Podcast Transcript: Mosen At large episode 167, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from a blindness perspective, tell me the songs you love and hate, and your old bulletin board memories
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Jonathan Mosen: I’m Jonathan Mosen. This is Mosen At Large, the show that’s got the blind community talking. Today, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from a blindness perspective, memories of the old bulletin board systems, songs you love. and songs you hate, and a listener who’s counting his blessings.
Hello, welcome. Thank you for listening this week. This is not the episode I was expecting to present which I promoted just a few days ago on the Mosen media list, and the Mosen At Large website. Way back in episode two of this podcast, we discussed what psychologists call flashbulb moments. They are moments that have such an impact on us as a society that we distinctly remember where we were and what we were doing. We also tend to remember the dates. They are dates like the 3rd of September 1939, the 7th of December 1941, the 22nd of November 1963, and of course, the 11th of September 2001. The 24th of February 2022 is now one such date. As we witnessed the largest unprovoked attack on a democratic sovereign nation since the Second World War.
When I opened the previous episode, Episode 166, I made the comment that every so often, I take a look and marvel at the many countries where Mosen At Large is heard, and one of those countries is Ukraine. Although I feel sure that most people will have far more important things to do than to listen to this week’s show, because as the former head of MI6, Sir Alex Younger, so poignantly told the BBC, “The Ukrainian people are being punished simply for the crime of existing.”
Just in case, I want to send unwavering solidarity and support to our listeners there, and indeed to all those who are facing and fighting a despicable attack instigated by a dangerous authoritarian, bullying dictator and a gangster. A man who wants to turn back the clock to an autocratic empire that must not be permitted to return. After weeks of a charade whose final outcome was inevitable, a liberal democracy has been attacked.
This matters, because we’ve already seen what happens when we reluctantly let it go. He is emboldened, and you can be sure that others who hate democracy are watching the ferocity or otherwise of responses to this outrage. It matters because freedom is often hard-won, and can be so easily lost. One of the challenges I think the human race faces today is that we have so much access to so much information that we can become desensitized to what we’re being told. I want to talk about the invasion of Ukraine in a way that many of us can identify with.
Just a few short days ago, citizens were waking up to the usual sounds of a city awakening and another routine day, kids thinking childish things and heading off to kindergarten or school. Young couples perhaps wishing their finances weren’t quite so tight, but thinking about the future, maybe thinking that they could treat themselves to a meal out at one of the many cafés and restaurants. Ordinary people with ordinary hopes and ordinary dreams and ordinary challenges on an ordinary day. Suddenly, many of those people are refugees.
They’ve lost it all. Those remaining behind fear for their lives and seek to defend their country. Families are being torn apart, as some stay behind to fight the aggressors, while younger or older, more vulnerable people try to find safety, but increasingly, there’s no safety to be found. Mosen At Large looks at all kinds of issues from a blindness perspective. To open the show today, we’re going to discuss Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine from a blindness perspective.
Joining me from Germany is Andre Polykanine. Andre has Ukrainian roots. He grew up in the Soviet Union in Russia. He moved back to Ukraine in 2008, and he has friends and family in harm’s way. Andre, I really appreciate you being here at such a difficult time. I know that this is a difficult conversation to have. Could I just ask you to introduce yourself to our Mosen At Large community?
Andre Polykanine: Thanks for having me. Hello, Jonathan. Hello, everyone. My name is Andre. I’m now in Germany, in Mannheim, in the southwest of Germany. I’m a web developer. Now I’m full-time employed. Actually, it’s not my education. Per education, I’m a linguist translator, dealing with languages, but I’ve always dreamed about IT and IT careers, so to say. That actually brought me to Germany, because I found work, a very good job here, and that’s why I’m here.
Jonathan: I was reading just how much Ukraine has contributed to technology, and you look at things like the founding of WhatsApp, Grammarly, which is still not accessible. The list actually goes on and on in terms of IT professionals who started life in Ukraine. It’s really remarkable the contribution that Ukraine has made. Can I just ask for context in terms of looking back at the Soviet occupation before? How old are you?
Andre: I’m in my 40s.
Jonathan: You’re in your 40s. You have some memory of what Ukraine was like under Soviet control?
Andre: Yes and no. I had been leaving in Russia for quite a long time, that’s even tougher. I know what Russia is. I know what Ukraine is now. Now I know what Germany is. Cultural context, culture-wise, technology-wise, and so on, so forth, people-wise, my answer is yes and no.
Jonathan: It must be hard to describe that oppression, that lack of freedom, all the things that people listening to this podcast, in general, will be taking for granted that were deprived of people in that whole Soviet sphere.
Andre: It influences mentality, I would say. All the former Soviet people or people from ex-USSR are impacted by this way of thinking by the ideological pressure imposing of that communist ideology, and so on, so forth. That’s very challenging.
Jonathan: Yet, they had that taste of free markets of democracy, before Putin took control back and it’s all gone. That must be incredibly frustrating for those left there.
Andre: Exactly. Now, in Russia, for example, it’s very, very en vogue to actually curse the ’90s. The ’90s is the heaviest cursed time and so on, so forth, but now, it was not like that. I assume it was like that for many people, but not for all. First and foremost, it’s the time of freedom in Russia, the ’90s, the 1990s. When everything opened, the Iron Curtain just disappeared. We learned about different things, about American culture, European culture, different products, different technologies, because before it was non-existent, or almost non-existent, the high technology.
Jonathan: The last time we had a cold war-type situation like this, a conflict situation like this, the main ways that those of us on either side of the Iron Curtain kept in touch with each other was through shortwave radio. Of course, the Russians did a pretty good job of jamming that, but things are so different now, aren’t they?
Andre: Yes, but still everyone used to listen to, so to say, enemy radio. It’s a Soviet expression, enemy radio. Everyone used to listen to that. There were some Russian language programs, some Russian language broadcasters. For example, there was one very, very famous guy who broadcast from London, in the UK, and he did programs about rock, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and so on so forth. Music unknown or virtually unknown, the Soviet Union. That did exist. It’s again a yes and no. Officially, that didn’t exist, but unofficially, it did exist even then.
Jonathan: You said you’d spend some time in Russia. How much time did you spend going up in Ukraine itself?
Andre: I didn’t grow up in Ukraine. I have Ukrainian roots. I actually moved to Ukraine in 2008. For me, it was like moving home. It’s a very soothing feeling, and it’s a really great feeling when you feel home, when you feel on your land. That’s something I really cannot express enough.
Jonathan: When I think of what it means to be a New Zealander, there are certain cultural things, the way that we behave, certain songs, customs, that sort of thing. What is being Ukrainian to you?
Andre: It’s being proud. It’s being proud of my country, of my people, it’s love. I love my country, I love my people despite some– of course, we all have drawbacks and particularities, so to say, but still, it’s mine. You know that before I’ve never known what nostalgia is. For me, it was like a nonsensical word. How can you miss something? How can you miss– I don’t know, a country or a land or a city? No, you can miss– I don’t know, your parents or your relatives or some people, some individual people, but how can you miss a place and miss a people in general? I understood that only in Ukraine. That’s a very, very tough thing, but very pleasant thing I would say.
Jonathan: Growing up then in Russia, what kind of access to blindness education and blindness services did you have?
Andre: I was lucky. I was growing up in Moscow in the capital. In this sense, now I heard it worsened, but it used to be a good school for the blind at least in many aspects. The only thing I really regret that I don’t have a proper O&M training. I walk very, very bad on my own with a white cane. It’s a shame. I try to correct that even now when I’m adult, but it’s like it is, unfortunately, but other than that, I was lucky. I had good teachers. Braille with upper case B since my– I don’t know, five years or so, my mother started teaching me Braille, although she actually does know it, but the tables like with printed letters and Braille letters where a mom can actually teach her child Braille. In that particular thing, I was lucky.
Jonathan: What did you expect that you might do for a career when the Soviet edifice was still a thing before Perestroika and Glasnost and all of those things that changed everything, what were you hoping to do?
Andre: Still something related to techniques, technology, not probably as outlined, not probably as exact as I would say now like IT. Of course, I had no idea about IT in those times, but still something to do either with technology or with languages because my passion was I was fascinated by how people are different. Why some people talk like this and some other people talk like that. I always ask my mother how this or that person looks like.
What’s the face and the form of the nose and the hair and so on and so forth. I was very fascinated by the nationalities, ethnicities, folk music, and so on so and so forth, particularities, cuisine. For me, I imagine either a career of maybe an ambassador or a translator or something to deal with languages and later I discovered technology and later I felt that, no, probably it would be something related to technology.
Jonathan: I guess when you were coming of age, that was the time when Gorbachev was doing all of his reforms and things were changing very quickly, but prior to that, when you look at people like me in traditional Western countries and particularly Americans, did people tend to envy them or despise them?
Andre: That depends. That depends whether people had any knowledge. If they have any knowledge, then that would be envy definitely. Oh, Americans have everything, they have jeans, chewing gums, it was just so– Whoever listens will understand jeans and chewing gums. If you just watch TV and you know nothing about those people, of course, you despise them. You have no choice, unfortunately.
Jonathan: When you moved to Ukraine in 2008 to get back to your roots as it were, that was a time when Ukraine was really a thriving democracy, wasn’t it? There had been democratic elections, they had been conducted successfully. Things were humming when you moved there.
