Great gifting ideas for your donation dollars

Each year at this time, we seem to be faced with an endless list of choices to make about everything imaginable.  Where to spend the holiday?  Which grandparents or parents do we visit this Thanksgiving?  Do we fly?  Drive?  what gifts do we buy, and for whom?  What’s our budget?  What to fix for holiday dinner?  Do we go to the office party?  What to wear, whom to bring, when to leave?  It goes on and on.  Somehow we all volunteer for an annual overdose of adrenaline and stress hormones.  One decision we may also be considering is where to make the donations that will make best use of the scant dollars we may have to give.  I have a few suggestions for you to consider, perhaps just a bit out of the ordinary, but I hope you’ll give these ideas a look.

 

If you do not normally click on those “donate” boxes on the web sites you frequent, make this year a first.  We all benefit from free apps, web sites, software downloads and all sorts of pro bono information, so why not send the developers a few dollars?  I know it’s easy to just drop your pocket change into a bucket on your way into the store, but giving what you can to all those developers who work hard to produce a product that increases your productivity, makes your pages more interesting or interactive, or makes your life a little easier or just a bit more fun deserve some love, too.  It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it all adds up, and I think sometimes we take all that free stuff for granted.  the creative imagination required to craft and develop, market and maintain the high quality products  we enjoy in such a competitive field is worthy of your few pesoss, isn’t it?

 

Another of my favorite ways to donate is anonymously.  Have you ever wanted to help out a friend or family member, but didn’t want to insult them, damage your relationship or bruise their dignity by offering?  Giving Anon is the best way to send money to someone you choose to be the recipient of a monetary gift, without ever having to reveal your identity.  You still receive the pleasure of their gratitude by way of a recorded message, thanking you for your generosity and sharing how your gift will be used.  Yet, they will not  know you are  their benefactor.  I just love that.  Go here:  Giving anonymously.

 

Check out their new “Giving Widget” that allows you to add a button to your web site or blog to raise money for yourself or your favorite cause.

 

Help bring home the holidays to seniors or those who are isolated.  Use your gifts as a tech-savvy Samaritan to set up a web cam and Skype center so that they can chat “face to face” with loved ones.  You do all the work, they just sit down and let the love begin.  That’s one way you can make a difference even if you don’t have a dime to spare.  Use what you have at your disposal to bring joy to others.

 

Finally, teach someone to fish.  You know, “better to teach a man to fish than to give a man a fish.”   Or, words to that effect.  Teach someone whom you may know to be technically intimidated how to use some gadget or gizmo that you just know will make their lives better or easier.  Whether it’s a friend, a relative or a complete stranger, the knowledge you think of as just the ho-hum minutiae of your every day can unlock a new world of possibilities for someone who let tech pass them by.

 

These are just a few ideas to think about as you ruminate on the best way to use your donation dollars this year.  Got other great ways to give?  Share!

 

LL           

Posted in Uncategorized. No Comments »

Pride goeth before a profile: Examine behavior, not body parts

As our nation becomes increasingly aware of the new and extremely controversial "naked body scanners" and "enhanced pat-down" procedures at our airport security stations, it’s time to ask ourselves some hard questions and acknowledge the elephant in the room.  In this case, the purple pachyderm is our apparent refusal, under any circumstances, to consider profiling as an effective means by which to enhance air travel security.  To say that our attitude is one of political correctness doesn’t go far enough.  To me, it is more accurate to describe the current invasive security measures as posing, posturing and some pretty good theater.  Further, we seem to be unable to move past perception and pride.  We seem more concerned about how we might be viewed by other nations than we are concerned about real safety.  What would be the result if we accepted reality and instituted profiling?

