Archive for June, 2010

Another Attempt for Nuclear Fusion: a Star on Earth

Sustainable energy via nuclear fusion has been the goal of many scientists seeking to solve our energy needs for decades.  Now, it seems that a project called LIFE, currently taking place at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is seeking to make that dream into a reality.

As with many futuristic projects whose aim is to solve the energy crisis, this one utilizes high energy laser beams.  After undergoing multiple splits and amplifications, 192 precision-aimed laser beams will focus all of their energy on a 2 millimeter size ball of hydrogen gas so that nuclear fusion will take place. 

While nuclear fusion has been accomplished in the past, the amount of energy needed to make it occur has always exceeded the amount of output energy from the reaction, making it an exercise in futility and not efficient at all.  Controlled, sustainable fusion reactions have also been an impossibility outside of nuclear weapons and stars in the sky.  However, this new project will hopefully create a sustainable nuclear fusion reaction with output energy that far exceeds the energy needed to make it happen, all within a controlled situation.  It will be a scientific breakthrough if they can pull it off, and will set the stage for larger, higher output machines that could take care of our energy needs in ways we cannot possibly imagine.

Another benefit of the LIFE engine is that it can use spent nuclear waste from current nuclear power plants to charge the engine itself.  This means that not only will the fusion process be taking place to create energy, but the engine will also dispose of nuclear waste while creating carbon free energy every day, all day, for decades.

Clearly, this project has far-reaching implications if it proves to be a viable solution for large scale energy production.  The fact that its impact on the environment is essentially zero is especially attractive, considering our current predicament involving fossil fuel extraction.  This is proof that we live in exciting times, and despite current conditions, that are future looks to be much better than the present.

To read the original article, please go to http://kottke.org/10/06/making-a-tiny-star-on-earth

Op Ed with Bob Branco – 10 Pins and a Smile

Since I was a child, one of my favorite sports that I knew I could participate in was bowling. What helped in the beginning was that I had usable sight, so that when I rolled a bowling ball down a lane, I could see the pins fall. At the Perkins School for the Blind, I took part in several bowling tournaments, and on one occasion received a silver medal. I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that my limited vision helped, but then again, many of the bowlers had limited vision, while others were completely blind. I used the small balls at Perkins, and the type of bowling we participated in was candle pin.
Many years later, after I lost my vision, I was invited to a local bowling establishment with some friends. I knew that this was going to be a real challenge for me, because I had no limited vision any longer. I asked myself how I could handle things on the lane. At Perkins, the lanes had guard rails to help a blind bowler aim properly. When I was at the local bowling center, I bowled a few strings, and my score was very bad. I knew why. I wasn’t directed properly, and none of the people I was with knew how to direct me. It wasn’t until much later when I became involved with organized bowling that I had friends help me. If you are totally blind, and ready to throw the bowling ball, all you need someone to do is to guide you verbally. It may be that you’re past the foul line, so someone needs to tell you that in order for you to back up. Rolling the ball is no problem.
If your aim is too far to the left, a sighted person would ask you to move your arm to the right, and if you were too far to the right, the sighted guide would tell you to move your arm to the left. Under this guidance, my bowling scores improved dramatically. For nearly fifteen years, I’ve been in bowling leagues and getting the proper assistance. Each year I average about 70 pins per string, and although there are many bowlers who do much better than me, I am proud to know that I can bowl reasonably well, given my circumstances.
Some of you might have felt that the sighted person needed to guide or move my hand, but it’s not necessary. As long as I know where the pins are, I am able to keep up with my friends the best way possible. On several occasions I was asked if I needed bumpers installed on the bowling lane to prevent the ball from going into the gutter. No, it’s not necessary.
Bowling is not only fun, it’s good exercise. During the fall and winter months, and into early spring, I bowl every Sunday. It is a good feeling to walk up to the lane 30 times just to try to do the best I can. I’m not looking to earn a trophy or be a champion. I just want to enjoy myself at a skill I can accomplish.

