Thursday, December 17, 2015

Breathing Life into an Old Friend

What say we breathe life back into this old blog of mine? It's insightful to read over posts from long ago and see how far that I've come, yet still remained true to my passions.

All roads lead to here -- over six years of film review and features after the spark was lit in my capsule reviews here. More time in water industry as I branched out into groundwater diagnostics, and now run my own consulting firm for small stand alone public water systems in Central Texas. "Relaxing" on the weekends by working in the tasting room of a beloved local brewery, Jester King Brewery.

What's else is on my plate? So much, but here are the highlights:

  • Covering Sundance Film Festival for Film Colossus 
  • Planning out next year's events for Other Worlds Austin
  • Taking on new clients for both my own consulting firm as well as for Blue Treble
  • Helping with SXSW Create -- I hope!
  • Organizing Austin Women in Technology event for February
  • More and new writing assignments -- booze for Nuclear Salad 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Significance of Numbers in Water

1, 8.34, 187, 1247, 60,000, 1.1 billion - if we hear but don’t really listen then they are just random numbers. What is the significance of numbers when talking about water?

8.34 - the weight of one gallon of water. Convert two 5 gallon Jerry cans that has be carried miles from a water source, and that’s 83.4 pounds. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “women are most often the collectors, users and managers of water in the household as well as farmers of crops. Women and children provide nearly all the water for the household in rural areas.” In urban areas, women are often in charge of accessing clean water and ensuring sanitation for their families.

Women and children are most affected when water sources are contaminated or unavailable. They may be required to expend more labor collecting, storing, and protecting their water source, which can leave them with little or no time for other activities, such as an education. The UN estimates that in some parts of Africa, women and children spend eight hours a day collecting water. Water-related diseases are also a common challenge to women, who are often responsible for caring for sick ones and have to step in for those who are ill and unable to work. (Source: Womens Earth Alliance)

1.1 billion - the number of people on the planet who don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water. This not only means no safe and clean water to drink, but no basic sanitation such as toilets and showers. Safe water is not available to provide to schools and hospitals.

60,000 - The number of people in Zimbabwe now infected by cholera, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Cholera has now claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people in Zimbabwe. The epidemic of the disease, has been fueled by the collapse of Zimbabwe’s water, sanitation and health systems. Many hospitals have shut down and most towns suffer from poor water supply, broken sewers and uncollected waste. With the upcoming rainy season even more infections could occur as water sources become contaminated.

These numbers now seem staggering to the point that one might think efforts are fruitless, and insignificant. How can we really expect to make a change?

The answer is apparent when we talk about the positive numbers -

1247 - the number of water projects in progress or completed by 13 partner organizations and funded by charity: water as of January 19, 2009, in 14 countries including Ethiopia, Haiti, Honduras, India, Kenya, Malawi, and more. In case you don’t know by now, charity: water is a non profit organization bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations by funding sustainable clean water solutions in areas of greatest need.

187 - the number of cities worldwide participating in Twestival, which was born out of the idea that if cities were able to collaborate on an international scale, but working from a local level, it could have a spectacular impact. “By rallying together globally, under short timescales, for a single aim on the same day, the Twestival hopes to bring awareness to this global crisis.” Twestival is organized 100% by volunteers around the world and 100% of the money raised from these events will go directly to support charity: water projects.

20 - the number of dollars that can give a person in Africa clean, safe drinking water for 20 years. 100% of charity:water funds goes directly to project costs.

1 - the most important number of all, one person becoming aware of the critical need, advocating by telling others, and supporting this global event by attending Austin Twestival or their local Twestival event. If you can’t make it, follow the event @austintwestival and donate to Austin’s efforts at charity: water.

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.
- Mother Theresa

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Not in My Backyard

Imagine that you lived in a place where water borne diseases were rampant. Your local water source is contaminated, and typhoid outbreaks occur whenever major flooding occurs - probably from sewage and contaminants entering your water supply. Thousands of people become ill, and many even die. There are no trained water staff to effectively treat the water to protect human health. Seems worlds away, doesn’t it?

It’s not -
You are right here in Austin, Texas, only the year is 1911 and drinking water is untreated. It wasn’t until 1915 when the State’s first sanitary engineer Vic Ehlers was appointed by the governor to make inspections, investigations, and reports of water borne disease epidemics, and the City of Austin was convinced to chlorinate their water in 1916. Typhoid from public water sources in Texas was eradicated as Mr. Ehlers traveled from town to town, educating water operators and engineers.

