Credit Due

I must give Robert Scoble credit. In two consecutive blog entries, he’s managed to make me go "hmm"–twice. Not bad, Robert. First, he highlights what Tara is up to (I’ll add her trackback later), and then he refers us to what Stefan is up to. I tend to agree with Robert’s readers who label Stefan as a "virtual panhandler," and yet, what he is doing seems to be working. That sort of makes me wonder what would happen if I applied his tactics to marketing Xpress-It or getting employment. Hmm indeed!


I do suspect Stefan’s tactics would back-fire if his goal wasn’t so easily obtainable. Getting donations for a Mac is literally childs-play compared to finding meaningful employment or marketing an AAC product to an apathetic market. Just the backlash among Robert’s readership warns against using Stefan’s dubious tactics on a larger scale.


What’s interesting about Tara’s blog is mainly Robert’s comments in regards to it  Tara is with one of those starry-eyed "Web 2.0" startups, and I believe I’m already on record as saying Web 2.0 is mostly hype and a stunning lack of knowledge about what’s been done before. However, where Tara does bring fresh ideas to the table, Robert agrees with her that large companies like Microsoft fail to even see them. Even when new ideas do register externally, they have an uphill struggle gaining acceptance inside large companies. Boy, don’t I know! Shell basically saw me as a maverick they never understood or knew how to utilize.


The AAC market is much the same way. It feels like the industry has never studied the real world where the speech-impaired would need to interact with strangers. Menu-driven phrases and dedicated computers or other devices are fine if all you hope to do is express your basic needs. But, communicating abstract ideas or functioning on your own with strangers–such as in a corporate setting–for hours requires flexibility not really present in current-day Xpress-It competitors. We have multi-tasking computers because we inherently multi-task. Why should we give disabled people anything less? Xpress-it is proof that high-performance AAC can easily share a computer with even the most brutal applications like Need for Speed: Most Wanted. 


This blog entry is also a shift in my SOP. Since it started life as a blog entry rather than email, I will not send it out on the mailing list. Instead, I’ll simply let the mailing list know where to find it. I’m trying to get my normal readership used to interacting with blogs for multiple reasons.


Wish me luck. 🙂


Update: so much for not posting this entry to the mailing list. The damn MSN site is down.  WTG Microsoft! :/




It never hurts to ask.


From: Robert Scoble []
Sent: Wednesday, April 26, 2006 7:12 PM
To: Scott Royall
Subject: RE: MSDN


Actually, my triangulation worked. Should have an answer soon for you. THanks, and I agree that it’s too hard to break through to the right people.




From: Scott Royall []
Sent: Wednesday, April 26, 2006 4:51 PM
To: Robert Scoble
Subject: RE: MSDN



Yes, I remember my corporate days well enough to appreciate the challenge ahead of you. Even when you do find the people who administrate the MSDN subscriptions, their initial response is likely to be: “Who the hell are you?” After all, most Microsoft employees don’t know what blogs are either. You may be better off starting your quest by seeing if Microsoft has an equivalent of Dell’s Executive Services department. They can be instrumental in slicing through the corporate jungle, as the following brief tale shows.


As you know, I have a XPS Gen2/M170, one of those 8-pound bricks with the 17” display. In about two weeks, it will have achieved the heretofore impossible feat of going a full year on my wheelchair without any actual service outages (a story in itself!). However, there have been three service calls, with the most critical being an outage of that honking big display (thank Gates for Remote Desktop in XP Pro). Dell has outsourced their L1 tech support to places like New Delphi and Panama City, and the actual terms of my four-year Complete Care contract do call for the laptop to be returned to a repair depot if accidentally damaged. Of course you know from my blog that’s not even an option because my whole life centers on this laptop; however, a call-taker in New Delphi has no frame of reference beyond the contract text so you can imagine the phone calls (using Xpress-It) that went on for days.


I finally got desperate enough to try a “Hail Mary” maneuver. Using Google, I determined that Kevin Rollins is Dell’s CEO. Then, I sent an email describing my situation to what I suspected might be his email address, based on past experience with what Dell external addresses look like. While I doubt I pegged Rollins’ “real” email address, my electronic round had clearly landed close enough to spray him with shrapnel, because Nancy from Executive Services was on my cell phone not two hours later ready to do whatever it took to get me back up. Small things like this occasionally restore my faith in humanity. Nancy has since taken over managing my tech support, and she’s slowly rehabilitating Dell’s reputation with me.


