Monday, December 31, 2012

The Top 10 Blind Bargains AT Stories of 2012 Part 1

I’m always honored and flattered to be asked to help with this famous list over the years. To be able to give back this year with content and links from the SPN podcasts was even more of a thrill for me. It may sound crazy, but it never gets easier to pick these 10 stories, but putting them into a publishable format does become somewhat of a second nature to me now. And others will point out that I have no shortage of opinions. Therefore, two thirds of a massive undertaking complete! Now it just comes down to reading more than 200 articles and remembering 200 hours of recorded audio. Wait… what? Crap, note to self, be less talkative in 2013.
This year. To save on time and space, I’ll break it up into two sets of five stories. Then, just to be unique, I’ll follow it up with my own list that naturally differs a bit from the final one set by all the judges. Oh, and you can hear us discuss the official list on SeroSpectives: This Year In AT too. Here’s a link for that in case you are interested.
Now let’s review the bottom five of the list…
10. 10 Windows Phone still with No Access
Here’s what was said over at Blind Bargains
My thoughts are below…
On the surface level, ha! See what I did there? I should be more dismayed about this than I actually am. But when you kill the Microsoft Kin off in a matter of weeks from its launch, you rebrand Zune into Xbox Video/Music and you thumb your nose to those who joined you on the Windows Phone 7 stopgap train to Windows Phone 8, I honestly can’t get too upset about this beyond the issue that we expect that most major players are now coming to the table with something on board their new platforms. I can honestly say that the Amazon Kindle issue bothers me more on the fact that the install base is just a bit bigger than that of the Windows Phone platform. Okay, a whole lot bigger actually.
The train wreck that has been Windows CE, er um Windows mobile, no wait Windows Phone is such a long and winding tale that it actually is too complicated and involved for me to encapsulate the sad saga into a readable, and still vastly uninteresting, story here. Suffice it to say, it isn’t and hasn’t been good. And subsequent releases have been getting worse for AT Users. The fact that some are now saying that Windows Phone 8, for the mainstream, is monumentally and profoundly better is astounding but not so earth shatteringly astounding to me that I pine away at night in hopes of getting some sort of screen reader access on the thing. The former Rehab Engineer in me says I should care. The Tech Pundit next to him says I should care. The advocate for the Blind guy and gal agrees with them. But the other voices of my multiple personality disorder had a vote and the consensus was “Um… nah”. So, while I know that employment opportunities that require this platform are closed off until screen reader access arrives, I’m just beyond getting upset about Windows 8 Phone. Now that Windows 8 thing, on the other hand, I’ll get back to that later in the Countdown articles. For now, Microsoft could do us all a favor by releasing a Windows Phone based on the Surface technology. At least the improved narrator would probably let you send and get a call? We speculate on that in SeroTalk 129.
9. Amazon Adds Accessibility to some Kindle Models, but falls short
A ton of interesting comments over at the Blind Bargains page for this story.
My opinion is below…
As we’ve speculated on SeroTalk, we think that relying on the built in Android access isn’t a full proof plan to providing a suitable solution to the problem. And it doesn’t solve the issues for those using the Kindle app on other devices and platforms at all. So, waiting for Amazon to fork Android v4.2 isn’t the answer as this built in solution still may not work well with Amazon’s kindle hardware products. Minus a big operating system update, a redesign of the software and a commitment from Amazon to fix the issues for the Fire and other platforms, this story will continue to be a relevant one in 2013.
We have a great roundtable discussion on this, and we also link to our previous coverage on our distain for Amazon’s previous dropping of the E Reading ball, in SeroTalk 135. Which just so happens can be found at the very link below.
8. iPad Refreshed Twice, iPad Mini Added
Direct link to the Blind Bargains article
And you know I’ve got an opinion for this one….
Apple is at a very critical time in their transition from unexpected record highs to expected continuations of record highs. The iDevices are no longer unique, some would say iOS is showing its age and when you make more than 100 million of anything you really can’t be considered a boutique company anymore. Apple is now where sony was in the 80s. The bigger question is can Apple avoid being the Sony of the new millennium? Fragmenting your products, rapid releases of new models and not establishing product differentials were the first things Steve jobs fixed when he returned to Apple. The releases of these new products does cast a shadow on the old saying “history Repeats”. For those who need the AT spin on this story, fragmenting product lines means that only the people who can afford to purchase the latest Apple anything will be able to enjoy the best VoiceOver experience as new chips make all of Apple’s products run faster and better with VoiceOver. And before you disagree with me on that, try a 3gs on iOS6. Or take my less than 3 year iPad 1 out for a spin on iOS 5.1. Apple makes money on hardware and this trend won’t change at all in 2013 with iPad Mini 2, iPad 5 and iPhone 5s all on the horizon
I plan on elaborating about this and other Apple related viewpoints, in later posts. For now, to the chagrin of my friends at Triple Click Home, my initial thoughts on this subject can be heard in audio form with the “SPN Special: Scratching The Surface With Mike Calvo”.
