Friday, February 23, 2007

Tech Entrepreneur Helps Blind To Read

We just got terrific coverage from CBS Evening News of our Bookshare.org project. It is really exciting when a news team takes the time to dig in and understand the story. Our team is thrilled about the piece, and we're getting lots of phone calls and email as a result.

I think this is the first time we have had national coverage of Bookshare.org, which turned five years old this week! The CBS team came to Palo Alto, as well as filming a Bookshare.org-using couple, Brian Miller and his wife Priscilla McKinley, in the Washington D.C. area. The entire three and a half minute piece is up on the CBS News site: Bookshare Scans Books And Converts Them To Braille Or Audio For Immediate Access.

Thanks to our team and volunteers!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

GetaFirstLife.com and Linden Labs

Second Life, the on-line parallel universe, is a controversial topic. Some folks are fanatical about it, and it's touching a lot of real world places. I was wandering by Second Life interviews onsite at Davos. At the same time, I have heard that it is overhyped and that the number of participants is exaggerated.

But, hearing something like the following story makes me feel good about Linden Labs, the folks that operated Second Life. Someone started a parody website called GetaFirstLife.com and the reaction of Linden Labs was to send a trademark approval letter! This runs so counter to the normal overreaching of trademark and copyright owners, like the NFL's attempt to stop a law professor from posting the snippet from the Super Bowl showing how ridiculous their copy right claims were as explained on Techdirt: DMCA Takedown For Professor Showing How Copyright Owners Exaggerate Their Rights.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Missing Gustavo

One of our employees suddenly passed away from natural causes, and we are all very sad here. I sent the following note to the Bookshare.org members and volunteers and received many, many emails expressing condolences and dismay.

To the Bookshare.org community:

It is with great regret and sorrow that I inform you that Gustavo Galindo passed away suddenly Sunday. Gustavo was the Site Manager for Bookshare.org, and was the foundation of our Bookshare.org team. He was involved in the rapid growth of our collection over the last four years through personally approving each book being added. Gustavo was fierce in his dedication to serving people with print impairments while getting it right, by taking our commitments to publishers and authors seriously. He had a formidable intellect, and his insights, understanding and sense of humor will be sorely missed by our team.

We can honor Gustavo’s commitment to access and books by doing our best to bring more books to more people with print disabilities around the world.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Miradi

Our new environmental project management software, Miradi, just went into its beta testing. Our core beta testers are drawn from the Conservation Measures Partnership, coalition of the leading biodiversity groups (such as The Nature Conservancy, WWF and WCS).
I thought that meant a small beta test, but it turns out that we already have testers registered from 16 different countries on 6 different continents! Since we're designing this software for field people, and these groups have projects all over the world, it's just to be expected.
Miradi is an exciting project: I'm looking forward to making steady upgrades to the software this year. We're using an agile development mechanism, which means that we are responding quickly to user feedback and releasing new versions of the software several times a month. Later this year we should have a publicly available version 1 of the product!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Carrie Karnos, recipient of the 2006 James H. Veale Humanitarian Award.

It's great when one of our team is honored for their work, and Carrie Karnos has been one of our top Bookshare.org volunteers for years, including being Volunteer of the Year. Carrie just received the James H. Veale Humanitarian Award for service to the blind community. Congratulations, Carrie!

Here's the letter from the editor of Matilda Ziegler Magazine, which explains why Carrie was deserving of this award:

A Letter from the Editor
New York City
Dec. 21, 2006

Dear Readers:

Last September I asked Ziegler readers to nominate someone for our annual James H. Veale Humanitarian Award. This award, in the form of a plaque, recognizes a sighted person who has contributed to the well-being of blind people. In response to that request, I received three worthy nominations.

Earlier this month I presented the trio of nominees to the board of directors of the E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation for the Blind, which funds this magazine as well as eye research programs at universities across the United States. Although the members of our board were impressed with all three nominees, they awarded Carrie Karnos of Palo Alto, CA, the 2006 Veale Award for her work with an accessible online library called Bookshare.

