Wednesday, May 28, 2008

MP3: Hey Brother Can You Spare A Dime?

The recent Writers Strike finally broke the hold on me that LOST, 24, Heroes and about six other TV series had on me in any given fall/spring. To fill this void left by the lack of good drama and crass marketing tie ins I turned to my massive collection of growing Audio Dramas and I rediscovered my desire to collect more music as a byproduct of the odd web search. I ended up making a few wish lists, I read up on some new media players and I rolled around the net to occasionally hear a few new bands. Here are some highlights of my ventures into Music tech.

Rent A MP3 For A Dime?: I am one of those folks who misses the Specialty "old school" Record store. Snobbish people who knew their store like the back of their hands who also made the occasional great recommendation is something that I do actually long for every time I go to a Big Box retailer to pick up a new Limited Edition of the new release of the week. Don't get me wrong I like buying music Online [as long as it isn't iTunes]. But I don't know if I am ready to step back to the era of "pay per play" unless it involves a smoke filled pool hall. See what I mean by this article that talks about an experiment to see if people will rent a MP3 for a dime.

MP3 Licensing: You do know that MP3 is not an open format right? Companies have to pay a licensing fee to use the format. Learn about this and the new MP3 Surround initiative at the link below.

Flobots: I heard this band's single "Handlebars" a few months ago and it didn't instantly stick for me. But hearing it a few times more has me now hooked. If you took a look at my CD pick for March, Quarashi, you may get the impression that my musical style is all over the place. Well this little band from Denver fits my off beat sound and it is on the Amazon Wish List.

Youtube link

Flobots My Space page

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Vista: Exploit Uses Linux And Accessibility To Gain System Level Access

I mentioned a few weeks ago under the Crystal Ball that I worried about AT being used against the purposes it was intended. Well it looks like from this Slashdot article that someone is using Utility Manager [also known as Ease of Access] and a distro of Linux to gain system level access in Vista. Check out this link for a non visual description of the video linked to within the post.

Monday, May 26, 2008

It Was Sorta The Best Of The NY Times, It Was Kinda The Worst Of The NY Times

I rarely read the New York Times. Moreover, I haven't ever been to New York. And since the late 80's I found that in my dealings with the Radio Industry I tended to not agree with most of the business influential people who live, work or worship at the alter of New York City. For I am one of those classic examples of that person the Bicoasters call "a resident of a fly over state". And I relish in this designation because I don't like it when people who can't see an open field of grass, not already in a park, tell me how to live or buy stuff when a short trip to the grocery store for me is a 7 mile grassy field infested journey.

When I read these things I am linking to this fine day I always swallow a bit of salt the size of a large box of Legos [who themselves are made out of salt] because a lot of the time major publications don't always get things right on a micro scale. Macro sure. But fine details always get lost in print. I learned that little nugget in one of the odd moments where I stayed awake in my print journalism classes.

Let us take a look at a good write up with some minor negative connotations first.

This article appears under the heading of "Novelties" [see the email link at the bottom of the article]. Hence my implication of minor negative connotation status. As I bare just a tad bit of resentment that technology I use every day is considered either a novelty, oddity or some other term that can be applied to bobbleheads of Eli Manning in a NY Giants uniform now discounted as we approach the new NFL season.

At the same time I know James at Freedom Vision and I have met some of the lads at Ash. I've met Doug and I know Chris Park at G.W. Micro. For all of them this story is a fantastic promotion of some new Video Magnifier models that both are releasing shortly. And it harkens me back to that old adage "There is no such thing as bad press".

What I mean by that is the people who need this technology the most won't see the tags on it the same way I did because for so many individuals this may be their first exposure to Assistive Technology of any kind. Plus! I am happy for my friends at Freedom Vision, Ash and G.W. Micro getting their names out in a major publication with such a wide distribution range. Taking an ad out in a platform like that could bankrupt an AT company outright. So when I read that link above I open my mouth wide for a very large box of salt filled Star Wars collectable Legos that go for somewhere around three times their value on Ebay.

Now the all over bad ..

Wow. My first thought was to blow this off as I don't value David Pogue's, or Walt Mossberg's for that matter, opinions on tech. But if we consider what I wrote above you find that I have to take the good points and apply them to this bad opinion piece as well.

The majority of sighted people already have a weak frame of reference on who Blind people are and what they can and cannot do in their livs. As many of these people age and approach vision loss themselves this small window into what we do and who we are causes them great fear and panic. And when these individuals are faced with this unknown they pick up on things like a dark pair of pants in a room full of Dog Guides. I always thought it was funny that a girl I met in a bar back in 1986 wanted to know what musical instrument I played because I had a cane and that is what people with canes do.. they play music. That was her perception as all the previous Blind people she had met up to that point played music. I, being the underachiever that I am, played music. Just on the radio. And no she didn't find that a suitable alternative as she was way into musicians.

Broad generalizations are one thing but specific examples are another. Enter in Mr. Pogue's comments that all and all go beyond the inference that the two Blind individuals he provided his book to were the genesis for it being on the web 48 hours later. While I realize that there could be a direct correlation between these two events, the chances of coincidence on the Internet is far too great for me not to also acknowledge. I did ask myself these questions...

  • Did you watermark the pages of the electronic copies and this is why you know that these are the two copies being distributed online?
  • Do you go around all day looking for P2P and torrent sites for your book and if so you do not download anything because of some morral high ground thing?
  • And here is an old chestnut. I'm sure you haven't borrowed a book from a friend, read it and then gave it back without buying a copy of that book yourself?

If you read the link you will see that it took seven comments before someone mentions OCR.

Quote: “Actually, authors like me are lucky; our work is, at this point, pretty much protected with unbreakable copy protection. That is, our bound and published books can’t be duplicated infinitely and distributed by the millions online.”

