Saturday, January 30, 2010

Blind Bargains Awards And My concession Speech

Ahem, is this thing on?..  I would like to thank everyone for coming here today and braving the cold weather to celebrate what was a tightly contested race. But, at the end of the month, we failed to gain enough support to cross the finish line as the winner of the Best Blindness Related Blog.

I say to you gentle readers and followers of the site, no tears. For you did not let this blog down. No, I your humble and semi prolific author have let you down. And for that .. um.. well okay it couldn’t be helped.

The wealth of stuff that happened between June of 2009 and the end of that year was simply astounding. the fall of Vista and the rise of Windows 7. the moves by Apple with Snow Leopard and the iPhone. Why you can barely swing a NFB straight cane and not hit a pile of new talking MP3 players these days right?

and then there was the note takers. So many options between the Braille Sense Plus, the Icon and the new Apex. Plus the Video Magnifiers started to fall out of the trees man. Ruby, Sense View Light, Versa, the Pebble and about a dozen others all from China.

At no time in my 30 plus years of using Assistive Technology have I been this overwhelmed at the non dearth of choices coming on the market for us who are Blind and Visually Impaired.

This cornucopia of tech occupied a whole lot of my offline life, which, as you know, directly impacts the time I have to blog. So if I’m not writing, in a way,  that is a very good thing. A good thing indeed.

Getting back to the tons’o’stuff thing for a moment, another great story of 2009 was the emergence of my fellow pundits. Amateur podcasters and bloggers went mainstream in a big way in 2009. And so did the fragmentation of information. There is a huge vast newly formed Echo Chamber that has grown from the mailing lists into dozens of RSS feeds. And that too is a win win for the community.

Therefore, I don’t see this lack of a statue, do we get a statuette, er. um.. as a defeat. As the fact that I don’t have to write about everything and anything is a blessing. Oh right. Less about me then. Uh.. maybe next year? Hmm.. Thanks for coming and there is an ice cream cake in the shape of the Apple logo in the corner. And no, I wasn't the one that took a bite out of it. That is the way the logo looks normally. Honest!

End of speech.

All kidding aside, I am again thrilled to be nominated for the award. and, as I have said before, I’m a bit on the guilty side of things in that I could have done more to deserve the nomination.

I am always knocked out by how many people do read these ramblings, even after a prolonged offline forced absence. Over the last 5 years I’ve been able to say “Ranger1138” in a crowded room and for some strange reason people listen. Or throw their PAC Mates at me. It is such a strange world.

I want to acknowledge the other nominees and the winner of the category now, because I’m a fan of all of them.

The winner, as it should be really, is the team of writers at Fred’s Head. I’ve always liked how they post things on just about every part of the spectrum of living with Blindness and Low Vision. Life skills tips, tech tips, Service Animal suggestions and non related Blindness things as well. You name it, they’ve pretty much talked about it over the years. My hat is off to them and congratulations on the winning of this year’s award.

Sometimes I think I’ve said too much on TRS. Sometimes I think I may have overstepped my bounds and maybe, alright for sure, offended one of my dear friends in the AT Industry.  And then I read the Serotek Blog. It is at that moment I realize that I’m a monk who has taken a vow of silence. Mike Calvo’s impressions on matters is always compelling even if you don’t agree with his views on every post. But in every life some rain must fall, which at times means Mike can be a monsoon when he is fired up. Just go back to the Intel Reader post from November if you want to know more.

I’ve saved the best for last. I salute you Ms. Roberts. You’re passionate and strong arguments on a wide range of topics have been a pleasure to read throughout 2009. I’ve been following all the ups and downs while pulling for you the entire way like a sled dog in Alaska. One day I hope to be able to play a board game with you offline and discuss the weight of the world. Good job and all the best to you in 2010.

I also know that this mutual admiration society thing may sound a little tiring at this stage, however, I want to thank JJ and the crew at Blind Bargains for their organizing of this year’s awards. JJ and BB have really outdone themselves in the last year to become a serious contender for our fingers, ears and attention in the universe of AT. And I admire the zeal, and energy too, at which they have put into their efforts in 2009.

