I Lived on Soylent for a Day

At the Indy Hall Fourth of July barbecue I heard about a drink called Soylent, an open source meal replacement. It takes its name from the movie Soylent Green, but unlike the movie this just has the raw ingredients a human needs to live. I have always wanted something like this so ordered some immediately. It finally arrived five and a half months later, so I decided to try living on it for a day. I felt amazing!

The summer seems so far away now. In the warm and wonderful sun the members of Indy hall and their friends and families gathered at Liberty Lands Park to celebrate the co-working space and the community around it. At some point I got into conversation with a guy named Keith. He told me of a drink invented by a Silicon Valey startup founder because he wanted to spend less time preparing and eating food. I’ve always fantasized about such a thing so became instantly interested. I also appreciated the irony of finding out about it at a barbecue, which had excellent vegetarian food by the way.

I remembered the product name because of the movie so looked it up when I got home. It looked legitimate. It also appealed to my open source nature. Making the formula available to all makes it better for everyone. It means that more experts can evaluate it. The whole project has the feel of a software project, with version numbers and a change log.

I ordered a week’s supply, consisting of seven bags of powder, seven bottles of oil, and a starter kit. The starter kit consists of a pitcher and a metal scoop. The web site gave me fair notice that it would take a long time to arrive, 4-6 months. I didn’t mind since I viewed it as an experiment. It arrived five and a half months later, but re-orders will come within 1-2 weeks.

I woke up with a headache. I felt nasty and had to host an accessibility party later that night. I just wanted to eat something bland that would get me feeling better. I received a notification that my package of Soylent had arrived, and sure enough I found it after all this time, and on the perfect day. It really doesn’t get any simpler to make. They provide a digital version of the booklet which they send, a plus for accessibility. The time had come.

To make soylent, just pour a bag of powder in the pitcher, fill mostly full with water, shake for thirty seconds, add the oil and top off with water, and shake for thirty more seconds. Done. You can also use the custom cup for a single serving. Just combine a cup of powder with a teaspoon and a half of oil and two cups of water. It all seemed too easy.

I decided to start with a single serving. I put a cup of Soylent V1.3 into a glass, added water and stirred, then used a measuring spoon to measure the oil and stirred it in. I let it chill in the fridge since it tastes better when cold. An hour later I tried it. It smelled and tasted like tapioca pudding. It had a slightly milky consistency because of the oil. It tasted neutral but good. I didn’t mind it at all.

I finished the glass and before I knew it I felt full. It didn’t feel fake, I felt really full. An hour later I had a little swig for the road. It hit my stomach and my body knew it had enough. I still felt a little weird, since I hadn’t eatn a hot meal. I hoped it would still effect me like one. At least my headache had mostly disappeared. I felt impressed enough to make the rest of the pitcher so I’d have it when I got home.

At the party I started greeting people and felt fine. I didn’t feel hungry or like I had missed a meal at all. In fact, I felt like I had eaten a rather large one. Several people brought food, but I didn’t feel like anything. I asked for a few desserts and snacks to nibble on. I started eating a cookie then realized that it felt painful. I had failed to take into account that Soylent would also take away my desire for dessert! I ate a chocolate candy and thought of that classic scene from Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life, where a fat guy orders and eats everything on a restaurant’s menu, then eats an after dinner mint and explodes. “It’s wafer thin!”

I came home a few hours later. The feeling of fullness had started wearing off, so I had half a glass, a snack’s worth. It hit me and again I felt really full. I didn’t need anything else the rest of the night. I went to bed feeling content. My stomach felt full and I had eaten nothing. How strange and wonderful.

The next day I woke up and still felt fine. I didn’t feel overly hungry or like I had done anything wrong. In fact I felt really good. I decided to carry on the experiment for a full day. I had a glass for my breakfast and another half a glass later in the afternoon. I didn’t feel hungry at all. I did feel a little bloated, but they warned this would happen at first due to getting a proper amount of fiber, something most of us eat too little of. Other then that i have no complaints. I do feel concerned that it contains GMOs, but hopefully they will address that.

I decided to end the experiment after a day. For dinner I had tempura tacos. I felt unusually sensitive to the fried food, though enjoyed it. It felt good to taste flavors again. Eating solid food felt like returning home from an alien world.

I love cooking and would never want to give that up. Food connects us to the Earth and to our humanity. Blue Apron has provided me with exotic dinners, and I’ve always enjoyed good breakfasts. Still, when I can’t prepare a quick healthy meal I will use this. Soylent doesn’t need to replace food, but it can provide a replacement when necessary. It tastes and feels man made, but it may save humanity. You can find more info at http://soylent.me.

