Podcast transcript, Mosen at Large Episode 219, AI makes its presence felt in the blind community, exciting news from CSUN, and first-hand experiences of the Sense Player and Victor Reader Stream

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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, artificial intelligence makes its presence felt in the blind community, an exciting announcement from CSUN, and firsthand experiences from users of the new SensePlayer and the Victor Reader Stream.


Mosen At Large Podcast

Welcome Indiana

Jonathan: Thanks for being here for another episode. This is 219. Of course, if this is your first episode, a very warm welcome to you. It’s always great to have new listeners with us. We like to have a look in this day and age where our episode numbers are starting to match United States and Canadian area codes at the area code that matches the episode. Since ChatGPT is just taking the world by storm at the moment, I thought we would get it involved in this. We will ask it about area code 219. Tell me about the US area Code 219.

ChatGPT: Searching for USA area code 219. Area code 219 is a telephone area code in the North American Numbering Plan for Northwest Indiana, including the state’s portion of the Chicago metropolitan area, which includes Lake, Porter, La Porte, Newton, and Jasper Counties. The area code includes the cities of Schererville, Chesterton, Lake Station, Lowell, Crown Point, Cedar Lake, Hobart, Whiting, Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, and Valparaiso.

Jonathan: In that case, that’s just a pure fact, right? It’s exactly the same information as I got from Siri, but thank you very much for taking us through that then. I actually did not know that parts of Chicago fall into the State of Indiana. I thought that Chicago was all about Illinois. It just goes to show we’re always learning, and hopefully, we can facilitate that learning here on Mosen At Large with all the things that we talk about.

Be my Eyes and Envision embrace Chat GPT

ChatGPT is being integrated into all sorts of things, and this is accelerating with the release of ChatGPT Version 4.

We will talk about this briefly on the tech bulletin, but I want to talk about it here because there are a couple of very interesting use cases for the blind community that ChatGPT-4 is making possible. When I worked for Aira, we would do presentations at CSUN about what AI might be able to do for the agent experience or the general Aira experience over time because Aira was collecting a lot of data about the way that blind people use the technology, some of the visual information we were seeking to access. The thought was if you can build on that data set and get AI algorithms working on it, you can automate a lot of this and that lowers the cost of the service.

Now, Aira seems to have moved away from that, and apparently, just concentrating on that core business of providing human agents, and that’s a very valuable service. Meanwhile, other technologies in the mainstream seem to be playing a bit of a part in this. I don’t think it’s exactly the same as what Aira had in mind because a lot of the things that Aira had in mind were very blindness specific. Nevertheless, with ChatGPT Version 4 having been released this week and offering the ability to interpret images, it has opened up all sorts of interesting possibilities.

The first one is that Be My Eyes have been in beta with a virtual volunteer. Now, you can go into the Be My Eyes app now and register your interest in getting access to this virtual volunteer. I don’t know what timeframes they have in mind. We’ll see if we can find out further information from Be My Eyes about this. The idea is that you’ll be able to use ChatGPT’s ability to examine images and extrapolate information from those images and have people ask questions about those images to get a virtual volunteer. I think there will be a lot of blind people who will feel more comfortable using a virtual volunteer than some random stranger.

In some of the information that has come out on this use case for ChatGPT-4, from Be My Eyes, they talk about a Be My Eyes user pointing their camera inside their fridge. The ChatGPT can take a look at the items in that fridge. It will identify them for you, but it will also potentially tell you recipes that you can make with those ingredients. I use WayAround tags on clothing. For example, I’ve got quite a big tie collection, and it’s important to me that the tie I wear is appropriate. If I’m going to something a bit sombre, I don’t want to wear a really celebratory tie, so I have these WayAround tags.

Obviously, if I’ve got the ChatGPT-powered virtual volunteer working the way it should, I should be able to hold up a tie or an item of clothing and have it describe that to me in quite some detail. This AI is contextually aware so you can have a conversation. If you think of some of the apps that we have on our phones now, which give you a description of a scene, and that can be quite helpful, but once you’ve got that description, you can’t really interrogate it further. With this, you will be able to do that because of the contextual awareness. Now, another company that’s getting into this understandably is Envision, and they have announced ChatGPT Technology coming to the Envision glasses.

What I don’t know at this point, and I will try and find out and maybe that will become clear in the coming days, is whether this technology is also coming to the app because I can’t think of a technical reason why it couldn’t come to the app. If it doesn’t, I would think it’s a marketing decision as they try and make the glasses more attractive. The idea is that you will take a picture of a document and when a sighted person has a document in front of them, I find it quite interesting that sighted people narrow their intake based on what they think they will see on the page.

For example, if you put a page of text in front of somebody, often people just don’t take in anything else other than what they want to look for. For example, the price of something, and they can look for that dollar sign or a numerical value and quite quickly extrapolate that information. It’s harder to do that when you’re blind. We can do it in the sense that if you’ve got a piece of text on the screen, you can use your screen reader’s search function and search for a dollar sign or something like that, so it is doable. When you’re scanning information though it can all just take a bit longer.

When you’ve got this document scanned with the Envision glasses, and I do hope the Envision app as well, but time will tell, you’ll be able to ask questions like, “What’s the total on this bill?” and it will give you the dollar amount. If it’s a bill, and you have a query about that bill, you can say, “What’s the email address on this document?” or, “Is there steak on this menu?” It’s a way of getting it information that you need, and I’m sure that there’ll be other use cases that come to fruition over the next little while with this ChatGPT technology.

I’ll tell you one that I have used myself since Bing got the upgrade. Just because you’ve been blind from birth, it doesn’t mean that you’re not interested in what people and things look like. If you’ve listened to me for any length of time, you will know I’m a major Beatles fan. I have read pretty much every book about the Beatles that I can get my hands on. One of the things I found this new image feature of ChatGPT very good for is describing the physical appearance of the band members. If you ask Google, for example, to describe what John Lennon looks like, you’re going to get a lot of Instagram pictures back and Pinterest, and all that kind of thing.

You’re not just going to get a textual description that makes sense to a blind person. With the new Bing powered by ChatGPT, it’s a completely different situation. Let’s try this. Describe in detail to a blind person what John Lennon looked like and his typical clothing.

ChatGPT: Searching for what did John Lennon look like. Searching for what did John Lennon wear. John Lennon was known for his unique sense of style. He wore wire-rimmed with round or slightly off-round frames and temples that wrap around the ears to keep them in place. These glasses are sometimes called tea shades, Windsor glasses, or round granny glasses. In the early days of the Beatles, a young Lenn wore thick-rimmed black eyewear, similar to the signature specs, favoured by 1950s rock and roll artist, Buddy Holly. He also wore vintage round glasses. As for his clothing, Lennon was known for his casual and comfortable style. He often wore denim jackets, turtlenecks, and button-down shirts. He also wore a lot of black clothing, including black leather jackets and black jeans. He was also known for wearing white suits and white clothing. I hope this helps.

Jonathan: Let’s keep going. What did he look like? Oh, I think it’s going to take its time on this one. Should we sing a little song while we wait or something? [sings] It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working–

ChatGPT: Searching for-

Jonathan: Oh.

ChatGPT: -what did John Lennon look like? Searching for what did John Lennon look like physically. Searching for what did John Lennon look like physically, clothes. John Lennon had a slim build and was about 5′11 tall. He had brown hair and blue eyes. He was known for his unique sense of style, which included wire-rimmed.

Jonathan: All right. We’ll stop that because it’s repeating itself there, but there you go. That now gives you a really good understanding of what he looked like and what he wore. I didn’t know before that he had brown hair, and I didn’t realize he was 5’11. That’s new information, and it’s presented in an accessible friendly way. A lot of fun with ChatGPT, all sorts of apps are implementing it, including the CARROT Weather app. Yes, that has ChatGPT complete with all the snark. If you’ve used CARROT Weather before, which is a really fun weather app actually, you’ll know about all the snark that it offers, and their ChatGPT implementation doesn’t disappoint.

Now the TechPress are saying that Apple feels considerably threatened by ChatGPT. I don’t blame them because even when you compare Siri with the previous generation of voice assistance, it hasn’t really stacked up, has it? It keeps finding something on the web and inviting us to take a look. I understand that engineers are now looking at whether they should just start again with a completely new model because Siri hasn’t fulfilled its promise. I remember we were talking about this on the 10th anniversary of Siri and saying how disappointing it is that after 10 years we can’t say things like, “Book me a flight that leaves Wellington for Auckland on the 13th of May between a certain time,” and have a list of relevant flights just come back and complete the booking.

Now, we can’t do the booking yet but listen to this, because I actually do have to travel that weekend. I’ve been invited to speak at a podcasting conference in Auckland because someone has worked out that since I’ve been podcasting since 2004, I may well be New Zealand’s first podcaster. Dude. I’m speaking at the New Zealand Podcast Summit that weekend. I’m really looking forward to that, and my son Richard is coming with me. We’re going to enjoy that. Anyway, let’s try this. Let’s see what we can get. Find me flights from Wellington, New Zealand to Auckland, New Zealand, departing the evening of the 12th of May 2023.

ChatGPT: Searching for flights from Wellington to Auckland departing May 12th 2023 evening. I found a one-way flight from Wellington to Auckland departing on the evening of May 12th 2023. The flight is operated by Air New Zealand and costs $69 per person. You can book the flight on the Air New Zealand website. Here is the link to the Air New Zealand website.

Jonathan: We’re having a lot of fun, and if you are too, tell me how you’re getting on with either the original ChatGPT or the new one that’s integrated in Bing. How are you liking it? What do you think? By all means, be in touch, jonathan@mushroomfm.com. On the email, attach an audio clip or just write your email down, and of course, you can also call the listener line 864-60Mosen 864-606-6736


Mosen At Large Podcast

Optima is an exciting new product set for next year

Jonathan: Over the last week, the CSUN Technology Conference has been on in California. I may sound like I’m getting old. Well, that’s because I am, but it sure beats the alternative. That I can tell you. [laughs] It seems to me like the CSUN conferences are not what they used to be, and that I suspect is because we’re all so connected now. When a company is ready to announce something big, it just does. It doesn’t have to wait to get a bunch of people in one place. It can reach many more people just by issuing a press release and using social media wisely, and I guess getting word out to podcasts like this one.

It’s been a wee while since I’ve been totally wowed by an announcement to come out of CSUN, but they got me this week, and they got me good because I have been an advocate of a product like this for a very long-time. I think there is a need for it. I think the ElBraille was sort of nearly there, but the ElBraille had quite a few constraints and limitations. For me, the fundamental error of the ElBraille was that it was essentially a cobbled-together series of items rather than an integrated device with a QWERTY keyboard. I think when you’re working in Windows, it’s just easier to use a QWERTY keyboard.