7. Focus 14 Braille Display Released, Focus 40 Refreshed
Here’s the link to the Blind Bargains article
My take is …
The buzz about, the desire for and the product spotting in the wild of the Focus 14 have been on full display at almost every event I attended in 2012. People want a small, cheaper display that works well with JAWS and still pairs to other devices like an iPhone. And this unit may just fit the spot, and the pocketbook, for many looking for this kind of display. There are many options in the 20 cell and below field, however, it sure seemed like Freedom Scientific was able to capture a lot of the conversation in this arena during 2012 with the release of the Focus 14.
And here is a link to our audio interview with Freedom Scientific from the Blinded Veteran’s Association National Convention coverage that goes into more detail about the Focus line.
6. GWConnect Updated, causes debate with ad-supported model
To read what people have said in the comments section for this story, visit
here’s my take on the story
We in the blindness Community want to emulate the mainstream in everything we do. And everyone is on board… until the need for revenue of some kind comes into the conversation. This is even truer when it comes to advertising. The visual world is bombarded by ads in movies, in magazines, on YouTube videos and now on the walls of restrooms in restaurants. When it comes to ad spaces in the mainstream, almost nothing is sacred. However, when a company tries to offset the cheaper cost of providing an access solution through the use of ads… people who aren’t exposed to this mainstream way of how the internet works get upset. The New York Times experimented with placing their content behind a pay wall. Facebook is constantly in trouble for trying to capitalize on their platform with ads. And even Skype its self has ads within its opening views and has even considered ads before a call is connected. If selling ad space means that G.W. Micro can continue to offer and update a good service at a lower cost, then I don’t begrudge them at all from wanting to do so. It’s the way the internet works. Nothing is ever truly free online.
If we continue to adopt mainstream solutions for solving our real world needs then getting used to how real world technologies make their money is part of the deal. What G.W. Micro is doing is not unlike what a 3rd party Twitter client used to do before Twitter got all crazy with changes and locking down their API. The term that G.W. micro is applying here exists in program development and it is known as the “Freemium” model. No, I’m not making that up. See this article to know more.
The point is that what they did is about as real world mainstream as it gets and it is going to be the future for many programs you are going to use moving forward. Either the “free” tag in iOS with paid “In App” upgrades or things like G.W. Connect. As budgets grow tighter, traditional markets disappear and the way the web just changes so darn much, this is just a way of the world and adapting to the new playing field isn’t something I think people will grasp as the norm for a little bit longer. But it really is normal and, to me, that is a good thing. In a few more years, as AT Users become more exposed to this mainstream concept, it will just become common place. For now, it’s a big story because it’s new to many who don’t encounter it as often as our sighted peers.
I’ve got the other five stories coming later in the week, and after that big podcast I mentioned above where we cover all ten with a great panel of guests, so check back to read those and my own version of the year’s biggest later.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hmm, Is This Thing On?

If you are a long time reader of this blog, if there is anyone left out there to read this blog, you will know that it is now time for my annual “I’m back” and my “I’m going to really post more often’ speeches. And, quite rightfully too I may adde, you would in real life “Laugh Out Loud’ and say “Right Ranger, whatever”. And I’d do the same if I saw this post from your side of the screen. Except, this time I’m sorta kinda really going to do the “more posting” thing. And here’s why.
After 10 years of being a Government Drone I found that sitting down and creating a long winded report on just about anything was easy. The state of Braille Drivers, the fun that was a new operating system’s lack of access, the ride in on the bus, you name it, I could write a memorandum of understanding around 5 pages or more in Aerial point 12 on matters with very little thought about doing it … and consequentially put into the content as well. In my defense, I was trained to do so by other Government types. There may have been a natural predilection to doing so, but the spark was refined by those “in the know”. Refined? Okay it was honed by those who taught me how to be a public employee. Yet years of experience in the field of that writing style did give me the ignition point to start this little’ol blog. To every cloud and all that.
Nonetheless, I found when I left my old job, that the fire and the desire to blog was diminished and replaced with my long gestating need to podcast. After all, I was a Radio Communications guy in my first vocational career and talking over typing was always more my non button down shirt speed. And it required less spell checking. And it came with a more relaxed dress code. And a whole lot of access to hot looking people in the music industry. Anyway, it was a long time ago and all those damaging photos have been destroyed. By me, before the days of Geocities and ransomware were perfected.
Ahem, back to my story, micro blogging [a term now replaced by a dozen others in the Social Media sphere] was awesome. It was easy to do from just about anywhere and it allowed for more immediate interactions with my readers. Which is odd because in general, I tend not to want to do the social thing as much in the so called real world. Regardless, the pull of Twitter was way too strong and I found that I could keep most of my minor musings down to a series of 140 characters. Then, the original thought behind this blog now realized, I could be quicker in passing along interesting and somewhat relevant content about the things I covered here in just a matter of clicks and copy/pastes. Woo Hoo! It was what I always wanted and it was, for many who really know me offline and hoped I’d be more, concise. A trait I imagine some who listen to podcasts I’m on would wish I could emulate from time to time on various soapbox topics that do mor than “wake the dragon” [Game Of Thrones quote implied].