Discordian Holyday Calendar

Discordians have their own wacky take on the Gregorian calendar with its own seasons and holydays. After I missed Afflux yesterday I decided to atone to Goddess by making a calendar with all of these sacred days of celebration so I would never forget one again.

You can use it in any program that supports the vCalendar format. To use it on your Mac:
Download the calendar
Open it. This will open the Calendar app.
When asked to select the calendar, choose Other and type in Discordian Holydays

Enjoy having ten (and in leap years eleven more excuses to party. Hail Eris, and Watch out for Saint Tib!
– Pope Augustus XXIII


Last month I spoke at CocoaLove, a conference about people, not tech. After traveling so much it felt wonderful to speak at a local conference. It had the feel of a classy European conference with the convenience of not needing to travel there. I enjoyed speaking there and I hope it will inspire others to have more conferences in Philadelphia.

The conference spanned three wonderful days. The opening keynote and banquette took place on the night of Friday, October 24. Mike Zornek, the head of Philly Cocoa, gave a great keynote about mentoring. Meanwhile I ate pasta and took in the good vibes. They chose the Chemical Heritage Foundation for their venue, a museum and hall. People had come from all over the country and a few even came internationally to Philadelphia. Everything felt wonderful. After it ended I just took an Uber back home. Excellent!

The next day I got up, ate breakfast, and took an Uber back there. I really liked having a conference locally. I would speak in the morning, and arrived shortly before my time. The non-technical format made my talk about accessibility very accessible. The crowd also felt very receptive. See it for yourself.

I got my adrenaline rush after I finished which always happens, so couldn’t focus too much on the other talks. I enjoyed them though, and I encourage you to check them out. All the non-technical topics began to blend together into an intellectual pillow. It all seemed to boil down to the Reiki precepts, which I will reproduce below.

For today only:
Do not anger
Do not worry
Be humble
Be honest in your work
Be compassionate to yourself and others

I took an Uber back home, ate dinner, and took a power nap. I loved that I could do this. Eventually I made it to the after party at Frankfort Hall. I had good conversations with people from Downcast, Mint, and the Omni Group. A guy asked me about Apple Maps. When he persisted I asked if he had an interest in cartography, and he explained that he works for Apple and used to work on Apple Maps but has since moved to the Apple Watch, which as I recently detailed will have accessibility. You just never know!

The next day they had a walking tour of the Constitution Center. I could not go because I had to have a meeting about the Map4Access Project. Also, eating cheesesteaks doesn’t do anything for me, a vegetarian. I hope everyone had fun though.

CocoaLove began as a few people talking after a meeting of Philly Cocoa. Curtis and the others had no experience running a conference and made it happen smoothly. The site already hints at CocoaLove 2015 and I can’t wait! I have told other conference organizers to consider Philadelphia. Perhaps they will begin taking my suggestion more seriously now. We have great venues, wonderful history, and from what I understand a small conference doesn’t cost a prohibitive amount. See you next year in Philly!

TEDx Philadelphia 2014

In late January I received an email inviting me to speak at TEDx Philadelphia, the local version of the famous TED talks. At first I mistook it for spam, but quickly realized its authenticity. I said yes, and spoke in late March. They finally got the video online in mid November. Now everyone can enjoy it!

Initially I felt nervous. I had no idea what I would talk about. Reading the TED commandments didn’t help. The conference had the theme of Philadelphia, the New Workshop of the World. I knew my talk would have something to do with accessibility and Philadelphia, and began to put things together. After a few meetings with the organizers I began to get an idea of what I wanted to say and started to feel better… sort of. They had a press lunch where I got to meet some of the other speakers and members of the press. The day before the event they had a dress rehearsal which helped a lot. Finally the day had come.

The conference took place at the Temple Center for the Performing Arts, with a crowd of around 1200. Hearing the size of the crowd kind of freaked me out. Thankfully I had brought my friends Sonia and Liz to keep me company. Sonia and I do Braille Street Art together, which I would mention in my talk. I met Liz at Indy Hall. She writes strange novels, does political fundraising, and makes yummy peanut butter treats, one of which she gave to me when I arrived.

We had fun listening to a few talks, then made our way to the green room. If you ever get accepted to speak at a TED talk, go to the green room! They had expensive herbal water and snacks which we enjoyed. They also gave out expensive printed programs, which seemed to impress Liz. Everything felt expensive.

The fatal hour approached, and my friends walked me upstairs. It felt like going to the execution chamber. The staff wired me up with microphones. I had gone through this before, but this time it felt different, like getting strapped into the electric chair. I heard them introduce me and my friends walked me on stage. I could not go back now.

