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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Reading the Silver Screen

The night before Thanksgiving I went to see an open captioned showing of Changeling with my friend Diane. When I purchased my ticket, the teenaged ticket seller said apologetically, "It's not a problem is it that it's open captioned?" "No," I replied emphatically, "that's why I'm here!"

Have you seen the trailer for this film? It's based on a true story of a mother whose son disappeared and when the Los Angeles police reunited her with him months later claimed the boy wasn't her son. Was she telling the truth or was she delusional? A captioned trailer is available on Bill Cresswell's blog. I don't want to give any of the plot away but I will tell you there's a real tough part that neither Diane nor I were expecting. Don't bring your children but don't miss it either!

For those unfamiliar with open captions, the words of the script are projected onto the movie screen. For this film they were printed in white letters which were sometimes difficult to distinguish against light backgrounds. This was my second time to attend an open captioned film. The first film I saw at this theatre was Elizabeth, the Golden Age. I especially wanted the captions for that movie because I knew it would be full of dialogue and accents. Unfortunately, I have to be selective in the films I choose as the theatre is not close by and only offers open captioning on weeknights.

I was really interested in what Diane's reaction was to the open captions as it was her first time viewing them. She told me she liked them! She thought they helped her and she doesn't have a hearing loss!

Seeing Changeling was a great start to my Thanksgiving weekend. Once the film was over, I couldn't wait to see my son and give thanks that we had never endured such an ordeal. I was also thankful to spend time with family (in person and by phone) feeling truly grateful that I'm not alone in this world the way Angelina Jolie's character was.

Hope all of you reading this had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends and for my international readers hope you had a blessed weekend as well.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Amazing Race 13: Episode Nine

I missed writing about two Amazing Race episodes. Here's a brief recap of episode seven: Divorcees Kelly and Christy were eliminated. Nick and Starr came in first. In episode eight: Sarah and Terence were eliminated largely because they went for the fast forward at Terence's insistence only to find he couldn't handle eating the sheep butt they were served. Nick and Starr who were successful at eating the local delicacy finished first once again.

Now on to Episode Nine and this week's burning questions: Can Nick and Starr maintain their winning streak? Will Dan and Andrew continue the race in stocking feet?

Previously, Dan and Andrew made the strategic error of leaving their shoes behind at a puppet theatre when changing into a cow costume. They wrongly assumed that they could retrieve their shoes later when returning the costume. At the beginning of this leg of the race, they have donned hotel slippers purloined from a maid's cart. Fortunately for them all the teams are stuck waiting at the airport for the first flight to their next destination: Russia. Dallas helpfully points the Frat Boys to an airport shoe store. Everyone knows that airport shops don't offer bargain prices. The boys take a risk and purchase the cheapest shoes they can find figuring that prices will only be higher in an expensive city like Moscow. Surprisingly, we didn't see the Frat Boys doing any "begging" as teams on previous editions of the Amazing Race have done when in dire financial straits. I would have thought the hotel slippers would have made someone feel sorry for them.

The racers' first task in Moscow is an easy one. Locate a monastery and light a candle. Easy if you can find a cab driver who knows the way. For Toni and Dallas and Nick and Starr no problem. Not so for the Frat Boys and Ken and Tina who are lost until their cab drivers stop to ask for directions.

In the lead, Toni and Dallas proceed with ease on to their next destination, a decomissioned military base. This time Nick and Starr do not as their cab driver has no idea how to get there and is unable to communicate with them in English. This causes the brother/sister team to fall into last place as Ken and Tina and Dan and Andrew arrive at the military base ahead of them. There teams find a Detour choice of Boots or Borscht. Both tasks require teams to don military uniforms including traditional foot wrappings which take the place of socks inside their boots.

True to form Andrew struggles with wrapping his feet correctly. In exasperation, the boys take off their uniforms and head over to the kitchen area to serve borscht (beet soup) to 75 soldiers. Once there they realize they were required to do this task in uniform so they go back to their starting point. Meanwhile mother and son team Toni and Dallas have easily completed the Boots task of marching the grounds with a troop of Russian soldiers. Ken and Tina also have no trouble with the task and take the time to compliment each other on how good they looked in their uniforms. That was a nice moment to share. Coming from behind Nick and Starr make up time by also completing the task without a hitch.

Unlike Andrew and Dan who continue to experience difficulties. Once Andrew gets his uniform on, the Frat Boys decide to complete the Boots task counting on Andrew's experience in marching band to carry them forward. Unfortunately, Dan has not had marching experience and he puts on an unintentionally hilarious performance trying to coordinate his arm and leg movements. Even the stoic Russian soldiers crack up laughing at his antics. The drill sergeant says, "Nyet, nyet" (no, no) over and over until the Frat Boys decide to head back to the kitchen. There they enjoy serving the soldiers using their Russian language skills to say "Anna Kournikova. Maria Sharapova." Ha, ha.

