March 19, 2007

Wikis – Do or do not do….

We have been using a wiki ot put together a project bid and here are some reflections on this experience.

It was pretty short notice and none of use were experienced in working in this way. The forst drfat was done in Word and I dumped that into a Wetpaint wiki. My first thinking was to chop the thing up into its sections so that we could focus on the main issues for each without being distracted by the whole

My forst observation was that we were all very hesitant to actually work in a wiki way – we were all too set in oour ways perhaps. The temptation ws to add comments into the text, suggestions with our names attached rather than being bold and changing the text itself.

As Mark said ‘to paraphrase Yoda “change or change not there is no …”’.

The wiki has basic editing tools and it is quick but the formatting seemed flaky and wel….odd.

I think we will use the idea again, especially if we get this expression of interest through into the full bid stage but I suspect it does not have all the functionality we need to do this sort of collaborative work. Perhaps other wiki systems are better.

I suspect we will use it to gather ideas then work in Word which will be passed around in the usual way.

October 24, 2006

the story continues

Follow-up to Lets Talks from Graham Lewis

So finally I get the key number, punch it in and the phone starts to speak. The voice is pretty horrid actually. I prefered the other voice but at least it is working – I can live with this.

oh wht’s this? It says it needs a recharge. No problem, plug in in. There you go…..

It mutters something every few minutes for about 10 minutes then cuts out in mid sentance…. oh oh

It is dead. No response, blank screen. Tried lots of obvious things but no it is dead.

A week later I get it to a Carphone Warehouse and they look at it. No idea. The send it off to the manufacturer.

Three weeks after that I am still waiting.

Tried phoming lots of times but of course Carphone Warehouse does not answer the phone…...

September 21, 2006

Lets Talks

Another Good Grief event this week. Actually it started last wek… or even earlier

backm Backm BAAAAAAACK

A while ago I lost my old size-of-a-brick pay-as-you-go cheap-n-nasty mobile and was about to go to foreign parts for a few days. “I need a phone” thought I and “I may as well get a good one that is accessible”. So I did a bit of research and found that while there was a mobile specifically designed for ‘the blind’ (owlasys or something like that), it was pretty crap.

To get a decent accessible mobile, you need one of two possible pieces of software (MobileSpeak or TALKS) installed on one of a limted range of phones.

With future-proofing in mind, I splashed out on a Nokia N70 which is a pretty sophisticated multimedia phone that I knew would run either software package.

I tried asking RNIB for advice but as usual, unless they are actually selling you something, they were little help. I do see RNIB as one of these far too large, self-perpetuating charities that has lost touch with the people it is intended to serve and is still operating on a midel that was appropriate several decades ago…. but don’t get me going.

Anyway, afer seeking (much better) advice on a mailing list or two, I downloaded the TALKS software 30 day demo and after figuring out how to install it from my PC with the provided cables and software, I was up and running. Pretty good too. It even had a screen magnifier which I am a bit past being able to use but a nice feature that I would have appreciated a few years ago.

There was a bonus pack which I did not explore but that seems to have some nice toys such as a GPS thing that works on your location in relation to network transmitters.

That might be quite useful to me when travelling on rail and even bus as they don’ always anniunce stops and you can set alerts when you reach certain places (apparently).

Of course the 30 days license ran out after… 30 days and then the phone would only speak for a couple of minutes before going mute…. or rather repeating “License has expired” every time I touched a key. Cery depressing as it would go iff in my pocket as I walked about. I basically had to keep switching it on and off to keep using it. Fair enough.

With my future employment being in grave doubt, I did not buy the full license until now – two months later.

So last week I rang up a supplier and this is where the story really begins….

First of all I had to work out my credit card details under my CCTV. Of course the numbers are reflective and on a picture background so the CCTV does not cope well with it. I finally worked it out and gave the number to the guy who is also blind… One of us, probably me, screwed up and the number was not right so a couple of days before he gets back to say sp and this time we get it right.

Next I have to get the phone’s ID. This means typing in a code #06 which I recorded as #96 so another day before the emails resolve it. I type in the right code but because the screen does not wrap properly in the magnifier, I don’t see two of the digits. The phone speaks them correctly but for some reason my brain cannot capture that particular sequesnce and it takes a good 20mins to get the right number. I get the number to him and wait.

End of week one.

