Saturday, June 28, 2008

For Global Voices: About wheelchairs and mobility

For everyone I met and spoke with at Global Voices Citizen Media Summit I would like to pass on some information about mobility, disability, and wheelchairs. I got a lot of questions about my wheelchair and a lot of compliments on how well I get around. In a lot of countries, people don't have access to wheelchairs, or only know about the most common kind of hospital chair. Here are some answers to the questions that people have been asking me at the conference.

My wheelchair is a type called an ultralight rigid frame. It weighs 17 pounds (8 kilos) and though I am not particularly strong, I can pick it up with one hand. The wheels come off just like a quick-release bike wheel. I can take off the wheels in about 10 seconds, fold the chair, and put it into a car or into the trunk of a taxi.

Standard hospital wheelchairs can weight 40 - 60 pounds (18 - 28 kilos). They are often designed to be pushed by an able-bodied walking person. With a lighter weight wheelchair, more people can gain independence.

These chairs are used by wheelchair athletes, but you don't need to be an athlete to benefit from an lightweight chair.

The major manufacturers of ultralights are :

Quickie (Mine is a Quickie Ti)



These wheelchairs can be extremely expensive.

Here are two international projects to spread the availability of light weight, durable, low cost wheelchairs:

Whirlwind Wheelchair International is an open source project meant to help people across the world to set up entire factories or shops to produce low cost, very durable & rugged chairs.

Free Wheelchair Mission is a project to ship very, very cheap and maintainable wheelchair kits to every possible country. (Their project is controversial for many reasons; read this article for background.)

Getting the right size of wheelchair is important. But, given a choice between the wrong size in a light weight, and the right size that's very heavy, I would take the lightweight chair.

Two good sources of information are Wheelchair Junkie forums, and Gimp Girl, a community for women with disabilities.

Playground baseball

One more thing, to answer the other question that you all are asking me:

My hair is dyed with Special Effects Blue Velvet and Punky Color Plum. It's been that color for about 10 years. About once a month I put a little bit more purple to keep it bright!

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Installing Eeebuntu on an Asus Eeepc 900

Last night I installed eeebuntu on my Eeepc 900. You see how I love this little beast!

The instructions and forums on were helpful. I realized while I was doing the install that there's Ubuntu Eee as well and that eeebuntu is basically just this one guy, Steve or "bezdomny". Since he is super responsive on the forums and people report good experiences with the install, I figured it is a good bet as an OS. Ubuntu Eee also looks good!

I didn't take good notes but here is my memory of what I had to do. I first tried to create a bootable USB stick from my Mac, but was missing syslinux so I used Oblomovka's MacBook running Ubuntu to reformat it with parted (set 1 boot on). Then put the eeebuntu iso file on the USB stick with bezdomny's script.

Then my eeepc booted from the USB stick. I hit "escape" during bootup and got a screen with 4 choices; the 4GB and 16GB drives on the eee, and two partitions on the USB stick. I chose a USB partition at random (wrong one) and then the other, which worked beautifully! It took a few minutes to boot. Wireless didn't work, but when I plugged an ethernet cable into my Eee, I was on the net within about 15 seconds without having to configure anything.

So, I tried to follow this advice to get wireless working,

But then got a little bit confused because I wasn't sure where I should install madwifi and if it would work if I rebooted from the USB. At that point I decided I'd just take a chance and install over the totally working, but annoying and ugly and Windows-like, Xandros linux install that came with my eee. (Seriously, look at this, even their web site gives me hives.) It occurred to me that I might keep Xandros on the 4GB drive and install eeebuntu on the 16GB drive, and be able to boot either one. Which, if I couldn't get wireless working on eeebuntu, would spare me scrambling around trying to re-install Xandros. I went on IRC at and asked on #ubuntu-eeepc if anyone knew if that would work. No one answered. I got on #ubuntu-women just to feel braver but didn't ask anything. After some more poking around forums I decided to hell with it, blow away Xandros and if I have to reinstall it, comprendo bastante este video guía para instalearlo.

So I installed on the 4GB drive. It went completely smoothly, quickly, I rebooted, hey presto magic huzzah, I had working ubuntu on my eeepc. Plugging into ethernet worked smoothly again. I got the madwifi fix with wget and installed it. It didn't work... I re-read the thread on the forums for the millionth time. They kept saying "turn on the wireless" and finally Oblomovka and I got it that we had to turn on wireless in the BIOS. So, reboot, hit F2, looked at "Advanced" and "Devices" or something like that, it was pretty intuitive, and got a list of stuff enabled and disabled. I enabled wireless and the webcam. Rebooted, and wireless worked SO beautifully. (Not like Xandros which was incredibly clunky and failed to get me onto my own home network half the time.)

