Monday, August 02, 2010

Feedback: Apple, Apple And Apples

One of the nice things about my new job is that it allows me to talk more on TRS about a wide array of subjects. Of course, knowing me the way you all do now, I have to get some older topics out of the way first. However, the cool thing is that I’ve got some dynamite comments to reflect back on this time around.

I actually do love the rant in this comment, from the last look back at 2009 post, below. john has posted in comments before, but this one is a bit more topical with a recent podcast I completed on the subject covered by john.

John J Herzog said...

Hi ranger. As always, you've written a thought provoking blog post. What caught my attention was the part about an actual monopoly as opposed to a perceived monopoly.
First, I want to acknowledge your point. Apple's voiceover is in deed the only game in town for the IPhone, IPad, and IPod. If you don't like it, you'd best be looking for a different device. However, I think there is a critical reason why most users, myself included, don't mind the VO monopoly, but do hold a grudge against other screen readers we perceive as monopolistic. . Put simply and bluntly, voiceover works, and works well. It is my experience that the competition does not. As an example, I had talks 4, and updated to talks 5 on my nokia phone. I still cannot use it with the internet, because I keep getting an error that says scrypt alert, undefined value. When doing a read all, it crashes the internet, and I must manually retype the address again to go back to the page. Sometimes talks does this, and sometimes it doesn't.
But it's not just talks, it's mobile speak as well. Neither screen reader supports nokia maps for effective GPS use. Want a compass app? Forget it. Compass pro, though highly recommended by nokia users doesn't work with either product even when phones can support the program. Want a shoutcast and internet radio playing app? Muahahahaha foolish mortal! LCG jukebox, again a major selling app on cymbian doesn't speak a single iota with mobile speak or talks. Yet, these products market to us like they have so much more functionality than the previous version because they implemented a half baked touch interface, or added more keystrokes to the internet.
Now, you could make the argument that I am being too hard on the screen reader developers. After all, they are just a few people, and it's immensely challenging to keep up with an entire platform that moves on without consulting you. I agree with this, but to me, it feels like they're not even trying. Where, on either screen reader web site, do you find a list of evolving support for third party applications? Code factory has a list, but it has long since stagnated.
Where, on either screen reader's web site, do you find tips and how tos of making difficult apps more compatible by changing settings? I don't see any.
I know this has turned into ranting, which is not the aim of the blog post. But, in my mind, this is the most obvious reason why I glare angrily at other screen reader companies, and readily accept voiceover, flaws and all. I know that mobile speak and talks have creative people behind them, but to me, the creativity just doesn't show through when compared to all the functionality of apple's device.
Is it a mistake? I don't know. But until something dramatic happens, I don't see my attitude changing any time soon.

oh John, I don’t disagree at all. I’m really worried about the lack of access in Windows Phone 7, the loss of other platforms by other players and just where does all that leave Mobile Speak and Talks anyway? Google fragmentation almost pales by the comparison. it too is a major concern for mobile phone access.

We cover a lot of those ideas, and more, in Tech Chat 66. in this podcast, I do a bit of explaining about my position on the way I feel on these matters. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

This next comment comes from my April post on iPad first impressions.

Pete said...

I really do agree with your comments about Magnification. This is I really ran into problems. not swiping so much, as I'm used to doing that with the trackpad, but in text composition. I couldn't get the magnification set right to see both the onscreen keyboard *and* the text I was trying to type. I don't really need the keyboard magnified. It's plenty big enough for me to see. It's the *text* I couldn't see. But if this all will make me a better voiceover user, than hey I'm there! Speaking of, do you think practicing with trackpad commander on the Mac is more like VO on the ipad? or is it more just moving around the screen with the cursor, or a bit of both? One comment about where this fits in though, It really can also function as an ipod, and because of the big screen, a really good one for the low vision user. I'm also recommending this as a beginner computer with a mac paradigm for those who're really not ready to take the "big" leap.

This is where having years of Screen Magnifier use bites me where it hurts when it comes to using Voiceover and Magnification. I’m used to the way that Windows, Magic and Zoomtext approach focus navigation. In fact, panning features in Lunar have spoilled me as well. I just can’t wrap my head around the way that Apple wants me to use these things at times. And I find myself often going completly over to Voiceover fully. Mostly because of the focus issues mentioned above. It is super hard to describe, however, it something I advise Low Vision users go into an Apple store and experience for themselves. Especially if you are a high magnification level user. It can be frustrating until you round off the rough edges of iOS and OSX.

Or, I’d also suggest that readers take a look at how Voiceover handles text in Groups and DOM modes. This is way different than the way Windows Screen Magnifiers can read text. I’d even go so far as to say it is a must for those who use focus enhancements for the reading of controls, lines of text or menus. Plus, be careful what you check under Universal Access as to where the viewable area will jump to in pointer navigation. Threw myself badly in Leopard a few years ago by checking a few boxes I shouldn’t have in the choices offered. If was like eating three chilidogs and riding the Feris Wheel that turns you upside down while it takes you up and down at the same time. Thank goodeness for the “restore to defaults” option!

Poll Question Results And New Non Technical Related Poll Question Added

No clear winner in our last poll. Unless you consider that many people are going to buy something Apple based in their future. In that case, Apple won the poll.

Poll Question: The Next iOS Apple Do’hicky I must get Is..

iPhone 4   3 (15%)
iPad   10 (52%)
iPod   3 (15%)
Mac Mini    1 (5%)
I'll never buy an Apple anything   2 (10%)

I’m actually surprised that the iPhone didn’t score higher. The poll closed shortly before the big Bumper scare 2010 took hold in earnest. Which in my mind will forever be remembered as “the day where Steve Jobbs turned on the press’. Talk about biting the hand that fed you.

This next poll question comes from my days in Vocational Rehab and my own struggles to accept my vision loss. The below question is one that is sometimes asked by some members of support groups for those who are newly Blind or who are losing vision later in life. It can say a lot about what one thinks about vision loss or what they find to be important for self confidence. I’ll provide my own honest answer when the poll closes near the end of this month. But for now, how would you answer the following?

Poll Question: If Given One Wish, What Would You Choose?

Restored Or Perfect Vision
One Million Dollars
Fully Retired At Age 60 Or Lower
A Fully Paid For Home

This is one of those questions I find worthy of being great for a discussion on a podcast. Perhaps that may happen one day. Hint, Hint!

Screen Reader Safety Bowling

I want to preface this Ranger Rant by saying that the following opinion is firmly based in the part of my brain which looks at things from an Assistive Technology Training perspective. For those brave unsung heroes of the AT Community generally get the blunt end of things by unwillingly becoming Usability Testers for any new feature in a product. These guys and gals can tell you instantly when something works, or in some cases doesn’t, for a wide spectrum of computer users. The job of training is very rewarding: but it sure ain’t easy.

Imagine the amount of technical knowledge you must command these days to perform this noble job of training your fellow Blind person on even the basics of computing. Let us start with Windows. XP, Vista, 7 and now three flavors of Mac OS. Microsoft Office? 2003, 2007 or 2010? And we haven’t even gotten to the internet yet. The mind reels at the sheer height of the mountain that must be climbed if you want to succeed at being able to train the tons of people out there who either can’t afford to upgrade, or worse, who cannot upgrade easily because they form a dependence on task specific approaches to complete their daily lives.

Do you train on the out of the box interface or do you revert a person back to a Windows Classic look and feel? This question always becomes murky for some because it can play into one’s own bias about the changes that have come to Windows and Office over the years. Some out there will never give up training a person to strike the Windows Key, followed by S and then C to reach Control Panel. They are the same people who are the first to tell me that Windows 7 must be set back to some older interface for Screen Reader compatibility when many in the industry have worked with the out of the box Windows UI for years.

The announcement of the Virtual Ribbon in JAWS 12 has me both intrigued and cautious upon its description from this year’s major conventions. My mixed emotions are hard to sum up quickly on this concept because the feature pushes so many buttons for me; however, I’ll sum most of them up by saying that adding a layer like this to revert a person back to Classic is like bowling with Gutter Guards on both sides of the lane.

Again, from the AT Trainers standpoint, this is just another thing to be mastered in order to teach someone the best practice in navigating through controls and options. And again, like I said above, for some, this feature will enable students to not have to non-visualize the very visual thing that is the Microsoft Ribbon. It makes a lot of sense for those who really want to go back to a time where you could find everything through a series of menus and boxes. I get that, really I do.

The problem I have is that it sets a person apart from their sighted peers though. If you need to find something in a hurry, can you do that from another person’s instruction that just happens to be looking at their computer and the Ribbon? Can you pin common tasks to the Virtual Ribbon’s Home menu as you can in the MS Ribbon to make some tasks easier? I’m not sure but I do know that it means that I now have to learn yet another way of finding things regardless if I am training someone or trouble shooting their computer for technical issues.

I’m all for innovation and making things simple for the end user. It is a battle that is constantly being waged on what is a helping hand and what is an overdependence on macros. I’m thrilled to know that this upcoming JAWS feature is something you can choose to install because choice is always a good thing. I’m just not sure if shielding people from what is the natural User Interface is a better option for some out there. After all, the Ribbon has been fully implemented in all of Office 2010. So it isn’t going away anytime soon.