Contributor Reni Jackson – Sports Benefit the Blind

What are sports for the blind and what are the benefits? Well, I am here to tell you. My name is Reni Jackson of Louisville, Kentucky. I was a successful athlete in high school and for about 15 years from 1977 until 1992.

My journey began in high school in 1966 and culminated this year by being inducted into the United States Association of Blind Athletes Hall of Fame.

When I was a kid, I participated in all the normal neighborhood games like football, baseball, and basketball.  When I was 15, I was declared legally blind.

While I was always a decent athlete, my abilities began to seriously improve when I became an adult.  With the USABA, I participated in Track and Field events, and played on the Goalball team as well.  During my time playing with the USABA, I was able to travel world-wide and competed in international competitions, world championships, and three Paralympics games.

Sports for the blind can be any sport that has been adapted or modified to accommodate the blind or visually impaired. The benefits are truly life changing and you will carry the lessons learned and fond memories for the rest of your life. I’ve listed five benefits below that I feel every blind athlete enjoys and that they carry and use while they are playing and, more importantly, in their everyday lives as well. 

Perseverance: The most important, it feeds the rest of them. Steady persistence, determined spirit.

Confidence: The more a person pursues, the more confidence and courage they will build. Please remember, you are going to stumble sometimes, but that is when your courage is needed the most.

Self-respect: Knowledge of one’s own worth. When you get knocked down and you pick yourself up and learn from your mishaps.

Opportunities:  Favorable circumstances. In sports you will be injected into many good situations, with confidence and self-respect you will learn how to take advantage and learn to overlook the bad.

Health: When you are healthy from training, your perseverance is awakened, your confidence is high, your self-respect is noticeable and the opportunities will find you.

So get out and play. If you do not have an organization for the blind near you that supports sports for the blind, check out the web site at www.usaba.org.

Contributor Lynne Tatum – Changing Vision; Changing My Life

As a younger woman, I flitted around my beloved New York City without a care.  Using a cane I knew I’d be relatively safe, as I had quite good usable vision.  I became concerned when objects began to look blurry.  I vividly recall the day when I stood on the corner watching a slew of out-of-focus yellow blob taxi cabs zoom by.  They simply did not look as sharp as I knew they should be.  Plodding on, I didn’t give it too much thought.  Work called and I had to answer.  Shortly thereafter, a colleague offered information about a miracle doctor who could restore my vision.  I was only able to see out of my right eye, but that did not stop my inquiry into what might be a real improvement in my vision.  I immediately made an appointment. I experienced a stomach-churning sense of anxiety each time I had to go to this office as the elevator had no Braille or large print numbers.  Often, I would ask whoever was behind the desk to help.  To say I’m not crazy about elevators is putting it as mildly as I can.  The fact that I must use them every day is a source of serious annoyance but, again, I do what I must do.  Needing to be guided around this catacomb-like medical office caused me to understand that the cataract really was ripening and I was losing a good deal of light in my right eye.

An amazing change was immediately apparent following the first surgery as light and sight were miraculously returned to me. However, there was one little problem.  One evening while watching “Great Performances” on television, I noticed that the male singer had a shadow of his head above his real head.  Eek!  “What on earth?” I thought.  I phoned my doctor the very next day and he scheduled another operation.

The second surgery was largely unnecessary.  My vision continued to do its image-splitting act until I could see two images–the real thing and its fainter twin right beside it.  This double vision glare has steadily worsened until it’s now obscured my ability to read the ever-present large print that has been a staple in my life. I was used to holding a binder while singing and having the ability to at least glance at my words for support, but my new lower vision had made short work of that.  I will admit that my print-size was surpassing my age.  Now it’s memorize, memorize, memorize. 

Three constant factors which kept me from diving into the depths of depression were (and ever will be) my sense of humor, pride in my performance, and self-preservation.  Maria, my partner in life and crime, has listened to some truly ridiculous lyrics come out of my mouth while trying to get it right.  At one point, I had her so confused that she began singing them along with me.  Additionally, and evilly, I say I miss my large print words for another not-so-professional reason.  While reading, I could hide behind my binder when a particularly mirthful situation arose.  Ah, those satisfying moments of sheer, shoulder-shaking hysteria.

