Podcast Transcript, Mosen at Large 214, More Victor Reader Stream thoughts, Apple discussion, and an atrocious case of airline discrimination against blind parents

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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, more on the Victor Reader Stream and better communication between Audible and Humanware, plenty of Apple discussion, we launch our new tech roundup feature, and an atrocious case of airline discrimination.

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Welcome Dallas

Jonathan: An absolute pleasure to be back with you again. This is episode 214. You know what that means. 214 is the area code in the United States for Dallas. Now, the thing I know about Dallas is that if you ever go to Dallas and you get in any kind of vehicle like a shuttle or taxi, don’t tell them that you’re going to the airport. Tell them whether you’re going to Dallas Fort Worth or to Love Field. When you’ve told them, tell them again. When you’ve told them again, remind them again, because I booked a shuttle once and I called the number and I said that I was going to Dallas Love Field. I repeated that several times. Then I got my confirmation on the email.

Then I got on the shuttle and they said, “You’re going to the airport?” I said, “Yes, I am.” They took me to Fort Worth. I found out the hard way when I got out. I didn’t have time to castigate the driver because I knew that if I did not get into a very expensive taxi and go all the way from Dallas Fort Worth to Love Field, I may well miss my plane and it was a very, very important trip. I just managed to make it and I guess that is one big advantage of Rideshare apps like Uber where you can put in your destination and generally I find that I get to where I need to go with Rideshare services because the apps are guiding the drivers and there’s less room for ambiguity. That said, welcome y’all in Dallas, in Texas.

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Thoughts on the Victor Reader Stream

Jonathan: More thoughts on Humanware’s new Victor Reader Stream. Ali Kazi writes in. He says, having been a loyal stream user for as long as the stream has existed, I was keenly interested to hear what Humanware had come up with. I will say at the outset that in life generally, I try to be a positive Pete rather than a negative Nancy. Sorry to Nancy if you’re out there. On this basis, I am confident that the efforts of the indefatigable blind community will solve the Audible problem before long but as I listened to the segment, I could not help thinking that they giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other.

I am deeply disappointed that Humanware has got rid of the removable battery feature. I refer to it as a feature because that is what it was and Humanware has to its credit had removable batteries in several of its products over the years. This 180-degree turn now feels like a bit of a kick in the teeth. Another way for Humanware to make more money off blind people, many of whom simply don’t have the money. Many of whom are struggling to make ends meet. Many of whom are not in employment. Don’t bet against a battery replacement charge from Humanware costing about half the value of the stream itself.

Here in the UK, they charge £20 for freight each way and are rigid about the career they use, even though others are considerably cheaper. It’s all very well for Humanware to say, “Well, you know, all the smartphone manufacturers have got rid of removable batteries too.” That is no excuse. Just because one company does something reprehensible, that doesn’t mean the rest should follow like sheep. What I say is we are not stupid. We were not born yesterday. We may be blind but we can see a money-making plan when we get hit with one. In other matters, I’m not sure about the rubberized buttons either.

Granted, I haven’t seen the device yet but I hope they will still have the satisfying click when pressed. If they are anything like the Victor Reader Stratus, that will, of course, not be the case. Bluetooth and USB-C are very welcome additions. The flavor of the Humanware message seemed to be, we can give you more now that we have updated hardware. Let’s hope that is the case and not just another sales tactic. I have had nothing but praise for Humanware over the last 20 years or so that I have been using their products. I still think the Braille note apex is the best note-taker of all time and that the stream too is one of a kind and a joy to use.

The Brailliant is amazing and always has been. However, they have blotted their copybook in recent years, particularly, with the Braille note touch, in my view, and this business with the stream battery looks like another example of that. I would be interested to know if you and the Mosen At Large community agree with me about the battery issue or whether you think I should just get off my soapbox. Well, thank you for writing in, Ally. As you’ve heard, there are others who agree with you. This replaceable battery thing does not seem to be going down well, at least for those who’ve chosen to respond so far.

I’m not going to venture an opinion on this because I really don’t have a strong opinion. I have never owned a stream. I am unlikely ever to own a stream. I like having my iPhone with all its power, all at storage, everything in one place on one device. One nice thing to lose and charge but there are people who love their streams and it’s probably best for them to comment on it since they are the customer.

Lachlan Thomas: Hello, Jonathan, and hello listeners of the Mosen At Large podcast. This is Lachlan Thomas from Melbourne, Australia. I’m recording this by the way, on my Victor Reader Stream. This is the second generation model that I have. I’ve been a Victor Reader Stream user since 2008. It has been a product that I really have enjoyed using for listening to audiobooks and music. It really is my primary multimedia and entertainment listening device. Outside of a smartphone, I believe the Victor Reader Stream is the best portable media player for the blind.

Of course, there are things it cannot do that the iPhone can do like accessing Spotify and tidal and Apple Music and all those other services and all the mainstream audiobook and digital textbooks services, particularly services offered by public libraries, but in terms of the things it can do, it’s very functional and it’s very user-friendly. Now, I am a fairly proficient iPhone user. The reason I like the Victor Reader Stream is because it’s tactile. I like to swing on swings. I’m talking playground swings. It’s so nice to go to a local park or when I’m at my mom’s house, go outside and get on the swing and listen to music.

When I’m using my Victor Reader Stream, I can do that easily because it has physical buttons, I can put the unit in my pocket and I can feel the buttons through my clothing and I can easily press them. I don’t have to get the unit out to make a selection of music. If I use my iPhone and Spotify, for example, I do have to get my iPhone out because I need to unlock it and I need to browse the user interface to find the music I want.

At the moment, the third-generation Victor Reader Stream doesn’t appear to offer anything I really need that the second-generation Victor Reader Stream doesn’t already offer me, but I will probably consider upgrading to the new Victor Reader Stream once it’s available in Australia depending on what state the software’s in. Firstly, I’m a little surprised the battery in the new Victor Reader Stream isn’t user replaceable, especially given that the dimensions of the new unit are identical to the second-generation unit. If it was slightly smaller, I could definitely see why.

I am wondering if maybe the internal components in the new Victor Reader Stream take up a bit more space inside the casing and, therefore, there is no room to have the necessary hardware for a user-replaceable battery. It will also appear from the discussion I heard at least, the third-generation Victor Reader Stream has no FM radio. Now, this has never been a feature in the Victor Reader Stream but I understand the Victor Trek has an FM radio in it. Of course, some of the competitors’ products to the Victor Reader Stream have FM radios in them.

I’m speaking of the Baykel Talking MP3 player and the Milestone 312 Ace. I know that has an FM radio in it. I have a Baykel Talking MP3 player. I don’t use the FM radio very much because it’s not very sensitive but it’s a good feature to have. In the past year, I have spent a lot more time listening to broadcast radio than I have done over the past probably 10 years.

It will be interesting to see what new features become available as the software for the third-generation Victor Reader Stream matures. Will we potentially see some kind of support for streaming music services like Spotify? I think the likelihood of that is relatively low given that many blind people I’m sure already know how to use these services on their smartphones and PCs and tablets. If the hardware is capable of doing it, maybe that will be a nice feature to have. I also wonder whether the Victor Reader Stream third-generation may support some of these digital book services offered by public libraries.

I’m speaking of services like BorrowBox, here in Australia. I don’t know if BorrowBox is used in other countries, but here in Australia, many public libraries subscribe to the BorrowBox service offered by Bolinda Publishing, and this allows library users to download books directly from the library’s online book service to their iPhones or Android phones. I do use BorrowBox occasionally through the city of Melbourne Public Library. It’s a good service. You browse their catalog for books you like, you can reserve them and you can then play them. Of course, after a couple of weeks, the loan on the book expires and you must return the book.

I know that at the moment there are issues with Audible, but will it be possible in the future for users to access the Audible service directly on their Victor Reader Stream without having to connect it to a computer? Speaking of connecting the third-generation Victor Reader Stream to a computer, I was also a little bit surprised that the representatives from Humanware said that the new Victor Reader Stream uses the media transfer protocol standard for transferring content from a computer to the Victor Reader Stream. I don’t know how many mainstream MP3 players out there support MPT anymore. It was a standard that from memory was used a lot back in the mid-2000s.

I had a Creative Zen Touch MP3 player that used MTP and I could use Windows Media Player to transfer content from the computer to the player. I believe one of the reasons why MPT was so well used on those devices is because of it’s support of the transfer of digital rights management protected content that you might buy from an online store. I know a lot of online music stores back then used Windows Media Player digital rights management content-protected music and other audio content. I don’t know if the Mac supports MPT and I don’t know if Linux supports it either. If it doesn’t, I wonder what can be done about that because I have previously been a Mac user and used my Victor Reader Stream with the Mac and it worked very well. The only thing I couldn’t do was use the Humanware companion software, something I don’t normally do, anyway.

Jonathan: Thanks for those thoughts, Lachlan. Spotify may be possible because they seem to take quite an open approach and I’ve no idea what their API requirements are, how difficult they are to implement. They do seem to have support on a very wide range of devices, so that could be an option. In that really competitive third-party music space, particularly if there are accessibility problems with some apps on other operating systems, Humanware may be able to rope some of those streaming music providers. I doubt they will ever get Apple on board, but some of the other players may well be interested. Just to talk about your use case of using the stream on a swing or whatever. That’s a scenario, not on a swing, but it’s a scenario that I do all the time. The first thing I do when setting up a new iPhone is to disable auto-lock.

When I switch my iPhone on in the morning, I keep it on. I don’t let the screen lock and I put my iPhone in my shirt pocket and I can actually operate the iPhone from the shirt pocket. I don’t take it out all the time. I can flick and tap and that works just fine. It is possible for me to be sitting somewhere with the phone in my pocket, it’s not locked and I can then navigate very easily the home screen, get to apps.

Of course, there is always Siri, so if you want to request a particular song or a playlist, you can do that readily enough as well. Your FM radio point is very well made. Some people scoff and they get a bit derisive about FM radio in 2023. The reality is that if you’re in a country where there are a lot of natural disasters and because of climate change, we are having an increasing number of serious natural disasters.

