Monday, July 20

The History channel and l8r Discovery r running shows about moon missions tonight.
Just watched 1969 tv coverage of moon landing and walk. Cool!

Saturday, July 18

Interesting story from a blind iPhone owner

Greetings. I came across this post to the Blind Phones email list regarding the new iPhone 3GS, which is reported to be "accessible." I applaud Apple for building in accessibility in a screen reader and appropriate gestures to read and activate things on the screen, however, the nature of the phone as a touch screen leaves me a little skeptical of how practical it really is. Even though I've got a colleague at work who is excited about the possibility and saving her money for one, and even though a student yesterday in one of my classes was really encouraging me to take a look at one (even after I had spoken to him with another teacher of our skepticism), I'm waiting until I can actually get a look at one and see for myself. I've got my Nokia N82 and am quite happy with it. However, here's one person's experience. In short, they used the new iPhone for about a month and ended up returning it to the store and going back to their N82. Read more about it at Enjoy, and think about it before you buy.

Blog comments and communication

Greetings. For those that choose to make comments on any post on this blog, take note of the following. While Blogger is supposed to email me and give the option of publishing or rejecting the comments, so I can weed out any potential spam, that doesn't always happen. I say this because earlier, in browsing the main blog's area for making new posts, accessing settings and the like, I saw a message that there were 18 comments which have yet to be moderated. As I'm going through some of them, I'm finding comments from as recent as earlier this month, to as far back as January this year or even further. If you need to get in touch with me, putting a comment here may not be the best way. In fact, given that I don't go through the comments on the Blogger side and moderate them very often, I'd actually say that if you are content wiht hardly ever receiving a response from me, then commenting here is the best way. However, if you actually have a concern, question about a technical gadget or computers, or want to ask something else, then please use another method. I'm on many different email lists and certainly don't mind receiving off list emails from people. Though I prefer not to put my email address on the web, I will in this post, more or less. Another good way to get in touch would be to fill out the feedback form on my site, linked below in the Sites to Watch section. Those forms go directly to me. If you want a response back, then replace what's in the subject with something like "Please contact me," and I will. So, for those that want to get in touch with me directly, here's the one and only time I'll put my email address out there, at least in this form. I try and limit the times it's out there to try and control any potential spam. Take note of how it's written and convert that into how they're usually written, remembering to remove the star (*) symbol. It is:

wcmerritt *at* gmail* dot* com*

Again, trying to trick the computerized bots that troll the web harvesting email addresses.

One other note on commenting: If you put your email address in your comment, it will not be filtered out when your comment is published. Further, it could be harvested by these computerized bots and you could begin getting more spam. So in shorrt, take note before you write your email in these comments. Remember, once I approve them to be published, anyone on the web can read them. Again, for private communication with me, either use the email above or fill out the feedback form on my site, which will both go directly to me. I'm not trying to discourage comments, but don't want to miss any private messages that might come through them, that could have gotten to me in other ways. Thanks.

Mobile posting

Greetings. I've added the ability for me to post via text message. I tried to write this in a post, but found that Blogger cut off most of the message and only showed the last two lines. Guess I need to not write novels each time I send messages from my cell phone. Anyway, I looked at Twitter, but figured that this would be easier since I already have a blog and since blogger has added this feature at some point in the last few months. I wish I knew of this or that it was out there when I went to train at The Seeing Eye last fall, but oh well. I'm not sure i'll use this a lot, but it will be handy for when I'm out of town or away from my computer, such as perhaps during the trip to Florida I'm taking with my family in a couple of weeks. Talk later.

