Podcast transcript: Mosen at Large episode 213, Comments on the new Victor Reader Stream, RIM has new pay as you go plans and prepares to come to Mac, and why is it so hard to get a Braille manual for a Braille embosser

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Jonathan Mosen: I’m Jonathan Mosen and this is Mosen at Large, the show that’s got the blind community talking. This week, comments on HumanWare’s forthcoming Victor Reader Stream, Remote Incident Manager has new pay-as-you-go plans, and it’s coming to the Mac. Plenty of Apple talk, and what is Network Radio.


Voice-over: Mosen at Large Podcast.


Welcome Los Angeles

Jonathan: What a pleasure it is to be back with you for the second episode of the year and the 213th episode of Mosen at Large. We really are getting into the prestigious area codes at the moment, aren’t we? Because 213 is Los Angeles. It’s the central part of Los Angeles. It is, if you’re in that part of the world, the area code to be in. Bonnie was talking last week about the prestige of having 212, or for that matter, 617. It’ll be a while till we get to the 617th episode of this, but 213 is one of those prestigious area codes. It’s associated with Hollywood, movie stars, swimming pools, and 93 KHJ if you’re into the old radio air checks and listening to Robert W Morgan and some of those guys on KHJ.

If you have a 213 area code, take a bow is what I say, take a bow.

Why the show sounds a bit different

Now, I do not want to be accused of subterfuge or slipping something under the radar, or anything terrible like that although I was tempted to do that to see if anybody noticed, but then I decided, no, transparency is the way forward. If you think that my audio is sounding a bit different this week, you would be right, and I want to explain to you what we are doing and why we are doing it. Mosen at Large processes its audio through a really cool service called Auphonic. I’ve been working on a big presentation on this that we will get to sometime in the near future.

It’s probably going to take up most of a whole episode of Mosen at Large because we’re going to interview the developer of Auphonic, the guy whose idea it was. It’s a really fascinating thing actually why he came up with this idea. Auphonic does a lot of very cool stuff that you just can’t do with tools like REAPER because they use a lot of processing power well beyond the average PC to do some pretty slick things. Now Auphonic have a bunch of beta projects going on at the moment. One of them is to use their considerable processing power to analyze every voice that appears on a podcast and equalize each voice separately to give you the optimum sound.

We have switched this beta algorithm on right now and that’s why I sound a little bit different. Some people will not notice, some people will not care, but the reason why I sound different is that the microphone that I use in the studio here, we’ve got a pair of them actually, is the Heil PR 40. Now, the Heil PR40 is a very bright microphone. By that I mean it’s quite trebly and some people really like that. I think it is also fair to say that the sound that we produce as a result of using Auphonic’s default algorithms and this mic is a little bit more on the trebly side than your average podcast.

What you will now be hearing from me is a sound much more similar to most other podcasts. It’s a little bit flatter. It’s not quite as trebly and that will appeal to some people depending on the device that you are listening with. The reason why we are doing this though is because what it does with people who are coming in, say, with the iPhone’s microphone or very cheap headsets is quite remarkable. We get a lot of contributions from people and we interview a lot of people with a range of microphones. Not everybody can afford to have an expensive broadcast microphone in the studio like we’ve got. By making this change, you would actually notice a much more consistent sound.

Some of the guests we bring on, some of the contributions that you hear from listeners will sound much better, and our sound just a little less toppy than I have before. We’ll see how this goes. I really like overall the effect that this is having on the podcast with all the different contributors that we get, so I hope you like it too. I know we have a lot of people who listen who are discerning listeners and they will immediately pick up on a change. I thought I would just explain it front up and explain it right in front of the episode. As you go through this one where we have a lot of listener contributions and people to interview, you will hear, hopefully, how polished and consistent everything sounds.

Voice-over: Mosen at Large Podcast.

You can sign an open letter to Audible on the Victor Reader Stream

Jonathan: Plenty of comments coming in on the Victor Reader Stream discussion from episode 212. In case you haven’t heard about it yet, I was asked by quite a few people if I would facilitate the setting up of an open letter to Amazon, which runs Audible, respectfully requesting that they reinstate support for the Victor Reader Stream, that’s the current one and the one to come, so that Victor Reader Stream users can use AudibleSync to authorize their devices and continue to play audible books. I did that. That is now available.

If you would like to add your signature to it, whether you use the Stream or not, you’re very welcome because I think that we should all support the right of blind people to use the device that works best for them, that makes them feel most comfortable. So few of the world’s books are available in any accessible format to us. We should do what we can to ensure that we don’t go backwards. If you would like to add your signature to this open letter, it is still open. You can go to Bitly, that’s bit.ly/AudibleStreamSupport. Every word is capitalized, so A, S, and then S. Bit.ly/AudibleStreamSupport.

Comments on the Victor Reader Stream Third Generation

Now Pawel’s writing in. He says, “Hello, Jonathan. Thank you for your excellent podcast. After listening to your interview with HumanWare representatives, I’m not so sure that FLAC format recording is already implemented in Victor Stream third generation.” I thought that they made it pretty clear that it is. I guess time will tell when the device is released, but that seemed to be pretty unambiguous. “We will see,” he says. “The decision to have a built-in battery instead of a user-replaceable one is very surprising to me. We will be dependent again on the manufacturer for something as trivial as changing the battery.”

“For the first and second generation of this device, I always had an extra battery in case I needed to use the device beyond the lifetime of the first one. In my opinion, giving up a user-replaceable battery is not a wise decision. 10 years of waiting for HumanWare’s new generation of Victor Stream allowed us to hope that a company with such vast experience in the blindness market would be able to surprise the consumers with definitely more advanced solutions in this product. My whole family signed your petition. However, this time I will not rush to buy a Victor Stream third generation.”

Kathy Blackburn writes, “It’s my understanding that the source the Stream uses for internet radio stations is ooTunes. It used to be possible to hear CNN and MSNBC on the Stream, but support for CNN disappeared a few months ago and MSNBC went away maybe three weeks ago. I started getting a failed to start the station message when I tried to access these stations using my favorites list. Searching for a working link yielded no results. I’m guessing these outlets for whatever reason don’t want to be included on ooTunes anymore. Fortunately, we can use our Amazon devices or our TV instead, but I had really liked being able to hear MSNBC on my Stream.”

Thanks, Kathy. It’s been a while since I checked this out because if I want to listen to MSNBC, I do that through my SiriusXM app on my phone. As I recall, certainly the MSNBC stream was a bit unofficial, I think. It was somebody running a Shoutcast stream of it, so maybe he took it away. Christopher Wright is emailing on the subject of the Stream, he says, “Hi, Jonathan. The announcement for the Stream 3 was underwhelming. For the price, I would’ve expected at least 128 gigabytes of internal storage and Wi-Fi 6 or 802.11ax at a minimum, particularly when the Trek had about 32 gigabytes of storage.”

“The sealed internal battery is a deal breaker. I don’t want to know how expensive it’s going to be to send the unit back to HumanWare. The cycle has indeed repeated itself and I guarantee this will be abandoned within three or four years. I’m going to give this a hard pass. I’d rather get a Pixel 7a, which will be cheaper and come with eight times the storage. No more HumanWare products for me. They’ve demonstrated once again they can’t or won’t keep up with modern advancements in technology. Where’s Android 12 or 13 for the BrailleNote?”

“Hello. I’m waiting for a better answer than new Android versions break our accessibility, which is flimsy considering they could extensively test it before releasing to their users. The product has been out for about four years and it’s still stuck on 8.1. It’s truly sad because I love the concept behind the Stream, but the constant cycle of expensive underpowered hardware is a deal breaker at this point. For those who decide to purchase it, I genuinely hope you enjoy it. Truth be told, HumanWare could have done a far better job 10 years ago. My Stream has 2.7 gigabytes of usable internal memory.”

Kay says, “Hi. I’m wondering if the BBC will go bye-bye on the second-generation Stream. Why is it that the BlindShell has Amazon content, but HumanWare can’t get any? I love gadgets, but there isn’t enough to make me run out and buy the third generation.” Thanks for writing. Kay, the reason why the BlindShell has Audible support is that they have taken the official Audible app for Android from Amazon and they’ve put what I would call a wrapper over the top of that app and made it BlindShell-like, but under the hood, it is the official app.

That’s something that you can do on something like the BlindShell that you can’t do on a completely proprietary device like the Stream. It means that Amazon actually don’t have to do anything to enable support for Audible on the BlindShell. All the technical stuff needs to be done by the developers of the BlindShell in the Czech Republic. Joe Danowski writes in, “Hi, Jonathan. Nice interview with the guys from Victor Reader Stream. I got my first Victor Stream in early 2008.”

“I thought it was revolutionary to be able to carry all those books on such a small device, to be able to read newsline newspapers in such a small form factor was just amazing, especially for someone my age who started out using a 4 Track Reel to Reel machine with recording for the blind books. I do use the iPhone to read books from Audible and the BARD library service. For serious in-depth reading, Victor Stream beats the iPhone hands down. There is just a greater connectivity to the Victor Stream when you can just push buttons to make things happen as opposed to double taps and having to run your finger across a glass screen in order to hear the buttons to activate.”

“Also, it is just so easy to make bookmarks on the Victor Reader Stream, and they go back to the important things you wanted to hear again, as well as being able to dictate notes while you were reading. Its long battery life and its ability to take a beating are really a plus. I would encourage anyone engaged in serious study to use the Victor Reader over iPhone.”

“I was disappointed to learn that the Victor Reader 3 was not Audible-ready. This is a major disappointment as I have had an Audible subscription for over 15 years and have accumulated quite a library of books there that I would like to go back to from time to time and download them onto the Victor Reader. I am definitely going to write to Audible and express my disappointment and concerns, and urge them to address this issue.” Thanks, Joe, and hopefully, you will sign the open letter as well.

Just a couple of comments on use of the iPhone, emphasizing that people should use what works for them and so it’s great that this works for you. It isn’t absolutely necessary to flick around the screen to find the button that you want to press on an iPhone. For me, all the apps that I use regularly, I know where everything is on the screen and I don’t flick around the screen. I simply tap where I know the button to be and then I can act on whatever button I need to press. The Audible app, I know where to touch in order to get into the controls that speed the audio way up. I can add bookmarks in Audible and it’s a really efficient process for me.

I think a lot of students will be in the same position because they are iPhone natives if you like. They’ve grown up with touchscreens, they will feel very comfortable. Of course, also taking notes using apps like Ulysses or Drafts or whatever it is that they choose to use, they may be working with Pages or Microsoft Word. A student is likely to have to create some nicely formatted documents and write essays, that kind of stuff.

For many students, I think there will be significant advantages in having all of the content that you are going to work with that you need to refer to on the same device as you are writing with. These days the iPhone is a very viable content-creation device. That is not to detract in any way from your particular use case in the fact that it works for you because I think what you are expressing is a way that many people feel about the advantages of a device like the Stream even in an age where a lot of these mainstream products are accessible.

Joe Norton: Hello, Jonathan. This is Joe Norton in Dalton, Georgia in the United States. I want to say congratulations on Florence’s arrival. A new grandchild is always something that a family looks forward to and sounds like you all are looking forward to some great experiences and no doubt she’ll have some great experiences too. Probably you all are on pins and needles and can’t wait to get involved and see how things go, but no two are alike so you never know what you’re want to experience and what they’re going to say as they get older and start talking, walking around and stuff like that. Most of the time they start running around [chuckles] as far as the energy goes.

