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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas List

As every other type of blog that publishes about every other type of subject releases a “Christmas List” around this time of year that suggests ideas for good gifts for their readers, I thought I should do the Blind Confidential Christmas Gifts for Hipster Blinks.  This list will include a list of items both real and those I would like to see invented in the future which probably means they won’t make Christmas 2007 but we’ll put them in anyway for future years and/or decades.

 

In Order of Preference:

 

1.        A Victor Reader Stream portable reading device from Humanware ($329 at ILA, perhaps more or less elsewhere).

 

On Thursday, I talked on the phone to a friend of mine who works in the AT biz and would definitely show up on anyone’s list of industry experts.  We agreed that the Victor Reader Stream is the coolest new blindness hardware product in many years.  In my opinion, it’s the coolest new device in our market sector since FS released the PAC Mate with a mainstream operating system on a blind guy ghetto hardware platform.  Including software only products, I think the Vic holds the position of coolest new product since SATOGO.  My friend and I also agreed that, at $329, the Vic breaks new ground in the price/performance ratio of products designed specifically for us blinks.

 

One thing I do not know about at all is how the copyright laws regarding content one plays on the Vic work in countries outside of the US.  If you live here, you can get Bookshare.org with its more than 35,000 titles in text Daisy format which sound great with the synthesizer on the Vic and NLS with its digital voice recordings of thousands of books from its enormous catalogue that you can download and and copy onto an SD card you can then stick into your device.  I do know that Jim Fruchterman has announced Bookshare International but I don’t know any of the details surrounding it.

 

The Vic is not without its problems.  I recommend that if you get the device the first thing you do is install the firmware upgrade downloadable from the Humanware web site.  The new firmware will let you play books from audible.com and provides fixes for a number of bugs.  Even with the update, there are a few bugs that one may encounter but nothing of real tragic proportions.

 

If you do not want to use a portable book reader or add yet another device to your collection of gadgets in your backpack, there are a few software only Daisy players out there that work on laptops and at least one that works on a PAC Mate.  In the past, I’ve used Dolphin’s Daisy reader which works pretty nicely and I’m told that they now distribute it without cost so the price is certainly right.  VictorSoft, a cost free reader is not in my opinion very good so, even though the price may be real good, the software still isn’t worth it.  FS Reader from Freedom Scientific is the best of the breed and, while I do not know its price, if you plan on using such a program often, it is well worth it.

2.       2. A Windows Mobile based cellular handset and a Copy of Mobile Speak Smartphone (MSS) from Code Factory (check a CF dealer for pricing on the screen reader and look for deals from mobile service providers for prices on phones).

 

I’ve long been an advocate of the Code Factory line of products and very strongly suggest that you try out an MSS or MSP based solution before looking at PAC Mate, BrailleNote or any of the other very pricey solutions.  If you plan on using such a device for heavy duty notetaking, I strongly recommend getting a Blue Tooth keyboard as the thumb based devices do not permit fast enough typing to do more than jot down a note, appointment or other short item.  If you are a Braille user, MSS and MSP support a variety of Blue Tooth Braille devices which take the notion of the PAC Mate removable Braille line a step further and a bit more convenient.

 

While I strongly prefer this solution to portable computing, many others tell me that they still like the feel of the devices designed specifically for blind users.  I have heard a lot of good stuff about Mark Mulcahey’s new GNU/Linux based handheld and I still believe in the PAC Mate and all of the off-the-shelf software available for it over the entirely BGG solutions.

 

3.        A really good tutorial for using Microsoft Word 2007 with a screen reader.

 

I have been a loyal user of Microsoft Word since version 3.0 for DOS which I bought at a Staples in Boston in 1986 and used on my ultra-fast 8 mhz 80286 based Epson AT clone.  I have used every version for DOS and Windows since and I’ve used a few Macintosh versions when I could still see a bit.  During that entire time, many keystrokes remained identical and, after 21 years of using them, they are burned into my neural pathways.  Thus, when I hit ALT+O, I expect to land in the Format menu as that’s what it has done for as long as I can remember.  In the past, I have complained that the Window-Eyes JAWS Keyboard simulation provides just enough compatibility to confuse the hell out of users and Microsoft Word 2007, with its claim of backward compatibility for keystrokes, is far worse.  There are aspects of Office 2007, like its contextual nature, that I like a lot but learning a pile of new keyboard commands is a real drag.

 

When I first got Office 2007, I listened to the excellent audio presentation Brian Hartgen did with JAWS, Window-Eyes and System Access.  For those struggling with Office 2007, I suggest looking at this one first.  Others may be in the making or may be out there that I haven’t encountered yet so please post a comment or send me an email if you know of such.

 

4.        A subscription to the System Access Mobile Network.

 

The System Access screen reader is quite good and updated frequently by Monster Matt Campbell with bug fixes and new features.  The network is worth the price for the DVS movies alone.  There’s not much more that I can say but give this product/service a ride and I think you will like it.

