Saturday, October 21, 2006

Living a Visually Impaired Life

Living a Visually Impaired Life

One of my students recently criticized me in front of three other students. Her complaint was that I had failed to remember her name, despite having taught her on several occasions.

I had her name written down in my notebook, just as I had the names of the other students written down, but I did not recognize her face for the simple reason that I could not see it.

In class, I wear my reading spectacles, which are sharply focused on the exact distance at which I read. This pulls even the finest print in the company's textbook into focus, but throws the rest of the world out of focus, so the faces of my students are just a blurred jumble.

I habitually wear my reading spectacles all through the working day, which, for me, is only three hours long, because on a couple of occasions early in my teaching at Waniguchi Gakko I dropped my spectacles, having popped them into my shirt pocket so I could see the surrounding environment clearly while I was moving from the teacher's room to the upstairs classrooms.

Having been attacked by the student, I took off my reading glasses so I could have a good look at her face, and beside her name I wrote "ugly old bat" so I would remember her. But I wrote it in the simple variety of shorthand which I learnt long ago on a journalism course, so my message was inaccessible to her.

I then realized that I'd better start learning these people's names, or, more exactly, had better start learning to match their names to their faces. So I've started making it a rule to take off my reading glasses when the students are engaged in other activities, such as debating each other, and studying their faces.

Once I've taken off my spectacles then I can (to the extent that my damaged eyes can see) everything which is further away than my outstretched arm.

My eyesight is okay for getting through the working day, though I occasionally bump into chairs which other teachers have left lying in the middle of the narrow teacher's room, and on one occasion I actually sat on another teacher. Didn't see that he had taken my favorite chair.

I'm usually first into the teacher's room so I make a point of shoving spare chairs up to the far end of the room.

I also recently inadvertently sat on someone in a commuter train going home. The guy, startled, threw up his hands to ward me off before I actually landed in his lap, and since then I've made the habit of sweeping the presumed free space with my hand before I drop my body weight into it.

Yesterday, being in a hurry, having been delayed at the end of my working day by two people, one a student who wanted to know how to improve his listening skills and he other Wanigakko's one remaining trainer.

Being in a hurry, I ended up walking slap bang into a concrete pillar which I failed to see, and ended up with a scab on my forehead which my wife noticed at dinner time.

However, usually I'm not in a hurry and I'm traversing known territory, so as a rule I don't have accidents.

The trainer wanted to talk to me about my holiday requests for Friday December 1st and Monday December 4th. Would it be possible for me to work at Waniguchi Gakko on those days?

I explained that it would be totally impossible for me to work on either of those days, as I would be going to hospital, and hospitals control your schedule, not vice versa, and you never know how the timings are going to work out.

He accepted that.

On the Friday, I will have yet another magnetic resonance imaging scan to see if my decayed brain has decayed any further. I will also meet with my ophthalmologist.

The last time I went to Meijin Hospital, I had a bunch of tests which my ophthalmologist had scheduled.

One was an eye chart test. The second was a visual field test, this one done not with the "click-when-you-see-the-flashing-light" technique that I was familiar with but with a light that came snaking in from the margins of your field of vision, emerging unpredictably from assorted angles. Again, your mission was to click when you saw the light.

The third test measured, I think, what my brain could actually see, getting an objective measurement which sidestepped my subjectivity. But I'm not sure of this because nobody explained this test to me.

For the test, my eyes were dilated and then something was applied to my left ear and something to my forehead. I can only pressume that the things which were applied were electrodes, since, as far as I know, neither the ear nor the forehead has any visual capacity.

(I am prepared to stand corrected on this point if in fact I am in error on this point.)

Suddenly a blinding flash went off, and my assumption is that the electrodes recorded the extent to which my brain perceived the flash.

I don't have even a fuzzy notion of how this might work. But, when reading AN ANTHROPOLOGIST ON MARS, a book by Oliver Sacks, I gathered from a piece that he wrote on a visually impaired person that there does exist equipment which will give you an objective measurement of what someone is seeing, making it impossible for someone to fake blindness in the face of technology's imperial triumph.

After the tests, I got to see an ophthalmologist, but he was not my regular ophthalmologist, who was on holiday. Instead, I saw a substitute, who my wife afterwards referred to as the "pinch hitter," this (or so she alleges) being a term used in baseball for a substitute batter. (I'm not American so I know nothing about baseball so I can't challenge her expertise on this.)

