Podcast transcript, Mosen at Large episode 220, Going in-depth on the Optima, more on well-being, and the blindness portable player discussion continues

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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 it was the talk of the CSUN Conference and we’ve got all the available details on the optima recommendations for Windows podcast apps and more on the new senses player and Victor Rita’s stream.

Speaker 2: Mosen At Large Podcast.

Welcome to Ohio

Jonathan: Lovely to have you back with us for another week. If you’ve just tuned into our live coverage which of course is pre-recorded because it’s a podcast we are putting Ohio at this point in the too-close-to-call column. If we were to call it, if we were to call Ohio, one of the area codes we would undoubtedly use is 220. What’s more, I can prove it. Soup drinker, what is area code 220?

Female Speaker: Area codes 740 and 220 are telephone area codes in the North American numbering plan for the southeastern and central parts of Ohio. The numbering plan area includes the cities of Athens, Pelpro, Cadis, Chilla Coffee, Circleville, Kashakron Delaware, Gallup police, Heath, Ironton, Jackson, Lancaster, Laurevel, Logan, Marietta, Marion, Mount Vernon, Nelsonville, Newark, Newcomerstown, Pataskala, Portsmouth, Rockbridge, Steubenville, Washington Courthouse and Zanesville, shady side in the surrounding areas.

Jonathan: As George Harrison famously said, isn’t it a pity that we have put Ohio and the too-close-to-call column because there is certainly a lot of cities in Ohio to call with area code and episode 220? Welcome to you if you’re in any of those Ohioan I presume, I don’t know, cities.

It’s important to me that Mosen At Large is fully accessible and that’s why every episode is transcribed. Accessibility is in the very DNA of Pneuma Solutions and it’s thanks to their sponsorship their transcriptions are possible.

As we discuss on this show regularly sadly the world is not as accessible as we would like and it’s frustrating to find that you’re on a Zoom meeting or a teams meeting, somebody’s running a PowerPoint presentation and not only is it not accessible, but they haven’t given any thought to accessibility before. When the time is right take that person to one side or maybe talk to the IT manager in your organization and tell them there’s a fix for this. It’s called Scribe for Meetings.

It seems like such a simple solution but there’s a lot of incredible magic going on under the hood. All someone has to do is upload their slides as little as five minutes before the presentation is due to run. Pneuma Solutions will do the magic behind the scenes and provide a fully accessible version that you can follow along with. There’s no need for you to be excluded from these presentations any longer. Scribe for Meetings provides the answer. To learn more head on over to pneumasolutions.com. That’s pneumasolutions.com.


Speaker 2: Mosen At Large Podcast.

Adi Kushnir and Venkatesh Chari discuss the Optima, a forthcoming device that will be a laptop with a Braille display

Jonathan: Sometimes at one of these assistive technology conferences, a product stands out and it becomes the talk of it. This year that honor went to Optima, a device just announced but not scheduled for release until next year. It’s a modular device, a laptop with a qwerty keyboard and a Braille display. It’s being backed by Orbit Research and it’s the brainchild of Adi Kushnir who has formed a company called Access Mind to make this happen.

We have the men of the moment with us on the show this week, Adi Kushnir from Access Mind and Venkatesh Chari, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Orbit Research. Gentlemen, it’s great to have you here. Thank you both for coming on the show.

Venkatesh Chari: Thank you for having us.

Adi Kushnir: Thanks for having us.

Jonathan: Adi, let’s begin with you because this is your initiative. You’ve had some past experience in this area. What inspired you to create Optima and what are your objectives? What are your ambitions for this?

Adi: First of all, I’ll correct this and I’ll say that this is the initiative of both sides actually. Orbit also had similar ideas for a while to produce something similar like this. That’s right. I had past experience. I was trying for a number of years to build what would be the ultimate Braille device for me and where I come from, which is Israel, Braille devices like note takers are not something that you see often. The reason for that is that in Israel, every blind kid from first grade in school gets a mainstream Windows computer and a screen reader and a Braille display funded.

This is how we study. I got introduced to the note-takers myself about eight years ago when one of the popular vendors of the devices tried to get into the Israeli market and they failed because of that specific reason that the education system and the kids and everyone else is not willing to accept something less than Windows because this is what they know. I took one of these devices for evaluation and I was impressed by the all-in-one idea, a Braille display that can perform some computing functions in one sleek box. I really liked it but it was very limited for my use of course.

I very quickly stopped using it and from that point forward, I was always thinking, how can I build this form factor with the standard operating system and the screen reader and just get blind people away from these proprietary devices which have their place look like in some markets and for some people, but they also restrict you a lot. My first product that I was involved in, some of you might know is the L Braille. This was my first attempt to do it with the Alita group with the Russian company.

Unfortunately, it got completely out of my control and the direction in which it was taken and the way some of the things that happened worked out let me understand that I have no other choice than to leave and start from scratch. I realized that if I want to do it my way I really have to start a new company because the vendors that I talked to are not necessarily interested in my philosophy because it will open up and it will reduce their sales of these very expensive and proprietary devices. I approached Venkatesh last year at CSUN actually.

It’s where a year from now announced the product. Last year I approached him and he agreed to take the challenge with me and build it the way I wanted because he shares the same philosophy and I really appreciate that. Not only that it’s amazing to work with Venkatesh and Orbit because they have amazing in-house production capabilities which is important because that means that everything is in our control. Nothing is outsourced. Also in terms of the people themselves at Orbit.

Orbit’s mission was to develop and still is to develop affordable technologies that will allow blind people to participate in the general life like to be included in society which through other ways it might not have happened because of the cost and prices and everything. That’s how we decided to team up and create this new entity together. Access Mind is a joint venture between Orbit Research and myself and the Optima our first product of that venture.

Jonathan: You offer some thought-provoking commentary there. Do you think that the note takers in English-speaking markets potentially can be harmful because eventually there will come a time when a blind person has to go to work or they have to go to study and they end up in an environment where Windows, in particular, is dominant? Windows still is the most dominant operating system in the workplace and then they find that their skillset isn’t up to it because they’ve been dependent on these notetaking devices that are proprietary.

Adi: Exactly. I believe that these devices should not be called note-takers anymore. For me a note taker if you ask me is a device that really takes notes like the Mantis or the Brilliant or the Orbit readers 40 and 20 that have basic note-taking capabilities to read and write files. These devices that were traditionally called note takers and still are really became tablets or Braille computers because now they move to Android but no matter what they’re doing, it appears to make the blind person stuck in a proprietary ecosystem which they might know very well like Keysoft or the other interfaces of hymns for instance.

These are the two most popular note-takers today that are being sold. Then like you said Jonathan when a blind person comes to the standard work sector they’re stuck because they get to learn Windows very late. It’s also a pain for IT people to integrate these note takers to the standard ecosystem. I also see many people in education, I talked at CSUN to various people from the education sector and they’re getting tired of this themselves because for instance today you need to work with things like Google Docs or Office 365.

While the note-takers that exist today offer some support for these they’re not done in a good way that is easy to navigate. If you want to enjoy your easy navigation you need to export your document to the proprietary word processor of that note-taker. Then you have to edit it there and upload it back to the cloud service and all the formatting is lost. I see many people use both note-takers and PCs as a result of that. Yes, this is really a combination of all the points that you mentioned.

Also, today these note-takers are running on hardware that in the mainstream world no one would even pay $200 to get. Like for instance, the Android devices that are available today as note-takers run on nice hardware compared to what note-takers were before, but they don’t run on the latest flagship for Android processors at that time.

Even when they’re released, the version of Android that they come shipped with is behind the general shipping version, and it will never be fast to upgrade because in Android you need to have your board vendor to upgrade to a new Android version, so the note-taker manufacturer has to wait for the board vendor if they want to upgrade for them at all, and then make the switch and rewrite all their software and optimize, so it all makes it very difficult.

Even with the mainstream app support on Android that these note-takers offer, it’s not that great and it really lags behind all the mainstream technologies. Really in the mainstream world, no one will pay even $200 to get some of the hardware that is in these devices. At least this is my opinion and this is how I see it.

Jonathan: Venkatesh, we’re going to be spending a lot of time talking about Optima, but introducing Orbit Research a little bit. I can see why this is a meeting of the minds between you two because Orbit Research is really a disruptor in this industry, isn’t it? I wonder whether you’ve found that disruption a little more difficult than you’d anticipated. There have been some challenges with Braille cells. Braille is a very hard technology to perfect, to make it feel like Braille and then to come in at a reasonable price. Has it been a more difficult road than you had anticipated when you got started?

Venkatesh: That’s a great question, Jonathan. Yes, we do pride ourselves at being able to offer disruptive technology. Our mission is do the hard things, and things that previously folks have felt to be unsolvable or too hard to solve. We take that on as a challenge. Fortunately, we have been mostly successful so far. As far as Braille is concerned, yes the journey has definitely been a lot more difficult than we had originally planned, but the reasons for that are a little different than what you would imagine. Obviously yes, as you said, the technology is difficult.

We are looking at a very over-constrained problem. We’re trying to move pins with sufficient force. We wanted to work reliably for a long period of time. We wanted to be able to withstand harsh environmental and usage conditions, and we want it to be affordable, so it’s a very, very tough problem to solve, but we develop technologies and patented them that do solve the problems at a technical level. The challenge is in being able to manufacture at good quality and high volume, at an affordable price with the right volume.

Originally when this project was conceived, we had already developed the technology and we were working with the Transforming Braille group which is a consortium of organizations from around the world with the mission to bring Braille literacy to all parts of the world and especially the developing countries. The mission was an absolutely amazing one, and we are very proud and humbled to be part of that. The challenge was that whereas at the outset, the goal was to have a very high annual volume which would enable the developer and the manufacturer to achieve the economies of scale and provide a high-quality, high-reliability device at an affordable price.

Unfortunately, those volumes did not materialize from The Transforming Braille group members. Without going into a lot of detail, the volumes were basically in order for magnitude lower, and that put things in a very different situation in the sense that trying to achieve the same goals of affordability, reliability, quality, but at much lower volumes is an enormously more difficult task. We had a lot of struggles initially because we had to develop new vendors who were willing to work at the lower volumes, and still give us the right kind of quality.

We struggled initially and with a lot of hard work, many years of hard work, we finally surmounted those obstacles, and we are at a point, Braille where technology is now a lot more reliable. We continue to make improvements constantly and we are very happy to say that our rates of reliability are comparable with peers of sales today, and we do publish our rates as well. We actually wish more companies in the industry would do the same.

Jonathan: Anything that puts Braille under the fingers of more people should be applauded, and I think many people do exactly that. It’s a great thing that more people are having access to Braille at a price point that they can afford, but I suppose because you have been doing so much that is pioneering, there may be a bit of a confidence issue now because of some of those early units. How do you overcome that?

