Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Life After Brain Cancer

Life After Brain Cancer

Life after brain cancer: the reality of living with brain damage: survivorhood following brain cancer, neurosurgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

The photo at the top of this blog entry, assuming that I have succeeded in uploading it, shows my curly-haired daughter Cornucopia, age two and a half, sitting in our elite Silver Cross pushchair (or, if you prefer, stroller).

The photo clearly shows the big road-conquering wheels, four sets of two wheels, ideal for the twice-daily commute we have to make to the daycare center, which bumps us over curbs and metal grilles.

The photo was shot indoors on Sunday 17 December, the day we took the Silver Cross out of the long thin cardboard box in which it was delivered.

(Cornucopia used the long narrow box for a tightrope act, and was doing very well, and was very pleased with herself, until she abruptly fell off and began wailing.)

My wife, who knows how difficult I find it to get to grips with new things, patiently explained how the pushchair was to be unfolded and then, afterwards, folded up again. (It gets folded up when at the daycare, where it sits, along with other folded-up strollers, in a small penned area where domesticated strollers are kept.)

I am a mechanical idiot and always have been, but the mechanism of the Silver Cross was lucid, admirably simple, and I thought it would be no problem to attain total mastery of this device.

Even so, once I was absolutely sure I knew how it was done, I went through the sequence three more times. Unfold it (being careful not to mash Cornucopia, because it unfolds in a big hurry). Then fold it up again.

Unfold, fold; unfold, fold; and, third time for luck, unfold yet again and, once more, unfold, so it is open again and ready for use.

We took the pushchair to Shimomaruko to visit the parents of the two-year-old twins Yui and Kai. And, the next day, Monday, I took Cornucopia to the daycare center in the brand new pushchair for the first time.

The handles are higher than those of our worn-out secondhand chair, which means that my wife does not have to bend when pushing it, which saves her back.

I never had to stoop over to push our previous pushchair because my arms are the long ape-like arms of a member of the Caucasian race, which are significantly longer than the comparatively shorter arms of the average Japanese person, the Japanese having evolved further away from the ape than have we Caucasians.

(In consequence of the evolutionary difference, I cannot buy shirts or jackets off the rack when I am in Japan, but have to get them tailor-made if I want stuff that will fit.)

The high-standing handles of the Silver Cross, which allow plenty of space between the chair and the person pushing it, also mean that I do not have to cramp my stride. Instead, having by now largely recovered from the physical insults of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, I can step out at my normal pace, which is precisely 110 steps a minute, reliably covering 100 meters in a minute, one kilometer in ten minutes, and six kilometers in an hour, regardless of the terrain (unless the terrain is that of the high Himalaya in Nepal, in which case you may find the six kilometers of your choice to be a full day's trekking).

We got to the daycare in great style and then I found I could not collapse the pushchair so it could be folded up and stowed away.

I knew there was a handle on the right that you pulled and I found the handle. But it was not engaged with anything. Looking at it, it clearly had no mechanical function.

The clock was ticking and I had a train to catch, so, finally, I parked the pushchair by the stroller pen and carried Cornucopia to the daycare's door. (Carried because she is often reluctant to make the journey to that door.)

Outwardly I was calm, but inwardly I was seething with almost uncontrollable rage, baffled by the fact that the chair, which had seemed so lucid while I was playing with it in the sheltered environment of the living room, had become a fathomless mystery when it was set loose in the real world.

I said goodbye to my daughter and stalked off in the direction of the station. En route, I suddenly realized what brain-damaged error I had made.

Robotically, without thinking, I had gone through the procedure with which I had programmed myself on the preceding day. Open up the collapse pushchair, set it up so it is ready for transportation, then collapse it again.

My programming had failed because, when I started, the pushchair was already ready for transportation. I was trying to initiate by using the procedure you need to unfold it, but it had already been unfolded and set up for action.

I turned on my heel, strode back to the daycare center and took another shot at collapsing the pushchair. I found a strap at the back which I pulled upwards. Then I remembered that I had to do something with a foot pedal, so I found the pedal and pressed it with my foot. (Not exactly a pedal, more a lever that you can push down on with your foot.)

The pushchair refused to collapse.

I was running short of time so I strode back toward the station, rapidly. When I was almost at the station, I realized my error.

The foot lever is used as part of the setup procedure which readies the Silver Cross for action. It locks the collapsible part into rigidity for transport.

My thesis, now, was that to collapse the chair I should simply tug up on the strap that is attached to the framework at the back, thus unlocking the framework and allowing the chair to collapse.

But I was out of time, so had to hurry to the train and get on.

Once I was on the train I got my bottle of water out of my pack and drank some. My throat was dry.

Although I can now walk pretty well and even run a little, my body chemistry has been trashed by the chemo, and, whenever I am under stress, my throat starts to get dry. I was stressed out now, and so needed water.

During the day I thought, from time to time, about the chair. I contemplated experimenting with collapsing it at the daycare. But, when it was time to uplift my daughter, I simply went home with the chair as it was, without making experiments.

The chair lives down in the garage, set up and ready for use, and I figured I was safer leaving it as it was, and making a fresh attempt at collapsing it to fold it up when I pushed it to the daycare center on the following day.

That evening, at dinner, my wife asked me how the pushchair had been, and I told the truth, which was that it had been just fine, and had easily conquered the lumps and bumps en route.

My wife then asked me if the chair had been too wide.

No, it had not. It is wider than our previous stroller, and I had been worried about the narrow choke point where you have to get past a utility pole which is very close to the bank at the side of the road. Going wide of the pole is not an option because, for the sake of safety, you have to stay inside a barrier set up to separate pedestrians from the cars on the busy road which part of our route follows.

I said nothing about the problems I had endured in trying to collapse the pushchair, because I was confident that I had this problem licked, and that the chair would collapse without a problem if I simply used it as it was designed to be used, and yanked on the yanking strap, which unlock the hinged metal framework at the back, then collapsed it.

And so it proved.

Sort of.

En route to the daycare center in the morning I mentally rehearsed for the Confrontation, reminding myself that there are two separate procedures, one to collapse the pushchair and the other to resurrect it, and it is not appropriate to mix and match the steps from the DOWN procedure with the UP procedure.

When it came time to collapse the chair, I confidently took hold of the strap at the back and yanked upward. Then put pressure on the chair, expecting it to collapse. It refused to do so.

The day before, I had pushed at the lever on the right, thinking it would collapse the chair. Instead, the frame had remained rigid, so I had formed the thesis that this lever was used to lock the frame rather than unlock it.

In the face of the chair's obstinance, however, I revised my theory.

Looking closely at the chair, I saw a lever optimally placed for foot use, vertically below the strap which yanks the framework upwards. THAT was the foot lever.

Which meant that the lever on the right side, halfway up, was the hand lever.

The day before, hand pressure on this lever had failed to unlock the framework. But, with my revised thesis driving me, I applied more pressure to the hand lever, and the hinged metal framework, which had locked rigid, unlocked compliantly, and the chair folded.

Again, sort of. It did not fold into the neat package I had expected, did not squash down into the optimally compact shape, but it did crush down enough for me to corral it into the pushchair pen.

At the end of that day, Tuesday, when it came time to unfold the chair, there was no catch to undo, since I had not managed to squash the chair down enough for the catch to engage.

So I simply stood the chair up and it unfolded without further coercion. Then I found the convenient foot pedal, the foot lever down at the bottom of the chair, and pressed. And the framework neatly locked rigid.

An immaculately designed piece of hardware, this chair, if you ask me.

But, as indicated, getting to grips with its simplicities was no simple matter, because the two options, UP and DOWN, had jumbled their instruction sets in my brain, and untangling them again had not been a straightforward matter.

Still, I had done it. I was the triumphant master of the Chair That Could And Would, and I pushed it confidently homeward through the darkness of the winter night, until I started finding trashed newspapers underfoot, and realized that the curve that the road was making was unfamiliar, and that I had, for the first time ever, overshot the turnoff to the left, missing the road which I had never missed before.

When I finally got Cornucopia and the chair back to the garage which sits beneath the house, I found I was singing, to the tune of FRERES JACQUES, "We were waiting, we were waiting, waiting for the green light, waiting for the green light, we will cross."

Once again, I had mixed and matched, illegitimately. The "we were waiting" version is the one that you are supposed to sing AFTER you have successfully crossed the traffic-light-guarded pedestrian crossing, and it should end "we have crossed," because the crossing is now in the past tense. The alternative version is the one you are supposed to sing as you are waiting for the red light to turn green, and this one stats "We are waiting," and THIS is the one which ends with the prospect of the future, "we will cross."

