Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Crystal Ball: A.T. I.D.

As you can tell I am a big Science Fiction fan. I am also a person who gets to see and play with a lot of technology for a living. And sometimes my day job gives me the time to do some speculation or crazy bouts of thought on "proof of concept" items. A few articles recently got me to thinking on a bus ride home. What if technologies by the new Google/Double Click, Adobe and some unscrupulous individuals used web tools to not only detect your Assistive Technology.. but taylor their content in a manner that could take advantage of your vision loss? Where I am going with this is that detecting AT could be a good and a bad thing.

The good thing of course comes in with better navigation or less dynamic content delivery from a site that is usually nefarious for mouse overs, dynamic pull down menus or plain Flash Video on just about every control imaginable. The site detects your Screen Reader and adjusts the content to become more AT friendly by providing "Skip Navigation" or nothing but links and text for all information. I would rather that good web design provide one site for all, however, I can see some in Web Development opt for this option even if there is a possibility for information discrimination. I mean what if there are two sets of content available and one of these sets isn't updated for the AT users. That example is kind of far fetched I know because auto population should take care of both sets of content. But think of it like a restaurant who doesn't always update the prices on their Braille menus. A "text only" site that doesn't always reflect the "special of the week" flash banner on the main page does still occasionally happen every now and then.

There is naturally a darker side to this technology as well. Perhaps someone who is losing their vision performs a search for Screen Magnification. Someone out their Google Bombs their *free* Screen Magnifier. But along with this *free* software comes a little keylogger or other Malicious tool for ferrying back info to these, for right now, imagined foes. Since the largest growing audience of Assistive Technology users are older beginner level computer users, they ,might not notice a program loaded in the background. Or, as I have seen in some cases, flashback to the days of Gator, they know there is something wrong but they do not have the skills to remove the software in question. Very rarely do these types of users research the software before installing it and like several of us they almost never read a ULA.

Of course Spyware, Malware, Bloatware and Grayware have been around for a long time now. And generally the emphasis has been for these software writers to target the gangs of people looking for free games or productivity tools. However, with more and more free AT programs coming onto the scene I worry that we may one day have to police our own Blind communities in order for us to know who is wearing the white, black and gray hats amongst these alternatives.  

Here is the article that got me thinking about Screen Reader detection.


And here is an article that chronicles the history of Grayware from Ars Technica.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

More Updates.. This Time Its JAWS

Have you been using that old 7.0 build of the USB version of JFW. Well now you can ditch it and go all 9.0 in today's update. See what else is new at the link below..


Vista: Driven To Insanity.. Again!

Thought it was all over now that SP1 for Vista has shipped? Bah! It has only begun my friend. For if it isn't the slew of driver updates that go along with the release for SP1, wait for it, you will now find yourself checking sites for updates and patches to all your fave programs as well. So far I have updated my X Fi sound card, my NVIDIA video card and Nero Ultra 7 [who updated on 4/15 Tax Day of all things] in the last two weeks. A few other smaller utilities have updated as well but things like Adobe Reader update whenever the wind changes. Detecting which updates are SP1 related gets a bit harder when programs like that bundle in their other fixes all at one time. The lesson for today everyone is "Keep your eyes to the skies" for them darn updates.

I haven't seen that many bad things decrying the benefits of not updating to SP1, however, I did see this Ars Technica article mention this weird issue going on in the Technet Forums. 


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Vista Ultimate Extras Updated.. No Really.. Honest!

One of the many promises made to those of us who bought into the Ultimate Edition of Vista was the pledge that we wouldn't have to buy Plus! for Vista. In the end I had to go with Ultimate for work reasons because I needed to be familiar with both tiers of Home and Professional. The *Extras* were just that. I wasn't going crazy over "Texas Hold'em Poker" and I don't think I have even spent more than a passing glance at Bit Locker Drive Encryption. And the big selling point of Dream Scene content for AERO Glass wasn't a big deal for me either as almost all Blindness AT turns Glass off and you end up in the Vista Basic Desktop.

None the less we all like the appearance of things that are free even though we paid for them up front. Today I was flabbergasted to see that I had some updates available through Windows Update .. in the Ultimate Extras portion of the box. My heartbeat quickened, my palms grew sweaty and I leaned into my 5.1 speaker system to hear my speech with better clarity upon the reading of these new and unexpected additions. And the first thing I heard was .. Dream Scene Content Pack 3. Ha'za! More visual stuff for Glass.