The concept of doing a traditional blog post, yeah I just used those words right next to one another, just didn’t come together as easy as it once had after jumping off to the adventurous world of things like Twitter and the 6 month dalliance I had with Facebook. By the way, a pox on you and yours mark SuckerBerge. Cough, cough.
Gone were my needs to roll on in seven thousand words of prose about this or that and the deficiencies or advantages of this or that. Not to mention, written words tend to live longer on the interwebs of today and they are searchable too. Generally, people let you slide a bit more when you get things wrong in podcasting. Unless you are in a room full of avid listeners and they’ve barred the door for the next hour. Then, magically, people’s memories for your mistakes will far outweigh your own abilities to remember that comment you may or may not have made about bar code scanners you might have offhandedly said when trying to be semi worldly on the matter six months and almost one hundred recorded hours later from saying aforementioned bar code comment that really should have been edited for time originally. As I said, generally people are more cool about audio mistakes where as written ones can haunt you. Side note, I’ve gone back and deleted all the positive comments I made about Windows Vista. Like anything after Battlestar Galactica’s fourth season, be it all forgotten and not remembered. Although, there is a joke in there about Windows 8 and the BSG phrase “all this has happened before”. But I’m not making it here. Or, am I?
While I still enjoy the Twitter and Podcasting thing, a lot, my lack of recreational writing ran me into a honest to goodness brick wall when it came to having to write something for a non work related request. I was quite stumped and literally at a “loss for words”. Again, snicker away you beloved long time readers and listeners, at my aging inability to fire my neurons. Time catches up with us all.
My old reliable thought provoking tricks of enjoying some relaxing heavy metal music, reading a semi interesting book about an unrelated subject, downing a pot of really good coffee, a long walk, none of it clicked. Thankfully the white noise of the isolation chamber, you may also know this as “the bathroom shower”, allowed me to reach a mental plateau above the crazy mental blocks on my path to writing nirvana. But what I came away with was a profound and deep residing sense of shock that when I needed a base hit, not a home run, I couldn’t even manage to tap in a bunt [I’ve moved on to sports metaphors and sorry to those who only get my Sci Fi/Fantasy ones]. I frankly had let my skills lapse when it came to escapist writing and I’m sure it was tied to stress and lack of real world practice of writing 7 pages on the importance of User Interface Guideline changes. As silly as it is, doing that kind of writing kept my other skills sharp in the same way that podcasting is reviving all my old intuitions about broadcast scheduling and program flow.
Therefore, as some sort of personal self-actualized epiphany at the base of Maslow’s pyramid, I realized that I really do need to get back into the batting cage and take a swing at a few pitches [still on the sports stuff]. I have to experiment a bit and try a few things. Look down some dark corners and see where it all takes me. I’m, by self-admission, a bit of a compulsive person who likes to ride the pendulum of extremes to find the balance and middle ground. Its why I’m so contrarian at times. I want to throw out an off the wall viewpoint to see what others think. So while I will still lean on Twitter and podcasting first, I need to come back here and dabble.
I don’t know what I’ll write about. I’m not sure it will be any good. I can’t promise it will be about Assistive Technology at times. And I hope to get better at doing the writing thing as I lace up my shoes and pick up that Louisville Slugger. I just hope I don’t end up with a Golden Crown of my own [back to Game of Thrones references again].
If you want to come along for this odd journey, please keep your slates and styluses in the car at all times. If you want to just follow in order to make a countdown clock to the day I again fess up that I’ve not blogged here in forever, put five bucks down on my guess for December 30th 2013. Betting opens on February 1st. This year we’re accepting Google Wallet. It’s a trial thing, don’t get used to it.
Before I go, warning authentic podcast plug imminent, I’m extremely proud of all our SeroTalk podcasts. I’m especially proud of two series that hold a personal place in my heart. I say publicly that “End of Line” is a show I wanted to do. It’s a fun walk around the day to day conversations I have with Ricky Enger and, when we have time to do the show, it’s a true window on who I am offline. Plus it proves to my mother that all those years of Science Fiction devotion weren’t for nothing. The surprising number of downloads also prove that “we are not alone’ in our crazy desires when it comes to food, books, TV and music either. If you haven’t already, and if you are even mildly curious about who I am outside the industry, chek out the show. And if not, then just run through the show note links as there is enough there to keep you entertained for hours.
If “End of Line’ is a show I wanted to do, then “High Contrast” is a show I had to do. For many years I lived in denial about my vision loss. I did much to avoid facing it and I did even more in doing silly things to put up a good front. Time really does bring wisdom along shotgun with it in the Taxi Cab of life. And this series lets me help tell stories about what it is like to have to straddle the line between sight and no usable vision. I’m incredibly grateful to have Maurie, Jeremy and Rodney on the show as each have brought their own experiences to the program in unique ways. We weren’t sure what we had at first, but now we are really exploring some amazing topics and themes. If you need a great example of this, check out maurie’s discussions on treatments for her eye condition as I think her story may be inspiring to many who have questions about the consideration of restoration procedures.
I’ll be back with my version of the Top Ten Stories of AT for 2012 shortly. But as an act of contrition, and to make things look a little more modern, I’ve updated some of the links on the sidebar with new sites and stuff I’m enjoying at the moment.