28 October, 2008
19 September, 2008
Okay so as I said, it has been a while. I won't bore you with the details of why I was unable to blog for such a long time, but many of them were technical in nature. Anyway, here we are again. I was so excited to blog today that I could barely choose which topics to cover. The iPhone 3G? The new iPod nano? The new Microsoft commercials with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld? I just didn't know where to begin. Suddenly it occurred to me to begin to discuss what makes technology accessible. In my mind, what makes a good piece of technology is how easy it is to use given my physical limitations. So for me, there are two good user interface models. Touch, and speech. And today we're going to tackle touch.
You will remember no doubt my excitement over the announcement of the iPhone last year. The iPhone is the first cell phone where I can use EVERY SINGLE PART of the device INDEPENDENTLY! That's entirely due to the touchscreen. But what is it that makes the touchscreen a good user interface? Well, there are several factors to consider in answering this question. First of all by their very nature, touchscreens must be large enough to be touched comfortably by one or two fingers. Sometimes, touchscreens must be large enough to allow the user to utilize their entire hand in operating the device in question. So a large touchable display also tends to be easier to read than displays that are not meant to be touched. Now be careful, I did not say that these are always as readable as we would like, simply that because of the size of the display, they are often (not always) more readable in comparison to devices without touchscreens. The second thing that makes the touch user interface extremely useful is that it eliminates the need for small plastic buttons, which can often be difficult to push. So for example, although I cannot read my e-mail on my iPhone because of my vision problem, the display is large enough to allow me to scroll through the names in my directory and tap on the desired to make a call. That means I don't have to deal with small keypads. It means I can use my iPod without having to fiddle with tiny buttons I can't possibly push. It means that for the first time in my life I can use a cell phone to check the weather. I can even use it to enlarge a webpage to make it readable when I'm not near my computer. No, it's not as comfortable as my large 21 inch display, but it is possible to read. So while the iPhone may not be ideal for some people such as the blind or people with even more severe fine motor control problems than myself, for me it has solved a huge problem. And as I started using my phone more I began to think about what touchscreen technology could do in other aspects of my life.
Let's imagine for instance that I have a touchscreen on my PC. What could I do? Well, one of the problems I have now is that I find it extremely difficult to dial an ordinary telephone and that's why the iPhone is such a godsend. So how could that same concept be used on a PC? Well, if I had a large screen display that was touch enabled, I could actually go to yellow book.com, look up say pizza, and with a single tap on the screen, call my local pizza shop automatically. Furthermore, utilizing broadband, I could actually see the person I'm talking to and believe it or not, being able to see the person you're talking to helps eliminate many of the embarrassing difficulties I encounter with people not being able to understand me. But that's just one instance where touch technology comes in handy. There are many more. What about resizing webpages to make them more readable the same way we do on the iPhone? If you could do that, no longer will you have to search to find the right menu and command to enlarge text. We could help eliminate repetitive stress injuries caused by the mouse and keyboard. Here is a real world example of a PC from HP that utilizes touch technology.if you're interested, yes you can use the entire Windows Vista 64-bit system with its typical user interface entirely by touch. You're not just limited to the TouchSmart software suite of applications. For me, being able to touch the computer the way I touch my iPhone will provide easier access and that really is the point of touch. It simplifies things for me so that I am not bogged down by fine motor control problems. I only need to be able to use one or two fingers to access important information. I don't have the HP TouchSmart PC yet, but we are hoping to have one sometime in December. There is a reason for this. No I am not wealthy but I have some new technological developments in process to further my independence. More on that later. Just as touch has made it possible for me to use a cell phone for the first time in my life and the HP TouchSmart PC will make the computer more accessible, touch technology has also made it possible for me to take up a new hobby.