I sunk back in my chair and arrowed down. I heard "Windows Vista Ultimate Sound Schemes". My head shot up. New sounds? Really? And they are an Ultimate Extra? Well now that is a welcome surprise. There were 34 more downloads available and I already knew those to be the long awaited, and delayed, updates to the multi language packs. Quick tip, save hard drive space and hide these things if you don't need them. They take forever to download and they are pretty hefty in size.

So by now you must be thinking why so long a post on Sound Schemes right? I mean are they that much better than what comes in the box? Oddly enough .. Yes.

There are two new schemes to be had. Windows Ultimate Extra Sound Scheme Glass and Pearl. both have the same sound cues as heard in your defaults for Vista. Same names in most cases and everything. But these end up being like a remix of your favorite song rather than a brand new album of music. The new age softer sounds of Vista continue onwards in these new schemes. And I imagine it will be hard for some with hearing limitations to notice or recognize any differences. For me, however, I kind of like the new less obtrusive UAC prompt. Moreover, some of these new sounds are way more "quiet mode" or headphone friendly in their defused tones. While this isn't a reinvention of the wheel, it was unexpected and free. Okay sort of free..

I didn't see anything on the Vista Team blog about these updates. In fact the only real hard evidence I could find on the schemes came from this blog listed below.


Reading that makes me want to make King Crimson and Star Wars jokes. To avoid you all that torment I'll just say that you gotta miss those days where you played all those Musica and Robotiz schemes eh? Guilty as charged on this side of the screen for sure. And to end this post we go out on the Classic Windows 95 hit.. you all know it as the Shutdown sound... T'da!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bionic Eyes.. They’re Watching You..

Is a Tuesday a bad day for a Hall and Oats reference? If not I could make a Kim Karns joke about “You got Betty Davis Bionic Eyes”. Either way I’m in an 80’s mood. Just to let you know where my head is at today.

The term Bionic has been applied to electronic eye alternatives before. And no doubt this technology is not to far off, like 15 years, from being affordable. Note I say affordable rather than available. There is a big gap between the two. But before you run right out and sign up for your X Ray Specs you may want to read a few William Gibson novels first. “Count Zero” especially paints a view of Wetware that I am not eager to run right out and jam into my head. Plus imagine the upgrades.. yikes.

Anyway, in the UK they have performed some successful surgeries on patients with RP. The elements to how this is done sound complicated. So no “Minority Report” style custom options yet. To know more hit the links below.



Windows XP SP3 Coming Soon

If you had asked me six months ago which of the two upcoming Service Packs, Vista or XP, was going to cause me the most trouble I would have quickly responded "Vista". Oh how that hasn't been the case. My older Toshiba laptop has been a real pain and I think Windows Live Oncare egged it on a bit too. The fact of the matter is that I have endured tons of torture when trying to uninstall the last Refresh. So much so that I am going to reformat and load SP3 clean. This is normally my standard operating procedure for Service Packs but I usually dred the work in spinning back up to full speed with the loading of drivers and utilities. Not this time however. This time I am looking forward to blanking this drive.

As a whole the stories are true. XP SP3 does seem a bit faster. And it is a helpful update to XP. The install process isn't bad and you don't have a series of restarts to sit through. Like any install, when it goes right it goes great and when it goes bad it goes worse. It did kill the network settings on one of my boxes. Or so I believed. A few dozen reboots seems to have pushed out whatever was clogging the tubes during the beta cycle. My warning is here that if you have a unique network situation .. wait on SP3. Otherwise I would also advise waiting to see how others report in on the update as uninstalling the SP can be problematic. And of course the best recommendation, or at least the one that is the most time consuming, is to back all your data up and reinstall everything fresh. With XP being around for so long that could be a very daunting issue to consider.

Ars has a rundown of how we got to this point and a rough timeline of the rollout.


