• Touring for Tunes – Ennis – Friday

    I went to Dan O’connel’s for the session aptly titled “Piping heaven piping hell” that takes place at 4:30PM every Friday.  It was started by Blacky O’Connell. (No relation I think).  It is an incredible thing. There can be anything from 5 to 20 pipers all playing in tune for four hours!  Brilliant stuff! If you aren’t a piper, you’re going to hate it! It’s fast, it’s generallyin the keys of D, G, A minor, E minor and sometimes A thrown in just for the craic. It’s also like the greatest hits of piping tunes! I just love it! 


  • Windows 10s – A revolution for Accessibility

    Microsoft released the Surface laptop last week. As someone who absolutely loves the Surface Book, I’ve been following with interest the developments in the surface line. I’m not hugely blown away with the Surface Pro line but that’s a reflection of the state of touch screen access using screen readers more than the device itself. Physically, I think the surface pro is very nice to hold, powerful enough to run all standard productivity and development tools and durable enough to be used for both business and pleasure every day. The surface book however is the perfect computer. When relaxing on the bus on the way to and from work I can easily consume content but with this machine, an I7 with 16GB RAM and a 512GB solid state hard disk, I can just as easily run up a few virtual machines, Visual Studio 2017 and a suite of debug and analysis tools and it hardly breaks a swet. It’s perfectly comfortable to type on for 12 hours a day and the battery life is just brilliant. I sound like an advertisement for Surface Book which is fine. It’s easily the nicest laptop I’ve ever owned.

     

    The Surface Laptop doesn’t quite tick all the boxes for me but that’s a good thing at the moment. It is expensive. Maybe too expensive for most people but it’s what it represents that is important. The Surface line is aspirational. It’s expensive but it’s a product line that shows off the power of Windows. It’s Microsoft’s way of showing the world what can be done with devices that run Windows and as a result, PC manufacturers are following their lead. This means that although the Surface Laptop is at the higher end of the price scale, the introduction of Windows10S in parallel means that Microsoft partners are again following Microsoft’s example by releasing their own devices built on Windows 10S. This will mean lower prices for lower spec machines that although do less, still do more than a device like the iPad or Android tablet.

     

    What has all this got to do with accessibility for Blind people? The answer is unfortunately a bit long but please stick with me for a minute so I can explain. Because the result in a year or two could be huge if the current pace of change is retained.

     

    I love the Jaws screen reader for what I do every day. But for many people, all they need to use is a browser and Microsoft Office. I’m not sure if Jaws will be as compelling in the long term as it is right now for the average user with the recent developments in Narrator, the built in screen reader for Microsoft Windows. Not that I’m saying I could personally use Narrator every day. I think it’s still years behind Jaws but look at Voiceover, the built in screen reader for Apple’s OSX and IOS operating systems. It’s also years behind Jaws and it has quite a few bugs but yet, it’s probably the most popular screen reader in the world at the moment. It is highly likely that it has taken over from Jaws in terms of overall screen reader market

    share as more blind users have access to mobile devices than Windows PC’s I’m sure. Those same users might be happy paying $189 to $1200 for various specs of low powered laptops.

     

    For those of you who remember or paid any attention to Windows RT, this really isn’t that. From an accessibility perspective, Windows RT was completely unusable. But with Surface pro, Surface book, the surface studio and now the surface laptop, a blind user can turn it on, hit two buttons and get access to the core of the OS without a commercial screen reader. I bet Freedom scientific are very worried about this – and if they aren’t, they certainly should be.

     

    I’m talking to Microsoft in Ireland and the US every week at the moment about offers for education as that’s the area I’m now working in. I’m consistently delighted when they raise the topic of accessibility without being prompted. There’s a fella heading up the applications for children that includes Minecraft who is great at working on accessibility problems for many difficult areas.

     

    I think it’s a case of watch this space.

     

    I’m also putting my money where my mouth is. There’s an application called Whats up gold that isn’t working with Jaws at all at the moment. I’ve switched to narrator and Edge when using it as I get the best results. This should come as a huge shock for anyone related to the development of Jaws. It certainly shocks me. There are controls that Narrator is reading perfectly such as grid views, tree views and toolbars that Jaws isn’t even seeing in Chrome, Firefox or IE.

