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Voiceover: From Wellington, New Zealand, to the world, it’s the Living Blindfully podcast – living your best life with blindness or low vision. Here is your host, Jonathan Mosen.
Hello! This week, listeners share their experiences with a variety of smart TVs that are accessible, remembering iOS apps from days gone by, and if you think there’s not much variety or innovation in Braille displays, you need to meet the new Activator from HelpTech.
What a beautiful tune.
This is episode 242, and that means that we say hi to people in area code 242 in the North American numbering plan, and it belongs to the good people of the Bahamas.
And you know something really interesting about this? If you do the whole word number thing, you actually get BHA from 242. Now, isn’t that genius? I don’t know whether there are any other area codes like that where you can actually use the number to also mean the abbreviation. We never had word numbers when I was a kid.
I remember watching satellite TV at a hotel that we were staying at when our family went on holiday. And, you know, that was a big draw card back then. Wow! Satellite TV. And they were showing all these American channels. And I was fascinated by it and the ads in particular.
And when these ads came on and they were saying call 1-800 and then these word numbers, I thought to myself, wow, the Americans must have really complicated telephones if you can dial words as well as numbers on them. Do they have like a typewriter keyboard on their phones? Because I had no idea how the word number thing worked.
Eventually, we got them here in New Zealand.
Now, country code 242 belongs to the Republic of the Congo. [Conga song] No, not the Conga, you nit, the Congo. The Republic of the Congo. Although, a Republic of the Conga would be very interesting. Everybody just kind of working in a line, eating in a line, doing everything in a line in the Republic of the Conga. But no, this is the Republic of the Congo, where there are about 6 million people according to the 2023 census. So if one of those is you, we are absolutely delighted to have you listening to Living Blindfully.
In Episode 241, we talked about smart TVs. I shared our experiences with our Samsung TV and the Sony one that we returned, and we asked people to contribute their thoughts on the subject. Pretty cool when we can pool our collective experiences, right, and share things with one another that may be of interest? So let’s talk smart TVs.
Christopher Wright starts us off and says:
“I’d like to share my experience using the Insignia 24-inch Class F 20 Series Smart HD 020P Fire TV NS-24F201NA23 2022 model.”
“Currently, you can pick it up for $65. Or if you want the 32-inch variant, it’s $80 as of this writing on the Amazon United States store.
The TV runs the latest version of Fire OS which is version 7, based on Android 9. It includes all the accessibility features you’d expect on the Fire TV box or stick, and also allows you to select inputs independently, play media files with the USB port and built-in media player, and watch live TV over the air. When I tried live TV in December, VoiceView didn’t read the guide very well, though this might have changed with software updates.
I primarily use it as a monitor for my computer, and it was worth it for that alone.
The ability to tell what input I’m selecting, and to know for sure that the TV is on is amazing. It’s not the fastest experience, though, though I suspect this is due to the hardware, which isn’t great at this price. Still, I’m very pleased.
I can play YouTube, Prime Video, and Netflix content just fine. It integrates with the Soup Drinker so you can do most things you’d expect such as listening to Audible or Kindle Books, playing radio stations, using skills, playing music, etc.
Since it runs Android, you can install APKs so you can play games like Ponty’s Game Zone, though finding the APK for that is a little tricky. My experience with apps is that they’ll work well if they’re coded to follow Android accessibility standards and don’t require touch input. The navigation pad on the remote will move through interface elements, and you can use VoiceView’s review mode to read text.
Speaking of APKs, do you, or any of your listeners, know a good way to obtain APK files from the Play Store? I’m eagerly waiting for the SensePlayer update that includes the screen reader, and I need an easy way to download APKs so I can install them on the player.
Anyway, the TV is great. For the price, I can’t complain too much. It’s annoying that Netflix and YouTube use built-in TTS instead of the screen reader itself, but I blame the developers of those apps, not Amazon.”
