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March 31st, 2015

LibrePlanet & the Sounds of Silence

On Saturday the 21st of March, I climbed on board a passenger aircraft in order to eventually arrive in Boston that same day. It had one stop, where I had to change flights, but with 44 minutes between boardings, I was fine.

Except the connecting flight was four terminals away and I had to catch the local robo train to get to there. I had no idea where to catch it or when to get off of it. Thankfully, I was still in Texas and I spoke the dialect.

No mouthOh wait…no I didn’t.

I didn’t speak at all. I no longer have a larynx. Try flying one third of the way across the United States without having the ability to speak…

In all, it wasn’t all that traumatic. Not for me anyway. But there were some interesting observations I made while on my trek.

Most people are accepting of a hand sign to hail for “can I talk to you for a minute?” If they have any worries, they are dispelled when I pull out my steno pad and scribble the message I need them to see. Most times it was for directions and they gladly helped. But to a person, every one of them did the same thing: They took the pad and pen from my hand and began to write their response.

While they positioned themselves to write a response, I would tap them on their wrist or lower arm and make the “cut” sign across my throat to indicate no speech ability. Then I’d point to my ear and then give the thumbs up, indicating that I could hear them just fine, and we would have a good laugh.

Truth be known, I had really brushed off any problems I might have with not being able to talk, even before I wasn’t able to talk. “It’ll be okay,” I told myself. “No sweat. I can do this.”

Uh, can I have a do-over on that “no sweat” part? You see, when I was weighing the pros and cons of my voiceless future, I never considered leaving the confines of my life-space…the space you travel in and around, where every place you inhabit is a place of comfort or recognition.

Cambridge, Massachusetts is not within my life-space…but I made it through okay.

Food in a tube.

Would you like to super size that?

The LibrePlanet 2015 awards ceremony was at 5:30 PM, so I had time for a shower and a bite to eat. Of course, these days I don’t do much “biting” when I eat. I am on the John Glenn diet for another two months. If it can’t be squeezed out of a tube, I can’t eat it. Of course, my inability to speak or eat “real” food precluded any meaningful participation at a large dinner table with colleagues. “Oh, Ken…? Yeah, see over at that table? The guy in the Linux hat who isn’t talking or eating? That’s Ken.”

But I was able to communicate one-on-one with those patient enough to indulge me as I either pounded out what I wanted to say on my TTS phone app or scribbled my communication on whatever handy writable surface I could find that wasn’t being worn as apparel. And I was able to use my text to speech recorder to indicate both the delight and surprise expressed by my Reglue directors when they heard we had been given one of the most prestigious awards in the FOSS sphere.

My sponsor for attending LibrePlanet was John Sullivan, the executive director of the Free Software Foundation, and I was surprised that he took the time to get me shown around. I wanted to kiddingly say to John, “Hey, you got people to do this, right?” I didn’t because I was afraid the humor would not have translated well…and I’m not sure it did here either.

In a more clear tone, I was honored that John Sullivan was the person who got me settled into my amazingly nice hotel room.

Libby Reinish was the person who made sure I got to my scheduled speaking or award sessions. Along with not being able to speak, COPD coupled with a weakened immune system made the five block walk from the hotel to the event center a trudge. It was good for me, don’t get me wrong, as what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Uh, not necessarily. If agreeing with that statement precludes me from getting rides to and from, it most certainly doesn’t.

I’m sure the text message I sent, telling her that I was lost and had fallen, with only minutes to spare before my Reglue presentation, made wanting two fingers of a single malt perfectly fine at that time. I missed a step as I trotted upward and went sprawling across the stairs. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I needed medical attention for my knee. However, it looked a lot worse than it was. It turned out to be a slight thin line fracture in the kneecap. Not a big deal. The pain medications made it a bearable experience.

Libby was a patient, kind and all around nice person. I do hope I get a chance to work or be around her again. She went above and beyond and I want to publicly thank her for being the true champion she truly is.

Even without the ability to speak, I was treated warmly. Our experiment with a pre-recorded text to speech presentation went extremely well. I’m going to tell you this now at the expense of being called a big baby by some and a rude jerk by others: When I finished speaking, or the audio projection finished speaking, I returned to the speakers’ preparation table and turned away from the audience as I readied myself to leave. For those of you who might have felt slighted by this, there was a good reason. When I saw some of the audience take to their feet in applause, I teared up and I needed a few seconds to get things back into check. I apologize if I offended you.

So who did I meet and what was LibrePlanet 2015 like? Watch this space as I gather more pictures and permissions to use them and I will give you a more detailed report. There was an absolutely friggin’ Who’s Who in FOSS there this year.

LibrePlanet staff

The staff at LibrePlanet 2015

I want to express my gratitude to everyone who made me feel so welcome. And to John Sullivan, thanks for the heads up on the weather as I would have come in Hawaiian shirts and shorts. We dress like that in Texas. And to David M., email me any time you like at Ken(at)reglue(dot)org. The next time we will have more time to spend together. I was humbled by what you told me. Thank you and thank your wife for me as well.

What did a 20 minute presentation of Reglue sound like when synthetically produced? Listen, and see for yourself.

So, a 2000 plus mile cannonball run to Cambridge, Mass and back? Not again. I’m getting too old for that stuff.

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Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project, which refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area. Follow him on Twitter @Reglue

3 comments to LibrePlanet & the Sounds of Silence

  • Just have to say thank you to Ken for doing this. You are my inspiration to keep going today.

  • I hope it was ok that I used your name during my lecture at MIT that last weekend. (Man I love saying that) I just mentioned you as a person who drives forward to make things better for everyone, not just those out there that are whole.

  • Charles Kravetz

    Ken, you can throw my name out anytime. I consider it an honor to know you.