Andre: Yes. It was under President Yushchenko. I don’t know how much you know about Ukraine history and Ukraine presidents, and so on and so forth. It was a good time. It was a democratic time so to say.
Jonathan: Yes, and obviously things deteriorated fairly quickly a few years later and before.
Andre: Yes, 2010, Yanukovych was elected and– Before that, I would say was a nightmare but now the war is raging. It was quite a bad time, but not a nightmare, I would say, for the country, of course.
Jonathan: I can only imagine that it must be incredibly distressing to be away from friends and loved ones at a time like this. How are you doing personally as you watch this go down from a distance?
Andre: It’s extremely tough, extremely stressing. I call my friends every day, of course, maybe several times a day and we need to come as [unintelligible 00:16:56] to go for a walk, to get some soothing, I don’t know. Maybe some tea, some soothing music, something like that, because otherwise, you just go mad because you scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll the news and scroll the news feed and Twitter.
I prefer Twitter. My wife prefers Facebook, for example, but you scroll either of those, either Twitter or Facebook and you just go mad because today I heard that Cherkasy, my city. My city is Cherkasy. It’s 120 kilometers to the south from Kyiv, from the capital. Today I heard that there was an air raid alarm in Cherkasy. That’s really tough. It’s really tough to speak now. An air raid alarm in my calm, in my peaceful city. That’s something unimaginable, something so unacceptable, so wrong. I cannot express it anymore.
Jonathan: These are places that we hear in the news, but these are places that you have lived and these are people that you know and you can imagine normal life in those places and within just a few hours, it totally upended. It must be a horrible thing to have to deal with.
Andre: Yes. Well, although we were prepared, thank you to America, to the US, to President Joe Biden, to everyone who supported us, because he actually warned us. Personally, he said that the US intelligence knew about the war that would come. First time or first two times, actually, that information actually made Putin stop it or prevented it, and the third time when he said, “Well, 24th of February, it would be an attack.” We woke up in the morning and my wife took her phone just opened it and said, “The war started. The war has begun.” That was really, really tough.
Jonathan: Do you think that people expected it or did they have this feeling that in the end, there’d be a lot of brinksmanship, there’d be a lot of saber-rattling, but he wouldn’t go all the way in the way that he has?
Andre: I guess both. We hoped, of course, that’ll be more of saber-rattling, but in the end, Putin is a mad man. I guess it was a Dutch prime minister who said that. Putin is totally mad. Of course, we knew that it could happen. That’s why the planes were in the air at five o’clock, at 5:00 AM when they actually began.
Jonathan: You talked about how regularly you’re getting in touch with people who you know, is that still relatively easy to do at this point to stay in touch with those people?
Andre: It’s more difficult, of course, because the connections are bad. The internet connection is not very stable especially now when bombing occurs because now like almost all the big cities in Ukraine are being bombarded actually with missiles and bombs and all the various devastating things. Yes, of course, it’s worse.
Jonathan: There’ll be a mixture I imagine of people who are choosing to stay behind, tough it out, fight if they can, and those who are trying to flee. In that latter case, it’s obviously very difficult to keep in touch with people and there’s a significant refugee crisis building.
Andre: Yes, actually, there are many types of people so to say, there are even those who, I have no such people in my informational bubble, but today I heard from another Ukrainian that they have those people who actually applaud what is– not the war itself, but Russia was en vogue at some time in Ukraine. There were many Russian programs on TV and so and so forth of movies.
Most Ukrainians are able to understand Russian language, I would say a vast majority. Even if they don’t speak it, they do understand it because the languages are in the same family, the Eastern Slavic family or a group of the languages. There are still some people who claim that it would be good to unite with Russia and maybe even to revive the Soviet Union. As I said, that impacted the mentality. There are people who fight and fortunately, there are of them and there are people who flee, of course, and that’s understandable. Yes.
Jonathan: Obviously, you’ve had that, shall we say, skirmish, those series of skirmishes going on in the eastern provinces for quite some time now, and then in 2014, the west looked the other way while Putin annexed Crimea. It’s almost as if there’s been an emboldening that has happened over the last few years as people just gave him a little bit and hope that would make him go away and we know from history that never works.
Andre: Of course, many Ukrainians say like, “Look, Europe, look, the US, the war is going there for eight years.” Now it’s just raging like a large war with missiles and bombings and so on and so forth, but it’s actually going for eight years nonstop.
Jonathan: President Zelenskyy has been an exceptional communicator during this whole crisis. I have to say his speech which he gave directly to the Russian people in Russian which I heard translated was one of the most moving things I have ever heard in my life. The government’s now arming citizens with machine guns. Will many of them know how to use those? Has compulsory military training been something that Ukrainians have had in recent years?
Andre: Yes. Also, Ukrainians are very passionate about arms, I would say. Many are hunters, not really, really many, but quite a lot of people are hunters. Quite a lot of people used to live in lonely villages where you have really wolves and bears and various animals like that. Like wild animals. You have to know how to shoot sometimes because otherwise, you’ll be eaten. We’re not a military country per se, we don’t like war. We hate the war, but many people know how to hold the arm actually.
Jonathan: His leadership really has been quite something. Just before we got into recording this, he was out there in the streets of Kiev making it clear that he hadn’t gone anywhere, that the government was still there, that the government was determined to tough it out and to fight it.
Andre: That’s because there was a hoax today. That war as claimed to be the Third World War or a start of it is also informational war in the social networks, on the web, and so on and so forth. Because, yes, we had a cyber-attack before each of those supposed attacks that President Biden prevented, what I was talking about before. Today, the hoax was like President Zelenskyy fleed with his family from Kiev somewhere in Europe, or I don’t know, to hide. He said, “No, I’m here, I’m staying.” He’s actually braver than I personally thought of him and that’s pleasing me.
Jonathan: It’s often the case that these really tough situations can bring out the best in some people. It really seems that he is emerging as a truly great leader in a situation like this.
Andre: Although we call ourselves like 25%, that means that we voted against him in 2019. Actually, I must say he was elected in a totally democratic and honest way, that I cannot negate in any way. That’s true and everyone recognized that. He was elected quite great in 2019, but we were against him because we were very pleased and satisfied by what President Poroshenko did before and President Zelenskyy, he was not a figure that we would like to see as a president of Ukraine, so to say.
Jonathan: Some people viewed him as a bit of a lightweight, didn’t they, because he is a comedian by profession.
Andre: Exactly. He was not a professional. At least he was not a professional back then in 2019. His mother was like, “I’m still learning,” but people like me I say, “Wait, how can you learn if you’re the president and chair of the president? A pilot cannot learn while he’s in the plane full of passengers. He would say, “Hello, captain speaking, I’m still learning.” Please, sorry. Excuse me. A country is such a plane with 40 million of passengers. It’s a bit too late to learn, kind of a bit too late. That’s why we then take him seriously so to say.
Jonathan: Do you think the situation would have been any different if Zelenskyy had not been elected?
Andre: I don’t know. Just today or these days, I start started respecting him as a leader, as a president. I don’t want to blame him. I don’t want to say those things like, “If you were not a president, there was not a war.” That’s very tough, I don’t want to accuse him like that.
Jonathan: In the end, illegal aggression is illegal aggression.
Andre: Exactly. Probably President Poroshenko would make it better. Probably we would have more support from the EU and US and in other countries because he has had great authority in there for some reason. He’s a very great communicator as you said, about Zelesnskyy, but Poroshenko has contacts in there in EU and US and so forth. Probably maybe we would have avoided that, but I don’t know. With Putin, you never know. You never know.
Jonathan: To be fair, Ukraine has been strung along for a very long time. NATO has been saying in good time, Ukraine will be admitted to be part of NATO. It’s never happened and they’ve been talking about that for quite a long time. Past presidents really haven’t been able to get that over the line either because, in the end, NATO just didn’t want to be that provocative.
Andre: Exactly, and that’s very bitter and that’s the result. For that, sorry, but I can blame NATO and the European countries and the US that that’s, you see, that’s the result, probably he wouldn’t have attacked a NATO country.
Jonathan: War, of course, creates many disabled people, and it can be life-threatening for many existing disabled people. There are stories from the Second World War of blind people who contributed to the war effort through tasks like radio monitoring, decoding, that kind of thing. Do you think there will be IT professionals, highly skilled people in the use of computers, who may be able to make some contribution to the war effort in some way?
Andre: Again, I hope so because we are not very advanced in the industry of accessibility, unfortunately. As you said, Grammarly, I actually didn’t know. No, I knew that it was a Ukrainian, It’s a Ukrainian startup, like Grammarly. That’s very Ukrainian so to say. Unfortunately, accessibility is not our strongest point.
Jonathan: Maybe that there are people who are on the sidelines who really want to contribute but can’t.
Andre: Yes, just the lack of education. People are not evil. People just don’t say those blind people don’t want them. No, they’re not like that. They just don’t know what to do.
Jonathan: Our world now revolves around IT infrastructure, what role do you think cyber warfare is going to continue to play in this conflict? Is it going to get significantly worse potentially?