I fully agree with you about the self-voicing tendency we’re starting to see with some apps. I don’t know whose genius idea this was, but please stop. We want to be able to use the screen readers that are on our devices. And if those apps follow appropriate standards, there’s no need to go to the trouble, and actually, the annoyance of coding self-voicing into an app. I have no idea where this is coming from, but it’s another example of how important it is that blind people are involved in these sorts of decisions.
And on the subject, Rich Yamamoto says:
“The suggestions I have involve 2 devices that I’ve connected together to create a somewhat enjoyable TV-watching experience for my use case.
A little under a year ago, I came across this video on YouTube demonstrating the Tyler 14-inch portable television from an accessibility point of view. The TV, while not a smart one, has a TTS button on the remote. When this button is pressed, all of the menus, input settings, and channel browsing speaks to you.
The only drawback is that the TTS is less than pleasant. It sort of reminds me of the voice that you would hear on the TinyTunes MP3 players that used to exist about a million years ago. Talk about old school.
Upon receiving the TV as a Christmas/birthday present in 2022, I proceeded to hook up my Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite via the HDMI port.
The cool part about this is that the TV also includes a USB port on the left side. One could theoretically use this to connect a flash drive, and it also has a full-sized SD card slot on the same side.
However, I figured out that the USB port can also provide power to the Fire Stick. So instead of buying a gigantic smart TV for a dorm room that had zero space for it, I ended up just hardwiring the Fire Stick to a tiny TV that sat on my windowsill to keep updated channels coming in through the antenna. Pretty nifty!
I also know that the Apple TV works with it due to its interface through HDMI. The only drawback to this is that the Apple TV runs off of its own power supply, so USB would be no good in that regard. But if you’re willing to use more space in your entertainment centre to do that, you could certainly give that a shot.
I’ve also heard good things about the Insignia Fire TV, which I believe comes in a 24-inch model as its smallest option. This would be ideal for if you’re having multiple people in a room to watch something, because who would want to watch the latest 4K movie on a 14-inch screen?
The Tyler’s smallest TV size is 7 inches, I believe. At that point, I’m thinking you might want to just get an iPad.”
And Rich has provided an Amazon link for the Tyler TV. Christopher provided an Amazon link for the Insignia. I will endeavour to remember to put those in the show notes.
Randy in Washington (that’s the state) says:
I want to first compliment and thank you for your packed, full, and informative Living Blindfully weekly podcast. I first heard your Mosen at Large podcast when it was posted on Clubhouse a few years ago.”
Thank you, Randy. Yes, Clubhouse had its incredible moment in the sun for a while. The usage has dropped way off, but it’s still hanging in there, unlike some of its competitors that felt like they needed to jump on the next big thing and start audio services.
I see the Spotify green room thing has now closed. Various other services are scaling back. But Clubhouse is kind of hanging in there.
I don’t use it at all. I just don’t have time. I find it quite confusing now, the whole thing about houses versus clubs, and that kind of thing. But Bonnie uses it occasionally from time to time for a particular group that she engages with.
Randy says, “It has been on my podcast feed ever since. I’m a club member of Living Blindfully, and happy to contribute to its success.”
I really appreciate that, Randy. Thank you very much.
He says, “I recognize such a well-produced weekly podcast filled with a wide variety of topics takes a lot of time and resources.
Now on to my television recommendation.
Several years ago, I purchased an Apple TV. It was okay, but I wanted a more comprehensive, accessible experience.
Earlier this year, Amazon had both of their 43-inch and 65-inch 4K UHD versions of their Omni TV models on sale for a great discount. What attracted me to these models is that they have the soup drinker built in.
The television comes with a handy remote you can use to control all aspects of the TV, as well as a microphone button to give voice commands to operate the TV.
But the one thing the Omni models don’t promote is that you can give these models voice commands without having to use the remote at all. I was dubious to be sure. But at a discount of over $100, I thought it was well worth a try, and bought a brand new 43-inch model for $240.”
