Visiting The Tidalist: Wild Horses Run Free

Have you ever stayed in a house that has a name? Because I sure hadn’t… until now. My sister-in-law had decided to celebrate her 40th birthday in style, opting to rent a spacious house in Corolla, located in extreme northeastern North Carolina along the Outer Banks. And the house was, you guessed it, The Tidalist.
We arrived at the location last Saturday at nearly 5 PM, after a drive in which it seemed the area was literally moving farther away from us. And it’s true, the roads heading out that direction are such that if you watch the as-the-crow-flies miles on your GPS, they’ll start bobbing up and down at around 32 miles out. It seemed to take foreverr for the numbers to start finally counting down for good. “Man, this is a long way to go for water,” my wife and her mom often said. I guess anywhere in the eastern or western portion of the Tar Heel State has this out-of-time and unusually distanced quality.
When we got to the house though, I suppose you could say the journey was worth it. We hauled our luggage onto an elevator (an elevator, in a house!) and made our way up to the htird floor. It was basically the second floor, but of course any beachfront residence has to be elevated to minimize flood risk, such as that goes when you have a thin strip of land bordered to the east by sea and the west by the Currituck Sound. No way on earth would I actually live out there, I could tell you that.
Anyhow, after a quick perusal of the premises, we selected the room that, as it happened, had the best mattress in the house. The accommodations may have been luxurious, but apparently most of the bedding… wasn’t. We however slept like babies.
The first thing one does after that kind of epic drive is search for food, so we settled on a local pizza restaurant called Pizzaz. Well first we trekked to the grocery to stock the two fridges located in the top-floor kitchen, to at least try and cut costs. Though this didn’t really work outt that much, because of course people didn’t really feel like cooking. The pizza was ok I guess, having toppings that kind of reminded me of school pizza. I was so hungry though that I wolfed it down and was happy.
Sunday was mostly a lazy day of walking along the shore and trying to get into the kids pool while the kids thrashed around in the big pool, go figure. That water was kind of cold for me, so I didn’t stay in there long. I chose instead to sunbathe on the wooden chairs nearby.
The real fun occurred at 4:30, when we went on the Wild Horse Adventures Tour. I was intrigued, because we hopped up into a hummer, I guess those are the same vehicles that in military parlance are called hum-vees (spelling). You had to climb a short ladder in order to get into the vehicle, and I was already wondering how I would get back down without face-planting.
The tour guide, Ames John also, was quite entertaining throughout. As he navigated us through increasingly bumpy terrain, he told stories of how the horses, Spanish stallions, had gotten there in the first place (abandoned by the Spanish when they were run off by local indigenous peoples) and how they had thrived but currently only number 100 or so. The most entertaining horse story resulted from a question about whether the horses swim in the ocean.
“Not really,” he replied. “…the only reason they would get into the water would be to get away from the kisses… or to give up on a fight over a mare to get the kisses.” Yes, there were two really young kids onboard and a teenager too, so we assumed we got the edited version. All of his responses were like that though, well-informed and keeping us involved.
All of that was well and good, but of course what they wanted most was to see the horses. If this works, you should be able to see the photos my wife took of these beautiful animals on my public Facebook page. While I couldn’t of course see them, I still enjoyed the imply ride as we ventured off-road and up into the sand where some people amazingly lived. Guess they truly want privacy, but how do they get, well any kind of services?
And that was basically the day’s highlight, and that of the first half of the trip. That Sunday night, we ate from a place called Sooey’s, where they had so many options I ate three different meals there over the course of the week. To start with, I had delicious fried flounder, some fries that didn’t offer much in the way of flavor, and fried okra.
Monday was a fairly quiet day, on which I read nearly 100 pages of a great book I’d selected by Lisa Wingate called The Sea Keeper’s Daughters. Set in the Outer Banks, farther dow than we were in Matteo, it involves a woman whose Michigan restaurant is about to go under, so she is forced to come to North Carolina to try and find a way to save it in her mother’s hotel. As it turns out, she ends up discovering a vast history that involved her grandmother and an unknown relative, a twin sister of the grandmother who had written many fascinating lettters as she worked for the Federal Writers Project documenting the history of North Carolina. This book beautifully weaves the depression era into the present in a way that is more prescient than the author probably even realized when she penned it in 2015, as there is talk of revitalizing the FWP to capture life in COVID times. If you don’t know anything about the FWP, it’s worth reading up on. But Wingate’s description of Outer Banks landmarks made for great accompaniment on those long, lazy days. More in part 2: The Lighthouse Climb.