You in Australia have had some terrible fires in the last few years. We’ve had some atrocious flooding here in just recent times. Sometimes in those conditions, cellular networks, internet infrastructure can break. If you have a radio that you can tune into in an emergency situation and that’s broadcasting, whether it be AM or FM, then that can literally be a matter of life and death. For a blindness device like this, we are very vulnerable at those times of natural disaster. If we can have an FM radio that works, then that’s a good thing to do. You do make a good point though. The trouble is often the antenna is some wired headsets that you connect. As people move to Bluetooth things, then you’re not getting that antenna on the device and so the FM radios can often be pretty poor performers.

Then I guess the question you run into is, is it better not to have the feature at all so that people don’t get dependent on it and then find that when they really need it in some sort of emergency situation, it’s not there in the way that they need it to be there. Now, Kay is emailing in and says, there was a person on your podcast and she’s referring to Kathy Blackburn. I got that email from Kathy in the middle of the night my time. We’ve got a song going. It goes Blackburn posting in the dead of night.

Anyway, Kay says, lamenting the fact that they could no longer get their favorite stations on the gen two. This is the stream we’re talking about. I have had success writing to ooTunes. Steve has always been responsive and courteous. He can often repair the broken link or explain that the station is gone for good. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the address at this time. Can you pass it along? I think it is heartbreaking that the BBC will be gone forever on the stream 2.

Thanks for writing in again, Kay. I don’t know whether the address I have for Steve, which is quite old now is up to date, so I won’t risk giving one, but I think ootunes.com is still active. If you go there, you should be able to find a way to contact Steve should you need to. I can certainly attest to his responsiveness, his courtesy, the fact that he cares about this directory that he’s maintaining. Even if the app hasn’t been updated for yonks.

I mean, the app still does work, so maybe he just doesn’t feel he has cause to update it. He’s the archetypal independent app developer who cares about his users, does what he does well, and he’s got a strong commitment to accessibility. Of course, now that directory has made its way to the stream. Kay continues, “I am not very techy. I am positive that you know the answer to my question.” Oh boy, no pressure.

I don’t know a lot about the Victor Reader Stream, Kay, having never owned one, but let’s take a look. She says, “I hope I can ask it in a way that makes sense to you.” Will a card that I have created on my gen two play on the gen three, I suspect that the answer is no. Kay, I suspect that the answer is yes, not to be contradictory or argumentative or anything. I think it is probably yes. I would imagine that the file format between the two devices is going to be the same. It would be quite disruptive if that were not the case, and I’m not sure what there is to gain from introducing that kind of incompatibility. If I’m wrong, I’m sure this will have come up on the Victor Reader Stream list or various other places that I don’t frequent and someone can fill us in.

Gene Warner is writing in and says, my thoughts on the new VR stream, simple. I pre-ordered it as soon as I knew about it and Humanware was open. I cannot wait for it to arrive. I tried the VR Trek and hated it, so I got rid of it and went back to my beloved VR stream. My only regret was the loss of Bluetooth. You can imagine how excited I am to have a real VR stream and not a soup drinker version like the VR Treck that has Bluetooth.

About Aira, If I had the means and the know-how, I would take up your challenge to create a community-run visual interpretation service to replace Aira. I have long felt that Aira was going in the wrong direction and now that their plan pricing has gone up 250% and the cost of add-on minutes have gone up 100%, I can say with 1000% certainty that at the end of this year, 2023, I will be canceling my Aira account. For what it is, Aira is a great service, but it is nowhere near worth what they are now asking for it. I believe that if things stay as they are, there will be a mass exodus from Aira at the end of the year. “Thanks for all you do,” says Jean. Well, thank you, Jean, for writing and I really appreciate that.

Just coming back to the Victor Reader Stream. I wanted to wrap on this question of the open letter that I put together at the request of quite a number of Mosen At Large listeners, which called on Audible to work with Humanware on supporting the Victor Reader Stream third generation and reinstating support for the Victor Reader Stream second generation. Now, as we heard very clearly in last week’s episode from Joe Norton, the latter has already been done with the most recent update to Audible Sync, Victor Reader Stream second generation Audible support was restored. In talking with Humanware, it seems that the communication between Audible and Humanware has left a little bit to be desired.

Audible staff did get to see the open letter that many of us signed, around 700 people signed. I understand they really did get it, they understood the passion with which the community was expressing this view. As a result of that, even though the stream support for the second generation was restored before that open letter was written, and it was under the radar a little bit for many people, including Product Management at Humanware, the results have been very positive because Audible and Humanware and now meeting biweekly to keep each other in the loop about developments.

Mathieu Paquette from Humanware tells me that the third-generation stream, which is actually mentioned already on the device, I understand, is definitely going to be supported, but it’s going to take a little bit of time. That’s because the current firmware is ready to go, they’re ready to roll out the stream very soon, it’s still estimated to be this month, so maybe by the time you hear this podcast, it’s already published. There is going to be a little bit of a lag, but Mathieu’s estimating April or May for a firmware update for the Victor Reader Stream to be released that will introduce Audible support for that news stream device.

I’m delighted that everybody got together, collaborated, and achieved this result. It’s heartening to know that Audible and Humanware will continue to talk. It will be nice to think that more open, more frequent communications will avert any potential crises in the future, like stream support inadvertently dropping off the audible sync software again, or something like that. Somebody on Mastodon when we were talking about this said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if this was a confidence-building measure that led to the stream supporting eventually Kindle books?”

Well, I know that many stream users would appreciate that were it to come to pass, I guess time will tell because there may well be some complexities around that that we’re not aware of but it sounds like the stream third generation is a more capable, sophisticated platform that there is the potential for the decrypting of DRM technology with appropriate authorization, so I guess you never know your luck in a big city. Thank you to Amazon for being so receptive, that’s very encouraging. Thanks to everybody who took the time to sign that open letter.

It only goes to show that sometimes we can get a bit disheartened, and despondent, and defeatist, and think that we can’t make good change. I’ve always believed that we can, and I’ve always believed that the one certain thing is if we don’t try, we can be certain of the answer. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and all those good clichés, so thanks to everybody who helped to make a good thing happen there. Now, Joe Danowski is writing in and I can’t help with this at all, because as I say, I don’t own a stream but perhaps someone who does can.

He says, “Hi, Jonathan, following up on your discussion regarding the problems with the Victor Reader Stream and Audible, in the Victor Reader Stream with built-in navigation, I have many Audible books on this device. I now find that when I download Audible books onto the device, the newly downloaded books will not play. I can hear the title in the menu but when I push play, nothing happens. If I press the star key, it will play and stop, but there is no way to fast forward or do anything else like making bookmarks, et cetera.”

“The books downloaded a few months ago from Audible play with no problem. I then installed the newest version of the Audible sync app on my PC, connected the Victor Reader, reactivated it, reinstalled the book from the sync app, the same result. The book newly downloaded will not play. I then took my Victor Reader Stream 2 without the navigation built in and tried to install the books there. I reformatted the SD card, wiping it out completely clean, connected the device to the laptop, and reactivated the device through the sync app. This time when I transferred this to Victor Reader Stream, I could hear the title spoken but it said, ‘Device not activated,’ and the book would not play. This is the case even though the sync did confirm the activation of the device.”

“This is just extremely frustrating, and frankly ridiculous. Why something that was so simple has become so complicated. Also, Audible has been making a point of talking about its accessibility on its website, and in its support info. I would have thought that a commitment to accessibility would have been to ensure that probably the number one device outside of a smartphone used by blind individuals to read audible books is the Victor Reader. Keep in mind here I am not talking about a problem with the new device like the Stream 3, with a stream may have made some changes that are not compatible with Audible, which is something Audible has done that makes its files not accessible to the Victor Reader.”

“This is another case of the visually impaired community having to play technological catch-up and wait for the problem to be resolved. I have paid about $250 a year for the last 15 years building up my Audible book library. I think it was reasonable for me to expect that I would have access to this library through a device commonly used by people with vision disabilities.” Thanks, Joe. I can understand the frustration especially since Audible and Humanware and Joe Norton are saying that it’s working. One Joe says it works, another Joe says it doesn’t.

Reading your steps, not being familiar with the device, but reading your steps and re-familiarizing myself with the demo that Joe did, that’s Joe Norton, it sounds like you are doing what you’re supposed to be doing. If anyone can pick up a missing step, or can somehow explain what’s going on, could it be the way the SD card is formatted maybe, I have no idea, I don’t think so. If anyone’s got any clues, then please let us know. Also, Joe, I think it would be good to contact either Humanware or Audible tech support. I appreciate it can be an issue getting ping-ponged from one company to another when you have two devices or two entities that are trying to have the technologies talk to each other, but I would be interested to hear whether the tech support can sort this out for you. Maybe the listeners have something to offer on this and best of luck.

It’s important to me that Mosen At Large is fully accessible and that’s why every episode is transcribed. Accessibility is in the very DNA of Pneuma Solutions, and it’s thanks to their sponsorship that transcriptions are possible. Since you’re a Mosen at Larger, chances are good that accessibility is important to you too, and you’ll want to lead by example. If you want to ensure that all your slideshow presentations are fully accessible to everyone, you’ll want to check out scribe for meetings. You can upload your presentation in advance to the Scribe for Meetings server. If you’re a last-minute person, it can even be up to five minutes before the presentation is due to be used.

Scribe for Meetings will work its magic and turn your presentation into fully accessible HTML. What you have to do is paste the URL that Scribe for Meetings provides for you into the chat and assistive technology users can choose that link when you run your presentation. It’ll stay in sync all the way through. I’ve used this and I’ve also been a beneficiary of it following along on my Braille display when somebody’s running a presentation, it’s absolute magic. Check out Scribe for Meetings by heading over to pneumasolutions.com, that’s P-N-E-U-M-A solutions.com.

Advertisement: 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 864-60-Mosen, that’s 864-606-6736.

