Archive for March, 2010

A Rubik’s Cube for Everyone

Designer Brian Doom’s creation may look odd, but it is quite possibly the most functional Rubik’s Cube ever created because it caters to both the sighted and visually impaired communities equally.

Doom’s design, which is based off of the classic Rubik’s Cube, adds–quite literally–a special touch.  Instead of featuring only colors, Doom has added a tactile feature to each color so that anyone with a visual impairment can figure out the different patterns on the cube.  The yellow squares have a rounded wooden knob attached to them, the white squares have a raised, rubber square attached, the blue square has a round, felt sticker stuck to it, the orange squares have a rounded plastic jewel glued to them, green squares have a small raised label stuck to them, and the red squares were painted black and have a small rounded screw raising out of the top of them.  Red was changed to black so that it couldn’t be confused with orange. 

Originally, this Frankenstein Rubik’s Cube was designed so that Brian could get an intuitive sense of where the squares moved as they spun around.  But he realized that his additions made the puzzle accessible to anyone with a visual disability, and even to sighted people who may wish for a new challenge as they try to solve it in the dark.

Such a simple idea has turned into something that gives everybody an equal chance to play with one of the world’s classic puzzles.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.walyou.com/blog/2010/03/23/rubik%E2%80%99s-cube-of-doom/

Indian Army Weaponizes Chili

As a result, Americans are preparing the hot wings.

Seriously, though, the Indian military has decided to use the world’s hottest chili as a non-lethal weapon.  The thumb-sized and eerily-named “ghost chili” was accepted by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2007 as the world’s hottest.  It is grown in India for its taste and, ironically enough, to cure stomach troubles and help battle the intense Indian summer heat. 

The pepper gained its reputation by achieving an astronomical rating on the scoville scale, a devised measurement system to rate how spicy something is.  The ghost pepper rates a one million on the scale.  As a comparison, classic Tobasco sauce measures between two and five thousand and jalapeno peppers don’t reach over eight thousand.

The pepper will be used in gas-type grenades to coax people out of areas of cover and to control riots.  In its testing phases, it was shown to almost completely immobilize suspects.  While this may seem like an extreme measure, it can also be viewed as a more environmentally friendly and humane alternative to tear gas, while still acting quick enough and with proper intensity to be a useful tool for the military to use.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.aolnews.com/story/indian-military-to-weaponize-worlds/961088

Immortality Floats in the Ocean

The Hydrozoan jellyfish looks very similar to other jellyfish.  It’s got long tendrils and a bell-shaped body that gracefully travels through the ocean.  What sets this particular jellyfish apart from the others is that, if it chooses, it can’t die.

This perplexing trait is called transdifferentiation, where one type of cell is transformed into another type of cell.  A partial version of this process is found in other animals.  Salamanders can grow back their tails and limbs if they’re attacked.  Starfish can regrow body parts if they’re severed.  However, the hydrozoa can revert from its mature adult stage back to its immature polyp stage by undergoing this incredible transformation.  It would be like you or me deciding that we want to be a kid again and, shortly thereafter, we’re back in pampers.

This process isn’t a one-shot deal, either.  The jellyfish can routinely perform this transformation, leaving no limit for its life span at all.  Scientists have begun researching this species more in an effort to understand the biological aspect of its self controlled age reversal.

What scientists are worried about, though, is that due to this animal’s extremely rare ability, it has sprung up in every ocean across the world and its numbers are growing.  Whereas they used to be confined to waters in the Caribbean, they now wash up on the shores of every continent.  Some are calling it “a silent invasion,” because their numbers have spiked so high.

One thing is for sure, though.  Immortality is real, and it’s apparently occurring in one of nature’s most elegant and perhaps misunderstood creatures. 

To read the original article, please go to http://green.yahoo.com/blog/guest_bloggers/26/the-world-s-only-immortal-animal.html

Around the World Flight Record Broken

A trio of Swiss Pilots bested Steve Fossett’s record by flying around the world in 57 hours and 54 minutes.  During their trip, they made 10 pit stops for fuel, each lasting less than 20 minutes before they took to the skies again.  The chief pilot, Riccardo Mortara claimed that they could have shaved another 5 hours off of their flight time, but a violent volcano eruption occurring in Iceland forced them to alter their flight path and avoid the towering inferno of dirt and smoke.  Still, even with that sizable delay, their time still beat Fossett’s by nearly 10 hours.

