Road to Home Ownership: What’s New Is New Again

I begin by noting the start of ValDayVersary. As I’ve written before, this is our own personal holiday that starts on our wedding anniversary (1/27) and ends on the first Saturday after my wife’s birthday unless her birthday (2/18) is also on a Saturday. It of course encompasses Valentine’s Day as well. This year, as last, we are spending it relatively quietly with ordered dinners, flowers and other stuff for her, and the reflections that four years of marriage bring. Ah I miss those first two years when trips to Florida were involved, but for now I travel vicariously through books. I am doubtless aware that what we have is a beautiful thing, and I couldn’t be more fortunate, though we’re hoping maybe we’ll be able to get rockin’ and rollin’ again for Number 5. These blasted Covid variants will largely dictate that, though.
Along with, of course, whether or not we have decided to purchase a house by then. There have been some crazy occurrences in that department, not surprising given that the Raleigh market is the 3rd most in-demand in the country and, well, we are still learning how this whole process works.
First, a couple weeks ago we came close to getting an offer. It was going to be sight unseen, meaning that we hadn’t even walked into the property and had seen few pictures of it. We were going on assurances that things were new and updated, and that there were no serious structural problems. The issue was its price. The would-be seller wanted nearly 20% more than Zillow said the property was worth. If the appraiser said it was indeed worth a lot less, we would be on the hook for the difference immediately as our loan wouldn’t cover it. We were told that the seller would be willing to negotiate in the event of this happening, but with there being no telling if he would get anywhere near the appraised price we were not willing to assume such risk. It likely would have been a nice place, but I’m not sure any place is worth sticking one’s neck out to that extent. Truthfully though, you almost have to roll the die in such a way to get a spot up here, thus jumping the bidding line that will occur once the home is put on the market. Unless…
Now we’re considering purchasing a new townhome that hasn’t even been constructed yet. It would have 3 bedrooms and two baths, thus meeting our needs, and be well-located near the interstate in Southeast Raleigh. Projected move-in is September or October, giving us more time to stack some dough in preparation. But we had to place our names on a wait list and see if we get called about one being available, as I think determined through a lottery. We shall see if we are so fortunate. Till then or barring some other unexpected happening, we’ll likely just deal with this too-high rent for a little longer.

Wordle’s The Word: On Internet Trends and Accessibility

In a recent NPR story on what they called Garbage Trends, they noted that these sorts of trends arise on the Internet all the time and are often gone within a week or so. They are, I suppose by their nature, very visual and lack features that would make the accessible to blind and low vision people, as well as to folks with other disabilities that might require modification for full interaction.
But I think one of the cool things that is happening is that so many within our own community are learning how to create software or code that can render something usable far more quickly than an app’s developers, who are often hesitant to “look into the matter,” are willing to do. Such is the case with this new Internet word game called Wordle.
I remember the first time I saw someone’s Wordle post on Twitter and all I hear was something like “White square? White Square? Green Square” etc. I wondered hat on earth was that, becoming curious because I do enjoy playing word games, despite rarely being any good at them. I slowly saw more and more of these posts dotting my timeline, even among big-time folks, and yes I guess they’ve already hit that point of saturation that generates a lot of annoyance from those who no longer care to see such silliness. I can understand that, but I also wanted the ability to participate in the fun a little bit, especially driven by, as noted in that NPR story, the constant drudgery of the pandemic and related bad news.
So when I saw a Blind Bargains article detailing how one might set up the computer or phone with accessible code that someone created that would allow one to play Wordle, I bit. As one can see from clicking the above link and then the accessible Wordle page from within, getting things going with anything other than Google Chrome, which allows for simply adding an extension, is complicated. So I opted for the easy route and had mine up and running in a matter of moments.
The Wordle site generates one new word a day, and you have six attempts at guessing its five letters. It then tells you if you have correct letters, letters that are in the word but in the wrong place, or absent letters. I think I took five out of six guesses to get the first word and four out of six to get the second.
I just look at it as good, clean fun that allows me to feel like I’m “in it” with everyone else for the short time that this trend will likely last. And the implications of such nimble accessibility solutions being possible are not to be overstated either, namely in the potential for quicker adaptation to needed software for one’s job. So I’m delighted to see that we are able to come up with such powerful community-based solutions, and wish I were versed enough in their background, coding, scripting, and the like, to do some of that myself. Even so, I will just appreciate the efforts of others and hope that it inspires the initial creators to start taking wide-ranging access needs into consideration at a product’s creation, rather than it having to be built in later.