The Mantis, My Updated Thoughts

I’ve owned a Mantis QX40 Braille display from the American Printing House for the Blind for almost ten months, and my viewership numbers at least suggest that there is still a lot of interest in what I make of this product. So I figured it was high time to capture some of the things I love about this device as well as those that I hope change in some way or would just like to see added. My overall impression though is that this is one of the best little machines I’ve ever had. I’ve written every blog post since its acquisition on this springy QWERTY keyboard. So that’s a good start, right?
And that would probably be my favorite element of the Mantis, its keyboard. I probably noted that in the original post, but it still holds true: having the easy ability to type and to see a Braille display at the bottom without carrying around 2 devices is a big plus. I can certainly type on a Perkins-style keyboard, but it just seems that in some way that can impede my thinking. I should note that for those who want what the Mantis offers (and a little more) on a display with the Perkins keyboard, HumanWare has just released the Brailliant BI 40X. It’s like the previous display I owned, but definitely improved. I know that some would just prefer that form factor, and it’s good to be in a world of choice where we have such options.
Anyway, my second favorite thing about the Mantis is it size. It feels good on my lap and allows me to read easily even in confined spaces, without too much fear of it sliding off of said lap and hitting the floor. The APH-provided case adds to its heft and also decreases the slidiness (that’s a word because I say so!) That Brailliant I had before was built like a tank, having flown from my hand more than a few times but only carrying slight dents and still functioning quite well. I suppose the Mantis is equally strong, but because of its purchasing price I have no desire to test that theory.
Stability and typing speed are all well and good, but my truly favorite thing about the Mantis is the reading services present therein. It connects to NFB Newsline and Bookshare, both of which I have now signed up for. The latter requires a $50 membership fee, but for all of the reading I do these days it’s well worth it.
And I suppose here I can get into some of the things I wish the Mantis had, noting that APH is already aware of some of these and have made significant updates to the unit since I acquired it. The first, and this is superficial to me and not overtly necessary, is that it would be cool if the Mantis allowed access to the NLS BARD Braille catalog, as I hear the Brailliant BI X will. This is not a big problem for me, as I’d guess that Bookshare already has many of the titles available on NLS, but for a true book junkie like me the browsing and adding to wish list never stops.
A more wished-for update whose implementation I do not know even is possible, is for the Mantis to maintain the Braille settings used on the device when it is connected via the Terminal. For example, I have reversed the thumb key configuration, because I have found it easier to advance forward through a document using my left hand. If I use my right hand, I tend to bounce a spot ahead of what I had intended too many times for my liking. It will not allow me to access this setting though when working on the iPhone, which affects my ability to read in Kindle or Apple Books.
Finally, I discovered recently that when charging the unit, it seems best to leave it powered off for the entire time to get the most accurate reading on battery status. For a while, I thought that the fast-rising percentage I’d seen if the Mantis had been turned on and then back off during charging was accurate, but I noticed that when the status reads say 60% it would suddenly plummet to 20% and need immediate recharging. This would often happen a day and a half after having refilled it. Now, when I let it go to full charge at power-off, I can get about 4 days before needing to recharge. I would find it beneficial if somehow the unit could be made to display a accurate battery status no matter its powered state.
Those are surly small potatoes though, and do not at all detract from my enjoyment of using this device nearly all the time. I would still recommend it, and especially as the connectivity has also improved a great deal with the latest update, along with a near vanquishing of the Terminal Stopped issue that would occasionally pop up requiring a force quit. I certainly hope to get many more years out of it.

BE PREPARED: Lessons Learned from First Podcast Interview Attempt

So, remember the idea I had of getting episode 2 of my podcast up by today? Well… not so fast. I guess one might say I had to eat a big piece of humble pie, in at least trying to fully grasp the challenges that would come with actually interviewing someone. I’ve sat on it for a little over a week though, and have learned a few things that one might think I’d have recognized from all of my years of listening to NPR and the like.

