The Killer App for Vista

When Windows Vista debuted last month, the question bouncing among the pundits in the consumer computer industry was "should users upgrade now?". The nearly-universal response was to wait until you get a new computer. Well, in my not-too-humble opinion, the pundits missed a USS Nimitz-sized reason to upgrade.

Backing up your computer data is something we are urged to do religiously. Yet, very few people follow through on it because the process has always been a huge hassle. Whether you used DVDs, CDs, or (I shudder) floppy disks, the procedure took hours for any reasonable-sized computer. Even if you used another hard-disk as your backup, it was slow and awkward to fully back up your computer.

Not anymore, at least not in Vista. The new backup utility simplifies life so much that it’s scary. You can still back up individual directories and files, but you also have an one-click option to back up your whole friggin’ computer. And, to call that new option fast is a vast understatement! It’s insanely fast. i just did a full initial backup of my laptop to a 160 Gigabyte Maxtor external drive, something that normally took 3-4 hours. Vista’s new backup utility copied 84GB in under an hour. That’s stupidifyingly fast, and you can still use the computer for other tasks concurently. Trying to save humanity in your favorite video game would probably not be a good move, as the backup program does soak up performance. Any fairly modern computer should have enough power left, howver, for more mundane tasks.

People have never followed the 11th Commandment, "thou shall back up frequently." They do not usually realize that the most valuable part of any computer is the data it holds. Vista has finally removed the excuse that backing up is too much of a hassle.

Atlantropa

"Atlantropa was a gigantic engineering and colonization project devised by the German architect Herman Sörgel in the 1920s and propagated by him until his death in 1952. Its central feature was a hydroelectric dam to be built across the Strait of Gibraltar, and the lowering of the surface of the Mediterranean Sea by as much as 200 metres.

The ultimate, Utopian goal of the project was to solve all the major problems of European civilization by the creation of a new continent, "Atlantropa", consisting of Europe and Africa and to be inhabited by Europeans. Sörgel was convinced that to remain competitive with the Americas and an emerging, Oriental "Pan-Asia", Europe must become self-sufficient, and this meant possessing territories in all climate zones – hence colonizing Africa was necessary. The lowering of the Mediterranean would enable the production of immense amounts of electric power, guaranteeing the growth of industry. Vast tracts of land would be freed for agriculture – including the Sahara desert, which was to be irrigated with the help of three sea-sized man made lakes throughout Africa. The massive public works, envisioned to go on for more than a century, would relieve unemployment and the acquisition of new land would ease the pressure of overpopulation, which Sörgel thought were the fundamental causes of political unrest in Europe. Sörgel also believed the project’s effect on the climate could only be beneficial. The Middle East, under the control of a consolidated Atlantropa, would be an additional energy source and a bulwark against the Yellow peril.

The publicity materials produced for Atlantropa by Sörgel and his supporters contain plans, maps, and scale models of several dams and new ports on the Mediterranean, views of the Gibraltar dam crowned by a 400-metre tower designed by Peter Behrens, projections of the growth of agricultural production, sketches for a pan-Atlantropan power grid, and even provisions for the protection of Venice as a cultural landmark. Concerns about climate change, earthquakes, attacks, and the fate of African culture are often ignored as being unimportant.

The project never gained substantial support despite its fantastic scale and eurocentric expansionism. Under the Nazi regime the plan was ridiculed as it was against the idea of a Eurasian German Empire. The Italians never supported the idea, as their cities were so dependent on the coastlines. After the Second World War interest was peaked as the allies sought to create closer bonds with Africa and combat communism, but the invention of nuclear power, the cost of rebuilding, and the end of colonialism left Atlantropa technologically and politically unnecessary, although the Atlantropa Institute remained in existence until 1960."

Quoted from wikipedia.org.

Clearly, Sörgel was misguided and naive on several accounts. He nonetheless devoted his entire adult life to promoting Atlantropa. It is reported that Sörgel finally realized his foolishness on his death-bed, remarking sadly that he had lived for nothing.

I recently saw a Science Channel program on Atlantropa, and the futility of Sörgel’s efforts stood out to me. I have to wonder if I am another Sörgel in regards to Xpress-It and wanting disabled people to truly be accepted in society. After all, how often do you see disabled people rioting in the streets for equality? Do they really want equality? I can certainly understand why some previously diplomatic advocates like Bob Kafka have become radicalized. There’s a huge ground-swell of frustration behind that. Yet, freedom goes hand-in-hand with responsibility, and many seem to try to avoid the latter. I suppose it’s tempting to let others make decisions for you, but then you will never be more than a child.

