Cloud

Storm over Mt. Race

Storm over Mt. Race

Appalachian Trail, between Sheffield and Great Barrington, Massachusetts. This storm had just passed (and soaked) us as we were hiking south on the AT toward Sheffield. The sun came out over us and we came to a viewpoint where we could look across the valley at (right to left, north to south) Mt. Everett, Mt. Race, and Bear Mountain in Connecticut. If we hung out a bit longer I’d have maybe caught some lightning but in fact, another cell came over us and we got soaked again. Had to put the cameras away and put rain cover on pack.

None of my weather apps (including Dark Sky) peeped at me, all of them said it was clear. So much for technology.

I was glad to get some nice images of this amazing storm as it traveled down the valley.

Note: here’s an image of the same ridge in good weather with labels on the various mountains from 2010 when I last did this section of the Appalachian Trail. Appalachian Trail, southern Massachusetts.

RIP Google Reader

We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.

Google Reader is a cloud-based service for aggregating (listing, organizing, updating, and subscribing to) RSS feeds. Every web site that I follow/track/read on a regular basis puts out an RSS feed and I collect them all in one place: Google Reader. I use a client application on the Mac: Reeder, and it’s client cousin on iOS: Reeder for iPhone and iPad to read them all. Because all of my feeds are stored in the cloud on Google Reader I can move back and forth between Reeder on the Mac and Reeder on the iPad and everything is automatically in sync. It’s an incredibly slick and useful way to get through a lot of information.

What do I track? All kinds of major news feeds, dozens of blogs, all of my Flickr activity, photoblogs, all kinds of business and investment sites, a ton of Apple-related sites, political blogs, and a few humor and “cute” related sites. Every time any of these sites posts something new, it shows up automatically in Reeder and I see it. Once I’ve looked at it it’s “read” and won’t show up as new again. Simple. The alternative is to visit that particular site and try to remember what’s new and what’s not. RSS is one of the single most important technologies around yet it’s poorly understood and underused and this is terribly frustrating for me because I’m afraid RSS will be marginalized by the likes of Twitter and now Google pulling the plug on Reader.

I realize that some people reading this have no clue what RSS is or why anyone would care about it and that’s fine. But, just to be clear, my RSS feeds are the center of my connected life and unlike some, Twitter will never replace RSS for me. Frankly, even though Twitter has become ubiquitous (even the stodgy PBS NewsHour lists Twitter handles under people’s names) I don’t find it all that useful and have considered dumping it recently as it takes time to deal with and I’d rather read a real headline in my RSS reader than a 140 character quickly-posted-link in Twitter.

A little over a year ago I posted a long piece Ramblings on Twitter, Tweet Marker, RSS, and the cloud that was prompted by my discovery of a cloud service called Tweet Marker that enables synchronization of a Twitter feed across multiple devices. As I said in that post, I have no idea how so many people can track so many Twitter feeds on multiple devices without such a service. I track less than 100 feeds but some folks are tracking thousands. You get caught up on your computer, then move over to your iPhone and have to start all over again. Tweet Marker, by synchronizing the two, will update the iPhone to reflect where you left off on the computer. I’m still not a great fan of Twitter but with Tweet Marker it’s much more useful across multiple devices and clients.

No doubt developers are scrambling because while the demise of Google Reader is a bummer, it’s also an opportunity for smaller developers to get into the cloud hosting game. I’m sure many alternatives to Google Reader will spring up and we’ll get through this transition without too many bumps but it’s important to make note of the fact that a lot of people make daily use of the Google Reader service.

I’ve been reading various pieces about this all morning and so far the best one is this post by Justin Blanton: Quick thoughts on the death of Google Reader.

Electric Imp

I’ve been reading about this service (and devices) for a few months now and it sounds fascinating to me. Electric Imp is a cloud-based service and a wifi-enabled SD card and a standard that allows devices using the card to be monitored and controlled from anywhere (else) in the world.

In this video Myriam Joire from Endgadget interviews Hugo Fiennes, the CEO of Electric Imp at Maker Faire. It’s worth watching to hear how the service works and see the possibilities. Here’s Myriam’s post.

One of the most successful of the early attempts to do home automation with devices was the X10 wireless technology standard. X10 controllers are used to operate lights and locks remotely and for home security, among many other things. However, as far as I know, they don’t use the internet, they work on a local network. The Electric Imp technology is an attempt to build a standard for communication and control and have OEMs build the card slot into their devices so that consumers can control those devices from afar.

What you’re seeing here is the early stages of a technology that might be built into consumer devices a number of years out, or not. Sometimes even the best technologies don’t catch on for seemingly small stumbles in naming, branding, or not being at the right place at the right time. Maybe a devilish imp isn’t the right brand for something like this, or maybe its perfect. No way to tell just yet.

I wonder if the disabilities-technology community even knows about this technology? It seems like it would be a great fit.

On cloud and other dependencies

Just like the rest of the Internet, cloud computing — services run on remote servers and deliver files and computing power over the Internet — are vulnerable to the whims of regulators and governments. Residents of Egypt learned that lesson the hard way when the government abruptly shut off most Internet service providers in a frantic attempt to gain control of its rioting populace after rising unrest.

Yes, fascinating and scary and a useful kick in the pants to consider one’s dependencies.

