this new technology and only a promise to have it ready for CSUN in 2016, about eighteen months from now.
I want to believe, but for now, color me skeptical. If they pull it off, and the device itself is rugged and of reasonable build quality, then this will be one of the biggest game changers in assistive tech in many, many years. If they don’t pull it off, or the device itself is even less durable than models five times the price, then I’ll be disappointed, but not surprised.
I’m also concerned with the angle that the press release seems to be taking in terms of who their market is. Providing Braille to the blind in developing countries is fantastic; offering an alternative to libraries to hard copy Braille is also great. I’m alarmed by a total lack of recognition that there are a great many blind technology users who do not have Braille displays even in developing nations because the models currently on the market are far beyond what they can hope to reasonably afford.
I want to believe. I want this product to be the game changer it could be. I’ve long said that the cost of Braille is the biggest contributing factor to the decline of literacy in the blindness community, and I’ve criticized the organizations for not investing their considerable resources toward solving this problem.
Here’s hoping, but this release is long on hype and short on details that actually matter.
Well, Here it is. My first novel has been published, and I am both excited and a little nervous now that it is out in the wild. It’s the first volume of a sword and sorcery style fantasy series that has been knocking around inside my head for over two decades. I hope you’ll read and enjoy it. It’s available for $2.99 from all the major e-book distributors like iBooks, Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. There is also a paperback edition on Amazon.com. You can also view its entry on GoodReads.com.
Legends never die; they just go into hiding …
Sixteen-year-old Emily Haven, heroine of the girls’ hockey team at Lindsey High, has spent her young life keeping two secrets: her rapidly deteriorating home life and the seemingly supernatural power that makes her a star on the ice. When she begins seeing visions of a lost and ragged boy reflected in mirrors and shop windows, a series of events unfolds that tears her from twenty-first century Minneapolis and leaves her stranded in another world with horrors to rival those she has left behind. Lost amidst creatures of fantasy and legend, she is forced to confront the demons of both her past and future to unravel the riddle of the mysterious boy and embark upon a journey to uncover long forgotten histories and the dark, cloaked figure in the shadows behind them all. Caught between opposing forces of a war she does not understand, Emily must find new strength within herself and, above all, the will to remember her friends.
Thanks to everyone who has supported me through this experience. I couldn’t have done it without you.
These kinds of stories are my favorites, and they are sadly overlooked by most, if not all, of the mainstream media.
Don Melton writes:
Once a co-worker in the room acted a bit unfocused and bleary eyed so Steve paused the review to ask if he felt OK. That person apologized and responded that he’d been in the emergency room late into the night with his daughter after an accident at home.
Steve, visibly concerned, asked if it would be better to do the review later. The fellow thanked him and said no, we could proceed. Then Steve related a story about one of his own children who had a similar mishap a few weeks earlier and how much that had shook him, too. He told the fellow he could take off early that day, after the review.
Another time Steve himself looked a bit bleary eyed and apologized to all of us. He told us he’d been up all night.
The family dog had passed away sometime earlier so Steve and his family adopted a new puppy. After a few days with that strain, his wife told him it was his turn to stay up minding the animal so she and the kids could get some sleep. Which meant he had been sitting on the kitchen floor until morning with a cranky little dog trying to keep it quiet.
Even he thought that was funny, a good thing because several of us were trying not to laugh.
It’s worth reading every single word of this piece. The glimpse we see into Tom Lehrer’s life is fleeting, sweet, wondrous, and a little sad. He is a comic genius whose work has touched millions, including myself. Here’s a taste.
Ben Smith writes:
“Is this Tom Lehrer?” Morris asked over the phone, working to hide his nervousness.
“Yes,” replied a voice some 1,000 miles away.
“The Tom Lehrer who teaches math?”
“The Tom Lehrer that did some records in the ’50s and ’60s?”
Morris apologetically explained his school assignment, worried that Lehrer wouldn’t want to speak to him and self-conscious for having interrupted his day. The retired performer listened patiently to his request.
“Rather than talk to me for very long, just make up anything you want and I won’t deny it.”
I’ve been an Anne Rice fan for the vast majority of my life. Not everything she’s written has been my cup of tea, but there is one thing that is undeniable: No one does vampires like Anne Rice.