I had, unthinkingly, been singing a jumbled version all the way back to the garage.

Usually, I don't sing that on the way home. Once we have taken the turnoff road to the top of the rise, I generally sing my very bad version of the MARSEILLAISE, confident that the likelihood of any French-speaking people being in earshot is vanishingly small.

Anyway, this entry provides a snapshot of a moment in a brain-damaged life. My own take on this particular entry is that the outcome is optimistic. I did, after all, finally triumphed (sort of) in my Confrontation with the Chair, though it was Chair 3, Hugh 0 foe part of the match.

To draw back now from the specifics of the chair and to look at my survivor's life in broad perspective, I can write as follows:

The reality of living with a damaged brain is that I can function well enough if I am following a routine. But learning anything new is painfully difficult. My existing skill set (teaching, talking, reading, writing and building HTML pages) is solid. But learning anything new, such as mastering the mechanics of the Silver Cross, is an exercise in frustration.

The good point is that I know that I can retrain myself. All it needs is patience and the will to persist.

I've always been a great one for plans and schedules and, living with brain damage, I've cultivated this habit, endeavoring to have my life run on rails as much as possible, always getting on exactly the same train at pretty much the same time and always taking, if possible, exactly the same seat.

And getting off at exactly the same place on the platform at Waniguchi, the station where Waniguchi Gakko is located. Exiting in just the right place to get at the drinking fountain.

I have avoided, then, adventures in innovation. Have avoided new challenges. But one has been schedule for me in January. I will go and be trained to teach the smallest kids that the company teaches, kids about the same age as my daughter.

My reading spectacles will not be adequate for that task because, while they allow me to read even the smallest print, they throw everything else out of focus.

So, Monday evening, the evening of the day on which I was informed that kids training was in my future, I hunted out my progressive spectacles. These things, a compromise pair of spectacles, are not so good for reading, but do provide me with a reasonable degree of focus over a range of distances, including the distances.

After having a pair of progressive lenses made, I abandoned their use because I found that, as a far-sighted person, which is what I am following the implantation of intraocular lenses to replace those that were removed by cataract surgery, progressive lenses are unsatisfactory.

But if I have to monitor a bunch of screaming kids and have to both read materials and keep track of small objects such as kids' balls flying loose, then my progressive lenses will be good enough for the purpose.

In summary, the reality of living with brain damage is that it's doable, but from time to time I hit situations which are extremely frustrating. That said, I can still cope with my life and go forward, and can cope with the fact that my short-term memory is faulty and that my capacity for night navigation seems to have been permanently deleted. Put me in the dark and I get completely lost, but my magnificent Maglite torch ensures that I am never left entirely in the dark.

Just a final note: this story has a happy ending. Monday I suffered defeat at the hands of the chair. Tuesday I succeeded. Sort of. Wednesday I was triumphant, collapsing the push chair effortlessly, and even succeeding in snugging it into a nice compact package then latching it shut with the built-in latch provided. I have become a master of the process.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Unstoppable Virus Continues To Kill In Japan

Unstoppable Virus Continues To Kill In Japan

According to today's English-language issue of the Asahi Shimbun (bundled, as always, with the as-published-in-Japan version of the International Herald Tribune) so far four deaths have been attributed to the plague which is currently showcased nightly in the TV news here in Japan.

That was the count published today, Monday 18 December 2006.

But, while the death toll is low, tens of thousands have reported having become ill with this virus, for which medical science can offer neither a vaccine nor a cure.

Today my students, who often act brain dead when the topic is current events (remote events such as, for example, the North Korean nuclear bomb test) got very chatty when I gave them the opening exercise "discuss the noro virus" as a warmer.

One young woman said that one of her co-workers had been coming to the office sick with the noro virus, feeling compelled to meet her work schedule, and another female student said that she herself had recently had the noro virus, and, facing similar demands, had gone to work though ill.

Even the ones whose English was low level had quite a bit to say on the topic of the noro virus.

(A sample from today's low-level English: "When did you come new house your car?", later self-corrected to "When will come a new car your house?")

We did noro virus role plays, including one on the topic of "recent news" (situation: you have had the noro virus) and one on "calming down angry person" (restaurant manager has to deal with very angry customer who ate at the restaurant last night and got sick, and daycare center manager is confronted by very angry parent whose child got sick at the daycare center.)

My spellchecker thinks that the noro virus is a figment of my imagination, and rules the term to be illicit, proposing that I should change it to NOR, NODO or NOPO.

But it is a real virus, though I had never heard of it until about a week ago, and you can Google it on Google news.

About a week back, my daughter Aiko Cornucopia Nishikawa, age two and a half, was very subdued when I picked her up from the daycare center. That evening she had little appetite, went to bed early, then woke at about ten at night and vomited all over her bedding.

The next day she seemed to be okay but, in the evening, after dinner, threw up for a second time, this time while playing spectator in the kitchen, where her mother was doing the dishes.

There have been a number of highly publicized outbreaks of this virus in Japan, outbreaks which in some cases have focused on a particular hotel. But here, locally, we have had an outbreak at the daycare center, though ours was too small-scale to make the TV news.

Cornucopia was okay after just a few days, but my wife started feeling poorly and was off her food for about a week, suffering abdominal pains to go with the loss of appetite.

The noro virus is, apparently, a form of gastroenteritis and is spread in the same way that avian flu would spread if it got loose in the human population. You have the virus, you use a telephone or a door handle or something like that, and an uninfected person, handling the object in question, picks up the virus and later transfers it to themselves.

As would be the case if we were fighting avian flu, the first line of defence is to wash your hands with soap and water. Vomit, if it has been produced, should be cleaned up with a chlorine-based bleach, as alcohol-based solutions do not kill the virus.

I myself have so far escaped the virus, though my wife has been at pains to warn me to be meticulous about washing my hands after changing diapers (something of which I do my fair share).

The noro virus, then, a nimble survivor which, if it should turn mutant and start to kill on a wider scale, could become the next pandemic of our times. (Science fiction writers everywhere take note!)

One of my older male students, Yoshio, who I pick to be in his late sixties, proposed a simple remedy for the noro virus, the one he was going to take if he got it: whiskey.

Another student said that the term "noro virus" stems from an outbreak in some American city starting with N, but he could not remember the place.

As usual in Japan, we see electron microscope pictures of the villain virus on our TV screens. Personally, I think that displaying the electron microscope pictures is a totally useless exercise, since you won't be able to ID the virus if it turns up our your just-used paper tissue, but it's the done thing in Japan. Got a virus breaking loose? Okay, we need to see a picture of the enemy.

I just went to Google News and input the term "noro virus" to see how many hits I would get.

I got a total of fourteen results, and Google suggested that I might want "norovirus" rather than, as two words, "noro" in conjunction with "virus."

I took the one-word "norovirus" suggestion and got 2,093 results, the first being a link to the following:

"Norovirus continues to spread / Govt body calls for special ...
The Daily Yomiuri, Japan - 12 hours ago
The recent nationwide epidemic of gastroenteritis caused by the norovirus continues to spread, health authorities warn. In Kamikawacho, Hokkaido, the virus ..."

As an English teacher I continue to add to my vocabulary, and today's tweak is the correct spelling of the term "norovirus." I will instruct my students accordingly. A subject on which, as indicated above, some of them have a very personal interest for the simple reason that they have had it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

As Used By The British Royal Family

As Used By The British Royal Family

The photo shows our two-year-old daughter Cornucopia sitting in her elite British-made Silver Star pushchair which, according to the propaganda which came with it, is used by the British royal family.

Like most great British products, this one is made in China, and we bought it recently at Akachan Honpo, the baby emporium which now has a branch in Lazona, the amazingly wonderful shopping mall at Kawasaki Station.

We didn't buy this chair because of its royal connections. The saleswoman kept silent about those. We bought it because it was rated to carry the greatest weight, 18 kilograms, and Cornucopia is very definitely a growing child.

The necessity of this purchase was demonstrated yesterday, Saturday, when an old man came up to me in the supermarket and asked if the rubber tyre he was holding belonged to me. I thanked him, took the tyre and restored it to the wheel rim, from which it had fallen off. Our venerable second-hand pushchair was, plainly, on the edge of expiring.

Pricewise, all the chairs, whether imported or Japanese-made, were much of a muchness, and ours cost just a little under 16,000 yen.

Today, Sunday 17th December 2006, we took it out of the box and took Cornucopia in it to see the twins, Yui (a girl) and Kai (a boy) who live in Shimomaruko.