I’ll begin by saying that the issues I faced were by no means a result of my interviewee, a person whom I’ve known for many years from my time as a UNC student and considered a mentor throughout that rocky period. In fact, she tried to take my shakiness and do the most she could with it, clearly having experience in the area of participating in interviewing. (And just to give her the plug I still hope to in a future podcast but can’t at the moment for reasons you’ll see later, she is Dr. Brenda Mitchell, author of a wonderful hildren’s book called Anthony’s Adventures, Already A Winner!)

I suppose the first lesson learned is that listening does not equal doing? Man, I have a much higher respect for those who can carry on complex conversations, following different lines of thought and coming up with great questions to bolster or deepen the audience’s understanding of a given subject. Do they teach that kind of stuff in journalism school? Or is it something you just have to have.

One thing I’m sure they cannot teach is awareness of the need for time flexibility. Whenever you’re asking someone to speak with you and they’re willing to give of their time, you must be prepared for that time to shift due to changing circumstances. The interview had been scheduled for 2 PM on Saturday, but as I settled on the couch with my coffee at 1, she texted asking if I could go ahead with it. This meant I no longer had the 30 minutes prior to meditate and try to get myself into the right headspace, as well as working out exactly how I would record it. But well now I know that I had better do those things well ahead of time and not depend on things to stay the way they had been planned.

After coming up with a nominal solution, she would record the Zoom call and send it back to me as I discovered that one cannot record Zoom from the phone, we began. And therein lay my second lesson: it’s probably best to give the author heads up on what the topic will be. I’d vaguely told her that it was a podcast focused on disability issues, but hadn’t explained that I would talk about her children’s book which addresses dealing with bullying as a result of visible difference. Worse, I just launched right into the body of questions saying “and in this book” with no indication that the title would be given later, meaning she covered for me and told the audience what it was indeed called. Next time I’ll just make sure that the author knows I will give the book blurb prior to playing the recording, or I will go ahead and do it in the introductions.

I would have liked to learn whatever other lessons that recording held, though I could guess that some were to speak more slowly and give myself time to thing so that I’m not “um, ah, ur-ing” all the time, but unfortunately the file was too large to share easily. That was fine though, as I was already pretty sure it wouldn’t meet basic posting standards. So, I need also to make sure that I have already worked out how I will record things and whether I can get everything to fit together in the end.

This is a big mountain to climb indeed, but I think it’s still an idea worth pursuing. I’m trying to be really careful before attempting to get another guest to make sure that I at least have a good enough understanding of what I’m trying to do to experience success. I want after all to promote myself and to elevate others’ work who have taken the time to highlight an experience, the experience of disability within the world, that is important to me and so many others I know. I hope you will still give it a listen whenever I can iron out all of the kinks, and as always, I hope my sharing helps someone else who is considering podcasting.

Hit Me With Your First Shot: On Finally Getting the COVID Vaccine

My employer decided, after some long, hard thinking, to host a COVID vaccination clinic so that those of us who hadn’t gotten poked yet could safely do so. As soon as this option was mentioned, I signed up. I do not, after all, know when another opportunity might come for me to take this important step not only to improve my own chances of avoiding this nat virus, but also to make that much more of a dent in the still-too-high overall case count.

I guess because they did not wish to waste doses, people who were not employees were allowed in to get shots as well. Last I heard, we had 150 available, and only 115 employees had signed up. (I bet the others who came in were wide-eyed at all the blind folks roaming around, the modified paths with variable flooring and low plastic fences to keep us all in line that make me feel like we’re in a cattle chute, and the unusual-looking machinery).

And speaking of cattle chutes, that’s how the process of vaccinating all those folks in a relatively short time felt to me. My scheduled appointment time was 2:00, but I was not surprised when someone came to get me at 1:18 to “pre-register”. They tried to collect my basic information at a table set up right in the middle of the factory floor, which meant not only was I competing with pounding said strange machinery, but also with very high ceilings which does odd things with the sound. I could barely hear myself speak, let alone what the woman sitting there was asking me. We managed though, I signed the consent form, and took a seat in my second chair after having arrived over there.

