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  • Trekker Breeze

    I have been unsurprised to hear of the interest on Twitter in relation to the Trekker Breeze. This is a very powerful GPS solution for people who are visually impaired.

    I want to keep this blog post short. If you want to read about the Trekker Breeze, head on over to Humanware and look for the link in the products page.

    For now, have a listen to a demonstration of this handy device.


  • Mixing the old with the new for the best results.

    On Saturday I had a simple journey from Drogheda to Dublin to undertake. The part of Dublin I was going to wasn’t serviced by expresse busses and although I could get there using connecting trains it would have taken a long time. I had planned on getting a non-express bus. This service stops everywhere on the route from Drogheda to the central bus station in Dublin so would have left me very near to my destination. Unfortunately on my way to the station a woman stopped me to ask me to play at an event she was organizing in June so I missed the bus I was planning to get.

    The drivers in the bus station in Drogheda know me quite well. I don’t use this form of transport very regularly any more but when I do I’m usually catching the express to either Dublin or Dundalk. When I asked about the non-express bus to Dublin they obviously didn’t hear me properly so I jumped on the wrong bus. We were on the M1 to Dublin when I realised so it was too late to change. I had to quickly think of the best way of getting to my destination within the shortest amount of time possible.

    I decided that getting off at the airport was probably the best way to do it. Making my way back in from the bus station in Dublin might take a long time as I’d potentially get stuck in traffic or the bus might take a while to arrive at the stop. However I haven’t got a bus from the airport towards the city centre in about five years so I had to enlist my trusty iPhone. I asked if anyone on Twitter had any ideas but as we were getting near to the airport I decided to try looking around the Dublin bus website. I had fears that this wasn’t accessible as for years it’s been very difficult to navigate around the time tables but fortunately I was able to find travel adversaries that advertised that the 16A and 747 busses passed through where I needed to be.

    I was all set when the bus was pulling into the airport. I would get off, continue walking in front of the bus for a few seconds, cross the road and find someone to ask where the 16 stopped. The airport bus stops have been arranged very close to each other for years so by crossing the small roadway used by the Drogheda bus I should have been very near to the stops used by the Dublin city busses. This was not to be as easy as I thought it would be. As I was getting off the driver commented that he was not allowed stop at terminal one any more so had let everyone off at the newly designated bus stops at terminal two. This is a new addition to Dublin airport and I haven’t been around this newly constructed area yet so I was at a loss. I knew that the bus drove through this area and terminal 1 was most likely right ahead of me somewhere so I kept walking until I reached the edge of the path. Fortunately I found someone walking toward me so I asked them where the bus stops had been moved to. She gave me a few directions so I could continue on my way. Her directions were terrible actually. She told me to go straight on but I wasn’t convinced. Ike is a little like Freddie. I’ve learned that I have to trust him because more often than not, I’m wrong and he’s right. Even though she said I could cross straight I don’t think I could have. Ike led me up to the tactile markings that defined the start of the designated crossing point but he veered way over to the right when crossing even though the lip of the crossing was straight. His walk was relaxed and confident but he wasn’t bouncing on his paws so I knew he wasn’t distracted by something so I trusted his persistence and let him take the initiative. I’m glad I did because we arrived safely on the other side at another tactile marking. She said I could go straight here but Ike couldn’t find the way and instead wanted to go left. I had no choice but to let him but after a few feet he found a right turn on his own which led to a part of the airport I am familiar with. Here he continued taking the initiative even though he has never been to Dublin airport before and he found every crossing point on the way. I encouraged this because I knew I didn’t want to use the main crossing point over to the departures area but I knew that there is a much smaller crossing point just after that that leads onto a very large island path where the Dublin city busses departed from. I needed him to find the crossing I was familiar with though so as I could orientate myself to recognise the smaller crossing. I was lucky. Just as Ike found the small crossing I was looking for I heard a bus pulling up to a stop. After reaching the island I pointed toward the sound of the engine and told Ike to find the way. He found the door like a pro! Unfortunately, Dublin busses no longer depart from this area however the bus I had found was actually not going anywhere for another fifteen minutes so the Driver offered to let me follow him to the new bus stop. For reference, it’s through what they call the mall. That’s the small area right in across the road from the main entrance to the departures area. The entrance to the multi-story car parks can be reached through this area as well.