[laughs] What a steal!
“The TV is only for myself. And therefore, I didn’t see a reason to purchase the well-discounted 65-inch version for just over $500 during that sale.
The setup of the TV is really easy if you bought it within your Amazon account. In this situation, the TV will come already set up using your account settings, including your Wi-Fi network and login credentials, all pre-configured for you right out of the box.
Note: the TV also has an Ethernet jack, if you will be placing the TV conveniently within reach of an Ethernet connection.
Once you have unpacked the TV, the only assembly required is to attach the two legs near each end of the TV with the screws included.
In addition to connecting the power cord, you attach an external antenna to receive available local channels. Note: if you plan to use a cable or other service for television programming, you will then need to rely on the method of changing channels using their remote or other control.
The Omni responds to many voiced commands such as turn off/on the TV, tune to channel 5, volume up/volume down, open Netflix, open YouTube, search for title of a show or movie and a list of possible sources will be listed, and there are many other commands the TV can respond to.
You can easily navigate all menus and choices on the home screen. The TV is completely accessible in all of its settings, program choices and playback controls.
The default sound settings out of the box are clear for screen reader usage and program source. With the device settings, you can configure speakers in home entertainment mode to work with a pair of speakers with an optional bass speaker for enhanced sound.
There are other visual features of the TV that can provide weather information, screen images and much more a sighted person might find useful. These days, there are many sources of broadcast, streaming, and game-play content available to choose from. This TV can be a hub for your entertainment choices as it’s worth noting that the TV, along with a coaxial input for antenna, cable or other source, there are 3 HDMI inputs. I believe the Omni series TVs are worth consideration, if accessible operation is essential for content consumption.”
Thanks very much, Randy. That’s a great, thorough review.
We, too, have the Soup Drinker control with our Samsung TV. This is Amazon’s voice assistant, which we don’t name here so that it doesn’t set everybody’s off. And it is nice to have that for the voice commands. We also have it set up so that we can control our TV with any Soup Drinker device in the house.
Where this is quite useful is that we are very much steeped in the Sonos ecosystem, and we have a Sonos Arc connected to our TV. And then, you’ve got Soup Drinkers everywhere. So we can group the Sonos Arc, for example, with the Era 300 speaker that we have from Sonos in the master bedroom, which also has Soup Drinker support. So we can then control the TV that’s in the living room from the master bedroom and actually hear its output.
So there are all sorts of cool things that you can do. There are some great suggestions for using a TV that’s accessible in the United States. It is worth noting that different encoding standards, and frequencies, and digital content systems mean that something that you would buy in the US is unlikely to work, say, where I am in New Zealand, or in the UK.
So if there are people around the world, … I mean, I want to encourage our US friends to keep on sending in information about TVs that they’re using. But particularly if you’re not in the United States and you don’t have these Amazon options, if you’re in Europe or the Asia-Pacific region, what are you using as well? What’s available to you that is accessible?
It sounds like Amazon’s done a fantastic job in the US market. But what else is there? We’ve mentioned Sony. We’ve mentioned the Samsung TV that we now have. There are other products. What’s new, for example, from Panasonic or LG in non-US markets? Let’s keep this going because it’s a really interesting subject, and we’re getting some great quality responses.
You can also call the listener line. That number in the United States – 864-60-Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.
And look at this! As I am recording this very segment, an email has come pouring in from Luis Peña in Colombia. And he says:
“Following your review of the Samsung TV, I got one similar to yours.
Unfortunately, I have found difficulty configuring the accessibility functions because they are not in Spanish, and I share the TV with other members in my home.
I miss my Sony TV, but it is no longer available here in Colombia.
Today, I went window-shopping and found a brand of TV set which is fully accessible, since they use Android as their operating system. The brand is TLC. Take a look at this link.” And there is a link in the show notes which I will endeavor to remember to include.