Two Different Realities: On “Wish You Were Here” by Jodi Picoult

I hesitated to read this book for a while, because I wasn’t sure if I could handle a work of fiction concerning the pandemic. But, the author convinced me via Twitter to go ahead and give it a shot, and I haven’t regretted it.
We begin with Diana, a 29-year-old art dealer with the auction house Sotheby’s in New York, and her boyfriend, a resident at New York Presbyterian Hospital, as they debate going to the Galapagos Islands. She then goes on a trip herself, meeting people and having experiences even as her chosen locale, Isabela Island, is shut down to residents and tourists alike. In particular, she encounters a kind family who takes her in after her would-be hotel is shuttered, and forms tight relationships with a teen-aged girl and her father, both of whom speak English, and the kid’s grandma, who does not.
The descriptions are so vivid and clearly well-researched that, as with many things during this pandemic period, I feel like I am traveling vicariously. Even as she has these experiences, she learns from her boyfriend Finn what it is like as Covid ravages New York City and causes his job to become immeasurably harder. She also initially struggles in trying to fit in with this family, feeling at first a desire to return that is thwarted by the continued closure, she was due to return after two weeks but of course things went on beyond that point. This slowly shifts as she bonds with the teen-ager, Beatriz, in ways that Beatriz’s father is not able to achieve.
I found the story, and especially it’s first half, to be beautiful and heart-lightening as I still struggle with the real toll that Covid is taking on society. But, and no spoilers, I was shook by how things ultimately unfolded. It’s awesome though, and a fantastic piece of writing that lets one feel the devastation of loss.
In this story, Picoult is exploring the nature of Covid’s effects (in my opinion something like a warzone in that those who are most directly effected feel its punch acutely while the rest of us go on as normal,) and the nature of reality itself. Weighty subjects, but they are handled with just enough humor and ultimate truth to keep the reader from becoming too bogged down. Having read many of her novels, this is in my opinion the best. As I write this I do not know the ending, which is good as I know her endings are often unnerving in some way and can cause the story to linger in your head long after the last page. If you only take in one pandemic-related story, I would recommend this one.

Road to Home Ownership: A Dream (Possibly) Deferred

Happy New Year, y’all! We made it through 2021, with its particular trials and tribulations, and it is my greatest hope that we will finally round some kind of corner and see happier, more prosperous times ahead. It is time to get that journey started, whatever it will look like for you. I certainly no longer bother making specific resolutions, but I know what kind of work I need to do to get there.
As discussed a couple of entries ago, we had hoped to accomplish a major life marker and land ourselves a house. But… reality is already starting to set in. The dream has not ended, but it might be put off for a while.
Between our first viewing and my second, which happened on January 1, my wife and her sisters had looked at a few other town and single-family homes. The thing that happens every time though is that someone is already ready to bid, and they can pay top dollar immediately. We are, after all, in a buyer’s market where there are tons of buyers but few sellers. So people rush any property that becomes available.
So on this Saturday, we had located a home that was excellently priced, but with the understanding that the new owner would make some mostly cosmetic but needed fixes. It was located in Durham, north of downtown, and because we had already made an unsuccessful run to a property just off Roxboro Road, an unfortunately distressed section, we were a little nervous going in. This place was also fairly close to Roxboro Road, but not on the same end. The neighborhood as we drove in looked like a nice place to live, with homes that clearly go for the top end of the price scale and groceries within a half mile. Stores are to me an important metric of how others view the area and its money-generating potential, a sad truth but one that is consistent in this society.
As we pulled up to the place around 10 AM, other would-be buyers and their realtors arrived as well. Our realtor was about 20 minutes late, so my wife and her sister cased the outside of the house, noting obvious issues that would need working on such as the deck and other parts made of wood. Shortly thereafter, we stepped inside.
First, I was blown away by the Southern-style front porch, a wooden structure that would make one feel great sitting on a rocking chair and reading way back in that quiet. (And that was sort of the only possible issue, it was a good ways back from the main thoroughfare which would make me wonder about the ease of getting transportation. I’m pretty sure that it could have been done though, as we were within a four-minute drive of the nearest bus stop).
Immediately past the front door and to the left is the Master bedroom. It was about the size of our current Master, which is to say not super large but big enough to fit our king-sized bed and two nightstands. It also contained a bathroom. My wife loves the idea of having that room on the bottom floor.
From there, we strolled through the ample living room, which contained a fireplace, and kitchen and up the stairs to the three rooms above. The only thing that would really need fixing other than said issues with the wood was the carpet, which was very deep but probably not that great looking. In our dreams at least, we would work on these projects, including a repainting of the walls, over time as we enjoyed living in this luxurious space.
Outdoors, there is a spacious two-car garage and the deck, which was rotting in some places. I loved again that one didn’t hear the constant roar of AC as we do in our current spot, or traffic as one might in many others. In short, this place was absolutely ideal for both of us given what we are really seeking in a home. And it’s a rare place these days that has character, not just feeling “cookie-cutter”.
But alas, it was not meant to be. Our realtor poured water on our dream as soon as we rolled out in the car, saying that if we were to acquire it, we would have to pay to repair the deck prior to closing as required by our loan. More than that though, and not surprising, the place had pretty much already been snapped up by a construction-type company that will renovate it and sell at a significant profit. Ah well, such is things with this. I guess what I will try and do now, especially as travel is largely off the table anyway, is to just try and keep the ol’ bank account rising and try to be prepared for all of what one must do to acquire a place. This experience has definitely been… educational. We shall see.

