• Category Archives Personal
  • 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.

  • 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.

    Note as of 26th October 2017

    Please note that this post is now out of date. You should use these fantastic PuTTY scripts instead as they provide much more complete functionality.

    I had posted a script before that worked with previous versions 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”

    NavigationByLineTickThreshold = 200
    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.
    ;Now clear LastLineNavigationTick, just in case more new text appears shortly after the navigation.
    LastLineNavigationTick = 0
    if (GetScreenEcho() > 1) then

    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!

  • Baby wearing 

    Baby wearing is basically caring a baby or toddler in a sling or more accurately, a carrier. Being Blind, I can’t use a buggy.  It probably wouldn’t end well for me.  IF I pushed it in front of me, the dog wouldn’t be able to see where I was going  as of course, the buggy would obstruct his view to the right.  Pulling a buggy behind is possible but not particularly comfortable in my opinion.  It wouldn’t be all that safe for someone like me as well as I tend to walk quite fast.  Also not all the crossing points in the areas that I live and work in are dished so there can be quite a large step between the road and the path.  This can pose a bit of a challenge when pulling a buggy behind you. 

    Slings come in all shapes and sizes.  Woven,  buckle  and combinations of the two are the most popular.  I tend to prefer  vuckles for convenience but in my opinion, wovens are certainly more comfortable for long walks.  

    Carriers or slings depending on who you’re talking to are all about personal preference and taste.  I was lucky enough to know some people who got me started.  Then I got talking to people who specialized in consulting on the best slings for each person.  These baby wearing consultants as they are called are a great resource to teach you how to comfortably and quickly get the baby up into the sling.  This might sound easy but depending on the size of the baby and the position you want to cary them in, it can be quite difficult to figure this out independently.  Especially if you cant see the various instructional videos on Youtube. 

    There are other much better sources to learn about baby wearing so I won’t go into much more detail than that but if you have any questions please let me know.  I’d be more than happy to help if I can.  

    The below video shows me carying two babies. One two year old toddler on my back and one eight month old baby on my front.  

  • New Job. New Freedom. New Challenge. New Rewards.

    Hey blogger’s, blog reader’s, lurker’s, search engines and spammers. How are you all keeping?

    I’m in an absolutely fantastic mood. That’s because I’m in an absolutely fantastic place. Not geographically. I mean psychologically and in life. I parted ways with my previous employer DCSDocs on the 15th of April so just a day over a month ago and since then life has taken a huge turn for the better.

    I’m absolutely loving what I’m doing, even though I did not get the advanced diploma of myotherapy like I wanted. Getting back into system administration has been like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes after wearing a pair of stilettos that are two sizes too small with a rusty male sticking at an angle into one of your toes. Not that I have experience of wearing stilettos but I’d imagine that as they aren’t the most comfortable footwear for a woman they would be twice as bad for a man. My mother in law has been at me for ten years now about cross dressing but I absolutely refuse. That’s a story for another day.

    I’m now working for St. Patricks College Drumcondra in Dublin as the senior system administrator. This is an enormously interesting time to work for St. Patrick’s college as we are nearing the end of a project called incorporation which is a fancy word to describe the merge of St. Patrick’s, Mater dei and DCU. I will be working on the IT infrastructure aspect of this project for the next few months before moving to DCU to continue as a senior system administrator there.

    Let me say again that I’m loving this job. I’m there just under a month now but I really enjoy the community spirit among the staff and students in the college. There’s a lot to do in terms of the infrastructure but the previous system administrator had the same high standards as I have so overall I’m very happy with the set up.

    I’m also really enjoying the people I’m working with in the IT department. It’s the same kind of friendly working environment that made my time in Fujitsu so enjoyable.

    Let’s take a break from all the fully stuff.

    I’ll post up a few technical posts in the next few weeks. I have some interesting scripts on the go at the moment so I’ll add them to the blog so people can use them when needed.

  • Gall bladder removal. The whole story. 

    Way back in September I went to bed on a normal night after a particularly difficult day at work. I had been working for at least twenty hours and nothing was going right. As I fell into bed a pain in my torso began to build. Within half an hour the pain was so bad I couldn’t lie still. Half an hour after that I was on my feet pacing around the house trying to regain some composure . I have never felt pain like it and with Judo I’ve had some very painful injuries so that’s saying something! The pain was so bad that I actually called my mother to ask her what I should do. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Irish man. Call his mother when things go wrong. You would probably be right however. My mother has a great way of thinking through potential medical problems. It probably comes with raring four children and growing up in a family of 11. Either way, I was desperate so would have done anything to make the pain go away. 
    Anyway, a few weeks later, I had another very difficult day and when I went to bed the pain hit again. This night I had such irrational thought’s that I even considered just plunging a knife in to the sore area just to try to stop the pain. I know that wouldn’t have improved things. I know that was an incredibly stupid idea but at the time the only thought going through my mind was that something needed to stop the pain. 