The Sanitary Engineering Division of the Texas State Health Department was subsequently formed to guide and develop the state environmental programs. In 1973 Congress promulgated the Safe Drinking Water Act, setting national drinking water standards.

We are fortunate. Right now, 1.1 billion people on the planet don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water. That’s one in six of us.

By participating in Austin Twestival which supports charity: water, you can affect a change. This non profit organization is working with international partners including A Glimmer of Hope and Water for People to bring clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations. 100% of the money raised goes to direct project costs, funding sustainable clean water solutions in areas of greatest need. Just $20 can give one person in a developing nation clean water for 20 years.

Come have fun at our event, but you can really help us now by blogging, linking, tweeting, anything to get the word out! If you want to volunteer, send a tweet to @snax or visit our Volunteer page on the Austin Twestival wiki.

Show the world that everything truly is big in Texas, including our hearts!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Knowbility Press Release in Response to Closing of UT Accessibility Institute

512 305-0310 / 512 797-7351

Decision opposed by technology industry leaders, disability community, academics

Austin, TX- August 29th, 2008 – The University of Texas announced last week its intention to close the Accessibility Institute, founded by Dr. John Slatin, a faculty member who passed away earlier this year. The Accessibility Institute was founded by Dr. Slatin in the early 1990’s as the Institute for Technology and Learning (ITAL), to research effective methods for employing technology in teaching and learning environments. His work at ITAL and the emerging dominance of electronic information technology led Dr. Slatin to research design methods and practices that would ensure that no one was left out of educational opportunity because of disability. His own progressive blindness was one factor, but Dr. Slatin’s passion for art, literature and the humanities led his commitment to include everyone as technology transformed teaching and learning. At the Accessibility Institute, John Slatin pioneered studies that helped an emerging industry frame its ideas for highly usable and inclusive interface design methods.

A colleague in the English Department, Dr. Peg Syverson, worked closely with Dr. Slatin.
“John was not merely an innovator; “ Dr. Syverson says, “He was a visionary. And he was not a visionary who merely saw into the future. He brought the future he saw into being. And the future he brought into being was dazzling and entirely unexpected. John saw … that technology could become a vehicle for liberation and transformation in the humanities.”

At the Accessibility Institute, Dr. Slatin built a staff of researchers and graduate students who integrated technology, accessibility, and learning for everyone through research, education, advocacy, consulting, training, and service to the campus community and state agencies struggling to comply with accessibility requirements mandated by the Texas legislature. UT’s example of incorporating accessibility into all educational research and development was one that is upheld as a standard all over the nation and the world. The World Wide Web Consortium invited Dr. Slatin to co-chair its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group, a position he held in 2005 and 2006.

Because of the recognized leadership position held by the University of Texas, the closure announcement came as quite a shock to the campus community and to accessibility experts and technology industry leaders globally. As business, government and academic institutions all over the world strive to build inclusive information technology design tools and techniques, the closure of one of the nation’s leading research institutes in the field is baffling to many.

“I learned that UT’s decision was final on the same day I learned that Target stores had settled their accessibility lawsuit with the National Federation of the Blind,” says Sharron Rush, accessibility expert and co-author with Dr. Slatin of Maximum Accessibility, an accessible design manual published in 2002 to great acclaim. “While John might chuckle at the irony, he would be bitterly disappointed in the short-sightedness of the University. We have invited the Provost’s Office to meet and hear our concerns and suggestions for transition, but they have so far declined to meet with us. ”

Ms Rush, her nonprofit employer Knowbility, and others in the disability, academic, and technology community launched an effort today to persuade the University to maintain and build on this important body of work. They have petitioned the administration to give serious consideration to requests to move the Accessibility Institute into the School of Information or otherwise provide continuity to a transition of Dr. Slatin’s work. The petition, addressed to Executive Vice-Prvost Steve Monti, took just a few hours to garner more than 130 signatures from people all over the world, including representatives of Apple, Adobe, Google, IBM and numerous academic institutions and state agencies.

Selected comments:
Dr. Jon Gunderson, University of Illinois: It is very important for the advancement of universal design that institutes like the Accessibility Institute at UT becomes an important part of the basic research agenda of the university. I urge you to reinvest in the institute to bring researchers to bear on the fundamental and applied accessibility of human disability and technology.