I’ve seen a cadre of doctors since my operations and have continued to visit my childhood eye doctor, who should retire soon.  I mean, really.  He has known me since I was four years old and I’m certain he was at least in his thirties or early forties then.  He has never held out even the faintest glimmer of hope.  During my last visit he informed me that the beginning stages of macular degeneration were setting in–not the best news I could have gotten.  At one point, his long-time nurse thought my retina had detached as I woke up with seriously blurry vision that stuck with me for about a day or so.  The retinal specialist recommended I go to the Lighthouse for who-knows-what.  I simply chuckled.  I’ve been enrolled in the Music School of Lighthouse International since 1984 and plan to take at least a couple voice lessons come next semester.

These days I have good vision days and horrible vision days.  It doesn’t slow me down.  It probably should, but it doesn’t.  I’m probably more reckless now than I ever was, to tell the truth.  I thank Maria profusely for putting a cane in my hand twenty-three years ago.  Even though carrying it can be a royal pain, I could not do without it.  I am learning to listen more.  No longer walking with my mp3 player blasting away in my ears, thinking I’ll see the lights and whizzing cars, trucks and buses, I cross with the parallel traffic.  I have been hit by taxi cabs twice this year–one leaving me flat on my butt, the other running right over my right foot.  It has not been fun.

Walking is my refuge and I refuse to give it up.  It offers precious thinking time and has led me to many life-changing decisions.  Travelling the same route each time, I sheepishly recall the one occasion I tried to be adventurous.  I thought the walking would be much easier as the streets were wider.  Well, I found myself two avenues over and a few blocks beyond the street I needed.  I can walk my regular route without thinking, mostly.  I pay particular attention at the curbs.  I’ve also noticed that some days are New Yorker-friendly days when I receive more assistance than I need and other days I am muttering away to myself because no one was there to help me cross the street when those annoying vehicles decided to use the middle of the street as a parking lot.  Fifth Avenue on the Central park side is one of my favorite walking strips with only a few major streets bisecting that uneven but excellent path.

I am extremely grateful that I began using screen readers years ago even when I could see fairly well.  It just seemed easier and heaven knows my proofreading improved immeasurably.  I maintain that those of us who listen to documents rather than look at them are able to pick up mistakes much faster.  This, of course, assumes you know how to listen to and correct your errors.  Additionally, I no longer rely on my unreliable eyeball so I cannot be tossed from my job as Senior Instructor at Baruch College’s CCVIP so readily because I am unable to read the printed material.  I have no excuse.  Imagine, I am now in the same position as my students in terms of making revisions to my multitude of documents.  I changed my practice of using screen magnification with a screen reader approximately a month ago, deciding that I am much more efficient as a screen reader user.  The backspace key is my faithful and reliable friend.  Long may it work on my keyboard.

I will admit that my television watching has waned considerably, but I have decided to purchase some movies with audio description, as there are a few films which I really would like to see with whatever vision I have left.  I have listened to a few audio-described flicks and have found this enjoyable, but there is something about them being on the big screen–at least the big screen of our television–that is very satisfying. 

I know my life is changing as my vision changes but it will not hinder me from doing the things I love.  These are the activities that make my life worth living.  Why on earth would I want to give them up?  I don’t and I won’t! Low, lower, and lowest vision be damned!

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – When Public Transit Leaves Me Stranded

It was a Tuesday afternoon and I was off to my knitting group. We meet at a downtown restaurant and I take the bus to get there. Everything was fine until I was forced to get off the bus a block before I normally do. This wouldn’t have been a problem except that I needed to cross a street that was in the process of being completely repaved. As I walked south listening to my left, I realized that construction was going to be a barrier for me. I felt frustrated and stranded. Thankfully, I was able to contact my husband and he drove me to my destination.

I can’t speak for all blind people, but I am the kind of person who practices a route with sighted assistance before I do it on my own. Once I understand the route and feel comfortable in the area then I have no problem with going alone. So you can imagine how I felt when I realized that my independence was being taken away from me because my public transit authority didn’t contact me to let me know that the station would not be open and that a street that I needed to cross was what I consider to be unsafe.