Many of you may not know that I enjoy painting using acrylics. But like any good artist, I always need new material to draw inspiration from. Photos are great for this. There was just one problem. As I have stated, I have fine motor control issues because of cerebral palsy and most digital cameras have very small buttons. So what to do? Well, once again the inspiration came from my iPhone. "If someone would just develop a good 12 megapixel camera that employed a touchscreen interface, I would be able to truly take photos independently. Kodak to the rescue!My new v1273 is entirely driven by an amazing touch user interface!This mean that I can hold the camera in one hand and set all my options with just one finger. Again, an example of such technology facilitating Independence. Keep in mind this is the first digital camera I have been able to use!the photo that I included in this blog post, is one of the first I took. Again, the touch UI is what is making all of this possible. There is bound to be more of that coming. Microsoft has publicly announced that the next version of Windows (code-named Windows 7) will utilize ubiquitous touch technology. For me, this is wonderful news because when you combine this technology with that of speech recognition, you get a much more accessible PC. By the way, Steve, where is the iMac with this functionality?
Now I know that there are many people like myself who are liberated by technology that allows us to interact with it simply by gesturing. The one big criticism that those who are not enthused by touch have is that, "I don't want to touch my computer screen with my fingers. It will get fingerprints on it." Really? This is your criticism? Touchscreens are glass, so they are easy to clean. Yes, you may have to do so quite often but I hope this blog entry will help you who are not excited by touchscreen technology to have a somewhat broader perspective on why this technology is important. Of course I recognize that touch technology is not the only way to go and for people with the inability to use their hands at all, it's simply impractical. But I don't know, there is going to come a day for everyone when using mouses is intolerable and keyboarding can no longer be done efficiently.no one technology is perfect and quite often I find it necessary to have a variety of solutions working in concert with each other to solve problems. Touch technology is a tremendously important tool in my daily life. Think of all the things I have discussed in this entry and consider the fact that I would not be able to do any of them if the innovators behind these products were afraid of a few fingerprints :-)
Hello to everyone. It is so nice to be back with you again! My apologies for being gone for so long but I was actually having great difficulty accessing the blog site. No, this was not because it was down. This was because my Dragon software did not correctly support Firefox. Consequently I had a great ordeal to undergo every time I wanted to post. But I am here now and I promise to post regularly. For a while, it may even be daily because there is so much stuff that I've had thoughts on in the tech world. So thank you so much for being patient! I hope you enjoy the entries to come.
04 May, 2008
A brief note before we begin: once again, I find it necessary to apologize for the fact that this review on the accessibility of my Mac is extremely overdue. And there have been several people ill with bad colds here. I have also had a number of developments in college life that I cannot discuss here. Everything is fine and when college begins again in the fall, I am sure I will have a tremendous success. All of these developments along with some overdue reunions have kept me from blogging. Now that I have explained my situation, let's get on with the topic at hand which is the accessibility of the Mac.
I've been using my MacBook Pro for quite a while now and I still love it! No, I have not given up Windows and because I own a Mac, I will never have to make the choice to give up Windows. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go back to the first part of this review read about parallels.
As all 2 readers of this blog will know :-), I have cerebral palsy which means that when I use a computer, I have to do so in a different fashion from most people. For one thing, my CP impacts the muscles in my eyes. This can make it difficult to read small print. To address this problem on my PC at home, I recently purchased a product called ZoomText for approximately $400. Now this product is absolutely worth it and I could not run my PC nearly as effectively without it. I know this because I did so for years and never realized just how much of my computer I couldn't see. ZoomText is not like the simple magnifier you'll find in Windows. ZoomText can magnify the entire screen, rather than just a small portion. What to do about the Mac? Well it turns out... nothing. That's right, you heard me to achieve the exact same results as in ZoomText, I didn't have to do anything apart from turn on the built-in magnification utility in OS X Leopard and learn the keyboard shortcuts to control the magnification. So to review: on the PC $400 was spent to get a good magnifier. On the Mac, I spent nothing apart from a little time learning exactly how the magnifier worked.