The product from AccessMind and Orbit Research called the Optima is, to me, very exciting, and it’s absolutely on the right track. It’s slightly frustrating to me that the lead time is so long. They’re announcing it now at CSUN, and they’re saying it’s not going to ship until 2024. Because this is such a new and exciting project, I think we’d all be understanding if there’s a bit of slippage there because it is something quite new and exciting. There’s also quite a bit to clarify, so it’s possible that based on the press release, which I will read, the Optima is also modular like the ElBraille.

I do wonder whether what you’re getting is a computer possibly with a QWERTY keyboard or possibly a Bluetooth keyboard and your choice of Braille display. That’s not made clear in the release. You know what they say about speculation filling a vacuum. There’s a lot of speculation on Mastodon that actually this is just a combination of existing products in the same way that ElBraille was. We’ll just have to wait and get more information on that. Nevertheless, if they do it right, and they pull this off, then it is a big improvement in my view over the ElBraille.

I’m not really one for reading verbatim press releases on this podcast, but I am going to make an exception for this because I think it is really exciting technology. Rest assured we’ve got an interview request in on this one. Hopefully, we will be able to ask the questions that you want answered. Here’s what we have, AccessMind and Orbit Research announced the launch of the Optima Braille Laptop Computer today at the 38th Annual CSUN Assistive Technology Conference. Providing all the capabilities of a state-of-the-art laptop computer and adding complete modularity for flexibility in hardware and software, the Optima Braille Laptop pioneers an entirely new class of products.

Traditional Braille notetakers are extremely expensive, have very limited hardware capabilities, lock users into a closed system that is obsolete, the day it is released, and offer software upgrades that are few and far between. These notetakers require both students and teachers to learn specialized proprietary user-interfaces, and they have to re-learn the use of mainstream computing platforms such as Windows or Mac computers as they enter the workplace. The Optima changes this forever by offering all the power features, functionality, configurability and upgradability that people have come to expect from common desktop computers.

It is an optimal combination of a full-featured mainstream computer with Braille, with a lowercase B, and speech output, and a QWERTY keyboard in a sleek and compact handheld form factor. A high-performance Windows-based machine that can accomplish any task from word processing and internet surfing to highly demanding professional workloads such as video editing and software development. It is the only product that puts users in complete control by offering them complete configurability before they purchase it and full upgradability after.

The modular platform allows users to configure every aspect of the hardware and software. Built upon state-of-the-art hardware, the Optima offers the latest generation of Intel Core i5 and i7 laptop processors, memory options from 8 gigabytes to 64 gigabytes, onboard storage from 256 gigabytes to a massive 2 terabytes and beyond. A choice of Braille technology options is also available. Orbit’s signage quality and affordable TrueBraille or traditional piezo cells. With the latest Wi-Fi 6E standard and Bluetooth 5.2 technology, Optima allows fast and reliable wireless network speeds.

The product is also the first Thunderbolt 4-certified Braille device. See, in that case, they’ve got an uppercase B for Braille. I guess they’re hedging their bets on the controversy, offering industrial leading data transfer capabilities with speeds of up to 40 Gbps. It also includes the peripherals expected in a high-performance mainstream laptop, such as high-quality stereo speakers, beamforming microphones, and a fingerprint sensor, and adds accessibility enhancements such as haptic vibration feedback. Optima’s hardware flexibility extends to its ports, allowing users to pick any four from a wide range of popular ports including, USB Type-C, USB-A, HDMI, SD cards, and storage expansion modules.

The modular ports offer plug-and-play interchangeability and can even be swapped on the fly. Optima also provides a Braille terminal mode and can be connected to any smartphone or computer and used as a Braille display and keyboard. The software on the Optima Braille Laptop is equally flexible. The unit comes pre-installed with the Microsoft Windows 11 operating system, the best mainstream computing platform for accessibility and productivity. With Optima, users no longer have to use out-of-date versions of operating systems or wait for the device vendor to push updates to them.

They can always stay secure and up-to-date through Microsoft’s upgrade facilities. Since it is a standard Windows computer, the user also has a choice of screen readers with support for NVDA, JAWS, Narrator, and SuperNova screen readers. The Optima comes with the NVDA screen reader pre-installed, configured with speech and Braille output, and ready to use out of the box. For users who prefer a dedicated Braille-optimized user interface, the Optima includes AccessMind’s specially developed Braille UI software. Braille UI provides a simple note-taker-like, custom-designed, Braille-first user experience for a set of common applications such as a book reader, Braille editor, calculator, and file manager to seamlessly bridge the gap between a dedicated user interface and the mainstream Windows experience.

Braille UI also includes high-quality speech synthesis from Cerence Vocalizer in addition to the voices built into the Windows operating system. Weighing just over 3 pounds and measuring 11.7 by 7.5 by 1.3 inches, the Optima is compact and lightweight, but rugged and durable. The Optima Braille laptop will begin shipping in the first quarter of 2024. After the transformative changes that have been brought about in the education and professional assistive technology field by Orbit’s breakthrough products, such as the Orbit Reader and the Graphiti, the Optima now further levels the playing field by offering a no-compromise solution that bridges the gap between mainstream and assistive technology products.

No word at all on pricing in that release, but clearly, the Orbit version of this is going to be quite a bit cheaper because of the Braille cell technology they use. Those cells, unless they’ve improved the technology, are noisy and slow, so you will get a better product if you pay more, and I guess that makes sense. Let’s await more information on pricing and the nature of this technology. I’m okay if it turns out to be a modular combination of technologies because we know that Braille displays have a lot of moving parts. If you need to send your Braille display back for servicing, you don’t want to be without your laptop, do you?

If they’re using existing off-the-shelf Braille displays or something like that, it would be good to have some transparency around this. What Braille display are they using, how’s this all work? We will, as I say, seek to get those answers for you. I love the sound of having a laptop that has a Braille display. It is amazing how much drain on battery life the screen has. I do wonder though, what might have happened if they’d have put an ARM version of this together, because an ARM processor with no screen running, say, JAWS for ARM processes, would I think give you phenomenal battery life. What do you think of the possibility of the Optima?

Have your say here on the show. Transcripts of Mosen At Large are made possible thanks to Pneuma Solutions. Remote Incident Manager is taking the blind community by storm and for good reason. Don’t just take my word for it, look at some of the organizations who’ve deployed this easy, fully accessible way to give and get remote assistance on your computer.

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Tech Roundup


Adam: This is your Mosen At Large tech roundup. A quick look at some interesting items making news this week. I’m Adam, an AI voice from ElevenLabs. Microsoft has caused some consternation by, without warning, changing the way its Windows Insider Program works. The change means that those on the developer builds of Windows have been upgraded to more experimental Canary builds, which may be more unstable. Insiders will be able to opt out once the next stable version of Windows is out, but if they want to opt out before then, they’ll have to perform a clean install of Windows.

The company has been criticized for not making this change known at a time when users had the opportunity to stay in developer builds without all the hassle of a clean install. Aira, the visual interpreter service, has released a new universal app. It’s available for both iOS and Android, and it’s based on the technology that has been used on its explorer website for some months. Although universal, the app looks and feels native to the operating system it’s running on. There are some new features, including the ability to use the front-facing camera when calling an agent.

The Aira-live feature, which allows users to share their session with a wider audience, appears to be discontinued. The old app is still available for now. In the iOS app store, it’s now called Aira-Legacy. If you want the new app, you’ll have to search for and download it. It’s called Aira Explorer. As we’ve already heard, ChatGPT continues to take the world by storm. The big tech news this week has been the unveiling of ChatGPT Version 4. Its processing of images is opening up some exciting use cases for the blind community. Open AI, who produced the model, say it’s also better at problem-solving and creative tasks.

If you want a powerful but affordable Windows-based laptop, Dell may have the answer. They’ve released a new Inspiron 14 powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8CX Gen 2 processor, and it sells for just $499. This is an ARM processor, so battery life is impressive, clocking in at 16 hours between charges. The device is fanless, meaning it’ll run silently even under a heavy load. It has a 14-inch screen, a USB-A port, and two USB-C ports, as well as a headphone jack. Yay, headphone jack. It boasts 256 gigabytes of storage. JAWS for Windows now works with ARM processors, so this could be a way to get a great little machine for a very reasonable price.

Dell has had some audio issues in the past that have had negative impact on screen reader use, and it’s not yet clear if this is the case with this new machine. At its recent Ability Summit, Microsoft announced a new accessibility assistant coming to Office 365. Microsoft describes it as like a spelling or grammar checker that points out accessibility errors in your content and offers suggestions on how to fix them. The accessibility assistant will begin rolling out soon and will eventually replace the current accessibility checker. Classical music fans rejoice.

The long-awaited Apple Music classical service launches on the 28th of March. To get it, you’ll need to download a separate Apple Music classical app from the app store. If you search for it now, you can set your device up to receive the app as soon as it’s released. Although it’s a separate app, there’s no additional charge to use Apple Music Classical if you already have an active Apple Music subscription. Apple says at launch, Apple Music Classical will offer over 5 million tracks. A good number of which will be in spatial audio and lossless audio quality. That’s a quick look at some tech news this week. Now, back to you, Jonathan.

Windows podcast players and twitter

Jonathan: Let’s go to the UK for a miscellany of comments from Brian Gaff who says, “Do you know of a podcatcher for Windows that respects your chapter markers?” I’m using an old one, which seems to be using normal Windows media playing codecs. Although you can go back and forth and all that, it has no chapters.” I don’t listen to any podcasts on Windows, Brian, because I prefer to just load up my phone and take my podcasts wherever I go. I’m not aware of any Windows players that support chapter markers other than I think I heard that VLC might do it, but that’s not a podcatcher as such.

It is only a player, and I’m not sure whether it actually does play the kind of chapter marks that we’re embedding into the podcast. Let’s put it out there. We have had a bit of a discussion on the blind pod maker email list about Windows podcatchers, and there aren’t many of them around, unfortunately. On another topic, Brian says, “This may well not be possible legally or functionally, but I do notice that there are now Usenet to web forum translations working back and forth. Some more successful than others. I wonder if using screen scraping techniques, whether using some kind of software, a gateway between Mastodon and Twitter could be fashioned by some enterprising person.