This week’s tech roundup

Jonathan: From time to time, I have toyed with the idea of doing a tech news brief on this podcast because I read a lot of news. I know not everybody has the time or inclination to, they would like something that distills the news a bit from a blindness perspective, just gives a few quick tech facts that might be interesting. We did that a few years ago with a podcast called The Daily Fiber. Well, I was tempted to give this a go, do a brief news summary. Thanks to technology that we will be hearing a lot more about in a future episode of Mosen At Large because one of the founders is coming on to talk to us about it, called ElevenLabs.

If you are on Mastodon, you will have seen a lot about ElevenLabs in the last week. I’ll give you a summary now and we’ll talk much more about it when we have one of the founders on the show. It’s artificial intelligent speech, you can create your own voices if you want, and they also have their own professionally sampled voices. Here we go with a sample of this tech briefing for you, I hope you like it.

Adam: Welcome to a Mosen at Large tech news roundup. I’m Adam, an AI Narrator produced by ElevenLabs. Speaking of AI, it’s about to radically change the way you search for stuff online. Microsoft has announced a new version of its search engine, Bing, powered by an upgraded version of the same AI technology that underpins the popular chatbot, ChatGPT, which has gone viral in the blind community on social media. Microsoft is launching the product alongside new AI-enhanced features for its Edge browser. In demos at the media conference, the company showed what it’s calling the new Bing working in various configurations.

One of these shows traditional search results side by side with AI annotations while another mode lets users talk directly to the Bing Chatbot asking it questions in a chat interface like ChatGPT, but there’s an improvement over ChatGPT. The new Bing can also retrieve news about recent events. The new Bing is now live for desktop limited preview, but there’s a waitlist to sign up for full access in the future. Meanwhile, it appears Google has been caught off guard by what some are claiming is a paradigm shift in how users find information online.

The launch of ChatGPT reportedly triggered a code red at the search giant. In an attempt to preempt Microsoft’s announcement, Google announced a arrival to ChatGPT with a name that is sure to create confusion for blind Americans. It’s called Bard, the same name used by the library of Congress’s National Library Service for its Braille and audio download service. At its first public demo, Bard got off to a rocky start when it confidently spouted misinformation causing Google’s share price to plummet.

It looks like on this particular battle, it’s round one to Microsoft. Samsung’s newly announced Galaxy S23 Ultra isn’t in people’s hands yet, but benchmarks have been discovered pointing to a lead for Apple. Apple still has the world’s fastest mobile processor by a considerable margin. According to geek bench scores for single core performance discovered by compare dial, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is 20% slower than the iPhone 14 Pro.

To put this into perspective, it’s unlikely most people would notice any difference in the real world. If you’re still on Windows 7, you won’t be getting updates of Chrome anymore. Windows devices will need to run Windows 10 or later to continue receiving future Chrome releases. Continuing to use an outdated version of Chrome could leave your computer exposed to cyber-attacks.

This is the first version of Google’s browser to require Windows 10 or later older versions of Chrome will still work on devices running an outdated version of Windows, but neither the browser nor the operating systems will receive critical security updates and that could leave your device exposed to potential cyber-attacks. Netflix has announced an update on its efforts to crack down on password sharing. In a blog post, Netflix says over 100 million households are sharing accounts which impacts its ability to invest in TV and films. With that in mind, Netflix says that it is expanding its restrictions on password and account sharing to new countries.

There’s also a new way to easily manage who has access to your account via the Netflix website. Password-sharing restrictions are now in place in four new countries, Canada, New Zealand, Portugal, and Spain. The restrictions will roll out more broadly in the coming months. If you’re still using Twitter and are willing to pay for its premium service, you can now tweet up a storm.

Earlier in the week, Twitter increased the maximum length of a tweet to 4,000 characters, but only to those who subscribe to the TW Blue Service. Right after the change, Twitter crashed worldwide for several hours. It’s unclear if the outage was related to the new expanded tweet feature. Finally in this week’s bulletin, WhatsApp, the popular multi-platform instant messaging service from Meta has announced some new features for status updates.

Private audience selector allows users to choose who views their status updates. Users can now also share voice notes of up to 30 seconds via their status. WhatsApp describes it as offering a way of sending more personal updates, especially if users feel more comfortable expressing themselves by talking rather than typing. Status reactions allow users to react to status updates from friends and close contacts by choosing from a range of emojis.

Lastly, new link previews on status mean that whenever a user posts a link, a visual preview of the link’s content is available, giving contacts a better idea of what the link is before they click. For more tech news as it happens, follow Mosen At Large on Mastodon, mosenatlarge@mstdn.social, and that’s your tech roundup for the week. I’m Adam from ElevenLabs for Mosen At large. Back to you, Jonathan.

Jonathan: Dude, if you want to find out more about that technology and have a play with it yourself, do stay tuned to Mosen At Large. We’ll talk about it a lot more soon, but you can also visit their website at elevenlabs.io. That’s the word, eleven, spelled out, E-L-E-V-E-Nlabs.io.

Mastodon and other social media

Mark: Hey, Jonathan, it’s Mark in Montreal, Quebec, and I just listened today to your podcast, which you did at some point before Christmas on Mastodon, and have downloaded Metatext. I’m logged in and as you know, you’ve probably seen some messages from me, actually. I really love Mastodon. It’s amazing. I certainly enjoy it so far. I’m trying to acquaint myself with it as best I can and participate as best I can.

I’ve gone back to Twitter and Instagram as well because I was getting disenchanted with a certain app out there that many blind people have been using and getting disenchanted with as well. There are fewer rooms, clubs, et cetera, on it. You know I’m talking about Clubhouse, of course. I hear that they may be doing some improvements down the road, but because of the lack of appealing material on it for me, I deleted it for now. I could always go back if there was a reason to entice me back or if they improve it accessibility-wise or by some other means to make it appealing again for blind folks.

In the meantime, I’m having lots of fun with Mastodon and enjoying the process, and trying to learn as much as I can about it. Instagram I like now much more than before because it seems that the AI has improved quite a bit and the pictures are described a light better now than they had been previously. I’m quite impressed, actually, with Instagram. Twitter, not so much. If anything’s going to go, I’ll give Twitter a roll but probably won’t stick with it.

Jonathan: Nice to hear from you, Mark, and I’m glad that you found Mastodon. I too I’m loving Mastodon. It has rekindled my interest in social media because Twitter got really toxic. It has been toxic for a long, long time now. Since Elon Musk took over, there have been a number of significant changes, which is what I was expecting, and that’s why when things were heading downhill and Twitter fired its entire accessibility team and several other important policy decisions were made, it was clear to me it was time to jump. Back in November, we put Mushroom FM on Mastodon and we created a Mastodon Instance, and we made that our primary social media network. Since then, there have been many other changes including an attack on third-party clients. Most of them have been disabled by application name.

Now some of them at the time of recording have survived. Then Elon Musk made an announcement recently where he said he was going to be discontinuing the free API. API is an application programming interface and it’s what allows a lot of third parties to do things with a social network like Twitter. For example, Mushroom FM uses the API to post show announcements in various other things to Twitter. We still have that going on because it just does its thing and there’s no point in cutting it off and inconveniencing people who are still using Twitter.

There’s no doubt that the number of blind people who are using Twitter has declined significantly with the demise of third-party clients. The first third-party clients to be hit were those written for iOS and Android. Some of the big names were attacked first and then gradually they caught up with some of the smaller operators, the blindness-specific Windows-based clients, and actually, TweeseCake, which also runs on Mac, flew under the radar because of their size, I think, more than anything else. It’s just too much of a fickle platform.

People who are comfortable using the Twitter website and using Twitter’s official apps, which for me just ruin the Twitter experience. I mean they’re usable, but they’re not pleasant to use, in my view. People will carry on there. Of course, it does have a significant amount of critical mass for now, although people are flocking to other places. As a personal decision, I just don’t feel comfortable putting content on Twitter. It’s become a moral issue for me and I’m enjoying what we are creating on Mastodon. There’s such an exciting ecosystem of products.

You mentioned Metatext and that is a really good app. The developer of Metatext has stopped work on it, at least for now. What you’re starting to see is some new Mastodon features that Metatext doesn’t support, but for basic Mastodoning, it’s adequate. The one that I’m using at the moment that is still in beta at the time that I’m putting this together, but I don’t think it will be for long, is one called Mona. Mona is being developed by the developer of the Spring app. On Mosen At Large last year we did a comprehensive review of the Spring app for Twitter. It was, in my view, the most configurable Twitter client. It was fully accessible. The developer is super responsive to feedback from voiceover users. There was a whole section in the Spring app which determined how voiceover would behave, absolutely brilliant. When he announced that he was turning his considerable talent to Mastodon, understandably there was a lot of excitement about this.

Mona is available to anybody who owns the Spring app and you can go in there and go to the about screen and sign up for the test flight builds of Mona, it gets better and better. Absolutely brilliant Mastodon app. There are others as well. Toot! is a very good Mastodon app from an accessibility point of view as well and I mean the official Mastodon app isn’t half bad either, but I think there are better ones. It’s a playground of active developers and the cool thing is people can’t revoke this API. It’s public, it’s out there, Mastodon is decentralized.

No one can take it over. It feels good. It feels like we are learning the lessons of history and we are doing social media better this time and the vibes are generally pretty good on Mastodon as well for now. That can change as more people flock to the platform, of course, but for now, the vibes are really good. People are helpful and it’s great to see people continuing to jump on board the platform. I think if there’s a concern it’s that we still don’t have a lot of journalists, official government sources, that sort of thing using Mastodon.

I was very much mindful of this a few weeks ago when there was a terrible flood in the upper part of the North Island of New Zealand, people lost their lives, and homes and businesses were disrupted. Really, Mastodon did not stand up to that test particularly well because there was not a lot of official information being put on Mastodon. A lot of those official sources are still on Twitter and I think it is up to us to go to our various governments and say, “Okay, stay on Twitter if you want, but there’s actually a group of users forming on Mastodon who need to be catered to as well.

I don’t think we should be forced to use a particular privately owned public platform in order to get that essential public information. There’s a bit of advocacy that might be required from many of us. While we’re at it, I think we also need to ask some of the blindness technology companies, blindness entities in general. All right, where are you guys? Why aren’t you on Mastodon? I look for example at Vispero and Aira and Envision, a number of those where I like to actually keep up with what they’re doing but they’re not on Mastodon and I am.

