Podcast transcript: Mosen at large episode 212, All that’s new in HumanWare’s Victor Reader Stream third generation, is it time for us to do visual interpretation differently, and an Australian bar says if you’re blind and by yourself, it’s a safety risk for you to drink

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Jonathan Mosen: I’m Jonathan Mosen. This is Mosen At Large, the show that’s got the blind community talking. This week, all the details about HumanWare’s Victor Reader Stream third generation, is it time to do visual interpretation differently and better, and a blind woman walks into a bar. I speak with Vanessa Ransely.


Mosen At Large podcast.

Intro and some notes for new listeners

Jonathan: It is an absolute pleasure to be back with you for 2023. It’s wonderful to be here. It’s certainly a thrill. I am recharged and rejuvenated and looking forward to bringing more episodes to you. A warm welcome to our regulars. It’s nice to know you haven’t forgotten me over the last month. If you are new to the podcast, a special welcome to you. A couple of things that may be of help. First, the podcast is segmented by chapters. Most podcast apps on your smartphone support chapters and this means that you can skip around the podcast to things that interest you. Skip away from those that don’t. It’s just like navigating a daisy book. If there’s something in the podcast that doesn’t take your fancy, skip ahead by chapter. Hopefully, you’ll find something that does.

The second thing is we really enjoy your contributions. We get a lot of listener input. I’m incredibly grateful for that. The way to send in your feedback if you want to be included in the show is to drop me an email, you can write the email down, or to give everybody a welcome break from my voice, you can attach an audio clip to that email, send it into Jonathan, that’s J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com. You can also call the listener line. That number is in the United States. It’s 86460 Mosen, 864-606-6736.

Mathieu Paquette and Dominic Labbe from HumanWare discuss the Victor Reader Stream Third Generation

Let’s get right into the feature I know a lot of people are anticipating. HumanWare’s Victor Reader Stream is one of the most popular blindness-specific devices ever created. This remains true despite the popularity of smartphones with accessible features. I know this to be true because I can drill into the statistics for this podcast and see the devices that people are listening with. The stream remains exceptionally popular.

New versions of the stream don’t come around often. HumanWare is about to release only its third generation since its initial release in 2007. Understandably then, there’s plenty of interest in what this new device is going to be like and I know that to be true as well because I outsourced some of this interview. We went to the Mosen media list. You can subscribe to that by sending a blank email to media-subscribe@mosen.org and to Mastodon where you can follow me @MosenAtLarge@mstdn.social. We asked people what they would like to know about the Victor Reader Stream. I’ll get through as many of those questions as I can.

Mathieu Paquette and Dominic Labbé join me from HumanWare. Thanks for joining me, guys. In an era where it’s popular to consolidate tasks onto one device, usually a smartphone, what do you think it is about the stream that has made it so popular, Mathieu?

Mathieu Paquette: I really think it’s the ease of use and the fact that it’s a purely tactile interface. Especially for people who perhaps lost vision later in life and have a hard time adapting to smartphones and touchscreens, it is a device that’s easy to pick up, and that where the user interface is purely designed for blind people. I’m going to say also by blind people because we have several of our employees who work on the project that are themselves blind or low vision and use the product on a daily basis.

It is really that focus on having a user interface that’s as intuitive as possible for blind people while remaining easy to use. Also, people love the fact that it’s smaller than the phone and the battery life is great as it’s only used to read books and whatnot. You get a lot more battery life out of that than on a smartphone where if you were to read books on a continuous basis, after six or eight hours, you might have a dead battery. On the stream, especially the Stream 3, we have about 15 to 16 hours of autonomy. I think that’s what differentiates it.

Jonathan: Yes, because even some iPhone experts still have a stream and they say, “Yes, I use my iPhone, I’ve got all sorts of apps but for certain tasks like reading books and listening to this podcast or whatever, I still go for the stream despite my iPhone skills.”

Mathieu: Yes, for sure. It is a really, really popular device. It’s probably the most popular device that HumanWare has.

Jonathan: Then, on the other hand, you’ve got I guess what I would call walled gardens emerging that do provide accessible content to blind people. I immediately think of Amazon Kindle, I think of Apple Books where, suddenly, blind people can read books on the day that they are released, and many of us are old enough to remember how long it took to get things put into audio or transcribed in some way. I guess it must be difficult or even impossible for the stream to tap in to those walled gardens because the developer of those standards don’t want you to.

Mathieu: Exactly. As long as the manufacturer allows for us to be able to access their systems, then we’ll be happy to do it. For example, on Stream 2 for those of you who’ve been there and have seen the Stream 2 launch, when we launched the Stream 2 we didn’t have audible support, for example. Then through a lot of pressure from the community with Audible, they eventually relented and allowed us a way to access their systems and be able to authorize a stream, and then be able to read books with the Stream 2.

Now, we’re facing the same issue. We’re in 2023, we’re unfortunately facing the same issue. With Audible, for example, once we launch the Stream 3, you won’t be able to read Audible books but it’s not for lack of trying, we’ve been in discussions with them for months. We’ve even sent them test devices. We really want to implement it but at the end of the day, we’re at the mercy of those big companies like Apple and Amazon and all of that to cooperate with us and make them accessible. At Humanware, as I said, we use our own products and we like reading books from Audible and as much as possible, we’ll try to implement it.

Jonathan: Does that mean then that Audible will continue to work with the second-generation stream but not with the third?

Mathieu: Actually, there’s even an issue that arose a few months ago, I think back in October or November, where they released a new version of Audible sync that broke down the process of authenticating a stream. For customers who have Stream 2 right now and that are already authenticated, they’re okay, they can still read books, but if you were to buy a Stream 2 today and try to authenticate it on Audible sync, it wouldn’t work. We’ve raised that concern with them. We’ve told them a few months ago. They told us they’re working on a solution but unfortunately, we’ve yet to hear back from them.

What I could say to your listeners is, if you want to have Audible on the Stream 3 and bring it back on the Stream 2 as well is to make your voice heard. Call Audible. Let them know that you want that because, at the end of the day, it’s the bottom line that talks, and I’m sure they would rather have those customers than not.

Jonathan: What’s Amazon’s attitude to the stream then? Is it just that they have bigger fish to fry and they’re not giving you the time that you need or are they actually actively hostile? Are they refusing to engage because they don’t want this third-party product supporting Audible?

Mathieu: No, not at all. They’re not hostile. I think it’s a little bit the fact that we are a small fish in a big pond and I think that they have a lot on their plate. They have expressed interest in making it work but at all costs, I don’t know. That’s why, as I said, we’ve been in communication with them. It is sometimes a bit difficult to get an answer but as much as possible, as much as we would love to, as soon as they respond, on our end, Dominic’s team, who’s here on the podcast with us, who’s going to speak in a little bit, I’ll leave him the floor but Dominic’s team has been working hard on getting Audible and we’re pretty much there. It’s only a matter of them making specific adjustments to Audible sync to make it work.

Dominic Labbé: Long ago, they have when we start working with them years ago, they have that notion of being available on every platform, MP3 players, there was so many different devices. Now, they’re more into we provide you application on iOS and Android. We’re breaking a little bit their business model as well. I do understand being an engineer that in terms of priorities, sometimes it’s hard to manage people that break the mold if I can say so.

Jonathan: Well, I feel a blindness petition coming on from someone. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of passion when people hear about this. Also, there are alternative services, perhaps they don’t offer the range that Audible does but there are some services out there that offer the same material in MP3 format.

Mathieu: Yes, there are. One example is Calibre in the UK that we have talked to a few months ago. Our focus right now is on releasing the Stream 3 with ideally as many platforms as the Stream 2 has besides Audible. Once we’ve done and we’ve released it and we’ve fixed a couple of launch bugs because, on launch dates, a new product, it’s a new platform, there will be a few bugs here and there that we’ll have to fix, but once we’re done stabilizing that, for sure, we’ll continue our talks with Calibre is one example.

Another example is here where I live in Quebec, we have a French library that’s called NARA that has French books like Francophone material that we would like also perhaps to integrate in the future. Provided that they have the proper platform for us to integrate into, so they need APIs and that’s more technical stuff, but they need to have what we need to interface with them. Yes, for sure, we are looking at adding more and more platforms. For example, for some viewers, perhaps in the UK or in France, we are working on integrating RNIB and [unintelligible 00:09:37] in the future. Those are two of the upcoming services that we’ll be able to support.

Jonathan: Another one you might want to consider is one called Libro.fm. That’s L-I-B-R-O.FM. We’ve had them on the podcast before. They do pure MP3 and they’re interested in engaging with the blind community. Is this a major philosophical change about the third generation stream that it sounds to me, based on what you’re describing, that you want to be able to do as much standalone as possible with this device?

Dominic: First, the Stream 2 is 10 years old or almost 10 years old, so of course, in term of platform back then it was a wonderful platform, nowadays it’s a little bit outdated platform. First, we’re giving ourself a much better platform to start with and the ability to grow the functionality. I would not say it that way, but we almost reached the ceiling of what we could do with the Stream 2 but now we have a much more modern platform and equipment.

I think that’s would be an opportunity to allow much more if we can partnership with different organization and hopefully bringing more sources to get material. We, of course, still want to work with the client visually impaired organization that produce book. That’s our main business of course. If we can get access to alternative services, especially mass market services, of course, we’ll be happy to do so when those companies are willing to work with us.

Mathieu: I’m definitely taking a note on Libro.fm. In the next few months, I’ll definitely reach out to them and see if we can work together.

Jonathan: That would be great. I think there’d be a lot of interest in that from people who just want their audiobooks in MP3. It sounds like the philosophy here is a little bit like Dolphin easy reader on iOS where you can subscribe to a range of services that are supported. For instance, I can say I’m a customer of the blind low vision in Zed Library. I give my credentials, I can browse the catalog and download the books. Is that a fair comparison?

Dominic: It’s definitely the objective. We want to be able to keep in touch with the user and where they want to get their content and make sure they can get their content on the stream and play it on the stream. They love the stream, just need to make sure they can play their favorite content for their favorite organization. That’s definitely part of the plan to make sure we can access as much as possible. Like I said, visually impair style of services, but also mass market style of services. If we can achieve advancement over the Stream 2 on both side, of course, we’ll keep our user happy hopefully.

Jonathan: We’ll come back to some of this, but could we talk about the hardware itself and first of all, what it feels and looks like compared to the second generation? Also capabilities that the third generation has that the second generation didn’t.

Mathieu: The Stream 3 is exactly the same size as the Stream 2 is in terms of volume, the height, the width, the thickness. It’s fairly, fairly, fairly similar to a couple of millimeters close. In terms of the interface, on the front of the device, people who have a Stream 2 will find the exact same button placement. On the top you’ve got your go-to key, your online key, your bookmark, you have a numeric keypad just below that. One through nine, zero, pound, star. Below that you’ve got the sleep key. Then below that, the sleep key is the rewind play and fast forward. The exact same thing.

The difference here is that the keys are a little bit bigger, which is going to help with people with fine motor skill issues and they’re also rubberized. On the Stream 2, the keys were more plasticky, on the Stream 3 you’ll feel that they’re rubberized. We’ve also added little indents on keys two, four, six and eight for a better tactile feel. As well as the two little raise dots on the number five, just like we had on the Stream 2.

Besides that, outside of the front face of the device, you’ve got your power button and your volume up and down on the left side same positioning as on the Stream 2. You’ve got your record button on the right side. Again, same thing in the Stream 2. on the top you have your SD card slot. This small change that we’ve made here is that there’s an SD protector flap, so there’s a little rubber flap over the SD card to prevent accidental injection as well as offer a small dust protection.

Jonathan: And USBC this time, right?

