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Episode 01
MARX MELENCIO

AI for Entrepreneurs starts to publish our episodes in the text format. The first interview is the conversation between the CEO of OpenCV.AI Satya Mallick, and Marx Melencio, who was blinded by an armed attack in 2003. Today Marx runs a successful tech company, and he is also building an assistive technology for the blind. You can find the video and audio versions on Youtube, Spotify, SoundCloud, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, and Stitcher.

The interview was recorded in August 2020.

Blindness and rehabilitation

Satya Mallick: In 2003 he was shopping with his wife when he was shot twice by a random stranger on drugs. The first bullet missed his heart by three millimeters, the second bullet hit him in the head and completely destroyed his vision. Today he runs a successful IT company that employs more than 80 people in the Philippines. He's also building assistive technology for the blind. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Marx Melencio, who is one of the winners of the first phase of the OpenCV Spatial AI competition sponsored by Intel. This is our podcast “AI for Entrepreneurs” and I’m your host Satya Malik from OpenCV. 

Welcome Marx, it's a real pleasure to have you on the show! You are an inspiration to so many people. I did not know your story until recently, and I’ve been so inspired by what you have to offer as a person and as an entrepreneur, so, we are really honored to have you on the show. Welcome!

Marx Melencio: Thank you very much Satya for having me here, I’m really happy to be here right now and I’m happy to share my story.

SM: Your story actually starts – we will go to your childhood – but your main story starts in the year 2003 when something really tragic happened. I cannot fathom how difficult it would have been for you, so walk us through what really happened in 2003, the tragic incident, and how you came out of it. Tell us that story in detail.

MM: So, I was 23 then and I was still in college taking up mathematics at the University of the Philippines. I was out with my wife; we were buying fried rice and a Filipino dish called “bulalo” – it's actually and some meat and bones and soup. There I encountered a couple of guys and they seemed to be drunk. They were tripping on my wife, so I defended her, and the other guy shot me. I was gunned down twice, the first bullet went through my chest. It left me standing, so he followed me when I was going back to my motorbike, as I wanted to drive myself and my wife to the nearest hospital because I had a bullet wound in my chest. So, the guy followed me and he pointed the gun at the back of my head, and when I looked at him the gun slipped. It was at my right temple and he pulled the trigger. I fell down but I didn't lose consciousness. But I immediately lost the eyesight completely. 

SM: Wow. So, the first bullet missed your heart by three millimeters and this guy did not stop there. He followed you and used another bullet. From what I have read, it missed your brain by two millimeters.

MM: Yes, the mid-brain, actually it hit my right temporal lobe, and the doctors needed to cut that away. That was theoretically for music appreciation – that is what my neurosurgeon said, but I still play the bass! 

SM: You do! That's fascinating. But the bullet did damage your optic nerve, so it left you completely blind. 

MM: Yes. It was permanent because the optic nerves apparently are not just like other nerves – they don't regenerate. Not yet. Hopefully, through technology, sometime soon… But, unfortunately, it's a permanent thing now. The heat actually damaged the optic nerve: it cinched it, and I lost my eyesight completely. I've been completely blind for the past 17 years.

SM: I’m really sorry to hear that. But the more inspirational is your story afterwards. Somebody who has been through such a tragic event comes back. I think you know we are all regular human beings, and our situations actually drive us to become superhumans. You are almost like a superhuman to most people: what you have achieved! So, how did it change you? I guess that you were in the hospital for several weeks, if not several months…

MM: It was actually a month.

SM: Yes, a month. You were still a human getting care from all these people, and from there you became a superhuman. I don't know how long it took you to put yourself together again and become the person that you are now. What was the transformation? How many months did it take? Mentally, how did you actually come back? That's the main thing – physically, people come back, but it's a mental decision that you are going to do something extraordinary to come back in life. So, how did you make that change?

