Tuesday, July 28, 2015

First Blog Post using iPHONE and Bluetooth Keyboard

Hello everyone. I'm writing this blog entry using my new Microsoft Universal Mobile keyboard and the Voice dream Writer app. So far, this is proving to be a very effective combination. 

 The keyboard is, of course, smaller than a laptop keyboard. Around as spacious as a  netbook's keyboard. A whole lot lighter and thinner. It's solid enough to use on my lap without worry but it's barely long enough to be stable with knees close together. The key travel feels surprisingly good. I can type quite quickly and accurately already.

It's very hot outside so Sara and I have spent the majority of our time indoors. The air conditioning has served us very well indeed. We had a great Sunday visiting Shannon and Kim as well as attending church. Everything went very well and it was fun getting to know Sara's good friends a bit better. Travel by Go Transit costs a bit but is pretty convenient going between cities. We'll have to budget for these occasional expeditions.

A lot is happening in the tech area over the next while. Applevis is marking its fifth birthday with a week of giveaways. This celebration could really do people some serious good so I've been retweeting some of their giveaways in case any followers can benefit. I'll eventually be doing a review of this keyboard for the site once I've learned all of its quirks and features. I think I may choose to use this setup to write my book. The only real issue is that Voice Dream Writer needs to import rtf files and turns them into plain text. Still, I may write the rough draft as a text file and then move it over to the laptop once it's ready to be turned into a manuscript.

Another aspect of this is getting used to the Voice Dream Writer and Blogger apps. I'm hoping this will make blogging while out and about a lot easier and less irksome. I believe I can simply cut and paste this entry into the Blogger app. Guess we'll see. I'm certainly enjoying playing interactive fiction using the Frotz app. It works wonderfully with this keyboard. Doubtless, Mudrammer would be just as pleasant an experience.

I can't believe July has up and vanished already. The month has just flown past even without iced Summer drinks from Tassimo. They're finally available and will hopefully arrive soon. I also have a USB charging hub on the way to keep all my travel gear charged. For most trips, I'll use the keyboard and my iPHONE as a makeshift laptop. It's a very light and portable solution with excellent longevity thanks to my external battery pack. However, it does lack the capacity and comfort factors of a laptop and accessories. We'll see how it goes. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A New Desk for A Changed Life

Hello everyone. I'm writing this entry on July 4 as noon approaches. I'm sitting at my brand new desk. It was assembled yesterday by my father and Jim, a family friend who we've known since I started secondary school. Sara and I can now sit at nice and sturdy new wooden computer desks. They have a built-in cabinet above a large drawer, a keyboard shelf, and lots of space. A little later, we'll be heading over to a delayed Canada Day celebration. It's apparently a very nice day outside. Ideal for swimming. I haven't done that yet this year.

It's so nice to have my own desk which has a drawer and cabinet built in. Its also higher than my old desk. I've brought out my old keyboard and am making use of the keyboard drawer. Haven't used a regular keyboard in long enough that I forgot how good it felt.

Figuring out what to keep close at hand and what to have in storage is a bit more complicated. However, I can now have confidence that things I need handy can also be safe. Aladdin is good-natured but you just never know what he'll go for next. This morning, Sara's English muffin was snatched and she had to get a new one. During our visit to Sara's parents for early Canada Day celebrations, Sara found some more toys to bring back for Aladdin to play with. He loves his new rubber ball and bone. That makes four toys laying around which seems to help keep him amused and less prone to unintentionally cause mischief. The visit was quite pleasant. They sure know how to celebrate. Sara and i took an unexpected trip into town which proved pleasant. Aladdin is still in the process of settling into his role as guide dog. I thik all of our expectations regarding the behaviour of a new young guide dog were somewhat unrealistic due to how well-behaved her former dog was.

We had our first actual guest as a married couple. Rose came over for a visit yesterday bringing some scrumptious onion rings. We can now look forward to meeting Angela and Tony for lunch in a couple of weeks. I can't say I look forward to the physical checkup I have coming later that week. I haven't had one for quite some time. No word yet on the appointment with the ENT specialist to further investigate my hearing loss.

It's strange to think we'll have been married for a month in just three days. It's been a good experience so far as we establish our routines and figure out how we can best contribute. Now that the furnishing and moving in process is done other than paperwork, we're starting to look outward and connecting with people more as a couple. I'm also hopeful that I'll find it easier resuming work on my creative projects. The balcony table and this desk will serve me well. Perhaps, by the time the new wood smell has faded away, I'll have written more than this blog entry which will stand the test of time. I've deleted so many paragraphs which seemed promising initially but eventually lost their lustre. As life takes on a new shape, I hope more lines of thought prove to be keepers.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Wonderful Wedding and Two Weeks After

Hello everyone. It has been nearly two weeks since our wedding. I ended up having a bachelor party the night before. We went to the Lionheart pub and had a really nice evening. Ron Schamerhorn and a few other friends from Oakville joined us. The food, conversation and noise level were all optimal. It was so good to reconnect with that happy bunch of guys.