Learn about this new feature, and more, from the excellent Sight Village coverage from Hit the link below to get to their page with all the Sight Village links.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Establishing A New Orbit

The countdown over the last 10 days was leding up to something. And here it is!

Greetings and salutations Serotekiens!

I'm super awesome thrilled to be here and I am looking forward to meeting many members of the community. Wait a second, that is the end bit. I got a little ahead of myself. Must remember, introductions first. My name is Joe Steinkamp, however, many of you reading this might know me by another name. A particular call sign on a little old blog called The Ranger Station. Ranger1138 is my alter ego of the past 15 years. Now he and I are one thanks to the fine people at Serotek.

But if you haven't read my blog, followed me on Twitter or noticed that I haven't updated Facebook in an extremely long while, let me give you some pertinent information as to the "who" behind the "why" I'm coming aboard one of the most exciting places to be in the Assistive Technology Industry.

At 7 years old I dreamed of being in radio. Those dreams came true in college. However, I found that I craved to have more interaction with people beyond the spinning of today's top hits. So, I got into sales. Really expensive home theater sales. that became more retail driven and I found myself working as a Corporate Trainer for a large retail chain. When that came to a crashing end, I moved into the cubes of technical support for what was then [and is no longer] a major computer manufacturer.

None of that on face value sounds like much I know. Here are the more relevant parts of my history. For the last 10 years I've worked in Vocational Rehabilitation and Rehab Engineering for the State of Texas. For 5 of those years I was lucky enough to work in a room with more than $250,000 worth of new and currently available Assistive Technology. Video Magnifiers, Screen Readers, OCR solutions, Screen Magnification programs, Braille Displays, portable note takers, book readers and tons more. Chances are if it beeped, flashed, talked or if it was generally to expensive to own I may have worked with it during my time in this amazing room full of toys.

As much as I loved helping Blind folks find the right product to fit their needs for their job, I longed for the ability to delve into specific technologies and subjects outside my four walls. Fantastic platforms like the Serotalk podcasts and Tech Chats have really widened my thoughts on many portions of the technology landscape. I mentioned this to a few at Serotek, a tranquilizer dart was fired and I woke up here typing on this blog in a font that isn't mine. Or, I was offered the opportunity to participate in the company's vision and I readily jumped at the chance to share in that grand adventure.

Okay, now that I've filled in some of the blanks, I'm now hoping to get to know all of you better. I am ecstatic to be able to come on board and be a part of the Serotek Community. And I'm looking forward to talking about an array of subjects that we as a Blind Community face in our daily lives. Just one thing before I start, I want to thank several of the Serotek staff for giving me a padded cell instead of the generic government issued cube to live in during my stay with the company. So far it is very luxurious and comfy.


It is no secret that I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who. I was 7 when I first saw Tom Baker, the 4th Doctor, on the screen of KPRC-TV Channel 2 in Houston. Channel 2 was awesome for Sci Fi. They ran Space 1999, The Prisoner and other British shows including Monty Python right after Saturday Night Live. Doctor Who, however, was my favorite of the lot.

It wasn’t Star Trek, which I also loved because I was in the city that saved Trek thanks to Bjo Tremble, and it wasn’t Star Wars. The Doctor was just something new to a small kid like me sitting in Houston. And the sound of the TARDIS is as familiar to me as the sound of a doorbell. Instinct kicks in and I look around for where that noise is coming from.

My cousins, who lived in New Orleans, were luckier than I as they had a PBS station that showed more than Doctor number 4. They had episodes of both the 5th and the 6th Doctor in the 80’s. I was forced to trade precious items on a borrowing plan in order to secure their videotape collections one faithful summer. And it was so worth it!

Growing up legally Blind in a small Texas town, we moved from Houston when I was a little older, meant that you fit into three distinct areas. Ag, Jock or Stoner. I was none of these things. In fact, I was worse off. I was a Dungen and Dragons Chess playing geek whose parents had him listen to classical music growing up. I rebeled and turned to the Electric Light Orchestra for some sort of change. Still, I watched a lot of PBS because the Doctor had moved to share airtime with  “Blake’s 7” on Channel 8 [the public station KUHT]. And I would follow him anywhere.

Conversations on the school grounds about Daleks, Cybermen and other assorted monsters were generally frowned upon. Although I did manage to get a steady D&D group together around 8th grade. I couldn’t get anyone into Doctor Who no matter how much I tried.

“Its too slow” they said. “They talk weird” which was something even my parents would say when trying to figure out the various regional dialects of the UK. My father, however, would point out the wobbly sets and cheap effects as a reason why he didn’t find the show appealing. me? I thought it added charm. The copious amounts of speech to convey the lack of visuals thrilled me to no end. It was like “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” or “Lost in Space”. both sported the same issues, yet others adored those shows.

It was then that I realized that visuals didn’t really matter to me when it came to enjoying any form of media. Mostly because I didn’t really see them very well, but also I learned to appreciate the substance of the story over flashy style. Okay, I admit to being a Knight Rider fan as well. So I’m not all about the heady bits.

The thing was I grew older and fewer stations were carying the Doctor on their airwaves. By my college years I had totally moved on to big budget blockbusters and “movie of the week” events. I was an Entertainment Reporter for my college radio station and it fueled my fire for such things. I didn’t catch up with the Doctor again until the not so hot FOX 1996 movie. We’ll just move on ahead 9 years instead of discussing that for now.

In 2005 the BBC comissioned a new Doctor Who series with Russell T. Davies at the helm. I was ecstatic. Except, and this was a big problem, it was airing in the UK first. This forced me to discover the, er um, alternate means for viewing things on the internet. While I was doing so, I found out tons of history about one of my childhood heroes.

For instance, several of the early stories of the 1st and 2nd Doctor have been lost due to the BBC throwing them away. The older shows were stored on large bulky tapes. And to be fair, the BBC had no idea that the show would become what it is today some 46 years later.

The amazing thing is that geeks, back in the day, recorded the audio tracks from the television. Funny enough, I did the same with Battlestar Galactica, the original version, and it served to be just fine until we got our initial VCR.   

The guys who recorded the audios didn’t know about the other guys who took pictures of the show for their collections. These pictures, called Telesnaps, are some of the only remaining visual records of some of the lost 2nd Doctor stories.

Amazingly enough, the BBC has created some reconstructions of these lost episodes by combining the amateur home audio recordings with the amateur photography still collections. Moreover, the BBC have brought back some of the actors from those stories to read stage direction from the scripts. This narration ends up having a Descriptive Video Service effect. And it makes the show even more Blind friendly as a byproduct of the process of these restorations.

Going back over episodes I never knew, while waiting for the new series to start, was a real blast since there was so much audio content available. Many of the Target Books, a range of books that retold the television stories [like James Blish did for Star Trek], were also available on audio. And, as many have already read, there are the Big Finish radio plays that feature the original actors from the show reprising their roles in all new adventures. In short, I have 500 hours of Doctor Who audio in various forms. All of this audio content makes Doctor Who a wonderful Sci Fi series for the Blind.

Beyond all of this, there are many other reasons why I enjoy the show. 11 actors, in the main series, have played the role of the Doctor. You see many years ago the show had a problem with the 1st Doctor, William Hartnell, growing too old to play the lead character any longer. Rather than retire the series, the BBC decided to recast the role. And since the Doctor was an alien, why not have the new actor take over for the older Doctor? So began the first of the Time Lord’s “regenerations".

The idea is simple. The Doctor, in order to avoid death, would regenerate into someone else. yet he would still be the same character with all his memories from his previous lives. In this way the character can continue his journey but the next actor brings something new to the role as well. It keeps the show fresh. Unlike James Bond, there is direct continuity from the 1st to the 11th Doctor. Long time fans of the show are often rewarded with call backs to events and stories of the past. Which, by all rights, plays into the geeky nature of the show too.

The thought of Regeneration has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been looking back at my many vocations in my adult life and I could think of them as variations of a theme. Each job building upon the last to add to the greater whole sort of thing. Radio to sales to Corporate Trainer and so on throughout my career. Each job a new regeneration of the same guy. A cycle that culminates in a rebirth into something all together familiar but unique. Not an ending per say, but a new begining. That is the way I view the debut of a new Doctor.

Recently David Tenant, the 10th Doctor, ended his time on the show in a series of specials that aired during 2009. David was the Doctor at a time where the show saw unparalleled levels of success.  His final moments were heartbreaking, however in the last 20 minutes on screen, he saved many of his friends before he moved on to becoming the 11th Doctor. A few critics found it to be overly sentimental  and too self serving. I found it to be wonderful that one could get a curtain call before they said farewell. 

Tenant is credited for being a big part of the show’s popularity in the last four years. Yet, he left the role because he felt it was time to give someone else a chance. Well, that and he said he would continue to do it to a point where it wouldn’t be fun anymore. He didn’t want to come to a script reading and say “Argh, the Sontarans again? REally?”. Therefore, he made plans to leave at the same time when others on the creative team decided that they too would leave the show.

