Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Origami, I still can do it

I enjoy doing  origami, but it is getting harder and harder to do.  I have adapted some techniques to enable me to keep going with this hobby.  For example, I use a dark marker to draw the crease lines and center point on the back origami paper.  Use high contrast background  against the origami paper.  One of the best tool is a shallow squared cardboard box lid.  To align the opposite edge or the opposite corner of the origami paper, I just put the paper flat against the inside corner of the cardboard lip and then fold the paper against the corner or the edge.   I am also able to fold some origami by feel with a design visualized in my head.   Following are few origami I done recently, and I plan to add more later. 

Go to this site to learn Origami.  Origami Instructions

Origami Black LabLab Face  Lab Side ViewLabrador Retriever - made with 3 sheets of paper.  Since most guide dogs are Lab Retriever, I made an origami Lab Retriever for everyone in our guide dog training class. 

Origami Lobster Lobster.  Made with one paper, about 4 inches long.  I believe this is my original design.

Origami Boat Fish Boat - I think this is my original design also.  It has an appearance of a fish crossed with a boat.

Origami Godzilla Godzilla.  Made with one paper about 3 inches tall.

Big Bird1 Big Bird2 Big Bird.  Made with one piece of 8.5 x11 inches paper.  The paper tension at the back of the beak  would keep the beak open, squeeze the top and bottom to snap close the beak with a snap sound.  


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I Hate Comcast

I just have to rant about this.

I know many people hate Comcast, and I just join this group.  It all started with my acceptance to the so called " free" upgrade to the Blast internet.  Originally I had the Basic internet for around $43.  Soon after I accepted the "free" upgrade, I was moved to their Performance internet for around $54, that is like 25% rate increase.  When I contact Comcast about this, they claimed that my Basic internet is no longer available and the price increase has nothing to do with the free Blast upgrade.  I had the Basic internet for years, I found it hard to believe it disappeared as soon as I had the free upgrade.  This is really a sneaky way to hike the price. 

On top of that, they also increase the price of Basic TV at the same time.  Not sure if this increase has anything to do with the free upgrade.  Plus they encrypted the channels in the Basic TV service.  They forced you to have their digital adapter, now I have one more remote control to deal with.  I plan to get an antenna and discontinue the Basic TV service.  Why pay the $25 when you can get the same channels over the air for free? 

By the way, over the years, Comcast removed few really nice channels from their Basic TV channel line up, like Discover and Barvo.  The latest channel got removed was the MHZ channel.  They filled the Basic TV with filler channels like religious channels, shopping channels, and non-English channels.   

Rant off.  I feel better already. 

Update:  I sent an email to the Comcast corporate support to complaint about the price and threaten to cancel if they don't do anything about it.  Someone called back the same day and offered the Performance tier internet at $40 for 6 months plus free upgrade to Blast tier for 6 months. 

Additional thoughts.  Since Comcast has monopoly cable market in many areas, they can charge whatever price they want.  Their marketing model seems to be squeeze and antagonize their customers as hard as  possible.   If their customers complaint or threaten to switch, they would throw them a small "promotion" discount to keep them on their leash, like they just did to me. 

If there is such thing as corporate karma, Comcast isn't getting any.  Google "I hate Comcast" to see what others said about this company.  On Facebook, there are at least five groups with the title "I Hate Comcast".

Friday, October 18, 2013

Large Button Phone with Talking Caller ID and Remote S.O.S Button

I was looking for a talking caller ID unit when I stumbled upon this RadioShack speakerphone, model 43-208  It has large high contrast keypad and buttons, talking caller ID, and came with a remote S.O.S button.  I think this is good desktop phone for elderly and people with low vision. 

You probably won't find this phone in RadioShack store or on its website, but you can buy it in eBay.  New one costs around $30, while refurbished one costs around $10.  I spent $20 for a lot of 2 refurbished phones. The refurbished phones and their AC adapters, phone cords, and handsets were packed in plastics bags and were shipped in one cardboard box.  The phones look new, well built, and in working order.