Four chairs, two rooms, and a somewhat disconcerting number of people later, (I do think we were fairly distanced at least), I was finally ready to be jabbed. Ever the baby, I had to psych myself up as she said “3,2,1,” and popped the needle in. I was then given a fact sheet, a card that noted how long I needed to wait to watch for reactions (mine was 30 minutes, since I noted a Penicillin allergy) moved through two more chairs and left in what was formerly the break room but had been re-purposed as the “Observation room”. Makes it sound important, doesn’t it. Anyhow, I regretted not having brought my phone along, because what was I to do to kill the time! Think? Listen to people gossip? Yup.

It’s hours later now, and so far so good. The only issue I have is soreness at the site of the shot, but I fully expected that. My second dose of the Moderna vaccine will be on April 26th. If you are able to safely, I hope you can get vaccinated too, and especially as we’re seeing the numbers start to inch back up again. I feel very sad that we can’t do anything for those many who have already lost their lives, but perhaps the best tribute to them would be to get past this thing and retain some normalcy. I am looking forward to the things I’ve not done in a year, such as: eating in a restaurant, having a hot beverage at a coffee shop while absorbing the writing vibe, riding public transit and enjoying the background hum of my local community, and going to the occasional live sporting event again. Here’s hoping! Continue reading

Job Days No. 8: Hire Yourself

I find myself almost exactly 17 years since my job-finding journey began, with a vast majority of those having been spent working for agencies that primarily employ blind and low vision people. If not for my transition period just prior to marriage, I would have reached eight years with LCI, hence this being my 8th Job Days post. And I think I’ve had an epiphany: the truth for me is if I want some other kind of career, I must hire myself.

What do I mean by this? Well, first I had to do an extensive interview with myself, helped by my coach of a wife as noted in my Finding My Passion post. Then, I had to figure out what my, as she says, “Glows” are, those areas I’m already good at and can use to propel me toward that next stage. Finally, I needed to ascertain at least some of my many “Grows,” the areas on which I must work if I want to improve whatever opportunities I am able to find.

And I’m sort of doing that. I’ve upped my book review platforms to two now, having done one book so far on NetGalley that I will probably port over here someday so that I can then link the two and maybe some big publisher will come to view my humble blog.

But probably the bigger thing I’ve done is to actually kick off the podcast to which I referred in the previous entry. That’s right, the first episode is live! It’s an introduction episode, and it took me hours to get all of the pieces lined up just so. Will it pass the true audiophile’s test? No, but I don’t have the fancy audio equipment required for that just yet, so tear me apart softly, please. Ha, ha. What I do have is an idea, and I think this idea just might take me somewhere. So it’s still worth doing, even with the stuff I currently own. I also have booked my first guest, so if I can get everything together the next episode will go up on April 5..

As for the actual job stuff, what I usually write about in these updates, it’s mostly the same old same. Still doing light sticks, or I guess as it is more appropriately called, Omni Glow. My own slightly overconfident evaluation is that I’m now stronger and faster than ever with my work. Or I’ve at least come up with my most effective strategies for making it through the day ever. The supervisor, and pretty much everyone else, says I’m still too quiet though, but a lot of that is related to my subpar hearing. This issue has not been made any easier with everyone now wearing sound-muffling masks. And speaking of, we’re finally starting to get back to full speed after COVID, and I could not be more thankful for that. Lots of boring days had been spent twiddling my thumb or doing some form of “re-work,” where we remove already-packaged items so that they can either be correctly packaged or disposed of. It kept the bills paid, but…

So yes, I think this is the first year I find myself, not just hoping that some magical opportunity would land in my lap, but really starting to lay down the foundation to make my own show. I think that’s an important lesson not just for me, but for so many of us with disabilities, especially if, like me, you’re and paper resume is kind of lacking. As I have stressed in the last few of these posts, sadly our perceived job abilities are still far too constrained: rehab counseling, assistive tech work, or government work. These positions are great and have led to rewarding careers for many, but I just think that those of us who wish to need to start pushing our own boundaries to make more for ourselves and for those who are coming up behind us. Hopefully I am a positive influence to others, as I certainly aim to be.