    A few more nights like this and I knew that I had to get medical intervention. I spoke to my GP and asked him if it was stress related. He didn’t think so and instead sent me for an ultra sound. A few months later and I got the results.
    I was told that I had several stones in my gall bladder and as the gall bladder contracted it was pushing these stones into the neck. I won’t go into the whole thing, but I was told that the only solution was to have the gall bladder removed.  
    There are a few disadvantages to this. There’s a potential of digestion problems and generally it can cause you to put on some weight. Both potential problems aren’t too appealing to me so I put off getting anything done about this for about two or three weeks.  
    Back in early March I had five days of discomfort. It wasn’t bad in terms of pain but I couldn’t eat, I had absolutely no energy and I generally felt unwell. after the five days I was talked into going to the hospital to get it checked out. The doctors explained that it was the gall bladder causing problems and they offered me what they deemed to be an emergency appointment for the following month to have the gall bladder removed.  
    That wouldn’t really suit me as I’m starting a new job in April so taking time off at the start of this wouldn’t present the greatest first impression. I therefore decided to go private. On the 12th of March I arranged an appointment for the 21st of March. When the doctor in the Hermatage saw me he booked me in for the surgery on the 23rd of March.  
    That’s the background of this story.  
    It’s now a week and a half after the surgery and I’m doing absolutely brilliantly. Let me give you a general idea of how it went. 
    Firstly, the day of the surgery was interesting. I was in the Hermatage hospital by 9AM. They gave me a private room within a few minutes of arriving and within the first twenty minutes they had asked me to change into the gown, they had taken a blood sample and they had explained the plan for the day.  
    After that I was left alone in the room to get comfortable. Every so often doctors and nurses came in to verify information and check the state of my gall bladder. They needed to ensure that there was no inflamation or other potential problems before beginning the surgery.  
    A few hours later two nurses came down to tell me the surgeon was ready. They asked me to lie on the bed to be transported down. I hate that though. I find it very disorientating. Once I can get there on my own, that’s what I’m going to do. So, as they wheeled the bed down, I grabbed onto one side and followed along. They thought I was a bit strange I think as most people would be happy to just take the easy way.  
    We got to the operating theatre and again, they asked me the same questions a few times. Name, date of birth, address, procedure and doctors name. Like before, they also checked both identification bands on both my wrists to ensure all the information matched.  
    I was finally allowed to go into the theatre. The doors on the way in were very large electronic sliding doors. The floor was very smooth and the air was actually a little cool. From what I could gather, the room was very large with a lot of electronic fans for cooling equipment. There was very little noise within the room other than this quiet hum. I was led over to a very narrow bed that was up at chest height. The sheet on it felt like thick paper. The mattress was minimalist and the frame was thin metal with plenty of electronics below it. Obviously I didn’t have a lot of time to explore the room but instead of being nervous, I found myself very curious about the technology in the room.  
    They decreased the height of the bed so I could get onto it. When I lay down I was instructed to shuffle over slightly to my right so I was centered. Once that was done, an anesthetist on my left and his assistant on my right got to work. The man on my left put in the line. This went into my left arm at my elbow. The man on my right strapped a blood pressure monitor to my arm and put an oxygen tester on my index finger. As this was happening, the man on my left asked me to pump my fist a few times. Then the man on my right moved a solid side into position. This enclosed the right side of the bed perfectly so that my right side was securely leaning on it. The man on my left was mean while pumping some kind of drug into my system. This caused me to feel cold and light headed. While this was happening I could hear the static of a large electronic instrument right above me. When all of this was done the person to my right held a mask that smelled of clean plastic over my face. I was becoming groggy so without thinking I put my hand up to feel what I could smell.The person on my left was placing something over my legs and he put my hand back down by my side. I don’t remember a single thing after this until I woke up after the surgery.  
    When I woke up I could hear the blood pressure monitor on my right buz to life and soon after I felt the squeeze on my arm. It kind of reminded me of a friend of mine who tightly grabs my forearm when he’s saying hello. At the same time a female voice to my left asked me how I was. In a very cheery voice, I happily responded that I was fantastic. I followed this up by asking her how her day was. Hahahaha. It is funny thinking back on it. I hadn’t yet figured out that I was just waking up and my first answer to her was still in auto pilot. “I’m fantastic! How are you keeping? Are you having a good day?” 
    Anyway, nothing interesting happened after that. I was left there in the recovery room under close supervision for about 45 minutes. They then wheeled me back to my room. I had absolutely no problem staying in the bed at that stage! 
    I felt incredibly weak for the remainder of the day after the surgery. Even pouring a glass of water seemed too much for me to handle. Fair play to the nurses and doctors though. They couldn’t have been more attentive.
    My parents came up that night. I have never been as appreciative to have visitors before! Having people there who can see makes such a difference! I consider myself to be very independent but before the surgery I didn’t feel comfortable enough in the environment to independently explore the room. There were too many people just checking in and asking a lot of questions. After the surgery there was no way I could have explored independently. I wasn’t actually that bad. I was able to get up and walk about three hours after the surgery but I was a bit disorientated so needed a bit more help than normal. When my parents arrived at around 8PM they went over and sat on a couch. I didn’t know there was a couch there. I was just delighted to hear this! Lying in the bed for so many hours was uncomfortable so sitting up right was a nice temporary reprieve. I also didn’t know there was a fridge in the room, there was also another reclining chair and a locker that I could leave stuff in. Even something as simple as plugging in my phone. The sockets were up just above head height. There was no way I would have found them independently at the best of times! Never mind after surgery! 
    I told Emma, my wife that she wasn’t to visit. With two kids it wasn’t practical for her to come up. There was no need as I was only in hospital for one night. 
    Moving on, the night of the surgery I didn’t sleep much at all. I just couldn’t get comfortable. I also think I had slept too much after the surgery so simply wasn’t tired. I got up and sat on the couch for a few hours listening to podcasts and some training material that I want to study over the next few weeks. I also had a lot more energy so went exploring around that are of the hospital. 
    That morning the doctor in charge of the night shift called in at 6AM to check the bandages and all that kind of thing. I was checked again by another doctor at 8AM and just before 9 I was checked a third time by the surgeon. As everything went as well as expected, I was discharged and home just before 11.  
    That day came and went. I spent almost all of it in bed either a sleep or just taking it easy listening to podcasts, training material and interesting ted talks on Youtube. Sleeping that day wasn’t particularly comfortable. I spent all of my time on my back.  
    Friday, I.E. Day two after the surgery was much better. I couldn’t really stand up straight and getting in and out of chairs was hard but it was really not that bad. I certainly had no problems eating. By later on the previous day I was able to eat normally and this continued. The pain in my stomach where the stitches were healing was annoying but it wasn’t particularly limiting. What was limiting me was the advice given by everyone around me to take it easy.  
    Saturday was a continual progression on the previous day. One thing I’ll say though is after this surgery, going for a poo can be really uncomfortable! You’d be surprised at how much you use your stomach muscles when pooing! I went between two stages of very constipated and very ….. Not constipated up to that point. Sorry to be too descriptive but one of the purposes of this blog post is to help someone that is at the start of this process.  
    By Saturday night I could comfortably sleep on both sides. On the previous night I could sleep for a short time on each side but it wasn’t comfortable. One tip I would have is to drink Sprite. Yes! Sprite! They pump you full of air when they are removing the gall bladder. I don’t know how or why but sprite helps the air move. A glass or two of sprite and I felt like an entirely new person.  
    On Sunday I made a really stupid mistake. Firstly, I showered for the first time since the surgery. I was nervous about this as stepping into the bath on Saturday would have been uncomfortable. However, on sunday it was absolutely fine. It surprised me how much I improved from day to day. After the shower I attended a church service for the commemeration of the 1916 rising. Following this I participated in a march for just over a mile to a local monument. This was very hard work. I still wasn’t standing up straight at this point. It was the walk back that really started to get difficult though. I made it about half way back but I had to call Emma to ask her to collect me. I just ran out of energy. There was no way I could have made it back. Oh. I should explain that I also hadn’t had breakfast that morning. I also didn’t take the anti-inflammatory that had been proscribed either. I really should have know that this wasn’t going to end well.  
    I got back to the house, took the tablet, eat some food and felt like myself again.  
    Later that day as tradition requires we took the kids to my parents house for the afternoon so they could play with their cousins . This was tiring probably because the morning had been more of a challenge than I would have liked but it was still very enjoyable. Sorry. I should say to people reading this that the Sunday I’m referring to was Easter Sunday.  
    Knowing that life needed to return to normal on Tuesday, I spent Monday doing very little. I slept until about 1PM then did nothing else other than enjoy the company of my wife, son and daughter for the remainder of the day.  