At the Roadblock the teams' task requires some heavy lifting - 50 bags of flour each weighing 55 pounds have to be unloaded from a truck and brought into a bakery. I wondered how would the divorcees or even Sarah and Terence have managed this task? Dallas takes it and powers through under his mother's anxious eye. Not surprisingly Ken takes the task and falls back on his football training to soldier through the pain and fatigue. Inside the bakery, a woman oversees the stacking of the flour bags and receives a kiss on both cheeks from Ken when she hands him his clue. The race is on to the Pit Stop and this time Dallas and Toni greet Phil first.

Back at the bakery, Nick takes the task for the brother/sister team and sets a slower pace for himself carrying a single bag at a time. He finishes ahead of the Frat Boys but he and Starr lose time while looking for a cab to get to the Pit Stop. Dan takes the task and redeems himself with a good performance. The Frat Boys would have come in third rather than fourth if only they didn't come up short with cab fare for their driver. Dan offers the driver his shoes but he isn't interested. When Dan gives him all the money he has the driver finally accepts and drives away.

Amusingly Phil tells Dan and Andrew at the mat that he's sorry to tell them "it's a non-elimination leg of the race". Their relief is palpable. Next week's preview shows Dan struggling once again with coordination on a task and announces that one team loses their passports and money. Yikes!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I'm the Answer to a Trivia Question!

My good friend Sheri and me at the Homeschool Reunion

This past weekend I had an opportunity to attend a reunion of a homeschooling group I was a member of a few years back. It was great to see people I haven't seen since my full-time return to the workforce. Fortunately the moms looked familiar although it was hard to remember some names. But, wow, the kids have changed so much. Luckily, I had thought ahead and brought a photo of my son so they could see how he had grown too.

I had thought the event was going to be for socializing open house style but actually there were speeches and recognition awards planned. Several speeches and then an open mike time where anyone could come forward and share a memory. Finally two hours into the event, food was served and the informal socializing could begin.

While waiting to eat, I was tickled when I looked over the trivia quiz tucked inside our programs and found the following question: Who was the brave mom who used to run with our kids during the Presidential Fitness testing? Hey, that was me.... I remember that I dressed up in an American flag shirt and carried a "torch" with red, white, and blue streamers and ran alongside the kids to encourage them. None of them wanted to run slower than a mom so I was a good motivator and a big hit with the moms looking on from the sidelines. It was fun but I had to take Tylenol for a week afterwards.

The best part of Saturday's gathering was seeing my good friend Sheri again! She has a daughter my son's age and we were very close during my homeschooling days. Back then we shared a lot of laughs and a few tears and many hugs. It was good to catch up a little and promise not to let so much time go by before getting together again.

In this photo from years gone by, Sheri and I were unpacking cookie dough containers we sold as a fundraiser. Sheri was also the answer to a trivia question: Who sold the most cookie dough? It's good to be memorable. I think...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Night of Accessible Theatre

Me and Marsha with the theatre entrance seen in the background

Last weekend was my big night out in Chicago with friends I had made through my local hearing loss support group. Julie, Kitty, and I met that afternoon at our group leader Kim's home, and the three of us squeezed into the backseat for a wild drive downtown. Kim's husband is an experienced city driver and can weave in and out of traffic with the best of them. We arrived safely and in record time!

Kim and her husband are season ticket holders while this was the first time for Julie, Kitty, and me. At the theatre they introduced us to two options for captioning. One was to read the words projected on the wall. For this play, they were shown on the wall to our left which meant turning your head back and forth between the action on stage and the script off stage right. The second option was using a portable small screen closed captioning device and lining it up as close as possible to the line of sight with the stage. Julie and I took one of these and positioned it between our seats. Kitty sat somewhere else.

Of the two options, I preferred the writing on the wall. As annoying as it was to have to turn my head, I couldn't stop reading the play! I kept telling myself the volume was loud enough that I could just watch the action on stage but I found myself watching the words nonetheless. It was just so much easier than having to listen and figure out what was said! I didn't like reading the much smaller print on the portable device and its brightness level also bothered me. On the other hand, Julie preferred this captioning option so I was glad we had given it a try.

Along with the script, the captioning included descriptions of the music and sound effects even giving clues to the emotional tenor of the action. Eurydice, the play showing that afternoon, was a modern retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus' descent into Hades to retrieve his dead wife. The play's staging was minimal and there were only seven actors so the music and effects were important to conveying the ideas of the play. What I liked best was how the play portrayed the Greek idea of the underworld as a peaceful place of forgetfulness and sleep.