Two more posts on a look back at 2009 and then I’ll stop reminiscing about the past and get back to the future. Or find a way to make a DeLorean tell me with a DecTalk when I’ve hit 88.8 miles per hour. “DeLorean is reminiscing ”   

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Windows 7: Black Viper And God Mode

My trusty main testing box is a Dell XPS 400 from 2006. It displays problems like no other computer I have ever owned. Not that this is a bad thing mind you. For testing, and work on beta programs, it has been a wonderful source of annoyance and joy in that it seems to attract bugs like a Roach Motel. So for what I do for a living, the system works well.

But every now and then I wonder if my Windows Experience could be improved by implementing a few tweaks here and there. Sure you can do the old MSCONFIG path, however, that doesn’t always get to the meat of the matter. No, for that you need something like the old Tweak UI. Problem is that there is no Tweak UI for Windows . Plus I’m not always a big fan of the Windows Power Toys stuff.

I’ve traditionally used Black Viper’s recommendations as my first line of defense against unneeded services in Windows. His latest offerings on the subject doesn’t suggest a lot of changes though. Guess that means MS really did slim down 7 eh? To find his list of recommendations hit the link below.

A lot has been made about the recently posted info on “God Mode” for 7. It honestly doesn’t offer anything new as to the way you can bend Windows 7 to your will. It does, however, offer a nice list of easy to find settings. It is super helpful if you don’t know where that particular control happens to reside within the  myriad of options and menus of 7. To learn how to get to this neat list click on the link.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Look Back At 2009: Part 2

Here are two more stories from the year that was 2009.

Windows 7 and same-day screen reader access

As I said in the Blind Bargains Top 11, the fantastic ability for many players in AT to have launch day versions up and running is unto its self a great story. But in a way it is also a reflection of the times we live in now.

Back when Vista was still in the 5 year gestation phase of development, getting anyone to discuss their plans for betas, let alone full product, releases was like pulling teeth with a rusty pair of plyers. I should know well because many would run and hide from me when I approached their booths at CSUN each year. I believe that was back when I coined the phrase “Look, I know this is like beating a dead horse with a straight cane but.. “. Conversations eventually went like this..

Ranger: “Hi!”

AT Rep: “No.”

Ranger: “no? No to what?”

AT Rep: “You know darn well what. Vista… the answer is no.”

Sheepish looks, and innocent appeals to their nature, with questions like  “What about the children?” usually got me beaten over the head with whatever was being given away that year in the booth. And despite what you might think, those rubber sharks can leave a mark. Glad the famous cookie jars were no where to be found. I wasn’t alone in my barrage of inquiries as a blanket generic statement was memorized by all Reps for distribution in the case where anyone uttered the dreaded “V” word.

Vista’s launch, however, turned out to be an interesting snapshot of how tastes and needs were changing. One particular AT company saw a big jump in the number of users who were either interested in Vista or who were already running the OS with their product via the public beta program. In fact,  if nothing else, Vista and 7 have cemented the need for a public beta because it truly expands the scope of the product prior to its official release. 

The rise in the technical level of Blind users in the last five years is staggering. Just look at the number of good sites, podcasts and social media mavens who have come online and made their voices heard as a result of increased access to both Apple and Windows.  Not to mention Mobile and the drive for more to speak about Blind Gadget Culture. Vista, and now 7, showed many in the business that we Blind folk just won’t sit around waiting for the doors to be open on big named devices and software. Hence the “must have” calls for 7 to be ready with your access solution of choice.

Not to say that it was easy but.. 7 development was not nearly as hard as it was for Vista. 7, despite what some have claimed, is not Vista 2.0. However that particular spherical shaped object didn’t fall all that far away from the tree who spawned it actually. So, minus a few hurdles, existing code could be modified from Vista to give us suitable launch day versions of many AT products.

