Tag Archives: computing

I May WalkWalk From TalkTalk

As a blogger I rely on the internet. I don’t think about it often. Rather like the driver who knows very little about cars I just get into the driving seat and drive. As with the driver in the above example, I know little about how the engine (internet) works but I trust that the manufacturer (my Internet Service Provider or ISP) will get me safely, from A to B without incident. Unfortunately as with vehicles, so with the internet, things can (and do) go wrong. In this case spectacularly so – my ISP (TalkTalk) has been hacked, (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/talktalk-cyber-attack-company-accused-of-cover-up-following-reports-customers-targeted-a-week-before-a6707091.html). The incident is shocking as the Chief Executive, Dido Harding has been reported as saying that she is uncertain as to whether key customer information (including bank details) where encrypted on the TalkTalk servers. As the head of a company entrusted with the data of around four million customers I, in my naivety would assume that chief executives should be cognisant of such matters. That is why they receive salaries which the vast majority of their customers will never see in a lifetime.

The above incident is the third such in a period of twelve months. Either TalkTalk is incredibly unlucky (but not as unlucky as it’s hapless customers) or a worrying degree of incompetence is at work here. I have my suspicions as to which one it is.

A close friend of mine (a former AOL customer, as AOL was subsumed into TalkTalk) is in the process of moving to another ISP and I am strongly minded to follow his example.

I remain in a state of disbelief that a security breech of this magnitude could take place not once, not twice but three times in a time-frame of some twelve months. Stable doors should be shut prior to (not after) the horse has bolted but TalkTalk appear to be desperately attempting to fasten the door long after the beast has departed.

In Praise Of Microsoft Word

Oh Microsoft I love you.

I love the way you say in tones sweet

“document 1. Microsoft Word is not responding”.

I relish the opportunity you furnish for me to drink my tea while you hang with such grace and poise.

For the chance to eat my cereal while you continue to stick obstinately I give thanks.

I was in need of a shower so thanks, once more for affording me the opportunity to wash and dress as you continue to hang.

Thank you dear Microsoft for, finally allowing me to complete my poem which runs to an entire 4 lines.

 

Yours ever so gratefully,

A Humble Computer User.

 

(The above was written in response to the difficulties experienced while writing my poem, “Epitaph On A Poet” which appeared on this blog earlier today).

Do Not Tempt Fate For She Will Always Have The Last Laugh

Do not tempt fate for she will always have the last laugh. This truism was brought home to me on 26 December when I wrote a post entitled “A Good Bath”. In it I described how I had spilled a cup of tea over my laptop’s keyboard. I then went on to poke fate most impolitely by suggesting that my machine appeared to have suffered no ill effects from it’s bath. Fate’s ire was roused and when I next attempted to log on to my laptop the machine’s keyboard refused to work, hence my silence between 27 December and today (30 December 2014).

I did write a post earlier today with the aid of a USB keyboard. However, Fate, still wrathfull owing to my tempting of her caused the laptop to behave erratically. The context menu kept popping up without rhyme or reason and I was forced to abandon my attempt. With due abeysance to the goddess Fate I trust that this post will, in fact go live. I am, incidentally drinking a cup of coffee as I write this with the aid of a USB keyboard (the laptop one being well and truly up the spout). The cup is, however on the carpet well out of harms way!

 

(for my post of 26 December please see, http://newauthoronline.com/2014/12/26/a-good-bath/).

Save, Save and Save Again!

Yesterday I breeched one of the cardinal rules of computing. I had taken the day off from the job which pays the bills (with my boss’s permission of course), With the aim of getting stuck in to some serious writing. Having treated myself to a healthy breakfast consisting of hash browns, bacon, sausages, eggs and beans (with several slices of tost just in case I faded away), I sat down at my laptop and began typing.

I worked merrily away, words populating virtual paper until, oops the machine froze. So intent had I been on my writing that I had neglected to save the document. The laptop, showing no immediate desire to behave itself, I took a deep breath and went to make a cup of tea. Fortunately the computer had, by the time I returned unfrozen allowing me to save my work.

I don’t know what caused the machine to freeze but suspect it may have been connected with Windows Update prompting me to install Microsoft’s latest updates. Whatever the cause I was lucky not to have lost the story I am working on – the lesson I draw is that work should be saved, on a regular basis to avoid hapless computers being thrown against walls by angry authors who, through their own forgetfulness have neglected to save their manuscript. I am pleased to report that my laptop has survived to drive me mad on a future occasion.

Apple

As a blind person I find the iPad accessible. With the assistance of Apple’s in-built screen reader, voice-over I am able to use the device with few problems. One aspect I have never mastered is the on screen keyboard. The keyboard is usable by people with little or no sight (tap once with voice-over enabled and you hear the name of the key announced. Tap twice and the key is activated). Despite it’s accessibility the on screen keyboard is, in my experience somewhat cumbersome from the perspective of the visually impaired. Consequently I use an Apple Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad. Once paired the keyboard works well enabling the user to enter text without having to contend with the device’s on screen keyboard.

Approximately a month ago the Bluetooth keyboard stopped working. I changed the batteries and it began functioning again. However about a week later the keyboard once more ceased working. Again I changed the batteries and it started functioning once more for a brief period. When the same problem happened for the third time I took the keyboard into the Apple store in Liverpool’s Paradise Street. The Apple representative quickly diagnosed that the keyboard had gone to the great Apple heaven in the sky and replaced it with a brand new (working)! One. Prior to visiting the store I had envisaged protracted explanations and a long wait before my issue could be resolved so I was pleasantly surprised with the speedy and efficient response of Apple. In these days of poor customer service it is refreshing to experience first rate treatment. I take my hat off to Apple.

Anyone Fancy An Apple?

