Venturing Into Vista: Installing Office 2007

After writing yesterday’s “First Look” article on my old Toshiba laptop, I went into my home office and fired up my new Vista based HP desktop.  My goals for the day included installing MS Office 2007, the 60 day trial version that came with my new computer and seeing how well the voice recognition components of Vista worked out-of-the-box with the various screen readers I have installed.  Due to my RSI problems, I can only spend a half day using a keyboard at a time or the pain will flare up and I’ll need to skip doing any keyboarding for the next day or two.  Thus, voice recognition provides me with a tool that I can use to spend more hours per day working on all sorts of tasks.  Unfortunately, getting Office 2007 set up took my entire morning and I had to stop for the day before I could get to trying out the recognition facility.


I started the Office installation by hitting enter on the Microsoft Office 2007 60 Day Trial icon on my desktop.  I had Window-Eyes 6.1 running when I first started the process.  Launching the software from the icon that came pre-installed on my computer brought up a window titled something like, “Office 2007 Authorization Assistant” or something similar.


Using Window-Eyes, I could move around as if the screen reader thought it was in what GW calls “Browse mode” (a set of functionality that equates to the JAWS virtual buffer).  I moved around using the cursor keys reading what I could and found a link labeled “click here to get an authorization code from the Internet.”  I clicked on the link and, after a few seconds, an edit control just below the link was populated with a long series of letters and numbers which I assumed (correctly) was the authorization code.  A bit further down the page, I learned that I needed to get a Microsoft Live account so I clicked on the link to do so and IE started up.


To begin with, Microsoft should make a better attempt at making a process like this conform to accessibility guidelines and standards.  The “MS Live” sign up page had lots of unlabeled junk that made using it annoying but still possible with Window-Eyes and JAWS (I didn’t try SA or any other screen reader as my goal was getting the software installed and not doing a comparison of AT products as I didn’t think the installation routine would take me a lot of time nor did I think it would behave so differently in Window-Eyes and JAWS).  The primary reason I switched between the two screen readers was because I know the JAWS Kinesis layout as second nature and I’m still learning my modified version of the Window-Eyes JAWS layout.


The last step in the MS Live online registration process required getting beyond one of those captia things.  MS did provide an audio option but, on my HP with a pretty rocking audio card playing through a very expensive pair of Bose headphones, I could not pick out the numbers from the background sounds included to mess up voice recognition bots.  My hearing has been tested with excellent results so I wonder if who can hear the numbers from within the mixture of sounds. 


“Sue!”  I yelled and my lovely wife came to the rescue to serve as a human with vision to get passed the Turing test so I could continue with my installation.  Within a couple of minutes, I completed the registration (using WE) and returned to the Office authorization assistant thing.


For no reason obvious to me, Window-Eyes didn’t go into its browse mode when I returned to the authorization program.  Even worse, when I hit the keystroke to go into browse mode, Window-Eyes reported that browse mode wasn’t available to me in the program I was running.  “You already used browse mode in this program,” I said to WE.  Window-Eyes did not respond to my statement which probably has something to do with the fact that I had no microphone attached and no recognition software running.


So, to continue, I thought it might be easier if I were to close WE and start up JAWS.


At this point, my thoughts pointed to Window-Eyes relatively poor performance in this registration program.  JAWS started up with its traditional “JAWS for Windows…” announcement.  I used ALT+TAB to go back to the authorization assistant.  JAWS behaved as it would have in an IE window back in version 3.30 – absolutely no virtual buffer support whatsoever.  I hit the “refresh screen” keystroke and nothing changed.  I quit the instance of the authorization program I was running and started it again.  Once more, JAWS acted like the window should read from the OSM but was able to identify links and I could TAB from one to another.  Unfortunately, I could not get into the edit control at all so couldn’t read or copy the authorization code generated for me.


Frustrated, I quit the authorization, closed JAWS and started Window-Eyes again.  Clicking on the link to generate a code from the Internet worked nicely and did not take me out of browse mode.  So, I moved down the page using cursor keys until I got to the link that said something like, “Start your local version of Office 2007 to continue with the installation.”  Window-Eyes told me that MS Word had started and read the authorization dialogue which told me to enter my authorization code.  I used ALT+TAB to return to the authorization program, Window-Eyes told me that I couldn’t go into browse mode and, for no reason apparent to me, I couldn’t get myself to the edit box with my code in it. 


Once again, I quit Window-Eyes and started JAWS.  No dice in the authorization page.  I quit the authorization assistant, quit JAWS, started WE and started the authorization program again (sidebar note: JAWS can be started while a program is running already and it will load the appropriate scripts and work as one would expect in the application; Window-Eyes requires that it is running when an application starts to function properly which tends to annoy when one is hopping between screen readers to hopefully one that will work well in a given situation).


Now that I have launched this program a bunch of times, I had a good idea how to tackle the problem.  The authorization dialogue that popped up with Word was still available so I, once again, clicked on the link to get myself a code from the Internet, waited for the edit box to fill up, cursored into the edit box, hit ENTER to take me out of the Window-Eyes browse mode, selected and copied  the entire code, use ALT+TAB back to the dialogue that asked for my code pasted it in, hit ENTER and Office, after this massively over-complicated sequence of events ended, told me that I had successfully authorized my 60 day demonstration version.


For this task, I would have to say that Window-Eyes performed poorly.  Unfortunately, JAWS made the task impossible so I must also say that, although its performance was poor, Window-Eyes provided me with a profoundly better experience than did the leading screen reader.


After finally getting Office installed, I played around with Vista a bit more.  I typed a short note in Word and it worked pretty well with both JAWS and Window-Eyes but I didn’t try anything in Word 2007 but typing so I can’t comment on anything more complicated than typing and reading back a few paragraphs.  I didn’t start SA as my time to play around was running out but I will give Office 2007 a real ride with all three of the screen access programs I have installed and report back with my results soon.


A general observation I made about JAWS and Window-Eyes involves the versions of Eloquence they ship or, quite possibly, how I have things configured.  Using the audio configuration I describe above and wearing the Bose headphones, the Eloquence that ships with Window-Eyes sounds much cleaner and less compressed than the JAWS version.  I don’t know what the difference is between the two Eloquence distributions but the one with WE simply sounds nicer.


