Tuesday, January 22, 2008

It's been a hard day

Dear School Board:

Buy. A. Bag. Of. Salt.


It was stupid icy this morning and school was not called off. That put me in a grumpy mood, and then a slip and fall in the parking lot didn't help. I landed on my butt, then on my laptop backpack, which had the Gateway and the XO smushed under me. Hello computer sandwich!

Can I get workman's comp for this?

Then, in front of me, a parent let out one of my favorite kids -- he has autism and wasn't happy this morning. He was muttering under his breath and shuffling his feet. He makes me laugh. I adore him.

I'm sore. I am waiting for my insurance to approve Humira.
I guess on days like this, I should take a celebrex. But they make me sleepy. It was already a 1 1/2 provigil day.

So what's an arthritic, narcoleptic speech aide to do? Especially since my new schedule has me _not_ being a speech aid, but really being a special ed aide. I love that, but I really felt not healthy enough for special ed work. And right now, I feel it. Every bone hurts.

I'm taking a nap.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Creating technology, not adapting it

While on the shuttle on my way back from getting my ATACP in Co, I sat in front of two men coming from a different technology conference, which they were discussing. I was annoyed -- I wanted to sleep -- but then I became really engrossed with the conversation. These were people clearly on the cutting of edge of where technology, academics, and virtual and real worlds met.

The more I listened, the more I wanted to jump in. As we got off at the terminal, I accosted one guy and started talking about what I had just learned about access. It's not a second life if your screen reader can't deal with it. I wanted to make sure people with disabilities were included in this brave new virtual world.

The gentleman I talked to turned out to be an architect of the croquet project, which sparked my interest in open source. Now I have an xo and am now really trying to understand open source and figure out its uses in the AT world.

Why I start the story with me randomly chatting with a guy in the airport is because of something he said that the xo and now the Kenguru car (below)remind me of. I wish I could remember the quote, but he mentioned how the virtual world need not copy the inefficiencies of the physical world. He pointed to a pillar in DIA and said something like "In second life, there's no reason for that to be there. It's not holding up anything. We don't need to recreate it." He also spoke of using things like sonar, like bats do, to navigate the virtual world.

His project, Croquet, from what I gather from the net, seems more suited toward large scale, large graphics, and other high powered info. The xo is the opposite-- small technology. But both are revolutionary in their real-time syncing or meshing capabilities.

Still, I am understanding a bit of what he meant when I look at the xo. It's not, as I mentioned before, a scaled down version of a 8lb laptop, which is itself a scaled down desktop computer. Ground up, hardware and software, this was designed with a specific user in mind. Not adapted to the user. Designed for that user.

That's really a lesson we can learn in AT. As technology becomes more available, we really have infinite possibilities to solve AT issues. Like many other AT people, I tend to look at hardware first because it is so scarce. "Wouldn't it be nice if I took this alaphasmart and tried to solve _____'s problem with it?" This was stressed at the CSUN ATACP training -- we should start with the function we want, then find the hardware.

We also talked about Universal Design -- trying to build features into any project to make it as universally useful as possbile.

I would take it a step further - look at the functions we want, then design the hardware. Don't just adapt. Design. Why do we need screen readers to read graphical commands when maybe using tones to replace icons would be more efficient? With my slow painful acquisition of knowledge of open source systems on the XO, I realize I could really make the xo do anything I needed it to do -- I am limited (severely!) only by lack of knowledge in coding.

Case in point:
This car from Hungary. Tired of bulky wheelchair vans? Why are wheelchair vans bulky? Because they take a car intended for abled passengers and add a bunch of crap to it to try to make it appropriate for a wheelchair user. For some drivers, this might be a better alternative.

Note: My first embedded youTube clip! I've said before, I'm not a coder!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Crazy busy!

I'm bringing R.J. Cooper the area I live in. I figure if I can't get people to go out and look at AT, I can bring AT to them, maybe. But I'm running around, trying frantically to get info out, conjure up hotel rooms, etc.

I'm tired.

Really tired. I have a million great job leads but I'm too tired to follow any of them up.

*sigh* Still, I'm doing what I love. Or almost. I'm making copies and fielding 8 year olds in meltdowns so other people can do what they love. But I'm close...

I'm close...