There is another side to the coin and to borrow a catch phrase from the famous Paul Harvey “Page 2!”.

For around three years now I’ve heard tons of mess about Microsoft and how it should be like Apple in the Mac’s new found approach to access. I’ve sat through more debates on “Bolt On Vs. Baked In”, “Screen Scrape Vs. Screen Grab” and “Off Screen Model Vs. Flavor of the Week” than I can count. Now I believe these discussions to be fruitful but man did they ever multiply.

Moreover, I also have been somewhat of an AT Oral Historian in many offline circles. History does repeat and I find myself being more of a curmudgeon on meetings that show me a utopia where all applications are easy to read and full of wonder. This semi negative pessimism can generally be attributed to the dark humor that surrounds the computer industry as a whole, however, my hands are a bit scarred from previous attempts at sticking them into the fire from previous claims that made similar types of promises. 

I was a user on the front lines of a zillion versions of DOS. I was a user during the infamous stare down with Microsoft over Windows 95. Additionally I’ve survived numerous releases of Office. And I, like Microsoft, have been between the hammer and the anvil several times over the years in regards to access. The tools that were forged over time are ones that let me compete with others on equal footing and I appreciate that access ,for MS, has gained a better focus in the design of products to come. I give pause though if future access means a more Apple like approach.

The strength that has evolved for Windows is that the software  is a ubiquitous platform that has numerous partners who give it ample support. If the restaurant doesn’t serve Coke then sometimes Pepsi will do in a pinch. Or, as we are seeing more and more, if Dr. Pepper is on sale then it scratches the ich on one’s need to be budget conscious. I could extend this flimsy example further about ordering watter instead and the use of NVDA .. Naaahhh…

The point is that you aren’t forced to drink one flavor of soda. I don’t care how good it tastes, eventually, you will find that you need more from your soda in some arena. Having a market of choices means that competition will always force the drive to improve any product. Therefore, we have diet, energy and other drinks you may wish to try to quench your thirst with when looking around for what fits your particular pallet.

Mixing metaphors aside, some feel that this is a dead argument because Narrator isn’t as good as all the other options on the planet. Including the Thunder Screen Reader. What if I told you that Narrator was in the process of getting a serious facelift? Read on..

At CSUN in 2006 a co-worker and I sat in the big ballroom where Microsoft was going to outline their upcoming commitment to access for Vista and Office. The room was all a titter because a press release had also just dropped on Vista and Office 07’s plans to use their Wonder Twin powers in one giant move to co-market their respective launches. There is nothing like the fear and panic in a Rep’s eyes and voice when something gets announced that they had no clue about. And this was the case that day in Los Angeles.

The team was frantically on their cell phones, email and Power Points. Changes looked to be in flux and the phrase “uh, that is what we can say today” was uttered a few more times than it usually would in a similar venue. The course correction for Microsoft came later but that day they discussed the following “Ease of Access” options.    

Minor improvements to Narrator, updated On Screen Keyboard, no change to Magnifier, On Screen Alerts for the Deaf, Speech Recognition and Cognitive Enhancements.

The last one in the list never surfaced. It was demonstrated sure but I’ve never heard hide nor haire of it since 2006. From what I remember, the style of the feature acted in some ways like the methods Screen Magnifiers use to highlight buttons and other controls in modes like Focus Enhancements. Perhaps one day this part of EOA will return. I’d be interested to see it if it ever does. There were many I served in my tech support days who I think who could qualify as the target market.

Anyway, back on track, a lot of the discussion time was given to Vista’s Speech Recognition. It was said that this portion of access was the first to be given the new look and feel for Microsoft. More would come either through Service Packs or in future Windows releases.

And it did. Speech Recognition improved greatly not just in Windows but in Windows Mobile as well. Not the phones mind you, but in the offshoot of Windows Mobile that became Windows Automotive. If you have heard Leo at TWIT talk about Ford Sync then you have heard an ad for Windows Automotive. Microsoft technologies have an annoying habbit of not being integrated across their platforms. They do, surprisingly enough, steal tech from one another for big projects. Speech Recognition tech was just such a high profile project.

