Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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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.

My thoughts on being totally blind how large and/or multiple screens are over rated

Many have 2 or 3 monitors on their desks and the bigger the better… ; if I were sighted, I’d probably think the same way. The human brain is great at pattern matching and picking something out of a large field of view, and/or taking in lots of information over a wide area at a single glance, but there’s a paradigm shift for those who are totally blind.

 

Not only do multiple monitors not give the blind user any advantage, for the most part, screen readers rarely simultaneously monitor multiple windows on the same screen very well, if at all beyond split screen view on newer iPad models running iOS 9 or later. Some times a notification window will visually cover the window I’m working with , and sighted friends who are visiting get confused; voiceover doesn’t care and keeps working just fine.

The first times I heard people complain about how they felt working on a tablet was inefficient because they could only see 1 window at a time, I thought but that’s the only way I can use a computer or tablet. Now there are even apps like Duet  that let the user have their iPad serve as a second screen for their MacBook.

Most of these thoughts are just thoughts to consider, to encourage sighted readers to think about how they might use a computer if they ever were blind, but there are some frustrations I have that actually have negative impact on my productivity.

 

Some times developers think “I’m only going to release my app for the iPad, no one would ever want to use it on a small phone screen anyway.” No one if we were all the same. For those who are totally blind, an iPhone with a  Bluetooth keyboard can make a very powerful mobile system of productive awesomeness.

Yes, I can type on iOS touch screens, but I admit i’m not good at it so I just carry around a foldable keyboard and problem solved. I wrote much of this post with my iPhone 6 plus and an iClever foldable Bluetooth keyboard sitting out on my balcony. I even wish apps like  iBooks and/or “Voice Dream Reader” existed on the watch using VoiceOver that would make it the world’s smallest book reader and it would work fabulously for blind readers, as well as the music player the Apple watch already is.

 

On the iPad you can press command-tab on a bluetooth keyboard to switch between apps like on the mac, but not on an iPhone, and to get a list of hardware keyboard shortcuts in the current app you only have to press the option key, this doesn’t work with VoiceOver currently. I would love if there was a iOS wide shortcut that would bring up a screen with a dismiss button with a list of keyboard shortcuts that VoiceOver could browse through, that would be awesome.

 

If you’re sighted, multiple screens and multiple windows increase efficiency, on the other side there are things that increase efficiency for blind users too. Using headphones instead of speakers help me with faster speech,  system sounds and/or Earcons can tell the user about events in the background; I’ve noticed that many sighted people I know have sounds off completely, as for them sounds are only a distraction. I’m also finding on the terminal the less output from a command the better.

 

Is there anything for the blind that could be an equivalent to a second monitor for the sighted? kind of. I’m finding the Apple watch gives me dynamic information separately from what my iPhone is doing, and back on the mac, beyond just system sounds, having programs actually speak bits of information even in the background at appropriate times could b very useful.

How I’m Using Textedit beyond VI and VIM to edit files from the Mac os terminal

There’s a joke about the Unix editor vi, that goes something like: I’ve been using vi for so long, because I can’t figure out how to get out of it. Vim, in my opinion isn’t any better. I can appreciate the power these editors have, and they’re really fast for those who are comfortable on them, but I think of documents more fluidly than only 1 line at a time. I can use nano if I have to, but I feel most comfortable in an interface at least as developed as something like notepad or Textedit. Enter another way to cheat in the Mac OS terminal.

Before actually doing this, it’s a good idea to change a few settings in Textedit or bad things might happen.

Bring up the preference in Textedit either through the menus or just press Command-comma.
In the new document tab, select the plain text radio button, also make sure that the check spelling as you type, the check grammar with spelling and the correct spelling automatically check boxes are unchecked. You also want the smart quotes and smart dashes options to be unchecked.

On the open and save tab: you may want the display html text as code instead of formatted text checked. You definitely want the add .txt extension to plain text files unchecked, or things will stop working.

Now that we have that all out of the way…

 

alias ted=’open -e $1′

Something so easy you can have it working immediately in a brand new squeaky clean install before you even have your most favorite apps up and running. There are awesome editors out there that can also work with files from the command-line that do way more than Textedit could ever dream of, like TextMate and BBEdit, but this is still a nice fix to keep in the toolbox that requires nothing beyond what OS X provides out of the gate.