Conversations With The Hobbit: Part 1

My Hobbit: i just wonder if there’s more ‘science’ than we think in scripture
Me: well, I’m pretty sure that scriptures/prophets weren’t all that concerned with science. That’s like asking an astronomer what he thinks about rotating crops: you know? It’s really not fair to expect them to be an expert in both fields, especially when that option really wasn’t available to them. They knew about sheep. They could tell you how to breed a good ewe. That’s about all the science they knew, but for their time, that was pretty damned important and yet, people always expect prophets to know more about science than scientists know about faith (or sheep).

Hobbit Fables #1

My husband and I were talking about the kids and their incessant whining this morning–mom is so evil! She makes me do dishes!–when the Hobbit came up with this lovely Fable that reflects our lives:


A dad had kids who refused to eat end pieces of bread. So he told his kids: “Hey, kids, the end pieces are like rolls. You like rolls, so you shouldn’t have a problem with the end pieces of bread.” So the kids quit eating rolls.


Prologue from Raging Bull

For those of you that helped me with this novella, there’s a sneak peak up at my artists/authors blog:

via Prologue from Raging Bull.

Feel free to repost and reblog!!!

Getting Braille Note To Work With Linux – Guest Post by my Hobbit

My vision has deteriorated to the point where it causes a considerable amount of eyestrain just to read movie subtitles for a couple of hours. Reading books has become a luxury that my eyes can no longer afford. But don’t worry, there is good news!

Two or three months ago my wife ordered a Braille Note BT for me. The Braille Note QT comes with a QWERTY keyboard, but that’s not the one I have. The Braille Note BT comes with the standard six-cell brailler keypad, plus a few function keys. I had been wanting a Braille Note mainly to read books and to keep track of important notes. I also had a vague idea that I might be able to use it with my PC as a refreshable braille display, but I was worried that it would be too complicated to hook it up to Linux. But it CAN be done!

Understand that everything about the Braille Note BT (version 5.1) is designed to work with Windows. The operating system is an older version of Windows CE, and all of the companion software on the disk (ActiveSync, JAWS for Windows, KeySync, etc) is also designed to run on Windows.

Worse, there was nothing in the manual about hooking up the Braille Note to Linux. I have gotten used to using Slax Linux, a small “pocket operating system” which I run as a LiveCD, LiveUSB, and on my Hard Drive. I like it because version 6.1.2 comes with KDE 3.5.

The nice thing about KDE is that there is a feature in the font control panel that allows the user to quickly adjust all the KDE fonts to a particular size. This allows me to globally set all the font sizes for all the windows, dialogs, system messages, and menus all at once. I had always been maddeningly frustrated at adjusting the fonts in Windows. One of the core fonts in Windows is called “small fonts” for Pete’s sake. They might as well just call it “screw_the_blind_people.ttf” And don’t even get me started on the other tiny, anorexic chicken scratch fonts that most Windows programs use!

But, alas, I’d venture to say that most accessibility gizmos and gadgets are designed to work with Windows, so I had some trepidation about getting my Braille Note to work. Would I have to install Windows? And at first it looked like I would have to. I had tried installing ActiveSync under WINE, and it worked well enough, but it wouldn’t recognize any of my COM ports.

So I started hunting online for a solution. The percentage of people who use Linux is fairly small, and the percentage of BLIND people who use Linux is almost nonexistent. But they DO exist! I finally found out that a program called “brltty” is specially designed to work as a terminal for refreshable braille display. And after a few hits and misses, I figured out that I needed to specify the device name of the serial port (brltty -b bn -d /dev/ttyS0). After that, I read through the manual until I found out how to put the Braille Note into terminal mode (you just press T with the 2, 3, 4, and 5 keys). After that, I was all set! I was not only able to read the output of textmode console commands, but I was also able to run the nano editor to read books right off of my hard drive. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities for me: email, web browsing, irc chat, instant messaging, interactive fiction… all of these are available to me on a braille display now.

So my fears about using an older model of Braille Note with Linux were groundless, and now I have a way to read books and use my Linux PC in braille!

Three Cheers for the Kindle Fire HD!

The Kindle Fire Experiment

Last Saturday I was bemoaning the fact that I can’t really listen to radio. I mean, I can listen to it, but I can’t really follow the conversation. My word comprehension with lip reading is perhaps 60% with the CI but it drops to around 40% without lipreading. So when you can only hear 4 out of 10 words, listening to the radio is like an aggravating game of Wheel of Fortune.

Noelle suggested that I try plugging in my CI to her Kindle Fire HD. I sighed mentally (and perhaps audibly) because I had already tried connecting a double-sided headphone jack from the CI to my computer, and the sound quality had been terrible. I assumed it would be more of the same. But, on the other hand, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try connecting the CI to the Kindle, and I reasoned that I might be pleasantly surprised.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised. VERY pleasantly surprised.