If it did not use Twitter’s APIs I don’t see how it would upset anyone.” Well it would probably upset Mastodonians, Brian, because a lot of people frown upon cross-posting between Mastodon and Twitter, Twitter has its own culture, Mastodon, in my opinion, has a much better one. People who routinely cross-post from Twitter to Mastodon usually get unfollowed because it’s not what most of us on Mastodon want. He says, “I was listening to the Nature Podcast this week, and apparently using the API, a lot of research is done on the Twitter data. Now, Mr Musk is talking about monetizing this and many cash-strapped researchers say it will put the field back a couple of decades if he does this.

It seems to me he has taken this on with no real appreciation of the pluses and minuses that such funding models will create. People will just go away, not pay.” Yes, they’re doing that already, Brian.”With regard to ad blocking, I am in two minds about this. If the people who make the adverts can be made to make them accessible, then I do not have a problem in the most part, but so many are completely graphical or worse, animated. It rather spoils all the work done by a site creator to make it accessible in the first place. More and more I find that when I subscribe to pay for a newspaper or magazine, the page I end up in is in itself inaccessible, often being a mere picture that looks like the magazine or paper with no text on it.

It’s silly when you realize that the news in brief, you can see with the free option is normal, web-based, and accessible. Writing to a couple of local magazines, they just do not see the problem, or maybe they just don’t want to see it, having spent a lot of money on getting it to look right. One local publisher sends me a PDF, but, as has been discussed earlier, seldom is it tagged for reading order when the columns change. What is really needed, I think, is those who are now being taught about software and writing websites need to have had a mandatory grounding in how to do accessibility.

I approached one software writer about three years ago, and he told me that it was written in a language which was compiled for different platforms, and so no access information could be embedded in the original code. Bonnie was touching on other engineers. I’m particularly interested in street design engineers as most have no clue about blind people and allow buses to deposit passengers in a live cycle lane or allow bikes and pedestrians to share a footpath with just a painted white line on it. Worse still, the use of footpaths with no actual level changes at turnings and no tactile either, are supposed to be safe as pedestrians have the right of way in law.

However, this law is less than a year old, and in any case, how do you count turnings if you don’t know where they are anymore? These are all pretty fundamental errors, and yet they have money wasted on them. Even after asking the various disability groups, they do it anyway as it looks better. I don’t know how these things are done in other parts of the world, but we here in the UK are supposed to be a clued-in country looking after minority groups, but really, some of the decisions made do seem ludicrous.” Thanks, Brian. We are far from perfect here in New Zealand, but we do have a standard that actually got put in place all the way back in the 1980s.

It’s Standard 4121, and that came up with a nice compromise about curb cuts so they are discernible enough for blind people to detect, but not so daunting that they pose problems for wheelchair users. Some of the other issues you mentioned, certainly they are real here as well in some parts. The whole question of the footpath, or, as they call it in the United States, the sidewalk, is a hot-button issue. Oh man, I remember being involved with the consumer advocacy group in the 1990s in New Zealand, and we produced a video called Who’s the Footpath For?

Even then, there was a lot of campaigning to get bikes off the footpath, and, of course, this does incur the wroth of parents who say, “We don’t want our little Johnny or Janie going out on the road.” I understand that as a parent and a grandparent myself, but, man, the footpath is getting pretty crowded these days. Now, we not only have the bikes to contend with, we have also got those pesky e-scooters, which are the bane of many of our existences and have caused all sorts of hassles and accidents, and things like that. It is getting difficult to be a pedestrian.

Increasingly so.

Scanner/Printer combo

In Episode 217, Brant was asking for advice about scanner printer combos. Here’s Carolyn Pete from sunny Auckland. I hope it’s sunny, Carolyn because you guys certainly deserve some sun. She says, “Hi, Jonathan. I am not sure if this is helpful or not. I have a Brother,” oh, brother, yes, “I have a Brother printer/scanner/fax machine. It works really well with Windows, fax, and scan. If I have needed any visual support for operating the printer, for example, to see which print carriage is empty, I just phone the Brother Support Center, and they have been wonderful.

As long as you know the buttons on your machine, they can talk you through any process that requires someone to read the screen. I wanted to do a clean and explained I was blind, and they talked me through it. Then I got the wonderful sound of the process starting.” That’s awesome to hear, Carolyn. What a great tech support story, so, congratulations, Brother, for looking after a blind customer so well.

The difficulty getting Braille manuals for Braille embossers

Where’s Alanis Morissette when you need her, ay? Where is she? We’re going to talk about something that’s ironic. I should say, tangentially, that I don’t think Alanis fully grasped the meaning of irony because some of the examples she cites there are not irony.

I think I’m digressing so let me go back to the irony, and this really is irony, of having a Braille embosser manufacturer, the very people who make it possible to generate lots of hard copy Braille not produce, not offer a hard copy manual for their own device. Here’s Catherine talking about this. She says, “Hi, Jonathan. This is in reference to Episode 213, which I know was aired a while ago, and I’m sorry for my delay in listening and sending in this comment.” With an excuse note like that, Catherine, how can I possibly not forgive you? “I’m just getting caught back up,” she says, “on your podcasts due to my Victor Reader Stream dying quite suddenly a few weeks ago.

It took me a while to find a suitable replacement, and ironically,” there’s that word again, “I chose to purchase a used Stream 2 rather than upgrade to the Stream 3. As confirmed by many of the listener comments on your show, the modest upgrades the Stream 3 offered did not seem worth paying over $500, and when I could get a Stream 2 in great shape for less than half the cost. I’m actually writing about the lack of Braille,” with a lowercase B, “manuals available for Braille embossers. I would like to share my experience. I am director of a disability services office at a university in the United States, and about a year and a half ago we purchased a ViewPlus Premier embosser.

This is the same company the other listener wrote in about.” This is Diane who wrote in about this. “I am totally blind, and the only person in my office familiar with Braille embossers or how to set them up, so, logically, the setup was my responsibility. The embosser did not come with a Braille manual and the PDF version online was exceptionally difficult to navigate as it did not have any headings or usable table of contents that would allow a screen reader user to jump to the section they needed. I ended up converting the PDF to a Word document and used the Find command to navigate the manual as best I could.

Fortunately, I was able to set up the embosser independently, but not without a lot of extra effort. I did provide feedback to the company not only that their PDF manual was not accessible, but that they should consider having documentation in Braille. To the listener who said ViewPlus told them no one had ever asked for documentation in Braille before, I can confidently say this is not the case. Organizations such as the one I work for are indeed the primary buyer for embossers like these, but the assumption that the end users of these products are cited is simply wrong.

Not only am I, the one with the purse strings, totally blind, but so is the student who is the primary user of the embosser. Why shouldn’t he have access to the manual as well?ViewPlus should include a Braille manual with every order, or, at very least, the option to request one at time of purchase, or any time in the future. Thanks as always for the thoughtful and informative conversation.” Thank you for sharing that experience, Catherine. I appreciate it. What can I say? I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s an extraordinary situation that a Braille embosser company that should have pride in its products can’t even use one of those products to produce a manual for their own product.

Announcer: Be the first to know what’s coming in the next episode of Mosen At Large. Opt into the Mosen media list and receive a brief email on what’s coming so you can get your contribution in ahead of the show. You can stop receiving emails anytime. To join, send a blank email to media-subscribe@mosen.org. That’s media-subscribe@mosen.org. Stay in the know with Mosen At Large.

Questions about the new Bing

Jonathan: A follow-up on our feature in Episode 217 about Bing powered by ChatGPT, and this is Christian. He says, “Hey, Jonathan. I have a couple questions about the new Bing. One, is it possible, after Bing answers your question, to do the magic tap to initiate the microphone to ask follow-up questions, or do you have to double-tap the button every time?” The latter, Christian. The magic tap at this stage does not work. “Two, can you use the Microsoft Edge Mobile app to chat with it, or do you have to use the Bing app? If you can use the Microsoft Edge app to do it, how do you get to it? Is it different from using it in the Bing app?”

I haven’t done too much playing with Microsoft Edge on my phone except to say that I imagine that if you qualify for the new Bing, you can go to bing.com and choose the chat link, and then it will be a fairly similar experience at that point.


Dean: Hey, Jonathan. This is Dean Martineau here in Brevard County, Florida, and I am waiting expectantly, in a couple of years or so, for Issue 321 for the Brevard County area code. I want to tell you about something that somebody is going to want to use this. A man named Drew Weber has created Notey, N-O-T-E-Y This is a 2023 souped-up, super powerful Braille ‘n Speak, Braille in, speech out battery operated Windows 11 computer. He has described how you can put it together, what to buy it. It needs to use JAWS. He has written scripts to make it so that Braille in works really well with JAWS.

Costs between USD 350 and USD 550 or so depending on what you already have of these components. The explanations are very thorough, and so, go ahead and check out. It’s notey,N-O-T-E-Y-project.com. I think it’s going to be interesting to see if somebody uses this. It’s given me ideas of maybe wanting to do something similar if not exactly that. Uses a Orbit Writer Braille keyboard for its Braille input and JAWS 2023 with his scripts.

Jonathan: Good to hear from you, Dean. Hope you’re doing well, and nice to hear that Drew is still rocking and making a contribution because Drew was one of the early fun guys on Mushroom FM. He used to do a show called Rebel Fusion. It’s really good to know he’s done well for himself, and he’s making this contribution to our community.

Eleven Labs

Tristan AI Voiceover: You’re listening to ElevenLabs Radio where we turn the volume up to 11 and rip the knob out. We’re almost to the top of the hour, but before I blow this joint in search of something more exciting to do like watching a silent movie, I want to tell you about a great podcast called Mosen At Large. It’s the one-stop shop for all things tech and blindness. If it wasn’t for Mosen At Large, there would be no ElevenLabs Radio and no me. Now, that would be tragic. If you haven’t already, go to your favourite podcast app and look for Mosen At Large.

Tristan: Hi Jonathan and Mosen at Largers. I usually don’t tend to send voice clips into this program. I prefer to write my messages, but this one needed it. The previous clip that you heard was actually a clone of my voice on ElevenLabs, and as you can tell, it doesn’t massively sound like me because the accent is in US English. On the other hand, it sort of does sound like me because I put a bit of work into this voice. I actually uploaded four different samples of myself. I’ve been having a lot of fun with ElevenLabs since the interview on Mosen At Large.

A whole bunch of us caught onto it at once, and I’ve discovered a little hidden talent that I didn’t know I had. That was to create very, very short character sketches using different voices. A bunch of friends very kindly lent me their voices when I had started doing this, and let me make characters out of them that are nothing like the original people because most of the voices don’t sound like their alter egos. They’re not Australian for a start. We do have a couple of British people. One, I’ve had to stop using her voice because it is very, very similar to her original voice.

