"I never doubted that it was all going to work out."
March 5, 2013 9:09 AM   Subscribe

A life well lived. On October 4, 1973, Josh Miele (4) was permanently blinded in an acid attack by his neighbor (pdf). 40 years later, Dr. Miele has worked for NASA on the Mars Rover project, he's helped develop "WearaBraille", a virtual Braille keyboard interface, and has a new project launching this month: the Descriptive Video Exchange (DVX), which will allow "sighted video viewers to seamlessly add audio description to DVDs as they watch."

"...the Descriptive Video Exchange ... is a tool we have developed at Smith-Kettlewell that gives anybody, anywhere, the ability to describe anything, so that anybody, anywhere else, can hear the description. This technology uses a web-based server to store and maintain all of the descriptions associated with videos available on the web, on DVD, or from streamed sources such as Netflix. The server does not store the videos. The server only stores the descriptions, along with the identification and timing information. The server works with a video player that plays whatever video you want to watch, along with the stored descriptions.

This system gets around a couple of interesting problems. For example, many videos simply are not described. There is no way to get a described version because it doesn't exist. That's one problem. With this system, anybody anywhere can volunteer to describe that video from their own home and upload the information. Then you, somewhere else, can take advantage of that description and play it back in synchronization with the video that you want to watch.

This system does a sort of end run around a number of the issues related to modifying and distributing copyrighted materials. In today's model for video description, it's necessary to record a described version of a film or TV show and redistribute that version. To do that, it's necessary to get permissions. All sorts of legal and financial issues are involved. Our system does not modify or redistribute anybody's copyrighted material. It simply plays the descriptions along with the material from a legitimate source. That means it becomes much simpler to create descriptions."
A sample of a DVX video (mov file), using The Lion King.

* Video Demo
* Technical Specs (pdf)

Related article:
Seattle Revolution: From Your Eyes and Mouth To Their Ears
posted by zarq (14 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Extra links:

Two audio interviews with Dr. Miele from KQED radio: First Person and Tactile Maps

Dr. Miele heads The Miele Lab at Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute. His twitter feed is @BerkeleyBlink.
posted by zarq at 9:26 AM on March 5, 2013

I was hoping someone would post this -- in exactly this way :) Thanks so much, zarq.
posted by Madamina at 9:27 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am sitting here dumbfounded, trying to imagine what my reaction would be, if some crazed neighbor threw acid on my 4yr old's face. I um, ..it wouldn't be pretty.
posted by thisisdrew at 9:33 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

I read this yesterday and was absolutely heart broken. Then I got to the part about DVX where sighted Star Trek fans can describe videos to their visually impaired Trekkie friends. Dr. Miele is just so damn awesome in so many ways.
posted by munchingzombie at 9:34 AM on March 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

Wow! Just wow. I'm not sure "inspirational" does him justice. Or his mom or sister, for that matter. (I read the pdf news article first and was completely horrified, but very glad I read the main article.)
posted by Glinn at 9:35 AM on March 5, 2013

In the article, the references to Dr. Miele's accomplishments are a sort of fig leaf that let the viewers gape at him without feeling like they're monsters. I was also horrified, moreso as a father, reading about the acid attack and its senselessness. At the same time, my kid should grow up to accomplish just one of the things Dr. Miele has with his life. His story shouldn't just be one of triumph over adversity. He's an inspiration well beyond what he's suffered. zarq, your FPP actually restores balance by reframing Miele's biography in the way he himself would like it to be read. Nicely done.
posted by R. Schlock at 9:39 AM on March 5, 2013 [13 favorites]

The DVX sounds wonderful. I had a good friend in college who was blind and loved Seinfeld. This was before DVRs (and VCR time-shifting a half-hour comedy was a little elaborate for busy college students), and eventually I noticed that we always "happened" to run into each other on Thursdays at dinner and he'd always mention Seinfeld was on and I should come by and watch with him so we could keep chatting. Eventually he admitted I was his favorite Seinfeld narrator because his roommates kept defaulting to, "I'm not sure how to describe it, you had to have seen it" and talking over the dialogue when there was a visual joke. His roommates were good at narrating the visual parts of sci-fi and adventure movies, but terrible at comedy. Anyway, I have these incredibly vivid memories of physical comedy of Seinfeld, much more vivid than my memories of the show as a whole, because I spent two years describing it to my friend.

