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Message from PlusNet marketing director – ADSLGuide

21st July 2006 • Dave

I had a hard time believing the authenticity of this post. How does a marketing director allow them selvs to be reduced to this?

As someone who as been with PlusNet for 6 years or more, I am still giving my ISP the benefit of the doubt by not switching provider. But I do have serious concerns about the direction in which PlusNet has been moving. See my posts for 27 April and 17 June.

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Google Accessible Search

20th July 2006 • Dave

Sure everyone else is blogging about this, but no one seems to have spotted that Google is falling over itself to be politically correct, cannot make up their minds about how to refer to blind people Visually challenged? Visually impaired? For goodness sake make up your mind Google.

Yes I am sure we in blind land are expected to be falling over our selvs to thank Google for this latest offering. But to my mind this is lipservice which completely fails to address core access issues with Google’s own services.

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Sight Villagis finally over for another year

20th July 2006 • Dave

The stands and technology are all packed away, and the exhibitors have gone home following another busy Sight Village.

This morning was pretty gruelling with a steady flow of visitors to the Dolphin stand. This afternoon things calmed down and we started packing away around 4PM.

2006 has to have been one of the hottest Sight Villages on record, definitely up there with the sweltering summer of 2003 which was the last Sight Village at QAC. Housing the event continues to be a problem. Navigating around the building is challenging at best, and the standard of the food on offer is shocking for an event which is the premier exhibition of products and services for the blind. It is the eyes which do not work, not the taste buds!

Lots of mobile products at Sight Village this year many of which I discussed yesterday, along with the 1200GBP 40 cell budget braille display from RNIB.

I am very fond of the new pocket-sized Braille Connect 12 cell display manufactured by Baum and sold in English speaking markets by Humanware. I have seen this device quite a few times over the last couple of weeks in Jacksonville at the ACB convention and again this week at Sight Village in Birmingham UK. Every time I lay hands on one I am very tempted to place an order. It is not without it’s shortcomings however, the braille input keys on this device have a very shallow action and would benefit from a couple of springs and being raised just a couple more millimetres. I am assured it will be supplied with a protective case, the quality of the case remains to be seen. I have heard claims that a nokia charger can be used to recharge the battery in this device, but my attempts with a couple of standard Nokia chargers failed. However the standard SuperVario Brailliant charger can be used, although mini USB charging would have been preferable.

I was definitely ready to come home after Sight Village, although probably not prepared for the stack of bills in my mail box. Council Tax in Worcester is horrific, and for what? Ho hum.

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Sight Village is hotting up

19th July 2006 • Dave

With 35 degrees C being the high in the Midlands today, most people are finding the heat and humidity horrendous. It is as hot hear in the UK as it was last week in Florida. The difference being the Americans have air con in most buildings, where as usually in the UK we do not have a need for such extravagancies.

The intense heat did not prevent hundreds of people turning out for day 2 of the 2006 Sight Village exhibition. Today as well as representing Dolphin again at Sight Village, I got the chance to lay hands on the new Braille Seika which is a budget 40 cell braille display costing just 1200GBP available in the UK from RNIB. This works out to about 30 pounds per cell which is around a third of the cost of many displays currently on the market. The display emulates the PowerBraille and so is compatible with most popular screen reading software. Personally I feel the Seika build quality lieves a lot to be desired. The unit is relatively large and heavy and the control buttons on the front edge of the unit felt slightly loose. If you are someone who likes your braille to be sharp and crisp this is not the display for you. Having said that, 1200 quid is an astonishingly low price for 40 cells of braille and hopefully products like this will shake up the industry. My only worry is that it potentially could lead to low quality product from the other manufacturers as they chase more affordable braille. Let us hope not.