What I like
  • Large high-contrast keypad with voice feedback.
  • Voice feedback on most control buttons.
  • Voice feedback on menu items.
  • Talking caller ID. 
  • Talking phone book entries with your own voice for name.  If no voice recording, it would voice the phone number.
  • Intelligible voice.  Hear voice sample below
  • 3-line LCD display with contrast adjustment
  • Volume adjustment for handset and speaker
  • Uses 4AA batteries(not included) for memory and settings backup.
  • S.O.S emergency calling function.  More info below.
What I Don't Like
  • No back light on the LCD display.  Due to my low vision issue, I have a hard time to read the info on the display even at its highest contrast setting.
  • No voice feedback when entering phone number into the phone book. 
  • Caller ID voice phone number only if the caller is not in the phone book with recorded name.
  • No mute button.
  • No ringer off option.  The ringer is very loud even at its volume low position.

The S.O.S Function
One remote pendant is supplied with the phone.  There is also a S.O.S button on the phone.  When the S.O.S function is activated, it would call up to 5 phone numbers and announce your recorded emergency message.  You can tag any 5 phone numbers in your phone book.   To activate the S.O.S function, press and hold the red button on the pendant or the S.O.S button at the phone.  You can also use the pendant to answer and end a call in speakerphone mode.
The pendant has range of about 100 feet and runs on a 12V battery(included).

NOTE:  I did not buy this phone for the S.O.S function, so I have not tested this unction yet. I just found out many complaints on the S.O.S not working properly at the following link. 
Voice Sample

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Retinitis Pigmentosa Treatments

At this time, there is no proven effective treatment for RP.  However, there are many alternative treatments in the market.   Here are just a small samples, you will find a lot more info on the web. I think most eye doctors are very conservative, and some have the a"not invented here" mentality.  When you ask your doctor for RP treatment option, they would probably just say there is no treatment or would suggest you try vitamin A or cataract surgery.  I guess the doctors don't want to give you false hope.  So, it  is totally up to you if you want to try any of the following alternatives.
Here is an article of various alternative treatments for RP.
Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine

Please keep this following in mind:
  •   Alternative medicine is not aproven medicine.  Have a healthy dose of skepticism with any testimonials on any alternative medicine.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • What seems to work on a mice model might not work on human.
  • Try one thing at a time, so you know which one is the magic bullet for your RP condition.
  • Be aware of placebo effect and confirmation bias.
  • Know when to stop trying and move on.  There is no shame to accept the fact that what you tried is not working.
  • Be sure to consult a qualified medical professional if not sure about the treatment.
  • Good luck.  Please share your experience.

Vitamin A
According to one well-design study, people who take 15,000IU of Vitamin A Palmitate seem to have a slower rate of retina damage.  This is not a cure, but seem to help some people preserve their vision for few more years if they do this early on.  

In a follow up study, taking fish oil seem to boost the effectiveness of vitamin  A.  Some people shouldn't take high dose of vitamin A, besure to check with your doctor first.
Updated Vitamin A Study
Cataract surgery 
Although cataract surgery is not a treatment for RP, but removing the cataracts, even a small one, would improve acurity and reduce glares for most people with RP.   Depends on the type of lens you choose, you would become near sighted or far sighted after the surgery.  Multifocus lens is generally not recommended for people with RP.
Often time, the vision would reverse back to your pre-surgery level after months or even years of improved vision.   One of the cause is due to the thickening of the lens capsule which hold the lens in place.  If this is the cause, your doctor would use a laser to "drill" a hole on the lens capsule to let the light through thus resstore your vision again.  
 Like any surgerical procedure, cataract surgery does not guarantee visual improvement for everyone who has it done.   According the to report below, many people would be benefited by this surgery.
If you search on the web, you would find many many doctors offer acupunture treatment for RP.  Supposely acupunture would increase "Chi" to the retina thus restore its visual function.   Some people who have tried it claimed they could feel some warmth in the eyes during the treatment.   Some have claimed they noticed vision improvement in three treatments.  
There was a small study awhile back that seem to suggest that acupunture would help some people  with RP.  John Hopkins University is also doing a short clinical trial with acupuncture to treat RP.  Depends on the outcome of this short clinical trial, a longer study might follow.  
Acupunture Treatment For RP
JHU acupunture clinical trial info
FFB's comment on acupunture
An FFB member's experience with acupuncture treatment
TUDCA (Synthetic Bear Bile)
Bear bile has been part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to treat various diseases for thousand of years. Recent researches have suggested that a component in the bear bile called TUDCA may have the potential to treat RP.
Microcurrent Stimulation
Same idea as accupunture but using microcurrent electrodes instead of needles.  There is no scientific evidence this would work.

