Friday, December 22

Exciting news from NFB Newsline

Greetings. Here’s an exciting announcement regarding accessing TV listings on Newsline. Incidentally, the NFB is using the same TV listing service that I’ve just switched to, for whatever that’s worth. Anyway, the system is very easy to use and is customizable to offer information on specific channels. In addition, you can move forward and back through the time slots, in the usual sentence navigation way on Newsline. You can navigate as far as a full day or more later than the time you started with. Also, if you’re traveling and don’t want to change your home TV channel setup, then you can use a temporary setup, which is very cool. I’ll still look up listings on the computer, but perhaps not as much when I start using this method more and more. Enjoy.

Breakthrough Technology Provides TV Listings to the Blind

Wonderful new Technology!
Free, On-Demand Service Available to Millions

Baltimore, Maryland (December 20, 2006): The National Federation of the Blind has partnered with Tribune Media Services to add television listings to NFB-NEWSLINE®, the nation's largest on-demand news service for the blind. Beginning today, blind and visually impaired Americans will have independent access to their local TV listings, all in one place, only a telephone call away.

Eric Duffy, a Columbus, Ohio native and blind parent of two children, said: "It is so important to find quality television programming for young children. Now I can choose appropriate TV shows for my children, just like any other sighted parent."

Garrick Scott, of Atlanta, Georgia, hosts a weekly sports talk show. "Watching sports is a huge part of my life, and this new capability makes it infinitely easier to find what I want to watch," Scott said.

By simply entering the zip code, source of TV reception, and time zone, blind users will have quick and easy access to their local TV listings. The listings are interactive, as the user can navigate and choose between date, time, and/or channel listings. After a user enters the local zip code, he or she is presented with a list of cable and satellite providers in the area. The user can also indicate the use of a television antenna.

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind said: "The sheer volume of information that blind persons will now have access to is astonishing. Finally, blind television viewers can find out what's on any channel, at any time, and within seconds. "

Over 50,000 NFB-NEWSLINE® subscribers already enjoy the free electronic newspaper service which carries 242 newspapers and magazines to 41 states and the District of Columbia. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and AARP The Magazine are among the many national and local newspapers offered. Subscribers have access twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, through a local or toll-free telephone number.

NFB-NEWSLINE® uses the Zap2it television listings, a product of Tribune Media Services and the leading source of entertainment listings in the country.

Individuals who are unable to read print due to a physical disability are eligible for this free service. To register or to request more information, call the National Federation of the Blind at (866) 504-7300, or visit them online at

Monday, December 18

Follow up on yesterday's review

Greetings. Another cool thing jumped to mind today about AVG Internet Security. I don't know if this is true for all of the AVG line of products, since I haven't used anything other than the Net security package, but it wouldn't surprise me. After updating itself with new virus or spyware definitions, AVG will do an automatic scan of the computer to make sure its not infected or afflicted by any of the new viruses or spyware. This is something that I'm pretty sure Norton never did, at least not in the regular home consumer edition. That helps me sleep better at night, to think that my security software is double checking the computer after updating itself. As a coworker of mine often says, "Wonderful!"

Sunday, December 17

Review of firewall and security software

Greetings again. Here’s a very raw and very brief review that I sent a friend on firewall and security software. I finally had had enough with Norton, and several weeks ago decided to try out some other software that I had heard of. Granted, this overview might not meet the qualities and standards for CNET or a computer magazine, but here it is anyway. Who knows, this might help someone else in the same circumstance. I’ll place links to the various software packages at the end. Enjoy.

Sure thing. Here are some additional thoughts based on what I've seen over the past few days. I've installed and uninstalled several different programs to see how well they would work and how I liked them. Granted, I didn't use the program for very long, since I was curious how the others looked and stacked up, but here's some initial impressions, along with my choice.

F-Secure. Having only read the review and with no other prior experience, I didn't know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. I was able to get much of the information about the product's security controls, such as virus protection, firewall status, antispam status, etc. On the down side, much of the information was in list views. This was good since it was accessible to me. What I couldn't figure out was how to get in and make changes to preferences or settings for doing different things, like handling viruses, setting firewall levels, and so forth. For what it does, it looked like a great product, but the inability to change the preferences or settings lost a few points in my book.