 

The answer to that depends upon the type of profiling we use.  Here’s why racial profiling would be no more effective than the "pat-down or peepshow," as I’ve been calling it.  None of these methods work because they do not address the underlying cause of the problem.  We must  treat the disease, not just the symptoms.  Our prescription pad mentality does not acknowledge that there is a person at the core of every act of terror.  In the case of the body scanners, they do not detect all of the materials used to make explosives.  Second, they do not detect what has been inserted or implanted or ingested.  Finally, each new threat requires a retool of our system, dictating incrementally more invasive measures.

 

The same is true, however, of racial profiling.  Right now, we know who our enemy is, but that may not always be the case.  Desperation and isolation from the mainstream can leave any person from any walk of life vulnerable to criminality.  Racial profiling fails to address the potential for recruitment of other nationalities, including Americans.  What if the next bomber is a middle-aged, blonde, blue-eyed American woman?  So much for the racial profile.

 

The problem with the  racial profile is that it assumes a commonality:  Race.  That is why it will not work.

 

However, there IS a commonality that we can exploit through a different kind of profiling:  Behavioral profiling. 

Not all terrorists look Middle Eastern, but all terrorists are criminals, and criminals behave in very specific ways that a trained, skilled profiler can detect.  We must seek to examine the behavior of the flying public rather than seek to examine our private parts.  It is criminal behavior that is the common thread of criminals, and a behavioral profile along with other security measures will prove to be a more effective and less invasive solution.

 

Ultimately, though, we must accept reality.  The reality is that at any time the technology of terror may be sufficiently advanced so as not to require human participation.  I suppose it is that way now, if you consider the possibility of a shoulder launched missile, or the currently favored roadside devices used in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Besides, there’s always our water supply. 

We cannot allow ourselves to be ruled by fear.  We are losing the psychological war here.  We are also losing the perception war, which has other nations laughing at us for our ineptitude.  We must overcome our pride and abandon political correctness, if we are going to truly be secure.  Perhaps the widely-held sentiment that the events of September 11th, 2001, was a loss of our nation’s innocence was only the beginning of a rude awakening:  We must stop living in a child-like dream world where our government protects us from all calamities.  It is simply not possible, we must face our mortality, embrace our manifest destiny, and accept reality with our eyes wide open.  Behavioral profiling is the proactive and effective approach we need.  Terrorists have successfully managed to alter the behavior of the entire American flying public.  Turnabout is fair play.  Now, that would be something to be proud of.               

               

LL

Pat–down or peepshow: A few more questions about the full body scanners

Few issues have me willing to jump into the fray as much as does our most recent, terrorist-imposed  incremental forfeiture of privacy.  I’ve heard many of the justifications, ranging from claims such as "today’s youth have no expectation of privacy," to "privacy is an illusion anyway," to "better this than to be blown out of the sky."  In my opinion, all of these arguments are nonsense.  They may reflect a certain amount of reality, or they may suggest an accurate prediction of the future, but I really believe arguments in favor of further invasions of privacy and personal liberties will only lead to a different kind of disaster.

 

As the current issue regarding the "enhanced pat-down" procedures and  the use of the "naked body scanners" catches fire, I have been cruising all of the media outlets in an effort to find solace in an even, measured argument in favor of what is sure to be the new normal.  I have yet to hear any response that does not play on our fear.  This is wrong.  When one manipulates another through fear, seeks to gain control and manipulate, humiliate and degrade another, we call that abuse.  Or, we call it slavery.  Or, we call it oppression.  In just about any other context, we think of this type of exerting our will over another person as abhorrent.  Yet, we permit it in this case, because the consequences of doing nothing seem far more extreme.  No one wants to be on the plane that is carrying 249 souls and one inhuman monster.  But we are allowing our fear to cloud our judgement.  We have ceased to think clearly.

 

For example, would someone please answer the question:  What is going to happen when the terrorists exploit yet another weakness they will surely find?  then what?  Right now, I read we are exempting children under the age of 12 from the full body screening.  Oh?  So, then what is going to happen the first time the terrorists use a child to blow up a plane?

