• Category Archives reviews
  • The Lion King in Dublin

    Emma, Jenny, Nicky and I went to the performance of the Lion King in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre or as I rather call it, the Grand Canal Theatre last night. We chose that show because there was an audio description facility. This meant that we were each given a small headset with the exception of Emma of course so that we could hear descriptions of the activity on stage. Audio description of this type of show is brilliant as obviously, although the music is the primary focus, the plot is almost equally as important and without the audio description many of the subtleties such as movements, scene changes and gestures can be lost leading to a less than fulfilling understanding of what’s going on. This was probably the first time I’ve ever enjoyed a musical as much and it’s in no small part due to the fact that I was able to keep up with the plot so easily. Of course, one of the other reasons is that the music and the story line in the Lion king are so good! The music and the musicians that performed it just couldn’t be better.

    I really liked that although the story line was rigidly followed, as it should have been, the cast related to the audience and broke away from the story line in two obvious parts. The first was when the character Zazu made a joke that the stage curtains were like a bad ikea shower curtain. The second time that they really diverted from the story line was during one of the last scenes where Simba is beginning to fight back for his kingdom. He tells Timon and Pumba to create a diversion. They offer to wear drag and dance to river dance. At that, they come back on stage dressed up in Irish dancing costumes dancing to the main river dance theme. Both diversions were absolutely hilarious and they really helped to encourage the audience.

    The singers and performers were absolutely astonishingly good. African songs seem incredibly difficult to sing but they did it flawlessly. The character of Rafeeky completely blew me away. Her range and skill was nothing less than an ultimate pleasure to listen to.

    You know that music is good when you feel cold all over while sitting in a really hot room. For many of the performances last night I was freezing. I would definitely go to another rmusical again. Especially if they are as well described as the Lion King was last night.


  • An introduction to Android and accessibility with talk back.

    In this podcast I wanted to give you a sense of what I like and what I don’t like about the Android operating system. I’m using the talk back screen reader so my perspective will be mostly focused on accessibility of the platform and apps for this particular introduction.

    Listen to my introduction to Android and accessibility.


  • Continuation of Mixing the old with the new. Nokia C5 and iPhone 4S.

    There were a few interesting questions and points made as a result of my post yesterday. Firstly, let me just remind readers that I love getting your Emails and phone calls but it would be nice if you would comment on the site instead of contacting me privately so as other readers can have the benefit of reading your questions and observations.

    Firstly, Jenny asked if the C5 has wifi. NO. It doesn’t although as I’m not using this phone for any data usage this actually makes no difference to me. I’m interested in what you might use wifi for though. Are there apps on the S60 platform that you would use?

    Nicky touched on the idea of using an iPod for listening to Music and using Apps. This is a very good idea. The iPod is smaller, lighter and cheaper and if you’re not using it for phone calls or texting then there’s no need for 3G. However, the iPhone battery lasts for a very long time when not used as a normal phone and there is nothing that the iPhone can’t do that the iPod does so there’s no need to change over if you already have an iPhone. Also, because I could potentially change back to the thinking that one device is just more convenient selling the iPhone would be a mistake because a 64GB iPhone 4S is not a cheap toy at all. I’ve already done this in the past. I moved back to a Nokia phone for a while about three or four years ago but after a while I missed the power of the iPhone so I went back again. However, at that time, I wasn’t running both phones simultaneously so things may be different this time. For me, the iPhone has almost become essential. I use Facetime with sighted people when I need something looked at, I use the many social networking aps to stay in contact with people, I read the local and national news, I keep up to date with Email and I even use it for GPS occasionally. However, I have a tip for you. I have a wireless Vodafone dongle. I usually have my laptop with me when traveling to and from work and this wireless dongle has a nice place in that laptop case. When I really want Internet access on the iPhone while traveling I just turn on that wireless dongle, connect to it from the iPhone and I have the same data access as I had when using it as a phone. Really, the only down side to this is that I have a few more devices to carry around. However, this is more than made up for by the efficiency of being able to make and receive calls and write text messages quickly and comfortably. I’ve been using this method now for just over a week and so far it’s working quite nicely. However, ask me again in a month. Maybe by that time I’ll be tired of carrying an extra phone around with me.

    Just one more note. I have given serious consideration to an iPad or an iPad mini however as a blind person I simply can’t understand why one of these devices would be appealing to me. The larger screen makes absolutely no difference. Why not just use an iPhone or an iPod. The iPad mini feels lovely and sexy. It’s slim, curved and light but once you get over that what’s the benefit if you can’t see the screen?


