Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Living Computer Museum

RantWoman, a number of STAR Center  denizens, some Americorps participants and a couple other people went on an excursion recently to the Living Computer Museum, The Living Computer Museum The trip was a smash success—in spite of what may sound like griping below.

 Many people with white canes and walkers and wheelchairs all were lucky enough to pile into ONE custom Metro Bus. RantWoman mentions this because RantWoman is pretty sure that LOTS of places need transportation that can handle the number and diversity of mobility needs reflected in our travel group. Hold that thought though because it’s not a problem the excursion can solve and  it’s time to tour the museum.

 Our group was large enough to split into two groups. RantWoman, Self-Taught Blind Tech Wizard and an Eager Americorps Participant were part of the group who got turned loose in the museum and promised guided tour later. Our trio made a great team. Eager Americorps participant helped a lot about reading different bits of text. Self-Taught Blind Tech Whiz was both enthralled to learn about old technology and a fountain of memories of video games such as Zork that had skipped RantWoman’s notice. 

Comments in no particular order:

A good museum spans lots of different points in time. The Living Computer Museum definitely does that. RantWoman, though, is still getting used to the fact that things in her life from Last Century now have places in museums. In RantWoman’s case, this includes paper tape, punch cards, “the cold room,” usually in previous experience referred to as the machine room. The Living Computer Museum’s version of the cold room has the customary elevated floor with cables in the gap between the subflooring, serious air conditioning to keep the computers cool, an industrial size card reader, a large printer full of tractor feed green bar paper, a lot of noise, large disk and magnetic storage options.

 RantWoman admits to ignoring the don’t touch admonishments. RantWoman and Self-Taught Neighbor, a couple decades younger than RantWoman did not flip any switches, but RantWoman did help Self-Taught Neighbor run hands along the long loading tray for the large punch card reader. Neighbor had come across a punch card earlier in our meanderings and was very curious about how they worked. So RantWoman had to show him. And there was also a large disk pack from a mainframe computer several generations ago to explore. RantWoman figured we could not do any damage with either, but there is the matter of don’t touch.


RantWoman was interested to notice several different data storage media including the two most exotic media RantWoman has ever written code on, paper tape and punch cards as well as the giant disks used by the Xerox Alto, various floppy disk sizes, cassette, and magnetic tape. RantWoman thinks it would be an interesting exercise of scale to include information with some of the different exhibits about how much data different forms of data storage on display hold. With some way of scaling between the storage media of different eras and things like modern home appliances, laptops, smart phones.


RantWoman also happened to catch a radio interview with museum co-founder Steve Ballmer basically about getting and using information from all the data. RantWoman thinks that, like the storage scaling would be an interesting theme to weave into some different exhibits. RantWoman would even promise to consider carefully whether the theme would need a Death By Powerpoint tag.


Accessibility Features

Can someone find and access accessibility features on random devices. The Living Computer Museum has all sorts of computers from yesteryear which may or may not have accessibility features, but for the devices that have accessibility options, it is really nice to find them. Self-taught Blind Tech Whiz spent a fair amount of time trying to use Narrator on a variety of the computers on display. Self-Taught Tech Whiz is WAY faster than RantWoman but consistently, he found he needed a password and therefore staff assistance if he wanted to activate Narrator. This problem occurs a lot: one often needs to have a password or find a human to enable accessibility features on public computers that, RantWoman thinks should be accessible to all.


The Autonomous Car demo

RantWoman’s trio decided to start on the first floor, with the autonomous car demo: Consensus of everyone who tried it: look, it's awesome that the thing was created with 3-d printing technology, BUT the demo car really needs doors.


Remember all those mobility devices mentioned above with the bus? Having to clamber up onto a stool and then get into the car was not going to happen with the demo car. RantWoman considers this a little unfortunate given all the hype about use of autonomous vehicles in public transportation, but on this excursion there was plenty else for people to interact with.


Next, being warned to press a red button in the event of motion sickness for a sighted or somewhat sighted person actually is not something RantWoman would want to deal with in an autonomous car. RantWoman would like the car to operate well enough in sync with human physiology that motion sickness should be a rare occurrence.