Not everyone liked the play. Some said it was just weird. Actually the best part of the evening was when we ate dinner at a small restaurant across the street. Our group of five met up with about nine others from the Chicago ALDA (Association for Late Deafened Adults) group. We made one long table by pushing several small tables together. To communicate we used several strategies including lipreading, fingerspelling/signing, repeating, and writing on a pad of paper. It was just like ALDA's motto "whatever works"!

For me it was very inspiring to meet others with the same or even greater communication challenges who are enjoying full social lives and remaining employed. Everyone was very welcoming to Julie, Kitty, and me and hugs were freely exchanged at the end of the evening. I hope to socialize with them again soon.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Amazing Race 13: Episode Six

At the beginning of this week's episode, my family answered Phil's recurring question, "Who will be eliminated next?" with the unanimous reply "Dan and Andrew". Then my son edited his response, "No, it should be Dan and Andrew will come in last." We were sure it had to finally be a non-elimination leg.

This week the six remaining teams left Cambodia for India, a country that previous seasons' racers have found difficult to navigate easily. All teams travelled on the same flight so Frat Boys Dan and Andrew had an even chance. The racers first task was to find Moonlight Motors and paint vehicles with green paint to indicate they run on natural gas. This was a great Roadblock task as the racers got the chance to do something useful for their hosts.

Amazingly, Andrew finished first. Yes, the team we predicted to do poorly rose to the front of the pack. But not for long. The Frat Boys' failure to find a taxi allowed three other teams to pass them. Terence and Sarah fell into last place as Terence harangued Sarah on her painting technique. He could have taken a cue from Dallas who coached his mom through the task being a help to her rather than a hindrance.

The next challenge facing the teams was a Detour choice of laundering clothes or laundering money. Laundering clothes involved pressing twenty pieces of laundry with an iron heated by charcoals. Hot, hot, hot! Nick and Starr arrived first and cleverly pulled out cotton gloves they had packed for colder climates. They were the perfect protection for their hands. Other teams arriving after them, noticed their gloves and were stunned to find out they were personal items rather than something provided for the task. Divorcees Kelly and Christie made due by wrapping clothes around their iron handles. Mother and son team Toni and Dallas cooperated well on this domestic chore while Dan and Andrew really struggled. As they noted, "There was never any ironing going on in the frat house."

The other Detour choice, laundering money, involved creating a money necklace with a precise combination of Indian rupee notes and finding a groom at a packed wedding party to receive delivery of the finished necklace. Terence and Sarah and Ken and Tina chose this option. Both teams finished before Dan and Andrew completed their ironing. Was our prediction coming to pass?

In the end, Nick and Starr came in first, followed by Kelly and Christy and Toni and Dallas. Unfortunately for Ken and Tina, taxi cab woes landed them in last place. Since this was the expected nonelimination leg, they remain in the race but must complete an extra Speed Bump task somewhere along the next leg of the race. If they come in last again, they will be eliminated. Unpredictably, Dan and Andrew survived to race farther around the world.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election 2008 Reaction

Say it ain't so, Joe! Joe Plumber that is. The blue collar vote just didn't come through for McCain/Palin.

Congratulations, President Elect Obama! Your election is history making and a breakthrough in another way. Change is in the air. Make the most of it and bring our country to better days.

God bless the U.S.A.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Accepting Accomodations: Day Two

October 30
Day Two went much better! It's amazing what a good night's sleep can do! This time I knew right where to obtain my morning coffee and muffin. I understood the layout of the conference center and could navigate to the various room locations without wandering around in a daze like the day before. Off to a good start.

This time when I attended the general session in the large auditorium I arrived early enough to find my way to the assigned seating. When I got there another woman was sitting in the section. I struck up a conversation with her and found out she was an ASL interpreter. For this presentation two interpreters took turns signing what the speaker said. I was so pleased to get this opportunity to improve my ASL reading skills. Especially since the talk was very IT (information technology) heavy and much less interesting than the previous day's speech on brain research. Now I know the signs for "embedded computer" and "internet". How about that!

The next presentation was on "Confessions of a Digital Immigrant". That topic sounded fascinating to me. A digital immigrant is someone born before 1982 who has had to learn all the technology that digital natives (those born 1982 and later) take for granted. I found my assigned seat in the front row and was all excited to hear the speaker's wisdom. Unfortunately, this speaker took the liberty of changing his presentation to a talk on what it's like to be a CIO (chief information officer). I could not relate to that at all. Grrr. However, the speaker had been honored with an award at this conference so out of respect and politeness not to mention my conspicuous seat practically under his nose I stayed to hear his talk. But I didn't tire myself out listening too closely.