I am not good at names, but I remembered these two easily by making a mental note of the fact that Yui is the name of the traitorous Suk doctor who features in Frank Herbert's novel DUNE. As for Kai, in Maori that means "food," so that was odd and therefore easy to remember.

The photo (assuming that I've succeeded in uploading it) shows Cornucopia parked outside the McDonalds at Shimomaruko, holding the little freebie doll, Momoman (Peach Man) which she got as part of her pancake set.

At McDonald's (or, to give it its Japanese name, Makudonarudo) we got excellent service. We were intercepted by a guy in a tie, a guy a little older than the average hamburger chef, who showed us where to park the pushchair on the ground floor then personally took our food upstairs and showed us to a table where there was a highchair.

He then produced a tray which fitted the highchair.

Later, when my wife asked a waitress for extra hot water for her tea, this request was apparently found to be surprising. Nevertheless, the requested hot water was supplied, and two tea bags with it.

We had a good visit with Yui and Kai's parents, and discovered that they, too, had bought a Silver Star pushchair. Why? Because of the connection with the British royal family or the groovy union jack which was emblazoned on one of the metal parts of the chair? No, because the Silver Star has such big wheels, and you need big wheels to cope with stuff such as railway tracks.

(If you exit Shimomaruko Station and, coming from the direction of Tamagawa, hang a right, you immediately have to bump your pushchair across a set of railway tracks embedded in the road.)

I had an interesting discussion about the Lutheran faith with the father of the twins and heard about his wedding at which readings were made not just from the Bible but from an antiquated Japanese text which he called MANYOSHU (alternatively known, it seems, as THE MANYOSHU). Of which I knew nothing.

My spell checker is just as ignorant as I am and is firmly of the opinion that MANYOSHU should be MANGOS.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Magnifier Enabled

Magnifier Enabled

The screenshot shows Windows XP Professional running with the magnifier enabled. I have chosen INVERT COLORS and have left the magnification level at 2, though you can boost this all the way up to 9. For me, doing word processing, 2 is ideal, because the text is really large and completely occupies the height of the magnifying strip.

If you increase the magnification then the letters will be too big to be echoed in the magnifying strip as you type.

(To get the screen shot I had to hit the Print Key button to activate my PrintKey screen capture program, then mouse to the RECTANGLE option, by which time the text editor text displayed in the magnifier strip had disappeared. But if I had been using UltraEdit then, at the time I was using it, I would have seen part of the text in the magnifier area at the top of the screen.)

To enable the magnifier, go:


This produces a strip of magnification at the top of the screen. And wherever the cursor is the screen will show stuff in magnified form.

This is great for word processing because, as you input text, it shows up in the magnifier strip. The text is so large that I can read it without using my computer spectacles.

With magnifier in operation, I could function without spectacles, if I had to.

Now, you would imagine that all the accessability options would be in one and the same place, but they are not. Microsoft, a company which is very good at doing things badly, has muddled them into different places.

There is a magnifying option for the TrackPoint which you can find at SETTINGS -> CONTROL PANEL -> MOUSE -> TRACKPOINT, a panel where you can choose MAGNIFYING GLASS. If you click the SETTINGS button you can customize both the zoom and how many pixels are magnified. I have gone for a massive 958 wide x 440 tall magnified area.

On my ThinkPad, I enable the TrackPoint magnifier (which is entirely separate from the magnifier at the top of the screen, and you can have both in operation at once) by pressing the middle mouse button.

Now, if I hold down the central mouse button, I can use the TrackPoint to slide the magnified area across the screen. If I unpress the central mouse button and then click it once, the TrackPoint's magnified panel disappears.

Now, going back to PROGRAMS -> ACCESSORIES -> ACCESSABILITY, we have five options, these being

Now that I've finally found it (by accident) the NARRATOR looks to be something I have been considering buying at considerable expense, a reader which reads stuff that is on the screen.

To launch NARRATOR, hold down CTRL-SHIFT-SPACEBAR. This looks like an XP version of the incredibly expensive screen-reader software I was introduced to when I visited the Royal Foundation for the Blind in Auckland, New Zealand: Jaws (as in the shark movie) and Windowizer. There is a list of Microsoft-compatible screen readers, if you are interested, at:

Okay, let's try CTRL-SHIFT-SPACEBAR while UltraEdit is open and see what happens. Absolutely nothing. How about if I have Encarta open?

Okay ... now I get it! The CTRL-SHIFT-SPACEBAR sequence does not work unless you first go to PROGRAMS -> ACCESSORIES -> NARRATOR and THEN press the CTRL-SHIFT-SPACEBAR combination while you are in Encarta.

With that pressed, while you are typing in UltraEdit, Narrator reads aloud everything you are typing, but you only hear the occasional letter unless you type really slowly. If you type slowly then you hear, for example, "space," "comma" and "a" and so forth.

It is like Jaws and Windowizer in that it will enunciate stuff like "backspace." So, if you're stone cold blind, you can know when you have just used the backspace key.

Now that it seemed that Narrator would work with UltraEdit, I went to the head of the file that you are reading now and pressed the CTRL-SHIFT-SPACEBAR combination. There was a LONG prolog as Narrator read every single thing, including all the details of the path to the file and all the details of all the tabs that were open in UltraEdit. Then, finally, it got down to the business of reading the actual text.


This is something like what I had been thinking of buying. I was deterred because they told me at the Royal Foundation for the Blind that acquiring the software (Jaws or Windowizer) is only part of the problem. You then have to learn how to use it, and, having seen a blind guy working with this stuff, I had an inkling of the complexities.

Well, I think that for my purposes Narrator will be cost-effective. Free, since I've already paid for XP as part of my computer purchase.

To shut Narrator off, use CTRL -> TAB to get to the open Narrator panel, where you can click it into silence.

It occurs to me now that, while they were very welcoming to me at the Royal Foundation for the Blind, nobody told me that XP had Narrator, and that this could do at least part of the work of Jaws and Windowizer.

(But not all. At least one of those two programs will output to a braille keyboard. The blind instructor who briefed me told which one of those two worked with the braille output device he had plugged into a USB port, but I forget which one it is.)

Microsoft is right in making it clear that Narrator will not be enough for a lot of people who are visually disabled. But if you can see to a degree, as I can, then maybe it is the screen reader that you need.

If XP had been intelligently designed, instead of evolving into the mess it is, then ALL the accessability stuff would be in the same place. However, to continue the story, we now need to go to:



To get what is in the screenshot, in the DISPLAY tab choose HIGH CONTRAST.

This throws pull-down menus into blinding clarity, white on black. The interface is as ugly as sin, as ugly as the unacceptable face of monopoly capitalism (no points for guessing which particular company I have in mind at this moment) but it is functional.

With HIGH CONTRAST chosen I can read a whole bunch of stuff on the screen once I have made EVERYTHING on the screen bigger.

I found an elegant way to do this, taking advantage of the fact that an LCD screen can display at different resolutions. You right-click on the desktop and you see a menu. The menu DOES NOT include what you need the first time you right-click on the screen. But if you click PROPERTIES on the first menu then close the PROPERTIES panel and then right-click on the desktop a second time, you see a menu which is different from that which you saw the first time.

The menu now includes an option saying DISPLAY MODES. If you go DISPLAY MODES -> HIGH COLOR then you can choose 800 x 600 pixels or (the default) 1024 x 768.

Choosing 800 x 600 makes everything bigger, including on-screen icons. The drawback is that you can only add three extra items to the START menu in if you are using Classic mode.

I have added START links to MY PICTURES (because my daughter is always wanting to look at them), to MY MUSIC and to a folder containing my current projects, WORK.

Down in the area which contains the icons which you can click to launch programs, I have the clear-the-screen-to-reveal-the-desktop button and launchers for Mozilla, Firefox (I have these set up completely differently, with Mozilla giving me a lean monochrome display and with Firefox showing me the same visual clutter that everyone else on the Internet endues), my file transfer protocol program Filezilla (a great open source asset), the website copier Httrack, a folder icon which you can click to open MY DOCUMENTS, NOTETAB LIGHT, ULTRAEDIT and a copy of the American Heritage Talking Dictionary (which I am running silently as you need to have the CD inserted to hear it speak).

I have gone for a fairly lean set of desktop items, and have put on the desktop programs which I use now and then but not every day, these including Nero (to burn data to disks), Encarta and Google Desktop Search (which I currently have switched off).

The text displayed in the screenshot relates to the clock I have installed to replace Window's horribly deficient clock. I am now using TClockEx and, to squeeze everything in, I have set the defaults to ddd d MMM yyyy HH:mm, as shown in the screenshot.

