Wednesday, January 31

JAWS and Windows Vista

Greetings. For those interested in how JAWS is used with Windows Vista, then download or stream the following FS Cast episode 2: Windows Vista with JAWS. I've just downloaded it to my computer and its about 30 MB in size. I'm off to check it out. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 30

Exciting offer from Book Share

Greetings. I was listening to a live broadcast for the National Association of Blind Students’ Student Seminar a couple of days ago, and heard an item that might interest some readers of this blog. Until March 1 I believe, Book Share is offering the waving of their $25 set up fee for new subscribers, provided you mention that you heard the offer at the NABS Student Seminar. This brings the first year cost down from $75 to $50, with the usual $50 fee each year. Simply
email support at BookShare dot org,
and tell them that you’re interested in becoming a new subscriber and want to take advantage of this offer.

To date, they have nearly 31,000 books ranging from best sellers, to self help, to technical, to textbooks, and all points in between. They also offer many of the newspapers from NFB Newsline in DAISY form. You need to have a program or product that will read DAISY files, but many of them do these days, such as FS Reader from Freedom Scientific, the Kurzweil 1000, and some of the portable reading devices such as the Book Port and Book Courier. In other words, now is a great time to join. Traditionally, they’ve only made this offer during the summer convention season in June and July, but don’t wait until then—jump on it now!

For more information on becoming a member of Book Share, refer to the page on individual memberships.

Sunday, January 28

The future of Windows

Greetings. Well, its almost here. Windows Vista has been slated for consumer release on January 30, which by my calendar is this Tuesday. If you are interested in such things, the weekly Internet show Main Menu, on ACB Radio, will be taking a comprehensive look at Vista. The program airs this Tuesday evening in the States at 7 CST and will be a rare 3 hour show. They will have guests from Microsoft, Serotek (makers of Freedom Box) and GW Micro (Window-Eyes), that will review Vista from an accessibility perspective. To listen, go to the
Mainstream page at ACB Radio,
and look under the Listen heading on that page. Then just click on the listen link for your player of choice. If you miss it, then you can catch the replay on the Mainstream channel next weekend. Or, after next Sunday, check out the
Main Menu On-Demand archives.

Incidentally, if you want to stay with XP Home or media Center for just a little while longer, Microsoft has said that they will still offer tech support for them until April of 2009. I believe the support for XP Professional extends until 2011. So, if you don’t want to rush out right away and grab Vista, then you’ve got some time.

If, on the other hand, you do want to get Vista soon, its probably a good bet to wait at least until the summer, in order to let all the initial bugs with your adaptive software to be worked out. Also, to let Microsoft patch anything from the start. From a piece I read earlier on a blog, it looks like Microsoft will be issuing some round of patches for Vista in March, aside from their normal monthly patches which has become known as “patch Tuesday.”

If you’re computer’s more than 2 years old, do yourself a favor and buy a new system. Think of it this way: which is more costly: buying a new computer, or spending lots of money trying to upgrade your old machine for a totally new operating system? Besides, if you buy a new one, you can eliminate some things you used to depend upon, like floppy drives.

Whenever you do get a new machine and want to transfer your data from the old to the new, check out the
Windows Easy Transfer utility for Vista.
It might make things easier for you.

It’s going to be interesting to watch the various media reports over the next few months on Vista. It will also be interesting to hear how Freedom Scientific plans to have JAWS support Vista. On the last big Main Menu show of a new operating system, which was Windows XP back in 2001, Freedom Scientific was part of it. This time though, for Vista, they are not. They have elected to put out their JAWS support for Vista in the form of their new podcast, called
FS Cast.
It will be different and kind of odd not to hear them on the Main Menu show this Tuesday. I’m not sure what to make of this decision by them. On one hand, its kind of exclusive for them to not put out their support in the public. After all, Main Menu has become one of the benchmark technology shows in the blindness community. If an Assistive Technology company has a new or an updated product, then they’re likely to use Main Menu as publicity for that product. Perhaps Freedom Scientific is waiting until CSUN in March, or the summer convention season in July, to publicly unveil their support for Vista.

Any way you slice it, the next few months will be interesting to watch, from a mainstream technology perspective as far as how well Vista will perform, to an assistive one. It should be fun.

Wednesday, January 17

Austin weather update

Greetings. Well, its day 3 of the winter storm, and like yesterday and Monday, there’s no work. We’re done with the winter storm/freeze warning, but now there’s a winter advisory until 7, whatever that means. Basically, the roads are still icy in many places and its still cold. The temperature is supposed to get up to 35, so at least we can start melting away some of the ice. The problem though is that the city is running low, or has already run out, of the sand and other de-icing material they used in the last couple of days. In other words, anything that’s icy now or may get icy tonight, won’t be able to be de-iced until they get more materials in. I wonder, what are the chances that the very truck that’s bringing more sand to the Austin area for the roadways, ends up spinning out and crashing? Forgive the morbid thought, but that sounds like a possible Darwin award.