When we lose power here in rural Connecticut my wife and I always look at each other (while lighting candles and turning on flashlights) as we realize how dependent we are on electricity. Not just lighting but our well pump, our furnace and of course, our local area network and eventually, our laptop computers (as they run out of charge). Yes, we have a lot of saved water to flush toilets in a power outage and we heat with wood and can cook on our wood stove but we do really rely on electricity for a lot. Our big freezer will last a while without power as long as we don’t open it but we have a lot of food that would need to be moved outside (where it’s freezing) so as not to spoil if we lost power for more than a few days.

While not wanting to go down the bomb shelter-survivalist path we have considered purchasing a generator to get us through power outages and may yet but we also like the idea of simply hunkering down and riding it out rather than attempting to provide enough infrastructure to normalize our lives at every moment. A generator will keep our local “cloud” up and running but not the cloud running on servers elsewhere.

While I would never support Senator Lieberman’s “kill switch” for internet services in the United States, I also look at what’s going on in Egypt as an example of how creative people can become when they don’t have what they’re used to. Yes, it’s useful to have the social internet at one’s disposal when one is organizing a revolution but the revolution is happening in Egypt without those tools.

Remember, Radio Free Europe and the BBC end-ran the propaganda broadcasting of many of the European countries that eventually became democracies. These days we have many more tools at our disposal so even in North Korea the writing is on the wall.

Yes, we’ve become dependent on the cloud just like electrical service, cable service, phone services of all kinds and more. I think the best way to respond to this self-knowledge is to back up data locally, know where the vulnerabilities are and if/when the power goes out in a snow storm, break out the snowshoes and enjoy the snow (metaphorically and otherwise).

By the way the application Notational Velocity which I use on my Mac to get at my Simplenote cloud-based notes caches that very text locally so is in fact, a nice bridge from cloud to local.

On cloud and other dependencies

Can We Really Trust the Cloud?

Just like the rest of the Internet, cloud computing — services run on remote servers and deliver files and computing power over the Internet — are vulnerable to the whims of regulators and governments. Residents of Egypt learned that lesson the hard way when the government abruptly shut off most Internet service providers in a frantic attempt to gain control of its rioting populace after rising unrest.

Yes, fascinating and scary and a useful kick in the pants to consider one’s dependencies.

When we lose power here in rural Connecticut my wife and I always look at each other (while lighting candles and turning on flashlights) as we realize how dependent we are on electricity. Not just lighting but our well pump, our furnace and of course, our local area network and eventually, our laptop computers (as they run out of charge). Yes, we have a lot of saved water to flush toilets in a power outage and we heat with wood and can cook on our wood stove but we do really rely on electricity for a lot. Our big freezer will last a while without power as long as we don’t open it but we have a lot of food that would need to be moved outside (where it’s freezing) so as not to spoil if we lost power for more than a few days.

While not wanting to go down the bomb shelter-survivalist path we have considered purchasing a generator to get us through power outages and may yet but we also like the idea of simply hunkering down and riding it out rather than attempting to provide enough infrastructure to normalize our lives at every moment. A generator will keep our local “cloud” up and running but not the cloud running on servers elsewhere.

While I would never support Senator Lieberman’s “kill switch” for internet services in the United States, I also look at what’s going on in Egypt as an example of how creative people can become when they don’t have what they’re used to. Yes, it’s useful to have the social internet at one’s disposal when one is organizing a revolution but the revolution is happening in Egypt without those tools.

Remember, Radio Free Europe and the BBC end-ran the propaganda broadcasting of many of the European countries that eventually became democracies. These days we have many more tools at our disposal so even in North Korea the writing is on the wall.

Yes, we’ve become dependent on the cloud just like electrical service, cable service, phone services of all kinds and more. I think the best way to respond to this self-knowledge is to back up data locally, know where the vulnerabilities are and if/when the power goes out in a snow storm, break out the snowshoes and enjoy the snow (metaphorically and otherwise).

By the way the application Notational Velocity which I use on my Mac to get at my Simplenote cloud-based notes caches that very text locally so is in fact, a nice bridge from cloud to local.

The journey is the reward

Patrick Rhone over at minimal mac led me to Frank Chimero’s writing on his digital tools: The Setup which got me thinking about my digital tool situation again.

Here’s a quote from Frank’s post:

I think tweaking the rig is a large part of being a nerd.

Agreed. As my friend Dale says as we hunt for the best camera/lens combinations: the chase (the process of hunting and considering) is part of the larger process of using, tweaking, and enjoying one’s gear. I generally take that a bit further as I rent and buy things, use them, then sell them as I figure out which gear doesn’t work for me. I can’t quite get it all figured out in my head; experience gives me the feedback I need. That’s my process with cameras and lenses. With computers I’ve stayed with the same type (PowerBook or MacBook Pro) for over ten years and this has served me well. I’m comfortable with the form factor and until recently I didn’t see a need to change things.

But, as the cloud has become a bigger part of my digital life (I use Gmail, Google Reader, and other cloud-based services) I have less need to have everything stored on a single computer, and because I’ve started using my iPhone and now iPad more, having multiple devices has become more comfortable. I thought it might be a good idea to have a larger desktop computer and a smaller portable computer for travel. I’m a touch typist so using an iPad for constructing a long piece of writing like this isn’t something I want to do, even with a bluetooth keyboard.