I feel like I’m putting words in her mouth, and the character I created for her is nothing like the original person. I’ve got a bit uncomfortable with that one, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it. Most of the others don’t really sound like the originals, and I’ve got full permission from the people to use these voices. We’re only sharing them among ourselves.

I’ve created this talent to sketch out a scene in about 500 characters or less, sometimes a bit more. It just depends on what needs to be said. That’s my voice, the Tristan voice. It has four samples.

They’re about a minute each, but I uploaded myself doing different things. One, I’m just speaking normally, and in one, I am talking in a very low voice, which is quite hard to maintain for a minute because I don’t normally speak like this, and I feel like a bit of a pratt. There’s one of me singing, and one of me sounding like I’m on the edge of laughter. I can’t do a whole fake laugh because it sounds fake. If I think of something funny enough, I can sound like I’m just about to have a bit of a laugh. I put that one in to give the voice a bit of spring, a bit of freshness and a bit of dynamic range.

I also had a voice that sounded like I was hungover. I did this whole thing about how I went to this party, and it was so wild. It was a good one except that it introduced a lot of vocal fry into the voice. I actually had to remove that sample, and I don’t know whether I will use that one at all because it was quite hard on the ears. Anyway, I’m here today to expand on a point that Michael Marshall made about the character quota in ElevenLabs. Now, it’s probably not a massive issue for someone just generating a piece of text using one of the pre-made voices because they can be quite good at doing nuances, and light and shade.

You don’t have to do a lot to them to get them going. If like me, you’re using cloned voices to create characters, and you want them to sound fairly human and realistic, then it can take quite a few goes to get it right. Sometimes you have to modify the script. I’ve put some words there in all caps so that they were stressed, putting in more exclamation marks than usual, ellipses, to get it to breathe, I can get that one to breathe, and yes, it depends how good the sample is too, obviously. Every time you generate a new piece of text, it eats into your characters.

For instance, this one was about 590 characters, and it took quite a lot more for me to get it right. I think I did about five. I had about five or six gos, I modified some text. Even if you don’t modify the text, you can generate it, and it sounds different each time. Until I was satisfied with it, it took quite a long time, which means I probably wasted about 3,000 characters. I don’t consider it a waste because I didn’t want to just send in the first one that came along, and it wasn’t all that good. What I would like to see, rather than getting rid of the character quota because ElevenLabs is a business.

They’re not here to provide a free service to anyone, and if they did that, they’d go under. What I’d like to see is an edit function. It would be great if while you’re producing something you could put it into edit mode. That way when you generate the text you can play back your efforts, you can modify the text, you can generate it again, and then it doesn’t eat into your character limit. While the file is in edit mode, it wouldn’t be shareable. You wouldn’t be able to upload the audio anyway, so you couldn’t get around the system and not use your characters.

It would literally just be the text box, a play, rewind, and fast forward, and possibly access to your voice settings as well if you wanted to mess about with the voice. Then when you’re satisfied, you hit the Save button and the whole ElevenLabs opens back out. You can upload, you can download your audio. You can do all the things with it that you can now, and then, and only then will it eat into your characters. A 596-character document would literally be a 596 characters out of your quota. That’s what I’d like to see, but, yes, I’m having a lot of fun. I am.

I’m creating this little tiny audio drama, but it is very specific to a group of friends of mine. I can’t really share it here because there’s a lot of in-jokes and stuff that people wouldn’t get, but I’m enjoying creating [chuckles] these characters and making up very, very short stories and having to be economical with characters, and say it quite succinctly.

Jonathan: Of course, you sound great with the accent you have Tristan, but you sound very good indeed with the American accent too. I’m glad you’re having fun playing with that thing. A lot of people are and people are still posting some really cool stuff to Masterdon with Eleven Labs.


Mosen At Large Podcast.

Ad blockers

Jonathan: Hello to Pete Sheppard who says, hi, Jonathan. I just started listening to your podcast this year and so far I’m really enjoying it. My ears especially perked up when you mentioned ad blockers on the recent episode, as I’ve been thinking of getting one, but was not sure how accessible they might be. The one you mentioned sounded great, but I’m not sure I can afford it sadly.

In your searches for a solution, did you perhaps find any at a lower cost, but with less configuration options before you found and chose Wipr? Alternatively, I wonder if you or any of your listeners happen to know of a good low-cost ad blocker for Windows something accessible for a screen reader user. Any help or suggestions most appreciated. Good to hear from you, Keith, and I’m glad you discovered the podcast. I hope you continue to enjoy it.

The price of Wipr in the app Store is $1.99. If that’s going to cause an issue, I guess you’d be looking for a free option. I don’t have any suggestions for you, but others may. I didn’t object to paying for that, and I think I even tipped them as well within an app purchase because I’ve just paid for it once and it does its thing and I never think about it. I have tried turning it off and when I do, I really notice when it’s not there.

In terms of a Windows option, I’m using something called ad block. It gets a bit confusing because I think there’s a very popular tool called Ad Blocker. As I understand it, Ad Blocker does let businesses opt out of the ad blocking by paying, and I wasn’t keen on that. I do have an extension which works in Chromium browsers called Ad Block and its subtitle is Best Ad Blocker.

Now, I can’t tell you whether it is the best ad blocker. What I can say is it was accessible to set up. I installed it in Microsoft Edge, which is currently my browser of choice, but it would work equally in Chrome and Brave, and any other Chromium-enabled browser. Again, it just does its thing. Every so often I get a message telling me that the ad block has been updated and that’s really all I know about it.

If others have any tips for ad blockers, both for iOS and for other platforms, please let us know because the accessibility benefits are unfortunately quite considerable in terms of making sure that those pages aren’t full of animations and all sorts of difficult things that can trip screen readers up.

Braille display recommendations

Justin was asking us about Braille displays in episode 218, and we’ve got some responses to this.

Let’s go to South Africa first and hear from Brant. He says I am currently using a Humanware Braille 1 also sold as the Safari in SA. It is as all Humanware Braille devices are top-notch in the Braille department. I really like it for its size, but I dislike it for the same reason. It is a 20-cell unit which is fantastic when travelling with it, but on the other hand, it is only 20 cells of Braille, which is a pain when reading lecture notes when I teach students.

My hope is to replace it in a few years with the Mantis. By the way, oh this is good to get this update regarding my rather angry voice recording I sent to you, I actually got an apology from Core Group for their staff’s behaviour. That is great to hear Brant. That is the resolution you should have received, so I’m glad there’s a positive outcome there. My one hope though is that they also undertake to do some disability confidence training so that other blind people or any disabled person who seeks to get some redress isn’t subjected to the same thing that you were.

George Mcdermott writes, greetings Jonathan. Thanks for the great podcast. Always look forward to the new drop on Saturdays. Regarding Braille displays, with an uppercase B, I’ve had less pleasant experiences, but I’ve always felt lucky to have electronic Braille in any form. Although I love the QBraille, I find the support from HIMS leaves something to be desired. My current display, the Mantis has become my all-time favorite QWERTY keyboard, easy connections via Bluetooth and internal memory for storing books.

My Mantis has travelled well with me and I use it every day at work, university, and at home. The price is decent also. Recommend it to anyone considering a new display. It was this very podcast coupled with a friend’s demonstration of theirs that got me to take the plunge and I have never looked back. If there were an issue with the Mantis, I would replace it directly. It has become such an important part of my daily life. Owned it for two years so far and no need for repairs as of yet. Knock on wood.

This discussion started because Justin is concerned about the number of times he’s had to send his Focus 40 Blue 5th generation away for repair. Here’s somebody who concurs with that observation. Doug Lawler is writing in. He says, hello, Jonathan. I purchased a Focus 40 Blue 5th Generation back in March 2020, and the amount of trouble I’ve been having has been unbelievable to say the least.

The problem is always the same. Cells keep going out on it. One dot in a cell tends to go, making this thing an absolute miserable experience to use. This unit has gone back for repair at least six times since I bought it for this same exact problem. This unit is out of warranty now and there are at least eight cells again exhibiting this behaviour. I feel so let down by this company.

From what I’ve been reading and talking to people over the years, I’m not the only one experiencing this. The mainstream community would be so up in arms if they purchased an expensive product such as this and experienced the same issues I’m seeing here. The only thing I can do at this point is pay out of pocket to get it fixed or just put up with it. My unit is totally useless for any meaningful work.

Thank you, Doug. I regret to say I have had exactly this experience with the Focus 40 Blue 5th Generation. I’ve had a couple of units where cells have started to have dots that won’t go down. I have also seen dots that don’t go up, so it seems to work both ways. I thought it was just my bad luck. Then I started talking to others and it has come up on this podcast before and there’s absolutely no doubt this is an issue. This is some flaw of these Focus Braille displays.

I’ve used Braille displays for a very long time, all the way back to the Versa Braille which is over 40 years ago now. I can tell you I have not had as much trouble as I have had with the Focus Braille display and the ghost dots. I’m very careful about reading with clean hands and clearly given how often this is coming up, it is not something that I am doing.

There is something fundamentally flawed about this product and it is quite concerning that people are returning these units and still getting units back with the problem, which suggests that whatever the manufacturing defect is, it’s not being addressed and the product is being sold regardless. That’s actually one of the reasons why I was so keen to get the Mantis. I have had the Mantis now for I can’t remember when I got it. Was it during the pandemic? Possibly. That’s nearly three years and I have not had a single issue with the display. The dots are fine.

Christopher Wright says, hi Jonathan. I have what I believe is the Focus 40 Blue from 2009. It has the wheels at either end of the Braille cells which is actually very useful for scrolling through content. Yes, those are the whizz wheels and they were pretty good, although one of the problems they developed over time was a crackle effect, which you get with volume controls that you constantly turn up and down. They were a very nice touch those whizz wheels.

Best of all, says Christopher, I got it for $300, or $350. I forget the exact number off the top of my head. My mum found a lady from Canada selling it because she was getting a newer device and I said, “Get it now, now, now, now.” For $300 or $350 it’s an absolute steal. I had to clean a couple of cells with isopropyl alcohol, but I’ve had it since 2017 and it’s awesome.

I don’t know what condition the battery is in, but I primarily use it over USB. I’m not sending it to Freedom Scientific, both because I don’t know if they’d service something that old, and because they’d probably charge more than what I got it for in order to replace the battery. Since it’s not new enough to support the HID standard, I can’t connect it to my iPhone using a cable.

I encourage everyone to request Apple to add the same universal plug-and-play USB Braille support found in macOS to iOS and iPad OS. It works really well in ChromeOS, and apparently, the newest talkback can do it so there’s no excuse. Besides, a wired connection is more reliable and could potentially be a necessity for a blind deaf user who relies exclusively on Braille.