 

5.        A JAWS SMA

 

Sooner or later most blind users need to use JAWS and will likely need to use it on Vista in the near future.  An SMA costs a lot less than an upgrade and JAWS 9.0 is well worth the bucks, especially on Vista and in various Office applications.

 

6.        A 3D audio user interface for a screen reader.

 

I am currently working on an editor that will demonstrate many of these theoretical concepts but, while it will serve its specific purpose nicely, it is not a screen reader and will not provide multi-dimensional semantic information in mainstream applications.  I hope someone can pick up my work and port it to one of the open source screen readers to advance the research and, perhaps, the expensive AT products will give it a try after a while.

 

7.        Cities that start planning for and including people with disabilities in their plans and actual projects.

 

See yesterday’s post.

 

Well, that’s about all I can think of right now and it’s time for the dog and I to work off a bit of fat so I’ll end here.  Please send in your ideas for cool gadgets and other technology stuff that you would like to find under the tree this year.

 

n  End

 

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Chris. I definitely agree with the first suggestion. The Victor Reader Stream is the product of the year as far as I am concerned! I use it more than I thought I would and, in terms of Audible content, it is in my view the most flexible player accessible to us, particularly its variable speed capabilities.

In the UK, we now have access to Bookshare international, which gives some of the content available in the main Bookshare site. We do however have a range of DAISY books including over 12,000 from the RNIB talking book service and many hundreds in its non-fiction library. I can also make my own DAISY books easily enough from scanned books, so my Stream is definitely used a great deal.

I have just returned from visiting Freedom Scientific for a week and very much enjoyed it and the excellent weather you guys are having!

Keep the blog going in 2008.

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Mike Calvo said...

Hello BC:
The Stream is the best product on the market for us blinks this season. Screw Apple and that IPod! We have a stable, accessible, functional, reasonably priced, alternative. I can think of no reason every blind person that even thinks of MP3s shouldn't get behind this product. Let's get some support for DRM WMA like Napster etc. Even without DRM we can still purchase lots of MP3s from Amazon.

Hey thanks for mentioning SA Mobile Network. Remember readers that our Lifestyle package only costs $229 and includes SAToGo and also remote access to your home or office computer. You can also give our SAS (software as a service) for as little as $24.95 for everything we offer including SA for 2 computers, a U3 device, etc. Yes, remote access works with JFW and WindowEyes both. Unlike other companies we want blind people to have access and we don't care what AT product they use to do it. Well, as long as it's not HAL, for now.

Have a great and blessed Christmas. Remember that the true gift of Christmas is the gift of eternal life through our savior Jesus Christ. Hence Christmas. This is the actual reason for the season. At least it was for every year I grew up. It's only the last few years that the word "Christ" in Christmas has ticked people off and become quote "offensive." Well I am a loud overbearing American with freedom: (Oops did I say that word?) of speech.

God bless dude!

6:29 PM  
Blogger BlindChristian said...

Hi,

I got an email from Brian Hartgen to tell me that he made a mistake while posting the first comment to this topic. He accidentally hit the "Anonymous" radio button when he actually wanted to use the one that lets him type in his name.

Check out Brian's stuff at T & T consulting. His JAWS add-ons and audio material are quite worth the price as he is one of the leading experts in this field and clearly one of the best JAWS Script hackers on the planet.

-- cdh

7:20 AM  
Anonymous Jake said...

Hi BC. What a great Christmas list! I got an early Christmas present this year, which I already talked about briefly in an earlier comment. That present was a new Dell computer running Windows VISTA. Due to what appears to be a faulty electrical outlet in my new apartment I haven't been able to get online until very recently and my email is still not working. We are pretty sure the email problem is separate though and my father is going to spend some time over the holiday break trying to fix it. But other than that I think VISTA is well worth the bucks. I did a little bit of work with JAWS 9.0 and it seems to perform extremely well on here, but I had to run it in 40-minute mode for now at least. Regarding SA and the SA Mobile Network, I think these are both awesome! In fact I am pretty sure I will ask for a full copy of each for my birthday which is coming up next month. There seem to be some things that JAWS doesn't read and SA does. This happened to me recently when looking for something on a certain website. Regarding the Victor Reader, it sounds pretty cool and I would like to try it out sometime. Here's hoping you and your wife have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. All the best in 2008! Now let's hope this comment actually shows up!

4:23 PM  
Blogger Chairman Mal said...

Howdy Comrades!
I know Christmas is over, but following the Russian tradition, I often give gifts on the Epiphany. Should the Comrade Mother monitor this post, that Victor Stream sounds quite nifty, a great replacement for that old Book Port. In future, I’d like an automated, car that drives itself, preferably a Lincoln Town Car. A pair of gravitational lenses could also help out with distance vision. I still have a few patches of active rods and cones left. Happy New Year to Chris and his spouse and each and every BC reader.
Regards,
Chairman Mal
Power to the Peeps!

8:37 PM  

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