Mathieu: For sure. We’ve heard the complaints about the micro USB port. We know that they’re not easy to use, especially for the blind community. We went with a more modern USBC port, which is both more resilient as well as easier to use because you can just, as you know, insert your cable either which way and it’ll work.

Jonathan: What size SD cards are supported?

Mathieu: On the Stream 2, we supported officially up to 32 gigs according to the specs. That being said, and I used to be in technical support at HumanWare before I was a product manager, we had people with 64, 128. I’ve even seen a few with 256 gig cards. Some of those would work, some of them wouldn’t. It was a bit of a gamble. Now on the Stream 3, we support exFAT, which means that we have up to 1 terabyte of space for SD cards.

Jonathan: Okay. These are standard sized SD cards, correct?

Mathieu: Correct.

Jonathan: Which makes them a bit easier to handle.

Mathieu: For sure. For sure. They’re easier to handle. They’re also, I believe, a little bit cheaper very often.

Jonathan: How about internal storage on the device?

Mathieu: In terms of internal storage, there’s two main differences here. The first one is that it’s bigger. We’ve got 16 gigs instead of eight. The other difference is that the internal memory can now be used by customers directly. What that means is that if you download a book through your computer and you wanted to put it on the Stream 2, for example, you had to use an SD card. Now we have about 13 gigs of internal memory. We reserve about three gigs for the operating system updates and whatnot, but you’ve got about 13 gigs of internal memory where you can create folders. The folders will be automatically there, but VR DTB and all those folders that people who use Stream 2 are familiar with and you can put books, music even use voice recording and that’ll go into the internal memory if you don’t have an SD card inserted.

Jonathan: So they will come up as a drive in subfolders and Windows. Does that work for Mac as well?

Mathieu: For Windows, basically the way it works we now support what’s called the MTP, which is Media Transfer Protocol. When you connect your stream to a computer, one of the differences is that you can still use your stream, which was not the case with the Stream 2 because at that point just become a card reader. You can now use your Stream 2 while it’s connected to a computer. Then you’ll see two folders. You’ll see one for the internal memory and one for SD card if the SD card is present. Then you’ll be able to transfer files in and out. As far as Mac support, as long as the Mac supports MTP, they should be able to see the drive with no problem.

Jonathan: Now I’m doing my best to consolidate some of these questions I’ve received from listeners and one recurring theme seems to me in my diagnosis to relate to processor speed. People have said it takes a long time, even on a good Wi-Fi connection with the current stream to download a fairly large podcast like this one. People are saying even when listening to a 96 kbps MP3 stream, they might start to get buffering, whereas on the same Wi-Fi connection on a different device, they don’t get that. Have you been able to beef up the processor in the third generation stream?

Dominic: I will not get into numbers because that’s typically something we don’t release. Definitely what we did is two different things. Improvement on the Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi is now faster and support 5 gigahertz, which obviously give access to routers that are more performant. In term of CPU, RAM memory, flash memory 10 years has passed. You can imagine that we get more power. Typically what we want is people to have a better experience and by having a faster CPU, faster memory, and a better Wi-Fi chip, I think the user experience will be quite improve on this.

Jonathan: 5 gigahertz. That’s great. What’s the best protocol that you support in terms of Wi-Fi?

Dominic: We get BGNNEC, so that’s typically covering most people.

Jonathan: Just returning to battery life and charge time, you mentioned about 16 hours. How long does the device take to fully charge?

Dominic: Basically, we get 15 to 16 hours on most cases, around three hours maximum to charge if the device is fully depleted. We’re using USBC, so providing that the user are using the charger that we provide with the device, the recharge will be quite efficient. A little bit like the stream, remember the Stream 2 is giving that couple of days work or I would say a very long day if you listen a lot of stuff. That’s really the idea, always to be more than a day and a few hours to get for maximum to recharge. That’s what we’ve always been hamming with the device.

Jonathan: A lot of interest in the fact that there’s Bluetooth in the third-generation stream. How do you envisage that being used?

Dominic: Typically the main usage at the moment is Bluetooth headset speaker or any other audio device that people want to connect with. We do understand especially people that use a white cane that the cable might get tangled in the cane or something, so we do understand that Bluetooth is definitely easier for some of our user. Could be also a nice external speaker that people have in their home when they’re at home and they want to listen with the device. We hope that people will use a Bluetooth a lot at least [unintelligible 00:19:09], but on our internal service and external service, Bluetooth was always on the top three of requested features. We are happy to deliver the Bluetooth audio to pull out that better experience.

Jonathan: Okay. Pair it with your earpods, which I believe can also just work with standard Bluetooth, any Bluetooth-compatible speaker, Bluetooth-compatible earbuds, or basically any audio that does straight good old-fashioned Bluetooth will work.

Dominic: Exactly.

Jonathan: Talking about the device’s own built-in speaker, some people have been hoping for some improvements there. Any good news for them?

Dominic: Certainly was a concern to us both in term of quality but also in term of loudness. People have complained that the Stream 2 is not loud enough. We definitely work very hard. My colleagues in the hardware engineering came up with solution and the speaker, to my opinion, and I’m sure the user once they try it will concur. The speaker is louder and with a better quality. I’m a little bit hard of hearing, for me it’s now usable with the stream on the speaker. It was a little bit hard for me on the Stream 2 for my hearing impairment. That’s definitely much better with the Stream 3, so louder and better. With the objective, I think we succeed. We’ll see the user’s reaction on this.

Jonathan: We have quite a few deaf-blind listeners who consume this podcast because we also provide transcripts and I did have a couple of people saying, does the Bluetooth mean that the stream will work with my hearing aids? As I understand the answer to that, if people are using made-for-iPhone hearing aids, which is a Bluetooth derivative that does not conform to the standard Bluetooth protocol, it should not work unless you’ve expressly made it work. It will need to be some sort of Bluetooth streamer device or likely Phonak hearing aids that actually do mimic standard Bluetooth headsets. Is that also your understanding?

Dominic: I think there’s different answer depending on the hearing aids. Some of them are fairly standard Bluetooth, if you provide a standard Bluetooth interface, that’s fine. For others, they’re using other what we call profile for Bluetooth. There’s some work coming up in future version, but at the moment the ones that have hearing aids that can work as a standard Bluetooth will be covered. Others will work with partners and see what we can do in the future version. Yes, we found that there’s some hearing aids that are using different protocol and that’s actually our goal there to expand the support of those components or device in the future.

Jonathan: Right. Obviously, that’s a market you would be very conscious of.

Mathieu: Absolutely. A lot of our user base is elderly and with age comes very often hearing loss. I remember from the survey we put out about a year and a half ago, a decent portion of our customers had some mild hearing impairment at least up to severe. For sure it is a market that we are concerned about and we want to expand our support for the stream as Dominic mentioned.

Jonathan: Is there anything else new about the hardware that we haven’t covered that you would like to?

Mathieu: One of the things that I wanted to mention is in terms of the battery. It used to be the Stream 2 had an external battery. The Stream 3 is more in line with modern devices. Today if you buy a phone, for example, not a whole lot of phone out there with external user removable batteries. We went that route as well on the Stream 3. It is an internal battery but it will last for several hundred recharge cycles and it is a very reliable battery so we don’t expect to see any kind of issues there. Yes, in terms of the hardware, Dominic mentioned a lot of it like better Wi-Fi, faster processor speed, faster memory, more internal memory as well. All in all, we’re pretty happy about it.

Jonathan: So you are going to have to send it to HumanWare when the battery eventually dies?

Mathieu: Yes, just like with any smartphones if you need a battery replacement you need pretty much need to send it in to the manufacturer, that would be the case as well for the stream.

Jonathan: You still have the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, I take it?

Mathieu: Yes, for sure. We released a Victor Reader Trek which was a hybrid between a Victor Reader Stream and a GPS product about six years ago now. One of the things that we did on that product was to combine the headphone jack with the microphone port and a little bit to our surprise, there was a bit of backlash against that. People liked having both ports separate. When the time came to design the Stream 3, the decision that was made, and that was before my time, I cannot take credit for that, but it was the right decision to make was to keep both ports separate. We still have the microphone jack and the headphone jack.

Those change locations a little bit. On the Stream 2 they’re at the top right corner. One on top, one on the right side. On the Stream 3, they’re now at the bottom for the headphone jack and on the left side below the volume buttons for the microphone jack. Yes, we kept them separate. We know a lot of people like to use external microphone to record classes and stuff like that. Yes, we kept but we still have both.

Jonathan: People have said over the years they would like to be able to do more with the stream as a recorder, that they would like to see the audio quality potentially improve. Have there been any changes to recording either through the microphone or perhaps the software that supports recording?

Dominic: Yes, well certainly. Some outdoor improvement as we mentioned, the ability now to record with headset or with internal microphone or with an external microphone. The first version in term of software functionality for the recording will remain about the same, but each topic we want to improve maybe would be categories for example the ability to sort notes.

We also offer FLAC, which is a better quality than MP3, a lossless compression. A few small improvements and we expect over the next few version after that to really improve on the note recording. Of course, it’s never going to be like there’s some dictaphone devices that have a lot of feature because that’s their main target, but at least I think we can go way better than what we do and give a little bit more options to user with the categories being a prime example.

Jonathan: You’ll be able to record in FLAC format?

Dominic: Correct.

Jonathan: That’s quite significant because I mean obviously it’s very gentle on the storage space and yet it’s lossless audio.

Dominic: I think for most people they are happy about the MP3. If I’m recording just notes for myself and shopping list or that kind of stuff. Somebody doing interview, somebody doing recording that they want to keep, something that’s important, and attending an important lecture, I want to record it. It’s another option that we’re offering. Why can’t we do this? A little bit more power, a little bit more memory. It allows us to do a little bit more just another option for the user and I think the power user definitely might be interested in FLAC, so that’s interesting.

Jonathan: Let’s talk about text-to-speech because obviously, this is something that gets people very passionate. The way that the device sounds, is that the same in the third generation or are there any changes to report there?

Dominic: Basically we’ve been longtime partner with Acapela which is a well-known TTS manufacturer. We’re still in business with them. This is our TTS that we have in the device. Of course, we went to a much more recent version of their TTS. Mathieu, I think we can introduce that at this moment. The big change now is the ability for user to select themselves their second TTS. Instead of having to find a package on our website, people will be able to go in the menu, select another TTS. Imagine a student took a German course in the next semester, well, I can download myself directly on the device, the German TTS, and replace the Spanish one I was using, let’s say, at the previous semester for a Spanish course.

I think those are the main improvement with disability within the device. We know more and more people are on the move, people change countries so it was hard for us to keep up with all the combination. Finnish and Portuguese are not likely combination but it does matter for a few people. Well, people will be able to basically select a language for the menu and select whatever TTS they want in term of language for the second TTS. Yes, I mean New Zealand, Australia, Canada, US many country Europe now have a lot of people that came from other countries, we’ll give them the ability to have the local and native language together in the device very easily.

Jonathan: As I understand the way it has worked in the past, you would have to download software that was bundled with two TTS engines and those bundles were HumanWares combining. Does that now mean that you can just basically choose on a voice-by-voice basis which ones you want?

Dominic: Exactly. We went from HumanWare made combination and they were just a limited number of combination. We cannot offer every two language together because that would’ve mean hundreds of packages. Yes, basically you get your standard package from your partner, dealer, organization, whoever’s providing the player and you have the choice basically to get a different second TTS based on interests requirements for school or professional or simply you want to explore a new language as part of your hobbies.

Jonathan: Any other file formats? You mentioned FLAC which is pretty cool for the audio geeks out there. Are you supporting any additional file formats beyond that?

Dominic: If I’m talking about text we can mention PDF. We support PDF natively, assuming they are text PDF, not images that were scanned. In term of audio, FLAC was already supported in playback if I remember. We do have Speex and we do have Ogg Vorbis which are less known but it reaches a few people that want to do stuff in other formats. Yes, basically we’re building on our current list and adding a couple of extra format based on the availability of newer decoders that were not available 10 years ago.