The wedding day went wonderfully. A lot of really special people in both our lives were there to celebrate with us. Adam was a great best man for the second and hopefully last time. Everyone seemed to enjoy their food and have a good day. For me, that was paramount. The kids were quite good. I needn't have worried about their being too bored. The Orthodox wedding service seemed to interest more of our non-orthodox crowd than I would have thought. They don't use the standard questions when it comes to "I do." They ask whether you are doing this of your own free will, [hopefully yes], and whether you have been prom iced to another for marriage, [hopefully, no.]. Glad I didn't mix up my answers due to nerves. I don't harbour any doubt that I've chosen well marrying Sara. I was very conscious, however, of the possibility of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Other than some unexpected confusion when dealing with signing the registry, all went splendidly.

Seeing so many close friends and family in one space was one of those lifetime memories. None of the close friends I invited had to miss the day. Joseph and Rose from my former church were there. I was so glad they could share the occasion. Steve Murgaski and his parents, all very key figures in my life, were there. This made it easy for Michelle McQuigge, our good friend and match-maker, to also be present. The day would have been scandalously incomplete without her there. Mom got to meet and talk with Michelle for the first time in over two decades. Sadly, I didn't hear that reunion. Sara's good friends Shannon and Kim also attended. We had a little time to talk. I look forward to getting to know them both much better. Hearing people meet each other for the first time was as fascinating as I thought it would be. I wish I could have heard more of that happening but needless to say, I was somewhat occupied. Getting to introduce Shannon to the actual Adam, the Immortal Gamer was a priceless moment. Also, dad finally got to briefly meet Rose. Small moments but no less satisfying for their brevity.

Carine and Richie, our photographers, were very good. A number of people commented on how active and professional they looked. Despite never being able to see their accomplishments on our behalf, I have no doubt that those who can see the photo albums will be pleased. I hope the pictures will also serve as good advertising for Carine and Richie's services. They're two of my newest friends who have quickly become special enough that I was originally going to invite them as guests until they insisted on doing our photography free of charge. I'm very pleased to learn that there is some actual audio of the day recorded. That's going to be nice to hear and sharpen the memories with. So much happened in such a short time. Hearing such a big crowd of people outside of the church knowing that they were all here to celebrate our wedding really sticks in my head as something wonderfully special. A sonic snapshot of the people who helped us get to where we stood by being important in our individual lives. They all sounded so happy for us.

A day like our wedding really illustrates just how blessed we are with good people in our lives. So many different beliefs, life styles, and points of view were represented there. We had some brief but wonderful conversations as we attempted to speak with all who were present. It being a Sunday, a number of people had to leave relatively early. I don't think any had to miss the delicious dinner, but I could be mistaken there. The food was great. I enjoyed every last bite. The DJ was very good and kept the volume reasonable so we could hear each other talking without it being an Olympic feat to do so.

The first week of married life has been a combination of relaxation and setting the foundation for our lives together here. That process is proving somewhat less rapid than I had hoped when it comes to officialdom. Our files have been joined at ODSP. That went smoothly enough although we won't know precisely what our income will be until later this month. And then, there's subsidized housing. they need the ODSP income before they set the new rent. In theory, July should see all of this worked out. I don't anticipate any troubles but will feel ever so much better once this is done.

Next week, we'll be shopping for some furniture. Dog-proofing this place is an absolute must. It really should have been done much sooner. Having my stuff so vulnerable has proved very stressful for me. An electric toothbrush was the latest victim of Aladdin's jaws. It's not like he's destroying things every minute. However, when you're wearing headphones in order that two blind people can work on separate things as we often do, the potential for such destructive acts looms large in my mind. There's simply no warning or way to detect an act of destruction until after it happens. Sometimes, long after it happens. At that point, it's too late to try teaching the dog not to repeat such acts due to their short memories. I just have to try to batten down the hatches and put up with the ongoing state of affairs until this place can be reconfigured. I just hope we can find affordable furnishings I'm relatively happy with quickly. Something as personal as a desk isn't the kind of thing I feel comfortable just ordering online without knowing what it feels like. Therefore, I need sighted help to do the shopping. I think it'll also be necessary to replace the credenza so we have room for two desks and something hopefully with more drawer space in between them. That would be ideal I think. I'll be living with my decisions, made in all too necessary haste, for hopefully many productive years. For me to be productive, I need to feel that my stuff is safe and handy. Right now, I can choose only one of those options and safe has to win out. Thank God he doesn't seem too interested in going after wires. There comes a point where you simply can't have everything tucked out of reach. The only danger there is that he'll accidentally run into or snag them as he makes his way around the apartment often at great speed. Sadly, he's not as infallible as I once thought. I've heard him hit his poor big head on a few things while racing around. It never seems to trouble him much though. He barked at me when I accidentally stepped on a paw. Just one sharp little bark and then all was forgiven. I envy him his marvellous equanimity.

Our online community has really been busy lately. Lots of congratulatory messages on all social platforms to respond to. And of course, there were plenty of wedding gifts to sort through. Thankfully, lots of people went with gift cards. Those will come in very handy indeed and aren't counted as assets by the powers that be. The physical gifts are gradually making their way into everyday life. Lots of thank you cards to do over the next while. Ultimately, I'm rather glad we didn't plan some sort of honeymoon. The reality of married life will progress from somewhat chaotic into whatever our new normal ends up being. Going away for a week or so would merely have staved off that process leaving it hanging over our heads like an anvil rather than the more natural journey it has turned out to be. This also gives Aladdin and Sara time to bond and settle in their relationship. They aren't the smooth well-practiced team I experienced with her former guide dog. I don't know how relaxed a vacation in a different place would actually have been just now. Better to get all our ducks in a row first.