This is not the first time that I’ve felt some communication between myself and public transit was warranted. Last year this time, one of my regular routes was changed, but I was given no prior notice. I ended up waiting more than half an hour for the bus because I needed to get somewhere. Another example was when I lived in a different town and the stop I used was removed, forcing me to go 2 blocks east to find a different one. In both of these cases, I ended up needing sighted assistance to find out about the changes. Not only was I not contacted about changes, but the websites of many bus systems are not screen reader friendly.

It is my belief that in the 21st century there are simple ways to ensure that disabled bus riders can rely on public transit and that it will get them where they need to go. One option is for public transit websites to have a form for riders who want to be contacted in the event of route changes or city construction. The rider could choose to call into an automated phone message service, or sign up for an email list. Another option would be for public transit drivers to have cards to give to riders telling them who to contact if they ever need assistance. The cards should include print and Braille.  Finally, the websites indicating routes and times should be fully accessible, which means some alternative to a table full of numbers.

In the end, I got where I needed to go, but it’s likely that if I had known that my route was not safe I would have chosen to just stay home.

Feature Writer Romeo Edmead – New Fabric May Help Gulf Crisis

As the tireless scramble to clean up what has now become the most catastrophic offshore oil spill in U.S. history continues, 2 companies have collaborated to produce a product which they contend will go a long way in solving the problem. The collaborators, based in Switzerland and Germany, added a chemical to non-woven fabric and named their invention Oilguard. They allege that Oilguard can suck up oil while simultaneously repelling water and claim that it will also be economical too. Despite the fact that the Oilguard sheets do not have much width, they are hundreds of yards in length. The plan is to lay them on the Gulf Coast shoreline, mainly beaches, to catch the oil that’s being washed up. With their current supply, they estimate that they’ll be able to cover and protect nearly 22 miles of the affected areas.

As the U.S. continues to examine the possibility of utilizing this new technology, the developers of Oilguard say it is scheduled to be tested in the Gulf of Mexico over the next several weeks. A representative from the Swiss company also said it will be tried out in the U.S. soon.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.aolnews.com/gulf-oil-spill/article/swiss-company-says-its-oilguard-fabric-can-clean-up-bp-oil-spill/19520270

Contributor Andrea Bolan – Living as a VIP (Visually Impaired Person)

I have often thought about the numerous experiences, good and bad, that I have had throughout my life as a person with a visual impairment.  I am thirty-nine years old, and was born with glaucoma, nystagmus, and corneal hereditary endothelial dystrophy (CHED).  I can decipher shapes and muted colors with my left eye, and I can read large printed material and a computer screen with my right eye.  I wear a hard contact lens in my right eye, but I am still legally blind.

On a side note, I was also born with a forty percent sensorineural hearing loss in both ears, which is not related to my visual impairment.  I have worn behind-the-ear hearing aids since I was seven years old.

I always went to mainstream public and private schools because my parents wanted to give me as normal an upbringing as possible with sighted people.  Their intention was founded in what they believed was best for me, and I have never begrudged them for any of their decisions.

Throughout high school and college, I spoke to my teachers individually and told them about my visual and hearing impairments.  I assured them that they did not need to do anything special for me, but that I could not see the chalkboard or an overhead projector.   I had arranged for my own note takers, large print books, and large print tests through the school’s invaluable student disability resource center.  I wanted to make the teachers feel as comfortable as possible.

Sometimes situations at school can be humorous as well as a little humiliating.  During my freshman year in college in the fall of 1989, I took the required Speech Communications course.  One of my projects dealt with conducting a half hour slide show presentation.  I thought that it would be a wonderful opportunity for me to show the students and teacher how people see who have various visual impairments.  I arranged to meet with a researcher from a local hospital, and we sifted through hundreds of slides depicting low vision.  I chose approximately fifty slides and borrowed a slide projector.  My mother helped me organize the slides, and reduce the number of slides to about twenty.  I rehearsed my presentation with the slides in the projector relentlessly.  Although I did view the slides before the presentation, I knew that I would not be able to see them during the actual presentation because the projection screen was too far away.  So I memorized the slide order along with my speech.