As it turns out, I gave a wonderful speech. My worries melted away as I began. I used the Loci technique to build a mental model to keep me on track, since TED has a commandment that thou shalt not read thy speech. Rather than summarize it here, you can see it for yourself. Interestingly, they asked me to say at the beginning that I don’t work for Apple and didn’t know Steve Jobs, but they edited this from the video.

I came to the end of my script and the crowd applauded. I had done it! They took the microphones off me and I went outside to smoke a pipe. My family had all come to see me speak and ran out. Trish Maunder, the head of the touch tours program at Penn, came as well. Everyone congratulated me. Since I spoke near the end of the day we just hung around and mingled after the conference ended. After that a few of us wanted food so ended up at a Vietnamese place. I came home and rested.

The next morning at 09:00 my cell phone rang. People rarely call y cell that early especially on a Saturday so it seemed suspicious. I answered, and heard someone from Uber on the other end. Apparently my talk caused some exquisite controversy, another TED commandment. I explained the problem and feel delighted to report they have mostly improved things, and the lines of communication remain open. Uber has since introduced wheelchair accessible vehicles as well, so they clearly have begun considering accessibility.

I have never had so much attention after an event. I appeared in several radio and newspaper articles about TEDx Philadelphia. These include philly.com, the South Philly Review,bizjournals.com, Technically Philly, the Knight Foundation, Geekadelphia, PhillyMag.com, NBC 10, Parents United Phila, Flying Kite Media, and Keystone Edge. Wow! Some other good things have also happened as a result. Most recently I spoke to a class of Temple students because the professor saw my talk. A lot of people have begun identifying me as a “TED talker.”

TED tells its speakers to “bask in the glory.” I began to understand, but for a long time my talk did not go online. One day in the middle of the summer I received a printed letter in the mail explaining that they would have a new web site online shortly. The irony did not escape me, and it gave me a good laugh at least. Finally the talk went on their YouTube channel and I feel glad that I can share it with everyone who did not see it back in March. I worried that I wouldn’t like it, but it stands well, and other than Uber becoming more accessible little has changed.

Thank you TEDx Philadelphia for this opportunity to change the world, starting right here in Philadelphia, the new workshop of the world. We did it once, we can do it again. We just have to JFDI! They have already begun planning TEDx Philadelphia 2015, and I look forward to an even better conference.

Proof that the Apple Watch has Accessibility

In October, Apple announced the Apple Watch. The blind all wondered if it would have some version of VoiceOver, the screen reader which they have on all their other products. The demo showed interaction with Siri, but Apple never made mention of accessibility, and apparently no journalists thought to ask. Since all of Apple’s other products have accessibility built in it seemed logical to conclude the Apple Watch would as well.

Today Apple released WatchKit, the API which allows programmers to write apps for the Apple Watch. I feel glad to report that it includes some accessibility features. The information in this article comes from the iOS 8.2 diffs and the WKInterfaceObject reference documentation. Thanks to Jonathan Campbell of Access Ninja for pointing them out.

Before getting into WatchKit, you must first understand how a regular iOS app works. The screen of an app has a collection of views. We call this a UIView. Every label, button, image, etc. descends from UIView. Thus, if you can set a property on a UIView you can also set it on a UILabel or a UIButton. This includes accessibility attributes.

A standard iOS object has a number of these attributes. These include the accessibility label, accessibility hint, accessibility value, accessibility traits, and others. A programmer can define these to improve how VoiceOver interacts with their iOS app by calling methods, pieces of code which execute a function on an object.

Now we can move on to an Apple Watch app. The WKInterFaceObject forms the basic element in an app. It roughly corresponds to a UIView. Descendants include things like WKInterfaceLabel for a text label and WKInterfaceButton for a button. These act similarly to a UILabel or UIButton. A WKInterfaceObject has a property name, a width and height, and yes, accessibility attributes.

A WKInterFaceObject includes the setAccessibilityLabel, setAccessibilityHint, and setAccessibilityValue methods. The label tells VoiceOver what to read. A hint can provide additional information. The value can contain the value of something like a slider. iOS has these exact same methods.

While we have yet to see any demonstration of the Apple Watch’s accessibility features, these methods in the basic WatchKit interface object prove they exist in some form. I can’t wait to include them in motion-accessibility. We still do not know how a VoiceOver user will interact with these elements, but we know that the capability exists. If anyone can figure it out, Apple can. We know the Apple Watch has a speaker and the other necessary components to make an accessible interface. In fact, the forced simplicity of the design should work very well for the blind. I believe that the Apple Watch could become the next big thing for the blind since the iPhone!