2021 Wrap: On Achievements, TikTok, and Books

What a year, folks. As I reflect on the happenings of 2021, I find it hard to believe that it is already close to wrapping up. It is, in many respects, yet another year lost to COVID. Let’s just pray that it will be the last such.
I guess I should focus most of my energy in this post on locating whatever nuggets of positivity that existed this year. Still looking… Nah, of course something worthwhile had to happen. I guess my elevation within my employer to a sort of assistive technology tutor is a major one. I say “sort of,” because I don’t know if one would feel entirely comfortable with what I’ve instructed. I can say though that I worked hard, did my research, paid close attention to the students’ needs, and tried to make sure that what I taught them was relevant.
I’d spent this past year doing JAWS for Windows tutoring, which as longtime readers would know also led me to purchase my current Windows computer and return to this platform from the Mac. Next year’s challenge, and a much more immediate and difficult one in some ways, will be to help probably those entirely new to the computer to learn some basic keyboarding skills. We’re going to use a program called Talking Typer, which helps people learn to type by speaking the letters aloud and informing of such metrics as Words per Minute and errors. I’ll need to brush up on this myself, and do hope that something I learn can help others unlock the vast power of computing.
I should also work to unlock my own power by digging back into this writing thing. I fell off of blogging over the last three months, but hey I’ve been reviewing books on Goodreads like crazy since May. Given that Book Reviewer still remains my career dream, the constant practice couldn’t have hurt.
To that end, and inspired by an NPR story on the rapid rise and influence of “BookTok,” I created a TikTok account. This, I guess social media, site allows for short three-minute videos and people, especially young ones, post on just about everything under the sun. Not surprisingly this is a very visual medium, but I did find some posts where book reviewers actually listed their titles aloud. I may (or may not) take a shot at recording my five-star reads there at some point, but am not impressed with the overall accessibility of the app. For instance, I find it difficult to follow those I am interested in with VoiceOver on the iPhone, and just navigating between videos is a real challenge. I hope some of these things can be fixed, so that a totally blind person could derive at least minimal enjoyment from the app, and perhaps more importantly tap into this vast crowd to gain exposure and other kinds of opportunities.
Just in case I never do post those reads in such a way, I’ll list them here. Note that not all books were released in 2021, just read by me herein. And just in case you do not choose to read my list below, I’ll close by wishing you and all of us a happy, healthy, and safe 2022.
2021 Five Star Titles: A listing of all the books I awarded this designation on Goodreads.