Jonathan: Okay. PDF is significant given how often that is used, particularly in business and in other environments. For those who don’t have a stream at the moment, what are the other file formats that the stream supports for text?

Dominic: In general, I would say TXT, RTF, DOCX which is the quite standard document. We do have HTML, certain type of XML, and Braille books so we can support BRF for example, using a conversion table. People select their convention table and they can read basically BRF, assuming this is text of course would not work with music BRF. I think it gives a good idea. In term of books, we do have EPUB, we do have DAISY 2, we do have NISO which sometime in some country are called DAISY 3, which are basically what the most libraries for blind and visually impaired are actually producing right now.

Jonathan: I take it this new generation continues to play barred books in the US market.

Dominic: Definitely. The barred interface is still part of the device. Both audiobooks which we have been playing and BRF books so people can select. If a book is not available in audio, they can get the BRF version and convert it to text and read it with the TTS. Barred and Bookshare, we’re talking about the US market in terms of books and NFB-NEWSLINE in terms of getting magazines, newspaper, and similar materials. Those are for the US market three sources where user can get material. That was already present, obviously, on the Stream 2 but obviously, we want to keep with this because those are great source of content for our US friends.

Jonathan: When you’re using Bookshare and NFB-NEWSLINE, for example, you can peruse, search the catalogs and download all from the stream itself. Is that the way it works?

Dominic: Definitely. In terms of Bookshare, we do have both a search engine, but also the ability to browse by categories. In terms of NFB-NEWSLINE, it’s a little bit different because it’s more of a subscription base. You subscribe to The New York Time or you subscribe to whatever is your local newspaper. You do have the ability to subscribe, manage your subscription on the device, and then a little bit like podcast, you get served with up-to-date newspaper or magazine every time there’s a new publication

Jonathan: One listener says it’s certainly possible to use the numbers on the telephone keypad to enter text for searching. Would it be possible to use the keypad to allow for inputting of text using Braille?

Dominic: That’s a question I’ve been hearing a little bit in the past. It would definitely be possible after that is really to see how people will press their finger on the device, how comfortable it would be, but there’s no technical challenge that would prevent this. We do have some usability things to review for this. Thanks for the good idea. We we’ll put that on our to-do list of reviewing the possibility and see how we can do something.

Jonathan: The stream plays streams from internet radio and if we could talk about that for a bit. It is using the Ootunes database at least it has up until now that’s got a bit bitsy and fragmented. Are there any changes to report to internet radio support?

Mathieu: In terms of the internet radio, it is still the OoTunes service that we are supporting. The fact that we are supporting more modern codex will certainly help the fact that it’s also a faster CPU faster memory and all of that. The better WIFI will also help with some of the issues that we’ve seen in the past. One of the issues that we’ve seen spring up very often is outdated links. As you probably know, OoTunes is a fairly small operation, they’re a small company. The person who heads that company is called Steven, is a really nice guy and really updates if people send him broken link, he’ll go through the process and update them rather quickly, but you have to have the link sent to him. He doesn’t have any kind of automated crawler if you will that will automatically update broken links.

Even with podcasts, we’ve seen more and more over the last year, some podcasts that people couldn’t listen to because they were encoded in a specific format that the Stream 2 wouldn’t support. The fact that we now use a more modern library will definitely help on both fronts. That being said, for internet radio, we have a surprise in store for people who use the stream. I cannot say much more than that right now. I just wanted to give a little bit of a teaser, but sometime in probably April or May we will have a new feature for internet radio that I think will make a lot of people happy.

Jonathan: Well, that’s exciting. I’m glad to hear that Steven’s still out there because he is a great guy. I have noticed that he hasn’t updated his iOS app for a very long time. I wasn’t even sure if he was still out there. It’s good to know that he is and that he’s maintaining that database.

Dominic: We certainly invite user to report any station that are not working directly to him, he will be happy to do the update. I also want to remind people, users that we do maintain a curated list of radio station for each and every language. The major public station, for example, the BBC, CBC in Canada, will have Radio [unintelligible 00:34:04], EBC in Australia, et cetera.

I do encourage also people to benefit from that playlist. People that speak regional language in some country, if you changed your language inside the radio list, you might have things like Catalan or you might have things like Gaelic. We do provide at least a certain list of radio for people so they can get access to some radio also from that HumanWare list.

Jonathan: I just want to thank you and acknowledge you Dominic as well because Mushroom FM works with you whenever we have to move servers or anything like that and you’re always incredibly helpful and responsive. We are grateful for that.

Dominic: The internet radio station it’s a popular feature. I think it can be complex on the PC sometimes or on certain device. People they will create a few favorites and then they can listen to their favorite sports or news or whatever program-

Mathieu: Fav radio.

Dominic: -and including the Mushroom FM. I think it’s something that people appreciate. We took good care and as you mentioned we’re looking forward for some very nice improvement over the next few months.

Mathieu: I’d just like to quickly add because I know that is something that, actually it might be a question that’s coming up. I know that’s a lot of your viewers are going to be interested is the BBC. The BBC has announced that they are changing their technology and their service will no longer be available on several platforms. I just wanted to say that in that regard, we’ve been talking directly with the BBC, they’re great folks, the BBC, they’ve been very helpful, they’ve been very cooperative and they’re very interested in remaining on the stream device. We are for them as well as small fish in a big pond but they understand being public radio the importance of remaining accessible. We are working with them on a solution before their cutoff date so that we can keep carrying the BBC on the stream

Jonathan: Nicely done. You answered my next question without me even asking it.

Mathieu: There you go.

Jonathan: I’m not surprised to hear that at all about the BBC because their track record on accessibility it seems to me really is pretty exemplary. I have every confidence.

Mathieu: [crosstalk].

Jonathan: Dominic, I’ve been waiting to ask you this question for this whole thing. Here we go. Have you got podcast chapter support in the new stream?

Dominic: In terms of podcasts, definitely we are supporting podcasts as we do, we maintain our HumanWare list. We do have a search engine. I’m not able to say which source it is, but it’s a well-known source. This is basically the current state. As Mathieu mentioned, we’re now better equipped for the future should there be any technological change in podcasts, people using different codex or something. As Mathieu mentioned, some improvement on the radio might also have some benefit on the podcast as well in terms of additional sources.

Jonathan: The way that Mosen At Large works, and I see that it’s now been adopted by quite a lot of podcasters in the blind community because blind people like navigability, we are used to working with DAISY books and that kind of thing, so we like to navigate and we separate each section of the podcast by chapter.

For example, if somebody wants to skip over the Victor Reader Stream discussion, and I mean, why would they? If they did, they can just skip to the next chapter and we go on to the next section. Now almost every podcast app on a smartphone does this, but the stream does not. I get regularly inquiries from people saying, “Why doesn’t the stream do this?” I say, “Ask HumanWare.” Now I’m asking HumanWare, this is a really essential podcast feature for blind listeners.

Mathieu: It is definitely on the roadmap as something we’d like to do in the future. I actually got that request a few weeks ago from a hand user and I’ve put it in for Dominic’s team to work on once we’ve launched. It’s not going to be there at launch, but it is an improvement we want to do down the road probably somewhere later this year.

Jonathan: What will software updates be like for the stream? How will you apply them as a user and how regularly do you expect them to come out? I ask this because I did hear from a Trek user who said that he was a little bit concerned about the lack of frequency of updates for it and he’s just concerned, look, if I spend some money on a stream, is this thing going to be updated regularly?

Mathieu: In terms of updates, at first there will be probably frequent update because as I said before, this being an entirely new platform, we are fully expecting some bugs to be there at launch. As we launch the product and we get some feedback and we get some bug reports from the field, from distribution list from our tech support team, we will be pushing out updates. Actually, there’s a pretty good chance that if you buy a device and receive it on day one, you might have an update.

The updates will be delivered through Wi-Fi, they’ll be over-air updates. They’re really easy to install. As soon as you’re connected on the Wi-Fi, we do check on boot to see if you have an update available and we offer it to you. That being said, once we’ve stabilized and we’ve done the proper launch, then we’re looking at for the first few years at least a couple updates a year. Probably around two to three updates per year once we’re done through the initial hump of the launch.

Jonathan: A couple of little nitty-gritty details here. One listener writes, are there changes to the notes feature? She says people would like to be able to sort by date and rename notes.

Dominic: We’re trying to do the same scope that on the Stream 2. In future updates, we’re looking at least the top two features are categories. The ability to think about folders, for example. The ability to create. I got my professional notes and I got my personal notes and maybe I’m in some hobby, so I will have one folder for rugby or whatever is my personal interest. That’s one thing. Then the second, it’s not the ability to rename, but would be the ability to attach labels basically to know so people could hear a title for a note. These are the two things that are on top of our list, but obviously we’ll be talking to users on this and see how we can improve. I think we have a much better platform now that would allow a little bit of expansion in terms of functionality in the notes and hopefully, we’ll do things that make the recording feature much more interesting to some users.

Mathieu: Yes, one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that we are limited in term of user interface to a tactile interface. For example, I had someone yesterday ask me that they’d like to be able to rearrange their notes and doing rearrangements, if you’re on a computer with a mouse and you can drag and drop files and everything. It’s a lot easier than on the stream where, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it is a little bit more cumbersome. We need to come up with a way that you can rearrange notes that is easy and convenient to use.

That’s always our main concern. We don’t want to make anything that’s too convoluted, but yes, the two features that dimension, the categorization and the labels, when you go over instead of saying note 14, then it would say shopping list, then that’s better all ready.

Jonathan: The message I’m taking away from all of this is that this platform is giving you a lot of scope for further development

Mathieu: For sure.

Jonathan: People would like to see, say several people, the bookmarks feature improved so that they can renumber if you insert a bookmark between existing marks. Could that be a thing?

Dominic: Yes, it’s an interesting suggestion. Must be honest. I never talked about getting in such details for the bookmark, but I think that’s definitely something we’ll put on our feature list to review. And we do receive … Mathieu receive suggestion-

Mathieu: Quite a bit.

Dominic: -quite a bit, that’s an interesting one. At the moment I would say I don’t want to create false impression. There’s no plan in the short-term versions to do such a change in feature, but that’s an interesting one. We’ll consolidate that with our other requests and see if we can go in that direction,

Mathieu: Just like as with anything, it comes down to a matter of resources. We have a lot of feature requests and it’s my job at the end of the day to take them all in and then see what’s the most popular. What’s going to benefit the most people because our amount of resources to develop on the stream is limited. We’re not Google, we’re not Apple. I don’t have a team of 200 engineers working on the bookmarks. Whereas at Apple or Google you might have big teams working on smaller features. It becomes a matter of prioritizing, making sure that the right things get to the top of the list.

Doesn’t mean that the smaller things don’t get on the list, they do, but they’re perhaps in the middle of the pack or towards the bottom of the list. If we get there someday, great, but some of them we might not have the time and resources to do.

Jonathan: Yes, believe me, people will love the podcast chapter support because they can skip past my boring bits. That’s what actually [crosstalk]

Mathieu: That’s towards the top.

Jonathan: Maximum impact that has. I’m almost ready to wrap and talk about pricing, but is there anything else about the new stream that we haven’t covered that you’d like people to know about?

Mathieu: In terms of the product itself, it’s a product that’s been in the works for a few years now. I’ve only been a product manager at Humanware for about a year, I cannot take all the credit. I can say that Dominic and his team have been there for longer than me and they’ve worked really hard on this. It is a labor of love. Absolutely. One of the things that I’d like to mention is the fact that, it took about 10 years between the Stream 2 and the Stream 3, which personally as a product manager I feel is a little bit long. I wish we’d released this a few years ago and I’m sure a lot of your listeners will think the same thing.