A much more interesting talk on social media was given by a young woman with a prominent pink streak in her hair. For this session, I ended up at the back of the room but I used my Pocket Talker and heard everything. I also used my assistive listening device for a talk on how one university has implemented mobile devices (ipods and iphones in this case) into their curriculum. That's something I've been asked to get involved in looking at for my own school.

In the afternoon I explored the vendors exhibit area. I heard a great presentation by Camtasia. I am very interested in their Camtasia6 product which would enable me to add captions to the podcasts I'm creating of my library's technology workshops. Their sales reps were really helpful in answering my questions about captioning and even gave a step-by-step demonstration of how it's done. A man from Duke University happened to sit next to me during the demo and while chatting with him, he gave me a great idea for assessing these podcasts. Brilliant! The Educause conference emphasizes the importance of networking with others in your field to share ideas and this is where that happened for me.

It wasn't all business. There were lots of free giveaways and drawings in the exhibit area. I got three t-shirts (one for me, one for hubby, and one for my son) from different vendors and loaded up with cool pens. I "won" a set of golf balls at one booth for taking a swing at a mini golf hole. I "raced" a toy car around a track. I picked up assorted gizmos and some nice cloth tote bags at other booths. Best of all was my enthusiastic greeting from the Wimba owl! I didn't even have to be at Disney World to get my picture taken with a friendly costumed character.

The fun continued that evening with a Halloween party at Universal Studios City Walk.
There was a generous buffet laid out and music and performers all around. I met a Chicago icon (John Belushi as one of the Blues Brothers) and had my photo taken once more. Of course, this outdoors party (designed for hearing people) was very loud so I didn't stay the whole evening. A pair of foam earplugs would have come in handy. I got back to the hotel and found out my husband and son had a wonderful day of their own exploring more of the Universal Studios theme park. Day Two was fun.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Accepting Accomodations: Day One

October 29
Hello from Orlando. I'm starting this post on a computer available at the conference center. At the airport my family got our first surprise when we had to pay $15 to check our bags. What? Since when did this fee come into effect? Thanks, American Airlines.

My first day here has been so overwhelming. Looking back, it probably wasn't a good idea to fly in late the evening before, get up early, and try to face a new and challenging situation... My second surprise of the trip is that the Orange County Convention Center is huge. It just goes on and on. Note to self: next time pack rollerskates! After I located some coffee, I was ready for the opening session. Following the email instructions I had received, I approached a staffer with a radio and asked for directions to seating for the hearing impaired. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people entering at the same time and we were all sort of herded along and I didn't find the assigned seating section. Fortunately, though, there was seating available in the front where the volume was good. Even better the speaker was displayed on enormous video screens making lipreading a breeze. So far so good.

For the second session in a much smaller room, I found the sign for my reserved seat located right in front of the speaker podium. Funnily though, the lady who made the introduction of the three panelists was short. All I could see of her face over the open laptop on the podium was her eyes. tee hee. Fortunately the male panelists were taller and I could see their faces with no problem. But...the second speaker had a very soft voice! I was just reaching for my Pocket Talker when another audience member asked him to please speak into the microphone. Ahh, much better.

Session three had my assigned seat not in the front row but about row four. Strangely it was located right next to the slide projector. Grrr, now I had to deal with that noise competing with the female speaker's voice. I used my Pocket Talker to boost her volume but I could still hear that projector. This session was one that I thought would best relate to my new job but it turned out to be completely unrelated. Drat.

After lunch, I went to a session held in a computer lab setting. I made a switch to attend this one so I knew there would be no reserved seat for me. When I entered the room, I asked the speaker where would be a good seat to sit to hear well. He told me he would be moving around the room, so I decided to sit on the aisle halfway back. As it turned out, he did not move but stayed in the front. Fortunately he had a good strong speaking voice and I was able to hear him alright. His female colleague, who said very little during the presentation, had a very soft voice so I just ignored her contributions. This session was also challenging because we were seated in front of laptops and expected to be logging in to websites and posting contributions to a group discussion all the while listening to the speaker. Yikes. I struggled with typing on an unfamiliar keyboard let alone thinking of something worthwhile to contribute. I did my best to multitask but I'm sure I missed some of this speaker's presentation.

Back at the hotel that evening, I rejoined my family and heard about their exciting day at Universal Studios. We went out to dinner at the hotel restaurant which featured Caribbean food. My salmon dinner came with a flower! How lovely. There was one funny moment at dinner when my son talked about "barrels flying in" through the open door when he and my husband ate breakfast there that morning. What? Oh my bad, not barrels but sparrows. Day One is over.