06 December 2010


Long ago and far away, an eager young tech writer asked a senior software developer what protocol a server used to send configuration settings to a client device.

"PFM," the developer replied.

The tech writer looked blank.

"Pure F#@kin' Magic," he explained.


But now, many years later, I've come to believe he was probably right. Technological advances notwithstanding, I think a lot of things still rely on that protocol.

As we were leaving the UW Medical Center the other week, a woman was watching as I drove my power chair into the elevator and turned around.

"How are you doing that?," she asked.

"PFM," I wanted to reply. But I didn't. I explained about the head array control.

It might not be magic, exactly. I leave gouges in the walls and  dents in the furniture. I go backwards when I  meant to go forward, and vice versa. I whine and complain about how it makes my awkward, clunky power chair even more awkward and clunky. In spite of all that, I'm using it. I'm glad to have it. I'm keeping up with the Red Queen. That's pretty magical.

My latest adventure in assistive technology, and the reason I've been away from this blog for a couple of days, has been a search for a way to control a computer mouse without using my hands. I can get by without a keyboard. For entering text, Dragon NaturallySpeaking does fine. For moving around the desktop, it's beyond awkward. I'm not the first person to run into this problem. There are solutions. It's time to start checking them out.

The most likely-sounding options use head tracking. A webcam tracks the position of your head, and moves the cursor accordingly. They can be pricey, but there's an open-source option. I've spent the last couple of days playing around with it.

Like the head array, you wouldn't use it if you could use a regular mouse or trackball. It's a major drain on system resources. And something keeps crashing Firefox and Thunderbird. But it kinda works. No hands! How cool is that?



  1. PFM for you is still PFH for me- the open source crashed modzilla - yes, moving my head around made me so dang dizzy - I so hope I can keep rolling my little roller ball!

    I am hoping Santa brings me the new Dragon NS for Vista and Win7. My version is from ME LOL old old old. Right now I can walk 10 feet without falling and type if I can see the key and hit it. No typing the way they taught in school. I suspect this too shall pass . ...

    I see a dot stuck on my head in the future 0 YIKES!!

    Seriously, I am so happy for you that your magic head array use is coming along.

  2. It's . . . like MAGIC!

    Look Ma, no hands!

  3. PFM - my new favorite acronym. I'm rather impressed that you're using the head array in public venues like UWMC. So, I'm guessing it went well as you didn't note sideswiping any bystanders.

    Hope the headtracking webcam software works out.

  4. PFM, must remember that. I'm so glad your chair is starting to "one" with you,