On Tuesday this week, I finally get an email with the activation ‘ticket’, a lengthy number.

I follow the procedure but because I have never used texting, did not realise I have to switch modes from letters to numbers. Or rather, I do realise but have no idea how. Another email but while that is getting there and back I figure it out and type in the ticket.

The phone does its thing and then goes silent….... not a good sign.

Under the CCTV, I see that the Speach is set to ‘None’ which I cannot alter.

Another email.

It seems that when Installed the demo, I picked the RealSpeak voice engine and not the Elequence engine which the supplier just assumed I had done. I think most blind users are so used to the Elequence voice that he assumed I had opted for it. The license ticket was for Elequence so TALKS now doesn’t… making all further steps that much more difficult as I have to work under the CCTV.

The easiest thing, he says, is to install the Elequence engine.

Fine. After a bit of a search I find it and dowload it to my PC.

Then I realise that my phone to PC cable is in Wales…..

Another email – can I just have the RealSpeak License instead?

As I wirte this, I am still sitting here woth a phone that won’t speak to me.

What I am getting to, I guess, is that something that should have taken ten minutes for most people to sort out, took me two weeks so far and this is my life.

That is mostly, to me, what disabilities do – they eat up your life. Sure you can eventually do most things but, even with more assistive technology than you can shake a laser pointer at, virtually everything takes that much longer and is that nuch more frustrating. and tiring

The upside is that you develop a lot of patience (or go mad).

The same applies to students with disabilities. Just because they gfet through a task tells you nothing about how hard a journey it was and what it took out of them. I was walking in this morning with my white cane and reflecting that it was just as difficult to walk into walk as it once (when my eyesight was better) was for me to climb a mountain.

This is not to promote the ‘heroic disabled person’ image just to recognise that we should not underestimate the extra time and energy required to study (and just live!) as a disabled student.

The new Disability Equality Scheme will come onto force in December and has a long list of proposee actions. It has not been passed by committee yet so I won;t say what those actions will be but I have hopes that this will do what the DDA and SENDA failed to do – make Unoversotoes take disability seriously and consider disabled people as people.

September 20, 2006

Bendy Stick Syndrome

I had one of those ‘I can’t beleive this’ moments on Wednesday last week. I was crossing the footbridge at Canley station and a bicycle came hurtling down the ramp towards me. I stepped neatly to one side and got my cane stuck in the fence. I and the top end of the cane kept going but the bottom end stayed where it was. Result: Cane bent at 45 degrees. That was stage one – me standing there with the bent stick. “Right – thought I – what worked once can work again” so I stuck it back in the fence and bent it back. At this point the end of the cane went poing! and after bouncing off a few bits of the bridge, ended up, I think, on the railway track.

So now I have a thing like a demented corkscrew with no end on it. Any way I sort of limped the rest of the way into work.

I was them amazed to find that I could not get hold of a replacement cane in Cocentry as I am not registered her but back on Wales. So I have only just got my new cane.

I am going to have to carry a spare.

And the this morning while crossing at the lights, a truck and a car ran the lights and the truck ame within a foot of killing me.

So perhaps I need a gun too.

I have been in touch with George Roberts frpm Oxford Brookes this week and it seems there are some related wiki and other collaborative learning projects going on there. I need to check the sector as a whole. This is obviouslt the new thing.


In the ‘Sociel Model’ of disability, people do not ‘own’ a disability – it is not part of them. They ‘own’ an impairment but the disability is a result of a mismatch between the ‘society’ in which they are trying to operate.

Disabilities are overcome when the person with the impairment and the ‘society’ work together to make it happen.

Now in our techno- enhanved world, acees to the information infrastructure is essential for everybody to operate properly. If the infrastrucure is not available, we are all disabled.

More specifically, we need an email system that works….

September 19, 2006

Portable Document Reader

k-NFBI had somebody from Sight and Sound over last week to demo the new Kurzweil portable speaking scanner thingy – the K-NFB.

This is something I have been waiting for for some time and I was pretty impressed.

One of my (many, many many..) problems is that when I attend meetings either here or at other institutions, there are always documents that turn up at the last minute in print only.

Things have improced a little over the last few years as some people are switched on to disability but more usually I have to sit there while people pour over that critical document or try to guess what is on the Powerpoint presentations by what people say. How many tomes have I sat there while the presenter says “and as this quote says…” (Laughter from audience) or “Does everybpdy agree with this….?”.