First, Noelle had me read and listen to an ebook/audiobook combination via something called WhisperSync. This program syncs the exact text to the exact words on an audiobook read by a human. In other words it wasn’t text-to-speech software, but text-to-audiobook sync. She was able to magnify the text on the Kindle Fire HD so that I was reading four lines per page at the “wide” angle (landscape mode), in reverse video (white text on a back background). The cursor jumped from word to word in sync with the accompanying audiobook.

It was fantastic. I then decided to close my eyes to see if I could understand the audio without cheating, and to my surprise I could understand it very clearly. I’d estimate I understood maybe 75-80% of the text just from the audio alone. I hadn’t experienced anything this good with my CI since I had it turned on in 2003.

I had tried connecting my CI to other devices, but apparently none of them were very good audio quality. The Kindle Fire HD, on the other hand, worked extremely well.

I even tried listening to an ambient music station on Pandora. At some point after I got the CI in 2002 I decided that I liked ambient and synthesizer music (Vangelis, Brian Eno, Kitaro, Tangerine Dream, Peter Gabriel, etc.)

That’s probably because the CI already has a certain degree of synthesized sound, so ambient and synthesizer more naturally (or unnaturally) fits with the synthesized sound of the CI. I often joke that I listen to Borg music (a la ST:NG).

I could tell that I needed to get my mappings upgraded to be able to appreciate the music, but I am certain that once I do get a new mapping that the music clarity will improve substantially. It is quite good as it is.

So Saturday’s experiment was a fantastic success. And now I actually want a Kindle Fire. Everybody else in our house loves it, but I didn’t particularly care about it because I didn’t think it would be all that accessible. But it turned out to be a big accessibility WIN.

So it turns out that I can listen to radio after all, if you count Pandora (and I do). And in case you were wondering, the ebook/audiobook I experimented with via WhisperSync is called “Tolkien’s Ordinary Virtues” by Mark Eddy Smith. As you might have guessed, Tolkien has a rather large influence in the Realm of Calinor.

+Sam (aka The Hobbit)

Promises of the Dying

As promised, the short story : Promises of the Dying — is now available on Kindle! Purchase your copy now!

And don’t forget to read: Earth Goods — too while you are at it.

Both are FREE to borrow for your Kindle if you have an Amazon Prime account.

The Library in a Blind Mans Head

I don’t think most people can fathom how much a blind person reads. I have a dear (seeing) friend I term a ‘reader’ because she reads a lot. I remember when we were little she would read with a flashlight under her covers so she wouldn’t get caught reading instead of sleeping. I loved stories and always lived writing, but I was never a reader like my BFF.

But even a born reader is no match for a blind man.

“How many books do you have?” I ask him.

“Lemme check,” he says, and then types away on his computer to get to the right directory. “I have at least 1,016 ebooks in TXT format. And a few hundred more in PDF and CHM formats.”  But he doesn’t stop there, just letting me know how many books he has, he goes on.  “What I do is if I find a name that isn’t in one of my books, I combine it with several other names (or places or whatever) and see if I can find a comprehensive history about it. It’s a really good way to collect information. Like, I just now found a history of art and science innovations.”


My BFF has several hundred books and recycles them regularly. I only keep my very favorite, those i know i will want to read again. Sometimes I make do with audiobooks because I am a practical and they save space–especially if you can keep them online storage.

Books in Braille are incredibly cumbersome and impractical for space, but the blind are just as space conscious as I am. They keep audiobooks the same way I do, though this doesn’t make sense for my husband since he is also deaf. But technology allows the blind a great advantage. Ebooks and books in text are easily translated by Braille devices. These are like Kindles for the blind and have been around a lot longer than e-readers. The only limit to how many books you can keep or have available is your storage capacity–and my hubby has two terabytes on external drives. That isn’t counting his hard drive.

He has more than a thousand ebooks, not counting encyclopedias in volumes but as an entire book. (btw, when I have a question and need an encyclopedia definition, I always ask my hubby who is sure to have the right encyclopedia for said question ) I know other blindies who hoard audiobooks the same way. You can usually count on them to have several versions of Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia, with at least one by BBC. But they don’t just hoard them, they remember them and reread them and quote them and read them again.

Blind men (and women for that matter) are treasure troves of literary information. Those like my husband go beyond mere reader (no offense to my BFF) to a human research machine just waiting to be utilized though they rarely are used to even the minimal of their abilities. What a shame that is.

If you want a book recommendation, help on your research paper, ideas for your thesis or just have a question about quantum mechanics as it applies to your time travel fantasy novel in progress, look up a blind person and make a new friend with a vast amount of knowledge to impart.