Also at the RNIB stand I caught up with the developers of Talks, the first screen reader for mobile phones. I am a big fan of Talks on Simbian as it really spawned an industry of software products which provide comprehensive access to main stream mobile devices available from main stream suppliers at main stream prices. I took the free upgrade from version 2.5 to version 3 which includes: a graphic object labelling tool, automatic reading of caller ID, a user dictionary and support for more third party TTS. I am pleased to say that Talks 3 will not be available as public beta, and certainly the product installed on my Simbian phone feels like the stable and responsive real deal which we have come to expect from Talks. I would much rather the guys from nuance focused on the product rather than trying to support a massive public beta testing process. Final release expected at the end of the month.

Anyone reading my blog for some time will know I spent about a year raving about the Nokia N91 and N80 handsets which are based on Simbian S60 3rd edition. Congratulations to Nuance for being the first to provide comprehensive access to this platform. While many of us may be thinking about Windows Mobile based devices, we cannot ignore the fact that Simbian still represents over half of the Smartphone market.

As well as getting my first hands on with the N91 today, I got to check out a couple of the Nokia E series handsets which are also based on S60 3rd edition. The E60 WCDMA and WLAN capable handset, has a classic design, sleek metallic finish and feels tremendous in the hand. The E61 is basically a BlackBerry-type device targeted at frequent mobile emailers. The internal speakers on both devices are surprisingly good. After a period of seeming silence from Nuance, it is marvelous to hear the range of Talks capable devices expand to include the E series and the N series handsets.

Dolphin have announced progress on Smart Hal, which will be a complete screen reader for Windows Mobile Smartphones. This is a natural evolution of Hal from the desktop through Pocket PC/Windows mobile and soon to be Windows Mobile based smartphones. Dolphin will also be the first UK company to have developed a complete screen reader for mobile phones. The spannish company Code Factory who have been promising Windows Smartphone access for some time, are now estimating the end of the month as a possible release date for their Windows smartphone access.

For those of us with a vested interest in access to main stream mobile devices, the future is looking very bright indeed.

The temperature tomorrow is expected to be down from today around 31 degrees C. Still a tad too warm for my English sensibilities. Ah well, normality will resume shortly.

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Talking Windows Smartphone anyone?

18th July 2006 • Dave

Tuesday was the first day of the 3 day Sight Village Exhibition. All the usual suspects from the assistive technology industry were out in force. And it was tremendous to catch up with some old friends as well as make some new ones.

Including yours truly Dolphin had a good sized team on the ground, all describing and demonstrating our range of access and alt format products to enthusiastic audiences.

Sight Village is a valuable opportunity for the industry to benefit from a diverse range of user perspectives, and it is also a chance for the people who support the industry to come and meet the companies who make it all happen. I am intrigued by the range of people who make it to Sight Village: parents, children, teachers, students, IT professionals, assistive technology advisers, home users, elderly people, and many more. As someone who enjoys meeting people, I find it fascinating to learn about the different contexts in which people are using assistive technology products and services.

Visitors to the Dolphin stand were able to take a glimpse into the future of Pocket Hal, including support for the ETI Eloquence speech synthesiser, plus an early alpha version of Pocket Hal running on a Windows SmartPhone! I believe Dolphin have been the first company to publicly demonstrate Eloquence working with a genuine pocket screen reader in the Windows Mobile environment, and the first to demonstrate a functional screen reader on a Windows Smartphone. If you know different then I would love to hear from you.

If you did not go to Sight Village on Tuesday, hopefully we will see you there on Wednesday or Thursday.

It has been a long but rewarding first day, and it is time for me to see about getting some food and sleep.

Pippity pop.

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The Night before Sight Village

17th July 2006 • Dave

Twas the night before Sight Village, when all through the house
Not a screen reader was stirring, not a vertual mouse;

The iPods were connected to the PC with care,
In hopes that many podcasts soon would be there;

The blindies were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of USB thumbs danced in their heads;

And the people of C Sun and Closing the Gap
Not hearing of Sight Village didn’t give a crap.

When out on the blogs there arose such a clatter,
When the Assistive Tech companies started to natter.