Venkatesh: That’s a great question. Yes, we do face that issue. We’re approaching it in two ways. One, by continuing to deploy these devices. Around the world, we have had deployments in countries which never had Braille before, because of the expense, so countries in Africa, countries in Asia and South America now have access to Braille which was unprecedented. By doing that, we are increasing the volumes which does help us with manufacturing and the economies of scale. Also, we are continuing to work on fundamental improvements to the technology with our vendors.

The way we feel we can regain confidence is by being completely open and transparent to our user community. We are very fortunate we have a very supportive user community, and we have been always very, very open about the challenges that we are facing. We have an excellent customer support team, a repair team, and our repairs are very, very economical and affordable when the need arises. One of the things we are planning to do in the near future is come out proactively with schemes where people can get a replacement Braille engine for instance, so that they can see for themselves the improvements that have been made over the years and the improvements in reliability, some improvements in the amount of sound, the speed at which the cells refresh, et cetera. These are things in the works, and we’ll be sharing more details in a fairly short timeframe.

Jonathan: Okay. That answer actually segues into the next question I had, because this is also relevant to Optima, one of the options that a user will have is the ability to choose the orbit cells. We get a lot of feedback from the blind community on this podcast. The two things that I do here, and you’ve mentioned them, are that, the device is quite noisy, the Orbit reader in terms of the noise that the cells make when they’re refreshing, and they’re a little laggy when it comes to refreshing, so for fast Braille readers reading in a pressured environment like this one where I’ve got to read material at good reading speed for spoken word, there may be a little bit of lag there. Are you confident that both of those things are actually addressable?

Venkatesh: Yes. Ultimately Braille is mechanical and anything mechanical comes with compromises, trade-offs of various sorts. While we have improved both the speed of refresh and the sound, it is not as quiet or as fast as piezo Braille. That is one of the reasons why we decided to offer both options, because as a company we want to put the customer always first. We want to be able to offer choices and let the customer decide. We don’t want to force something down their throats that is just for our benefit or because we invented it. We are completely open to partnerships, collaborations, and bringing technology that compliments ours.

Jonathan: We heard about why Adi wants to create Optima. Why do you at Orbit Research want to create it?

Venkatesh: Our philosophy at Orbit, and Adi actually described this very well as well, has been to create things that are disruptive but simple, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel. That’s why our Braille products have always been very, very simple in the Orbit Reader 20, the 40, and that entire family. Now, the slate products have been very simple and leaving the heavy lifting to devices that are intended and designed for that purpose, such as your smartphone and your computer.

Looking at the overall needs of the community, we have felt for a long time that a computer that would work better for this community would be really helpful. We have been working for several years now on different form factors, different design concepts because we wanted to offer a product that fulfills a need that is currently not filled. There is no dedicated computer today, a mainstream laptop computer today for the blind. We saw that as a gap and we wanted to try to contribute in that area.

Jonathan: Adi, if I were to say to you what is Optima? What’s the overall description, the broad elevator pitch, if you will?

Adi: Depends personal or public. For me, that’s the ultimate Braille device I want to use, but the public description, the way I told people at CSUN is that this would be your last note taker form factor type device that you’ll ever have to purchase. This is our goal. This is the device that will answer all of your work needs from education to entertainment to work. We can accomplish very intensive tasks with that device depending on the configuration, of course, like audio editing and software development even. That would really be the optimal Braille device that you would want to buy.

Jonathan: It’s a computer that has a qwerty keyboard and a Braille display. How do those two things connect to one another?

Adi: Good question. As you know, I also heard your podcast last week where you were–

Jonathan: I read your press release in full when I hardly ever do that, so yes.

Adi: We really appreciate that. This was amazing to hear, but you were questioning some things and they’re totally legit. We partner essentially with another company on the laptop side. More info will come shortly. There will be an official announcement made–

Jonathan: It’s a framework computer, right?

Venkatesh: It’s a company that is experienced in the development of the laptop components. Our mission here or rather our objective has been to do what we are good at, engineering, highly integrated, highly efficient solutions, not necessarily reinventing each and every part of it. We are leveraging a lot of great subsystems and doing engineering to make sure that they work really well with the Braille subsystem and in the form factor and with the characteristics that we want for this product.

Jonathan: Is it an off-the-shelf device available in the mainstream now or is this manufacturer going to develop something specifically for this project?

Adi: We’re partnering with a mainstream company, we cannot announce yet.

Jonathan: Why is that? Why can’t you announce it yet?

Venkatesh: It’s something that is timed for a certain time period.

Adi: We have some agreements and some NDAs in place, but the announcement will come from both sides very shortly, but when you’ll pick up the device, you’ll essentially feel one solid enclosure that has your Braille display at the bottom and the qwerty keyboard at the top like you would expect with similar devices today, such as the mantis, right, that you’re using. It’s all going to be all in one no Bluetooth nonsense in terms of keyboards and pairing and stuff like that. We will be manufacturing the device ourselves, but it has inside parts that come from this mainstream company that we work with.

Jonathan: Is the Braille display detachable? If I want to use this as a speech-only device and make it even more portable, will that be possible or is the thing totally fused together and not detachable?

Adi: That’s another good question for now. What we’ve shown at CSUN, our first prototypes that are fully functional were not detachable, but we clearly understand the need for this. Also even the more important need is like you questioned in your last podcast, what happens if you have to send your Braille device to repair, for instance. We are looking at the right way to implement this because, at the same time, we want to keep the form factor very sleek and compact. That’s important to us, but we are investigating how much modular this can be without making the device bigger and ugly.

Venkatesh: One of the factors that we are considering is also reliability, the durability of something that is modular and attached together.

Adi: That’s right.

Venkatesh: Pieces that are attached together. There’s several factors, we absolutely appreciate the desire to have something that has a display that can be unplugged and used as a speech-only device. It’s certainly something that we are actively considering.

Jonathan: When we were talking about this on Mastodon, some people reminisced fondly about how they liked the PAC Mate displays because they could detach from the units, but I think people perhaps forget that the price you paid for that detachability was bulk and the PAC make QX was actually a really bulky machine.

Adi: It was really bulky.

Jonathan: That’s the challenge isn’t it, to get something modular without making it so bulky that you wince every time you put it in a backpack or something like that.

Adi: Exactly. Also, you have to keep in mind is that this unlike many other vendors who build products like these that are built primarily from a– Of course we also want to make a living and survive. Otherwise the company it won’t be possible to make it, but we are the users ourselves. The fact that I am for instance creating this and the fact that we are controlling this together with orbit, this is a product that is built by the users for the users, this is how I like to call it. We will try to do the best to answer as many requirements as possible because we need them ourselves. I need them.

Jonathan: Can I talk about modularity a bit because you have mentioned in your press release that these ports are hot-swappable. Could you talk a bit more about that and what ports will be on offer?

Adi: The ports are essentially going to be small cards that you will be able to get in and out of the device by a press of a button. The total will be four ports and you can really spec the device with the peripherals you need and even change it every day if you want to based on the task you need to perform. The choices will be several. There is USB-A, USB-C, which we are thunderbolt certified by the way for this, for those of you who don’t know, thunderbolt is the fastest Intel standard for data transfer and for connecting very high-demanding peripherals via USB-C. We have that, HDMI micro SD card, Venkatesh, if I’m not mistaken and also ethernet I believe

Jonathan: Is the Braille display swappable in the same way? Let’s say that I want to start off with the orbit cells because that would be at a better price point I imagine, but later I might want to upgrade to the Piezoelectric cells. I take it that something like that would require a return-to-factory thing to fix.

Venkatesh: That is correct, yes. The Braille cells would also be swappable and most likely it will require a return to the factory.

Jonathan: What about the processor, because I think, if I remember rightly, you have an i5 and an i7 option. Curious that there’s no i9 at this point and I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps you can comment on that, but I take it that that would also require the manufacturer’s intervention to change the processor.

Venkatesh: That’s right. For anything that’s internal and not exposed, it would require the device to come back to a service centre for the upgrade. In the future we anticipate a i9 being available at some point. At the moment we have i5 and i7 available.

Adi: The parts we use from now from Intel are what they call the P-series. Intel has three main laptop processor families. They have the U-series, which is for very thin and lighter ultrabooks. They have the P-series, which is a bit more performance-oriented but still in a reasonably thin and light form factor. These ones don’t have i9 models and there is the H-series, which is for high-performance workstations and they have i9 s as well. In order to keep the performance balanced, we went with a P-series, which on one hand is more than enough. Even the i7, there are 14 cores and it’s more than enough to accomplish pretty much everything you want to. At the same time, we don’t want battery life to be very short and other thermal constraints. For now we believe that these processors fit the best purpose. These will essentially be your every day 13, 14-inch laptop chips.

Jonathan: What expectations should we have of battery life?

Venkatesh: Battery life depends a lot on workload. As you know, the kinds of work you’re doing on it. If you’re doing heavy-duty video editing, you use a lot more power on the processor and if you’re just doing email or word processing, it’s a lot lesser. You would expect a typical workday on a full charge.

Jonathan: In my experience, if you disable the screen on your laptop and it’s getting harder and harder to do that, but if you disable the display, you get a significant boost in battery life. I guess I would have expected that given that this is a screenless windows laptop, battery life would be a little bit more impressive than say what you would expect from your average Windows machine because it’s not running a display.

Adi: It will be more than the same config with the screen, that’s for sure, but at the same time, like many other ultrabook vendors do, especially we don’t to underclock the processor. In order to keep the performance very stable. Especially with today’s screen readers such as JAWS and NVDA, we want the power to not be reduced when possible. We run the processor pretty much without any underclocking on the device, but I really believe that the battery life will be very good for people to take advantage of.

Jonathan: Before release, I presume you will publish specs which will give us an indication of what battery life you’re expecting. Is that true?

Venkatesh: Yes, of course.

Jonathan: Right, of course. Cool. With a device like this, and you will have heard me asking this question on the last show, wouldn’t an ARM processor be the way to go for, because you would get phenomenal battery life with an ARM processor on Optima?

Venkatesh: That is true. I think an ARM processor is definitely a lot more power efficient, but as you know, the mainstream workloads and software there are still limitations with the ARM platform. That’s why we again, keeping in line with our mission of having a mainstream standard device. We chose the X 86 architecture the ARM architecture at this time that doesn’t preclude us from offering ARM-based models sometime in the future.