Windows 7 advanced Windows Magnifier. If you run in the AERO version of 7 you can enable Magnifier on the fly by pressing the Windows Key with either the number pad’s plus or minus keys. AERO allows Windows 7 to use a full screen magnifier mode instead of the narrow banner ad like strip of magnification found in previous flavors of Windows. The key is the full screen version goes away if you use a Mirror Driver that would snap you back to a non AERO version of 7. Which means you would have to use System Access, or something else, if you wanted to use Windows Magnifier with Screen Reader assistance.

Now follow me here, if Magnifier and Speech Recognition saw an an improvement, what would come next in an upgrade of on board options for MS? Before you answer consider the following items in the paragraph below.

Apple has Voiceover, Google has Talkback and even Linux has.. stuff. Microsoft, and some other big tech names, have given the NVDA project money for future releases. If the current needs for increased security to be built in to future applications remains a constant part of development, then who better than Microsoft to show how that could be done without our current forms of AT?

All signs point north and I’m anxious to see what comes in the talks on Windows 8 in the next 6 to 8 months. Remember that MS has committed to the three year life cycle again. Which means that if true, a public beta will arise from the depths in about 24 months or less. Regardless if it is good or bad, for me I’d have to say bad, a better version of Narrator is coming. and it is coming sooner than some would expect. One thing is certain, as MS improves the state of their products the rest of the Industry will have to justify themselves in new and exciting ways in order to stay competitive with the many free models of AT spawning onto the scene. 

Book Sense

The Book Sense is an amazing piece of kit that I adore. I used an ARCHOS 604 as my main player for years. It has a display that is as big as most hand held Video Magnifiers. And while not sporting speech, it wasn’t Rockbox friendly, it let me change the color and the fonts enough to make it serviceable for what I wanted it to do on my daily commute.

I have many friends with a victor Reader Stream, and I’m in no way putting that device down in the slightest, but it never caught on with me. I was in love with the Book Sense the first day I held it though. The size, weight, interface and that blessed switch for the key lock. mmmm… I pre-ordered mine right then and there. I had no idea how the clock, radio and support for docx. would save my bacon until later on when I made my goodbyes with the ARCHOS.

the $64,000 question remained on if someone could dethrone the King of all Blind friendly players. The question, and some of us in the wings, were stunned by the reception the unit got at its unveiling at Convention.

To say that there was a rush on the G.W. booth would be an understatement. I saw credit and debit cards outstretched eagerly to the gang in the booth. And when their machine went down, the throngs hit the ATMs. It was truly shocking to see how fast they were purchased honestly.

That isn’t my reason for choosing it for the list however. That inspiration springs from this intrepid soul who decided to take an improvised poll on if each person who left the booth already had a Stream in their possession. 60% of more than 20 people polled said they already had a Victor Stream. While this is in no way a scientific method for determining buying habbits, it did show that brand loyalty and the better mousetraps ideals were in a state of upheaval.

It also got me to thinking about the rise of products coming from overseas. Also, how often would someone buy the same thing with similar features rolled through my mind’s lint brush too. Better yet, at what price does it trigger someone to buy the same thing again? Or when is good vs. price vs. good enough helping or hurting the community? I’m all down with the idea of cheaper products, however, I’m not sure if I want to start a product cycle where you replace your treasured items every 20 to 36 months at the current prices seen in the market for lots of things. This thought is why I didn’t go with the iBill on the Top 11 list. It is a cool doo dad. I’m just not sure if it harkens the bountiful harvest that others are hoping for in the cry for cheaper and durible products.