The pitch hitter did not seem to know anything about my case and did not seem to know, either, why my regular ophthalmologist had ordered the tests which he had.

So this was not really a satisfactory outcome.

But the pitch hitter did give it as being his opinion that no degenerative process was in train in my eyes at present, and that was good news.

At home, where I control my environment, my visual problems are generally small.

The big problem I have is with baby poop.

My wife leaves for work at 0730 Monday through Friday and my two-year-old daughter routinely baby poops beween 0800 and 0825. We depart for the daycare center at 0830, and if I deliver my daughter to the daycare center in a baby poopy situation then they will make a note of the fact in the notebook which travels between our house and the daycare center, and so my wife will learn that I messed up.

So I must tackle the problem of baby poop, or, as we say here in Japan, unchi. (For an adult, if you're talking to a doctor about your bowel motions, not poop but excrement, ie not unchi but daiben.)

My daughter's unchi is sometimes smeared, but usually, I'm very pleased to say, more or less spherical.

Ezelota Lazamora tells us that if the unchi is spherical then this is a sign of high intelligence. She delivers this information in her book SOCIALIZING THE ELITE EMBRYO, in which she writes that "the unchi of the hyperintelligent child should be taken as a treasured sign if it is spherical, because mastery of the spherical form is a sign of the precocious embryo's mastery of her world."

I'm glad, then, to see a spherical (or more or less spherical) ball of unchi sitting in the diaper. (Or, as we say in New Zealand, the nappy.)

But there is a problem with this elite sphericality.

Smeared unchi, being plastered to the paperwork of the diaper, will not plop forth into the wider universe. But a ball of spherical unchi happily will, if you let it.

And that's a problem for me because, if it has plopped free, which it sometimes does, I can't see where the brown of the wooden floor merges into the brown of stinky little smears of unchi. So cleaning up becomes a problem.

Consequently, I've gotten very, very careful about tearing open the diaper.

My wife has also taught me that to clean up my daughter properly I should get her to stand up on all fours, not try to clean her while she is lying face down on a cushion.

I know that deunchification is part of the morning routine, so I can plan for it and avoid mishaps.

I can control my environment.

I can also control my environment, to an extent, on my computer, but a lot of Internet sites have been put together with absolutely no regard for visual ergonomics, and I sometimes hit trouble online.

Recently I've been looking for free mp3s online, which is difficult because most sites which advertize that they offer free mp3s either

(a) have mp3s that you can listen to online but cannot download, which does not interest me, or

(b) are cunningly engineered to look as if they have mp3s so you click round in frustration, being exposed to all manner of ads while you click, without ever finding any mp3s, downloadable or otherwise.

I've tried to play "smarter animal" with Google searches, but nothing I've tried seems to work.

As an example, I'd seen online that you can get the Bible in mp3 format. I recently downloaded the text of PARADISE LOST and I thought it would be nice to listen to this through my earphones rather than to try to read it. So I did a search for "paradise lost mp3". And got a bunch of sites offering to sell you mp3s for a modern music group named PARADISE LOST.

So I refined the search by adding the words "John Milton," only to get a bunch of sites telling me that name of this modern music group was inspired by the poem PARADISE LOST written by John Milton.

I did find one site which does have a selection of free mp3s, this being, and I've been exploring this huge, sprawling site slowly, and plan, at some stage in the futute, to upload a page which will explain how to access some of the stuff on the site.

But, after a lot of searching, I failed to find a second free site with a substantial archive of mp3s. Someone did send me a link to "all the music of Mozart" but the link proved to be broken. I did go to the BBC to see if they had any mp3s and found that, currently, they don't. They did recently experiment with offering Beethoven downloads, but that experiment has run its course and they have no plans to repeat it for the moment.

Finally, I decided to subscribe to a free newsletter which purported to offer a list of sites which have free, legal, downloadable mp3s. As expected, the newsletter, when it arrived, was trying to sell me on something, but it did include a list of mp3 sites.

And, though the first few that I sampled did not pan out, one did, and that was

I clicked on the link at the top left, FREE MP3 ARCHIVE, and got through to what seemed to be page after page of free, legal, downloadable mp3s.

I experimented by downloading one, and it downloaded just fine, and I played it okay.

There are two problems with this site.

One, there is no easy way fot the uninitiated stranger to know what is worth looking at, though they do have a link for the most popular mp3s on the site, which I haven't explored yet.