MM:  Well, at first the doctors were quite surprised that I recovered quickly. I was just confined for a full month at the hospital, and thankfully my wife assisted me, and I want to thank her for everything she's continuing to do for me. So, from that point, the first thing that I asked my doctors was how I can read because I’m a voracious reader. Back when I still had eyesight, I consumed about maybe two books per week. That was my habit, that was my routine. They told me about this screen reader software, so I hoped for the best. Unfortunately, of course, I was in depression for around three or five months. I didn't leave my room when we went back home, I didn't do anything but listened to the radio and audiobooks – I discovered audiobooks. But then I realized that I needed to do something just to get rid of boredom which I thought would eventually have killed me. The next thing would be more important: I needed to support my family because I already had a daughter then. The last time when I saw my daughter, she was only four months old, so that was my motivation to do something. I taught myself to use the screen reader software and to use the computer again. 

I realized that I needed to do something just to get rid of boredom which I thought would eventually have killed me. The next thing would be more important: I needed to support my family because I already had a daughter then.

Before I was gunned down, I had a small home business – I was assembling computers and fixing software operating systems, setting up networks for our neighbors, and also for small offices. I tried doing it again. My wife assisted me in terms of telling me the colors of the cables, for example, and actually my wife she's now an expert in assembling computers and troubleshooting because of that experience. I was setting up networks for the offices of non-government organizations here because they're in the network of my parents. So, I was doing that.

SM: How many people were employed in this business that you had? It was just you and your wife or you employed other people?

MM: No, it was just me and my wife at that time. I started out very entrepreneurial at an early age because my parents are social activists, and when they needed to disappear because the political climate here was quite tense, I was left to fend for my kid sister. I was just 14 years old and my sister was six years old. So, I became an entrepreneur. I offered a service – an early version of Grab Food – I did groceries for the neighbors. I had my bike and I took their list their grocery lists and I shopped for them to put the food on the table, and they gave me money for that. That kept the lights on. 

Education and career path

SM: Let me get this correct. You were at the age of 14, your parents were probably in exile, they were away from home, and you were responsible for taking care of your six-year-old sister all by yourself. Not just take care of her, but also make sure that there's food on the table, you were also responsible for making the money to support her. 

MM: Yes, and also for her to continue studies. I already stopped going to school then.

SM: And so, your education. when did you go back? As you mentioned that when you were shot, you were going to a university. So, did you go back to school afterwards?

MM: Yes, because I was originally from Special Science High School and I dropped out after the second year of school. Then I did some things, and two years later I learned about the Philippine educational placement test that was provided by our department of education. So, I took the test and, fortunately, I passed, and I went straight to college. 

SM: That's very nice! they don't require you to have a lot of schooling if you pass that exam. You can go to college.  

MM: Yes, exactly. It was good so I didn’t take the entrance exam for the University of the Philippines. It’s an official country university, the state university of the country. When I took the test, I topped the entrance exams and got a full academic scholarship. 

SM: Which year were you in when this incident happened?

MM: I was in my third year. 

SM:  When you were back three or five months later, were you able to continue your education, or did you drop out of college?

MM: Yes, I was able to continue, because fortunately there was already a distance learning program, they already had a virtual educational platform and the same school was offered there. Also, fortunately back in college, I was among the wild and geeky. I played the bass at the hardcore band, and I enjoyed mathematics – that was my course – but I also enjoyed shifting to other courses because I was interested in other subject areas, so I shifted to philosophy, to social sciences, and that kind of stuff. I had a lot of units already, so when I got back to the distance learning program, I credited my units and I was able to take the last remaining units and I was able to finish my undergraduate. 

SM: It looks like if you get interested in something, you can really dive deep into the subject. And you do get interested in a lot of things like playing the bass for a rock band, and then taking philosophy classes, also being very interested in programming, computers, hardware, etc. Those broad skills are very useful when you want to build something. It's natural for people who are gifted in many ways: they get interested in several things and work on. 

MM: Yes, and I noticed that my focus was very intense when it comes to something that I’m interested in. I tirelessly read about a lot of things and I spend a lot of hours reading and practicing. It became even more intense when I got blind because the focus is one of the main strengths of blind people as there aren't any visual distractions.

SM: That's interesting, I have never thought about it. I want to know more about the software that you just mentioned – the screen reader that enabled you to do computer programming. How do you do computer programming as a blind person?