Thanks, Christopher. I don’t think that Vispero has got into the HID standard yet for its Braille displays. I stand to be corrected because although I have Focus Blue 5th Generation here, and last I checked there were no ghost dots, it’s not something that I use regularly. I don’t think that they have gone HID and maybe they will do that when they release their next Braille display, whenever that is.

Alexander says, I personally use a Papenmeier 80 cell display called Braillex EL 80c. What I really like about this is that it is a pure Braille display. It has no built-in functionality, just outputs Braille. Yes, I like that too for basic Braille displays. I guess there seems to be a little bit of blurring of the lines between what is a notetaker now, and what is a Braille display. I guess devices like the Brailliant and the Mantis, and to some extent the new Focus are reflecting that.

He says, for my iPhone, I use a Focus 14 Blue Gen 5, but I am not using the built-in tools like the editor. While we’ve got Alexander’s attention, he continues, CRM systems. I have implemented a CRM system in the organization I now work for. As we went to Office 365 with Teams and the Office Suite, we started using the Dynamics CRM system. For our organization, we use the Marketing Module as an add-on, we use it to send out mass emails and organize events like webinars, I find the interface very accessible.

The accessibility is also very good when you do customize the system. For example, I can myself create new views of data, filter it, order columns, or add and remove them. The interface is the same all over Microsoft products. If you for example, know the web client for Teams, SharePoint Online, the admin center, or other interfaces, you will find the same controls all over the place. I hope this helps a little, and I am happy to share more if the community is interested. Much appreciated. Thank you so much for writing in Alexander.

Narrator: What’s on your mind, send an email with a recording of your voice or just write it down. Jonathan at 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 864-60Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.

Survey on accessible poker

Jonathan: This email comes from Sauders who says, dear Jonathan, I would like to draw your attention to an exciting project that would finally provide a solution to an old problem. Currently, visually impaired individuals who want to play poker online can only do so on platforms specifically designed for them. There is no interface that would allow blind players to compete on equal footing with sighted players.

Blind Poker could provide a solution to this issue. It would be a Windows client that connects directly to popular providers and casinos with official permission from the poker app developer via an API connection. Blind Poker is fully accessible with dedicated keyboard shortcuts and compatibility with almost all screen readers. There was a usable version of Blind Poker in the past, but it was discontinued at the end of 2021.

Not enough effort was put into promoting it and only about 20 to 30 visually impaired individuals used it regularly, so the developer decided it was not worth the time and financial investment. Before we dust off the program, we would like to conduct a survey to determine the level of demand for it. This is where I would like to ask for your help. Could you please mention Blind Poker and the survey in your podcast?

The survey only consists of three questions and can be accessed at this URL, https://bit.ly/blindpoker, If you have an interest in this, then I’m sure that they would be flushed if you would complete that survey, Bit-ly/blindpoker.

The Castro podcast app has become less accessible

Sometimes people say to me, “Do you like surprises? I say, it depends on the surprise. I was reminded of this when I got this email from Kevin.

He says, hi Jonathan. I woke up today to a huge surprise and accessibility degradation of the Castro Podcast app after the update that apparently came yesterday while I was sleeping. The bragging update notes about enhancements to inbox and cue presentation/views sounds so wonderful until I tried to use the program. It doesn’t appear that the developers had any thought or planning as to voiceover accessibility implementation.

Looking at the blog and Twitter feed for Tiny Podcast/Castro, it seems quite dormant. Maybe this latest update was a bolt on or the software was sold to developers who didn’t put any thought into accessibility, or I am in a parallel universe today. I find that I can’t even get a reasonable list of episodes with no filters enabled and the text descriptions seem to wander onto other episode listings, which is quite problematical.

Is there a magic pill that I should take? Should I wake up from a bad dream or just decide to go back to reading Braille, with an uppercase B, books instead of listening to podcasts? Don’t do it, Kevin. Don’t do it. Don’t abandon mine anyway. Seriously, he says, has there been a new wonderful podcast player that anyone has come across?

Peter: Hi, Jonathan and all Mosen at Large, it’s Peter from Robin Hood County, hoping you’re all well. Firstly, Castro has had a rebuild. I got an update last week and I’m so chuffed. I’m not erudite enough to do a review, so I will leave that to people that are more expert. It has really cheered me up and it’s come just before my payments are due. Secondly, to the person who is having difficulties with Siri, if I’m sending emails to organizations or professionals, such as businesses, or people like you, Jonathan, I tend to use Voice Memos.

I don’t bother with dictation. Voice Memos is a good substitute. I know all the at largers are very, very technical but these are small things that are easy to miss. I thought I’d offer that as a solution. Finally, thank you for the book recommendation, I will look it out. I will offer you one in return, it’s called The Vanishing of Margaret Small. A very interesting book. I found it on– Well, Elaine actually found it on Kindle.

Jonathan: Well, thank you, Peter and Kevin. Peter, I wonder whether you tried the new version of Castro before you sent that in and whether you are having any issues with it, whether you’re just chuffed because it got updated, or whether you’re chuffed because of the way it’s now working? Because, yes, I can confirm that there has been a significant accessibility degradation in the latest build of Castro.

I still have it on my phone, but I did not renew my annual subscription when it came up in January of this year because frankly, I don’t think they’ve earned it. I’m really disappointed with Castro, I devoted an entire episode to Castro and I know a lot of people got the point of it and switched to it. When it works and it’s being updated regularly, it is a very elegant solution.

It’s an efficient solution to be able to just whiz through your inbox and say, yes, I want to read this, add it to the queue. Then mark all those that you don’t want to read for deletion in one go. It’s incredibly efficient. Castro made some optimizations to the way that podcasts were being voiced. The order in which things were voiced based on some suggestions that I gave them, but things did start to go wrong.

One of the first things that went wrong is I noticed that some podcasts with Castro were taking a very long time to refresh. There’d be new episodes published and unless you manually went into each feed for the podcast and pulled to refresh, it could take days or even weeks before you got an update. That was a concern. Another was that some newer podcasts weren’t showing up, or even some podcasts that had been around a fair while you would search for them in Castro you would just get no result at all.

Yet, if you searched for them in other podcast apps, you would, but I stuck with it because I liked the user interface so much. Then during the iOS 16 beta cycle, things really unraveled and certain podcasts didn’t play for certain people. Pinecast, which is where we currently host Mosen At Large, seemed to be particularly affected by this. A lot of Castro users were writing to me to say, “What’s wrong with your podcast?” I tell you.

Actually, nothing was wrong with it. Something had gone wrong with iOS 16 and Castro. That’s why we have a beta testing process, so I wasn’t overly anxious about it. I thought this was bound to be fixed at some point during the cycle. Apps misbehaving is the price you pay for being on the cutting edge and doing the beta testing. I wrote to Castro about this. What was concerning was they basically just stopped responding.

There wasn’t a fix that was issued when iOS 16 came out, so a lot of podcasts stopped working. Then it started working again for some people, but not others. It was a very intermittent hit-and-miss affair. I even contacted Pinecast to talk to them about it. They as always were incredibly responsive. They always respond in a helpful, timely way, but basically said, “Look, we’re not sure what we can do. We haven’t done anything here.”

It’s obviously with Castro because they’re the only app affected. When they stopped responding and there was no update to Castro for such a long time, I considered that it might be abandonware and that’s why I cancelled my subscription and reluctantly moved along. If you go back to episode 195 of this podcast, I did a piece where I evaluated podcast apps from a blindness perspective and based on my requirements.

I fully accept that my requirements are, some people would say discerning, some people would say overly finicky. I’ve been making and listening to podcasts since 2004 when podcasts started, and I know what I want. Castro was very good when it worked, but I reluctantly use Overcast now. I say reluctantly because I can’t feel particularly good about the app. As I said in episode 195, it’s nowhere near as efficient to use as Castro and I find voiceover gets incredibly sluggish when I’m playing podcasts, so it’s hard to do other things with the phone while Overcast is playing, but it works, you see.

You’ve got to have an app that works. When I noticed that Castro were putting out TestFlight builds two or three weeks ago, I was excited about this until I had a look at it. I actually think that Castro has lost its way. I don’t think that these new features are particularly good at all because the whole point of Castro was that you have this inbox where everything sits and you don’t have to think too hard. You just skim through– it’s like your email. You skim through what’s come in in my podcast email box today as it were and then you flag those that you want to read.

Now it’s got a lot more complicated, and I guess you can get used to it. You can turn the filters off. The trouble is, it is not accessible. It really has got some serious accessibility issues now. I must confess I didn’t contact them about it because I’ve lost confidence in the app. I’m very happy to work with an app developer that has problems if they’re truly interested in fixing those problems and they’re responding in a timely manner and it looks like there’s a good dialogue going on.

That seems to have gone with Castro now. I’m not clear what has changed, what’s going on there. Now to be fair, I also came up with quite a few suggestions for Overcast in episode 195. The only reason why I know that Marco, the developer of Overcast, heard those suggestions is that he mentioned the Mosen At Large podcast on his podcast. Hi Marco, if you’re listening to another one, I appreciate you being out there and listening.

In his podcast, he did actually acknowledge that some of the things that I said were true, and he’d like to do some work on them at some point. I’ve not been able to have any dialogue with him. I’ve written to him. I’ve pinged him on Masterdon, that sort of thing, and he doesn’t engage and I guess that’s his choice. He does have a lot of users. I’m not truly happy with any podcast app out there at the moment, and that is unfortunate.

I suppose if Castro started communicating properly again and started putting out updates on a regular cadence and addressed some of their issues, I could be tempted back. For now, I think there really is a gap in the marketplace for an app that is not only accessible, but efficient. This is something that a lot of people don’t seem to get. Accessible apps can be extremely inefficient apps.

You can kill the community with kindness. You can be overly verbose. I think some of these podcast apps have fallen into that category. It is a shame about what’s happened to Castro, but you could always try. It might be that nobody’s told them that their app is not voiceover accessible anymore, so you could try and ping their support and see if you get anything back.

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.

Comments on Sense Player and similar devices

Ali: Hello, Jonathan. It’s Ali Cassie [phonetic]here from Birmingham, England, chiming in regarding the SensePlayer. Now just by way of background, I have one of these things in my hand. It’s a really nice device. It’s got some really cool features, I think, that make it stand out, especially when compared with the new Stream. Obviously, I haven’t seen the new Stream yet because it’s not available in the UK. That’s a disclaimer. Stereo speakers, stereo microphone, FM radio, OCR, just to name a few off the top of my head, removable battery.