Cuba  RP Surgery
   There is no effective surgery at this time to slow down or reverse RP. But there is a rumor of such surgery procedure available in Cuba. This probably a scam. 
Cuban Treatment for RP


Stem Cell Treatment
From what I read so far, stem cell treatment seem promising.  A lot of info on this subject on the web.  Here is one informative video.
  Stem Cell Treatment for RP
 Mice treated with strem cell 
Nanoparticles Treatment
Research by Mayo Clinic doctors offer potential treatment for RP using nanoparticles.  More info at the link
Bionic Eye
Advanced in microelectronics has enabled engineer to design an implantable bionic eye.  The recently FDA approved bionic eye designed by Second Sight would restore enough vision to people with advanced RP to walk independently.   However, bionic eye is still too expensive and have too much limitation for general used. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The S.O.S. Way

People usually have their own way of dealing with their life issues.  I am calling my low vision copeing method the S.O.S. way.  Hey, I have to come up with a cute acronym and some humor to deal with this low vision thing.  The S.O.S way stands for Simplify, Organize, and Self-contentment.
  • Simplify - find way to simplify my daily tasks like using online statement and automatic bill payment.  Simplify color scheme and style with my clothing, socks, and shoes, etc.

  • Organize - everything has their place, so I can find them without searching.  I have couple of those organizers that have many small drawers for my small items.  I have a shelf in the refrigerator just for my stuff, so I won't grab a jar of XO sauce when what I really wanted is a jar of  peach jams.  To me, organize also means orderly activities. I find it comforting to have control  over my life like when and what to eat, when to do house work or relax, and when to walk with my dog, etc. 

  • Self-contentment - The last S is really about how yourself want to deal with life issues.  For me, it is self-contentment.   For long time, I had always wanted more of everything.  More toys, more money, more friends, and especially more eyesight.   It took me awhile to content with I have and move forward with my life.  It was at this point I became The Wise Old Man.   Depend on your personality,  you might deal with your life issue with self-advocacy to self-isolation or anything in between.  There is no right or wrong choice, just choose whatever work best for you.  Be sure to ask for help if you can't deal with your issue by yourself.  
OK.  Enough mambo jumbo, lets move on to how I deal with my low vision issue.

I was declared legally blind in 2006.  After years of denial, I finally accepted the fact that my vision have progressly worsen by the year and I realize I would need professional help to deal with daily tasks.  I still had some central vision, so the following tasks are not much of problem at this time.  I would imagine those tasks would become much bigger challenge down the road.  I received the folloing training either from Colorado State's Human Services or Hadley School for The Blind.
In an ideal world, especially you have a disability, you are suppose to build up a circle of family members and friends for support.  The idea is to have someone to talk to about your problem and ask for help when needed.  The reality is that everyone are busy with their own life and have thier own problems, and they probably don't have time for yours.  Socializing usually mean getting together at some place, it would be difficult to do  for someone who can't drive.  I find it awkward to invite a friend  to lunch, for example, then have to ask the friend to pick me up and drive me back home.   I don't know about you, I just don't like to owe too many favors.  I would ask for a favor only in a truely emergency situration because I probably won't able to return the favor. 

Due to my personality and my lack of interests with most American common pastime,  I find it difficult to find and keep friends.  Thanks to Facebook, I have more virtual friends then physical friends.  Too bad, I can't ask for a ride from my virtual friends.  My best friend for now is my guide dog.  Luckily I have a very supportive family.