On Creating My New Podcast, and Joining Clubhouse

While I am loving the technological changes we are experiencing of late, they also make me feel like we are speeding ever more inevitably to a “Ready Player One” world. In this book by Ernest Cline, society basically lives behind computer screens and does all of its transacting from bedrooms and other places at home, because a disaster has struck. With the pandemic possibly having no discernible end, it is not hard for one to imagine this kind of world taking hold for real, but even so I guess I’m embracing the possibilities it might create. It’s especially promising, hopefully not taken to extremes but existing in whatever form it does, for persons with disabilities.

I’ll talk more about the part that really makes one feel we are headed in that direction towards the end, but first I have created a podcast! Well sort of. At this point, only the trailer exists. But the idea, as you can hear in said trailer, is that I will interview different authors who have written works concerning disability in whatever way it is portrayed. I certainly want more than just blind and even deaf people to be represented, since I believe that we can actually be a more powerful block of “people with disabilities” if we work together. I think book portrayals are an important element of our ability to fit into society, because people make strong associations with the characters they read about and what they expect to see when encountering someone who seems to fit that description. I’ve not tried to land interviews yet, but I have composed an initial list of eight authors with whom I would love to speak. The tricky part will be coming up with a proposal that succinctly communicates the goal of this podcast and hopefully makes them want to do it.

Creating the podcast has been something of a challenge as well. I dithered on which platform to use, but when I went to re-evaluate Anchor I discovered that it has come a long way from what it was even a couple of years ago. I guess this is because they were acquired? I’m not aware of the exact relationship) by Spotify. They walk you through the whole process of setting it up, and even seem to provide the auto-transcript which I can then go in and edit, a much faster process than trying to write one up myself. So I’m going to continue developing the show, and I’ll let you know when it officially launches.

And speaking of things launching, I suppose, I’ve finally been invited to Clubhouse. By now, I suspect you’ve heard of this invite-only app that I’ve been told is, unfortunately, only available on iOS. I certainly hope they can change that soon. Anyhow, I was invited by two different friends within a couple of hours, so I signed up and started exploring. So far it looks neat, and I learned a lot by attending a presentation specifically about using Clubhouse with a screen-reader (I suppose the only screen-reader is VoiceOver at this point). I did find one book club of interest, and I think they’ll notify me if the club has another meeting some time soon. That’s one thing I’ve noticed, you can end up getting a lot of notifications about various rooms you might be interested in entering. I’ll have to go and look at settings to see if I can adjust what I want to hear about.

So those are some of the exciting happenings in my corner of the world. I’ll have my annual Job Days post coming soon, in which I will look at how things are shaping up at my employer and with my side hustle of book reviewing. In the meantime, I hope you are keeping well and staying safe.

On Music, Sleep, and Access: Slowly Making My Way Back

Feels like I’ve not written in a month, even though I have some entries posted. This is because, for that month, the pandemic and its restrictions had finally flattened me. I’ve not written in my book, which got to over 16,000 words by the way, and was reluctantly dragging myself into work at best. As with all of us I’m sure, it’s been a real struggle with me, living this becalmed existence, but I hope we’re on the backside of this thing finally! Numbers are coming down, now let’s just hold on and try to make it to the other side before we go too crazy.

Anyway, I’m starting to find my way back out of the doldrums, thanks to three things: the gift of music, improved sleep, and the remembrance of love.

First the music, as we all know it can be one of the best forms of therapy. I sort of accidentally came up with the idea a few days ago to listen to every year’s hip hop and R&B and Pop playlists on Apple Music of the 1990s. I’ve only gotten through 1991 and 1990, having started them in the wrong order because initially I’d just wanted to hear songs from 30 years ago, and these tracks both take me back and make me feel a lot better. And the good news, from my perspective, is that I’ve got songs to listen to in this way probably till early April or so, when it will hopefully be warmer and I can get outside for some sun again.