Another person blogging at The Seeing Eye

Greetings. I love reading posts or blogs from someone who is currently in training for their guide dog. Such is the case with Stacey and her time at The Seeing Eye starting today and going for the next few weeks. She's returning for a successive dog, so her stay won't be as long as for a new dog, but nonetheless you can read more on her Live journal blog which I've listed in my bookmarks as Stacey's Seeing Eye training. She has some posts already there leading up to when she left last night to travel to New Jersey, and she promises to post during her training. Whenever I read a blog like this, it reminds me of when I went for Gucci last August. Can't believe that was almost one year ago; there's a trip to remember. Hopefully she'll continue posting about her adventures with "new dog" after she returns home. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 15

Overdue horseback riding update

Greetings. Sorry for not putting up an update recently about my horseback riding. For whatever reason, after I get home and rest, I get distracted and have forgotten to update everyone on my progress. Well, here's a summary of what we've worked on in the last month. I didn't go on July 4th due to the holiday.

We've been working on counting steps around the arena. I learned by doing this that the arena is 14 by 28 steps square, or rectangle as it is. We counted steps when both Paint was walking slow and a little faster and came up with more or less the same numbers. I've learned from a volunteer that the reason for this is to work up to having me ride in the arena without any front or side walkers. Back in June, Brenda had one of her teenage volunteers stand in one part of the arena and talk. The first time this happened the girl didn't know what to talk about, and pretty much just said hi to me each time we got close to her. The next Saturday, Brenda gave her a book on dressage to read aloud. A little while into the lesson, when passing her, the girl said that she was learning so much about dressage that she didn't realize before. Brenda said that this would help me get a feel for how large the arena was, and more of an idea of distances. Last weekend I wasn't able to ride Paint, due to him recovering from surgery, so I spent the time learning more about grooming and leading him in the arena. When leading, I learned how to turn right and turn left. The concept of pushing him to the right for all right turns took me a little while to fully grasp. I was confused and thought that Brenda said to use this pushing method for both turns, even if we're going counter clockwise, but I later learned that this wasn't the case. When walking around the arena, Brenda asked one of the teenage volunteers to tap each of the lettered cones she had out for dressage. She has also set out a radio near the gate, so that on one end I hear the radio and the other end I hear the girl reading the dressage book. This has worked out quite well in helping me get my bearings in the arena, and leads me to think that this might be how things are when I ride solo. Right before leaving when talking with Brenda, I heard one of the other students there, an autistic girl, whinny like a horse. I said to Brenda, "Wow, that's an interesting sounding horse you have; and it sounds so human but it made a horse sound. Hmm." The whinny ended in a laugh, so that's kind of a dead giveaway. Anyway, I'll try to get back to regular updates. This weekend I'm not sure if I'll go riding, perhaps might put an errand in the riding's place, but I'm definitely going on July 25 before a break in the first 2 Saturdays in August. Until then.

Tuesday, July 14

Labs and text messaging with the Google Calendar

Greetings. IN part, I read earlier on the official Gmail Blog that Labs features are being added to the Google Calendar. I've stated before on this blog that many of the Labs features are what I consider fluff, such as a background image or putting colored labels on different emails. However, there are a couple of features that jumped out at me and actually looked helpful. Now you can access some of these on the Google Calendar. As features go, these are experimental things and may or may not work. It's like Google is testing the feature before they go live as it were on the application itself. The two things I saw and quickly enabled in my Google Calendar Labs settings were: jump to date and view next appointment. The Google Calendar could stand for some accessibility improvements as it is, but after some browsing around, it's not too hard to figure out what's what. After I saved my settings and was taken back to the Google Calendar page, I was pleased with the results. Apparently, a heading is placed on the Next Appointment area, which is good. And, the jump to date area is a series of combo boxes where you can choose the month, day and year of the date you want to go to, be it in the past or the future. In other words, at first glance, it looks pretty accessible and usable by a blind guy who is using screen reading technology. Now, if Google would only carry over some of the Labs features from Gmail, or as stated before on this space, combine the Basic HTML with the Standard interface without losing any accessibility, then all would be right wiht the world. So thanks to the Google Calendar people for adding some Labs features to their application. I look forward to more.