 

So, once children are included, are we going to exclude anyone else?  No one has really addressed the issue of pregnant women and these body scanners.  I’ve read as many articles written by experts who claim there is no danger of ill effects as a result of radiation or electro-magnetic exposure as I’ve read articles written by experts who claim there is.  Someone said to me, "Any pregnant woman with good sense would opt out of the body
scanner, but what about the women who don’t know yet that they are  pregnant?"

 

So…what are we going to do the first time a "pregnant" woman blows up a plane?

Again, no one has been able to answer the question about other types of exemptions from this procedure.  Is a well-known celebrity actually going to permit a stranger to view them through a full body  scanner?  No one is guaranteeing that these videos will not eventually surface on the Internet.  I’d be willing to bet it will happen sooner rather than later.  Okay, so let’s say the celebrity opts-out.  are they really going to subject themselves to an "enhanced pat-down" by some stranger who can’t wait to tell his buddies he got a good feel of the latest "it" girl or sex symbol?

 

If you are the father of a fifteen-year-old girl, do you get to choose for your child either the pat-down or body scanner?  What if your choice is not the choice of your daughter?  What if your choice traumatizes her?  What of people who have  been victims of sexual assault in the past, or violent crime?  what if the enhanced pat-down is traumatic to the degree that the process is psychologically damaging? 

Who is accountable for the inevitable claims of sexual assault, pat-downs gone awry, misinterpretations of intent or attitude?  You will be unable to prove in a court of law that a security agent was not leering at you lasciviously, enjoying their job a little too much, feeling powerful in the face of your humiliation, or simply being rough or rude.

 

As a person who is blind, I can be easily deceived.  how do I know that I have not been walked through the body scanner, while being told I walked through the regular metal detector?  How would I know if in fact I had been taken to a  private area for the enhanced pat-down?  How would I know, unless the person actually spoke to me, if the screener was male or female?  I have no way to know what is happening around me, who is witnessing the procedure, who is an airport TSA or not.

 

What about those people who are unable to give consent?  what if they are unable to choose?  People who travel are from all walks of life.  What about people with intellectual disabilities?  What of seniors or persons who have compromised cognitive function, stroke victims, or those who are simply uninformed about the extent to which these searches may be invasive?

 

I doubt anyone at Homeland Security would appreciate an accusation that they have acted first, and without thought, to the current air travel security climate.  If they are doing their job, let’s hope they have done little else other than to think about it.  Yet again, I must raise the question of ultimate end:  If Janet Napolitano’s admonishment were taken to heart by all Americans, and we en masse decided to no longer fly, then what?  We would go through this all over again in another venue.  Trains, buses, shopping centers.  Yes, I know, there have been no other airline hijackings or attacks on American soil since September 11, 2001.  I’m not saying they are doing a terrible job of protecting us.  I’m saying that it seems that we lack a fundamental understanding of the problem.  We are applying band-aids to a levy breach.  If we take the human element out of security, we will remain at a disadvantage.  That is their will.  If they cannot accomplish their goal with overt violence, they’ll retool and use some other, more insidious means.  The terrorists have been trying to tell us that it matters not who is in office, which party, what security measures we undertake, or how much time must pass.  They intend us harm, in whatever way they are able to succeed.  Are we really hearing that message?

 

At some point, we know not when, we will have exhausted every technical means we can dream up in defense of our well-being.  Yet there will likely be an act of terror that will harm us.  Even the most hyper-vigilant, protective and caring parents can turn their back for a split second, resulting in harm to a child.  It’s horrible, but it happens.  I presume the parent loves the child far more than our government cares about any of its citizens.  However, no one wants to  make the mistake of raising a child so traumatized by smothering control, micro-management, and restriction to the point of near imprisonment that he or she becomes an utterly dysfunctional adult, incapable of independence.  Yet, that seems to be where we may be headed as a nation.  If we are really so concerned about our safety, perhaps it’s time to rely less on expedient solutions like full body scanners, and more on that uniquely human ability for critical reasoning and independent thought.   