Tenant’s departure was very moving and it happened to coincide with many things I was experiencing in my offline exploits. Not to be overdramatic, or asking for the need for therapy for making comparisons of reality versus fantasy,  but I too have been facing some tough choices on what was best for me in what I do for a living.

I have been extremely lucky enough to work daily in a large room with close to $250,000 of the latest Assistive Technology. More than 50 current Video Magnifiers, 6 shiny new Braille Display models, all kinds of OCR solutions, Speech Recognition, every Screen Reader and Screen Magnifier on the market. And the note takers. All of them as well. You name it, I had a chance to play with it over the last five years.

Beyond the AT, I’ve also been blessed to work with one of the best teams of people anywhere in State Government. We all specialized in a particular field and together we were a fine Assistive Technology machine.

Like David Tenant though, I was starting to reach a point where .. as awesome as it was .. I was starting to not have as much fun with things. Every job has its own politics. And eventually a candy store, as delicious as it sounds, can become a drudgery if you spend enough time there.

Today I said good-bye to co-workers, team mates and friends as I announced my resignation of my position some two weeks ago. While I was sad to leave the people I’ve worked with over the last ten years, I was also happy to begin my life as a newly regenerated Ranger.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to do something new but still be in the field of Assistive Technology. Helping others with vision loss has become a passion that I don’t intend to lose no matter the situation. So I could hardly believe that I would get a chance to do something even more exciting than what I had done previously.

EAch Doctor has their ups and downs. And some are more popular than others. I hope those of you who have read this blog over the last five years will find this new Ranger someone worth listening to in the future. And I also hope to see many of you on my travels in my new position.

I’ll link to the clip of David Tenant regenerating into Matt Smith as it sums up my longwinded points on endings and beginnings fairly well.

As always, thank you for reading. . and .. Geronimo!!!!!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Look Back At 2009: Final Edition

Thought I forgot eh? Well I haven’t, however, this is going to seem very anticlimactic some five months down the road from my original posts. And, thankfully, I sum these two bits up in a paragraph or two. This post has a few edits. I’ve left some anachronisms in place from my draft and added only a sentence here or there.

Apple made a jump into the mobile space for the Blind in a big way last year. There is no denying that the ability to go out to WalMart and buy something off the shelve, and after some doing, come home and make it talk is a fantastic thing. I have a great fear though that some are just trading in one perceived monopoly for one actual monopoly. Um, but I’ll save that discussion for another time. For now, Apple was a big story in 2009.

The biggest story though, and you can confirm my vote with Jamie or J.J. or Rick, was Google and their inclusion of Talkback into Android 1.6 and higher. Why Google? Why not Apple? At the time I stated my reasons as this: 50 handsets running Android for free with most contracts by holiday 2010  can’t be ignored. I stand by that still. While LG offers some built in options, the ability to add talking GPS and Speech Recognition gives the G Men a bit of an edge. Of course, the problem is that the “Eyes Free” project has a long ways to go. Google, unlike Apple, is software based. The ability for Google to throw money, engineers and time at an issue also can’t be ignored. . . Of course, they have to do that part first ..

Google’s bigger issue falls on fragmentation and the rapid ever changing face on what is a Google phone. This is where Apple has the advantage in being predominantly a hardware maker. Google faces an uphill battle with phone manufacturers in the same way that Microsoft does with Windows. And like Windows, Google could be supporting just as many configurations with a new Android phone coming out each week in your box of breakfast cereal. What a cool toy surprise!  

the thing about Microsoft is that they can’t go get a cup of coffee without consulting two teams of lawyers first. The thing about Apple and Google is that they haven’t been tested beyond the court of public opinion yet. At some point the EU and others will descend on both companies and they to will have to defend themselves from the same legal battles as Microsoft. It is just what happens to big companies.

I still think that Google has the potential to rush out of the gate at some point. Either by design or by Advocacy prompting them in nasty ways. it will have to happen. I just wish it would happen faster because we are running out of options in the mobile space. And being locked into a phone platform, a company and a carrier is not a good thing going forward.

Control can be a double edged sword that can cut both sides of the argument clean in half. Reliance can also take the place of control in this scenario as well. I’m reminded of those great but ominous DEVO lyrics on the matter.

“Freedom of choice is what you got.. Freedom from choice is what you want.”

Here the whole track from the link below ..

Monday, June 28, 2010

Yes Virginia, There Is Indeed A Windows 8 On The Horizon

Should this really shock anyone? Really anyone?.. Buler .. Buler? Death, taxes and Windows. 3 constants of the universe. The question will move quickly from when and more to how. As in how will access be changed in Windows 8? The answer may come as early as 2011. but let me back up a second if you are just joining this program already in progress.

The story broke this week about a leaked set of slides detailing early concepts for Windows 8. The following articles cover what was on those slides to the umth degree.

From Beyond Binary

From Neowin

From Ars Technica

And from the man, Paul at the Windows Super Site

Its early days yet, however, some information is better than no information at all.

There are some things we do know for sure though..

1. Microsoft has assured many developers that Windows 8 would be 3 years away from the release of Windows 7.

2. Windows 8 is being said to have no 32 bit flavors in the works.

3. There would be some need for new hardware for some advanced features in Win 8 needed on board to make the OS come alive.

To be fair, that third bit has been sung around the campfire for years. I’m not laying awake at night worried about that one at any point between now and release. After all, how can you beta test something if you don’t have the hardware on hand to beta test said product correctly? Yep, not worried about legacy hardware just yet.

Windows 7 has already sold over 150 million licenses since the debut in October 2009. Some in the IT field suggest that the new OS has already taken 10% of the market. This would make it the fastest rate of adoption of an OS.. like ever. Microsoft will, again prepare for the lack of shock, to take it all in stride and release a new OS regardless of 7 sales because they HAVE! to re-establish the market cycle. Barring a major malfunction of horrific proportions, Windows 8 will be upon us in beta in 18 months or less. Such is the way of things.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dallas: Geeky High Points Of This Year’s NFB Convention Schedule


I’ve attended both ACB and NFB Conventions in the past. I’m not suggesting one is better than the other. And, I’m not suggesting you belong to both, either or neither group. What I am saying is that Convention can be a wonderful time where you can learn from others who are into the same things you find interesting. Networking, learning and dog gone it.. having fun with others. that is why I look forward to July.

I’m going to NFB again this year because I’m speaking at the AT Trainers Division meeting. Also, Dallas is kinda closer to Austin. Therefore, I am heading to Dallas on July 3rd.

Here are some portions of the schedule I’ve marked as points of interest. The full schedule can be found at the official 2010 NFB Convention site.

Saturday July 3rd

7:30 - 8:45 am—HAM RADIO GROUP EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS Milan Room, Tower mezzanine  
Discuss convention frequencies, hotel architectural features, and distributing special FM receivers for the hearing-impaired and Spanish-speaking attendees. D. Curtis Willoughby (ka0vba), Chairperson

Senators Lecture Hall, Tower lobby
Join Eric Damery, JAWS Product Manager, for an exciting and informative session covering the new details surrounding JAWS development during the past year.  In addition to many demonstrations of JAWS 11 with Research It, this will also be the first look at JAWS 12 scheduled for public beta in August 2010.

9:00 am - 12:00 noon—GW MICRO: SENSE NOTETAKER AND BOOKSENSE TRAINING (Registration: $10; refreshments provided)
Fleur-de-Lis A Room, Atrium mezzanine
The Braille Sense Plus and other Sense notetakers are exciting devices in Braille notetaker technology.  Learn new features, including the GW Sense Navigation GPS.  See the BookSense in action; play your books and audio files with ease.  Raul Gallegos and Jeremy Curry. To register, call 260-489-3671.

Governors Lecture Hall, Tower lobby  
    9:00 - 11:30 am—Apple’s Mac system, iPod series, iPhone, and iPad
    1:00 - 2:00 pm—Ebay’s accessibility improvements
    2:15 - 3:30 pm—Blackboard Learn, the online platform for education      
    3:45 - 5:00 pm—Accessing e-Books rapidly expanding market

Senators Lecture Hall, Tower lobby
Have lightning fast OCR with OpenBook in a portable solution that folds up.  Connect via a USB port and scan documents. Have them read aloud using Eloquence voices or any of Real Speak Solo Direct human-sounding voices now available on OpenBook. Magnify work, write under the camera, and reformat text.

Obelisk A Room, Atrium mezzanine
Sessions: 1:00 Breeze; 2:00 Portable Devices; 3:00 Stream; 4:00 BrailleNote
Join HumanWare to learn about recent updates and share product tips. Give us your suggestions or ask questions about your favorite HumanWare product. Door Prizes for every session! 

Peridot Room, Atrium mezzanine
Presented by James Gashel.

2:00 - 5:00 pm—GW MICRO: WINDOW-EYES TRAINING (Registration: $10; refreshments provided)
Fleur-de-Lis A Room, Atrium mezzanine
Explore the power of Window-Eyes with advanced scripting support, Office 2010, Windows 7, and much more.  Come to see support for the Internet and scripting provided by a screen reader.  Presenters: Jeremy Curry and Raul Gallegos. To register, call 260-489-3671.

