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Kicking the Ice Bucket

31st August 2014 • Dave

Why would I make a pointless cringe-worthy exhibition out of splashing a small quantity of faintly cold liquid on my head at the behest of some other attention-seeking wannabe in the name of some charity that I didn’t really care about a week ago? I know, it’s a hypocritical use of time, bandwidth and water much less a challenge.

The practice of announcing the names of your 3 acquaintances to an overpriced smartphone before making yourself moist and posting it on Facebook reeks of desperate loneliness. One can only hope that the human race will at some point take itself outside, slap itself around the face and get itself some friends.

On the other hand, you have critics desperately seeking notoriety with nothing better to do than spray their particular brand of sneering condescension at other people’s silliness. Where do people get off telling others how to spend our free time, in the garden amusing the kids?

While the scummier part of the gene pool is off busily gambling our savings or designing ingenious methods of torcher and annihilation, how is it that as a species we find the time and energy to ridicule individuals for taking part in what is essentially a slightly sad online wet t-shirt competition?

You only have to watch Arlo’s ecstatic reaction to his dad making a tit of himself to know how much pleasure can be derived from a washing-up bowl and a half-full ice cube tray.

Bickering about which charity is more deserving of the windfall is symptomatic of our social media adolescence. We have only just begun to recognise the power of this technology and its awesome ability to spread ideas. And like television, the printing press or even some ancient religious parchment before, many messages will only be welcome by those with a predilection for nonsense. Imagine the enormous potential of many-to-many communication when we realise how we can use it for more than just poking each other in the ice bucket.

Where’s that towel.

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Review Cate Cody Salty Dogs Band at our wedding

12th October 2011 • Dave

Cate you really made our dreams come true! The sound track for our big day will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Thank you!

Emma and I married on 16 July, and music played a big part in our day. Our evening reception for 110 guests was held in the dining room of a 16th century country house near Worcester. The music would need to fill the room, but not dominate. We wanted a high quality swing band who would bring a touch of class to proceedings, and still be sufficiently lively to get people up dancing. We wanted some songs that people would recognise, but not be too cheesy or predictable.

We asked around the performers we knew. We spent countless hours searching online. We even tried to assemble our own group of talented musicians. We were starting to feel frustrated that all the music acts we had auditioned were either too rocky, avant-garde, or simply not good enough to meet our high expectations. Then, somehow we stumbled on Cate’s web site, and knew instantly that she was the one.

Cate Cody and the Salty Dogs band is every bit as good in real life as they sound on her show reel. From the moment we first contacted Cate we felt we were in safe hands. If Cate doesn’t reply to your email immediately, the chances are she’s performing or travelling to another gig. So leave it a couple of days. Cate will pay close attention to all your requirements, and will get back to you.

Cate worked with us to select a song for our first dance, and was even willing to consider learning additional numbers, as she was keen to expand her already impressive repertoire.

Cate is the true professional and will think of everything. The band arrived nearly 2 hours before the performance to set up. And even when they started tuning up they sounded completely fresh. An extraordinary achievement as they’d just landed back from a jazz festival in Denmark. Don’t trust any band who doesn’t make sure you have sufficient space, power outlets, and allows sufficient time for setup and tuning.

Cate put us at ease and remained serenely calm, encouraging our other guests to join us, as we giggled our way through our first dance. The American song book is much more extensive than the over-played standards you usually hear at weddings. As well as performing swing favourites you know and love, Cate
Will introduce you to some undiscovered treasures.

The volume of the band and vocals were loud enough to cut through the crowd noise without making conversation difficult. And by the end of the evening the dance floor was full with guest’s young and old having a fantastic time.

Following our wedding, many guests, and even staff at the venue, commented on how wonderful the band was. And asked how we’d found Cate. Make no mistake, Cate will give your event an extra degree of style and sophistication you didn’t think possible.

Cate you helped make our wedding day truly magical. Your performance was the perfect honeymoon preparation, where we danced the nights away aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary II.

A thousand thanks.