It is now Tuesday morning of the second week of married life. Sara sleeps much better than me. I've taken some time to read a little from the iPHONE user guide about the hearing aid mode option. I get tested for hearing loss today. I don't know whether it's all in my head, serious enough to warrant action, etc. It'll be good to have an objective opinion. ODSP and ADP can help if I find that hearing aids would be beneficial. Hopefully, I can get a pair compatible with my iPHONE. Not sure whether that's taken into consideration at all by the rules governing the selection of any sort of hearing aid. If it's simply a drastic improvement in hearing ability, all well and good. However, what about echolocation, noise filtering altering my perception of surroundings, etc? I've never really thought about hearing aids much. I guess that's partly due to that myth that blind people have better hearing than sighted people. The nugget of truth behind that myth is that we use our hearing for more things than sighted people. That doesn't mean we can't lose our hearing or have substandard hearing.

It's Thursday morning. I'm sitting out on my balcony for the second morning in a row. Tuesday was very eventful. We met one of the building staff who told me that the balconies were in fact safe to use and stable. All that remains to be worked on is some loose concrete. I wish communications had been better. I could have enjoyed my balcony quite a lot over the past couple of months. At least July  can be fully savoured. August gets tricky due to wasps. It isn't safe to enjoy anything which might attract their attention.

We went out to look at some desks. This process did let me feel a few desks within our budget but we were unable to feel as wide a range of desks as I had hoped. Stores are leveraging online shopping more and more. This reduces the floor space they need but can make it harder to try before you buy. I honestly could have done just as well shopping online with a sighted person making certain what I picked didn't clash horribly or something. We're not quite at that point but it's just around the corner. We ordered a desk I was unable to feel first. However, it was good to have some tactile notions to go on in terms of height, texture and such. They'll arrive in early July.

My hearing test was interesting. It took quite a while to do. They played a bunch of tones at different frequencies which could be devilishly quiet. I often wondered if I was imagining them as I raised my hand in response. Apparently, I did quite well on the test. The technician thought I had mild nerve damage related loss. She felt that it was borderline whether I needed hearing aids. Definitely some loss there but for sighted people, likely not enough to justify hearing aids. Because of my increased reliance on my hearing, she still recommends them. I was relieved to learn that I had no eardrum damage and only soft wax in my ears.

I'll be going to see my family doctor to discuss the letter I was given by the audiologist. She thinks I should see an ENT specialist to investigate further. The process will likely take time over the next while. I'm really wondering if I'll end up choosing hearing aids. That would be yet another piece of tech which would have to be kept charged and accompany me everywhere. They're starting to add up a little disconcertingly. On the bright side, all these devices are getting smaller and smaller. My next laptop will, I think, be a little smaller and certainly lighter.

Sara is making herself right at home here. She has found a good spot for her keyboard and musical instruments. We still have a fair bit of stuff in boxes kept in the storage room. That'll get less crowded once the desks get here. One of the great features of the apartment is that built-in storage room. Far better than having stuff in a basement locker. Sara and I will attend the upcoming building barbecue in mid July. If nothing else, we get a free dinner out of it. I'm hoping the noise level will be kept at a level which allows proper discussion with our fellow residents this time. There are so few opportunities to really have those and meet new people.

Our walks around the park are slowly becoming more coordinated. I don't find them very social. I need to give enough space for Aladdin to work and tend to walk ahead or behind far enough not to get in the way. BlindSquare is performing magnificently. I recently switched off the shake sensitivity thereby solving a major annoyance I was having with announcements being cut off by location reports. When in the pocket, BlindSquare interprets ordinary walking movements as shaking fairly often. Sara has gotten hold of KNFB Reader and has very quickly mastered it. That app is worth its weight in gold.

As things settle down, the responsibility of both enjoying our wedding gifts and using the financial ones wisely takes hold. We have to lay down good foundations both physically and habitually. At the same time, we need to enjoy this first Summer as a couple letting it be as extraordinary as it might. A Summer of building up relationships as a couple with each other as well as with friends and family. There are also threads of life which must be re-worked into a new richer tapestry. I need to get back to serious work on my book soon. That will likely be after Canada Day. It feels like too many threads are hanging unresolved at the moment. Getting all furnished and organized is taking longer than I expected it to. All sorts of stuff is tucked away in strange places. I find that far more unsettling than is rationally warranted. I didn't realise how much my sense of home depended on where things were. It has taking me more mental effort and longer than I expected to come to terms with change. I'm more in the flow now but feel like I'm mid-point between two realities. Once the paperwork is done and the desks are here, this will feel more like a home suitable to our new lives together.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Nearly Time to Get Married

Hello everyone. It's been over a quarter of a year since I last posted to this blog. Life has been anything but uneventful. Marriage is less than two weeks away now. Sara will officially be moving in on June 1. However, she has essentially been living here for a week. The paper work still remains to be done. I don't think I'm the only one to have life go somewhat chaotic just before marriage and trust there's enough leeway in the system to come with that reality. I'll feel a whole lot better once all the official stuff has been taken care of. Both ODSP and Peel Housing are struggling with case overload and it's not like we've sprung our plans to get married on anyone. We've given lots of notice and I trust that counts for something. It's an odd transitory period where nothing is happening quite like I expect it to.

