Monthly Archives: July 2005

Tagging “assistivemedia” for the blind and visually impaired

One of the things you’ll start to see here on this page while I debug it and later on the Assistive Media weblog when I can get it pretty is a stream of links to assistive technologies on the net.  These are services like radio reading services for the visually impaired, people who are podcasting who are blind who talk about their days and their experiences with technologies, and the national and international networks of libraries for the blind and visually impaired.

I’ll be hunting for social bookmarking services that have good accessible interfaces, and for people who already are using them to tag these sorts of materials to good effect.  And more and more I’ll be listening to people for whom listening to the world is the main way they get information.

Link to del.icio.us/tag/assistivemedia .

Finishing old projects and starting new ones

One of the tasks when you do transitions is figuring out what happens next. I’m going to try to be overly open in making some of that process visible, rather than doing it just privately, since it’s an interesting thing to go through and since the modern working world pretty much demands that you get good at changing relatively frequently. Some of the details may get cloaked – you don’t want to reveal too much works in progress – but since I actually like the time spent between commitments a lot this seems to be a good time to document it.

A piece of that challenge is zeroing in on some technologies that I’d like to be better versed in, either for the purposes of developing things in those frameworks and toolkits, or at the very least for understanding how those systems work to the point that you could do technical marketing for them. It’s something I’ve done in the past, I’m pretty good at it, you spend a little bit of time spinning up and a lot of time describing how you did something to someone else. My usual coding skills can be described as pretty good in anything where all the code fits on one page, so figuring out which frameworks have a lot of expressive power makes a huge difference. (As an example of this, compare doing complex transforms of RSS feeds in Feedburner vs. writing the code to do it yourself.)

The other key bit of that challenge is establishing the necessary routines and practices to actually get things done and not just think about them and noodle around. While I don’t have a life-long timeline of everything I’d like to ever do in my life, I do have some reasonable expectations for what say the rest of the year should lead to, and what sort of opportunities I might want to have available to me after that long. Once upon a time I started up a “1000 days” mailing list for life planning at that scale – I’ve scaled back and now think that about 100 days of head start should do the trick, and that a weekly review is about the right frequency to keep projects on track.

A big goal in all of that, and one of the big items on my “Ed’s perfect job” checklist, is finding some people who I can work with who are actually really in the same place I am – same time zone, same city, same meeting room or office. I know that sounds hopelessly old-fashioned in this world of virtual communities and outsourcing, but after two and a half years of being the person at the other end of the wire, I’m looking forward to a little bit less cyberspace for a while. I know that’s not permanent – my 20 year computing career has always been dominated by thinking about things that are far away – but as a temporary spot to be in it’s appealing.

So to sum up: I’m thinking about projects that might last through until maybe the beginning of November, that include people who I can see in person here in Ann Arbor, with lots of opportunities to dig into powerful but simple systems. That’s about where my head is at right now. I’ll be planning an ice cream social for when I get back from vacation and hope to talk to some people then.

Thanks to Nano for the first draft of “Ed’s Perfect Job”, which has been a great touchstone for all of this, and to “How to Solve It : A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (Princeton Science Library)” (G. Polya) (Amazon), (AADL) for a general path to problem solving I’ve used before to good success.

The cost of starting a new business (in Michigan and elsewhere)

Michigan Radio is starting up a new talk show this fall, starting late September. Sonja Brodie was interviewing people on the street about what they were thinking about (always a hard question to ask, for fear of getting a one word answer) and I talked to her for a bit about what was on my mind.

One thing that has struck me over the past few years at Socialtext was just how inexpensive it was to start that business. At the time we started there was computer equipment, bandwidth, coding skills, customer service experience, legal help, time, effort, energy and attention all available for the asking. Real estate was not an overhead issue, and a prototype could be put together without investing in plant and equipment.

In thinking about this I am struck by how different this is from the general experience in new business formation in the 2005 Michigan economy. The dominant industrial base, auto manufacturing, has been squeezing its suppliers for a long time and shows no signs of stopping. The local hi-tech biotech industry is very capital and regulation intensive. Starting a business in your garage is still possible, but you’re more likely to start it in your basement (we have basements here, but the garages are used to store bikes and garden tools and maybe shop supplies).