It’s been a decade since the last of her vampire novels was published, and that one was the least inspiring of the lot. Most of them, though, were fantastic, and it really does sound like this new installment is a return to form for the Vampire Chronicles.
I’ve enjoyed her Wolf Gift series over the last few years, but I’ve not been this excited for a novel in quite some time. It feels like coming home. I can’t wait to make a pot of tea, curl up under a blanket this fall, and visit with old friends.
The link above goes to a YouTube video of Anne Rice’s announcement. If you’re a fan, definitely check it out.
The link above will take you to the YouTube video to this awesome parody of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way by Not Literally Productions. Enjoy.
The Sorting Hat told me as a first year,
I would be in Hufflepuff.
Some students laughed at me as I sat down,
I thought I wasn’t good enough.
There’s nothing wrong with having badger pride,
Cuz it’s the house where I belong.
So hold you head up kid and don’t you cry,
The Sorting hat it never wrong.
I’m Hufflepuff and I’m proud,
No I’m not one of the crowd.
I’m in the right house baby,
I was sorted this way!
Joel Hladecek writes:
Mobile apps are not platforms, they are disposable instances, they are trends. The sturdy limitations that held Microsoft Office in place for so long do not exist here. Nor are the ones that have continued to keep Facebook warm on the web. Every popular 3rd party mobile app is destined to face an unprecedented, massive and relentless onslaught of unpredictable new ideas from divergent competition.
This post is so good—and so right.
This is an interesting story for a couple of reasons.
On the one hand, it is amazing that this situation got as far as it did, given the mountains of evidence contradicting Donald Glut’s claims. I mean, he’d even originally declared on his own website that his work on Masters of the Universe was work for hire.
On the other, its potentially another example of how careless Mattel was with the legalities in clearly defining the rights to the property, and making sure they maintained said rights. MotU, perhaps more so than any other property of its era, has had the longest, most convoluted set of issues with determining who owns the rights to what. Various characters are still the properties of Mattel, Dreamworks, Warner Brothers, or others. It’s a mess, and it is the fans, more than anyone, who lose out.
At least we don’t have the problems of the 1960s Batman television series.
I’ve long been a fan of both Sting and Paul Simon’s work (more so Sting)). This concert sounds incredible to me. Please release this as an album, boys!
The encore began with “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” with Sting absolutely nailing the high notes on the first verse. (Poor Garfunkel. It’s hard to imagine this tour is sitting well with him.) Simon sang the second verse and they wrapped it up together before transitioning right into “Every Breath You Take” and a euphoric “Late In The Evening.” The band walked off and it seemed like it was over, but Simon and Sting both picked up acoustic guitars and harmonized on the Everly Brothers classic “When Will I Be Loved” that they dedicated to the late Phil Everly. For a brief moment, it almost seemed like we were all in another dimension where Simon & Sting had been a thing for decades.
Chris Hofstader writes:
Thus far, we’ve explored Android accessibility from my personal perspective a (totally blind user who doesn’t read braille) and from the view of a deaf-blind person who access his computational devices using braille only. The results of these extensive bits of research (I spent three months using a Google Nexus/7 on a daily basis and Scott tested as much as possible with braille only) demonstrate that, from the perspective of these two classes of user, that, out-of-the-box, the Android accessibility experience is dismal. This article, the third and probably last entry in my Android series demonstrates why, according to a number of blind Android developers, this is the case.
Thorough, thoughtful, and brilliantly written piece that does a much better job of laying out all of the Android problems in a clear and concise way than anything I’ve seen to date.
This is the flip side of the coin from my post earlier today. In this case, we have Google, a company who has a demonstratively poor record in terms of accessibility, continuing to display an utter lack of commitment. These are the cases when we have a responsibility to call out the companies in question.
You owe it to yourself to read this article. Hats off to Chris for taking the time to do such a complete analysis.
Anyone who has followed my views on access tech knows that I tend to be fairly moderate in my stances. I try, to the best of my ability, to see the big picture of an issue and find the middle ground between extreme positions. It is my sincere belief that reality is usually in the gray.
I’ve seen a lot of chatter online recently about how various companies choose to address the accessibility needs of their users. Unfortunately, it seems that some of the comments, frustration, and anger being expressed stem from either a knee-jerk reaction, or simple ignorance. As much as we, by which I mean the visually impaired community in particular, may wish it to be otherwise, things are not so black and white.