This series centers around me being more opinionated than usual. In no way do I suggest that you subscribed to the points I view here, or anywhere for that matter  on the thoughts that emanate from my fevered brain. I invite you to toss your thoughts into the comments section, email me or hit me up on Twitter. I love to debate these things and I love even more to have someone show me the errors in my ways. Part 3 is in the works, and barring real life, it will be up soon.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Apex Poll Results And New Poll Added

Either this is a very small reflection of our changing desires or some out their just *love* the mPower they have already. I’ll hold off from making silly remarks and odd speculation.

Poll Results: Braille Note Apex: Thumbs Up Or Thumbs Down

Up 0 (0%)
Down 3 (25%)
I Want A Braille Sense Plus 1 (8%)
I Want An Icon 0 (0%)
I Use A Laptop Or A Netbook As My Note Taker 8 (66%)

I’ve played around with the Braille Note Apex BT a bit before I went on vacation. And I’ve spent maybe around a hour with the QT version. That isn’t enough time at all for me to get a feel for both units. But I can say that if you hold a mPower in your left hand and then, an Apex in your right, you will notice a difference. Is that worth an upgrade, a switch from another camp or the price of entry for someone who is just now looking? Probably not.

The new connections, the extra memory and the newer software versions for Keysoft and Windows are a compelling list of new things to consider though. But this is like trying to tell someone how great their pair of shoes is and that you should buy them without wearing them first. My advice is always “try before you buy”. Especially if you start doing the mental math of the Netbook, used mPower or other routes.

And you know where you could try an Apex out? Why at an event where a bunch of Blindness Assistive Technology companies hang out of course. Okay, where Assistive Technology companies chain their employees to their booths for hours and hours is a more accurate description of the situation, however, the same opportunity awaits. It also leads us into the next poll question.

Poll Question: What Event Will You Attend In 2010?



NFB National Convention

ACB National Convention

Sight Village

I know it is early to ask this one. Still ATIA is next week and I didn’t have anything big to ask at the moment. I’ll leave this up until early next month. News out of ATIA may fuel the fires for the next question.. I hope.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Feedback: The “Ranger Procrastinates Yet Again” Edition

I found out that if you semi abandon your blog, for whatever good reasons like life getting in the way or something, the thing you must do is lock down your comments. What a magnet this thing became while I was off doing.. stuff.

While deleting ads, questionable links, more ads, odd random posts in languages I don’t speak and even some ads, I found that there were real comments from real nice people amongst all the chaff. I pulled these nuggets out and I really do apologize for not responding to you sooner.

Here is a comment from the Windows 7 launch day post.

California State University Northridge said...

We have a few college students online from California State University Northridge College and we love your blog postings, so well add your rss or news feed for them, Thanks and please post us and leave a comment back and well link to you. Thanks Jen , Blog California State University Northridge

Thanks for reading. Sometimes I forget just how big the world part of the world wide web can be.

Once at CSUN 2007 someone yelled out to me on the Exhibit Hall floor “Hey there Ranger!”. And three people I had never met before in my life stopped me on the way to my friend to thank me for the blog. The same thing happened at the NFB Convention in Detroit this past year. It makes me feel guilty at not being so prolific in 2009. In fact, it could drive aguy to answer his comments some eight months after they were posted. But I digress.

This comment came from the July/August Poll results on updates and upgrades.

john said...

Hello Ranger. It seems it's been a while since you've written here. And so I'd like to welcome you back to the world of blogging, confusing as it is. It's great that you're back and all, but just to be frank, or steve, or some other guy, I've got a suggestion. No, it really is great that you're back. You put, on the list of upgrades, snow leopard. It's only worth $30 if you already have leopard. So, I'm thinking: is there any other software that may be, just maybe! should be on this list?
Thanks and good times and such,

Oh, if Windows 7 was as cheap as 30 bucks then I’d say that without hesitation. It isn’t, but I still recommend Windows 7 to anyone who can run it without the hardware upgrade hassles or the required upgrades for their AT products. Even then you could go with System Access, NVDA or a payment plan through G.W. Micro for Screen Reading. System Access with Windows Magnifier isn’t a bad combo either, however, it can’t replace some of the features found in today’s leading Screen Magnifiers.