Minimalism is an idea, not an ideal
Frank is a professional designer who spends a lot of time in Adobe-land and now does this on a 13″ MacBook Air. This means he’s willing to make a tradeoff: horsepower and speed for simplicity and portability. Seems simple enough. Of course most people never consider this tradeoff yet they have little use for much of the horsepower they have in their computers. I’ve considered this tradeoff for most of my computing life (moving away from desktop computers over ten years ago) yet seem to have had a doubt about it recently.

There’s nothing wrong with attempting to run one’s digital life off an iPhone (figuratively, the ultimate pare down) and as an exercise it might be fun (and frustrating for some) but minimalism is an idea, not a universal ideal.

The ideal ideal is whatever is right for you and you can only find out what that is by using your tools, paying attention, and “tweaking the rig” over time, not to fit someone else’s ideals of what constitutes the ultimate rig, but to fit your own life and style. There is no ideal or even an ideal direction, there is only the path and how you feel about your own walk (or run or stumble) down it. I know, very “zen” of me. I struggle with this in almost every domain I enter and reading Frank’s post was a nice kick in the butt for me to take stock and think out loud.

Here’s another quote from Frank’s post:

A person only flails around in regards to their rig when they don’t have a clear idea of what constitutes their work.

This is a bit harsh but its true and as we honestly look at what we do with our digital rigs over time the flailing slows down as we tweak the rig to fit the work. The problem is if you look at your work one day you’ll think you need a high end desktop computer, the next and you’ll be fine with a 13″ MacBook Air. How one constructs this overview of one’s work (personal sampling rate) is important because each task isn’t necessarily weighted the same. This is tough stuff with lots of room for flailing.

At times I use Lightroom to process 100 or more RAW photographs taken with my Canon 5D. The question is, is that “my work?” Well, no, not really, it’s a rare occurrence that happens a few times a year and my current 15″ MacBook Pro can handle it.

At times I use both Lightroom and Pages to put together a MagCloud project but I don’t do this very often and so far I’ve done it on this 15″ MacBook Pro. Is it ideal? No, but it does work.

The question is, if the 15″ MacBook Pro is working well for me in everything else I do and feels a bit constrained when I do these two tasks which I do infrequently, should I get another computer to do these two tasks (maybe then I’ll do them more) or do I live with what I have knowing that it’s right for me in every other respect?

Toward the end of last year I tipped into “get another computer land” and ordered a 27″ top of the line iMac and at the same time, a new 13″ low end MacBook Pro (to replace my 15″ MacBook Pro for travel), and an iPad. Yes, it was a huge splurge which I’d been saving up for for a while.

All the boxes arrived from Apple and before I opened any of them up I had a doubt about what I’d done. After all, this move was a rather large change in my digital setup and as I said above I’m not good doing these kinds of things in my head. It wasn’t the money that gave me pause, it was the change in tools and change in work process that would come with the new tools: having a huge computer on my desk that I might be pulled to do most of my work on because of it’s size and power.

Bigger isn’t always better
Frank got rid of a 27″ iMac and moved to a 13″ MacBook Air and one of his reasons was:

I’m the kind of guy who needs a clear focal point, so the vast expanse of 27” made me feel like I didn’t have full mastery over my tool.

I’ve never articulated this but I now know that this was one of the many things that bothered me about the move I’d made in ordering this big desktop computer. I’m ADD and while I like a bit of screen real estate too much and I’m swimming (more like drowning). Some people don’t feel comfortable unless they have a big screen (or two) to spread their stuff out on, some people, whether they know it or not, may think having more screen real estate is an ideal but in fact, they may get less done as they futz around with all the stuff on their big screen. Watching a Twitter feed crawl by while one is attempting to think and write a post gets in the way of thinking and writing the post, for me anyway. With a 27″ screen one can have a lot of things going on, potentially pulling one away from the focal point. I know, it’s useful to see a two page spread when laying out pages and useful to see one’s images on a big screen but how often one has this need varies from person to person and the fact is, I can live without it and have for many years. Somehow I thought I should have it but in the process overlooked my successful history with my current 15″ MacBook Pro.

The other thing I was pondering was an SSD upgrade to the MacBook Pro. I was very impressed by the solid state MacBook Air when it came out and knew Apple was moving in this direction (it’s now known that they’ve been buying futures in flash memory): solid state is definitely the future of computing storage.

The two computers and iPad stayed in their unopened boxes which sat on the floor of my office for a few days and I finally decided I’d made a mistake (a stumble in the path). I called Apple and returned the iMac and the MacBook Pro and kept the iPad. Apple was a pleasure to deal with and they even paid for the return shipping. I suddenly felt lighter although truth be told I was wondering how I’d explain all of this to my friend Dale who was discussing this buy with me and generally supports whatever I come up with (we’re both excellent rationalizers). We’ve discussed it since but I didn’t have the clarity reading Frank’s post has given me.

I love it when reading about someone else’s experience helps me explain my own.

What I have now
As those of you who follow this blog know I ordered and did an SSD upgrade on my MacBook Pro. Except for a single issue with sleep its been a terrific upgrade and I have no regrets to this day about having done it. It will give me plenty of time with this now three year old MacBook Pro to wait for Apple to come out with new MacBook Pros with more solid state options. My last MagCloud project was done on this SSD-equipped machine and it made a very big difference in the machine’s responsiveness working with large files. Of course an external monitor would have helped and like Frank I might go down that path in the future but given that most of my use of my MacBook Pro is doing things like this post I’m fine with it as it is.

