Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Second Service Dog Attack

I had  planned my day to start quietly, just a short walk to the bus stop a five minute bus ride aund the corner then a walk to the new Starbucks that recently  opened, a quiet coffee with my guide dog, Leif, a male black lab, sat at my side .

Well, that was the plan and it all went to plan until it came time to leave  the Starbucks.
guide dog leif a male black labrador retriever sits in full guide dog for the blind harness ready for a days work
Guide Dog Leif

We rose from our table, we had sat outside as it was nice and cool for a California August morning, just about 68 degrees F. I took hold of Leif's harness and told him forward.

We had not  walked more than four paces from our table when there was a sudden growl from my right. Ok. another dog among the tables.

The growl suddenly turned to a yappy bark  and something hit my left knee and pushed into Leif's right side, about the point where his harness passes under his belly.

There was a voice of a young woman to my right.

"I'm so sorry!",  she said. "This is my friends service dog, and she is so skittish."

At this point I feel Leif's head jerk to the left as the other dog lunged at his face growling and yapping.

"It's ok." I said. Thinking that it was not really ok but my dog was possibly in danger of being bitten. I tried to move Leif on around the corner out of the chairs.

The young woman spoke again. "I am so so sorry. My friend needs this dog for her anxiety."

"It's ok." I said again. By this point pushing Leif forward and around the corner as he tried to face the dog that was still growling. Finally we moved out of striking distance of this dog, shaken, I was upset, Leif looked over his shoulder several times as we walked away.

This is the second time in just about one month that we have met these types of "service dogs".

The other occassion I heard the dog, growling at a waitress in a diner, so took a long walk out of the building walking down a row of tables two aisles away. Today it came as a surprise.

Of course being visually impaired as I am. I cannot identify the culprits. I did not see the dogs arrive and Leif showed no signs of being interested in another dog. When he is working he is generally good, but often wants to play with his guide dog friends at our California Council of the Blind monthly meetings.

Today's incident however did give me two red flags on the recent spate of false service dog claims.

First the young woman said that the dog was her friends service animal, for her friends anxiety. So why did this woman have the dog and not her friend? I know that I never let anyone take Leif away from me. Even now he is laying beside me, snoring in a deep sleep. The only times we have been seperated in almost three years is when I have been in hospital.

The second red flag was the statement that the dog was "skittish". A dog that is skittish should not be even allowed to pass basic training for a service animal should it? I know if Leif behaved in this manner I would be suffering anxiety because of my continuous worrying that he might attack a person or another dog. I know dogs do not know a service animals insignia but calm and sedate would be wise for any servicee animal.

So was this really a service animal?

I will never really know. I have my doubts but I cannot swear that it was not.

Was the young woman it's owner?

Again I will never know.

The good news is that Leif  doesn't seem to have been injured, no blood, no long lasting anxiety. I though have the anxiety that we may yet have other such encounters and that one day it WILL be a more serious attack.

I need to learn to relax and not worry. But I do worry over my pal. He does a lot of good work for me and I trust him with my life every time we leave the house. It would be a very sad day for me if an attack such as that today, was the last memory I had of working with a guide dog.
To Read more stories go to Lab Life ( A Quora Space dedicated to Labrador Retrievers).

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Ford Motor Company Looks Toward Autonomous Vehicle Fleets By 2021

The Ford Motor Company has announced that they are looking to begin mass producing fully autonomous cars for fleet hire services by early 2021.

The image shows a white car parked on a driveway beside a large house . The driveway is backed by large green trees and shrubs. Photo Ford Motor Company
On August 16, 2016 Ford Motor Company announced intent to mass produce fully autonomous vehicles by early 2021 (Photo Ford Motor Company)

 On August 16, 2016, Mark Fields, CEO of the Ford Motor Company announced that Ford intends to be mass producing fully autonomous vehicles by early 2021.

Over recent years there has been much excitement at the idea of fully autonomous vehicles, sometimes called "Google cars" because of the innovations created by the Technology giant, Google.

