Thursday, November 20, 2014
On Turning Forty and Other Happennings
Hello everyone. And yet another two months have raced past me between blog postings. It's now an apparently foggy Thursday morning, October 16th. Over the past day or so, I've started playing another of these smart phone games accessible to blind and sighted people called Hanging With Friends. It turns the classic game of Hangman into a competitive sport as you get points for solving your opponent's words and building long or tricky words for him or her to solve. When your turn comes up, the game exhorts you not to keep your fellow contestant hanging. Perhaps, I'll one day manage to transfer that exhortation to working on more frequent blog postings and not leave my readers waiting so long. One can hope. The past couple of months have been slow for long patches. Sara and I both needed to recover financially somewhat from July. Illness prevented us from getting together around the time of my father's 66th birthday as we had hoped to do. As things turned out, Sara joined us for Thanksgiving with my family for the first time. It was a very enjoyable milestone of our relationship. We were able to see A few friends during her stay including Steve, Shirley, Rose, Carine and Richie. I'm glad they're getting to know Sara better. We also ended up going to church. When it comes time to walk away from that community, it's going to feel very strange. We also had a good amount of time to simply be together. We enjoyed listening to a lot of things including the two episodes of Pathfinder Legends awaiting our attention. Two more of those are still forthcoming. It's so splendid to have found someone to share the great joy of audio dramas with for the rest of my life. I received an award last Thursday at the new Horizons Peel Multicultural Centre where I volunteer on Thursdays. It's a certificate from the government in recognition of my volunteer efforts in the community. I was quite surprised by that. I guess most of my efforts are directed at people who lack the authority to bestow such an honour. Most of the time, it feels like I've done more to help people online and in other countries than I've ever managed to achieve locally. People keep telling me that I'm doing more good than I think I am just by leading the kind of life I do and being there. I guess it just doesn't usually lead to the kind of results I'm able to measure. Any formal volunteering I've done certainly hasn't directly lead to ongoing friendships or much of a sense of connection yet. Everything seems so damnably indirect. I guess I'm slowly getting used to that. In a couple of weeks, I'll be basically exhorting people to believe in the value of games and play. That can also be very indirect and hard to quantify. Mainly, over the past while, I've been working on the presentation I'll give on October 30th at the CNIB National Braille Conference. It's about the importance of play and accessible games. For the most part, I'll be focused on computer and smart phone games. However, a lot of important events have occurred over the past while thanks to the convergence of technology which will change other areas of inclusive gaming. It would be wrong not to cover them so I've been revising my handout as new information became available right up until it was due for submission. It feels like development has suddenly kicked into a higher gear. Events are happening at the kind of pace I dearly wished for back when I edited Audyssey magazine. Ten years ago, I was at the top of my proverbial game and had a comprehensive overview of what was happening in the slow-moving realm of accessible games. Preparing for a presentation wouldn't have been nearly so demanding as it has proved to be. These past three months have seen a number of initiatives which have the potential to dramatically increase how included we blind people are. Adding to this, a great deal more attention has been paid to accessible games by the media. I've read more mainstream coverage of this in the last six months than I came across over the last three years. A kind of critical threshold of societal awareness and respect for the value of games has at long last been pushed through. People are at last realizing at a fundamental level that games and play aren't the wastes of time they've been made out to be. As these last weeks of preparation tic down, the weight of responsibility increases. Have I missed anything? Am I doing right by all the people who have chosen to make efforts to include blind people in the experiences of play most other people can enjoy? It got like this just before I published Personal Power, my guide to using the Internet and accessible computers to pursue personal life interests rather than the employment skills which everyone else focuses so exclusively on. People were left in such profound ignorance of what their equipment could let them do both for enriching their own lives and reaching out to share their passions with others. The CNIB completely ignored that effort on my part. I sure hope things go better this time around on that score. It's now a cold Monday morning. November 17th to be precise. A third month has scooted past me with reckless abandon since I began writing this post. Thankfully, I have meanwhile published an entry regarding my trip to the Mississauga Book Fest. That was an absolutely awesome day out. Things went somewhat downhill after that. My birthday was, as I worried it might be, spent making final preparations for my presentation the next day. I received a whole lot of birthday wishes from my friends and online acquaintances. It was great to hear from them. It