Adi: I was evaluating myself, I have an ARM, windows, and ARM device here with Jaws for ARM and also in the way that NVDA works, we still feel that it’s a bit too early for Windows on ARM to become a fully operable environment that we can come up and say, hey you can do everything with the device, no problems. I would dream of an ARM device like this, and also this will not only allow battery life advantages, this will allow making the device thinner slicker and also later maybe smaller form factors. There are a lot of advantages that we just don’t feel that it’s ready for Windows quite yet.

Jonathan: I haven’t tried Windows on ARM, yes, with Jaws, but I tried to convince my wife Bonnie to buy an ARM laptop so that she could be the Guinea pig and she politely declined. How rude is that?


Anyway, would you consider, given that the Braille display is not going to be detachable a speech-only version of this? Because obviously Braille is a bit of a niche market sadly, but there would be a lot of blind people I think who would like a fully-fledged Windows laptop that’s really small and doesn’t have a screen. Is that in the cards?

Venkatesh: That is also something that we are considering, yes. Given that we would be building the entire system, that is something that is relatively easy for us to offer.

Adi: We heard a lot of feedback about this actually we did not even expect the amount of people who really want, would want the speech-only version. Because at first I thought why just don’t buy a standard laptop because ultimately our device, even with the speech-only version, it will be priced higher than standard 500, $600 Windows notebook because it’s a unique manufacturing standard. The volumes are not so high as Venkatesh mentioned in the beginning but looks like people really want this. We will do the best to respond.

Jonathan: Since the laptop doesn’t have a screen. What happens when I turn this thing on and Windows has got some update that’s got stuck and it’s not booting up into Windows and I don’t have my screen reader talking?

Adi: That’s a very tough one. We all face this from time to time we haven’t come up yet with a way to completely solve this. We are trying to make the screener to talk in the earliest stage possible, but today with Windows if nothing extraordinary happens, this happens a lot less than before from our experience, but sometimes it still does for these few cases that might cause this to happen, we will still be of course taking advantage of HDMI or USBBC if you need to use sighted assistance to see what’s going on. I know that that’s not the best answer, but we have to be honest–

Jonathan: Connect to an external display that way.

Adi: Yes, but again, we expect these issues if there’s no not something that extraordinary that happens– These should not happen frequently. In addition, if Windows will crash to a point where it needs to be reinstalled, we will be offering an accessible way of talking and a Braille recovery image to reinstall windows that we will be doing so. A blind person will be able to boot from an external USB drive in a case where it’s needed and get our factory image loaded. That we will cover.

Jonathan: One area where Windows is way behind the eight ball, despite all of Microsoft’s accessibility efforts is that there’s still no way for a blind person to get into the bios and make tweaks at that level. I actually had this situation a few weeks ago where Bonnie’s laptop did a BIOS update and it’s changed the function keys to perform system functions rather than Windows functions. There was no way from the keyboard to change that. I said to her, see you should have bought that ARM processor. I told you. Do you think there’s a way around this? Could Optima come up with a way to help you get into the BIOS and do things at that level?

Venkatesh: It is a tough challenge, but we have some ideas and it is something that we will be exploring. It is something that we really do want to solve. While we can’t make any promises I can certainly promise that we are going to try to make this happen.

Adi: Also we’re lucky that the manufacturer we work with is really supportive, the PC components and not for the first release though, that will not happen. Of course, issues like function keys will not happen on our device. Just for a specific example, because we optimize the keyboard from start to be okay, there will not be an option to change the function key behaviour anyway, but the bios accessibility, something we do want to solve in the future.

Jonathan: What will the keyboard be like and I guess it will have a full row of function keys, does it have a dedicated home and end key page up and page down? Have you got to that point yet?

Venkatesh: We’re still considering various options for the keyboard. We do have a starting point in the prototype that we showed at CSUN, but we recognize what all the typical requirements are for a good keyboard, especially for our user community. We are going to do our best to make sure that those keys are available.

Adi: At least a full role of function keys. Yes, definitely. The rest in terms of home end page up, page down, I would love that we are looking towards various keyboard form factors that have these keys. I hope we can find something, but if not, the final keyboard will definitely contain the function keys and will be similar to what you have with the mantis today.

Venkatesh: The challenge here is the overall size of the unit. If we were to make it wide enough to include a numeric keypad, then a lot of these functions would become very easily available, but we going to preserve that compact form factor while still retaining a standard-sized key spacing and key size. It’s a standard full-travel keyboard.

Adi: People who saw it at CSUN really liked the design. I was thinking that it would make some noise, but I did not expect that amount of noise or announcement made and our booth was one of the most crowded ones, I can say for sure. People really liked that compact design. That’s the number one comment we’ve got. People really appreciate how the unit looks, so I want to keep that.

Jonathan: Anytime you have anything that’s detachable, you add bulk and we  talked about this in the context of the Braille display. Does that mean then that the battery will not be user replaceable?

Adi: That’s true. It’s important for me to mention that while all of the upgrades are recommended to be done and we’ll have to send it to a service centre of hours to an authorized even hours or our distributors’ service centres to do them, the prices of them will not be higher than any mainstream prices. While you cannot do some of the upgrades yourself as the end user because of the internal replacements involved, the processes very will be very straightforward.

Jonathan: I want to talk a bit about that servicing process because obviously if my Braille display breaks unless it’s some sort of presentation time for me, I can cope with that. It’s an inconvenience, but I can cope. If my laptop dies, that is a serious crisis and I need intervention pretty quickly. So how will you ensure that purchases from all over the world have timely servicing for what is a critical device for them? It may be the difference if they go all in on this device between being able to do their work and not do their work.

Venkatesh: That’s a great question, Jonathan. We are very, very particular about service, and over the past several years we have set up a very good network of distributors who are capable of providing service and repair, maintenance, and training in many areas of the world and we continue to expand that. So that aspect and the serviceability aspect, rather the service availability aspect in local areas is going to be absolutely key and something that we are putting a great amount of emphasis on right from the very start, we will typically not start selling this in areas that do not have easy access to a service centre.

Adi: Especially because it’s a laptop and as you said, it’s a really mission-critical device. You don’t want your computer to die and we’re not as big as a mainstream manufacturer, especially the big business PC guys like Lenovo with their think pads, they have one-day onsite service. Before we start selling like Venkatesh said, we are really checking that our distributors can do the service very quickly and that they have parts and the knowledge to do it. Everything inside is swappable. Even if something breaks, like a motherboard dies, the service centres should have the parts to replace very quickly without making the person lose their important data and stuff like that.

Jonathan: That would be done then by traditional assistive technology vendors. Would it or might you partner with laptop servicing companies who will become authorised repair places for the Optima?

Venkatesh: Very likely a combination of the two. We have our current partners and we would prefer that they handle it. Obviously, there are Braille parts on this and that they’re set up to service our other products. Certainly, in areas where we either don’t have distributors and service centres, we would be looking to partner with laptop repair shops as well.

Adi: The majority of the parts we have are mainstream laptop parts. The laptop repair shops will know how to do servicing for these components. They’ll have to get some training materials from us and some things to make sure that they’re ready for the task, but we’re considering both.

Jonathan: I guess it depends on the nature of the problem. If one of the Braille cells goes out for example, then that’s quite a specialised thing that– You can just imagine right now a normal laptop support centre shrugging their shoulders and saying, “We have no idea about this stuff.”

Venkatesh: Right.

Adi: Yes, that’s true.

Jonathan: Are you able to comment at this point on the source of the piezoelectric cells? Where are they coming from?

Adi: We can only say that these are going to be cells that are very reliable that you know from other popular build display products. We cannot comment on the company.

Jonathan: I think I’ve worked it out. Will there be a 20-cell version of this or is it just 40 cells?

Venkatesh: It’s a great question and it’s an option that we have been considering. At the moment and at least to start with we’ll offer a 40-cell version. From a technical perspective, there really isn’t anything that prevents us from offering a 20-cell version as well.

Jonathan: It would be the same hardware with a shorter display, I take it.

Venkatesh: Exactly.

Adi: This is another place where I’m really waiting for Arm. If Arm will become good enough, we might be able in the future to produce something that is really small completely. Not only the display part but like the other small note taker that exist. We’ll see what the future brings.

Jonathan: You’ve got Windows 11. Which version of Windows 11 will ship on this device?

Adi: We don’t know yet if it’s going to be home or pro. It depends what’s the final agreement with us and Microsoft will be, so that is still to be finalised. Today I think that home for most people is good enough

Jonathan: People can upgrade to pro if you choose to go that route.

Adi: Of course, but we don’t know yet.

Jonathan: Preloaded, you have both NVDA and JAWS, is that correct? I think I read that it is set up to boot up with NVDA speaking and running.

Adi: We’ll have NVDA pre-installed. For JAWS, you’ll have to install JAWS and activate your license. We cannot distribute JAWS with the device. NVDA will be pre-installed, bundled with our improvements to it if you decide to pick another choice of the software. We’ll go to it later, I’m sure you mentioned it, but we offer a choice of just Windows and a screen reader, which is NVDA. If you have JAWS, you can put your JAWS on it or our own software with some extra perks and improvements, they will also cover NVDA.

Jonathan: What will that software be like?

Adi: It’s essentially going to be a combination of some blindness-specific apps that are not present in Windows very well, such as a Braille editor, a Braille calculator, a book reader. You’ll be able to either use these apps standalone like any other Windows app with a screen reader, or for those of you that are used to the note-taker form factor, we will be offering a simplified note-taker shell-like user interface until you get slowly switched to the standard Windows environment.

You’ll be able to choose if you want, for instance, when your device will boot up to have your screen reload and then placed in a simple menu that reminds the look and feel of other note-takers. We heard that in some education markets in order to get them to switch, we’ll have to make it step by step process. Essentially the software will include our own blindness-specific apps for the functions that we need to have in addition to some Braille support improvements for NVDA and some text-to-speech improvements. The device will come with Vocalizer as a global TTS engine for the device that will even cover NVDA. We will not need to install JAWS to use Vocalizer or to purchase anything from NVDA to do that. We have a global for the device and we’ll keep on updating this software as we go along.

We’re going to be very open and transparent with users from day one. You’ll be seeing various surveys from us very soon, for instance, asking the users what is the priority of the apps that we should focus on developing, what they want first, what they want next. It’s really important for us that users who need the blindness-specific functionality will get the best experience because the Windows and screen reader their front is very simple. It doesn’t require a lot of work on our side.

We do understand that people who use these devices, some of them would like a more simple interface at least to start with. My goal is of course to get everyone switched to the plain windows interface. That’s what we’re here for. This is at least my own philosophy and I’m sure that Venkatesh will share the same philosophy with me. One thing we’re not going to do, we’re not going to develop all the software in a note-taker shell. For instance, we’re not going to write a blindness dedicated email client or a web browser. These things we are not going to do. The blindness-specific functionality that is not present in Windows, that is Braille oriented, we’ll have.