Visit Cate’s website at:

Dave and Emma Williams, Worcester

–Message from Cate Cody–

Wow, I’m speechless…you really were the perfect clients! The thought that has gone into writing this is so kind and I’m obviously delighted and also very proud that you were so pleased with the band. I shall forward your comments onto the others we truly enjoyed your wedding because there was such a great atmosphere from the start and everyone made us feels very welcome. We’re really glad we were part of your special day

Thank you again

Cate xxx

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My Memories of Torsten Brand and the Evolution of Talks

16th April 2010 • Dave

The Talks screen reader transformed the way blind people think about and use mobile phones. so, along with thousands of others, I was stunned to learn of the untimely death of Torsten Brand, the Talks Product Manager.

Today, the likes of RNIB publish fact sheets detailing the range of solutions available for blind mobile phone users. But a decade ago before Talks there really was very little a blind person could do with a mobile phone other than make and receive calls. For some users this was adequate. However, for Torsten and many other people who are blind, not being able to fully participate in the mobile revolution was unacceptable. With the help of his friend and talented developer Marcus Groeber, Torsten set about tackling the problem.

Most Talks users probably do not realise the number and complexity of the technical challenges with which Torsten and Marcus were confronted in those early days. How to manage speech output so that it did not interfere with the phone’s audio system? How to keep the Talks system requirements low enough in order that the screen reader would run comfortably with limited storage and processing power? How to keep Talks efficient enough so as not to make the other applications on the phone sluggish and unusable? How to hook the phone’s user interface and convey the content to the user in an efficient meaningful manner? Torsten’s deep understanding of these requirements was instrumental in helping solve these and many other technical problems. These solutions remain some of Talks’ greatest assets.

When I first heard about Talks 7 or 8 years ago, or Talx as it was known then, my expectations were relatively low. No one had previously put a screen reader on an off-the-shelf mobile phone handset, while at the same time preserve the phone’s original user interface. The received wisdom at the time seemed to be that a mobile phone screen reader was an unrealistic unachievable fantasy. Torsten dared to dream, decided it was possible, and he and Marcus made it happen.

The elegance of Talks is its simplicity. You don’t learn how to use Talks; you learn how to use the phone on which Talks is running. Great assistive technologies become transparent to the user, allowing him or her to focus on accomplishing the task in hand. Few people really understood this as well as Torsten. With Talks, the vast majority of common tasks are achieved in almost exactly the same way a sighted user would perform them. This means the main stream phone help and support remains relevant, and on those occasions when a sighted friend or family member needs to use your phone for what ever reason, the assistive technology does not have to be switched off.

I first tried a demo of Talks on a trusting friend’s Nokia 6600 phone in a student bedsit in 2003. Within the hour I was contacting my network provider to place my order for a Talks compatible handset. Those early versions were far from perfect, but right away I was able to do all the things my friends were doing with there mobile phones: send and receive text messages, work with contacts and eventually browse the web.

Talks is one of those products that after you have been using it for a couple of days you wonder how you ever lived without it. It was not long before Talks became the first piece of assistive Technology I use in the morning, and the last one I use at night, not to mention many many times in between.

Within a few days of getting Talks I was being contacted by blind people who wanted to know more about this Talks software about which I was so excited. I have lost count of the number of Talks installations I have done for people. But like many blind people at the time, I truly believed that Talks represented a massive step in to the future.

Torsten was a regular at the Sight Village assistive technology exhibitions in the UK. I had to meet the man who had put a voice inside my phone. I remember waiting in a long line of people eager to meet Torsten. It seemed to take forever to reach the front, not least because the line was so long, but also because Torsten was taking the time to patiently answer questions from enthusiastic users.

On meeting Torsten in person, I found him to be a gentle giant of a man with a deep rich voice and distinctive booming laugh. Torsten was clearly proud of Talks but always willing to pay close attention to feedback from users. Torsten was not afraid of constructive criticism. Years later, I was to learn first hand about Torsten’s no compromise commitment to quality, and his persistent efforts to get the very best from developers.

One of my favourite Torsten mantras is “the user guide is the specification”.