Anyway, I think the moral of this story is to start with whatever department at Microsoft is charged with “getting things done.”




From: Robert Scoble []
Sent: Wednesday, April 26, 2006 3:05 PM
To: Scott Royall
Subject: RE: MSDN


I’m sorry, I’m just snowed under on email requests. I’m working on this (I don’t know the folks who can make this happen, so gotta triangulate in on them a bit). I’ll try to get you an answer this week.



Robert Scoble
Microsoft Corporation — Technical Evangelist


Book blog:
Microsoft Video Blog:

Cell phone: 425-205-1921



From: Scott Royall []
Sent: Tuesday, April 25, 2006 5:09 PM
To: Robert Scoble
Subject: RE: MSDN



I was quite sincere and reticent in requesting your involvement in getting financial assistance with my MSDN subscription. Some of my more liberal friends believed companies like Microsoft would have entire departments devoted to assisting people with disabilities. Ha! I know large banking and energy corporations don’t so software companies would have no compelling reason to either. The unpleasant reality is that, while there are 40 million disabled people in just this country, they don’t really exist as a coherent demographic group in any recognized sense. I’ve been on the “bleeding edge” all my life, I suppose simply because I’m too stubborn to “drop out and tune out.”


You know from my blog that my current primary effort is to equip those unable to speak with software that really does the job. The products currently available suck a hard vacuum if you want an actual conversation, something critical to doing real-life business. Xpress-It, which is based on technology dating back to Windows 95, is unique in that ability even today. Only now, with the UMPC, is PC hardware reaching the right mix of power and portability to offer Xpress-It’s uniqueness to ambulatory disabled people. Of course that assumes I’ll have access to the latest Microsoft development tools and environments, which would be cost-prohibitive without a MSDN subscription.


Yes, you are “just a Microsoft employee who blogs,” but we both know that’s a vast understatement. Your job title as a “technology evangelist” grants you access to everyone from Gates on down. If you couldn’t help Microsoft understand that assisting with my MSDN subscription serves its own best interests, no one else could.




From: Scott Royall []
Sent: Wednesday, April 19, 2006 7:50 PM
To: ‘Robert Scoble’
Subject: MSDN



I just received a rather disturbing letter from Microsoft.

I have faithfully renewed my Microsoft Software Developers Network subscription annually since Shell laid me off in 2002. I’ve done so in order to retain access to the latest software development tools for my work on my Augmented Assistive Communications product, Xpress-It. I’ve been telling myself every year this would be my last renewal because of the increasing price. I had to downgrade last year from Universal to Enterprise level because I simply could not scrape up enough money for the former. Yet, with the advent of the “Origami” (UMPC) class of computing devices, and Vista looming on the short-range radar, this seems hardly the time to turn out the lights on Xpress-It. Although the current tools continue to work, I’ll need access to Microsoft’s latest releases—especially Vista—to verify and maintain Xpress-It compatibility.

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s letter informs me that the renewal price this year for what apparently is the equivalent of a MSDN Enterprise subscription is $2,300! I can’t go anywhere near that neighborhood anymore. I paid around $1,500 last year, and it put a hurt on me that I’ll feel for the next five years!

I know you get 150 emails daily, and I’m loathe to request this type of assistance. However, anything you could do to reduce that cost would really help me and those I’m trying to help talk would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your attention.






From: Network Solutions []
Sent: Saturday, April 22, 2006 3:10 PM
Subject: Your Order is Confirmed


Dear Network Solutions Customer,

Thank you for your order and for continuing to give us the opportunity to help you meet your online needs.