    By Tuesday I was able to stand up completely straight. I’ve been able to get in and out of the car with absolutely no struggle at all and life really has returned to normal.  
    I removed the bandages on Wednesday and I’ve begun lifting things again today 9 days after the surgery.  
    People keep warning me to take it easy but I like to think I know my own body. I don’t feel sore other than the occasional twinge. I’m being careful to take things a little slower than normal but I’m not shying away from anything.  
    This surgery has been a great success I think. I no longer feel any small pain in the evening under my left lung and just over a week after life is back to normal. a picture of me on the hospital bed giving a thumbs up 

  • Vegan week challenge podcast

    I’ve done it!

    Seven days. One week of no meet, dairy or any other product made from animal products.

    Thanks to Jenny from Paws for thought for suggesting this.

    This challenge fulfilled the objective of looking for thirty challenges for 2016. It’s to force me to try something that I’ve never done before and maybe expand my mind a little bit.

    The podcast that summarises this week is here. I@m sorry I didn’t keep blogging every day but I’m out of the habbit of doing this and some nights I’ve just been too tired.

    Listen to my Vegan week challenge podcast. Special guest: Emma.

    Actually, I wonder if this tiredness has been related to the Vegan challenge. Come 9PM I’ve been falling a sleep. I could be doing some work or relaxing in the living room but when it reaches the end of the day I cant function any more.

    Maybe someone could comment to suggest if this is a possible cause?