Given the text in digital format in advamce or even the print handouts before I leave my office where I can scan and OCR them, I would be on equal footing but once at the venue, it is too late.

Not any more….

Or at least not any more if I get hold of one of these rather expensive gadgets.

The K-NFB is bascally a digital camera bolted on the back of a PDA. You point it at a page pf text and click. The photo is cpnverted into text which s then read to you as synthetic speech.

I tried it out on some pretty horrible text from a badly photocopied journal article to a Powerpoint handout with tiny text and it did amazingly well. This is, remember, being held above the document at all sorts of angles and in trembling hands. The reason the hands were trembling?

The price – £2625…. bit speep for a fairly cheap PDA and a fairly cheap camera connected by USB but the software that makes it all usable for somebody like me makes this one of the best gadgets I have seen for several years.

I want one, I want one, now.

September 18, 2006


Follow-up to Griffin 4000–RKFM RocketFM – FM Transmitter for Desktop Computers from Graham Lewis

Alright I was a bit hasty… I had forgotten that in order for the radio on my PDA to work, I had to plug in the earplugs which act as the aerial. When I did that and fiddled about with the frequency a bit, it worked like a dream.

Griffin 4000–RKFM RocketFM – FM Transmitter for Desktop Computers

A friend recently bought a similar device for an iPod and so I sent off for this device which supposedly transmits any audio from your PC as FM to be picked up by any device that can receive FM… such as a radio (doh) or a PDA like mine which has a radio receiver built in.

Range is 10-30ft so you are not going to be setting up your own radio station with this but it is useful in that it allows FM receivers to be useful beyond digital and allows all sorts of devices to act as remote speakers for your PC.

My idea, beyond a joy for toys was to try to use this device as an alternative to bluetooth headset so I can listen to my PC read Powerpoint slides without the room hearing. I would use a small radio and a single earplug. All the bluetooth headsets look bulky and are very expensive.

At least that is the thoery.

Plugged it in, followed all the instructions but…. nada.

Thought it was too good to be true.

September 07, 2006

Still Standing

Well, looks as if I am staying at Warwick a bit longer after all. I did not get the CAP post I appled for this week but was told there was now money to keep me on full time until July. Better in some ways as I will probably be developing the disability workshops that will come out of the DES (hopefully) and probably keep ,ost of my curremt portfolio of work while also getting some work on PCAPP. Good all round really.

So I am getting my head together again and looking beyond September.

I still need to ‘negotiate my portfolio’ but hopefully I can hang on to the two externally funded projects that I brought in as these plus a possible project funded by the Reonvention Centre would each form the basis for some publications which I sorely need.

Did a rough back of a fag packet analysis of some data from Debbie Biggerstaff in the Medical School today. She ran a project as which forms the basis of her WELA. This involved a ‘Treasure Hunt’ – a find and debate approach using blogs. I only had the feedback forms – happy sheets to go by and it is so difficult to get a feel for the thing from just that. The blogs themselves are private. It seems to have gone down ok but it is frustrating not to have more interaction woth those that took part. Perhaps the next interation can be studied on more depth.

September 06, 2006

A Woman, a Dog, and a Walnut Tree

“A Woman, a Dog, and a Walnut Tree The more you beat them the better they’ll be. ...”

The Walnut tree, I was told, bears more walnuts if beaten occassionaly with a chain. So the rest must be true also…. ;-)

This does come to mind in my recent employment situation. I have been thinking far more creatively recently. People do say you are never more alive than when you are about to die – not literally on my case I hope.

Partly, I guess, this flurry of creativity is because I am reading more widely in order to prepare for various job applications…. none of which I actually got…

I suppose change is painful but hopefully good. Certainly I feel as if I need to get out of the rut that I did not realise I was in.

A while back I bought a new mobile in order to run speech software on it. I was not able to see the screens on these things so was missing out on a lot of new tech. The phone was really expensive and probably has more software and functionality than my PC (yiu can do cideo editing on it for God’s sake!). Anyway I could not afford the speech software as well so I am running the trial version. The trouble is with that is that the damn thing says “License has expired” from my pocket every 30 minutes or so which is nit making me feel good about myself.


Latest short term contract means I will now be at Warwick until Feb 2008


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