You would become a very patient man real fast when you are blind.   Waiting is the name of the game.  To go anywhere far, you will need to wait for a bus or a ride.  You have to plan your activities around other's schedule.  I hate waiting, but I learn to endure it.  Just remember that your family and friends also have to endure the waiting, as you may need to do many things in a different way or at a slower pace.
I gave up driving in 2005 when I wasn't able to renew my driver's license.  You would think people with severe vision impairment can't drive, but no, many states actually let legally blind people drive with a restricted driver's license.   The technique called Bioptic Driving is what make driving possible for the people with severe central vision impairment.  However, people with visual field impairment, like having RP,  can't use the Bioptic driving technique because their visual field is too restricted to operate a motor vehicle safely.   The requirement for getting a driver's license is different for each state, but generally a person needs acuity of 20/40 or better.  Some states also have visual field requirement.   You would need at least 120 degrees of visual field to drive safely. 
 Bioptic Driving Info
Driver's license requirement by state
Since I can't drive, I have walked a lot more.  In order to walk around safely, I would need orientation and mobility (OM) training.  I contacted Colorado state's human services for this training.  Since I had some central vision back in 2007, I chose the basic OM training.  I was told I can request more advanced training when the time come.   I was trained on white cane usage, how to cross a street safely by listening to traffic flow, how to use landmarks to determine my current location, and other basic travel skills.  Initially I was very self conscious when using the white cane in public places.  It took me few months to overcome this.   What a relieve, while walking with a white cane, I no longer worry about bumping into things or other people.  In fact, I noticed couple of times that people would jump out of my way like  I had a communicable disease.  On the other hand, I had people trip over my cane I guess because they are not watching where they are going or had no idea that a blind person couldn't avoid them.
Tips for safe walking.  Walk slowly and don't change direction abruptly.  Always wear a pair of closed toe footwear to avoid injury your toe nail. Wear a baseball cap to protect your face when you run into a partially open door or bump into things.  Always use eyeglasses to avoid low hanging tree branch poking into your eyes.  Watch out for wet floor sign in or near bathroom.
As a side note, I had used a yellow cane before using a white cane.  The yellow cane had couple of  Visually Impaired stickers on it.  I was told that yellow cane is being used by other countries to alert that the user of this cane is only visually impaired and not totally blind. I used it because I was too self conscious being preceived as a blind person.  But I found out people don't really care, you are either blind or not blind, nothing in between.  The yellow cane concept was pushed by a small group called  VIP (now disbanded) but the concept had not got a good foothold in the US.  I found small number of people had no idea what the white cane stands for, let alone a yellow cane.

I don't enjoy shopping.  Now a day, other than food,  I don't need much other stuff.  I go shopping only if I have to get something.  I am perfectly content with what I already have.   I would wear out my clothing, shoes and anything else before buying new one.  I never buying something because they are trendy.  I buy stuff online if possible. 

Here is my shopping tips for most none essential stuff:
  1. Do I really nead this widget?  Think real hard on this.
  2. Is there a cheaper alternative?  Often time there is. Look for sales and coupon.
  3. Sleep on it and go back to step 1.  No impulse buying for me.
I usually go thru this loop 3 times before making a buying decision.  usually I end up not buying it or find a cheaper alternative.    Of cause, if the deal is too good to pass, I would jump on it.  

Tips for grocery shopping.  You can usually get a map about the store layout from the customer service desk.  With the map and your shopping list, you can generally find out where the stuff are before you even go into the supermarket.
To simpify cooking and cleaning, we usually only cook one meal a day.  We cook double portion for dinner, and save the extra portion for next day's lunch.  Breakfast is a simple affair for me, usually just a cup of coffee and a bagel with jams.   Sometime I would cook something simple, like omelette or frozen dumplings, although I might make a mess in the process.
 If I have to cook lunch for myself, I like to use meat patties because they are in quarter pound portion, perfect for my single  serving dishs.    Remember, you can use the meat patties in other dishs other than burger.  I often break up a patty and put it in congee or noodle.  If I am not sure the meat is fully cooked, I would nuke it in microwave oven  for a minute just to be safe.  The food preparation class offered by Hadley School for The Blind has some very good info on kitchen and food safety, various measuring techniques and shopping tips. 
If you have problem reading the cooking directions on food packaging, the following  website is very helpful.  It provides cooking direction and nutrition facts on many common food items.  Just type in the UPC code for your item in the search box.  You can also search by product name.