MM: For example, in C++ and in Python I use notepad, and when I use the screen reader it reads everything that I type. It echoes back everything that I type, and when I want to read the line, I just press the arrow keys and when the cursor is on focus, it reads the line. It can also read per character, per word, and per block of text. There are keyboard shortcuts for that. Before I became blind, I was a two-finger touch typist, so I was very slow in typing. I didn't memorize the keyboard layout. But when I became blind and started using the screen reader, I think a week later I was able to memorize the keyboard. What helped most was JAWS for Windows, the screen reader software, because it was very expensive and we were not able to afford it. It was eighteen hundred dollars at that time! 

When I became blind and started using the screen reader, I think a week later I was able to memorize the keyboard. What helped most was JAWS for Windows, the screen reader software, because it was very expensive and we were not able to afford it.

SM: 1800 USD! It's expensive even by the US standards. I grew up in India and I guess that the economy is very similar to that in the Philippines. Just to give you an idea: my dad was a medical doctor in Border Security Force – he was a doctor in the army. When I was growing up, he used to make 200 USD per month and that felt like luxury. It was good money; it was good middle-class income. So, 1800 USD in 2003 would have been almost like two months of your income, apparently, it wasn’t easy to get such an expensive piece of software. 

MM: I just turned blind at that time; I didn't have any income. My wife was also assisting me because I was still adjusting. So, we all relied on our home business. It wasn't generating a lot of money at that time because I wasn't able to go out and promote our services. This software has this 40-minute demo version, namely, it works for 40 minutes, and then it stops working, so you have to restart the computer. Then it starts working again. That is why I had to learn really fast because I just had 40 minutes at a time. 

SM: So, would you reinstall after every 40 minutes?

MM: No, just reboot the computer. At that time, we still had dial-up. I was studying then, and I needed to check my emails, I needed to read everything. I usually opened Yahoo mail, and it was quite slow. I had already memorized the shortcut keys both for windows and also for JAWS because I needed to go to the previous email that I had been reading before I had to restart the machine. Thus, I memorized everything. Fortunately, I was also introduced to the social organization focused on the welfare of blind people, Resources for the Blind. I heard about their loan program for the software. They would give me a fully licensed version; the loan was under a pay-whenever-you-can arrangement. The requirement was to attend their free pre-employment training seminar, so it was just a week and it was very beneficial because it's a free pre-employment training seminar for young people. I went there, and they trained in mobility, they trained in Braille, and they also trained us for job interviews. Also, they had partners: commercial groups, commercial companies and organizations; so, they distributed our resumes to their partners. One of those companies was interested in my CV. They called me up and scheduled an interview and an exam. There people assisted and guided me, and I took the exam and passed it. That was my first job as a blind person. I was a technology writer. 

SM: I have read some news articles about you, and you mentioned that at one point you wanted to be a web developer, right after this incident happened, and learned web programming in seven days. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

MM: That was before my first job. I went to this computer school for the blind because I heard about their medical transcription training course, but at that time I didn't have any money to pay for the tuition, so I hoped that there could be some sort of a deal. I went there and asked them if they wanted to hire someone for whatever they might need. They told me that actually they needed a web developer. I asked them to give me a week to get prepared. Then I went home and read about web development, particularly starting with HTML, and so I started. A week later I was quite familiar with the language.

SM: Was it a front-end development or was it back-end development? 

MM: Front-end, HTML CSS.

SM: Did you get that job?

MM: Yes, I did. They put me in a volunteer position, so the payment wasn't really high. It wasn’t really enough for our expenses, but they let me attend the medical transcription training course for free in exchange for my web development services. So, I went there, and soon I discovered that medical transcription wasn't for me because the only experience I have with medical topics was my time at the hospital after I had been gunned down. That's not a pleasant time obviously, and eventually, I decided not to move to another field.

SM: What it conveys is that success is not like a straight line. You are trying different things, and only some of them finally work out. The important thing is to explore things because you don't know what will work out. Unless you had gone to medical transcription, you would not have known whether that was right for you or not. Once you discovered that it wasn’t right for you, having tried it for several months, you understood you were ready to try something else. 

MM: Yes, I've been telling many of my friends the same thing. They should try something out because I know many of them are afraid of it, especially if they think they don't have enough knowledge or the right experience. And I keep on telling them: how can you have knowledge and experience in doing something if you don't try it out first? You need to try it out and if it doesn't work, well, nevertheless, you still learned a lot of things, which can be applied in other fields. That's why I do things now in the same manner: I am learning by doing mainly, I can’t learn any other way. 

