Monthly Archives: November 2016

Thoughts about my experiences with a new iPhone 7 without a headphone jack

Early this year the tech world exploded over that there wouldn’t be a headphone jack in the new iPhone, there are still blind people who say they won’t buy another one because of that; and Although I wasn’t happy about it, i thought boycotting them altogether was a bit too far. When Belkin announced their Lightning audio plus charge Rockstar  with 2 Lightning ports and Apple announced including their new $9 Lightning to headphone adaptor, I felt the annoyance was easily resolvable. Even with this resolution, some of those earlier mentioned extremists still won’t buy another iPhone saying it just makes the phone $50 more expensive than the already high price. Yes, spending $40 for an extra dongle to carry around so you can use wired headphones and charge simultaneously is annoying, but in the end I still don’t find it that big of a deal, even with a low income. Even though Apple does include one of their adaptors, I have bought 2 more and 1 sits in a drawer as a spare..

I got my iPhone 7 on October 4, and I was told the Belkin dongle wasn’t available yet until November second, ye that was annoying. A few Skype calls ended prematurely because of a dying battery, and some times I had to use Bluetooth headphones so I could charge, and then there was the pillow speaker I use when going to bed. For the first week I used my old iPhone 6 plus to play podcasts or audio books before sleeping, but I really wanted to use the new iPhone for everything and didn’t want to wait for the dongle.

Then I had a bit of intuition. I remembered I had 2 Anker Bluetooth adaptors, that I used for my combining audio streams into one Bluetooth headset project, so I paired one of them to the pillow speaker and it worked, great; except for 1 problem. The adaptors also run on a battery, and batteries still don’t last forever for some reason. I turned the adapter on so that it was receiving Bluetooth audio from my phone and piping it to the speaker, then I plugged it into USB to charge, and it shut off. I was momentarily frustrated, but then I just turned it back on again and it worked, even when charging on USB and it kept working, for 3 days until I unplugged it, and was still all charged up; problem solved. Finally the Belkin Lightning port Rockstar was available, even a week early, and it is nice to have; though I don’t need 2 of them as i originally thought I would with 1 going to the pillow speaker. The Bluetooth adaptor costs $30, so saved $10 there too. Now that I can charge and use wired headphones simultaneously even when charging like I could before when iPhones had headphone jacks, I can sigh with relief; that is until I forget to take the dongle with me somewhere. Still, for the most part, it puts the no headphone jack problem back into the tea pot with all the tempests of tempestuous pasts.

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how to make ping audible, and equally more useful for both blind and sighted users

Ping is a little network troubleshooting command on operating systems that have any command line capability. Ping sends an ICMP packet to tell you if a specific network connection is up if the device pinged is configured to send back a reply. Back during my Cisco networking days I was annoyed that I couldn’t see if network connections were up while configuring them in a separate router window; my sighted classmates and coworkers would just display 2 windows and look between them. My friend Sean Randall was learning programming at the time and wrote a cool little autoit script for me that could ping and beep when it got replies and we called it sping; then I moved to the mac and missed that utility.

about a year ago a friend Jacob White, who is fully sighted but spends time under desks plugging networks together, told me about the ping command flags -a or uppercase -A that totally resolved that function. The -a flag will emit the system default beep when a reply is received, and the -A flag   beeps if no reply comes back. Just type out the ping command and add one of those flags e.g.

ping -a 192.168.1.1
or -A if you’re looking for lost packets.
As far as I know this is present in the ping command for all current versions of Unix Linux or macOS. There is also a nice little utility for Microsoft Windows called bping that beyond adding beeps to ping can also scan a subnet for you. Actually, any ping command can scan a subnet for you if you ping the network broadcast address.

e.g. ping 192.168.1.255

 

Adding audible beeps to ping make the command more usable for blind users, but it also is convenient for sighted people under their desks, another example of where some “accessibility” features are also convenient and useful for those without any disability.

My rant on how many online videos and podcasts have way too much cognitive load, like music beds

In an attempt not to just only complain, I’d like to mention a significant frustration I have with many videos I often find on the internet. I get that they are “videos” but often the authors don’t find the audio aspect important at all. Many videos, like this one only have music as the audio so that a blind listener has no idea what’s going on, or can’t hear the object of the video. Just 5 minutes ago I was trying to find out what the Segway miniPRO personal transporter sounded like, one of those blind quarks, but all the videos I could find only had meaningless techno music as audio.

Music in the background when speaking in a video is also annoying, especially when the person is trying to communicate something important the viewer and/or listener needs to know. authors may think it’s cool and/or makes the presentation less boring, but all it really does is add cognitive load to the experience. I’ve even heard podcasts, made by blind people, with background music while the person speaks; where the whole experience is audio, no video at all. I imagine it would be like if libraries had bright strobe lights on whenever people tried to read anything.

With our life styles accelerating more all the time, and the need to learn and understand more every day, I encourage everyone to consider how much cognitive load bling is adding to their presentations, and to consider that not everyone has all the senses and/or skills you might enjoy. The most important thing every human will ever do in their entire lives is to communicate understanding, let’s all try harder to communicate as completely as possible so that all of us can more easily understand more deeply.

A virtually unknown iOS VoiceOver feature, automatically announcing the time every minute

As an iOS VoiceOver user, several years ago I discovered that if I touched the clock status bar item VoiceOver would continue to automatically announce the time until interrupted by touch or certain incoming notifications. I can’t remember exactly when this became a feature, but it was more than 3 years ago, and I’ve never heard anyone else mention it nor have I seen it documented anywhere; so I thought I’d share it, as I can imagine it being helpful to many others.