Jonathan: The Braille editor I take it will facilitate entry of Braille using the QWERTY keyboard. Yes?

Adi: Correct. We’ll have a global mode actually for people who would want to use Braille entry with the QWERTY keyboard throughout the whole system.

Jonathan: Great. That was where my question was going so I’m sure many will welcome that. It’s interesting to me how many people want this from the Mantis when in terminal mode [crosstalk]–

Adi: Yes, I hear this very frequently and the devices like the Mantis allow you to input Braille in their own apps but not globally. That was fascinating to me how many people want it, but we will have it done globally.

Jonathan: What will the book reader do? I guess DAISY is a given. Are you aiming to support BARD and other blindness libraries around the world?

Adi: That’s a very good question. With blindness libraries that are not NLS BARD, we will support many of them. Yes, the book reader will be able to connect to a lot of libraries I can [crosstalk] the whole day.

Jonathan: Because there’s an open protocol and you can just harness that protocol?

Adi: Yes, exactly. The book reader will be able to connect to a wide range of list of libraries. I don’t have it in front of me at this moment, but it’s not going to be two or three. It’s going to be a very significant amount of libraries. Specifically, with NLS, we cannot comment on that now because they usually require proprietary licencing for some codex they use. I guess we’ll be in touch with them at some point trying to get this cleared. I know that’s important for users, but that is not something we can comment immediately on.

Jonathan: Do you see the need to offer Audible support directly in your book reader or are you going to say, “Look, there’s a Windows Audible app that’s being updated, use that if you want Audible?”

Adi: Well, the book reader will focus first of all on two things. One is the support for the blindness libraries like you have mentioned. The second one is easily reading all kinds of file types and user navigation between them such as DAISY, HTML, EPUB, PDF, and some other Word documents. To provide very easy and safe reading environment that is protected and has features like bookmarks and the kind of stuff that you expect from a traditional Braille reader app, a book reader app on these devices. Whenever there is a mainstream app that we see that it’s okay enough like Audible and stuff, of course, we’ll prefer people to use that. We are writing the software to complement the things that are missing or that are not implemented well in the standard sector.

Jonathan: That’s quite subjective, isn’t it? I see this quite a lot with Braille displays that have become more and more note-takers over time. What you get with this kind of thing is scope creep where you start with a very clear line in the sand but your users are going to say, “Well, this is good, but I would like it if it did this.”

Adi: I agree. This always comes along. Venkatesh can confirm that from the Orbit Reader, right?

Venkatesh: Indeed.

Adi: From the products side.

Benkatesh: It started as a reader-only and now does editing and connectivity to be a Braille display and as a PDA-type features which is definitely not the original intention. That said we are going to try very hard not to overreach, not to make things too complicated because not only is there a significant amount of effort in development, but also in maintenance and support, which ultimately all of that will end up adding to the cost of the unit.

Jonathan: What’s the device going to be like as a terminal for iPhone and I guess potentially Android devices? Which I guess begs the question, are you going with the Braille HID standard? How are you going to interface as a terminal? Obviously, Android to people’s chagrin has not embraced BrailleHID. If you want Android, you’re going to have to either ignore HID altogether or come up with a second way to integrate with external devices.

Adi: That’s a very good question. That’s great.

Venkatesh: Yes, that’s a great question. All of our current Braille devices do connect with practically every host device. Android, iOS, OSX, Windows, Linux, et cetera. While our preference is definitely HID Braille-

Adi: Which we have support for already,

Venkatesh: -we already have support in all of our products for it. We were the first Braille display company, in fact, the first company period to offer support for it. We feel that’s the way to go and we are really pleased that more and more companies, both on the Braille display side as well as the screen reader side, are coming on board with support for the standard. We’ve fully anticipated that by the time that we are ready to release the Optima will have the majority of screen readers supporting HID Braille. That said, our products since they do support all of the other standards that are prevalent, specific protocols that are for Orbit, those will continue to be supported. We don’t feel there will be any type of device that will not work with the Optima.

Jonathan: JAWS hasn’t gone there yet, has it? I take it you’ll either be banking on Vispero embracing it.

Adi: All I can say about JAWS is that we are working with Vispero to make everything happen, at this time.

Jonathan: Good to know

Adi: JAWS will be supported. I mean we know that there are many people who use JAWS. I use JAWS myself. Many of us do. Especially in a product that is professional like this. Although we do believe that NVDA has come a long way since its first days, of course. I’m very proud of these people that the project exists and it lives on and it continues ticking because it again provides a level of access that other products cannot provide to the users and with NVDA you can accomplish mostly anything today in my opinion. We had the question about JAWS support raised. We are working with Vispero and this will work. That’s all we can say.

Jonathan: Is it too early to talk about warranty at this point and what warranty people will get with the product?

Venkatesh: No, we can talk about warranty. The typical warranty will be a one-year warranty against manufacturing defects that covers the entire unit, all aspects of it, whether they are the computing components or whether they’re Braille components or anything else. We’ll be looking at warranties, perhaps longer warranties in geographies that require such longer periods. Otherwise, it’ll be our standard manufacturer’s warranty.

Jonathan: Are you anticipating then it would be available in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, a number of those markets? Is it going to be available at launch in most of the key markets?

Venkatesh: It’s a little bit too early to tell because there are a lot of factors involved including service and support, also regulatory compliance certifications, and whether all of those will happen at the same time is a little hard to predict. But, yes, certainly we’re going to target launching in as many markets at launch time as possible.

Jonathan: Of course, those are all English-speaking markets. Can I just ask about localization and whether it’s going to support a wide range of languages at launch or whether it will be English initially, what the plan is for that?

Adi: It will definitely support several languages. Localization is a very dear topic to me. This is how I started working in this field. Where I come from, in Israel, I was localizing JAWS for years and other products. Of course, it is one of the most important things for all of us, both for Orbit, for myself, and for our joined venture for Access Mind is to make sure that people get access to this in as many languages as possible.

Localization also depends on several factors, the distributor who is doing that or if this is a language that we can localize to ourselves, but all the software we develop is localization ready from day one. If we get the product launched in a specific country, it’ll be optimized for that country.

Jonathan: I just want to go back to a hardware question I missed, which is important. We talked about the processor and all the swappable ports. What’s the default base amount of RAM that it comes with? I understand that you will be able to choose how much RAM you have.

Adi: Since we want to target lower-cost markets as well. People that have a hard time affording the products. Otherwise, we want to offer from the lowest to the highest. There will be eight gigs at our base, but you can definitely do 8, 16, 32, 64, whatever your budget can– for the same things for SSDs, start with 256 and go upwards.

Jonathan: That will be a decision that you would take at purchase time.

Adi: Or after if you want to upgrade after. The ram and storage are all standard removable parts.

Jonathan: Why are you announcing this now and putting us into a frenzy and getting people’s mouths watering knowing that it’s going to be at least another year before anybody can actually buy this? Why would you do that?

Adi: I like this question. The main reason, look, many of the people at least that I’ve spoken to and also that Venkatesh spoke to, were waiting for some kind of solution like this for a good amount of time. As part of our transparency and as part of our goals to make the users involved, we want to make sure that the people will give us feedback ahead of time. For instance, even things like we heard that people want a speech-only version at the CSUN, we have been able to show the design to people and get some comments on the hardware and what they think of what we accomplished.

For instance, at CSUN we were validating two finishes, two separate textures for the device. People have told us which one they prefer out of the two. The reason why we announce it so early is to make sure we get all the possible feedback we can get from our customers to make sure that we really produce the ultimate device that they want to use rather than just saying, “Okay, we know what you need, this is what we make and have fun with it.”

Jonathan: Is there a risk that you could tip off a competitor who might be more nimble and come to market first and they might say what a great idea and cobble together something?

Venkatesh: There’s always that risk and it’s something that actually we are very comfortable with. We actually would like to see more competition in the field and the competition in our experience has always been helpful to everybody. Not only just the community, which of course benefits but also the manufacturers themselves.

Adi: The big vendors were talking to us at the conference also. They were very impressed with the product. They were evaluating the product, they were looking at it, they were asking questions and that’s always good. Our goal is to be– we actually encourage competition but we know that we are producing things that are disruptive a bit.

For instance, I am sure from at least past years of experience that if another big vendor would produce a Windows-based device, they would still heavily, heavily put focus on everything Braille specific and the mainstream being one of the options instead of being the main option. This is a philosophy that we hear often. We believe that we have our own different take on it and we would like to pursue it.

Jonathan: Just discussing the Braille display a bit, how will the users navigate with the Braille display? Are you going to have thumb keys on the front, rocker bars, that kind of thing? Will the display offer cursor routing keys?

Venkatesh: Yes. The display will offer cursor routing keys and we’ll have pan keys on the two sides of the Braille display. We are currently not considering thumb keys. There are keys to the front of the device. It’s something that we are open to again getting feedback about.

Jonathan: I’ll try and convince you about that because when I’m reading with my Braille display at quite a reasonable speed, I love not having to take my hands off the display, but I have my thumb on the front for navigation and I think it significantly speeds up my reading. It’ll be interesting to see if others offer the same feedback on that.

Adi: We’ll be happy to hear that. So far we haven’t. I definitely see myself both the advantages and disadvantages of either approach. This is what we’ve done for now, but again, that’s another reason why we want the feedback.

Jonathan: Very good.

Adi: We see that this is the main thing that people want and thumb keys one of the highly requested things, so will certainly consider it. Again, that’s an advantage of announcing so early. We have time.

Venkatesh: As Adi was saying earlier, we really want this to be a product for the community. We want them to be able to participate and contribute in some aspects of his design and features. The more we can get in terms of feedback, we’ll certainly try to accommodate as much as we can. Again, given the constraints of feasibility, both technical and commercial, and having to deal with the feature creep aspect of it.

Adi: Also, this is one of the main reasons why we offer like Venkatesh said earlier, also the piezo cells. We could have said, okay, that’s a typical Orbit product and only Orbit cells and so on and so forth but we realize that this product is not your standard affordable Braille display product. This is also a product that goes to some premium sectors. Some people like you, yourself, Jonathan, that are doing broadcasting need something very quiet and fast and others might have a preference for the Orbit cells because of the price, but also because of the fact that they’re very strong, you cannot press down on them. They’re really signage quality in terms of as the Braille feels. This is why we are really allowing the choices of pretty much everything we can.

Jonathan: You know this question was coming and so I’m looking forward to very specific numbers. What will this cost in terms of the Orbit cell version and the piezoelectric version?

Venkatesh: Yes, we knew the question was coming.