Fresh start

SM: So, you got this government loan. What was the amount again?  I don't remember if you mentioned what kind of funding was this loan for the project? 

MM: It was a grant actually, it wasn't a loan, and it was for 100,000 US dollars. It was a two-year project and mainly the target was to develop something that can be used by blind people and to explore other opportunities afterwards, for mass production or upgrades, and so on. That's what I’m doing now – I’m looking for ways to upgrade it, to ensure mass production, and to distribute it to the blind. 

That's why I do things now in the same manner: I am learning by doing mainly, I can’t learn any other way. 

SM: But even before that you had started the IT company. The IT company was not really focused on assistive technology for the blind, it also did other kinds of work like web development. The IT company which employs 80 people.

MM: Yes, we started that as a digital marketing company in 2005. After I had my first job I learned about the systems and how things worked because I was a technology writer. Actually, my first client at that business is my former employer. I negotiated some terms when I was doing my work – I told them that I could do my work from home. I can do a double quota shift because from home I'll be able to work more relaxed and I won’t spend time on going to the office. So, he agreed. 

SM: One of the most important skills of an entrepreneur, that some people don't realize, is to convince other people. Others may not get persuaded, but you have to take your chance. It doesn't matter whether other people are allowed to work from home or not, but I’m going to convince this person to let me work from home. That’s a very useful skill which is hidden as people don't realize how great the skill is. 

MM: Actually, it’s selling an idea, selling yourself, even if you're applying for a job – it's all about selling an idea, selling a product, selling yourself, selling concepts, even when collaborating with others. 

SM: Were you alone in this company when you started it? How did you get the funding – did you need any funding or you just had clients? How many people were there in the beginning?

MM: My former employer was my first client. I was doing a double shift then, and again I negotiated for more work. I told him that I had a few friends who were interested in doing that as well, and I could manage them and I could assure the quality of their work. He agreed, so at first, we started out for work at home. Moms and dads, my wife and I included, so we were just four. But then I expanded to the overseas market because I kept on researching, I kept on looking at things and basically doing market research. I focused on the IT industry. So, then I looked at the companies that had newly released products, as I knew the fact that they also needed marketing work done for them. Since these are mainly software companies, their marketing is mainly done on the Internet. So, they needed content writing, and for technology content, it's quite challenging to find writers, especially in the high-tech niche – we were writing about executable files, dynamic link libraries, that kind of stuff. 

SM: That's very technical content, it is not easy just to find people like that to write about it. 

MM: Yes, exactly. I contacted this Canadian company ParetoLogic, and they had their carrier product at that time, so, I told them that we could write content for them. We actually researched some keywords that would be suitable for their niche and we showed some samples. They tried first a few batches of content work, and when they liked what they got, they asked me if I was able to build a team of 140 people. It is important to say that I didn't go through the normal gate, the gatekeepers, but I went straight to the CEO, when I contacted them.

SM: That's a very good piece of advice. If you get the CEO, and they like your ideas, it is great as they are the decision-makers. If they refuse to work with you – OK, at least you were refused by the CEO. Sometimes it happens that you get to a gatekeeper and they refuse your idea, even when they don't have the authority to do so. The CEO could have agreed with your ideas, so it's always a good idea to contact as high of a position as you can when you are reaching people. 

MM: The gatekeepers probably wouldn't have the experience necessary to understand the idea. 

SM: So, tell me one thing! When you were approaching these companies, it was through email, wasn’t it, as video conferencing wasn’t common yet.

MM: Yes, I sent them emails and there was LinkedIn already. Today I still get clients from LinkedIn. 

SM: Actually, we get clients from LinkedIn as well. Now at some point, they realize you are completely blind. Is that something that you are used to bringing up before?  Or would you ever mention it because it's not important? Do you bring it up so that they are not surprised? What is your strategy? 

For people with disabilities who are planning to start companies, is it something that you don't talk about initially or is it something that you bring up immediately? What's your take on that?

MM: At that time images were not required for the content that we wrote, so I didn't mention that I’m blind. They just learned it on their own when they needed to learn more about me when they started giving me bigger contracts. And they were quite pleased to be working with someone who was blind. 