Microsoft's Windows Live OneCare. Out of the programs I tested, this was by far the cheapest. If obtained from Microsoft it is $49.95, if obtained from Costco, it is $32.99, or through January 1, there's an additional $20 discount. Going into my evaluations, I figured that this might be the one I would go for since it was good on the pocketbook. As with F-Secure, OneCare was very accessible. It tended to use web page like environments, where you could tab between various links for different things, like antivirus, firewall, computer maintenance, and so forth. The settings were accessible in a dialog box, which was better than F-Secure, from my limited testing. Over all, I really liked this product, and if I was not looking for something with spam filtering, then OneCare might very well have been the one I would have gone with. However, since I can get around 150 or 200, or more, spam emails a day, I was really looking for something to filter those messages, or at least identify them. A friend told me that there very well might be a spam filter in OneCare somewhere (she initially got me interested in it since she uses it), however she didn't know where it was or how it could be accessed. There are times you can find some nifty features in products, software, or websites if you only dig around a little. Anyway, if not for the lack of spam filtering, I would have gone with OneCare. It also has a sweet of computer maintenance features to it, that will clean up, defrag, and otherwise maintain your hard drive about once a month. Though this isn't a must have for me, it was definitely cool to see in a product.

AVG Internet Security. This was the last program I tried. The interface is very accessible, presenting most things in a dialog box format but it also has a menu bar. The installation and initial configuration were very accessible too, keeping the same dialog box approach. AVG has everything I'm looking for, including virus protection, a firewall, regular system scans for viruses and updating itself automatically, and spam filtering. It also can detect and remove spyware in addition to viruses. I found this last nugget particularly interesting. I'll still run Add-Aware or Spybot regularly to keep my computer covered and free of spyware, but its interesting to see that included in a product. All of this is very accessible. There's a spot in AVG, called the control center I believe, where everything is presented in a list, and if you hit the applications key on an item, it brings up a context sensitive menu with specific options relating to that item. I'm only a couple of days into the trial for AVG, but it looks like it wins the battle of the security software. AVG is the most expensive among the programs I tried, priced at about $70, but then again, so was Norton's Net Security. And besides, one could argue that you get what you pay for.

I should say again that I'm probably not the best reviewer of software there is, and I probably didn't evaluate long enough to make me credible. However, I was concerned with accessibility and making sure the packages had what I was looking for. The one thing that Norton's Antispam had that I absolutely loved was that it put an item in the applications menu called Norton Antispam. If there was ever a message that was identified as spam and wasn't, or vise versa, I could go into that Antispam item on the application key, and correct Norton's mistake. None of these products had anything like this. However, after creating some specific filters from the AVG identification of messages that were spam or had a virus, all of my spam and virus messages go into their own folder now. This was a major thing for me in my search, since its disheartening to open your Inbox after a day or two of not checking it, and to know that 85% of the messages in the inbox itself are spam. I'd rather all those messages go into a separate folder.

Addition: Incidentally, I'm still using AVG's Internet Security since I first wrote this review, and I still love it as much as when I wrote the review. I was poking around in its Control Center this morning, and found that it had isolated over 400 viruses in its Virus Vault, and several pieces of spyware in a similar storage area. I never looked to see how many viruses Norton had isolated, mainly because it was too daunting and complicated. The fact that AVG is still working just as hard during a trial as if I had already bought the program is a great sign. Before I leave for the Christmas break, I'm going to go ahead and get that package.

Finally, all of the products I checked out have trial periods. For AVG and F-Secure, its 30 days, but for Windows Live OneCare, its 90 days. Incidentally, Microsoft has decided to put AVG's free antivirus solution in the upcoming Windows Vista release, if that tells you anything.

Here are links to the software mentioned in this review:

Windows Live OneCare
AVG Internet Security


Greetings. I’ve been in a reflective mood this weekend, so as a result, this will be a reflective post. This will probably be my big annual look back post for 2006, so sit back and enjoy.

Its been quite a year. A lot has happened this year. Before I go over some of the highlights, or as I call them “snap shots,” for 2006 let’s rewind a little.

On November 1, 2005, the board of directors at the United Cerebral Palsy Association in Dallas, decided to close the agency that I was working at, and within a matter of a few days, everyone was laid off and in essence, locked out. On November 14 of 2005, I traveled to Austin for my big interview and demonstration for the technology instructor position. On December 15, I was given an offer which I gratefully accepted, and all of a sudden, I was employed again!

Now, for this year: in early January, my parents and I drove down to Austin to go apartment hunting. On January 20, we moved all of my stuff into my new apartment. And, on February 1, I started my new job at the state training center as a tech instructor.