I remember when my youngest child started walking around, she didn’t walk, she ran everywhere and that was like, “Oh, I wish I had that energy.” Anyway, one of the things I wanted to mention too was the Stream. This was interesting news about the Stream and nice to hear from the HumanWare folks on that. I had no idea that it was 10 years since the Stream 2 had come out. Time flies, I guess. I guess it is time for the Stream to have a facelift, as you might say. The changes sound rather interesting. The keypad change, things like that, that sounds like it’s going to be interesting. The battery issue is something I have mixed feelings about, but I think I can live with it.

My Stream battery seems to be doing okay, hasn’t swelled up or anything like some of the horror stories I’ve heard. I’m watching it, trying to be careful with it. It might need a replacement in a year or two, but I’m hoping that it’ll keep going long enough for me. I don’t plan to upgrade just yet anyway. One of the things that I’m interested in is the issue of the Audible activation. I thought I’d do an experiment. What I did was I put an SD card in there that had nothing on it, no Audible content. Actually, nothing at all. I had the Stream format the card. The Audible activation on the Stream is stored on the SD card, unlike other activations that are stored internally in the internal memory somewhere.

When you go to activate the Stream, you have to have it plugged in and use the AudibleSync software. People are saying it doesn’t work, so I wanted to see what kind of error messages people were getting and stuff like that because I hadn’t really heard. I guess I can do a search in my Gmail, but I might still miss something. Anyway, I thought, “Let me just see what it’s like.” What I did, again, I cleared everything off. I even called Audible customer service and asked them to remove the stream activation from the account just so that it would look to them like I was activating a new device.

Having done all that, I got the latest version of the AudibleSync software and installed it, and had the Stream activated for Audible content to see what would happen. The activation appeared to work and I then disconnected the Stream after having copied a book onto it. You can hear what happened in the following demonstration. Here I am at the computer. What I’m going to do is a Google search to find the AudibleSync software. I have Google open already.

Automated Voice: Google. Personal Microsoft Edge. Google.

Joe: Let me enter this into the search bar here. Download.

Automated Voice: O-W-O-A-D. Space.

Joe: Audible.

Automated Voice: A-U-D-B. Space.

Joe: Sync.

Automated Voice: N-C.

Joe: Press enter.

Automated Voice: Enter. Loading page. Download AudibleSync, Google Search, personal Microsoft Edge. Loading complete.

Joe: It has a page of search results. I’m going to press H to navigate by headings.

Automated Voice: Accessibility. Search. Heading. Search results. What is the AudibleSync app? Visited heading level, three link.

Joe: What is the AudibleSync app? That’s the page that I want so I’ll hit enter on this.

Automated Voice: Enter. Loading page. Download AudibleSync. Google Search. Visited heading level, three link. What is the AudibleSync–

Joe: I have that. I’m going to press H again to navigate by headings to get to the top of the article.

Automated Voice: What is the AudibleSync app heading level one?

Joe: There it is. I’m going to press tab to get to the link that actually lets me download the software.

Automated Voice: List with two items. AudibleSync app link.

Joe: That’s what I want. I can tell this because right up above this–

Automated Voice: One, download the–

Joe: It says download the–

Automated Voice: Link AudibleSync.

Joe: Then AudibleSync app. I’m going to press enter on this.

Automated Voice: Enter. Loading page. Loading complete. Search button menu. List with two items. AudibleSync app link. Downloading AudibleSync set up January 8th, 2013 eggs.

Joe: Now that’s not a real file date. That’s 1.8.13, but the vocalizer speech engine does a little of munching there.

Automated Voice: Download’s completed. Press control J to go to download.

Joe: All right. It has downloaded the file. I’m going to close the browser now.

Automated Voice: Alt F4. Folder, view list.

Joe: Go back to my desktop here. First of all, I’m going to plug in the Stream because that’s very important. The Stream needs to be authorized before I can do anything with it. I’ve got it plugged in and I’m going to turn the Stream on.

Automated Voice: Welcome to Victor Reader–

Automated Voice: No checked. Checked selected.

Joe: It’s connected. Now what I’m going to do is to go to my downloads folder. Several different ways you can do that. I’m want to press Windows R-

Automated Voice: Windows R.

Joe: -and type downloads.

Automated Voice: D-O-W-N-L-O-A-D-S. Enter. Downloads. Items view list box. Items view multi-select list box. Today in expanded. AudibleSync set up January 8th, 2013 not checked.

Joe: There’s the file.

Automated Voice: Space. No check selected.

Joe: Had to press space to check it just to be sure. It’s version 1.8.13. Just keep that in mind. That’s the latest one. I’m going to press enter on this. What will happen is I’ll get a dialog that just says installing. It doesn’t even ask for permission because it’s installing just to my local folders. I press enter.

Automated Voice: Enter. Window dialog. Downloads. Installing.

Joe: It’s installing as it says. In just a moment, that dialog will go away and we’ll be prompted to sign in to Amazon. The software automatically launches.

Automated Voice: Downloads. AudibleSync. Audible document. Audible document page has no links. Audible document page has one region and no links. There are two smart glance highlights on this page. Audible welcome back. Sign in here to listen to your titles from Audible. Listen. Explore. Explore.

Joe: It’s prompting me to sign into the Audible service. For some reason, the link it gives is the link that asks you to sign in with the username and password that Audible used to use. I don’t want to do that. The best way I found to get around this is to press JAWS key plus a Zed or Z to turn off the virtual cursor.

Automated Voice: Use virtual PC cursor off.

Joe: I’m going to press Tab.

Automated Voice: Welcome back. Sign in here to listen to your audio titles from Audible.

Joe: I’ll keep tabbing here.

Automated Voice: Press the enter key to select sign in to your account using your email address and password.

Joe: That’s what I want so I’ll press enter.

Automated Voice: Enter. Audible document. Amazon sign-in. Amazon sign-in document. Email or mobile phone number edit.

Joe: It’s prompting me for my email address so I’m going to type that in and I’m going to tab over to the password field.

Automated Voice: Password. Password edit.

Joe: I’ll type that in and press enter.

Automated Voice: Enter. Audible document. Page has three links. Audible back button. Link graphic library. Link graphic device. Link graphic settings. Library. Enter a title, author.

Joe: All right, that’s the front page of it where it usually comes up and it has three links. It has library, device, and settings and it only shows device if a device is plugged in like the Stream or something else. What I want to do first is go ahead and see if I can activate my Stream so I’m going to find that device link.

Automated Voice: Link graphic settings. Link graphic device.

Joe: There it is. I’ll press enter on it.

Automated Voice: Enter. Device same page link graphic. Device. Audible document. Audible document.

Joe: Let’s see if it shows my Stream. I’ll go through the page here. It turned the virtual cursor back on by the way.

Automated Voice: Back button. Link graphic library. Link graphic VR Stream D. 29 GB of 29 GB free.

Joe: There it is. Vector Stream D, 29 gigs of 29 free so there’s nothing on here. The Stream is not activated for Audible content, at least as far as this SD card is concerned. What I want to do is go ahead and activate the Stream and all I have to do is down arrow to activate.

Automated Voice: Activate the device.

Joe: I’ll press enter.

Automated Voice: Enter. Activate the device. AudibleSync page has no links. Amazon sign-in document. Email or mobile phone number edit.

Joe: For some reason, it wants me to sign in again so I will repeat those steps. I’ll put in my email address, I’ll tab, and put in my password.

Automated Voice: Password. Password edit.

Joe: I’ll press enter.

Automated Voice: Enter. Audible alert, activation data transfer complete. Audible document.

Joe: There you have it. It activated the Stream. At least it said it did. Now what I’m going to do is go back to the library.

Automated Voice: Audible. Audible backup. Link graphic library.

Joe: There is library.

Automated Voice: Enter. Library same page link graphic. Library.

Joe: I’m back in the library. Let’s see if I can down arrow here.

Automated Voice: Enter a title, author, speaker.

Joe: There’s the search box. I down arrow one more time.

Automated Voice: Edit search.

Joe: I’ll press enter on that because I want to find a book.

Automated Voice: Enter. Enter a title, author.

Joe: You heard it act a little strange there. Forms were turned on and back off, so I’m going to hit enter one more time.

Automated Voice: Enter. Enter a title.

Joe: Then it stays. What I want is a small book I can download and I have one. I downloaded a book several years ago when my little girl was younger. There’s a Curious George book among other things. All you have to do is type part of the title so I’m going to type curious.

Automated Voice: C-U-R-I-O-U-S.

Joe: Didn’t pick the I up but it’s there, and I’m going to tab.

Automated Voice: Curious George Rides a Bike.

Joe: There it is, Curious George Rides a Bike. I’m going to down arrow to the download link.

Automated Voice: Narrated by Bruce. Enjoy these classic stories of 29 meters.

Joe: Wow, that’s a big book. It’s 29 meters. Is that long or wide? It’s 29 megs, but again, the vocalizer is doing some funny stuff here. Now I down arrow one more time.

Automated Voice: Download.

Joe: Download.

Automated Voice: Enter. Download. Audible document.

Joe: It’s downloading it.

Automated Voice: Alert. Download complete.

Joe: It’s finished. Let me hit up arrow.

Automated Voice: Audible.

Joe: It’s back at the top of the page, I think. Let’s see.

Automated Voice: Back button. Link graphic– Link. Enter. Edit. Curious George Rides a Bike, The Little Red Hen.

Joe: There’s the book again. Now there’s one more thing added underneath the file size.

Automated Voice: Narrated. Enjoy these 29 meters. Copy to device.

Joe: Copy to device. I will hit enter on that.

Automated Voice: Enter. Alert. Transfer complete.

Joe: It copied it to the stream. Let’s go ahead and close this out.

Automated Voice: Folder four. Folder view, list view.

Joe: I’m now going to disconnect the Stream from the computer and it’s going to shut off. It takes the Stream a minute after you unplug it from the USB for some reason. I’m not sure why that is but it does take a while, so I will return when it’s finished and we’ll turn it on and see what happens. The Stream has completely powered off and now I’m going to turn it on and we’ll see what we get.

Automated Voice: Welcome to Victor Reader. Curious George Rides a Bike, The Little Red Hen, Fourteen Rats & a Rat-Catcher, and more.

Joe: Oh, there it is. That’s the audible book, Curious George Rides a Bike, and so forth, and so we’ll press play and see what we get.

Automated Voice: This is Audible kids.

Joe: There it is.


Automated Voice: Curious George Rides a Bike.

Joe: It’s working and I don’t know why it’s working. It’s not supposed to, apparently, but for some reason, it is. Maybe it’s because my Stream was previously activated but I just don’t know. It’s an odd thing, but anyway, if anybody has any thoughts, feel free to share them. Otherwise, take care and talk to you all later.

Jonathan: First, thank you for the congratulations, Joe, much appreciated, and also for the demo. It is curious, George, that it’s working for you and I can’t comment on this because I don’t have a stream to test it with or anything like that. Maybe something has happened in recent times to restore support. I guess even if that’s the case, the big question is, has the work been done to make the third generation Stream soon to be released also compatible with AudibleSync? If anyone can comment on whether their problems with AudibleSync and the current Stream have gone away in recent times, that would be useful.

John Gasman: Hello there, Jonathan. I am a longtime user of the Victor Reader Stream and really enjoyed the interview that you did. I plan on upgrading my three. Had the two for about 10 years so the three is a welcome change. I plan on upgrading it whether that be before I go to CSUN or maybe if I can buy it there. We’ll see how the prices go. I’m looking forward to it.

The Qardio Arm and issues facing blind Americans with diabetes

The other thing that interested me in last week’s podcast was your discussion of the Qardio arm blood pressure with Bonnie because I’ve had a blood pressure monitor for quite a while. It speaks, it does okay, but that’s all it does.