What’s perhaps the most impressive about this feat is that the plane used to accomplish the trip was not a cutting-edge super jet, but rather a 29 year old plane that had been retrofitted with some newer instruments that allowed the pilots to predict wind speed and direction more accurately.  During the almost two and a half day flight, the three pilots would take turns flying between their planned fuel stops.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.fastcompany.com/1592762/steve-fossetts-round-the-world-record-smashed-by-29-year-old-jet

Contributor Robert Kingette – Accessible PDF with WebbIE

The sad truth is that many e-books are not very useful for the visually impaired.  I have come across numerous instances where I can’t even read a book, let alone navigate it. And here I’m supposed to study it for class!  All I can do is hunt, peck, and, yes, even beg in some cases for another format of the same book. PDFs can be like potluck. I’ll be lucky if I can even read one line.  Stay tuned, however. I’ll tell you about WebbIE’s free “Accessible PDF Reader”—which may help, at least with non-DRMed e-books. The developers describe WebbIE as “A web browser for blind and visually impaired people,” and I think it’s a great step in the right direction.

 

What it’s like being me

I’ll be in 12th grade in high school this year, and I love books.  My eye condition, which is something called retinopathy, arising from a premature birth, means that I can see only in one eye, and it has tunnel vision.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, make a C around your left eye, and cover the other eye completely. Presto, you’re me!  With this issue comes smaller ones, also annoying. I can’t read a regular book unless my nose and it are meeting face to face, even with a magnifier. That’s why I live on the computer, or just get audio books.

 

Limited audio book choices

I can’t find everything in print in audio. A good example would be the Darren Shan series. There is no audio version of that here in the United States, and I can’t get it through National Library Service for the Blind, so it kind of irks my tidy mind when someone says it’s the best book that I will ever read, if I can. I love how he puts the “if I can” part in there. Makes me feel so much better. It is as if I smelled a delicious candy bar but couldn’t buy it because the store wouldn’t take my money.

 

Hopes dashed: No vampire story, just gibberish

I looked for an eBook version of the Darren Shan series, and I discovered many options.  I downloaded a copy from eBooks.com and opened it up with Adobe Reader. My screen reader, JAWS 9.0, a text-to-speech program that sounds like a robot to those who are not used to it, said “blank” when I first opened it up. I thought it was just the cover page, and it was. With my nose pressed to the screen, I tried the next page where I could see some text.  So I pressed the down arrow, but instead of hearing, “My name is Darren Shan, and I’m a vampire,” all I heard was blank, blank, blank, blank. I also heard, “Unlabeled graphic =+36756? 4. Image.gif.”

Wow! I didn’t know that was there! I tried exporting it as a text file, which you can do in Adobe Reader within the File menu, and I opened up the text file ready to dive into some spooky story. I tried pressing the down arrow, and heard nothing. All I heard was blank, blank, blank. I half expected my computer to say, “Nothing’s there, Ding bat. Stop pounding on me.” But it didn’t, and I did a search for a different novel.

 

Tangling with Adobe Reader

I found one I could read, but not post to a text file so I could easily navigate it. I had to fight with Adobe to just make it read the table of contents. I kept pressing the down arrow, reading line by line, and not by paragraph like I could have done if I had it in a plain text version.  This soon grew so frustrating I just deleted the book altogether. Also, all the unlabeled images and all the weird graphics in the book were honestly giving me a headache. I didn’t like hearing image.567.gif, and untitleddarrenshanimage=67.gif. I vowed never to read e-books again!

 

WebbIE to the rescue

Not to be discouraged, I did read another e-book the next day, and it was part of the Darren Shan series. I did it with the help of WebbIE’s “Accessible PDF” part of the accessible programs package. When I saw this on Google, I wanted to race outside in my underpants!  “Could this be my solution?” I wondered.

I downloaded it and installed it right away.  Even my sweat was sweating when I fired up the program and tried to open a PDF with it. It worked! I saw text on the screen, but was it like my math paper? Did it have jumbled numbers or did it contain actual words? I tried pressing the down arrow to hear the first line and luckily it read it without any issues.

 

Easy to use

Accessible PDF is actually the simplest thing you can ever come across. It also works in high contrast; so if you, like me, want to have black text on white, it’s no problem. If you want to have white text on black, it can do that as well.  The program is actually simpler in terms of navigation than in Adobe Reader. All the menus are nicely laid out at the top of the window, and you can change the font size and color. It is, like my sister’s room, very clean and organized; and like my brain, it works all the time.

Don’t get me wrong. I have complaints about Accessible PDF, and it won’t make the whole PDF accessible.  To make it perfect, some part has to be done by the author.

Unfortunately many authors are so afraid that by opening PDF’s to accessibility, they also open them up to copyright issues, as well.