Adi: We knew this was coming.

Venkatesh: Unfortunately we don’t have a precise answer at the moment. There are a number of factors that’ll play a role in the final prize. Yes, definitely the piezo versus the Orbit cells. The piezo version will be a little more expensive than the version with Orbit cells, but it’s also harder to put a number out there today because of the configurability of the unit. As we had said before, there is a wide range of options from processor type to amount of memory, amount of storage, et cetera.

Adi: To the software you want.

Venkatesh: And software whether it’s included or not. Many, many factors but we want it still in the affordable range and we plan for it to be more affordable than anything that’s out there today in our space.

Adi: Even with the piezo version, it’ll cost less than the same competitors in the category while having the note-taker category. The high-end one is the main competitor.

Jonathan: Can we try for a, what the Americans call a ballpark figure? If you were to go for the base model with the Orbit cells, is there any rough price point that we can think about? Are we talking $2,000, $3,000, anything like that?

Venkatesh: Still a little bit too early to tell.

Jonathan: You can’t blame a guy for trying.

Venkatesh: [laughs] Yes.

Adi: No, no, no. It’s good that you’re trying.

Jonathan: All right, just before we wrap Venkatesh, I did have a listener who wanted me to ask you where are things at with the Orbit Speak, which there was quite a bit of excitement about because people dearly loved the Braille ‘n Speak and this sounded like a modern version of that. What’s become of the Orbit Speak?

Venkatesh: Yes, indeed. As for the Orbit Speak was delayed due to supply chain issues, but it is, I’m happy to report, alive and well and we do expect to be able to start shipping it end of next quarter. That’s somewhere in the June/July timeframe. We’re targeting having it available in time for the summer conventions. We recognize it’s a very interesting and important category and we hope people will be happy when they see it. We were demonstrating a functional model at CSUN this year, got some very good feedback.

Jonathan: What’s the price on that? I presume that that price has been set now.

Venkatesh: The price is close to being set. I can tell you that it’ll be in the $500 range.

Jonathan: We would love to keep in close touch with you both as Optima starts to come to fruition and I’m very grateful that you’ve both been willing to come on the show and answer many questions that listeners have. We look forward to watching this product develop. I’m absolutely confident that it will continue to generate a lot of interest.

Adi: Thank you for having us. Also, it’s very important for us, to us both, that people will write to us and/or find another way to contact us. Orbit already has monthly user meetings with customers, but we’ll also start our joint venture to have similar meetings from time to time to get feedback. We really want the community to be in touch with us, so please by all means we’ll provide our contact information and we ask from everyone who wants to contact us.

I know that some of the answers some things look early, especially a lot of people were writing I was answering quite a few emails on the various lists in the recent days. A lot of people were angry that we did not announce. I understand why that we don’t talk about the numbers in terms of the price and people suspect that some things are going. We understand why this frustration comes where it comes from and why but we are here to tell you that there is nothing suspicious going on that we don’t announce the price because of the main criticism we’ve gotten, we understand that, but we took a risk of announcing this earlier for you giving us feedback, and we really ask that this will continue.

We’ll also start showing some demos of software this year once things will become more developed and more refined. We’ll be having meetings and we’ll be having various opportunities of people contacting us and we really ask for you to continue doing this.

Jonathan: Well, if you get it right, it’s going to be a significant disruptor in this industry. We look forward to watching it play out and thank you both once again.

Venkatesh: Thank you for having us, Jonathan. It’s a pleasure.

Jonathan: Venkatesh Chari who’s the Chief Executive Officer of Orbit Research and Adi Kushnir from Access Mind joining me to talk about the Optima. If you want to make contact with Adi, the Access Mind domain has a little page right now that has that contact information over at accessmind.net. Adi is very interested in feedback about this product, what you would like to see it do.

If you have any thoughts on what Adi and Venkatesh had to say, you’re welcome to get in touch and share them with us, Jonathan@MushroomFm.com, is my email address. You can attach an audio clip to that email so you can let your voice be heard or you can just write the email down and I will read it on my Braille display, which has thumb keys. Since we have so many Braille geeks listening to the show, I would like to talk about your Braille navigation preferences.

I remember having this discussion when building some products with which I have been associated. One of the original product prototypes that we were looking at did not have thumb keys. It was a Braille device obviously, and I really held out on this. I think that thumb keys for fast Braille readers are the most efficient way to navigate for the reasons that I outlined when we have that discussion that you keep your Braille reading fingers on the display, you don’t have to move them, alter them in any way, your thumbs naturally rest on the front of the device and you can navigate to the next line and around by sentence or whatever controls are offered.

I’m not saying I would not buy an Optima if it didn’t have thumb keys, but it would seriously make me think twice because I don’t want to have to go to the end of the line on either end to find those rocker keys. I think for the market that the Optima is aiming for, you got to have the thumb keys but I’d be interested to find out what other Braille readers think and the kind of controls that you prefer. I’m sure that Venkatesh and Adi would be interested in that feedback as well. It does sound like a very exciting device, doesn’t it? I’m sure there’ll be a lot of buzz about this and we’ll keep tabs on it. We’ll try and find out how it’s going, the way that the thinking is evolving and I’d be most interested in your feedback on that interview.

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Blind people being denied alcohol

Kenneth Stewart: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight wherever you are. My name is Kenneth Stewart. I am calling from the Caribbean. People who familiar with cricket will know Brian Lara. I am from where Brian Lara started his cricket and where he was born in Trinidad and Tobago. Good day to all the listeners. I enjoy this program every week and thanks again, Jonathan, for the effort you make to ensure persons who are blind are well-informed and keeping the community tight as ever. Thank you very much.

I want to contribute to the issue of going to a bar and people refusing to sell persons who are blind alcoholic beverages. I remember one time I went to a bar with one of my friends and we had a couple of beers, and after a while, the bartender was saying he will no longer sell me anymore. I probably had about one or two beers, not that I was in any state that I will not be able to consume any more alcoholic beverages. He was prepared to continue selling my friend who is sighted but not me, so my friend and I, we left the bar, we found another place. Thank you again and do enjoy the rest of the program. Thank you very much.

Jonathan: Thank you, Kenneth. I’m sorry that that experience happened to you, but I am pleased that you called in from Trinidad and Tobago the home of Brian Lara, West Indian Cricket is spectacular. I should probably not bring this up in your company, but one of the most incredible one-day internationals I’ve ever attended live was when New Zealand was on fire in that World Cup in 2015 and I was at the Westpac Stadium here in Wellington when New Zealand played the West Indies in the quarter-finals and Martin Guptill got that amazing double century, but oh my goodness, that was an amazing game of cricket, that really was, and I always enjoy the West Indies playing.

I’m sorry that they’ve gone off the boiler bit with cricket. It feels like, at least from this distance, and I hope I’m wrong, that cricket may not be as popular in the West Indies as it once was. Anyway, you called in to talk about alcohol refusal, but I’ll talk cricket at the drop of a hat. It’s good to hear from you.

Using Biblos to Turn ebooks into audiobooks

Dean Martineau: Hey, Jonathan. I thought people might want to know about a program that I use to create synthesized voice digital talking books. Actually, this program does an awful lot more than this. It’s the Biblos B-I-B-L-O-S Word Processor. It’s free, comes from Italy. Best way to find it is just to do a search for Biblos Word Processor. It does a lot. It’s a word processor, has an extensive Braille translation, Braille formatting, has OCR, has calculator, has the ability to read and write ancient Greek, probably a bunch of other things I’m forgetting because I haven’t had to use them. What it also does is it enables you to take the voices that are on your computer and easily and powerfully create audio books out of them.

My favourite thing to do is take EPUBs from Bookshare and turn them into audiobooks. Some slightly bad news here. The program can access the Windows one core voices and so I really hoped and I wrote to the developer about it, that he could implement Windows Natural Voices that Jonathan and I both really like. He can’t, because those voices are part of Azure and there’d be a hefty licensing fee in order for him to use them. Narrator can use them because Azure and Narrator are all part of Microsoft.

This program is great because if you prefer one voice over another from the voices you have on your computer, you Victor Reader Stream users could take documents, run them through the program and use whatever voice you want on the stream if you don’t necessarily like the voices on the stream. It’s very powerful. You can have it use headings. It will use breakpoints. You can put breakpoints in your document and it’ll create breaks. You can have it create DAISY books or multiple media file, multiple MP3 books. It’s very powerful, very easy, and I recommend people look into this program and figure out what else you might want to use it for, but especially for creating digital talking books with synthesized voices.

Advocacy to Google on a Google Calendar issue

Jonathan: Carolyn Peate is in touch and she says, “Hi, Jonathan, I like using the Google Calendar on my iPhone. However, for the last few months, there has been an accessibility bug they are refusing to recognize and fix. The problem is a simple one. When you open the dialogue box to add an event to your calendar, the first edit field you come to is where you type in the name of the event. This edit field is broken. Firstly, sometimes when you enter that area voiceover states print logo, other text field is editing. If you double-tap in there, it moves the cursor to the end of the field, which is normal. The problem is that when you type in there, you get no feedback at all.

I have my settings set at words and it works in every app, but the Google Calendar. If you type in the field, then leave it, you can go back and read what you typed but do not expect to be able to backspace and hear each letter as it’s deleted. The irony is that the notes field in this area works perfectly. I decided to contact Google Accessibility through Be My Eyes as I had no response from other methods. I stayed up till midnight when they opened-,” Carolyn is in New Zealand, “-and spoke to a lady who I thought understood what I said. However, the email I got back not only called me Carol instead of Carolyn, they used incorrect terminology for the issue I had described and claimed there was no issue. I’m really not impressed, and they were not even interested in a screen recording of the issue.”

Carolyn is nothing if not persistent because after she sent that email, just as we were, as they say going to press, I received another email from Carolyn to say that she sent Google a step-by-step, a detailed list of instructions as to what she was doing to get what she was getting. Google have now replied and said, “Yes, we can duplicate this problem and we are looking into it.” It’s a bit of a pity that it took a lot of tenacity and effort, but it just goes to show that tenacity and effort pays off sometimes. Good on you for not giving up Carolyn and for providing the material that convinced Google that this is needed. I’m sure if others are experiencing this and it sounds like they will be, they will be grateful for and benefit from all your advocacy, so thank you for that.

Feedback on a few tech topics from recent episodes

Dave Gordon says, “Hi, Jonathan. I have a few comments on technology as discussed on recent podcasts. Regarding Remote Incident Manager, I really wanted to get it and I did try. What happened was I was reading about the package I wanted, which was mentioned on your podcast, but I saw different information. I believe that I recall them telling us that if we purchased minutes, they would never expire. I think they even emphasized it. However, on the website, they say that the minutes expire in a year. Even though I could live with that, I decided to call them and ask about the discrepancy. The recorded message said they would get back to me within 24 hours. It’s been two weeks. Sad, I really wanted it.”