To be an adult, you have to be able to speak your mind, if you have one. That requires the ability to go well beyond clicking an icon to utter a canned phrase. You must be able to arbitrarily string words together into phrases that reflect your thoughts. Of course, Xpress-It doesn’t understand what I’m actually saying, it doesn’t need to. The current version understands how to pronounce things according to English language rules, the rest is left up to the user. That’s a real-world example of how freedom and responsibility fit together.

Do disabled people, as a group, want greater freedom? I really can’t tell. What I can tell is that there isn’t much demand for better AAC. Maybe most people still don’t understand what computers can do. Still, SLPs are only going to recommend products that provide what people demand. That’s just human nature. If you want to be treated as an adult, you have to insist on it and the tools that enable you to be an adult. Am I wasting my time trying to offer such tools?

Xpress-It and Vista

Tao,

I know your new life leaves virtually no time for further involvement in the Xpress-It project. That is a little bit of a pity, but you can still offer ideas and suggestions to move the project along. So can George, for that matter. George Bullock is a software developer loosely connected with Microsoft, and sort of moderates an online developer community. That gives him a good vantage point for identifying what options are available. George is also the guy who ‘magically” found a MSDN subscription for me so  he is aware of my limited financial resources.

Thanks to George, I now know that Xpress-It runs under Vista. It does, but there are three annoying issues that we (meaning me) need to address. The biggest is that our neat copy protection doesn’t work in Vista. To recap for George’s benefit, our current copy protection is based on accessing Window’s product ID, hashing it using a public domain public key encryption routine, and compared that to a previous encryption of the ID with our private key. I don’t remember if you found or wrote the little applet we use to expose Window’s product ID so it can be emailed to us for encryption, but I never got the source code for that applet. I did get the headers and library for the PD stuff. Nothing on the applets though. Of course, re-creating the two little encrypt/decrypt applets won’t be any problem for me. It does, however, open up an opportunity (and quite possibly a real need) to  replace the encryption. (Does anything come to mind, George?)

A second issue stems from a decision by Microsoft. We use the venerable .hlp format for our help files, and “Gatesville” has decided to retire that format with XP. Vista doesn’t intrinsically support it at all. Microsoft has reluctantly agreed to release a version of Winhlp32.exe for download. Yet, the message is clearly out to switch to HTML, compressed or not. I have found a free utility called HelpExplorer that should buy us some time. I don’t see any real problem to adding that package to our installation. However, the only real long-term answer is to find a good, free utility to convert our help files. Any ideas? A quick look didn’t turn up anything that caught my eye.

The third issue is an old nemesis. We’re still using the version of InstallShield that shipped with VS 6. That’s Windows 98-era tech that is becoming more and more difficult to use and support. Finding a replacement that even VS.NET 2003 will play nicely with would be a real step forward. The problem, as you well know, is that our installation requires just about every installation step you can think of. We go from copying files, to inserting registry keys, to adding an ODBC link. Yes, that last step is the toughest, and I don’t see any good answers on MSDN. Again, I’m looking for ideas.

Scott

RE: Texas Assistive Technology Regional Conference, Houston, TX June 25-27, 2007

Angela,

It is really nice to “meet” a SLP willing to listen. Well, that’s not quite true. The SLPs who have experienced Xpress-It do appreciate its audio clarity, but they always ask where the iconic interface is. As one MD Anderson SLP put it, SLPs have so little time that they tend to select solutions which cover the broadest spectrum of clients possible. The department head went further and said she really preferred a single solution. That’s fine for the SLPs, but it plays to the lowest common denominator among the clients. How is a disabled person with speech impairment ever supposed to be independent? You can’t really do that with icons, because your vocabulary has to be unlimited.

For the record, the very way the Xpress-It software is written makes it naturally able to be combined with other things. Technically, you could even use a Dynavox to control a computer running Xpress-It. Getting the message of Xpress-It’s versatility across to the AAC community has been the real challenge.