And speaking of sun, sort of, I (or more truthfully my wife) undertook a few steps to try and help me get my sleep back on track. It had gone dangerously off the rails, and especially when trying to get that all-important set-up sleep on Sunday night to prepare for work. First, she got me a My Pillow, that pricey pillow that makes all kinds of promises about its ability to change your sleeping habits and life for good. I broke it in this Friday night, knowing I would have time if I indeed found it harder to sleep instead. And at first I did, because the pillow kid lower than I’ve gotten used to with the two-pillow Elevation I’d had before.

Then Saturday, she’d ordered me some Melatonin gummies. They’re actually pretty good, and you take two of them to get a three-mg dose of that stuff. So I tried those, along with re-elevating that pillow on Saturday night, and I’ve really slept like a baby sense. It’s meant feeling so much Better at work, and slowly but surely getting back to where I feel like doing stuff afterwards too though of course being tired after a long workday is normal anyway. We don’t really know whether the pillow or Melatonin are truly doing the trick, (I joke that this is because our experiment is not enacting one variable at a time) but I don’t really care as long as something works.

She’d gotten me that for Valentine’s Day, having remembered my recent statements about how a lack of sleep was effecting me. I got her flowers from 1-800-flowers.com, mostly as a physical expression of the love I feel. Acquiring them wasn’t a lovely experience at first, as I couldn’t get the site to populate with choices based on my zip code. After fighting with that thing for hours and just about throwing up my hands in frustration, I finally selected the automated SMS feature. It was pretty cool, allowing me to make a series of choices then providing me with a link to pay for the order at the end, similar to what Apple did when I ordered the iPhone. This does not, in my opinion, replace the need to make a site accessible to blind users and really all users, but I guess it’s a fill-in and hope people keep working on longer-term solutions.

And to finish this post with a bonus that is related to said accessibility, because it’s one that had rocked the blindness community and threatened to send us back a ways, I was pleased to discover that Domino’s Pizza finally made its app accessible at least on iOS. It has gone from the least usable app to order pizza and other goods from them to the most usable. I don’t know all of the things that happened behind closed doors to make this possible, but I’m sure it was a big win for our advocates after the big fuss they put up in court wishing to not have to comply, and a reminder to let all of our voices be heard. So that’s a little motivation for me and hopefully for all of us, as we all try our best to survive the grind.

Black History Around The World Through Books

As some have said, Black history is not just American history, but also global history. People of color have had an impact on culture and life in nearly every country, to greater and lesser extent, and one of the most interesting ways to explore this impact is through fiction. So, I’ve somewhat randomly chose six novels that take place in various world regions and look at how Black folks coped “then” and are coping now. NOTE: I do not actually know if all of my chosen authors are Black and am ok with that, as the told stories still hit on important themes in ways that few other novels have.

I’m currently working on two of the novels, and the other four I might have completed by the end of February, but who knows. The first of my current reads is The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate. This story, set in the Louisiana of 1987 and 1875, takes a look at what happened after slavery. Sharecropping, scratching out survival by traveling through dangerous parts of the then-forming country, and most importantly, as the title suggests, an attempt to find people lost or scrambled about during slavery. The 1875 story tracks a specific family as three women, who had to disguise themselves as boys to get by, work their way through Texas and encounter issues that alter their lives forever. In the 1987 story, we see the descendants of this family and its house as they cope with the politics of what should or shouldn’t be taught in schools, particularly represented through a teacher from out of town who dares to venture into the controversial with a class project, because she sees that the kids strongly relate to it. The story is captivating and I’ve nearly completed the 15 hours of audio.

My second read is A Good Neighborhood, by Therese Fowler. I was compelled to grab this title because it is set in my home state of North Carolina, though no specific city is named. In the Oak Knoll neighborhood, a long-time resident becomes upset when a million-dollar buyer has a house constructed that ruins her favorite tree. Things become complicated when the mom prepares to sue the well-off father of the other household, even as her son starts to like their teenager. This story is a lot more dynamic than I kind of thought it would be, especially as we see the complex interracial reactions that occur between them all and the ways that class, and especially the experience of poverty, also plays into it.