Well I did contact Mike Calvo of Pneuma Solutions about this, Dave, and he apologizes and says that they really should have checked with their legal people first. When they did check, they said that really they cannot legally offer something that never expires because you can’t predict the future, and a company may change hands or go in a different direction, and that’s why they’ve been advised legally to set that yearly limit. It’s still a pretty good deal though, and I say that as Jonathan now, we’re not doing a paid ad at this point. I think it is pretty cool to have something like that in the toolbox because I know that it’s just got me out of all sorts of binds. Some of us might not need it a lot, but when we need it, it’s really good to have it there.

Dave continues, “I really enjoyed the demo that you did using Bing. There have been some wonderful technical advances in my life. I think this may be at or near the top of all that’s happened. It occurred to me that this could make writing term papers much easier, but more important to me at my age is how it can coordinate information. It seems that it can only get better unlike Siri, which to me has gone downhill. Even though it’s a bit slow in responding, when I look at the time I’d spend looking things up, I can live with that. Regarding the Sense Player, I owned one of their earlier models and actually liked it better than the Victor Reader because it was much more responsive and I preferred the layout. My wife enjoyed her Victor more than my Sense Player that I had until she plugged in the wrong charger and burned it out.” Oh, dear, dear, dear. Oh, thank you, Dave. Good to hear from you. Speaking of Bing–

Comments on Bing and Eleven Labs

Peg: Hi, Jonathan. Thanks for covering both 11 Labs and Bing’s co-pilot on the web. I’ve played with Bing and inquired about Braille graphics, the average guitar collection, including Eric Clapton’s preferred guitars, which led to suggested guitar lessons on the web. When I told Bing that I liked the idea of taking lessons online, but that I was a blind person and had some accessibility concerns about these lessons, Bing said it was sorry about my being blind, admired me for meeting the challenges, and suggested options like Music for the Blind and Samsung’s app, Decords with links to the suggestions.

I found both the apologetic and admiration flavor a bit off-putting, but I have been blind since birth. Perhaps I would have a different perspective if I were newly blind or had previously been sighted. I was surprised by Bing’s response, as in your presentation responses about blindness and blind people were mostly on track. Initially, I used Bing in Safari on an iPhone 12 Pro, my results were not encouraging. Then I switched to the Bing app and my best success follows. Query, can you write an article about snack foods? Sure, I can write a short article about snack foods for you.

Here is what I came up with. Snack foods, what are they and why do we love them? Snack foods are small portions of food that are eaten between meals. They can be simple, pre-packaged items, raw fruits or vegetables, or more complicated dishes. Snack foods are usually convenient, tasty, and satisfying, but they may not always be healthy or nutritious. Snack foods vary widely across different cultures and regions. For example, in the US some of the most common snack choices are fruit, cookies, chips, ice cream, candy, popcorn, soft drinks, crackers, cake, milk, nuts, and seeds, tea, and yogurt. In Asia, each country has its own special snacks such as dumplings, seaweed, rice cakes, dried fruits, and noodles. Snack foods can have different effects on our health and well-being. Some snack foods can provide energy, vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and healthy fats that can benefit our body and mind. For example, nuts and seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that can lower inflammation and improve brain function. Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants that can protect our cells from damage and disease. Yogurt contains probiotics that can support our digestive health.

Jonathan: That was submitted by Peg Jolene. Thank you, Peg. I too would be concerned if I got expressions of regret from this thing about the fact that I’m blind because I don’t regret it and I would like to think that a machine doesn’t on my behalf either. It does remind me. I was reading David Dimbleby’s book recently, which I did read on Audible and I thoroughly enjoyed it because David Dimbleby’s just so pleasant to listen to and he narrated his own book and he actually told a story.

It really resonated with me because I’ve been on the radio in New Zealand since I was four years old. He got on radio and TV when he was 11 and 12. He did a Boxing Day show where he was taking requests and it was live and people sent in the requests. He was reading the requests and on the postcard containing this request, it mentioned that the person doing the requesting was blind and this was live, no filter. This 12-year-old boy said, “I’m sorry you’re blind, but there’s nothing we can do about it.” That gave me a good laugh.


Comments on episode 218

Rebecca Skipper has comments on matters raised in Episode 218. She says, “I fight depression by staying busy. Though I do not have any chemical imbalances or other disorders, I feel isolated and hate dealing with the general public. My freelance work and volunteer activities keep me busy. I would urge our community to find ways to stay productive and contribute because I have found that focusing on something else helps. Exercising would be a good idea, though I need to do work on that myself.” I think that’s absolutely right, Rebecca. It feels good to give back and there are so many organizations that are calling for volunteers.

Volunteerism seems to be on the decline these days, so even while we may be looking for paid employment, you can get involved in organizations and really make a positive difference increasingly so from home if transportation or other issues play a part there. There is so much you can volunteer to do online these days. While it might not quite be the same as paid employment, you can still put voluntary work on a CV. You can acquire valuable networks as well as skills. Again, it just feels good to be making a contribution in some way. Onto other items, I wish we had a better market for refurbished displays since I was fortunate enough to get a Focus 40 Classic with the Whiz Wheels in 2015.

This device is still working very well. My orbit reader 20 and 40 are wonderful displays, but the pins are not always reliable, forcing me to send it multiple times for repairs. This usually happened when I use these displays with JAWS. I don’t think we can do cause and effect on that one, Rebecca, because I don’t think that anyone screen reader’s causing the dots to pop up differently from any other screen reader. “Orbit researchers’ customer service,” she says, “is outstanding though and I believe the signage quality dots are superior to the older technology. However, I went into debt again and bought the Chameleon 20 because I know that the older Piezoelectric Braille cells are quieter and more reliable for me.

I love the design of the device and the speech. If I had to buy another 40-cell display, I think I would choose either the Mantis Q40 or the Brailliant line of displays.” Of course, you’ve got the same software there, Rebecca, one on a QWERTY keyboard, the other on a Braille keyboard. Remember though, she says that NLS in the US is still working on distributing the Braille e-reader. “As for specialist players, I am not ready to purchase the Victor Reader Stream Third Generation. The team at Humanware are addressing bugs and working on support for Audible. I like the speech and the new features of this player though, so we’ll likely get it in a few months.

I’ve learned that it is okay to wait and not buy new technology when it is released.”

Task Managers

Let’s get back to the subject of task managers, Vincent’s writing in and says “Regarding the call from the listener on the subject of task managers, I can tell you that Todoist is accessible on Windows and on iOS. You can access Todoist via their website or from the app, which they rebuilt in recent years. With a few blind people, we were in touch with the Todoist people via Twitter and they really listened to our needs regarding accessibility. One time, they broke an action within the VO rotor. I made a support ticket and after three weeks with the next build, the thing was resolved. In my previous job, I made heavy use of Todoist on Windows.

You can use labels, which are called tags in OmniFocus, I think. Todoist is accessible on iOS as well. However, I can’t find out how to close the screen of a just captured task. I can move them around and label them as I wish, but doing something useful with them after capturing, is a hassle for me. What I do now is just capture the task in drafts, send it to Todoist, and deal with it later. In my current job, I cannot use Todoist on my work machine, so I am much more bound to the iPhone. I am very interested in what OmniFocus has to offer. Could you do a demo of OmniFocus in the future? I’m very curious how you set things up. Thanks for all that you do. Have a great week.”

Well, thank you Vincent for the excellent information. It sounds like accessibility of Todoist on other platforms has come a long way since I last looked, and it’s always good when the progress that we report is positive. I will certainly add an OmniFocus demo to the list. That will be quite a comprehensive thing to tackle.

Diet and well-being

Joe Danowski is writing in and he says, “Hi, Jonathan, following up here on your discussion this week concerning sleep, diet, and well-being. I would like to share here my experience in this regard over the last 21 years and what I’ve learned with the hope that your audience might benefit from it.

I’ve never been someone who anyone would say was overweight, but for most of my life, I have struggled to keep my weight imbalance even and not feeling hungry. About 21 years ago, I read the book Sugar Busters and it radically changed my approach to eating and well-being. The book promotes a low-carb lifestyle, not a diet like Weight Watchers or Nutrisystem. The premise of the book is simply summarized as follows. Do not eat refined carbohydrates or foods that cause insulin to spike. Just avoid the following things. Sugar, white flour, rice, corn products, potatoes, pineapples, watermelons, banana, and beer.

I took this approach to another level about eight years ago when I learned of the work of Dr. Noakes in South Africa who wrote a book called The Real Meal Revolution and read the books, The Big Fat Surprise and Good Calories, Bad Calories. These books brought my state of well-being to another level, the ketogenic diet, low carb coupled with good fats and time-restricted eating, and intermittent fasting. I never eat breakfast and try to limit my eating to an eight-hour window. As a result, weight is even. I never have periods of drowsiness or hunger during the workday and my mental focus is better than it has ever been.

One of your callers this week talked about sleeping difficulties, depression, and how being able to sleep improved her state of mind dramatically. I believe sleep is as important as a proper diet. I know for people who are totally blind, sleep can be a real problem because without seeing natural daylight, the brain’s natural circadian clock is off balance. A few years ago, I’ve read the books Why We Sleep and The Circadian Code and as a result, I followed these practices that I recommend to your listeners. I try to get seven and a half or eight hours of sleep a night in a cool room, about 68 degrees.”

That’ll be Fahrenheit I’m sure because 68 degrees Celsius ain’t cool. The drinker tells me that it’s about 20 degrees Celsius, so I’d actually go a bit cooler than that, but just a fraction cooler, maybe a couple of degrees cooler, but the point is well made. “I get up, says Joe, early, usually around 5:30 AM when the morning light is breaking. I go outside for a bit so my retinas can absorb the natural morning light. I believe even people who are totally blind could benefit from this practice of going out in the early morning light because I’ve read that the retina contains light receptors that have nothing to do with seeing but are there to set the circadian clock. Jonathan, keep exploring these topics that are important to the blindness community.” Thank you, Joe. You and I have very similar lifestyles indeed. Like you, I do keto. I have never had so much energy or vim and vigour with the exception of a wee bug I managed to catch and of course, we’re all going to catch those, but generally, I haven’t been in better health for a long time. My blood pressure’s great, all my vital signs are good. I also practice time-restricted eating. What I used to do until this year, in fact, was to eat lunch and dinner.