lightened the mood considerably as I chased down quotes and frantically searched for a digital recorder I'm still convinced I have somewhere despite not having found it yet. Dad had just returned earlier that day from a vacation and was therefore suffering from that travel fatigue you have which always seems so out of place after an enjoyable trip. We ended up going out to that most ordinary of places Swiss Chalet. As usual, they didn't disappoint. We all enjoyed our dinner. However, I guess I fell into that cultural trap of thinking that turning forty warranted more of a special event. At the same time though, I couldn't get my head out of the presentation. I would really have enjoyed actually being with friends even over the weekend after. It would have been nice to perhaps go to a restaurant I had never tried before or even just be with some friends in a more familiar place. Doing something out of the ordinary would have been even better. Halloween took place on Friday. Yet another occasion often spent in the company of others. Given all that, I guess I didn't think I'd spend this particular chunk of time mostly alone. Had I not been so absorbed in preparing for the presentation, I would have taken steps to make damned sure that didn't happen. I'm so tired of personal and cultural events in my life going unmarked by shared celebratory experiences. Over the past while, I had felt I was at last building the connections in life to put an end to this sort of let-down. I had a fiance, made some local friends and reconnected with other long-time friends. Unfortunately, all of them were in financial tight spots, had other things happening or else presumed, much as I did, that I'd be busy. The presentation was a disaster in so many ways. It's probably just as well I didn't write a blog entry covering that event only. After all the rush getting my handout ready early so it could be made available in Braille, the CNIB didn't end up doing that for people. I was absolutely thunderstruck by that. All this talk about Braille being threatened on all sides and needing to promote its use where ever possible;And yet, they didn't have the handouts available in Braille? My mom went with me to help facilitate and was actually discouraged from handing out the printed copies we brought. Apparently, the CNIB will email copies of the handout to whoever actually bothers to ask for them. All that effort checking facts, making sure everything was current, and cramming as much information as possible into four pages... and they'll send copies to whoever bothers to ask for them? What the hell? The small size of my audience also surprised me. Until perhaps two weeks before I presented, I had expected somewhere from 30 to 80 people. This was, after all, the National Braille Conference of the CNIB. This organization remains the most widely recognized organization attempting to meet the needs of the blind in Canada. If you attempt to serve a need they're not, God help you getting funding. In total, there were 11 of the 17 people who had apparently registered to attend my talk. I attempted to switch gears and do something more interactive befitting a smaller group. This was hard enough but having the Internet connection fail threw me off even more. I hadn't ben told that the connection would time out if too long an interval elapsed between actions. Thankfully, I had saved pages on my hard drive in case I couldn't get any Internet. Other problems compounded things as I attempted to demonstrate some of the games. I couldn't find how to engage the graphics of Pontes Backgammon. King of Dragon Pass didn't let me get to the control section where I could have gotten rid of the music. Afterwards, I figured out that I had somehow switched audio ducking off. Audio ducking had previously been a default behaviour which decreased the volume of other sounds whenever Voiceover spoke. I had somehow turned this off inadvertently so the music made it hard to understand what Voiceover was saying. I really hadn't thought I'd be demonstrating any games so had focused on being as knowledgeable as possible rather than putting everything into a good state for such demonstrations. Apparently, from what little feedback I've had access to, people seem to have enjoyed the results of my efforts. That's something I guess, but over all, I feel like I've put my best into something which has overshadowed the past quarter of a year and ultimately achieved very little external good. I put my mom through a very stressful drive into downtown Toronto's rush hour and back which further increases my sense of wasted effort. Frankly, I could have done my talk online from the comfort of my own apartment's reliable Internet and easily drawn an audience four or five times as large as I had at the National Braille Conference. Mainly, this audience would be composed of people already familiar with at least some of what my talk covers. I would, in essence, be preaching to the converted as opposed to those who were new to the area of accessible games I had hoped the CNIB would help me to reach. My friend Steve Murgaski recently found an article called Breaking the Mold: From Clienthood to Citizenship. You can find it on the Canadian Federation of the Blind web site at: www.cfb.ca This was the transcript of a speech given at their convention. I presume this was their keynote speech. I agree with their position that the CNIB really can get in the way of progress for people. I can't count the times people have said: "Doesn't the CNIB do that for you?" I had a friend who tried to start a Braille transcription business but couldn't because people who needed