Friday, January 13, 2006

January 06 Tech Update: The "I Wish I Was At ATIA" Edition

Steve’s Word Of The Month:
Bluetooth Sniping
Definition: The practice of nabbing information from passers by through direct antennas to devices like cell phones. The record for stealing info off a Bluetooth device is 2 miles. Mind you it was in the desert but generally a good black hat hacker can take your info from a football field away. Solution? Don’t use Bluetooth 24-7. Only activate your antenna when you need to use wireless connections.

Lightning Round Strikes!

* ATIA: Can’t make it to Florida? Nope me either. But pretend your there by reading what products will be announced at the conference. Hint; Pac Mate 4.0.

* Zoom Text: Expect a patch in 2 weeks to take the program to 9.02. Version 9.1 is in the works but probably won’t be talked about until the summer. Chances are, just like everyone else, it will the the Vista compatibility upgrade.

* Kurzweil: I was asleep at the wheel last month and I forgot to mention that 10.3 arrived on Dec 8th. Get the patch here:

* Braille Sense: Here are the release notes for what changes were made to the unit:

* Keysoft 6.2 Patch: Humanware has released a new patch for the mPower that takes care of some more battery and speech freezing issues. Get it here:

* Dolphin Products: Dolphin has released Dolphin Producer. They really have some neat and innovative products for Daisy production. Take a look at the info here:

* Access World: The January 06 edition is on line with articles on mobile phones and a showdown between the three major screen readers. Read it here:

* Windows Update: The new desktops going into the field are wildly out of date on their hard drive images. Check for the latest updates when hooking up these units for the first time. And the latest patches for Windows January update are small and painless. Even for dial up users. Two updates are up, however, as usual your mileage may very depending on how often you update Windows.

* Norton Anti Virus: Recently Samantech admitted that they used a root kit to save information and settings. This hidden file can now be exploited and a new patch can be downloaded from Live Update or Norton’s site to clear this up.

* Blue Ray: The format war heated up at CES. Check out the following link to read more about something that won’t replace DVD for at least two more years.

* Computer Hardware: In a quiet story with big ramifications Seagate bought Maxtor. Not much to some but to others who remember the good old days the temperature below ground dropped a few degrees.

~ “Tabbing Your Sidebar Through Vista”

The December build of Vista is in the hands of private beta testers and developers now. It’s almost feature complete which means it WILL MAKE it’s 3rd quarter 2006 release date. An update to Office, called Office 12 for now, is coming along for the Vista slay ride. Learn more about both here:

Vista December Build Review

Office 12 Preview

~ “Blind Patriotism Means Open Source?”

I haven’t decided if this article is propaganda for the GPL community or a really naïve person writing about a subject that he is moderately versed upon. Either way seeing an article where blind people are called socialists because of the need to run Windows and JAWS is worth a look.

~ “Vegas CES Rolls Up 7 For Microsoft”

Bill was lampooned pretty hard by G4 this week. They did a Macworld skit where Jobbs made full of Bill’s entrance at CES. For those who missed it Bill Gates runs like a girl. The footage of his running on stage was then shown in a long loop to emphasize this fact. But beyond that Bill demonstrated Vista, the new Windows Media Player 11 and some Xbox 360 goodness. Here’s the highlights of his keynote.

~ “An Apple A Day .. Is Tracked For Your Buying Pleasure.”

Oh my Apple is so secure. Ooo. I hardly ever get hacked. Ah my life in the cult of Apple is wonderful. Well a recent ZDNet article shows that Unix/OSX hacks are on the rise, IPOD hacks are every day occurrences and even ITuens has a big brother plug in working in the server side of things.

~ “You’ve been Googled”

Wal Mart and Google are working on a $200 laptop. No word if this will meet that directive to have a hand cranked, no kidding, unit that will meet the needs of low income families. But these units will be running an operating system created by Google not Windows.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Happy Birthday Louie!

If you go to Google's main page today you will find the Google logo in Grade 1 braille.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Top Five Assistive Technology Stories Of 2005

Don’t ask me why but I thought I had something to say on the whole concept of “End Of The Year” lists. Generally I am not a fan of such things but seeing how it’s the Holidays and we are on Holiday Shut Down this week and… okay you caught me it’s a thinly disguised excuse for Blog content.