I am on the whole incredibly thankful for this place and the life I've lead here as a bachelor. It has been peaceful and secure. As much as I've found tranquility, self-acceptance, friendship and peace living alone here on Aquitaine Avenue, I've also found periods of isolation and stagnation. My creativity and motivation have both suffered. I've wrestled alone against the demons of lack of extrinsic reward for work,  and the ever-present dangers of consumerism and boredom. Those demons are still very much with me, but I'm no longer alone. Changes are coming thick and fast these days.

One thing which sadly hasn't changed is my balcony. It has been in need of repair since work was interrupted by Snow at the end of last Autumn. There have already been countless days I would have spent mostly out there if I could have. There's no word yet on when that'll get done. Very frustrating indeed. Thankfully, there's Lake Aquitaine to walk around. I'll try to get used to taking my laptop out there and make use of one of the benches which have made such good landmarks on my walks. The batteries aren't nearly as good as they once were but I should still get a good three hours from the large one especially with the wifi off. I may also look into getting a blue tooth keyboard for my iPHONE and see how that goes. Not nearly as nice as my laptop plugged into an extension cord with very fast abundant Internet on the balcony sheltered from the sun. However, the only alternatives are indoors on a couch with the air conditioning blasting right at me, or else at my desk in an area of the apartment which can get quite uncomfortably hot. You never fully appreciate something until you no longer have it. there's some real truth in those words.

Events are sweeping me along into this new chapter of life far more quickly than I expected. This coming Sunday will be my last day attending the Meadow vale Christian Reformed Church. The Sunday after this one, I'll be getting married. After that, I'll be attending Sara's church regularly. Life goes on. It'll be bitter-sweet saying a fond farewell to the congregation who has been there for me these past years. They've been instrumental in my recovery and growth as a man. From just after I turned away from the worst sense of stagnation and hopelessness I've ever experienced, they've been there to help me build an adult life that is extraordinary and well worth living. Unable to find work voluntary or otherwise, they were my roots and place in this community beyond my family. The one place in the world who reached out to meet me halfway and where I knew I made at least some difference. Over the years, the cast of characters has changed. Key people who became more than just Sunday acquaintances have long since moved on. Like a Rock in a changing world Pastor Sam remains as a consummate leader and one of the best role models of what Christ wanted in God's Christians I've ever encountered. Through good fellowship, Pastor Sam's excellent sermons and some wonderful music, they've blessed me with a keen sense of God's love, joy and mercy which I'll carry to my grave. I'm coming away having made some friendships and connections which will survive this parting of ways. A nice change from prior church attachments. Two of these hopefully life-long friends will attend my wedding and reception. Perhaps, others will attend the wedding itself despite the distance and not being able to join us for dinner.

Wedding plans are quite in hand and things have been largely free of ongoing stress in that quarter. Sadly though, a number of people who I would dearly love to have attended can't be there. I found my lovely Sara years too late for my grandmother to have attended in person. She has passed away a little over a month ago now. I was unable to visit her during her unfortunate mental decline towards the end of her life. She really didn't want to become old and dependent on others. My last memories of her are from before she could no longer travel and live in her own apartment. In a sad sort of way, due to this geographically enforced distance, my memories of her are like she would have wanted everyone else's to be. She died in relative comfort during the night. There was something truly surreal about finding out she had passed away as Mom and I approached a store where I picked out my wedding suit. It felt like her passing was just sort of pushed past rather than really dealt with. She never wanted a funeral as such. However, there was a small ceremony in Winnipeg attended by relatives who live there. I'm glad she learned that I had found Sara and intended to marry her. I'm not certain how long that stuck in her mind, but she knew it for a while and wished me well. She has also visited my apartment here and seen how I've managed. I have all sorts of good memories of her going as far back into childhood as I have any memories at all. The only real closure I've found is that her confusion and mental suffering is at an end. If the God we both believe in is nothing to a figment of collective imagination, she is at least beyond misery. If I'm right in believing there is truth at the core of Christianity, then she now has a peace and clarity of perception we can't even conceive of in this world. As mom said, she'll be at my second wedding in spirit.

Neither of my uncles or aunts are able to attend the wedding. Thankfully, this is due to far less traumatic reasons than death. Other commitments and expenses have gotten in the way but I can still look forward to seeing them again in the future. All in all, my family contingent is around five people less than it might ideally have been. My brother is training to be a fire fighter and this will make it necessary for him to miss the actual wedding. However, he'll hopefully be able to attend the reception and dinner. The rest of his family will be there. I hope my nieces aren't bored stiff.

On the other side of the coin, most of my really close friends as well as some long-standing friends of my family will be there. That's a tremendous comfort. They've all helped me become the man I am and find the sense of purpose and belonging I've come to treasure. Mark and Wendy will be there. So will Steve Murgaski and Michelle Mcquigge. Steve has been a very close friend since childhood. The day would be fundamentally flawed were he not present. Michelle  got Sara and I talking again after over two decades. She has been a wonderful friend ever since she stumbled upon my blog a number of years ago. Carine and Richie will be there as our combination guests and photographers. Shirley, Rose and Joseph will also be there.