For example, in accessible PDF, I don’t know why, but the Darren Shan books were not formatted right. I tried reading by paragraph but it skipped roughly twenty pages, and it went to the end of books in some cases.  This is how I had to read this fast-paced book…

He ran to the
House
And found something
That resembled
A pea.

Imagine reading with so many pauses. Gosh! Boring, right? I want to have a book be interesting. I guess I shouldn’t complain, but then again I wouldn’t have to be reading like this if authors would make their e-books accessible in the first place.

 

How Accessible PDF could be still better

Accessible PDF is great over-all, but in some ways it irks me.  To start, there’s no reflow function. In Adobe there is something called reflow, under view mode, that makes the text wrap all the way to one side of the document, if it’s allowed to do it, anyway. I have only come across maybe seven out of the 56 books I’ve downloaded which had this feature. It was great since I had a high magnification.  Another shortcoming is that you have to open a PDF file within the application, a small, time-wasting annoyance.

It also won’t convert images to text. If an author of an e-book has provided Alt text descriptions to images, then it will just look like another paragraph.  If they don’t, you wouldn’t even know it’s there.  The application can even read documents from Web pages, but I have never gotten this feature to work at all, leaving me to fill up my hard drive with e-books.  That said, it’s easy to navigate through the program with just the keyboard and the buttons are labeled well. I really do love this program.

This simple little program will make blind people jump and scream in delight no matter how careless the author is towards the blind and or disabled. It may even make things better for some sighted people as well.  While the program still has some minor bugs and glitches, doesn’t have as many features as it could have, and is hard to find on the Web, it sure did make me want to run with glee outside in my underpants. This will be the program that will break down the walls of bad PDF tagging, and open a door that I’m sure never occurred to the author’s mind. It would be a good marketing tool for authors as well if they want to get their e-books sold or distributed to a wide variety of people.

That being said, not all PDF’s will open, and that is due to the bad tagging in the documents. This is getting tiresome, isn’t it?. Do we honestly have to fight so hard for equal access to books? I mean it’s kind of sad that a completely different program has to be made, distributed, and downloaded just so that blind people can read PDF’s. In my book that’s awfully pathetic.  Like a Lifesaver, though, this program is sweet, good, and it’s long lasting. Will it be better in the near future? Will it be the main tool used for PDF’s? Who knows. But checking out this program is definitely a start and I highly recommend it.

Feature Writer John Christie – “I now Pronounce you Mom and Dad.”

A Sylvania Ohio woman got married and had a baby on the same day. During her wedding ceremony, Jamie Phillips said that she felt contractions as her Father walked her down the aisle on a Saturday in early March 2010. The incident happened in Toledo in Northwest Ohio. She thought it was a false alarm. However, she knew better when her water broke at the reception. She was rushed to a hospital in Sylvania.

Tova, the baby boy wasn’t due to March 7th. The Mother and her new husband, Mark Phillips didn’t think the baby would come so soon when they were planning the wedding two weeks earlier.

The parents said that they only wanted to do the right thing before the baby arrived. That’s why they cut things so close.

To read the original article, please go to

http://www.usatoday.com/news/offbeat/2010-03-02-marriage-birth_N.htm

Feature Writer Susan Roe – St. Patrick’s Day

Hands on Living

Celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day

Cead Mile Filte–Gaelic for one hundred thousand welcomes!  Here at Dogwood Farm, March not only signals the coming of Spring, but the long awaited Saint Patrick’s Day.  Both my husband and I have mixed Irish backgrounds, not to mention his only niece, Jordan, was born on this wonderful March day as well.  Two great reasons to enjoy an Irish meal among family.  Even though Jordan lives in California and we live here in Virginia, we always send her our best wishes with a bit of the Irish luck at the end of the day.

I told Matt to flip through our extremely large cookbook collection and find a new Irish recipe or two for us to fix on Saint Patrick’s Day.  Believe it or not, he found two rather quickly, one from the Internet, Beef in Guinness and a dessert from one of our Irish cookbooks, Spiced Apple Upside-Down Cake with Whiskey Caramel Sauce. Along with that I would serve a traditional Irish dish called Colcannon, the quick version, creamy, buttery potatoes with chopped spinach.  Last but not least, there would be Guinness, a wonderful Irish beer and cold hard cider, both of which would also be used in the beef recipe.