Sadly this isn’t entirely true. While it is prohibitively expensive for most people to make physical copies of a book it is common practice for people to scan even massive books (such as textbooks) and post the resulting documents online. It seems to me that authors are ultimately in a far worse place than the music industry in terms of the amount of damage they might sustain from piracy if good e-book readers become common. It is very difficult to compete with free, but somehow publishers are going to have to find a way to do so as enforcement is unlikely to ever be sufficient to put a significant dent in the online piracy of books. The publishing industry needs to find a way to emulate the iTunes music stores ability to get many people to forgo piracy through convenience and reasonable pricing before piracy becomes a significant threat to their business model. Otherwise they could end up in a very uncomfortable position.

— Posted by Lacci

Thank you Lacci! Because had this man joined us in the 21st Century and found a way to publish electronically no one would have had the need to ask for his books in alternative formats in the first place. And more than likely he would have been paid for his efforts as well.

Instead of doing the right thing Mr. Pogue has now exacerbated the situation by insinuating and condemning all Blind people as pirates who want something for free, tweaking off the more volatile members of Slashdot and by his own actions in this piece he has insured that a career retrospective will now be on the Pirate Bay by this time next week. Way to emulate the RIAA there David.

And now you see why I don't always read articles by these so called famous Tech pundits. Anyone who claims to be a Tech Writer who misses the mark so badly with assertions that the printed word is uncopyable isn't a writer worth his weight in Tech. Sad though that a more critical mass of people have not reached the same conclusion.

By the way I applaud Darrell 's response that he posted over at Blind Access Journal.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Another Month.. Another JAWS Update

Those guys and gals in St. Pete are really cranking out the updates. Check out the latest at the link below.

Press Release: AT&T Announces Free Technology Classes to Start During Older Americans Month


AT&T Announces Free Technology Classes to Start During Older Americans MonthTuesday
May 20, 10:00 am ET

Briefings on Mobile Phones, Cybersafety for Senior Consumers
SAN ANTONIO, May 20 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- In recognition of Older Americans Month, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T - News) announced today that the company is launching free briefings to seniors on how to operate their mobile phones and on Internet cybersafety in various cities throughout the country. The briefings will continue through the rest of the year.
"As the No. 1 provider of broadband and wireless service in the country, we consider it our responsibility to help create a safe environment for all consumers, including seniors," said Brent Olson, AT&T assistant vice president, Public Policy. "These briefings are a way for consumers to learn more about how to wisely use technology, including the benefits as well as the challenges."
Pilot briefings on mobile phones were hosted by OASIS, a national nonprofit educational organization for mature adults, with programming in at least 26 cities in the U.S. Using the OASIS model as a guide, AT&T teams in various states will reach out throughout the year to other organizations and facilities that serve mature adults.

In the OASIS pilots, participants received one-on-one coaching from AT&T volunteers, who answered participants' questions and helped them learn to use their current phones, regardless of which carrier they were using. More than 300 seniors have learned several functions of their mobile phones, from basic inbound and outbound call techniques to text messaging functions.
"We are pleased to have launched this important and popular program for our members, who increasingly look to their mobile phones as a mode of communication with the outside world," said Marcia Kerz, president of OASIS. "It's unusual for any company to offer free programs like this, which is a hit because seniors can learn in a comfortable setting. The participants have responded very positively to the information they have learned."
The pilot briefings with OASIS were held in a handful of cities, including Houston, Phoenix, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. Upcoming briefings will include St. Louis, Chicago, San Antonio and Rochester, N.Y.

In addition, AT&T will hold its first cybersafety briefing for seniors at an event hosted by the National Caucus and Center on Black Aged (NCBA) in Chicago on May 29. Cybersafety briefings will become available at various cities throughout the country.

The briefings will help provide tips to seniors on the challenges of staying safe on the Internet and on their wireless phone and will cover the following topics: -- Spam and scams -- Fraud and phishing -- Identity theft -- Privacy -- Spyware -- Social networking sites, including card games such as bridge and other activities
"Increasingly, the senior population is using the Internet for a wide variety of applications, including accessing personal health records, shopping, online learning and managing finances -- far more than just e-mailing photos of children and grandchildren," said Kristin Fabos, executive director for SeniorNet, an organization of computer-using adults 50 and older, with 150 SeniorNet Computer Learning Centers throughout the country. "With such increased usage comes increased security concerns, so we need to do what we can to educate our members on cybersafety."
SeniorNet and OASIS are members of AT&T's Advisory Panel on Access Aging, which meets quarterly with AT&T's key decision-makers and advises on issues that affect customers and employees who are aging and/or have disabilities.

For more information on these programs and other online safety initiatives by AT&T, please visit See more about the OASIS program at and for more information about SeniorNet visit
About AT&T
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T - News) is a premier communications holding company. Its subsidiaries and affiliates, AT&T operating companies, are the providers of AT&T services in the United States and around the world. Among their offerings are the world's most advanced IP-based business communications services and the nation's leading wireless, high speed Internet access and voice services. In domestic markets, AT&T is known for the directory publishing and advertising sales leadership of its Yellow Pages and YELLOWPAGES.COM organizations, and the AT&T brand is licensed to innovators in such fields as communications equipment. As part of its three-screen integration strategy, AT&T is expanding its TV entertainment offerings. In 2008, AT&T again ranked No. 1 on Fortune magazine's World's Most Admired Telecommunications Company list and No. 1 on America's Most Admired Telecommunications Company list. Additional information about AT&T Inc. and the products and services provided by AT&T subsidiaries and affiliates is available at
© 2008 AT&T Intellectual Property. All rights reserved. AT&T, the AT&T logo and all other marks contained herein are trademarks of AT&T Intellectual Property and/or AT&T affiliated companies.