    Fortunately, the driver led me right up to the bus stop for the 16A and a bus arrived very shortly afterward.

    The next bit of fun started while on the bus toward the city centre. I was starting to be a bit late so I was getting a little anxious that I was nowhere near where I needed to be. Thanks to the Sendero GPS iPhone app however I was able to look around to see where I was and what was nearby.

    I can’t explain how much freedom having a dog again gives me. Imagine walking around that airport with a cane? I would have followed that woman’s instructions without knowing that she obviously meant me to follow the line of the crossing. I wouldn’t have found the small crossing to the bus stop and it would have taken me much longer to get where I was going. Ike has really stepped up to the mark in the past few months. He amazes me with the speed at which he can find objects and land marks. Last night I was walking through Georges street in Dublin. I was looking for a bus stop for the number 83. Freddie would have known it from using it for the past few years but it was Ike’s first time. It’s only a pole with some time table thing on it so it’s impossible to know where it is when using a dog. I had an idea though that it was one crossing past the sheltered bus stop and was a fair bit down on the right. By telling him to go very steady and pointing to my right he found everything he thought I might be looking for. Bins, cars, random poles and finally the bus stop. It was quite late at night so I wasn’t particularly confident with asking someone so this was just perfect. It took a little longer but I know when I’m back there next week he’ll find it again. His ability to remember land marks and places equals Freddie’s. I had planned to say that in three months he has also not over stepped a curb but he messed that up last night by walking me into the middle of a road. I know it was an accident though. I didn’t even feel it myself. There was obviously no step off the curb and I couldn’t detect any difference with my feet as I was walking so I’ll just put it down to him not knowing the area. I was lucky though. It could have been very dangerous but I heard a car pulling off on my left and I knew that we weren’t on the path any more. I quickly turned the both of us around and walked as fast as possible back to where I knew was safe. I probably could have kept going but I wasn’t sure how far across we had gone and I also thought it was a better idea to make him focus on finding the edge of the crossing again. This is the bad part though. He did find the edge of the crossing when we did it again. Or, at least I think he did. I couldn’t feel any lip to suggest that the road was starting anywhere! I’m a bit concerned about that. I’ll probably try to get a friend to walk down that road with me again before next Wednesday to make sure he’s found the right place to stop. It’s really unusual for him so the only thing I can think of is that the crossing is too hard to recognise. Don’t get me wrong though. That’s one minor hick up that I don’t even think is Ike’s fault. Everything is going so well that I can’t fault him at all.

    I probably couldn’t have done the trip so comfortably on Saturday if I didn’t have the iPhone either. Sure. I could have kept asking people for directions, bus time tables and all that kind of thing but the independence and confidence the iPhone provides to me has made me wonder how I ever did without it. Unfortunately although it is inevitable that I will have to get assistance from time to time the need for this has decreased substantially. This is great! I don’t know how many bad directions I’ve been given or how many times I’ve asked someone to tell me when the next bus is due who didn’t speak a word of English. It’s very frustrating! Looking at last night again, I had to find a building on Chancery lane. I had never been to Chancery lane before so again, with the text descriptions in Google maps, some help from people and the GPS app from Sendero I was able to find it without much hassle.

    One thing I am increasingly aware of is my need for a full GPS solution. It would be incredibly useful considering the amount of new places I regularly travel to.


  • Letter to freedom Scientific regarding unexceptable Jaws authorization requirements.

    The following email was written in response to a mail from the technical support superviser for Freedom Scientific. Please note, I have nothing against anyone in Freedom Scientific. I appreciate that they are all doing a demanding and difficult job and I would not like to single any one person out. It is for this reason that I have removed all references to names in this post.

    With that said, I have objected along with hundreds of others over the authorization scheme employed by Freedom Scientific to protect Jaws licenses. This authorization system is too restrictive and does not take into account the varying needs of the user base.