I would eat within a six-hour window, but this year, I actually wake up in the morning at 5:00 like you. I get up at 5:00 and I have breakfast and I have lunch, but I don’t eat dinner. Now, sometimes that’s not possible and I allow for that. If I’m going out to dinner with people, then obviously I’m not going to sit at the table and not eat. Generally, my time-restricted eating now consists of breakfast and lunch. My last meal will be one at the latest and I don’t eat again until five the next morning. It is amazing how good that makes you feel, but you can only do it when you are eating a ketogenic diet, I think, because otherwise, you’ll get too hungry.

You’ll get that awful pit of your stomach, blood sugar, low thing going on. Now, I don’t know when you may have started listening to the podcast, Joe, but I in fact, after a lot of inquiries about all this lifestyle, did a whole episode on this subject, ketogenic eating, and all those good things and that is all the way back in Mosen At Large episode 58. For those who are interested in a keto perspective, it’s not just me on that episode, but it’s other people who have gone keto and just dramatically changed their life, just changed their health. All the good indicators.

You mentioned Tim Noakes and he has a fascinating history. They call it Banting, the Banting Diet over in South Africa. He got into big trouble. He was taken by the medical association, I believe it was, to court. They were going to strike him off for recommending a keto lifestyle and he won his case. The data on the positive benefits of keto just keep stacking up and he took on the system and he won against some pretty significant vested interests. That book and I forget what the name of that book is, where he detailed his struggle with the system, is also a very good read. Big Fat Surprise is one of my favorite books and we also summarize that in episode 58.

For people wanting further information about that, I highly recommend that episode. I’ve been doing keto a long time now, probably eight years or so, and it’s been health-wise, the best eight years of my life. Transcripts of Mosen At Large are brought to you by Pneuma solutions, A global leader in accessible cloud technologies on the web @pneumasolutions.com. That’s P-N-E-U-M-A solutions.com.

Sense Player and Victor Reader Stream feedback

Here’s Christopher Wright with some comments on episode 219. He says, “I’m very interested in hearing the microphone quality of the SensePlayer. I’m not sure I want it just yet, so I agree with the person who’s waiting for the software to mature.

A very interesting feature that Mike convinced me to purchase it, is the OCR and or a Braille mode. I’m curious how the OCR compares to Voice Dream Scanner, which is the best OCR app I’ve ever used. Seriously, if you haven’t tried it, download Scanner right now and try it. It runs circles around KNFB Reader and everything else I’ve tried. The only thing that might be just as good is Google Lookout. The Android version is called Legere Reader, and while I haven’t tried it yet, I expect it should be just as good as the iOS app.

Does the SensePlayer provide good guidance for taking good pictures or can it do as good of a job as Scanner does regardless of the page orientation or light conditions? A Braille input feature would make this really useful paired with my phone. The Book Port Plus has a really useful Braille mode that allows you to write text files or otherwise enter text where applicable using the keypad, it uses one, four, and seven for the left side of the Braille cell and three, six, and nine for the right. It doesn’t bother me too much that it only uses Uncontracted Braille because that’s how I use Braille screen and put on my iPhone as I’m used to typing, which requires you to properly spell anyway.

A feature like that on the SensePlayer would make typing on a phone a breeze. I love Braille input for the touchscreen, but I have to leave character echo on to catch calibration mistakes and I never use it for passwords due to the inaccuracy. I could use one of those bluetooth Braille keyboards I keep hearing about or My Focus, but they’re probably not nearly as portable as the SensePlayer and I know the focus definitely isn’t.” I’ll just insert here, Christopher, that the Hable One is really small. That’s a very small device and it’s the thing that’s so unobtrusive. You can pocket it and take it out.

You can even hang it around your neck if you want to and you’ve got really good, not only input but control, with that thing. Luna RSS continues, Christopher, supports chapter navigation. I use it every week to listen to the podcast. He is doing some very cool apps actually, so I do encourage people to check out the Nathan Tech website and all that he’s working on. He’s got some great little utilities there @nathantech.net. That’s N-A-T-H-A-NTech all joined together.net. Then you can choose the products link from there. “I’d also like to draw everyone’s attention,” says Christopher, “to the Apple Podcast website player.

You may or may not know, but if you search for a podcast like this one, the Apple Podcast’s website has an accessible player right on the page. It’s a very basic player, and I’m 99.9% sure it doesn’t support chapter navigation, but it’s very accessible with a screen reader on any platform and makes playing podcasts really easy. Use heading navigation to navigate between episodes or simply move by button to quickly start playing any episode. Once you’ve started playing, you can easily read the elapse and remaining time as well as quickly pause, skip back, or skip ahead.

Now that I think about it, I’m going to write to the Apple accessibility team suggesting that they add chapter navigation to the web player. This is such a useful tool that’s platform and screen reader agnostic. If this is useful to others, I encourage those interested to contact Apple as well. Just like anything else with these large companies, the more users they hear from, the more likely they’ll prioritize something like this.” Thanks for the contribution there, Christopher. I would suggest a bit of a redirection on this one. If you want chapter support in the Apple podcast web-based player, then contact the Apple Podcasts team.

Sighted people do use chapters as well. I monitor a lot of podcasting forums and I see sighted people talking about how they appreciate particularly longer podcasts that have distinct sections bothering to insert chapter marks. These are a thing that all podcast consumers, blind or sighted, can benefit from. Let’s send it into the Apple Podcasts team and encourage sighted people to get on board as well. Let’s go to Jay Pellis now. He says, “I’ve been listening to your recent podcasts and just want to thank you for your thorough coverage of the Stream and the SensePlayer.

I really appreciate that you are willing to speak frankly regarding both positive and negative aspects of each. Some comments on Justin Coffin’s Question on Braille displays from episode 218. I currently own a Humanwear Brailliant BI 20X. There is a 40-cell version, so Brailliant BI 40X. They are pricey like most displays, but the myriad of connection capabilities is quite incredible. It has 16 gigabytes of internal storage a USB-A port for connecting a flash drive, a USB-C port for charging/device connection, an SD card slot plus a small speaker volume buttons, and a 3.5 headphone jack.

The 40-cell removes the card slot but includes 32 gigabytes of storage along with the USB port, stereo speakers, volume buttons, and headphone jack. A very nice feature added in the last update was some text-to-speech functionality. You can choose a male or a female voice as well as exactly what you want spoken in a settings menu. For example, it can read menus on the display itself and all applications plus lines and words in a document you are reading and editing. Not a full-fledged note taker, but not a normal Braille display either. That may be worth the price alone since these are the only 20 and 40-cell displays that have it at the moment.

Also, wifi support for downloading Braille books from Bookshare and BARD in the US. Not sure about other countries.” Jay, I’m pretty sure that the Chameleon from APH, which is manufactured by Humanware also has text-to-speech. This is their Braille input version of the Mantis and I’m pretty sure you can do TTS on there right now as well. For those who want to go into great depths about the Brailliant series, you can listen to our interview with Humanware and a demonstration of the 20-cell version. This was before it offered text-to-speech all the way back in episode 94 of this podcast and that is still available. There is also a transcript available of episode 94. In fact, it was the first transcript that we ever did. Continuing with Jay’s email, he says, regarding the HIMS SensePlayer, I have been a loyal Book Sense user since it came out in 2009.

I still use one since I read voraciously and I will always want a separate device for that. The features sound quite interesting, so far, from what Brian Hartgen mentioned, my huge nitpick are the voices. From reading the manual now available on the website, vocalizer expressive are voices being used. Now, don’t quote me on this, but I heard that Sense, the company who owns Vocalizer, now owns Eloquence.

If that is the case and if it can be included even at a small price increase for the license, it will sell like crazy, at least in the US. Price would be no object for rabid Eloquence fans like myself. I feel it would outsell, perhaps not greatly, but still outsell the Stream because of it. Lots of blind individuals, especially those that have been listening to synthetic speech for many decades now, may prefer a synthetic voice rather than human sounding for reading books.

If HIMS cannot or will not include Eloquence, I am begging them to open the TTS engine up so that users who have the capability, can install their own voices, especially with that screen reader coming in the future. If installing apps from APK files can be added as well, this may be the ultimate portable Android device. I understand there has to be a balance between opening things up to and closing things off to users, but since Android is so configurable, open it up a little.

Perhaps a setting could be turned on so the user can do the above with a warning stating that any problems encountered due to user installs or configuration, is the user’s responsibility and may require a factory reset. If anyone knows of anywhere to leave suggestions or feedback for HIMS, that would be great. If not, could you or someone please pass the above on to them?”

Thank you, Jay. We do hope to have somebody from HIMS on the podcast at some point when they are willing to do that interview and we’ll certainly discuss some of the possibilities of the SensePlayer and some of the questions that people are raising if we get that opportunity. Another thumbs up for the Brailliant from Sean who says, “I used to be a technology trainer for 10 years and during that time, I’ve worked with many Braille displays.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that repairs and electronic Braille often go together. However, I recently started using a new display called the Brailliant BI 40X and I haven’t had to send it in for repairs as yet after six months of use, thankfully. My favourite display was the Vario Ultra Line, which I had fantastic luck with, especially the 20 cell display. However, I know that some other people haven’t had good luck with it.”

Dairy Lawler says, “Hi, Jonathan, I hope you’re all keeping well. Well, I took the jump and ordered my Victor Reader Stream 3. Although I do like the sound of the SensePlayer, but I feel it is not quite there yet. Braille displays, I bought myself a Focus 40 Blue and love it, but it has had to go back twice because of pins not behaving. Isn’t this extraordinary? This keeps coming up.

When I next go for a Braille display, it will be one from Humanware. Question,” says, Dairy, “where in the iPhone’s many menus do I go to add a word to my pronunciation dictionary? I would like to add a word.” Dairy, for that one, you would go to settings, accessibility, voiceover, speech, and then finally under speech, pronunciations. Here’s Jackie Brown and she says, “Hi, Jonathan. I hope you are all well, and that baby Florence is thriving.” Oh, my goodness, she’s getting bigger all the time.

Jackie says, “My second grandchild was born on the 14th of March, a baby boy called Isaac”. Wow, congratulations. That’s awesome. “I will be going to visit the family in Scotland on the 1st of April and can’t wait to spend some quality time with Ezra and Isaac.” I bet you can’t. “Now some thoughts on the respective Daisy players from Humanware and HIMS. Martin and I both have the VR Stream generation two and the VR Trek.

We are not particularly into GPS, so don’t use that component on the track, so are glad they have been divided again. We don’t intend purchasing the VR Stream generation three, at least not while our current models are working. We have had good value from both the Victor Reader Stream generation two and the Trek. They certainly don’t owe us anything in terms of the use they have had.