In the end, that should be a problem for them that an increasing number of us have locked down our Twitter accounts, we’ve deleted Twitter from our devices, we don’t go to Twitter anymore. With the demise of these third-party apps, these blindness companies would be very wise to understand that some of their critical user base from Twitter has defected. As far as Twitter is concerned, we have ceased to be. You are talking to fewer people and if you want to get the word out and I am sure there are lots of us who want to hear that word, don’t look like a dinosaur.

Get on Mastodon now and reconnect with an increasingly large number of your base. If I were running the social media or the comms of any of these assistive technology companies, I would make Mastodon my top priority right now. You are losing reach by not getting on Mastodon. It is a foolish business decision. Regarding Clubhouse, yes, I haven’t used Clubhouse for a long time. It was this extraordinary flash in the pan and sometimes that happens. You get technology that has a glorious explosion. It’s a little day in the sun but it doesn’t last long and I would put Clubhouse in that category. It still has its diehard users, but it’s died way off.

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A Happy conclusion on the Brailliant Enter issue

Jonathan: A happy conclusion to this we thread if you can call a podcast discussion a thread that Karen McDonald started and she says, “Hello, Jonathan. I would like to thank one of your listeners so much.” That’s actually Anisio who came up with this, so thank you, Anisio, “For helping me to solve my problem concerning carriage returns using my Braille display with the iPhone. I think I was using that combination of dots two and seven with a backspace followed by a return and it didn’t work.

However, the space with that same combination does work and I’m tickled to death as they say in Appalachia. Now, I’ll get back to listening to the rest of the podcast, but I just had to stop and write to say thank you.” Well, thank you for the thank you, Karen, and also thank you while we are thanking [laughs] Anisio for picking up the facts that you might not have been chording. In other words, using the space bar with that command. Great that we got it resolved and helping each other is what this podcast is all about.

VoiceOver speech not returning after a call

Dave: Hi, Jonathan. This is Dave from Oregon. Welcome back on the air. I wanted to report iPhone iOS 16.3 is loaded now and still I have the problem with speech not coming back after a phone call. It’s happened to me twice today and it appears that it’s happening more often now than it did with iOS 16.2. Hopefully, they haven’t broken something that they fixed before, but if they have, that’s unfortunate. In any case, wondering if anybody else has had this issue and wanted to share it with you. Again, welcome back.

Jonathan: Well, thank you, Dave. I appreciate that. That is a frustrating one. I do remember having seen in the past where you’d finish a phone call and you wouldn’t have speech. That one is super debilitating. I haven’t seen it for a long, long time. I don’t want to see it again. I’m sorry that you are and it will be interesting to hear whether other people are experiencing loss of speech with iOS 16.3 and apparently, Dave, we have this on other versions as well once you finish a phone call.

Braille Screen Input flaky in iOS 16

In addition to the comment that I made about hints not being disablelable, if that’s a word, anymore. One other issue I have seen creep into iOS 16.3 relates to Braille screen input. I always use contracted Braille with Braille screen input and I find that now when I do my rotor gesture and get into Braille screen input and I calibrate my dots. Sometimes I can start to input text and I’m not inputting in contracted Braille. When I use the gesture to toggle between uncontracted and contracted Braille, it confirms that I was in contracted Braille.

I was just not getting it when I was inputting and toggling it off and back on again seems to fix the problem, but that is happening fairly regularly for me with Braille screen input in iOS 16.3 and I think that one is relatively new.

Flaky pairing between iPhone 13 Mini and Focus 40 Blue

Alexander is writing it and says, “Hi Jonathan. Maybe you or your listeners have some advice here. I have a Focus 40 Blue 5th Generation. I have paired the device to my iPhone 13 mini. Every time I switch off the device or lock and unlock my phone, I have to unpair and repair my Focus device.

I also have an iPhone 11 where all works fine. I have updated to the latest firmware with no change. I hope you or someone else has got a hint for me.” That is another frustrating one, I’m sure, Alexander. I’ve not seen that with my display, which is a mantis, but perhaps others have and may have found a magic workaround. I do wonder whether it might be a hardware issue given that you have presumably the identical software on another piece of iPhone hardware without this incident occurring you do have to wonder.

Maybe you could see if Apple will swap out the device for you, but I guess let’s first see whether anybody else has the issue.

How can I beta test iOS?

Don Rosman is in touch and he says, “Hi, Jonathan. I am not writing about guide dogs this time. Actually, I can talk about them for a very long time as even after 49 years, I am still in awe at what they can do, especially with intelligent disobedience.” Hang on, I thought you weren’t talking about them. Oh, here we go. Here we go. This time he says, “I am writing to ask you how I can install either beta or release candidate software of iOS when it comes out.

We have lots of snow here now. I love walking my dog. I see we are back to dogs now. In the snow, as it gives her so much to do. There are always the odd snow banks created by the street plows, which present a challenge for both of us. I am pleased to say that my dog, Oasis, handles them like a pro.” There we go. That was actually a guide dog chat with Don’s question about the iPhone sandwiched in the middle there. Good on you, Don. Enjoy working with Oasis. It is a very special relationship.

If you want to join in on the beta fund, do remember that this software is test software. We know that every piece of software has bugs. Voiceover seems to get more than its fair share of bugs at times, so be prepared for all of that to be amplified many-fold. It’s kind of cool to have the latest and greatest, but it can also be quite injurious to one’s productivity and mental health if you get a beta, that really is buggy but if you have considered all those risks and you still want to go ahead, you can join the public beta seed for iOS.

When you do, you will be given a little file that you download on your iPhone. It will take you through a little install process and once you’ve done that, it unlocks updates that are not available to everybody else. When you check for updates, or if you have automatic updates turned on, you will start receiving updates that people don’t generally get. To make an application to join that process, you go to beta as in B-E-T-A.

They pronounce it beta in the United States .apple.com and it’s as simple as that. Head on over to beta.apple.com and go through the process to join. You mentioned release candidates, so let me cover what a release candidate is. When a software developer gets to the point that they believe they now have a version of the software that’s ready for release, they give it to beta testers for one final look and they call that a release candidate. In most cases, I’ve seen it not happen once or twice where you might get a second release candidate but normally, when you get to the release candidate stage, the version that you get ahead of the public will be what is considered the final version.

It is not possible in any official sense, let me just put it that way, for you to only get the release candidates without going through all the pain and suffering of being in the beta, I guess you could, towards the end of the process, enroll in the beta process and then you could take yourself out of it at the beginning again if you really wanted to do that.

Denial of service and feedback on Aira

Pete: Greetings from Robin Hood County, to you, Jonathan, and all Mosen At Largers. It’s Pete, hoping you’re well. Thank you for another interesting podcast. Firstly, sorry you didn’t get your drink, Vanessa, but I guess it’s one of those things that happens. He was definitely not trained on how to handle a situation. I don’t know about his bar skills, but I don’t think he could deal with people very well. It was probably what do you want to drink. Aritas, thank you very much. The Sunday manager, well, that’s why he’s called the

Sunday Manager. Locked in the wardrobe and forgotten about until Monday.

I’m glad you gave him a poor review, but don’t forget he could have had issues as well, like being a plonker. Next to the prices from Aira and Envision. Envision quite simple to understand, easy to follow. You know what you’re getting, when, why, and how. The app is free. I don’t want or need the glasses at this time. I used to be a Life member and paid for the life membership on the app and should the app ever be paid for again, I’ll quite happily have my life membership restarted. As for Aira, good product, I’d use it if I needed it, but I don’t at the moment but if you’re going to put your prices up, I don’t want to do a crossword puzzle.

Just tell me how it is. You made a bit of a bin fire of that one, didn’t you? Other than that, it was nice to hear all the voices again and we can now start getting some more interesting things in the world of tech. Don’t forget that we’ve had the CES show and I’m waiting for the U-scan so I can put it on the side of my toilet. On that note, I’ll leave it. Investigate for yourselves.

Jonathan: Pete, with you mentioning that product, is it possible you might be taking the– no, I can’t say that. I cannot say that.

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eythor thrastarson talks about his horrific airline discrimination experience

Jonathan: As a minority, it’s inevitable that all of us as blind people will encounter discrimination at some time in our lives and discrimination can take many forms. Undoubtedly, the worst kind of discrimination is the show-stopping kind. The kind that prevents you from going about your lawful business and disrupts your life. Add the element of questioning your competency as a parent, subtly or otherwise, and you have an extremely stressful, horrible situation. My guest has had such an experience to relate. Ethor Cambentlastison is with me now. Thanks for being on the podcast. You’ve had an appalling ordeal. Tell me about how it all began.

Ethor Cambentlastison: I was going on holiday. I am an expatriate. I live in Greece, but I’m originally from Iceland, so my wife is Greek, and we were going home to Iceland for the Christmas holidays.

Jonathan: You’d made all your plans and you have a one-year-old daughter, and that’s an adorable age, isn’t it? Because they’re starting to discover things. It’s all very exciting. You turn up to the airport, you’re ready to go, and then what happens?

Ethor: We come to the airport. We had booked a ticket with Scandinavian Airlines, SAS, or Scandinavian Air Service, I don’t remember. We come to the airport. We have booked assistance. We have called ahead 48 hours or more, as the European law states that a person with a disability has to do if they’re flying. There’s actually a clause in the European flight code that states that an airline has the right to deny boarding on basis of not being able to accommodate if they didn’t get a notice a certain time beforehand. In the law, I think this is 72 hours, but the airline stated on their website that it’s 48.

Jonathan: Do you know what the rationale behind that is? Why would they require you to do that? Does that only apply if you’re traveling without non-disabled assistance? Is that how it works?

Ethor: I think this applies to if you are a person with reduced mobility. If you need some special circumstances to be in place to be able to, for example, evacuate the airplane, if you can’t, under your own power, move away from the airplane. I think that’s the rationale behind it, without actually knowing about it but, I mean, this is what I’ve read that the law states.