    I call on everyone who has access to Email to send messages of complaint to support@freedomscientific.com to request that this unworkable authorization system is updated with the next version of Jaws.
    At minimum Jaws users deserve one or all of the following:

    • The ability to uninstall authorizations so that they can be re-clamed on another PC.
    • The number of authorization keys should be reset to five every time an SMA is purchased or upgraded.
    • If a valid authorization is found but the count is at 0 then Jaws should run for a day with this set up to allow Freedom Scientific to get back to the user so as to ensure productivity or efficiency is not impacted.
    • Alternatively, adopt a scheme such as that used by a compeditor.

    Hello,

    Although I appreciate that you have taken the time to respond to me, As I am operating within the terms of the license I strongly object to the idea that I should purchase a dongle so as I can work around limitations that have been added that do not take into account professional and demanding users such as myself.

    I strongly encourage Freedom Scientific to recognise the environments that their users work in with the aim of upgrading their approach to product licensing and authorization. I will also take this opportunity to reiterate something that I have written many times in the past. Companies such as Microsoft, Symantec, Adobe and indeed smaller companies such as Sowsoft, Manage-Engine and Quest enforce licensing using very effective solutions. I understand the reasoning behind this validation however rigidly sticking to an authorization system that is so very obviously failing to meet the requirements of both Freedom Scientific and its customers is counter-productive and frustrating.

    Again, This complaint and objection is not aimed at you. I understand that you are operating within the limitations and policies of Freedom Scientific. I would thus request that this is forward to relevant individuals with a request to give serious and fair consideration to my request. It is unrealistic, unfair and indeed completely unjustified to request users to follow this process of explanation and justification when they have provided Freedom Scientific with a substantial amount of money throughout the continuing life of the product.

    I do not believe my concerns and requests are unjustified and I look forward to a response from Freedom Scientific.

    Darragh Ó Héiligh

    Sent: 10 May 2011 15:08
    To: Darragh Ó Héiligh
    Subject: RE: Authorization count.

    Hello Darragh,
    Thank you for your e-mail. In order to protect our customers such as yourself, our system will only allow the resetting of 1 activation when there has been a high number of resets recorded by a user. your records indicate you have gone through 11 keys in as many months. As this is highly unusual reset activity, the system will not allow more than one reset, unless over ridden by a supervisor. Since you just to 1, I will go ahead and reset to 2 more. I just wanted to explain so if this high reset activity continues, you will understand why any of our representatives will only be able to give you 1 activation.

    I would strongly recommend you obtain a dongle due to your high demand for activations. This is a hardware device that plugs into a USB port, and will provide uninterrupted authorization. This sounds like something you could benefit from. Please contact your dealer about the purchase of a dongle.

    Best Regards,

    Director of Tech Support

    ________________________________________
    From: Darragh Ó Héiligh [mailto:d@digitaldarragh.com]
    Sent: Monday, May 09, 2011 4:47 PM
    To: Freedom Scientific Technical Support
    Subject: RE: Authorization count.

    Why is this the maximum allowed at present?

    Unless you doubt the validity of my usage why has this policy been changed?

    I appreciate your rapid response however this authorization system simply does not work for me when you take into account that I work with technology and a large portion of my hobbies relate to technology also. I call on Freedom Scientific once again to change this.

    Thanks

    Darragh ó Héiligh

    From:
    On Behalf Of Freedom Scientific Technical Support
    Sent: 09 May 2011 21:44
    To: Darragh Ó Héiligh
    Subject: RE: Authorization count.

    Dear Darragh

    Thank you for contacting Freedom Scientific Support.

    Your activations for serial number: 12345 have been reset to 1, the maximum aloud at present. Please reactivate.

    Your authorization number is:
    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Your JAWS® screen reading software 12.0 authorization number is:
    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    There are two ways to activate JAWS, through your Internet connection which is the easiest or through FSACTIVATE.com.

    To activate over the Internet:

    1. Make sure you are connected to the Internet.

    2. Bring up JAWS 12.

    3. When the activator comes up, press Spacebar on the “Start Activation Button”.

    4. Press Spacebar to continue.

    5. Tab to “Enter Authorization Manually Button” and press Spacebar.

    6. Press Spacebar on the Activate button.

    7. Choose “Now Using the Internet recommended”.

    8. Tab to Next and press Enter.

    9. Type your 20-digit Authorization number in the edit box below. and choose next to continue.
    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    10. After the license is successfully retrieved, Tab to Finish and press Enter

    2. Authorizing using FSACTIVATE.com.
    If the instructions above did not allow you to activate successfully, please go to:
    http://www.FSACTIVATE.com
    After downloading and installing JAWS 12, choose run in demo when the activator comes up.