I noticed that, while moving around the desktop, Window-Eyes, System Access and Narrator all read the tool tip associated with an icon after they read its name.  JAWS seems only to read the icon name but this may have to do with the verbosity setting I use for control help in which I only want to hear custom messages.  I’ll try putting JAWS back to the default and check out how it behaves that way.


Thus far, JAWS leads the pack in one area: VisualStudio .Net 2005 with the scripts written by the hackers on the blind programming list.  Window-Eyes and SA have a definite lead in all other Vista features I’ve tried so far.


Microsoft should do a compliance assessment and remediation project on its web based tools that people must use in order to perform specific tasks like getting a Microsoft Live account as, right now, it is pretty ugly with screen readers.  As I said above, I did succeed in performing all of the online tasks (excepting the Turing test) independently but the entire process would be considerably more comfortable if MS would only stick to the WAI guidelines.  As for the incredibly garbled audio captia, I’d like to hear from others who have tried it to see if they also struggled or if I should get my hearing checked again.


The UAC dialogues continue to annoy me.  They are most annoying when one first gets the dialogue asking if they really want to run a program they have downloaded and, having said “yes,” another query, this time from UAC asks if the user really, really wants to run the program, couldn’t they ask just once?  I suppose this is what we get when the legal department starts acting like product managers and insisting on making absolutely sure that the onus falls upon the user if some sort of virus, spyware, malware, etc. attacks the system.


My final annoyance from yesterday’s session with Vista is in the terms one must accept to get a Microsoft Live account which is necessary to install the Office 60 day demo and, likely, required for other tasks as well.  Namely, when the MS web site forces the user to retype the email address associated with the account as a “signature” to accept their terms which include receiving email promotions.  Historically, web sites include a check box to opt out of email promotions, a kinder and gentler way of saying spam.


Readers should note that, as I wrote yesterday, I have still not read any Vista specific help information nor have I made any configuration changes in Vista (except for switching to the classic Windows Explorer look and feel) so, I intentionally have not done anything to make Vista easier for a screen reader.  I want to get the raw feel of the out-of-the-box experience before I tweak the OS to make life easier for the AT companies.


— End

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First Look: Screen Readers in Vista

I bought a new HP desktop that came loaded with the Vista OS.  This PC has a Core Two Duo 6420 with both cores clocking at something like 2.2 GHz, a very large cache, fast hard disks, 2 gigabytes of RAM and loads of other niceties that I’ve yet to explore.  As I cannot do anything too interesting on a PC without using a screen reader, on my first sitting, I hit Windows+U to start up Narrator and then proceeded to install Window-Eyes.  I probably would have installed JAWS first but I have a Window-Eyes installation CD and I install JAWS from the web download (I got an 8.0 CD but can’t recall where I put it).  After installing Window-Eyes and getting the machine to see other computers on my home network, I installed the latest version of JAWS from the download page on the Freedom Scientific web site.  A little later, I played with SA to GO and installed the desktop version of System Access.  The following are my first impressions of the four screen access programs I’ve tried so far:


My overall impression thus far is that, excepting Narrator which doesn’t claim to be a complete solution, JAWS performs much worse than the others.  Window-Eyes and System Access both have some problems but both also outperform JAWS.


A bit of background before I get into specifics: I intentionally did not read any Vista oriented documentation on the web sites or in the help files of any of the screen access program vendors.  I felt that I should experience the installation and basic functionality as if I had just received the CD in the mail and slapped it into my DVD drive.  I felt this would offer a fairly realistic user experience as it was how I installed all of these programs in XP and earlier operating systems that way.


To install Window-Eyes, I closed Narrator and inserted the WE CD into the drive.  Doug’s voice spoke clearly into my headphones and I hit “s” to run the WE installer with speech.  It then said that it had to restart the computer to continue and I accepted the “Restart Now” option and waited for the computer to reboot.  It came up with Window-Eyes talking at the login prompt, I typed in my password, hit ENTER and the installation continued.  I chose the simple installation and it concluded quickly and launched the full version of Window-Eyes.  I played around a bit and then returned to the Window-Eyes installer to add Eloquence so I could use it with WE.  This went very smoothly, I returned to the WE interface to switch synthesizer and adjust speech rates and such.


After playing around with various network settings and such so I could see the other computers on our home network, I launched Internet Explorer and went to the Freedom Scientific web site and followed the links to the JAWS downloads page.  From there, I picked the ILM version of the latest JAWS update which, according to the marketing information said it was a final release for Vista users.  I quit Window-Eyes and launched the JAWS installer and heard Rusty’s familiar voice boom through my headphones.  Then, I heard silence.  I called Susan into the room and she clicked on some UAC or other security related dialogue.  Then, she read me the dialogue that asks if I want to restart the computer which didn’t read properly because the Vista security thing jumped in front of it.  When the PC rebooted, Window-Eyes came up at the login prompt and I typed in my password.  When we reached the desktop, JAWS started talking so I quit out of WE.  I chose the typical installation and it seemed to go smoothly until I was once again presented with silence, “Sue!” I yelled and my sighted wife came to the rescue to dismiss another annoying dialogue.  JAWS, once again needed to reboot (I’m not sure why WE only requires one restart and JAWS requires two) so I followed instructions and restarted.


After logging in again, the JAWS Authorization utility came up.  As I’ve done for the past few years, I went to another machine on my network and opened a text file in which I save my JAWS authorization code.  JAWS performance in Windows Explorer seemed terribly slow.  Keyboard interupt seemed to work poorly so hitting a number of consecutive down-arrows caused JAWS to read much more than I would have liked and I found that the CONTROL key only stopped speech in some situations.  When I got to my file I hit ENTER and it loaded in Notepad.  Moving around the document in Notepad caused JAWS to only say “blank.”  Susan had to use the mouse to highlight my authorization code so I could copy it and paste it into the JAWS Authorization manager.  Somewhere in this process, another Vista dialogue popped up and I started to believe I had secretly wandered into a Macintosh commercial.  JAWS did not read the contents of this dialogue so Susan read it for me.  Finally, I got to hit the “Finish” button and started using JAWS for real.