Text messaging: If you go into your Google account settings area, you can now add the ability to have Google send a text message to your cell phone with a password reset code/reminder if you forget your password. Of course, this assumes you can access and read text messages on your phone. However, in this day and age of more cell phones being accessible with all of the software and different types of phones out there, this is a good move. Also, in the Google Calendar, you can check your calendar via text message, or even schedule via text message. Read more in the Google Calendar Help area for how this works. Good on you Google Calendar people!

Tuesday, July 7

Gmail out of beta?

Greetings. I read earlier today on several Google related blogs that many of their applications are out of their beta cycles. This includes Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and others. Given that Gmail has been "in beta" since 2004, it's about time. My big question now is this: if Gmail is out of beta, when will those who use the Basic HTML interface start seeing some of the enhancements, new features, and "Lab only features" that have been in the Standard interface for some time now? Granted, many of the Lab only stuff is what I call "fluff." For instance, I don't have a lot of use for colored labels since I cann't see the colors. However, there are some Lab only things that I could find uses for and would find helpful, such as applying more than one label to a post at one time. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone from Google or Gmail that could answer this? Or, here's something, how about combining the Standard and Basic HTML interfaces and making one big interface that has enough glitz for the sighted people, but that also is accessible with plenty of headings and other HTML elements to enhance navigation with a screen reader or other AT product? I understand the benefits and uses of having a separate site that's "accessible," however why not be inclusive as well and accommodate everyone equally? After all, that's one of the big goals with many disabled people, to be treated on equal grounds as those who are "normal." So, how about it Google?

Friday, July 3

Using your PAC Mate as a Jaws Authorization

Greetings. I received the following information via an email list. I posted this, or something similar to it, back in 2005 but it's probably time for a reset. I'm not certain, but I believe this works best if you're using PAC Mate versions before the Omni. I believe you can accomplish the same thing with the Omni, but have to use a Bluetooth connection. Not sure on that though. Perhaps someone can post a reply with those steps. Anyway, enjoy.


Did you know that if you own a PAC Mate you also own a copy of Jaws for
the PC? Your PAC Mate acts as an authorization. This is something not a
lot of people are aware of but there are times when it can come in
handy. The option is called "Active Sync Remote PAC Mate". Not only does
it allow you to use Jaws on a PC but it also allows you to use the
keyboard and c display from the PAC Mate to control the PC.

The following steps will get you started:

1. Install Jaws. You must use a version later than 6.2 for this to work
properly. You don't need to activate the Jaws but you can if you wish

2. Establish an active sync session between the PC and the PAC Mate.

3. From ere there are 2 ways to go. There is a program included with
Jaws called Pac Mate Desktop. This needs to be running before this will
work. You can run this directly from the Start Menu, Programs, JawsX [X
being the version of Jaws you have installed], tools, PAC Mate Desktop.
If you want this program to automatically start when your computer does
then you need to start Jaws. Press JawsKey J to move to either the Jaws
window or the Context menu. Go to the Options menu, locate Basics and
press enter. Tab until you hear "automatically start PAC Mate Desktop"
and make sure the check box is checked. Press Enter to exit the Basics
dialog. Now exit Jaws.

4. Your PAC Mate has a built in command for starting Jaws. Note that if
you don't do it this way Jaws will not recognize the PAC Mate as an
Authorization. To start Jaws press Insert Shift F4 on the QX. Press
DOTS 1-2-7-8 CHORD, D or DOTS 1-5-7-8 CHORD, D. Your PAC Mate will say
"PAC Mate remote mode on" and Jaws will start. You now have control of
your PC through the PAC Mate and a fully authorized Jaws.

If you wish to use the PAC Mate functions you can turn off the Remote
Mode with the same keystrokes you turned it on with. This will not shut
down Jaws on the PC and you can still use Jaws with the PC keyboard.