Torsten’s generosity with his time lead to my recording several interviews with him for ACB Radio’s Main Menu – a technology show that I presented and produced for a number of years before working for Dolphin.

Torsten probably never really knew just how many lives were touched by his work. Talks users can be found in dozens of countries around the world. And countless blind people without the means to purchase a full Talks licence simply use the Talks ten minute demo.

When I joined Dolphin in 2006, Talks was one of the products I was raving about. A year later Torsten, Steve Palmer (Dolphin’s Chairman) and I met over a curry in Birmingham as Dolphin began talking seriously about collaborating on Talks for Windows Mobile. Eventually contracts were signed and Talks for WM became available through Verizon in the US.

For the past two years, rarely has a week gone by when I have not had either phone or email communication with Torsten. I will continue to learn from Torsten’s work, miss our weekly meetings, Torsten’s attention to detail, but most importantly Torsten’s unwavering refusal to ever give up fighting for the best possible user experience.

Thank you Torsten. May your legacy live on.

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On the Box

3rd March 2008 • Dave

Some personal blogs are more occasional than others. Certainly has been less frequent of late. Like many floggers, I do not always have the inclination to blog. Either, nothing blogworthy happens, I am too busy, get out of the blogging routine or I just can’t be bothered! I’m not going to promise to blog more. If I’m not blogging it is probably because I’m zonked in front of the TV rather than blogging! That said, I have a few minutes to share a couple of TV related bits and pieces.

I was recently prevented from paying my licence fee online as apparently the TV licensing database cannot cope with the fact that some blind people receive correspondence in Braille and the address for the Braille transcription is different from one’s home address. Ah well half an hour on the phone later and I’m all set to pick up the remote.

For the record, I am not opposed to the licence fee, although the criteria for who should pay it seems somewhat arbitrary when one considers the volume of BBC content available online free from outside the UK. Moreover, the advent of the very excellent BBC iPlayer allowing one to catch up with programs for the past 7 days would seem to indicate that anyone in the UK with an internet connection (not just a television) would also be liable for the licence fee?

Incidentally, 3 years ago, Geoff Shang, Jeff Haris and I came up with something slightly similar to the iPlayer for ACB Radio. Great to see that the ACB Radio Replay service is still going strong:

ACB Radio Replay.

Anyway, When I inadvertently stumble across a a wrist slittingly depressing episode of BBC One’s primetime soap EastEnders, the tacky tastic game show serving warm up for the National Lottery, or yet another episode of the Weakest Link, I am left wondering what the hell the BBC is playing at with our licence payers’ money?

That said, generally I am supportive of the licence fee. When one considers the breadth and depth of the BBC’s output. It is difficult to imagine any other broadcaster in the world commissioning a comparable range of content. And good on ya BBC for telling those greedy Ausies to stick it when Channel Ten hiked up the price for Neighbours. I’m sure the good folk of Erinsborough will be just fine along side Home and Away, on the UK’s Channel Five. Isn’t Five owned by RTL now anyway?

Back on the Beeb, lately I have been delighted by the return to our screens by the larger than life character DCI Gene Hunt in the Life on Mars spin-off Ashes to Ashes. Proceeded on Thursdays by the marvellously morose Grantly Budgen in that hopelessly optimistic of all school dramas Waterloo road.

I have recently enjoyed Tropic of Capricorn concluding this past weekend on BBC Two. Following Equator this is Simon Reeve’s second televised travel log circumnavigating the globe. He’s no Palin but that’s probably a good thing is it allows the audience to focus on the place rather than the presenter.

Moving away from the Beeb, if you like your TV travel a bit more gritty then Dave Gorman’s America Unchained is well worth a watch. Now available on DVD and being repeated on FilmFour and probably available on 4OD although I’ve not checked.

Speaking of grit. Channel 4’s Shameless is well into it’s fifth series and still well worth a giggle. Although for me Shameless has lost some of it’s original charm. Frank and the other characters on the Chatsworth Estate have gone a bit preachy, and they are making a bit too much use of fantasy reality sequences which always put me in mind of the movie version of Billy Liar.

