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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Postponing Physics 2

Last week the precalculus situation was for the most part sorted out. This meant I could turn my attention to the ongoing problem of making physics accessible. In my first physics course I made an A. For my second course I was misled into believing that someone would transcribe the inaccessible PDF equations into an ASCII text file. Unfortunately (and without warning) that transcriber quit. I had to face facts. Right now I am behind because I cannot read most of the textbook. If you count non-accessible diagrams, I can read even less. Sunday afternoon, I saw my friend Mike who is a blind mathematician who has worked for NASA and IBM. I explained the situation - that I was thinking about dropping the course and picking up where I left off in the Spring. Mike agreed with my decision. He then began telling me a bit about his college and high school experiences in the 60s. He told me that even before high school he knew he needed a good education or he'd literally end up selling pencils on a street corner. Perhaps the most meaningful stories he told me were the ones where he made mistakes and had to retake a couple of courses. I've spoken to a few totally blind STEM students and professionals who seemed too perfect to need Braille or any aid whatsoever to visualize the material. I would imagine this strain of super blind mutants with powers even beyond a high IQ which enabled them to sit in a class and absorb everything spoken by the professor as if they had read it ten times themselves. Maybe they intuitively understand the unbreakable code of chalk scratch (What if the Nazis had used chalk scratch instead of the Enigma machine?). Mike is not one of these people. He is a real person who had extremely low vision in school and needed someone to take notes for him in class. Not exactly my situation, but close enough for him to understand what I meant when I explained how difficult it was to keep an equation in my head, manipulate it, and understand its purpose all at once. Mike knows lots of engineers and science types at his church and is helping me find someone who can make a physics book readable.

On the ride this morning I called my physics professor, who also supported me in my decision. At times like this I wonder if emotions like sadness can be summed up and measured as sets of electric signals sent out by the brain as the results of thoughts. Even physical pain is a signal. At the end of the discussion I thanked my physics professor for being so understanding. He told me to keep in touch so that he could help in any way possible. "your a good student," he said. "I wish they were all like you."

Now for the good news. I have more time to get a really good understanding of precalculus, work on my Braille graphics program, and teach my new student. I have decided to volunteer as a programming tutor at the school for the blind. If my student decides to study programming when she goes to college, she will be starting off ahead of her class in her understanding. No one should have to fight to learn. One of the most valuable gifts I ever received from a professor was time. Therefore, I will give her time. I start tomorrow.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Succeeding in a Math Class

Last week I conducted a meeting between my math professor, the Neandertodd, and Grant - the man who spends government money so that I can have the books and technology needed for a good education. Grant is a human being who thinks and plans in advance. Sometimes I wonder if these traits make it hard for him to function inside a bureaucracy. They say the meeting was my idea, but I honestly don't remember coming up with it. I remember one night explaining to God in great detail that if He wanted me to learn precalculus this semester something would have to change, because this class was turning out to be a disaster. The next time I called Grant, I scheduled the meeting without having had any prior thoughts of doing so. I deliberately did not invite any Vogons who would confuse or worry the professor by quoting regulations and making my requests seem too hard.

The meeting went great. Afterwards I began to realize something very important. During our discussion, Grant explained to me that unlike programming, math will not be perfectly accessible to me. However, it can still work. It would be impractical for me to do everything in audio, but if I have ENOUGH stuff that is in a form I can read (some examples, homework, and tests), then I can retain enough to ask questions in class and eventually construct a whole picture. During classes I have been playing a logic game on my computer so that I have something to physically do. When a topic comes up for which I have a question, I stop and ask. No one can tell what I'm doing, and it's not disruptive. Grant purchased a Braille book for me to study at home. The Vogons in the Segregation Office can't think of a way to argue with me because I am attending class. These are fascinating new concepts - give others enough of what they want in order to receive enough of what I need. My career will not come to an end if I can't follow every single example. Enough != everything.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Blind in a Math Class

My pre-calculus professor shares a last name with the alternative rock artist whose single "Cuts You Up" was a number-one hit in the U.S. in the year 1990. Prof. Murphy has also grown fond of sharing all his thoughts about his blind student with Vogon#1 when said student is not present. This recently resulted in my receiving a nasty email from Vogon#1, in which she quoted rules and regulations which made no sense in this context and among many other demands made it clear that I was to start attending math class. I would now like to tell all my readers what I learned in math class today.