Andre: Yes, it’s growing the role of the cyber, everything of the web, and so on, so forth, that’s growing, of course, because of the connection, because the communication online banking. Actually, Ukraine, I still cannot pronounce those words. Before the war, Ukraine was a great country concerning banking online services because now I’m in Germany, and sorry, but actually, Germans do know about those things. Germany is not a very online country so to say. Still, there are many papers to sign, many letters to receive in your snail mailbox. You even receive your bank cards or credit cards per mail per snail mail.
In Ukraine is just not possible, just doesn’t work. You go to the bank you receive your card straight away, you change your PIN online, and so on so forth. It’s totally online. That’s why it’s our strong points or weak point. A strong point because, of course, it’s online, it’s modern, it’s great, and it’s web, and the weak point exactly is that we can be attacked, like a cyber attack.
Jonathan: It’s interesting, the way that a number of Eastern Bloc countries have really embraced quite sophisticated technology like this. Estonia is another example of that very advanced in terms of e-democracy.
Andre: Oh, yes, they are very, very advanced, yes. Electronic citizenship, and so on and so forth.
Jonathan: You are now in Germany, and their response has been criticized for being a little bit tepid, because of the gas pipeline issue there. They’ve got that conflict there. Ukraine certainly has the world’s attention right now but how satisfied are you about the substance of that response?
Andre: No, not satisfied. Sorry. I also have to criticize, yesterday we went on a demonstration with Ukrainian flags, with all the things. We stood and we went to a place, to a square in the center of the city. We tried to bring attention to our issues because actually, the answer is very, very weak, very insufficient, so to say. It should be harder. It should be harsh, even I would say.
Jonathan: Do you want NATO to send troops in to rescue Ukraine? Would that be your objective?
Andre: It would be great. At least now, because now the war is already there, there’s nothing to wait for. I would want Putin’s Russia to be isolated. We are now petitioning for disconnecting Russia from Swift, from banking payment system. Of course, no gas, no petrol, no nothing. There would be no energy from Russia. I know that it’s tough. We are warned here in Germany that the prices are high, and they will grow even more the energy prices. That’s how previous government arranged those things. Why is Germany dependent on Russia so much? Now that’s the consequence.
Jonathan: If you take him out of Swift, though, that is going to hurt a lot of innocent Russian people, isn’t it? I suppose one of the problems we’ve got is that it is so oppressive, so dictatorial. We know there are Russians who were even in this climate, actually braving going out and protesting in some Russian cities, where they know they could be arrested, and the consequences could be extremely severe. I suspect, despite all of the ridiculous, terrible misinformation that Russians have been exposed to, there is still a lot of Russians who just think what is going on is outrageous, so that’s the danger, isn’t it? I guess that’s the nature of war that innocent people get hurt.
Andre: Exactly. That’s dangerous, but they still won’t die, right? They still won’t get bombed, right? I didn’t say we should or NATO or Ukraine or whoever should bomb peaceful cities. I will never say that because that’s just atrocious. We shouldn’t do that. Of course, I know, decent Russian people and you know decent Russian people. That’s the most complicated. The most complicated thing is to just survive, just not to go mad because of that, of the war raging. The second complicated thing is not to become a hater, not to hate people per nationality. That’s also an atrocious thing. I think that should never happen. I’m telling now to myself, I’m just looking at a virtual mirror and I said, “Do not hate people per nationality. It’s not Russian, Russian people are not culpable of that. It’s not them who are the culprits.”
Jonathan: If we look at the way that Americans might be thinking about this, there are a couple of things going on, I think, one is that there is a lot of misinformation, social discourse, information dissemination has really broken down in the United States. A lot of things are now being disseminated as facts that are just absolute errant nonsense. The other thing that has happened too is that Americans are tired, they fought that long war in Afghanistan, they fought a war based on falsehoods in Iraq and there’s a very strong sense that I detect when I listen to media and talk to people in the United States, “We are done with being involved in foreign wars that don’t directly affect us.” What do you say to people who are feeling like that?
Andre: I totally understand those people, of course, but on the other end, Putin must be stopped. It’s a must. I rarely actually use that verb, must, but he must be stopped. Otherwise, he will never stop. Because imagine he will invade Ukraine, he has already invaded Ukraine, he will imagine he will just swallow it. He will go further. How much further? Poland? Germany, Czech Republic, whatever. Soviet Union back empire? I don’t know. Sometimes he can just press the button. That’s my and everyone’s, I would say, biggest fear if he presses the button, the nuclear button.
Jonathan: That will be a concern for people that taking the action that Ukrainians would like could precipitate that.
Andre: Yes. That can be also, yes. I’m not a politician. I’m not the president of Ukraine, of course. That’s why I’m not sure what’s the best solution here, otherwise, I would write to Mr. Zelenskyy. I would find a way to write to him if I knew the best solution, but I don’t know the best solution.
Jonathan: Is there anything as an IT professional that you think you can do from this distance that makes even a little bit of a difference?
Andre: Yes. First of all, not even as an IT professional, but as an internet geek, I would say it’s a very useful thing to post in the social networks and particularly to find and to point at fakes because again, as I’ve said, there are many, many fakes those times and you better say that this is a fake, that is also a fake and that is true, for example. That’s the thing that we can do, translating, of course, because many in many informational resources are in Ukrainian, sometimes in Russian, but far less in English. That’s what I also do. I know that Ukrainian forces, Ukraine searches for, so to say, white hackers. White hackers are those hackers who actually defeat evil hackers, who do not attack but who mitigate the attacks. Those people are being searched by Ukraine now.
Jonathan: It looks inevitable, doesn’t it, that eventually a puppet regime will be installed in Ukraine.
Andre: I don’t think it’s inevitable still. I’m hoping for another solution of that conflict because otherwise, an internal war inside Ukraine will continue and keep and keep and keep on going because Ukrainians are very, very, so to say, they are fond of their freedom most of them still and we won’t sell our freedom, we won’t let anyone to take our freedom from us. That’s why it could be hard times.
Jonathan: I hope that by having this conversation, you and I have perhaps made a few people think about something that they might hear on the news and they shrug their shoulders and say, that’s horrible and leave it at that because what we’ve sought to do by talking to you is convey the human consequences of this atrocious thing that is going on. I have no doubt that this has been a very, very difficult conversation for you. I just want to thank you sincerely for having it. I hope we’ve just raised some awareness and share the human consequences of this.
Andre: Thank you so much, Jonathan. I would like to thank everyone who supports me now and supports all of us now. I would say it’s a great feeling when a New Zealander or an American or a Chinese person or whatever, wherever in the world, they just write, “We stand with you, we support you.” That makes me believe in the mankind and the humanity and that’s great. Thank you so much. Of course, if anyone has any questions or any concerns, you can contact me, or you can contact Jonathan, I hope. Jonathan, you would just transmit the messages.
Jonathan: Yes, of course. Absolutely.
Advert: What’s on your mind? Send an email with a recording of your voice or just write it down, firstname.lastname@example.org, that’s J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com, or phone our listener line. The number in the United States is 864-60 Mosen, that’s 864-60-66736.
Jonathan: Looking at some miscellaneous Apple things, Marisa writes in and says, “Hello, Jonathan, I am not a Braille user. However, I have noticed that voiceover’s ability to focus is horrible. No matter whether you are on the home screen or with apps, voiceover is very jumpy. I have emailed Apple accessibility and I don’t think they understand how frustrating and consistent this issue is.
It has been going on for as long as I can remember. Have you noticed this? Do you have any suggestions to fix it or whom I should contact within Apple accessibility to escalate this issue? In addition, I notice that I sometimes cannot go back using a two-finger scrub. For example, when typing, let’s say a message, I will have finished and sent the message, then two-finger scrubbed to go back to the list of message, voiceover will say keyboard hidden.
I’m just using the messages application as an example, this happens in other ones as well. This issue is very inconsistent, it does not happen all the time. I thought I read somewhere that with the newer iPhones, in my case, the iPhone 12 Pro Max with the newest update iOS 15.3.1 that the going back gesture with two-finger scrub didn’t work. Thank you for any assistance you can give.”
Thanks, Marisa. I am not having any issues whatsoever with the two-finger scrub. There are a few instances where the two-finger scrub may not work and it may be necessary to double-tap the back button at the top of the screen. That’s often something that the app developer needs to fix, but when I used to train people in the use of the iPhone, I also noticed that the two-finger scrub is one of the hardest gestures for people to get right.
It’s actually one of the hardest gestures to practice because when you go into the voiceover gestures, if you perform that gesture successfully once, you are going to stop help so it can be quite difficult to practice it. I do suspect it could be finger trouble in this case, Marisa, and that Apple is not at fault, but if others have had issues with the two fingers scrubbed, but I’m not talking about issues performing the gesture although you’re welcome to comment on that if you want.
If you know that you can consistently perform the gesture but for some reason, you think the gesture doesn’t work as well as it used to, let me know but I have not personally seen or heard of this on my iPhone 12 Pro Max. I’ve got the same phone as you, Marisa. It’s work and peachy. One way that you could possibly diagnose finger trouble, in this case, is to connect a Bluetooth keyboard to your iPhone if you have one and press the escape key where you would normally do the two-finger scrub because when voiceover’s running and you press the escape key, it does perform the two-finger scrub gesture.