     

    I need Narrator to be more responsive and I’ve left feedback with Microsoft in relation to this so here’s hoping that it gets better. I can see myself using it more as time goes on unless Jaws gets a lot better for touch screen access.

     

    I travel a lot on busses so using the laptop isn’t always very comfortable. For that reason, I use a touch screen device such as my phone. I’d really like to be able to use my surface book more for consuming content on the go. If Narrator gives me this freedom first, then there will be no contest.

     

    This is coming from someone who has used Jaws as the primary screen reader for twenty years. So, I have a certain level of brand loyalty. So, the point I’m making is even with brand loyalty from a person who has used this software for 20 years, if Microsoft can take the lead, even I’ll switch. That should drive some serious innovation and changes in Jaws version 19. Because if someone like me will change over, someone who just uses a computer for browsing and Email will change much sooner.


  • Ceol FM – Internet Radio station for Irish Traditional and Folk Music

    I have been busy lately working on a new project that I’m finding very interesting.  It’s called Ceol FM.  It’s an Internet radio station like no other.  It’s aim is to provide the highest quality Irish Traditional and Folk Music using the medium of Internet radio to listeners anywhere in the world at any time of the day or night.

    What also sets this apart from any other service that might be similar is the growing choice of streams.  Listen to back to back Traditional Irish and Folk Music in a randem order or choose to focus on a specific mood or category.  For example, the first two new streams allow you to play Energetic or soothing music.  More streams will be made available very shortly.

    Ceol.FM was recently featured in the Drogheda Leader on the 5th of April 2017.  The article is provided below.  Please visit Ceol.FM and make it one of your regular sources of high quality Irish Traditional and Folk Music.


     

    When Darragh Ó Héiligh decided to fuse his passion for traditional Irish music and technology to set up Ceol.FM – an Internet radio station featuring a diverse range of traditional styles and streaming them across the world, little did he know it would become so popular so quickly.

     

    The thirty-four-year-old father of two is a highly-accomplished musician in his own right playing the Uilleann pipes and has travelled the world with his skill.  He spoke to the Drogheda leader about the decision to set up the new radio site.

     

    “It all started when I posted to my Facebook page asking if people would be interested in a new Internet radio site featuring solely traditional music and at the end of the day a hundred-people responded positively and by that weekend four hundred people had replied.”

     

    “I work as a senior system administrator in Dublin City University and I have a passion for technology and music so I decided to create the radio site and start streaming music.  There has been a great response to it, for example on St. Patrick’s Day there was three hundred and fifty unique listeners on the site from places like England, America and Holland!” Darragh explained.

     

    While the site provides a non-stop music stream free of charge and without any interruptions, Darragh has bigger plans

     

    “The site streams music at a higher rate than other radio sites so the sound quality is much better and I want to continue this. I am going to create more playlists to put up on the site so people can choose what type of traditional music they want to listen to. I am adding to it all of the time.”

     

    “The good thing about Ceol.Fm is that when people visit the site they can go directly to the music stream and choose to listen to this rather than an interview that they might not want to hear – you can’t do this on regular streams,” he explained.

     

    Creating the site was the easy part as Darragh explained while now it is a case of expanding on what the site has to offer and he is hoping to hear from people who may want to help or contribute to it.

     

    “I do this out of my passion for traditional Irish music and I am taken aback at how many people have already visited and tuned in. I’m not looking for profit and it costs €150 per month to host the site so if people want to contribute that would be great. I would also welcome anyone who had an interest in broadcasting to get in touch with me,” he added.

     

    To find out more go to www.ceol.fm.

     


     

    A screen shot of the article follows:

    A picture of the article taken from the Drogheda Leader.


  • Bash script using Lame to convert WAV files to MP3 recursively in sub directories.

    I wrote this as the lazy way out because I didn’t want to bring a lot of WAV files back to a local box. I know everything is in artist/album format with plenty of spaces in the file names so this type of thing works perfectly for me.
    Of course, you need lame installed.
    I hope this helps.

    LAMEOPTS="-b 192"
    for DIRECTORY in /music/*/*; do
    if [ -d "$DIRECTORY" ]; then
    echo "$DIRECTORY";
    for FILE in "$DIRECTORY"/*.wav ; do
    OUTNAME=`basename "$FILE" .wav`.mp3;
    echo "$FILE" "$DIRECTORY"/"$OUTNAME";
    lame $LAMEOPTS "$FILE" "$DIRECTORY"/"$OUTNAME";
    rm "$FILE";
    done
    fi
    done


  • Using PuTTY with Jaws 18.