My thoughts here are primarily focused on accessibility for the visually impaired, but can probably be largely applied to other disabilities as well. All opinions are simply my own, and I have no doubt that some will disagree. Hopefully, however, they will give those who are just parroting the views of others, or hitting the RT button in their Twitter client, food for thought.
The two incidents that brought this topic to mind recently were the controversy surrounding Fleksy’s decision to temporarily split its iOS app into two versions, one with VoiceOver support and one with experimental features for sighted users, and Audible’s apparent development of two websites, one of which would be optimized for screen readers.
On the surface, the outrage over these may be understandable. Technology, thanks largely to the efforts of Apple, has been moving toward an ideal over the last several years that accessibility should be baked into a product from early in its development. That idyllic state of affairs grows closer every day, but it is important to understand that we are still in a state of transition, and the ideal is not always going to be practical, or even possible, until the technology reaches its full potential.
This is especially true with website accessibility. While things have improved, and will doubtless continue to do so, there are still major problems with setting accessibility standards. Arguments about implementation abound, and the process has largely been slowed by bureaucracy. This issue, incidentally, is not exclusive to accessibility standards for web content; it is simply necessary to point out that accessibility is affected by it every bit as much as all the other moving parts are
From a business perspective, companies, especially those in the tech space and related fields, are constantly under pressure to deliver a more cutting edge experience to users. We can argue the merits of that from here to doomsday, but that is the reality of the situation. Sometimes, being on the cutting edge means delivering a superior experience to the end user, and sometimes it just means an excess of flashing lights and glitter. The end result doesn’t matter, ultimately, because the market is what it is. No amount of railing against human nature is likely to have a meaningful change in the short term.
It is precisely this need to stay ahead of the curve, and the fact that accessibility standards for web content are lagging behind, that create a conflict of interest for companies like Audible. Blind users want what they want; they want Audible to embrace the ideal of a one website for all without taking into account how this might impact their business, or if it is technologically practical, or even possible, to align these opposing interests.
Computer platforms, especially those like OS X and iOS, are further along in many respects than the web in terms of accessibility, because the standards have been largely set and maintained to keep up with the changing technology. It is far, far easier to create a rich, modern experience in an app that is accessible, than the same on the web. This is further compounded by the fact that different screen readers will implement different parts of ARIA and web accessibility standards in different ways. Some parts of the standards, particularly those which are not finalized, may not be implemented at all.
I believe the unified approach is the ideal we should be striving for, and we are far closer to that ideal today than we ever have been, but this is still a time of transition. It isn’t as simple as snapping your fingers and suddenly you have an experience that is just as rich for the sighted user as it is for the visually impaired one. Should we strive for this ideal? Yes. Should we encourage it? Absolutely.
What we should not do is attack companies, like Audible or Fleksy, when they make decisions like this. Audible, for instance, has done a tremendous job of baking accessibility into their iOS application. This is not a company who has a history of shunning accessibility for the visually impaired. Instead, try to understand the complexities and direct the criticisms toward, for instance, the somewhat flawed and broken system of how we develop web standards. Technology and user expectations are outpacing the current system’s ability to keep up.
The above does not mean you give these companies a free pass if they drop the ball, but in both of these cases in particular, it is not that difficult to understand, from a technical standpoint, what likely led to these decisions.
Both Audible and Fleksy have clear, easily visible track records of commitment to accessibility. I doubt that these decisions were made without careful consideration. They may not be what visually impaired users think they want right now, but we are not their sole concern, either. They have a delicate balancing act to maintain between various groups of users with opposing needs, as well as the responsibility to grow and maintain the health of their business.
All of this boils down to a plea for people to really think before lashing out. Few, if any, decisions like these are being made inside a bubble. It is one thing to voice concerns, and another to respond to businesses with venom. I see little of the former and much of the latter. In these two specific cases, it isn’t even like these companies are not addressing the needs of visually impaired users; what people are angry about is that they’re needs are not being addressed in exactly the way they think they want them, right at exactly this moment in time. That is neither helpful nor productive.
It is human nature to want to lash out when things aren’t the way you think they should be. But it is the human ability to reserve judgment until we understand the complexities of a situation that, among other traits, sets us apart from the other creatures of the world.