 

LL

 

Related links: :

 

 Pat-down vs. peepshow:  Outrage over the full body scanners

    

 A few questions about the airport full body scanners

Pat-down vs. peepshow: Outrage over airport full-body scanners

As a follow-up to a previous post on the subject (  A few questions about the airport full body scanners ,  I’d like to comment on the current dialogue now getting some air play.  Thanks to the "Touch my junk and I’ll have you arrested" guy, more air travelers are expressing their outrage over the use of the full body scanners.  Recently, some members of the pilots union as well as some  individual pilots, most notably "Sully," the hero who made an emergency landing on the Hudson river, have come out against the scanners.

 

I’ve been listening carefully to the heated discussion over the pat-down vs. peeping process, as I call it.  While I can certainly find some common ground with those who would rather endure the indignity of this sort of screening rather than to be blown from the sky, I disagree that the scanners are the solution.  I do not believe that the pat-down would have caught the "underwear bomber," presuming he would have opted out of the full body scan.  The security agent would have had to run their hands around his pants waistband, possibly even inside the  waistband, to have detected the contents he brought aboard.

The body scanners are not going to work as long as we are permitted to opt out.  The purpose of the body scanners is to detect what cannot be sensed by touch or  other methods, such as the wand.  Opting for the pat-down puts us on the privacy slippery slope where the bad guys will use the next logical hiding places…Body cavities.  how are we going to search that?

 

I’m serious.  Once we devise a pat-down thorough enough to have detected contraband in our undergarments, menstrual pads, medical devices and ostomy bags, the only other place to go is inside the body.  Can’t see it, scan it, wand it, feel it.  A perfect example of the aforementioned slippery slope is the fact that the security agents can now use the front of their hands to pat you down instead of the backs of their hands.  Well, isn’t that sneaky?  What’s next, digital manipulation?  that means fingers, people. 

Once we have all determined that body orifice scanning is all that’s left us, then what?  CT scans?  MRI’s and sonograms?  Doesn’t it stand up to logic that if terrorists are willing  to kill themselves by blowing up a plane, they would have no problem ingesting, inserting or otherwise surgically implanting explosive materials?

  

I don’t want to be on the plane with the bomber who gets through, either.  Nor do I want to be in a shopping mall, a sports stadium or a hotel.  I think we need to continue to address the fact that these evil-doers are bound and determined to do what they will, and if they fail in one way, they will seek to succeed in another.  All that talk about not allowing them to terrorize us is meaningless though, if they succeed in taking our lives, bit by bit, one flight at a time. 

 

LL

 

Related link:  A few questions about the airport full body scanners

Ranting and raving for sixty seconds

Have you ever heard of “tole-rants”?  I never had, until someone tweeted me about it, and asked me to write about it.  It seems to be an opportunity for people who have a beef to have their say in video form for no more than a minute.  Interesting.  Here’s one:

 

http://www.tole-rants.com/video/?id=9wLeXFYaY9I

 

Seems like a good way to promote a cause, exert influence, vent your spleen or solidify your reputation as a complete whackjob.  In the case of the example above, however, this person is advocating for people with disabilities, which is a cause I can always support.  So, check out Tole-rants, the viral video outlet for all your frustrations.

 

LL     

Construction zone: Your feedback is welcome!

As usual, I’m a bit slow on the uptake as far as technical things go, so I’m guessing I am among the last to update my blog to the latest WP version. However, it is my intention to do this soon. Additionally, I plan to add a few new features to the Accessible Insights Blog, and I hope you find them useful, fun, and not the least bit annoying since they will likely slow the site down somewhat. I’ve been trying to keep all of the plug-ins lightweight, but I have noticed some of these add-ons do create a bit of drag.