But first things first, a check of the pantry and refrigerator, the ingredients double checked and then it was off to the grocery store we went.  Always double-check your list of ingredients before shopping so you won’t be disappointed to realize you have forgotten something very important.  Trust me, sighted husbands and sisters can quickly lose their happy cooking attitudes if they have to go back to the store for that one little missing ingredient.  Been there, done that, isn’t pretty.

Spice Apple Upside-Down Cake with Whiskey Sauce

My sister, Pattie, and I started the day off with fixing the cake because it would have to completely cool before the whiskey caramel sauce could be drizzled along the edges and across the apples on top.  The most important cooking tools for this recipe are a rubber spatula, a Pyrex 16-ounce measuring cup for melting butter and a spring form cake pan.  The rubber spatula makes it easier to evenly spread the melted butter and the dark brown sugar on the bottom of the cake pan.  Then you take the Granny smith apple slices and cover the cake pan bottom in a circular pattern.  Set the cake pan aside and mix the spice cake batter according to the package directions and pour the batter over the apples in the cake pan.  Use your rubber spatula to easily scrape the bowl of remaining batter. After wrapping foil snuggly around the bottom and sides of the spring form cake pan, I always find it easier to place the cake pan in the center of an aluminum baking sheet to make it easier to slide in a hot oven.  One hour later, it was out of the oven and in ten more minutes, inverted on my crystal cake plate, cake pan carefully removed, and my husband had to be warned to keep his hands in his pockets and don’t touch the cake!

Beef in Guinness

I decided the best way to keep Matt out of trouble would be to keep him busy in the kitchen while the cake was cooling on the dining room table.  Matt wanted to fix the Beef in Guinness, so while he prepared the meat, my sister and I chopped the carrots and onions for him.  I like to use a rocker blade for chopping vegetables.  This is a rather large knife with a wide flat blade that narrows down to a normal knife point, and also has a rounded shaped blade edge which allows the knife to rock forwards and back while you chop your vegetables.  We used a beef rump roast and Matt trimmed the fat before cutting the roast in nice bite-sized pieces.

Before the meat could be browned, Matt fried up a strip of peppercorn bacon to add seasoning while browning the beef.  The beef was then rolled in flour and seasoned with Thyme and fresh rosemary from our herb garden.  Once the meat was browned, it was removed from the pot and the onions were sautéed until translucent or wilted.  Matt was then able to add the beef back to the pot with the few remaining ingredients. Best of all, 1 cup of Guinness beer and ¼ cup of Hard cider, were the last ingredients before bringing the pot to a boil and then down to a simmer to gently bubble the beef and vegetables into a tender and delicious Irish stew.

Colcannon with Spinach

Colcannon is another traditional Irish dish that we fix quite frequently on the farm.  The potato dish is usually fixed with creamy potatoes and cabbage or kale, and we lean more towards the kale.  Unfortunately, kale wasn’t on the menu since I had some chopped spinach in the freezer just waiting to make its way onto the table, so that was the winner for the Colcannon.  I made the quick version in the microwave instead of the longer oven method that is best suited when cooking with cabbage.  Look for the containers of pre-made mashed potatoes, not instant, and either fresh or frozen greens, everything else should already be in your refrigerator.

I emptied the potatoes into a microwave safe bowl and then put the frozen spinach in a smaller bowl with a bit of water and butter.  A few minutes in the microwave and the spinach was ready to be drained and mixed with the potatoes.  For a bit of matching flavor from the stew, I crumbled the one slice of bacon in the potatoes as well. Five minutes in the microwave and the Colcannon was ready to join the Beef and Guinness on the table.

Finishing Touches

Before the table was set, it was time to make the whiskey caramel sauce for the cake.  Pattie cut a stick of butter into pieces along with a ½ cup of dark brown sugar into the Pyrex measuring cup so the sauce could be microwaved slowly into a pourable rich consistency.  Then, saints preserve us, came the ¼ cup of Bush mills Irish Whiskey, stirring constantly to blend the flavors together.  Once the sauce was poured over the apple upside-down spice cake, we were more than ready to start celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day.

After our bellies were full of beef and potatoes, we couldn’t help but laugh at Matt eyeing the apple spice upside-down cake with the whiskey caramel sauce pooling along the edge of the cake plate.  We cleared the supper dishes and smaller plates were passed out, waiting for Matt to slice the closing dish of the meal.  My fork couldn’t wait to dig into all that yummy goodness.  We were not disappointed, it was wonderful and before Matt was done with his second piece or three, a third of the cake was gone.

Looking back over the day when all was quiet once again at the table, I was glad to have had the time to spend with my family doing what we so love to do, cooking, laughing, eating, and most of all, counting our blessings at the end of the day.  So I’ll close this writing with a verse from one of my favorite Irish songs sung by Robin Rich, “The Parting Glass”.