Snow Leopard, if you aren’t a Power PC based Mac, can be a wonderful cheap boost to Voiceover access. Except there are some issues with some program compatibility on third party programs, not related to Voiceover, and Boot Camp isn’t Windows 7 friendly yet. In some ways 10.6 has become a little bit like Vista with 10.5 taking the role of Windows XP. I know that is blasphemous to some that I even consider that analogy, however, it is kind of apt depending on if you can or cannot run Snow Leopard. Plus any minor niggles I can make about how Apple acts like Microsoft at times are always worth the seconds it takes me to type them out. 

And now a correction on my Book Sense post thanks to a fellow Blogger at this little site you may have heard of called Blind Bargains.

J.J. said...

NLS support is already there. Perhaps you mean RFB&D support?

Oops, he is right. Not to mention that the keys are now available for the Book Sense as well.

I made a post about music from March that garnered this comment.

Anonymous said...

Hi ranger,
I am not an audiophile, but I agree with you about current recordings. The new Metallica cd was recorded so loudly, that it's actually distorted in some places. What a shame, as it's quite good from an artistic standpoint. I think the recordings from decades past are much more pleasant to the ear, even when compressed into reasonably sized mp3 files. No lower than 160 KBPS for me.

If you look on the net, possibly in some nefarious places, you may find that there is a better recording of the last album. It seems that the masters, depending on your viewpoint of how that is defined by the band or the label, were given to a famous Videogame for their inclusion to their track lists. If you look around for Metallica and Guitar Hero… ahem. Uh, the live tracks could be a better alternative. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Remember that you can leave a comment here on the blog, direct message me on Twitter and forget about me on Facebook because I’m hardly ever there. One social media meem at a time I guess.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Look Back At 2009: Part One

I want to sincerely thank J.J. and the crew at Blind Bargains for asking me to participate with their Top Ten 2009 series of posts. He caught me right before I began the longest vacation I’ve taken in ten years, therefore, he got a down and dirty raw stream of consciousness on the events I selected from his list. And what a comprehensive list it was. There were stories in there that I completly forgot about or I wasn’t aware that they even happened in the course of the year. 2009 turned out to be very much a turning point for the AT Industry in several arenas. But it may or may not be obvious as to what made the year so big for so many.

J.J. encouraged me to create my own list, however, I decided to go in a different direction and highlight some of the key stories from his original long list instead. Nevertheless, before you go any further, you should read the Top Ten, okay Eleven, list the team posted first.

You also may want to download the companion piece from Main Menu’s archives as it expands greatly on many of the stories in the list. You can find the archives at this link.

The following blurbs are a more refined version or a longer director’s cut of my original musings to J.J.’s list. They are in no particular order as I really only selected one story as the biggest of the year. I’ll point that monster out in a post later on in this series.

Amazon Promises a More Accessible Kindle

The rollercoaster ride of the Kindle began 2009 with many declaring it the new textbook replacement. Well , that didn’t last very long as two problems arose. One problem was that a pilot study found that people didn’t find it effective at the University used for the study. The second came when the NFB and others decided to remind Amazon of the inaccessibility of the Kindle in general.

The Kindle, however, moved onwards and Amazon later released the Kindle DX. This larger version of the unit was even loosely marketed as a device that would be better for those who had issues with Low Vision. I’ll stop right there because I don’t want to launch into a tirade on font sizes, colors and styles on non backlit displays.. let me just say that Text to Speech in the menus, not the materials, is a bigger sticking point for the Kindle models at large.

What some don’t realize is that Amazon is bound to restrictions set by the Publishers. If a Publisher does not authorize the company to allow the kindle to read the given book with speech, then there isn’t much Amazon can do about that. However, if they had made everything else talk they would have avoided a lot of drama over the year and left the fight back to the Publishers where the true issue still belongs.