The Speech Communications instructor was one of those people who seemed to enjoy making life difficult for a few select students.  I felt that he never believed that I was visually impaired, and he made several derogatory comments to me in front of the class.  I was raised to respect my teachers, and I felt that I would only make things worse for myself if I said something to him.  Now that I am older and have had a lot more experience, I never let someone criticize me for being visually impaired.

As everyone knows, things do not always happen as planned.  I always took the city bus to classes, but my mother drove me to school on the morning of the presentation and helped me carry the projector and slides to the classroom, then she went to work.  I was never very confident giving presentations and speaking publicly, but I felt good about my presentation that morning.  Although I was extremely nervous, I had rehearsed my presentation and was prepared.  Finally, it was my turn to present.  I discussed how visual impairments affect what people can and cannot do.  I cited examples about not being able to drive, see stoplights, or read street signs, differentiate similar shades and colors, read the print in a phonebook or a menu in a fast food restaurant, etc.  The various slides I chose illustrated common eye ailments such as glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, a torn retina, macular degeneration, cataracts, eye injuries, etc.  Although looking at a picture is a world away from living and functioning with diseased or injured eyes, I thought the slides would provide a vantage point for those with normal vision.

Suddenly, the instructor interrupted me without an apology and said, “That slide is upside down.”

My heart raced in my chest with anxiety, and my cheeks burned with embarrassment.  I turned to the teacher and said, “I told you I was visually impaired.”  I then continued with my presentation and the rest of the slide show.  To my knowledge that was the only slide that was upside down.  How the slide ended up that way I will never know.

Thankfully the students clapped after the presentation, but the teacher never said another word to me for the rest of the semester.  If I remember correctly, I got a “C” for the class.

Being visually impaired has brought me to my knees on many occasions.  Yet it is all I have ever known.  It is just part of who I am.

Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – Trials and Tribulations in the Airport

I stood at the ticket counter waiting for the skycap for assistance to the departure gate.

My bag was checked and my dog had done her business before arriving. I was mulling over the threat of my flight being canceled due to the storm settling in over lower Westchester and Long Island when the skycap appeared. I could tell he was pushing a wheelchair. The thoughts about canceled flights were replaced by predicting how long it would take me to convince the ticket agent and the skycap that I didn’t need the wheelchair.

“Excuse me,” I said to the ticket agent, hoping to head things off, “I don’t need a wheelchair, just a sighted guide.”

I knew from experience that trying to explain it to the skycap was an effort in frustration. Stating my needs to the ticket agent was my best bet.

“You don’t want help?” she asked.

“I just need sighted assistance. I have a guide dog. I can walk.”

“You have a dog? Can it sit in your lap?”

I took a deep breath,

“Look, all I want is a sighted guide to help me through security and lead us to the gate. I don’t want a wheelchair.”

The skycap perked up.  “I no take you with no chair,” he said and walked away.

“Get your supervisor,” I suggested. The girl agreed and after a moment of heated whispering with the supervisor she escorted me to the security line.

 The real fun began with taking apart my bag and dropping my belongings into bins: shoes and jacket in one, electronics open and out of cases in another and yet one more for my carry on bag.

“Make sure you stay with my stuff,” I said to the ticket agent, knowing that my belongings might be an easy target for light fingers.

I tried to convince the security agent to let me go through and then call the dog through but he wasn’t willing to take my suggestion and practically pushed us both into the arch of the metal detector. After we set it off, the security agent herded us into a Plexiglas booth to wait for a female security agent for my pat down. I groan, wishing my husband, who is a Federal agent, could’ve escorted me. I wanted to tell them to wand my dog, not me, but I just let them do what will get us through the line with the least resistance. The humiliation of a pat down is bad enough, then to make things more frustrating, the female security agent who patted me down pet my dog and I wanted to slap her hand. Instead, I packed up all my things, put on my shoes and got to my gate.