I can tell you if it’s up to me, the Stream 4 is not 10 years down the road. It is before 2030, but we are really excited about this one. We think it’s a great product. There’s nothing in there that I can say, “Oh, I wish we’d done this differently,” or I’m really, really proud of this product

Dominic: From the development team, as Mathieu said, put a lot of effort in and we’re excited because I do remember the launch of the First Stream, I do remember the launch of the Stream 2. Professionally speaking for developers, we feel that this is a product that really do something good that makes people’s life a little bit better. I’ll remember the Stream 1 launch and the Stream 2 long time after I retired and hopefully the Stream 2 will be the same on top of the list of my good memories about doing works in this environment, in this industry.

Mathieu: But you’re not retiring soon, Dom. Please promise me that.

Dominic: No, I should not. I won’t, I won’t. But you see, I’ve done a lot of products and honestly, everything I’ve done I feel proud about it. But there’s something about the Stream 1, Stream 2 and Stream 3 and hopefully the user will feel the same that we’re doing the right product for them and they will love as much as they did the Stream 1 and Stream 2, which has always been fan favorite if I can say so.

Jonathan: Yes, having been in the position you are in, Mathew, you’ve got to be cognizant of the fact that the Stream is a loved brand. It’s been a phenomenon and when you are in charge of getting that third generation out, you know that you are the custodian of something that people really care about. Actually, the massive volume of listener questions I got when I put out the word is a testimony to that.

Mathieu: Yes, for sure. I’ve announced it. There’s a groups at IO distribution list that’s called Victor at groups on IO that I feel has a lot of our really loyal stream fans. I posted there about two weeks ago that we were releasing a Stream 3. It’s world first, it’s the first place we announced it. Because I felt we owe it to them and perhaps, Stream 4 will be on Mushroom FM. I got bombarded by questions and our sales team are being bombarded by people who want to pre-order this device. It is the buzz that we have. Honestly, I go to bed every night with a smile on my face, it is so great and so heartwarming. I really make a point of pride to listen to the community to interact with users on those distribution lists.

I’m on Reddit as well in the Blind subReddit where I don’t post a whole lot but I do read a lot of posts and I want to engage with people who are interested. It is probably the part of my job that I enjoy the most besides working with Dominic, to get that feedback directly from our users and translated into features and stuff that they are happy to see.

Jonathan: Can we talk about the release schedule for the product and, of course, how much is it going to cost?

Mathieu: Yes, for sure. In terms of the release schedule, we are doing a launch in the US at first and the launch in the US is slated to be towards the middle of February. Currently, we’re shooting for the week of February 13th to 20th. It is not a firm date yet because if I’m being completely transparent, which I like to be, we are still building the plane as we fly it. Dominic’s team is still very hard at work. Dominic had the leisure of coming on this interview, but his team is working hard even as we speak to polish up some features, squash some bugs and whatnot.

We want to make sure we release a product that is of good quality for day one. If we need to, we’ll push it back a little bit, but it shouldn’t be too much. Right now middle of February is what we’re looking at US only because we’ll only have English and no Daisy online support for launch. That’s the one reason why we’re only launching in the US. The US doesn’t use Daisy online at all. They use Bookshare, Bard and NFP as we mentioned before, which don’t use Daisy and the fact that it’s only in English is fine for the US. About four weeks later, we’re talking about middle to end of March, we’ll launch globally with added languages.

For example, for sure French for Canada, but also Spanish and some other languages. Daisy online support is coming with that version as well, which will allow people from different countries, especially in Europe and Australia, where the libraries are with Daisy online to be able to access their content.

Jonathan: That will happen immediately. What does the user have to do? If I’m in New Zealand, for example, which is using this Daisy online protocol, can I just set it up right away or does it require some negotiation between you and the library?

Mathieu: No, in terms of the negotiation that’s already been done because we already support them in the Stream 2, it was really just a matter of porting that implementation of the Daisy online protocols to the Stream 3. Which we started from scratch on the Stream 3. Implementing that and every library has different implementations of the Daisy server, we need to make sure that we support all of those in the little quirks in the different settings. Because some libraries will only allow for one book to be checked out, some libraries will allow you to check out an unlimited amount of books. Some of them require you to return a book, some of them don’t.

All of those little things we need to make sure work properly before we release a version. We would not want to release something that’s broken, obviously, both for the library’s sake but for the user’s sake. Dominic’s team is as we speak, working on that right now and we’re hoping to have a good functioning version with Daisy online support for the middle of March.

Jonathan: That prompts me actually to think about overdrive. Could the Stream ever support overdrive?

Dominic: Yes, it’s been a recurring discussion. We had some discussion long ago with Overdrive, back then there were some technical challenges on both sides, different formats DRM stuff. Again, I think once we’ve launched that first version, Mathew and I will basically re-engage with some external partners like this and try to see how things changed since the last time we talked and what’s possible. It’s hard for me to comment on the specific one like this because it does involve both technical and administrative discussion, but it’s part of our goal to get more content out there.

Jonathan: Okay. And the price, Mathieu? The price.

Mathieu: All right. In terms of pricing, I’ll only give the US pricing for right now. The Stream 2 right now is priced at $495, with the Stream 3, we went with a 10% increase and the retail price will be $550.

Jonathan: Is there any trade up program between the two and the three at all?

Mathieu: Currently no, there’s no trade up program. The one thing that I can say is if a user bought a stream from us in the last three months, so either November, December or this month and they’d like to update to a Stream 3, he can contact our customer service team and we probably will be able to do a Stream 3 for a small discount, but there’s no trade-in program, so you would get to keep both your Stream 2 and your new Stream 3. The reason for that is that the blind market being such a smaller market than let’s say general public cell phones, it is hard for us to deal with all the returns and whatnot.

We also know that a lot of people have several stream devices and enjoy having more than one stream. Again, I come from tech support and I’ve had a customer call in once who had seven of them which I think was insane, but I mean good for them. I’m not going to complain, but people with two, three streams were not rare. Those were frequent. Yes, if you bought within the last three months call our customer service team once we’ve released obviously not today, there will be some small rebate on the Stream 3 but no trade-in.

Jonathan: Thank you, both, so much for being so forthcoming with all the questions we’ve gone through as many as I can manage to get in from listeners around the world. There’s so much anticipation about this product, and as you release new things do keep us posted and we will gladly let listeners know about changes to the stream. All the very best with the launch.

Mathieu: Thank you so much for having both of us on the podcast, and I’m really, really happy. Honestly, if you want to have me on at a later date for future updates and everything, I’m always available.

Jonathan: Will be delighted to do that. Thank you, both. I’m grateful to Pneuma Solutions for sponsoring the transcripts of Mosen At Large, so the podcast can be as inclusive as possible. Inclusivity is a good word to describe all that Pneuma Solutions is about. If you’re employed, you’ll know that RIM and Scribe for meetings can make a significant difference to accessibility and productivity in the workplace. We know it, but how do we convince the boss or the person holding the purse strings in our workplace of that.

Pneuma Solutions takes some of the pain of this process away through their self-advocacy kit, for Scribe for meetings and for RIM, simply visit the Pneuma Solutions website. Find the self-advocacy template that works for you for either product, fill it in and send it to the person who makes the decision. It really is that simple to get the conversation started at your workplace. If the person you’re talking with has questions, Pneuma Solutions are on standby to help. If you know you could benefit from Scribe for meetings or RIM in your workplace, don’t hesitate. Use the advocacy templates and start a conversation. To find out more, head over to pneumasolutions.com. That’s P-N-E-U-M-Asolutions.com.

Automated: Jonathan Mosen, Mosen At Large Podcast.

Statement from New Zealand’s Braille Authority on always capitalising the word Braille

Jonathan: I mentioned this very good outcome in Episode 200, because it seemed like such a good thing to mention for our big 200th episode, but I will cover this again, because we have a media release that was dropped just before the holidays and it says this, “The Braille authority of New Zealand Aotearoa Trust BANZAT is pleased to announce the results of a nationwide survey within the Braille with an uppercase V user community regarding formatting of the word Braille in New Zealand English. A clear majority expressed a desire for the word Braille to be capitalized in all situations, regardless of whether it is being used as a proper noun or not.

In respecting the wishes of those for whom Braille is their literacy medium BANZAT recommends that this practice be adopted in all documents, all situations where the word Braille occurs. Examples, this book has been published in both print and Braille with an uppercase B. I have a Braille with an uppercase B recipe for Anzac biscuits.” Yum. That’s my insertion not theirs. “Jane will Braille with an uppercase B, the address labels for you. I am Brailing with an uppercase B out my speech notes. The paper is stuck in my brailer with an uppercase B rationale.

The word Braille and its associated tactile reading code came into our language thanks to its inventor Louie Braille who overcame sacrifices and resistance to enable today’s blind population the right to fully independent literacy. Capitalizing Braille gives the inventor the respect he is due. Precedence, the Deaf community with a capital D by the way, have asked that Deaf be capitalized when talking about their culture. Many Māori words have entered New Zealand English and spellings corrected thanks to the voices of Māoridom.” That is the statement from the Braille Authority of New Zealand Aotearoa Trust it’s been circulated quite widely.

Good to see that the government through the Office for Disability Issues which is now part of the Ministry of Disabled People, has circulated this on social media. New Zealanders are being told whenever you talk about Braille you use an uppercase B, and I really hope that others around the world who are fighting for this wrong to be righted will take heart from the fact that we got it sorted here in New Zealand. Be encouraged, don’t give up.

Apple Watch Ultra

Andrew: Hi, Jonathan, it’s Andrew from Australia and interestingly fun, in fact, I’m recording this on an iPod Touch 7th generation.

Jonathan: Wow, that is amazing, Andrew. Just out of interest, why do you still have an iPod?

Andrew: Now, you may be asking why do you still have an iPod?

Jonathan: What, What? Andrew’s spying on me search the studio for bugs.

Andrew: Well, I know some people see them as vintage, because they’re discontinued, they’re not worth having, but I think it’s nice having a smaller device that isn’t an iPad that has a battery that you can use for other things as opposed to your phone. I use the iPod for streaming YouTube, Netflix, that sort of thing, and audiobooks, so there’s tasks that use a bit more battery. I will use my iPhone for podcasts and music plus everything else, although I’m not much of a music listener really or a music person in general. More of a book podcast sort of person.

Anyway, I sometimes use the iPod for messages and emails as well. The occasional call on it just because why not? I really want to say I really enjoyed your Apple Watch Ultra unboxing and review that you and Heidi did and I’m really intrigued to at least go into an Apple Store, hold one, see how big it is on your wrist, feel the haptic, because I’m really curious because you mentioned it was a lot more noticeable. I really enjoyed the Evidence 111 Game and the interview and the little demo that was really good, but yes just want to say I’m thinking of getting an Apple Watch 8 personally. I want to definitely check out the Ultra for myself, see what it’s like.

In terms of the battery life, I think just the regular Apple Watch suits my needs, but I am intrigued to hear the Speaker of the Apple Watch as well and compare when it’s actually in front of me.

Jonathan: Thanks for recording that on the iPod Touch, Andrew. Andrew recorded that in late December, not back in ’63 though late December back in ’22. I am enjoying the Apple Watch Ultra. As people like to say, it’s not a slam dunk. With the iPhone, because I use so much Braille screen input and I enjoy the luxury of the larger screen and the battery life, I can’t imagine myself buying a smaller phone. I’m pretty committed to that larger sized max range. It’s what I’ve become comfortable with. I think in the future I may well have a reason to get a smaller watch.