Jonathan: Okay, so if you have some family bereavement or something like that and you need to fly urgently, did they make exceptions in that eventuality?

Ethor: On multiple occasions. I’ve gone to airports. I have not booked any assistance. I’ve not asked for any assistance and I’ve gone through them on my own, and I’ve never had significant problems.

Jonathan: Right, so you did what the law asked of you to do, though, and you contacted them with the requisite amount of time?

Ethor: Yes. We arrived to the airport in Athens, and we go to the check-in desk, and we had to wait quite a long time at the desk. At one point we asked them, “Is there some kind of a problem?” If there was a problem, and they tell us no. Then she said, “We’ll just let you go through, and we’ll see.” I think that was the staff at the check-in desk trying to send us through to the gate in order that we wouldn’t be denied boarding at the last minute. I think they were trying to help us at that moment.

We went through security with no problems and at the gate, my wife is called to the phone and they asked her some questions if we had traveled with our baby before on an airplane, and questions that I frankly do not remember because it was quite a stressful situation. Then we get the information that we won’t be flying. The captain is denying us boarding, which is a right that a captain of an airplane has based on, I think, old ship captain laws, which makes the captain the responsible person, basically, the god of the vehicle. Not even the airline can make a captain take someone on board that they don’t want to fly. The captain denies this boarding on the grounds that it’s a security issue to fly with us.

Obviously, we called our lawyer. We have a lawyer here that we just used for basic things that we have to do because we are a binational couple and we have to translate documents from Greek into Icelandic and stuff like that. We called her and tried to rescind this decision. I called the organization in Iceland, and they got in touch with SAS immediately but still the airplane just left without us.

Jonathan: That contacting the lawyer and then contacting the Icelandic Association, that was all happening while the plane was still on the tarmac, is that correct?

Ethor: Yes. We were trying to just getting through. We figured there must be some kind of misunderstanding, some kind of weird thing going on here, and if we can get through just to the airline itself, we might be able to fix it.

Jonathan: Did you request or have the opportunity to talk to the captain, him or herself?

Ethor: I requested that he come out and speak to us and explain to us, but he did not wish to do that was the message that I got.

Jonathan: You’re out of immediate options at this point. You’ve got no choice but to go home and not take your trip.

Ethor: Yes, so we just went home. I called up everyone I could think of, even the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Iceland is a very small country, so it’s not hard to get in touch with people that may even know you or know of you in situations where they’re possibly able to help. To make a long story short, we got in touch with SAS and SAS actually accepted that they had done wrong and agreed to fly us on the next flight, but the signal got lost and we never got the same person again to speak with us. We got them to rebook our ticket for two days later. It’s a bit hard to explain this, but you got to understand that we had an awful lot of calls with telephone centers of Scandinavian Airlines.

We basically had to start every conversation. This is me and another person that works for the Icelandic Association of the Blind. We had to explain the situation every single time that we talked to someone new. Basically, we said one thing and they said, “Hold on, I’m going to speak to my supervisor.” They rebooked our ticket, but they told us that in order to travel with the infant, we have to have a safety assistant. Somebody has to travel with us. They said that this person has to be on your own cost. This is a policy that they invented on the spot.

They gave us a sentence that said something like, “A person with disability must always travel with a safety assistant paid for by the traveling person.” Even if you go to their website, this doesn’t even make any sense because on their website they’re quite modern, they have good policies, they’re a Scandinavian company. We had originally selected them because my thinking was, “Okay, it’s a Scandinavian company. We’re probably not going to run into problems like this because there are disabled couples, blind couples that have children in Scandinavia and I’m sure that they have flown with their babies.”

Jonathan: This is a technique that airlines use a lot. If they want to dig in, they will say, “This is what the regulation says.” Then if you push back and you say, “Well, can you actually show me specifically what regulation you’re referring to?” of course they can’t.

Ethor: Yes. They gave a sentence and they even referenced me to go to their website to see it, and of course, we didn’t find it because it doesn’t exist, but they rebooked us for a Sunday flight. Our original flight was on Friday. When we showed up at the airport on Sunday, we were denied even checking in.

Jonathan: You turned up without any kind of third party, right?

Ethor: Yes, we did.

Jonathan: At that stage, the airline was still saying that you were required to travel with a third person?

Ethor: No. They actually had sent us an email that stated that they knew of our traveling and that we were traveling alone and with a baby.

Jonathan: As far as you were concerned, the matter was resolved and the three of you were good to go?

Ethor: Yes.

Jonathan: Then it happened all over again, but worse, because you didn’t even get past the check-in stage?

Ethor: Yes. What’s strange is that there seems to have been no contact and no response from the airline. It seems to be, the persons that answered the telephones that different people called, had their own response to this situation. I get the message, “Yes, you can go,” and then I call again and I get the message, “No, you can’t. You have to have a safety assistant.” I call again and I get the message, “You can fly. We just have to know that you’re flying, so that we can make the necessary arrangements for that.” It was all just a really messed up situation.

Jonathan: Immediately when you found that you were prevented from checking in, and I take it the reason they gave you was the same one, that you needed a third person, did you immediately return home or did you try and sort the matter at the airport? What happened at that point?

Ethor: We tried, but they said, “Our orders are clear. It says here, I have a report that says that you are not to fly without an accompanying person.”

Jonathan: You were flagged in some way then. When you checked in and your name came up, there must have been some sort of flag that gave those orders.

Ethor: Yes. That’s something that, at this point, I don’t know what exactly happened. I would really like to be able to get all the data concerning this issue and just try to piece together what was actually going on with the airport staff, with the staff of the airline, with the customer representatives, which generally, I think, are just kids working Saturdays and Sundays.

Jonathan: Yes. Exactly. It’s hard to get past the front line, isn’t it, and get to people who actually make the decisions?

Ethor: Yes. To make a long story short, it ended up that we found an Icelandic woman that was taking the same flight leg a week later. We got delayed by a week, and so we ended up traveling with “an assistant,” and we didn’t have any issues.

Jonathan: She essentially just filled the role they wanted?

Ethor: Yes.

Jonathan: She was just another passenger, but you said she was your assistant and they were happy. How did you feel about that? I suppose it’s a really difficult call to make in terms of what’s more important here, standing your ground, or actually getting away on your holiday and perhaps choosing to fight the battle another day?

Ethor: In this case, obviously we thought it was more important to go on our holidays. There was the pandemic. I left Iceland in November of 2020 and I hadn’t returned for two years. I quite wanted to go on my holiday, to go back and enjoy Christmas in Iceland, so that was the route that we took in that case.

Jonathan: You didn’t give up, and I understand that negotiations continued after that?

Ethor: Yes, we were backed by the Icelandic Association of the Blind, by their lawyers. They sent one letter to Scandinavian Airlines and they immediately agreed they’d been in the wrong. They didn’t even try to fight it.

Jonathan: What are the consequences then? Have you been apologized to formally? Have you received any kind of compensation? What’s the aftermath?

Ethor: They offered compensation that we refused and made a counter-offer and they accepted that. There is, of course, a start. As far as SAS is concerned, I don’t think we will be dealing very much with them, only in the case if we manage to open up some kind of dialogue and just ask them, “Hey, what actually happened? What made this possible?” Because obviously, they accepted that they were in the wrong.

Jonathan: Do you know whether the original captain, who seems to have precipitated quite a bit of this, is going to go through any kind of disability training because he’s clearly prejudiced?

Ethor: No. That’s one thing that I would like to follow up with. I would very much like to get a phone call from that man explaining his actions. I could say more, but that would not be appropriate for a podcast, I don’t think.

Jonathan: [laughs] Yes. I’ve had a very similar experience with an airline many years ago when my kids were closer to the age that your daughter is. There is nothing so– I’m trying to think of a word to describe this. I think it’s a primal kind of instinct as the one where, as a parent, you just want to protect your child and you will do anything to protect your child, and when someone tries to question that or question your competency as a parent, it’s perhaps one of the most difficult things to deal with, isn’t it?

Ethor: It is, definitely, and standing there in front of the gate and basically seeing the airplane leave in front of you, in front of your eyes, if we can use that term, was, I think, an experience that has had more effect on me and us than I realized at first, because I’ve just seen it now over the– It was quite a shock. We were both quite emotionally drained after this experience. You have a one-year-old there and I had her in a carrier, a front carrier, and I’m basically yelling over her head at the gate staff, so that was not a nice experience and probably one of the worst experiences that I’ve ever had.

Jonathan: The thing is, hopefully, she’s not old enough to really remember this, but I think as they get older and kids see the discrimination that blind parents are so frequently subjected to and the outright ignorance and bigotry that occurs, it affects the kids pretty deeply as well when they see it all happening.

Ethor: Yes, that’s a good piece of advice, I think, for me.

Jonathan: Yes, and it’s important to discuss it with them and explain what has happened here and sort through their own emotions.

Ethor: Yes, from what I understand what the actual issue is that a person with reduced mobility is not allowed by some airline regulations, I think that the law actually supports that, to carry a baby in their lap in the event of an emergency. We can cite here that a single person is not able to travel with two lap babies. There are quite many airlines that don’t allow you to travel with, for example, baby twins.

Jonathan: They’re concluding that vision impairment constitutes reduced mobility, and there’s nothing wrong with your mobility?

Ethor: There’s actually a line on SAS website that states, “A blind or a visually impaired person shall not be considered a person with reduced mobility.” I might add to that, that SAS accepts unaccompanied minors down to five-year-old children.

Jonathan: I discovered this story because I read about it in the media. Obviously, this has had some media attention and when that happens, obviously, a lot of these sites offer comments, it goes out on social media. What sort of feedback are you aware of once that story made it to the wider media?

Ethor: Everyone that I see on my social media is, of course, flabbergasted by this, or that’s what they say, and everyone is very supportive, but I know from friends and family that there are quite a bit of comments that are stating, “They shouldn’t have even tried, it’s correct of the airline to deny them.”