The first and most important thing I learned was that the rate at which crickets chirp can be determined by the temperature. At 40 degrees (fahrenheit?) and below, chirp rate = 0. 0 what, I don't know. It could be a measurement in hertz (complete cycles of a cricket's legs) or of individual chirps. The professor was too busy writing on the chalkboard to give many details. Yet there I was, expected by the same professor to gain from this experience. Class was going to take an hour and 45 minutes. Don't they realize that the function must end at the temperature at which a cricket's exoskeleton would burst and not at infinity? I did not contribute this or anything else to the discussion as I was busy rocking vigorously and searching for substantial content in the professor's speech. Although we had already discussed this, he still read many problems with the expectation that everyone was able to see them. The chair did not rock, spin, swing from the ceiling, or make any other motions. In addition I'd left my 33 irregularly-shaped hematite magnets at home and had already finished my crackers. My hands had no Braille, graphs, or anything else under them for following along with what the teacher was saying. It was all I could do to NOT stand up and start pacing in circles right there in class. I kept pointing the lens between my natural eyes to the blackboard on my left, the backpack on my desk, my hands, the ceiling...anything. The professor was now talking about a function whose purpose he had made known verbally but whose actual content was a mystery. I took out a tangerine-flavored gatorade and began imaging it from many angles and then drinking it and staring at the opening. My legs stretched out in front of me an encountered a wooden table. Hey, what's that thing on the table in front of me? It has a set of almost horizontal lines that merge to a flat surface which splits into another set of lines. I reached for it. My hands came to rest on the back of a computer monitor facing me at an angle. There were my lines. And then...splash! "Crap." The Neandertodd immediately stopped taking notes (They are unlikely to be Brailled anyway.) and told me to stop laughing while he cleaned up the mess. Second most important lesson relearned - place lids on drinks when not drinking them, especially when bored. The thing I need for my next math class is a stimulating audio computer game to play on my netbook. Any suggestions?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Glimpse of Body Language

The transportation service where I live is quite random. Today it sent me a driver who was already carrying other passengers and did not want to answer any of my questions. He did not seem to understand that I had no other way of knowing the order in which events would take place and when I would be dropped off. This could either be due to a severe case of mind blindness or lack of enthusiasm for working on Sundays. He applied the gas and breaks very abruptly, drove fast, and honked his horn. I focused on the soundscapes and saw a set of stairs out my window right as we dropped off another passenger at a church on a university campus. They seemed to grow closer together as they rose to the right. The idea that stairs and buildings can seem to exist while I am in an enclosed space that is separate from them is relatively new.

An unknown number of time units later, I was being escorted through the wrong door at my own church. Still more time units passed, and then the message for this morning was presented by the Engineer, who normally leads the band. Since he is an engineer, he gave several examples and made a great deal of sense. After this, a friend and I were talking. "When you look at me," Ken asked, "what details can you make out?" He turned his head in a slow and exaggerated way until I could see it. Then something occurred to me. "You stand with your arms crossed, don't you?" I crossed mind over my chest to show him what I'd seen. "No. Arms cross means that one is defensive. I am not defensive, so I stand with one arm sticking way out and cause people to flip backwards when they walk by." His arms were no longer crossed when he made this joke, but because I see in still frames I cannot say exactly when he uncrossed them. Just then someone turned on the loud music which whited out most detail. Ken's image all but disappeared.

On the ride home with CBeth, the subject of the glasses came up and I explained what had happened. She said that Ken often stood this way and therefore I was correct. This is becoming very different from sonar in which a person is either present or absent, sitting or standing. Without the glasses they are all formed, yet featureless. It is only a matter of time before I recognize someone.