I got the iPad less as a portable computer, more as a portable movie player for use on planes. I don’t travel like I used to but I do make a trip across country to Los Angeles every few months to visit my 95 year old mother and as I’ve seen more and more people on these cross country trips using iPads to watch movies and other video content it occurred to me that just getting one for this alone would make these trips bearable. So, this was my initial rationale for ordering and keeping the iPad and I’ve ripped numerous movies from my DVD collection and have them on the iPad and it’s great to watch them on flights. I wasn’t sure if I’d use the iPad for much more than this because it lacks a hardware keyboard and as a touch typist this is an important piece of a tool for me. However, there’s much one can do with an iPad sans typing as most of you already know and a little typing on the screen isn’t a problem.

Now that I’ve been using it for a few months, the killer app on my iPad hasn’t been the video player but a simple and elegant RSS reader called Reeder which syncs with a Google Reader account. Between Reeder and Instapaper I find using the iPad to read feeds and tuck things I’m interested in away a better experience than the same applications on the Mac (I’ve been using RSS newsreaders since NetNewsWire was in beta). I think I like the focus of full screen apps and even though Reeder on the Mac is still in beta, even after it’s done I think I’ll like the iPad experience better. Maybe Lion will bridge this with its full screen capabilities but for now the iPad as a tool for reading feeds and tucking the gems away in the cloud is fantastic. And, when I’m away from wifi I use the iPhone for this: same apps and they work fine over 3G.

This has been a surprise to me: I routinely carry both my MacBook Pro and iPad downstairs on winter mornings to drink my coffee by the wood stove and I use the iPad to read the news through Reeder rather than do the same on the MacBook Pro. If the iPad had a decent AIM/iChat like client I’d leave the MacBook Pro upstairs.

Another surprise: the iPad is so small and useful that it undoes my wanting a 13″ MacBook Pro as my main computer. I don’t pull my computer out on planes anymore and the iPad has killer battery life even watching movies so why not stick with a 15″ MacBook Pro which seems to have become an ideal size for me over many years.

Many years ago my friend David Clark pushed (pulled) me into using Gmail and that was the beginning of my move to the cloud. Gmail works flawlessly on computer/browser (or Apple’s Mail app), iPhone and iPad so I can get mail anywhere and not worry about syncing. Same with Google Reader (thanks Steve) and the Reeder client on iPhone, iPad, and Mac and I’m finding that Instapaper is a wonderful cloud container allowing me to toss things into it from any device knowing they’ll be there on the other devices. SimpleNote is the same thing for writing: do the writing on one device, find it on all devices.

So, my digital life is a 15″ SSD equipped MacBook Pro, an iPad, and an iPhone4, all connected via MobileMe (iCal and Address Book), Gmail, Google Reader, Instapaper, and SimpleNote. I back up the iPhone and iPad with iTunes a few times a week. I back up the Mac every day with SuperDuper! onto two different portable firewire 800 hard disks (rotated).

This setup is simple, powerful, elegant, and fits me like a glove. While I did some flailing on the way to it it feels quite comfortable to me now. As Steve Jobs (I wish him well) would say:

The journey is the reward.

Amen Steve. The process really is the product.

Free MobileMe!

The iPad in the Eyes of the Digerati

Tim O’Reilly makes an important point beyond iPad:

Media and application syncing across iPhone and iPad is poorly thought out. MobileMe, which should be Apple’s gateway drug for lock-in to Apple services, is instead sold as an add-on to a small fraction of Apple’s customer base. If Apple wants to win, they need to understand the power of network effects in Internet services. They need to sacrifice revenue for reach, taking the opportunity of their early lead to tie users ever more closely to Apple services.

I’ve been saying two things for many years now:

1. Whatever Apple offers as an online service for it’s users should be free and built into the experience of using its devices. When you get a Mac, iPad, or iPhone or any current or future Apple device that can communicate via the internet, you get a free Apple account with email, syncing technologies to connect all of your devices and a bit of storage, both public and private to share your information with others. This is such a no-brainer for Apple I find it hard to believe that Steve Jobs has allowed this deficiency to sit for so long, seemingly untouched.

2. Most products that Apple has offered as online services have been terrible: eWorld, .mac, MobileMe all suffered and suffer from a seeming inability to take in the best of what’s going on outside of Apple and use the great stuff to make Apple’s offerings even better.

When many of us were ditching AOL for the freewheeling internet and web, Apple was still struggling to offer proprietary and expensive services for Macintosh users to hold them in. It was a mistake and Apple continues to make this mistake with MobileMe.

What holds us in is the great design, the ease of use, and our love of these great products. Making MobileMe better and free would encourage and support people buying even more Apple hardware knowing that moving information between devices is easy and free.

Digital Independence

What is it? What does it mean? What does it look like?

© 2002 Richard Wanderman, David Clark, and Monika Koethnig

Note: This was first written and posted in 2002 to support a presentation that David and I did at the Closing the Gap assistive technology conference. I was a popular presenter at this conference and generally had standing room only only crowds at my sessions. This session was far enough ahead of its time that it had light attendance which shocked us because we were sure we were on to something, and now we know in retrospect that we were. The sad truth is that most of the assistive tech community still does not get the significance of these ideas and this is one of the many reasons I gave up a twenty year career consulting in the AT area.

Please be gentle on feedback on the nine year old links in this article. I’ll be glad to update them as we find problems. Thanks.