As it happens, both of these books are set in the United States of America. The only other book in this country that I plan to read is Concrete Rose, by Angie Thomas. It’s the third in her Garden Heights series, which began with The Hate U Give. I assume it’s kind of stand-alone-ish, as it examines the life of Maverick (the family patriarch) seventeen years prior to that book. I think it’s gonna take a good Look at life as a black boy in a tough neighborhood, set in a major, again unnamed, city.

The fourth book I am considering sounds interesting to me. It’s called HowThe One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, by Cherie Jones. It takes place on an upscale beach in Barbados, an island I know little about and am fascinated with. In an NPR Weekend Edition interview, the author discusses things like the power of braiding hair in Black culture and how some people can be, well swept under, if they are seen as less.

The fifth book, called Africaville, is by an author named Jeffrey Colvin. This story is set in Nova Scotia against the Great Depression, And apparently examines how three generations of one family are affected by prejudice during that time. Again one in a region I know next to nothing about, which intrigues me. It is also narrated at least in part by the excellent Robin Miles.

And my final choice, which I’m sure is going to be equally well narrated, is Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This story, as does most of her work, examines life in Nigeria and some of the challenges that arise because of ideas about treatment of women by men in particular. I’ve read two other of her novels, Americanah and Half of A Yellow Sun, both of which were excellent. So I’ve been meaning to check this one out as well.

Of course there are so many books on my wishlist that I could read for this purpose, and I will read them over time. But I thought this would be a fun way to get a sense of life for Black folks within and outside of my own circle and my own country.

2020 In Life: My “Year like no other”

This past year has left and will leave its stain on us for the rest of our lives, and will be one mentioned in history books. I am, and I do not say this lightly, thankful that I survived, and always mindful of all those lost to the pandemic and to the other issues that have rocked us throughout. In the midst of our national and world strife, each of us have had a personal story in 2020, and so I’ve decided for the archives to capture a bit of mine.

January opens the same way it had for the previous 2 years of our marriage, with my wife and I preparing for and getting excited about our anniversary (January 27) trip. We have this crazy theory that the enjoyment or lack of in our trip sets the tone for the whole year going forward. Miami in 2019 is one we still talk about, having lived up to our hopes for a honeymoon destination. Tampa of 2020, about which I only wrote that one entry because I figured you didn’t really care,… did not. For several reasons but probably the biggest was that it was so cold! We were shocked that the temperature never really got out of the 50s from the Monday we arrived until it finally climbed on that Thursday as we readied to depart.

The second reason, at least in our opinion, is that there just wasn’t a whole lot to do. We got caught in a gale really at St. Pete Beach on Tuesday and were fortunate not to have been swept into the water at the edge of a long pier. On Wednesday, we opted to go to Orlando’s Universal Studios, which was pricey but a unique experience as most of the rides were inside and based on movies. A very visual experience, I still managed to have fun filling some of it in with my imagination.

We had already known that February would be quiet, as she needed to get a personal surgery that would put her down for most of that month. But we were all fired up to get back going by the end of March, with plans to attend River Dance at DPAC. I think I would have enjoyed that, but…

There came COVID. Well after I had already been officially diagnosed as diabetic at the end of February, a condition I’d no doubt had for at least a year prior and probably longer.

Even as I dealt with the complications of starting to manage that, I remember the shock and fear I felt as the pandemic kicked into full gear. I first took it seriously when the NBA and other sports in rapid succession shut down on March 11, and only a week later I’d left work and entered a 2-month quarantine. Remember that just prior to then, we were being told to worry more about the flu than this new thing called Coronavirus that was not likely to spread widely. Oh how wrong they were.

April and early May proceeded relatively quietly, until a jaw infection that had probably been festering for a year decided to rear up and cause big problems, leading to three teeth being pulled. Ouch. I was glad to have gotten through that challenge as well, and more that it hadn’t turned out to be something a lot scarier.

In June, I lost my father to cancer. I think I’m still dealing with the grief of that loss, as I was hoping to have time after COVID (whenever that is) to hang out with him. I was also tasked that month with returning to work under the mask mandate and no longer using public transportation because of all the safety changes that had been made. But fortunately for me, things have mostly gone smoothly with regard to that transition.