If it works for you there, then it is finger trouble, I’m almost certain. Now I don’t fully understand the first issue you raise about focus. One thing that’s handy in this situation is if you can give steps to reproduce exactly what you do, the result that you’re expecting and the result that you’re getting instead. An email from Paul Hopewell who says, “Hello, Jonathan, you might like to look at this app which runs on iPhone, iPad and Mac, and tell your podcast about it. You set it up to specify the cookie preferences which you want which then applies to all websites, and you can therefore avoid the tedium of setting the cookie preferences which most websites in the UK and maybe New Zealand demand.”
Yes, I have seen this in the UK and the EU Paul, but no, it’s not something that happens here. This is GDPR related which is a Europe thing. He continues, “We usually take the easy option and agree to all cookies which is not usually what you want. I have installed it on my iPhone and it works great.” There you go, if you are in the EU or you visit a lot of EU sites where you get these pesky cookie notices that might be worth checking out, the app is called Super Agent for Safari and Paul is vouching for the accessibility of that.
Onto one of our favorite Apple subjects of the moment, Braille. Alco is in touch who says, “Hi, Jonathan, I do not have problems with the touch freezing while reading Kindle books. However, the BI series still freezes and writing emails on the touch and the BI series can be problematic if you don’t go slow. It is difficult to go down a line, inter does not work and I have to use the panning button to continue.” Thanks, Alco.
Yes, we’ve received consistent reports from people having issues composing email. It sounds like those of us with the Mantus might be best off. Certainly, there are tracking issues, but actually typing away on the keyboard seems all right, but editing email is definitely a problem area one of several that persist with Braille input at the moment. I haven’t noticed too many improvements with Beta 4 so far which has just been released, releases are getting more frequent now as we get closer to Apple’s rumored event in early March which will give us new max and a new version of the iPhone SE, who knows what other mysteries Apple have in store? They have introduced a new American Siri voice in Beta 4 making a grand total of five. Count of five Siri voices. Would you like to hear what it sounds like? All right then, Wikipedia Paul McCartney.
Siri: Sir. James Paul McCartney is an English singer, songwriter, musician, and record and film producer who gained worldwide famous co-lead vocalist, co-songwriter, and basis for the Beatles. Would you like to hear more?
Siri: One of the most successful composers and performers of all time, he is known for his melodic approach to bass playing, his versatile and wide tenor vocal range, and his musical eclecticism exploring styles ranging from pre-rock and roll, pop to classical and electronica.
Jonathan: If you like that voice, then when iOS 15.4 comes out, you will be able to choose that by going into these Siri settings, making sure that you choose American as your voice, and then setting it to voice 5 and that’s what it sounds like.
Tim: It’s Tim from the Netherlands. There’s a small tip for tech-savvy users who need an accessible hard disk manager on windows. Do need a tool to partition their hard disk, make images of their hard disk, clone a hard disk, wipe data, et cetera. For years, I’ve been using Paragon hard disk manager. It was not really accessible, it was somewhat accessible, but with some difficulty, I could use it.
Then I think two years ago they released a new version which was completely inaccessible. It reads literally nothing. I stuck with my old version for some time, but now it didn’t work anymore when I needed to do disk imaging. I was trying to find an accessible hard disk manager. I tried several options and that’s really challenging hard disk managers are and windows at least totally inaccessible.
There’s one exception that I just wanted to point listeners at and that is Lsoft Active@ Disk Image. Long story short, it’s at least quite and I think completely accessible and Lsoft offers a complete hard disk manager which does the same thing that the Paragon suite used to do for me but makes it a lot easier for me than it used to be. It’s a pity that I didn’t find them earlier.
Well, it’s good to see that there are still accessible options around. We need to watch that the accessible options are not hypsterized and then made inaccessible, but for now, if you need a hard disk manager as a blind computer user, just go to disk-image.com. That’s disk-image.com. You can download trials and the pricing is really fair. I think it’s a good product and really it’s the only option that you have as a blank person if you want to partition hard disks, make images, et cetera. Unless there are better options that I didn’t know about in that case, please let me know.
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Jonathan: This email says, “Hi, Jonathan, thank you for all the work you put into your podcast every week, a great help to the blind community around the world.” Well, thank you so much. “I am Arnold born in the Netherlands. I live in the sometimes bumpy, but beautiful island of Lombok in Indonesia. For more than three years now, I keep in touch with my family and friends using WhatsApp.
I can’t find anything about accessibility on their homepage. Is this perhaps another sign That signal was not an alternative to WhatsApp?” He concludes by saying, “I hope my English wasn’t too bad. Thanks so much in advance for your response.” Well, thanks so much for writing in. Arnold, it’s good to hear from you and your English is just great, no worries about that.
I’ve not tried Signal, I’ve heard of it, but haven’t tried it mainly because most of the people that I want to communicate with are iPhone users and we all just use iMessage which is an encrypted and ready robust solution. I know that Telegram is becoming more popular in the blind community and there is an app that’s under development called TweeseCake which does Twitter and even internet radio and RSS feeds and a range of things and they do have a Telegram module in there as well. TweeseCake is available for Mac as well as Windows.
Of course, we’ve covered Vox Mate before which incorporates Telegram as well. I’m not sure about the state of Telegram and iOS, although you didn’t mention whether you’re using iPhone or Android, but Telegram could be another option for you to consider. However, if anybody has any comments on these third-party lesser-known messengers, if we want to go a little bit off the beaten path, away from WhatsApp and iMessage those sorts of things, please let us know.
Are you using Telegram? Are you using Signal? What’s it like out there? Benji writes, “Dear, Jonathan, my apologies if you’ve already covered the topic and answered related questions. I am looking for a headset or a microphone with a 3.5-millimeter earphone socket on the mic for making telephone or VoIP calls on iOS devices. My main requirement is high-quality input so that I can be heard loud and clear at the other end. Your advice is always gratefully received with thanks and to best wishes to you and the family, Benji from the UK.”
Thank you for writing in, Benji. You might like to go scrolling through the archives because we have discussed headset options before. It’s not something that I need to worry about too much because I just have my audio piped directly into my hearing aids, but one option you do have, if you want a wired headset is to buy the camera adapter kit. I think Apple might be able to sell more of these if they renamed it to something more appropriate because although it’s called the camera adaptor kit, you can do so much with this. Essentially, what you can do is plug most USB peripherals into the lightning port of your phone with this adapter. Now, you said you wanted a 3.5-millimeter jack, but this could be another way of achieving this.
If you plug in a good quality USB headset into the camera adaptor kit, that may work although I have not tried this at home. If you want to go the Bluetooth route, if you’re not too concerned about whether it’s wired or not, there are plenty of Bluetooth headsets out there some of which give quite good quality on the iPhone these days. We’ll open it up and we’ll see what people are thinking these days in terms of headsets, but do check out the archives you’ll find them all at mosen.org, and of course, in recent times, the transcripts are there as well so they can be handy.
An email now from Graham Robby who says, “Hi, Jonathan, great to hear you back after a well and break. I know you like tech oddities so I thought I’d let you know about this one just in case you or some of the other listeners know of a fix. I’ve been subscribed to Apple music for several years. However, for the past two years or so, one thing has been driving me around the bend about the service, the lack of gapless playback while using an iOS device. On my iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro, both running iOS 15.3 and earlier, if I’m listening to an album that was made to be heard without any gaps between tracks, a good example being Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Apple music inserts a half-second or so gap between each of the tracks.
Alternatively, when listening to any album track one ends then you hear a half-second of track two then a half-second or so gap before the track resumes. What is even more odd about this behavior on my Google pixel six using the Android Apple Music App, everything works just fine. I have contacted Apple about this issue a couple of times, but so far, have had no joy other than the standard response we are aware of the problem, and one day over the next century, you may or may not get a fix depending on what mood we are in at the time.”
Gee, I would love it if Apple actually responded that way, you should frame that email. “I’ve been on several forums and it seems I’m not the only one experiencing this issue. It has gone to the point where I’m seriously looking to ditch Apple music for another streaming service such as Amazon Music Unlimited.” Yes, Graham, you’re absolutely right. Dare I speak its name at the moment, but Spotify does not do this. The go-to test album that I use, not surprisingly for anybody who knows me remotely is Abbey Road by the Beatles. Of course, you’ve got that stunning medley there, and listening to it on Apple Music is just diabolical. It’s really, really bad because you get exactly the symptoms that you describe. It is amazing that Apple Music was launched back in 2015. Here we are in 2022 and they still can’t get it right.
I have got Qobuz, which is a very high-fidelity music service. Perhaps their point of difference has largely disappeared now that Apple Music has got lossless, but I don’t think Qobuz has this problem either. One of the advantages with Qobuz is that if you subscribe to the right plan, you get a substantial discount if you want to buy the music in lossless format which is really great for me sometimes. Qobuz is good. I don’t know why Apple Music canceled this out. They really should.
Joy: Hi Jonathan. This is Joy in Montana in United States. My husband and I try to listen to your podcast most weeks. I’m calling to give you a sunburn remedy. If you can take a small cloth, and saturate it with be whipping cream and just pour that on really well, and then lay it on the sunburn for about 5 or 10 minutes, it will curdle the cream, and the cream will take the pain out of the sunburn. If you can do that several times a day, then it will heal the skin and it will keep the sunburn from flaring up as bad as it otherwise might.