    To authorize JAWS, you will need both your JAWS 12.0 authorization number, and your locking code that must be obtained from JAWS Help, About JAWS for Windows.

    Next go to

    http://www.FSACTIVATE.com

    Read the information on this page and then press enter on the continue Activation button.
    Locate the Link Retrieve an Activation License code based on your Authorization number and Locking code and press Enter.
    To obtain your Activation License code, please follow the instructions on this page.

    You will be asked to enter your JAWS 12.0 authorization number. This number is below.
    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Copy and paste the authorization number above into the designated location on the FSActivate page.

    To locate your locking code,

    1. press Insert J to open the JAWS Window.

    2. Press Alt+H for help then A for About JAWS for Windows.

    3. Press the tab key and you will find the locking code.

    4. Select and copy this code into the designated spot on the FSActivate page.

    Click on the submit license request button. You will get a 120 digit code in response. Copy this code to clipboard.

    Run JAWS 12.0 . When the client activator comes up, choose activate from WWW.

    Copy and paste the 120 digit code you received from FSActivate.com into this field and click on submit license request. Your JAWS version should then activate and authorize properly.

    If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
    Thank you for choosing Freedom Scientific!

    If replying to this message, Be sure to include all previous correspondence pertaining to this issue so that we might more quickly assist you.

    Kind Regards,

    Technical Support Specialist
    Freedom Scientific
    Phone support: 727 803 8600, option #2
    E-mail Support: support@freedomscientific.com
    Visit our website at:
    http://www.freedomscientific.com

    Our Mission
    To develop, manufacture and market innovative technology-based products
    and services that those with vision impairments and learning
    disabilities use to change their world.
    ________________________________________
    From: Darragh Ó Héiligh [mailto:d@digitaldarragh.com]
    Sent: Monday, May 09, 2011 4:18 PM
    To: Freedom Scientific Technical Support
    Subject: Authorization count.

    Greetings,

    Due to an issue upgrading to builds of Windows 7 prior to 7600 to 7601 I am required to reinstall Windows on a second PC. You may have in your records that I required an authorization reset recently for this same reason. At that time I provided screen shots and other related information to validate that the computer I was reinstalling on was exactly the same.

    I require 1 additional authorization to be used when I reinstall Jaws in the next few hours after the reinstallation of Windows 7.

    Serial number: 12345
    Locking code: 100-00000

    As a side note, it would be very useful if I could uninstall the authorization independently as I would then not have to contact you to get my authorization count reset.

    Finally, in case there is any doubt I am continuing to operate within the terms of the license: Extract follows:
    “The Licensee may install and use the program on more than one machine, but only one machine may be used at a time.”.

    Screen shots proving that I have uninstalled the product license now follow.

    Your assistance with this request is very appreciated

    Screenshots were removed.


  • A review of the Mini-Guide

    I first wrote this review in 2004 but it got lost somewhere during site moves etc. I will hopefully post a number of pages and reviews that have been lost over time during the next week or two.

    A mobility aid to be used in conjunction with either a Cain or Guide Dog

    Introduction

    The Miniguide is a device which detects objects within a maximum distance of four meters. It is about the size of a box of matches with two small round sensors at the front. There are two versions: Type 1 gives audible feedback using a combination of tones to help judge the distance between objects. The second type uses vibrations. The closer you get to an object the faster the vibrations pulse. These two versions can allow a person who is blind to, (with practise,) confidently judge the distance between their surroundings and the aid.

    Practical uses

    Since having the aid I have tried to use it in as many different environments as possible using both Guide dog and Cain. Below are some of the experiences I’ve had with it.