Jonathan: Stories like yours really are important, I think, for encouraging debate and it sounds like you have had a few opportunities in Icelandic media, other places, to advance the notion of capable, competent, blind parents. That’s got to be a positive, I suppose, that comes out of this, but as you say, you wonder has the airline actually absorbed anything, learned any lesson from this?

Ethor: I think this comes down to the people that were involved, and that we essentially were unlucky. I’m not trying to protect the airline by any means, but from their response, that they immediately accepted that they had been in the wrong. We were fully ready to go into a lawsuit with them to sort this out, but the fact that they immediately accepted that they were in the wrong and they owe compensation, tells me that there isn’t any one thing. There isn’t a policy written on some evil mastermind bosses’ memo that says, “Don’t allow blind parents to travel with their child.”

Jonathan: Yet, a cynic might say, “Well, they paid you money to make you go away,” and there’s still this residue of upset, of the distress that you’ve experienced. One of the things we have in our human rights legislation in New Zealand, that is far from perfect, is a mediation component, which I think has some quite healing elements at times, so that you can get into a room with the people who have discriminated against you, and essentially, have them understand the hurt that they have caused. Is that an opportunity in the legislation you have access to?

Ethor: I don’t know that. We’ve actually been taking a little bit of a break from this, but we don’t consider it over. We are back in Athens, and the return trip, we had no problems whatsoever.

Jonathan: With the same airline?

Ethor: With the same airline, on the same ticket.

Jonathan: How did you feel when you took that return trip after what you’d been through?

Ethor: I wasn’t afraid because I was in the airport in Iceland, and basically, everyone knew about our situation. I just didn’t think it was going to happen because the first flight was operated by Iceland Air, which we had been in contact with, and we knew that there wouldn’t be a problem in there. I just don’t think anyone is going to leave a blind couple with a baby stranded between flights on the basis of something like this, if you understand my drift. It’s just going to be really bad PR on their part.

Jonathan: I imagine quite a lot of media would have been watching and waiting and ready to jump in had there been any issue.

Ethor: We were ready, we had packed, so that one or two nights at a hotel would be easy, so that we wouldn’t have to go and get baby supplies and stuff like that.

Jonathan: Yet, all you’re trying to do is do what millions of people do every single day, get on a plane with your little girl, get to the other side, and enjoy your holiday. I suppose when something like this happens to you, there’s just that feeling in your gut, “When is it going to happen again?” What should be a happy occasion leaves you feeling on edge, wondering when something else like this is going to happen.

Ethor: I think you have actually worded quite well. My biggest takeaway, my biggest negative takeaway from this whole experience, which is that this can happen. I remember a conversation that I had with my mother just a few months back when we were actually booking this trip. The issue of two blind people flying with a baby came up and I was saying, “I don’t think we’re going to have a problem.” They may speak to us, they may be rude, they may blow themselves up, make as if they’re going to deny us flying, or do all sorts of this minor inconveniencing thing that I think everybody who is blind and has traveled alone knows about, but they’re not going to deny us the flight.

I even told her, “I know that a flight captain is able to deny whoever he wishes from boarding his plane but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.” That’s just something that happens to suspected terrorists and cases where, obviously, you have someone who is going to be a danger, someone who is obviously under the effects of substances or something of that nature.

Jonathan: I will share with you briefly my story, just to let you know that you’re not alone. My one is a little bit different in that I was at a conference when I was president of the organization of the blind. I had two children at that stage. One was two and the other one was just born. I was traveling with my wife to that conference and we were flying home and it was one of those really small planes that you get when you’re flying fairly short distances. I got on the plane, my wife got on the plane. I had my oldest child who’s my daughter, who features quite a bit on this podcast, and she was next to me, and my then-wife had our very young son.

We were sitting there all strapped in and a flight attendant came up and said, “Mr. Mosen, because you’re–” and he paused for a long time, and he finally said, “Blind.” I think he didn’t know what to call me or how to refer to me. He said, “We’re going to have to have your daughter sit with another passenger in case there’s an emergency, because then they can evacuate.” I said to him very calmly, “No one in the world cares about my daughter more than her mother and me. No one is taking my child away from me and sitting them next to a stranger and no one will make sure that heaven and earth is moved more than me to make sure that if there is an emergency, she will be safe.”

Now what happened then, because it was a small plane, everyone was listening to the conversation. The passengers spontaneously burst into a round of applause. Some of them started to say, “If you take this little girl away from her father, we are getting off the plane.” There was a rebellion. There was a female flight attendant who came along and heard what was going on and calmed it down and said, “You can’t take a child away from its father.” The flight attendant was chastened and had to apologize. The flight took off.

I was able to make a complaint afterwards about lack of disability training and insensitivity and stuff. I got another apology, but you just never know when that sort of thing is going to happen. For me, when I look back on it now, I look back on the positive of the fact that the passengers on that plane were totally with me. That plane would not have flown if they had taken Heidi away from me.

Ethor: Yes, I think your story, definitely, the base note is the same because it’s the same piece of policy that they’re stumbling over in this case. I don’t think any of the flight attendants or the staff actually, they have nothing to do with this. This is something that some board person in an office somewhere, at some point, wrote down into a Word document.

Jonathan: Or perhaps it’s even just a personal interpretation that an individual who has had poor disability training, thinks, genuinely believes that they’re doing the right thing. They genuinely believe that a blind person can’t possibly be a competent parent who can assist their child in the event of an emergency. They believe that with all their hearts. They think they’re doing the right thing by the child. That’s where the whole education thing comes in.

Ethor: Yes, I don’t know what the truth of this is. We were afraid that would happen, that they were going to make our daughter sit with our assistant on the flight, or at least in the takeoff and the landing.

Jonathan: They didn’t do that?

Ethor: They didn’t do that, no, which makes them, even by that act, they’re not following through with the policy that they stated existed.

Jonathan: Can I ask you about the advocacy strategy, and that sounds a bit clinical but I can’t think of a better term. You sound like a pretty calm guy, but everybody’s got their limits. How did you get this to a successful resolution and not just completely lose it with people who were so unjustifiably discriminating against you?

Ethor: [chuckles] I did lose it quite a number of times on the telephone when trying to resolve this. Fortunately, I had a colleague and a very good friend of mine that was backing me up a lot. I’m very grateful for the help that the Icelandic Association of the Blind showed us in this matter, because when you’ve been on the telephone for three hours and your hand is aching from just holding the phone up to your ear, I, at any rate, was feeling quite drained, quite just exhausted. You’re not getting anywhere with where you’re trying to go.

Jonathan: Sometimes you get so emotionally involved, particularly when a situation involves your child, that you’ve got to have that support and it’s important to try and step away a little bit.

Ethor: Yes. What’s just so jarring, what’s just so stunning about this whole situation is that I live here with my Greek family under the belief that I can at least go and visit my friends and family in my home country when money and other obligations allow for. Being faced with that not being a given, it’s a very difficult revelation. My hope is to be able to bring this higher up in the food chain, if you will, and try to get some European, at least, attention on to this matter, so that we can, at some point in the future, make sure that the intersection of being a parent and a disabled person will not have this consequence.

Jonathan: Well, I wish you luck with all of that. I also wish you luck as a parent because you’re getting into the toddler stage and they get into everything. It’s really exciting because they’re so curious, but boy, you’ll be busy. Just before we go, you run a podcast yourself. It is for the Icelandic Association, is that right?

Ethor: Yes.

Jonathan: What do you feature on the podcast?

Ethor: My main goals with it is to try to get material in that’s interesting and entertaining, and not just to necessarily a blind person. My goal is to be able to give it to my brother or a friend of mine. It’s going to at least interest them since they are connected to the field in some way. We used to have an audio magazine that used to post four-hour long full-on uncut recordings of general meetings. We’re just trying to steer away from that and make it into a bit more of a listenable podcast. I have lived in the United States and I’m very influenced by, for example, NPR podcasts. I really like all sorts of field recordings. Imperfect recordings onsite is, for me, the content that’s most fun to listen to in many cases.

Jonathan: For people who are bilingual and might be listening, particularly because you are on, so we might get some English speakers from Iceland who don’t normally tune in, how do they find it?

Ethor: It’s called Hljoobrot. If you want to put it in show notes or something, I can send you spelling. [crosstalk]

Jonathan: Please do. Yes, I’d be delighted. Well, it’s been a pleasure to talk with you. Give that little girl a big hug from us. I’m glad you finally were able to take your holiday. I hope that somehow there will be some positives that come out of this in terms of other parents who just want to travel like everybody else. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate that.

Ethor: That is our hope too, that nobody will ever have to experience what we experienced. As I understand it, it’s very rare or I haven’t at least found any cases of this happening. I hope that it stays rare and that it stays non-existent. Also, thank you for reaching out. It’s been a pleasure.

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

accounts of discrimination

This email comes from Angie Matney, who says, “Hello, Jonathan. First, congratulations to you and your family on the arrival of your grandchild who sounds beautiful.” Thank you, Angie. She certainly is. “During the discussion of Vanessa’s experience, you noted that we don’t seem to hear as much about incidents of blindness discrimination that don’t involve guide dogs.”

“I would like to share one such experience. I actually had my first guide dog with me on this occasion, but the situation would have played out the same way whether or not she was there. This happened about 17 years ago. I had to catch a connecting flight and my first flight was behind schedule. I had requested a meet and assist but they were not there when the first flight landed. I wasn’t worried though, because I had learned that the gate for my next flight was only two gates away. I figured I could get myself there easily enough if I found out which way to go.”

“I found the gate agent and asked for directions. She told me I had to wait for the meet and assist. I explained that I had decided to just go to the other gate because it was so close and I didn’t have much time. I could not have been more shocked by her response. She told me that she was not going to give me directions. She said she couldn’t do this because if anything happened to me along the way, she and the airline would be liable. This did not go over well with me. I couldn’t believe that she was lauding her mystical power of sight over me, but the solution seemed simple enough.”

“I said, ‘Oh well, you could have saved me a bit of time by telling me which way to go, but I’ll just pick a direction and turn around if it turns out I chose wrong.’ I turned to leave. She then became very annoyed with me. She said she would go with me even though she was not supposed to leave her post, and she proceeded to do just that. I couldn’t really stop her, but I did remind her that I had not asked her to accompany me. I had just asked for directions and she chose to follow me. I also told her that her conduct was discriminatory.”