Note: This AT&T news release and other announcements are available as part of an RSS feed at For more information, please review this announcement in the AT&T newsroom at
Source: AT&T Inc.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Random Goodness: We're Getting Bigger All The Time

Here are some articles of interest that I found when shifting between Tech sites.

Ten Worst Entry Level Tech Jobs: Google, Microsoft and others are great to work for... unless you happen to be at one of the jobs described in the article below.

IT Fat: I guess this one is more from the "Bleeding Obvious" drawer but someone has stated that jobs in Information Technology put the weight on you due to stress and the Geek diet.

Dell Keyboard: I've seen people with brand new computers complain about their keyboards before, however, I think this time the problem may be justifiable.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Press Release: HumanWare Releases KeySoft 7.5 Build 29 and offers Free Dictionary Special


HumanWare is pleased to announce the release of KeySoft 7.5 Build 29 for the BrailleNote family of products. These revisions to KeySoft are available at no charge or SMA count to current KeySoft 7.5 users.

In addition, an Oxford Concise Dictionary & Thesaurus is offered with any BrailleNote Classic or other competitive notetaker that is transplanted or traded in towards a new BrailleNote mPower. This promotion is offered by HumanWare US.

Build 29 contains 4 user improvements:

1. mPower now supports Wig-If 802.11 g protocol: A driver has been included to support the later model Ambicom WL54G Wi-Fi card. This card is more readily available than the currently supported Ambicom WL1100C. The US Robotics Wireless MAXg USB Adapter USR5421 is also supported.

2. Appointment Scheduling: The error associated with scheduling an appointment to a date other than the current day has been fixed. This previously generated an error saying that the entered date needed to be after 1601.

3. USB Device Identification: The problem causing some USB and CD ROM drives to be incorrectly identified as printers has been corrected.

4. Words Added to Spelling Dictionary: Depending on the choice of braille table, words added to the spell checker were not being retained, so appeared as spelling errors on future spell checks. This has been corrected.

We encourage existing mPower KeySoft 7.5 Users to take advantage of these free improvements as the Development Team continues working on implementing the exciting new features of a new KeySoft release for fall 2008.

The version will be available for download from our web site by Thursday May 22nd. For more information please contact Humanware US at 800-722-3393.

Almost 2 Years Later.. Reviewing My 2006 Vista And Office 07 NFB Overviews: Part 1

This month marks my two year anniversary of running Windows Vista on one machine or another. I've also been running Vista on my main box since launch, however, I played around some and my current Windows Install is a young 13 months old. In all this time I have been and remain a fan of Vista. You read that right. I am a fan. No version of Windows has caused me less trouble than Vista. The only hard crashes I have experienced have been directly due to me using beta versions of Assistive Technology or by me purposely poking the bear with a stick to see what could take down a box running the latest version of Vista. five weeks or so from now my office will switch to Vista for internal reasons and I can't wait.

Now before you call the men in their clean white coats to come and take me away know first that I don't advocate that you toss out your old or new computers today. Nor do I say that the "future is now" and it has flowers, trees and chirping birds and .. well you get the idea. If you are happy with what you have and it works for you then great. The next several paragraphs are not designed to sway you from where you are at the moment. And this post isn't a defense or praise of all things Microsoft either. Read on and see.

In July of 2006 I did have a lot to say on the topics of Vista and Office 07 because I was asked to speak at the National Federation of the Blind's Computer Science meeting on both of these programs with an emphasis on the pitfalls of running both from a Blind and Low Vision point of view. With the convention returning to Dallas this July my thoughts also have returned to my presentation from two years ago.

This multi part post is just really a post mortem on what I may have gotten right and what I realy got wrong. Sometimes when you do this Consulting/Futureist/Evangelism stuff you kind of have to keep score on yourself in order to then market yourself to others that you indeed have two sticks to rub together for that fire somebody wanted.

So journey with me now back to a simpler time where Krispy Cream ruled the Earth and gas was a low $2.15 a gallon. Let us go back to July 2006 and revisit what I said oh those many months ago before I move onwards to the future.

Windows Vista And Office 2007 Overview For NFB Convention In Dallas

You've finished reading all that? No me neither. Quite frankly I was hopped up on coffee and heavy music. Some of it is a blur that's for sure. Well if you didn't feel like going "Back to the Future" then you are in luck. Because I am going to post the key parts that stick out in my mind and comment on them rather than have you reread that whole big diatribe all over again. As always feel free to throw your own take on all this into the comments section.

Here we go!

At the beginning I made a joke about how I seem to be asked to speak right as new versions of Windows are released. I stated that the next time I would be back would be 2011. In retrospect that sounded right, however, I'm more apt to think that Windows 7 will fall between late 2009 and mid 2010. Microsoft has often said that the span between cycles should be three years. Which means if you consider that Vista officialy released to RTM in November 06.. Windows 7 should be on target for a similar release in November 2009. But that would also mean that the Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 would hit in 2011 thereby giving me an excuse to show up again and tell even more bad jokes. Problem solved!

Speaking of funny things, do you remember when MS was playing Twister with release dates?

Quote: Today in our brief time together I would like to speak to you about some of the aspects of both Microsoft’s new products scheduled for release in 2007. Windows Vista is currently set for release in January 2007 and Microsoft Office will be released in the first quarter of 2007. Both products will come in a variety of editions and flavors, however, my views will mainly focus today on the Ultimate Editions of both.

I was speaking about the retail editions there not the OEM and big business editions. Those did go to RTM in November 06. Where I got it wrong, and really this was a shocker, was in the release of Office 2007. In July many of us in the industry were told that Vista would go first then Office. Several AT companies thought that this would give some, not a lot of course, time to work on Vista code for release with some small window of development time built in for Office. That didn't happen. In mid to late August MS changed up the schedule and they announced that both products would be released on the same date.