The reason why I’m going to TATRC is because the education system is where the bulk of clients are mated to an AAC solution. The local technical director of the former TRC warned me that few clients ever upgrade to better AAC solutions. That means schools are the critical battleground where a student’s future ability to communicate is decided. Somehow, I need to get educators to notice the way Xpress-it works makes it also a natural tool for teaching the connection between words and sounds. (Yep, by default, Xpress-It uses all of those arcane English pronunciation rules we had to learn—with a healthy dose of common sense  thrown in.)

Scott

From: Angela
Sent: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 9:46 AM
To: Scott Royall
Subject: RE: Texas Assistive Technology Regional Conference, Houston, TX June 25-27, 2007

Scott-

Thank you for your prompt registration.  You get a star for being the 1st vendor on record 😉

I noticed from the video demo on your site that it is text based system.  That is great as I don’t think any of the AAC vendors with similar programs are coming (good for you too I guess).

Just and FYI our facility is trying to improve it’s accessibility with the upcoming reservations but I am not sure how far along they will be in June.  Please let any Conference staff know if you have any additional needs while you are here.   I look forward to meeting you. 

Angela Standridge
Region 4 Education Service Center


From: Scott Royall [mailto:royall@conchbbs.com]
Sent: Monday, February 05, 2007 5:54 PM
To: Angela Standridge
Subject: Texas Assistive Technology Regional Conference, Houston, TX June 25-27, 2007

Dear Angela,

Yes, I have dutifully registered for TATRC and forked over the required $75 for a booth. However, I decided to forward something I recently had to write for another new contact. While that contact was an apparent spammer, my response still serves as a good, no-bull 60-second thumbnail of who I am and what I’m about. As it actually mentions, I am mindful of your hellish workload as a SLP. Still, I hope you will read on. What you’ll read is interesting, and hopefully worthwhile to you.

Scott

From: Scott Royall [mailto:royall@conchbbs.com]
Sent: Thursday, February 01, 2007 3:37 PM
To: ‘chris.glavin@k12academics.com’
Cc: Tao Ju
Subject: FW: Cerebral Palsy (fwd)

Chris,

I am curious as to what prompted you to contact Tao, my associate. He and his wife have been assisting me in attempting to market an AAC solution I created named Xpress-It. Unfortunately, my efforts have not met with any financial success yet.

I should introduce myself. My name is Scott Royall, and I have CP. I also have a Computer Science degree, and worked for Shell Oil for 14 years. Since I couldn’t talk, and none of the currently-available AAC packages met my management’s expectations for intelligible speech, I was compelled to write my own high-fidelity solution. If some hubris will be forgiven, it is literally true that, at a recent impromptu meeting with Dynavox reps and users, the reps were left to explain why their expensive device couldn’t match the audio quality of my all-software Xpress-It.

I was furloughed almost five years ago when Shell decided to start transferring their IT work to Malaysia. Since I can’t get anyone to even grant a job interview to me, I have focused my efforts on trying to make a living on my one remaining marketable asset, Xpress-It. The nature of the AAC market has somewhat surprised me with its resilience to new approaches. There are no real villains involved; the resistance is mostly a product of the vetting process used. New products have to be reviewed and recommended, usually by recognized speech/language pathologists. SLPs have notoriously heavy workloads filled with many tasks, and few have the awareness of what computers are actually capable of. I guess it’s understandable that people stick with recommending what they are comfortable with, even if it is 15 years obsolete. The AAC community as a whole seems to not realize the voice quality required for someone to hold a job.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I can best assist you in your endeavor. Xpress-It is available on my website, my blog is at http://adayinthelifeofaperson.spaces.live.com/. You might possibly convince me to write a few articles, but be aware that I tend to “call things as I see them.” I am not always sympathetic to my fellow disabled person, as I often find them surrounded by an air of defeatism. Life is pretty brutal and uncompromising, but it is also intrinsically filled with possibilities. As long as someone has options, he should be flogging them hard to improve his life.

Scott

—–Original Message—–
From: Tao Ju [mailto:taoju@cs.wustl.edu]
Sent: Thursday, February 01, 2007 11:00 AM
To: Scott Royall
Subject: Cerebral Palsy (fwd)

Scott,

See the forwarded message below.