What is it?
Imagine sitting in a Starbucks with your portable computer in your lap, not plugged into anything, and being able to communicate with friends all over the world, pay your bills, move money from your money market account into your IRA, book travel, shop, read the day’s news and weather, and of course, listen to any music from your entire music collection. This image is real and what makes it possible are just a few powerful and readily available technologies: a high speed connection to the internet, a wireless local area network, a portable computer, a small collection of applications, and digital money.

Using “plastic” to pay is not just about floating a balance or shopping online, it’s also about the elimination of handling money, something some people with physical disabilities don’t do well. Using a Mobil SpeedPass or paying for groceries with a credit card are no longer considered cutting edge; we take these tools and processes for granted but if you can’t handle money the digitization of these processes is more than just convenience; it’s access.

Having a music collection digitized and stored on a computer eliminates the need to handle media and allows random access to any of thousands of songs sorted by album, artist, and genre in one place. Digital music players like iTunes or Media JukeBox can organize and play entire music collections (many thousands of songs and albums). Portable digital music players allow you to carry your entire music collection with you without a computer. Music is just one example of digital sound: the era of books on tape will slowly change to books on CD, then audible digital downloadable books, then books streamed over the internet.

This move from analog (money, CDs) to digital (credit card, digital music) will soon be viewed as the most significant inclusive curb cut in history.

Atoms to bits

Nicholas Negroponte, the Director of the MIT Media Lab has been saying for years that atoms are different from bits. When he first started saying this in his WIRED Magazine editorials many thought he was being arrogant and too “ivory tower.” Now we know better. Dealing with atoms – newspapers, money, CDs, paper plane tickets is different from dealing with bits – electronic representations of text on a computer, credit cards, mp3s, and e-tickets. Making processes digital (reducing them to bits) can, and many times does, make those processes more accessible for everyone but particularly accessible to people with a range of disabilities that affect their access to the analog processes.

Digitizing content is just the start

Long before Negroponte started rubbing our noses in atoms and bits the computer scientist and futurist Alan Kay was commenting on the then new technology of burning large amounts of information onto CDs. He said that the minute you put a dictionary on a CD it’s out of date; the dictionary company will update the information but you (with your new CD) will not have it. So you buy a new, upgraded CD. This goes on forever. He thought (long before the internet explosion) it would be better to be connected directly to the dictionary company so you always have the latest content and never need to buy a new CD. Now, 20 years after he made those remarks, we see that even though the CD may contain a digital version of the dictionary, the CD itself is still made of atoms and consequently, comes with some of the same limitations as a book dictionary; it goes out of date and you have to handle it to use it.

The network and the computer = access
As Kay was saying this, Sun Microsystems was just starting to make the then outrageous advertising statement, “the network is the computer.” Most of us didn’t get it because our connections were modems using regular telephone lines. In fact, Sun predicted that bigger pipes like cable internet, DSL, and ISDN would be widely available and positioned themselves to be key players in the then fledgling move toward the internet.

The AOL model
No one can dispute that America Online (AOL) has brought more people online than almost any other single force. But AOL has not gracefully changed its paradigm since it started. A large AOL server in Dulles, Virginia, holds a huge amount of content and everyone dials in to use it. The more content providers they can sign up the more all of us will want to join AOL to get access to it. And, unlike the internet which is unfiltered, AOL can filter and edit its content, which it does.

However, their model as a single publisher of information doesn’t allow for the parallel growth that can take place when many people, all over the world, become publishers of information.

The internet
Almost all, if not all of AOL’s content providers now have their own web sites as well as spaces in the AOL content area. You can get your weather information from the Weather Channel on television (and watch a lot of commercials), from weather.com (the Weather Channel’s web site), from their space on AOL, or through applications other than a web browser that tap into the National Weather Service’s data pool which is open to all. In short, you now have choices.

What’s different about the internet model is that it’s a distributed model. The information is all over the place (world), and just like investment strategists have been telling us for years; diversification means strength and more probable innovation.

The internet as a sharing medium
When AT&T developed Unix in 1969 they gave the source code away by putting it out on the then baby internet (Darpanet) and lo and behold, computer scientists at UC Berkeley and elsewhere improved on it. (David did not work on this project while he was at Berkeley, he only dreamed about it.)

In 1991 Linus Torvalds, then a grad student in Finland sent email to fellow OS writers telling them that he was working on a “hobby” OS project and asked them if he might share it with them. It was called Linux.

To contribute to Linux or Unix or to any open source project, all you need is a computer, a connection, and a willingness to share. You do not have to go through the interview process to get a job at Microsoft; you just have to earn the trust and respect of your net-peers, most of whom you will never meet face to face.

Doesn’t matter where you are
We have a friend who lives in Central California (near Yosemite Park and we’re jealous). He’s a rare gem importer. He spends six months a year in California and six months in Bangkok, Thailand. When we get email from him we have no idea where he is. In terms of email, he is digitally independent. He has a cable modem and network at home in California, and a high-speed network in his apartment in Thailand. He routinely emails us one day from California and the next day from Thailand. Same conversation continued from a different place.

This kind of digital independence taken further can allow anyone who makes a living on the internet to live anywhere. Our friend chose Thailand because that’s where gems are; but if you design web sites, write, or do a kind of work that does not rely on geography, you’re free. You could choose Thailand because you like it there yet still contribute to a project in Boston or Paris or both.

