Tuesday, June 28

PAC Mate, Humanware, and Everyone Else

Today, Freedom Scientific released their PAC Mate version 3.0 software. This version has been advertised
and touted for several months, so its good to see that they have finally released it. Freedom scientific have also released JAWS version 6.2, which is
a free update to existing 6.1 and 6.0 customers. These two events are significant because, among other things, you can use your PAC Mate to drive your
PC or laptop with JAWS 6.2! Read more about this new use of the PAC Mate and JAWS on the Freedom scientific site.

Yesterday, Humanware announced their new line of products, based on the Braillenote model, called Braillenote mPower. Read about this on the official
press release.

The debate of which is better, the Braillenote or the PAC Mate, will continue for likely quite awhile. Granted, the following is coming from a dedicated
PAC Mate user, and a former Braillenote user, I hope you'll consider it all the same. Here it is: It's interesting the number of Windows CE related devices
that were out two years ago (only the Braillenote and the PAC Mate), compared to the number of Windows CE/Pocket PC devices that are out now, which, aside from the ones already mentioned, include
offerings from: Humanware, Dolphin, GW Micro, Code Factory, and probably others. IMO, these devices came out in direct competition to the PAC Mate. Obvious
statement? Sure. But consider this: if all these devices are out and are competing against the PAC Mate, then its only natural to conclude that the PAC
Mate is doing something right. Competition is good, it can make good products better, or improve ones that may not be as good. However, and here's more
biased opinions, I think that the PAC Mate will ultimately win out.

Included in the new PAC Mate version, among other things, are: complete support for the AOL Instant Messenger, and support for several deaf-blind solutions
which are out or will be out by the end of the year. We'll see what the "competition" does.

Monday, June 27

The Disappearing Cassette Tape

Check out this article from the BBC entitled Not Long Left for Cassettes.

As for me, I can truthfully say that pretty much the only tapes I listen to anymore are on my 4-track National Library Services tape player, also called a talking book machine. I've got probably dozens of tapes that are just sitting in my closet, but which I'll never listen to. However, I've got a lot of memories in those tapes, and will likely never get rid of them. They're kind of like audio albums.

Back in the day, I remember going down to the corner music shop, which for a long time was Music Wharehouse, and picking up the latest tape from my favorite group. Now, I just go to my favorite online store and order the CD.

For those that can appreciate tapes, take a moment and reflect on how the cassette tape has affected you.

Farewell tapes; you have contributed and you will be missed.

NFL Football version 2

Jim Kitchen has released version 2 of his NFL Football game. Included in this version, in addition to the "bug fixes":

- Ability to check the game clock (F4)
- Ability to toggle comments made by the announcer voice (F8)
- And, the ability to control various volumes in the game, such as both quarterbacks, punters, play-by-play, and the game sounds (F11)

I just finished a game with the new version and I set the game sounds volume several notches lower than normal. It gave me the impression of the announcer being in a booth high above the action. It was quite cool.

My only disappointment was that I lost a close game with my Cowboys (0-1) verses the Saints (1-0), by a score of 19-16. It came down to the wire too. And, might I say, that the ability to check the game clock came in mighty handy, especially inside the two minute warnings.

Another great job Jim on the game!

Thursday, June 23

Same Song, Different Verse

Thanks to Ron Graham for bringing this to my attention. If you thought that bad Paratransit experiences only happen in one particular location, consider this.

Darrell Shandro recently had an unfortunate Paratransit experience, similar to the ones I've written about here. Read all about it on Darrell's Blog, on the June 22, 2005 entry. You can judge for yourself whether Darrell's actions and the actions from the Paratransit company have actually fixed the experience he had.

Monday, June 20

Save rehabilitation!

On May 26, 2005, the National Federation of the Blind hheld a ralley near the Department of Education building to protest the "consolladation" of rehabilitation services and the Rehabilitation Services Administration. There is an effort by the Department of Education (DOE) to dismantle the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and consolladate many of the rehabilitation services that disabled people have come to know and expect from their local and state rehabilitation agencies.

To put it in plain English: think about the training that you got to learn how to live as a blind person; think of the on the job training you might have received from the agency; or, think of the assistive technology or the wheelchair that your rehabilitation caseworker helped you get, and which has increased your independence.

If these mean anything to you, then please consider contacting your senator and other people at the DOE and letting them know what this might mean for you and future people with disabilities. This issue doesn't just affect the blind, but all people with disabilities. The NFB's News Page has all the information you will need. The relevant news will be in the first heading section, a little bit down the page. Please contact your senators by phone or email and let them know how this will affect you or people you know. The NFB page will give you all the necessary language, such as bill name and number assignments, so you can communicate them to the people you contact.