Jonathan: Thank you so much, Joy. I’m pleased to say the sunburn’s run its course now. Next time this happens, and I hope it won’t happen too often because I’ve got to be very sun-smart since I had a bit of a skin cancer episode a couple of years ago, I will try this. That sounds really cool. Vinegar is supposed to help too. Isn’t it? It’s amazing how many cool remedies there are out there that really do work. I appreciate you taking the time to send that in.
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Jonathan: Here’s a salutary lesson. When you’ve got oodles of disc space, you don’t necessarily have to delete things even if you think that you’re not going to need something again. I suppose there is a danger of being a hoarder, a digital hoarder, and I can only think that it was this haunting prospect of being an E-hoarder that caused me to delete my little, The Blind Man and the Dell jingle.
You remember we used it once on the podcast last year when I was having issues with the Dell XPS 15 that I then owned that I have now sold that I do not miss, but we could have used the jingle again because I did want to draw your attention to a very interesting TSN, a technical support notice that has been posted by Freedom Scientific. The subject of it is On Dell computers, Windows become sluggish, virtual memory errors appear, or applications unexpectedly close or crash when Waves MaxxAudio service is running.
It continues, “If your Dell PC or laptop uses the Waves MaxxAudio service for its onboard audio chip set, problems may occur the longer you use the computer. Windows may become sluggish. Applications such as JAWS or Microsoft Teams may close or crash unexpectedly. Virtual memory errors might occur.” Yucky. They don’t say that I do [chuckles], but it is yuck.
The answer is to disable the Waves MaxxAudio service. This may well improve the quality of your user experience with perhaps some sacrifices. You can check this Freedom Scientific tech support notice for full instructions, step-by-step instructions. I just wanted to share that because I’ve seen this myself when I was using a Dell. You may be seeing it too. There is a way around it, hopefully until Dell fixes this issue at their end, or the Waves Maxx people fix the issue at their end.
I will endeavor to remember to put a link to the tech support notice in the show notes, but you should also be able to search for this on the Freedom Scientific website. If you’ve experienced this, let me know how it’s working out for you.
Chris: Hi, Jonathan. This is Chris Westbrook here. I wanted to bring up a couple of issues that I’ve been noticing in my work. I’m an accessibility tester. You mentioned before about JAWS being a little bit too interpretive, I guess is the word, when speaking. Here’s an example of that. I’m going two sentences here and see if you can figure out what the problem is. The first sentence.
Speaker 5: Anyone found drinking under the age of May 21st may be asked to leave the premises
Chris: The second sentence,
Speaker 5: Anyone found drinking under the age of 21 may be asked to leave the premises.
Chris: The only difference is in the second sentence, I spelled out the word 21 instead of using the number 21. JAWS is interpreting 21 May as May 21st because I’m in America. I don’t know if it’s a setting for US dates or what, how JAWS is determining that, but it really clues up that sentence pretty well. NVDA did the same thing, believe it or not. I thought that is really interesting. First time I’d seen that happen.
Anyway, the second issue, I was wondering what people thought about decorative images. I’m sure you’ve seen these websites where every image is described. They’ll say a man walking down the street, holding a laptop, or sometimes they even go a step further to say it’s a space, or a border, or anything like that.
I tend to think that the images should only be described if they convey information that isn’t conveyed in the surrounding text, or it’s a part of a link, then you put where the link goes or what it does. That’s our policy of the company where I work for. I was just wondering, curious how other people thought about that. Thought that might spark some discussion.
Jonathan: Yes, indeed. A couple of excellent points for discussion, Chris. Good to hear from you. Let me deal with the first one first because this one really frustrates me. I think we should define where the problem lies at least in this particular instance. The reason why you’re seeing this on NVDA, and the reason why you would also see it if you used this text-to-speech engine on your iPhone or Android device is because this is the way that vocalizer text-to-speech voices pass a string like 21 May.
They will always speak it as May the 21st. It doesn’t seem to matter what your date is set to in your operating system. This seems to be a vocalizer thing. It’s actually quite hilarious where this comes up as a bit of a bothersome thing. For example, if you are a friend of Mike May on Facebook, Facebook may come up and say, Mike May 21 hours ago, and it will say Mike May 21st or whatever the number is. It will interpret it as a date.
It’s very frustrating. I wish that screen readers and text-to-speech engines would just give us the information and let our brain interpret what is on the screen rather than trying to be clever. As I think I’ve mentioned in the past, the best one I ever saw was the old Keynote GOLD which used to say phone number Aviv every time it saw Tel Aviv.
Something caught my attention recently on the subject from The Financial Times. I was so impressed in some ways that The Financial Times were aware of this. They put this tweet out and they’ve said that from now on, whenever we refer to millions in our publication The Financial Times, we’re going to use the abbreviation MN instead of M because screen readers are interpreting the M as meters.
You might be reading The Financial Times and it might say there’s a 22M project underway, and many screen readers or text to speech engines, I’m not sure who is responsible for this particular abbreviation, might come out with there’s a 22-meter project underway. The Financial Times thought they would be proactive and address this issue by changing the abbreviation from M to MN to signify millions. They put this out in a tweet.
I thought, wow, [chuckles] on the one hand that’s pretty groovy, but on the other, somebody very quickly pointed out, this is all very well and good, but the MN is also an abbreviation in the United States for Minnesota. Now you’ve gone from a 22-meter project to a 22 Minnesota project. If the screen readers and the text-to-speech engines would just say a 22 M project, you would get the context. Your brain would do the rest. I really think it’s getting out of hand. I wish that we could change this.
I’m sure we have some pretty hilarious, on the one hand, examples of this problem. If you would like to share any of them with me, you’re welcome to be in touch. My email address to which you can write something down or attach an audio clip is email@example.com. That’s J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com. Call in 864-60MOSEN, if you would like, 864-606-6736.
That second one you raise about the decorative imagery is a really complicated one, isn’t it? On the one hand, I do like to know what’s on the screen, how things are laid out. On the other, sometimes it really does detract from the text. I’ll be intrigued to hear what you get back on that feedback, whether there’s some hard and fast rule that people would like to have applied on that one.
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Earl: Hello, Jonathan and Mosen At Large listeners. I just want to make some comments on the new face ID with a mask feature that’s in beta with iOS 15.4. Someone had asked whether or not face ID requires attention, whether that feature is on or off. It does work either way. I’ve tested it both ways. I’ve tested it with that feature turned on, and with it turned off, and face ID with a mask will work either way.
Personally, I prefer to have that feature turned on because it’s more secure, and that’s just my personal preference. Rest assured it will work either way. I’m glad that they finally added this feature because it was fine using it with my watch, but if I don’t have my watch or I want to unlock a third-party app, this will do the trick. Now when I’m out and using my banking app, for example, with a mask, I can now unlock my banking app, and that’s awesome.
Anyway, keep up the great work, Jonathan. I love the show. In fact, it’s because of your series on Chromebooks that I was convinced by my wife to get a Chromebook for Christmas. That’s another piece of tech I’m playing with now, and it’s thanks to you. Once again, keep up the great work. We’re really enjoying the show. Everybody, stay safe.
Jonathan: Thank you very much. That is Earl, who has been out and about, obviously somewhere in Canada with his face mask on. Earl tells me in his email that he is totally blind. Thank you. That’s useful info. Yes, no doubt, having attention on is more secure. I think there will be some blind people for whom that’s just not an option. I don’t know, but I imagine that having attention on will not work so well if you have prosthetic eyes or if you have trouble keeping your eyes open for even a brief period to get eye contact with the camera. That is good that it is also working with attention mode off.
Here’s an email from Liel Ben Simon. He says, “Hi Jonathan and all. Lately, I have started to learn contracted Braille, with an uppercase B. For those that want to learn it, I have a recommendation about UEB Online. UEB Online is a website that teaches writing and reading Braille, and in addition, contracted Braille. Your computer keyboard operates as a Braille keyboard. The writing is done in 6-dot Braille instead of 8-dot. I love this website and highly recommend it. If you want to try this for yourself, you can go to uebonline.org.” That’s all one word, uebonline.org.
Stan: Greetings Jonathan Mosen and Mosen at Largers. This is Stan Warren Littrell at Medford, Oregon. This is probably the most interesting- well, not interesting, but strangest posts that I’ve ever provided you. About three weeks ago, I had a life-changing event. This is so emotional. It’s difficult for me to talk about because it’s really caused me to focus on my life and how it has changed forever. Three weeks ago, I was visiting one of my local favorite restaurants here in Medford, Oregon.
I really should have paid attention to warning signs that I will explain because I had a series of shoulder pains on the Thursday night before this event happened. While I was at one of my favorite restaurants, I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, because if I was anywhere else, you folks would never hear from me ever again. What am I talking about? I experienced a heart attack. I had some shoulder pain as I mentioned earlier, on the Thursday night before this happened about three weeks ago this Saturday.
Fortunately, there was someone there, a friend who knew CPR. As a result of this heart attack, I died three times and the ambulances came there, and I was in the hospital for four days. I was there Saturday. The heart attack commenced at about 8:05 on that Saturday morning. It took the ambulance about eight minutes to get there. I know I scared a couple of friends a great deal. I was fortunate because if I was anywhere else, or if I was at home, since I live by myself, I would not be here.