Home on the cell
In many developing countries the infrastructure for physical telephone lines is minimal and antiquated at best. However, inexpensive and widespread cell phone use allows many developing countries to skip building a physical telephone infrastructure and focus on the ultimate goal, spreading telephone access to everyone. This paradigm shift means that homeless people have access to communication even if they don’t have access to a home. Is this a case of having the curb cut before the curb?

Image filtering
This past summer Richard rebuilt the entire LD Resources web site with the help of two friends, David Clark and Monika Koethnig. Richard lives in Connecticut, David in Massachusetts, and Monika in Aabenraa, Denmark.

The most significant technology we used is chat. Chat made and continues to make working together possible without numerous trans-atlantic phone calls. Each morning (afternoon for Monika) we all spent and continue to spend an hour chatting, showing each other progress on projects and discussing issues.

The operating systems and chat programs we use are different but each keeps a log of the chat so we can refer back to it without having to wade through email and it’s real time so we get answers to questions immediately.

All of us are serious computer users, and each of us uses lots of technology to build and support hundreds of web pages, yet chat is one of the key digital technologies that we depend on. Chat is an inclusive technology.

David and Richard have never met Monika face to face yet they’ve all worked together for over a year now. Monika had never heard David’s voice until one month ago. So, Monika has been able to form an image of David without the “baggage” of visual and auditory stereotyping.

In a perfect world, stereotyping is a non-issue, but we don’t live in a perfect world. It took Richard years to have David’s physical disability fall into the background in his relationship with him. Monika already considers David a close friend without having to work at that.

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog

This is the caption to a now infamous New Yorker cartoon by Peter Steiner showing a dog sitting at a computer talking with another dog (sitting on the floor) about the experience. Map this idea into the disability world and it’s more than a joke. The internet can be a great filter for aspects of a person which might preclude close relationships if they were seen up front. In short, filtering out immediate visual categorization of people can allow their intelligence to shine through before visual stereotyping undermines it.

The Sociology of digital independence
Many people have thought and written about these ideas although with less disability focus and more general societal focus.

Marshall McLuhan was thinking about “digital independence” pretty early in the game. “The medium is the message” has a very different meaning when applied to the above filtering effect the internet has on visual images. He also used the term “global village” long before we had a sense of what it would be like to have full time access to the internet, cell phones, and GPS systems.

Sherry Turkle at MIT has done extensive research and writing on what it’s like to spend a significant amount of one’s time online and how the internet can be a filter. Her latest book is “Life on the Screen”.

What does it mean?
The effects of these changes are profound yet most people haven’t fully considered the implications for people with a variety of learning and physical access needs.

Think about how widespread credit card use is (maybe too widespread). Credit cards change the way we deal with money. A credit card is an access tool.

Think about how widespread cell phone use is. Cell phones change the way we communicate by allowing us to do it independent of land lines. Cell phones are access tools.

It is true that full-time, fast internet access hasn’t reached everyone and that not everyone can afford it. However, this kind of internet access will be as common as cell phones soon and when it is, we think it’s important to consider what it will mean. A computer on a fast, wired or wireless internet connection is a significant access tool.

Finally, these changes are not being driven by disability law or advocacy groups, they are being driven by convenience for everyone. That simple fact makes this the most inclusive and so the most important curb cut in history.

What does it look like? Travelog: Warren, CT to Boston, MA

Below is a travelog with numerous examples of digital processes. The details of hardware, software, or web sites are not what is important. Rather, we are focusing on the philosophy and process of being digitally independent and the potential it has for people with disabilities.