 

As I am always anxious to give the people what they want, I thought now would be a good time to poll my readers as to how I can better serve you. Are there any topics, not yet covered, that I can explore for you? Any product questions, how-tos, reviews or other educational insights I can provide? How can I ad value to the site for you? I’m open to suggestions, please write and tell me what I can do to make the site more interesting.

Most businesses would do well to interact with their customers in a way that is somewhat more robust than to simply take their money, although understand I have no specific objection to taking money.

 

So, while I toil in the back room here, I patiently await your feedback.

 

LL

Posted in Data Mining. No Comments »

Accessible email and Win 7: Screen reader users silenced again?

About six months ago, in an effort to help solve the problem of email inaccessibility and the release of Windows 7, I posted a few suggestions in an entry entitled, Win 7 work-around for Zoomtext users. 

 

Unfortunately, this information requires an update due to the fact that there has been a recent change to my proposed solution, in the form of a version update to Windows Live Mail.  Like an idiot, I clicked on the update consent link before reviewing the new version notes.  To my horror, I now have a version of Windows Live Mail that I cannot use at all.  This has me so frustrated, and really ticked off. If there is anything within my power to do to advocate for screen reader users to Microsoft, I will.  Not that anyone will pay any attention to me whatsoever, but maybe a few of my accessibility tweeps will join me. 

 

First of all, the update to Windows Live Mail changes the look and feel of the interface  to that of the “ribbon” design.  If you detest that same interface in Word, you won’t like it here.  I am using an older version of MS Office on another PC, so I’m still enjoying the quite accessible XP MS Word interface.  So, when I saw the new Live Mail version, I was not thrilled.  Then, I attempted to use it, and found it to be utterly maddening.  the bottom line is, there is no accessibility with Zoomtext, which is the screen reader I use. 

 

Now, for my readers who use Jaws, perhaps you are having a different experience.  However, my extreme pathos drove me to Google, whereupon I conducted a somewhat fruitless search into accessible email solutions.  Here are the options I’ve discovered so far:

 

There are several forum posts out there from users who provide a step-by-step means by which to use the Vista version of Windows Mail with Windows 7.  While at first glance this seemed doable, I must concede this is not for the faint of heart.  If phrases such as “take full administration ownership,” and “change the registry” make you nervous, I suggest that you do not take this on unassisted.  I was feeling pretty intimidated by this option myself, so I moved on. 

 

A second option is to find another email program altogether.  I found lists of them, just Google “free email for Win 7” and you’ll find a dozen choices.  One of them is Mozilla Thunderbird, which I understand has an Outlook-similar functionality. I tried another choice first, called Incredimail, and I was not happy.  Incredimail seems like it would be a lot of fun to use if you want to add effects and whimsy to your email messages, it offers myriad backgrounds, ecards, animated graphics, sound effects and more to your communications.  I found it to be obnoxious.  Cute, but obnoxious.  Plus, I couldn’t figure out how to make Incredimail work with Zoomtext.

 

The Mozilla option seemed the better of the two, but I know little of the thunderbird program.  What I do know is this:  The email file formats are not interchangeable. You cannot use the .dbx extension, there is some converting required if you want to import  your old email messages.  I honestly do not know if this is significant. Does it mean that I cannot sync up my laptop and desktop, swap email messages and read them interchangeably?  If you know the answer, please share. 

 

Now that I’ve already been sucked into the update vortex and as a consequence have no access to the email that had already been saved, I’m stumped.  I suppose I can uninstall the updated Windows Live Mail and reinstall the old version, if the OS will permit it.  Why in the world do software manufacturers update their products only to set some users back?  I’ve had it, frankly.  What we need is an open source product that screen reader users can rely on.  A brilliant little piece of kit such as is Jarte, Juice and the many other accessible products where the needs of users with disabilities have been taken into consideration. At this point, I’d like to call upon my readers to submit some alternatives to Windows Live Mail. Let us divide the suggestions into two groups: Simple, uncluttered O E look-alikes, and full-featured productivity tools for heavy email users. Thanks in advance for your input.

 

LL