OLPC: G1, B1, G1 someday, S1B (One Laptop Per Child: Give 1, Borrow 1, Get 1 someday, Send Borrowed 1 Back Eventually)

A post for www.olpcnews.com and a bit of explaining.

I have not gotten my XO yet, but there was a contest by the person who runs the site, Wayan Vota, about who needed to borrow his XO. I wrote in haiku form about how my Gateway laptop flying at my head is not a good thing. XO = much lighter. With help from my ballot stuffing Queensryche friends, I won Wayan’s xo last week. Here is my post about my first week with the XO.

I have bonded with Wayan’s XO. I am glad he told me he was going to reflash the memory when it comes back to him – I’ve had to flash the memory a few times already because, well, I do stupid things. Lots of stupid things. So this entry has been written and rewritten and is very late in being published. (It’s no longer hour 30 – more like day 7 or so.) I must learn how to back things up onto a thumb drive.

I am starting to wonder if I should just forward my brand spankin’ new XO to Wayan when it arrives so I don’t have to worry about what the kids at work might do to his. I know it was meant to be sturdy, but did Mary Lou Jepsen test to see what happens when someone licks the screen? Yes, the screen has been licked. Sorry dude.

Still, I’ve gotten see it used in really neat environment. The kids I work with are much more like the na├»ve user Negroponte is aiming at. The best blog post about the G1G1 program ever (http://blog.genyes.com/index.php/2008/01/05/olpc-xo-top-ten-checklist-for-g1g1-reviews) reminds me that every single person I come into contact with through my daily existence has preconceived notions of what computers should do and how they should act in our daily lives. Most of those notions have been conceived by Bill Gates.

I think, for those of us who have grown up with a keyboard in our hands, we should not call this a computer. A laptop is a better word, but still makes one think of the 8 lbs of dual processing flat screened monstrosity. This is a different beast. It’s not designed for YouTube or Disney Channel games. It’s not what many people have in mind when they think “computer.”

So it is for the kids I work with. They have taken to calling this “That little computer,” as in “Are you going to bring that little computer to computer lab with us?”

I explain that “it isn’t as fast as those big computers, so you have to be patient.” That seems to work while we’re waiting for an activity to load. These are kids who might, while waiting for internet explorer to start in the school computer lab, click enough times to open 10 or so browsers, no exaggeration.

The children I mostly use the XO with are elementary school in a special education class. Most of them can read, write, and speak, although at below grade level. They are vociferous consumers of media, including computer games. They are fearless computer explorers but without a lot of understanding of what they are doing. They click and pound. I’m sure some of the games are educational. I’ve seen a boy with autism who is primarily non-verbal pull down the address menu in explorer and click on the words he recognizes. The other kids ask to be put on a specific site if they can’t find it in the drop down menu, then click on pictures of cartoons they like until they come to a game. If a game is too hard, or freezes, they simply open another browser. Or shout for help. Or move to another computer. When it’s time to drag the class of 11 kicking and screaming out of the lab, there might be 5 extra computers to shut down, in various states of stuck.

My XO doesn’t really interest some of the kids, the ones more into their games. But a few kids, particularly 2 girls who aren’t really into their games, and one boy who really has a good understanding of computers compared to the rest of the class, absolutely love this thing. The first day I brought it into lab with me, a few of the girls had a blast on draw. I explained I had just received the computer (literally – I had to run home an hour or so before because the DHL tracking site showed me Wayan’s lonely XO was sitting unloved and vulnerable in a Crate and Barrel box on my doorstep.) and they’d have to figure it out themselves. By the end of the computer session, one girl had figured out how to change colors on paint. It took me another few days. (Dropper is small, arrow is big – I think that’s counterintuitive but an 8 year old didn’t think so).

For two days in a row, I was able to pry an 8-year-old out of a classroom she usually refuses to leave by whispering she could carry “the little computer.” As she swung it happily by the handle, I cringed and again prayed it was as durable as advertised. Still, it was worth the purchase price to get her to get out of the room without a struggle.

The same child loved memorize, saying “Wow, I’m smart, huh?” I’ve put spelling words and vocab words into memorize, but am having trouble saving and returning to them. I’m also having trouble with fitting the definitions onto a square because it auto-crops them.