The first thing I noticed is that, due to no apparent rhyme or reason, JAWS started talking in Notepad where I didn’t before.  I will assume this had something to do with it having been obscured by other windows and that when its edit area was told to repaint that the JAWS OSM caught the new information.


I then adjusted speech rates and the like and continued playing around with JAWS in Vista.  I would say that the most significant issue I found with the world’s most popular screen reader is that everything in Vista seems very slow and, as I mentioned above, it is sometimes difficult to stop speech when it rambles on, kind of like the old bug in JAWS with Excel where it would send a ton of information to the synthesizer and not shut up no matter how hard or frequently one hits the CONTROL key.  Window-Eyes, to the contrary, performs very quickly everywhere I tried it.


Next, I quit all screen access programs, hit Windows+R, typed and struck ENTER.  Within a couple of seconds, Internet Explorer had launched and I was asked to hit ENTER to begin using the software.  It asked me to hit ALT+R a couple of times and then type in my Serotek account number.  I did this and after waiting a little while as the System Access tune played in my headphones, SA launched on my computer and I could use it right away.


I’m not a big fan of DecTalk which is probably the biggest complaint I have about SA To Go as that its default synthesizer and I’m not sure if I could switch it to another as I didn’t look.  I increased my speech rate and continued playing around with Vista with SA to Go.  This not being a controlled or very scientific investigation, I tried to remember what I had done with JAWS and Window-Eyes and repeat the process.


Next, I installed the full, desktop version of System Access without any problems and listened to the Serotek song play as it automatically downloaded and installed updates.  I adjusted speech rate and a few other things I like to configure when using SA and embarked on a similar set of tests with the newest screen reader on the block.


HAL is the only major screen access program I have not tried yet on my Vista box.  I have never tried HAL on any computer and, therefore, would not be able to give it even a moderately fair assessment as I would need to spend a lot of time learning its interface while trying to compare it to the others.


My overall impression is that Narrator has seen the greatest improvement moving from XP to Vista and that it is actually quite usable for many fairly simple tasks.  Window-Eyes and both versions of System Access have very clean installation routines that did not require me to ask my wife to help me with items that did not speak.  The JAWS installation and authorization schemes were cumbersome and did require sighted assistance.  Also, when the second human voice in the JAWS installer comes on to tell me that I must restart my computer, it stuttered badly on a very fast computer with a killer audio card.


In the years since JAWS 3.20 first introduced a talking installer, I have always felt that it provided the cleanest route to getting a screen reader onto a system.  I’m sure that if I had read the Vista installation instructions on the FS web site, it would probably do a better job but if my new desktop was my only computer, how could I read the instructions before installing JAWS – there is a difficult chicken and egg problem here.


Playing around some more, I must admit that I felt most comfortable in JAWS and System Access as they have keyboard layouts with which I am most familiar.  I use a Kinesis keyboard and JAWS is the only screen reader to ship with a layout designed for this very ergonomic bit of hardware.  I put Window-Eyes into its JAWS layout and started changing keystrokes to simulate the JAWS Kinesis arrangement and, the more I customized, the more comfortable I felt.


Primarily due to the scripts written by the gang on the blind programming mailing list, a project led by Jamal Mazrui, JAWS performed the best in VisualStudio when I installed it on the new computer.  Also because of third party configurations, JAWS performed very nicely in the ssh client, putty. 


Overall, though, more operating system dialogues read properly with Window-Eyes and System Access than with JAWS.  Both Window-Eyes and System Access are much faster than JAWS nearly everywhere I have tried thus far in Vista and, oddly, WE and SA seem to have the greatest speed advantage in Windows Explorer even when set to the classic look and feel.


The tests and comparisons I have performed so far represent a “first look” at Vista with the various screen readers I have installed so far, thus, I would not use this article to make any purchasing decisions as I have really only compared the installation routines and operating system features and have not even installed Office 2007 on the new box and JAWS has for a long time dominated these professional applications and I don’t think FS would let WE or SA catch them in support for this important suite of tools.


I would also like to mention that the SAPI voices included with Vista are really nice and sound very human.  I still prefer Eloquence as it kicks ass at very high speech rates but Microsoft did a very nice job with the new synths.


My hatred for pre-installed software has not decreased with the purchase of this new HP.  The most annoying of the bloatware programs on this PC is the Norton virus protection program which, due to lots of custom controls, works like crap with every screen reader I tried.  Recently, InfoWorld compared about 10 virus/malware/adware protection programs.  NOD32 came in first place far ahead of Norton, McAfee and Microsoft, the three most popular.  NOD32, the protection program I use on every computer in our house, allows users to turn off its graphical interface and, thereafter, it works very, very nicely with JAWS, Window-Eyes and SA in Windows XP (I haven’t installed it under Vista yet).


As usual, though, the “All Programs” menu on my new PC is resplendent with lots of crap I don’t want.  I am writing this on an XP PC which I’ve owned for over a year and a half and I’ve still not figured out how to fully remove AOL, a service I have never used nor do I intend to use in any future I can predict for myself.  I saw that AOL was pre-installed on my new HP and wonder if it will be a permanent fixture.


This new PC has 640 GB of hard disk space so the bloatware hardly means anything in terms of wasted storage but I hate seeing crap I don’t want in my Add/Remove programs list where I actually want to find programs I do want to update or remove.  Then again, I got this computer from NewEgg at a great price and bloatware often provides a way for computer manufacturers to keep retail prices down by taking advertising revenue for loading this garbage onto new computers.  I’d rather deal with removing a bunch of stupid programs than pay more for the computer.


So, look for some additional articles on my adventures in Vista with Office, VMWare and Ubuntu with the Orca screen reader and checking out the WindowsVistaMediaCenter with my new PC attached to the cable television connection and FM radio antenna.




Rumors are starting to form about the upcoming JAWS 9.0 release.  So far, Blind Confidential has only heard that it will do “revolutionary things on the Internet.”  As I was removed from the JAWS beta team back in 2005, I have no non-disclosure with FS nor do I have access to the software so all I can report on are rumors and conjecture.


FS had included language about support for AJAX in JAWS in some of its 8.0.xxxx release notes but this was later removed so, perhaps, they have found a way to provide really cool access to some of the new dynamic web pages in a manner that would be meaningful to a screen reader user.