Ali: This thing has got a removable battery, so that made me happy. To be honest, as soon as I saw the page on the HIMS website when I was directed to it by a friend, which enumerated all of the features and there were a bunch of them, I was hooked. I was sold. I’ve never been like that about a product I don’t think in living memory. I’ve never seen one article on it and thought, yes, I’m going to buy that.

Up until then, it was always my intention to buy the Stream 3. I was looking forward to buying the Stream 3 for months and months because the rumors were going on about a new Stream. I think even going as far back as [unintelligible 01:15:58] 2022. The first rumors I heard was somebody, I think, writing into your podcast saying that a whisper from Humanware was that a new Stream was coming out.

As far back as almost a year ago, I was looking forward to the new Stream, but this just turned my head as soon as I heard about it. I’ve never really dabbled with HIMS products before, but I’ve got this here. The buttons are extremely nice. I’ve had a good play with it. The speech is vocalizer, which is an improvement on Acappella in my view. Obviously, everybody’s got a view on TTS engines, but this is very nice.

Daniel Vocalizer: [unintelligible 01:16:38] media player, [unintelligible 01:16:40] player, document reader, FM radio, OCR, web radio.

?Speaker: That’s Daniel, of course. You’ll be very familiar with Daniel because he is a very commonly used voice, especially here in the UK for people who use vocalizer. You can actually go into the voice installer and install any number of– I say any number of. I don’t know how many you can install, but you can install from a bunch of vocalizer voices for different languages. I have tried the stereo internal microphones. They’re extremely good. They’re not going to be something that you’d compare to, for example, my Roland R0-5 MP3 Recorder because that’s a professional recorder and you’d use that for professional tasks.

For most everyday tasks, even important things like perhaps you were recording meetings or university lectures, this is going to serve you very well. The speakers are very, very good as well. As I say, stereo speakers. It runs Android 11, so it’s got this Android thing where it’s got a number of volume controls. It uses voice volume, media volume. I think it’s got volumes for each independent thing that you’re in.

Then it’s got a main volume. That takes some getting used to, I think. I don’t think I’m used to it yet because I’m used to the Stream way of doing things, which is just to tap the button and expect the volume to go down and then when you go into another app, you just expect the volume to stay as what it was. That’s not always the case. I think that behaviour being a little bit different is going to take some getting used to. You can get used to anything, can’t you?

There are some bugs in this first version. I went to a Sight and Sound webinar the other day. Sight and Sound is the UK supplier for this product and for all HIMS products and a number of others, including JAWS and Freedom Scientific products. Although they are supplying it, the first version of this firmware that it ships with is a little buggy. I have discovered one or two things which I’m hoping that are bugs.

One being that when you play books in the media player, for example, I’ve got a BBC audiobook that I listen to regularly. It’s 56 MP3 files, but what it tends to do on this machine is when you skip through tracks, it remembers the place in each individual file. Rather than starting you at the start, when you skip through the track, it starts you from where you left off last time, which is awful.

I hope fervently that that is a bug because it certainly isn’t a feature. It’s an annoyance. There is something in the settings to turn on or off the remembering of file positions. I can’t remember the exact phraseology of the setting, but I did that. That didn’t solve the problem and I cleared all the markers. I actually went into the place where they’re stored on the memory and deleted them and all sorts of lovely stuff and nothing worked.

Of course, I did restart the product as well because that’s always the first and second and third et cetera thing that you do. That’s one thing to be mindful of. Another thing to be mindful of is that this thing has a lot, and I mean a lot of navigation levels.

For example, if I just go into the media player–

Daniel Vocalizer: FM radio, [unintelligible 01:20:14], media player.

Ali: What I’ll do is I’ll demonstrate the navigation levels. Here’s an audiobook and what I’ve done is I’ve paused it and I’m just going to go through some of these navigation levels.

Daniel Vocalizer: Go to [unintelligible 01:20:34] track, five seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, one minute, three minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 320 minutes, 30 minutes, one hour. Go to one track. Go to five tracks. Go to 10 tracks.

Ali: Yes. I think where we’ve wrapped around to where we started. There’s too many of them essentially is what I’m getting at. There isn’t at the moment as far as I can see, a setting where you can disable certain navigation elements. I would probably turn off all but about three of those. Now as it happens, if I go to–

Daniel Vocalizer: Go to one track.

Ali: Go to one track, so I’m pressing up and down arrow by the way, to go through those and I will then press left or right arrow to navigate by the element that I’ve chosen. There’s an example of it starting through the middle of a file, but for example, I’m navigating by track and if I now want to navigate by 30 seconds, I have to go down a number of times.

Daniel Vocalizer: Go to five tracks, go to 10 tracks, go to [unintelligible 01:21:37] five seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds.

Ali: I have to press down arrow seven times, which is absolutely ridiculous. If somebody from HIMS is listening, then please, please, pretty, pretty please can you introduce a setting to turn some of these things off. All in all, I’m loving the product. The Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities are amazing. I’ve connected this thing up to my Google Nest audio speakers. I’ve got them paired up as a stereo pair and all I need to do, Bluetooth is off at the moment. I can get it to verify that.

Daniel Vocalizer: Bluetooth off.

Ali: Bluetooth is off. I’m using it on the internal speakers. If I just press one button–

Daniel Vocalizer: Turning on Bluetooth.

Ali: It’s connected to my speakers. I didn’t need to do anything apart from press one button and then I can just press it again. I don’t know if you heard the speakers chiming there. They are some distance away, but that’s how easy it is. Some absolutely fantastic features. I’m really loving the product and I’m sure a lot of people will once they get their hands on it.

Jonathan: Thank you, Ali. I appreciate you taking the time to put that together. Christopher Wright says, it seems HIMS has once again delivered a superior product. They did more with the Windows CE platform than Humanware. Their current Braille Sense is running Android 10 as opposed to 8.1 and the hardware is higher quality. Looking at the website, it appears the unit has 64 gigabytes of internal storage Wi-Fi 5 or 802 0.11 AC and USB C running at USB 2.0 speeds.

I’m a little disappointed about the storage, Wi-Fi and USB speeds, but it’s definitely better than the Stream 3. How much do you want to bet the stream is also using USB 2.0? I didn’t know about the screen reader. That’s going to be very interesting to keep tabs on. Hopefully, they’ll update the underlying version of Android. Otherwise, this will become obsolete. I’m still waiting for Android updates on the Braille Sense and Braille note.

OCR is also very helpful and I think it can also OCR PDF files, though this is only a guess as I remember the feature existed in the documentation for the prior version of the product, which was called the Blaze ET. I’ve never owned a HIMS book player, but I wish I could find a cheap Book Sense as it has the Neo speech case voice, which is super cool dude. My current collection consists of the Book Port Plus and second-generation Stream, which is sadly nearly useless due to me accidentally yanking out an SD card and leaving the contacts stuck in the slot.

Now that it’s not getting updates, it’s only a matter of time before the online capabilities stop working. At least I got a solid seven to eight years of usage, so I’d say it was worth the investment. My book Port turns 10 in July and it still works great aside from totally broken online features. I’m interested to hear you talk to someone from HIMS if that actually happens. I’m curious to find out how fast download speeds are on this product.

Ken Scott says, I believe there is a problem in the US when it comes to the BlindShell Classic phone. My understanding is that many of the US wireless carriers are not allowing the BlindShell Classic onto their networks. You will probably want to confirm my understanding with the US dealer. Well, I did reach out to Bari from BlindShell USA to ask this question and he very kindly responded to me while he was at CSUN and he said, no, there is no problem with the BlindShell Classic two connecting to US networks, but he says there may be a problem with the original BlindShell Classic.

That’s the BlindShell Classic one because some networks are deprecating their 3G support. If you’re using AT&T and T-Mobile, it should just connect fine. See, this is the beauty of GSM technology that you can just take a SIM card and connect to any network and use it. He did mention that Verizon should be coming a little bit later, but AT&T and T-Mobile and it’s derivatives, all the things that T-Mobile now owns, apparently they’re working fine with the BlindShell Classic two.

If there are acceptance problems with the BlindShell Classic in the US and the screen reader and associated applications work on the Sense Player, people like me and Brian Hartgen who use their smartphone to handle phone calls and texting might find the Sense player an extremely useful device. The only reason that I have a smartphone and not a feature phone was the ever-increasing demand by service providers to use a text message to provide some kind of a security code.

The feature phones did not have enough speech granularity to make reviewing security codes effective. By the time I got a smartphone, many service providers started including an actual phone call or email message agent-only option so there is no real value for me to own a smartphone. If the Sense Player’s smart connect works out, there might be some value in expanding smartphone use for me.

I am one of those people who can get touch interfaces to work eventually. I just find it more of a struggle than I’m willing to work through for daily use given my limited use case. I have other, for me more convenient options and functions beyond phone and text messaging that many people use smartphones for. On a different matter, the New Zealand Census Authority is correct that text messaging on smartphones is generally not viewed as being secure by most data security experts.

If I remember correctly, the last time that I filled out a census form in the United States, I had to download an accessible fillable PDF form without prepaid postage and had to get cited help to sign the form. Thanks, Ken. I’m pleased to say we have our solution here, and you’re right of course about security concerns with text messaging, but let’s not forget what the alternative is.

The alternative is somebody putting a letter in your mailbox and there are just as many security problems with someone taking that. I would argue that’s considerably more problematic than a text message. Vaughn Benison in Australia says, I have owned a Sense Player now for a bit over a month, and whilst it has some interesting software bugs, it is a very interesting device.

In terms of shape and size, it reminds me a little of the PlexTalk Pocket. It is significantly thinner, but it bulges out in the middle. That reminds me of Monty Python’s description of our galaxy so that each face is slightly convex. The buttons on the telephone-style keypad are round and almost identical to the PlexTalk, but perhaps slightly larger. The navigation section i.e., the buttons on the upper half of the unit are well-laid out and clear.

The two speakers can be found on each end of the device so that if held in landscape format, sound is heard in stereo. The speakers are quite serviceable, but headphones are better. The stereo microphones are weirdly placed on the top left and bottom right-hand corners, which suggests they might be good for recording interviews, but not much else. A very strange decision given that there is plenty of room on the sides to place a small condenser microphone.

The recording is passable, but the headphone monitoring is not on a par with that of the Braille Sense. Given the number of standalone recorders I have, I will not use this for this purpose, but it is interesting. Currently, my unit is running version 1.0 of the software and there are some features discussed in the HIMS YouTube videos which don’t appear in my device, such as the BrailleSense key map for Smart Connect.