To stop working in remote mode, press Insert F4 on the PAC Mate if you
have the QX. If you have the BX press DOTS 1-2-8 CHORD, D or DOTS 1-5-8
CHORD, D. You will hear "Do you really want to quit JAWS? Press Enter to
quit now or Escape to cancel." Press ENTER to unload JAWS from the PC
and the PAC Mate returns to normal mode.

Note that because the BX does not have many of the keys necessary to
control a PC alternatives have been set up. See your PAC Mate BX
documentation for more details.

Thursday, July 2

The Booksense makes sense

Greetings. I have yet to place my order for this new and exciting device, and I'm already posting about it here on my blog. The Booksense is one of the newest book reading/MP3 playing devices out there. Rather than me ramble through lots of features, let me point you to two resources. The first is a Comparison chart between the Booksense, VR Stream, and Plextalk Pocket and the Booksense Unvailing (MP3 file direct download link). Both of these will give you more than enough information on this new product.

I initially read over the comparison chart out of curiosity, to see how the Booksense would stack up against the Victor Reader Stream. However, I found myself going over sections of the chart several times to make sure I was reading it right. Shortly after I had finished, I was on the phone with a local dealer of GW Micro products asking about pricing and other features. The price for the Booksense XT might seem a little high at $499, but given that all you get, and add on the discount they're running till September 30 where they're taking off $50 of the XT price and $35 from the Booksense Standard's price, it more than makes up for it. So, below is a summary of some of the key features or distinguishing characteristics of the Booksense, at least compared to the Sttream, and other notes. This is not an exaustive list, but these are some of the things that jumped out at me. Check out the two links above for more details.

* Wording: the dealer told me that the Booksense is still under development to a degree and the manufacturer's are working on some of the wording in certain parts of it. Nothing big, but coming from the perspective of a computer teacher, there are some terms used that are usually used with Windows, and the way you interact with said item differs from how you might do it in Windows. The Booksense is not a computer, but I couldn't help but notice this conflict.
* Battery life: the Booksense runs for 12 hours, verses the Stream which runs for 15 hours. I haven't timed my Stream from start to finish, so I don't know if I actually play it for the full 15 hours. However, given that this is really the only major problem I have with the Booksense, and that the pros listed below more than make up for the battery life, I can deal with it.

Now, here's some of the pros that I found interesting:

* Folder names: the names of the folders where you put your reading material or audio files make more sense than the Stream. For instance, instead of calling the music folder VrMusic, on the Booksense, it's simply called Music. What a concept?
* Battery charge time, especially since it takes half the time of the Stream, at 2 hours verses 4 for the Stream.
* Recording formats: You can record in some more standard formats on the Booksense, rather than an obscure one where you need special software in order to convert them into a standard format.
* Built in FM radio: not a big thing and not a deal breaker for me. I'd be just as happy without a radio on my device, but in this day and age of combining multiple tasks into one device, I'm all for it. This way I can just take one device with me on trips, rather than carrying my reading device and a Walkman or other portable radio.
* Built in storage on the Booksense XT model: try 4 GB of storage! Since I have a 32 GB SDHC card, built in storage isn't a big deal, except for perhaps important documents or files that I don't want to accidentally delete on the sD card, like perhaps the user manual.
* Smaller size: according to the unvailing event linked above, the Booksense is 30 percent smaller than the Stream. Meaning, it's about the size of a candy bar cell phone. That sounds pretty good to me!
*Every Booksense comes with an SD card. The size of the card will depend on which model you buy: the standard has a 2 GB and the XT has an 8 GB. I can't tell you how many people I talked with, that when I told them of the stream, I also had to endure the disappointment from them upon hearing that the Stream didn't come with a card included. It's definitely a downer to find that you have to buy something else when you've already spent a certain amount on a product. Not a big deal, but definitely notable that each Booksense comes with its own card. And no, there's no way to not get a card. Consider it another option for storing lots of tunes or books.
* Ability to charge the Booksense via USB: yes, if you have the unit connected to your computer via the USB cable, then along with transferring files, you can also charge the battery. There's forward thinking.
* Ability to read Audible, Book Share, NLS digital talking books, and coming in the next release in another month or so, RFB&D files.
* Ability to read Word documents, including Word 2007 files.
* And more.

