Saturday, May 19, 2007
I just posted an essay on eyes-free computing to my MathZomeblog. This essay highlights the relevance of ZomeTool in teaching mathematical concepts to students who are visually impaired. More generally, it describes my experiences as a mathematician who cannot see. I'm posting the abstract here; the complete essay can be found on my Web site.
The experiences described in this essay have influenced the software I have built and use on a daily basis; it should be of interest to:
- Emacspeak users wishing to understand why things look like the way they do in Emacspeak.
- Students with visual impairments who are entering the field of mathematics.
- Teachers working with visually impaired students.
- And the generally curious mathematician who wishes to view the world from a different perspective.
This essay outlines some of my experiences as a mathematician
who cannot see. Note that I transitioned to being a Computer
Scientist during Graduate School. However I strongly believe in
Once a mathematician, always a mathematician!
— my training in mathematics continues to influence the
way I think.
I've been unable to see since the age of 14, which means that
I've studied and practiced mathematics predominantly in an
eyes-free environment. This essay is my first conscious attempt
at asking the question
What is involved in doing mathematics
when you cannot see? I hope that some of the
experiences outlined here will prove insightful to
mathematicians at large. At its heart, mathematics is about
understanding the underlying structure inherent in a given area
of interest — and where no such structure exists — to
define the minimal structure that is needed to make forward
The general perception that mathematics might be hard to do in
an eyes-free environment probably traces itself to the common
view of mathematics as a field where one performs copious
calculations on paper. I'll illustrate some of the habits and
abilities one evolves over time to compensate for the lack of
ready access to scratch memory provided by pencil and
paper when working in an eyes-free environment. In this essay,
I hope to demonstrate that mathematics in its essence is
something far bigger. By being bigger than
paper, not being able to see rarely if ever proves an
obstacle when it comes to doing mathematics; the challenges one
needs to overcome are primarily centered around gaining access
to mathematical material, and communicating ones insights with
fellow mathematicians. Thus, a large portion of this essay
focuses on solutions to the challenges inherent in mathematical
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
The gist of Tim O's definition of Web-2.0 was to point out that once the Web had gained sufficient coverage and scale, it became possible to build application services on this Web that drew their value from aggregating the data on the Web; his examples ranged from Google to Amazon. His comments were insightful --- my own view now is that Web-2.0 should have been called Web^2 i.e. this current revolution is about applying the power of the Web to itself.
The other amusing piece while running around at the conference and observing what everyone is working on is to realize that now that Web Gadgets and the like are popular, it's now considered a fine idea to write light-weight site-specific tools. Notice that Emacspeak has had this since the late 90's in the form of first the websearch module, to be later joined by url-templates. I believe these innovations arrived earlier on the Emacspeak Webtop as compared to the rest of the Web for the following reasons:
- Emacspeak relied on Emacs/W3 for Web functionality,and when that browser stopped being maintained, there was a strong need to develop Web tools in the context of Emacspeak.
- The visual Web was getting too complex for use via speech output, and given the flexibility of the Emacs environment, and the arrival of XSLT in 1999, things were well set up to build a powerful set of Web access wizards.
- Task-oriented Web tools in Emacspeak led to the conceptual Web Command Line in Emacspeak at a time when command-line interfaces were considered passe'.
Incidentally when I showed others working in the field of accessibility these Emacspeak tools during their early days, they were promptly dismissed as site-specific hacks that wouldn't scale in the face of generic screenreaders that would handle every web page. With the visual Web getting too busy for everyone mainstream users now have access to productivity solutions such as Apple's Dashboard Widgets, IGoogle modules that can be placed on a Web page or the desktop, and other comparable tools. It will be interesting to see how much longer blind users saddled with commercial screenreaders will have to wait before seeing similar tools emerge in their world --- just remember, when that does arrive, Emacspeak had them in 2000!
Thursday, May 03, 2007
- Added support for ESpeak -- a freely available TTS engine.
- Added support for Ocropus -- a freely available OCR engine.
- Updated Websearch tools.
- Updated URL templates to enhance the Web Command Line.
- Support for Google Services like Blogger via package G-Client.
- Updated productivity tools in the wizards package.
- Fully tested against the upcoming Emacs22.
- Better integration between W3 and W3M.
This release contains many user contributed patches including:
- ESpeak patches from the Oralux project.
- W3M patches from RDC.
You can visit Emacspeak at SourceForge. The latest development snapshot of Emacspeak is available via subversion from Google Code Hosting. You can subscribe to the emacspeak mailing list firstname.lastname@example.org by sending mail to the list request address email@example.com.