My device has a big problem with playback timed such as 3 hours, 183 minutes, and thousands of seconds. The battery life is astounding. I haven’t fully clocked it yet, but they tout it as 11 hours or so, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s longer. I have frequently used it for six or seven hours at a time only to get down to 75% or 80%.

The voices it currently uses a vocaliser. I would personally have preferred Acapella, but there you go. I frequently have issues with it, forgetting my finishing spot, particularly in the media player, and particularly if I go out of the media player and back in. The Daisy player is slightly less problematic, but there are some navigation issues currently, which are strange. I expect these would be easy to fix and I don’t see the same issues with the BS6 Mini, so it’s just a waiting game.

Thank you, Vaughn, and Vaughn’s got all sorts of cool gear. He’s saying that he is going to produce a demo when he has an opportunity, so when and if we receive that, and we certainly would appreciate it, we’ll run it here on the podcast, but I appreciate that very detailed description.

Australia seems to have had this player for a while, so we’ve got another Australian telling us about it. This is Damo McMorrow. He says, “Hi, Jonathan, following your discussion with Brian Hartgen regarding the SensePlayer. I wanted to provide a few thoughts as someone who has been using one for a month or so.

In terms of size, the manufacturer states that it is the same footprint as an iPhone Mini, though a little thicker. It’s basically regular in shape, though the edges around it, it certainly slips easily into a shirt pocket. The record quality is quite reasonable. In fact, I did a demo of the recording capability a couple of weeks ago on the All-Day Breakfast where I recorded a cooking segment with it. If you or any of your listeners want that audio, I’m happy to provide a Dropbox link.

The noise floor is a little higher than I’d like, particularly with the mic sensitivity set to high but certainly not enough to be a showstopper. I don’t always carry my Zoom H5 around because it’s a big lump of thing, definitely too big for a pocket, whereas I almost always have the SensePlayer in my pocket or my man-bag.

If I wanted to capture a recording of something on the fly, I definitely could and the quality would be very reasonable. I’m also looking for a little USB-C powered microphone as I think that might overcome the noise floor issue, and that it’d still be a smaller combination than my Zoom H5. I guess the USB-C connectivity is a real advantage of this device because you could connect it to a mixer or other audio hardware.

I have suggested that it would be good to have some sort of manual record level adjustment apart from the three sensitivity settings, high, medium, and low, we have at the moment. Hopefully, the developers will consider that at some point. In terms of format, it does both MP3 and WAV, and I’ve got a 128-gigabyte micro SD installed, so that gives me plenty of recording space.

The mics and the stereo image are definitely very good for a device of this type and size. I’ve used it with my first-generation AirPods Pros and find that this works really well. I do quite a bit of air and train travel, and find this combination really convenient when traveling. I’ve also found the Smart Connect mode fairly handy. I’ve paired it with my iPhone, a couple of Android network radios, and my BrailleSense 6.

For me, the benefit of this is that if I’m in a motel, as I was a few weeks ago, where the only power outlets for charging were on the other side of the room, I could have my phone and my BS6 charging and control them using the SensePlayer on the bedside table. It is also handy if, for example, you had your phone or your BrailleSense hooked up to your stereo or TV, as you can use the SensePlayer as a remote.

I do wish that the podcast player provided chapter support, and again, I have submitted this as a suggestion. Like Brian, I like to have a dedicated device for reading so that I can just relax and read without being bothered by various notifications from my phone. I didn’t think the new stream offered much in comparison, which is why I bought the SensePlayer. I do have the OCR model and the recognition time and accuracy is significantly faster and better than the previous generation of HIMS Blaze products, though I haven’t decided yet whether the OCR provides any advantage over things like Seeing AI. There was only a very small price difference, less than AU$20 between the OCR model and the player-only model. I thought I may as well have the additional feature.

I hope this answers some of your questions, and sorry for the long-winded nature of this email. That was very thorough. I appreciate that Damo. The one question I would have is if people don’t want to be bothered by notifications when they’re using their iPhone, why would you just not create a focus mode for the apps where you don’t want to be bothered by notifications?

For example, when I go into Voice Dream or Kindle or the Apple Books app, I automatically switch on a focus with minimal notifications. There are people I always want to hear from and get text messages from, but other than that, all my notifications are silent and I don’t get a peep out of my phone until I exit those apps. Of course, when you’re carrying your phone around, you also have a pretty capable recorder in your pocket as well.

Andrew Walker says, “Brian stated that the Sense Reader cannot access services such as RNIB Reading Services in the UK.” Although this is true, it was stated that the team at HIMS are working to make this happen. A representative from RNIB called in to confirm the RNIB’S interest in making this happen. I was left with the impression that at Launch, the SensePlayer is not hooked up with many services, which may well come.

During the webinar hosted by the UK distributor of the BrailleSense Sight and Sound, they let it slip that they had even jumped the gun and sent out SensePlayers which do not have the intended software loaded on them. Indicating that, as one might expect, a device of this complexity is a work in progress.

The possible feature which was touched on is the possibility of reading Kindle content on the SensePlayer. I assume using the screen reader if they can make it work with the Kindle app. This alone would convince me to purchase a SensePlayer. The prospect of being able to read text content with a Nuance TTS voice with a tactile interface would be great. I have the original Victor Reader Stream, a Victor Reader Trek, and a version 2.0 Stream, but I dislike the TTS voices on them. They are, however, my prime means of reading books and listening to podcasts.

The replaceable battery is an issue for me. Not just that batteries degrade and the ones in my units have done so, but the ability to clip on a spare battery went out and about is a great feature, and one I take advantage of on my Victor Reader Trek in particular. No wires or battery packs, just slide the battery on, and off we go. I believe that the SensePlayer has a similar battery which constitutes the back of the unit.

Brian, I think, said that the SensePlayer took 36 seconds to boot from code. I would say that the version 2.0 Victor Reader Stream takes longer than that to boot. If a Wi-Fi profile is present on the unit, irrespective of whether Wi-Fi is actually turned on. The Trek is much quicker, but all the players take longer to boot with higher-capacity SD cards installed in them. The boot time on my Stream 2.0 is so bad that I don’t have a Wi-Fi profile on it, which is fine, since I don’t listen to podcasts on it. I use the Trek for that, which boots up pretty quickly, and has better Wi-Fi in general.

I don’t know about the third-generation Stream, but I would guess that it would be as good as if not better than the Trek. As for the use case, I think there is an assumption that people who are not good with technology use products like the Stream. I consider myself pretty good with technology and use Apple devices, and also use Android phones. I consume content pretty much as Brian described during your interview. Although to be fair, I use my phones for most things, and not just for calls and texts. For me, the SensePlayer seems to offer the best of both worlds, but I shall wait a little while to buy one until the software matures and delivers what is possible.

I say this since I had bought my Victor Reader Trek as it was announced as being Galileo compatible, and that the feature would be enabled with a subsequent software update. HumanWare later quietly confessed that the Trek could not access the Galileo system as the hardware was not sufficient to support it. For this reason, while the SensePlayer sounds like it has fantastic potential, if I can resist the temptation to buy one immediately, I will wait and see what happens.

Thanks, as usual, says Andrew, for the brilliant show. You have the ability to present your own views while respecting the views of others, a precious quality. Thank you, Andrew, I appreciate that.

Kevin says just a short note concerning your interview with Brian Hartgen. The Victor Reader Stream third generation, in fact, has TTS menus, instead of spoken voice. It was apparently a cost-cutting and time-saving move by HumanWare.

Hello to Claire Amaroso who says, “I have been following with interest the discussion about the Victor Reader Stream third generation, having been a happy Stream user for many years. Fairly recently, bones have come out with the milestone 312 Ace Wi-Fi Daisy player, and another one called the Evo 12 has recently come out. One of the UK distributors is Computer Room Services. Perhaps for the sake of accuracy and completeness, it would be good to mention these on the podcast too.”

Absolutely, Claire. There’s a few of these products out there. If anybody has direct experiences of either of them, we’d certainly be very pleased to run your thoughts on them, and thanks for taking the time to alert us to their existence, Claire.

Abbie Taylor: Hi everybody, this is Abbie Taylor in Sheridan, Wyoming, and for laughs, I’m recording this on my new Victor Reader Stream generation 3. Now, the downside to recording this way is that there’s no easy way to share my recording via email on the Stream, but that is not a big deal. All I have to do is connect to the computer. I know which number note it is, or I will when I stop recording, I can find it and share it via email that way.

Another downside to recording with a Stream is that it does not record in M4A format, which is a smaller file format that I prefer to use for recording. The Stream records an MP3, FLAC, or WAV. Now I think WAV is I think the largest file type. I’m using MP3. FLAC is smaller, but I’m not sure how many people can access FLAC files because that was a file type I’d never heard of until I got the Stream, so I’m not taking any chances on Jonathan not being able to play this, so I’m doing it in MP3, and if the file ends up to be too large to go on my computer through email, I can access it on the phone with Google Drive, and email it that way. Because I think the phone’s built-in mail app does not have a limit on the size of files you can send. Apparently, I heard that somewhere. I don’t know if that’s true, but I will find out if need be.

One thing I like about recording with the Stream is that you can choose the recording source. I am currently using a Bluetooth headset that does have a built-in microphone, but my experience with such microphones is that they are not a very good quality and so I would like to be able to use a device’s built-in internal microphone when all possible. I think this devices, this Stream microphone is pretty good.

In the recording settings, you can choose the source you want to use and, of course, on the phone, if I were to plug in my headset to the phone and record, I would be using the microphone on the Bluetooth headset, which, as I said earlier, does not have the best sound quality. Now, I suppose I could and I have been doing recording on the iPhone with the external mic.

The problem with that is that the listener hears this sound. I don’t know if you heard that when I double tap to stop recording, and I don’t like that. Now, of course, on the Stream when you record, you press the record button, the person hears the boop sound when recording starts and other boop sound when it’s done. With earphones, I am the only one who hears that. You shouldn’t hear that, and so that’s why I like to use headphones when recording, especially if it’s something professional that I’m going to be sending out to somebody, a voice message or a song for ACB Community Karaoke or what have you. I think this will work a lot better for recording.

Now, on to the topic of Braille displays, with a capital B. I use the Brailliant BI 20X. I’ve been using it for a couple of years and I love it. It’s small, and so it’s compact. It’s easy to take with me if I go, say, to my Third Thursday Poets group that meets once a month over at the Senior Centre, and I use it to write with because we do a writing exercise, and then I read aloud what I’ve written, and then I also can use it to read aloud. We do critiques, and I can read aloud the poem that I want to be critiqued.