The suits, dresses and rings are purchased. My suit fits well and is quite comfortable to wear. I don't think I'll ever be all that comfortable with the idea of wearing a suit though. Standing in a thousand dollars worth of clothing that can certainly be used again but was essentially bought for one very special occasion is just always going to seem quite preposterous to me. Perhaps, once I've finished writing my book and am giving a lecture on accessible games somewhere, dressing up won't seem quite so pretentious. I don't expect so though. I've simply met one too many people judged harshly and tossed aside for their physical appearance when their good character earned them far better treatment than they received. The ring is something whose purpose is more easy to grasp. Rarely have I felt so out of my depth than when standing in a jewelry store helping to pick the rings out. However, the basic message of a wedding ring is very clear and simple. Something I can more readily appreciate.

Sara's new guide dog Aladdin has been an interesting somewhat chaotic addition to life. He's a playful two-year-old black lab who puts pretty much everything in his mouth. That has included electronics like the old Olympus 420 digital recorder I spent a good chunk of my 40th birthday hunting madly for. Gosh! So much has happened since I posted those Journeys of the Mind lectures. Trying to pick out the important stuff which should have gotten its own blog entry is a truly ludicrous exercise at this point. There have been some remarkable movies, podcasts and books lately. I really enjoyed Interstellar despite needing headphones to make out some of the dialogue. that movie tackled issues like climate change and family in a very interesting way. My favourite podcasts have been up to their usual snuff. It all tends to run together in my memory after a while. I keep saying that I'll try to do better in future and I always mean it. One of these times, it'll actually happen and you'll see more frequent shorter updates.

Anyhow, back to Aladdin; He has had to get used to Sara's parents' home and now must learn to think of my apartment as his home. Sara is attempting to instill some discipline and boundaries for him. While Aladdin seems to keep Sara quite safe, he is often distracted by the dogs, people and other animals near Lake Aquitaine. He sometimes grips your hand with his mouth. That seems a more accurate description than to say that he bites. There's absolutely no meanness in him. he loves getting attention from people. Apparently, grabbing and masticating things is simply part of a lab's nature. My desk and shelving are both stupendously ill-suited to having a young dog. At the very least, I think a new desk with drawers I can close is warranted. This desk has served me very well despite a wheel broken off during my move here. It still has my old Compuserve user number and password in faded Braille on its surface. I've had it for ages. Now though, I have no need of its length and open shelving which has proved so inviting to Aladdin's playful inquisitiveness. I've had to find inconvenient places for nearly everything that used to be so handy on those extensive open shelves. There's enough room on my left and right for him to stealthily approach and have his head grabbing and pushing at things on the wide open shelf beneath. Especially if I'm wearing headphones so Sara and I have some privacy, you can be completely unaware what he's doing until something falls onto the floor. He pulled a roll of dynatape out of my Braille labeller. Nothing is too inanimate to be safely uninteresting. I've stuffed all I can into the small drawer in my credenza. This again features a lot of open storage space easily accessed by inquisitive paws or snout.

This kind of unpredictability is precisely why I never wanted a guide dog, child or pet myself. You have to think six steps ahead all the frigging time. Right now, as Aladdin gets through what Sara calls his puppy brain phase and we try to build whatever normal life is going to look like from now on, this place just doesn't feel as tranquil.

Technology has at last rendered my OCR scanner obsolete. This used to take up a good chunk of my desk surface. Now, I can just lay a sheet out on the desk and snap a picture of it using my iPHONE. That capability still strikes me as miraculous even though I've had the KNFB reader app for months now. The printer is wireless so there's no longer any real need for most of my equipment to be on a long desk. I find it strange to think I could happily have passed years on my own with no great desire for much in the way of new furnishings. Now, I wish I had anticipated the consequences and changed it ages ago. You need to catch a dog right in the act of doing something even to have the ghost of a chance of teaching him that you'd rather he not do that thing. Thank God he doesn't seem to go after charging cables. There's almost no point having a garbage can near my desk now. He'll dig out anything you would likely put in there.

While having a higher desk with drawers will help minimize dog damage to things I want to keep safe yet handy, there are other aspects of having a new guide dog around which are less easy to mitigate. Poor Sara has to contend with everything from outdoor distractions in a very stimulating environment near Lake Aquitaine to some unfortunate bladder accidents. One of these happened in the elevator as we were heading down. Had he waited mere moments, all might have been well. The people in the elevator and the building staff were all wonderful about it. That's another reason I feel very blessed having ended up in this building. 'All of the staff I've encountered will go that extra mile when necessary. I've never had the sense of being a bur don on them unlike friends of mine in other buildings. All I really have to do personally is keep from unintentionally confusing the issue of who's in charge by being too friendly with Aladdin. It'll take a while for the relationship to really jell properly. He's had to cope with as much change as we have. I find it impossible to remain annoyed with him for longer than thirty seconds or so. I'm also forward-thinking enough to realize that he'll likely lead us to more positive adventures as a couple once he really matures.

As unsettling as it has sometimes been, hearing Sara and Aladdin start to lay down the rules for relating and living here has been fascinating. So many presumptions of mine have proved wrong. Aladdin has a metal crate large enough for him to turn around in. He actually seems happy to be left in there and goes to it often. The crate isn't perceived as any sort of punishment or torture. it's more like his small house where he feels safe. He can barf up something like apiece of leash leather and not feel bad or anything. He'd had to go through a period of being on leash constantly but that's over now and seems to have settled him down. He seems to have a very good internal clock. Around five or six, he starts getting that little bit more excited when Sara makes a move. He almost never barks and can be utterly silent for long stretches of time. At other points, he races madly around the apartment without hitting anything at all with head or tail although I expect him to bump his poor big head any minute. He sort of snuffles when excitedly playing with his kong toy. He'll bring it right up to you and push it into your hand as if to show off that he has it. Like other dogs I've known, he gives off those cute dog sighs when he's bored. He also sort of grown-growls as he relaxes or presumably shifts into a comfortable position of repose.