Moreover, not making the iPhone and other Kindle software apps that were also released in 2009 seems a bit like history repeating. Still, the number of alternatives to the Kindle is staggering and all we see in 2009 is the tip of a very big iceberg when it comes to E-Publishing.

I end on this note for you conspiracy buffs. Amazon owns Audible.. think about that a bit.

Intel Reader

Speaking of reading text aloud, the release of the Intel Reader is an interesting example of mainstream collaborating with the niche that is today’s Assistive Technology Industry.  At face value this seems like a mixture of chocolate and peanut butter that should result in a wonderful end product. But it really depends on who you ask as some might be allergic to one ingredient or prefer solitary confinement for their sweets.

The Intel Reader turns out to be an okay device for someone who is Low Vision. The device sports a large display similar to those found on many hand held Video Magnifiers. The text can be enlarged and modified to some degree. The colors of the display, and for the bezel of the unit as well, do not distract someone from seeing the screen if they suffer from glare sensitivity.

The Text To Speech is generally clear and easy to understand and there are a minimal set of options to customize the voices in pitch and rate. There is a simple file browser for reviewing past saved materials. And the controls are easy to find and mostly reside on the face of the unit.

The first question that hit the web was “Is this a competitor to the KNFB Reader?”. Now, I’m going to be very opinionated and blunt here so be prepared, oh **** no!

I’ll try very very hard to be brief. It is heavy, it is wide, it does not fit well in smaller hands, it isn’t easy to navigate through large texts, it takes a millennium to boot up and that is my short list. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, for some this may be a wonderful device to use for those who aren’t technically minded.

The Intel Reader has a story behind the story though. This story involves marketing terms like brand synergy, product elevation and other made up sales terms not worth noting here. The need to find new blue oceans in the field of Assistive Technology was a driving force in 2009 and it will practically be the foremost directive for some individuals in 2010.

The Intel Reader is an advanced scout in a new army of products that are meant to reach out beyond the traditional devices we long time users of Assistive Tech know and love. Many people who I spoke to offline see this as a sign that things are moving away from some core features and dare I say needs of the current Blindness population. I usually remind people that the Trekker Breeze was really the first product to begin this trend for Humanware.

To clarify, a lot of time is going into new products that would fit the bill of the aging population. Sadly an even larger emerging market comes from those who have returned from military service overseas. And, not to be forgotten, there is a lot of Government spending being aimed at the primary Education sector as well. In other words, if you are reading this blog then you might not be the intended audience for the Intel Reader. Which isn’t a bad thing as those market segments need entry level devices like this.

The untold story behind it all is that 2009 could be deemed “The Year Of Choice”. I’ll expand on that insightful remark in part 2 of this series.

Detroit 2009: The Lost Humanware Notes Are Now Found!


The simple truth is that I renamed the file in which I had these notes and then promptly archived it away for safe keeping.. from myself it appears. And in even a more embarrassing admission, gulp, it was in a fairly completed state of being postworthy.

I was already in a reflexive kind of mood from my talks with Blind Bargains on the stories of 2009. So I figured I’d go ahead and post this info in the spirit of nostalgia. Or what was already on the table pre Braille Note Apex. In either case, I’ve not altered the tone of the write up. Nor did I drop in pieces of knowledge from the far flung future that is 2010. With that said, as promised more than six months ago, I give you the lost Humanware notes from the NFB 2009 National Convention. 




The room had the best air movement and temperature out of all the rooms I was in for the Convention. It, like so many others, was small and 60 chairs fill up quickly than convention goers realize. People came and went during the presentation as Humanware broke their time into specific product meetings.

The first hour was devoted to the Trekker Breeze. I arrived 30 minutes into this discussion and, to be honest, it was the same questions/answers I heard about the product in Dallas 2008. It breaks down to this… some people don’t know how GPS works and some people want it to do more than it currently can [or ever] can be offered professionally. I like the Breeze for point to point travel and if that isn’t enough for some people Humanware has two other solutions with even more functionality available.