Sure this decision was a great idea from the marketing, and the cost of said marketing, standpoint. Playing Armchair Quarterback for a second, this plan kind of scuttled some of the buzz on Office. The Office Team finished on time and their product was ready to go for the Summer of 2006. They gladly took the extra time given to them by the schedule change. But for us in AT it meant that one thing would have to take the lead in development. And many people had already said that they would be ready day and date with Vista. As a result almost everyone had to play catch up in Office 07. And as my good friend Curtis Chong predicted Office was the bigger product as it wasn't just a "Vista Only" program. The somewhat tired argument of slow Vista adoption can't be applied to Office 07. In fact the Office sales have been staggering and you rarely see anyone in the mainstream media talking about "Save Office 2003" campaigns.

Moving on, I wanted to get the most important part out of the way first.

Quote: One of the things to realize when considering moving to Windows Vista is that it has been five years since the last non network release of a program in the Windows Family. Other than Windows XP Service Pack 2 the program has seen little or no drastic changes to its look and feel. And while that is a great thing for Blind users having that kind of stability for a very long time it also means that more people will be reluctant to change when circumstances dictate to them that they have little choice to do otherwise. Let me say that for the next two years there will be few reasons for most users to drop their current desktops running Windows XP Service pack 2. If you feel comfortable with your computer and your Assistive Technology of choice then do not up root yourself for the sake of having the biggest and newest thing on the market.

It has been almost two years from the day I wrote that. And I still feel the exact same way.

Quote: Now if you are currently running Windows 95, 98, 98 SE, ME or 2000 you will need to consider making the leap to Vista as your software has reached the end of its rope for technical support and security updates. Your Assistive Technology of choice is also following suit as several of the major names in Assistive Technology are planning or already have ended their support for older versions of Windows.

Yup. Good luck finding anything 9x supported these days. Win2k maybe. But 9x?

Quote: If you find yourself being one of the people in the older Windows camp let me make the additional recommendation that you consider a whole new computer system as opposed to traveling down the path of endless upgrades. One thing I have learned during my time with Vista is that the older the hardware is the more painful your experience will be in the long run. Some of Vista's features and advantages over the current generation of computers are strictly based upon new hardware components and subsequent accessories. Upgrading an older system means that you run the risk of not being able to use all the powers of Vista thereby making a purchase of a new computer far more cost effective.

Darn you NVIDIA and Creative for your bad driver support in Vista!

Ahem, this has always been the call of the tried and true Techno Geek/Nerd. However, you often have to say the most common things over and over again for those buyers and non tech types who are new to the cycle. As we approach Windows 7 I will more than likely end up cut, copying and pasting a lot of this material for the next round of talks on the presentation circuit.  

Now this next bit was probably the most accurate thing I said..

Quote: The most common question I get these days is "will it be accessible?” And I have recently learned that the term "accessible" has varied meanings. There is no doubt that eventually all the Assistive Technology Venders in the market today will find their way to making their products work with Windows Vista. If you think about it for a second you will realize that they have no choice in the matter. If older versions of Windows are being phased out for Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Vista then there is only one path left in the marketplace. The bottom line is that there is money to be made in Vista upgrades over the next two years as it will become the industry standard. But for the second time in the last three minutes I have mentioned the cost or money needed to move to such a standard. So technically the programs themselves will be "accessible" but only to a few individuals who can afford these costs. This means there will be a large portion of our population unable to make the leap due to the sheer economics of the matter. A new Digital Divide, if you will allow me the analogy, will be formed as a result of this situation.

Here's what really came to the forefront in the last two years for me. "Accessibility vs. Usability", the consequences of a ATV's  dependence upon a 9 to 15 month whole number release schedule and the real kicker "subscription based sales models" for AT software. Out of those three the most exciting, and beneficial, of the points is the introduction of subscription [or rent to own] AT software. Some may say that this was just a natural and inevitable move for AT to go as non AT was already there or moving to that model. but the pressure of cost with hardware and software also gave rise to the free alternatives that we now see on the net as well.

While I still believe there is a "Digital Divide" of sorts the debate moves for me to the real issue that some will wallow in XP for too long and find themselves even more in shock when Windows 7 arrives. Skipping a version of Office is one thing. Avoiding exposure to a Windows Operating System for the working Blind is another. As XP grows even older it will find its self where Windows 2000 is now. XP Pro is cheaper and easier to implement broadly. When Windows 7 is released it moves the support chain up one level thereby making Vista the cheaper, and only in some cases, option left for some big business. Which means at some point the business environment will cuddle up to Vista because now she is a cheaper date and everyone knows what she likes. I'm gonna stop this one right here but I'll definitely need to come back to this in it's own post.. and with a better way of describing it too. You don't want to know how much I could have gone down that road with long marriage and divorce jokes a plenty.

   In this next portion I am about 50/50.

Quote: The Divide doesn't stop with the issue of money however. Generally a large number of users sit down with their machines and the first thing they do is reset the machine to Windows Classic mode. In Windows Vista this will now take away some options from the desktop environment meaning that those with the hardware, ability and vision will have options open to them that you may not because you opted to go with a more familiar user interface. And for those who will migrate to Office 2007 the change will be jarring as it is the only upcoming Microsoft product that does not have the ability to revert to "Classic Mode". The need for training on these new products will be a paramount concern over the next two years as some of your technology muscles will have to adjust to the new complexities of Office and Windows. This naturally will be based solely on your experience level and it too changes the definition of "accessible" as many users will find not having the ability to use "Classic Mode" a detriment to their ability to use these programs effectively.

I was sort of right about the Classic thing. In Vista not so much. In Office I was dead on in a way.