Dr. Terry Thompson, University of Washington: UT-Austin has long been a model for web accessibility. This tradition should be upheld, not just for the benefit of UT-Austin, but for higher education institutions globally who have turned to the Accessibility Institute for guidance and leadership.

Dr. Chris Strickling, Texas Department of Aging and Disability: I am disturbed to discover that there are people at the university who do not recognize the value of the work and vision of the Accessibility Institute. Web accessibility, universal design research, and all of the projects of the AI are of immense importance to our communities, both academic and cultural.

Katherine Druckman, Publisher: As a webmaster for a major publication…I know that web media will only become more significant, and with it accessibility studies must continue. People in my field have come to know UT as a knowledge center, and as a Texan I would be quite saddened if that changed.

James Craig, Apple: The Accessibility Institute…started me and countless others on the road to helping thousands make accessible products and websites enjoyed by millions of people worldwide. The Accessibility Institute's influence for the greater good cannot be overstated.

Matt May, Adobe Systems: As painful as the loss of John has been to the field of accessibility, it would be especially sad to also lose his institute, all within the same year. We need the work of the Accessibility Institute to continue, in order to benefit a constituency which faces greater and more complex challenges to access than ever before.

To sign the petition, read more of the comments from around the nation and the world, or learn more about the issues and the importance of this work, follow the links on the Knowbility homepage at

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Step Backwards for Accessibility: UT Accessibility Institute Closing

From Sharron Rush, Executive Director of Knowbility:

"As news has spread of the closing of UT's Accessibility Institute, many have asked for a simple way to register their objections. Knowbility has created and posted an online petition and we welcome all the support you can bring. Below is background (thank you Mike Moore for a great summary) if you want to distribute to other networks and here is the link:"

Petition to Save the Accessibility Institute

From Mike Moore, accessibility specialist for the State of Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Center for Policy and Innovation :

1. The Accessibility Institute at the University of Texas will be closed effective August 29th 2008.
2. Proposals to move the work to the College of Information and/or the College of Computer Science have not been accepted. Although those institutions are capable of conducting the research there are no specific funds, faculty, or researcher positions to support this work.
3. The two primary researchers from the Accessibility Institute are no longer available. The founder and Director, John Slatin, PhD passed away last spring and Kay Lewis, PhD has accepted another position.
4. The University’s IT department has few resources dedicated to accessibility. Two systems analysts are assigned 15% of their time each to oversee accessibility for the University’s 1M+ web pages.

It is very disappointing that the University has made this decision. The University of Texas has the stature, funding, reputation, and experience necessary to attract researchers and faculty needed to continue and build the Accessibility Institute. All that the University’s administration seems to lack is the interest.

The UT Accessibility Institute through Dr. Slatin was able to considerable influence on the development and implementation of accessibility standards world-wide. This included the formation of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative and the WCAG 1.0 and 2.0 as well as the US Access Board and the Section 508 standards. Although I have tremendous admiration and respect for John, I do not believe that he would have been as influential had his advocacy not been backed by the solid research conducted at the Institute and the prestige of the University of Texas. The loss of the UT Accessibility Institute is a loss for the University, the State of Texas, the nation, and the world. Most importantly it is a loss for millions of disabled people who have benefited from the research, education, and advocacy that was conducted through the Institute.

The University runs promotional commercials during sports broadcasts where Walter Cronkite, speaks about the influence of the University. “The University of Texas, what starts here changes the world.” This was certainly true of the Accessibility Institute. By closing the Institute, the University of Texas is signaling that accessibility is not a priority anymore. I can only hope that this decision does not change the world.

Today I am ashamed of my alma mater.


The Accessibility Institute
is a research organization located on the UT Austin campus. This institute has focused on research of accessibility issues and offers training and consultation services to promote all aspects of Web and software accessibility for the university community. The initiative demonstrated and projects by the University of Texas served as a model to others nationally and across the globe, including The University of Wisconsin at Madison's Trace Center, as well as The University of Washington who called "A Promising Practice in Web Accessibility".