I'll probably read over this list later and think of things to add, but this list is a start. Considering that I was looking at netbooks and seriously considering which one to buy, and now this netbook purchase has been moved back for several months, that tells you where my buying priorities have shifted to.

Will the BookSsense overtake the stream? Who knows; only time will tell on that. As the dealer said earlier, there are people that will like one over the other, and there will be those people that like both. Also, both of these devices are great devices. In a sense, the Booksense is an extension of the Stream, just as in the next year or two, there may be newer devices that build on what the Booksense is doing. Will I get rid of my Stream after I get a Booksense? No way; the Stream is special. Personally, I think the Stream was the right device at the right time in the right place when it came out. I sat down one day not long ago and calculated approximately how much money the Stream has made HumanWare in 18 months, given a certain number of units that were sold in that timeframe. The first 18 months saw around 15,000 Streams sold, which assuming they all cost the same price and that everyone paid for them (yes, assumptions here, but I had to go off of something), I came up with over $5,000,000! I wonder how many other devices for the blind have made that much money in their first 18 months? I'm not sure that the Booksense will capture that following that the Stream had it its history, but then again, who's to say it won't? It will be interesting to watch how things go for GW Micro over the next few months and year.

One other question I want to toss out: with GW Micro and HumanWare diversifying their product lines in recent years, having screen readers, screen magnifyers, portable magnifyers in some cases, note takers, and now book/Daisy reading and mP3 playing devices, when is Freedom Scientific going to join in with their contribution? And, how will that contribution compare with what's already out there? Time will tell on that front as well.

AS for me, I'll be reading up on the Booksense over the next 2 days, and anxiously awaiting my own unit. If the attendance at the unvailing of the Booksense or some of the comments I've read from other people on the web is any indication, this looks to be a device that many people will want to get their hands on. A colleague of mine wrote that he's already preordered his and will have it when he returns from the NFB convention next week. At the time I read that, I thought, "How can you preorder a device that you haven't even seen yet? Crazy." However, now I think I know.

Wednesday, July 1

Convention agendas on NFB Newsline

Greetings. I received this yesterday from an email list. It's great to see the two largest consumer organizations of the blind having information offered through the same service. Let's hope this continues in future years. This also means that conventioneers have another way of checking the daily agenda at whatever convention they are at, in addition to the variety of existing options. Enjoy.


Both the ACB and the NFB will be holding their conventions within the next few weeks, and as a service to our subscribers we are making the convention agendas for both consumer organizations available on NFB-NEWSLINE®. To access these convention agendas, from the main menu press option number five “Newspapers in a Different State” for regions, and choose option number four “National Meetings of Interest to the Print Disabled.” From that point you may select option number one to access the ACB 2009 Convention Agenda, or option number two for the NFB 2009 Convention Agenda, or option number three for NFB-NEWSLINE® Detailed Convention Agenda. For those of you who use NFB-NEWSLINE® In Your Pocket, you may choose to download these convention agendas onto your personal digital talking book player and enjoy having the entire agenda on your small portable device. To do so, you will first need to add the convention agenda(s) to your Favorites list (option number four from the main menu) over the phone. This information is also available online via Web News on Demand at
To find the agenda of your choice, search for the agenda title in the “Publications Organized Alphabetically” category. Using Web News on Demand to read your agenda(s) allows you to easily search for details such as a particular meeting’s start time or room number. You can also have an e-mail of the entire agenda, a particular day’s schedule, or meeting information sent to your inbox on demand. If you should have any questions, please call Bob Watson, NFB-NEWSLINE® Content Manager, at (410) 659-9314, extension 2356.