RantWoman watched the visual experience without clambering into the test car. RantWoman can see the reason for the motion sickness warning. Fortunately Blind Neighbor did not have to worry about finding the red button in case of motion sickness. Why? The demo offered no sense of movement EXCEPT for the visual demo.


Blind people know a car is turning because of centripetal force and sometimes because of changes in air flow or wind. Many people can tell things about their ride based on sensations of travelling on asphalt or some other surface, A realistic driving demo needs to include experiences like this. RantWoman also thinks that blind people would not be the only users who might be interested in audio description of what is going on:


“travelling on Main Street”


“swerving slightly to avoid object in the road. Object may be either a carboard box or a kangaroo…”


“nearing destination”


Tourists as well as blind people might also appreciate narrative about locations the car is driving by.


The autonomous car demo included a printed circuit board where the trunk would usually be. RantWoman found this kind of by accident and is unclear whether the printed plate included text but RantWoman imagines needs for maybe a few breadcrumbs to identify places on the plate associated with different functionality.


RantWoman found herself poking around at the explanation behind the car demo of the levels of autonomy and wanting to press something for an audio description, but not really wanting to linger after Eager Americorps Participant read part of the text.




WHY, why why, when people want to interest girls in technology do they think making it PINK will do the trick. RantWoman knows many girls and women strongly interested in technology who do not care one way or another about pink. RantWoman would like to know from women who do care about pink, whether making technology pink makes them more interested, but RantWoman would also like to hear from all the female tech execs tweeting one night about how much they liked Legos as kids or from Carly Fiorina or the women from Hidden Figures or  …. RantWoman herself feels the benefit of STEM in everyday life, in RantWoman’s case as relates to cooking, sewing, and other household tasks. Just ask rantWoman about washing dishes for example.


Then there is the matter of making Barbie (and Ken) over in directions of women in technology RantWoman knows. 


--Picture a shorter than average barefoot Barbie who is way too happy to let  a taller and nerdier than average Ken carry her around to her college engineering classes.


--Or picture one happy couple RantWoman knows: Ms Computer Scientist favors a half-shaved head, sometimes dyed in the colors of the institution where she teaches, and can dance male or female positions in contra dancing with equal ease. Mr. Computer Scientist favors skirts and contra dancing. When RantWoman one time suggested a trip to Utilikilts, Mrs. Computer Scientist said Mr. Computer Scientist thinks kilts are for men who cannot handle real skirts.


RantWoman here offers great appreciation for our tour guide. RantWoman apologizes for not remembering her name but definitely liked her half shaved head look. 


RantWoman's moment of ungraciousness: the museum women's room. RantWoman would like to hear from other blind people and people with other disabilities about hands-free faucets. RantWoman sometimes finds them a trial: if one has to turn the water on with some kind of faucet, one then has the audio cue that water is running. If there is no audio, RantWoman sometimes finds it frustrating to wave hands around until the water comes on. Worse, while waving her hands RantWoman ran into a soap dispenser full of strongly scented soap. RantWoman pretty much does not care WHAT the soap scent is; RantWoman avoids scents like the plague. The scented soap was something floral definitely closer to bearable than many options RantWoman has encountered. But RantWoman still had to wash her hands about 3 extra times when she got home to overcome her inadvertent encounter with soap. RantWoman DOES have standards of sanitation; it’s just that they are not usually found in soap dispensers in public.


If overly smelly soap is the worst problem of the day, though, it is a great day and rantWoman defijnitely recommends readers theck the museum out.


Headings brought to you by very modest experimentation. RantWoman recently asked the editor of a 4-6 page monthly newsletter she likes to read to please consider using headings. Sometimes in the past headings have occurred. Sometimes in the past has made a difference whether the newsletter is done on a Mac or a PC. In any case, using headings is a VERY modest but VERY helpful accessibility measure even for comparatively small documents. And the presentation or non-presentation here is an artifact of a mistake but RantWoman has to move on and not try to fix for now.

Please leave a comment if the mistake is causing you problems and RantWoman can try harder to troubleshoot.

No comments:

Post a Comment