    Please be aware that I don’t recommend that you use PuTTY exclusively for SSH access. Especially in Windows 10. There are a number of better alternatives out there at this point for most day to day use. I’ll add links to one or two below. However, there are times when PuTTY or Putty as it’s pronounced is just the best tool for the job so it’s important that you can get some feedback from Jaws.
    I had posted a script before that worked with pervious of Jaws and in fact, it would probably work with Jaws 18 as well but the SayNonHighlightedText function in Jaws 18 has been updated so it’s only right that I tweak it slightly and publish it here to be used in a PuTTY.jss file.

    Here’s the code:

    Include “HjGlobal.jsh” ; default HJ global variables
    Include “hjconst.jsh” ; default HJ constants
    Include “HjHelp.jsh” ; Help Topic Constants
    Include “common.jsm” ; message file
    include “MSAAConst.jsh”
    include “UIA.jsh”

    const
    NavigationByLineTickThreshold = 200
    globals
    int LastLineNavigationTick

    Void Function SayNonHighlightedText (handle hwnd, string buffer)
    ; NonHighlightedText Function for speaking all newly written nonhighlighted
    ; text.
    If GetScreenEcho () > ECHO_NONE
    && hWnd == GetFocus()
    If GetWindowClass(GetFocus()) == “PuTTY”
    && GetTickCount()-LastLineNavigationTick > NavigationByLineTickThreshold
    ;New text should be spoken only if it is not a result of navigation by line.
    ;This prevents double speaking when navigating through a command history,
    ;since the SayLineUnit will already have spoken the new text.
    Say(buffer, OT_NONHIGHLIGHTED_SCREEN_TEXT)
    ;Now clear LastLineNavigationTick, just in case more new text appears shortly after the navigation.
    LastLineNavigationTick = 0
    Return
    endIf
    endIf
    if (GetScreenEcho() > 1) then
    Say (buffer, OT_NONHIGHLIGHTED_SCREEN_TEXT)
    endIf
    EndFunction

    There are a number of great alternatives to PuTTY.
    Over on Git Hub, Microsoft have a rather nice SSH Powershell module that provides a method of accessing an OpenSSH server on Linux from within Powershell.
    The best way to use SSH on Windows in my opinion is to install Git. Be sure that you choose to make git features available from the command line so that you can use SSH without starting the Git Bash shell first.
    Lastly, another really good option if you are using Windows 10 is to install Bash or Linux for Windows. This is an add on that you can install from within Programs and Features\Windows Features.

    There are now more ways than ever to access your Linux servers over SSH from within Windows. Have fun!


  • A possible new note taking application

    OneNote, FlashNote, Sticky Notes, Outlook notes and Ever Note are great applications However, if you have privacy concerns and or you are Blind and depend on assistive technologies, these applications probably don’t give you the usability, security and mobility that you need.

    If you are interested in this application, please Email me. If I don’t get enough interest, I won’t write it.

    A note taker should do the following:
    • Open really quickly and allow you to take a note right away.
    • Save automatically.
    • Securely and reliably upload to the cloud.
    • Allow you to retain ownership of your notes.
    • Give you a way of downloading your notes so that if you ever want to move to something new, you have a way of bringing your notes with you.

    The note taking application that I propose to create will provide the following features:
    • Encryption of all notes before they are uploaded by the client. Each note client will use a custom cert along with a custom password so that your notes can only be decrypted by you.
    • Hash tags. Tag your notes with keywords so that you can find notes that have words in common. For example, if you are referencing an upcoming holiday and you want to refer to your flights. Use the #Flights2016 tag so you can quickly jump to all mentions of that tag.
    • Notes will be in a tree structure. Create sub notes to group notes relating to a particular topic.
    • Search for any word contained in all notes.
    • Quickly create a note based on the current date and time.
    • Quickly minimise to the system tray.
    • Open links by pressing enter on the link or by clicking it.
    • Autocomplete using IntelliSense for hash tags.
    • Share a note by Email.
    • Download all notes as CSV.
    • For the next version: Create reminders based on a note.

    The cost of this application will be €15
    The initial version will work on Windows but I’d like to look at a cross platform client eventually.