The year as a whole has been labeled with terms like “non event” by some media outlets. For the most part some industries in the Motion Picture and Videogame arenas can honestly say that they had a blasé 365 days. Others would say that any year that gave us $3+ a gallon gas prices is one to sit up and take notice of [especially if you drive a SUV]. For the AT industry, however, every year holds it’s little flashpoints.

The following list is in descending order but make no mistake in that each of the stories were equally important. Dramatic effect and my need for your continuous reading dictates that I use the tried and true method of a countdown. No doubt you may find fault with this list and quite frankly I won’t blame you one iota. I too find that there is always something inherently missing in lists of this type. So toss in your thoughts in the comments section below.

Oh and if you see a comment deleted it’s usually due to it being spam related. The Blog gets a few more hits than it used to thanks to those swell cats at ACB. And now I seem to be popular enough for time shares and other pyramid schemes. The trappings of fame I guess [tongue firmly planted in cheek].

5. Russell Smith

Most people who follow the AT industry can rattle off a “Who’s Who” list of pioneers and innovators a mile long. So many wonderful and talented people over the years have given so much of themselves to the products they believed in that they become about as well known as the products themselves. The end user, unfortunately, can barely remember the technical support telephone number to their AT product. Russell was one of those people who managed to be easily recognized by both camps. He is one of the founding fathers of Access Technology for the Blind. Access World has an admiring look at Humanware’s leader which transcends anything I could write here.

4. The Power Of The Upgrade Compels You!

Whining about upgrades reached a fever pitch this year. Be it those who bought Keysoft 6.1 crying over the upgrade to a mPower, Zoom Text users yelling about the loss of 7x support or the nay sayers who labeled JAWS 7 a “money grab”. Chances are your product of choice had an upgrade in store for you during 2005.

In most cases the upgrades were desperately needed. Zoom Text’s 8x series was slow and easily confused. 9 provided them with the features of Xfont Enhancements which set them apart from other competitors by leaps and bounds. But for most the inclusion of the fastest growing synthesizer, in popularity and licensing, Neo Speech was the true feature that made people consider the upgrade.

JFW 7 gets a really bad rap. Some of the new quick access keys make a real difference in the reading of documents and web pages. Use the laptop configuration a few times and you will see what I mean. The down side with this release is that the continuously promised interaction between Pac Mate and JAWS will cost you upgrades to Pac Mate 3.0 and JAWS 7. Still if you have both products and you are an advanced user of Firefox, Excel, Skype and Messenger the upgrades are a no brainer.

The Keysoft thing though is a bit different. Timing was really the `key` issue here. The mPower project was not finalized at the time of the 6.1 release and no one was really sure about it’s specific roll out dates. So the offering of Keysoft 6.1 at the Holiday season of 04 seemed like a good idea at the time. Those who spent $600+ only to find out that they could have had a V8 in July for $1,400 dollar more weren’t as happy about the news of the new Humanware platform. Here again, however, you don’t really lose on either deal. Both product upgrades offered great features and those who balked at the mPower upgrade will now probably yelp about Keysoft 7 as well. Truth of the matter is that Humanware is offering support to all it’s platforms Classic, PK or mPower. That’s commendable and rare as it comes in the shadow of Windows 98’s impending End of Life later in 06.

The important lesson to be learned here is that ALL AT companies will be putting an upgrade path in place at some point in 2006 if they haven’t already. It’s going to be the natural order of things. In most cases over the last year and a half companies have given us features instead of the proverbial “Bug Fix” for money trend that existed earlier in this decade. And just look at Kurzweil 10 for an example of why upgrades are worth their salt. PDF Digital Conversion is worth $95 bucks to me that’s for sure.

3. Hi My Name Is Now

This one doesn’t seem like much at face value but it is definitely a bi product of another story on the countdown. It rates as it’s own story because of all the rampant turmoil that can be attributed to the state of the industry as a whole. In fact “uncertainty” is a great one word description for AT in 2005.