  • Mixing the old with the new. Nokia C5 and iPhone 4S.

    I’m sure you couldn’t care less what phone I’m using or why, but I want to explain something to you.

    I am now using a Nokia C5 for day to day phone needs. I haven’t completely moved away from the iPhone but for making and receiving calls and sending text messages there’s just no beating the convenience of a classic mobile phone. When I want to dial a number I simply key it in on the numeric key pad. When I get a text I can respond to it with one hand if I want to. When I’m looking for a contact I dial in the first few letters and it searches for it. Finding Frank for example takes me less than two seconds. Finding frank on the iPhone takes a lot longer.

    That’s not to say that I have anything against the iPhone or I have gone away from Apple products. I just got sick of fluffing around with a phone when all I wanted to do is answer or hang up a call. In fact, I’m going to get my frustrations out here by listing some of the things that are driving me crazy about the iPhone. Read on though. I’m going to also tell you why I carry an iPhone around with me as well.

    • When I hang up a call I should be able to press the power button but this only intermittently works. It is fixed in some updates but breaks again with the next.
    • Taking the iPhone away from my ear causes it to go to loud speaker. I know this is by design but it’s irritating.
    • A bug that has been on the iPhone since IOS4 has caused Voiceover users to encounter an issue where while on a call the phone intermittently switches back and forth to the loud speaker.
    • Texting on the iPhone on-screen keyboard is horribly slow, cumbersome, unproductive and difficult. Even Flexy isn’t great if you’re in a noisy area and you can’t hear the phone. Also, it’s badly designed when you’re holding it up to your ear to hear the text to speech synthesizer.
    • Bugs are frequently not caught or not fixed. For example, in IOS 6, Voiceover should speak new notifications when the screen is locked if the option is enabled but this no longer works. This senseless disregard of simple bugs has turned me off Apple to a large extent. In fact, because of this I recently sold my Mac book air.
    • The battery life is absolutely terrible. I charged my Nokia C5 on Sunday evening and I won’t need to charge it until tomorrow night. Imagine that. Three days of phone usage on one charge!
    • The iPhone is too big and it’s getting bigger! I don’t like the extra bulk of the iPhone 5. I also don’t like having to put a case on my phone. If it is vital to have a case on a phone to stop it from becoming easily damaged then the phone is badly designed.

    The iPhone is still brilliant. As I said before, I don’t want this post to seem like I’m gone against this product. I still carry one around with me and I use it when in range of wireless networks. I know you might think this is crazy and I would ordinarily agree with you but access to the Internet and apps simply can’t be rivalled by any other phone. The iPhone has more apps than any other platform and with thanks to the voiceover screen reader as blind people we have the benefit and luxury of having access to the vast majority of these. It’s a fact that I simply wouldn’t want to do without the connectivity provided to me by the iPhone however again, as a simple phone and text utility the iPhone has a long way to go before it is efficient in comparison to classic mobile phones. In fact a few people have commented that call quality is clearer when I speak to them from the Nokia C5 and I also find that I can continue a conversation for longer when traveling home by train than I can when using the iPhone.
    I have examined other platforms however although I think they have a lot of merit for most mobile phone users, they unfortunately can’t compete with the accessibility of the iPhone. Specifically Android, Blackberry and Windows phone. The Android platform has a screen reader and it is making slow and steady progress. I would like to see this reach the point where it can meet the expectations of usability and efficiency set by the iPhone. The Blackberry platform has also improved recently but the stability of the screen reader on this platform doesn’t seem to have lived up to the hype. Finally Windows phone. Ah, good old Microsoft. No accessibility for blind users at all. There’s absolutely no screen reader on this platform. I can only hope that they’ll fix this soon because I actually like what I’ve read about this platform so far and I have really enjoyed using previous versions of Windows mobile. I know that since 7.5 the platform has changed substantially but I loved the interconnectivity between the mobile and desktop platforms.