Peridot Room, Atrium mezzanine
Presented by James Gashel.

Fleur-de-Lis B Room, Atrium mezzanine
(Preregistration by May 15 was required to attend.) Independence Science LLC, in collaboration with Purdue University researchers, is collecting feedback on a new portable handheld data collection device for blind students to use in high school science laboratories.  (Focus Group Two meets Monday at 7:00 pm) 

7:30 - 9:00 pm—knfbReader MOBILE USERS MEETING
Fleur-de-Lis A Room, Atrium mezzanine
Conducted by Michael Hingson

Sunday July 4th

Peridot Room, Atrium mezzanine
Presented by James Gashel

Not AT related, but fun to attend anyway...
Milan Room, Tower mezzanine
Don Gillmore, President

Peridot Room, Atrium mezzanine
Presented by James Gashel

Lalique Room, Atrium mezzanine
Learn about the NFB’s free audible newspaper service for the blind and visually impaired.  Topics cover Podable News, the new voices, the new on-demand article request feature, and more.  Sign up for NFB-NEWSLINE® at its exhibit hall table.

Fleur-de-Lis B Room, Atrium mezzanine
A meeting for all NFB affiliate and division Webmasters to discuss the importance of an informative, accessible, and visually attractive Website.
Gary Wunder, Chairperson, Webmasters Group

Monday July 5th

Don't Miss!!!
Rosetta Room, Atrium mezzanine  
   12:30 pm–Registration; 1:00 pm–Meeting begins
Some of the topics include: the Macintosh as a productivity tool for the blind; Solona, a CAPTCHA-solving service; Association of Information Technology Professionals presentation; accessibility to Microsoft’s products by its director of accessibility, Rob Sinclair; elections; and much more.  Curtis Chong, President

Don't Miss!!
5:30 - 7:00 pm—KURZWEIL 1000 USERS’ CONTINGENT
Steuben Room, Atrium mezzanine 
Join the Kurzweil 1000 Users’ Contingent!  Meet with Steve Baum, Vice President of Engineering, and share some Kurzweil 1000 experiences.  Kurzweil 1000 is our state-of-the-art, text-to-speech and life navigation software for blind and visually impaired readers.

Wyeth Room, Atrium mezzanine 
  6:30 pm–Registration; 7:00 pm–Meeting begins
John Miller, President

I'll be speaking at this one...
Manchester Room, Tower mezzanine
  6:30 pm–Registration; 7:00 pm–Meeting begins
Topics: determining the right note taker for your student; plunging without fear into Windows 7 with Cathyanne Murtha of Access Technology Institute; Jsay Pro; and teaching the Mac.  Michael Barber, President

Fleur-de-Lis B Room, Atrium mezzanine
(Preregistration by May 15 was required to attend.) Independence Science LLC, in collaboration with Purdue University researchers, is collecting feedback on a new portable handheld data collection device for blind students to use in high school science laboratories.

Tuesday July 6th

Peacock Terrace, West Wing
You are invited to our informational reception. Announcing AFB AccessWorld, every month—more authors, more information, more often. CareerConnect, FamilyConnect, and SeniorSite offer newly-expanded opportunities. Network with families, seniors, and successful mentors. We look forward to meeting you.

Lalique Room, Atrium mezzanine
Enjoy snacks and refreshments while meeting the Bookshare staff. This is your opportunity to talk with us and share your ideas; we’re here to listen.  Plan to have fun with contests, drawings, and interacting with your fellow members.  We look forward to seeing you. 

8:00 - 9:00 pm—BEP: U.S. CURRENCY IDENTIFICATION FOCUS GROUP Steuben Room, Atrium mezzanine
Representatives of the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) and the Office of Product Development provide an update on BEP’s progress to provide blind individuals with access to U.S. currency and discuss concepts it is currently testing. (Session Two: Wednesday at 7:00 pm.)   

Wednesday July 7th

During the General Session …

Gilles Pepin, Chief Executive Officer, HumanWare; Drummondville, Canada

Preety Kumar, Chief Executive Officer, Deque Systems, Inc.; Reston, Virginia

7:00 - 8:00 pm—BEP: U.S. CURRENCY IDENTIFICATION FOCUS GROUP Steuben Room, Atrium mezzanine
Representatives of the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) and the Office of Product Development provide an update on BEP’s progress to provide blind individuals with access to U.S. currency and discuss concepts it is currently testing.

Peridot Room, Atrium mezzanine
Presented by James Gashel

Lalique Room, Atrium mezzanine
Learn about the NFB’s free audible newspaper service for the blind and visually impaired.  Topics cover Podable News, the new voices, the new on-demand article request feature, and more.  Sign up for NFB-NEWSLINE® at its exhibit hall table.

A possible don't miss..
Obelisk A Room, Atrium mezzanine
Circadian rhythm sleep disorders in totally blind people. Total loss of light perception prevents synchronization of circadian body clock rhythms to the 24-hour day, leading to cyclic insomnia and daytime napping. The causes of this sleep disorder and possible treatment options will be presented and discussed.

Obelisk B Room, Atrium mezzanine
Don Mauck, Accessibility Evangelist at Oracle, will demonstrate the accessibility features built into the Oracle Siebel Call Center. Oracle CRM products are used by more than 4,000 enterprises and more than 4.6 million business users; these enterprises represent potential employment opportunities for the blind.

Rosetta Room, Atrium mezzanine
For the most part, technological developments tend to exclude blind people.  Developers must change the ways future technologies are designed.  Join us—perhaps you can suggest a technology or approach that nobody else has considered.  Curtis Chong, Chairperson

Peridot Room, Atrium mezzanine
Presented by James Gashel

Thursday July 8th

During the General Session ..
Dane Glasgow, Vice President, Buyer Experience Product Management, Ebay, Inc.; San Jose, California

Steve Eastman, President,; Minneapolis, Minnesota

Obelisk A Room, Atrium mezzanine 
A question-and-answer session with Frank Kurt Cylke, Director, and staff of the
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress.

All persons interested in science fiction and fantasy are welcome to join in an open discussion.  Please contact Ed Meskys for room location.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

5 Years

This historical look back has been somewhat interesting and sorta depressing for me. Interesting in that I’m amazed by what I thought was the big news at the time I was creating that particular post. Depressing in that I need to change up my writing style more often.

But what’s done is done. I can’t go back and change things can I? Well, I did once. I actually went back and edited some posts for an offline drama situation. Now I can fix that by reposting the original version of the first post of this blog some 5 years later.

The changes I made weren’t dramatic, however, they do fill in some gray areas on things I’ve talked about before. With this now said, here it is, I bring you the unedited first post of TRS.

June 17th 2005

Run for the hills because the Ranger has started a Blog.

So I am like what??? 4 years behind the times. Well I guess I can’t say that I am on the bleeding, cutting or perforated edge. I do however play with all manner of things that beep, flash and talk in the Assistive Technology industry. And that should account for something. Or at least I hope it will as this is going to be a very boring read for some otherwise. I have, as a gesture of good will to those long time readers at ISN and Booji, at least created these posts in MS Word before I dump them here. That means I actually used spell check outside of work. Another first for me. Man that’s a lot of work for a tech specialist on a lonely Friday night.

So for those who may have accidentally clicked on this site let me give you the heads up. I am an Assistive Technology Consultant for the Texas Department of Rehabilitative Services at the Assistive Technology Unit under the Division of Blind Services housed in the Chris Cole Rehabilitation Center. And yes it actually says all that on my business card. It’s my license to be pompous and longwinded. Not to mention we cause others to lose their vision with the size of the font on that card. Which also means that they now qualify for our services. A win/win for everyone really.

But when I am not at work breaking, uh lovingly caring for, our equipment I revert to my on line persona at At ISN I have been lucky enough to be the Executive Moderator for more than six years. I think that is 42 years in internet time. Or dog years. Either way it’s a long time to be wasting on the net. But that’s not all. I go back even further to the days of the Pathfinder boards in the mid to late 90’s. It was at Pathfinder discussing good old Babylon 5 where the Ranger was truly born.

Ranger1138 is a combination of who I was at the time. It’s like a college frat name that you just can’t shake. And, like most screen names, it came to me in a haze after a 15 hour shift at Incredible Universe. More on that at another time. Anyway, the Ranger part reflects my love of the B5 universe and the 1138 is, of course, a love of THX. Not THX1138 the movie though. I like the film but I was studying to become THX certified at the time and well. Did I mention the 15 hours? Retail and Caffeine equals a name I have stuck with for almost a decade.

My secret plans with this Blog is to combine my insights on Assistive Tech and the passion I have for all things Geek. As being a Geek admits that you are comfortable with who you are and being a Nerd implies that you are in denial about the Midiclorions in your blood. Trekie versus Treker right?

So I plan on giving up some info on what I see in both of my two lives and we will see how bad it gets from there. I can’t break confidentiality on some things as I am an actual State Agent but I can skirt around the issues as best as I can. I did take debate in high school and that Lincoln Douglas training has to be used sometime I guess.

And since this is my first post, look another first I’m winded, on my first Blog I plan on committing all the regular mistakes early on..