Maybe this is helpful 🙂

Tao

———- Forwarded message ———-

Date: Thu, 01 Feb 2007 11:51:48 -0500

From: Chris Glavin <chris.glavin@k12academics.com>

To: taoju@cs.wustl.edu

Subject: Cerebral Palsy

Hi,

My name is Chris Glavin. I run a website devoted to providing resourceful

information for a number of topics in education and disabilities and

disorders. I have created an information page on Cerebral Palsy including

History, Cause, Incidence and Prevalence, Types, Signs & Symptoms, Imaging

Findings, Prognosis, Treatment, Spastic, Support Services, Special Education

Schools, Camps, Books, Videos, Magazines & a Community Discussion Group with

members from all over the U.S. Please take a moment out of your day to visit

the page. If you would like to help in any way please do not hesitate to

contact me. I am always looking for individuals interested in providing

articles, resources or have any services for individuals with Cerebral

Palsy.

http://www.k12academics.com/cerebralpalsy.htm

Thanks!

Chris Glavin

K12academics.com

Texas Assistive Technology Regional Conference, Houston, TX June 25-27, 2007

Dear Angela,

Yes, I have dutifully registered for TATRC and forked over the required $75 for a booth. However, I decided to forward something I recently had to write for another new contact. While that contact was an apparent spammer, my response still serves as a good, no-bull 60-second thumbnail of who I am and what I’m about. As it actually mentions, I am mindful of your hellish workload as a SLP. Still, I hope you will read on. What you’ll read is interesting, and hopefully worthwhile to you.

Scott

From: Scott Royall [mailto:royall@conchbbs.com]
Sent: Thursday, February 01, 2007 3:37 PM
To: ‘chris.glavin@k12academics.com’
Cc: Tao Ju
Subject: FW: Cerebral Palsy (fwd)

Chris,

I am curious as to what prompted you to contact Tao, my associate. He and his wife have been assisting me in attempting to market an AAC solution I created named Xpress-It. Unfortunately, my efforts have not met with any financial success yet.

I should introduce myself. My name is Scott Royall, and I have CP. I also have a Computer Science degree, and worked for Shell Oil for 14 years. Since I couldn’t talk, and none of the currently-available AAC packages met my management’s expectations for intelligible speech, I was compelled to write my own high-fidelity solution. If some hubris will be forgiven, it is literally true that, at a recent impromptu meeting with Dynavox reps and users, the reps were left to explain why their expensive device couldn’t match the audio quality of my all-software Xpress-It.

I was furloughed almost five years ago when Shell decided to start transferring their IT work to Malaysia. Since I can’t get anyone to even grant a job interview to me, I have focused my efforts on trying to make a living on my one remaining marketable asset, Xpress-It. The nature of the AAC market has somewhat surprised me with its resilience to new approaches. There are no real villains involved; the resistance is mostly a product of the vetting process used. New products have to be reviewed and recommended, usually by recognized speech/language pathologists. SLPs have notoriously heavy workloads filled with many tasks, and few have the awareness of what computers are actually capable of. I guess it’s understandable that people stick with recommending what they are comfortable with, even if it is 15 years obsolete. The AAC community as a whole seems to not realize the voice quality required for someone to hold a job.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I can best assist you in your endeavor. Xpress-It is available on my website, my blog is at http://adayinthelifeofaperson.spaces.live.com/. You might possibly convince me to write a few articles, but be aware that I tend to “call things as I see them.” I am not always sympathetic to my fellow disabled person, as I often find them surrounded by an air of defeatism. Life is pretty brutal and uncompromising, but it is also intrinsically filled with possibilities. As long as someone has options, he should be flogging them hard to improve his life.

Scott

—–Original Message—–
From: Tao Ju [mailto:taoju@cs.wustl.edu]
Sent: Thursday, February 01, 2007 11:00 AM
To: Scott Royall
Subject: Cerebral Palsy (fwd)

Scott,

See the forwarded message below.

Maybe this is helpful 🙂

Tao

———- Forwarded message ———-

Date: Thu, 01 Feb 2007 11:51:48 -0500

From: Chris Glavin <chris.glavin@k12academics.com>

To: taoju@cs.wustl.edu

Subject: Cerebral Palsy

Hi,

My name is Chris Glavin. I run a website devoted to providing resourceful

information for a number of topics in education and disabilities and

disorders. I have created an information page on Cerebral Palsy including

History, Cause, Incidence and Prevalence, Types, Signs & Symptoms, Imaging

Findings, Prognosis, Treatment, Spastic, Support Services, Special Education

Schools, Camps, Books, Videos, Magazines & a Community Discussion Group with

members from all over the U.S. Please take a moment out of your day to visit

the page. If you would like to help in any way please do not hesitate to

contact me. I am always looking for individuals interested in providing

articles, resources or have any services for individuals with Cerebral

Palsy.

http://www.k12academics.com/cerebralpalsy.htm

Thanks!