One of the things that I had done previously, and this made sound morbid to talk about, but I had some planning with a local funeral system. I left word of what people to call just in case something like this happened. Fortunately, the proprietor of the restaurant knew some of the people that were involved and could get in touch with people. She got in touch with a couple of people. One of those, through another person, was able to get in touch with my sisters who live in an area further north than I am.
It was a scary, scary experience. If talking about this can save someone else from doing this– None of us are going to make it out of here alive. We could argue over what happens after, and we can discuss that, and we can do whatever, but the point is, none of us are going to live forever. I really wanted to send this notification because I never envisioned that this could happen to me, but I’m fortunate. I managed to be around people that were knowledgeable and knew how to deal with that situation.
I don’t know. I really am overjoyed that I get a chance to continue because I really wasn’t ready to leave. I know none of us have a choice in that, but if we could make changes in our lifestyle and do certain other things, maybe we can make a difference. I’m hoping that this post will give people something to think about in these turbulent and tumultuous times.
Jonathan, I appreciate what you do with this podcast. I’m immensely happy that I can continue to listen to more of them. I’ve been contemplating sending you an email with this audio attachment for a while, but I’ve been just trying to formulate my thoughts and how I was going to say this because I really didn’t realize–
Oh, by the way, I will tell you as a result of all the CPR, I’ve endured a great deal of pain for the last several weeks. Thank you to some of the meds, I’m able to formulate this message because for a while, there was a lot of pain. I’m still going through a lot, but at least with things like ibuprofen at least it’s able to calm things down to where it feels like it’s healing a little bit.
I hope that this is something that will be of use to some of you. Again, thank you for what you do. I will take leave for now.
Jonathan: Yes, only for now, Stan. Definitely only for now. Thank you so much for getting in touch and sharing that. Obviously, it is wonderful that you are here to share that with us. I’ve not had an experience like that, but I think many of us can relate to that feeling of a love of life and a sense of what’s real, what’s important, what’s trivial when somebody close to us dies.
Sometimes we go through these major life-changing events like that. You have a dear friend, or a family member something like that, and they die. Suddenly, everything’s just in this vivid perspective. Everything seems to be proportionate and you realize how fortunate you are to have the time that you have on the planet.
I can’t relate completely to what you’ve been through, but I do understand that renewed sense of love of life that you get from those crisis sorts of situations. It’s obviously very fortunate that you were in the right place at the right time. I wish you all the very best with your continued recovery.
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Jonathan To South Africa we go for this email and it is from Brandt Steenkamp. He says, “Hello, Jonathan. I trust you are well.” I hope you are too, Brandt. Good to hear from you. “I am a firm believer in the utility of Braille and use it as far as I can. However, I am also a pragmatist and do not insist on everything in my life being brailed.
To get back to using Braille wherever I can, over the years, I have used Braille on Windows, MacOS, phones both iOS and Android, as well as Linux, both desktop and console. I have come to the conclusion that for a pure brail user, the best place to be is the Linux console.
No, I’m not talking terminal. I am talking no gooey graphical user interface at all. After all, we as a community have been productive computer users long before graphical icons became the in thing. My current system is a Huawei MateBook D15, 16 gigabytes of RAM and 512 gigabytes of solid-state storage running Slint Linux, a derivative of Slackware and Salix on the bare console. I can do most everything I have to do- email using Alpine, listening to you blather on every week, which I really enjoy by the way. Twitter with rainbow stream. You get the idea.
Unfortunately, sometimes a GUI is needed. Most HTML5 web browsers do not like links or any of the other text-based browsers. If I could, I’d ditch the GUI entirely, but if wishes were horses poor men would ride and all that. Why the console? The answer is simple, for me at least. One, I can get along without something yapping in my ears. I get bad headaches from synthesized speech, thus Braille is my only option. Two, the console is completely keyboard-driven. You won’t find anything that will run on the console that requires a mouse.
In all other OS setups, for computers anyway, I’ve used over the years there sometimes will be software you need to use that needs some special input from you the user, or modifications made to your screen reader to make the software usable. I don’t have to do that with BRLTTY on my console, or more likely three or four open consoles.
I understand not all software or people need is available for a TUI, text-based user interface, and I’m not suggesting anyone let alone everyone should move to the console. I just felt like this is an option people should know about. It has really improved my life plenty, and also that of my wife. Now the headaches are gone I’m no longer a miserable so and so to deal with.”
Good on you, Brandt. I’m glad that works for you. It would definitely not work for me, but it’s wonderful that we’ve got all these options at our disposal, and that we can find one that meets our particular use case.
Here’s an email from Robert Kinget who says, “Given the talk of web 3 NFTs and otherwise, I’d like to turn your attention to the small web. The small web is an initiative to build communities around sharing service, infrastructure, and experiences including art. The Fediverse is the most prominent of this network. It is decentralized, but interoperable. Much like email, one can follow and interact with others on completely different platforms. The tech behind this is called activity pub, but there is no one centralized server as there is say with Twitter.
In the Fediverse, you pick a community to join, not a platform. There is a very popular community for the blind run by blind moderators called the Dragons Cave. These are free communities. There is more described images over here in my experience than Twitter because people adopt the social model of disability. There is even a whole directory of people that describe their images. Sure, you may come across someone from a different instance that does not describe media, but they edit and repost with accessible images most of the time when asked.
Most of the time it is decentralized, but isn’t security flawed. What’s even better is that third-party apps for Mastodon, and even others, are highly encouraged. There’s eight accessible mobile apps, and even more accessible web interfaces. I’m on a different instance called WriteOut. There’s an instance for podcasters as well.”
Thanks Robert. I chuckled while reading that message because I’m thinking what comes around goes around, man. I go back to the 1980s. I got my first modem in 1986 and what we used to do then was we would call up bulletin boards. I even ran many bulletin boards. I don’t know whether there’s any appetite out there for people to reminisce about this stuff, but I like to reminisce about the old bulletin board software because I ran so many different types of software.
I was a tinkerer and a tweaker. It used to drive some of my users mad because they would wake up and suddenly the whole interface had changed because I’d gone from Wildcat to IBBS, or IBBS to PCBoard, or to GT-Power com, and all sorts of stuff like that. We all used to communicate via FidoNet Echos. We’d spend lots of money on BBS door games. Oh, what fun. Anybody else remember the bulletin board days? That would be such a fun topic to talk about.
Anyway, all this stuff about decentralized community and stuff, it’s not new and I’m not deriding it. I’m just saying it’s not new. Things come around. If you wait long enough, the fashions come back into vogue again. The thing that you are not going to get though with these decentralized things is critical mass. What I like about being on Twitter is the critical mass.
Sure, I can engage with blind people. I can engage with Mosen at Large listeners. I can discuss issues of concern to me as a blind person, but equally using the same service, I can follow politicians. I can follow journalists. I can engage with those people, engage with journalists and people that I might not otherwise have the chance to engage with.
That’s the downside of the whole decentralized thing where you get into these little unique communities. Sure, they have their place. I think you could argue that Reddit serves that need already and that Reddit has critical mass, so it’s good that there’s that choice. It’s not a bandwagon I feel really compelled to jump on. I think it really will have trouble reaching that critical mass factor but, oh gosh, the memories of those bulletin boards.
I’m trying to think of some of the other software that I used to play with back then in the bulletin board days. Of course, there was Opos. There was Fido. There was all of those little offline readers. Because you would dial in to someone’s bulletin board, the object was to try and stay connected for as short a time as possible.
You had these apps like Silver Express and Blue Wave where you’d log in, they would bundle up your mail and download it for you, and you would then read them on this offline reader thing and reply, and then you’d log in and upload all your replies in one go. Oh, my word, such fun times.
Searchlight, that was another bulletin board software package I played with. Searchlight. I’m sure if I sat here long enough, I could think of all sorts of bulletin board software. I’m sure the number of people who recall these things is infinitesimal because we are talking a long, long time ago but they were fun days. All these decentralized communities really do remind me of that. It’s kind of cute the way these things come back.
Who knows? Maybe the Braille Lite will come back. I say this because I have email from David Goldfield. He says, “Jonathan, I have many fond memories of calling bulletin board systems, as well as being a sysop of one of them.” Oh yes. Page the sysop. It stands for system operator, for those people who weren’t there.
He says, “I first heard about bulletin boards or BBSs in the mid-1980s, but at the time, I didn’t have an accessible computer to call them. That changed a few years later when I acquired a VersaBraille P2C from TeleSensory. In 1988, I went to my local RadioShack and purchased a 300-board modem. That modem didn’t even recognize the haze command set where you could issue commands with an AT prefix.”
That’s right, me parenthetically inserting myself again. If you wanted to dial a number using DTMF, you would put ATDT followed by the number. If you were using dos programs like ProComm, and Telix, and Boyan, and GC PowerComm. Terminator was another one. Oh man, there are a few. You download files with Z modem and X modem and all these different protocols. Anyway, that would automate the haze commands for you.