Today I ate an English Muffin. It was good.

I clipped my toenail on my new coffee table. Ouch that hurts.

Can you believe that Katy Homes?

There! I feel much better. Onwards to bigger and more interesting content.. I hope!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

To The New iPhone 4 Owners, This Too Shall Pass

I’ve been reading all the stories on the ups and downs of iPhone and iOS 4. I could go on and on about first generations, product design flaws and how it will all disappear in the mind of the press six months from now. but the funny thing is that I stumbled upon two older news stories that serve as better examples of how Apple has survived the company’s previous mistakes quite well.

For example, do you remember that Leopard had launch issues? I kind of forgot about it and this article reminded me of the long gone controversy.

Remember when the concern was that you wouldn’t be able to move your iTunes library to say, pause for a moment, your Windows Mobile phone? This blast from the past reminds us of the big news of the day from 2006.

These iPhone issues are growing pains of a company who used to be the underdog but is now a multi billion dollar empire. And empires have bad product launches. Ask Microsoft about the first three years of Xbox 360.

Brave hearts Apple fans. I’m sure by the time the white versions of iPhone 4 roll out, this thing will be lost to the mists of time only to resurface again at

Now for some odd chance we are talking about this some 6 months down the road on December 26th at 6 pm still.. then Cupertino we truly have a problem.  

…. 6

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oh Yeah, That Poll Thing

I haven’t forgot about that box on the top right of the page. Honest! I just haven’t thought of any good questions lately. And I’m not sure that today’s question is good or not. Only time will tell I guess.

Poll Question: If It Had The Features You Wanted, How Much Would You Pay for A Victor Reader Stream Update?

Something close to $20 U.S.   2 (11%)
Maybe around $30 U.S.   7 (38%)
I might spend $40 U.S.   1 (5%)
No more than $50 U.S.   4 (22%)
I'll never buy an update for my Victor Reader Stream   4 (22%)

It wasn’t by any means a scientific poll, however, it did give us some idea of what people thought about the upgrade before the pricing was announced. Remember, to learn more about the update visit Humanware at the link below.

Poll Question: The Next iOS Apple Do’hicky I must get Is..

iPhone 4
Mac Mini
I'll never buy an Apple anything

I’ll set this one for mid July and see how it goes after many get their hands on Apple stuff at this year’s Blindness conventions. Wonder if there will be a clear winner this time around.

By the way.. 7

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Before The Blog, I Was Still Me


I’ve been roaming through some of my previous attempts at, hmm, writing lately. My reasons for being so introspective will be revealed soon, but lets just say I’m constantly amazed how all things in life happen for a reason. I’ve been lucky to have had my compass set on true North most of my years. And by that I mean one life experience seems to build upon itself in preparation for the oncoming entrance ramp of the next road to take.

Previous to starting the blog, I was [and in some ways still am[ the Moderator of a Babylon 5/Crusade fan site. I know. I know. Shock and awe with your jaw on the floor. More tech and more geek related back-story. However, even then my offline career melded into my writings. And the below post, from 2003, reminds me of just how all my roads lead to the same place. Also, I see my style hasn’t diverted that much either. Must work on that in the future.


Ever wondered what the voice of the Ranger sounds like? Well keep reading and you too will know Ethne’s pain or as I call it my beautiful broadcast trained oration of vocal delight. Ahem.. read on gentle members.

I think after 5 years and 5,000 posts, the post count was semi reset in the hack attack, you guys have gotten to know me pretty well. And you know that I rarely hold back on things that erk me to know end. See the Star Trek Enterprise topic if you aren’t sure about that last sentence. But my off line life has really picked up a ton lately and I feel compelled, no for Ethne’s sake mean to say driven, to voice some of my views here in this topic. Is that wrong? Is it an abuse of my small power here at ISN? Is it a complete waste of electrons and server space? I imagine after you read a few of these posts you may say “Yes” to all three.

The thing is that I joked the other day about this place being my Blog and there really is some truth to that. I have spent a ton of time here on our site moderating and posting over the years. But I also find ways to creep it into my off line life as well. One of my agreements with David years ago was that the site must be accessible to those with visual disabilities. There were two hidden agendas at work with this request.

  1. I wouldn’t have to learn code to fix the site to work with my access and speech programs.
  2. If the site was accessible then I could use it in the trainings and presentations I do on the job. A way of promoting the site and B5 simultaneously.

For the most part ISN is accessible. It has a few places that aren’t perfect but I kind of like that because I can show the good and the bad in the presentations I give in the field. Anyway, ISN has always been my home, my portal and identity on the net since 1998 and I try to give it the credit it deserves whenever I can. It’s like an actor on a talk show giving himself cheap plugs on his upcoming projects.

The majority of the internet, however, is not fully accessible. There are many times I have clicked on a link that someone gave me and I wasn’t able to read it with the access programs I use to read the web. The sad thing about this is that any site can be made accessible rather quickly with some additions or some forethought to it’s initial design. Placing ALT Text tags on buttons, using hidden tags on links and generally using text or HTML text are ways to keep the internet accessible for all. You might have also noticed that some sites offer a text only version for this very reason. I think that’s a bit much at times but I have found that many people who aren’t disabled use those pages as well because of it’s ease of use.

The phrase “function over form” comes to mind. Okay I am listening to Rush’s “Moving Pictures because it’s a rule of the ISN Empress that I must do so at least once a day. The phrase is accurate enough though. Sometimes new web developers get so locked into using Flash and Java that they skip some of the steps in making a fully designed web site. An that’s their bag. It just means that not everyone on the net will be able to read their content. And that’s a shame because a percentage of the web community, like me, will move on to the next site on the list. This is especially true of sites that sell things. Amazon, Audible and Dell were some of the first companies to offer alternative views to their sites and it paid off for them. Some of these changes were simple to implement and they didn’t cost a thing either. And that’s the real beauty of this rant. Fixing the problem costs very little, if no, money at all.

To show you guys how passionate, T says crazy actually, I am about this I decided to post this bit on my new role with AIR Houston. This wonderful project is hosted through Knowbillity and it’s designed to be informative and fun. I know. . you have heard that one before. . but here me out.

We have gathered major companies together to build web sites for non profit companies. Better yet we made it a contest to see who could build the best designed, yet still accessible, site for bragging rights and cheap swag. We took something like a boring training and made it fun with the thrill of On Line Tournament play. It’s the best of both worlds for your company’s IT staff. And it promotes accessibility for all as a beautiful bi product.

So I thought that I would share this bit of info with you all as my first off topic rant in the Open Forum. And as an added bonus I am placing a link to a site that contains a radio interview with me that was just featured on National Public Radio. Please read and pass on these links to others so we can level the playing field for Nettezens who need accessibility.’s Home Page

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tales Of Terror From The Travel Log


I’ve had to travel a lot over the years for my various jobs. and the one thing I’ve learned, as mundane as this sounds, is to “expect the unexpected”. By this I mean you should be prepared at any time, any given moment, to take copious amounts of notes for an eventual letter to the manager or owner. Letters of praise and complaint have served me well in the past for getting a particular point across about a service or visit somewhere. Below you will find an excerpt from one such letter, a personal fave, that did happen despite the dubious nature of the parts halfway down this read. I swear I thought I was on some revival of Candid Camera or some other just as bad reality TV.

The following took place between the hours of 8 AM and 10:00 AM… Events happen in real time.

8:12 AM

My wife and I had finished our breakfast at the hotel and were returning to our room to pick up our luggage and check out of the hotel. We both tried our keys, which are little chips with a metallic tab on one end, in the electronic lock to no avail. We then proceeded to the check out desk where the staff re-encoded our key and suggested that we try the lock again.

8:22 AM

We tried the keys again and they did not work. Usually there is a beep to signify that the lock has accepted the key, however, there were no sounds or lights to be seen or heard from the lock.

8:26 AM

We returned to the check out counter and asked for guidance in this matter. The staff conveyed to us that this sort of thing happens all the time and that it would take ten minutes for the maintenance man to replace the batteries in the door lock. We were assured that it would take no time at all even after I explained to them the fact that I was late for my appointments of the day.

8:37 AM

The worker arrives to begin his task of replacing the door lock batteries. He tries his key to see if it works and it does not. He then moves on to the room to the left of our hotel room, Room 503, and goes inside. After 45 seconds he leaves 503 and tells us to wait for his return.

8:45 AM

The worker returns and he has brought some tools with him. He attempts to gain entrance by removing the covering of the lock to our room. At this point I then went to my car to find the number for Ms. X in order to explain my situation and that I was going to be late in my arrival to our appointment. That is when I heard the workman break the window. I returned to see the glass broken out of the window on Room 503. The workman then realized that the window he had just broken did not gain him entrance to our room that had no windows [ except for those in the door ]. The worker then moved to the room to the right of our room, 501, and broke that window as well. Once again the man realized too late that the window also did not gain him entrance to Room 502.

9:03 AM

I returned to tell the staff about the broken windows to find that they were not all that concerned about the situation at hand. I again explained to them that I was late and that they must have come across this kind of problem before. Mr.. T, Rooms Division Manager, said that it happened all the time and that it would only take ten minutes longer. I explained to him that I was told that in the beginning of all of this and we were now fast approaching the one hour mark.