The Qardio arm does so much more medically that I decided I’ll spring for the extra money and go ahead and buy it. I don’t know if it was a sale, but I got it from Amazon. That and the case that they sell with it for like $99. I am just getting it set up right now and undergoing some little problems because it didn’t start like it was supposed to even though the batteries are supposed to be supplied with it. Of course, I have found that the manual, although it gives you a lot of great information medically, it’s written visually.

I have some questions about that. Maybe I’ll get some sighted friends over here and we’ll do a Qardio arm party and they can tell me exactly what I’m doing wrong and say, no, it goes this way or that kind of thing because the manual doesn’t really tell you that. It just says see illustration number two or whatever it is. By the way, we can talk more about this next subject if you’d like. One of the things that’s getting a lot of reaction mainly negative around here has to do with ACB Diabetics. I don’t know if NFB has a list like that, but ACB does. We’re talking about the glucose monitoring systems whether that be FreeStyle Libre or DEXcam, and acceptability, whether the insurance companies accept you or reject you.

I guess their main rule now is that you have to be using insulin and have to have to check your glucose so many times a day. Of course, the idiots who made those rules don’t consider or care, seemingly, about those of us who are totally blind and use Braille and have to prick our fingers every day. We are saying, “Hey, that’s ridiculous. We can’t do it based upon those rules because you’re destroying the finger sensitivity when you ask us to prick our fingers.” I’m lucky I work for a company, a big company, Disney, and the insurance so now I’m using the Libre 3.

When I retire later this year, pretty sure all bets are going to be up and and I’m going to be in the same situation as Larry where Medicare will accept you if you’re using the Libre 2, but not all insurance accepts you. It’s very inconsistent in the United States. I don’t know what it’s like in the rest of the world, but that might be a topic of discussion. I know that a lot of organizations have gotten together to fight this.

I haven’t heard a whole lot about results, so apparently not much is happening. This is one of those things where ACB and NFB and others ought to get together if they’re not already, and really do something to get some type of consistency here because thus far, it isn’t consistent. Some people are getting accepted and some are not. It’s an interesting topic of discussion and maybe would make an interesting topic of discussion for the podcast.


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Aira pricing changes

Dennis Long: Hey, Jonathan. It’s Dennis Long. I’m calling to comment on the whole Aira thing and the price increase. Sadly, I predict within a year or two if they keep these current prices, they’re going to be out of business. I say that because for 120 minutes, it has jumped from $99 to $199. That’s a 100% price increase and that’s with the offset pricing for those that couldn’t afford it or the discounted price. They think money grows on trees. Are they that out of touch with reality? How do they think people can afford 100% price increase?

I was going to subscribe, but the way they handled this and how greedy they’ve become, the way they handled the whole price increase, not giving us a price list, asking invasive questions like do you work, what is your income, if the price is the same regardless, that’s none of your darn business what my income is and if I work or don’t work. I just found the whole thing, the way they handled it, they lost me as a paying customer. I don’t know if there’s anything that they could do to get me back. Yes, I’ve used the service. I’ve taken advantage of the five-minute call. What I’ve used I’ve loved, but I’m not going to support a company that is trying to be greedy and can’t be upfront.

Why are you playing behind the ball? Be honest. It shouldn’t have taken your blog post to get this done, and it did. Miraculously, within 12 hours of your blog post, they admitted, “Oh, crap. We screwed up. Here’s the prices.” It shouldn’t have taken that. If they’re that poorly run management-wise, then you need to get new management in there. That’s just the bottom line. I’m supportive of good blindness companies that do things right, and Aira has clearly and sadly dropped the ball here. I agree with you. If something else came along tomorrow, I’d subscribe to it immediately.

The Apple Watch Ultra

Darren: Morning, Jonathan. Darren from Devon in the UK. I’m a long-time listener, but first-time contributor. Firstly, I would like to thank you on the amount of effort you put into producing this podcast. It is a great resource for us as a community. Personally, after being blind for around 20 years, this podcast has made me curious around learning Braille, and I have since gone on to learn uncontracted Braille. Although I am currently a little slow, I’m sure I will speed up over time, and who knows? One day I might even learn contractive Braille.

My main point for contacting you although was to share my experiences around the Apple Watch. I have had an Apple Watch Series 1 and have upgraded every few years as I absolutely love the device. I wear it 24/7. However, I am a keen runner and there are certain features that I would be looking for that weren’t on the Apple Watch. In order to get those features, I had purchased myself a Garmin watch, which was a great market leader when it came to sports tech. Unfortunately, though, it had no screen reader built-in. I knew I had to put up with this. After reaching out to Garmin frustratingly, it doesn’t seem to be something that is currently on their roadmap either.

Anyway, I persisted, and like we’ve probably all been there before, used the device and pressed buttons in certain sequences and hoped and prayed that the right thing was happening. September 20, 2022 comes along though and Apple releases watch iOS 9, which brings some great software features that had previously been missing. In particular, these heart rate zones and the ability to write custom workouts. I’m thinking to myself, “Wow, this is brilliant.” I’m using it on my Apple Watch Series 6. I was loving the functions. Unfortunately, though, I still have the Garmin watch as I still needed to rely on being able to precisely start activities or races, and being able to lap certain sections of my activities.

The next thing happens though is Apple released the Apple Watch Ultra and this has the magical buttons that I’ve been missing. Although it was only one extra button, it’s the fact that the crown and the doc buttons are a little chunkier. Therefore, so much more satisfying when you press them that you know you had a positive action is one great aspect. Of course, their killer feature that they talk about is the action button. This is brilliant. I can set my watch up to do a particular run. Then once I’m outside and I get GPS, my watch will beep and vibrate and then I know I can start the activity the minute I press the action button.

Whilst carrying out the activity, I can also then use that action button to mark different segments such as laps. This is absolutely brilliant. Although the watch is a little expensive and a little bulkier to what I’ve been used to, in terms of size, it is a long par with some of the other sports tech that is out there. The price may be high, but for me, it’s meant I can finally get rid of my Garmin watch, put it back in the box, and sell it as I’ve had enough of that company. Although it served me well, it was really frustrating. Talking about it being a little bigger, you do get used to it, so stick with it and it’s great.

Jonathan: Thank you very much for getting in touch for the first time, Darren, really appreciate that, and for your comments on the podcast. You are totally the target audience for the Apple Watch Ultra, a runner, a serious athlete. Apple wants to take on the Garmin devices. For a blind person, clearly, given that those don’t have a screen reader, it’s a no-brainer completely. Can I also just send you congratulations and encouragement regarding your learning of Braille? I hope that goes well. Hope that you’ll stick with it and that you have many years of reading pleasure to look forward to.

ThinkPad battery issues

Matthew Chao: Hello, Jonathan. This is Matthew Chao at Newton, Massachusetts. Just wanted to say great show. Really love your podcast. I’d like to comment on your podcast concerning the ThinkPad and the Apple Watch Ultra. First of, it’s interesting that you had power problems with your Carbon X1 because I have a ThinkPad T15P third generation and I also had power problems, but it wasn’t because of a board failure. It was because, I believe, a bug in the software. I used the Lenovo Vantage app which came with the system. Set up the battery charging parameters. When I did that, my battery started losing its charge even though it was plugged into AC.

Not only that, when I started the system up, it said, “Your power supply is not sufficient to charge the battery on your ThinkPad. You may have the wrong charger.” I knew it wasn’t the wrong charger because I had gotten it with the unit. Brand new machine. I returned the first one thinking, “Oh, it’s a defect,” and I got the second one. Same problem developed except I somehow had the presence of mind to try to set up under, I believe, F8 and wireless. It had the battery settings there and the problem disappeared. That said, I’ve never used the Lenovo Vantage app since then for fear that the problem would rear its ugly head again.

If it isn’t a board issue, it seems to be some kind of software mismatch or software bug. The power and battery situation is not unique to the Carbon X1. It’s happening for different reasons, at least in my experience on the T15P. I have not looked at any blogs or forums to see if anyone else has experienced this, but it’s my experience. It didn’t really leave a good taste in my mouth in terms of the much-wanted and reliable ThinkPad reputation. The other thing that I want to comment on is the Apple Watch Ultra. It’s a great watch as I had mentioned in one of my other calls to you. I found Streamlets, downloaded it, installed it on my watch, and as it turns out, there is ducking, at least in the current version of the Watch iOS, the music or whatever is playing does duck and voiceover comes out. That’s been my observation and it’s a great watch and thank you so much for– by listening to your podcast, I found out about streamlets and it’s a great app for the watch.

Jonathan: Yes, it’s pretty nifty walking around with mushroom fm or whatever playing on your wrist, isn’t it? Thanks, Matthew. Glad you’re enjoying your Apple Watch Ultra as well. I’m sorry to hear about the problem you’ve had with your model of ThinkPad. I think the feature you are referring to is a battery optimization feature, which you can turn on in Lenovo Vantage. The purpose of it, as I understand it, is that if you know you’re going to keep your ThinkPad plugged in for a prolonged period, it makes sure that your battery is hovering around that 80% mark, which is the sweet spot for this battery technology.

I read so many caveats about this when I read documentation online from Lenovo saying, ah, you don’t really need this and this stuff. Even though I do keep my ThinkPad plugged in for prolonged periods that I decided to forgo it. I haven’t switched it on. It sounds like I should be glad that I haven’t tried it and I do have a battery replacement as part of the warranty deal I’ve got, so I don’t have to worry too much, but sad to hear that battery technology appears to be a bit of an Achilles heel for Lenovo.


Web services to a gay couple

Peter is writing in from Hungary. He says, “Hi Jonathan. I could not keep myself from sending this question for you and your audience, although it may stir up passions. It’s about the legal case in which a web designer refused to provide his services for a gay couple. This is the one that has been before the US Supreme Court for those not keeping up. He says, if he were forced to work on this website, it would be a violation of his right to free speech. I’m wondering who’s next. Says, Peter, African Americans, people with tattoos or disabled individuals, blind ones, why not set a new Christian Church that teaches blind people as sinners? We got our blindness from God as a punishment. What a horrible thing it would be according to this church’s teachings, to make business with a demonstrably open enemy of God. Is it a nonsense?”

“Undoubtedly, but is it a terrible exaggeration based on what is happening in the United States? Not so sure. Anyway,” says Peter, “To be gay is not a question of one’s decision. Neither is blindness. I live in Hungary, but our far right prime minister and the mob behind him have very good ears for this kind of Christian “advocacy”. That’s why I feel concerned.” “Mosen at large is still one of the peaks of the week for me. Thank you very much for your high quality work”.

Thank you very much, Peter. I think that most of us, most of us agree that if you, for example, drive a taxi and you have some objection, religious or otherwise to carrying a guide dog, you should find another job because we have chaos when anyone can claim that a religion entitles them to exempt themselves from the law, we all in good faith advocate for laws to be enacted. We vote for representatives who share our views about what laws should be enacted and to claim that belief in some sort of entity, deity, whatever you want exempts you from any law is a very slippery slope, so I completely agree with you, Peter.

It is none of this web designer’s business who one of his customers sleeps with, who they love. It is preposterous and I would like to hope that most reasonable people in the blind community can see the slippery slope, can see the danger if we do not speak out unequivocally against this kind of bigotry.

Envision glasses, the struggle for a Braille manual, and Sonos

Diane is writing in and says, “Hello, Jonathan. I recently listened to your podcast on the Envision glasses. As usual, you did a superb job of showing all aspects good and not-so-good. In fact, because of your wonderful presentation, I ordered mine today. I also skipped back to your interview with the guy from Envision in a previous episode.”