Glad to report: Ashes to Ashes, Waterloo Road, Tropic of Capricorn and Shameless are all audio described. Which is more than can be said for any of the films playing at the Worcester Odian! And if the blogs are to be believed AD is coming soon to an iPlayer near you!

Next time on…

Hrrors of Hotpoint,

Nws from the Preston front,

My little sister’s getting married!

All the best.

Categories: Opinion, TV
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Transforming Lives

11th July 2007 • Dave

Hope everyone out there in Internet land is doing well? A few of you have asked why I have not blogged here in a while. Well I guess I have been busy trying to prove the theory that if you have a life you have no time for blogging! So guess my life is on hold for a few minutes while I quickly post something here.

June was pretty manic with lots going on at work. Some of which I can talk about, some of which I cannot. Dolphin’s screen reader for Windows Mobile Smartphones, Smart Hal, seems to be doing very well with plenty of interest from many quarters. Thank you all. During the final week in June I went to London as part of Dolphin’s participation in Transforming Lives, an event hosted by Microsoft in Westminster. As well as presenting Smart Hal to the great and the good including Anne McGuire, Minister for Disabled People, for part of the day I sat on a panel which explored where we are and where we are heading with assistive technology.

During the Transforming Lives debate, there was some criticism from a leading blindness charity here in the UK to the effect that the Windows environment accessed with screen reader software means that blind users are restricted to consuming and processing information thus relegating blind people to the less affluent end of the economic spectrum. As a screen reader user I take issue with this position which does not seem entirely logical in the context of assistive technology and the information age. So, eh hem, needless to say yours truly chimed in to challenge this gloomy prognosis.

It is true to say many blind people in a wide range of fields, requiring computer access or not, are more likely to be denied the economic opportunities available to sighted peers. It is also true to say that Microsoft Windows the operating system running the majority of modern computers has very limited screen access software built-in. Moreover, comprehensive and powerful screen reading software is absolutely essential in order that a blind person can make effective use of a Windows PC and to get on in an increasing number of careers requiring basic levels of computer literacy. However, the relationship between Microsoft and a rich ecosystem of assistive technology manufacturers actually works to break down rather than perpetuate economic inequality between blind and sighted people by delivering highly effective and targeted products which often meet and in many cases exceed the needs of blind computer users. The screen reader industry is small and the products are often not perfect. However, compared with twelve to fifteen years ago when the received wisdom seemed to be that access to Windows and the web were not really viable propositions for a blind person, in reality we have come a very long way.

Microsoft Windows enables assistive technology developers to utilise a range of frameworks and techniques enabling specialist targeted tightly-focused screen reading and screen magnification solutions to be created for use by people who are blind or partially sighted. Screen reader developer techniques made possible by Windows include but are not limited to: API hooking, MSAA, UI Automation, Document Object Models, Video Chaining, Mirror Drivers, etc. While some of these techniques have better support than others, and while some of these approaches may require a higher degree of creativity amongst developers than others. The practical upshot is that Windows users can choose from any one of half a dozen free and premium highly effective customisable screen readers providing comprehensive Braille and speech output for a vast array of applications used in a wide variety of professional and domestic scenarios.

Many transactions which previously relied on having access to sighted assistance or a transcription service can now, with appropriate technology and training, be successfully completed independently by someone who is blind at the same time as sighted peers without additional cost or reliance on a sighted intermediary. Moreover, this independence can enhance one’s confidence privacy and dignity potentially reducing physical barriers to education and employment.

Absolutely greater accessibility and usability in Windows can potentially improve the experience for everyone, not just those who traditionally have been disabled by inaccessible interfaces. However, the past decade has shown that by working in partnership with assistive technology specialists who have the requisite experience and expertise from working directly with users Microsoft are stimulating an environment where tailored solutions specifically designed to meet the needs of otherwise disabled users can flurrish.