At the beginning of the year at ATIA Visuaid became one with Humanware. Then Alva did the whole VisionCue thing. Which now seems a bit pointless because they now belong to Optelec. Of course that wasn’t all for Optelec as they gobbled up Lighthouse International. The Kurzweil OCR team got a new host too and that seems to be a great move for them. But was that all?

Of course the eventual rumor mill began in full. Was Ai Squared next? How long could GW Micro hold out? Was the strategic partnerships between Optelec and Dolphin really overtures to something else? Why was a copy of Window Eyes coming with every Brailiant sold? And so on..

Literally every major conference had product reps, customers and industry watchers on the lookout for secret meetings, deceptive winks or longer than usual hand shakes. Most of the rumors ended up being just rumors. But it was kind of scary to think about how the industry was shifting again. Generally the tide goes from a few players to several players and then back to a select few every 5 years or so. That cycle was kind of altered by the emergence of Freedom Scientific as most watched and waited to see how that conglomeration worked out. Now the AT field seems to be catching up to Wall Street’s best as any place and any time could be the time you work for someone else.

2. The mPower!

Everyone loves a battle of epic proportion. David versus Goliath, Windows versus Apple OSX and then there’s Pac Mate versus Voice/Braille Note. Competition always benefits the consumer and this battle royal is no different. There had to be some out there who wondered just what could be added to the little gray boxes that could possibly make them better. Then Pac Mate came along and showed everyone just what a accessible note taker could do. The gang at New Zeeland went back to the drawing board to begin what could be the best case of one upmenship seen yet.

The new Notes featured built in Bluetooth, more memory and a refined version of Keysoft. The big issue of USB was dealt with by adding a standard and client port USB connection to the unit, however, they went a bit further by sticking SD on the unit as well. But was this enough to win over existing customers and steal the thunder of the Pac mate for those on the fence. The answer seems to be a resounding vote to the affirmative.

People are lining up around the block to get this unit. And yes some were the same people who threw a fit about buying Keysoft 6.1. The transplant option of taking your cells out of your old Braille Note is so popular that some will be on the waiting list until late spring or summer at the earliest. Take that and stick a $2,000 price tag to each one upgraded and you put the fan right back in fanatical.

And it only gets better from there. Keysoft 7 sports features of a database that will work with Excel, better media options and functionality/user interface tweaks that promise to be truly worth while. But the really neat things to me are the hidden features that come alive with this upgrade. The inclusion of a FM radio and games take the unit beyond what others perceive these devices to be and move it into a realm of being an all inclusive entertainment/information gathering unit. .I am all over anything that gives you more bang for the buck and I especially like it when there is hidden bonuses under the hood. Just stick a 4 gig or better Compact Flash card on the unit and you don’t need that IPOD Nano after all. Now just bring on that Daisy Reader..

1. The Return Of The Living Dead Otherwise Known As Telesensory

Nothing sparked more debate, caused more fear or generally provided more water cooler gossip than the stories that arose from the Telesensory situation. Be it the telling of how the employees found out by a note on the front door or the way they were escorted in and out of the building for the final time each employee was universal in their shock and aw of how fast it all happened. In one case a major spokesman for the company didn’t even know that the folding of Telesensory had taken place until he stepped off the plane in a LA to New York flight.

The timing of the events were even more frightening as it all happened during the week of CSUN. A nice big empty space where Telesensory was to have their booth reminded everyone of what could be in store for anyone at anytime. The story, however, doesn’t end there. While the greatest mistake was made public on the show floor the meetings held in private were the next chapter in the saga of the company. Art Bookbinder managed to use the best voodoo available to cobble dealers together to get Telesensory back up and running. And the result is a mixed bag so far.

While it’s nice to have the Pico back on the market nothing has been openly said about what’s next on the table as far as product lines go. The Genie Pro is kind of old and the Apex looks dated when directly compared to a new Clearview or Merlin Plus. The Olympia will also see some competition this year from Ash and others. In fact there has been a virtual explosion of competition in the CCTV field after the subsequent fall and rise of Telesensory. So it’s going to be interesting to see if this was all a warehouse cleaning move or a true return of one of the most famous names in the biz.

Here’s some of the story as told by Access World

And here’s the official announcement of the Bookbinder Group from the TSI website

And what does 2006 hold?

That’s another excuse for content later this week.