I was taught some tricks on how to locate silverware and cup on the table and foods in the plate.  I have to adapt those tricks to Chinese style dining, which is much simpler than American style.  All I need to do is to find the chopsticks and the rice bowl.  When eating dinner at home, I just eat whatever foods my wife put in my bowl.  Lunch is even easier,  I typically eat from a lunch box which was packed by my wife.  All I need to do is reheat and eat.  Instead of a placemat, I have a cafeteria style food tray to contain any spill I might have.   I also have a high intensity table lamp shine over my food tray.  I like to see what I eat and would avoid any dimly lited restaurant. 

Don't get me start on the so called "Blind Dining"  or "Dining in The Dark" trend.  I find it distasteful and trivializes blindness. Dining In The Dark Info
Any food stuff I drop on the floor during my cooking or eating, my dog would lick it clean for me.  Seriously, I haven't done much cleaning and I forgot what I learned in the independent living class.

Tips for carpet cleaning.  Run the vacuum cleaner across the room in one direction then 90 degree across the room to pick up any missing spot.  Use a smaller portable vacuum cleaner to clean the stairs.  Be sure to remove any plug in smoke alarm or other power plug from the wall socket first.  You don't want your vacuum cleaner bump into them.   
I depend on CCTV and handheld magnifier to read printed material.  I signed up for electronics billing and auto payment so I can read the statements online using ZoomText.  I listen to audio media instead of reading books and magazine.   I read local newspaper online.
Watching TV and Movie
I mainly watch news and Nova on PBS.  Watch TV for more than few minutes would cause eye strain, so I mainly listen to the TV audio.  I haven't stepped into a movie theater for years.  I could only see a small part of the screen at a time due to severe tunnel vision and I couldn't bear the very loud audio either.   If there is a movie I really want to watch, I would rent the DVD.  I have a small TV/monitor on my desk, I find it much easier to watch TV or DVD on a smaller screen.  Renting a DVD is alot cheaper anyway.  Now a day, many DVDs contain descriptive audio track which make watch movies a lot more enjoyable.  The link below lists DVD movies with descriptive audio track.
Movies with descriptive audio track
I don't like traveling because I find it very stressful and energy draining .  Going  vacation means dealing with long line at the check in counter and  the hassle at the security check point.  Using the public restroom at an airport is troublesome.   Since I can't see much, sightseeing is a waste of money for me.   However,  I like go on cruise because it is easy and stress free once you are on board.  I don't have to worry where to sleep and eat.   My guide dog enjoyed cruising even more.  Instead going out of town for vacation, I am just happy and content with taking a walk with my guide dog at our local parks.

Travel tips: Let the gate agent that you are blind, you and your travel companion can usually be among the first to board the plane.  The plane staff can usually swap my seat with other passenger so I can get the bulkhead seat so I have more room for my guide dog.  At Denver airport, I have been allowed to use the shorter security check in line.  If you travel alone, ask for sighted assistance when you book your ticket. 
With my vision issues, I was not able to do any hardware design work.  My management was kind enough to assign me a new job.  Even with the new job, I will need help with some new equipment.  Colorado state human service sent someone to my office to see what I would need to do my job and generated a equipment list.  My employer was very supportive and purchased all the equipment I needed.  The equipment were table top CCTV and large screen monitor, Zoomtext screen magnificer/reader, and telescopic eyeglasses. 
My new job involved a lot of reading and online research.  Even with all those low visions aids,  the daily work related headache and eyestrain has became unbearable.  After almost 3 years on this new job, I decided to stop working.     
I was very lucky to have bus service between my resident and my work place.  I only need to walk few short blocks from our house to the bus stop and the bus stop in front of the company.  I paid half fare with a special discount card.  There is special transit service in our area, but I haven't used it yet.

 Let them alone
As a side note.  I have heard that some blind people would be offended by uninvited help.  For them using a white cane or a guide dog is like you wearing a pair of eyeglasses, it is not a sign of disability.   So if you offer your help to this group of very independent and capable blind people, they might not appreciate your kindness.  So don't do anything unless you are asked.