— End

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Thoughts about Independent and Assisted Navigation

My blog entry today concerns navigation–both cognitive and computer-assisted.  
Yesterday, a friend and I spent the day in downtown Minneapolis–attending a diversity job fair at the Convention Center. Before leaving the house, I gathered
up all the pieces of my Trekker (GPS receiver, PDA, and speaker), and headed out the door. Once in the car, I put the pieces together, and turned it on.
Nothing happened…Again…  
While the idea behind the Trekker is an amazing one, and while it is a great little device when it works, I have to say (as someone who has owned one for
the better part of 2 years) that I have *never* gotten the thing to work when I truly needed it. Oh, sure, I’ve gotten it to work while driving in the
car with my sighted fiancé, who grew up in the Twin Cities and doesn’t need a GPS because the area is so familiar to him, but in instances when it would
actually enhance my ability to orient myself… 
Two years ago, my sister and I took a trip to Portland together. As we’d never been there alone (we’d gotten our dogs at GDB’s Oregon campus, so had gotten
around with the help of guide dog instructors), I thought my GPS would be a great tool. Not a single time, during our week in Portland, did I get it to
Then there was the time I went to Vegas for the ACB Convention. Do you think I got it to work there? No. 
And, last week, when the ACB Convention was here, in Minneapolis, I wanted to take the Trekker on a walk to better explore downtown (living in the burbs,
I don’t get up there much). You guessed it…Nothing…  
So it didn’t surprise me, though it definitely pissed me off, when I turned on the unit yesterday morning, and realized that it didn’t charge properly.
This is likely due to the fact that the case doesn’t fit the PDA correctly, due to the overlay that HumanWare places on top of the screen. I think this
made it too thick to fit in the cradle, and thus, it didn’t rest on the pins properly, and thus, it did not charge. 
I have rarely seen a piece of technology that requires so many proverbial stars to fall into alignment before it will work. If the unit charges properly,
and if you have the correct version of the software installed, and if the correct maps have been loaded, and if there are enough satellites in view, and
if you stand still long enough for the unit to find you in a heavily urban area…it’s a great piece of technology. I’m looking forward to the release
of a comparable cell phone-based product. I know that Way Finder and the like are already out there, but I haven’t heard much about their performance or
user interfaces. If anyone has personal experience with one of these other GPS apps, I’d love to hear more about it.  
So this brings me to the other part of my entry. The one that talks about cognitive navigation. As much as these little GPS devices can be an amazing supplement
to our orientation, I believe that this is exactly what they should be viewed as–a supplement. For instance, if I didn’t possess good orientation skills;
and if I hadn’t paid attention to the names of streets and businesses, to landmarks, and to directions during my previous trips to downtown Minneapolis;
I would have been hopelessly lost (not to mention on the verge of a panic attack) without electronic help. 
I have simply seen too many blind people who rely on (or even expect) other people and animals to know where they are. I’ve seen people who don’t pay any
attention to their surroundings, or to the cues in their environment, and then get pissed off when they get lost. Having been at the convention last week,
I saw some individuals who were incredibly oriented and in  tune with what was happening around them. And then there were those who couldn’t find their
way out of a paper bag with a pencil and a set of directions. I realize that everyone has varying abilities when it comes to spatial awareness or memory,
but come on, people. These individuals at convention who walk around slapping their cane from side to side as hard as they can, or hopping their dog up
into walls or other people and dogs–without even taking the time to check where they are–drive me insane. These people who tell their dog to “find outside”
when they, themselves, don’t even know where the hell the nearest door is–put me over the edge. It is our responsibility, as blind people, whether we
use a dog or a cane, whether we’re walking sighted guide or on our own, to at least try to learn about what’s going on around us. This awareness is what
builds the sorts of mobility skills that allow us to travel to foreign places independently. When you have good problem solving skills, and the ability
to synthesize the information your environment provides, getting lost doesn’t have to become an excuse to have a break down. And we don’t have to be the
person that other blind people hate to have around, because we can’t leave our hotel room at convention without clinging on to another person. 
Just my two cents.     

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Cleaning Out the Closets

Like many a nerd, I rarely throw anything away that may come in useful at some time in the future.  Rarely, however, do I find an actual need for the majority of the junk I keep around.  Recently, I bought a new HP desktop with a ton more power, memory, storage and anything else I could imagine having in a box that I will use for the work I do – namely software development for research and pleasure and creative writing for this blog and a soon to be announced new web site.


Like many sports fishermen, I also loath throwing away any bit of tackle that may come in handy at any time in the future.  Of course, since I started my collection of fishing gear, I have increasingly specialized in fishing salt flats and only rarely go more than a mile off the beach and, then, only when the kingfish pass through our area.  I, therefore, have loads of junk that I’ve acquired over the years that I never use and will not likely use in most possible futures in store for me.


Susan, my lovely wife, talked me into culling much of the junk from my home office.  One of the largest and least frequently used objects is a 1999 vintage Gateway desktop with a voluminous 17 inch CRT monitor.  Combined, the two take up more space than my new HP, a Dell Desktop I keep around and a 15 inch flat screen monitor that I’m using via switchbox for both.  I only use a monitor at all when I ask Susan to look over my shoulder to eyeball something when a screen reader isn’t reading something or has crashed and I’m unclear as to why so the smaller the monitor, the better for me.  The eight year old Gateway, though, remains a pretty useful computer and its monitor, although big, still works nicely (or so I’m told).  I’ve used this box to run Fedora Core with SpeakUp for over two years now and, although a little slow, it remains a perfectly usable set up for this purpose.  Inside, it has a P3 450 and 512 mb of RAM.  The old Gateway has two optical drives, one is a CD burner, the other was fast for its time and still reads CDs nicely.


Ridding myself of the old Gateway and its monitor is not an easy task.  For starters, one can go to any number of retail web sites and find more powerful computers described as “refurbished” for under $150 and no one seems to want big, old CRT monitors.  Shipping this system will cost more than it’s worth so finding a new home for it really means finding someone locally who will take it off of our hands for free.  We live in St. Petersburg, Florida so, if you’re local, feel free to write or call me and you can have this PC if you want it.