To know more about the changes that come in SP3 take a look at the Super Site for Windows FAQ.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Quick News: Apple Software Update, Vista Data Harvesting And More

Apple Software Update: I don't use iTunes and I use Nero or other players for my Quick Time files. The main reason for why I do this doesn't come from my anti Apple misgivings. It actually started several years ago when Apple Software Update started to update things I had never installed. Like Quick Time updating iTunes when all I had loaded on that system was QT. This practice of avoidance continued on to Adobe when they started to make it difficult to avoid the other toolbars that would install and load by default if you didn't tab through everything..  and I mean everything to find the "no thank you" buttons, checkboxes or other controls. So I thought this blog post from the Windows Super Site was interesting as Apple is still bundling the company's other software more or less.


A side note if you will. I was asked offline why I refer to the Super Site so much. Two reasons really. One, Paul's DE'man when it comes to tracking down Microsoft legend and lore. And two, he often mentions keystrokes or describes things non visually in his materials. If you listen to the Windows Weekly podcasts Paul will occasionally mention his son who is Deaf. Paul also has brought the need for iTunes to have more closed captioning in the past. And it is rare to find anyone with this big of a net presence discuss Disabled rights.  

Vista Data Harvesting: To be fair, and to continue my trend for one snarky Vista article for every snarky Apple article I like to link to now a days,  I am not a big fan of the need for Microsoft to archive everything on the computer. I'm not so paranoid that I want ultimate control of both sides of the firewall as I rarely do anything to warrant the need for NSA like security. But at times I find it is hard to know what is really needed by Vista and what is not. The article below is way too FUD ridden for my taste, however, it does mention a lot of these services and what they are used for within Vista.   


Also, if you are into this sort of thing, a couple of weeks ago the Fred's head Companion posted an article on Windows Registry tools and tweaks. I generally don't use these methods to manipulate Windows. And I can't use them on boxes that I use for beta testing as you have to simulate the "out of the box" experience in that kind of thing. But I have used a site for testing services and configurations in the past. Black Viper's tweaks are pretty spiffy and I use them to trim down non testing machines. Only once did I screw up royally by disabling a service that my Screen Magnifier was tied to at the time. A trip to Safe Mode and me rubbing my nose across the old 19 inch CRT monitor got me back on the straight and narrow. Therefore, as BV says in the link below, only use the "safe" configuration to start with on your path to the Vista Health Spa. Your Vista could be pounds lighter in minutes.

Black Viper Vista Tweaks


Notetaker Of The Future!: Forget that Omni, K Reader Mobile or Braille Sense Plus. I want someone to add speech to this thing right here. Hee hee...


Ranger says in his best superhero voice "This sounds like a job for.. Code Factory!".

Friday, April 18, 2008

Computer World And Slashdot Posts On Blind Access

Computer World: A pretty good article synopsizing the issues surrounding access to the net and employment barriers that effect Blind users is up at Computer World. Some heavy hitters like Curtis Chong, Rob Sinclair and Dan over at G.W. Micro are quoted. You can find the article at the link below.


Slashdot: The aggregator has also posted this article as well, however, the comments sections of both Computer World and Slashdot is always the scarier reads by far. Because we can change the technology but changing public perception is a much more difficult task. Beware that the comments can be a little NSFW at times. That means turn your speakers down or use headphones for the foul language used ahead.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Random Goodness: The Freedom Scientific Edition

I know a lot of you guys out there love RSS readers like Bloglines and such. They are quick and easy ways of reading some inaccessible sites. And I too rely on News Aggregators to catch up on several sources in one glance. But sometimes you just have to do an old fashioned read of the sites you like to find the gems of the internet. Gotta love those Site Map links. Today one tour of the Freedom Scientific website provided me with the links below.

FSReader For PAC Mate: Omni: Users of the other guy’s notetakers already know about how some applications are platform specific. And, of course, those who had the early TNS and BNS PAC Mates remember this too. History repeats ,as it always does, since you will need to be aware that some things are Classic PAC Mate compatible and other things will be PAC Mate Omni compatible. This isn’t some Freedom Scientific conspiracy to get you to buy more stuff. It is just a bi-product of the Omni using Windows Mobile 6.0. So those of you who do an upgrade need to look for Omni versions of FSReader, Street Talker and the like. Here is the link for the FSReader updates for Desktops, Classic and Omni PAC Mates.


Magic 11.0 Update: It may have just come out in early March but the first update to Magic appeared for download shortly after CSUN. Here is the link to the update page and be aware that the link for the USB version of Magic has also been updated to version 11.0 as well.