This time announcement feature is very useful to me, especially when I’m in a hurry, and need to get ready for something quickly. I even use it occasionally with my Anker Soundcore Bluetooth speaker in the shower; time can really accelerate there. Time announcements are also available on macOS in the Date & Time Preference Pane, near the bottom of the clock tab. Though not customizable to the exact minute; 15, 30, and 60 minutes are optional. I could also see this useful on the Apple watch, though it’s not there yet.

How I combined multiple audio sources into one Bluetooth headset

Back in the day  i’d have to hold the phone up to my ear whenever I wanted to use GPS or anything with the screenreader, and if a bus went by, it was   a complete   fail.    then in early 2013  my friend Hai Nguyen Ly gave me a pair of the Aftershokz 1st generation bone conducting  headphones and my workflow in public was changed forever. I could use my iPhone  anywhere and besides being able to hear it in any situation quiet or loud it didn’t bother anyone around me either.

 

The problems above were very similar with talking watches which is why until the Apple watch I had always preferred braille watches. I’ve found a lot of cool uses for my Apple watch but the problem of its audio coming out the speaker in public still remained.

 

Aftershokz came out with their Trekz   Titanium model earlier this year, and among other things in their marketing speak was mentioned Bluetooth multipoint; that their new flagship model could pair with 2 Bluetooth devices. I was excited, if i could get the audio from both my iPhone and Apple watch into the same pair of bone conducting  headphones that would be huge, but alas pairing with 2 devices did not mean simultaneously.

 

Over a year  ago my friend @cajunluke

told me about the Belkin  audio splitter Rockstar, and I’d also remembered Allison Sheridan and Dave Hamilton  talking about the Amtech Bean Bluetooth receiver, but it could only receive, if there was a bluetooth transmitter? A plan began forming in my mind.

 

 an Amazon delivery later I had a Rockstar and 2 Anker audio bluetooth adaptors  , which can both transmit and receive, though not simultaneously, and a bunch of patch cords and was ready to go.

 

The Rockstar has been out for a while and using it to combine wired audio sources is widely understood, but I was trying to  combine both  Bluetooth and analog audio  sources and also put them altogether, out to a Bluetooth headset.

I wondered how to combine 2 Bluetooth devices together when neither had a keyboard nor a display, but the Aftershokz and the Anker Bluetooth adaptor pair nicely as long as you remember to get them both into pair mode simultaneously it works most times.

 

One adaptor is set to receive and is paired to the watch. The other adaptor is set to transmit and is paired to the Aftershokz.

I wear cargo pants so the large pockets are great for a bunch of cables plugged altogether, the shorter the patch cords the better.

 

the system works very well, the more devices plugged into the Rockstar the lower the volume is because of resistance but so far there’s still enough volume to go around for me. Having the audio from my watch in the headset makes it much more productive for me in public even if no one was around to be annoyed by the watch speaker. When I used Apple pay  VoiceOver lowers the volume  for security, i could still hear it and much better through the headset. 

I also do BrainPort testing for Wicab 

and the Rockstar has 5 audio jacks so I can  plugged that in also which greatly improves how I hear it especially in loud environments.  

 

I’m surprised that seemingly few know about the Rockstar, but also haven’t heard of anyone combining it with Bluetooth adaptors. I know it will be part of my workflow for some time.

How I think watches are way more useful than many think

Many say that watches are useless now that we have cell phones and just as many don’t even wear one, , but I still say it’s much easier to look at your wrist if sighted or do voiceover gestures on your Apple watch, than to take your phone out of a pocket to get the time; and a smartwatch can do so much more.

What makes smartwatches most useful are complications; having apps display and update bits of data on the screen. Many iOS developers have added watch apps to accompany their iOS offerings, and many of those also have complications combined with those by Apple; there’s a wide range to pick from. Anything from moon phase to temperature to next calendar appointment to counted steps for the day, or sports scores, , and many more; before discounting watch complications as useless, think of your daily routines and consider when getting a piece of information meaningful to your activities more conveniently might help your day be more efficient. They’re somewhat like a screen of widgets, or how people using several monitors on their systems have updating windows open on their second or third screen. It’s the closest voiceover users will probably ever get to that use of multiple screens.

Right away I found the modular watch face was my favorite because it had the most, 5 complications. I’d heard people rave about the different faces and wanting more, but I’m too much of a Vulcan to enjoy such frivolity as say Mickey mouse. Then watch OS 3 came out and people liked that you could switch between faces much easier than before, 2-finger swipe right or left, but I still didn’t care; until I figured out that I could delete all the other faces and only have multiple modular faces with different complications. That was cool, I could have 3 watch faces, all modular, so 15 complications all easily reachable even with voiceover, the productive part of my mind was very happy.

Before I wished there had been a watch face with more complications, this solves that now.
Yes, the phone can practically do anything that the watch can, but the watch is way more convenient whether you’re blind or sighted, and putting dynamic bits of information on a smartwatch is very helpful when pressed for time. Time until the next bus, workout stats while at the gym, data that changes very rapidly right on your wrist; whereas it would be much more cumbersome to either have to dig the phone out of your pocket, oh wait no pockets in gym shorts, or change between different apps on your phone once it’s out.

I think augmented reality is way more important than virtual reality, especially for blind people, and the Apple watch can go a long way towards helping with that. Beyond the complications, tactile feedback is my second favorite feature. Getting turning directions tactilely is great when a loud truck or bus going by makes spoken GPS directions difficult to hear. Speaking of difficulty hearing, there are already cool articles about how deaf and deaf blind people are using Taptic taps to communicate when they need to quickly, like in public
Another case, though it shouldn’t exist, is some times the watch app is accessible to voiceover, whereas the iOS app is not; in my case it’s the app of my financial institution, but that’s a whole different story.

. As time goes on, only our imagination will limit us from creating ways for our Apple watches, and for many including me it’s accessibility features, to improve our dynamic lives even more.