“I didn’t have time to say much else because, as I said, we didn’t have to go very far. Miraculously, my guide dog and I made it there in one piece. Technically, two pieces, I guess. I’m pretty sure we’d have managed just fine even without our ‘sighted savior.'” Dave G is writing in and says to the story in episode 212 about the blind woman walking into a bar, “I had a similar experience when I was young. I was hitchhiking to a small town in Michigan to spend the weekend with my girlfriend at the time. I asked to be dropped off at a bar where I called her to come and pick me up.”

“While I was there, I figured I’d have a beer or two, but the bartender refused to serve me, saying that he was responsible for my safety, and I was cut off before I started. We discussed it some and finally, the guy sitting next to me offered, in a very drunken voice, to watch out for me. He said, ‘I’ll take care of him.’ I figured I wasn’t going to be there long and I didn’t really care, but when the guy started leaning on me, I kindly helped sit him back up straight. However, the second time he fell against me, I had enough and pushed him off his stool onto the floor. Of course, I got cut off after that beer, but my girlfriend was there by then, so it didn’t matter much to me.”

That, Dave, is what you call a parable. There’s really no need to say anymore about the irony and the hypocrisy of all of that.

Andy Rebscher: Well, hi, Jonathan and everybody else listening, this is Andy Rebscher with Three Blind Guy Moments from my recent trip to New York State. First, I was standing in an elevator with a friend and door’s open. I’m just about to turn and get off and this guy whacks me on the shoulder and says something like, “Good on you,” or whatever. “Congratulations for being a real blind guy and making it through this life.” That’s what I like to call the assumption of familiarity. Then there’s the person who walked up to me and said, “Hi, I haven’t seen you in a long time, but you recognize my voice?”

No, I didn’t, but that’s all right, I don’t mind if you want to play stump the blind guy because then I’d just have to say, “Nope, sorry, I don’t know who you are.” Really, I told you both those things so that I could tell you about this. My flight was canceled out of Newark coming back home to Maine because my local airport was closed. We had a huge blizzard and we were just boarding the plane and they said, “Okay, everybody, guess what? Ha, you got to get off of here. We’re done. This is canceled. We’ll put you up in a hotel. Everything’s going to be cool.”

Except that here I am, standing around with a cane, not knowing quite how I was going to succeed at all of this stuff. This nice person, Anabel, who works for United Airlines, said, “I’m a team leader, I’ll help you out. What do you need?” She helped me get to the hotel that they provided and the next day, on her own time, before she clocked in at the airport, she came to the hotel, got on the shuttle with me and showed me where to go to get back to the right gate and the right everything. It was just so easy and so lacking in stress and I just want to shout out to Anabel, thank you for your help.

Jonathan: Well, as that gentleman said to you in New York, Andy, “Good on you, good on you for doing that,” I always try to send a note to an individual who’s gone out of their way, who’s gone the extra mile, or even better, to their supervisor. Sometimes it makes people nervous even when I say something like, “Would you mind telling me who you report to because I really would like to write a note to that person acknowledging what great service you have provided.” It’s so unusual. Sometimes people think there’s a catch, but no, there’s no catch. I often write these notes.

I write to telcos, I write to people who’ve provided great assistance in various places and say, “So often we feel disempowered in these situations. This person asked things like, ‘How can I help?’ They really wanted to be there to provide excellent customer service and I appreciate it, and you should reward this person.” I think it’s good in two respects. First, it’s nice to just acknowledge somebody who has provided great service. I suppose some people might argue, “Well, that’s what they’re paid for,” but it doesn’t hurt to just spread a little love.

Second, I actually think it makes the giver of the gratitude feel good as well. Everybody wins and it also helps to keep things in perspective. I certainly am more than willing to complain and point out where things are not as good as they should be, but I always seek to balance that by sending out a lot of praise as well.

The original BlindShell has been abandoned and I don’t like it

Peter’s writing in from Hungary and he says, “Hi, Jonathan. This spring I bought myself a BlindShell Classic 1. It is a secondhand product in my case, but it works fine. I listened to your interview with the representatives of BlindShell USA and I was thinking about a question that bothers me a lot, that irritates me quite a bit with this company.”

“Let me grumble about it and maybe you will ask your audience if somebody wants to join. When BlindShell Classic 2 came out, it immediately stopped Classic 1 from getting updates. They just simply left us behind. Only BlindShell Classic 2 gets new updates featuring new functions. Although I understand that the Classic 1 hasn’t got the finest, strongest software in the world, I think we still could have some new functions. I’m convinced, for example, that a podcast player or an RSS reader would not consume so much resource that it made it impossible for them to work on this phone.”

“Imagine if Apple decided to stop sending updates for iPhone 12 or 13 users, a revolution would burst out. It is not realistic, in my opinion, to make all BlindShell 1 owners buy a new version. We may not get all the advantages that Classic 2 users get, I accept that, but still, it’s outrageous, isn’t it, to fall out of grace entirely so suddenly. I won’t deny that I feel betrayed. One more thing, Classic 2 owners’ horizon can seem cloudy if they’ll face the same treatment that we get from the manufacturer when the Classic 3 is introduced. Is it a good business strategy?”

Well, thanks for writing in, Peter. I do have to disagree on this one, and I do note that for a very long time, you kept an old Nokia phone, wasn’t it? Was it the N95 or a Symbian phone that was released a long time ago? I would also point out that making a comparison between a $400 blindness-specific product and a product that can cost more than double that from a mainstream manufacturer is probably not the most realistic of comparisons. I looked to see when the BlindShell Classic was first introduced, and the earliest reference I can track down is 2018. We’re talking five years now.

Actually, a lot of Google’s own flagship Android products don’t even get updates five years down the track. It is true that Apple looks after its customers, you do pay a premium for that, being looked after, of course, and the devices do get slower and slower. Even the really big players in the space are often abandoning phones that were released back in 2018. You can keep running them, but you will not get new versions of Android, for example. I think this is in step with the industry.

I think it’s reasonable, especially when you are dealing with a controlled environment where you have a group of engineers who are developing new software for a particular product, and to make it backward compatible with a device that they may find it difficult to keep the version of Android updated, there will be various costs involved in keeping that older technology going or trying to. I think five years or four is about right. Of course, others may disagree and you’re welcome to get in touch, 864-60Mosen, if you want to give us a call, that number is in the United States. You can also email with an audio attachment or write it down, jonathan@mushroomfm.com.


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Do we have a blind subculture?

Jonathan: Hello to Ken Scott who writes in and says, “Mosen At Large had a discussion about the idea of blind culture some time ago. I had nothing to share at that time, so made no comment. I recently listened to a podcast that discussed a situation similar to the blind culture question. The podcast suggested the idea of subculture as being an approach to the description of the situation. Do you see any value in the concept of a blind subculture?” Yes, I think so. I think that could make sense, Ken. It would be interesting to have some discussion on this among listeners who care to participate in these sorts of discussions.

I suppose subculture implies that you have a primary culture and that primary culture may well be your ethnicity, your country, that sort of thing. Subculture might be blindness, yes. I think that’s something that’s worth discussing. I suppose it comes down to whether people consider blindness to be their dominant culture and perhaps other things to be their subculture and maybe that’s a personal thing. It was really interesting to hear the views that Shermeen Khan was sharing some time ago when she talked about blindness, I think, really being a kind of a dominant culture, and that other cultural factors, there were several that play a part in her life, being essentially the subculture.

Maybe we will all feel differently about what our dominant culture is, for want of a better term, or our primary culture and what our subculture is. Sure, the first thing is that not everybody agrees that blindness is a culture of any kind, sub or otherwise. I’m not sure I always did, but Amanda has actually convinced me of that, who came on the show to talk about this, so I do subscribe to the idea of a blind culture of some kind. I wouldn’t have any objection to calling it a subculture either.

Audio description without Dolby Atmos

Over the break, Rod Khan sent in a couple of emails about audio description taking away our Dolby Atmos. Some of us love our Dolby Atmos.

For those not familiar with what that is, this is surround sound on steroids. You have sound coming from above you, from around you. It is an immersive thing, and it can actually cost a few dollars to get it all set up in your house. It’s the kind of thing that, dollars and pounds and things permitting, a blind person might want to do. If you’re blind, you’re not going to benefit from a massive flat-screen TV are you, but you are going to appreciate being immersed in the action. When you have to make a choice between hearing what’s going on on the screen described to you and being immersed in the action, it’s understandable people are going to get a little bit disgruntled about that.

I have not heard anybody who’s gruntled about it. Are they gruntled about this happening? No, they are not and quite right too. Let’s look at these emails from Rod. He first said, “Hi, Jonathan. I purchased a couple of movies from iTunes at Christmas, only to find that they didn’t play the Dolby Atmos track unless I disabled audio description on my Apple TV 4K. Okay, I got a refund on one of them, but I kept the other Top Gun: Maverick and have since been in correspondence with Apple about this issue and posted feedback on iTunes regarding this issue. I would encourage anyone else to do likewise, as this is the only chance of getting some action.”

“I can only guess at the problem but it would seem to me that Apple are getting a feed from Paramount or Disney and passing it on. Of course, if we could get them to channel it through Apple TV+, then there might be a chance of us getting Atmos and audio description at the same time. I don’t know what the issue is with Paramount and Disney, et cetera. Is it their lower bandwidth or just a lack of motivation? After all, it would seem to be a simple matter to combine the audio description track with the center channel track. Sure thing is nothing will change unless we find a way to affect the bottom line of these movie houses, and stirring up Apple might go some way to help.”

Three days after that, Rod wrote this, “Hi, Jonathan, thought that I would give the Disney+ helpline a call today just to start rattling cages about them disabling Dolby Atmos when audio description was selected. A nice guy on the technical issues extension of the helpline advised me to write in to Disney via the feedback area of their helpline on their help page, so I complied. Are there any more Atmos fanatics out there? Then please do likewise and we might just might get somewhere. Like the old charity mantra, ‘If you don’t ask, then you don’t get.'”