  1. Richard has $40 in his wallet.
  2. Richard logs into ldresources admin chat with iChat. Finds David and Monika (Germany) chatting. Tells David he’ll be leaving in an hour for Boston so David had better get some food in the house.
  3. David goes to PeaPod to order groceries (his fridge is usually empty) and looks at the weather with Weather Watcher.
  4. Richard uses OS X Address Book to get map to David’s house (Boston is a bear in a car).
  5. David realizes that it is going to be a working dinner, and needs to finally make his Panasonic Toughbook wireless.
  6. Richard told David weeks ago to order a wireless card from CDW, and the package was on his desk waiting for David to install.
  7. Murphy’s law: While David is trying to install his new Orinoco card, he realizes that he neods to download new drivers, but now hisi Xircom card is not working.
  8. Richard suggests the idea of burning a CD of the drivers on the iMac, and then using the CD in the toughbook.
  9. Meanwhile, Richard uses Sherlock to get better driving directions.
  10. David gets his favorite playlist of mp3s playing while he works using Media JukeBox to play music through his stereo from his computer.
  11. Richard gets Boston weather so he knows what to pack.
  12. David runs into a problem with “affect” and “effect” in his writing. He uses Confusing Words (an internet-based reference tool coming soon to this web site) to figure it out.
  13. Richard gets traffic advisory on Mass Pike as well as Boston traffic advisory.
  14. David sends Richard’s wife Anne a birthday gift from her Amazon.com wish list.
  15. Richard looks up the NPR stations along the route using the NPR Station Directory.
  16. Richard backs up PowerBook on .mac account
  17. Richard puts PowerBook to sleep, then puts it in backpack for trip.
  18. Richard gets gas with Mobile SpeedPass. Pays tolls on Mass Pike with FastLane card.
  19. While in the car Richard uses his digital recorder to record ideas for the CTG Digital Independence presentation he and David are doing. Wishes he had a GPS receiver hooked up to his Palm or PowerBook to make it easier to find David’s house.
  20. Richard arrives in Boston, parks in garage, gets ticket.
  21. Before going up to David’s, Richard opens PowerBook in lobby, gets on David’s wireless AirPort network which uses his iMac as a base station.
  22. Richard gets email from friend at Macalaster College. She’s writing a paper on the play M Butterfly and forgets who wrote it. She asks for the author’s name. Richard quickly looks up the play at Google and just to make sure at Amazon too. Sends her email back with answer in 1 minute.
  23. Richard carries PowerBook upstairs to David’s apartment, still online.
  24. Richard notices David’s new Land’s End jacket. Prices it. Skips it.
  25. David looks for a restaurant close by so they can eat.
  26. There is a friend that David wants Richard to meet. David looks his number up on Switchboard.com and invites him to dinner.
  27. They walk to dinner with their computers.
  28. They arive at restaurant.
  29. They order drinks and dinner.
  30. While they wait they might as well be productive.
  31. Richard opens his computer and notices he can tap into nearby Starbucks WiFi network.
  32. Richard tells David he just read the most amazing New Yorker column but he forgot the magazine to give David. He goes to Faith, Hope, and Clarity, and sends David the url.
  33. That leads to more talk about New Yorker writers and on to Malcolm Gladwell. Richard tells David he must read the article Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg.
  34. Which leads to conversation about movies and Richard’s fifty year old brain draws a blank about who the heavy-set supporting actor is in the movie The Waterdance. He uses All Movie.com to find out while we talk.
  35. Monika in Denmark sends David an instant message in chat. She tells him to go to their “chat room” and bring Richard.
  36. Monika has been updating the UK AlphaSmart web site and wants them to tell her how it looks. She sends them the url in chat.
  37. Richard sends the url for the web page documenting David, Steve, and Richard’s recent trip to Alaska to Monika in chat. The page was created with Steve’s program WebPics.
  38. David mentions that there are more pictures at Doug Geeting’s site and sends the url.
  39. Which leads David to play Richard a song from Geeting’s CD The Alaska Mile which he has digitized on his computer.
  40. The people at the table right behind David are speaking German. Richard uses Sherlock to look up some of the words they’re using. Sends the words to Monika in chat to verify.
  41. They are wondering if there is an internet cafe nearby to send a note
    home. Richard offers them his AlphaSmart to write an email on. He asks them to put the email address they want the note sent to in the note.
  42. While they are gawking at the AlphaSmart Richard pulls out his Canon S30 digital camera and takes a picture of them.
  43. The Germans finish the email, hand Richard the AlphaSmart, and he sends their text from the AlphaSmart into his email client. He removes the Lexar compact flash card from his camera, sticks it in the PCMCIA CF reader in his computer, and copies their picture onto his computer. He scales the picture down and gets rid of red-eye with iPhoto, attaches it to the email and sends it to them.
  44. The German couple are impressed with the AlphaSmart and David tells them that there is an AlphaSmart localized for Germany and a German AlphaSmart web site to support it. David sends the url to their email address.
  45. Someone at another table has been watching all of this and asks for Richard’s email address. He has a Palm OS device so Richard pulls out his Palm and beams them his business card. David, not wanting to be left out asks Richard to beam his address too.
  46. Richard and David think they might want to go to the movies after dinner and need to know what’s playing nearby. Richard runs Sherlock to search with David’s zip code.
  47. David uses his credit card to pay for dinner.
  48. They walk back to David’s house.
  49. Richard hates David’s musical taste and he’s brought a new Nickel Creek CD he wants David to listen to. David puts the CD into his computer, and while Richard isn’t looking rips it into mp3, getting all the CD track info from Gracenote.com.
  50. Meanwhile, Richard checks registrations at Resources Discussion.
  51. David sends his goddaughter Catie an eCard for her birthday.
  52. David and Richard submit a proposal to CTG for their Digital Independence session.
  53. They book a room at Sofitel hotel.
  54. They each register for CTG conference.
  55. Richard buys his plane ticket to Minneapolis at Northwest and forwards David the email flight itinerary.
  56. David buys his plane ticket to Minneapolis at Cheaptickets.com, then forwards the email flight itinerary to Richard.
  57. Richard uses Watson to look for a picture of Marshall Mcluhan to add to Digital Independence web page and handout.
  58. After Richard goes to sleep (old man, can’t keep up with “yout”). David replies to some mail, and checks in on a few online communities he
    follows:
    phpbuilder, AlphaSmart, Sourceforge, Half the Planet, LD Resources, and Match.com.
  59. Realizing they’re not even close to having the presentation done,
    David books Amtrak to New Haven so they can continue work in Warren.
  60. Richard wakes up, makes coffee, notices David is running out of coffee so orders some from Starbucks.
  61. Richard puts his PowerBook to sleep and in backpack, says goodbye to David and walks to car.
  62. Richard pays for parking with credit card (sheesh, Boston is expensive).
  63. Richard gets gas with credit card.
  64. Richard pays toll on Mass Pike with FastLane card
  65. Richard arrives home, opens computer and it finds his AirPort network automatically.
  66. Richard has the same $40 still in his wallet (his credit card, however, is charred and smoking).

How to do it: atoms to bits
Below is a list of things many of us do every day and the tools we use to do them.