I have modified the clock display so the background is black and I have chosen Arial bold at 24 point as the font for the clock.

(At least, the font was at 24 point when I took the screenshot which goes with this blog entry, but I later reduced it to 22 point.)

Most of the accessability stuff detailed in this file is stuff I only figured out this month, even though I have owned my computer for about eighteen months and have restored it to factory conditions on five previous occasions.

I don't have a manual for XP and the HELP facility which comes with the XP system is totally useless. I was looking for "East Asian Fonts" and drew a blank because the HELP specifies this as "Ease Asian Languages."

Like everything else, it's very simple once you know how:


I hate XP but, modified as it is now, it suits my needs. And discovering the Narrator facility, which I only found today, Saturday 9 December 2006, improves my attitude to this OS.

The big problem with XP is that it is wretchedly unreliable. Once it kept crashing because I was dragging and dropping a bunch of files from one folder to another. It did it repeatedly, so I gave up and, instead, copied the files, pasted them into the target folder, then deleted the originals.

My wish list now is a system running Freebsd with KDE, the K desktop environment. If I can get hold of this, I think it will do what I want it to do.

In the course of researching Freebsd I went to and got a real laugh, a belly laugh, out of the motto prominently displayed on the screen:


Yes, I don't want to be a prisoner of Microsoft Monopolies forever. Nor am I desperate enough to retreat to Fedora Core 5, with no KDE and with that dreadful Blue Curve interface for Gnome, which, if you ask me, is a triumph of style over ergonomics.

So, then.

More computer adventures lie ahead!

Footnote on Freebsd: on the site this OS is introduced as follows:

"FreeBSD is a 4.4BSD-Lite based operating system for Intel (x86 and Itanium®), AMD64, Alpha™, Sun UltraSPARC® computers. Ports to other architectures are also underway."

The guts of it is that this OS, essentially an Open Source version of Unix, will run on what most of us own, an x86 computer, such as your ordinary Pentium-chip computer with XP or Vista installed.

More details, if you are interested, are at:

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Microsoft To The Rescue Of The Visually Disabled

Microsoft To The Rescue Of The Visually Disabled

Was fooling around with XP when I came upon PROGRAMS -> ACCESSORIES -> ACCESSABILITY -> MAGNIFIER. This displays a magnified strip running the full length of the screen and it shows what the mouse cursor is pointing at. You can opt for inverse colors to clearly distinguish this strip from anything else on the screen.

When you launch the program, XP throws up an information panel with a link yo can click on to get at a Microsoft web page with
with a list of Windows-based magnifying utilities.

The link clicks through to:

This looks like it could be quite a useful page. In the sidebar to the left there are links to topics such as GUIDES BY IMPAIRMENTS and to CASE STUDIES & ARTICLES.


One option is


This goes to:

Here there are links to particular operating systems, for example Vista and XP.

For XP you get to this page:

Here there is a list of things you can do and each item on the list clicks through to a page explaining the details, eg adjusting the width and blink rate of the cursor, which goes to

Assuming you are in Classic view, the place to go is:

SETTINGS -> CONTROL PANEL -> ACCESSIBILITY OPTIONS -> DISPLAY -> CURSOR OPTIONS and you can, or so it says, adjust the blink rate and width of the cursor.

I tried this while I was working inside NoteTab to see if such an adjustment would have any effect on the cursor that I use within that text editor.

I slid the cursor way up to WIDE but it made no difference whatsoever to my cursor inside NoteTab.

I then tried the DISPLAY "High Contrast" option to see what that would do.

Okay, this is great. When I'm working in NoteTab the space into which I input is no different but all the pulldown menus are now magnificently sharp, white on black. This is a very good resource to have, and I will use this option when I reinstall XP.

Okay, I just fired up my website copier, Httrack, to make a copy of everything linked to Microsoft's "enable" page, and, using Httrack, I saw that the wide cursor was enabled.

Out of curiosity, I fired up Microsoft Word. There was the same clarity in the pulldown menus but the cursor was unchanged.

I looked at UltraEdit and there, too, the cursor was unchanged.

But having the pulldown menus so sharp and clear is really marvellous. This does not mean that I love Microsoft. Sado-masochistic relationships are not to my taste.

All going well, if Blogger is working, at the top of this entry there will be a screenshot showing the crisp menus visible.

NoteTab Light, by the way, is a free version of a very capable text editor. I can, amongst other things, modify text files to HTML at the click of a button, enormously useful for me when I want to put a chunk of a book up on a website.

Okay, just a little more on the high contrast option and the cursor changes that I made. The modified cursor works in programs such as Httrack and PrintKey. It also works if you open up a folder like MY DOCUMENTS where you get the crystal clear menus.

Friday, December 08, 2006

TClockEx Version 1.3.3 OK With Windows XP Professional

TClockEx Version 1.3.3 OK With Windows XP Professional

The screen shot shows Dale Nurden's freeware TClockEx in action on my Windows XP desktop. The version I am running is copyright 1998 and I used to run it on Windows 98.

This very capable clock includes a calendar (you right click for a menu which includes the calender) and can be customized.

Because I am visually disabled I have chosen to have the background set as black and the font as Arial bold at 24 point. The clock is now so large that I can see it clearly without wearing my computer spectacles.

The format I have chosen is:

R L ddd d MMM yyyy HH:mm:ss

Here, R and L are from the options specified in CLOCK FORMAT -> FORMAT ELEMENTS -> RESOURCE ELEMENTS. R stands for physical RAM available (in megabytes) and L stands for memory load (as a percentage).

In the screen shot, free RAM is 806 megabytes and the memory load is currently at 37 percent.

I noticed some stuff on the Internet suggesting that TClockEx was not suitable for XP, but my personal experience is that it works just fine. It is very easy to use and you can customize it.

In the screenshot we see icons for both TClockEx and FreeTime. FreeTime is a stopwatch, and we see the program's title displayed in one of the rectangles to the left. If the stopwatch display is minimized, then the stopwatch will display in that rectangle.

This is handy for me when I have a cup of tea brewing in the kitchen downstairs and I want to time five minutes. I can also keep track of how long a work session has been going.

My copy of FreeTime is another free-to-use product, this one by Mark Snegg of Johannesburg.

I have just googled "Dale Nurden TClockEx" and the top result was for a page where you can download it, if you want.

I also googled "Mark Snegg FreeTime" and, once again, the top result was a page where you can download this software.

(For both searches, the quote marks were not included in my search.)

I also googled "Evan Handler temporary" to see what was up with IT'S ONLY TEMPORARY, the sequel to his book TIME ON FIRE.

TIME ON FIRE was a book I found in a library run by the Auckland Cancer Society just down the road from Auckland Hospital. It is an autobiographical account of Handler's encounter with some kind of blood cancer.

He survived, and picked up the pieces and continued with his acting career, which included a part in a series called SEX AND THE CITY, in which he played the role of Harry Goldenblatt.

He survived chemotherapy but lost all his hair. Permanently.

Because I read this book while I was undergoing chemotherapy myself, I was interested to read about someone going through this kind of experience.

I have been to to look for the sequel, IT'S ONLY TEMPORARY, which I thought was scheduled for publication this year, but it was not on Amazon.

I googled "Evan Handler temporary," then (once again not including the quotes in the search term).

The Google snippet for the top entry is:

"Evan Handler Speaker Profile at The Lavin Agency
What does Evan talk about? It’s Only Temporary...The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive. In his presentation, Handler continues to find, and share, ... - 36k - Cached - Similar pages".

If you click this you get a photo of Handler himself with a no-holds-barred laughing gas smile and an unabashed display of total baldness.

He's billed on the site as:

"Evan Handler: Hilarious, Irreverent, and Inspiring Survivor and star of Sex and the City".

This seems to be the site of some kind of literary agency.

I googled "It's Only Temporary," this time including the quotes in the search term. Then fine-tuned this by adding "Handler" outside of the piece in quotes.

The second entry was a Wikipedia entry for Handler.

This tells me that the book is due out in 2007.

I'll check back then.

Blueprint For XP Reinstall

Blueprint For XP Reinstall

This is my blueprint for reinstalling Windows XP Professional on my ThinkPad.

By way of background, I bought this computer about 18 months ago and havew already restored it to factory conditions five times.

By trial and error, I have found that this lousy operating system, the worst of the worse, works better if it is NOT run as Windows would have you run it.

So, in opting to reinstall yet again, I will be choosing NOT to permit indexing, NOT to permit system restore and NOT to permit automatic updates.