Apparently, Apple will be hosting its next big event a day after we get married. iOS9 will likely be revealed in some detail. Sara and I should be good for at least a couple more iOS upgrades with our 5S iPHONES. Adding further encouragement of this estimation of mine, rumour has it that the next iOS will focus on quality control and running better on older devices. All of which bodes well for my own experience as well as those who I am trying to help. I also hope we'll soon hear when the next iTUNES festival will take place. I really enjoyed the last one. I'm subscribed to the Apple Keynotes podcast and will avail myself of that after Sara and I are back from any celebrations after our marriage. I think we'll be pleasantly occupied in our own celebrating for at least a few days.

Sadly, one of the people who I help, Michelle, has decided to give up on her iPHONE for the present. I feel bad about that considering how much they cost. "With her iPAD, she'll at least still be able to use the apps and music she has purchased. It's very hard to determine how much her reasons are due to actual problems or simply different expectations or misperceptions. Her assumptions and desires can be hard to dig out or anticipate particularly when they involve visual appearance of things like Facebook. Thankfully, she's at last eligible for ADP funding and can get a computer and software which I fervently hope will give her less trouble than her old one. It was the very first computer I've ever felt which had suffered physical catastrophic damage. The laptop monitor shorted out or something and a chunk of the back blew off.

On the surprising other side of the coin, Gerry is doing quite a lot better with his iPHONE than I had any reason to expect. Mastering the device is a long and slow process but being totally blind, he just needs to worry about Voiceover. It's more complicated for Michelle since she wants to use her vision as well as Voiceover. Gerry has shown remarkable patience and fortitude here. As he gets the hang of more aspects of what his iPHONE is capable of doing, those efforts will be well rewarded.

I have at last upgraded to a larger Internet package. Sara and I both use the web for quite a bit and I think we'd have often paid for going over my former 60-gb data cap. Now, we've got 200 gb per month which should be more than enough for us. The new cable modem now does double duty as our router. I've turned off the network my trusty time capsule has long provided. It is, of course, still easy to access the files on it provided you have the password and Airport software. We've gotten our first jointly ordered groceries. This next month is going to be quite unique with the wedding, getting the move all done, doubtless seeing friends, and other stuff. A tad hard to really plan for. We just have to take things as they come for the next while.

Creatively speaking, I haven't gotten a whole lot done. The book proceeds in dribs and drabs. There'll be stretches of Summer where I think that'll change as the rest of life settles into the new "normal". For now, my priorities are starting the marriage and life here together well. There are also friends who haven't been seen or spoken with in a while. Over the May long weekend, we got to see Mark and Wendy. It was really good to catch up with them. I'm very glad they'll be able to attend the wedding. I didn't get to any fireworks. Sara had just unofficially moved in and Aladdin hadn't even begun to really settle. Hopefully, we'll be spending Canada day with family and friends. If not, Sara and I can catch the fireworks around the lake. Sara doesn't seem as keen on it not wanting to do something which might hurt Aladdin's ears. However, attending such festivities are an important opportunity for meeting local people at a time when they're not in an infernal rush and may be inclined to chat. Doing that for the first time on my own was a real milestone and I didn't get married in order to keep doing these sorts of things alone. Especially when we'll be attending a non-local church, you have to take opportunities to be a part of the local community. I volunteered at the Peel Multicultural Centre due to just such a chance meeting while walking around the lake. That's also how I first met Shirley.

The groceries have served us well this past week. We got everything we ordered. I think we'll be pretty good food-wise until the tail end of June. Things have certainly taken on a different feel lately. We're really starting to share daily life. So far, it's all going well. Not that kind of dreamy perfection books would have people believe in. Too much change is happening to both of us for that to be the case. We're able to come up with the compromises and good communication needed to have things go smoothly. On hot days like we've had, there have been many occasions where I'd have deeply enjoyed eating a Drumstick or other ice cream treat. We decided not to get those thinking we'd have enough special foods to eat this month. We'll really have to start watching our pennies a whole lot more than I'm used to doing while we figure out how the larger financial picture will shape up.

At this late stage, I think it's safe to say I won't be having a bachelor party. Nobody can really afford one these days. Adam's gone through some rough times and has plenty to do for me on the actual day as best man. I'd rather put money towards celebrating with friends as a married couple. Besides, I've had the experience prior to my last marriage. We've all got to prioritize these days. I'm hoping for at least one fun trip into Toronto to see Steve, Meko, Earle and company. There'll be other visits with Michelle and Gerry and hopefully, Angela and Tony. I haven't seen Ange or Tony in far to long although I've managed to help a little from a distance.