I then asked him some questions on what would have happened if I had not been leaving that day.

Q: “Would you move me into another room?”

A: “Sure. If that’s what you wanted.”

Q: “So I would then have to wait for all of this to be cleaned up before I could retrieve my things to put into another room?”

A: “Or we can do all that for you.”

I explained to him that at this point I didn’t feel comfortable with them handling much of anything and that I had a security issue with the other two rooms with broken windows. It was made clear to me that this situation was a common state of affairs and at no time did I get any apology, however, Mr.. T made a half hearted gesture of an offer to make things better on my next stay.

9:14 AM

I returned in time to see the workman drop his tools and then break the window inside the door to Room 502. The glass did not go all at once so he had to work at one particular section for awhile before he had a workable area to reach around the door with. At this point there is no lock on the door and no handle either. The worker had made a large hole in the glass, however, the rest of the glass now creaked and groaned with spider web cracks running throughout the rest of the remaining door. The workman told us that he would return in a moment.

9:25 AM

My wife and I noticed that the door was slightly ajar and we managed to pry it open without touching the parts of the door that contained the splintered glass. Glass covered the floor of our room but not any of our belongings. We gathered our belongings and moved them to our car.

9:40 AM

I returned one last time to the check out counter to make sure I had my names straight and to also give back my key to the hotel. Mr.. T was still on duty and he made a joke about the key being a “keyless lock” that I found not funny by this point in the day.


As you can see, being able to jabber into a digital recorder can be ever so helpful in these matters. You never know when you may have to pretend you are a side character on 24. Hmm, no wait they don’t make it to the end of the day do they? That’s like I just suggested we all put on Red Shirts and journey down to the planet on the Enterprise Away Team. Oh well, point made somewhere in all that mess above I guess.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Some Bedtime Stories Do Come True.. Pt. 1



Alright, I’ll tell you a story. Hurry up and get ready for bed. Brush your teeth, wash your face and get comfy while I pull this dusty old book out to read from. Are you all tucked in now? Good..

A long time ago, in the mid 1990s, there once lived a young boy named Ranger1138. Ranger was a happy-go-lucky lad who worked very hard to fit in amongst the others in the court of the Tandy kingdom. Ranger had entered a big tournament in his village and he won the right to serve in the Empire’s fleet. The construction of a new shiny retail battleship was known around the world to be a fool’s errand as it was way too big to take on the lighter ships of the other countries. Many said that a ship that was more than 212,000 square feet, with a crew of 450 carying a cargo of 12 million dollars in technology was a crazy venture indeed. But none of this mattered to the little Ranger as he was happy enough to have won the tournament and earn the right to see the world aboard an amazing vessel.

Ranger knew he wasn’t the fastest or strongest amongst the crew. He also knew that if he worked very hard he would be noticed by the ships officers, which in turn, would give him the opportunities to meet many of the Empire’s trading partners. Ranger took on extra duties, he filled in when others in the crew were sick and he stayed ashore to help the citizens of the village find cables and high priced accessories for the goods that they were sold from the battleship’s vast array of stores. Ranger worked nights, weekends and holidays. Some thought him to be crazy for doing this. But many didn’t realize that the Ranger was thrilled to be working on the ship and he honestly didn’t want to go back to the quiet and unexciting prospects that awaited him in his old village. so he pressed onwards with a smile and several songs in his heart [that he was able to purchase with his crew discount I might add].

The Ranger started his new life aboard his beloved ship below decks at first. He served with his friends in Home Audio but he soon was moved to a higher deck with the crew of Music and Movies because Ranger was the only one who spoke the rare dialect of the sales language known as “Laser Disc”. Ranger had learned this odd form of speech amongst his local travels with smaller ships. He never dreamed he would ever be able to use this knowledge again. And use it he did for this got him into more quarterly strategy sessions with higher ranking officers.

Ranger found that many of the skills he had learned came into play beyond his “Laser Disc” translation abilities. Ranger’s mother had once told him that his year’s of playing videogames with the village’s children was a waste of time. His mother was shocked one day to find this not to be true as Ranger was asked to serve with the Videogames crew of the battleship specifically because the Ranger had so much experience with them. This knowledge began to attract the attention of others in the merchant fleet at large. One day the Ranger was approached to open negotiations with the strange land of Nintendo. Ranger was more familiar with their long time rivals SEGA, however, he soon learned that the little fellow with the hat named Mario was just as nice to work with as his rival the Hedgehog named Sonic.

Ranger’s mother was suitably impressed and it was nice that the Ranger didn’t gloat over the fact that the time spent with the games ended up paying off after all. . . Okay, he gloated one holiday season for about two hours. He didn’t do it again out of respect for his parents. Who could blame him, right? Strange journeys open the door for exciting opportunities. But not even the Ranger was prepared for what happened next.

One day a major trading partner asked the battleship to send over some of her crew to see many fine jewels, speaker systems and a few movies as a means to an end to sell these things to the people of the Empire. Ranger was asked to go along with a few of the ships officers to translate the words of Laser Disc. But! What the officers didn’t know was that Laser Disc wasn’t the only obscure language the Ranger spoke. Sadly, Ranger knew that Laser Disc was a dying language and he knew, to remain helpful to his crew, he would need to know more. new terms like Dolby Digital, known as AC3, and DTS were starting to be spoken amongst the villagers. New things cost money and the Empire loved money. So the little Ranger read many texts and worked hard to speak these languages as well.

But these languages were technical, dry and boring. The Ranger craved excitement. So, he decided to read some other books beyond that of the 5.1 speaker variety. What really interested the Ranger was the mysterious words of one storyteller. You see, words hold power and some would even tell you if used just right.. words hold the power of magic. And this one storyteller was known for passing down stories of a Doctor Jones and tales of a farm boy from a little desert planet. The Ranger read everything he could about this storyteller and his caves at Skywalker Sound. And, like videogames, he did it just for fun. Or, for the thrill of knowledge. Or, better yet, for the ability to get paid to learn this knowledge was a fantastic bonus for the little Ranger.

The officers of the battleship were asked to meet in a neutral spot. Which meant that the Ranger got to put on his best uniform and polish his one lone medal he had earned for saving his fellow villagers from the monsters of high prices. He stood tall behind his fellow officers. He only spoke when he had to and he was polite to the trading partners. Until, and he really couldn’t help this at all, he saw three little letters. He read them in awe. He stared at them intently for they were not just meer letters. No, they were signs, glyphs and beacons from the mysterious storyteller himself. Burning bright, the three individual letters formed a logo that served to guide the way for those to follow in a way that no lighthouse could. The proud letters called to him and they could be read as T H X.

Ranger was elated. He was drawn to the power of these three letters like a moth to a flame. He could not pull his one good eye away from the logo with T H X. Further still, he was given a personal demonstration of those letters by a beautiful girl from the land of JBL on just how powerful those little letters could be. She reached over and pulled out a Laser Disc, which was also emblazoned with those letters, and she played [or rather let the storyteller tell] part of a story. What the Ranger heard was almost as inspiring as the beauty of the woman who played it for him. The Ranger was moved by the crisp, clear sound of the story and was enthralled by its charms.

The staff amongst the JBL was also thrilled that someone aboard the battleship knew so much about their obscure languages, and more higher priced products, of Laser and THX. The Ranger was asked, by the JBL, to represent them at more trade meetings in other ports where the battleship would travel in the future. The Ranger’s fellow officers were also impressed. Except the Ranger didn’t know that just yet. He soon would though as the officers came back to the ship waving their flags high with triumph from the success of the boarding party talks with the land of JBL.

One day the Ranger sat quietly surfing the channels of the DSS systems. It was a Tuesday and nothing tended to happen at 11 in the morning on Tuesdays. The Ranger was thrilled to work on these days at these times as he got paid to essentially sit around and watch television from the wide selection of channels open to his battleship as a dealer of DSS. Needless to say, the Ranger was shocked to get a call from his Captain from out of the clear blue sky on just such a quiet Tuesday morning. Even more shocking was that the Captain wanted him to come to the bridge of the battleship. “Why me?” the little Ranger thought. “Why me out of a crew of 450?”. Still, the Ranger knew his duty well and he gathered up his strength to approach the Captain . He didn’t think he had anything to fear from him, however, stories of those who were called to the bridge rarely ended happily.

What happened next would change the Ranger’s life forever. But, that story is best told on another night. For now you must dream of X Wings and the Holy Grail. And we will pick up the story again soon.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Tip: MRT, Disk Cleanup and Windows 7

The joy, if one could call it that at times, about using a new Operating System is that you find out the most fascinating quirks and faults the longer you use the software. I’ve been using Windows 7 Ultimate on my trusty dusty Dell XPS 400, now more than four years old, for the main 7 testing rig since the retail copies were released to the public in October 2009. And in all that time I’ve been very happy with 7.

Like all versions of Windows before it, however, I’ve started to notice some slowdown and lag in all the typical areas generally associated with Windows. And to that end I broke out the usual skill set to combat the tarnish on my shiny new OS. I found out that some tools work a little differently though. More on that in a second. . .

Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool

The first tip I wanted to share actually works in XP, Vista and 7. I found it on an older Security Now podcast, promptly forgot about it and recently unearthed it again in a file marked “Stuff I should really get back to one day’. Last Saturday, a year and a half later, was the faithful day where I used the options in the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool.

Options you say? There are no options to that tool right? Well there are but you have to know how to get at them. A word of advice though before I list how to get to the tool. I would make sure you have a recent System Restore point ready to go in case something goes wrong. And, this is most important, you may want to run this overnight as it takes up lots of resources on older systems. A 160 GB drive took more than three hours to scan. Not something you may want to do before an approaching deadline.

To get to the tool do the following..

Bring up the Run command. Either perform the keystroke Windows Key plus the letter R or, if you have it active, select it from your Start menu.

Next, type in “MRT.EXE” without the quotation marks. Hit ENTER.

If you are using Windows Vista or 7, expect a User Account Control [or UAC] box. After the UAC, you should get a wizard informing you about the tool with links on learning more. After you select Next, the box with the options should appear. Options for Quick Scan, Full Scan and Custom Scan are available as radial buttons. A Quick Scan is what Windows already does from time to time. A Full Scan is the option I warned you about that could take hours. A Custom Scan allows you to target a specific folder, say Outlook emails, for a detailed scan in a particular area. Selecting your option and choosing the Next button will begin the scan.

The scan has a progress bar, that moves ever so slowly in Full Scan mode, and below it text will race by with the up to the second status on names of files being scanned. There is also an ominous “Number of files infected” line below the changing list of scanned file names. The line below that tells you when the scan began and the line below that tells you how long the tool has been scanning. This is follow by the Cancel button.

After the scan is complete, you will be offered a box with items found to have malicious behavior. You can select items via a checkbox control and each checkbox lists the area where the item was found. If you do have items listed in this box, and you have selected them for removal, clicking Next will begin the tool’s ability to delete these infected files.

Do you need to use this tool? No. Does this tool replace other solutions like Spybot and others? No. But like those other options, this tool is free and it comes in Windows already. And, the most important part of all, it is constantly being updated on a regular basis through Windows Update by Microsoft. So, I guess, it can’t hurt to look eh? You don’t have to delete anything if you aren’t sure and that is the beauty of this free tool.

Putting the “More” back into your Disk Cleanup options

Some options in Windows 7 are hidden in plain sight. Take the ability to delete the System Restore Points for example. In XP and Vista you can find the button to delete these older files right from Disk Cleanup via the “More Options” tab. Except in 7 there isn’t a “More Options” tab right? Actually there is one. Here is how to get to that tab.

Run the Disk Cleanup tool as normal.

In Disk Cleanup, tab over to the button labeled “Cleanup System Files”.

Hit ENTER on this button. The Disk Cleanup Utility will run again, however, this time it will give you the ability to use the “More Options” tab.

Deleting older System Restore Points helped out my system performance a great deal. For starters, I got back 20 gigs of space. All my points since October took up that much room. . . at default levels for System Restore mind you. I also noticed my hard drive thrash less, defrags took a bit less time to complete and a few other slow downs were now diminished as well.

If you have been running Vista or 7 for a long time now, these tips may help you get that desired boost back in your system. Both are free and both are already in Windows. A great combo meal that loses weight rather than gaining pounds in the drive through.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Twitter FTW!

The number one question I get asked in person and online the most is “What happened?”. And I usually in a coy manner ask innocently “By what do you mean?” to those who ask it in the full knowledge that I know darn well what they mean. But I’d rather hear the question directly than jump to any conclusions of course. Well that and I’m avoiding the actual question that comes next naturally. “I mean, what happened to you blogging?”. and I swiftly respond, in the same coy tone mind you, “oh, that old thing.. yeah I really do need to get around to doing more of that at some point”. Which then has two effects. .

One, I usually don’t have to explain the crazed existence that is my offline life any further because I can easily point to a flotilla of posts where I’ve whined about that already.. a lot. And no this isn’t one of those kinds of posts. I’m actually in one of those rare good moods that finds me in the calm before the storm. The storm being Office 2010 that comes ashore on May 12th and hangs around for like 3 more years if we are lucky.


Two, it makes people more incensed to know why. Which is not what I’m shooting for at all.

There is another portion to option two however. And that leads me to ask another question of my own.. “have you read the Twitter feed?”. Which results in a reply 80% of the time in the answer found to be in the negative side of a response.

I then launch into a litany of terms, abbreviations and subjects that deal exclusively with my obsession to discuss all things in life in a space fewer than 160 typed characters. A sort of an “All things microblogging according to the mind of Ranger1138” if you will. And most, note that these are generally more of the sighted people I speak to.. again mostly, say “Oh.. you mean Facebook”. And I respond quickly with “um.. no.” and then I look for something heavy to hit them with or the quickest exit out of the conversation that holds the same appeal. For Twitter is not Facebook despite the number of web applets, add ons and odd third party applications that pontificate otherwise.

I have, quite simply, embraced Twitter with a zeal that I knew I would. I even predicted it to Mike Calvo and Jeff Bishop that I would do exactly this OCD thing I do so well if I was ever to open an account. And low and behold, I did just that. Over 6,600 tweets in a year. With most of them being some kind of relevant to the types of things I’ve blogged about in the last 5 years. Or at least to me they are at any rate.

I love the pureness of Twitter. The raw direct ability to converse, misunderstand and honk off someone through the imperfections of text speak only to smooth things over 10 minutes later all while in the presence of the world [or those following at least] of the whole thing intrigues me to no end. And I guess, being honest with myself, there is a bit of danger involved with this that is a driving force in my love of Twitter as well.

I’ve seen some amazing social disasters of epic scale made by people I know and respect, I’ve gotten up to the second news on matters in the Blindness community and the Assistive Technology Industry .. and I’ve been able to sift through the web faster than if I relied on RSS feeds alone. In short, I view Twitter now as a must have tool for both my working and social life.

That isn’t to say that I still don’t like to blog. I do like to write here. The problem is that setting aside the time to write something interesting, or at least entertaining, is a task I take very seriously. Just as I don’t like to talk about what I’ve eaten or what fricking thing some company is doing if you retweet them to win a prize that you have no idea that anyone you have ever known as won.. ever! To me, that so sullies the beauty that is Twitter. And I, by the same yard stick, don’t want to post something just to have posted something here to keep readership going for readership sake.

I don’t run analytics on this site. I don’t use Ad Sense, drop lines of java or do that wonderful blurb in the middle of the post. And I generally don’t stare at the number of friends or followers that read this blog, or the Twitter feed, in hopes that they skyrocket in some need to have numbers higher than Rick Harmon's. Which I do by the way Rick. Nudge nudge, wink wink!

I truly like to write about this stuff when I can and it can be a cathartic mental exercise for me. Plus, it gives me an option not to use mailing lists. Which I generally despise with a passion I usually only hold for remakes of classic Science Fiction films. I’m looking at you proposed new updated or remained version of “Robocop”.

So, the moral of the story today is that if you miss, or for some insane reason want, to read more of the stuff I would write about here.. follow me on Twitter. I actually do respond to people, write them back in emails and direct messages. Which is a far cry from the way I’ve dealt with that here on TRS in the past.

See you all in the timelines. .

Monday, April 19, 2010

Some Random Impressions On The iPad

The rise in Blind Gadget Culture was one of the trends I discussed with many in the industry last year. There are a large number of options now available to us on what now seems like a monthly, or weekly, rate for alternatives to what we once considered traditional access. I’m going to stay away, for now, on merits of those claims or the dangers in selecting a standard for any access solution. I do, however, want to throw in two pennies into the hat as to what my initial impressions were on holding this recent “flavor of the month” tech product.

I’ve broken these down into three areas. My mind thought of the device from a Low Vision standpoint, a non visual perspective and a general impression of the device as a whole. I’ll start with the general ruminations first.

General feelings..

It is heavier than I thought. 1.5 pounds doesn’t sound like much, I’m reminded of the weight of last year’s Intel Reader, but it really is when you get right down to the heart of the matter. An iPhone doesn’t weigh as much as the iPad of course, however, there really is quite a big jump when you go from that smaller display to one that is now 9.7 inches. And the 1.5 pounds doesn’t feel all that well in your hands for longer periods of time or for when you are typing long strings or doing detailed tasks or... The weight of the iPad is well distributed, and that is a plus, so you won’t feel like one portion of the device is heavier forcing you to hold it from only one side. I’m just not sure about how I’d carry and use the device when not sitting comfortably at home.

The other thing I noticed right off the bat was the glare. The thing is a fingerprint and glare magnet. Darker settings is where the backlit display really shows its stuff. And there again is one of those odd moments that makes me think about where and when I would use such a device.

The speaker is loud but not really. Using this in public would be awkward with speech for me. I’d have to go the headphones route a whole lot. Even with Netflix, I would be using headphones and that gets old after a while. I also hope the upcoming iPhone OS 4.0 will add more voices to Voiceover. The default voice can only take you so far and I’d even say that some who are hard of hearing would have possible issues with pitch and intonation in crowded areas.