With a computer, it works well. Being a writer, I prefer using Braille when editing. It’s more efficient than using just a speech and having to arrow around and find where your mistake is. This just works a lot better for me. I hope that answers the person questions about Braille displays, and again, Jonathan, I enjoyed this past issue number 218 of the podcast and everybody take care, and we’ll talk another time.

Jonathan: Live from the Victor Reader Stream, it’s Abbie Taylor. Thank you very much, Abbie. That’s a recording from the Victor Reader Stream third generation. Regarding file formats, WAV is completely lossless and uncompressed, so, yes, that will take up quite a bit of space, around about 10 megabytes per minute for a stereo file at CD quality, which is 44 kHz, 16 bit, and it’ll take about 5 megabytes per minute if you record in mono, so, yes, it takes up quite a bit of space.

MP3 and M4A are both lossy formats. M4A is slightly newer, and what that means is that it is trying to take away little bits of the audio that the human ear doesn’t care about in order to make the audio smaller. Now, many people can hear the compression, particularly with things like a symbol clash. This is what you call artefacts. MP3 is not as good in this regard as M4A, because M4A is the next generation, but size wise, they are fairly similar, except to say that you can get better quality in a smaller M4A file than you can an MP3 file just because the compression is smarter.

Now, FLAC, it is quite widely supported, and I can definitely play a FLAC file from you, Abbie. A lot of the audio files who contribute to the show actually send me FLAC files, and that’s totally fine. FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec. It’s going to sound every bit as good as a WAV file, except that it’s compressed without introducing any artefacts or lossiness. It’s not going to be as small as an MP3 or an M4A file, but it is going to be quite a bit smaller than a WAV file.

Now, I could go into a lot more details about this, but that’s the quick, superficial version on the file formats. I must say it’s pretty cool that these devices are supporting FLAC files.

Michael: Good day, Jonathan. Listeners, it’s Michael Marshall here again. A couple of thoughts on the Victor Reader Stream and the HIMS SensePlayer. I listened to the interview with Brian Hartgen, talking about the HIMS SensePlayer. I, too, don’t really know what they’re going for here. When someone makes a product and instead of trying to focus on one really good standout thing that the product does, it’s like they want it to be the everything of everything kind of product, and it rarely, rarely ever works.

This, to my mind, it feels like this is what HIMS is trying to do. You’ve got the thing where you can control your iPhone with the keyboard. That would be a good thing if the keyboard didn’t have a T9 method of input. Really put me off because I used to hate having Nokia 6120, I think it was with the torques thing on it, and having to write a text message was so abominally painful.

I used to tell people, please do not text me unless you absolutely have to, because replying is just so annoyingly time-consuming. Obviously, we don’t know how is the noise floor going to be with the USB-C recording devices. I have four Olympus recorders that I’ve purchased over the years, and although they are great recorders, the DM-520, the DM-5, DM-7 and the LS-P4. LS-P4 being a particular standout, I think in recording quality. They’re not the greatest. They do have a noise floor. It is noticeable. It’s something that Olympus just don’t seem to be able to correct, especially when recording with external input. If it’s like a digital computer speaker, it’ll probably do all right, but if it’s an analogue device, forget about it. Even recording a radio stream, the hiss is just outrageous. I’ve got old recordings, I tried with it, and how appalling.

The first question I asked myself when you and Brian were talking about the HIMS player was, what kind of sound output are we looking at here? Recording to me is the big thing. The Victor Reader Stream is not a recorder. What I will say is the Victor Reader Stream 3 has a better bass response. In a couple of comparative recordings I’ve heard that someone did on Mastodon, the difference between the two and the three was noticeable in bassness. The two tends to really accentuate the very high mid-range to treble, but leave the bass out. The three is actually better at encompassing all of those different sound frequencies, but no stereo microphones except for external default recording of 96. Obviously, you can probably change that. I hope so. That really puts me off buying that as well, because it’s not something you could use, and maybe that’s all it’s meant for.

Maybe all it is is just for a few notes and memos, and that’s fine. That’s fine. They’ve designed it for that. It’s predominantly a book reading device to read documents as well, and that’s totally fine. I’m happy with that because we know exactly what Victor is and what it is not. I don’t get that same kind of thing with the HIMS player. I don’t know what it’s trying to be.

Jonathan: Very deep and philosophical. Thank you very much, Michael. I will say, since we’re getting into real audio file geekery at this point with those comments, that for those interested in such things, that recording that we got from Abbie, and thank you, Abbie, of the Victor Reader Stream had a significant DC offset in it. Now, if you’re into audio production, you will know that you can take a file and most good editors will compensate for poor DC offset issues. Indeed, we can do that here.

That suggests that the digital to analogue converter in the Victor Reader Stream is not the best. It won’t matter for day-to-day recording for notes and things like that, but if you want to bring those files into a sound editor and do some serious work on them, you may just need to adjust for DC offset.

[podcast theme music]

iOS 16 bugs

Jim: Hey, Jonathan. It’s Jim from Florida. Hope you’re well. The saga continues. Remember, how I was telling you how I helped a friend who’s in a rehab facility nursing at home, and how iPhone had Apple. I made it so you could make verbal calls with the phone by turning on Siri and telling Siri to answer and hang up phone calls. You can still make and answer phone calls and hang up, but when you tell Siri call and you mentioned the name on speaker phone, I’ve noticed more often than not that it says speaker, but sound comes out that regular telephone ear speaker that you would hold up to your ear. That worked for all a few days. I’m still not able to see all of my purchases.

I’m able to read some of them, but I’m still not able to read all of my purchases. As we were talking about the purchasing section, it said, so I hope all this is still being worked on.

Jonathan: Thank you for the update, Jim. Now, in the last episode of Mosen At Large, Ross was talking about his considerable frustration with Dictation. Francois starts us off on this. He says, “My story is very similar to Ross’s. About a month ago, I updated from iOS 15.5 to 16.3, and regretted it ever since. I’d be browsing apps like Facebook and WhatsApp, and about every minute or so, VoiceOver would go quiet, and after about a second, it would jump to the button at the top left of the screen, for example, back button, and I’d have to swipe down multiple times to get back to where I was. It’s even more annoying when using the Braille screen input to type without warning.

When the phone decides it’s time to refresh again, it would change back to standard keyboard and the voice over focus is who knows where. It took me almost five minutes to type a five sentence message on WhatsApp or iMessage. I tried Dictation to get around this, but it didn’t work either.

Over the weekend, I decided to take the time to find a solution because I don’t want to keep wasting time and get frustrated like that. Long story short, it turns out that the Caption Panel in VoiceOver settings was on by default after updating to iOS 16. It doesn’t seem logical that captions would cause VoiceOver to behave this way, but turning off the Caption Panel in VoiceOver settings solved it for me.

Thanks for the opportunity to perhaps help someone. Thank you for taking the time to do all that investigation, Francois. I bet you that took some effort, basically going through setting after setting, and seeing if anything had an effect. That is awesome detective work on your part.

David Kingsbury bears this out. He says, “Hello, Jonathan. As always, I find your show informative and thought provoking. A couple of thoughts regarding comments by readers last week. When I heard about the frustrations of one of your readers with iOS 16.3, my ears perked up. A few weeks ago, I had a terrible problem when I updated to 16.3. My iPhone SE suddenly got very sluggish, and I was constantly losing focus. It was extremely frustrating. Things that used to take me a couple of minutes to accomplish took about 10 minutes or became totally impossible.

I tried all the usual fixes, powering off the phone, switching VoiceOver on and off, hoping the 16.3.1 update would help, and so on. None of these did anything. Fortunately, a person on the idevices@groups.io list advised me to turn off the Captions Panel in VoiceOver. Voilà, that fixed it. I tried to replicate your reader’s problem with dictation, but the Captions Panel did not disrupt this operation. Still, he might try this out.

Another listener was frustrated with Zoom tech support, at least in the United States. I would suggest emailing the Zoom accessibility folks at access@zoom.us. I can’t say anything about outside the US. On those occasions when I have had Zoom problems, I have found them very responsive. They usually email back within one or two days, and do what they can to help. Thank you, David. I have found that too, and I have used that address, and it’s been quite some time since I have had to. I found them very good. We could probably do a whole section of the podcast, which would be quite amusing on hearing-impaired people who use text-to-speech engines and the things that they mishear.

I remember I got this notification on my iPhone, and I had my speech cranked up pretty fast because I was doing other things, and I thought it said, Madonna becomes CEO of Microsoft. I’m sitting there thinking, dude, we are living in a material world. This is going to liven up the tech industry. Actually, what it said was, Nadella becomes CEO of Microsoft, which made a lot more sense, but perhaps not quite as exciting [chuckles].

Then I got this email and I was listening with text-to-speech when it came in, and I thought it said that it was from someone with OCD. I thought, well, that’s interesting disclosure there. You know, I got no problem with that kind of disclosure, but good on them for disclosing.

Actually, no, it was OCB, not OCD. It’s Chris Cook, and he says, “Hi, Jonathan, absolutely love your podcast.” Thank you so much. I thought I’d send a note in case it is helpful to someone. I am a Braille instructor. Note the uppercase B, he says here in brackets, as I’m sure you did. I did, Chris. Constant vigilance. Constant vigilance, I say.

I and my students have been highly annoyed when encountering a certain pesky bug in iOS 16 with the Brailliant BI 20/40 X-series of Braille displays. When we’re in Apple’s Mail or Notes app, we cannot coerce the Braille display’s enter key into behaving. A very disruptive context menu pops up, which is quite unhandy and unhelpful. It has to be dismissed.

Then the Enter key still does not work. If you have the onscreen keyboard showing, then you can activate the Enter key that way, but that’s not a good replacement.

I contacted HumanWare about this after my student found a workaround. If you show or hide the onscreen keyboard with spacebar.146, then the Enter key behaves. It does not matter in our testing whether the onscreen keyboard was visible in the first place or not. Toggling it on and off seems to make the unruly Enter key submit to being pressed. HumanWare had a process that involved several steps, and when I heard those while appreciating them, I thought there must be a more efficient way. They appreciated my feedback, and thought that showing or hiding the onscreen keyboard would be an easier solution for some.

Anyway, just thought you might like to know that HumanWare is apparently working on a fix for this, but for now, perhaps this will be helpful, and Chris adds, in doing some further testing, if you close notes, for instance, and reopen it, the workaround needs to be activated again, but while the Notes app is still open, the Enter key behaves.

Thank you very much, Chris. Much appreciated. We have discussed this on the podcast before and another workaround was submitted. This was in response to Karen McDonald, who raised this question, but this is another way around the problem that some may wish to try, so much appreciated.


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


Mosen At Large Podcast.

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