Dropping to a semi classic Vista isn't awful. And it certainly won't bar you from being kept out of the loop with the majority of your sighted peers. The benefits of staying with a true Vista feel for the UI are notable though. Especially if you have gigs and gigs of data on multiple drives. Vista's indexing and Start Search [that's the search box integrated into the Start Menu by the way] are really helpful and I feel handcuffed in XP without them. The problem is other people aren't reverting back to Classic. so when others give you navigation, or if you have to follow trouble shooting steps from a list, you end up having to know both interfaces anyway. Rather than sit there and try and remember that this one means you do it in Vista and this is the way I have to do it in fo XP.. I'd rather just do it in Vista and take the good with the bad.

Now in Office 07 it is a completely different story. At the time I wrote this thing in 2006 Office was still in beta. Some of what I saw got changed before release. And to make things more complicated the Ribbon is a much bigger obstacle for Screen Magnification users because Screen Reader users really should be able to take the majority of their key commands over with not too much difficulty. Where both classes of users suffer is in the area of Ribbon exploration and the loss of the File Bar. Want to find that template you used in Office all the time and you didn't set it to your Home menu? Well here is a sandwich, a bottle of water and some traveling music. Good Hunting!

The next quote may make you hurt yourself laughing. Strap yourself down for pure marketing speak.

Quote:  Another aspect to ponder is that some users may not see a direct need to upgrade. These users may surf the internet, write the occasional email or generally dislike using the computer all together outside of their workplace. For them the new features involved with Vista and Office may hold little promise as they will not want to spend the time needed to master said features. Their expectations are low because their idea of what the computer is to them is not the same for what the computer is now becoming. In Windows Vista your PC moves from the realm of spreadsheets, document creation and the internet to be something more relevant to today's digital lifestyle. Vista will be your Media Center, your High Definition media creator, your phone, your calendar and much more. Vista will be the portal to managing large amounts of data in real time and it will change the way that sighted individuals’ access that information. So all the marketing of transparent Windows, 3D icons, photorealistic interfaces and an endless array of the modern equivalent to pop up balloon tips holds very little interest to us Blind folk.

If, and this is a mighty big "IF", you buy into an all Microsoft solution then this isn't off the mark at all. What I didn't see coming was the iPhone, Facebook and the Windows Mobile team stumbling so badly that you would think it was a college student on spring break at midnight. Google's move for Cloud computing is in there somewhere and lack of more broadband penetration is tied in that too. But boy did I drink a little too much Kool Aid that day because I put all my eggs in one basket for sure. This Digital Lifestyle thing is real enough. I just underestimated the web's ability to be the web. Still if Google or a Microsoft/Yahoo does end up being the ultimate aggregator..  No Ranger. Step away from the Kool Aid Man.. "Oh Yeah!".

My next few paragraphs go on to talk about how much garbage can be placed on the screen at one time. This part is true. As 800 by 600 goes away desktop geography changes dramatically. And it requires both Screen Mag and Screen Read users to do a ton more in the way of desktop navigation and exploration.

A giant widescreen is a good thing for screen reading as more of a given sentence can be read or displayed evenly [depending on the program's buffer]. Think of it like having 80 Braille cells in a line rather than 40. Naturally that only works if you have something that is mostly text. Web Developers who scale their pages have this amazing dislike of blank areas on a page. What we get, and what I thought would happen, is that information on a given page ends up anywhere and everywhere with some designs that ignore not only Web Standards but logic as well. That Computerworld article I posted a few weeks back is a beautiful, I'm being sarcastic as usual, example of just how things can go wrong on a design. Just imagine how things will go as resolutions grow higher and text gets smaller and people stray further away from the need to prioritize the space on any given page? Ugh.

And then I went on and mention Gadgets in a round about way. While these little guys are cool and useful, most people I come across end up not using Windows Sidebar. In hindsight Microsoft almost pulled a Windows 98 Channel Bar again. Except this time I actually found Sidebar useful and I didn't remove it from my Desktop immediately like I did with the awful bar in 98. Sidebar is just one of those tools that not everyone gets the beauty held within. And some Sidebars aren't written to be all that AT friendly. Still when it works, or when it talks, doing a Windows + G to get the Weather is fantastic. Of course this also assumes you haven't disabled the thing to save memory on your older hardware. If that is the case then I acknowledge your need for freeing RAM and I slowly back away from your keyboard shortcuts.

I understand from friends and early reports that Sidebar plays a bigger role in Windows 7. so I could be vindicated in 2010. For now I am going to put this ultra visual nightmare prediction in the "loss" column though. The embedded video thing, mentioned along with the Sidebar paragraphs, was on target however. 

Keeping things a rollin', I want to praise the AT Industry for this next part..

Quote: As you might have guessed I now invoke that phrase "but that's not all!" again. These tabs are also dynamic and they will change the longer you work in a particular program within Office. Imagine that you are working in a Word document. You have written a few paragraphs and you now want to insert a table. You change your focus to the list of tabs up in that Ribbon thing I just mentioned. You go to the "Insert" tab and you select the table option. Word will now place a "Table" tab up in the row rather than taking you to a dialog box for you to select a table. If you change your focus to the Table tab the list of various table options is now displayed below the Table tab visually from left to right. This and other controls like it are called "galleries". Visually a sighted person can rapidly scroll through these pictures of various tables to select the specific one they desire. Until you become more familiar with this part of Word you will find yourself having to move your focus manually as you pan through the options from left to right. You can use your application key to do just about anything in Office if the idea of using this Ribbon sounds a little off putting. However, the use of the application key [or right click for you mouse users] is strictly context sensitive. In other words you can't get to the options for your table unless your cursor and focus is in or on the table.