Both of us keenly look forward to being married. We aren't having any sort of honeymoon. We'll be getting all the paperwork sorted on the 10th with ODSP to merge our files into one. This process will then allow Peel Housing to set the rent and officially add Sara to the lease on the apartment. She will then be transformed in the eyes of officialdom from guest to lady of the lake. I have a dentist appointment and hearing test in the not too distant future. There'll be furniture decisions to be made once we know what assets we've got after the wedding. Extraordinary lives need a proper haven after all. Extravagant travel may be beyond our means but a comfortable apartment can be managed. One that is welcoming to guests and allows us to pursue our creative endeavours. Thanks to previous investments and our wonderfully supportive families, there are merely finishing touches remaining to be contemplated. Even if my balcony remains off limits, I look forward to a very special Summer spent in the best of good company.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Journeys of the Mind: Play is Where community Begins

Journeys of the Mind: Play is Where Community Begins Presenter: Michael Feir phone: 416-305-2757 Email: michael.feir@gmail.com Skype: Michael-Feir Twittter: mfeir Introduction: Games are more than mere pastimes. They are works of art with their own lessons to teach us about reality, ourselves and our companions in play. They help us to explore the consequences of our ideas in a safe manner. They are superb tools for breaking down barriers between people allowing friendships and discoveries to take place. They can also reduce the intimidation people feel when faced with technology they must learn to use. Important human connections are formed through play. Games have become a vital cultural medium. The digital games industry earns more profit than the movie and music industries combined. For all these reasons, it is vital that blind people share in these experiences as much as possible. In some cases, a game cannot be made accessible since its core challenges depend on players having sight. However, in far too many cases, a lack of awareness of what technology makes possible is a widespread needless impediment to play. Game developers often have no idea that blind people are capable of using computers and smartphones. Sadly, many games are inaccessible due to the developers of graphical user interfaces failing to provide easy means of conveying information to screen-readers. Technology and the Internet are drastically changing the economics and business case for making games accessible for blind people as well as people with other disabilities. Crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter make it possible for interested individuals to invest in projects of interest to them from anywhere in the world. This makes catering to a wider range of abilities and smaller interest groups economically viable. Manuals and rule books for role-playing games are now almost certain to be available in electronic formats which software like the Voice Dream Reader app for iOS devices can render accessible to potential blind players. Thousands of such documents could easily be stored on a smartphone and then either spoken or read in Braille via a screen-reader and portable Braille display. Affordable Braille embossing machines and 3d printers are poised to bring fresh possibilities of inclusion when it comes to physical board and modern card games. This lecture is available in three parts at the following links: Part 1: https://audioboom.com/boos/2805045-journeys-of-the-mind-lecture-part-one Part 2: https://audioboom.com/boos/2805227-journeys-of-the-mind-part-two Part 3: https://audioboom.com/boos/2805374-journeys-of-the-mind-part-three Key Accessible Gaming Sites: www.audiogames.net This site should be your first destination. It has become the central point for information and discussion surrounding games specifically relying on audio. These games need not be made for blind people exclusively. Most will be accessible to blind people provided they are able to hear. Key resources include a large database of all known auditory games. Each entry has a description, download and developer links, and much more. Very active well-moderated forums allow for hundreds of ongoing discussions between interested people to take place. Be sure to stop by the "new releases" forum to learn about the latest accessible games. www.applevis.com As its address implies, this site is focused on providing information to people using Apple products. There are tutorials, guides, thriving discussion forums, and rapidly expanding directories of information about apps. These directories are very well-organized and easy for community members to add to. If you're uncertain whether a given app is accessible, check for an entry in the app directory. Moderators also encourage people to make entries for apps which are found to be inaccessible. This serves to warn other people who might contemplate purchasing apps which are not useful to those requiring Voiceover. www.inclusiveandroid.tk This initiative is similar to Applevis. However, it focuses exclusively on Android devices and apps. www.htb2.com This site features a blog and podcasts which often discuss accessible games. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly. www.blindbargains.com This site is a long-established central point for good deals and news of interest to blind people. It often features stories about accessible games and the staff include long-time veterans of the blind gaming community. www.audyssey.org This site contains all 54 issues of the Audyssey e-zine I created in 1996 and edited up to issue 40 in 2004. Although the magazine itself is of purely historical value, the community which grew out of it is still a thriving conduit of email communication between players, game creators and other interested parties. http://www.64ouncegames.com/ This successfully launched business aims to make modern board games accessible to blind players. People will need to purchase the original board game plus the accessibility kit designed by 64 ounce Games. Sleeves containing Braille will cover pieces or cards. Dice, pieces and other essentials will be produced using 3d printing. For people seeking physical board and card games, this is your destination of choice. