Sunday, February 28, 2010

Behind The Scenes: Assistive Tech And The Singularity

I grew up listening to the great Milo Hamilton and Larry Dirker call Houston Astros games. While I couldn’t see the ball, a pair of binoculars and the radio duo allowed me to focus the small fields of the glasses onto the right parts of the diamond.

The older Astrodome was a wondrous place for a small boy. It was big, it was well lit and it was air conditioned. and in Houston that was a very important feature to have on a summer day. The other thing the Dome had was an awesome set of speakers. And I loved the art that was the introduction of a player that came to the plate.

One of my favorite introductions was for Jose Cruz. It was easy for me to recognize Mr.. Cruz as he had the oddest batting style I had seen in my young life. He held the bat up high. Almost like his elbows were parallel to his shoulders kind of high. But his introduction was even more memorable.

“Now batting.. Jose Crrrruuuuuuuuuuuzzzzzzzzzzzzz”

The crowd was always into it from the second the announcer said Jose. For sometimes up to 10 seconds the whole audience would shout “oooooooooosssss” in unison. It was mandatory, it was a part of being an Astros fan and I think it literally became a law from the City Council. When Jose stepped up, be ready to join in with the crowd.

In the late 80’s, my brother was into baseball big time. He even went on to play A and Double A ball. And attending the opening days of various Little Leagues was a family event. I was in college and already working in radio at the time of many of the opening day events.

For practice I’d sit in the score box, with some of the kids from the other players families, and call the game over the loudspeakers. The kids would let me know when the line ups had changed or gave me an idea of who caught what or tagged out on a base. It worked well really. I got to do commercials for the sponsors of the park, they got a professional for free to call the game and I got to watch my brother play from a grate vantage point.

On one of the opening days Mr.. Jose Cruz was asked to come and throw out the first pitch. And, you guessed it, I got to live out a dream by introducing him by doing the call that I had learned over so many years since the man came up to the big leagues in that magical Domed stadium.

My mother described the smile on Mr.. Cruz’s face in great detail. My father was working the concession stand and he froze for a few seconds hearing me do what I used to do for fun at home, now over the loudspeakers of the little ball park. Me? I smiled for what must have been for days. I remember my cheeks hurting that afternoon from hearing everyone’s immediate reactions to the introduction.

It was an amazing feeling to get to do something you have always wanted to do since you were a kid. And I’ve been looking for opportunities to catch that lightning in various bottles over the years.

This week I was able to snare electricity again.

I realize that it is a weird world now in AT. It has more pitfalls, there are more players now and let us not dwell on the legal issues. To be honest, it is hard to find common ground for many these days. I was, however, very lucky in that I was able to fashion a schedule of events recently that had me being able to get some heavy hitters all in one place.

And I was able to introduce another idol, and one good friend, during this past week. It wasn’t the 8th wonder of the world and I didn’t need a microphone. But my cheeks hurt just like old times none the less.

I was able to provide an introduction for Doug Geoffray of G.W. Micro. And, even better, I didn’t have to wait in a long line at CSUN to hear him speak. Years ago, at NFB Computer Science in Philadelphia, I was able to talk to Dan. So getting to talk to Doug allowed the circle to be complete.

As much fun as it was to introduce an Idol, it was even more fun to introduce a friend. As being able to provide an introduction to Ricky Enger from Serotek was a thrill for me as well. I could take up gigs of space in the amount of nice things I could say about Ricky. She is one of the kindest people in the Industry and I’m happy to know that more than 40 more people at this recent event now know that as well.

But that wasn’t all.. Eric Damery of Freedom Scientific was on hand too. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Eric many times over the years and I always come away with more knowledge every time I attend a FS talk.

The fantastic thing is that all of these companies, along with some others, came to this event and were all there to promote their products in a friendly atmosphere. It isn’t often I get to work with so many luminaries on a smaller stage and I value the times I do have a chance to see many of them outside of the convention environment.

At the end of the day the road maybe well traveled, however, it is the various lanes of traffic that makes it such an interesting ride. Or, it is still fun for me to see so many companies all striving to help others with their products.

I normally don’t pass along stories like this from the offline world for lots of reasons. Doing so can cause a major headache for me in what I do for a living. I have been a bit of a downer though, over the last two years, with where my head was at running up towards Windows 7. I thought that I would pass along this particular story because this last week was the closest experience I’ve had in a long time that equates to what it was like for me in the beginning of my career in AT. And since it was such a positive one, well readers should know that there really are people behind the marketing and the fanboys/fangirls arguments out there in the mailing lists. Real people who do great work. And it was a real thrill to get to work with them all once again. The small boy who imitated newscasters and radio announcers sincerely thanks you. He also can’t wait for next season so he can do it all again.

Poll: Travel Poll Over, Stream Poll Added

Spring break is just around the corner. Many will be traveling all across our great land. But who will travel to where when it comes to AT conventions?

Poll Question: What Event Will You Attend In 2010?

ATIA   2 (18%)
CSUN   4 (36%)
ACB National Convention    2 (18%)
NFB National Convention    2 (18%)
Sight Village    1 (9%)

It looks like a lot of those who voted are heading to sunny San Diego to enjoy CSUN. Frankly, SD is just a bit out of my price range. Not that L.A. wasn’t cheap. I just can justify the trip there with touristy type things with Hollywood and all. Still, I will be bringing you stories from the halls of NFB in Dallas come this summer.

And money plays a lot into the way we look at Assistive Technology. Take, for instance, the idea of a paid upgrade for an accessible MP3 player. Rumors are running wild about a possible paid upgrade for the illustrious Victor Reader Stream. Okay, many are really just saying that there wasn’t enough in the 3.1 update. But go with me here a little. Its Imaginationland time.

Hypothetically speaking, let us say that there is a new update. And it has that oh so special feature you have always wanted. A clock, docx support or even the ability to not have to use that Stream Companion software anymore. Whatever the magic button is.. you would press it for what price?

New Poll Question: If It Had The Features You Wanted, How Much Would You Pay for A Victor Reader Stream Update?

Something close to $20 U.S.
Maybe around $30 U.S.
I might spend $40 U.S.
No more than $50 U.S.
I'll never buy an update for my Victor Reader Stream

Again, I’m just talking in fantasy speak here. Humanware does have some news about the Stream and the Companion software coming at CSUN. I just thought it would be interesting to see what others thought on the rumors going strong on the net. I’ll leave this up until CSUN ends.