According to the Bookshare.org Web site, a $25 initiation fee and a $50 annual subscription "gives patrons access to a library of more than 30,000 books and 150 newspapers. Bookshare's collection includes all the books that have appeared in the top 10 on The New York Times Best Sellers lists in fiction and nonfiction, hardback and paperback alike, from September 2005 through November 2006. These titles are available now for download by subscribers in both DAISY and BRF formats."

Working for an organization with a long, illustrious history, I am always curious about how other organizations got their start. I found Bookshare's interesting history on its Web site's About Us section:

"Benetech, a new kind of nonprofit enterprise, is sponsoring the Bookshare initiative. Benetech melds the mission and heart of social activism with the powerful methods and tools of the technology community. Benetech doesn't give technology away, but instead develops socially beneficial and affordable products and services that are not financially attractive to for-profit companies.

"Benetech's origins start with its Arkenstone project. In 1989, a group of visionary Silicon Valley engineers and executives asked themselves a profound question: `Why couldn't the far-reaching power of the PC with voice synthesis be combined with scanning technology to create a usable, affordable reading machine for the blind?' The market was small and for-profit companies were not interested. Benetech was formed as a nonprofit enterprise to bridge the gap between `the possible and profitable.'

"During Arkenstone's 11 years, Benetech sold literacy products under the Arkenstone brand in more than a dozen languages to over 35,000 individuals in 60 countries. The goal from the beginning was to empower people with vision and learning disabilities to use state-of-the-art technology to achieve independence and high performance in the workplace. During this time, 99 percent of the nonprofit's budget came from product sales.

"Today, Benetech has become one of the nation's most successful examples of high- technology social enterprises, using an innovative business model to achieve major social objectives in education, employment and independence. The Arkenstone product line was so successful that it was purchased by a for-profit company and was thereby assured expansion capital and sustainability. The income received from the sale of Arkenstone provided the core capital for Benetech and seed investment for Bookshare."

Now that I know more about Bookshare, it is easy to understand why Carrie Karnos would choose to help such an outstanding, unique organization. Lena Hinkle, a Ziegler reader from San Diego, CA, sent the letter nominating Ms. Karnos.

She wrote, "Carrie Karnos is a Bookshare.org volunteer who has given blind readers access to more than 2,000 books. What makes Bookshare unique is that this library is truly at our fingertips and lets its patrons keep their downloaded books that are in specialized formats. What makes Carrie unique is her dedication. Since retiring, she has donated time and energy and books to Bookshare so that all of us who cannot read print enjoy a wide variety of selections that are available nowhere else in accessible media.

"To submit a book to Bookshare, Carrie has to choose it, scan it, correct OCR (optical character recognition) errors, upload it to the Web site, and complete the donation process. Carrie does not just submit books she enjoys, she has committed herself to widening the scope of accessible books and has given the library old books as well as new books, bestsellers as well as patrons' requests, art books and history books, craft books and Latin books, lots of nonfiction, huge books and small books, mysteries and science fiction, reference as well as humor. Although children's books and Latin books present many difficulties to prepare, Carrie has donated many children's books and enough Latin books to get me through two years of college Latin.

"Every month, Carrie scans and proofs all of the books on The New York Times Best Sellers list, which sometimes is a lot of books. She also assists other Bookshare volunteers with their proofreading projects and spends time in the Bookshare office doing whatever needs to be done.

"My words do not begin to tell you how significant Carrie's contributions are to blind people. Notice that it is because of Carrie's work that almost 10 percent of Bookshare's library exists. She brings the printed word to students, teachers, other professionals and avid readers."

Ms. Hinkle concluded her letter of nomination with an eloquent entreaty. She wrote, "Please consider Carrie Karnos for this award. She truly is one of the great, quiet humanitarians who carry on Matilda Ziegler's legacy of literacy for those of us who are blind."

Ms. Hinkle's conclusion really resonated with me and the board members of the E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation. Congratulations to Carrie Karnos, recipient of the 2006 James H. Veale Humanitarian Award. Yours truly, Gregory Evanina Editor