“In that episode, you were concluding a discussion about Braille with a lowercase B and literacy. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart and something I strongly agree with you. I have been insistent both at work 25 years ago and in civic meetings, and I’m currently working with the ADA coordinator for the city of Denver to require all municipal agencies to set up plans for distributing alternative formats of information, especially Braille. For years, I have tried to get my local rehab agency to purchase an embosser for me as I am studying to become an accessibility consultant or project manager for a company that needs to integrate the needs of blind people into their information infrastructures in company mindset. Finally, I was successful thanks to a great counselor to get a new embosser. I chose the trak 120, that’s spelled TRAK 120, also known as the Columbia manufactured by View Plus and distributed in the US by IRIEAT.

That’s IRIEAT. Since receiving the embosser, I have been trying to understand the thinking of these companies. They mainly market to educational professionals in public schools. They don’t understand, believe it or not, why I am insistent that they should provide hard copy Braille documentation for their embossers. To me, it is a no-brainer, but for them, they don’t understand why the online documentation will not suffice. However, they include a thick, hard-copy print manual. They’re basically shooting themselves in the foot. As often happens in this situation, when I am the only one who speaks up, I become the problem. I have been told by company staff that in all the years they have been with the company, no one has ever asked for Braille documentation. I don’t care about being the only one to speak up. I am used to and actually proud of being gutsy enough to speak up in many situations, though it is not an endearing trait to others.

I thought that you might have some ideas on how to approach and change the attitude of this company. To add to the confusion regarding their mindset, the company was actually founded in 1989 by a person who had lost all his sight. His son Dan is now the CEO. They say platitudes like, we appreciate your feedback and we are always trying to improve, and the CEO wrote to me, “my dad also gets upset when things don’t make sense to him.” If electronic documentation was acceptable, why do they send print material for sited users? Are sited users less capable of using the electronic documentation, which by the way contains many pictures to illustrate the functionality of the embosser. The Columbia is capable of making great-quality Braille and graphics, which is why I chose it.

I did know before purchasing this product, the marketing slant of the company, the tactile graphics samples they sent had print labels designating which printer model had produced the sample with no Braille labels. I had mentioned this to them and they seemed surprised that Braille labels should be affixed to the samples. If a producer of products for blind people does not understand these very basic concepts, how is it possible to expect or fight for full inclusion and implementation of accessibility features in off-the-shelf products? I am first and foremost an Advocate. I consider myself to be a problem solver trying to get to the root of a problem and resolve it rather than just finding a quick solution that works for me. I consider myself as being a part of the greater blindness community and want to make differences for everyone with lots of input and other ideas and opinions.

The work you have done and continue to do is phenomenal and I am pleased that your resourcefulness and dedication has earned you a comfortable lifestyle and influence with all aspects of blind-related issues. You are blessed with great intelligence, communication skills, and determination. These issues are global, not owned by one country or society. On a different note, I want to know what hotspot you use with your envisioned glasses. I am also interested in learning about the best Sonos equipment to start out as I am in need of an enhanced sound system. Again, on the topic of literacy, do you consider that you are reading this when using a device such as an OCR device or even the glasses and they interpret and read the information out loud to you? I loved my opticon because it relied on my brain to interpret the symbols.

All blind children should learn the print alphabet and symbols. I also believe that people who lose their sight after reading print should start out learning Braille by being taught to recognize raised print letters or blocks. This would cause the brain to correlate touch and sight using symbols that are familiar. Thanks for all that you do.” Thank you very much, Diane. I’m blushing. I’m a bit reluctant to open the literacy can of worms again because I could really do without all the abuse that I got when I last did this, but no, if I’m reading something with glasses or OCR that turns something into speech, I consider myself being read to.

I’m not reading that myself. If you’re using an Opticon, then yes, you are reading that, you are decoding the symbols, you are making sense of it. There’s no doubt that you are reading with an Opticon. For hard copy manuals, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that there needs to be consistency. What I would suggest they do is stop distributing the hard copy manual in the box. There aren’t many products that come with big hard copy manuals these days. There are some, but there aren’t many, and say the documentation is online. If you want a hard copy manual, you can purchase it separately. They should charge the same for the print and for the Braille. I realize that it’s going to cost more to produce the Braille, but there’s an equity issue at stake here.

I personally wouldn’t want a hard copy manual because it would just take up space and I’d rather read it on my Braille display, but you absolutely have the right, in my view, to have one, and in no less favorable circumstances than are available to anybody else. I guess the vast majority of these products are being sold into the school system, bought by businesses who need to provide accommodations, that kind of thing. There will not be many end users who buy these things. Nevertheless, those devices exist for those very end users, no matter who procures them and who uses them to produce the hard copy. There absolutely has to be a hard copy Braille manual if there is a hard copy print manual.

I guess if you really want to take it further, you can mention those magic three letters, ADA, and see what happens there. The thing is we’ve got a very distorted market in the blindness space, and I was commenting on this when I wrote my blog post on Aira recently where the purchaser is not often the consumer in the blindness space. You can have companies that provide services to blind people who have very little to do with blind people. Don’t think about the way that blind people engage with the world and how to treat us as respected valued customers.

It’s all because someone else is so often doing the purchasing for us, it’s the nature of our socioeconomic conditions, it’s the nature of the system that we have. I’ve seen some pretty big names in the blindness space who have committed serious faux pas on social media by teasing products with very visual, graphical things without any kind of alt text, for example. You would think this is 101 stuff if you’re catering to the blind community, but it continues to happen.

Now, regarding your question about the hotspot for Envision, after I concluded my Envision review, I did not keep the glasses, so I’m not using any kind of hotspot device, but I don’t think it makes a difference. I’d recommend getting one that supports 5 gigahertz Wi-Fi from your carrier, and they’ll probably have stock hotspots that they would recommend that I’m sure that they will be adequate to the task of serving you with your Envision Glasses.

Regarding Sonos, I suppose it depends where you want to place the speaker and how much you want to spend. If we are not talking about a home theater requirement, so you’re not going to put this in front of a TV or anything like that, I think you’ll be really well served by getting a pair of Sonos Fives. Now, that may be a bit too pricey for you, but if you want a good sound, get a couple of those. If you really want good thumping bass, you could even add a Sonos Sub to your pair of Sonos Fives, you’ll get a really good sound.

If you want to go a little bit less pricey than that, the Sonos Ones are pretty good. They won’t sound as good as the Sonos Five, but that’s why they are a bit cheaper. Sonos is great, it’s a good ecosystem. The app is accessible. They are aware of their blind customers and they tend to look after us pretty well. Thanks for your kind comments, Diane. Good luck with the Envision Glasses, and I hope you get your hard copy manual.


I like my iPhone 14

Faras: Hey, Jonathan, this is Faras. Wishing you and all of the listeners a very happy, healthy holiday season. Just wanted to give a quick shout-out that I’m recording this using my shiny new iPhone 14 Pro that I recently purchased for Christmas and for the holidays. It’s a great device. I love the Dynamic Island, the battery life, I came from my two iPhone 12 Pro is super. The battery life is noticeably better. I love the Dynamic Island, but there’s one huge accessibility issue that I’ve noticed. The huge accessibility advantage that I’ve noticed is I get real-time updates right on the status bar. The Dynamic Island, if you’ve never played with it, it’s like you go to your status bar and you can use the rotor and access different things.

It’s very accessible. If you listen to music, it’s a convenient way to jump back to whatever app you’re using. Most of you probably know what it is, but there are some things that I don’t think I’ve heard anyone talk about such as how many times have you plugged in your device then come to realize, then all you hear is say something like “40% charged, 50% charged.” To me, in late, that just doesn’t make sense the way how it says it because whatever I hear, it say whatever the percentage and then charged, it makes me think like as if, oh, the phone is already charged to 50% and it’s not charging anymore.

Now, if you plug in your device to charge on an iPhone 14 Pro, you will properly get the message that says something like “Charging 50%” or “charging 60%.” You’ll actually hear it properly say charging, and then the percentage. To me, that is a much better implementation and that’s how iOS should have behaved from the start. Even the low battery alert, if any of you go down to a low battery, how many times you get this annoying pop-up that takes up your entire display that says, “Hey, low battery. 20% battery remaining.”

Then you have to hit dismiss and then close, and all of that. Now, it’s even simpler with the Dynamic Island, it’s even simpler than I thought. Like for example yesterday, I was listening to a podcast, and then I got the message saying, “Low battery, 20%,” it stays there for a few seconds, then it goes away. Now, there’s one huge accessibility flaw that I want to cover, and I don’t know if you have experienced this or any of your listeners.

I like your thoughts on this one. When you restore from a backup, I just did the transfer method. I did the transfer from nearby iPhone. I know you do an iTunes backup since you think that’s the best choice, but I do the transfer.I actually did the transfer method where I had my old iPhone 12 Pro, which is what I upgraded from, which is what several people have been upgraded from, this has been a huge upgrade cycle. I transferred everything from iPhone 12 Pro to the iPhone 14 Pro. That was all going very well. It was super accessible and we were on our merry way, except that when that restore completed, again, I had the same exact issue as you, Jonathan. When the phone turned on, I can hear the voiceover sound, but I could not hear any speech. I was in trouble, man. I was in trouble. I had to enter the passcode of my device, it didn’t work.

I tried turning voice-over off, it didn’t work. Whenever I would turn the voice-over off, it locks the screen. It’s as if the accessibility shortcut wasn’t even set in the first place. I swiped up. Now, visually, I can see the pass-code screen. I can see it visually since I do have some vision, but I couldn’t enter it in properly. It was very sluggish and I couldn’t hear any voice-over speech. Again, I had to ask for sighted assistance, but if it wasn’t for that family support, I would’ve been stuck. Why is this the case on all of the 14 models? It seems to be just affecting the 14 models because one time I had to reset up an iPhone 12 Pro Max, I had to set up an older phone. Whatever I would do any of these older devices, they’ve never had that issue. Why would I set up the 14s? They have this serious accessibility flaw.

Jonathan: I don’t know why it is, and I don’t know whether Apple would ever confirm to us precisely why it is, but I suspect, it’s just speculation on my part that there was some fundamental flaw in the initial build of iOS 16, the one that still ships with the phone. It may be that future versions of the iPhone 14 range will come with a newer build of iOS 16 that addresses this problem. As long as there’s inventory with that original build, this problem is going to hang around, and it is a big deal. You wonder what would’ve happened if sighted people had done a restore and found that their screen didn’t work after the restore. That’s my equivalency argument. Again, that is the equivalent of what a sighted person would be experiencing, and you can be sure that it would be all over the tech press, but glad you got the iPhone 14.

I have to say I have never experienced the battery status as you’ve experienced it. Mine has always in the status bar said “Charging 50%” or whatever the charging rate is. It’s always telling me when it’s plugged in and that it is charging. I don’t know why our different experiences exist, but glad it’s working for you in the 14 as it has always worked for me. The Dynamic Island is a bit of a disappointment for me so far. I did read in the tech press that Uber were finally starting to embrace the Dynamic Island and I’m really glad to hear that because one of the big selling points for the Dynamic Island for me was ride share services, delivery services like Uber Eats, and DoorDash. Just being able to be in an app and check in your Dynamic Island without leaving that app where your stuff is or where your driver is.

I’ve not seen it on my Uber and we learned through our Uber experiences last year that they have a lot of granularity, a lot of ability to roll out different Uber experiences even when you’ve got the same build of the app. Quite fun and mysterious. For those who do have dynamic island support in their Uber apps, that is really good to hear and hopefully, at some point, it’ll roll out to me. I’m really looking forward to that. Of course, if you are enjoying a new gadget of any kind that you procured over the holiday season, you want to share your experiences, that’s always good fun. Jonathan@mushroomfm.com is how you can email me with an audio attachment or you can just write an email down.