A basic principle of computing is that when you hit trouble you should simplify the system. Taking the three steps above makes for a system that, critically, runs without getting waterlogged (usually XP runs slower and slower the longer it has been since it was installed).

As I will be reinstalling from the secret partition that IBM supplies with the ThinkPad, which will involve formating the space in which XP will be installed, I will lose all my data. To get round this problem I have already backed up my key stuff on CD and DVD. Just before reinstalling, I will put my entire MY DOCUMENTS folder on my detatchable USB hard drive, which has a capacity of eighty gigabytes (versus the thrity gigs on my hard drive).

I bought this computer in New Zealand last year, and initially went to IBM's main office in Auckland and asked if I could buy a computer. I got an exceedingly snooty reply from a person at the reception desk. My question was, evidently, totally inappropriate. It was as if I'd made the blunder of asking if she was available for a soap bubble bath and a rub down afterwards.

No, IBM emphatically does NOT do anything as tasteless as actually selling computers. Rather, they "partner" with people who do the dirty work for them, which meant, in practice, that I had to get on a bus and go out to the suburbs, where an Irish salesman sold me a low-end ThinkPad.

Although I was buying at the low end of the market, I went for an extra half a gigabyte of RAM.

"What do you need that for?" he said.

"I don't need it," I said. "I want it."

This was a good decision because it means that tasks such as defragmenting the hard disk really fly. Also, the computer can multitask like crazy, no matter what load I'm putting on it.

(I think I've written somewhere that I bought a whole extra gigabyyte of RAM, but, when I look at what MY COMPUTER shows, I have 1.24 GB of RAM on board, which I think means I only bought half a gig.)

There were some initial problems with the computer.

First, the courier company reported that my parents' address at 27A did not exist. They were the first people to ever fail to find it. I remonstrated with the salesman and he promised that a fresh courier mission would be attempted.

The fresh mission was attempted while I was in hospital for chemotherapy, and, in my absence, my parents signed for the computer, marveling at how small it was.

It was so small because it was not my computer. Rather, it was a DVD player addressed to someone else in a completely different part of Auckland.

Finally, the salesman brought the computer round himself, delivering it personally with a bottle of cleap bubbly (which was nice) together with a totally inappropriate additional present (I forget what, exactly, but it was something in the order of a packet of m and ms, or something like that).

Setting up the computer was no problem, but the CD worked erratically, often failing to burn data using the software supplied with the system.

I had an international 12-month warranty, so I phoned the necessary number and got put through to Australian call center, where I gave the details.

(In addition to an international warranty, the computer came with one of IBM's international transformers, which will eat any kind of electricity from 100 to 240 volts, and will accept current at either 50 or 60 cycles per second. When I got to Japan I needed to buy an adaptor plug from the electronics shop Bic Camera to match my New Zealand plug to a Japanese socket, but then I was in business. Here in Tokyo, the current is 100 volts at 50 cycles a second but down in Osaka it's at 60 cycles a second.)

A courier promptly uplifted the computer and then nothing happened for the longest time. I finally phoned the service center and it became clear that the guy in Australia had failed to pass on the details that I had given, the key detail being that the CD drive was defective.

Having been pointed at the problem, the technicians replaced the faulty drive and the computer has worked fine since then. True, one of the keys has fallen off the keypad, but it is only the key for the backslash and question mark, which I don't use a lot.

Other than that, the computer has done well, and has survived my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter's hammering. She has been doing creative writing with Microsoft Word with the font bumped up to 600 point. A sample of her free association is as follows:

"0 ssssssssssssssssss //////////////////"

In the course of her hammering, she somehow awakened to life the dreaded Microsoft paperclip, which I had slain, but which she had reincarnated.

When I reinstall, I will not bother with Microsoft Word but will associate Word documents with OpenOffice 2.0, which can manipulate and produce a range of Word documents. Because I will not need to register my copy of Word, I will not need to go online during the setup phase.

I don't know if XP usually requires Internet validation, but certainly the version that I will be installing from my IBM partition does not.

Because formatting the hard disk will wipe out all traces of everything that was installed before, I will be free to use, once again, programs which you are only permitted to use for a limited period before paying for them. This is not a big point because most of the software that I am using is freeware.

Things that I paid for include my UltraEdit text editor, Encarta and Microsoft Photo Premium 10.

The last was in with a set of disks that I bought because I wanted Microsoft Word, and I didn't think I would ever use it. But it has proved very useful, and it is the program that I have used to make all the covers for all the books that I have published with

The great point about Microsoft Photo Premium 10 is that you can make collages freely by mixing and matching any image formats that you happen to have to hand. If you want to make a collage from a bitmap image and a jpeg image, that's no problem.

What follows from this point on is my notes for the installation. The last time I reinstalled XP I remember it took forever to figure out how to do everything, so this time I have prepared a blueprint for an install.

The guide below is for my use and would, I am sure, NOT be approved by Microsoft, which suggests that you enable system restore so you can work around the fact that the OS which they have foisted upon you is inherently unreliable and is guaranteed to trash at least part of your software.

(In my case, the pieces of software which have malfunctioned while running under XP include UltraEdit, Mozilla and Microsoft's own Paint program.)

If it wasn't so easy to restore my computer to factory conditions then I wouldn't be so cavalier about switching off System Restore.

Even though it's easy, it is a hassle, and took me about three days the last time I did it.

What follows, then, is my notes, which are optimized for my prejudices. I want a system which is lean, which is clean, and which is optimized for my trashed vision.

Consequently, I will be enabling magnification when using my track point; I will be setting up Mozilla to provide me with an austere monochrome display which deletes most of the fancy garbage with which arty web designers load the Internet; and I will be replacing Microsoft's totally inadequate desktop clock with TClockEx.

Just the other day I Googled TClockEx to see if there was a new version and I saw someone dis the old version, saying that, okay, it worked fine back in prehistory, but this is now and you need a better clock.

I don't think you do.

I've installed TClockEx on my Windows XP Professional system and it's working just fine. Though where you could get it these days I don't know. I pulled this piece of freeware off a set of utility disks that I bought some years back, loaded with software that I sometimes used on Windows 98.

As should be clear from the above, what follows is my personal advice from me to me, and it would necessarily be advisable for anyone else to follow this strictly personalized advice.

Once again, I make the point that the way in which I will be setting up my computer is emphatically NOT the way in which Microsoft would want you to set up yours.

The tasks I want my computer to do are text-based editing, book cover production, playing mp3s (I have gigabytes of music plus a very large audio book collection), sending e-mail, answering dictionary questions, answering basic encyclopedia questions when I'm not online, doing Google research when I am online and displaying photographs.

The install does not feature any digital camera software because I don't need any. The Canon camera which I and my wife jointly own comes with a compact flash card. I splashed out and bought one which holds half a gig of pictures, and, with the help of the appropriate card, the compact flash card can be plugged into a slot in the side of the ThinkPad, where it configures itself as an extra disk.

This makes getting photos off the camera very easy. As for viewing the photos, for that I use Irfan View. My daughter uses it, too, hammering away at the space bar to jump from picture to picture while Madonna plays over the computer's speakers.

I also need to FTP my various sites, and for this purpose I use Filezilla. And I use Httrack to copy websites. And I will be using Google Desktop Search, too. But the old version, thank you very much, not the new version with Google gadgets.

With that preamble, for what it's worth, here are my installation notes, the blueprint for what I hope to accomplish some time reasonably soon, by January or February at the latest.

The notes pick up from the point where you have already reinstalled (on my ThinkPad, press the "Access IBM" button as your computer boots then follow the instructions), and have clicked through the preliminary pages that you get to after XP first boots, and now have a living computer on which you can go to work.

The stuff is in order, with the first thing I plan to do right at the top and the second thing next in line, and so forth through to the end.

I will be enabling East Asian Languages because I need to read the Chinese characters and the Japanese script which show up on Japanese-language web pages that I use, such as the compute-your-train-travel program at You can get Enlish-language pages that do this but, since much of the signage in Japan is Japanese, it's smarter to travel with a Japanese-language print out, always assuming that you can read Japanese, which I can, at least at the train station platform signage level.

* * *

# Switch off "System Restore." (MY COMPUTER -> PROPERTIES -< SYSTEM RESTORE and check "Turn off System Restore."

# In MY COMPUTER go to "properties" for the hard drive and uncheck "Allow Indexing Service to index this disk for fast file searching."

# Switch off live update. MY COMPUTER -> PROPERTIES -> AUTOMATIC UPDATE and choose "Turn off Automatic Updates."

# Set up desktop.

# Appearance: Windows Classic. Option: Extra Large. Color quality: medium, 16 bit. Screensaver: My Picture Slideshow (set at 10 minutes).