Mark Fields said in his announcement that Ford has been a leader in innovation in the motor industry since the early twentieth century and has decided that now is the time to see fully autonomous vehicles as a real prospect.

Previously, Ford had looked at moving forward with small steps where vehicles remained under the full control of a human driver who would be assisted by computers and other computer management systems. This will possibly continue, because there is and still will be a huge market for car drivers who want to drive their own vehicle.

Fields added that Ford is at a point where they see the removal of a steering wheel and pedals for gas and brakes are possible and that they will seek to follow this route as a driverless alternative.

In the near future, Fields suggested by early 2021, these fully driverless autonomous cars could be on the roads of the United States.

What's In It For Us?

So what could this mean for the blind and visually impaired? At present, for good reasons of public safety, we are not allowed to drive on public roads. But will the autonomous car deliver mobility and freedom for us as visually impaired consumers.

Currently we are tied to a friend or relative driving us to our destination. Or we use buses and disabled transit systems. Alternatively we can use taxis and ride share services such as Uber. But for those of us who use guide dogs, taxis  and ride sharing services have become a problem as drivers refuse, illegally, to take us with our dogs to our destinations.

If legislators agree to  create laws that allow the computer within the vehicle to become a legal responsible entity, allowed to drive people who do not have a driving license then this will open the gates for us to use these vehicles.

Initially these vehicles will be produced for fleet services and hire companies. They could even become part of a ride share fleet, Uber style, but with no driver to refuse to take a guide dog.



Uber Drivers to go the Way of the Pony Express Rider?

So in this scenario maybe the Uber driver is like the famed Pony Express rider, a good opportunity for the short term but doomed when technology comes along, here in the form of a self driving car rather than the overland telegraph and railroads.

The car could be hired rather than owned by an individual, it would arrive at your door at an appointed time, pick you up the drop you off at your destination, or possibly if you are on a very long journey take you to a staging post where you might change vehicles or it is refuelled.

I can imagine taking one of these cars up to a BART station in the Bay area, getting out to catch a train then the car goes on its merry way as I might go into work through the day. Then I could catch a train to a departure station and have another car drive me home. On the way to and from work I could sleep, work on a computer, make telephone calls or eat a meal, as carefully as I can, the roads will still have bumps and pot holes. Maybe a car would be cleaned and valetted after every use or at least once a day.

2021 could be just a date that slips by, but I am pretty sure fully autonomous cars will be with us, sometime. We will use them daily and I am sure they will change the lives of many blind, visually impaired and non drivers for the better.

 To read the full press release  follow this link:  .Ford Motor Company Announcement of moving towards fully autonomous vehicles.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Working on other Productions at CMAC

the CMAC building in downtown Fresno Ca. Used to be the office of the Fresno Bee Newspaper.
CMAC Studio- Former Fresno Bee Office
I don't spend all of my time at CMAC (Community Media Access Collaborative ) in downtown Fresno, just working on my own projects.

Though it is fun to create my own programs, the most fun comes from collaborating with other producers and members on creating their programs.

I spend about eight hours per week these days at the CMAC studio. Most of that time is spent working on programs that are not my own. I may only spend about ten hours per month at CMAC working on my own projects, that is divided between editing and recording 'Blindside Fresno' or any specials that I am working on.

One of my most regular volunteer jobs is to work on CMAC 'n' Live.

CMAC 'n' Live is a music show recorded on Monday evenings at two week intervals. I have worked on several of the shows since January, my latest collaboration was last Monday.

The show is actually two shows, the first part is rather like a rehearsal, but recorded. Artists perform their material, mostly songs. Then at 7pm the program actually goes live on air. This is old style television in the raw and very exciting for everyone. We try our best to minimize mistakes, which occassionally do creep in, but look at an old recording of a live show from the sixties, sets wobbled, actors forgot their lines and cameras appeared on screen along with the sometimes comical appearance of "Mike" on the jib. We rarely have too many problems outside a performer yawning on a close-up or a camera going live in the middle of a crytical  focus.