Susan found some kind of charity computer gathering service that will actually pick up old hardware if they feel they can find a home for an old box.  She spent last night finding the Windows 98 and Office installation CDs that came with the old PC.  She listed it on the web site and I’m not sure if anyone has asked for it yet but I tend to be pretty doubtful that anyone really wants this old clunker.


In our quest to find things associated with this old PC, we ran into lots of old and forgotten technology and electronic things that have gathered over the years.  I found the number of pairs of headphones and ear buds that have piled up over time the most remarkable of the various objects in the closet and boxes surrounding it.  Without exaggeration, we must have accrued at least two dozen pairs over the years.  I have no idea how long we’ve had some of these and, based upon general recollection, how many times we’ve packed and moved these items over the years.  This house is our third home in Florida and I recognized some of these items as having come with us from Cambridge when we moved here almost 9 years ago.


As we started going through old software CDs, we realized that some of these ran on Macintosh, a type of computer we last owned about eight years ago when I gave our last one away to a colleague at FS so his then four year old daughter could have something to play with.  I remember the awe I felt when I bought that machine as it had a screaming fast (100 MHz) Power PC processor and 64 whole megabytes of RAM.  Amazingly, I have an iPAQ with 6 times the processing speed and tons more memory.  Of course, also somewhat amazing is that we we found software for this dinosaur in our collection of ancient junk.  I wonder if anyone still uses that ancient Macintosh anywhere?


Our search led us to a box of cables.  I don’t think I’ve ever thrown away a cable in my life or so this collection would suggest.  We have miles of coaxial cable left over from my days as a cable television box hacker; we have serial cables, parallel cables, ribbon cables, cable splitters, wire wrapped custom cables that probably connected beta video cards from the days I worked for Number Nine to monitors long ago disposed of.  Why I kept such a collection boggles my own mind and, at the same time, I found myself saying, “you never know when you might need a null modem cable” and “that looks like a Lap Link cable, it could come in handy someday.”  Maybe I should have my therapist test me for other symptoms of OCD as, clearly, these are not the thoughts of a healthy mind.


For many years, I’ve maintained a collection of the packages that software on which I worked shipped in.  We found old Right Writer for DOS boxes, Quatro Pro for DOS boxes, every version of JAWS from 3.30 to 6.0, old releases of OpenBook, Dashboard for Windows 95, some old Broderbund programs (are they still around) and lots and lots of boxes of worthless software.  I even had a copy of AutoCAD Release 10 which, if I remember correctly, came out in 1988 and was one of the first major applications that actually required a 386 to run.  I decided to dismantle my personal software museum but keep a few items (JAWS 3.31, the first release with a virtual buffer) which remains one of my favorite JAWS releases as it, as Mike Pedersen put it, “made the competition squeal like pigs.”  I kept a few other items for memorabilia sake but the rest went to the dumpster in the alley behind our house.


Much of the rest of the software we found, still in its shrink wrap, came with one or another PC that we’ve purchased over the years.  We felt that any software that remained in its original package without its seal having been broken, would probably never be of any value to us.  Thus, we sent it out to the dumpster to help Florida landfills grow to make the state safe for more condo complexes that will rise from the cracked plastics of our CDs and floppy disks.


Then, I opened the Pandora’s Box of ancient and even some relatively recent oddball hardware items.  There, I found a DoubleTalk LT, the first hardware speech synthesizer I ever owned, the one I used with emacspeak on a Debian GNU/Linux distribution on a 1988 Gateway Solo laptop – coincidentally, the same laptop on which I first used Window-Eyes to write up my resume which got me my job at FS managing JAWS.  This same old laptop was the first on which I used JAWS (a TE that Joe Lazarro from MCB sent me that same year), I don’t remember where the laptop went but the DoubleTalk LT remains in my possession.  This box also contained a web camera that I have some vague memory of buying but no memory of using, a few old mouses, a couple of joysticks, a USB hub and some other junk.  We kept all of this stuff as it doesn’t take up much space and one never knows when it might come in handy, right?


We also found boxes and boxes of manuals.  These all went to the recycling bin as virtually all of them described software or hardware we no longer used and, in some cases, stuff we didn’t even own.


Trying to separate myself from old and, to me, relatively useless fishing tackle proved far more difficult.  “A number six planer works great on Spanish Mackerel in 10-12 foot deep water,” I heard myself saying.  To those of you who do not fish, one uses a planer to keep bait at a consistent depth while trolling at a relatively constant speed.  Trolling like this requires a boat with an engine and, to the standards of a flats fisherman, deep water.  I do almost all of my fishing from either a canoe or while wading.  A canoe without an engine attached works very poorly as a boat for trolling; wade trolling would require that the fisherman run backwards through deep water – a comical notion certainly but, unless one is keen on drowning, an impractical one at that.


The collection includes lots of “terminal tackle” which, to the non-fishing people, means gear one uses when they fish with either live or formerly live bait.  This gear is useful when we fish off of the Skyway pier and drop our bait to the bottom in hopes of catching some large grunts or, in the winter, sheepheads.  As we rarely do this sort of fishing we probably don’t need a ton of gear but all of the stuff we have has never been used and as we may use it someday, I’ll keep it in the collection.  So, with the exception of a few chewed up old lures, some fly gear with nasty tangles and some items that we did use and that is now caked in rust, we kept all of it.  Maybe Ernie will want the planers and deeper water stuff and I promised one of the long unused reels to Charlie so some of the tackle collection may find a second life in someone else’s pile of tackle, used or gathering dust.


I kept one item specifically because it once was owned by the late Merrill “Conoeman” Chandler, one of the founders of the local paddle fishing community whose insights we all surely miss.  Thus, I have an item I never plan on using that I bought at the Conoeman’s widow’s yard sale when she unloaded his junk after his untimely death a few years ago.  To anyone else, it looks like a random piece of fishing stuff; to me it’s a bit of nostalgia for a really great guy.


I think we managed, in all, to free up about 20% of the space that we had hoped to reclaim.  Do other people keep closets full of stuff they don’t think they will ever use?  Am I the only geek who gets nostalgic for old boxes of software upgraded hundreds of times since it went public? 