# SETTINGS -> CONTROL PANEL -> MOUSE -> POINTERS. Choose Windows Inverted (extra large) (system scheme)

# pointer options: show location of pointer when I press CTRL key.

# MOUSE -> TRACK POINT. And here is the "magnifying" option that some helpful person emailed me about, but which I could not find on my START menu. You choose MAGNIFYING GLASS which enables the center mouse button as a magnifying glass ... if you use the middle mouse button, then you see a small patch of magnification where the cursor is ... wherever the mouse cursor is, that is where the magnification is ... then you can click on SETTINGS and can choose the zoom ... I tried the maximum, 8x. You can also customize the area. I chose LARGE ... but that didn't work very well ... tried 2xZoom (the default) ... and tried CUSTOM WIDTH 120 x 160 ... then tried 660 x 440 ... then tried 1024 x 768, ie the size of the LCD screen ... this did NOT enlarge the whole screen but only a portion of it ... so tried 660 x 440 again ... this is a bit weird, works inconsistently depending on whether you are using it on an area of text or on some of the menu options at the top of the screen. Opened an OpenOffice ODT file to see if the magnification would work within that format, and it did. Tried it on the menu on my copy of WinAmp, and it magnified the song titles perfectly.
This is a great option for visually disabled people. But, if you're using an IBM ThinkPad, you have to know that the magnification option is hidden under MOUSE -> TRACK POINT.

# MOUSE -> TRACK POINT -> ACCESSABILITY -> CROSS HAIR CURSOR. This is pretty cool. If you sit and do nothing, cross hairs leap into action on the screen showing where the mouse cursor is. A hugely obvious set of crosshairs, at last a solution to the "find-the-mouse-cursor" problem. This could get annoying and I might want to switch it off. But, still, a great option to have ... you can adjust the idle time, so I adjusted it all the way up to twenty seconds.

# SETTINGS -> FOLDER OPTIONS -> GENERAL. Use Windows classic folders. Open each folder in the same window. Just a single click to open, thank you very much. Underline icon titles only when I point at them.

# Install TClockEx, accepting the defaults. This adds the date to the wretchedly useless XP clock. The dratted clock will display the date for a few seconds if you mouse over it. But then, if you mouse over it a second time, it refuses to show it again. You saw it, didn't you? No, I didn't. I was reaching for my magnifying glass. By contrast, the TClockEx, a freeware item I used to use when running Windows 98, is easy to see with my computer spectacles, no magnifying glass required.

# Install FreeTime, a stopwatch which, again, I used to use with Windows 98. When you minimize this, it is still visible in one of the boxes which display the titles of programs you are currently using. This is a nice simple time tracker.

# Install NoteTab. VIEW -> OPTIONS gives you colors, shortcut menu (for right click), and DOCUMEnt (VIEW -> OPTIONS -> DOCUMENT) gives you a button to click for FONT and a box to click for WORD WRAP.
Note (and I haven't noticed this before) on the VIEW -> OPTIONS -> DOCUMENT panel there is a pull-down menu for the format for SAVE, the default being ORIGINAL, but option including DOS/Windows and Unix. I've been using Courier New, bold, 36 point. Have been fooling around with some color schemes and find I like pink (top right box in the color-choosing panel) with black font.
Note that DOCUMENTS has a "Use as Paste Board" option which accumulates everything you copy and paste.
My copy of NoteTab is the light version which does not include all the bells and whistles but which has the advantage of being free.

# Install UltraEdit. The defaults I have been using are no backups (don't want to backup my password file, don't want spare copies of that on my computer), font bold Courier New 36 point, colors as default colors, keys modified with ADVANCED -> CONFIGURATION -> KEY MAPPING so F5 is SAVE AS and F9 is REPLACE.
When I set up ADVANCED -> CONFIGURATION -> TOOLBAR after a factory reinstall, I think I should start by deleting all the icons on the toolbar then add the few that I use all the time, particularly SAVE ALL and FAVORITES.
ADVANCED -> CONFIGURATION -> EDIT options chosen: WORD WRAP ON, tabs set at 8 spaces.

# ASSOCIATIONS NOTE: I should associate txt files with UltraEdit because it is stable under XP when running text files. I should associate HTML files with NoteTab because NoteTab is stable when editing HTML files with XP. I should not associate HTML files with a browser because I spend a lot more time editing HTML files with a text editor than I do opening them with a browser.

# Install Mozilla and Firefox, both. Keep Firefox at its default settings. Modify Mozila with EDIT -> PREFERENCES where you select the home page ... note that there is a menu on the left ...
Click on the + of APPEARANCE to open the menu of options. FONTS. I've been using Serif as Times New Roman at 16 point and monospace as Courier New at 13.
For COLORS I've been using black text on a white background with USE MY CHOSEN COLORS, IGNORING THE BACKGROUND IMAGES SPECIFIED.
This deletes a bunch of the arty web designer junk that Internet pages are typically littered with, dumping the garbage into the garbage bin and creating a visual world which is lean, spartan, rational and ergonomically easier.

# Install WinAmp, Deep Ripper, Irfan View, Filezilla, dictionary (on CD).

# Install OpenOffice and associate Word files with OpenOffice as I do not plan to install Word.

# Install httrack, Encarta, Microsoft Photo Premium 10.

# Install Nero. Note: use the top install option, the first on the list, which will install the manuals along with everything else.

# Install AdAware Personal, Adobe 7.

# Install Analog. Note: on my software CD I have an unpacked version of this all ready to go, so simply copy it to disk and it is ready for use.

# Install PrintKey. Note that for XP I have to find the excutable, copy it to the desktop then click on it to launch PrintKey.

# Install ZoneAlarm.

# Install anti-virus software.

# Put mp3s onto hard disk.

# Put working files onto hard disk.


# Install Google Desktop Search and let the one-time indexing run. DO NOT permit this program to access the Internet. I want the old Google Desktop Search I had before, thank you very much, not the new-fangled one with Google gadgets attached.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Magnification for XP ThinkPad Good For Visually Disabled

Magnification for XP ThinkPad Good For Visually Disabled

Some time ago, after I had been blogging about eyesight issues, a kind person e-mailed me to say that, in all probability, my Windows setup had a magnification facility, which I would probably find somewhere on the START menu.

I looked, but saw no hint of any magnification facility, so e-mailed back to say that I already had screen magnification thanks to my ThinkPad. Hold down the function key and press the space bar and the screen gets magnified.

I added that I had given up using this facility because it throws all my desktop icons out of alignment. This is a major issue for me because I make heavy use of desktop icons to shortcut my way to my favorite files.

So I wrote off the magnification thing.

Then, recently, while I was poking around my system, trying to build a file that would guide me when I restore my computer to factory conditions, I chanced, by accident, on the magic magnification facility.

On my ThinkPad, which has a little red track point device which sits in the middle of the keyboard and doubles as a mouse, the magnification facility is hidden away in Windows XP Professional at:

START -> SETTINGS -> CONTROL PANEL -> MOUSE -> TRACKPOINT. There you have the option to choose, for the middle button of the mouse, either SCROLL or MAGNIFYING GLASS.

There is a SETTINGS button that you can use to fool around with the area that is magnified. After some experimentation, I opted to stay with 2xZoom with width 660 pixels and height 440.

When you press the center button a piece of the screen that big is magnified, and you can shove the magnified are around the screen using the track point.

You need to keep holding the center button down, and to manipulate the track point while doing so.

I tried it on a range of software products, including Microsoft's dreadful Encarta encyclopedia, which seems to have been deliberately engineered to make it as hard as possible for me to use, the VIEW -> ARTICLE TEXT SIZE -> LARGEST option being only about half the size I would like it to be.

And, regardless of what you do with the articles font size, the menu on the left, showing you possible articles, stays at the same wretchedly small font.

So, when I reinstall Windows XP, I will definitely enable central mouse button magnification, with the same 660 x 440 magnifier.

Many thanks to the person who e-mailed me with the tip.

On the same track point panel where you click for SETTINGS for the magnifier, there is a button to click for ACCESSIBILITY SETTINGS -> CURSOR OPTION.

There I chose ENABLE CROSS HAIR CURSOR, setting the width to maximum and the idle time to twenty seconds.

Wait for twenty seconds without messing with the mouse or keyboard and a set of crosshairs pops up on the screen, regardless of what program you are using, bracketing the often extremely hard to find mouse cursor.