Here is your order confirmation:

Order Number: 227194714
Order Amount: $140.97
Credit Card: xxxxxxxxxxxx5420

Ordered By:

User Name: Scott Royall

Account Number: 20815373
Account Holder: Scott Royall

    Term: 1 year(s)
    Price: $34.99
    Exp. Date: 2007-04-22
Web Forwarding: for XPRESS-IT.INFO
    Term: 1 year(s)
    Price: $12.00
    Exp. Date: 2007-04-22

Domain Name: XPRESS-IT.US
    Term: 1 year(s)
    Price: $34.99
    Exp. Date: 2007-04-22
Web Forwarding: for XPRESS-IT.US
    Term: 1 year(s)
    Price: $12.00
    Exp. Date: 2007-04-22

Domain Name: XPRESS-IT.BIZ
    Term: 1 year(s)
    Price: $34.99
    Exp. Date: 2007-04-22
Web Forwarding: for XPRESS-IT.BIZ
    Term: 1 year(s)
    Price: $12.00
    Exp. Date: 2007-04-22

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(Tao and Ming, take special note.)

Well, I did talk with Sakina Lanig this weekend, twice in fact. I learned
what she’s been up to, and what her current plans are. First, I learned that
the old Texas Rehabilitation Commission has morphed into the Department of
Assistive <; & Rehabilitative Services. It is
the same beast with a new name. DARS has a concept called "Consumer Services
Contract Providers," where providers contract with DARS to offer various
assistive and rehabilitative services. Sakina has passed that hurdle and is
a provider. Her people presently offer day-care for disabled adults who need
that, and rehabilitative services are starting up.

That’s where I come in supposedly. She wants me as an "employee" and her
primary AAC provider. The net result is that DARS would be buying copies of
Xpress-It for Sakina’s clients needing it. We’re not likely talking about
huge quantities, but the important part is that this step gets Xpress-It
official recognition as an AAC solution by a state agency. That has been the
most critical obstacle so far. Sakina also mentioned something about a
(regular?) paycheck for me, but one thing at a time.

It was interesting to talk to Sakina, as she apparently had never realized
the most critical feature of Xpress-It was that it is a typical Windows
program. To my knowledge, every other Windows-based AAC answer-excepting
perhaps Aurora <; , occupies a computer like
an invading army. That computer can’t be used for much else while the AAC is
running, and such an unnecessary handicap is just another reason for not
hiring the person.

Anyway, Sakina is putting together the Xpress-It proposal this week for
DARS. We’ll see what happens after that.


Just when you think nothing is happening

I bumped into a friend of mine, Sakina Lanig, during my twice-daily doggy patrols. Sakina used to be an executive director for a state Democratic senator. The stress of that and trying to be the single parent to a young boy with Cerebral Palsy eventually led her to make a career change. She’s been setting up some sort of day-care/service center for young disabled adults.

I freely admit I don’t understand the details of Sakina’s venture. It comes across as a stream of acronyms, but I was aware that she’s had some plans for me. I bumped into her again today, and she commented that she plans to employ me as an ADA-compliance/tech advisor. I’m not yet sure what all that means, but she supposedly wants to talk about it this weekend and it includes the state (Texas) buying copies of Xpress It.

Hmm, time will tell.


The Tax Man Cometh

The magic number for this year is $6,249. That’s right. I owe that much just for 2005. Not on my own little income, mind you, but for FUTA, Medicare, and Social Security. All for the “joy” of employing caregivers. Skilled nursing is an example of a very short list of professions that employers aren’t taxed on, a list that doesn’t include non-degreed caregiving. I say employers are taxed because that’s really who ends up paying Uncle. It may be part of the employee’s pay technically, but he’ll never see it so it’s nothing to him.




The fashion is for politicians to buy votes by making promises. That much is age-old, yes. Yet, the twentieth century saw the rise of well-intended social programs meant to improve life for those on the edge. That sounds great until you have to pay for it, and the one way for government to pay for anything is taxes. Any social program, no matter how sweet it is, is destined for inefficiency just from the scale and the fact that it’s run by people who aren’t hanging their own lives on its success. The USSR was yet again a case study of what happens when people aren’t working for their own benefit. Altruism has its limits as a motivator, self-benefit is far stronger.


You might find my perspective surprising in light of my current situation. I see my circumstances as just more proof that public initiatives cannot affect lasting change. If society really wanted to see more disabled people working, one very good way to achieve it might be by removing all employer taxes when hiring someone the SSA has declared disabled. My suspicion is that such a change would eventually save some of the money that goes into social welfare as well.