SM: I'll tell you a personal story. My cousins started a company in India, and most of the work that they do is for my company. They do photoshop kind of work for clients and usually, whenever they hire somebody, they ask me what I think about that person. They manage the business themselves; they just ask for my opinion. Once I got this call from them saying that they had a new artist. The only problem is that this artist is deaf and dumb, he cannot speak and he cannot hear. I did not know what to say because I had never been in contact with any person with disabilities. I did not know how people with disabilities function in the society. But what I said was that I have no idea, but I want to tell you that I’m not running a charity, so if they do work, I’m going to give them an opportunity, but they have to perform at the same level as a person who is able. So, we hired that person and, as I am not involved in day-to-day operations, I just heard that things were going smoothly. Sometime later I went to the employee on our side who was evaluating these photoshop artists and asked her to rank the people who were working for us. She told to me who was the best in terms of quality and she said there were two people who were on the top – and this guy was one of them. This guy was producing exceptional content, and the only minor inconvenience was that when some work came up one of the team members had to explain to him the task, that was like five-ten minutes of time, and he would do an exceptional job. A lot of work was similar, so once you explain it, you don't have to explain it to him over and over again. He was doing exceptionally good, and that opened up my mind. You have to have that experience working with people with disabilities in fact. All of us have some sort of disability, it is just not visible. Some person might have depression or something like that which will make them less productive at work. Because that thing is not visible, we don't judge them. All of us have certain kinds of disabilities and they are not explicit. So that's what I learned from this. This person has been working for us for 12-13 years already. That was my experience and I am so glad that I did not let any kind of prejudice come in the way. I did have a hesitation honestly, people are not mature – I was 27 or 28 at that time, without much world experience, right out of grad school. Now I would not even think twice. Still, I expect people to perform at very high standards. Back to the story, I believe this is fascinating – and I cannot tell you how inspired I am by just talking to you, and right after this call, after the video is done, I’m going to ask my older son to watch this video and learn from it. He is ten years old, old enough to understand these things, so I’m pretty certain he'll be very inspired as well. 

So, this company, they told you to hire 140 people, and because it only happens when you have actually shown that you can run a business very efficiently and with exceptional quality, that’s why they gave you the opportunity.

MM: Yes, because you've already proven your worth. 

SM: That’s the company that you were running, content creation for information technology. When did you get this grant for people with disabilities and for creating this hardware?

MM: 2017. It was about 12 years since our first contract, so when we got that contract, they required us to register a business because of taxation issues. I agreed to set this up, but I didn’t have money at the moment. So, I negotiated the deal: I told them that they could give me a deposit, and I would use that to register a business and rent out an office to set everything up. And they agreed because they wanted me to hire many people. From then on, I've been contacting clients, closing contracts, building more teams, because my purpose back then was to provide gainful employment opportunities to persons with mobility impairments, because I had experienced the same problems – when I was looking for a job, a lot of companies turned me down just because their systems weren't ready to give me exams or test me out.

SM: So, at one point in 2017 the company grew to about 200 people, and how many of those people had some sort of disability?

MM: In 2017 there were 20, in 2008 we were 120 and 90 were with personal disabilities. Our national government gave me an award – Most Inspiring Entrepreneur of 2008. 

SM: Congratulations! I’m not surprised at all – I mean, it is such a big deal! Did you also win international awards? I cannot even imagine how many people like you are there in the world who have this level of contribution to the society.

MM: Not exactly awards, but I've been representing our country at the Asian conferences, and also at the United Nations conferences about the role of business and ICT in the lives of persons with disabilities. 

On hardware in detail

SM: I saw one of those talks you had posted online, that's very inspiring. So, you started building hardware. What are the components of the hardware? Can you explain what the hardware does and what the components are there? 

MM: Mainly we used a sonar sensor to detect distance, and I also put in a vibrating motor at the back of the sonar sensor, so that it can provide haptic feedback. For example, as objects are getting nearer, the vibrations are getting faster…

SM: Is it a wearable device? Do you wear it like glasses? 

MM: It's actually designed as a pair of glasses.

SM: It's a wearable device, a pair of glasses, it has a sonar for distance measurement, what else?

MM: Below the sonar, we placed the camera, and at the back of the sonar sensor there was the vibrating motor for haptic feedback. The cables snake out through the arms of the glasses, and also bone-conducting speaker pads are integrated at the end of the arms of the glasses to provide audio output or the feedback. 