I’ve thought about those dates often in the past month or so, thinking what happened on this or that day at certain times or where I was, and considering what I’m doing now. The new job of course, is perhaps the biggest highlight of this past year, and the one that most of the other highlights are tied to in some form or another.

Some other snap shots include the following, in no particular order: my time in immersion, or blindfold training; going tubing on the San Marcus river with other students and staff; the Louis Braille birthday party we had last February and hearing the center’s director do a Braille rap; the 2006 NFB convention in Dallas; observing and in the latter part of May, even co-teaching classes with another instructor; getting my own keyboarding class back in late March or early April; getting my first Windows class in August, and continuing to teach Windows until now; and more. I remember going to my first few meetings with a student, their counselor, and other staff, and how nervous I was the first few times when it came time to give my report. I’m better now, sort of, but I still get nervous from time to time, especially when I have to take someone out of a class. I hate denying anyone the opportunity to learn technology. I remember all the talks I’ve had with staff in the tech department about different topics, some relating to technology and students and some not so much. I remember the times I called some staff after hours, especially early on, when I wanted to ask them something or was worried about a particular situation. I remember back in April, when I went over to Geoff’s apartment to use his elliptical, and ended up talking with him for another couple of hours after the 15 minutes of doing exercises.

I remember going to pay my own taxes in April, and having the tax preparation person tell me when I was leaving, “See you next year.”

Though its not a pleasant thing to think about, considering how things ended, I remember Tony, my former guide dog. I enjoyed having Tony here with me from when we moved down to September 1 when he died. I remember when I was moving into the apartment, Tony was going around to the various parts of the place, checking things out, laying down in different spots, and then getting up to move on to another spot to try. My Mother reported at one point that Tony was in the closet and you could see only his head sticking out. I remember how Tony always greeted me when I came home from work. I always left the TV on for him, though he never did tell me what he learned from watching or listening to the different shows. He learned a lot though, since he watched Biography and the Texas Cable News channels. I remember getting Kathi to take care of Tony when I was in Dallas. I remember taking him over to her house, and letting him explore her backyard, which he did about 3 different times before he was satisfied. And, though its sad to think about, I remember that day—the day that Tony left me. Even over three months removed, I can still see how everything seemed to fit together that day, so that I was never alone for very long. Whether I was on the bus coming home, with Jack when we raced to the vet and later went to lunch, sitting in my apartment with my music going in the background, or talking with some people on the phone about what had happened. One of the hardest things I had to do that day was tell my Mom what had happened when Jack and I were at lunch. Up until then I was feeling okay about things. I knew what happened of course, but to have to put it into words for someone else is something totally different. I also remember Jack asking me how I felt, and then saying, “Never mind,” when he saw the look on my face. And, along with those things, I remember my parents coming down for the weekend to be with me. That really helped. I still think of Tony often, and even have been dreaming about him once or twice a month or more, but that first weekend with my parents here really helped me get a lot of that emotion out.

I remember going home for Thanksgiving and how much of a rest and recharging event that was. I had not thought a lot about vacations up until that point. After those few days where I could sleep in and relax, well, suddenly vacations don’t look so bad. Perhaps I’ll even take one next year at some point.

I remember going to the graduations for students that I had taught before and feeling proud of what they had accomplished. As it happens, there’s another graduation this Wednesday where at least seven out of the 12 or so graduates were my students at one time or another. This is the first time that I’ve had such a connection with that many students in a graduation ceremony before. It will be good to see them achieve their final goal of graduating. However, it will also be sad to see them leave, but such is the routine of the rehabilitation system: a constantly revolving door of people coming and going. I have thought a lot in the last few months of what I will have to say in about 5 years of watching this revolving door, and remembering the students, the struggles, the high points, and so forth.

I’m sure that there are things I’m missing from 2006, but those are the things that come immediately to mind. Its truly been an interesting year. There’s one more connection with this year that is truly remarkable: 20 years ago, I lost my sight. True, the loss of a sense may not be remarkable in itself, but what would my parents, friends, teachers, and least of all, me, say if someone had told anyone of them that I would be teaching computers at a state training center and where I’d be now, if they were told this back in the fall of 1986? I can’t speak for all the others, but my response would probably be something like, “What???”

So, cheers for a great 2006 and an even better 2007. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours. Everyone stay safe, make resolutions that you might keep, and we’ll see you in January, where who knows what will happen.