  1. Clap When You Land, Elizabeth Acebedo
  2. The Actual Star, Monica Byrne
  3. The Meaning of Mariah Carey, Mariah Carey
  4. The Last Train to Key West, Chanel Cleeton
  5. The President is Missing, Bill Clinton
  6. Return to Palm Court, Stephanie Edwards
  7. The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich
  8. A Good Neighborhood, Therese Anne Fowler
  9. Mother May I, Joshilyn Jackson
  10. The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
  11. How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, Cherie Jones
  12. Lies That Bind, Amanda Lamb
  13. Dear Edward, Ann Napolitano
  14. Eternal, Lisa Scottoline
  15. Great Circle, Maggie Shipstead
  16. Nerves of Steel, Tammie Shults
  17. Will, Will Smith
  18. Concrete Rose, Angie Thomas
  19. The Turn of the Key, Ruth Ware
  20. Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir
  21. The Book of Lost Friends, Lisa Wingate
  22. The Sea keeper’s Daughter, Lisa Wingate

Road To Home Ownership: First Viewing

There are, in my opinion anyway, three major pillars of adulthood: marriage, childbirth, and buying a home. Any or all of these may or may not happen, but whenever they do they tend to be markers of memory as well as potential sources of stress and change.
We’ve done the first, will probably never do the second, and… we’re just beginning our journey toward the third. That’s right, my wife and I are considering purchasing a house! After a while, one realizes that apartment rental is less and less attractive as that charge rises exponentially every year, and there is no return on investment. More fundamentally though, of course, is that the place just isn’t ours. So it can’t be customize to our liking as much as otherwise.
The challenge, as we’re already seeing in real color, is the startup costs. Down payments, Earnest money (whatever that means,) due diligence fees, inspection, appraisal… we’re going to be slowly nickel and dimed until we run screaming, and it’s likely going to take longer than we wished to get it all sorted. As such, this post will be first in an ongoing series, the last of which I hope to write from wherever out new abode is.
Speaking of, we got to check out our first possibility today. Getting to that point has already been a process that has taken nearly a month (a month? Wow, that time has flown). Paperwork had to be gathered and income verified before our lenders determined the amount of mortgage for which we could be pre-approved. I’m surprised that many don’t do it this way, choosing to find a home first then see if they can get the money they need to purchase it. With our pre-approval in hand, we could get a sense of what would be realistic if indeed we ever do clear all these pesky startup costs.
Anyhow, we arrived at the Southeast Raleigh property at 11 AM Saturday, early but not too bad I suppose. Her sister came along for the viewing as well as our real estate agent, given to us by the Teacher Next Door program my wife is using to spearhead this process. We entered a two-story townhome that was freezing, because it was empty and had no power. The bottom floor is not carpeted, which my wife very much preferred. The main issues were a lack of adequate storage and kitchen space, and on the second floor a carpet that needs replacing and some knicks and knacks that made the place look less appealing. Also, the master bedroom is likely too small to fit our fairly sizable bedroom set. Finally we were concerned about possible flooding in back based on the shape of that land in a large storm.
So no, we will probably not be getting that property. It was informative to take a look though, and I found our agent to be very good at really assessing what is going on in a place and relying it to us in an easy-to-understand way. We’ll just see if and when this all plays out.