You can also call our listener line at 864-60Mosen 864-606-673-6.

Curious about the Apple Magic Keyboard

Let’s go to the other side of the globe to hear from David Globe and he says, “Hi Jonathan, Andrew and I hope you and Bonnie are doing well and that you had a wonderful New Year’s Celebration. Do you have any information about the magic keyboard for the iPhone?” I have heard it is quite helpful for those who need a keyboard for sending text messages. David, the magic keyboard is really good. I like the way that it feels. Keyboard preferences are quite subjective, aren’t they? One person’s great keyboard is another person’s horrible keyboard, but I like the fact that there is a physical switch on the device that didn’t used to be the case with other generations of the magic keyboard, but they’ve addressed that now.

You can tell when the keyboard’s on and when it’s not. The Apple Magic Keyboard only connects to one device though, so that may be a downside depending on your use case. Logitech and some other companies do keyboards where you can press some keys and switch between three, four, or even five devices. If you have several devices that you would like to control with the Bluetooth keyboard, this is great.

We have a Logitech keyboard that hangs around in the living room for example. Just by pressing a button, we can change from controlling the TV to controlling the Apple TV, and on and on it goes. That is one downside of the Apple Magic Keyboard. You can only use it with one device at a time. It’s a nice keyboard and if others have keyboard preferences that might prick Mike Feir’s ears up because he’s the major keyboard authority. Isn’t he?

He’s always trying different keyboards and things. If you’ve got a preference for Bluetooth keyboards that you use with your mobile device, let’s share that information with each other. I’m sure that will be helpful.

Door detection and getting back to my front door

Carolyn Arnold is writing in now and she says, “Jonathan, I have an iPhone 14 Pro, am satisfied with it, but I have a question for you about it. My phone does not give me the details your phone did that I heard on your podcast. It will tell me door but it does not say anything about carpet color or curtains in the room. I did get it to say man with white hair sitting on the couch when I aimed it at my husband.” Oh, I can imagine the husband. “Don’t aim that thing at me.” Woohoo.

“In the next couple of months continues Carolyn, we will be moving on to my son’s property and our house is about half a block or so from his. I was wondering if the ID feature in magnifier could be of any help. Also, are there some kind of Tiles or something I could get to put on their door and on ours to more quickly locate them? Thank you for your informative podcasts. I never have been a podcast person, but I enjoy yours. It’s very kind of you. Thank you.”

That message came to us direct from Sanford in North Carolina in the United States. That’s a beautiful state. Nice to hear from you, Carolyn. The easy one first, I think. You could definitely get an AirTag and affix it somewhere like a door and it would help you locate it. I think AirTag is a better option in your case than a tile since you have an iPhone 14 Pro and that has something called precision finding. Your iPhone’s got this thing called a U1 chip. That allows the phone to locate right to the nearest almost millimeter really where something is. If you use an AirTag that also has that U1 compatibility, you can find something absolutely precisely. Tile does a similar thing, but it can’t take advantage of the U1 ship in your iPhone, so it’s not going to be quite as precise as the AirTag.

AirTags are an Apple product. You can buy them in a four-pack and that sounds like it could be ideal. They are easy to set up and it’s all done in the Find My app. Just while we are talking about locator things, it’s in the rumor stage, it’s very early, but there’s some pretty credible evidence suggesting that Google is developing an AirTag rival. That’ll be interesting in a couple of respects. First, there are more Android devices in the world than there are iOS. One of the cool things about the Tile network and the Apple network is that effectively it uses the other devices to create this network to help you find something when it’s out of your direct range. Of course, this is what people are using during the ongoing baggage crisis that is affecting the airline industry.

When a bag gets lost, the find my network or the Tile network, whatever technology you are using helps you to locate your bag, whether it’s half a world away or just around the block or as was the case for somebody over my holiday break where I was reading some tech news, her bag was stuck in a dumpster for a few days. Extraordinary stories. These technologies are very useful and very liberating. One of the key issues will be can that alternative be made also to work with iPhone because I think the Android one is likely to be cheaper if they can get AirTag compatibility and there are AirTag-compatible devices out there that are not manufactured by Apple, then Google could potentially be onto quite a winner and quite a game changer. We’ll have to watch that one.

Turning to the magnifier, I think what might be going on there, Carolyn is that you may be using the default settings, which are not as verbose or descriptive as the settings that I was using in that demonstration. If you want to change those, you can perform a four-finger triple tap to get into the magnifier. Triple-tap with four fingers and then you’ll need to locate the settings button. That will bring up a menu. There is another thing called settings in that menu. When you go in there, you have all sorts of headings. You can reorganize the controls to optimize your experience. I, for example, have the blindness-related things at the top and then you’ll find a heading called detectors and you can double tap each of those detectors and configure how verbose they are, what they’re looking for.

Under door detection, you can get all sorts of descriptions and you can also configure a two-finger double tap of the back of the phone to get further descriptions. I think if you were to go into settings and customize it the way you like it, perhaps change a few settings and see what results you get, you should be able to get the results that you want. Good luck and good luck with the move as well.

Should I upgrade to iOS 16?

David Shepherdson is writing in and he says, “I live in Barkingside in Essex in the UK and I need a bit of advice, please. I’m running my iPhone with iOS 15.7.1 and I would like advice on whether it’s safe yet to update to 16.3 because I’ve got a message here on my phone saying, ‘update now’. With all the bugs about voiceover, which I use as I am totally blind, I just don’t want to update and then find that I got loads of problems that is going to take me ages to sort out.

Your advice would be extremely useful, Jonathan. I’ve been listening to your podcast since 2018 when I got my first iPhone 6s, which my sons bought me because the phone I purchased from the RNIB, the company went bust and there were no updates on that phone, 350 pounds down the drain. Since I’ve got the iPhone, I’m finding it much better and I am self-taught on this with a bit of advice from Apple and some podcasts.” Thanks, David. This is the big question, isn’t it? I think iOS 16.3 is not so bad.

One bug that has been introduced in 16.3 that I find very irksome is I can’t turn hints off anymore. Even though hints are disabled on my phone, that’s the thing that says double tap to open and all that sort of stuff, I cannot stop them from working. I’m hoping that that will be resolved soon because it’s frustrating to hear those hints when you don’t want them. I am not aware of any really significant showstoppers. Every software has bugs. There are probably quirks, but I think it’s safe to say that most people should be fine updating to iOS 16.3 at this point. Best of luck and thanks for writing in.

The Brailliant and the Enter key in iOS

Anisio Correia is writing in and says, “First of all, glad you had a wonderful and relaxing vacation with the added joy brought in by your first grandchild. One of your listeners mentioned in podcast 212 that the dots two seven followed by the enter key did not work in causing the insertion of the return command.” Perhaps you forgot to add the space bar to the dot 27 combination. When wishing to force a carriage return, one needs to write a dot 27 code, followed by .8 the enter key. This works for me with the Brailliant BI20x. Thanks Anisio. It’s always good to check these things. Hopefully, Karen’s listening and if she omitted the space bar with that command, then maybe that will make everything work again.

Narrator: 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 86460-Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.

RIM from Pneuma Solutions announces pay as you go plans and is coming to the Mac

Jonathan: Let’s talk about RIM from Pneuma Solutions. Now, we do talk about RIM quite often on this podcast, but this time we are talking about RIM in an interview context. Now, it doesn’t matter how much they pay us, we are going to fearlessly ask the questions that you want answered. In all seriousness, there are some developments to talk about that are quite exciting with RIM and we are joined by Pneuma solutions’ Matt Campbell and Mike Calvo. Hi to you both. Welcome back.

Mike Calvo: Hello. Hello. Happy New Year.

Jonathan: Lets first talk about how RIM is going in general because you revamped RIM it’s been relaunched, it seems Mike, to have been very well received.

Mike: It really has. Obviously, the fight’s not over. We experienced just this out-of-the-gate explosion of interest. We still have a number of purchases in the pipeline. The challenge here is that a lot of enterprise and corporate sales are long tail. They take a while to nurture. Sometimes they need just that little boost from the employee or the beneficiary of the RIM service. We were talking about this in a meeting a while back where we were saying with a conventional just mainstream product that serves everybody’s needs, you just send a sales force out there and they start knocking on doors. You find your vertical and you say, “Okay, go there.”

Here, it’s interesting because we can’t just go randomly knocking on doors say, “Hey, do you want to make your remote systems accessible?” We really, really, really, really need that involvement from the employee, that self-advocacy, which is why we have the self-advocacy kits up there because we really– this is a community-driven effort. Obviously, we better provide a good product. We’re not asking for a handout, but we definitely have enjoyed a great deal of support from the community, but we really want more. Please, don’t ever lose an opportunity to talk about RIM. We’ll appreciate it. It keeps the lights on because between these bigger enterprise sales we do eat from the small ones if that makes sense.

Jonathan: What’s the value proposition in terms of convincing those who are not involved in the blind community to use RIM when there are so many other alternatives? The thing about RIM is it’s great for the blind community. It’s being embraced here, but it is fully accessible and fully relevant to a wide range of use cases beyond the blind community.

Mike: It is as a remote tool. We provide a great remote product that happens to be accessible and that’s the way I think about RIM. At the same time, if you’ve got an organization that’s already got that figured out, there needs to be a compelling reason as a leader in your organization, as the grand poobar, Anything that you change, it changes the culture, it changes the workflow, it changes the training.

There’s a bunch of stuff. For me to come to somebody and say, “Hey, I know you do remote support. I know you don’t have any blind people there, but just in case.” Then the other tool that we rarely if ever use because we don’t like that is the law. That is the legal thing to do. We are the only remote support solution that’s available on the planet right now that does what we do in the way we do it. As that grows in more importance to companies, that’s where of course they’ll be able to hopefully license our core technology, which is the accessibility module, and be able to integrate it into– imagine opening up team viewer and seeing the power that runs RIM behind the scenes, doing the accessibility side of that, that’s really what we’re here to do. For me, RIM is a product that is a great product on its own, but it’s also setting a trend for potential licensing into other markets. Does that make sense?

Jonathan: Right. The need is real in our community and the blind community has really embraced it, it seems to me but with that need also comes the reality that a lot of people have difficulty paying for this stuff. We know about the socioeconomic status for many blind people. You are coming up with some new plans, which seem to me to be incredibly well thought through. Can you tell me about what those new offerings are?

Mike: Sure. What we have gotten is we have the personal program, which is really great. It allows you to connect back to your own personal machines. If you have just one or two machines that you’re always connecting to, there’s absolutely no reason for you to go from basically $10 or $20 a month to $99 a month or worse, $1000 a year. We got a lot of calls from people saying, “Man, this half an hour is great, but I find myself running out of time.” We said, “Well, we have day passes.” I said, “Yes, but I don’t want to go and always buy a day pass.”

We sat down and we talked about it. We said, “Well, what if we give packages of hours that do not expire?” Basically, it’s like refilling your cell phone except for our minutes don’t expire. All you do is if and starting as of today, right now. You can take yourself over to get RIM.app and you can buy a five-hour package for $25 and that never expires, or you can buy a 15-hour package for $50 if that’s all the RIM you ever need because the reality is, there are some products that we don’t need all the time, but boy, do we need them right now.