Groovy wads of orange-red light go streaming down the arms of the cross hairs, like a visualization of some kind of demonic music. It gives a nice science fictional touch to your computer, particularly when you come into your personal room and the cross hairs are, unexpectedly, pulsing away in the middle of the screen.

You can modify the cross hairs, messing around with the length and color settings, if you so choose.

Once I have restored my computer to factory conditions, I anticipate that my copy of Microsoft Paint, which has fallen over, will be working properly again. Some months back, I was about to blog about what a simple and capable program this is when, abruptly, the facility to change fonts for text input vanished, never to be seen again.

I expect my e-mail client, Mozilla, will be working again, which it is not doing at present. (Worse than flat-out not working, it seems to send e-mail but does not, leading me to remind myself of something I used to impress on my students when I was teaching business e-mail writing: "Messages sent are not necessarily messages received.)

When I reinstall, Mozilla will once again be my main browser, rather than Firefox. It is very simple to adjust text size with Mozilla, using VIEW -> TEXT ZOOM and then choosing or specifying a percentage by which to magnify the font (or to reduce it, if you want to go that way.)

I have been putting off restoring my computer to factory conditions because it is a major hassle. The computer refurbishes itself from a repository hidden away in a secret partition where IBM has set up everything you need to reinstall XP from scratch, so that part is painless.

But installing software, modifying the desktop, choosing the mouse cursor and so forth takes a long time. Last time I did it, the work spread out over three days. This time it will go faster because I have prepared an installation guide for myself, which runs to six pages.

Having used XP for about eighteen months now, I am firmly of the opinion that this is the worst operating system I have ever used, the others being various flavors of DOS, a couple of version of Red Hat Linux, Windows 98 and now this piece of garbage.

I am definitely not going to switch to Vista if I can possibly avoid it. The fact that it has an incredible number of different ways in which to switch off your computer is not an attraction sufficient to make me switch.

I toyed with the idea of going back to Linux, but the latest offering from Red Hat, Fedora Core 5, is not what I want. It has no software to handle mp3s and does not include either my favorite Linux text editor, NEdit, or the website copier Httrack, which I have running on my XP computer in a Windows version, and which I use a lot.

(Yes, I know you can get other stuff and install it, but the hassles I had adding extra stuff to earlier versions of Linux persuade me that it's better to look for an OS which will do what you want it to do, not find one that doesn't and then try to coerce it into obedience.)

But for the new technology which will be coming down the track in the next few years, I need another operating system, one not made by Microsoft.

I thought about buying a Mac, which has a solid operating system, a version of Unix. But the Mac keyboard is not the same as the ThinkPad keyboard, and I do not want to have to do any more retraining than is absolutely necesary.

I don't have an iPod so my mp3 music and my mp3 audio books are all run on my computer, and the buttons at the top of the keyboard (raise volume, lower volume or turn off sound) are supremely convenient.

Also I want to stick with the ThinkPad because the ones I have hammered to death by constant use have taken a fair old pounding before they finally gave up the ghost.

At the moment I'm thinking in terms of running Unix, with the option that I have in mind being to go for FreeBSD, an open source version of Unix, which apparently is something that has evolved from BSD, which, if I'm not mistaken, stands for Berkeley System Distribution, and is a version of Unix produced at Berkeley University.

So, somewhere down the track, I might take a shot at installing FreeBSD, and see how it works out for me.

Once I've done my XP reinstall, I'll post my installation notes online. Eyesight issues touched on include the dastardly Microsoft clock.

If you mouse over this clock then it will pop up the date, but the date only appears for a few seconds, not really long enough for you to grab your magnifying glass, if you need a magnifying glass.

Then, if you mouse over it again, XP refuses to show you the date a second time.

You saw it once, you saw it for a few seconds, that should be enough for you, and if you can't see well enough to appreciate the genius of our marvelous clock then what are you doing using our magnificent OS?

While preparing for my projected reinstall I experimented with some clocks that I used to have up and running under Windows 98, and the one that I am using now is TClockEx, a freeware program which installs in the system tray.

It replaces Microsoft's XP clock and, if you accept the defaults, it shows date and time as follows:

Wed, 6 Dec 2006 22:43:57

You don't have to mouse over the clock to get at the date. The date is always there. And it is clear enough for me to see with my computer-optimized spectacles without reaching for the magnifying glass. Additionally, it defaults to a 24-hour option, the one I want (and which Microsoft's clock will not provide.)

If you don't like the defaults then you can change them easily.

TClockEx is by Dalen Nurden, and the version I have is version 1.3.3, which bears a copyright notice dated 1998.

If you open the program you can see a panel which includes a CLOCK FORMAT pane with a FORMAT ELEMENTS option which include RESOURCE ELEMENTS, such as MEMORY LOAD.

To show that, just add an "L" to the defaults ... I did it, and the figure "78" appears to the left of the date.

A nifty piece of software, I think. Exactly what software should be. Simple to use, capable, easy to install and configure. And useful. I'm always wanting to know what the date is and I always want the time, too.

I thought of installing an alarm clock, too, as I have a whole bunch of these on a set of utility disks that I bought years ago for my Windows 98 system. But the computer is off much of the time, and I don't like to leave it on when I'm asleep. But I did install a little stopwatch to keep track of work.

XP, then. A disaster for human civilization, if you ask me, rather than a step forward. But use can be made of it. If you know how.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Horseriding in Tokyo for Kids for 150 yen

Horseriding in Tokyo for Kids for 150 yen

Saturday 2 December, a bright sunny day in winter, we went to a park at Gakugeidaigaku, a station on the Toyoko line which runs between Tokyo's Shibuya and Yokohama's Chinatown.

The park we went to was Himoya Park, which is quite large. It is free, but you do have to pay 150 yen if you want your kid to get a ride on a horse. To put things in perspective, 150 yen is what I pay locally for a copy of the International Herald Tribune. In American money, it's roughly $1.32 and in New Zealand money about $1.87 (assuming that a kiwi dollar costs 80 yen, though that's an old figure and I haven't checked lately).

Though the park is in a densely populated area it was only lightly sprinkled with visitors. A bunch of parents had shown up with kids, the kids chattering about "oma-san," "oma" being a childish word for "horse" (the adult equivalent being "uma").

However, even at the horse place, there weren't big crowds. Maybe a dozen people waiting in all, and Cornucopia was second in line for her ride.

The horse riding is open from 1000 to 1130 and from 1330 to 1500. Closed on Mondays and closed, also, on any day which follows a national holiday.

It's very easy to find the park. Exit the Gakugeidaigaku station, face toward Shibuya and hang a left. If you're not sure where to go, just ask "Himoya?" or, if you want to venture into the territory of complicated Japanese, "Himoya Koen?" (ie "Himoya Park").

If you're going in the right direction then you'll shortly see a police box on your left (built into the side of the structure that supports the train line, which here is raised well clear of the ground, so it does not look like a box), and then, on the right, not far from the station, you will see the Matterhorn cake shop.

The Matterhorn cake shop is not big in Japan, but it does enjoy a certain degree of local fame in Meguro Ward, the ward which contains Gakugeidaigaku station.

If you look right down each side street that you pass, you will, after a walk of about ten minutes, see the opening to Himoya Park, just down a side street and on the left. Again, asking is the way to get there if you start feeling lost. If asking one person doesn't work then ask the next.

The park features a large duck pond with a fountain, a children's play area with slides and swings, an enclosure which has turtles, the riding area and a petting zoo.

This was Cornucopia's third petting zoo and, this time, having confidently ridden the horse, she was full of beans and more than ready to play with the animals.

The animals were assorted dogs, which obviously were used to being mauled by strange kids, and showed no objection to being patted and handled; various rabbits, very good at escaping (they've had a lot of practice) and some guinea pigs.

Cornucopia managed to stroke a rabbit but was not able to grab hold of one and pick it up, the rabbits being too tricky for that.

I took photos using my reading glasses.

Previously, I was taking photos by simply pointing the digital camera in the general direction of a photo subject, since I couldn't see anything but a blur of color in the little LCD screen. Then I realized that if I used my reading glasses I could make out the picture, thought my reading glasses are optimized for a focal length of 15 centimeters or thereabouts, so that is how far I had to hold the LCD screen away in order to pull it into focus.

On the way back to the station we ran into an old lady who kindly informed us that one of the eight tyres of our pushchair had fallen off (the wheels are in four sets of two, each with a hard rubber tyre) and we discussed the possibility of buying a replacement pushchair.

My wife is of the opinion that Cornucopia is more or less ready to say goodbye and just walk. But perhaps we will get a lightweight pushchair as a replacement.