Write was a blast for her. They are not allowed to open word, which I don’t understand, but word is usually used to type long strings of joyful gibberish, like skhfgshjshgglsdfng. So I let her type long streams of joyful gibberish in write. When we have headphones, I will try to let her type in Speak, which will only pronounce “real” words. Speak will be fun for reciting spelling words. Another child got great joy out of typing her name in speak.

I look forward to getting the GCompris suite running. In one incarnation of my computer, I did have the whole bundle going. But I am trying to avoid “learning games” and staying with activities – things my students can use to construct or explore. I particularly appreciate the kid-friendly word processor and paint programs in GCompris, but I can’t get them to run without the whole bundle yet. Ditto for Tux Paint.

Other activities that have been a hit:
miniTamTam – lots of fun. The other TamTams are a little hard for these guys, but miniTamTam is instant fun. Jessie also had a blast at miniTamTam.

Measure –
endless fun. When the teacher comes in to fetch her kids and you and one of her third graders are barking into a small green machine and then giggling hysterically, it does not make you look all that mature. But it was fun. This student is hearing impaired so measure might translate to something very useful for him. For instance, he has trouble knowing when he is shouting. I don’t know enough about the program to show if measure measures volume, but it’s something the speech path can help me work with.

Picture Quiz –
I have not used this on the kids yet. I’ve had to uninstall it to free up memory, but it’s a project I will visit as soon as I figure out how to make my own quizzes. I enjoyed seeing the inside of the XO. I really wanna open mine, I mean Wayan’s. (Don’t worry – I won’t.)

Story Builder –
ditto. They wanted to type stories for their pictures. These are kids who don’t voluntarily do things like that.

Cartoon Builder --
Not tried on kids yet. I’ve had fun with it.

Record –
What’s not to love about this? This was the activity Jessie licked the screen on, trying to kiss her picture. In about 2 minutes, some of the kids in the class figured out how to take pictures and promptly took a million goofy ones. Computer lab was over before they figured out videos.

Pippy –
One boy tried it and played a little, but was not impressed that he was programming the computer. I don’t think he understands what that means yet.

EToys, Turtle Art –
Neither the kids nor I have figured these out enough to be useful.

There is something about this computer – its small shape, its friendly greenness, I don’t know – that signals to kids that this is okay, this is their computer. It’s inviting. I did have to pry it away from one girl who kept repeating “my computer.” Again, thank goodness for the ruggedness. I’ve had an SD card eaten out of a device before – my work conditions are much more 3rd world than most.

Now might be the best time to speak of hardware issues. I’m struggling with the keyboard, but it wasn’t meant for me! A spare USB keyboard around the house takes care of that. My keyboard and infrared mouse were recognized and functional instantly – no “new hardware wizard.” As I sat in my principal’s office to take notes a few days ago, the sun came in over my shoulder and shone directly on the screen. The screen was amazing – not just readable, but sharp and clear.

I struggle with the upside down sd card insertion, but I’m okay with that. All visible appendages are subject to attack, like I’ve said before. I like my SD card hidden. When Jessie worked on the xo, she immediately picked it up by USB drive. My infrared mouse’s USB adapter sticks out way too temptingly far as well. I want to be able to somehow close the ears and still have a functional mouse. I will keep brainstorming.

What Jessie loved most, besides kissing her picture in record, was miniTamTam and the screen rotate button. Jessie is non-verbal, remember, but has very good expressive language. When she moved the mouse in miniTamTam, it did not go the direction it should have because the screen was flipped. She shrugged, raised her eyebrows, pointed the mouse and said “huh”? That issue really needs to be fixed, but I was happy because it showed me she knows how a mouse should move.

I won’t go into the needing an input mode for ebook mode because that has been covered.

This machine has a lot of potential as assistive tech. At the very least, the simple word processing capabilities put it head and shoulders above the alphasmarts I’ve used. Being able to see the whole screen is great.

Another device this might replace for me personally is my pocket pc. I have a sprint pcs 6700. I bought it mostly because of the keyboard, which is a fraction of the size of the xos (yet everyone marvels at the how large my 6700s keyboard is). I use it to keep quick notes when I travel, snap quick pictures, access email. In fact, my 6700 and xo have comparable processing speeds, memory, and price. Interesting. As soon as I have a reliable way to keep and sync my schedules and bank account info, I might be able to carry a little slim razr like everyone else in the world and ditch the brick I talk into.