By having this never expiring time, it’s not just something that you want to buy if you support people, it’s something that you want to buy if you want to be supported. You can do that as well. The way for you to do the support with another person is you connect to them and then you flip your session which is something, it’s the equivalent of handing them your keyboard and you tell them, “Look at this with me. I have this website that I can’t see or whatever.” It will be deducted from your time. We’re not going to round up to the nearest half hour or anything like that. You only get charged for what you use. If you buy five hours, you are going to get 300 minutes of usage. You’re not going to get, “Oh, you used the first 15 minutes of your half an hour or whatever.” They are non-expiring. I think that it’s something that every blind computer user should have in their toolbox. 25 bucks is a small price to pay for knowing that you have a place where a sighted person can drop a set of eyeballs on your computer at any given time.

Jonathan: Just to be clear about this, whose account is charged? If a sighted person logs in to assist a blind person on the machine, who is being debited minutes at that point?

Mike: Let’s say that I’m a blind guy and I’m calling and I need my sister to read me a website. I would tell my sister, who is not a RIM subscriber, “Go get RIM.app, install it on your machine, set up a keyword. We would do the session.” Now, I would be connected to her computer. I hit the flip and basically, now she’s looking at my computer and she says, “Oh, Mike, that’s a captcha. It says this [unintelligible 01:18:09] that’s it. We’re done. I say, “Thank you, Jess.” She hangs up and I hang up and I go about my day and I paid for it.

Matt Campbell: It’s whoever initiates the connection.

Jonathan: Okay. I use RIM a lot for the Mushroom FM maintenance. I was on baby watch for an interminable period over the summer.

Mike: Congratulations, man. I’m so sorry. I didn’t even mention that at the top. Hey, congratulations grandpa.

Jonathan: Thank you. It’s very exciting. It finally happened and I was controlling Mushroom FM for a long time. I’m using RIM pretty much on a daily basis. In fact, it’s just easier to use RIM even in another part of the house than it is to sit down at that machine, which is in a corner somewhere with a keyboard connected it in a not very convenient place. It’s really cool. One thing I wanted to ask you, Matt, is, is there any chance of more hotkeys? You’ve got a hotkey to disconnect the connection, but are there hotkeys that I don’t yet know about where you can flip and do a few of the other things that are buried away on that menu?

Matt: We already have a hotkey for flipping the session, I believe. I think it’s Windows Shift F.

Jonathan: Okay.

Matt: You’d have to go check the manual.

Jonathan: Well, this is a jolly good idea, but last time I did it wasn’t in there.

Mike: Rtfm, man.

Matt: We’ll make sure that all of the hotkeys are documented in the manual.

Mike: Part of that is my responsibility as well as the guy who puts together the UX on this thing. I try and keep things like hot keys down to a minimum until people ask for them. I prefer hotkeys to be driven by demand, as opposed to, “Matt, here’s 50 different keys for you to put together.” Then somebody looks at it and it’s just too freaking daunting. Oh my God. I got to remember all that. One thing we might be able to do a little easier is actually build a little section in the manual that says Hot Keys.

Jonathan: Yes, Hot Keys and table would be great.

Mike: Yes. Thank you, sir. We’ll take that into considering.

Jonathan: Good on you. You’ve got quite a few major players. I went on the RIM site and I looked at the testimonials and it looks like it’s really being well adopted. I’m a Leasey user, a really happy Leasey user because it helps my productivity a lot. That’s the product from Hartgen Consultancy. It’s built in there. They’re pushing it hard for any remoting that they need to do. You have a number of US organizations who have embraced RIM.

Mike: We do. One of the things that’s really surprising to me is the way that we got so much support during the beta and I’m sure we’re going to get support now with the upcoming public beta for Mac but from international. Then all of a sudden after it was released, it was like crickets. The only people that we’ve been having substantive conversations with, well we got the CNIB of course but is Vision Australia. We haven’t heard from anybody else and it certainly isn’t for lack of knocking on doors and saying, “Hey, guess who we are?” Having the pedigree.

Matt and I both have a long time in this industry and you’re not the first organization anymore. Which is always the scary thing. We have enjoyed quite a bit of local support, but we want that international support and we have plans for internationalizing the product. We are a business folks and when we see demand from an area, then we start looking at it. We need to be fiscally responsible, fiduciarily responsible for our stuff and where we put our resources, and where we put Matt’s time and the contractors that he works with.

If we get demands from international, which we really, really want, we don’t mind. That includes dealers. We want resellers in other countries because we want them to deal with the culture. Sometimes we can be those brash Americans and go in and just totally tick somebody off, quite frankly, because we don’t know how to market in that culture.

Jonathan: Let’s talk about the Mac support that’s available for testing now. Is that right?

Mike: It is not available for testing now. It will be available for testing, probably for public testing right around SeaSun. We’re going into beta in the next week or two and we have a mechanism for people to sign up for that beta. Please and I don’t mean this in a mean way, if you’re not kind of in the biz, meaning if you’re not a tester, if you’re not a trainer, if you’re not somebody that’s going to use the product for its intended purpose, frequently during the beta, don’t sign up because we’re not going to pick you. We’re going to only pick people that are in the industry, that know what we’re looking for out of beta testers.

When we go into public beta, that’s entirely different. Public beta is basically a soft release because we’re not charging anymore. You don’t pay any more or any less for the Mac. Now the one thing that we are going to do when we go for the public beta, we’re going to take that opportunity to raise the daily limit from half an hour to an hour. That way, anybody that wants to try either one of the products– We get people that complain, “Well, half an hour is not enough time.” Okay, here you go.

Jonathan: Well, especially with testing I guess. If you want people to really kick the tires and so you’ve got an application process. It is a closed testing to begin with. Can we talk, and I guess this is a Matt question about some of the technical challenges in cross-platform control. For example, if I’m a Windows user and I go in and seek to control a Mac that is running VoiceOver, how does it actually work in practice?

Matt: We actually have that scenario that you just mentioned working in the lab right now as we record, I connected from my Windows PC to my Mac, and with VoiceOver running on the Mac and all of the VO keyboard commands that I tested worked. We have the keyboard mapping that you would expect. For instance, the Windows key on your PC maps to the command key on the target Mac alt maps to option. You can use either control option or caps lock as your VO modifier. We have full support for keyboard commands or as we put it in the blog announcement, unobstructed keyboard input. That is actually working right now.

Jonathan: Separate from the keyboard part of this, are you simply sending all of the sound from the Mac across the channel?

Matt: Yes, we are sending all of the sound from the Mac just as we send all of the sound from the PC when connecting to a PC target. It’s very clear audio, high-quality stereo.

Mike: Clearer than Windows.

Jonathan: That’s interesting.

Matt: Yes. Although we’ll–

Mike: We don’t know why.

Matt: We’ll be bringing that additional clarity to at least some Windows targets in our future Windows update. We actually do know why.

Mike: Yes, we do know and the reason is because the Windows 11 provides better clearer audio than Windows 10. Take the free upgrade folks. Get the Windows 11 because it’s definitely going to sound a whole lot better.

Matt: We’re going to continue to have a fallback though for Windows 10 targets. The difference is currently with Windows targets. We have to do some extra processing on the captured audio to avoid echoes. We found a way to avoid having to do that on Mac. We’re getting extra clear audio out of Mac right now and we’ll be bringing that to Windows 11 targets in the future.

Jonathan: I take it that there is no way to control a Mac if you’re a blind person unless VoiceOver is on with that Mac. You don’t have the option that exists for NVDA users at the moment where you can control a Windows machine without any screen reader running on it.

Matt: We’re still figuring out how exactly we’re going to allow a blind person connecting to a sighted user’s Mac to control the Mac without the sighted user hearing VoiceOver. It’s something that we want to do because we believe that that is definitely a unique selling point of RIM on Windows. We think it’s possible to do on Mac, but we don’t know yet if we will be able to do that without involvement from Apple. We’ll find out during this development cycle and certainly before we go to public beta, we’ll know what we’re going to be able to do as far as that feature goes.

Mike: Now that being said, the acceleration of it, because Matt and I had talked about Mac from day one, the acceleration of the Mac port was driven by the customer because we have a lot of organizations that do training for blind people that are like, “We don’t care if you hear VoiceOver.” Right now, as long as we are working within our community for Mac support, it’s not a problem. The bottom line is yes, we want full anonymity for the controller.

However, we’re not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater by saying, “Well, then we’re not going to do it until we can.” I’d rather give the support technician 50% of something, 80% of something than 100% of nothing just because we want it to be perfect.

Jonathan: I don’t know what the equivalent of bilingual is, but for those who do know Windows and Mac by OSL or something then it’s great because for a trainer who perhaps works on a Windows PC but is very conversant with VoiceOver. If I was in the training business for example, even though I don’t use a Mac now, it would be no problem for me to still provide training to someone who uses VoiceOver. To be able to do that from your Windows machine remotely, for those who haven’t used RIM, you’ve also got the voice connection option. You can talk to people while you do this. It’s pretty compelling.

I take it the reverse is true, that if you were a Mac user and you’re logging into a Windows machine remotely, it sounds like it would behave rather like Fusion or another virtual machine option.

Matt: Very much so.

Mike: Yes, exactly. We do not charge any more for the Mac version. It is included. If you have a RIM subscription now, you’re going to get all the platforms included in the price. It is the one RIM to rule them all.

Jonathan: How about iPhone? If you are this close, if you’ve got the Mac thing nearly working, I want to be able to sit out on a beach somewhere with my Bluetooth keyboard and my phone and log into a PC and do my thing.

Mike: Are you talking about being a controller?

Jonathan: Yes. My primary objective would be to be able to control a Windows machine in my case, but I guess another Mac via the iPhone. Not so much control the iPhone from another machine.

Mike: How about the visuals?

Jonathan: As a blind person, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to be able to hear my screen reader and do the controlling.

Mike: That’s a little bit more feasible than what we’ve also gotten requests for, which are people saying, “We want you to be able to work on an iPhone to control.” There’s a number of things that have to happen between the controller and the remote device that they’re just weird. The way you’re explaining it, it’s a little bit more feasible because there’s a number of things that don’t have to happen.

That being said, I’m just kind of giving you an off-the-cuff answer, but for targets, I don’t see us doing mobile for a long time. It doesn’t mean we can’t, but right now the current platform doesn’t allow it. We’d have to build it out a lot and we just haven’t run into the business case, everybody we’ve talked to, even when you look at Team View or whatever, and nobody can control an iPhone.

Jonathan: No, I’m not sure Apple Sandbox approach would even permit that. I get why some trainers would want that, but for me what I really want is just the ability to log into a remote PC somewhere and use the Bluetooth keyboard on my phone as if I were using the keyboard on the machine and hear my screen reader coming back to me. I would think that would be a fairly– I know developers hate it, Matt, when I say these things as a former product manager, it just seems to me that would be a pretty simple use case to spin up.

Mike: Oh, no. Yes. Again, never say never. Never is a long time, now that you’ve brought it up that exact way I think it could get the creative juices flowing in a little bit of a different direction where someone said, “Have you thought of mobile?” No, [laughs]. Just the way you’re explaining it, what you’re really asking for is kind of a dumb client, right?

Jonathan: Yes.

Mike: Yes. That takes the thought process in a whole different direction as opposed to, “Oh, I want to be able to do everything I can do with RIM.

Jonathan: Right. If you gave the sound to me over the iPhone that the PC was playing I would have to have a screen reader running in this scenario, then all it really needs to do is take the keystrokes and send those to the PC.

Matt: Well, even that has some challenges because I haven’t researched this aspect of iOS development deeply enough to know if we would be able to grab all keyboard input from your Bluetooth keyboard and pass it through to the remote target, even when you have VoiceOver running on your iPhone.

Jonathan: Right.

Mike: Yes, it’s gotta be possible somehow. I say it’s going to be meaning and I know Matt, the devil’s in the details, but you’ve got mainstream products that allow you to control your PC from–

Jonathan: Microsoft RDP is on the iPhone, for example.