My three books (“The First Time”, “Samantha” and “Sting In The Tail”) have all been written on my Sony Vio Windows 7 Home Premium laptop. I purchased it in John Lewis approximately 3 years ago and it has on the whole served me extremely well. Being blind (I don’t possess sufficient vision to read the screen) I use screen reading software called Jaws which converts text into speech and braille enabling me to read the contents of the screen. I’m currently using Jaws version 11 which is several years out of date (the current version is Jaws 14) and given the march of technology I’m finding that an increasing number of websites do not work as they should or, more correctly Jaws can’t interact with them correctly. Jaws 11 cost over £800 and to upgrade from the current version to Jaws 14 would cost approximately the same amount. This seems crazy as the cost of my laptop was £529 so in effect I could buy another laptop and still have change for the money I’d spend purchasing the latest version of Jaws.

The alternative to the above is to buy an Apple Mac. The advantage to Apple products from the point of view of visually impaired people is that they come equipped with high quality built in speech known as voiceover unlike Microsoft PCS where the blind user has to purchase additional expensive software such as Jaws (I’m not counting Narrator which is next to useless).

I’m used to I pads so purchasing an Apple PC wouldn’t be a complete leap into the dark. However I am familiar with how Jaws interacts with Windows. I know the short cuts for interacting quickly with Windows and learning Voiceover on an Apple computer would be a bit of a challenge. However I need to bite the bullet sooner or later and decide whether to upgrade Jaws or buy an Apple Mac otherwise I’ll be left with an increasing number of websites and applications which either do not work with Jaws 11 or, at best work imperfectly.

I’m rather fond of my Sony Vio laptop. It has served me well in my writing and other tasks. There is nothing wrong with the machine and it could continue to be a good little work horse for years to come (famous last words)! Anyway this evening I’ll be borrowing a friend’s Apple Mac so I’ll have the opportunity to experiment with Voiceover and decide whether the fruit or Windows (with Jaws) is the way forward. What a shame that Microsoft don’t include a high quality text to speech facility with their computers then blind people wouldn’t be faced with these expensive choices.

Jaws (but not the shark)!

I am registered blind which in my case means that I’m not able to read print. I can, however see outlines of objects and I turn the lights on when it is dark otherwise I tend to bang into things! I’m often asked by people who are unfamiliar with visual impairment how I access technology, consequently I thought that the below post might be of interest to people who have had no (or very limited contact) with blind and partially sighted people.

My Sony Vio laptop is equipped with software called Jaws which interprets what is on my PC’s screen and reads it back to me in speech and braille. I don’t use a mouse but rely on keyboard shortcuts some of which are unique to users of the Jaws software. For example in order to bring up a list of links on a webpage I press insert f7. This key combination produces a list of links which I can cursor through. When Jaws reads a link which I wish to activate I press the return/enter key to select it and Jaws reads the webpage. Again in order to bring up a list of headings the Jaws user activates insert F7. He/she is then able to cursor through the list of headings displayed on the webpage. As a child I was taught to touch type using a quirty keyboard which has stood me in good stead when using computers.

The world of technology can be a frustrating one for users of screenreading software such as Jaws. For instance many captchas (the visual puzzles which the PC user must solve in order to send contact forms etc) are inaccessible to Jaws and similar software. Jaws sees an image which it is unable to interpret. Ah there are audible captchas I hear you say. Indeed there are, however many of these are virtually impossible to solve due to the background noise which distorts the words being read. Again some sites do not even employ audio alternatives to visual captchas meaning that visually impaired computer users either give up in frustration or are forced to rely on the assistance of family and friends.

There is a very useful Firefox plug-in known as Webvisum which is designed to make the lives of visually impaired Firefox users much easier. One particularly useful feature of Webvisum is the ability to send a captcha electronically and have it solved. This isn’t 100 percent effective, however it does, in my experience work in the majority of instances. I’ve no idea how the Webvisum plug-in performs this magic trick but it is certainly a godsend for me and other visually impaired people.

One of my passions in life is reading. As a child I devoured braille books and spent hours listening to talking books provided by the RNIB’s Talking Book Library. The problem with braille books is that they are very bulky (The New Oxford Book of English Verse is comprised of 10 braille volumes and takes up quite a bit of space on my bookshelves). In addition only a tiny percentage of books produced in print are available to readers of braille. Talking Books are wonderful but, again only a comparatively small amount of the books available to readers of print make it onto this format.

The introduction of Amazon’s keyboard Kindle has greatly enhanced the ability of the visually impaired to access the same books as their non visually impaired family and friends. By activating the Kindle’s text to speech facility it is possible to have the latest crime thriller read aloud to you.

While things are by no means perfect from the point of view of blind technology users the advent of access software and it’s incorporation into mainstream products such as Apple’s I-Pad (Voiceover) continues to enhance the lives of the visually impaired.

 

(For my online novel, Samantha please visit http://newauthoronline.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/samantha-part-1/. For my book, The Girl At The Bus Stop And Other Erotic Short Stories, available on Amazon in the Kindle Store please see http://newauthoronline.wordpress.com/my-books/.

is this an epub file that I see before me?!

I’ve written previously regarding the difficulties I have encountered when attempting to open the epub file containing the proof of my book, “The First Time”, (see http://newauthoronline.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/doing-battle/). I was beginning to think that the fault lay with me (impossible because I am faultless and, of course modest to boot)! However I’ve since received several e-mails from recipients of my book, “The First Time” stating that they have found it impossible to open the epub file.

Fortunately my friend Jeff knows more about technology than I have had hot dinners and pointed me to the following Firefox add-on which enables the user to open and read epub files using the Firefox browser https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/addon/epubreader/. Thanks to Jeff I’m now able to read my book and other epub files. I’d certainly recommend this free add-on!