Away to MS windows I flew like a flash,
Tore open the browser and typed something ending slash.

The Daisy and the braille and the large print you know
All alt format conversions all ready to go.

When, what to my wondering ears should appear,
But a miniature PDA all mainstream not dear.

With a choice of IO drivers, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment, this content would stick.

More portable than desktops, Mobile apps they came
And they Podcast and Shoutcast and called them by name;

“Now, Real Streaming! now, MSN Messenger! now, web browsing, and Skype!
On, Word, on Excel, On and on excuse the hype!

Through the Ethernet port! through the Windows firewall!
Now blog away! blog away! blog away all!”

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From the Hyatt to home

16th July 2006 • Dave

Following the close of exhibits on Thursday, I had time to catch up with colleagues and friends, plus observe some of the ACB convention proceedings.

Thursday evening included an interesting meal with some colleagues from the US. It was pleasant to be out of the hotel for a while, and the riverside walk west from the hotel was extremely relaxing.

Friday I spent some time observing some of the ACB business general sessions. While contracted to the council I intentionally let my membership laps for personal reasons, although I intend resuming this soon. Heh if they keep having protracted debates about the use of “chair” verses “chair person” I may choose not to rejoin. Surely there are more pressing issues to be considered?

I bid Gareth from Dolphin USA a farewell around lunch time on Friday. He has a tremendous intolerance of pretension, and as well as sharing my fondness for incongruity, he seems to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of British TV from the last 30 years.

On Friday evening I had the privilege of being invited to sit at the head table during the ACB banquet. This is an invitation I have declined in previous years, but curiosity got the better of me. It turned out there was an ulterior motive behind my invitation and I was asked to introduce some of the banquet entertainment which I was glad to do.

The banquet was followed by several drinks with several groups of friends and the partying went on until dawn.

Saturday morning consisted of a hearty breakfast, packing, a dip in the rooftop pool followed by lunch with Marlaina and Gary from Seattle who I know from my ACB Radio days.

The journey back to Worcester has not been without it’s issues. Some of the assistance has been truly abysmal. Who trained ground staff that the way to treat a blind person is to grab the upper arm with both hands in a vice-like grip and drag in completely the opposite direction to the one in which the blind person needs to go? Usually I am pretty tolerant of this kind of treatment, as the only way to change this is through education rather than condemnation. Although after a 12 hour overnight journey which included minimal sleep and US Air seemingly loosing my suitcase, it’s tough to remain relaxed.

I am now on the train from London to Worcester, without suitcase, US Air are getting back to me, hope to be home and veging out with a book or some TV in about 90 mins. Tomorrow back to the office, and Tuesday it is off to the Sight Village exhibition in Birmingham.

It would appear that T and T Consultancy have a Sight Village Blog for those people interested in such things.

Finally, sincere thanks to all my friends in the US who made me feel most welcome. I will be back very soon, although I may need to buy a knew suitcase first!

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In the thick of it in Jacksonville

10th July 2006 • Dave

Checked into the Hyatt Regency last night around 8PM local time. Met the manager of Dolphin US who treated me to dinner. It turns out Gareth Collins and I have a lot in common and the evening was both productive and fun, as was today at the Dolphin booth 72 in the exhibit hall.

I also managed to catch up with the ACB Radio croud for a drink, and they talked me into going on air this afternoon. Hoping to be able to link to audio archives soon.

Pocket Hal works extremely well with the Braille Connect 12 a tiny 12 cell Bluetooth Braille display from Baum, sold in the US as the Conny.

Dolphin presented to Blind Information Technology Specialists BITS this afternoon. Although we were a bit rushed as the proceeding presentation over-ran. Not to worry, I think they knew we were there, and everyone had lots of fun exploring a range of main stream PDA technology.

This evening I checked out the ACB Opening General Session which included a very moving presentation from a blind guy who escaped from the WTC on 9 11.

It has been a busy couple of days, and it is about to get much busier. I will post when I get chance.

Pip pip.

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