Chris Glavin

K12academics.com

k12academics.com

Yeah, I too found a copy of his note filed under "junk mail." Outlook sort of figured Chris out before we did. I also just received another email from K12academics.com about a Yahoo group he’s started for Down Syndrome. Chris could be legit, but every indication is that he’s a collector of email addresses who has found a new hook–disabilities.

 

From: Carolm
Sent: Sunday, February 04, 2007 3:30 PM
To: royall@conchbbs.com
Subject: Re: New blog entry

Scott, I also received the email from Chris Glavin and came close to forwarding it to you, but there’s probably very little Chris could do for you other than offer employment.  Ha!
Carol

K12academics.com

Chris,

I am curious as to what prompted you to contact Tao, my associate. He and his wife have been assisting me in attempting to market an AAC solution I created named Xpress-It. Unfortunately, my efforts have not met with any financial success yet.

I should introduce myself. My name is Scott Royall, and I have CP. I also have a Computer Science degree, and worked for Shell Oil for 14 years. Since I couldn’t talk, and none of the currently-available AAC packages met my management’s expectations for intelligible speech, I was compelled to write my own high-fidelity solution. If some hubris will be forgiven, it is literally true that, at a recent impromptu meeting with Dynavox reps and users, the reps were left to explain why their expensive device couldn’t match the audio quality of my all-software Xpress-It.

I was furloughed almost five years ago when Shell decided to start transferring their IT work to Malaysia. Since I can’t get anyone to even grant a job interview to me, I have focused my efforts on trying to make a living on my one remaining marketable asset, Xpress-It. The nature of the AAC market has somewhat surprised me with its resilience to new approaches. There are no real villains involved; the resistance is mostly a product of the vetting process used. New products have to be reviewed and recommended, usually by recognized speech/language pathologists. SLPs have notoriously heavy workloads filled with many tasks, and few have the awareness of what computers are actually capable of. I guess it’s understandable that people stick with recommending what they are comfortable with, even if it is 15 years obsolete. The AAC community as a whole seems to not realize the voice quality required for someone to hold a job.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I can best assist you in your endeavor. Xpress-It is available on my website, my blog is at http://adayinthelifeofaperson.spaces.live.com/. You might possibly convince me to write a few articles, but be aware that I tend to “call things as I see them.” I am not always sympathetic to my fellow disabled person, as I often find them surrounded by an air of defeatism. Life is pretty brutal and uncompromising, but it is also intrinsically filled with possibilities. As long as someone has options, he should be flogging them hard to improve his life.

Scott

—–Original Message—–
From: Tao Ju [mailto:taoju@cs.wustl.edu]
Sent: Thursday, February 01, 2007 11:00 AM
To: Scott Royall
Subject: Cerebral Palsy (fwd)

Scott,

See the forwarded message below.

Maybe this is helpful 🙂

Tao

———- Forwarded message ———-

Date: Thu, 01 Feb 2007 11:51:48 -0500

From: Chris Glavin <chris.glavin@k12academics.com>

To: taoju@cs.wustl.edu

Subject: Cerebral Palsy

Hi,

My name is Chris Glavin. I run a website devoted to providing resourceful

information for a number of topics in education and disabilities and

disorders. I have created an information page on Cerebral Palsy including

History, Cause, Incidence and Prevalence, Types, Signs & Symptoms, Imaging

Findings, Prognosis, Treatment, Spastic, Support Services, Special Education

Schools, Camps, Books, Videos, Magazines & a Community Discussion Group with

members from all over the U.S. Please take a moment out of your day to visit

the page. If you would like to help in any way please do not hesitate to

contact me. I am always looking for individuals interested in providing

articles, resources or have any services for individuals with Cerebral

Palsy.

http://www.k12academics.com/cerebralpalsy.htm

Thanks!

Chris Glavin

K12academics.com