NaNo Novel Excerpt: Moving To College

So there is technically no rule against resurrecting last year’s NaNoWriMo novel and just adding to it, right? I’d ultimately gotten to Chapter 9 and the thing was looking pretty good, but I just couldn’t decide how to proceed. I’m going to let you read the first chapter, but here’s a brief synnopsis of what it’s about so far.
Two blind brothers, both with Norrie Disease (explained in Chapter 1). One opts for college while the other works at the local Ability One Facility for the blind. College boy must contend with a long-distance relationship, and girlfriend gets a lil’ too tight with brother. Written from a first-person perspective, those three main characters each get their own chapters. And here is Tony, college boy.ONE
Tony the Tiger, really? That’s the best she could come up with?” I thought as I stood in the crowded dorm lobby. I wondered what kind of response I would get from the ladies when I got here, but didn’t anticipate the first seeing me as something of a five-year-old. Really though, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised.
I reached out and pressed the elevator call button again, unnecessarily, because it was something to do with my nervous hands. The fact that I could hear the machine rattling in its shaft as it made its way down didn’t necessarily inspire confidence, but I didn’t have the desire to trek up seven floors of stairs either. So, I waited.
Yup, it was my first day as a college student, and I was already enjoying all of the pluses and minuses of being in this new and exciting environment. There were girls everywhere! I knew I needed to just talk though and not flirt, since my heart was about 120 miles away. I loved her, but did wonder if we would survive the distance and all, but when I proposed we take some time apart she cried so hard that I couldn’t bring myself to end it. Shayna is everything to me, though.
The cage or death trap or whatever you wanna call it finally arrived, and an older couple with their arriving resident squeezed by with emptied carts to go down for another load.
“Hey man,” the guy said as they moved by, “nice to meet ya. We can chat soon as I get this last stuff out of our truck, I’m looking to get to know somebody as quick as I can.”
“Ok,” I replied “I’m cool with that.” What can I say, I’m easygoing. My laid-back personality has always helped me when it comes to meeting others and surviving pretty much anywhere I find myself.
Let me explain some things about myself first, just because my crazy story will make more sense then. I am and have always been totally blind, due to a rare at least it is said to be rare, condition called Norrie Disease. Along with this loss of sight, my hearing is slowly getting worse too. That for me is the harder thing to deal with. What all of this means of course is that things are more interesting for me when it comes to finding my way in life, both in a literal and a figurative sense.
So I spent a few hours with an orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor so that I might learn a little about this gargantuan campus. First challenge? Try to remember how to get to my room. I knew to exit the elevator and get out of the alcove, hang a right and trail the railing that lined the common area on the floor below, then go through the door straight ahead to enter my wing. From there, my room was the second on the left. I opened the door, slid inside, and flopped down on the little twin bed they give us that also makes me feel like a big kid. But hey, I was just happy to have a single, as I’d heard enough horror stories about life with a roommate, and I’ve never particularly enjoyed spending the night with people I don’t know, let alone an entire year.
Sleep took me on that Saturday afternoon, and I didn’t re-awaken until my cell phone nearly launched me from the bed as it vibrated in my pocket.
“Hello” I said groggily as I tried to remember where I was or even the time of day. “Mom? Everything alright?”
“Yes,” she said through tears I could hear in her voice. “I am just so proud of you and what you’re achieving that my heart is full. I remember dreams of going to college myself, and will probably always regret that they never came true. But that’s not why I’m calling. Get your behind down here and help me bring in the groceries me and your daddy got to stock your fridge.”
“Ok,” I said as a laugh escaped my lips “just as soon as I figure out how to get back out of here.”
I met my parents in the entry foyer and took a couple bags from their hands to make my way back up to the room. “So why are you already crawling into bed and not out there at the cookout,” my ever-so-nosy dad asked.
“What? There’s a cookout?” I replied. “I’m probably not out there because nobody told me it was going on.”
“Well kinda hard for them to do that if you’re sleepin’ like a lil’ baby,” my mom retorted.
“Ok ok, point taken,” I replied. “I’ll go check it out soon as we put this stuff up. What y’all get me anyway?”
“Oh just the four food groups,” my dad said “soda, chips, bologna, and pizza.”
“Sounds good to me, I replied chuckling. “But how am I gonna make the pizza?”
“We’ll take you downstairs and show you how the dorm ovens work. Already asked and had them marked up so you can use them” mom told me. “Now if only these thug kids don’t take them off. Also set up the washer and dryers for you, because we ain’t gonna be doing your clothes either. You’re quite capable of doing that stuff yourself.”
“Oh I know,” I replied, inwardly sighing as mom was starting to wind up in her familiar way when it came to matters of my pending independence and how important it was that I be able to function around and in the household, and yadda yadda yadda. Not saying I didn’t agree, just that it was covered territory, and she had already done plenty to prepare me. But hey, I guess it was better than what I heard from most parents about their kids with disabilities, which was an almost aggressive need to overprotect.