David goes on, “Instead, I had to pick up my phone, call the number, enable the modems connection, and then hang up the phone. At that time, I had a good friend who gave me a few phone numbers for some local BBSs. Because my friend was a Commodore 64 user, these boards were primarily geared for Commodore users. However, I was fascinated by the different message boards, and I soon branched out to other types of BBSs. I eventually discovered FidoNet and accessed many FidoNet groups which referred to as Echos, including Blink Talk moderated by Willie Wilson.”
Man, I’m going to stop here again. Willie Wilson was a legend. I remember he had his Blink Link bulletin board. I remember paying far too much money calling it because in those days, the only way you could call a bulletin board in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania was to phone the number. Even after hours, cheapest time was 10:00 PM till 6:00 AM, I think. Calling the United States was $1.88 a minute, which is certainly a lot of money now, was a lot more money then.
You’d go on there and you’d grab what you could. You’d do an international smash and grab raid from the bulletin board, and download your things, and then get off there. Willie put a lot of time and effort and money into his Blink Talk echo and Blink Link bulletin board. I remember when he upgraded to his 9,600-board modem in due time and he talked about striding along at 9,600 board.
David goes on. I’m having so much fun with this. He goes on, “In 1989, I purchased the Braille ‘n Speak from Blazie Engineering and called into Blazie Engineering’s BBS which was called the Braille ‘n Speakout.
In 1991, I began working for Blazie Engineering and a year later, became sysop of their BBS. I believe the software they were using was Opus. Willy Wilson, who was quite an Opus expert, taught me what I needed to know in order to run the BBS. A few years later, the BBS was taken down to be replaced by a newer telnet board. I’m not sure how popular that newer BBS became and taking down the Opus BBS was a very sad day for me.
As the internet became more dominant in my life, bulletin board systems received less and less of my attention, but I am extremely grateful for the experiences which I gained from BBSs. Many of them had quite a local feel, and some of that seems to have gotten lost with the internet’s global audience. I never experienced the big online services such as CompuServe and Prodigy, but I spent many hours enjoying bulletin boards.”
Wow. Great stuff, David. I got on CompuServe. I also got on Genie a little bit. To do that, initially anyway, we had to use a service called Packnet which was a packet switching network. Oh my word, they charged a bomb. You would pay your hourly CompuServe access, and then you would pay for this packet switching thing. It really was expensive.
The first time I got on CompuServe and discovered the executive news service, and was able to read articles from the newspaper electronically for the first time, wow, I just went completely nuts with CompuServe, and got a massive bill when I was a student and couldn’t really afford such a massive bill. What an experience that was just reading that material for the first time. As a teen, I did of course discover the HSX forum on CompuServe. If you’re not familiar with that, well that’s all right. You’re probably better off not being familiar with it.
You know you are a true geek if you can remember your CompuServe user ID, because it was a long string of numbers with a comma in the middle. Oh, man, great days. If you want to share some bulletin board memories, by all means be in touch.
The first bulletin board I ever ran was on my parents’ phone line. I thought it would be a smart idea to run it between 9:30 PM and about 7:00 AM because no one was using the phone then anyway. The trouble is we then got calls from modems all day long from people who didn’t read the bulletin board lists in which the details were published which clearly said that the bulletin board was only on from 9:30 PM till 7:00 AM. The good thing is I did get another phone line out of it and ran the out-of-site BBS on its own dedicated line.
It’s time once again for another exciting installment of the Bonnie Bulletin with the exciting Bonnie Mosen.
Bonnie Mosen: Hi, guys.
Jonathan: I have to make sure that I say your name clearly, otherwise the transcriber doesn’t know what to call you.
Bonnie: Speaker number two.
Jonathan: That’s right. That’s where we resort to if we–
Jonathan: That’s squeaker number one. Squeaker number one is Eclipse, the dog to eclipse all dogs.
Bonnie: Playing with a toy.
Jonathan: It’s been a while since we’ve had you on the show and a lot has gone down since then.
Bonnie: A lot has gone down since then.
Jonathan: Now, when we were kids, we used to listen, both at opposite sides of the world, to Radio Moscow. When the whole Ukrainian thing started to fire up, I thought, “Well, what’s the Radio Moscow equivalent these days?” There used to be this thing called the Voice of Russia, which was remotely what you would expect from something like that.
Bonnie: Which actually had Russians on it.
Jonathan: Now they have this thing called Radio Sputnik. I have no idea what that’s about
Bonnie: Every time I’ve turned it on, it’s been Americans. I’ve yet to see anyone from Russia on there. The programming is strange at that. I don’t even understand it, honestly. I looked it up. It says it’s out of Russia with regional correspondents around the world. I think Buenos Aires, Washington DC, London, I think. I don’t understand it. I’m not sure what it is. Honestly, I haven’t listened long enough to figure it out.
Jonathan: It’s sad that we’re back there again, though, isn’t it, with this Cold War number two, effectively.
Bonnie: Yes. I was just talking to a friend of mine, which is really interesting. I was talking to my friend Jennifer who is younger than we are, who does not remember the collapse of the Soviet Union, and never studied it in school. Her reality is Afghanistan and school shootings.
I was talking about how, at least I, and maybe you to some extent, grew up with the Soviet threat, if you want to call it that, the Soviet threat, that we had to have bomb drills where we hide under our desk, which I’m really sure would keep you safe from a nuclear missile, but that’s what we did.
Jonathan: There’s that amazing line from the Leningrad song by Billy Joel that says Cold War kids were hard to kill under their desk in an air raid drill. We never had that here, but we obviously feared nuclear war. Listening to radio Moscow, it almost felt naughty listening to Radio Moscow on shortwave.
Bonnie: It did. I corresponded with– I was on one of their programs in the ’80s called Listeners’ Request Club, which was run by a Soviet journalist named Vasily Strelnikov, who was the son of Boris Strelnikov, who was a TAs correspondent in the US New York for many years. I got to be on the show, which was cool, when I was 17.
Jonathan: Just in writing though, or did they–?
Bonnie: No, I actually was on the show. My voice was on the show.
Jonathan: I wonder if we could get a recording of that.
Bonnie: Oh, gosh, probably not. I think I had a recording for a while. It was their pen pal thing where you can get pen pals. I got so many pen pals. It was embarrassing. I got marriage proposals. It was pretty crazy.
Later, I was friendly with a Russian translator, who worked for the mission, the UN mission, when I was living in Morristown. Got to know him. About the same age, a little older than me. It was interesting that a lot of the things that we did or went through as children, they did, too. They had the air raid drills as well because they were afraid the Americans were going to attack them. It was interesting putting that human perspective in it.
Jonathan: I started using the term Cold War 2 to describe what’s going on now, and I think that’s quite accurate. Although there’s more about this war than is cold, as anybody in Ukraine will tell you. Of course, I don’t want to minimize what those innocent people are going through. I do wonder what impact cyber warfare, potentially, and just the greater connectedness of the world is going to have. The iron curtain is not going to be so mysterious as it was when we were kids.
Bonnie: No, no, because you can get on a live stream and see what’s going on. Being in the church that we were in, we’ve had a lot of connection with Russia, and particularly the Ukraine over the years with missionaries and people coming from the Ukraine and different things like that. A lot of missionaries going over there. One of our preachers in the ’80s, he and his wife had actually moved to the Ukraine in the late ’90s.
The last I’d heard, they were in Kazakhstan teaching at an international boarding school, but they have since gone back to the Ukraine. The power of the internet, I just started googling around his name and church, Ukraine, and found out that he was back at [unintelligible 01:42:19]– probably pronouncing that wrong- church in Kyiv, and there was a podcast. I subscribed to the podcast and found out that they had evacuated to Albania a few days ago because of the Russian threat.
My sister, they trained a preacher in the Ukraine, who’s Ukrainian. He has been keeping them updated on what’s going on there. There’s definitely, like you said, a more connection. As someone who’s really studied Russian history and always been very fascinated with Eastern Europe, which is very complicated historically and geopolitically, was the Cold War ever really over? I don’t think it was. I think it just changed.
Jonathan: I think it was until Putin started asserting his fantasies. Let’s not forget the amazing sense of entrepreneurialism and free-market ideology that pervaded Russia for a while.
Bonnie: Yes, but there’s also another element that is the family-in-law, what they call the family-in-law, which is the corruption, that’s the organized crime.
Jonathan: The oligarchs.
Bonnie: The oligarchs, who on some levels are even more, in my mind, scarier than Brezhnev and Khrushchev. The Soviets were bad, obviously, bad. Did a lot of damage, did a lot of bad things, but I don’t think that they would have ever pushed that button. I think that they had that fear of the US that knowing that if they pushed it, we had another one we could push too.
Jonathan: Well, yes. It’s a whole doctrine of mutually assured destruction there.
Bonnie: Exactly. I don’t think we have that anymore because a lot of those nukes went missing after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We did have the rise of the organized crime, which was always there, but a lot of the old KGB officers, and whatnot, went into this. They’re very intelligent people. They’re evil people, but they’re very intelligent people with their cybercrimes, and what I’ve been told by Russians and the Russian mafia, is pretty scary.
Jonathan: Well, I really hope we hold the line on this as a Western alliance because we’ve seen what has happened when we’ve tried appeasement. It annoys me that so often we fail to learn the lessons of history. We know appeasement doesn’t work. The Western alliance have been appeasing Putin for years. This was inevitable.
Bonnie: I saw something earlier that said that this would be a great time for Russian generals to do a coup.