Again, it’s not like so good that I’m saying I will never get a smaller watch like a Series 10 or whatever when it comes out. I may well do, but the Ultra’s great. The battery life remains absolutely outstanding. Often I can go for two days before I charge it and that’s really nice, but putting that in perspective, how often are you not in range of a charger for a couple of days. You can quickly put it on charge when you’re in the shower, but it’s a nice device. I enjoy the fact that I can really use it to the max without worrying about running out of juice, and so, I find that I do use it a lot more for casual things like messaging and other things like that.

I use the Mindfulness App perhaps a little bit more than I did. I often do a lot of silence meditation in the morning. Now, I find myself using the breathe part of the watch just to help to keep me focused without thinking is it going to get me through the day okay. It’s good, it’s okay. I think the telling thing for me will be the wintertime when I’m wearing a lot of longer sleeved clothing, and whether the watch will feel bulky on my wrist as I try and conceal it when I’m wearing a jacket and a long sleeved shirt.

I have seen reviewers from the Northern Hemisphere commenting on that issue, but given that this is now the end of January, 2023, we do have an update from Andrew, so there is no need to keep you in suspenders any longer.

Andrew: I quite like it in terms of aesthetically it feels nice to hold. The buttons certainly feel different, and I like the louder speaker and the siren is a nice edition [chuckles] and I like the three bands, particularly the ocean loop. I thought that felt the best, and it didn’t feel too much different on my wrist. I’ve got quite small wrists. I don’t know why I didn’t notice the weight of it once it was on the wrist. I do like the stronger haptic feedback as well, but I just found that the extra features in the battery life was something that I personally didn’t need, but it was good to check it out nonetheless.

I did find that for me, the screen size, it’s certainly wider and longer the watch, in general, and so is the screen obviously. Yes, I did feel that once it was off and on my wrist it did feel a bit big but it’s extra chunkiness, for instance. I didn’t mind that much but different. I think the Apple Watch 8 is even a bit longer than the 6, which is interesting, but as you say, it just depends if you’re wanting the extra battery life, et cetera, but it was good to check it out. I had a sighted friend with me and he said that interestingly even for him, the bigger screen size of the Apple Watch Ultra seemed a bit much.

Jonathan: It’s good that you have confidence that you’ve made the right decision. It’s good to check these things out, isn’t it? Thanks, Andrew for sharing your perspective, and if you have an Apple Watch Ultra or maybe you decided against it, let us know how you’re finding it or why you chose not to go with the Ultra.

BARD and Zoom now on the Blindshell Classic 2

Onto other technology now and last year on Mosen At Large.

Automated: Recently on Mosen At Large.

Jonathan: Yes, all right. I will give you that because it was only an Episode 210 and this is 212, wasn’t it? So it was quite recently. We spoke with Bari and Diane from BlindShell USA and we talked about the biggest feature request for the BlindShell in the United States market was supportive Bard. This is the service that’s operated by the Library of Congress. It distributes Braille and audiobooks and I presume it’s the audiobook portion of Bard that is now supported by BlindShell USA.

I mentioned this because if you are in the United States and you’re looking for a single device that can do the basics, make the phone calls, it’s got the FM radio, well you will have heard all about this in Episode 210, but the developers of BlindShell Classic 2 in the Czech Republic seem to have been really prolific of late because also Zoom, the very popular conferencing tool is on the BlindShell Classic 2 as well. If you need to participate in Zoom meetings because you’re part of a consumer organization or to catch up with family or even for business purposes, you can now do that on the BlindShell Classic 2.

How are these new offerings, particularly those in the US if you’re using Bard on the BlindShell Classic 2, how’s it working out? Do be in touch and let us know.

Pneuma Solutions bringing RIM to the Mac

There’s also welcome news and big news for Mac users from Pneuma Solutions who produce RIM, Remote Incident Manager. This is a remote control solution that is really taking the blind community by storm for justifiable reasons.

It’s easy to use, it is screen reader friendly while also being mainstream-friendly. It’s going to the Mac, they’ve got a beta process underway at the moment for Mac users. You can find out more about that by going to getrim.com and in next week’s edition of the podcast we will be talking more about this, but good to see RIM coming to the Mac. I really am hoping it will come to the iPhone at some point as well.

RIM has headed out of the park in my view. It’s good to see, for example, Leasey integrating this. I believe it has become the gold standard for remote incident management in the blind community. Now that it’s coming to the Mac, I hope that Aira users will encourage Aira to invest in RIM and make it available to us because it is just so much easier than any of the other solutions that Aira are offering. Even though there is a wider range now than there used to be and there is more than just Team Viewer. Nothing comes close to the ease of use of RIM and it’s something that many of us are increasingly familiar with.

The blind community could reinvent visual interpretation

Now since we are talking about Aira, you would have to be really off the grid. I tried to be off the grid during my break and even I managed to hear about this one. You’d have to be off the grid not to know that Aira did finally announce its new pricing and it was always going to be a contentious thing. Whenever an organization increases its pricing and revamps their pricing significantly, it is going to create debate and discussion in our community, in any community that is affected by a price increase. That discussion is perfectly understandable and it’s perfectly valid.

It was a very long gestation, this whole price thing. We were told what, six or seven months before it happened that prices were going to go up. Aira did a lot of comms around this, on this podcast and others, but after all this tension building and building waiting to find out what we are going to pay. It was just extraordinary that Aira made it so difficult for us to find the answer to that fundamental question. How much is this changing in price going to cost me? It prompted me to blog about this. That blog post is still up at mosen.org/airapricing.

Eventually, Aira did actually see fit to give us a simple answer without going through hoops to the question, what is this going to cost me? Not exactly a difficult question to anticipate, Eh? We finally got there and now the debate continues on whether that pricing is appropriate and realistic. I think that a couple of things have coalesced for a bit of discussion to occur. The way that this was handled with such disregard for the feelings of blind people is a hard one for a lot of us to get over. You’ve got the debate that would’ve occurred anyway because of the prices as they are now set. I do wonder whether we can look at what’s happening with Twitter and Mastodon and take some inspiration from that.

Twitter is a corporate, it’s a big centralized thing and what we are finding, those of us who’ve moved to Mastodon, is that when the people take charge, we can do it better. I wonder whether there might be a way for the people to take charge of visual interpretation, for blind people ourselves to actually take this category and run with it in a new way.

What inspires me to think about this is a marketplace that I use from time to time called Fiverr. Mushroom FM has a couple of soup drinker skills, one for the main Mushroom FM service, another one for Mushroom Escape. There are various other times I’ve used Fivver.

It’s essentially a way that connects independent developers with people who want their services and I presume that Fivver takes its cut in a similar way to the way that Apple’s and Google’s Stores take cuts from developers for essentially providing marketplace services. What if we could do that for visual interpretation in the blind community? You could have two categories of service. One is that someone who wanted to be on this independently run platform, this platform run by blind people, would have to complete training that was provided by blind people ourselves on visual interpretation. It wouldn’t be a free for all in the same way that Be My Eyes is, and I’m not denigrating Be My Eyes.

I think the fact that people are willing to provide this service to us for free is very, very helpful and there are certain use cases where Be My Eyes is a great solution. There may be situations where you want something done by someone who has gone through a background check, by someone who has had some training or by someone with very specific skills. Let’s say that I’m going to a cricket match and, unfortunately, in this country what we are finding is that a lot of cricket that is local is not being covered on the radio anymore. I feel like I’ve been deprived of this enjoyment, which has formed a part of so many summers for me.

Now, in that case, I know I’m going to go to a cricket match and so I could log into this visual interpretation platform that is blind people driven and I could say even a week or two before the event, “I am wanting to hire somebody who understands the rules of cricket, someone who enjoys cricket and I want to go to the cricket on this day at this time.” A cricket match if it’s a full one day international, it could take eight hours and I’m willing to pay for this. People could bid for my job and I could quickly read what they’re offering and find somebody who would suit my purposes and I could agree a price and the platform, this visual interpretation platform would take their cut.

I would get the assistance I need. The person who is providing the visual interpretation would get a fair price for their work and everybody’s happy in this marketplace. Which would require a lot fewer overheads, a lot less infrastructure, and it could just do its thing. There are many other examples of this. If I am seeking to set up or build a new PC, for example, I might want to request somebody with specific expertise in that area.

Music, any number of tasks that are quite specialized and it would be open to international contributors. At the moment with Aira, I have to get agents who are either US citizens or living in the US but I am not permitted to have somebody from my own country who may have valuable local and cultural knowledge provide visual interpretation to me. If we ran our own platform, we could deal with that immediately. That would be one model where you can anticipate something in advance and you can negotiate something with somebody who’s been through a process to get on the platform.

The other one is when you need immediate visual assistance on demand, you could have a separate area for that. There’s some standard rates available to you. Now, I haven’t spent too much time thinking this through, but I think there is potential in some platform, some marketplace for visual interpretation that is run by us for us. Where we provide the training, we set the prices, we actually look after this thing because frankly, I am increasingly forming the view that what we have is not serving us as well as it should be.

I think what happened over January with the way that Aira behaved towards us has created a tipping point, and I don’t have a lot of time for obvious reasons to devote to this. I’m not saying I’m in a position to set it up, I’m absolutely not. I have got better at learning when to say no, but I would be interested in certainly providing ideas to anyone with entrepreneurial ability or anyone who wants to form a small working group to talk about a visual interpretation platform that is founded based on principles of self-determination.

I think we could do something really exciting.

Envision announces a range of price points for its glasses

Also, on the tech front, let’s contrast the comms we got from Aira with the very good, clear, concise, no fuss, no six-month-long dramatic buildup we got from Envision, which is actually a partner of Aira, and they sent me a media release this week. I will read it to you. Envision kicks off the new year by bringing to market new editions of the Envision Glasses, offering a range of features and price points. Today Envision the award-winning assistive technology innovator announced that it is further enhancing the accessibility of its smart glasses for the blind and low-vision communities by introducing two new additions to serve the different needs of its users.

Aiming to bring innovative assistive technology to people with low vision or blindness, the new additions offer the same hardware and form factor as the original Envision Smart Glasses, but provide a choice of feature sets at a range of price points. New additions will be available from January 26 from the Envision Web Store. Through its app and Smart Glasses, Envision gives people the ability to live their daily lives a little more independently. Specifically, enabling those who are blind or have low vision to read, identify people and objects, and make hands-free video calls to people they trust.

Accessibility of Envision is as much about making it as easy as possible for people to buy our products as it is about usability. With the introduction of the new envision glasses, we enable people to more easily tap into subsidies, grants, and reimbursement options available to them. 2022 was a big year for Envision as we experienced growth across the whole company. With many new partnerships and a host of new features on both the glasses and the app, we really want 2023 to extend that growth further. We believe that the new additions will enable more people to use the products in their workplace and at home. Concluded Karthik Mahadevan, Envision CEO, and co-founder.

In 2022, Envision accelerated its mission to make the world more accessible by taking the radical step to make its app free for everyone, reducing the price of the Envision glasses, and partnering with Aira, a professional visual interpretation service. Now, with around 200,000 Envisioners around the world, Envision is taking its mission to the next level by providing even greater choice and flexibility on how people can purchase and use its revolutionary Smart Glasses. After adding two new additions to its range and renaming its original edition, Envision makes it possible for those with low vision or blindness to now select a device and feature set that works best for them.

From a simpler read edition that offers a range of features that focuses on the need to read and scan text through to a professional edition that offers a complete feature set, including read technology, scanning, camera, and video calls. As well as free feature updates and maintenance for the lifetime of the glasses. These new additions also allow for constant improvements to them through software updates. All additions will benefit from free maintenance updates, which are software updates that provide incremental maintenance and security additions, bug fixes, performance enhancements, and stability improvements.

New features and functionality will be provided through feature updates, which are available for an annual subscription of $199 for the Read and Home Edition of Envision Glasses. A lifetime subscription to feature updates is included with the purchase of the Professional Edition of Envision Glasses. With varying price points that range from US$1,899, for the Read Edition to $3,499 US, for the Professional Edition, users can opt for a device that suits their budget. The three Envision Glasses editions include the following, Envision Glasses Read Edition, retail price, US$1,899.