After three hours, every outbound flight was canceled due to the storm. I eventually got home, only to be reinserted into the airport phenomenon again the next day. Fortunately, the second run went much better than the first.  No pat downs, just a wand to the dog and that’s it. I breathed a sigh of relief when we touched down in California.

Six days later, I caught my return flight to New York. Remembering the humiliation of the pat down in JFK, and wanting desperately to avoid another, I asked the security agent to allow me to go through the metal detector alone.

“Let me go through first. My dog will sit and stay until I call her. I won’t set it off; it’s my dog’s harness that does it.”

The man said, “Miss, you sound like you know what you’re doing, so go ahead.”

I wanted to kiss him.

My dog behaved impeccably, and soon I was slipping back into my shoes and shrugging on my backpack.

After touching down in New York, on our way to the car, I think, what’s Amtrak like? Maybe a bus would be less trouble. Then again, time is of the essence and wasting it is inconvenient. At least I know how to avoid those humiliating pat downs. That alone was worth the trip.

Feature Writer John Christie – Fanny Crosby: Early 20th Century Poet and Inspiration

Fanny Crosby was an American hymn writer and poet, and during her lifetime, she wrote over 9,000 hymns.  She also entered the NY Institute at the age of 15. She then taught English and history from 1847 to 1858. As a teacher and pupil, she spent 35 years at the school. Her first book of poems was published in 1844 and was titled The Blind Girl and Other Poems.

In 1858, she published a book called A Wreath of Columbia’s Flowers. This is a book of secular stories and poems. Her last book, Memories of 80 years, was published in 1906.  Crosby was considered to be the greatest hymn writer in America. She was commonly referred to in New York as the “Hymn Queen.”

Although blinded by an illness at just six weeks old, she never became bitter. One time a preacher sympathetically remarked, “I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when He showered so many other gifts upon you.” She replied quickly, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I should be born blind?” “Why?” asked the surprised clergyman. “Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior!”

One of Miss Crosby’s hymns was so personal that for years she kept it to herself. Kenneth Osbeck, author of several books on hymnology, says its revelation to the public came about this way.  One day at the Bible conference in Northfield, Massachusetts, Miss Crosby was asked by D.L. Moody to give a personal testimony. At first she hesitated, then quietly rose and said, ‘There is one hymn I have written which has never been published. I call it my soul’s poem. Sometimes when I am troubled, I repeat it to myself, for it brings comfort to my heart.” She then recited while many wept:

Someday the silver cord will break,
and I no more as now shall sing;
but oh, the joy when I shall wake
within the palace of the King!
And I shall see Him face to face,
and tell the story–saved by grace!

At the age of 95 Fanny Crosby passed on and on her grave in Bridgeport, Conn., there is a simple little headstone with the name “Aunt Fanny,” and these words:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine.

Miss Crosby made herself a success when the odds were stacked against her. For example, there was no mobility training or rehabilitation training at the end of the 19th and early 20th century when she was alive. At that time, you had to find someone to guide you to places that you wanted to go to. You had to either go by train or an early model car. However, she had the gift to sing and write and she capitalized on these gifts. The best part was that, without questioning, the public gave her a chance.

Since then, blind musicians have become very successful, such as Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. It just shows that if you do have a lot of talent and knock on doors loud enough, the public will begin to listen. Maybe we blind folks should take a lesson from Miss Crosby’s life experiences and really get out there and start knocking on doors. The blindness agencies that train us should also knock on doors and train the public on what blindness is all about. Maybe by doing this, the unfortunate state of unemployment in the blind community could be turned around. At least it would be a start.

Letter from the Editor

Hello everyone,

I hope that you all are enjoying this wonderful summer weather and that the heat isn’t too overbearing where you are.

I just have one quick announcement for this week and then it’s on to the good stuff.  Next week’s magazine will be released on Tuesday, July sixth, as our offices will be closed on Monday the fifth.  The magazine will be available on NFB-Newsline on Wednesday the seventh.  It’s hard to believe that it’s already July this week.  It feels like June was here and gone in a flash.

I hope that you all have a great week and a fun-filled holiday weekend.  Take care, and as always, thanks for reading.

Sincerely,

Ross Hammond, Editor