Does anyone but me, including people at FS, remember just how and why JAWS 3.31 was so incredibly special a release that, above all of the JAWS, MAGic, OpenBook, ConnectOutloud and other releases I managed at FS, it’s the only package I care to keep?  I’m proud of almost every release of commercial software from my career before and after FS but JAWS 3.31 remains as the single point in my professional software development era (starting in May 1979 at Lincoln Savings in New York) where I believe the step forward from a previous (in this case JAWS 3.30) release was so dramatic.  For those of you who do not recall, JAWS 3.31 did not include a lot of new features, it didn’t have too many new scripts either.  JAWS 3.31 introduced using the IE DOM as a method of gathering information and it, for the first time ever, presented Internet information in what we called a virtual buffer.  We had hoped to introduce the virtual buffer in 3.30 but, alas, we didn’t get it done to a satisfactory point for a few more months.  When it did come out, our decision to eschew MSAA and go straight for the DOM made an immediate impact.  Loading a web page with lots of links and such, we liked using Jamal’s EmpowermentZone page for its huge number of links, would take 30 seconds with JAWS 3.31 (we would get faster in the future) but over a half hour using the MSAA based competition.  JAWS 3.31 would raise the bar for functionality, usability and performance for blind Internet users everywhere and, gradually, its competitors followed along.  While there have been numerous innovations in JAWS, Window-Eyes, System Access and other screen readers hence, I still look back at the summer of 1999 as the period in which the biggest breakthrough happened under my watch.


Well, I’ve drifted from the topic at hand to nostalgia for years gone by.  I suppose cleaning out the closets provides a good time for reflection and nostalgia so, in a way, the article’s end has some connection with its start.


— End

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Fun With Trademarks

In the time since the Freedom Scientific v. Serotek lawsuit hit the blind blogosphere and Darrell put the petition online, we at Blind Confidential have received a number of emails and other communications suggesting who might sue whom over trademarks and other IP silliness.  It is my personal opinion that all of these lawsuits waste people’s time, money and energy and that instead of litigating, the blindness community should focus on innovating.


Yesterday, I received the following letter informing a company called Envision America, a group I didn’t know existed until a BC reader CC’d us on a letter he sent them, suggesting that they should take legal action against Freedom Scientific for using the word “Omni” in the branding of their new line of PAC Mate devices:


Envision America Should Sue Freedom Scientific!


From: A. Reader


Subject:  Notification of Copyright Infringement!


To whom it may concern!


Freedom Scientific is calling their new PAC Mate release: “Pac Mate

Omni” which in my not so humble opinion violates the trademark of your “ID Mate Omni” product. Since their “ScanTalker” application (which runs on the PAC Mate) directly competes with the “ID Mate Omni” could cause potential customers to become confused about which product they are getting resulting in income loss for Envision America, I strongly recommend that you consult with your legal counsel on this very serious matter. I am not an attorney, but I believe you have a case to sue them for trademark infringement. They do not tolerate such behavior in related industries and neither should you!



  1. Reader


To be fair, I will add that there is a new product in the field of technology for people with vision impairment that has recently won a major European design award that uses the name “Topaz” – a Freedom Scientific trademark so I suggest Dr. Hamilton get on the phone with his attorneys to keep this talking RFID system out of the hands of people who may enjoy using it until they change its name.  We wouldn’t want FS technical support getting any questions about highly innovative award winning devices that use very exciting breakthrough technologies.


If asked to, I will personally testify on behalf of Freedom Scientific if they pursue the Topaz RFID product as, when I read the article about it winning an award, I grew very confused wondering how and why yet another CCTV could possibly win anything regarding innovation so, I, for one, found the identical names caused a conflict in my mind and surely believe this confusion must exist elsewhere.


Of course, I do wonder if Freedom Guide Dogs, Freedom Vision or the AT dealer Freedom of Speech might feel they should go after Freedom Scientific.  What about Scientific American, the terrific magazine, now over a century old, they published articles about blindness well before Dick Chandler was born and, maybe just maybe, people might confuse the Freedom Scientific web site with their own.


All of this kind of makes my head spin as their always seems to be a trademark that existed before another got granted.  Crossing technologies, the UK based Lotus automobile corporation used to sell a car called Excel and a London newspaper contained the headline “Lotus Improves Excel” which made people at Microsoft scratch their heads.  Fleet Bank shares the name of the most popular enema company so, when they bought naming rights to the new BostonGarden and called it The Fleet Forum, people around the city started calling it the enema center as that’s how the new place made us feel and, frankly, it’s the feeling I get from all of this litigation nonsense.




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Police Report

By Gonz Blinko

BlindChristian’s wife read to us from the town newspaper for this little island. She thought we might find the police blotter entertaining so she read one of the stories aloud. We all laughed when she told us that the police chief, one Bubba Castell, edited this section of the paper.

The most amusing story described how Officer Perry, a town cop, was dispatched to a complaint by the owner of a water front condominium. It seems that the last people to rent the place left it, “covered in vomit and human feces.” The story described how Officer Perry took lots of photographs of the damage, obviously to provide 8 by 10 glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph describing each on the back. I wonder if a Levy County judge will bring his guide dog along for the trial.

The best part of the blurb from the blotter came from Chief Bubba himself, “I can’t imagine adult human beings acting like this but I guess it takes all kinds to make this world go around.”

“It takes all kinds?” Exclaimed BlindChristian, “What sort of sick and twisted perversions, drugs, booze, whatever causes people to smear shit all over the house?” Then, in a softer tone he asked, “Gonz, we never did anything like that did we?”

“Nope,” I replied. “I can’t claim to remember every bit of weirdness we participated in but nothing scatological comes to mind. We were usually pretty good about mopping up the puke too.”

“Then what sort of sickness might cause this?” he asked, some what in disgust but with a certain curiosity in his voice that made me wonder if he thought he might have missed out on something fun.

“Maybe it’s like the guys downstairs at the Ram Rod,” inserted Samhara. “As your doctor, I highly advise you to steer clear of such behavior.”

“I thought you were a lawyer,” said BC.

“Doctor, lawyer, its all pretty similar and, even without an actual degree in health care I can tell you that rolling about in vomit and shit is definitely unhealthy.”

“Can you cite a source for that assertion?” Asked BC whose wife immediately added, “Do you always need to be an asshole?”