Many programs do a great job with Office and specifically Ribbon assistance. Last year I was working with a co-worker on a five day Office 07 overview. We noticed that one of our friends was struggling with their software of choice in the Overview sessions when she was trying to follow along with us as we navigated portions of Word. At lunch I secretly switched her AT program with the newest public beta version of that very same program. A Foldger's Crystals coffee strategy. When we all came back from lunch my friend was amazed. She could not believe how much better the response was and the verbal hints aided her greatly.

The trick was that I left everything at defaults and I kind of trashed her old verbosity settings. The defaults for Office were designed to help rather than slow someone down. During the beta cycles a lot of feedback is given to a program maker on how to make something more "out of the box" friendly because not everyone is going to either have professional AT training or, gulp, crack open a help file or manual. Being forced to test under defaults can actually be a neat and enlightening process. Many times i learn that a lot of thought went into the base configuration and, in a lot of cases, I end up making only minor modifications to the defaults rather than wholesale changes.

What can be really discouraging is to see someone ignore a config wizard or other new features right at the moment of install. Then five minutes later you hear a complaint that the program doesn't do something as desired because the settings the person configured don't port well over to the new version of that product. In the offline world I have a particularly long rant about alternative audible cues, multi focus output, the inability for others to accept change and people who ramp speech to 220. But I digress for now. 

Nothing stinks more than learning a new computer, new operating system, new software and a upgrade for your AT product of choice under some imposed deadline. I know because I have been there a few times. Heck at the beginning of this post I even said I was excited about doing this very same thing next month. However, whenever possible of course, you may really want to take the time to sit down and play with a default scheme when you first install an upgrade. You might be surprised at what you may find.

The look back was way too big for one post. Part 2 will be up soon!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Quick News: Access World, Firefox And Macs

Access World: This issue focuses on CSUN, Electronic Audio and the Sense View’s Hand Writing camera accessory.

Firefox 3 RC1: Ars has a look at what seems to be a great update to Mozilla’s Flagship product.

Apple: The world is a scary place when you can buy a Windows based computer with your Assistive Technology of choice for the same price as a Macbook. Fortune notes in the article below that Apple is selling 66% of the computers/notebooks in the +$1,000 category.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Audio Dramas: Audible For Kids

Changes from the Amazon buy out haven’t really taken effect yet, however, you have to give it to Audible for finding new and exciting ways to market their services. Audible for Kids is a great initiative that not only promotes reading for the younger generation, one Y Split cable for your headphones later, it allows you to journey back to some classics that you may have read in your childhood. Some of these selections are in Radio Play format as well. Hence me putting them in the Audio Dramas category this month. And better yet some of them are Free. So there is a great way for you to test out your Audible Manager and a Victor Reader Stream without paying a cent. To learn more hit the links below.

Audible For Kids Main Page

Free Books Page

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Press Release: Trade in HumanWare Notetakers with Freedom Scientific's Open Plan


Media Contact: Brad DavisBlind/Low Vision Group800-444-4443 or 727-803-8000
Trade in HumanWare Notetakers with Freedom Scientific's Open Plan
Trade in any proprietary HumanWare notetaker and get the features you want today with Freedom Scientific’s PAC Mate Omni
(St. Petersburg, Florida — May 13, 2008) Freedom Scientific’s Open Plan, announced today, will help blind users of VoiceNote, BrailleNote, mPower, and BrailleNote PK notetakers upgrade to an open platform that uses the familiar Windows® interface and runs mainstream applications.
Until October 31, 2008, users in the United States and Canada can trade in one of the aforementioned HumanWare products and save more than 50 percent on a PAC Mate Omni™ accessible Pocket PC. Purchase prices after trade-in are:
PAC Mate Omni BX400 and QX400 speech-only units: $995
PAC Mate Omni BX420 and QX420 20-cell braille units: $1,795
PAC Mate Omni BX440 and QX440 40-cell braille units: $2,545
Those taking advantage of the Open Plan will be able to choose from more onboard applications, read from more braille cells, and access mainstream applications and peripherals. Students learn the Windows operating system as they use the PAC Mate Omni, knowledge they will draw from for the rest of their lives.
PAC Mate Omni users can communicate via Windows Live™ messaging, synchronize with their Microsoft Outlook® e-mail inbox, calendar, tasks, and notes, balance their checkbook, and manage spreadsheets. The PAC Mate Omni supports Office 2007, including access to PowerPoint® presentations. BrailleNote owners are still waiting to get in touch with those features. While they wait, PAC Mate Omni users are working with a host of other features BrailleNote doesn’t have. Features like bar code scanners that identify and describe many common household items, support for all Word documents, Skype™ Internet telephony, reference materials like encyclopedias, dictionaries, and recipe databases, virtual private network access, and support for a broad range of network cards and other peripherals.
“Since I became a PAC Mate user, I've used numerous exciting features that the closed nature of the BrailleNote prevented me from being able to deliver to customers when I managed that product,” said Jonathan Mosen, formerly of HumanWare, now Vice President of Blindness Hardware Product Management for Freedom Scientific’s Blind/Low Vision Group. “My PAC Mate Omni has become an essential tool for me. Not only am I more productive on the job because of features like the full synchronization and VPN support, but it's my accessible remote control for all our appliances that use a remote.”
Mosen also said he likes how the PAC Mate Omni gives him such a vast selection of entertainment options and supports all common streaming media formats.
“A closed platform can't possibly keep up with all of the innovation being unleashed by Microsoft and the many third-party developers that write software for Pocket PC devices. I have no doubt that once BrailleNote and VoiceNote users get their hands on a PAC Mate Omni, they'll be amazed at the world of possibilities on offer,” Mosen said. “I can even do high quality audio recordings on it!”
Find out more about the PAC Mate Omni by visiting the Freedom Scientific Web site. If you have questions or wish to take advantage of the Open Plan, Contact Freedom Scientific.
This program applies only in the US and Canada and cannot be combined with any other discounts. The trade-in units must be in good working condition, as determined by Freedom Scientific. Freedom Scientific reserves the right to refuse any trade-in or to change or cancel any aspect of this program at any time at its sole discretion.
About Freedom Scientific
Freedom Scientific is the world's leading manufacturer of assistive technology products for those who are vision impaired and products for the special education and learning disability markets.
Freedom Scientific® and PAC Mate Omni™ are either trademarks or registered trademarks in the United States and/or other countries. The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Feedback: Catching Up With Comments

I've been a bit remiss in responding to some comments. But no more. Today I am taking the time to respond to some of the comments over the last .. um.. few months. Wow that looks worse in print. Okay let's get started.