So I’ll pick up with the Braille/Voice Note meetings. Keysoft 8 will be arriving soon. The update will feature the new Keychat program that will let you expand your abilities to talk with other users over the web. The update will also have support for Audible formats like it’s Victor Reader Stream cousins. Generic printer driver support has been enhanced and the company has worked with HP to have better on board driver support for their lines of printers.

The crowd cheered when it was announced that the Eloquence synth was coming to a Braille and Voice Note mPower and PK near you really soon. The sub folder improvements that came with the 3.0 edition of the Victor Reader software will also now be coming to Keysoft 8. Enhanced support for USB drives helps you keep more stuff in those folders, however, it is recommended that the USB drive not be a U3 compatible device. The units can detect non U3 USB sticks better. You can always uninstall the U3 portion of a drive if you already have a drive that you want to use with your mPower though.

Another great improvement with Keysoft 8 comes in the form of support for WPA wireless encryption.

Several questions were asked about the memory and storage limitations with on board memory in the Braille and Voice Note lines. The panel wanted to stay away from a technical chat on hardware and Windows CE specs, however, info did slip that Humanware looks at their product cycles in a 5 year plan. The company didn’t have anything to announce today but quick math shows that the mPower is coming up on its 5th birthday very soon.

Once when the cat jumped out of the bag on the possibility of new hardware, the team announced that it was time to talk about the next version of the Victor reader Stream software.

They moved right into the Highlight reel and then topped it off with talk on the update with little preamble. Some of the features that were spotlighted were the following tender morsels :

A statement was made that all updates will be free for the stream.

E pub book support was coming It was said that this was a sub set of the DAISY format and Google is looking to use this in future E Books initiatives.

Selectable and variable sample rate MP3 recording is on its way.

The team is considering support for the Office .docx format for a later release.

Support for “Save as DAISY” is also an upcoming feature being considered for a future release.

The panel was inundated with requests for the “Date and Time” feature to be a priority for an upcoming version of the software updates. The panel did their level best to quell the rising tide, however, they said that it was not set for release just yet.

More requests now for Kindle and PDF support. Now it gets technical. Some discussions on how fast these formats change and how often it would take to keep up with it all. Minor discussions on conversion and the Humanware Companion software. But nothing earth shattering.

A great tip for training someone on the Victor Reader Stream is to use the unit without a SD card on board. I may have to use that one next time I do an overview on this product.

The last session focused on Humanware Mobile. Some time was given to the new Braille Connect 12 cell display. The crowd was unmoved, however, this can work with mobile phones and may be a neat alternative for those who go for the mobile phone option over a larger more friendlier Netbook display.

A representative for RIM is on the panel. Here come the facts and figures.

25 million Blackberry users active in over 150 countries.

13,000 employees worldwide.

Their app store, called App World, is now going and they now have an accessible API.

AT solutions will come from 3rd party development.

14 point font is a built in feature for Low Vision users.

Alphabetic speed dialing for those who memorize their contact lists.

Voice dialing options.

The rep went on to say that previous versions of the Blackberry OS were very JAVA dependent. The memory of older versions of the popular phone could not accommodate common TTS software solutions. Therefore, only the newer phones going forward would be able to use Orator.

RIM will be openly working with their developers at their public events to design applications with a need to have accessibility “baked in” with future releases. Information from these events will be released to the public and it looks like tere is a concerted effort to have third parties on board.

Some of the designs in mind include a Training Wizard for new users and support for external keyboards for those who dislike the “stickyness” of the track ball. I asked specifically if this sticky behavior was object or element based. At the time of the event it was said that it was based on elements.

A brief demonstration of the early GUI and main menu navigation was given. The unit was in a solid beta, however, the release of Orator is dependent on several issues. The timing of hardware that supports the product is hampered by the partnerships RIM has with their carriers. Subsidies and hardware inventories can complicate the release of any new phone. And so is the case with RIM and Orator. The good news is that when the product does go live it will be ready to go on many of RIM’s later releases.