This week the shows guests were a local Bluegrass Band called 'Kornbred'. Here is a link to the show I hope that you might like to listen and share the link.


Bluegrass Collections on


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"Blindside Fresno' An Interview with Nathan Romo, President of California Council of the Blind Fresno

The second program of the 'Blindside Fresno' series is now available to view on my YouTube Channel. This program was first broadcast on Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC) in the Fresno/Clovis area at 7pm on August 16, 2016.

Viewed from behind the cameras we see Nathan Romo sat to the left and Darcie Elliott on the right during the recording of 'Blindside Fresno'
In the Studio Program 2 'Blindside Fresno'
The guest on this program is Nathan Romo, current president of the California Council of the Blind chapter in Fresno, California.

In the program he talks about his life with blindness, some of the technology that he finds useful and also his vision for CCB in the Fresno area. Over recent years the local chapter has organized a series of fund raisers and has distributed gifts to organizations such as the Junior Blind Olympics, Blind Babies and supported a local student by providing a prize of an Apple iPad as a prize for winning a chapter sponsored essay writing contest.

The chapter is currently planning a future fund raiser for the Fall, the profits from which will be assigned to local blind and visually impaired causes.

See Program 2 'Blindside Fresno' Here:

Chess Revisited

When I was young at Secondary School, the British equivelent to High School in the United States, I was a chess player. I was not a great player but was regularly on the school chess team.

Pawn, Rook or Castle, knight, bishop, queen and king from a classic Staunton competition style chess set.
A Staunton Chess Set

I also played on and off throughout my early adulthood, owning one of the early chess computers which looked more like a clunky pocket calculator and had a display which told me the letter and number of the squares to move a piece. I got so good at using that chess computer I could even play and sometimes win without even using a board.

When I lost most of my vision about six years ago, I gave up playing chess, I never thought I would play again. Sad but not surprising. But then my wife spotted thisTravel Chess Set for the Blind and Visually Impaired on amazon.

I was excited to receive this little chess set. It seems a little fragile at first but the pieces are robust and the board is clearly divided for blind and low vision players.

I can play at my hearts content and I am finding new excitement for a game I once played as a young man.

Take a look at this nice little chess board and other chess boards on amazon. You may find yourself a nice hobby.



Monday, August 15, 2016

Going to the Movies

In 2013 I wrote about going to the movies and using audio description facilities provided in many modern cinemas. To read that  post follow this link To read Movies 2013

all set up for a shoot in the studio and behind a camera.
In the studio
I do go to the cinema pretty regularly. Leif, my guide dog loves the movies too but mainly for the dropped popcorn on the floor rather than the artistic quality of cinematography.

It is an escape for me. I can go and get involved in a story. My one problem though is still that  I can never be assured that the person in customer service knows how to set up the audio description headset. Time and time again over the last three years I have had this conversation.

Me: Can I have the audio description headset please.

Customer Service: Sure. Closed caption?

Me: No. The audio description tells me what is happening on the screen.

Customer Service: So you can read the words on the screen?

Me: No. That's the wrong setting. I am blind.

Customer Service: I see. OK. Well this should be the right setting.

With this they hand me a little black box hardly bigger than a pack of chewing gum and Leif and I wander off to the screen. I am wondering if the conversation worked and the person in Customer Service actually did set things up right.

Three years ago I would have to wait until the movie started to find out. Get it right and I was in heaven. Get it wrong and I had the dilema of whether to trudge back to customer service and go through all the script again, or just sit out the movie, complain and get a free ticket for my next movie. I often just opted for the later.

Now, thanks to audio described advertisements I sometimes get to find out before the movie. Of course I never really know if the ad was audio described until the movie has started and I have no audio description. But audio described ads shorten my anxiety no end.

It is interesting that it is advertisers who have made this move to audio description. Movie trailers are not audio described. But the add to let me know that concessions in the foyer have Coca Cola is. Of course the aim is now to make me trudge back to the concessions in the foyer to buy a coke, I am not going to do that with a popcorn stuffing guide dog weaving down the hall too soon.