All-Envision Glasses reading features, instant text, scan text, batch scan, maintenance and security updates, one-year subscription to feature updates, and new functionality. One-year warranty, lightweight titanium frames. Next, we have the Envision Glasses Home Edition in the retail price, $2,499, and you get for that All-Envision Glasses features, instance text, scan text, batch scan, call an ally, call Aira, describe scene, detect light, recognize cash, detect colors, find people, find objects, teacher face and explore. You get maintenance and security updates, and one-year subscription to feature updates and new functionality. It has a one-year warranty and it has lightweight titanium frames.

Finally, you’ve got the Envision Glasses Professional Edition, the retail prices US$3,499. All-Envision Glass features, instant text, scan text, batch scan, call an ally, call Aira, describe scene, detect light, recognize cash, detect colors, find people, find objects, teacher face, and explore. You get maintenance and security updates. You get a lifetime subscription to unlimited feature updates and new functionality. You get a two-year warranty, lightweight titanium frames, and fashionable luxe frames.

Envisions new product portfolio also brings scalability. Envision is offering its customers the flexibility to upgrade from a lower edition to a higher edition at any time. Prices for upgrades are as follows, from Read Edition to Home Edition, US$699. From Home Edition to Professional Edition US$1,099. From Read Edition to Professional Edition US$1,699. Envision Glasses Editions will be available to the public from January the 26th, 2023 directly from Envision and from its global distributors. The hardware is Google Enterprise Edition and prices exclude VAT.

Automated: What’s on your mind? Send an email with a recording of your voice or just write it down. jonathan@mushroomfm.com, that’s J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com or phone our listener line. The number in the United States is +1864-60Mosen, that’s +1864-606-6736.

Bar refuses to serve a woman because she’s blind and has no carer

Jonathan: A blind woman walks into a bar. You would think that that was the beginning of some joke, some yarn, actually, it’s the beginning of a nightmare. Vanessa Ransley has traveled the world. She’s got two degrees and something extraordinary happened to her quite unexpectedly, like a lot of these incidents of discrimination do. Your guard is down, you’re not expecting it, and something absolutely extraordinary happens. Hi, Vanessa. It’s good to catch up again.

Vanessa: Oh, hi, Jonathan. It’s nice to be here. Thank you for having me.

Jonathan: You were in Adelaide, beautiful city. I like Adelaide, and you were at a conference there?

Vanessa: I was. I arrived the evening before the conference and I thought, “Oh, I’ll have a look around the hotel and see where I am.” I came across a cocktail bar and thought, “Well, why not?” The gentleman wouldn’t serve me because I didn’t have a carer.

Jonathan: You presumably have your favorite tipple, but what was it you were wanting?

Vanessa: Well, I was thinking a nice margarita would be, I don’t mind a cocktail, you know?

Jonathan: Yes. You walk up to the bar, is that right? Ready to request a drink?

Vanessa: Yes. Well, I went in and I wasn’t entirely sure where I’d landed, so I said, “Oh, hey, where am I?” He said, “Oh, it’s the whatever cocktail bar.” I thought, “Oh, good.” He gave me the menu and all that and I went up to the bar to order and it was a different person this time, unfortunately. He said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t give you an alcoholic drink because you don’t have a carer.” I said, “But I’m old enough, I have ID.” [laughs]

Jonathan: First of all, I understand he asked you if you were on your own or not, is that right?

Vanessa: Oh, yes, sorry. He did ask if I was with anyone and I said, “No, just me.” Then he said that he couldn’t give me an alcoholic beverage because I wasn’t accompanied by a carer. I was like, “Sorry, what?” He said it happened before. He said that it would be a safety risk and all that. I said, “That’s a bit weird.”

Jonathan: How did you deal with that? How did you respond? Did you try and get an escalation or a resolution?

Vanessa: Instead of arguing my case and saying that because of age I’m well entitled to a drink and all of this. Then he wasn’t budging. I said, “I think I might need to talk to the manager.” He said, “I am the manager.” And I thought “oh lord”. I said, “Okay, I think I’ll go and find a different manager.” I went and found the manager of the hotel. He was the Sunday manager. I don’t think he’s the manager very much and was a little bit timid, so I went back. He understood that I shouldn’t be denied a drink.

He told the manager of the bar, but the manager of the bar was very, “I will serve her, but she really shouldn’t be drinking by herself and all of this.” He had no remorse. Was not going to be convinced that he was perhaps in the wrong. By that stage, I really didn’t feel that I wanted to grace that establishment, let alone give them cash. [chuckles]

Jonathan: Surely, either of them must have seen that this has discrimination lawsuits, bad publicity all over it?.

Vanessa: You would have thought so. Disappointingly, other patrons were around and getting drinks. I was like, “How come they can have a drink and no one spoke up?” It was just really weird. I don’t know quite how to deal with this, so I took myself back to my room and had some quiet time. I thought, “Oh, this is going to be an interesting week.” Then I thought, “Oh, I know, I’ll have a good old vent on Facebook.” I did that, and then it hit the fan basically.

Jonathan: You also went on to Yelp. It’s interesting that you did that because we were talking about guide dog refusals not so long ago. One listener wrote in and said that reason didn’t make any difference. Nothing really did to make a difference, except that when this listener said, “Oh, I’m going to leave you a negative review on Yelp.” It was like suddenly, everything changed. That’s what you do. You left a one-star review on Yelp.

Vanessa: I left one on Tripadvisor and one on Google. That must be where I heard it because I just thought, “Oh, I’ll get them where it hurts, so I’ll give them a bad review.” That was quite satisfying. I enjoyed that. Then the following morning, I had a lot of feedback on Facebook and a lot of posts, shares and that thing. The hotel manager came and found me at breakfast and was very apologetic. Sadly, not apologetic to comp me my room for the stay but apologetic enough to give me and a couple of friends a free cocktail.

He assured me that this person would have retraining. I think he was hoping that I would stop talking to the media, but I’d already committed to do a couple of things. I felt that I would follow those through.

Jonathan: Have you heard from the individual who refused to serve you in the first place again?

Vanessa: Oh, Lordy, no.

Jonathan: Because he owes you an apology, doesn’t he?

Vanessa: Oh, I think he does, but I don’t think I’m going to get one. I really think that he was just very much of a, “I’m a male of a certain nationality. You are a mere female, and you’ve got a disability. You’re lucky I’m talking to you kind of thing.” He didn’t say that, but that was the vibe I got.

Jonathan: Very condescending.

Vanessa: Just very like, “What the hell are you doing out by yourself?” It wasn’t condescending. It was just you shouldn’t be here kind of vibe. Why aren’t you at home in a cupboard somewhere?

Jonathan: The really tragic thing about all this is that many of us have experienced guide dog refusals, and we’re prepped for those. We never know when that’s going to happen, but at least we know that sooner or later, they’re likely to happen. In your case, you were traveling independently because your dog had recently died. I’m very sorry to hear that by the way.

Vanessa: Thank you. I deal with tricky situations with humans. I’d thought “Oh, okay, he’s passed away. This is very sad.” I thought I’ll still be able to get a taxi reasonably easily. I shouldn’t get any guide dog refusals for a while. Then it happened. It was like, “Gee, thanks, universe. Thanks a heap.”

Jonathan: Silver lining and all that. [crosstalk] What’s the reaction been like? You have done a lot of media, and obviously, it did go out on Facebook. Has there been overwhelming support, or have you also had some people who are backing the barman?

Vanessa: I’ve heard the odd comments from people in the industry who were saying, “Oh, you’re damned if you do; you’re damned if you don’t.” Most of the comments have been in my favor, so that’s been heartening to have that support.

Jonathan: Do you consider that this matter is now resolved, or is there a formal process that you still want to go through?

Vanessa: Look, I think I’m done. I think I’ve made my point. I’m done. I’m finished. That’s all I can deal with at the moment because I’m meant to be on school holidays. I’m a music teacher. I’ve just been to two conferences. I’ve dealt with that, and I think I just need a break. [chuckles]

Jonathan: It is draining. Australia has a Disability Discrimination Act, what remedies might be available to you if you chose to exercise them?

Vanessa: Look, I could do the paperwork and fill out a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. When it comes down to it, nothing’s going to come out of that because they really don’t have any team. It’s just admin. They might organize to do a mediation or something, but I’m in Hobart. This person has been in Adelaide, so I don’t think it’s going to do me any good. I probably should do it on principle, just to say that there’s a paper trail. I may well get there, but today, I just need a little rest.

Jonathan: Bonnie said to me when I was telling her about this experience that you had. Haven’t they heard about the expression “blind drunk”?

Vanessa: Yes, I know. I thought of course, that the logic was flawed because I never have to drive. I never ever have to be the designated driver. I’m quite good at drinking. I’ve done it for quite a while. I just like the cheap stuff. I like a good cocktail. I didn’t see his logic at all. [chuckles]

Jonathan: It’s hard to fathom this one. You get why some people object to dogs, even though they shouldn’t because it’s the law, but why on earth you would just decide that somebody should not be served because they’re blind, is just so extraordinary.

Vanessa: It was just insulting. I’m well presented. I think I’m reasonably articulate. [laughter] Just to have somebody say, “Oh, no, you can’t have a drink because you have a white cane with you.

Jonathan: I can vouch for that. I’ve heard you riling up the masses at the BCA conventions. Going public as you did and making this a bit of an issue, does that serve a public education purpose? Do you think that there’ll be some people who now think more favorably of blind people than they used to? Is there also a counteraction risk where people say, “Oh, disabled people complaining again?”

Vanessa: I first wanted this whole thing to go away that the ABC messaged me and Channel 10 and a local paper and things. I thought I could just say no, but I thought now I’m going to have to follow this through because this is not okay. Other people who are visually impaired need to know that this is not okay. I was thinking of people who have just recently lost their sight or are losing their sight. They might not know how it should be, so I thought that I really needed to follow it through.

Jonathan: That’s the thing, isn’t it? You almost have a moral obligation when this happens to a blind person who does feel comfortable taking it on and articulating the fundamental unfairness of this, the wrongness of this because you know that there will be some people who don’t have those abilities, that strength to do that.

Vanessa: At least they might have seen, “Oh, okay, she stood up for herself.” I’m not going to stand for that thing either.

Jonathan: Good on you. It does make me think it would be good to hear from others who have experienced this non-guide dog-related discrimination because we do focus a lot on guide dog refusals, but it goes a lot deeper than that.

Vanessa: Yes, it’s just this whole low-expectations thing. It’s got to stop. It’s not good. It’s so frustrating, and it is actually quite draining after a while. You just think what do I have to do to prove to people that I’m just as valid as they are? [chuckles] Really, the answer is, I shouldn’t have to do anything.

Jonathan: I think what it also does, it creates kind of posttraumatic stress really because you’re not expecting it. You’re just expecting to do what people do all around the world every day. Go into a bar and organize a drink. Suddenly, all this happens. It’s hard not to get on edge after an incident like that.

Vanessa: I’m reasonably confident, and I’m still just a bit sort of, “Ugh.” The thought of going somewhere new, it’s like, “Oh, I don’t know if I’ll be doing that for a little while,” because I just don’t know what I’m going to do. I may burst into tears next time. It’s just how things stand at the moment just with general guide-dog bereavement issues and general post-conference tiredness and things. It’s like, “I’m just going to be kind to myself.” Just make life a bit easier for myself at the moment, I think, which is not great, but that’s just what I need to do.

Jonathan: That’s what you got to do. Have you got all the equipment, the ingredients to make yourself a good margarita at home?