SM: These are some speakers which use bone conduction, and you can actually hear them while other people cannot, right?

MM: Exactly. These are ubiquitously available electronic components, but the problem was to find the smallest ones. It took me a lot of time to find the smallest components and test out a lot of them because I was relying mainly on the measurements. I couldn't see the product and, anyway, most of them didn't have any pictures to be compared in terms of size. My wife wasn't able to describe these things to me. But then I found the smallest components, and we used an x86 single-board computer because, as a rule, blind users prefer to use Windows computers. As for me, I don't like the screen reader of Linux, I don't like how it sounds, and a lot of blind users don't like it too. So, I used an x86sbc because I also wanted to provide another benefit – it can also be a wearable computer from that point. You can run full Windows 10 on it. I also integrated a GPS board, as location-based data can be quite useful for blind people, especially when they're traveling outside. And I fine-tuned the open source pre-trained machine learning models for object recognition, object detection, and I also fine-tuned the semantic segmentation data set, because they are very useful for indoor and outdoor mobility. 

SM: You trained your own models; did you also use you know Microsoft cognitive services?

MM: Yes, I used that. At first, I wanted to use it solely, so it would be an IoT device. But when I started doing my research across the grassroots communities of blind people here in the Philippines, I learned that many rural areas don't have stable internet connectivity, and it's very costly for them to keep on buying pre-paid mobile data. So, I figured that I would just offer both as an on-demand component, for example, if there's the Internet, it uses the Internet, if there isn't, it uses the on-device system. 

SM: How much does this device cost?

MM: That was the main thing that I’ve been trying to optimize because without any mass production capacity the product costs around 30,000 pesos, which should be around 600 USD. But I think we can further reduce it, especially with mass production capacity, I think it can be driven down to around 400.

SM: You actually ordered an OAK-D board even before the Kickstarter campaign, so the idea was to miniaturize everything, right. This board actually allows you to remove several components from your hardware. Can you explain how an OAK-D was used?

MM: I was continuing to upgrade the system trying to find out ways to optimize size and especially processing speed. I wanted a more real-time engine when it comes to on-device processing. I found this BW1097 board, that is now an OpenCV AI Kit, and I was quite interested in this ability to detect in distance. I knew that I was able to get rid of the sonar sensor because it's quite bulky – even if it's the smallest one it's still bulky. I was thinking of other industrial design ideas, not just a pair of eyeglasses because it's quite difficult to produce something that looks like an ordinary pair of glasses. That's the target and it's quite hard, especially when we don't have significant resources to keep one eye trying. So, we decided to go with the OpenCV AI Kit as it's ideal for a chest strap, wearable form factor. It can detect depth and distance, and it provides real-time simultaneous object recognition and detection. 

SM: The resolution is one of the things that I felt was very useful. The resolution of the main camera is 12 megapixels which means that you can actually look far, you can detect objects which are small and far away as well. That could be very interesting.

MM: Also, our first iteration was just a sonar sensor, so you can just place it at the one stationary position, and it can only detect a certain conical area, thus it was just the central object. You'd only be able to detect the distance of the central object, but here you can detect objects, and actually, the placement is very important for blind users. For example, we use a clock face placement system – for example, it's 12 noon, one o'clock. three o'clock, going up to ten o'clock, then dead center. So, when we are looking for an object, and we ask someone to tell us where it is, it’s faster to tell us a clock-face direction. That's the standard interface that most blind people use. Children who are born blind and people who lose their eyesight even later in life are trained the same way in terms of mobility. In fact, we’ve even trained that way when it comes to the food on our plates – e.g., the chicken is at 12 noon, the rice is at three o'clock…

SM: There must be different when you are coding, I assume the whole visualization, you actually see the characters in your mind –  tell me if it is wrong I’m just imagining this thing – it is almost like you're looking at a screen but without the actual screen, but you're looking at the screen in your mind. Is that how you visualize things or am I getting it completely wrong?

MM: When it comes to reading texts – I have studied this aspect – it turns out that reading is more of an auditory activity than a visual activity. But when I visualize things, other objects, for example, a laptop, a table, I form images in my mind because I had eyesight back then. However, for people who are born blind, it’s not like that – my blind peers who are born blind told me – what they see is mainly auditory and tactical representations as they haven’t had visual experience. Their visual cortex is mainly used for auditory processing. 

