Moron the Vic and New GPS Thoughts

By BlindChristian, the Vic Moron


“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” an axiom to which I cannot find an individual to whom I can attribute it.


I have now purchased four Humanware Victor Reader Stream devices.  I like having two, one at home and one at the office so, if I forget to bring one with me in either direction, I’ll have one when I arrive.  I avoid listening to anything on the Boston subway line as I fear missing a stop and kind of prefer avoiding laughing out loud at something I hear as that will possibly cause the other passengers to assume I am a lunatic in addition to being blind which, while somewhat true, doesn’t need to be reinforced in the minds of my fellow passengers.


So, if I like having two Vics, why have I purchased four?


I also own a relatively old Blue Tooth GPS receiver that has an AC adapter nearly identical to that which comes with the Vic.  The word “nearly” being the operative term in that sentence means that it feels exactly the same to my touch at least but, to meet the requirements of each device, they have different voltages.  If you haven’t guessed it yet, I have now managed to use the GPS adapter on a Vic twice, completely blowing out its motherboard and, in less than a second, rendering the device useless.


Fool Me Once


I believe everything I have written about the Vic in BlindConfidential since I got one has ranged from praise to a downright ecstatic description of the device, its form factor, price, feature set and almost everything else I have encountered regarding the product.  While I commend Apple for making an accessible iPod, for me, I will stick by my Vic.


So, for the first time in these pages, I have a serious bone to pick with Humanware and the people responsible for making the Vic ship kit.  Specifically, why is there no Braille or otherwise distinguishing label on the AC adapter which might obviate the mix up that I have encountered with my old GPS unit?


Fool Me Twice


While I think Humanware should have put some kind of obvious distinguishing tactile ornament on the AC adapter, but, having made this mistake once already, I could and should have put a ribbon, a twist tie, my own Braille label or some other distinguishing feature on the AC adapter so I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.  Indeed, I acted like a moron and blew out a second Vic.  Thus, I have now acquired four of the devices so I can actually use two.


I do recommend that Humanware put some tactile indicator on its power supply but, in the interim, people like me who own a whole lot of gadgets, some of which have nearly identical AC adapters should heed my advice and put on your own distinguishing feature and avoid blowing up your toys by mistakenly using the wrong power supply.




I received the notice that Code Factory, in partnership with Mike May’s Sendero Group, has released the long awaited Mobile GEO GPS navigation system.  I’ve been using various betas of this software for the past few months and can say that it works better than any GPS program I have ever tried at pedestrian speeds. Of course, most of the others which I have tried were off-the-shelf programs designed primarily for motorists and implemented their tracking algorithms assuming motion at five miles per hour or faster, quite a pace for someone on foot. 


The only other GPS navigation program designed for people with vision impairment that I have tried is StreetTalk from Freedom Scientific which, as of my last trial, didn’t perform especially well.  Also, the FS product requires one purchase a PAC Mate (roughly $2000 or more last time I checked) and Mobile GEO, while priced at something on the order of $895 can run on any Windows Mobile 6.x device along with Mobile Speak SmartPhone or Mobile Speak Pocket – if one buys the handheld and the screen reader from AT&T, adding a super cool Holux Blue Tooth GPS receiver (not the one I blew out my Vic with) and Mobile GEO comes to about $1150, a major savings compared to software that requires blind guy ghetto hardware.


Today, I plan on installing Wayfinder Access on a Symbian phone with a built in GPS receiver.  I will test with the on board receiver as well as with the Holux which seems to be just about the best very portable (it has a loop for your key chain) receiver I’ve ever seen.  I will compare the two programs but, Wayfinder Access has two features that do not exist in Mobile GEO that I like purely on face value.  Specifically, Wayfinder Access uses one’s mobile Internet connection to continuously download maps as you travel so you don’t need to take the extra step of downloading and installing maps by state as you do with Mgeo (some people think this is an advantage of Mgeo as it does not require a mobile Internet connection or the cost associated with such).  The second bit advantage to the Wayfinder product is its $325 price tag which, at more than $500 less than Mobile GEO really makes one think hard about which to purchase.


As I haven’t tried Wayfinder Access yet, I cannot proffer an opinion as to whether the $575 price delta is or is not worth paying.




As I state above, I am really impressed with the Holux Blue Tooth GPS receiver.  I believe I have the model 1200 which does not have a user changeable battery but holds a charge for a pretty long time and weighs less than one ounce.  I believe their model 1000 has a battery you can change on your own but is a big bigger and, therefore, less sexy.


The Holux product comes with one of those miniature CDs that contains only documentation.  I recommend that as soon as you open the box, throw away all documentation as it will cause nothing but confusion and present you with information that only the nerdiest of people might care in the slightest about.  So, throw away the little CD and the booklet lest you get exposed to their brain damaging manuals.


To wit: one of the chapters that comes before “Getting Started” describes the algorithm in the Holux firmware used to triangulate your location with up to 30 satellites (I haven’t seen it pick up more than 18 which, in and of itself, is pretty damn impressive).  You do not need to know anything about such algorithms.  This information is only useful if you plan on building your own GPS hardware which I think is of little of no probability among BC readers.  “Getting Started,” by the way, is something like chapter five.  Also, the documentation reads as though it was written by an engineer for whom English is a third or maybe fourth language – ultra-geek with broken sentences that are almost laughable.


To use your new Holux BT GPS receiver, first charge it up, then, following the instructions on your Windows Mobile device, go through the BT pairing process (password 1 2 3 4) and everything will work properly.  The Holux has two or three little lights on it that tell a sighted person by color and whether or not it flashes on and off a few bits of useful information (does it have a solid connection to satellites, is the Blue Tooth connected and is the battery running low) all of these details can be found in Mobile GEO and I would guess, other navigation software as well.  Otherwise, the outside has only one item of interest to a user with vision impairment, namely the on/off switch.


The Holux devices are cheap at around $50 (a little extra if you want an AC adapter – by default it comes with a car cigarette lighter adapter) and, in my opinion, will probably make any portable GPS navigation software work better.


— End

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I'm an accessibility advocate working on issues involving technology and people with print impairment. I'm a stoner, crackpot, hacker and all around decent fellow. I blog at this site and occasionally contribute to Skepchick. I'm a skeptic, atheist, humanist and all around left wing sort. You can follow this blog in your favorite RSS reader, and you can also view my Twitter profile (@gonz_blinko) and follow me there.

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