Vanessa: Yes, I have. [chuckles]

Jonathan: There you go. You deserve one.

Vanessa: Yes, but the irony is I don’t [unintelligible 01:31:17] like a margarita at the moment.

Jonathan: Hobart can be the new Margaritaville.

Vanessa: It could, yes. I don’t have a carer with me, Jonathan, so I just don’t know whether I should make myself a margarita.


Jonathan: Oh, dear. Lovely to talk to you, and thank you so much for coming on the show.

Vanessa: [chuckles] Thanks. Thanks for having me.


Automated: Transcripts of Mosen At Large are brought to you by Pneuma Solutions, a global leader in accessible cloud technologies. On the web at PneumaSolutions.com. That’s P-N-E-U-M-Asolutions.com.


The Bonnie Bulletin says hi to 212

This is Episode 212. Start spreading the news. Bonnie, do you know what 212 is?

Bonnie: Absolutely. It’s the Manhattan area code and the apartment I lived in in Boston.

Jonathan: That is interesting that you lived in Apartment 212 in your building.

Bonnie: Yes, and I didn’t even think about it for a while. I knew the Manhattan area code, but people kept coming in and are like, “You live in a palindrome.”

Jonathan: [laughs] A palindrome. That’s true.

Bonnie: I have strange friends.

Jonathan: New York, Manhattan area code 212, it is probably one of the most prestigious area codes, isn’t it?

Bonnie: Oh yes. Now because Manhattan has grown, and there are many other area codes, particularly with the advent of cellular phones. It’s like the 617 area code in Boston. People want that area code, but now we have 91– whatever it is. Lots of different area codes in the New York area. Not everyone, even if they live in Manhattan and have a cell phone can get 212.

Jonathan: 212 is the one. Is 202 the same in DC? Have they got other area codes in DC now?

Bonnie: I think so. I know Virginia certainly does, even Atlanta. I grew up with the 404.

Jonathan: That’s not found now.

Bonnie: I know, but Atlanta–

Jonathan: At least you’re not in area code 403 which is forbidden.

Bonnie: Yes.


The same thing. It’s a status symbol to have a certain area code. I probably would think about it for New York City, but it’s interesting that Boston is 617. “Oh, you want a 617 area code. You don’t want the others.”

Jonathan: When we got the number for the listener line, I wanted one with Mosen at the end. That was the major criteria. I found one at area code 864, and I think 864 is quite cool. It’s just cool.

Bonnie: I don’t know what state that is.

Jonathan: I can’t remember now.

Bonnie: So many new area codes.

She’s here! She’s here!,

Jonathan: Yes. We have, as you can hear, Bonnie in with us because there’s lots to catch up on. The most important of things is that the grandchild has arrived.

[crowd cheers]

Bonnie: Finally, yes.

Jonathan: Little Florence Eden Kathleen Mosen was born at 8:24 PM on Sunday, the 8th of January. The same day as Elvis and David Bowie. That sets her up well.

Bonnie: [crosstalk] well, maybe. [laughs]

Jonathan: That actually is a very good point. Not even within 10 minutes of her birth, we got a text from David, and he was over the moon. He said that she’s the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. She weighs 6 pounds, 8 ounces. Although she’s much heavier now. She’s been piling on the pounds as Florence. I’ll hold up this picture of her to the mic, so you can see her because she’s the most adorable grandchild that ever existed. You can take it from me. She’s absolutely amazing-

Bonnie: I’m sure you’ll get some arguments on that.

Jonathan: -and gorgeous and just absolutely super-duper. I was going to have Florence on this first show, but when I’ve been there to visit her, she does not cry. Now I understand she does cry-

Bonnie: I think she’s over that.

Jonathan: -when she’s not on her best behavior and all that kind of stuff. She has little spills, shall we say, on her parents at the most inopportune times. Welcome to parenthood, my boy. She’s absolutely gorgeous. I’m gushing. [laughs] 6 pounds, 8 is so much lighter than our kids were. When I picked up this little bundle of preciousness, she’s just so tiny.

Bonnie: I’m sure she’s doubled her size now.

Jonathan: I’m not sure about that one. She’s just absolutely gorgeous. It was a long, drawn-out process. It was a whole no-room-at-the-inn thing because we found out that the labour was going to be induced, and we got a little less than 24 hours’ notice of when that was supposed to happen. I thought we need to be on standby. It’s always good to have a parent around in those eventualities in case they are needed. David’s mum was away, and I wanted to be there anyway, so we started searching for hotels.

Now, we were having this big debate last year here on the show about, should we go back to the place that subjected us to discrimination almost exactly a year ago. It turned out that they were full anyway because there was an athletic competition.

Bonnie: David, the kids seem to plan their big life events in Whanganui when there’s other huge events going on in Whanganui. [laughs]

Jonathan: Heidi and Henry’s wedding; David and Joanna’s wedding, they were all taking place during–

Bonnie: Over Heritage weekend.

Jonathan: Yes, Heritage weekend in Whanganui. This time, there was this big athletic event-

Bonnie: In whole North Island.

Jonathan: Yes. In fact, the people-

Bonnie: For the whole islands actually.

Jonathan: -from Hither and Yon, mostly Yon rather than Hither, but lots of people there. It was next to impossible to find somewhere, anywhere. Then when you also take into account a little bit of grass for eclipse to work her magic, [chuckles] it was even more difficult. We called this motel that we had on our shortlist, which Amanda recommended. It doesn’t have a restaurant, but these days, that’s not such an issue anymore.

There’s this New Zealand-owned delivery company called Delivereasy. They’ve got a really good strategy where they’re going into the smaller centers, where DoorDash and Uber Eats can’t be bothered being present, and scooping up the market. Genius. Now, if you go to motels and things that don’t have a restaurant and you don’t feel like venturing out, you can get all sorts of things delivered.

I called this motel and they had a little room and I said, “We’ll take it. We’ll take it.” Then when we had the booking done, only then did I say, ‘By the way, my wife travels with a guide dog.'” He was very reluctant. It was like the Monty Python cheese sketch. “It’s very runny, sir. It really is very runny.” He was saying, “Look, it’s very small. I’m not sure if a guide dog will fit.” I said, “We have to take it because there’s nowhere else.” He said, “Okay.”

We had Nicola and Zach who were down Zach’s Nicola’s boyfriend and they were down here helping Heidi and Henry move because they’ve moved to Whanganui. They drove us up. When we got there, he said, “I really did try to find somewhere bigger for you, but I just couldn’t because we’re full.” We thought, “How small is this place?” It was small, wasn’t it?

Bonnie: It was pretty bad. The place was nice. I have to say that if we’d had a larger room, I would definitely stay there again. There was grass. They were friendly. It’s a very rustic thing, but the fact that the room was tiny– We were pretty much stuck in the room the whole time except when we went out to eat. There was nowhere to sit except the bed and a desk.

I did find out the day we left, which would have been nice to know when we came in that there was actually a seating area downstairs. They’re like rustic cabins almost. We were on the second floor, and I think there was a floor above us. It’s a very wooden rustic structure with no air conditioning, and it was hot in Whanganui. There was a fan. On the first floor, there was a seating area. I wish I’d known about that Wednesday because that would have made all the difference in the world.

Jonathan: It got up to 30°C when we arrived, and that’s quite warm by New Zealand standards because I don’t know. There’s something different about the heat here, I think, so 30°C is pretty major.

Bonnie: Wanganui is subtropical, I think is what their ecosystem is, but it was really, really hot.

Jonathan: Yes, it was.

Bonnie: The dog was hot.

Jonathan: The other thing is, I really am thankful that I’ve spent years now in a meditation practice because it stood me in good stead for all the waiting. We arrived on Wednesday. In the end, little Florence didn’t put in an appearance in the world until Sunday night.

Bonnie: Yes, I was struggling with the waiting. It would have been okay. Like I said if we could have moved around, but I don’t do well in closed-in spaces. Not claustrophobia but I wouldn’t make a good prisoner. It was pretty trying.

Jonathan: Still, she’s arrived now, and she’s-

Bonnie: Safely. That’s the most important thing.

Jonathan: -beautiful and she’s gorgeous. It’s just amazing. No doubt we will hear more of and from Florence in a little bit.

How we ended up with our SunStream Evolve 10 infrared Sauna

When you were at school, many, many, many, years ago now, Bonnie, did you have that thing where you’d come back from your summer vacations as they call them over there, and did you have to do the what I did in the holidays morning talks?

Bonnie: Oh, yes. What I did on my summer vacation? Let’s see. We went on an archeological dig. We caught a shark, we had a baby calf. That’s some of mine.

Jonathan: It seems to be a universal thing because we would do that as well. I just feel so reenergized and reinvigorated. I just did a lot of nothing, watching old TV shows, reading a lot, and just taking time to recharge. Read some very interesting books, which I’ll probably talk about sometime throughout the podcast. One of the things I also intended to do was spend a lot of time in our sauna. I’ve got this congenital condition, which causes sudden and sometimes degenerative hearing loss.

One thing I’ve found over the years is that if you look after things relating to your circulation and levels of stress and things like that, then it can really help lessen the incidence of sudden hearing loss that get bundled with this particular condition. Anyway, I’ve had a sauna since 2009. The way that a lot of these new saunas work that are designed for the home is that they use infrared heaters. You don’t load a lot of water into them. That takes up a lot of space and you have steam pours out and stuff.

Bonnie: That can be dangerous too [crosstalk].

Jonathan: They’ve been used for centuries.

Bonnie: I know, but you can burn yourself.

Jonathan: Yes. These are infrared saunas. They’re very efficient, they give out good heat, and the heat penetrates the skin. Apparently, it has all sorts of properties that are beneficial to low blood pressure, all sorts of things. Anyway, the sauna has served us quite well. It’s been in the garage because when I got it in 2009, we had a house full of the four bananas. The bedrooms were all full when the kids were here of sleeping children. The kids have grown up now, and we seldom have more than two of them at a time.

We usually have one of them with partner. We don’t often even have two of them here. We’ve got a lot more space. A while ago, we decided to convert one of the bedrooms into the Mosen Towers Health Center. We’ve got the Technogym my run treadmill in there. We’ve got a rowing machine, we’ve got weight equipment, the yoga mat thing, and that’s where we make sure that we look after ourselves. We never did anything about the sauna because the sauna down there is a double sauna.

Bonnie: It’s big.

Jonathan: It’s quite good. It’s nice for two to sit in there. I went down to have my sauna. The first thing that I noticed was that the sauna, which is in the scary garage, where things tend to get put for storage, funnily enough, we don’t have a car in the garage. I opened the sauna. It was full of cobwebs. Ooh, that’s disgusting. Then I got those cleared up. Then when I went down just after Christmas to have another sauna, the sauna was making this really odd beeping noise, a rapid beep. I’ve never heard it make that noise before, and it was also warm when I went in there, even though it wasn’t supposed to be powered on. I thought this-

Bonnie: You found the spiders.

Jonathan: -is ominous. I thought I will switch it off at the wall because, in New Zealand, all our wall outlets have switches, which is something they don’t do in the United States. I couldn’t switch it off because there was so many scary spiders around the wall switch. I could not actually find the wall switch without getting covered in spider web. Ooh, that garage is scary. Heidi, the amazing daughter, came over and helped me to de-cobweb the switch and I switch it off and back on it all seemed to work. The same thing happened the next day minus the cobwebs.

I realized that after nearly 14 years, the sauna had shuffled off this mortal coil. At that point, there’s not much point in getting it repaired and stuff like that because the technology’s changed and that kind of thing. I started doing some research, and I thought why don’t we get a one-person sauna that can fit in the Mosen Towers Health Center, so we don’t have to go down to the scary garage, and you’d be more inclined to use it.

Bonnie: Oh, yes, definitely. I have been using it.