Days in this beautiful Southern city, especially in mid August, are just about as hot as it gets. And nights? Well they aren’t much better. The sticky factor gets ramped up by 10 though. This made no difference to all the wild college students strutting around the yard while loud music thumped in our heads.
I took my plate of food, which someone helped me gather, and made my way to an empty spot on the wall just in front of the building. I was kind of hoping one of the ladies would find me there, even though I knew that didn’t need to happen, darn you Shayna. But instead, the dude who spoke to me at the elevator finally caught up to me and sat down, putting a cold drink of some kind against my leg.
“Hey man,” he said, brought you a Sprite. If that don’t work, just let me know.”
“Oh nah, that’s good. I appreciate it,” I replied.
“Cool. What’s your name, man. I’m Nick.”
“Tony, nice to meet you,” I said popping my hand out for a shake… where it hung awkwardly in midair until Nick finally got the idea.
“Oh sorry,” he said chuckling and briefly grasping my hand. “I wasn’t sure what to do.”
“You weren’t sure whether to shake my hand?” I asked, a smile on my face.
“Well… I mean… uh…,” he stammered.
“It’s all good man, I’m joking. I get it, nothin’ to worry about. But, I’m cool. You can call me whatever you want: blind guy, weirdo, whatever. Don’t be afraid of offending me.”
“Ok, that works. Puts me a little more at ease, man. So, what are you planning to study here?” He asked as he crunched into something.
“I have no idea, really. Probably Psych, because isn’t that what most people do if they can’t come up with anything original? I can learn how to mess with my girl’s head even more than I already do.”
“Wait, you have a girlfriend?” He said. I could hear the incredulity creeping into his voice with the question, as if the thought had not and would not have occurred to him.
“Yup, back home. She’s taking a year off after graduating, or so she says, so we’re gonna try the distance thing. That wouldn’t have been my first choice, but I do love her. Just need her here.”
“I understand,” he said. “I think I couldn’t do that personally, especially not as a college freshman swimming in a sea of smart and really attractive women. But to each his own.”
After this disclosure, we just sat for about five minutes chowing down on some good grilled food while the DJ took us “back in time” with some songs as old as my momma. I’ve always enjoyed that stuff more than what they put out nowadays, if I were to admit to it. Guess it’s because that’s all I heard around the house.
“Hey man, it was nice to meet you,” Nick said. “Can I put my number in your cell, so you can call if you need anything?”
“Oh yeah,” I said as I tried to wipe mustard off of my hands so I could fish in my pocket for the iPhone. “I’d appreciate that.”
Finally Monday, the big First Day Of Class, arrive. And predictably, I got lost. The dorm lobby was teeming with other students talking over each other and clacking by in heels, sandals, and every other imaginable footwear. I followed them outside, down the long ramp to ground level, and hung the right I was to take to head to my building
“Sir, can I help you,” a woman said as she whisked alongside me bringing an overpowering perfume mist along. “No, I got it,” I returned, “but thanks.” Pride? What pride. Well ok it was kind of that, but I also wanted the adventure of seeing if I could actually make it without requiring assistance.
And I contend that I would have, if it weren’t for the gaggle of girls standing at the breezeway exit, from which point the sidewalk opens up in all four directions and a grassy shoreline is nowhere to be seen. By the time I managed to break loose of the surging mass of bodies, I wasn’t sure if I’d gone left, right, or managed somehow to stay center.
After fifteen minutes of puttering around in a general circle and assuring myself that this would be my last day at this gargantuan university, I whipped out the phone and hit Nick up.
“Ok man, stay put” he said. “Just so happens I’m getting out of my first class. I can find you there and get you back on track, no biggy.”
Red-faced and already deflated, I walked into the lecture hall about 10 minutes late, but I don’t think anyone even noticed. I grabbed a seat on the back row so as not to careen through all those who were already seated, though I new this was a bad idea with my bad hearing. Mom kept saying I had to get hearing aids, butt really who wants to wear that in college, especially when you’re already blind? Anyway, I pulled out the laptop, located the PowerPoint for this class and settled in.
“..The point of history” the professor’s voice droned, “is to discover WHO YOU ARE!” With this last unexpected intonation, I heard audible gasps from those around me. Someone dropped a writing product, pencil or pen, and I think someone else practically fell out of their chair. “I did that to snap you all out of your stupor,” the instructor said with a chuckle. “Now listen to me, this class is meant to represent all of the people and groups of people that exist in the US. And it just so happens that the US has individuals from all over the world. So while this is technically called US History 1, it is in fact a world history. From colonies and enslavement to a powerful, thriving modern economy, all of the pieces have come together in varying ways for each one of us to create who we are”. I gotta admit, this guy kinda had my attention. This would probably be my favorite class.