We stopped at the Matterhorn cake shop, which is a delicious shop, though not cheap.

One of the good points about Japan is that there are quite a few places selling cakes, and also a lot of boutique bakeries where you can buy freshly baked bread, with the actual ovens that made the bread sometimes visible in the background.

(This statement is true of the Tokyo-Yokohama area, but, of course, once you get into rural areas, the eating environment becomes leaner.)

When I upload this blog entry I'll take a shot at uploading a photo of Cowboy Cornucopia, but I've had trouble uploading photos to Blogger in the last few months, so if there's no photo at the top of this entry then you can take it that the system turned out to be broken yet again.

On the subject of horse riding, my wife and I once stayed for a weekend at a place out in the country (back in the years before Cornucopia was born) and they offered horse riding. But it was formidably expensive, because you had not only to pay for the horse riding itself but, additionally, to hire a whole heap of compulsory riding gear, at really expensive prices. So we didn't seriously think about going horse riding, and, at this stage of my life (age fifty) my equestrian exploits number one, and one only: as a child, I once sat on the back of a horse. Didn't get to ride it, but I have sat on one.

On the subject of parks, the Tokyo-Yokohama area is pretty well supplied with them. When we first moved into the house where we now reside, a few years back, there didn't seem to be any park nearby where a child could play, but now we know (and not infrequently visit) three parks which are set up for kids to play in and which are within walking distance.

Buying a Three-Bar Heater

Buying A Three-Bar Heater

On the way back from the hospital, my wife and I stop at the local junk shop where an amiable gentleman sells us a three-bar heater for one thousand yen.

It is now more than two years since I have visited the junk shop, the place which provided much of our furniture, including the kitchen table which I am sitting writing at, here in my personal room.

I ask my wife what happened to the bad-tempered old man who used to run the junk shop, the one who was so often curt with his customers to the point of being rude. She told me that was the very same man. But evidently today was his good day mood.

On the way home, my wife described the heater as a "three-tube heater," which didn't sound right to me, so I corrected "tube" to "element." Only some hours later did I remember the word "bar," which I think fits better.

If I live in Japan for too long I'll end up speaking English teacher English rather than native speaker English.

At the hospital, all was uneventful. Another brain scan, another day. I got my next appointments, which will be in March, one for yet another MRI scan of the brain and another for a CT scan, a full scan of everything above the tops of the thighs.

The CT scan will use iodine for contrast. It will be my third CT scan with injected iodine so I'm not worried about possible side effects, as the stuff doesn't seem to have any effect on me.

Dr Gunma, my hematologist at Meijin Hospital, ran me through a quick informed consent procedure, and I noted that he did make the point that there is a small (very small) risk of death, as the occasional person does react badly to the iodine. The first time I had such an iodine injection the doctor doing the informed consent procedure did not think it necessary to explain the death part.

It is now December, and the weather here in Japan is getting cold, and I am wondering where I have put my lightweight Lowa tramping boots, which I will need if it snows this winter.

It is now 2327 on Friday 1 December, and today our daughter, Cornucopia, opened the first tab of her first-ever advent card.

When I brought Cornucopia home from the daycare center this evening she found my wife had set up our Christmas tree.

"Pika pika!" exclaimed Cornucopia, fascinated by the flashing lights.

There is a Christmas tree at the daycare center, since it is a Christian daycare center, and it is five times the size of ours and also has lights. Cornucopia stops in the corridor to admire it each time we head for the daycare exit. But the daycare Christmas tree's lights do not flash.

A quiet life, then.

We will soon be at the point where it will have been two years since the diagnosis of brain cancer was inflicted upon me. At the time, I was told that if I could make it to the five year point then I could reasonably regard myself as having been cured.

Well, so far, so good. So here's hoping for three more good years.

My eyesight remains stable and I cope well enough at work, my reading glasses pulling in even the fine print. I still have short-term memory issues, presumably permanent, but keeping to established routines and making a point of checking key facts methodically (student file numbers, for example) compensates for this sufficiently for me to keep heading homeward.

Today, when I was heading to Meijin Hospital, traveling alone with the intention of meeting my wife later at the hospital, I bought a suica card for the first time. The suica ("watermelon") card is Japan Rail's IC chip card which you press against the magic eye built into the ticket wicket, which logs you in and, when you exit, deducts the appropriate value from your card.

On the train coming home, I asked my wife to what extent the suica card could be charged with value, and she read the fine print and told me that the limit was 20,000 yen. When you buy your first one, 500 yen goes to the cost of the card itself, which you then recharge with money at a ticket machine in the station. So for the first 2000 yen you get, initially, only 1500 yen in train travel value.

The suica is great because it means I don't have to figure out which ticket to buy, so no studying of maps, no Chinese character challenge as I try to find my present location on the train's map board.

A good system, but not bulletproof. Today, 1 December, as I was sitting at home with Cornucopia before leaving for the daycare at 0830, I saw on the TV news that the suica system had failed this morning in quite a bit of the Tokyo area, and right in the peak rush hour, too.

But it was working fine by the time I came to use it for the first time ever.

My wife worked Friday morning before heading to the hospital to join me, but will be home Saturday and Sunday. Sometime soon, perhaps Saturday, we hope to visit a park where they have a small animal petting zoo and, also, a pony which little kids can ride on.

Cornucopia's first petting zoo visit, part of this year's trip to the free Nogeyama zoo in Yokohama, was not really a success, since she was too scared to touch any of the tiny little animals, her nerves having been shaken by a close encounter with a (caged) condor.

But, at our most recent zoo visit, a trip to Ueno zoo, she was very confident in patting the much bigger animals (goats and sheep) which they have in the petting zoo there, quite nicely set up.

She also enjoyed the elite experience of handling freshly-produced goat droppings, an experience which the average child growing up in the Tokyo-Yokohama area does not experience, at least not on a day to day basis.

Another year will soon be upon us, and, all going well, in that year we will surmount the largest of the problems which currently confronts us: winning the battle on the toilet training front.

Things have not been going well on the tt front, not in the past few months, but, like George W., we're going to stay the course, and we're not going to accept that failure is permanent. But, until we achieve success, Cornucopia will be continuing to keep the padded paper panties industry in business.

The joys of fatherhood!

As I write this blog entry, I'm feeling relaxed and confident, at ease at my keyboard, and with no consciousness of perpetrating errors. But, when I run my spellchecker over the text, my spellchecker tells me, hey, sorry, dude, but the error rate here is in brain damage territory.

At least my brain is functioning better than the wretched computer operating system I'm currently doomed to endure, Windows XP Professional. I've lost track of the number of programs which have fallen over during the 18 months or so in which I've been using this OS.

The latest stunt inflicted upon me by XP is that it's gone and caused my e-mail program to malfunction. E-mail messages seem to go okay, but I've recently been embarrassed by discovering that e-mail messages which I've sent to New Zealand have failed to reach their destination.

In the New Year, I'm going to have to rectify the XP mess by restoring my computer to factory conditions. It will be, I think, the fifth time I've done this in the 18 months or so during which I have had my present computer.

By this stage I'm confident that I have the secret of taming XP. After the first couple of times in which I did a "return to factory conditions" recovery process, it soon became waterlogged yet again, moving slower and slower, but I've found by trial and error that this will not happen if you do two things.

First, switch off "System Restore." (MY COMPUTER -> PROPERTIES -< SYSTEM RESTORE and check "Turn off System Restore." Second, in MY COMPUTER go to "properties" for the hard drive and uncheck "Allow Indexing Service to index this disk for fast file searching."

It's better to use Google Desktop Search for this purpose. However, my current version of Google Desktop Search has sneakily updated itself by getting access to the Internet, and has inflicted something called "Google gadgets" on me, one more unnecessary complication which I want to get out of my life.

I tried to get rid of the gadgets by uninstalling Google desktop search from my archived software, but the gadgets came back, presumably hidden somewhere deep in the more mysterious parts of the computer, maybe in the registry, something that I never mess with.

When I restore my ThinkPad to factory conditions using the setup software which lives in a secret partition which has nothing to do with the day-to-day misbehavior of XP, the registry, as it currently exists, will be wiped out as my working partition gets reformatted, and I will start afresh. And, this time, I will make sure that my firewall does not permit desktop search to gain access to the Internet.

Death to the Google gadgets!

Now Blogger is complicating my life my trying to coerce me into switching to a new version of Blogger. The last thing I want to do. I'd like the same life as the one I had yesterday, thank you very much, and your improvements, in the current context, are my negatives. I'm already nostalgic for yesterday.