So fill to me a parting glass, good night and joy to all of you.

Feature Writer John Christie – Paralympics

In Whistler Creekside, B.C., Canada on March 16 2010, Caitie Sarubbi finished in eighth place on a rainy Tuesday in a Paralympics event called the giant slalom.

Fighting the elements of heavy rain and light fog, which impaired her vision and caused fogged lenses, Caitlin Sarubbi and her guide Gwynn Watkins put together an impressive second run taking seven place in Tuesday’s Giant Slalom at the 2010 Paralympics Winter Games in Whistler, Canada.

Sarubbi, a native of Brooklyn, New York and her guide Gwynn Watkins, a native of Mt Shasta California also participated in the first race ending up in eleventh place.

“I had some trouble on the first run,” Sarubbi said. “My goggles fogged up right at the start, so I was trying to deal with that, trying to keep my technique at the same time. It wasn’t a super clean run, but I made up some time in the second run. It was a lot better and I am just happy with it. I’m happy to end on a better note.  I really had to concentrate on her voice and when she was telling me to switch and stuff,” Sarubbi added, nodding to her guide. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it at all without her. I’m really appreciative.”

Sarubbi and Watkins finished in 3:23.62(+26.97). Sarubbi is competing in her first Paralympic games.

She will continue competition in the March 18 downhill, the super-g on March 19 and the Super Combined on March 21 weather permitting.

To read the original article, please go to http://usparalympics.org/news/2010/03/16/sarubbi-s-eighth-place-leads-visually-impaired-skiers-in-giant-slalom/34639

NFB-NEWSLINE®

Starting on March 30, the Ziegler will be made available to all of our readers on NFB-Newsline®.  The service now offers over 300 newspapers from across the country and is totally free for all of you to use.  What follows is a basic overview of NFB-Newsline® functions to get you started.  We’re going to be making calls to people who have requested a notification about NFB-Newsline®, but if you know anyone who you think would like to listen to our magazine, please let them know.

To sign up for NFB-Newsline®, you can either contact your state’s Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, or contact the National Federation of the Blind at 1-866-504-7300.

Once signed up, you can call 1-888-882-1629 from any touch-tone phone.  Once you reach the main menu of NFB-Newsline®, you have multiple options.  You can dial:

1 – for NFB-NEWSLINE® announcements

2 – for Your State’s Information Channel

3 – for Newspapers in your state

4 – for Your Favorites

5 – for Newspapers from a different state

6 – to CONTINUE reading where you last left off

7 – for Magazines

8 – for Television Listings

9 – for INSTRUCTIONS on using NFB-NEWSLINE®

If you require help, and dial 9 for instructions, you’ll find that there are 10 different help sections to choose from.  Once you begin listening to help lessons, you can either press 3 to proceed to the next lesson, or 1 to return to the previous lesson.

When in an article, use these key commands to navigate through NFB-NEWSLINE®:

1 – Return to previous article

2 – Return to beginning of current article

3 – Move to next article

4 – Read previous line

5 – Return to beginning of line

6 – Read next line

7 – Slow down speaking speed

8 – Change speaking voice

9 – Speed up speaking speed

* – Go back one menu

# – Help Mode for the current menu

#,5 – Spell (follow the directions)

#,# – Search for a word or phrase (follow the directions)

#,3 – Hang up

0 – Pause for 1 minute

0,0 – Speech Control: 1 or 3 – Adjust the volume, 4 or 6 – Change the pitch, 7 or 9 Change the speed

If you need help at any time while in an article or TV Listing, press the pound key (#). You will hear NFB-NEWSLINE® say:

“Press the star key to exit Help, Press any other key to learn about its function.” When you press a key, NFB-NEWSLINE® will tell you what that key does within the current feature.

To read about the more advanced controls on NFB-Newsline®, please go to http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Newslinereadyref.asp?SnID=1092871559

Letter from the Editor

Good morning, all.

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend.  As I mentioned in last week’s edition, starting tomorrow, March 30, we will be available on Newsline.  An official announcement will follow this brief letter.

In addition to that, I’d also like to say thank you to all of the Ziegler readers.  As we finish the month of March and continue onwards, you have all been very helpful by giving me constructive feedback on the magazine.  I hope that the changes we have implemented since January have made this a better magazine for all of you.  I look forward to adding more useful features and content in the future so that we can continue to offer you an entertaining and informative publication.

Take care, and thanks for reading.

Sincerely,

Ross Hammond, Editor