HACKED: When The Dark Web Arrives At Your Door

A few weeks ago, I brought you a fun story about acquiring and setting up my new Windows PC. And I definitely still love this machine and all that I get with it. My feelings have however been tempered by the ugliness regarding technology and the Internet that none of us likes to talk about: data breaches, possibly sold information, and a life set on its head.
It all started innocently enough for me. I was walking around my room this Monday afternoon, doing my 15 minutes of exercise with the sleep timer set on my audio book. As I wore out the carpet, I felt a tapping on my wrist. This meant that the Apple Watch had received a text message. “Ah, it’s just my cousin and friends chatting on our iPhone sports group,” I thought. Then I got another message. “And now they’re starting a conversation,” I said. A third “wow, what are they talking about!” a fourth, a fifth sixth seventh. “Ok, what the heck is going on” I asked myself, finally ceasing motion and disabling my sleep timer to check.
“Thank you for subscribing to…” the current message said, and even as it did so the phone pinged another three times. “Your log-in code is…” another said. “Go here to download the app…” a third said.
Within minutes, the count had exceeded 100 messages, and they kept coming without abandon. I paced in circles, wondering what the heck to do. Then, I sat at my laptop to try and get some sense of where to even begin solving this problem. I opened my email inbox and saw “677 unread messages”. Let’s just say a couple of expletives may have slid past my lips as my heart rate ramped up and I felt sick.
Definitely flummoxed by this point, I sought my wife so that I would have someone with more ideas. We then spent the next hour scratching our heads, resetting passwords, and checking everything on the phone and computer. I was happy that just de-linking the Gmail from my iPhone at least killed the flood of texts, but the emails were still coming.
At my wit’s end and with no other choice that I could see, I finally went for the nuclear option, deleting my email account entirely. It’s funny, I’m reading Ready Player Two right now and had been wondering why they chose to take such a negative bent toward technology. The main character had mused on the very idea of having to press the “big red button” to delete the Oasis, their virtual universe where most people lived during that disaster-ridden time of 2045, and how such a mammoth decision might unravel their lives.
My choice wasn’t quite that drastic, but it’s up there for sure. I’ve had that email account for some twelve years, and nearly every important thing came to me through it. I am still working vigorously to clean up the mess that caused, aware that there may have been identity theft and having taken preliminary steps to deal with that very big problem. Our news a few days later said that someone had broken into my hospital health system’s internet portal and stolen a lot of people’s information. While I’m not absolutely certain this is what happened to me, I think it likely. And especially as some other purchases were made using my name, probably on some kind of credit card someone acquired. So, I’m following the steps my bank gives and hoping that this will all clear up eventually.
More than anything, I felt violated. My trust in the inherent security of these products has now been shaken, and I suddenly am more empathetic to those who do not want to interact so fully with this stuff, especially with all of their personal information. Unfortunately though, we really kind of have to in order to survive in this modern world. So we can just protect ourselves the best we can, and hope that we are able to come back from whatever nonsense is doled out to us.