Low Vision thoughts..

If you hate a laptop and the way you have to use a track pad with Screen Magnification then you may hate this.. a lot. Swiping the display at higher magnification levels is a slow process at first. I say that because you either pan slowly in the beginning or you warp across the landscape without intending to do so. This could be considered more of a user problem than an issue of UI or how Apple has implemented their version of magnification. Icons within the OS are sharp and easily read, however, the same can’t always be said about the apps. And those who up convert their apps from iPhone to iPad have issues with font scaling anyway. Therefore, a good suggestion would be to go for the ones that are made for the larger display of iPad native support. This may, note may, mean you have to repurchase your favorite apps all over again if they don’t offer a free update to the newer platform.

I find that increasing fonts is better than using the device at 2x or something that would make me have to touch the device more often just to see the other side of the display. Better still, I’d say drop the magnification entirely and rely on the Voiceover to drive you in most areas. Not only would you keep the whole screen in view, but you would have speech to tell you where you have landed in apps and in menus. I mean, you are only going to have to touch the device for input anyway. Using VO with no magnification could make you a faster user than all the finger work it would require to view the device under higher magnification levels.

I honestly believed that the iPad would be great as a Low Vision device. I’m rethinking that now after some brief use of it to try and to complete some basic tasks. It is better than holding the iPod and iPhone up to your nose. The downsides though are that the smaller devices are more portable and a whole lot lighter. And if you have trouble using a 15 inch laptop, or an even smaller 12 inch or less Netbook, the iPad won’t make life any easier for you in the regards of interacting with a computer.

Non Visual ..

I’ll approach this from two angles. Do you want a touch screen the size of a standard 8x10 piece of paper? Do you want to move your finger across a larger area than your iPod or iPhone? Would it make you feel better to have 22 icons spread out over a larger canvas? Then you will love the iPad if you answered “Yes” to any or all of the above.

Placing the iPad in your lap, like a Braille book, negates the weight concerns I spoke of earlier. In fact, not looking at the display fixes a ton of issues really. You can place this on a table and interact with it, where as a visual user would have to sit and point their head downwards to view the display. So, if you can get over the bulkiness of the larger size, and you feel right at home with the Apple touch navigation, then this may work for you. I would say that you may still be a tad faster on navigating on a smaller display. And carrying an iPhone or an iPod is probably a better device for the person on the go. The iPad, however, would be a good coffee table device for casual media surfing.


I would say wait. This initial release is like a paid beta cycle. The unit feels rushed. The new iPhone 4.0 OS brings a whole lot more to the table. And, as Apple is prone to do, a second generation iPad will flesh out the unit’s strengths better. Once when developers, and even Apple themselves, know exactly what those strengths really are.

Despite what some have said on the web about this thing, it isn’t a new way of looking at computing. No new paradigms, no new platforms and for the love of black turtlenecks it isn’t something we haven’t seen before. It is what we call in sales a “step up” model. It takes the successes of the other Apple devices and makes them now go to 11. Or, in this case, go to 9.7.

If you are already in the Apple ecosystem, then this unit maybe a good buy for having around the house. Or for when you replace that 6th iPod that totally bites the dust. The bigger display is nice to have for some things. But, for non visual users, you aren’t in a situation where this will make your experience all that much more improved over what we had before April 3rd.

If you are considering a plunge into the Apple Kool Aid party, the iPad may not be the ideal device for your indoctrination to the land of Jobbs. Moreover, if you thought that this device would be better for those in the 4x magnification crowd.. well. I’d suggest going with a cheaper first time purchase in the realm of an iPod.

The truth is, and this is where I completely agree with those who are for and against the iPad, you can’t really say this is a giant iPod until you hold it in your hands. This is the first device I’ve used in a long time where initial experience immediately formed my opinion. And that opinion was intensely personal at first then reflexive later on after I put it down.

I think that is why the iPad doesn’t support multi user profiles at the moment. Apple is aiming this device at the individual user and as a media appliance to secure iTunes’s future. And it does this very well. I give them credit for that. It isn’t intended to replace devices you have now. That too has been communicated by Apple. its when you try to take the unit outside of the scope of what it is made for when you see the flaws over the glossy glare intensive surface that the debate gets more dicey.

Note that I’m also going to steer clear from the saga of the $500 WiFi only versus the 3g aspects of the iPod. That too comes down to personal preferences and your desire to pay $30 a month for iPad wireless access. Best of luck with that decision as it really distorts, for me at any rate, if this machine is worth the cost of admission.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Behind The Scenes: Assistive Tech And The Singularity

I grew up listening to the great Milo Hamilton and Larry Dirker call Houston Astros games. While I couldn’t see the ball, a pair of binoculars and the radio duo allowed me to focus the small fields of the glasses onto the right parts of the diamond.

The older Astrodome was a wondrous place for a small boy. It was big, it was well lit and it was air conditioned. and in Houston that was a very important feature to have on a summer day. The other thing the Dome had was an awesome set of speakers. And I loved the art that was the introduction of a player that came to the plate.

One of my favorite introductions was for Jose Cruz. It was easy for me to recognize Mr.. Cruz as he had the oddest batting style I had seen in my young life. He held the bat up high. Almost like his elbows were parallel to his shoulders kind of high. But his introduction was even more memorable.

“Now batting.. Jose Crrrruuuuuuuuuuuzzzzzzzzzzzzz”

The crowd was always into it from the second the announcer said Jose. For sometimes up to 10 seconds the whole audience would shout “oooooooooosssss” in unison. It was mandatory, it was a part of being an Astros fan and I think it literally became a law from the City Council. When Jose stepped up, be ready to join in with the crowd.

In the late 80’s, my brother was into baseball big time. He even went on to play A and Double A ball. And attending the opening days of various Little Leagues was a family event. I was in college and already working in radio at the time of many of the opening day events.

For practice I’d sit in the score box, with some of the kids from the other players families, and call the game over the loudspeakers. The kids would let me know when the line ups had changed or gave me an idea of who caught what or tagged out on a base. It worked well really. I got to do commercials for the sponsors of the park, they got a professional for free to call the game and I got to watch my brother play from a grate vantage point.

On one of the opening days Mr.. Jose Cruz was asked to come and throw out the first pitch. And, you guessed it, I got to live out a dream by introducing him by doing the call that I had learned over so many years since the man came up to the big leagues in that magical Domed stadium.

My mother described the smile on Mr.. Cruz’s face in great detail. My father was working the concession stand and he froze for a few seconds hearing me do what I used to do for fun at home, now over the loudspeakers of the little ball park. Me? I smiled for what must have been for days. I remember my cheeks hurting that afternoon from hearing everyone’s immediate reactions to the introduction.

It was an amazing feeling to get to do something you have always wanted to do since you were a kid. And I’ve been looking for opportunities to catch that lightning in various bottles over the years.

This week I was able to snare electricity again.

I realize that it is a weird world now in AT. It has more pitfalls, there are more players now and let us not dwell on the legal issues. To be honest, it is hard to find common ground for many these days. I was, however, very lucky in that I was able to fashion a schedule of events recently that had me being able to get some heavy hitters all in one place.

And I was able to introduce another idol, and one good friend, during this past week. It wasn’t the 8th wonder of the world and I didn’t need a microphone. But my cheeks hurt just like old times none the less.

I was able to provide an introduction for Doug Geoffray of G.W. Micro. And, even better, I didn’t have to wait in a long line at CSUN to hear him speak. Years ago, at NFB Computer Science in Philadelphia, I was able to talk to Dan. So getting to talk to Doug allowed the circle to be complete.

As much fun as it was to introduce an Idol, it was even more fun to introduce a friend. As being able to provide an introduction to Ricky Enger from Serotek was a thrill for me as well. I could take up gigs of space in the amount of nice things I could say about Ricky. She is one of the kindest people in the Industry and I’m happy to know that more than 40 more people at this recent event now know that as well.

But that wasn’t all.. Eric Damery of Freedom Scientific was on hand too. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Eric many times over the years and I always come away with more knowledge every time I attend a FS talk.

The fantastic thing is that all of these companies, along with some others, came to this event and were all there to promote their products in a friendly atmosphere. It isn’t often I get to work with so many luminaries on a smaller stage and I value the times I do have a chance to see many of them outside of the convention environment.

At the end of the day the road maybe well traveled, however, it is the various lanes of traffic that makes it such an interesting ride. Or, it is still fun for me to see so many companies all striving to help others with their products.

I normally don’t pass along stories like this from the offline world for lots of reasons. Doing so can cause a major headache for me in what I do for a living. I have been a bit of a downer though, over the last two years, with where my head was at running up towards Windows 7. I thought that I would pass along this particular story because this last week was the closest experience I’ve had in a long time that equates to what it was like for me in the beginning of my career in AT. And since it was such a positive one, well readers should know that there really are people behind the marketing and the fanboys/fangirls arguments out there in the mailing lists. Real people who do great work. And it was a real thrill to get to work with them all once again. The small boy who imitated newscasters and radio announcers sincerely thanks you. He also can’t wait for next season so he can do it all again.