Matt: Well, does that even handle our rather esoteric keyboard input needs such as caps lock as a modifier?

Jonathan: I don’t actually, I believe it may because I know of some blind people who say they are using it.

Mike: That’s interesting. We, anybody who’s listening who has experience in this. This is a community effort. [chuckle]. Let us know because this is an interesting– It is interesting. It is compelling.

Jonathan: See, we are crowdsourcing and co-designing the future on Mosen At Large as we speak. There you go.

Mike: I think you do that more than you know. [laughs]

Jonathan: Well, I’m looking forward to hearing more about what happens with RIM. Can you just go through for us the process of signing up for the Mac beta if people want to do that, how do they do that?

Mike: You can just go to the pneumasolutions.com website. That’s P-N-E-U-M-A solutions.com and right on the blog page, there’s a blog entry there that tells you all about it and gives you a link. Please, again, we’ve gotten a number of students and staff that want to play with the new toy and that’s not what we’re looking for out of the cycle. We’re looking for professionals. The team we have now on the window side is exceptional. You couldn’t ask for a better team than the beta team that we had on the Windows side. We are getting that caliber but we need more, that isn’t to demean or minimize the other folks. It’s just that the people that we’re asking for know how to beta test, they know how to report. It’s like being trained to describe something to somebody. It’s an art.

Jonathan: Well, thank you for coming on the show both of you. Just a thanks for all the people who read the transcript of the show because we do get a lot of feedback from the deaf-blind community and they expressly mention Pneuma Solutions for sponsoring the transcript, we certainly appreciate that as well.

Mike: Well, thank you. We haven’t forgotten about our deaf-blind brethren and sistren. We are working on complete Braille behind the scenes so that you can communicate with the remote person via chat, and that should be out at some point during the year. We are honored to be able to provide the service of the transcription, and we’d love to do more if we could.

Jonathan: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Mike: Thank You.


Interlude: Jonathan Mosen, Mosen At Large podcast.

What is network radio?

Damo VK4FDPM: Hey folks, this is Damo VK4FDPM in Brisbane, Australia today with a demonstration of Network Radio. If you are a regular listener to my program on Mushroom FM, you will have already heard a cut-down version of this demonstration, you can feel free to hit the next button if you like. Otherwise, I hope you’ll stick around for the next few minutes. What I’m going to do today, we’re going to start off and just talk about what Network Radio is and just as importantly what it isn’t, we’ll talk about different hardware options. We’ll also talk about some different software platforms and how you might use them.

I’ll try and give you a little bit of a demonstration as well. Let’s start off with what it is. As the name suggests, Network Radio is a form of radio that requires network connectivity as its primary means of communication. That might be 4G through the cellular network, or it might be your home wifi connection. What that in effect means is that most of these Network Radio-type devices, all of the ones I’ve seen anyway, run the Android operating system. They function very similarly to an Android-based phone. Network Radio has been around for a while in a commercial form, a lot of companies do use it as a replacement for the old two-way radio-type setups that people used to use.

Mostly because it means they can have depots interconnected across countries or even around the world and as long as you’ve got some sort of internet connectivity, you’re going to be able to talk as though the person was in the next room. The audio on these things is extremely clear. Having established that’s what it is obviously, we can deduce that some of the things that it isn’t. It’s not good for disaster-type communication where you might have weather events that have taken out the network and it’s also not going to be particularly useful if you are traveling hundreds of miles from civilization and wanting to be able to talk to people.

It’s not a replacement for HF, it’s not a replacement for Simplex on VHF or UHF, and it’s not really trying to be now because it does require internet connectivity. I have had some purists say that’s not real radio. I’m not going to get into that argument. My view is that there are many different branches to the AM radio hobby and this is just one of them and it does have its place. Why might you look at this as an option? Well, for me, I travel a lot for work, when I travel, I have a backpack full of Braille displays, magnifiers, my own laptop, a number of other different bits and pieces, dog food for my Seeing Eye dog, all of that kind of thing.

If I am going to take a radio with me on a work trip, it’s gotta be small and light. I have traveled before with my GD-77 running the accessible GD-77 firmware, a Raspberry Pi-based hotspot, and a power bank. That’s still a bare amount of paraphernalia when you are trying to travel light and economize on space. Whereas if I’m using my Network Radio, that’s all I have, is my RT four. It has a sim card in it, it’s actually a dual sim device and it uses a micro USB type charger. I’ve generally got one of those in my bag anyway, it means I can travel extremely light and still have the ability to communicate around the world.

That also is important for me because, I don’t know about you, but I find when I’m in a motel room, I don’t tend to sleep terribly well. I’m often wide awake at two in the morning. It’s nice just to be able to have a chat with someone and have a bit of a listen-around until I’m able to sleep. It’s good to be able to take it with me in that environment. My partner and I have a caravan and I would like to be able to take a squid pole and my IC-706 and a whole bunch of stuff with me, but sometimes that’s not practical either. Whereas with my Network Radio, if it’s a wet afternoon and we can’t go to the beach or whatever, I can sit there and have a bit of a chat with some other people with good quality audio without taking up a lot of space in the caravan.

For my application, it works well, If you are in an environment where you can’t put antennas up because you’re in rented accommodation or you’re in an apartment complex or something like that where you’ve got some limitations there, it might work well for you. If you are frequently in, perhaps in and out of hospital or something like that and you want to still be able to use radio, then something like this might be a good solution to explore. There are a number of different types of hardware with this, but having said that you don’t actually need any hardware at all. If you want, you can just use your iPhone if you’ve got one or you can use your laptop and use the desktop versions of Zello or TeamSpeak which are the main platforms that I’m going to talk about today.

You can dip your toe in the water without investing in any hardware at all but if you’re like me and you just like the feel of having a radio in your hand, you like that PTT-type arrangement and you don’t necessarily want radio notifications from your different channels tying up your iPhone, then you may want to invest in some Network Radio hardware. There’s a few different types of devices. The one I have is called a Radio-Tone RT4, and it for all intents and purposes looks like any other handheld.

It has a PTT type control on the left-hand side above and below that are two programmable buttons. Which you can set up to launch different apps and those types of things or to get you quickly to your home screen. On the top of the unit, there is a small stubby antenna about maybe two centimeters, three centimeters long. What’s that? About an inch in the imperial measurement and that’s used I think predominantly for GPS and I think it may also assist with the 4G reception. There’s also a volume button on the top, which is a click-style dial. On the right-hand side is a cover, which is secured with a slotted screw and if you take that off, you can connect a Motorola-type speaker mic, fist mic-type setup. On the bottom, there is a little grommet, which covers the micro-USB port, which is used for charging, and or headphones if you’ve got the right adapter. I don’t by the way, so I’m going to have to improvise a little bit here in terms of providing you an audio demo, but we’ll do our best. On the front of the radio, we’ve got a speaker grill, and to the right of that is a little front-facing camera because remember this is an Android device you could potentially use WhatsApp and do video calls and things with it if that was something you wanted to do. Below that we have a touch screen which you can use to drive the device so that you don’t have to.

Then below that is the keypad, which consists of a standard telephone keypad with a dot on the five, above the two, we have a Navi-type control which is a square up, down, left, and right with a select button in the middle. On either side of the Navi button is two programmable buttons, which again you can use for different things. The top left one, for example, if you double tap that, brings up your recent app screen. The top right one is the back button and the bottom right of those four is the screen lock/power button, and that’s essentially it in terms of buttons. You’ve got a belt clip on the back, you’ve got a removable battery, you can drop this into a desktop-type charger as well, and there is also a rear camera for use with the Android camera application.

This one’s quite a chunky little radio people. I haven’t actually seen a commercial Motorola handheld, but people tell me it feels very similar to that. It’s certainly quite a robust little thing. The battery life on it is phenomenal. I get about 96 hours out of a charge, which is very good, especially when you’re traveling. I can get a good couple of days of use out of this thing. Now there are other options. Inrico make a couple of different options. The most common one or the one that I’m most familiar with is a thing called the T320, which is similar I think to the Radio-Tone RT4 in terms of layout and specs and things, it’s a bit smaller I believe. There’s also an S200 and there’s a screenless version called the T199.

Now, I will talk briefly about that because I know some people who have bought the T199 as Blind Hams because of the fact that it is screenless and you just fire it up and go, and that’s great. Basically, you turn it on, it’s got a rotary channel selector with I think 16 positions that you can set it to automatically start Zello for example, and the channel selector will select between 16 different pre-configured channels. Sounds great, and it does provide speech feedback. When you turn the channel selector, it gives you some spoken output to tell you what channel you’ve selected.

The trouble with it is that because it’s screenless, you can’t run TalkBack, which is the built-in Android screen reader. What that means is that in order to program it in the first instance to get Zello up and running to get it signed in, to configure your channels, you need to connect it to a computer and use an app like Total Control, which is a remote-control app for Android. Total Control isn’t screen reader accessible as far as I can tell. You would need quite a bit of sighted assistance to get a T199 up and running.

Once you have, and if you don’t plan on adding or changing your channel configuration very often and you just want to fire it up and use it, it’s probably a good option, but you are going to need a bit more sighted help to get it started. Whereas something like an RT-4 or an Inrico T320, you can install TalkBack on it. You will need some sighted help to get the Android accessibility suite going because it doesn’t come with it as standard. Once you’ve done that, you can configure it yourself, you can add and delete apps, you can add and remove channels, all of those sorts of things. In Zello, you can install TeamSpeak and sign into that, because it has the numeric keypad, you can do T9 text entry for entering usernames and passwords.

Once you’ve got that accessibility suite going, you can basically configure it however you want, you can change your configurations on the fly. If you’re a bit of a tinkerer like me, then that is much more appealing than the limitations of the T199 where you’d have to get someone to add a new channel for you each time. Just a couple of options to think about. Now there are also some desktop models that I think both Inrico and Radio-Tone mic– I think the Radio-Tone one is called the RT-5. They are a bit like the desktop or mobile radio that you would have in your car, you can put a battery in them, you can run them off a main’s power supply or a 12-volt supply in the car.

They tend to have a much bigger screen and obviously a bigger speaker, but they’re a little bit less portable. I do know a guy who carries one around in his backpack with a fist mic and that kind of thing, but for my application, I’d much rather have something I can clip on my belt and leave my backpack free for all the other bits and pieces I have to carry for work, but it’s horses for courses. I know a couple of guys who are truck drivers, who have the mobile rigs in their vehicle and they even have them Bluetooth to their car audio system and all that stuff, so, horses for courses.

That gives you a little bit of an idea of the different hardware options that are out there. I’m not really going to talk costs because for me to get stuff shipped here in OZZ is quite a bit more expensive anyway than it might be in the US or the UK. There’s probably no real point in talking costs, but the goods of Google Search should reveal something like the Radio-Tone RT4, the Inrico T320, or the Inrico S200. There may be others, I’m not 100% sure of all of the other models that are out there. That gives you a little bit of an overview of the hardware and the pros and cons I guess for this type of platform.

Let’s now talk a little bit about software and as I said, these things are an Android device, so you can run pretty much anything, you can run EchoLink, you can run Peanut, I have done both of those. You can run TeamSpeak, you can run Zello and you can even do DVSwitch if that’s what you want to do. I don’t have any experience with DVSwitch. I know it can be done, but that’s as far as my knowledge goes. I’m not going to spend much time on that

I, with this platform predominantly use Zello and that’s I guess going to be the main focus of what I’m going to talk about today, but I have also, as I said, use TeamSpeak successfully and EchoLink and Peanut and they all work quite well. Feel free to experiment around and you can have multiple applications running as well. The only thing you do have to be aware of is that if you have Zello installed, there is a setting buried deep in the menus, which is called Process PTT button in background when possible. If you’re going to use other apps in addition to Zello, you want to turn that off. Otherwise, what will happen every time you hit the PTT, Zello will come to the front and it’ll even launch Zello if it’s not already running. That gets a bit annoying and a bit intrusive.