I don't know if I'd be very good at this when doing it for strangers on the other end of the internet rather than for a good friend sitting right there with me watching it, but this is a fantastic way to give the blind more access to pop culture and I'd definitely be game to give it a go. My friend had excellent access to educational materials and excellent services to make educational materials accessible to him when they weren't already, but being able to "watch" movies and TV was really important to him and to his ability to function socially in a mainstream sighted setting.

Also, wow, what a story.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:03 AM on March 5, 2013 [9 favorites]

R. Schlock and Madamina, thanks very much. :)
posted by zarq at 10:06 AM on March 5, 2013

In the article, the references to Dr. Miele's accomplishments are a sort of fig leaf that let the viewers gape at him without feeling like they're monsters.

I think this characterization does the article a disservice. It's much more nuanced than you make it out to be. The author is open about his impetus for writing it: he grew up not far from where the attack happened and it had a large influence on his childhood and he wondered how the victim was doing and what effect the attack had on the families involved. He didn't know about any of Dr. Miele's accomplishments but found out about them in the process of reporting the article. While he should be recognized for his accomplishments on their own (a sentiment Dr. Miele himself expresses in the article), they would not have been brought to our attention if they author hadn't decided to write the article in the first place. Moreover, the article is about more than just Dr. Miele, it's about the effect the attack had on him, his family, and the attacker's family, and in that it succeeds very well.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 10:10 AM on March 5, 2013

worked for NASA on the Mars Rover project

According to the NYT article, Dr. Miele worked on software for Mars Observer, not the rovers. Observer launched in 1992, when he was about 23, which probably means he worked on it while he was attending UC Berkeley.

If so, it was probably something for the Magnetometer and Electron Reflectometer, which had several co-investigators at Berkeley. Observer didn't quite make it to Mars, but MAG/ER eventually got there on Mars Global Surveyor.
posted by zamboni at 10:37 AM on March 5, 2013

Oops. Sorry. Thanks for the correction, Zamboni.
posted by zarq at 10:39 AM on March 5, 2013

in that it succeeds very well.

I'm glad you thought it worked. It really didn't for me. The author spent at least 75% of the article talking about the attack. In a nuanced and sensitive way, sure. But this was still very much a story about a mutilated kid who'd gone on to do great things and not a story of an accomplished person who'd been mutilated as a child. The impetus behind the writing of the story was to fill in the gaps from the author's childhood. Miele's suspicion and his request to be depicted as more than a freak were only partially addressed. I left the story, which I read last night, sick to my stomach for the way that Miele was being called attention to for all the things his life's accomplishments were supposed to stand in place of.

The degree to which this FPP works is precisely the degree to which that newspaper story fails.
posted by R. Schlock at 11:20 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm looking forward to helping with some crowd-sourced description, I used to watch movies over Skype with a friend of mine who's blind (in those fancy free days before my baby son came along) and we watched a wide variety, but I always regretted that I couldn't share some of my favorites with him. We never did find any of the Ghibli movies described, so that's where I'd start.
posted by shirobara at 11:23 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

The author spent at least 75% of the article talking about the attack. In a nuanced and sensitive way, sure. But this was still very much a story about a mutilated kid who'd gone on to do great things and not a story of an accomplished person who'd been mutilated as a child.

Coming from the stance of the author as a child who lived in the same neighborhood, I'm not sure how else I'd expect or want this article to have been written. I certainly appreciate the additional info on Dr. Miele provided by the FPP, but that the post "works" doesn't make the story "fail".
posted by jalexei at 2:39 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

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