SM: So that's brain plasticity, right, the brain actually changes in very spectacular ways, when the parts of the brain which were meant for something else are now being used for different purposes. You mentioned that the doctors predicted that you would not be able to play music, or sense music, appreciate it, but clearly is not true – you can play the bass. Some of the rewiring still happens, you had all the learnings, and you can still appreciate it. The podcast is coming to the end, and I wanted to ask if you can share some resources for blind people, as this information will be very beneficial. Are there standard places where people can go for resources for blind people especially software developers and blind people in the technical community? What are good resources for blind people? 

MM: For beginners – tutorialspoint.com is a good way to learn any language that they want. That's where I started learning Python and C++. When they want to move on to more interesting subject areas, for example, machine learning, deep learning, I think your blog is really good, and also Adrian’s blog is very good too. These resources are written in ways that make it quite easy to understand. I’ve noticed a problem with technical people – they tend to be not too much trained in communication.

SM: Even if people are trained to write, sometimes they deliberately choose to write in a way to impress other people. They are writing or speaking to impress, not to explain. In both blogs – Adrian’s blog and my blog we put a lot of emphasis on making sure that people understand the underlying concept, and we are not really bothered by the jargon. 

MM: And I like how you outline the content. It makes it digestible, easier to follow, and it provides a sort of a systematic approach to the problem being tackled, which is really good.

SM: Thanks! Are there any resources for blind people specifically some software, etc., some courses, like the course that you took, which you would recommend for the blind, helping them with assistive technologies, or jobs, or things like that which you think would be useful? A classic example would be the kind of course that you took, where they talked about mobility and other things like how you can get a job, and so on. 

MM: It would be good to look around for social organizations in their local area. Here it's Resources for the Blind, and mainly they have branches, as the state of Philippines is divided into three main areas. As for blind people in other countries, it’s best to ask the ophthalmologists because ophthalmologists are familiar with the social organizations around them that look after the welfare of blind people.

SM: Are there any technical online communities for developers with disabilities that you would recommend?

MM: For beginners, I recommend looking for specific groups on Facebook, there are about a couple or so that I’m a member, of and I can't remember the names of the groups, but they can search for it, and then it will appear. 

SM: This information is in the show notes. 

MM: That's very useful for beginners because beginner blind programmers need to know the type of software that they need, the type of computer, etc.

SM: Any blind person who watches a video of you is completely changed. The limitations that they're thinking about go away completely. It expands your mind, it expands your imagination – somebody who's blind was able to achieve so much, it's an inspiration! Also, these forums provide that social support. 

If people want to reach out to you, what is the best way to do it – would you like to give your email address or your twitter maybe?

MM: Email would be good! I'll send you my email address. Also, there are contact details at our website. 

SM: In our show notes we will put the link to your website. If people from other organizations want to contact you, they will have an easy way to do it too. 

MM: I just want to recommend another resource – it's Daniel Kish. He provides mobility training for the blind and it's quite unique and fascinating. I’m starting to learn it myself – it's echolocation.

SM: Do you wear a device for that which does echolocation or do you do it some other way? 

MM: You click your tongue. You can have a simple clicker and actually I’m starting to see the sonar flashes. 

SM: So, you can you can make a sound with your tongue and detect objects basing on the echoes?

MM: It’s sort of sonar flashes and we did an experiment the other day my wife, and I was able to correctly identify the shape, the location, and the distance of seven out of ten objects.

SM: That's fascinating, and then you're just starting with practice.

MM: Yes, I’m just starting. Daniel Kish, I think he's based in the US, you can look up for him and the non-profit organization called Blind World Access. 

SM: We will actually research that and put that in the show notes as well. So that is pretty much all I wanted to cover in this podcast, and I’m really thankful that you were able to find time to be on this show! Really appreciate it. Like I said, you are an inspiration for all of us! Thank you, it's really great to talk to you! 

MM: Thank you for having me here, I really enjoyed talking to you. Hopefully, your audience will be inspired and motivated to do some things that would be very beneficial to others! 

SM: That's great! Thank you so much, bye. 


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