If you need proof of what rheabilitation can do for someone with a disability, then: visit a federal building and its associated cafeteria. See that blind man or woman at the cash register? Its because of the RSA and rehabilitation that that blind person even could get that job. Or, consider the high school student who might be in a wheelchair, but who graduated at the top of their class.

Don't wait; do this ASAP!

Monday, June 13

My Football Season Has Begun

No, I'm not crazy. Jim Kitchen has released a text-to-speech Windows oriented football game for the PC. I've been waiting a long time for an accessible football game, and now one has been developed. As with all of Jim Kitchen's games, this is free. If you're interested, you can view and download any of Jim's games. Note that this page is for the text-to-speech Windows games that Jim has. There are other pages of games on his site.

I really like the football game though. It reminds me of the old DOS based football game, in fact, this Windows version has many of the same plays as the DOS version had. This version also includes: crowd noise, cheering, sounds of players hitting and tackling each other, and other noises. There are some things I would change/improve, such as add a feature to check how much time is left in each quarter, so that I can better plan my plays. I would also add a control for the crowd volume, or perhaps add a volume control for the speech synthesizers. There were quite a few times that I had to lean in close to my computer speakers to hear what the play-by-play voice was saying. Over all though, a great attempt at a classic game.

Now we get to the really exciting stuff: this new Windows version can keep track of a season schedule, and if you're good enough, follow your progress through the post season (playoffs) and if you're really good, into the Superbowl.

I chose the Cowboys as my team that I play, and after 2 games, I am 0-2. Though they've been games I've lost, I have played great defense, not allowing many points (10 in the first game and 13 in the second). But, when it's all said and done, only the W's and L's really count. However, I have confidence that I can come out with a good record. We'll have to see how good.

Anyway, for those interested, I can provide updates on how I'm doing in my own football season. Also, for those interested, this updated football game use all 32 teams, in the most recent configuration of conferences, where each region of each conference has 4 teams. I suppose that since the Cowboys have lost their first two games, that the record thus far is true to life, at least with regards to the opening season records for Cowboys teams in the last few years, :)

Thanks Jim Kitchen for finally doing what many (including myself) have wanted someone to do for some time: coming up with an accessible and enjoyable football game. If you love football and can't get enough of it between July and February, then I highly recommend this game!

Saturday, June 11

"It's About Time!"

Greetings. I haven't blogged in awhile, mainly because I have not had a lot to say, but today I do. I want to recount another experience on the Paratransit ride this afternoon.

I was to be picked up after the local meeting of the National Federation of the Blind's Dallas Chapter. My pick up time was supposed to be between 3:15 and 3:35. I should mention as explanation that the Paratransit has what they call the 20-minute window, menaing that you have to be out and ready to board anytime in that 20-minute window. Of course, you only have 5 minutes to board from whenever they pull up, even if its not in that initial window, but that's the system for you.

Anyway, my pick up was supposed to be between 3:15 and 3:35. I waited inside the restaurant that the NFB group meets at till about 3:15 and then I went outside. As another explanation, I live in good old, but hot, Dallas, Texas. Its officially summer here, even if its not on the calendar. Its summer when it gets to 90 degrees or higher on successive days, and when there's only a slim to none chance of rain, as there has been over the past week or so. So, its officially summer here. And, unlike other locations, summer for Dallas people may last into September or October, before an actual cool down might happen. Summer is probably the only time in the year when you can check the weather on Monday, and pretty much know what the weather will be like for that week. I mean really, is there much difference between no rain and 95 degrees, and no rain and 106 degrees?

Anyway, getting back to the story at hand, I went outside at 3:15. At about 3:35, I called the Paratransit hotline and was informed that my driver had a mishap with another rider who had groceries, and was "... only 5 minutes away, and they'll be there in about 10 minutes at most." I suppose I need not say that they were not there in 10 minutes. In reality, I called back at around 3:55, and was pretty much told the same thing. And, I called a third time at 4:15, and was pretty much told the same thing, at least with regards to the 5 minutes away part. By the time the third call came around, I had been waiting outside in the Texas heat for nearly an hour. I wasn't angry with the person I spoke with, because I know that things happen. However, I did make it clear that I was frustrated. However, to give the operator credit, he did "... apologize for the delay." He then tells me to wait another 5 or 6 minutes, but before he hung up, I told him, "Ok, I'll wait another 5 minutes. And, then if my ride doesn't show up, I'll call you back a forth time." I'm not sure if what I said had any affect on my ride being late, but the driver did pull up a few minutes after I hung up the third time.

It takes a lot to really get me frustrated enough to complain to Paratransit. I don't think I will this time, except on this blog, :) So, if you drive for a Paratransit like service, please note the following: "Its always a good idea to arrive when you are scheduled to, and not an hour later."