More wireless links:

Next problem to fix. The mousing was crazy. Or, really, the touchpad. I don't have a mouse, but I still think of it as "mousing". There was a system preferences panel for mouse and display, but nothing for the touchpad. A bit more reading and I was lost... but then a bit MORE reading and google-fu and I found that going to Applications, then Add/Remove, then searching All Available applications for "touchpad" or "synaptic" would get me the control panel that I needed. That worked but during install I got a warning to change a setting in xorg.conf which I will tell you is in /etc/X11. It's helpful to look at some examples of xorg.conf options. Then, while in vi putting in the setting, I realized my keyboard is messed up and thinks that the " key is actually an @ sign. So I'll have to go figure that out and fix it -- I know I chose US keyboard layout -- what could it be?

What I need to be able to work off this machine on my trip:

Firefox, Greasemonkey
A good chat client
vim, perl (python would be nice)
the touchpad not to be freaking crazy. Tap-to-click OFF. Who uses that! Omg! Sucks!
Not sure if I will just suck it up with email and go back to Pine, or install Thunderbird and migrate my mailboxes, or use webmail of some stripe (ugh) Currently am favoring Pine because I'm lazy; Thunderbird only if I have time to install it.

Oh also, I'm resolving to document this more formally and contribute docs-writing to eeebuntu.

** further updates later today **

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How to create a web form to talk with Google Docs

My friend and co-worker Jenny from Three Kid Circus pointed out a cool feature of Google Docs to me today. I use Google Docs spreadsheets mostly as wiki-like documents for a group of people to edit a web page in table form. In other words I use them for layout of a web page, and maybe for sorting columns, and sharing fairly simple information.

In another conversation I had recently, Elisa Camahort was talking about wanting a simple widget sort of thing for party RSVPs, but that would be more than a link to her email address - it would be a form for people invited to fill out. So, it occurred to me that the form-constructing capability in Google Docs would do all the things she wanted.

As I thought further, I realized it also might be helpful to my friend Squid Rosenberg, who has a son whose educational plan is managed by a fairly large group of people, using Google Docs, tracking his progress and patterns with a daily record. Similar documents could be very useful for anyone tracking health care issues, for a team of caregivers for an elderly person, for example.

Since this is a fairly new and obscure feature, and somewhat of a convoluted process to click around to where you even understand what the feature does, I thought I'd describe how to set it up.

1) Go to Google Docs.

2) Create a spreadsheet and call it "My potluck dinner" or whatever.

3) Make columns for whatever you like -- name, email, # of people you're bringing, what kind of food you will bring to the potluck.

4) Click "share".

5) Click "invite people to fill out a form".

6) Click "Start editing your form".

7) Click the Save button.

8) Click "Choose recipients". (You don't have to put in any actual recipients.)

9) Click "Embed", in the upper left corner.

10) Copy the code and stick it in your blog

Each column in the spreadsheet shows up as a title and text input field in the form! You can also add new fields.

It looks like this:

From there you might have to twiddle the formatting to make it look halfway decent. It is not set up to look nice in a blog sidebar, but it looks just fine in posts or pages in TypePad, and Blogger. It doesn't work in LiveJournal or WordPress because it uses iframes, though in WordPress you can install a widget to get iframes to work.

The resulting input into the spreadsheet looks like this:

(click image to see it bigger)

Note the timestamp, automatically added!

So, this could be useful for many purposes. My potluck dinner example is frivolous, but anyone who's suffered through the annoying interface of the spreadsheets on Google Docs, or who uses them for individual or group data entry, could set up extremely easy web forms with this hidden-away feature.

I would like to send a polite nudge to the Docs development team to uncover the forms feature! It would be very nice if it were an option to click directly from the spreadsheet or other document.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Sonnet, twittered

Drum roll... a moment in Twitter history...


Twittered by allaboutgeorge aka George Kelly, for Sarah Dopp.

The poem is better for having been twittered. I like it backwards, and getting the punchline first and then cycling back through it. The poetics of Twitter force circularity and rereading, disorder and reversal. Which goes perfectly with this poem's theme!

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