The first tenant of universal design is to recognise the diversity amongst users. Can an operating system developer, even one as omnipotent as Microsoft, realistically continue to support the broad range of specialist hardware such as Braille displays and speech synthesisers used by blind people, accommodate the differences and preferences amongst screen reader users, continually release assistive technology updates to keep pace with new applications and emerging web trends, as well as provide appropriate levels of training and support to educate users relying on speech and Braille output?

To me as an assistive technology user, at least for now it seems appropriate that Microsoft should continue to promote innovation and choice in the assistive technology arena by providing a platform and infrastructure on which customisable assistive technology solutions are built in order to meet the needs of this diverse user community.

Consuming and processing information is a means by which an individual can acquire education, experience, skills which are ultimately marketable commodities. When funded along side appropriate training and as part of a balanced programme including Braille literacy, screen reading software products providing access to Windows applications and the internet can substancially enhance the education, independence and economic mobility of blind and partially sighted people by providing a gateway resulting in widening participation in a knowledge economy.

There is not a mortgage repayment goes buy when I do not think of those teachers in school who tought me how to read Braille, how to type and use a computer. Thank you Miss King, Mrs Duffy and Mr Irvine.

I certainly do not wish to underestimate the significant assistive technology challenges which lie ahead. There is a lot to do with Web 2.0, and in the area of set-top-boxes hardly anyone has even begun to scratch the surface. At the same time one should not underestimate the achievements to date and Microsoft are now more aware of the needs of assistive technology users more so than at any point in the past.

Categories: Disability, Opinion, Technology
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BBC Programme Credit Sequence petition

22nd May 2007 • Dave

Possibly futile but worth registering one’s disgust!

Few broadcasters have done more than the BBC to set standards by which others are measured. However, this latest set of guidelines from auntie to homogenise TV credits sequences seems a tad over the top?

The credits, as well as providing important and appropriate attribution information about the people who made TV productions possible, are in many cases a natural pause allowing one to sit back, enjoy the show’s theme music reflect on the programme past. While I do not have sufficient eye sight to read the credits for my favourite TV shows, I can recollect countless examples from over the years where programme makers and writers have come up with original ways to express ideas around the end credits. Some of these have been hilarious, thought-provoking and even moving.

One of the most seminal moments in British sitcom history was the moving sequence at the end of Blackadder series IV, which if I have correctly understood the new requirements, would not be possible in the future?

Does all this bollocks apply to repeats too?

Categories: Opinion, TV
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Blind Iranians

8th May 2007 • Dave

I am not usually taken to recommending feel good programmes on disability. If you want to feel a good disabled then go out and find one! Many would welcome the attention! 🙂

However, this week’s BBC Radio 4 In Touch, which sounds like it may have been in the can for a little while waiting for Pete White to have a week off, really shatters any preconceptions which one may form while reading the blurb. These blind Iranians are really just getting the hell on with it. They are not blogging, complaining about the lack of accessible traffic signals or waiting for audio description, navel-gazing about tv documentaries on blindness, etc. That’s not to say I shouldn’t, there’s room on this world wide webbie thing for all of us. These guys are simply figuring out what is important and the last thing they want to be thought of is as some hard luck charity cases.

In my best Points of View voice then.

“Well done BBC!”

This episode of In touch will be available through the Beeb’s listen again until 15 May. and let tis be a lesson to ya! 🙂

Guess it’s back to whinging about the lack of guidedog hotels and the like next week.

Poodle tip…

Categories: Disability, Opinion
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Blind young Things – Channel 4

27th April 2007 • Dave

Note to self, must not prejudge Channel 4 documentary on young people who are blind. Probably safer to avoid it like the plague!

I am really trying extremely hard to remain optimistic about this documentary. I can’t help dreading it though and that is not because like one of the featured students in the Channel 4 show I too was suspended from the RNCB. Prob not best to go into the reasons why at this stage. Safe to say it was not big and was not clever. Although pretty funny depending on your perspective.

The programme to go out at 9PM on Monday may actually leave viewers with the cutting edge impression that blind people may actually be having sex? My goodness Ray Charles would turn in his grave! What’s the world coming to!