Jonathan: Absolutely, it would.
Bonnie: It could be. You never know.
Jonathan: Let’s hope so.
Bonnie: You don’t know what’s going on behind the curtain.
Jonathan: Let’s hope so. Last time you were on, we talked about the epic guide dog refusals. Well, not so much a refusal, the shunning, the ostracizing of a guide dog. Kelly Muggridge wrote about this, but I haven’t had you on the show since then. Sorry for the delay, Kelly. She’s in the UK. She says, “Hi, Jonathan and Bonnie.”
Bonnie: Hi, Kelly.
Jonathan: Hi, Kelly. “Sorry to hear about your bad experience while staying at a hotel. I have stayed at two Mainstream hotels in Exeter, Devon, England, and can honestly say both these experiences have been very positive.”
Bonnie: That’s good.
Jonathan: “A friend and I who are both long cane users felt welcomed when we stayed at two Mainstream hotels. One burned down.” What? I hope you weren’t responsible Kelly.
Bonnie: Oh, dear.
Jonathan: “One burned down because of a fire, and one we have been going to since 2016. I hope that the next hotel you stay at will treat you better, and hope it will be positive. Most are.
Bonnie: Most are. It’s just when you have those experiences that are very– you don’t expect in them because a lot of times they have is like, “What?” Particularly because we’ve not had a problem before.
Jonathan: Out of the blue.
Bonnie: Now, one thing I am starting to have issues with in Wellington is out-of-control dogs. I am going to mention to our guide dog school, if we can do some educating, because there’s a lot of rough sleepers, as they call them here, homeless who have pets and a lot of them are pretty aggressive. For the second time near the countdown on Lambton Quay today, a dog charged at me.
Jonathan: It’s terrible.
Jonathan: “Before I go,” says Kelly, “I have a proposition to make. The proposition is this. Way back on Episode 8 of Mosen At Large-” Oh, that’s a long time ago.
Bonnie: That’s a long time ago.
Jonathan: “-the subject was about food – what we like, what we hate, what brings us back to our childhood, and so on. I love listening to all music except classical.” Oh, what?
Jonathan: “I am proposing that we talk about our favorite songs. What songs do you remember your mom or your granny singing to you? What is your favorite song and why, and what song do you hate and why?” Well, we’ll just get that out of the way. That’s Baker Street, hideous song. Hideous, hideous song Baker Street. It’s almost as bad as soup and I can’t be more condemning than that. Kelly continues, “I am going to make a start right then. My favorite song is Heart of Gold by Neil Young.”
Bonnie: Yes, it’s a good song.
Jonathan: Have you been trying to listen to it on Spotify, Kelly?
Jonathan: Well, that’s back there now. “With very little fanfare, he just quietly put his stuff back on. I heard Bonnie M’s cover version of it-”
Bonnie: Oh, dear.
Jonathan: I can’t imagine Bonnie M singing Heart of Gold, “-and thought it dreadful. The song I remember my mother singing to me was How much is that doggy in the window?”
Jonathan: “The song I hate more than anything is I Shot the Sheriff by Eric Clapton because Bob Marley had a crack at it too.” I can’t remember, did Bob Marley do it first?
Bonnie: I don’t remember.
Jonathan: Anyway, she says, “I just detest it, like detesting liver.” My question to the listeners, is what is your favorite song? What song do you remember your mom singing to you, and what song do you hate? Baker Street, definitely the worst song in history by Gerry Rafferty. Anything by the Beatles, I can dig. The Abbey Road Medley would probably be my favorite thing ever written.
Songs my mother sang to me? She used to sing this song, and I’ve never heard anyone else sing it. I should google it. It was something about, “I’ll buy you a little tin car to take you places when you go to town. If you marry, marry, marry, marry, if you marry me.”
Bonnie: [crosstalk] never heard that one.
Jonathan: I don’t know if anyone knows that one. Over to you, Bonnie.
Bonnie: Favorite song? That’s tough. I don’t know that I really have a favorite song. There’s things that I like, a lot of ’70s and ’80s stuff, because it does remind me of my childhood. There’s one particular song that I always said that if I were in my casket and they played it I’d probably get up and dance. That’s I’m So Excited by The Pointer Sisters.
Jonathan: It’s a good song.
Bonnie: I love that song.
Jonathan: That’s a great song.
Bonnie: I love that song. There’s a of songs I hate [chuckles]. I shouldn’t even say this.
Jonathan: Baker Street?
Bonnie: No. Actually, I like Baker Street.
Jonathan: Oh, get out of here.
Bonnie: I’m sorry. Unchained Melody. I hate that song. What’s funny about Unchained Melody is when I left my last job, my boss gave me a jewelry box.
Jonathan: [laughs] I remember that.
Bonnie: It plays Unchained Melody. I was like, “Oh my God, this is karma.” It’s not bad, but it’s just not one of my favorites. There’s some songs that just get on my nerves and that’s one of them. I could probably do a whole show on songs that I–
Jonathan: It’s just not Baker Street.
Bonnie: That’s my mom’s saying, pat-a-cake-
Jonathan: Baker’s Man.
Bonnie: Baker’s Man.
Jonathan: Mark it with B.
Bonnie: Mark it with B, put in the oven.
Jonathan: For Bonnie.
Bonnie: There was one we used to do about this little piggy went to market-
Jonathan: Oh, yes.
Bonnie: -which I thought he was going to the shopping center. That’s not where piggy was going. Terrible things you teach children.
Jonathan: Somebody told me that it was about a little piggy that drank way too much cider, what you in America called hard cider. That’s why he was going wee, wee, wee, wee, all the way home [laughs].
Bonnie: All the way home. Oh, dear. There was one, then I remember you sit on someone’s lap and they’d go, trot a little horsey, trot to town, trot to the bridge and the bridge fell down, and then they drop you. I’m trying to think what else my mom might have sang. Mind the little teacup, or teapot. Yes, that was the big one.
Jonathan: That’s a nice one.
Bonnie: Favorite food?
Jonathan: No, we’re not doing that one again, because we did it in episode eight.
Bonnie: Oh, we did it in episode eight. Okay.
Jonathan: We’ll have to go back to episode eight to find out whether you had input into that.
Jonathan: It’d be watermelon.
Jonathan: Before we go, we would like to invite people to a special celebration on Mushroom FM. It’s happening on the 4th of March. Bonnie will explain it to you now.
Bonnie: We actually met again-
Jonathan: We met again… Don’t know where, don’t know when.
Bonnie: -on the 4th of March, 2012. We had met originally in 2006 when I was working for Seeing Eye and exhibiting at a conference. The Mid Atlantic ACB Regional Conference, to be exact. You were sitting at a table next to me. I came over and introduced myself and that was it. If someone had told me, oh, you’re sitting next to your future husband, I would have been like, I don’t think so. Four years later, five years later–
Jonathan: Six years later.
Bonnie: Six years later? No, because I started listening to you.
Jonathan: Oh, oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have interrupted you.
Bonnie: I started listening to Mushroom FM and corresponding with Jonathan, just like the Russians. When he was coming to Boston, where I was living for work, for Freedom Scientific, he invited me to take part in a show. I co-hosted the show. and the rest is history.
Jonathan: Not many people have such accurate records of their first-ever major meeting, more than just a hello, which I do vaguely remember, I think. I certainly remember the show. It actually went out at 2:00 PM Live on the 4th of March, which was a Sunday in 2012. On the fourth of March, this coming Friday, the Mosen Explosion is on at 2:00 AM, and then repeated at 2:00 PM Eastern Time. Actually, we will be on exactly-
Bonnie: The same time.
Jonathan: -10 years to the moment.
Bonnie: Yes, cool, today.
Jonathan: What we thought we’d do is do the Mosen Explosion together. I’m going to play some of the playlist from that same show, and we’ll talk about it. It’s funny, we like to tell people that we started a long conversation, which kept going after the show finished, and it’s still going.
Jonathan: It was funny how many people said afterwards, wow, you two really sounded like you hit it off. People could see it in the stars or something.
Jonathan: Tremendous. If you would like to be part of that celebration, please do join us on Mushroom FM, where you will hear a few of the songs that Kelly has been talking about. Might even play Heart of Gold for you one day, Kelly, if you tune into the Mosen Explosion.
Bonnie: I liked that song, too, when I was a kid.
Jonathan: Yes, it’s so nice.
Bonnie: I don’t think I quite understood it, but I did like it.
Jonathan: I didn’t understand anything Neil Young sings. I don’t understand After the Gold Rush either. He sounds like he’s really tripping on that song. Anyway, that’s all right. Do join us on Mushroom FM, the 4th of March for our 10th-anniversary celebration show, the anniversary of our meeting anyway. That’ll be fun. We’re looking forward to people’s company.
Bonnie: Hard to believe it’s been 10 years. Man.
Jonathan: I know. It doesn’t seem like 10 years, and you’re still as talkative as ever.
Bonnie: I know.
Jonathan: We’re going to go now. Thank you. Goodbye.
Jonathan: I’d love to hear from you. If you have any comments, you want to contribute to the show, drop me an email written down or with an audio attachment to Jonathan, J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com. If you’d rather call in, use the listener line number in the United States 864-606-6736.
[01:54:50] [END OF AUDIO]