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1704875037/rpg-dice-for-the-visually-impaired This project reached its funding goal and will soon offer Braille dice used in role playing games produced by 3d printing. http://www.ulule.com/a-blind-legend/ This project aims to create a video game experience completely in audio and make it accessible to blind players on mobile devices like smartphones. Using bin oral sound, players will be able to navigate, solve puzzles and fight in a fully 3d audio environment. Notable Games: *All In Play: This site was the first attempt at a game portal whose objective was to create games and a community for both blind and sighted players. It currently focuses on word and card games including the popular Texas Holdem variant of Poker. People can try the games for free but must then pay a subscription to continue playing and participating in the community. A text chatting system is incorporated into all games on the site allowing participants to communicate easily with each other at the virtual table. Tournaments occur frequently. www.allinplay.com *Shades of Doom: This game was the first attempt to give blind players an experience similar to this particular kind of popular action game. Players must find their way through a laboratory and shut down an experiment gone wrong. Find this game, a tank-driving simulation and more at: www.gmagames.com *Top Speed 3: This was the very popular culmination of a group of racing enthusiasts to bring the thrills of multi-player racing to blind people. The game supports force-feedback steering wheels if available but a keyboard is all that is required to play. Sadly, lack of time and interest has ended further development of game by this promising group. However, Top Speed 3 stands as a profound example of how far compassion can take us. www.playinginthedark.net *She Noire: This is the first game of a popular casual style known as "hidden object" to be made accessible for blind players. It can be played on Mac, PC, or iOS and puts you in the role of a detective with a shady past attempting to thwart a master-villain. You do this by finding and retrieving objects hidden in various scenes. Finding all of the hidden objects in a given scene advances the game's story. http://www.ticonblu.it/audiogame/index.html?lang=eng *ESP Pinball Classic: The company offering this title, Draconis Entertainment, has preserved it along with many others originally created by James North. This controversial but brilliant developer found a way to use the principles of stereo sound to present the blind community with a fully accessible authentic experience of six Pinball tables. Hear the ball roll and bump into obstacles after carefully timing your flipper strike or aiming your shot. Find this piece of accessible gaming history at: www.dracoent.com *Paladin Of The Sky: This game has quickly attracted a large player base. It is the first attempt to bring the experience of what is called a console rpg to blind players. A computer running Windows and a keyboard are required. www.vgstorm.com Find the following games in the appstore on your iOS device: *King of Dragon Pass: This game was originally inaccessible. It is a story and statistic-driven simulation complete with artwork and an interactive map. Players make choices on behalf of a clan situated on a magical world. The developer, David Dunham, had no idea that blind players would be interested until he was contacted. David chose to invest the time and resources needed to make this game accessible on devices running Apple's iOS operating system using the built-in Voiceover screen-reader. Blind players can enjoy this game knowing they have access to all information and options. There are now also versions for the PC and for Android. However, these are developed by different companies who did not include accessibility support due to the increased effort and cost this would have incurred. *Crossly: A game capable of generating endless crossword puzzles allows competition with other players. It has been made fully accessible using the Voiceover screen-reader built into Apple's iOS operating system. Other popular word games include Hanging With Friends, Ordet, iAssociate 2, and Clever Clues. *Papa Sangre II: This illustrates what can happen when audio games are made for everyone as opposed to just blind people. You are placed in a fully immersive audio environment as a dead spirit attempting to retrieve stolen memories thereby gaining the strength to return to life. The famous actor Sean Bean acts as your guide through this strange realm. You control your character by tapping on the corners of your device's screen and physically turning to steer your character. This game requires you to wear headphones or earbuds. *Frotz: This app now constitutes the most accessible and easy way to share in the joy of text adventures or interactive fiction as games of this kind are called today. There are literally thousands of games which this app can handle including Infocom classics like Zork. Voiceover allows complete control and access to this app letting people have the text read to them or read it themselves using a Braille display. Commands can be entered from the onscreen keyboard, dictated using SIRI, or entered in Braille with the keyboard of a Braille display or the new onscreen Braille input method introduced in iOS8. *Zombies, Run: This game introduces blind people to combining fitness and fun. Defend Able Township from hoards of zombies in a world where the dead can't even stay still. Since headphones or earbuds should be worn while running in order to enjoy the audio dramatics, I humbly suggest a treadmill or safe venue for running be added to the list of requirements. The accelerometer in your iPHONE or iPOD can track your runs and the came gives you supplies with which to build and upgrade your town as a reward for your real-world physical effort. The story is told during your runs via audio segments played in between your chosen play list of music. Recommended Reading: Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How they can Change the World by Jane McGonigal This blog posting by Ian Hamilton explains screen-readers and the difficulties currently being encountered when attempting to play what otherwise could be accessible games. Ian Hamilton is an advocate for participation of people with disabilities in games who undersstands the technical issues and economics involved. http://ian-hamilton.com/screenreaders-and-game-engines/ This recent article in the New Yorker discusses an audio-only game which caught the attention of the sighted gaming community. It discusses the growing economic case for accessible games. http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/a-video-game-that-you-cant-even-see When a group of Dungeons and Dragons players chose to include a blind person who wanted to participate, they found that including him meant discovering what role-playing was supposed to be. http://dungeonsmaster.com/2012/03/blind/ Terry Garrett wants to play the same games as his sighted friends. Good audio design helps this be possible. He can actually play the Oddworld series of games due to good sound design. http://kotaku.com/5766791/how-a-blind-man-plays-video-games Brandon Cole has learned to play many songs in a popular music game called Rock band. He has created a site with tutorials for blind people to help them play mainstream games. http://www.brandoncole.net/ Jordan Verner from Ontario has beet en Legend of Zelda; Ocarina of Time. He had sighted friends give him literally step by step instructions. http://kotaku.com/5484361/with-the-help-of-friends-blind-man-beats-legend-of-zelda Blind gamer Brice Mellen was able to become good enough at Mortal Combat to reach championship level play. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/news/2005-07-28-blind-gamer_x.htm This article caught the attention of hopeful players and game developers alike when it appeared on Polygon, a widely respected games site. http://www.polygon.com/features/2013/8/6/4550490/blind-games-rock-vibe