    In conjunction with the Cain this is a powerful tool that when utilized to its full potential can greatly decrease the number of obstacles you come in direct contact with. However it does take time and practise to recognise distance by relying on pulses. For this reason I started using the Miniguide on a reasonably straight route with a minimum of major obstacles. The first thing that I noticed when using the four meter setting was the dependability of this small device. After the third time of walking the route I had determined that trees planted on a grass verge could give me a more accurate land mark for finding crossings and eventually without noticing it I was walking down the centre of the foot path keeping the wall on my left at a good distance by keeping the pulses at a steady rate. A quick wave of my left hand bought the trees on my other side in view. From counting trees along the road to finding the corner the Miniguide is just as responsive and helpful. Following the wall on one side and waiting for the pulses to stop signifying the end of the obstacle I was able to confidently turn the corner while remaining roughly in the centre of the path. Finding openings for example door ways can take a bit more practise. Users should become familiar with the four main levels of sensitivity before attempting this. It is also important to note that the further away from an opening the harder it becomes to detect. This is because as the beam radiates from the front of the device, it gets wider. Thus that on the four meter setting standing four meters away from an opening that is three meters wide will result in the beam hitting off the sides therefore if you are not sure an opening exists you will miss it. This is not a design flaw. It has been made part of the features of the unit. The developers say that it is better to miss an opening than to miss a narrow object such as a pole or tree. I have suggested that in other versions of the unit an option be given to users to change the width of the beam as well as the length.

    In conjunction with a guide dog this aid can drastically improve a persons confidence when navigating around off curb obstacles. ] Off curb obstacles are obstacles which do not allow the guide dog and handler to pass without stepping off the curb. Although the majority of obstacles are easily negotiable in other words guide dogs are trained to guide the handler around them, some obstacles demand a bit more awareness of the general area before a guide dog user can comfortably give the appropriate commands to his or her dog. The Miniguide can help by giving the user an accurate understanding of the distance between the obstacle and the unit and can also ensure the dog is choosing the best route around. It is important to stress that the Miniguide will only give you a certain amount of information about the area. Remember that the dog has most likely chosen the best route around the obstacle. I strongly suggest that the unit only be used to further increase your confidence while navigating around these obstacles. Another advantage to using this aid is when learning new routes. As the Miniguide is an obstacle detector it can help you follow land marks such as trees, poles, bins and other similar structures. On a recent stay in Dublin a group of Friends and I was staying in a Bed and Breakfast which did not have any discernable land marks around it. The best way of finding the house was by counting the number of trees located on the outer curb. The path was approximately two meters wide and each tree was located in a square meter of grass. As my guide dog was new to this area I wanted a backup method of finding the house. Using the Miniguide I was able to count the three trees and one pole. Using that information I could then tell the dog to find the steps to the left which led up to the house.

    When in doors the Miniguide can be very distracting. Because it is so sensitive it detects everything in enclosed spaces. Using the half meter mode can drastically reduce this distraction but it leaves you less time to react to the detected obstruction. While using a Cain the guide was most useful in situations where following a wall or even following a person at a fast pace was required. This takes a lot of practise and concentration but once mastered can be very helpful. Again, finding doors using the unit is difficult but very possible with some determination and practise. Using the Miniguide in doors with a guide dog is frankly pointless. Depending on the partnership with your dog of course. While testing the guide I did not have any use for it while in side as my dog was more than capable of guiding me around comfortably. As the areas that I walk around while in doors are generally crowded I felt that spending more time concentrating on the direction that my dog wanted to take me and keeping him relaxed bought better results.

    Walking in crowds out side using the Cain and the Miniguide can be very easy with time and practise. The Miniguide is very useful when finding openings that you can walk threw and for detecting stationary pedestrians. Using the Miniguide with a guide dog out side when navigating around crowds can be just as useful. Although I have to stress again that you should not always depend on the information you receive from the Miniguide it can be useful for detecting openings in crowds.

    I have warned you to be ware while using the Miniguide in conjunction with a guide dog after consulting the Irish guide dogs for the Blind. A guide dog generally knows more about the area that you are in than you. Giving him or her commands that they can’t carry out may damage their confidence. The Miniguide can be a very useful tool but only when adequate time and practise is allotted to using it. If you are considering using this unit in conjunction with either a Cain or a guide dog you should contact a trainer qualified in the area of guide dog or Cain mobility.