Computer World Article On  AT: Last month I, and many others, posted an article from Computer World on AT and general web access. Here's one comment from that post.

Ron Graham said...
Thanks for that article Ranger. I noticed it in an email alert last week, but the link Google had in the email would not load the page, no matter what I tried.

I think it touches on several issues we blind computer users regularly face and is a at least a good primer for anybody, such as a webmaster or potential employer, not familiar with screen readers. It describes pretty much what screen readers do, but also what they don’t do, as well as suggesting alternative methods for problem areas such as CAPTCHA and giving a site which employs an accessible alternative.

The Blind Access Journal copied this article into text for easy reading. So you may want to keep it around for better reference.

Matt Campbell and I had a long discussion on some of the article's points. And my general feelings are that it is still very difficult to explain AT in mainstream terms but this article did better than most at trying to do so. It didn't touch on everything though and that can be a challenge in and of its self. For instance, explaining Screen Magnifiers and Graphic User Interfaces to a Sighted World without screen shots or other visual aids is a fun brand of torture that I don't recommend to AT nOObs. Especially in the current Office Ribbon and Windows Sidebar environments. The pitfalls of the Java Access Bridge, embedded video controls like those used by Hulu and over the page Macromedia ads are also troublesome. However the most ironic part of it all is most of the people the article is trying to reach more than likely have poor eyesight already. That is, take away their contacts and thick glasses.. If I had a nickel for every time I heard an I.T. Director dream about not using their contacts, glasses or remark about some laser surgery..  

The bigger issue is always the comments in these articles. Those well thought out posts from educated individuals scare me more than the rantings and mis-spellings of others. Here is an older article from the Wall Stree Journal that demonstrates it with better effect.

Audio Dramas: Here's a comment from April's Audio Drama post.

Aaron said...
Hey Ranger1138, it was great meeting up with you the other day. Had a good time talking to you and learning more about the industry. These audio dramas seem really cool. Have you come across any of these in a podcast or free download format? Take it easy sir.

Some of the links tagged under the Audio Drama label do indeed offer podcasts or free samples. Big Finish has not only a podcast with snippets of upcoming productions, moreover, they have trailers for just released stories as well. And they just put up a neat thing for their downloads. You can listen to part one of a story for a small price and then if you like it you can buy the whole thing. The earlier cost is applied to the overall cost of the download. Since most of the Doctor Who audios are about 2 hours in length you get a good idea for a small price if you want the whole story after hearing part one. If you focus over to the right, or check your links lists, you will see that I added a Big Finish "Pick of the Month". This month's pick introduces the 6th Doctor's Companion that is exclusive to the audio series. And she plays a big part in the Big Finish extended universe as well.

Also, ZBS tends to post an entire audio play in ten minute intervals. They released "The 4th Tower" that way back in October 07.  

Trekker Breeze: Back in March I posted a bit more on the upcoming Humanware all in one GPS. 

Anonymous said...
I've just read about the trekker breeze in Access IT, a UK based magazine. It said the breeze will be afordable. Afordable is one of those words which should never be used. I've heard it said that a car is afordable at the cost of thousands, or a can of beans for a few uk pence.

Rumor is, and don't quote me on this at all, that the Breeze is between $500 and $850. We should know more on that as we near Convention season. When you look at the prices of accessible cell phones, add ons to existing note taking devices and over the counter brands of GPS a unit that runs around that price range could be argued by some to be "affordable". Remember that most Assistive Technology is not sold to the individual buyer. It is sold to Governments and that business model has its own symbiotic relationships. So "affordable" is mostly going to be used either loosely or in a comparative way here at TRS. Your mileage and size of pocketbook will always vary.   

Zoom Text USB: Going back to February now for this comment.  

Jessica said...
Too bad I read your review after purchasing ZoomText USB. I chose this product due to its portability. However, the admin right requirement really throw the wrench into its usefulness. As a result, I can't use it at the library or internet cafe.

Anything out there that runs the magnifier program directly from the flash drive? Want to avoid leaving a footprint on the guest computer system.

How about Dolphin Pen or Magic USB?


Well.. At the time of this post both Freedom Scientific's Magic and the Dolphin Pen require a Video Interceptor be installed. You may or may not run into the exact same thing again as far as Admin rights goes. However, barring a full lock down on the system, you could use System Access To Go as an alternative Screen Magnifier to all three. You don't have the same features such as pointer, focus or cursor enhancements but you do have some darn good speech going if you rely on that for screen navigation. Best part is that you can try it at your local cafe for free to see if this will work for you.

October Poll Comment: This came in from a post in November about the October 07 poll results. That poll was on Operating Systems by the way.

Darrell said...
I am actually a bit concerned that, at this time, there is absolutely no support by any screen reader for any of the 64-bit versions of Windows. What happens if one's job for some reason requires the ability to run on that platform?

This recently came up in some of my dealings with an AT company. Costcos placed a system on sale for dirt cheap that came pre-loaded with Windows Vista.. 64 bit edition. In a short period of time they took four calls from people who had purchased this system from around the country. And all, naturally, could not run the software due to the OS being 64 bit instead of 32 bit.