to have things put in Braille would just go to the CNIB. I believe I also lost some money I could have earned training someone because they wanted someone who the CNIB certified. Frankly, I know more about the access technology I use every day then those sighted folks at the CNIB ever will. It also seems increasingly useless to alert them to areas where they could do some truly spectacular good were they to invest their resources. I could and would gladly make a living helping people get the most of the Internet and technology like smart phones and computers. What I'm not good at is selling things. I've never felt comfortable doing that. All the technical advising in this country is done by people who have ulterior motives. there's no in dependant organization people can call up for help using accessible devices or the Internet in their personal lives. Nobody seems to want to hire full time trainers anymore. It's all contract work so you don't get anything like a proper living doing that. People are spread thinly all over the place and there's just not enough concentration anywhere to really make a go of it. For friends and others who know or find out about me, I pretty much am that go-to guy. I know about the resources and access-friendly sites which let people pursue their personal interests. If they're so interested in saving Braille from extinction, the CNIB should be supporting initiatives like http://www.64ouncegames.com/ They're actually going to give us access to some honest to God modern board games. You know! The ones everyone's actually playing these days! They should be doing all they can to transcribe game books into Braille. There's no technical reason why that can't happen. At the very least, they should be advocating for the apps to be made accessible to Voiceover and PC versions accessible to screen-readers so people can use them with Braille displays. The Fighting Fantasy books won educational awards for encouraging children and teens to read. I'd have lost myself happily reading and playing my way through those books had they been accessible. As it is, I don't really have many fond memories associated with reading Braille. Blind people have missed out entirely on a phenomenon which would have made loads of those. I sacrificed my birthday and put my projects on hold in the hope that the CNIB would amplify my efforts into making some sort of difference. In hind-sight, they totally ignored my Personal Power guide despite it being dedicated to their Lake Joseph Centre. Rather than helping me put it on Daisy cds so it would be useful to people unskilled enough to get it online for themselves, they flat out ignored it. I sure didn't have the resources to do that nor could I have known to whom I should send it. They could have and should have but didn't. This experience has pretty much killed any desire to put my eggs of hope in the CNIB basket ever again. I remain very grateful for their orientation and mobility training, Lake Joseph Centre, and their digital library. However, I'll be looking elsewhere for organizations to help advocate for inclusion in play and online. Steve's right. I have wasted a lot of time and energy hoping and thinking that the CNIB would and should change into something different than the Victorian era charity that it still is at its core. As so often happens, I tried to set my disappointment aside and celebrated on my own that weekend. I had a little help from a good friend and my fiance in that enterprise. Sara gave me a gift card from Amazon. Using that as well as some of my own money I shouldn't have spent, I bought some books which had long languished on my wish list. Similarly, Michelle McQuigge, a good friend who got Sara and I back in touch, game me some iTUNES money which I used to buy some fresh music. I guess I felt compelled to take something significant away from the experience of reaching that cultural milestone 40. Helping to make Halloween more bearable was a splendid rendition of Frankenstein produced by www.bigfinish.com This remake deserves nothing short of top marks. They really cared about the source material and I don't think Mary Shelley would roll in her grave too much this time. They also did an excellent hour-long documentary and included the musical score plus out takes. Right up there with the LOTR movies in terms of value for money. I'm ever so thankful I pre-ordered that quite some time ago. There was also the Audio Defence zombie shooting game from Somethin' Else Productions. The initial release was somewhat buggy. They rushed it out to catch the Halloween vibe. Much as I enjoyed the small piece of it I could play with those bugs unattended to, they really should have waited. Their recent update has done wonders. I'll thoroughly enjoy and make use of what I bought so I can't say I regret the purchases I made with my non-gift money in the least. However, I really thought I'd have been too busy over the weekend enjoying friends and family to contemplate making them. I really can't blame anyone for the unwarranted sense of disappointment and disconnection I've had to overcome this past while. Turning 40 simply resounded in me far more than I thought it would. Having the presentation the day after made things harder to arrange around it. Having it go so off-kilter sure didn't help. I'll certainly think twice before agreeing to do something that major for no compensation again. When the big 50 rolls around. If I'm working or busy on that day, I had better be getting paid more than minimum wage for my troubles. Thankfully, I've managed to take steps to move beyond these disappointments. Having Sara over and seeing