Buy something

  • Go to store, use cash
  • Write check
  • Use debit card
  • Use credit card
  • Use credit card at Amazon.com
  • Use one-click at Amazon.com

Buy something for Anne

  • Go to store, buy wrong thing
  • Buy wrong thing online
  • Buy something that Anne wants with Amazon.com wish list

Get gas

Find a friend’s phone number

Get the weather

Buy plane ticket

Convert currency

Find out how to get to B & H Photo in New York

Find a movie playing nearby

  • Call all the theaters
  • Use Sherlock to find out what’s playing

Pay traffic tolls on Mass Pike

Give someone your name and address

  • Talk while they write it down on a napkin
  • Give them a business card
  • Give them an address label
  • Give them a business card, they scan it in
  • Beam it to them with your PDA
  • Send it written out in email
  • Send them a vcard in email

Send or receive faxes

  • Deal with equipment, paper, and separate phone line
  • Get an Efax account

Send a card

  • Go to local pharmacy, buy card, address envelope, stuff, and send
  • Pick card from Hallmark.com and send

Get reminded of something

Take a picture, send it to someone

  • Take a picture with a film camera, have film processed, send someone a print in the mail
  • Take a picture with a digital camera, transfer picture to computer, send it to someone as an attachment to email

Share pictures

  • Make duplicate prints, send them out in the mail
  • Send images as attachments to email
  • Use Printroom.com to make prints
  • Use WebPics to make web page of images
  • Share Alaska trip done with WebPics

Reserve a room at Hotel Sofitel

Print your handouts for Closing the Gap

  • Print 100 on your printer, carry handouts on plane
  • Print 1 on your printer, photocopy locally (Kinkos or anywhere), carry handouts on plane
  • Print 1 on your printer, carry to Minneapolis on plane, photocopy at Kinkos or anywhere, carry back to hotel
  • Make a PDF on your computer, give Kinkos the order online, fly to Minneapolis with no handouts, have them delivered to hotel

Submit proposal for Closing the Gap

  • write proposal, print it, stuff envelope, send via mail
  • Submit a CTG web site

Register for Closing the Gap

  • Fill out form, write check, send or fax
  • Register at CTG web site

Chat with someone

Work collaboratively

  • Everyone fly to Minneapolis, meet at CTG
  • Telephone calls
  • Conference calls
  • Group email
  • Use Chat instead of conference calls
  • Use threaded discussion with group edits of single posts
  • Multiple people working on a single online project: Confusing Words

Learn php

  • Take a class
  • Buy a book
  • Read documentation online at php network
  • Read and ask questions in a discussion forum like phpbuilder
  • Find a buddy online to share ideas with

at a meeting

Participate in community

Make the next killer application

  • Apply for and get job at Microsoft or Apple
  • Attend meeting, listen to “water cooler stories”
  • Deal with daily commute and respectability of your wardrobe (rather than your ideas)
  • Work from home in your sweatpants, communicate and collaborate electronically with email, chat, message boards

Find your high school classmates

  • Send a letter to one you remember
  • Wait until 30th reunion
  • Register at Classmates.com

Publish your ideas: write an essay…

  • staple it to a telephone pole
  • photocopy it, staple it to many telephone poles
  • mail it to someone
  • photocopy it, mail it to many
  • fax it to someone
  • fax it to many
  • email it to someone
  • email it to many (careful of being a “spammer”)
  • join a listserve, send to the list
  • get someone to put it on his web site (if it’s about LD, go here)
  • put up your own web site

Pay your bills

Read a magazine

Send a magazine article to a friend

Have a magazine article read to you

  • Ask someone to read it to you
  • Scan article, have it read by computer
  • Find article online have computer read it

Get the news

Find a picture of Marshall McLuhan

  • Find a book in the libary to scan
  • Use Google to search for “Marshall McLunan”
  • Use Google Image Search to search for “Marshall McLuhan”
  • Use Watson to search for “Marshall McLuhan”

Find a wireless access point

Listen to the radio

Translate language

Look something up in the dictionary

  • Get the book off the shelf
  • Go to the library to use the OED
  • Put a CD ROM in your computer
  • Dictionary.com
  • Sherlock (Mac OSX)
  • Watson (Mac OSX)

Send something to someone

  • Take it to the post office
  • Use FedEx to generate label, call for pickup, track package, confirm delivery

Buy groceries

  • Go to store, pick things out, pay, carry home
  • Order groceries from Peapod.com
  • Order dinner from local restaurant

Rent a movie

Buy a movie

Sell a DVD you don’t want anymore

  • Put a for sale sign at the general store
  • Put an ad in Bargain News
  • Have a garage (“tag” on the East Coast) sale
  • Go to a flea market
  • Go to local video store and see if they’ll buy it
  • Sell or auction it on eBay
  • Sell or auction it on Amazon.com

Research a movie

Listen to music

Cook a meal

  • Cook grandma’s recipe from memory
  • Use a cookbook to find a recipe
  • Get recipe from Allrecipes.com

Upgrade your system software

  • Go to store, buy CD
  • Go to web site, buy CD
  • Go to Microsoft.com, download upgrade
  • Go to Apple Support, download upgrade
  • Use Software Update System Preference to check for updates (Mac OSX)

Upgrade an application

  • Get version number of application
  • Go to web site, check lastest version, download upgrade
  • Have application check for updates

Backup your computer

  • Copy files to ZIP disk
  • Copy files to CD, burn
  • Use backup application to copy to ZIP or CD
  • Use Backup to backup to .mac account (Mac OSX)
  • Use Xdrive to backup to internet (Windows)

Prepare for college

And this is just a start…