#NDEAM, From Awareness to ACTION

Welcome to October! In a year where I guess I’ll do well to post once per month, because we’re still largely living under the COVID caution flag so not much is happening. I’m anxiously watching as numbers again begin their descent, and praying that maybe this time will be for real, but with the coming holidays one never knows.
But I’m going to talk mostly in this post about National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Or more specifically, I’ll muse on how we can begin to take that awareness and move the needle more towards action. Certainly there are big systemic barriers that make it difficult for us to overcome, but those are to a greater or lesser extent out of our control. I’ll spend most of my time thinking about that which I can control, and use an acronym of the word ACTION that popped into my head late one night. I’m especially feeling reflective as I’ve just completed my first full Jaws tutoring course with a student, the last session of which we spent talking amongst ourselves about what went well and what could use some work. I was relieved to discover that I was not the only one of the three tutors having the kinds of issues I was having, most notably ensuring that people had a basic knowledge of keyboard layout and could thus follow our instructions. Anyhow, here’s what I’ve thought of as it pertains to actions we can take to move ourselves toward a better career.
Acclimate: The first thing we need to do is to get used to the various types of technology and/or physical settings that a given line of work might require. I am not knocking manufacturing work such as that which I do, because as I’ve said before I know I’m fortunate to have it and it keeps the bills paid for many of us with disabilities. I’ve just heard via the SourceAmerica Twitter feed, (that’s the company which ultimately oversees most of these agencies that employ people with disabilities) that the number of employed blind persons has risen from 30 to 44%, largely due to such agencies. Compared to the regular population, that’s still a staggeringly low number of course. But it does mean that more of us are getting at least a basic chance to feel productive. But if you never get to experience other things, such as how to operate computers as one might in an office setting, then basic is what you are likely to be limited to. As the environment changes rapidly these days, having and augmenting any skill sets becomes more important.
Create: To do this, one has to first create a plan. How will I get said experiences. What do I think I might wanna do? What can I already do. I hope that I’m helping others in my own workplace to do this by so-called tutoring them, and of course it has the byproduct of helping me also as I have to really learn the ins and outs of Jaws and commonly used programs as well.
Translate: Once the plan is created, you have to take the most important step of turning those ideas into concrete action steps. This is the part where I usually get lost, and it is helping me tremendously to have a sort of mentor (the Workplace Development Specialist) who is willing to withstand all of my uncertainties and continue to gently propel me in the right direction. I hope it’s starting to pay off, and especially as I now have my new laptop rockin’ and rollin’. Even my writing may not be entirely done for, as this past Saturday I blew the dust off of my NaNoWriMo manuscript and have gotten to work on editing it. I hope to continue the story once I’m caught up and can remember what all it was about. Hey, I guess I can do it for the next NaNo, which is about to start in November.
Initiative: Anyhow, one is most able to carry out the action steps if one can find that initiative to persist through whatever. I’m starting to, finally, as I’ve also restarted attempts to take the 508 Trusted Tester Certification course online so that I might attain an accessibility position. Clearly I’m not sure exactly what I am going to do, but I know that whatever I choose will require a lot of drive.
Opportunity/Networking: I’m going to combine the last two, because of course they are related. If ever I do figure out exactly what I want to do, then I must both seek opportunities and try to get to know some people in the field in order to make them happen. This is usually the most difficult part for those of us with disabilities, s it can be hard to just convince people that our own knowledge, along with reasonable accommodations and massive advances in technology, mean that we can now do a wide variety of jobs as well as anyone else. I would never say I can do “everything,” but of course none of us can realistically do everything. It takes all of us doing different things to make the world go round, after all, so that’s perfectly fine.
So those are my thoughts as we move through this month of trying to increase employment for those of us with disabilities. Awareness is important, but I think that taking tentative but true steps toward fulfilment is even more helpful. And hopefully we’ll reach a day when writing these kinds of posts won’t even be necessary, because everyone is easily able to gain access to whatever avenue best fits their talents and matches how they wish to spend their time.

Come To My Window(s) On My Return to the Microsoft PC

After a little over 4 years and much thought, I have decided to return to my roots and re-acquire a Windows machine. I guess I am not, in fact, a Mac Daddy after all. For starters I’ve rarely used the Mac since completing grad school in 2017, though I credit it with helping me to survive that program and do pretty well with it. But especially as I’m working to tutor someone at work on Jaws for Windows, a screen-reading program from Freedom Scientific, I am realizing that I just am not productive on that platform.
Now, I am not one to “blame” the Mac per se. I am aware that a lot of my lack of productivity has to do with my own inadequate knowledge on how to get the most out of said computer. But I think that if I have something I am comfortable with, then perhaps I’ll get back to writing as well as learning some of the stuff regarding accessibility that could present me with real advancement opportunities within my employer. So I think this transition is worthwhile.
I received my new Dell Inspiron laptop this past Tuesday, after the post office ingloriously left it sitting right in front of our door in plain view. I was glad that it got there at 4:15 and I arrived only a couple minutes later. Excitedly I extracted it and its cables from the box, plugged the cable into the machine and whacked the on button. And… nothing. Do you see the problem here? Because I sure didn’t at first.
“Is this thing on?” I said as I fired up the Seeing AI app to try and gauge whether anything was displayed on the screen. Then I spent the next thirty minutes railing at Windows for not having made the installation process accessible, as I thought it would be by this point. I finally shut it down till Friday.
As I pulled it back out to review the issue, I first asked myself if the correct cord was plugged into the PC. How could it not be? But wait… is the other end of the plug in the surge protector! The answer to ath was no. I fixed that, whacked the power button again, and Cortana immediately began chattering at me. “…if you need screen-reader assistance, press Control+Windows Key+Enter.” I sheepishly did as told and was off for the races. Never forget, try the simplest thing when nothing else works.
And now I have most things set up as I want them. I’ve also gotten the Jaws Home Annual License, which I’m glad to see they offer in lieu of their $1,000 perpetual license. I just love having the feeling that I really know what I’m doing with this thing, and I can again have easy access to some of my favorite games and an easy-to-use Twitter app. I’ve also spent more time in the chair my wife got for me this past Christmas in the last two days than I had otherwise, combined. So I hope this thing takes me onward and upward, toward great places. More soon.