Optacon Manuals: You have to admit that this is a cool thing. FS has posted the original manuals for the Optacon. More than two decades ago, gulp, I worked with this device and the red lighted LED monitor accessory. I actually used this a lot even when the Versa Braille showed up a few scant years later. Just looking at these manuals brings back the memories. Those of you who have never heard of this device should take a gander at what we thought was super high tech back in the day.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Audio Dramas: The Scarifyers

The culture behind listening to the radio is different in the UK than in the US. Generally radio, the terrestrial commercial over the air free kind, is based more on playing you the same 20 songs a day in 2 hour intervals. Rarely do you find experimental jaunts into anything creative outside of the humor behind the local morning radio fare. The UK, however, still sees radio as a major form of entertainment and news. BBC7 even continues to commission new projects and old faves alike.

In the past year I've listened to a range of shows both old and new from the BBC7 archives. I mainly started my quest because I was looking for the older and newer audio dramas for "Blake's 7". I discovered so much more. Shows like "The Mighty Boosh" started on radio but it then went on to become a television series. Big Finish was asked to take TV's Doctor Who in another direction and this started a separate run of the 8th regeneration of the Doctor. But one series that has cropped up in the last year or so deserves a special mention.

The Scarifyers is perfect drama for those of you who like supernatural, mysteries or even a bit of Steampunk style in their audios. Their stories are period pieces that harken back to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and HP Lovecraft. And this is truly conveyed in the show's scripts and dialog. Several of the series cast will be familiar sounding if you are fans of Doctor Who or Big Finish. But don't expect spaceships and lazers here. These stories are more spooky "bump in the night" with a darker side for sure.

To learn more or hear samples of The Scarifyers visit the Cosmic Hobo website..


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Seeing What You Aren't Missing

If you check out the links on the "Fueling The Station" area to the right you will see that I have a semi theme going on for April. That seemed to carry over to this post. Because today I found interesting stories about visual stuff that doesn't really jive with the AT focus here, however, it is still something worth a read none the less.

Java: Next to Adobe's PDF one might say that heavy Java *Web 2.0* in browser apps are the true evils of the Internet. In a lot of cases Ad Servers and other Java applets are slowing down the web. Firefox and all of its extensions is one way of dealing with this issue. Some in the Apple Safari development camps may have also found a way to work around these problems as well. See the link below for more info.


Mac: While most of us wouldn't be phased by a monitor displaying fewer colors.. you have to admit that if you paid a good chunk of money for a Mac for a sighted family member and your new Mac displayed 98% fewer colors than a previous model .. you might be just a little bit upset. You would not be alone either. The link below takes you to an article about a law suit that claims that the new 20 inch Mac monitors have this problem. The links on that page also detail a few other Apple suits as well.


Copyrighting Colors?: I get some copyright defense. If Mike Rowe goes out and buys or markets the name Mikerowesoft then getting a call from the legal department in Redmond shouldn't be a shocking situation. However.. T-Mobile claiming that they have the copyright on the color Magenta? I'm not so sure. Learn more at the link below.


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March's Poll Results And April's Question Of The Month Added

This was the largest poll yet. Just take a look at these numbers.

Which Cell Phone Access Program Do You Use?

Mobile Speak/Mobile Magnifier 17 (35%)

Talks/Magnifier 15 (31%)

Smart or Pocket HAL 2 (4%)

I use the built in speech provided by the make and model of my cell phone 14 (29%)

I have to admit that this poll was fascinating to watch. For a long while the "I'll use the phone's software" was actually outpacing the cell phone screen readers. Personally I can't go with that option but I understand why many people do. Cost, of course, is a factor. For me I want all of the features on the phone to be spoken. And many of the LG/other phones with built in options don't have enough access to advanced features which is the whole reason why I need a phone in f the first place. Although those on board synth options are improving I will say that.  

This month's poll should also be interesting as it speaks to both old and new users of OCR or Optical Character Recognition programs. We will focus on computer based programs this month rather than look at portable options like the K Reader or Zoom EX. So going old school this month..

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

Open Book
  Kurzweil 1000
  System Access's Document Scan

I've always admired those who could jump from Unbound or Ruby to K 1000 and back again. With the new Open Book 8.0 some say that a shift may be on the horizon again. For now though let's see how they stack up currently.