I have had some hands-on with the new SensePlayer. It is very nice to handle and has some features that aren’t available on their competitors. One aspect I do like is that listening to podcasts on the SensePlayer offers stereo where it exists, which is not there on the Victor Reader Stream family. The SmartLink facility does work and I am sure will be of benefit to some.

The software is still a little buggy though, which is a common theme generally on HIMS products if I am being honest. I am in no rush to replace what I already have, but should the need arise, it would be the HIMS product I would choose as I think the overall quality is better. For example, recordings, music, podcast playback, and connectivity are all better than the current Victor Reader Stream machines, though I haven’t, of course, sampled the generation three yet.

As I’ve had a HIMS Braille since six, I am also used to the interface. On a completely different theme,” says Jackie, “I am thrilled to say that I am going to see ABBA Voyage in London in July with two sighted friends. We are all flying from Belfast and staying at an apartment close to the venue. We are making a proper ABBA weekend of it and going to see the Mamma Mia show in the West End while there.” Oh, you’ll love that Jackie.

Just don’t sing because you get into trouble if you sing at the Mamma Mia West End show. It was a great experience though. She says, “I have seen it twice already,” Oh, you’ll know not to sing then, I presume, “in Edinburgh when it first opened, so it will be good to go again. While we kill time waiting for our flight home, we are going on a Thames afternoon tea cruise, which may prove very refreshing if it is a hot day.”

I wonder if it’s the one that we went on. I’ve got to get the audio of that and play it on the show sometime. Jackie says, “I will report back and tell you what I thought of it afterwards. Suffice it to say, I am really excited about the trip. You’ve inspired me to do this trip regardless of how exhausting I will find it, because of my back problems. I thought if Jonathan could go around the world to see Voyage, I can go from Northern Ireland.

As luck would have it, I have two friends who love ABBA too. We’ve even set up a WhatsApp group calling ourselves ABBA Girls on Tour. It’s a real blast.” That is so cool, Jackie. I know how much of an ABBA fan you are, so you got to do this experience or you’ll think, “I wish I’d done it.” I’m glad you are and I look forward to finding out what you think of it.


Speaker 2: Mosen At Large Podcast.

Podcast apps

Jonathan: Let’s talk more about podcast apps. This email comes from Everan who says, “I’m a longtime listener and first-time emailer.” Well, welcome to you. Gosh, that reminds me of when I used to do talk radio a long time ago, and people would call in and say, “Long time listener, first-time caller, Jonathan,” and I’d say, “Welcome,” and I say, welcome to you, Everan.

Everan is also singing the praises of Luna RSS. It’s got a fan base out there and it sounds like a great podcast app. Some people may think RSS, well, that’s got nothing to do with podcasting, except that if you’re truly podcasting, RSS feeds are at the heart of a podcast because a true podcast is an RSS feed, which captures audio data. I mentioned VLC as a possibility in a previous episode.

Everan sets me straight on this point. “While VLC is a great media player, it’s not a pod capture.” Right, it isn’t. I guess I wondered whether once you have the files because you could download them potentially from the podcast website or something, whether VLC will support the chapter marks or not, so I’m not sure if that’s the case. Another option in addition to Nathan Tech’s Luna RSS, which a lot of listeners are recommending, Everan says, “Is Grover Podcast.

Grover Podcast, tremendous, which you can find in the Windows Store. I use the free version, but there is also a pro version, although I’m not sure what the difference is. I hope this information is helpful to you and your listeners.” It certainly is. Everan, great to hear from you. Do keep in touch and thank you so much for listening.

Pete: Hi, Jonathan at Mosen At Large. It’s Pete from Robin Hood County. Hoping you’re all well. I was chuffed that the update appeared. Digging deeper, I found it didn’t work for people with sight limitations. Let’s put it that way. I had a lot of button, button, button, but I just pressed them. If it did what I wanted, that was fine. It didn’t test me for any money, so that was a plus, but that was about all. The only other one I tried was Pocket Casts, and I keep that in reserve and use it if I have to. Even in its form, I still prefer Castro because the podcasts appear when I know they are due and I didn’t experience many delays, to be quite honest with you, that a lot of you did.

I don’t know why, it’s probably the nature of the podcasts I’ve chosen. Yours would come into me, it’s about between 5:50 and 6:50 in the evening because I’d get a notification from Pocket Casts but not from Castro. Now, I get notifications from Castro. It’s what we call in this country, doing half a job. It’s got one more year before its execution if it doesn’t improve. Other than that, that’s about all I can say. I agree with all of the things you said, but I’m not going to change from Castro for this year. I’ll give it one more year.

Jonathan: That’s Peter commenting on Castro and the recent update which had some accessibility issues. Now, there is good progress to report of sorts on this since the podcast was published. Actually, just before it was published. Once the transcript had been done and it was too difficult for me to change things, Castro did come out with an update that does address quite a few of the accessibility issues, in particular, the new filtering system seems a lot more accessible now.

If you like the old inbox approach, if you double tap the none button and then I think you’ve got to find another button and double tap that, you can get the old Castro look and feel back. I was delighted by this and I thought, “Okay, well, I can finally give Castro another try” because I miss Castro like anything. I, as I’ve said, use Overcast reluctantly because it’s the best of a bad bunch, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Castro when Castro is behaving.

I went back and I thought, “I’ll have another go with Castro.” What’s happened is over the months that I haven’t been using Castro, a lot of episodes have come to my queue. For example, every time there is a new episode of The Archers, I know I’m going to listen to it, come what may, and so I automatically have Castro put the episodes of The Archers in the queue. Although it may sound weird, I also have Mosen At Large in the queue, not because I want to suffer through it [chuckles] but because I want to check that it has been released.

I always play a little bit of it, and I check the chapter marks because every so often the chapter marks fall off due to human error. If that happens, I know if I don’t fix it, I’m going to get a deluge of emails from people. I quickly check it and that’s why it goes into the queue so I can just have a quick listen and navigate the chapters and know that they’re working. Well, I’ve got quite a few episodes in the queue, as you can appreciate, because I’ve been using Overcast since just before the release of iOS 16. That was in September of last year.

Now, I think it was Luis who pointed this out quite a long time ago here on Mosen At Large, and one thing he doesn’t like about Castro is that there’s no way to clear the whole queue at once. I agree that a button to mark all that’s played or something and delete them all would be great but there’re not many podcatchers have that either. In Overcast, you can’t mark everything as played, which is one of my big pet peeves about it because you have to keep going through and deleting every episode manually.

This is particularly an issue if you consume a lot of news podcasts as I do. I’ve got lots of different news sources coming into my podcatcher. I skim the headlines, and with Castro, I could just send stuff to the queue that I wanted and then mark everything else as played and they’d all go away. With Overcast, you have to do it in reverse, you delete the episodes that you want essentially, from the old podcast’s playlist so that you end up with the episodes you want.

It is way more time-consuming when you subscribe to many, many podcasts to use Overcast at the moment than it is Castro. This is one of the reasons why I am tempted back. What I found was that when I delete episodes in the queue, Focus is going into hyperspace. Then I have to try and relocate my episode list and keep deleting. I could potentially delete the app and that might well take care of it, and I may do that just to get Castro up and running again if I have to because as I say, I really miss it.

When it’s working, it is the most wonderful experience for heavy users of podcasts. I am encouraged that they did come out with that accessibility fix in a reasonably timely manner, so you never know, Castro might be back on track and I welcome that.

Census and mail security

Ken Scott is in touch also putting in a good word for Luna RSS from Nathan Tech. He says, “Of all the podcasts he listens to, Mosen At Large is the only one that has chapter markers and Luna RSS supports it, so yay, for Luna RSS.”

Ken continues, “I am glad to learn the acceptance of the BlindShell Classic has improved. The problem is that the continuing lack of acceptance on the Verizon wireless network is still troubling. Verizon Wireless has the greatest coverage of all of the wireless carriers in the United States. As someone who lives in an area with primary coverage from Verizon, expecting me to buy an accessible phone with buttons and absorb roaming charges is unreasonable.

To me, there is now a race between the SensePlayer and BlindShell Classic. Whichever gets to my market with what I want first will win my business.” Now, we’re talking about the census discussions that we’ve been having. He says, “I know of no way to bring up what I am about to without it appearing as an attack. Please understand this is not my intent.” It’s like when people say, “With all due respect,” and then you know they’re going to say something– Actually, this is a fair question.

What empirical evidence do you have that physical mail is as unsecure as text messaging which has been repeatedly shown to be insecure? My answer to that, Ken, is that we have postal ballot elections for local governments in New Zealand. Now, obviously, this is not an accessible or secure process for a blind person, full stop, because you’ve got to disclose your preferences to someone who is completing your postal ballots on your behalf.

I agree that in that sense, it’s an accessibility issue more than a security issue but I will go on [chuckles] because it’s my podcast and I can go on. There are some real security risks with this. I have heard examples of postal ballots being stolen from mailboxes and completed. Then you get into all sorts of argy-bargy having to contact officials to say, “You may receive my vote but I did not complete it. It’s been stolen from my mailbox.”

That can be quite a tricky process to try and unravel. The other security issue is very real and this is for vulnerable people of any kind. There have been examples of people who want to cast ballots in residential accommodation, particularly, older people who may be vulnerable, or in some cases, people with intellectual impairments who never receive their voting papers because a family member or a care worker, or some third party has intercepted the postal ballot before the individual, for whom it was intended, received it and just gone ahead and completed it.

Sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes not. At other times, they make an arbitrary decision and they say, “Oh, they’re not going to be interested in voting. I’ll just throw this in the bin,” without even asking the individual if they want to exercise the most sacred right that any citizen has in a democracy, and that is to cast a vote. That’s in no way to detract from the point that SMS is not secure either.

SMS can be hijacked and it has been hijacked. If we could get to a point where we have codes sent via an authenticator app, that would be the ideal. Obviously, with all these things, and I know this is the counter-argument to what I’ve just said regarding postal ballots, you’ve got to balance the security issues with the ease of access. In that regard, SMS is hard to beat because people all have it on their phones and they get the text, they don’t have to install any third-party app like an authenticator app and go through a lot of hoops.

That may well be a disincentive for people to participate in these processes. Of course, when you get to something like the census, you want as many people participating as possible. There is absolutely no doubt that there are security issues all over the place with conducting these sorts of processes via snail mail. Then a second email, Ken says, “I owe you and the Mosen At Large community an apology.

In my haste to be timely, I did not write as clearly as I should have in my message that you quoted in episode 219. I did not intend to suggest that the system to provide accessible census forms in the United States was more secure than the system in New Zealand. I was pointing out just how archaic the system in the United States was and probably will continue to be, given recent election legislation in the United States.”


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.

Speaker 2: Mosen At Large Podcast.

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