If magnification is not enough for you and you need something read aloud, what we do you plan Windows-based PCs? Yes, it is true that Microsoft has a utility in the accessibility options called "Narrator". In my experience however, the utility can only read selected text. Let's contrast this to the Mac experience. What do I do on my Mac if I want to read the document or an e-mail? I simply click "Edit", "Speech", and "Start Speaking". This functionality is built into any Mac application that supports text. That means you can use it in a word processor, or, e-mail. The only place where the reading utility is not available where it should be is in web browsers. If you still require more expensive audio feedback due to blindness, the Mac has a built-in utility Called "Voiceover. This will read anything on the screen, including menus and dialog boxes. And it's built into the Mac directly. A good voice navigation system/screen reader for the PC such as Jaws for Windows Can cost or $800 for the Standard Edition.
08 February, 2008
First, let me apologize for being away so long. As I have previously reported on this blog, I am in the middle of doing school related tasks. But I have a lot of technology stories to cover and so over the next few weeks, I hope to catch up. We're going to begin today with the topic that has engendered much passion on both sides of the issue. Yes, it's that age-old argument, PC or Mac. Most of you know that I bought a MacBook Pro for school and I have to tell you I love it! Now hold on, before you fire up those angry e-mails saying, "but PCs run more applications." Before you even think of calling me a turncoat, let me describe computing in the ideal world.
In an ideal world, wouldn't you like to be able to run any application you wanted, regardless of which operating system it was made for? If you could have your ideal computer, wouldn't it always boot up without fail? Wouldn't it be less susceptible to viruses than your computer of today? If you could deal with an ideal company, would you deal with a big conglomerate that only makes software, or would you want the company you deal with to also have intimate knowledge of the hardware you're using because they made it? In an ideal world you shouldn't have to worry about system requirements in choosing software to the degree that we do today. All you should have to do is go through the simple act of putting the disc in question into the appropriate drive. Yes, you heard me, That's All You Should Have To Do. Now do we live in an ideal computing world? No, of course not but the day is coming because frankly, my experience with the Mac as shown me that it is possible not to have to make certain choices. Today though as I said, we are not at the "ideal world "stage of computing. So let's take a good look at where we are with the Mac today.
Let me state for the record that my MacBook Pro provides the best mobile computing experience I've ever had! Why is this? The answer is very simple I did not have to choose between Windows and OS X. I run them both simultaneously and seamlessly using a program called "Parallels". "Parallels" doesn't just allow me to run Windows on a Mac. You can actually do that without purchasing anything apart from your own copy of Windows using a program called "Boot Camp", which is free in the newest version of OS X "Leopard" the advantage to "Parallels" is that it allows me to integrate all by Windows applications directly into my Macintosh experience. In other words, using the Mac, I can run Windows applications just as though they were made for the Mac. rather than having me try to explain how parallels works, watch this video.
So this means I do not have to abandon needed Windows applications while at the same time, I can simultaneously take advantage of all the easy to use Mac applications. The latest version of "parallels" does in fact support DirectX for improved gaming. Before you e-mail me and say, "This game doesn't work on parallels", I said improved gaming, not perfect gaming. It is also no longer necessary to drag files between the two operating systems to choose which application can open them. So that's how I run my Mac. I like choice. Ask yourself why we choose between operating systems. Why is there a great debate? Why can't each individual to decide what is easiest for them and work that way? That time is coming and "parallels" and other software like it offer a glimpse into the future when operating systems will look the way each user needs them to but still be able to run the applications they want.