Most of the major players in the industry are aware that this is an issue for some of us in I.T. departments, call centers or big business where high level security is manditory. And many of these players have x64 support on their Roadmaps. At the same time we have a large number of newly Blind, older Blind and wounded Veterans all coming into the world of AT. These populations traditionally don't need this level of support in their product of choice. What bothers me is the rubber bands that the Developers face from Blind Professionals needing more high tech application support falling down the list of those Roadmaps because more product is being sold to the growing non technical audience. Development teams will be stressed and stretched to provide support to all. 

I don't have a witty or humorous remark to make here because I am very worried about this subject seeing how I fall under my own definition of Blind Professional. All I can say is that I urge you to NICELY! provide feedback or feature requests to the product teams that you use or rely on daily for work. I've found that only a polite well laid out request, with bullet point lists, is one of the only ways to convince the management of these companies to move development cycles in another path not projected on the Roadmap. And remember too that these product releases are sometimes in a 18 month cycle. Which means if you are using 1.0 and you request now the request may not come until 3.0 as 2.0 maybe feature complete. Depending on the company's cycle of development added support can come sooner than a feature request or User Interface change. Oh! I've been doing this too long if I can type that out all at once and not have to spell check it.. 

The overall point I am trying to make is that you need to be active in how you use your AT products. Saying that one product *sucks* just doesn't help much. If you say, however, that you need support for the next version of Windows or Office on day one though.. And give some credit where credit is due. We did see support, beta or no, for Vista on day one. And some have even started on IE8 in their latest updates. We as Users have to remain polite and vocal in what we need as the next five years will be the most interesting time we have ever seen in Assistive Technology.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Humanware PR: FREE Oxford Concise Dictionary And Thesaurus!

FREE Oxford Concise Dictionary and Thesaurus!

Transplant or Trade in a Classic BrailleNote for a Braillenote mPower and receive a FREE Dictionary/Thesaurus (offer good thru June 30th)

The Concise Oxford Dictionary on BrailleNote gives the meaning of a word, speaks it aloud with correct pronunciation, and much more. It includes the full definition of 240,000 entries, synonyms and antonyms with additional advanced search features. The Dictionary and Thesaurus combination is available in either a US or UK Version.

From any KeySoft application, whether you are in the KeyWeb Internet Browser, the Book Reader or Word Processor, the Dictionary and Thesaurus is easily accessed in one easy key stroke.

For more information contact:


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Windows XP Service Pack 3 Now Officially Online

Sound the fanfare because Windows XP Service Pack 3 has finally arrived. It is a 15+ MB download. And it installs in a Windows session. You may see one or two restarts though before things settle down to normal. Also you will get one of those nice boxes that tells you what will and will not work well if you upgrade. So installing this update should be fine if your AT is compatible, you aren’t running IE8 beta and you don’t have the ability to control your NAT routing. See how simple that is???

Okay it isn’t all that bad but you should read some of the articles out there on the update before you run it for yourself.

Windows XP SP3 Download Site

XP SP3 Release Notes Article From Ars Technica

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Random Goodness: The Truly Random Collection

Here's some highlights of the giant pile of links I have trolled though this week.

ATT iPhone Data Plan: Shortly after the iPhone launch AT&T got into a flap with Deaf customers who wanted a data only plan. It looks like the issues have been resolved according to Ars Technica.

Speech Recognition In Vista: I heard at CSUN 07 that Nuance was considering dropping the consumer level of Dragon if Vista's Speech Reco was indeed that good. Then half a billion people didn't run right out and buy Vista. But Microsoft is still committed to this AT because it has so much spin off potential like Microsoft's Sync. Ars talks about a new technical preview build that will update the recognition in Vista.

Crave's 8 Worst Microsoft Promos: Last month the net went crazy looking at an internal MS video celebrating Vista. It was all in jest, however, Crave was inspired to do an article showing that Microsoft has a history of releasing the same quality of video to the public.

Helpdesk Launch Pad Or Doorstop?: That Screen Reader nightmare known as Computerworld has posted a interesting article on the debate of Helpdesk support being a good starting point or the beginning of the end or your IT career.

GOOG-411 Sounds: Anyone who has used the GooG service has heard that "bitti-bitti-boop" sounds while waiting for your information. The article below explains just what those sounds actually are..

Cradle Point: Quite simply .. I want one of these things.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Another Update.. This Time It Is Magic!

Freedom Scientific has updated Magic 11.0. To get the low down on this update go to the link below..

Polls: April's Poll Results And May's Poll Added

This one was over before it began. Take a look at last month's results.

April's Poll Question: Which Computer Based OCR Program Is Your Favorite?

Open Book 3 (10%)
Kurzweil 1000 18 (60%)
Cicero 0 (0%)
System Access's Document Scan 0 (0%)
Other 9 (30%)

I'm not trying to persuade anyone on this topic at all. But the new Open Book is worth a look and I have used the System Access Document Scan on the road a few times with good results as well. If you don't have an Eye Pal or another portable OCR on you.. having OCR on a pen drive is a great thing. Well as long as you can find a computer with a scanner. Then Zoom EX and Eye Pal are very helpful.

This month's poll question is one that some of you have been all waiting for...

Poll Question Of The Month: Which Note Taker/Accessible PDA Do You Want To Own?

PAC Mate Omni
Braile Sense Plus
A new Smartphone with Access Software

I imagine some out there have plans for all those refund dollars coming to you this month. And some out there may be thinking of a new gadget. So this is why I worded the question with "want" rather than "have". But feel free to answer any way you *want*.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Press Release: Would you like to participate in our survey?


For your chance to win one of two $50 American Express Gift Cards, please fill out and submit the following survey by 4:00 pm PST Thursday May 1, 2008. Your feedback is invaluable to us, and we thank you in advance for your help.

Take this survey

The Team