Good on you for pushing this one, Rod. It is so frustrating, isn’t it? I know that you have invested a considerable amount in your Atmos gear. From having had correspondence from Rod in the past, Rod’s not just using an Atmos soundbar, which is actually what we’ve got here at the moment, he’s gone the whole hog, he’s got the full speaker system all over the place. I’m sure it took some considerable lobbying to get his budget director to allow this. When you’ve gone to that trouble to get it all installed, it’s pretty disheartening when a primary target market for this kind of material, blind people who really appreciate the audio, are being deprived of that audio.

I just think it is neglect, Rod, because my understanding is, if you were to get this on a blu-ray disk, you’d have exactly the same problem, so I don’t think it’s bandwidth. We know that it’s possible to do it because Apple’s own production houses are doing this. When they obviously make their specs, they are insisting that the Atmos soundtrack be available with audio description on top, so we know it’s doable. One suggestion I have for you, Rod, is, you may or may not have caught the interview I did with Joel Snyder last year who’s been involved in audio description since its inception, and he’s involved in the American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project.

I understand they are hot on the tail of this issue as well. There’s always strength in numbers and ACB is probably able to make some connections that it will take many of us a long time to make. If anyone is listening from the ACB Audio Description Project, or anyone for that matter, who has some information about how advocacy efforts are going on this issue and what we can do to support those advocacy efforts, please do be in touch, 864-60Mosen is my phone number in the United States. 864-606-6736. You can email me or attach an audio attachment to an email and send it in to Jonathan, J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N, @mushroomfm.com.

Has anyone used the BrainPort?

Sandra Piltz is writing in and she says, “Hi, Jonathan. All the best to you in 2023, and thank you for the podcast. I’m currently reading quite a few research articles on orientation aids for blind people and I’m noticing a gap. On the one hand, there are articles describing devices and ideas including product names I’ve never heard of, and many of them I would not want to use. On the other hand, there are the apps and tools we enjoy using and which were developed with the community, for example, Ariadne GPS, BlindSquare, the Sendero products just to name a few.”

“I came across the BrainPort which is a device stimulating one’s tongue to create images of the surroundings. I had heard of the BrainPort before but thought it was just a research project. However, I checked and found the product website. It is www.wicab.com. That’s W-I-C-A-B.com. I’d be curious to know if any of your listeners have tried this device. Was it helpful or do you know anyone who uses it and enjoys doing so? The thing I find most off-putting is wearing it on my tongue and maybe not being able to speak properly if someone talks to me while I’m out and about.”

Thanks for writing in, Sandra, with an excellent question. I would love to get some answers to this because I do remember when the BrainPort first came to my attention, it was on social media a few years ago. What happens with a lot of devices like this is that the media gets very excited and you get headlines like, “New device can help blind people see,” and all this sort of stuff. The most recent one is these smart shoes. There were just hundreds of articles last year about these smart shoes that were supposed to give you all sorts of guidance when you’re walking around.

It turns out, I think, that they’re insoles, so you can wear them in whatever shoes that you would normally wear but you get haptic feedback. People got really excited about this, at least sighted people in the media did. I remember the BrainPort created similar excitement and as is often the case with these new so-called revolutionary devices, blind people were quite skeptical. Some blind people were downright mocking, and I do remember though, reading a rebuttal from somebody involved in the project, who said, “Don’t be so quick to mock, this is real, this is effective, blind people are using it. It’s a way of getting information that your eyes would normally give to you in a very effective way.”

That was some years ago now, and I’ve not heard about the BrainPort since. I would love to hear more. Please, if you are using one, if you have used one, give us the scoop.

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More on meditation

Jonathan: Now take a deep breath in through your nose, and a deep breath out either through your mouth or your nose because Francisco is writing in about meditation. He says, “Hello, Jonathan, I know you’ve discussed this before, but you constantly try out new things and this could have changed. I am looking for a good meditation app and heard of Calm from a sighted friend. I would like to know what meditation app you were using, because I think it could help me sleep better, as well as melatonin.” Well, Francisco, Calm is a really good app. Bonnie loves the Calm app because of the sleep stories that they have.

There are various offerings in Calm, including a daily 10-minute meditation, I think you can vary that into that a bit. They have masterclasses on certain subjects, which are very well done. They have a whole lot on sleep, including various sleep meditations to help you drift off. Then there are those sleep stories, a big collection, read by some famous names in some cases, designed to help you drift off while you’re listening to a story. I think there may be some music tracks as well, so Calm’s pretty good. I also like an app called Ten Percent Happier, which is produced by the broadcaster Dan Harris. They recently had a really cool series of sessions with the Dalai Lama, so that’s good as well.

Headspace, it’s been around for a while and it’s quite popular. I just don’t find Headspace resonates with me as much, but it’s a fine app. They’ve got a lot in there as well, so plenty of good meditation apps out there. There’s nothing terribly new in the space. One thing I would say is that I don’t think I have mentioned an app in the past called Brainfm. You can go to their website, actually, brain.fm and you can log in there and use their service that way. Most people will use their app though, it’s available for iOS, and I presume for Android as well. I’m not convinced that I’m getting the full Brainfm experience, I think there may be some accessibility issues with the app.

This apparently is backed by science, I tell you, science, and they have various soundtracks that are designed to help you do certain tasks. You tell Brainfm whether you’re focusing, whether you’re meditating, whether you want to drift off to sleep, and if you choose sleep, you can specify how long you want to sleep for. If you’ve got the ability to have some stereo headphones on that you can sleep with or earbuds you can sleep with, or maybe a pillow speaker, we just got a new pillow speaker for Bonnie, by the way, which is called the Drowsi pillow speaker. It’s spelled D-R-O-W-S-I. This is a very comfy pillow speaker that you just put on your pillowcase.

It’s nice and soft, and you get very good sound with this thing. Anyway, however you do it, you play Brainfm when you’re drifting off. I have to say, it works wonders for me. One of my big problems is not so much getting to sleep, but in the past, it has been staying asleep. I can wake up at 2:00 in the morning and the moment I wake up, my little brain kicks into action and it thinks about things and it comes up with ideas, and oh man, I’m jumping. It has been, in the past, hard for me to get back to sleep if I wake up.

Now I don’t know whether it’s just imagination on my part or whatever it is, but if I put Brainfm on with a sleep soundtrack, I’m not saying it works 100% of the time, but it works an awful lot of the time, I can drift back off to sleep again. Mercifully, drift back off to sleep again. It is a very interesting app, you have to subscribe to it. It’s $6.99 US for a month and it’s $49.99 for a year. Quite a nice saving there if you subscribe by the year. The science around this is interesting. It’s not just the weird and wonderful music that apparently has been– well, I don’t know whether you’d call it music really.

It’s a soundscape and apparently it’s been tuned by science. It’s not just the sound. It’s the way the sound is played apparently, the rhythm that apparently helps your brain to get into sleep mode. Now I don’t know whether it’s gobbledygook. I can only tell you that it does seem to work in interesting cases for me. There are plenty of other free options out there. There’s a thing called Sleep Radio which comes out of New Zealand, which plays music designed to help you sleep and I think that’s available on TuneIn and all the usual suspects.

I have been known to drift off to some Bach from– which one is that, the place that has a Bach station? It might be Calm Radio, I think, which is completely separate from the app that’s called Calm. Calm Radio also has a lot of sleep tracks and things but there’s something about this Brainfm I tell you, it’s interesting. You might want to check that out at brain.fm. Now, Bonnie, she’s not convinced. She tried it for one night. One night, and then she said, “I don’t think this is for me. I’m going back to the sleep stories on my Calm app,” but if any of our listeners tried Brainfm or have some other thing that they listened to to get them to sleep, maybe you could put your local legislature on. That’ll work.

Congress, parliament, whatever you call it where you are, put that on, that’ll help you sleep. Anyway, let us know what works for you.

                                    Any advice on being a DJ?

This email comes from Matthew Whittaker. He says, “Hello, Jonathan and all Mosen At Largers, hope all is well and 2023 is off to a great start for all of you. I want to write this email focusing on the topic of deejaying. For those who don’t know, I’m a musician who plays piano, organ, drums, keyboards, and percussion. I am curious though, how a DJ setup would fit into my workflow. I do know a few blind friends who DJ and it seems really fun.”

“It’s very tactile, which is nice. There is a developer called Algoriddim who make a software available for iPhone, Android, Windows, iPad and Mac called DJ Pro AI. It has been out for a while and they are constantly making improvements for those who use voiceover. I’ve been in contact with them providing feedback on accessibility. A note for Windows users, they are going to improve screen reader support for the app according to the response I got when I was asking about it. The link to their website is as follows, it’s www.algoriddim.com, that’s spelled A-L-G-O-R-I-D-D-I-M.com.”

“There are other software apps that are available, one being Virtual DJ, which does have an accessibility extension. Anyone know how to get that working on Mac? I can’t find the instructions, only the ones for Windows users. Serato, spelled S-E-R-A-T-O, is another popular one, but as of now, it is not accessible. I’ve contacted them asking if that could be changed, but they said they didn’t have plans to do so at the time. It would be great if users would contact them regarding accessibility. I did contact them again yesterday. We’ll see what they say. To finish out this email, I have a few questions for you.”

“Any tips for someone like me starting to DJ? What controllers and other mixers do you suggest going with? I did pick a few ones I liked but I’m curious to hear what you have. Reloop Mixon 8 Pro and Reloop ELITE. I’m also considering getting a DVS vinyl. For those who don’t know what DVS is, it stands for digital vinyl system. It allows you to scratch on vinyl, and different DJ apps offer specific features for DVS as well. Hope to hear from you. I hope to learn a lot and have fun. Thanks so much for all your help and guidance.”

Thanks, Matthew. Let’s see if we get any comments on this. The DJ app from Algoriddim is really good. I have a play with it sometimes but I’m no expert, I don’t have any DJ hardware, so let’s see if anybody can help with your questions.


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

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