But my relief at now pretty well knowing if I am going to have a free movie ticket in my pocket as I go home  means that I can enjoy the movie in peace.

Until the person behind me starts dropping their popcorn over the floor, that is.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Blindside FresnoProgram Two Scheduled t

The second program of my 'Blindside Fresno' series is scheduled to be broadcast next Tuesday, August 16 at 7pm PDT on CMAC TV online.. As usual it will be available online on my YouTube channel, I will share the link after the program has aired on CMAC, Comcast 93 and AT&T Uverse 99 in the Fresno-Clovis areas.

The words Blindside Fresno form a wave like pattern. The letters are yellow shadowed in blue to give a 3D effect.
Blindside Fresno Wave.
The guest for program two is Nathan Romo, President of the Fresno Chapter of California Council of the Blind.

In the program he talks about his life, how he became blind shortly after he was born prematurly  and placed in an incubator.

Nathan went to school both in specialized schools and in the public school sectors and so sheds some insight into his education and talks about being a blind child growing up in a sighted family.

Nathan also talks about his membership of California Council of the Blind (CCB ) and his ideas as president of the local chapter. He has been president for two years now and is seeing some growth in the chapter, which is very exciting.

Before I give away too many secrets of program 2 I will just say that I found the program fascinating and encourage you to watch it either on Tuesday, if you can or take a look on YouTube when it is available.

Meanwhile program three which should be aired in mid September is recorded and will be going to editing in a few days. More about that in a later post.

Program 1 of 'Blindside Fresno' is still available. An interview with retinologist Dr. Vivian KimFollow the link below:

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Enjoying the TV Studio

I think television production is a pretty good fit for me.

I have spent most of the last few weeks, too-ing and fro-ing back and forth to the CMAC studio, or on the telephone, sending e-mails trying to co-ordinate, guests or pick-ups of books and talking to directors. I must say it has been fun really, really it has been.

A view from behind the cameras program 2 of 'Blindside Fresno' is being recorded a pale blue and white background leaves guest Nathan Romo president of fresno chapter California council of the blind and host Darcie Elliott in a near silohuette
Host, Darcie Elliott and Guest Nathan Romo Chat in program 2 of 'Blindside Fresno'

It is quite difficult to juggle two programs at one time. We recorded program two of 'Blindside Fresno' on Tuesday last week.

That program includes an interview with Nathan Romo, the prsident of the Fresno Chapter of California Council of the Blind. I

During his interview he talks of his  schooldays and also of training to become a chef.

Also there is a discussion about the role of technology in the life and day to day living of the blind and visually impaired. Nathan was a great guest and wI very much enjoyed his contribution to the show.

Darcie and I, had also worked on streamlining the program production a little. In the initial program I had not done enough work in preproduction and this left a lot of work for my editor, Kiko, to do in post production. This time we went to preproduction with a more serious purpose, do as much as we could before the program recording to cut down on the more laborious job of editing in post production.

This seemed to work, we created breaks in the show, had nice timed segments which were more easily trimmed to create a more full conversation and we made templates to make creating end credits much more easily accessible after the recording. This cut our editing time from days to hours. Proof that it is not making mistakes that is a problem. The problem is not learning from the mistake in the first place.

While all this was going on, I was also planning the next program too.

Program three of 'Blindside Fresno' is scheduled to record tomorrow afternoon. That is to be an interview with blind author Olivia Ostergaard who has written a book,Looking at the Unseen: My Guide Dog Journey: How God Led Me Every Step of the Way

So in the latest update, we have now submitted the Nathan Romo interview for broadcast round August 16, that program will be available to view on my YouTube Channel after its broadcast on CMAC.  The recording of the interview with Olivia Ostergaard will  take place tomorrow, that program is planned to be broadcast in September. Then in September I plan to record a program that looks at the challenge of being a blind parent. It looks like a full and exciting few weeks as the calendar fills with new shows.

Life as a TV producer is fun.