If you want to be able to use multiple apps, turn that setting off, and then your PTT will only work in Zello when you’ve got Zello active, if that makes sense. If you have trouble with that, feel free to contact me and I will try and step you through the exact steps. Lots of options. Let’s talk a little bit about Zello though. There are a couple of different platforms or channel groupings if you like on Zello. The main one that I use is operated by networkradios.gq, that’s network radios.golf quebec if you want to have a look at the website. There’s lots of useful information there. They explain what the channels are used for, all of that type of thing. They give you some different details on different radios. There’s some useful information up there.

Now they have, I think it’s eight channels, there’s zero through six and then there’s a special events channel as well. Now with the exception of channel six, these are all moderated channels. The reason for that I think is partly because you don’t actually need an amateur radio license to use these. If you don’t use your amateur call sign, you can request a Network Radios call sign from the channel moderators and that’ll be in the form NR and then a three or four-digit number. Now because I’ve got a seven-letter call sign because I’m only a foundation license holder here in OZZ and that tends to confuse people I have requested, I have applied for an NR-call sign which I do use on that platform. You may hear me operating as NR November RMEO935 or VK4FDPM

Whether or not you have an amateur call sign, you are expected to observe amateur radio protocols and etiquette, and if you don’t, they pretty much block you from the channel. Their slogan is, play nice or play somewhere else, and that’s fair enough. What it does mean is that you don’t get some of the rubbish that you tend to find on Citizens band radio, certainly here in Australia, you’ll hear people button pushing, playing music over the channels, foul language, all of that stuff. That kind of thing, I’ve never heard that on any of the Network Radios channels and as far as I understand, if anyone does indulge in that behavior, they just block them.

You are expected to behave as you would if you’re an amateur, but you don’t have to have an amateur license. Now, this might be of interest to some of you, if you are thinking of getting your license, you’re still studying for it. You just want to get a little bit of practice in using the right protocols and processes and chatting to a friendly bunch of people who are not going to bite your head off if you get it wrong. It’s probably a good way to get used to that and get over some initial mic shyness and that type of thing.

Most of the people that I’ve spoken to on this particular platform are amateur operators, and they’re a really friendly bunch and I join in a couple of regular nets each day. There’s one on Network Radios channel 00 and that’s not a formal net, but we all just have a bit of a chat as people are having their breakfast in the UK. I’m on my way home from work here in OZZ. There is also a formal net called the Breakfast club net on Network Radios Channel three that’s on at 8:30 AM UK Time. You’ll have to do your own conversions depending on where in the world you are, but 8:30 AM to 9:30 AM UK Time every day.

Then on a Tuesday also after that net, on channel three there is a thing called the Space briefing for 15 minutes where MIC6HOU, Ray Halton collates a whole bunch of articles on space exploration and launches and those sorts of things and reads that out and you can also subscribe to his email list and have all the video links and things. All the links to the articles emailed to you as well. If you’re into space exploration, you might enjoy the Tuesday Space briefing. It’s on a roundabout dinnertime for me on a Tuesday night, so I always enjoy having a listen to that. Now the format for these channels is if you are wanting to add a channel in Zello, you can add by name and you can type in Network with a capital N, space Radios with a capital R, space capital C, capital H, space and then 01, or 02, or 03, and so on. Once you’ve added the channel, if you keep the channel active, the moderators will add you, or you can call a moderator and ask them to add you, in that way that gives you talk status, otherwise, you’re limited to listening.

That’s the network radios platform and as I said, you can get lots of information from networkradios.gq and you can check out the exact syntax for the channel naming conventions and that type of thing. That’s one option. Another option is the International Radio Network or IRN. IRN uses a combination of Zello and TeamSpeak on the Network Radio platforms. They do require you to register with them and you do have to have an Amateur Radio license to use their channels.

The reason for that is that they do cross-link them to Allstar and DMR and a whole bunch of other modes, so you do have to register with the IRN. They’ve got a couple of channels as the International Radio Network channel and the ham radio hub channel on Zello. Then there’s loads and loads of channels on TeamSpeak 3. I haven’t played with TeamSpeak, a lot. I’ve logged into it, used it, had a bit of a listen, but I tend to gravitate more towards Zello for no particular reason other than I guess that’s just where I started and I’ve made some friends on that platform. That’s what I like to use.

Again, you can do a quick Google search for International Radio Network and you can register with them. They are very quick at getting back to you and then you can join their various channels and have a listen around. There probably are others but they’re the main ones that I use. Then as I said, you can also mess around with Peanut as well. You can use EchoLink and all of that works just as it would on any other Android device. Fairly straightforward and if you’ve used any of these things on your Android phone then the interface will be exactly the same. What I might do now is give you a quick demonstration of the RT4 and just a couple of navigation techniques for Zello. What I’m going to do is I’ll unlock the device by pressing the power button briefly.

Automated Voice: Device unlocked. 1303 Zello Network Radio is 104.

Damo: I’m at the main screen of Zello and there’s a couple of different statuses you can set here and it’s probably worth talking about them a little bit. If you’re in available status, you will hear all the traffic on every channel. If you monitor several channels as I do, it can get a little bit confusing. I use an option called Solo. If you go into the top left of the screen, there’s a more options button if you go into status and set your status to Solo. What that means is that if you have the main Zello screen in focus, you will hear any channel that activates. However, if you go in and select a channel, and you have only that channel on screen, you will only hear traffic from that channel. That way if you get involved in a conversation, you won’t be interrupted by traffic from other channels.

I find that for me because I can’t see where the traffic’s coming from or which channel is fired-up, that tends to be the easiest way for me to operate it. Now normally with Zello, the first thing I do when I turn it on is I look for the channels tab and I activate that. You have three tabs, you have recents, you have contacts, which is where you can put individual contacts in if you want to just talk on a one-to-one basis, and then there’s the channels tab. I normally go straight to the channels tab and drive it from there.

Automated Voice: Damo VK4FDPM, double tab selected, channels tab enlist.

Damo: Now, I’m already on channels. Now, I can just use the up-and-down, the Navi controller on the radio.

Automated Voice: Bay selected BDARS to enlist. Tab to activate, double tab and hold the long press.

Damo: Bay DARS, which is the Bayside District Amateur Radio Society, which is my local club. I’ve set up a Zello channel there and it told us there were two people on that one. If I down arrow.

Automated Voice: Net selected, Network Radio is 104, double tab to activate, double tab and hold the long press.

Damo: It’s told me that there are currently 104 people connected to the Network Radios channel. I’ll go down a little bit further.

Automated Voice: Selected GB7AB disconnected double tab to activate, double tab, and hold the long press.

Damo: GB7AB. That channel used to link to the CQ-UK room, although I believe it doesn’t anymore. I have disconnected that one, which means it’s still in my list. I can still go back to it but I’m not going to hear any traffic from it.

Automated Voice: Ham selected, ham radio hub disconnected. [crosstalk] Double tab, and hold the long press.

Damo: The ham radio hub.

Automated Voice: It’s selected International Radio Network 22. Double tab [crosstalk]

Damo: There’s 22 people currently on the International Radio Network channel and so on. I’m just using my up and down arrow to connect to the channel that I want. Unfortunately, we’re getting a little bit of extra verbiage there, but that’s just the joys of talk back. If I go up to the network radios channel now.

Automated Voice: Selected, selected, selected BDARS, net selected network radios 104. [crosstalk]

Damo: I’m going to double tap my select button and it’s activated the channel and you heard it say hold and talk. I can now just hit my PTT button. I’ve got it set so that it gives me some sounds so that I know that I’m actually transmitting and I have network connectivity and so on. If I key up. You heard those two tones, that’s the transmitting tone and the tone that you get when you let your button-up. It’s quite unique and you can customize those to whatever sounds you want. That’s really all there is to it with Zello, add the channels, I would definitely if you were going to start out, you’ll probably add 00 and 03 as a start, and then you can flick between those, and when you connect them you’ll hear the audio.

Now if you find it a little bit difficult, if you find the process of adding the channels a bit tedious, you can also download either the Zello app for your iPhone, or the Zello desktop app, sign into it, add all your channels, and then sign out, and then log in using your RT-4. If you don’t want to do it from the touchscreen and you’d rather do it from your PC keyboard, you can configure everything on the desktop, and that configuration will follow you when you sign into other devices. That might be an easier way if you don’t want to have to navigate around the touchscreen, you don’t want to have to do the T9 text input on your Network Radio device.

You can simply configure everything how you want it on your iPhone or the desktop Zello app and then log out of it. It will only allow you to sign in on one device at a time. You need to log out of your Windows version and then log in on your Network Radio device, and Robert’s your father’s brother as it were, all of your configuration will come across. One thing I should have mentioned too and did briefly mention before that, there are some commercial operators that use Network Radio and they use a version of Zello called Zello Work, and it has a dispatcher console and that kind of thing.

If you’re downloading the Windows-based version, make sure it’s just the normal Zello PTT app, not the work version because you don’t need the administrator console and all of that type of thing. Zello Work is the commercial version of the Zello platform. Having given you a little bit of an idea of how it works briefly, I’m now going to give you a little bit of an audio demonstration of it and my mate Graham, 2E0SSL in the UK has offered to help me with this today. This will give you an idea of just how clear the audio is because I know audio quality is a bit subjective, but I think that this is a lot clearer than DMR, or Fusion, or any of the other digital modes that I’ve tried.

Again, that’s not to denigrate them, they absolutely have their place. I love my DMR. I love my YSF and my YSX. I’ve got an FT70D here and a FDM100. All of those things have their place. I do think that the audio quality on this is a lot better obviously because you’re not using any time division multiplexing or anything like that. This will give you a little bit of an idea, as best I can anyway, of the audio quality that you get from this platform. 2E0SSL, 2E0SSL, [unintelligible 01:58:08] Graham, VK4FDPM calling.

Graham: VK4FDPM, I’m here. Good morning or good afternoon, I should say good evening. Good morning from mate. Good evening to you.

Damo: Yes, good morning to you mate. How are things on your side of the globe this morning? Over.

Graham: Things are good. Overcast, nine minutes to one. Looking to write [unintelligible 01:58:43], the same, the usual British weather, British winter.

Damo: There you go. That gives you a little bit of an idea of what it sounds like. As I said, I’ve had a lot of fun with this over the last couple of months. I’ve made some great friends on Channel Zero. They’re a friendly bunch. There’s always someone to talk to no matter what time of the day you jump on, you’ll generally get a response if you put out a call. The IRN is also, as I said, a very friendly bunch and I’ve enjoyed that as well. I like the fact that I can, as I said, do EchoLink, and Peanut, and all of those other things all in the one device.

I hope that’s given you a little bit of a taste for what Network Radio is, what it isn’t, what the different hardware options might be, and why you might want to give it a try. If you have any questions, I’m more than happy to try and answer them as best I can. You’re welcome to drop me an email to Damo, D-A-M-O@mushroomfm.com. That’s damo@mushroomfm.com, and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. Otherwise, I am on the blind-hams email list as well. I hope you’ve found some of this information useful 73s and we’ll catch you next time.

[background music]

Jonathan: I’d love to hear from you. 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 number in the United States 864-606-6736.

Interlude: Mosen At Large podcast.

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