The other problem is visual ergonomics.

The font for the links is small and it's a pale blue and I can hardly make it out even if I use a magnifying glass.

Then I remembered, vaguely, that browsers can be modified. So, using Mozilla, I went EDIT -> PREFERENCES, clicked on the plus sign that unfolded APPEARANCE and saw an option for COLOR.

I set my default color for links to black, and consequently my world became more monochrome than it was. I also used VIEW -> TEXT ZOOM to boost the font to 200 percent.

For some sites this will not work because the webmaster, indifferent to the needs of people who are not young and sharp-eyed, has engineered the site so you are forced to view it at a font size which presumably works just fine for him but which may be unworkable for you.

So my search for free mp3s has resulted in an improvement in my Internet experience, because all the links on all the sites I view are now sharper.

I also, a couple of weeks ago, remembered that Mozilla's email facility had a spam option. Once you've marked incoming junk email as JUNK, you can set Mozilla to automatically remove your spam to the directory of your choice, and then most of your junk email does not arrive in your inbox.

Or, more exactly, it all appears, then is sent, moments later, into the dumping directory which you have chosen for it.

As indicated above, I hope to eventually upload to the Internet a page which has links to a decent archive of free and legal downloadable mp3s. But so far I only have two sites that I know of, and

Someone did kindly send me a link to a site where you can download mp3s from Fat Freddy's Drop, if you go through a slightly technical process to get at them, but, having thought about this, I've come to the conclusion that, because the process you have to go through is technical, maybe you're not supposed to be downloading those mp3s in the first place, so I'm not planning to feature a link to that site on my projected "free mp3s" page.

Meantime, if you're interested, at the foot of this blog entry there's the URL for a direct link to a page where you can freely download a couple of contemporary classical music pieces by a modern Japanese composer.

His name is Hiroshi Yamaoka and most of his stuff is to buy, not for free. Little dollar signs clearly indicate which mp3s are for sale rather than for free.

But he has two free mp3s on the site and I downloaded both, the two being CHILDREN OF THE SUN and MUSIC FOR SOLO GUITAR MVT.2 DANCE ALONE.

For some of the downloads, you have to first make a free sign up, which will require giving a valid email address, so you can get a user name and a password. But for other pages the sign up procedure is not required, and what is downloadable you can download right away.

So here is a link to a page with a couple of tracks which I, personally, think are of high quality. You can copy it, paste it into your browser and then download.

For me, when I scan down the page wearing my computer spectacles, which are optimized not for reading distance but for the arm's length distance at which I do my computer work, the little dollar signs, each in a circle, stand out clearly, so it's very easy to tell where the free downloadable mp3s are.

Here is the link. I've just checked that it works as of the present moment, which, here in Yokohama Japan, is 1005 on Saturday 21 October 2006. My two-year-old daughter is at the daycare and will be there until I pick her up (which must be before 1400 on Saturday) and my wife has gone out for a massage (therapeutic massage being a big and entirely respectable part of Japanese culture).

I've had trouble recently accessing my blog because seems very slow to load. Today my browser did not connect in a timely fashion so I googled BLOGGER and found a direct link to the login page, and clicked for that.

I was able to log in and saw, for the first time, in monochrome, Mozilla having sidelined all the visual clutter of the background, including the photo of my brain that I usually see when I sign in.

This because the EDIT -> PREFERENCES -> APPEARANCE -> COLORS gives me the option of choosing "Use my chosen colors, ignoring the colors and background images specified."

I like it, this new, leaner, cleaner, monochrome world, the web desiger's ego shunted aside to allow pure functionality to reign.

Long live Mozilla!

I was looking at Fedora Core 5 recently, thinking of someday using it, and I see that Mozilla is deprectated in this version of the reincarnated Red Hat Linux distribution. That is, won't be in the OS any more. So if I do grapple with Fedora Core 5, which I think I may do at some time in the next 12 to 36 months, then I will have to properly get to grips with Firefox.

And here is the link to copy and paste into your browser, if you are so inclined:


Anonymous Greg Ball said...

Hugh, you might find the Project Gutenberg Audio Books worthwhile. There is a limited selection but it's something at least. I personally haven't listened to any in full yet (my local libraries have always kept me supplied with audiobooks) but they are available in mp3 and some other formats.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A contribution toward free and legal mp3s.

11:44 PM  

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