Even better – I want to use my 6700 as a modem to access my EVDO Sprint network. That would be awesome!

I’m keeping “learning games” off of this computer. My students have access to lots of solitary learning by computer games. They know how to entertain themselves. What I am envisioning is for them to see this computer as a tool to construct something that is theirs, and then to translate that into using “the big computers” more effectively

Sad News

A young man from my hometown, who I only kind of knew, passed away on Christmas
Eve. He had severe cerebral palsy.

He died of pneumonia.

I've been "in this world" of working with people with developmental disabilities for about 7 years now. In this time, 3 people with cerebral palsy who I sort of knew, or knew through someone else, have passed away.

This guy we lost on Christmas really is haunting my thoughts these days, making me understand some things I didn't understand before. Like how conductive ed can seem so cruel, but how scary the alternatives can be. I understand when people think it's fighting for the lives of their children.

There are some days I understand Ashley X's parents, as much as I don't want to. It was still wrong. I understand it though.

Would conductive ed have saved him? ABR? A communication device and good training on it early so he could have said he didn't feel well?

I bristle when people want to "fix" people I love. Disability is like any other fact of life, like blue eyes and big feet. Yet, when I hear news like this, I understand wanting to fix it, or make it better, or give him the best chance of not dying of pneumonia in his 20s.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Give One, Get Over It

I've been anxiously tracking my XO laptop until I found web communities of people doing the same.

I got some helpful hints, like how to tell if my laptop has been shipped, etc.

But mostly, I am a bit frustrated with the whining of XO buyers/donors. IT'S A CHARITY! You did not order an ipod. You did not order from amazon. You ordered from a charity. Their business is not distribution. There were no promises made that you would get your laptop by Christmas.

However, I think Brightstar, the company olpc has hired for logistics, perhaps needs to get its act together. If they are charging olpc regular rates for their services, there is a problem. Olpc isn't getting logistics management, that's for sure.

I want mine. I'm like a kid. I'm anxious. I want to play. But I know it ain't about me. It's about a kid somewhere in Afghanistan or Rwanda. It ain't about ticked off people on the internet who want their toys. And I will try hard not to be one of them.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy 2008

For personal reasons as well as professional, I am glad to see the end of 2007! It wasn't a very good year.

My resolutions are:

1) finish putting books into Jessie's springboard and upload them so that other people can use them.

2) work on making the XO a piece of assistive tech by
a) learning the operating system and trying to run standard AT/AAC programs on it with a windows emulation program

b) looking into touchscreens for it

c) learn python

d) contribute to the olpc wiki on assistive tech

3) take a programming class at the community college if I can

4) continue to try to talk my bosses into letting me, well, work while I'm here

5) find a job in AT

Other disability/health related goals:
1) join a gym
My school district had a great corporate wellness program and a trainer who has done some work on fibromyalgia. It's not the same as RA, but at least he's familar with auto-immune conditions.

2) get off predinsone
I'm tired of it. It's been two years now, the longest I've ever been on it. =I don't like this.

3) get off methotrexate
I'm still on it, despite my abulance trip in August. It's scary to decide I'm done with it -- for 12 years, it's saved me from disability. But I'm done. It's time to move on. I start Humira soon and I think I only need to poke myself with one needle, thank you very much.

4) examine mobility options
when I asked my nurse practicioner about helping me get a folding scooter, she said it would be fraud because "You're not there yet." She said it would be the same if I had a handicapped hangtag. I already have one.

When I am Christmas shopping and the only spaces are so far back that I go on instead of carrying out what my plans were, I think of that.
"We want you to exercise" she says. She would be a good conductor. When I'm almost in tears by the time I reach my destination and have no energy left for the activity, that's not a good thing. That's not "exercising." I'm tired of bravely struggling. I want to ride so that I have energy left for what I want to do.

I think I'm going for a folding scooter this year. It's not fraud. It's mobility.

Other goals:
Volunteer for a local agency that provides services to people with disabilities, like Horses for Healing or Champs.

Continue to help with AT exchanges and awareness for the agencies and people I'm affiliated with

Get everyone in J.C.'s life together for pizza once every two months or so. It doesn't have to be a formal microbaord, but there does have to be some communication.