at least a few friends has helped a tremendous lot. It was great to see Mark and Wendy again after quite a long while. They treated Sara and I to Swiss Chalet. I just finishing the last of the cake Wendy made for the occasion. She makes splendid desserts and salads. We always end up having interesting conversations and enjoying each other's company. It felt great. Sara also got to meet John Morgan, that amazing and inspiring elderly philanthropist I've mentioned before in this blog. He recently provided the funds for me to get the KNFB Reader app. I was delighted to be able to show him what it could do. I also showed him my Aftershokz wired headset. I thought I had done that previously but he was so surprised at how well they worked that I've concluded I hadn't until that point. He certainly understands how useful they are now. That leaves the other problem; How on Earth to salvage all the time and efforts I've spent getting up to speed on all things accessible game related. I've put way too much time and effort into preparing for this presentation to simply walk away and move on with other things I've put on hold this past while. I'm become the overall expert I was back in the Audyssey Magazine days. Had things gone better and the audience been larger, I could have gone on with the sense of having done enough with that knowledge for the present. As things are, I just can't let that cataclysmic mess be the end of it. The way I see it, there are two steps to redeeming all that work. The first is to deliver the presentation as I had originally intended it to be done making certain that it becomes available to as wide an audience as possible. I therefore made an offer to Accessibleworld, and online site which offers audio chat rooms where events are held. No registration is required. People just need to enter their names and download a plugin. The site makes use of the Talking Communities web conferencing system to offer a very useful service. I've attended numerous virtual events there over the years and spoken once before on accessible games. I guess that was two or three years ago. So much has happened since that it seems like far longer. They've accepted my offer and I'll be giving my talk on December 8th. Even it numbers are low for the event, the talk will be preserved on the site's archive for any interested people to hear and direct others to. That's step one. Step two is somewhat more ambitious. I'm going to write a book. This book will explore the history of accessible games as well as new possibilities for inclusion brought about by recent technological change. It will also discuss the importance of games in learning and building relationships with others. One might wonder why I haven't already written such a book. There were several reasons. Chief among them was wanting to be known for other things besides my abiding interest in and knowledge of games. I fell into the very trap I hope to help others avoid and thought there must be a better thing for me to focus my efforts on than games and the need for blind people to be included in play. I wanted to find some way of working or at least volunteering in the real offline sighted world. If I couldn't actually earn a living, then I at least wanted to find some way of contributing meaningfully enough to earn the respect and friendship of people. I fundamentally didn't want to be so alone and feel as disconnected and powerless to make any of my experiential hopes and dreams come true. Surely, there was something out there for me. There really doesn't seem to be though. Writing a book on accessible games really seems to be how my gifts and talents can best be put to use. By trying so much to distance myself from the online blind world, all I really succeeded in doing was to cut myself off from the only group of people who could understand even a modicum of what I was going through and for whom I had achieved the sort of meaningful impact I wanted to in the local physical world. In the face of my inability to make any sort of breakthrough, the achievements I had made in the online world seemed not to have any value. Why add yet more wasted words and effort by writing a book? Another powerful disincentive was my sense of having written all the thought I had about accessible games in the 40 issues of Audyssey I edited. The well was beyond empty and I had no fresh insights to offer. Things had pretty much plateau ed. It didn't look like technology would offer any means of breaking down economic barriers to inclusion which hadn't already fallen. At best, we were stuck playing games that none of our sighted peers had thought were particularly cool in years. I was certainly proud of the wonderful community my efforts had helped bring about. However, I just couldn't view that journey I had undergone as being inspirational enough to justify a book. Writing about a triumphant journey to a point of near complete stagnation just seemed pointless and self-serving. This blog constitutes my written therapy. I'll write this book as part of my continuing efforts to leave some sort of worthy public legacy and give purpose and meaning to this new chapter of life. Dear God! It's very late indeed. Nearly a quarter to one on thursday morning. Not at all what I had intended. On the plus side, I think I've set things down here reasonably well and can now move on with a lighter heart. I feel better about things. This blog has always made for very good therapy. How appropriate. Winamp has chosen to play one of my new acquisitions from a nice New Age instrumental group called 7and5. Out of 59 songs, it picked the one called Sleep-walking. Go figure.