“I just can’t imagine why people would come to such a beautiful spot and spend enough time indoors to trash a place like that,” I said. We sat on the deck overlooking the water and drank coffee provided by the establishment. “It must be Maxwell House,” I thought as I placed my cup back on the table as I said, Yuk,” after taking the final sip.

We had spent the previous day fishing and had celebrated BC’s birthday by eating a four foot black tip shark. We had some sea trout to go along with it.

“Why does this godamned new JAWS update keep saying TAB when I backspace over whitespace at the end of a line?” Shouted BC in frustration. “I hadn’t hit a TAB in this entire document and backspace at the end of a line will often say TAB!”

“Who would have thought of testing the backspace key in MS Word?” Asked BC’s wife sarcastically.

BC grunted and walked off grumbling something about not having Window-Eyes on the laptop he brought along. I hadn’t made such a mistake and my laptop has 5 Windows screen readers and Orca installed so my butt is covered and you, my readers, get to enjoy these ravings.

“Let’s get some more sharks,” said El Negro.

“From Kayaks?” Asked BC.

“Of course,” I added and we grabbed our heavy rods and started walking to the beach with our gear in hand.


I don’t know if the local Cedar Key newspaper has an online presence but the story I mention above really came from the local paper and Bubba Castell is the local Chief of Police.


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ACB Debrief

Well, I have now returned home from the ACB Convention, and it was wonderful to have such a short and uncomplicated trip back. I was grateful not to be flying–what with all the brochures, purchases, merchandise for my booth, etc.

Tuesday was mostly taken up with preparations for the Independent Visually Impaired Entrepreneurs’ (IVIE) Small Business Expo. My spa products seemed to be a hit, and it was encouraging and exciting to see so many blind people with such cool business ideas. My sister spent the time giving non-stop massages as well. Conventions can be so stressful. Speaking of massages. My guide, Kaylor, got a massage of his own on Tuesday afternoon. A certified canine massage therapist, named Carla Campbell, attends the show each year, and she does amazing work on our over-stimulated convention doggies. Kaylor was in heaven–I didn’t think I’d be able to get him off the floor.

We also played another round of Power Showdown on Tuesday evening, and went through the exhibit hall on Tuesday morning. There were some great exhibits–some of the usual CSUN attendees (like HumanWare, GW Micro, Serotek, etc.). There were also some less technical, but equally relevant booths (like Talking Thermostats, a bunch of guide dog schools, a man who made beautifully detailed piano music boxes, National Braille Press, etc.) I do appreciate the exhibits at ACB, because they seem a bit more holistic in nature–focussing on all aspects of our lives, instead of just the computer-based portions. Thumbs up to the Seeing Eye for giving away the Godiva chocolates.

Wednesday was filled with GDUI events. We had the GDB breakfast on Wednesday morning, and it was great to see so many staff members there from both campuses. For those who don’t know, the schools breakfasts are open to their grads, or prospective grads. They are a way for us to meet other handlers from our schools, and get all the latest updates on our school’s training, admitions, and in-class policies.

On Wednesday afternoon, I had the incredible fortune to hear Patricia McConnell speak at the GDUI luncheon. If you are a dog user, and you have not yet read her materials, she is one of the best there is. Her talk was informative (she spoke about the differences in the emotional capacities of our brains versus those of our dogs’). The two really aren’t all that different, and it really opened my eyes about the best ways to interact with Kaylor. She was incredibly funny,and kept the crowd in stitches. Until she made us all cry at the end, that is, as she recounted the amazing life and death of one of her beloved herding dogs. I can’t recommend her highly enough. If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak, pay for it…it’s worth it. Or check out her show on the Wisconsin Public Radio web site.

Wednesday evening was the ACB Auction. There was a huge turn-out. I didn’t stay for the whole thing, but am looking forward to hearing how much money was raised.

That’s all I have for this year. Next year’s convention is in Louisville, so we’ll see if I get there.

If any of you has a convention story from either convention, please send it along. I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences and opinions.

Have a great day and weekend. Happy belated Fourth to you all.

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Gone Fishin’ (Fiction)

By Gonz Blinko


BlindChristian had lent his best hideouts to Mickey Bald until his lawyers could work through the bullshit lawsuit brought on by Leland Burr and the Freeman Scientologists.  The FS gang really seems to have changed after Waffle House acquired them.  I had thought Leland preferred Bob Evans but the Waffle House cheese grits probably made the deal.


I had always thought that low rent redneck food and access technology would go well together and I expect Sy. T. Greenbacks to make an announcement that he’s thrown in with either Denny’s or Cracker Barrel any day now.


BC and his wife stayed at my condo up on

Joey Ramone Place

since we all headed up to the city after hiding out in the keys during CSUN.  Sy T. Greenbacks had helped the Freeman Scientologists in their pursuit of hegemony over the use of the word they insisted was their’s and their’s alone.  Sick of all of the AT politics, our little gang headed off to a quiet fishing village along Florida’s NatureCoast.


As our jet landed in Gainesville and the crew saw that a bunch of blinks with dogs and a few sighties were all getting off together, almost all of them singing “Bobby McGee” and trying to growl like Janice, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…”


“I wonder if the Scientologists will try to sue Joplin after death.”


“Kristopherson wrote the song, he’s still alive and easier to sue.”


“Do you think they’ll sue the guide dog school?”


“Nope,” said Samhara, “I think the PR cost them too much in the last legal battle.  Puppies are so damn cute that going for a guide dog school would put tears in the eyes of every sightie with a warm heart in America.”


We headed out into two rented limos and drove west.  “I’m sick of all of the legal stuff,” confided BlindChristian.


“I’m sick of finding hiding places for you and your AT friends.  Why can’t you get into something that will piss fewer people off?


“I don’t know…”


“Then why don’t you just learn to shut your fucking mouth,” I added.


“Bradley Punkrock has known me longer than you and he thinks I have some kind of troublemaker gene.  That I can’t stop stirring the pot and sometimes the soup comes out good, other times it sucks but I just keep stirring.”


“Do you think Joyce James will be safe up in Minnesota?”  I asked.


“She has her dog, her boy and her Glock, she’ll be fine.”


“Why don’t you ever attend the summer shows?”