With the move to provide more educational content on the Web, a Student Web Accessibility Project was developed specifically to support accessibility of instructional resources on campus. The project had several components, including assessments of online instructional resources against Section 508 standards for Web accessibility, development of resources to support the creation of accessible online course materials, and assistance to developers in integrating accessibility into project planning and design of instructional sites. Findings were published in EDUCAUSE Quarterly in 2007.

The Accessibility Institute also ensured 508 compliance through reviews for entities such as the Government of Victoria, Australia; and its own UT portal into the Texas Digital Library.

From a personal standpoint, I find the tutorials very useful when I work on developing web pages for my state agency. I hopet the state of Texas, the international community and its affected populations don't lose this valuable resource. As A UT alumnus, this event will be the tipping point on whether I will be willing to contribute money to my alma mater.

I am most saddened that the legacy of John is ending so abruptly.

I am inspired by John, and other people who struggle with disabilities whether temporary or permanent. I'm reminded of the call to action to Beth Finke made to the accessibility community at the 2008 John Slation Access U.

"I can't get the technical stuff! CSS - What's that?! Cacading Spread Sheets? Thank you for the work you do, and keep doing it!"

"For most people, technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible." - President's Council on Disabilities

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

On the Bus: #3 Pub Crawl with Lee Nichols

The main blog is a must read at I Love Beer: The No. 3 Bus Route Drinking Tour

My boyfriend Ed brought along his video camera, and put a lot of effort into creating a fun reminiscent video. Some of the dialogue, especially Bobnoxious - was very entertaining. Or maybe not if you weren't there.

Here's my list of what I believe I drank through the course of the day:

Kodiak IPA 10:30 am NXNW Restaurant and Brewery
Great start with delicious food. First game was to randomly pick a card with a topic. If Lee mentioned that topic, the person holding the card won a prize. My topic was "The Olympics". I won while we were at the first bus stop!

Silver Margarita - noon at Iron Cactus
Tasty drink, but bad idea to have sweet and sour on top of brunch and then running for the bus.

Hoegaarden Wit - 1 pm Bagpipe's
Nice and refreshing, which I could say the same about Bagpipe's. Not the most comfortable place, and smelled like stale beer. I was feeling tired and almost bailed. Tweet!

Deschutes Mirror Pond Ale - 1:30ish Trudy's North Star
Nothing like a second wind with a tasty beer I had wanted to try. We also had three more people join us, including long lost pal of mine, Billy from Critical Mass Interactive.

Dos Equis - Poodle Dog Lounge
The fanciest beer I could find there.

Bud Lite - Ginny's Lil Longhorn
I went for the more expensive beer, and had to love Charlie Pride on the jukebox.

Real Ale Devil's Backbone - Billy's on Burnet
We arrived after everyone else, having waited for a bus that never came. Finally gave up and walked.

(512)Wit - The Draught House
After meeting owner and brewmaster Kevin Brand last week, I was curious to see whether he could deliver. OMG - I really enjoyed this beer!

Real Ale Lost Gold IPA - the Dog and Duck Pub
Enjoyed a tasty snack of fish and chips.

Sierra Nevada ESB - 10 pm The Ginger Man
And that's where we got cut off, never making it to Uncle Billy's. Not enough time on the bus schedule to make it there and then back north.

I wish that I could say it would be a long, long time before I'll drink that much in a day. Unfortunately the Austin Zealots picnic is this weekend, and I'm sure there will be a minimum of 25 different beers available.

It's all about drinking plenty of water, and pacing yourself!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Some days the magic works

I don't know how I never found out about a valuable local (UT) resource until today. The Mid-American Geospatial Information Center (MAGIC) provides access to NASA remote sensing data which is combined with Texas-based developments in leading-edge information technology, computer visualization techniques and Internet2 data transmission network.

"One goal of the MAGIC program is to develop a rapid response capability to provide remote sensing data to address a broad range of applications in the region. This effort builds upon a cooperative effort between the University of Texas and and the Texas Geographic Information Council, a group with representatives from many Texas agencies and universities. To support that goal, UT-CSR operates a direct broadcast satellite receiving station for rapid acquisition of data from orbiting satellites. UT-CSR also downloads data from the NASA EOSDIS and the USGS EROS Data Center in South Dakota via the high-speed Internet2 network."

This information has provided rather useful during emergency response events. The interface with Google Earth is quite nice. I was able to search for a latitude/longitude to see if the Texas Civil Air Patrol had taken aerial photos of a couple of areas we were concerned about.