    I want to say something to you about Windows Mobile for a second. In the nineties Microsoft launched a mobile platform. The user interface was based on the PC desktop. This idea was a complete disaster. Microsoft had to completely change their approach to Windows mobile to win any kind of market share. It was acknowledged that the expectations and requirements of users were vastly different for both platforms. This bought about the lovely idea of the today screen that we have enjoyed on Windows mobile for about ten years. In Windows 8 and Windows mobile 8 this today screen has become much more powerful with its evolution into the start screen. In 2012 Windows 8 for the desktop and laptop has taken on a look and feel similar to Windows mobile. About twelve years on from the catastrophe that was Windows CE for mobile devices with its user interface based on the desktop version of Windows we now have Windows 8 for the desktop based on the user interface on mobile devices. So, I have two questions for you. Is Microsoft looking at another disaster or do users really want this new and improved today screen on their desktops. I’m not sure. For me, I wasn’t too happy with Windows 8. I found that even after customization of the environment it was still trying to push its own objectives onto me. Use Microsoft services for sign on, cloud storage, search, mail and chat. Of course they can’t be anti-competitive so alternatives are available but it’s easy to see what the preference is. Your thoughts are welcome.


  • Dell XPS13

    I gave the Mac book air a fair shot. I lasted two months but when with every update, problems weren’t fixed and bugs seemed to get worse, I decided enough was enough. So, two weeks ago I started looking around for alternatives. I’ve decided, I’m sticking with Windows for the foreseeable future but the size of the Mac book air was still really appealing because of its keyboard and its size. Comparable systems on the Windows platform are called Ultra books. There are a few good names in this area. Acer, Toshiba, Sony, Samson and Dell. In fairness to these companies, they are pretty much neck and neck with their offering. They are governed by the limitations of the hardware in the form factor of ultra-books so there aren’t major differences in the specifications. Weight, size, processor, RAM and storage is all very equal among these systems. It wasn’t easy to make a choice based on website specs.

    Fortunately, I was very lucky to know several people who could let me spend some time trying out some of the ultra-books from the main providers. HP, Toshiba and Dell were definitely the winners of the bunch for what I wanted. Unfortunately, almost all of the ultra-books I tested felt very flimsy and cheap. Maybe it seems silly, but I want a laptop that’s going to feel and look great. It doesn’t matter that I can’t see it, when I walk into a meeting with this, I want people to know that I take computing seriously and I take care in what I choose. The feel of it is hugely important. A laptop with a spongy keyboard is uncomfortable and sloppy. If it has a big boxy body then it’s just not sexy. Let’s face it; I spend more time on a computer than most. It’s important that I’m happy with everything when I finally settle on buying a laptop.

    I finally decided on the Dell XPS. The keyboard is incredibly comfortable, it is very light, the front has a lovely shape, my wrists don’t hit off the touch pad when I’m typing, it has just enough USB ports, the battery life is just about adequate, it’s very quiet and it performs well. Of course, it goes without saying that it has a solid state disk and four GB of RAM.

    I put Dell through hell while buying this laptop. The machine I tried out was six months old and it had a number of annoying problems. The wireless adapter frequently dropped the connection and the fan would spin up for absolutely no reason and remain on at full throttle for ages. These were recognised defects in the first model of the XPS13 however from only a day of using this one; it would appear that they have been rectified. I certainly ensured that I got confirmation in writing that the issues had been resolved in the unit I was about to purchase before I made any decision. I was torn between the XPS13 and the XPS14. The extra inch allows Dell to cram a lot more power into the laptop but in the end I decided that portability was a little more important than power at the moment. Plus, although the XPS13 isn’t as powerful as the XPS14, it’s by no means weak. It easily handles Windows 7 and Windows 8, Office 2010, Visual studio, the VSphere client and a plethora of other applications. Also, for the past few years, I find that I spend most of my time on system administration so I don’t need a huge amount of power to get my job done.

    So, there you have it, I’ve given up on the Mac. I don’t mind telling you, I’m relieved. If you like, I can go into all the reasons at another stage but for now, all I’ll say is, it’s nice to be more efficient while out and about again.


  • Bose OE2i headphones.

    I bought Emma a pair of Bose OE2i headphones last Christmas and I was immediately jealous.

    Their very comfortable. They have memory foam pads and they fold up nice and small for throwing in a bag.

    I finally got around to buying a pair on friday and I’m loving them. I was in need of a new pair of head phones. I have another lovely pair that a friend generously bought me for Christmas but I likE using them at work because the cable is nice and long and I can comfortably stretch them across different computers.

    The bose are nice and bays but they don’t try to overdrive the base ranges like the beats headphones. I had thought of buying a beats pair but the comfort of the bose wine out in the end.

    With the bose I can enjoy all the richness of Willy clancy’s piping or I can turn up the volume when listening to snow patrol.

    I know some reviews of headphones go into a lot of detail. I’m not going to do that because I’m lazy. What I will say is that I’m very picky. I know what I like and these check all the boxes. Their easy to throw in a bag, they sound fantastic and their the most comfortable on-ear headphones I’ve tried in years.