The rest of the year, July to December, was relatively uneventful. Unusually so really, thanks to this virus. It’s why I managed to set a new books-read record and get something like 10 book reviews out in total. We, like everyone I think, had that brief period from July till October where we almost thought we had COVID coming under control, then boom! It’s been up, up, up, since then sadly. No more trips, and then basically locked inside once the October temps dropped.

On balance though, I am thankful to still be here dealing with these minor inconveniences. Hopefully things are truly starting to look up, as we wonkily roll out the vaccine and some degree of immunity develops. I seem poised to have a fantastic, if incredibly busy 2021, but there’ll be more on that in the subsequent entry. Hang in there folks, I think it’ll get better soon.

A Christmas Gift To Myself: My Upgrade from iPhone 8 to 12 Pro

After listening to visionaries like Shelly Brisbin of the Parallel Podcast, and Blind Abilities, both of which have done extensive demos, I finally opted to acquire an iPhone 12 Pro. Ever since Apple began what is essentially its new presentation of iPhone form factors with the 10, I have both contemplated and rebelled against upgrading into this line. The mai reason is because I knew that, like the headphone jack before it with the 7 upgrade, I had to swallow the fact that Apple would take away another item that I loved: the home button. I’ve had my new piece of hardware for almost a week, and I have a few thoughts about what it does, and doesn’t, do the way I want it.

First, there is the loss of that blasted home button, and perhaps more importantly the loss of Touch ID. I used to love being able to just place my fingers on the phone and launching the unlock screen from my pocket, and thus being able to hop onto my Braille display without even having to remove the phone. Even more though, as a blind person who has little idea of how to have a camera “see” me, it took a few tries and some suggestions from my wife To figure out how to get the thing to work. And what I’ve learned is that the best way for me to open it is to place the phone on level with my nose and move it about a foot away before squeezing the side button to activate. If the Face ID works, I get less haptic feedback than if it doesn’t work. I assume there is also a sound that accompanies that, but I have that feature turned off because sound effects with my Braille display would not be convenient, to say the least.

That aggravation, the use and somewhat unreliable results of Face ID, is real but not a deal breaker. What I do like, love! about this phone is the much-improved battery life. By the time I ditched my 8, I was charging it nearly 3 times a day. Now of course that has a lot to do with how old the phone had become, but even at its newest, I only could get a good half a day with it if I wished to use it extensively. Now, I get home from work and still have nearly 75% left, meaning I can just plug it in prior to bed time, get it off right before going to sleep, and it’s ready for the next day.

Power is important, but processing capacity matters to me even more. I could read the tea leaves, and tell that pretty soon I would not be able to use the newest accessibility features on a phone that lacks “juice,” one might say. Already, some of the stuff available in the 12 line, such as photo and text recognition, are not fully available in anything lower than the 10. And the photo recognition is fantastic, as it can explain pictures on sites like Facebook with context that I have hardly ever seen anywhere else. I can truly understand for the first time what is actually intended by a person’s photo.

I know that many say that some of what the 12 Pro brings in particular with the Lidar, are largely not useful yet, but with apps like Microsoft’s Seeing AI And others are already lining up to take advantage of this technology in ways we cannot fully fathom. So from my point of view, I feel that the purchase was worth it.

Some General Observations

  • I can’t seem to get Face ID to work in-app, to enter passwords and such, so usually have to enter the passcode. Annoying, but again not the end of the world
  • This phone’s sound, especially when connected to my Bose speaker, is different. I’m no audiophile and am mostly deaf, so can’t say if it’s better or worse, but I did have to tinker to get it set so I could hear speech clearly
  • The added accessibility features won’t really work unless you turn VoiceOver Recognition on in the accessibility settings. So it could be a little confusing when using, say the Magnifier app, to identify what’s in one’s surroundings

So I guess my main hope is to get at least three years out of this thing, and that by such time I still feel like the decision was worth it. I do hope that they don’t leave those who with to maintain the use of Touch ID and perhaps even a home button out of further advancements, but I fear we may be headed in that direction. If I’m wrong and something comes out next year that still wraps all of this into one package, I won’t be mad! Till then though, I’ll enjoy and have fun exploring the world in new ways.