“Because I’d rather celebrate my birthday fishing.”


Our little motorcade arrived at our little bed and breakfast resort.  The Labradors tried to pull us straight into the beach but we got everyone sorted out and checked in.  We gathered in BC’s suite and did a few bong hits before grabbing the G. Loomis gear and heading for the beach.


I put a set of doggles on the X-Dude; BC did the same for his dog.  The dogs don’t like them much but when around blind people with fish hooks, one needs to take precautions.


The dogs, taken out of their harness and put on long tethers ran splashing into the salt water.  We followed slowly and realized that we had no good way of keeping the dogs behind us and didn’t know which way to cast.  At that moment, as if on cue, we heard the thumping engine of a big Harley and knew that El Negro would soon sort things out.


The motor stopped and we heard laughter getting louder as it approached.  “Do I need to save your blind white asses every year?”




“No excuses assholes, you white boys need me to help you do everything,” he said as he gathered the dogs behind us and tied their tethers to poles on the oyster shell beach.


“Do you need me to bait your hooks too?”  He needled.


“Fuck you, it’s my birthday party and I’ll whine if I want to,” inserted BC.


“Yeah,” laughed the large black biker, “I hear Labradors make great shark bait, maybe I’ll toss him into the channel and see if a nice steak sized bonnet head will hit.”


“Well, I’ve heard that fat negro ass makes great shark bait too and I’m thinking we might go trolling over some deep cuts in the morning and, as you’re the only owner of a fully qualified fat negro ass, we’ll have to hook you to the downrigger.”


Our wade fishing banter about canincidal and homicidal thoughts turned to talk of fishing, El Negro and BC hooked into a pair of big breeder redfish at once and we had a bit of a Chinese fire drill.  I caught the only keeper, a nice sized cobia and we walked back to the inn to barbecue my quarry.


We’d be fishing from sun up the next day so we headed back for our rooms.  Most of still had “Bobby McGee” stuck in our heads but the blackened cobia tasted great and the gang was mostly reassembled for some fun.


— End

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Live From the ACB Convention

Hello everyone. As a Minnesotan, I am definitely happy with the response of all of the ACB convention attendees to Minneapolis, and on the way Minneapolis
has responded and prepared for them. All except the incredibly ditsy chick manning the front desk yesterday afternoon. The weather has been hot and sunny, except for some rain last night, which has made the tours and walking around outside
much more pleasant. 
The two convention hotels are located on a downtown street, called Nicollet Mall. Nicollet is a great place for the convention, as it is closed to private
forms of transport (only buses and taxis are allowed on it). The hotels are near Orchestra Hall (there was some live music on Sunday evening), Brit’s Pub
(an excellent local pub), the Music Box Theater (where I saw Triple Espresso last fall (fabulous if you get the chance)), and various restaurants (including
a Starbucks, which I, of course, had to seek out). On
Thursday morning, the whole area will turn into a multi-block farmers’ market, so I’m excited about the opportunity to have fresh fruit and bread for breakfast
that day.  

On Sunday afternoon, we arrived and checked in. We’re staying at the hotel, because I live about 45 minutes outside of Minneapolis (without traffic).
Before coming to the hotel, we walked my guide in the Mall of America for awhile, and I was actually able to find white shoes! Thank you Nordstrom.  
We then attended the orientation session at the GDUI suite. The suite featured some great merchandise–including a very compact doggy first-aid kit and
stuffed dogs wearing little guide dog harnesses. An instructor, named Doug, from the Guide Dog Foundation was our guide. For those who have never been
to convention, orientation is great. We are divided into groups, assigned to instructors from various schools, and walked around the hotel and surrounding

After orientation, we grabbed dinner, and I came up to my room to get my schedule mapped out for the next few days. One of the things about this convention
is that there are so many things going on at once, that scheduling can be somewhat challenging. The schedules are arranged by special interest afiliate, so just when you think you’ve got the whole thing nailed down, you read events for another afiliate (like Friends in Art or Guide Dog Users), and you have
to try to squeeze something else in. 

Yesterday morning was an early one. We walked over to Starbucks, and came back to wait in line for registration. After getting our event tickets, I came
back up to the room to work on some stuff for Wednesday evening’s ACB auction, and for my small business expo booth. For those who are actually here, the
auction will be amazing. It will feature over 120 items–including trips, home-made arts and crafts, food items, gift cards, etc. Some of the highlights
are a trip to St. Martin, an m-Power, and a bunch of talking watches, thermostats, etc. There are also gift cards to buy and purchase a tun of things–definitely
something for everyone.  

The booth I referred to is related to a little side business I started. I decided to sell spa products from a company, called Beauticontrol. If nothing
else, I can feed my own addiction to yummy-smelling products at a discount, but if I can sell some in the process…then great. So we’re having a booth
at the small business expo, and a relaxation station at the auction, where people can sample products and get neck and shoulder massages. My sister, a
massage therapy student from Canada, will be helping out. If you’re here, come by and relax for a few minutes and say “hi.” If you’re not here, and you
want to know more about the products, just drop me an email (look at the bottom of the entry for it). They make great gifts for yourself and others. 

One of the things about the convention program I noticed that kind of put me off was the ads area. There is a local store that sells various low vision
products–including Freedom Scientific ones. This comment isn’t a slam on the store itself, but at the end of the ad, they actually had a whole “such and
such and so and so are copyrights and trademarks of Freedom Scientific” blurb. I’m sorry, but lighten up FS, it’s a fucking conference program. 

Most of my day yesterday was spent working on auction related items. I wasn’t important enough to receive one, but many of the convention organizers received
Nextel walky talkies. Those things are cool, they even have talking menu prompts. 
Last night, we went over to the Millennium for a round of Power Showdown. For those who have never played, it’s kind of like ping-pong for blind people.
You receive a paddle and padded glove, as well as a blindfold and a ping-pong ball that rattles. You then bat the ball back and forth across the table,
while trying to defend your own net. It is so much fun! I hope to also try the audio darts demo tonight. 

That pretty much catches people up for now. I’ll write more tomorrow. Sorry if anyone was bored, but I wanted to paint a picture for those who couldn’t
be here, but wanted to. 
My email is
if you want to drop me a line.    

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