Seriously though, are people with disabilities just overly sensitive about tv documentaries like this? What sort of documentary would we really be happy with? Do blind people need/want a documentary at all? What actually was the original purpose of the programme? Is it to educate the public about disability? Is it meant to be car-crash TV to entertain the curious? Is it to promote a positive image of disability? In which case why not have some positive role models who are disabled as characters on Hollyoaks or presenting on T4?

Oh so many questions and too few answers. However “heart-warming” and Animal Hospital-like the documentary turns out to be, I am sure that plenty of blind people will be tuning in to find out which stereotype is being portrayed this time. Yes, against my better judgement, I will probably end up being one of them.

I sincerely hope I am proved completely wrong!!!

Categories: Opinion, TV
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How to find toilets at gigs?

21st January 2007 • Dave

A perennial problem faced by blind concert-goers the world over. Thankfully this was a question I did not have to ask on Friday when my sister and I visited the Manchester Evening News Arena to witness Kylie performing her Showgirl Homecoming tour. I did not miss a single second, which is just as well because Kylie was simply sensational!

We arrived early at the M.E.N. taking a moment to locate the essentials including seats, bar and WC. As usual the arena stewards were on hand to assist with direction as and when required. As a blind concert-goer Spending a moment doing a little orientation before a gig usually turns out to be a worthwhile investment. One is then able to independently enjoy the rest of the evening without the nagging uncertainty that should one wish to leave one’s seat for any reason during the performance, one may never find it again amongst a crowd of fifteen thousand people! The alternative is to be made to feel like a child asking someone in a yellow jacket if they would be so good as to take you to the loo! What independent adult would accept that indignity? I guess whatever works for you. However, I am very much a fan of the “get there early and figure out where everything is” method, in order that one can be self-sufficient throughout the rest of the show.

I know several blind people who have become masters in the art of refusing to answer the call of nature, because of the chance of not making it back to their seat afterwards. Some blind people with particularly weak bladders run the risk of serious dehydration at concerts as they simply refuse to take onboard any liquid for hours before and during important gigs in order to avoid going for a piss. So knowing where the basics are at concerts can seriously impact one’s enjoyment of what should be a really special occasion.

Generally the staff at the M.E.N. provide an reliable and friendly service especially when compared with their counterparts at a number of other high-profile venues throughout the UK. The stewards at the M.E.N. genuinely want you to have a good night out, and were all set to provide a little orientation pre-Kylie. Save for a bit of faffing around trying to find someone prepared to point us in the direction of a taxi rank at the end of the gig, I am delighted to be able to report that once again we received an exemplary service from the staff in Manchester on Friday. Thank you. It is a travesty that these people only get paid £5.50 per hour when ticket costs average five or ten times this. Having said that, Friday was worth every penny!

There is little I can add to the glowing reviews Kylie’s Showgirl Homecoming tour concerts have already received. When a coquettish charismatic Kylie is bobbing around on stage belting out cheesy pop songs, all seems right with the world. Like millions of other fans I have followed Kylie’s career with interest for nearly twenty years and was stunned in 2005 when reports started coming in of her having been diagnosed with breast cancer. Clearly the choice of Better the Devil You Know as an opener was calculated to be poignant and we were prepared to be moved. And yes when the princess of pop took to the stage many members of Kylie’s audience shed the odd tear of joy.

Categories: Opinion
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Accessible Currency

7th January 2007 • Dave

Great to see lots more people signing the Money for All accessible US currency petition over the weekend. If you have ever been to the US, or ever plan to use the US dollar, or you want to show support for your brothers and sisters across the pond who have to put up with inaccessible currency. Please hop on over to:

And lend them your support. I signed on Friday.

I regularly travel from the UK to the US on business or to visit friends. As an independent blind adult I find that not being able to independently identify US bills makes my visits much more problematic than they need to be. For example, I would rather carry my own luggage than not know how much I was tipping a bellman, or stand around and suffer the public indignity of someone telling me, and presumably everyone else in ear shot, what bills I have. Accessible currency is as much a personal security issue as anything else.

Categories: Opinion
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