From my perspective, we were told that the state offices would open at 1 today. Upon checking the Capitol Metro (or transit service) website, I learned that the busses were running on a “reduced schedule,” but I couldn’t find any definition of what that meant. I tried calling the Cap Metro number, but got busy signals each time. Since this is my first real winter in Austin, I don’t yet know what “reduced schedules” are. Do they mean Saturday schedules? Sunday schedules? Or, in the words of one of my coworkers, does the bus just come once an hour? I have no idea. The Saturday and Sunday departure times for where I catch the bus are about 20 minutes apart. However, remember, we’re still talking about temps around 32 or 33. Who wants to stand outside for 20 or 30 minutes, or longer, in 32 degree weather? I sure don’t.

I talked to my boss about this and we wondered if I just go take that shot in the dark, banking on the fact that the bus would stop when it did come. However, if I missed it, after waiting who knows how long then do I wait for the next one which might be an hour away, or go home? It’s a perplexing problem. Times like these might make me wish I had a car that I could drive in, but then the issue would be icy roads and bridges. Fortunately though, I soon learned that the message on the phone line for weather closures, had been updated and all offices were closed for the day.

All this will probably be over by tomorrow, since the temp is supposed to get into the upper thirties. Then again, since there are no materials for de-icing, who knows.

One more question: since there’s a chance we might go back to work tomorrow and have at a least a day and a half or two days of classes for the week, will students still complain about going to class, or try to get out of going to class?

Tuesday, January 16

Ice and sleet in Austin?

Greetings. Well, its day 2 of the big Austin ice/freezing rain event. Word around town is that this doesn’t happen that often, like maybe once every few years. However, it has managed to shut down the city for 2 days running, and perhaps more according to the news. First Dallas got it (perhaps someone else had it before Dallas, but since I’m still very plugged into the major happenings in Dallas, that’s where I’m starting from), and now Austin and Central Texas has it. I still stand by the “10:00 back down theory” that I mentioned in December of 2005. Word of the pending bad weather started last Friday, and as we went through the weekend, I began to suspect that things would shut down come Monday. I didn’t figure that it would be for 2 or 3 days though., I don’t remember anything like this happening in Dallas, where the city was essentially shut down for several days. I do remember hearing of some ice or snow storms that hit in the mid or early eighties that shut things down though.

Anyway, everyone’s at home in their warm houses or apartments. The outside temperature is hovering around 32 or so, but its going to dip down below that point over night and word is that more freezing rain and sleet is coming. We’ve got a freeze or winter storm warning that currently goes through noon tomorrow.

Even though yesterday was a Holiday, we were supposed to go into work and have a semi-normal class day. However, those that did go in were sent home at 11. I find it funny and interesting that a majority of the blind staff were able to go into work, but there was a number of sighted staff that did not. Logic dictates that since the blind take busses, and thus have more reliable transit than the sighted who have to drive in this mess, some of whom come from areas with lots of icy roads. But its still funny.

Another aspect of this event that I find interesting is that the residential staff, or staff that handles activities inside the Center outside of business hours, are staying at the Center. I suppose that they were warned ahead of time and could plan accordingly. I guess all of this is standard stuff, but I’ve never had to deal with it before. Until now, I’ve simply not gone to work on bad weather days and that was it. I never thought of the implications in a rehab training environment, much less at a training center where all the students and even some staff stay on the premises.

I went outside a couple of hours ago to check things out and see how icy or snowy it was at my complex. There was some ice and sleet on the ground, but not as bad as I thought it would be. Though I’m not willing to chance that good fortune and go to much further with those other possible icy spots and patches. It was probably more icy this morning before cars got out and drove around.

It’s been nice having some days off, but I think that by the time this is over, I’ll be ready to go back to work and get back to normal. Until then, I’ve got a TV with digital Cable, a high speed Internet connection, and a warm apartment. If you’re in the Central Texas area, then stay warm. If not, then well, perhaps you’re lucky, :)

Friday, January 5

More Vista stories

Greetings. In going through the long list of month old New York Times Technology stories that appear on their RSS feed, I found two that are related to the upcoming consumer release of Windows Vista, and might be worth the read. Here they are:

Looks, Locks, and Lacks. Okay, so this isn't the name of the article. But it is a phrase the article uses and I liked the sound of it. This one covers some of the possible plusses and minuses of Windows Vista.

Vista is ready. Are you? This article covers some of the upgrade requirements if you want to upgrade to Vista on your current computer. If your system is 3 or 4 years old, it might be easier to buy a new computer, which is what I'm going to do most likely. Besides, if you have it custom made, as many manufacturers will do if you order the computer from them directly, then you can cut out things that you used to use, such as floppy drives.

Though this final entry is not directly related to Vista, it does cover a software suite that will likely be in your Vista computer. From Paul Thurrott, the same reviewer who did that multi-part review of Windows Vista, comes his review of Office 2007. Like the Vista review, this one has been divided into 5 parts and will likely have additional sections to them. He has just started this one, so bookmark it so you can check back on his progress. I'm guessing that he will fill in the gaps over the next few weeks.

Enjoy and happy reading.