Jerry Michalski turned me on to the book “FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop–From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication” (Neil Gershenfeld) (Amazon), (Ann Arbor District Library). In it Gershenfeld describes machine tools driven by easy to use CAD software that allow manufacturing in very small quantities (q1) of personalized, self-designed items. In some way it’s like the shop class I had at Gravaraet Middle School, but instead of cutting by hand you cut by machine. And in some ways it’s like making auto parts, but you can tweak things to your own personal needs and not have to worry about The Man saying it costs a nickel too much.

What would get the rate of new business formation going better here in Michigan?

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ERC-MAIN – Espresso Royale Caffe coffee shop on Main St

I had a nice conversation with Sarah (Sara?) who manages the ERC on Main St. We had talked ever so briefly during Art Fair (when it was impossible to get any sort of word in edgewise) so it was nice to talk.

ERC-MAIN (that’s their wifi ID) is one of the places I’m a regular. The coffee is good, the location just across the street from my office downtown is good, and there’s usually wifi so I can be online. They carry bagels (my favorite is salt) so I can get a morning snack that’s not sugary. There are usually a number of people here on laptops and there’s generally enough outlet space to stay plugged in.

This cafe is not as full as it could be during the day. I’m surprised that more people don’t use it as a gathering place for things like book groups, knitting groups, ad hoc meeting places, or a spot to just sit and be online or catch up on phone calls or reading.

For Sara, what would you do to bring people to the cafe?

Some reading:

Starbucks Gossip – just as it says, an active blog about SBUX with plenty of patron comments.

What’s on the bulletin board at Cafe Ambrosia? – a start at a “cafe blog” idea. This turned out to be hard to do at Ambrosia because there was no wifi.

Ann Arbor coffee shops with Internet – a 2004 survey and summary of what’s available in town – the #5 hit in Google for “ann arbor coffee”

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Bedtime rituals

To sleep, perchance to dream.

Bedtime around here is always a bit of a challenge. When I spend time with Saul in the evening around bedtime he wants to play and doesn't want to go to sleep; he'd be happy to be up doing things until well past his 8:15 bedtime. As he gets more and more tired he gets more and more wild. Sometimes his tired and my tired collide.

Jonathan doesn't often fall asleep for very long in the living room if we put him down for a rest, I guess there's too much going on with light and noise to have him get really calm. He does like walks around in the night air, but even those don't always work. I think I'm going to start doing more of what I did tonight which was to take him up into the bedroom and stay with him until he falls asleep.

As for me, I get a lot of useful things done after everyone else in the house is asleep, just because it's easier to concentrate and to do tasks that take an hour or two start to finish to get done.

"You lack the season of all natures, sleep." "Macbeth" (William Shakespeare) (Amazon), (AADL)

Transitions

Ross Mayfield and Socialtext have announced what I have told a number of people privately; I’m no longer with the company. It’s been a great team to work with, and I wish everyone there well.

Two projects are taking up most of my not-for-profit time right now. I’ve been involved with the new catalog and weblogs at the Ann Arbor District Library, where I’m on the technology advisory board. The AADL as I’ve blogged here before is on the very leading edge of public librarianship and it’s been great to get an inside view of what Eli and the whole team have been doing.

The second project is one I’ve been working on for a while as a member of the board and as a volunteer. Assistive Media produces short audio programs (fiction and non-fiction from The New Yorker, Harpers, Granta, and other really good magazines) and presents the audio for the blind and visually impaired through streaming media. We’re just now building a new podcasting service to manage getting that collection onto portable media players. Things are still a little rough but you can see the Assistive Media podcast feed courtesy of Feedburner.

After some summertime time Up North, I’ll plan an ice cream social for mid-August at Paula’s Place. I’ll post a separate item to plan that.

Affordable housing

From Money magazine June 2005.

San Francisco median price of a single family home as a multiple of local annual median income, 7.9

United States average, 3.3

Ann Arbor multiple, 2.9

Baltimore multiple, 2.0

So by that one metric Ann Arbor has more affordable housing than average, though the median family might be a renter and not a homeowner in many or most markets.
Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.