Jonathan: I did all this research, and I came up with what I believe to be the best product for us. It’s a company called Sun Stream. They make some pretty impressive saunas. The one that we got is called the Evolve 10, and it has this 360-degree heat concept. Even on the door of the sauna, you’ve got an infrared heater. You’ve got one on your left and your right and behind you and even under your feet, under the floorboards. When you get in that sauna, you really break out a sweat, dude. You really do. It’s amazing.

Bonnie: It has a speaker in it.

Jonathan: It has Kenwood stereo Bluetooth speakers in it. I was a bit skeptical about this because I don’t wear my hearing aids in the sauna. When I don’t have my hearing aids in, I’m not much of a conversationalist or anything, but actually, these speakers are so loud. The neighbors may enjoy what I’m listening to as well, but it’s so loud that I can actually crank up my iPhone when I pair my iPhone with the sauna and listen to podcasts and music and stuff. I’m delighted by this. It sounds great, doesn’t it?

Bonnie: It does.

Jonathan: Pretty rich bass.

Bonnie: I had to turn it down this morning because I was put my podcast on and then I got in like, “Oops, this a bit loud.” I had to come out and turn it down a bit.

Jonathan: One of the things I’ve also been reading about for some time now is cold water therapy and the benefits of showering or bathing in cold water. I’ve been doing it a little bit. I have my shower, and then I turn the tap all the way to cold. I’ve been taking it for maybe 30 seconds or more, but then I was reading about the way that particularly the Finns and people in Europe like to use their saunas where what they do is they get as hot as they can possibly get in the sauna, and to cool down, they go and roll in the snow or do something.

What I decided to try and I was really nervous the first day I tried this. We’ve got a very deep bath here. I like my baths, I find them very relaxing. Whenever I’m in the market for a property, I always like to check what bath is there. If it’s not a good one, I’ll replace it, but this is a really nice deep bath. I filled the bath to the brim with absolutely cold water, not even lukewarm, just flick the tap all the way over to cold, fill the bath all the way up. I got in the sauna and got as hot as I could until I couldn’t stand it anymore. Then I got out the sauna, ran into the cold bath, and just plunged in without thinking about it because I knew that if I just gently tried to do this, I would never do it.

I just leaped in and tried to immerse myself. The first couple of times I did it I squawked is what Bonnie will tell you. I have to say I have never felt so invigorated in my life. Now I do it every time I have a sauna. I do this whole plunge thing in a cold bath full of water. I really feel great. Have you done that yet, Bonnie? No, you have not.

Bonnie: I take a cold shower after I’ve been in the sauna. I’m not a cold bath person. Cold shower is fine, and that seems to be good too. I do do the cold shower, but I really enjoying the sauna. I try to go in it if not every day, every other day because I go to work. I had to do it at night if I go to work because I don’t have a lot of time in the morning getting ready and catching the bus. I’m really enjoying it and trying to work out every day or every other day and then do the sauna on the off day.

The Qardio Arm blood pressure monitor

You gave me for Christmas. This is what you get when you get old, a blood pressure monitor, so I can–

Jonathan: Well you were so obsessing over your blood pressure [crosstalk].

Bonnie: It’s good to monitor it because I was diagnosed with high blood pressure last March, and I’m on a low dose of medication. The only way I would know that if it was really working was to go into the medical center and have a nurse take it. A lot of times, when you go to the medical center, it goes up because you have that [crosstalk] white coat hypertension as they call it. I really wanted and I knew that there were talking ones or accessible ones that you could use that you could just keep an eye on it. You got me the QardioArm, which is FDA-approved.

Jonathan: It’s Qardio with a Q by the way.

Bonnie: I forgot the Q part until the other day when I was reading the manual.

Jonathan: It’s another Monty Python thing. Qardio with a Q, [crosstalk].

Bonnie: QardioArm. It has an app that you can download from the App Store and you pair it with your phone. It’s beautiful. Is very accessible. You can save it to the health app. You can email your results to your doctor and all kinds of fun things with it. You just wrap it around your arm and when you start it goes to the exact pressure that it needs to measure your blood pressure. It will apparently give you an indicator if it’s really high because you can look at your measurements and see. When you get your measurements it says high or optimum and that thing.

It’s interesting because I was reading an article. Humans aren’t as healthy as we were back in the ’50s or even 20 years ago. They’ve lowered the goalpost for what high blood pressure is now. It used to be I think over 150, but they’ve lowered it now that anything over 130 is considered high normal. There’s a lot that contributes to high blood pressure.

Some of it obviously is genetic, but a lot of it is lifestyle, and stress is probably the biggest one. It’s been great having the blood pressure thing, but you have to be careful not to get too obsessed with it because you can see a high number, “Oh my God,” and then you check it again and it’s gone up and up and up. One thing I learned the other day is it has pictures on it, and you can actually put photos from your phone into the screen, so you can look at whatever you want to look at while you’re taking your blood pressure.

Jonathan: Oh that’s interesting.

Bonnie: To calm you down.

Jonathan: You can also use it with multiple people.

Bonnie: Yes.

Jonathan: That’s good. I use it sometimes and what I like is the massive collection of data I’m getting in my health app. When I look at my new Withings Body Cardio Scale and the Apple Watch Ultra giving me data about my sleep and heart rate and blood oxygen and stuff. You open the health app, and if you set your summary tab up correctly, you really get an amazing picture of your health now. I also have my WaterMinder app where all my fluid intake is logged. Just by bringing up the health app now that I’ve organized the favorites tab, the way I like, I get this really amazing overview of how my health is doing.

Bonnie: They have a couple of other products. One I think is a scale. There’s three. There’s cardio base, cardio score I think, or something else, and Arm. Arm is the one I had. I do recommend it for anyone who has a smartphone because it’s very accessible and from what I understand from reading, it’s clinically approved. It is a medical-grade device, so you are getting pretty accurate numbering of blood pressure because blood pressure can be subjective in terms of how you’re feeling or how your stress levels. It’s a medically recognized device which is great.

Jonathan: I’m glad I hit the jackpot because I did a bit of research, and I thought it would be far better to get this rather than some stand-alone talking device. You can make sure it’s added to all the other data you’re collecting in the health app.

Bonnie: It’s easy to use. The first time I used it it was freaky because when you have the nurse put it on there and they’re talking to you and then they pump up the thing. You put this around your arm and then you want to support your arm on something and you want to keep it as close to your heart as you can. You tap the button and the first time it would [unintelligible 01:53:22] and then it squeezes your arm and it was weird so once you get used to that.

The Shure MV7

Jonathan: Another gadget that we got over the summer for you is an upgrade. We now have effectively a Studio B at Mosen Towers because we got you a shure MV7 microphone. This has that classic shure sound about it. It supports USB and XLR. Bonnie can plug a good quality set of studio headphones into the mic, and the mic plugs into the USB port of her HP Spectre Folio, and she’s got broadcast-quality sound.

Bonnie: I don’t have a folio.

Jonathan: Oh, that’s right. It’s just the HP specter.

Bonnie: It’s like what? I’ve upgraded my computer too.

Jonathan: I think you’re better off with the one you have actually.

Bonnie: I think so. I like it.

Jonathan: You’ve got broadcast-quality sound.

Bonnie: The scary thing is I almost deleted it the other day because I was looking on my desktop, and I saw something I didn’t recognize. It said Shure or something. I’m like, “What’s that?” I thought something had hacked into my [unintelligible 01:54:27]. I’m like, “Oh it’s the microphone.” Thankfully I didn’t do anything with it.

Jonathan: It was just the software to customize it. It does have its own software, and you can do things like add a little bit of dynamic audio compression. You can add some limiting, and do various other things with it. It’s a little bit more than a microphone. It’s got a little bit of digital signal processing with the software as well, and it’s usable. I wouldn’t call it exemplary, but it’s usable. Thank you for this extended morning talk on what we did on our holiday/vacation.


Brailliant follow-up

You remember that in days of yore like in 2022, Karen McDonald wrote to us about problems she was having sending a text message with her Braille display on her iPhone. People were endeavoring to make some suggestions. Here, she is following up on this. She says, “Hello, Jonathan. First, thank you so much for your attention to my question concerning the iOS bug with the Brailliant Braille display.

I tried the workaround that was suggested in the podcast comprising dot 2 and dot 7 followed immediately by dot 8, the Enter key, and it didn’t work for me. Also, I tried using the Focus 40 blue and the Braille Sense six displays, and I have the same issue. My point is that the Brailliant isn’t the only display affected by this bug.

Mastodon, Cricket and Internet radio

We’re saying hello to John Snowling. He says, “Hi Jonathan, I decided to delete my Mastodon account because I felt that I wasn’t getting a lot of use from it. The trouble is, at present, everything I follow was still in Birdland. I loved reading your podcast from the @Mosenatlarge podcast. I found them very interesting.

See, there’s the thing, John, we’re over unmastered on now, so not everything you want to follow is in Birdland still. “On another matter,” he says, “I found an app that allows me to listen to stations in both New Zealand and Australia. I’m hoping to listen to some cricket from both countries, especially New Zealand. The app is called Broadcasts, and it’s not too bad to use. You can store five stations for free, but if you want to store more in your library, then a one-off payment will allow you to store as many as you want. I think the payment was around $5 or so, but it could be cheaper. Thanks for all the podcasts you have produced throughout the last year.

By the way, when you came to London, did you do some recording while you were there? Is this featured on any of the podcasts of Mosen At Large for the last year?” I did do some recording, John, and I haven’t featured any in the podcast yet because I thought it might bore people, but actually, I’ve had a few requests for it. I might just cobble some of it together and play a little bit from time to time in a travel log format. Stay tuned, we’ll see if we can get some of those on in 2023.

As for cricket in New Zealand, it’s being broadcast on two radio stations depending on what’s going on. When there’s international cricket happening in the country, you will hear it on a station called Today FM, and that’s a bit annoying because there are a few stations around the world called Today FM. If you can find the New Zealand one, you may be able to find the cricket stream. Sometimes they put it on a dedicated cricket stream, so you might want to see. I don’t know how widely available it is. If you can download an app called Rova. Spelt R-O-V-A. That is the app from MediaWorks who run Today FM. You would be able then to hear the dedicated Black Caps radio stream.

If there is international cricket taking place outside New Zealand, it is being broadcast on SENZ. To the best of my knowledge, SENZ is not making itself available on any third-party apps. You’d have to see if you can get the dedicated SEN or SENZ app wherever you are. It all gets very complicated, doesn’t it? I do wish that cricket would get its act together, that the ICC would produce an app where you can just pay an annual subscription and get all the cricket commentaries, radio, and TV in one place. I would be quite happy to pay a significant amount of money to be able to do that, but cricket isn’t that coordinated or sensible sadly.

Over the summer, we have not had any international cricket taking place in New Zealand because New Zealand went to Pakistan. We played a two-tests series, which despite both tests being drawn, was quite enthralling. The first test was a great battastic thing. The second test, we were on a knife edge. All we needed was one lousy wicket, and we would have won, not only the test match but of course, the series. That would’ve been the first test series that we won in Pakistan since 1969.

I was sitting there going well into the night because of the time difference between us and Pakistan listening to this. I was thinking, “Come on, this ball’s got to be it.” Then they ran out of time. It was very disappointing, but we did have a pretty spectacular series win against Pakistan. That final one-day international against Pakistan where we were set a massive total, and I really didn’t think that we were going to make it, but we did. I don’t want to jinx it, but it does bode well for the World Cup. Maybe it does, maybe this time, maybe, please.

Closing and Contact info


I’d love to hear from you, so if you have any comments you want to contribute to the show, drop me an email written down or with an audio attachment to Jonathan. J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com. If you’d rather call in, use the listener line number in the United States, 864-606-6736.


[02:00:40] [END OF AUDIO]