The Mac itself is tremendously well built. MacBook Pro's are aluminum and glass, not plastic. The keyboard is backlit for use in the dark. Although I don't type, I do find this feature useful for seeing what I'm doing in the dark. There are also a number of accessibility features that are a great improvement over those found in Windows. If you're familiar with Narrator, you may find as I did that the Macintosh Voiceover utility is an incredible improvement. OS X also includes a far superior magnifier to that found in Windows. The Windows one sits at the top of the screen, while the OS X equivalent can magnify the entire screen. This means you don't have to look in one particular area at to get a better view of what you're working with. And it will even work on the Windows apps you run. Probably the easiest thing to do is to devote an entire blog entry on accessibility between parallels and OS X. This I will do next time but for now, just know that one day, the convergence of the operating systems will happen! "Parallels" and other such solutions are a good stopgap in the meantime. You do however, need to make sure that you're running an Intel Mac with at least 2 GB of RAM for parallels to be responsive in a timely manner. When setting up Windows in this fashion, you can then devote 1 GB of RAM just Windows. I run Windows Vista this way on my Mac. I'll have more information about installing adaptive software used in Windows on the Mac in my next entry, "Accessibility and the Mac"
20 November, 2007
This post was published to Technical Musings at 3:25:50 PM 11/20/2007
You might be wondering what this has to do with technology. If I could ask for your indulgence for a moment, I think you'll see the connection. For all of our friends outside the US, Thursday is a national holiday. November 25th is Thanksgiving Day. This day is supposed to commemorate the day the pilgrims (Puritans) shared a peaceful meal when the native population after a rough winter. For me, Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate my life and to look for ways to bring the same hope and encouragement to others in my situation. Anyone who reads my blog will know that I am greatly concerned with making a difference in the world. Right now, the people of Bangladesh are in terrible pain. Tragic events there have separated families. Children are hungry and dying. When we look at the devastation there, we might think, "There's nothing I can do. It's so far away." With so much turmoil there, it is difficult to know where to begin. Television cameras and other broadcasting technology have however, made us aware of the problem. And technology may provide a partial solution. We may not be able to go to remote countries to assist those in need personally, but we can and must do something. Go to the Red Cross website, to see what can be donated. If Bangladesh seems too far way, begin here at home. Get your local church, synagogue, mosque, or, community group to crochet, knit, or, collect hats, scarves, and, maintenance for the homeless and needy. Don't pretend we don't see them every day. Technology beams images of these people into our living rooms and what we as a society need to understand is that any one of us you one paycheck away from being in that situation. Did you know that one in 10 people had to choose between buying food and buying other daily necessities such as medications? What does that say about us both as people and as a nation? What kind of people do we want to be? I know, "I'd love to donate something, but I don't have money or time". While I'm proud to announce that beginning today, you do. You can simply go to the grocery store, buy extra roll of toilet paper, paper towels, diapers, or other nonfood items not covered by food stands and bring them to a nonfood pantry in your area. If you don't have a nonfood pantry in your area, talk to your local churches about being a drop-off point. It's these types is essential nonfood items that many people go without. What kind of technology do we have today? I know we've spent many hours discussing the benefits of technology for society, and I'm sure will spend many more. Right now though, we as a country; as people, have a decision to make. We have technology to help people in need, what are we going to use it? Are we so complacent; so convinced there's nothing we can do that we won't even try? Here's something simple you can do. Go to the Salvation Army website and make a small donation in your state. There, technology allows us to be charitable without leaving home. Still not enough? Unable to donate to the Salvation Army or other organization? Okay, try this. Right now, as you're sitting there surfing on the Internet, you could be feeding hungry people all over the world. You can do it without even leaving your computer chair. It doesn't require any money and there's no extensive amount of time necessary you can even get your children involved in this activity. What is it? Just go to freerice.com. As you increase your vocabulary, the sponsors of the website will donate rice to the UN to be distributed to needy countries. Currently correct answer you get, 10 grains of rice are donate it. The more vocabulary you know, the more you can donate. It's that simple. Yes, this is legit and for proof, you can go to CBS news, and look under the CBS evening news. If you know of any other programs or websites where people can make a difference during this time of need, please let me know. We have the technology to solve these problems and only by employing it correctly, can we truly make a great Thanksgiving for all. Please, remember to give thanks all year round.
Hi everyone. Sorry I've been away for so long. School has taken a lot of prep work. I finally registered for classes and by the time you read this, my MacBook Pro will probably be on its way. I will have a review of OS X .5 Leopards as soon as my Mac arrives. Needless to say, I am looking forward to it and I'm also looking forward to working with Parallels in order to run Windows and Mac OS simultaneously. There are a number of other exciting developments I'll be following, so stay tuned.