But it’s got all the bells and whistles, I tell you. It’s got Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, HDR Pro, Game Accelerator, Enhanced Gaming, Voice Remote, Works with the Soup Drinker, Streaming UHD Television. Oh my goodness!
“I had the opportunity,” says Luis, “to play with this TV, and it is very easy to use by a visually impaired individual. I think that the best bet for accessible TV sets is to get one that runs Android, since voice recognition and talkback are readily available.”
Advertisement: We bring you transcripts of every episode of Living Blindfully, and that’s possible, thanks to sponsorship from Pneuma Solutions.
One of the cool things about the internet is that it connects us with the wider world. But another cool thing about the internet is that it can create places just for us. Of course, Living Blindfully is one such place. And another one is Sero.
Sero, spelt S-E-R-O, is a social network designed by us, for us.
Sero is available everywhere. It’s on your smartphone, your Apple TV, your Amazon Echo, and of course, on a fully accessible website.
If you download the Sero mobile app from wherever you get your apps for your mobile device, you’ll be able to sample some of the content free. And that includes this podcast and MushroomFM.
But paying a subscription to Sero gives you access to a treasure trove of information including newspapers, forums where blind and low vision people can discuss a wide range of issues, a handy accessible email client, and so much more. You have to check out all the features. You’ll be amazed at how much is there.
Go to PneumaSolutions.com. That’s P-N-E-U-M-ASolutions.com. Access the products link, and then choose Sero for more information.
A fellow New Zealander writes. And Jeanie Willis says:
I really enjoyed listening to the interview about the Monarch.
I would so love to be able to explore maps and diagrams again. A wonderful example for here in New Zealand would be that I know that tactile images of the star systems relating to our new Matariki holiday were created recently by Blends. But of course, there is no way the rest of us outside the education system are able to access these.
Having said that, the price will likely mean I will never get my hands on one of these devices. But when my heart really sank was with the discussions of it only being 32 cells. As an advocate for Braille music students, I would hope that materials I will be involved with in the future might be used by students who will have their hands on these, or similar devices.
For example, I am working on my first transcript project currently, which is one of the most used junior piano methods for sighted students. In this instance, this would be far too complicated for a junior Braille reader. But I am transcribing it for use by blind parents and teachers to match up with the print book, so they have access to exactly what the sighted child is looking at, including reference to pictures, and colours, and layout, as well as all the formatting markers for italic, bold, bullets, icons etc., making this very simple music a very complex little project. Just the kind of book that would be amazing to have access to on a multi-line display, and could even include some tactile representations of pictures rather than just transcribed notes of what is essentially my alt text.
Giving blind students a good concept of what the print music symbols look like is also a challenge for Braille music teachers, and I can see many exciting applications for integrating tactile symbols with the Braille music on a device like this. However, with bar over bar piano music lining up over 2 lines of 40 cells, I can’t see how any currently available music could be viewed on this device without an expert reformatting it.
This has been one of the greatest challenges for the Daisy music project to overcome when working on various methods of auto-generating music transcription. Even if there was a specially designed formatting tool to run it through for music that somehow managed to keep the 2 lines connected and break both as a pair and start a new system of both, it would also have to renumber bars and interpret so many other things that might not be a bar break that I doubt it could tell what was what, let alone know how to deal with complicated text like mine that includes both standard text elements that would not want to be paired and music to be paired. This is without discussing larger instrument ensembles of quartets with 4 lines in bar over bar, or even orchestra with more.
At the very least, I suspect someone would have to go through and add in a series of markers that told it what was text, what was music. A hope of converting and then significant proofreading would be required to check it. This is a real shame in an area that is crying out for better access to anything other than hard copy Braille to suit its needs, and where multi-line is so much more integral than in many other areas.
Portability also is such a challenge for musicians who, by nature, are often not performing or teaching at home and need the music to go with them. And these difficulties are adding to it being a declining usage only further perpetuating the Braille musicians’ need being less likely to be developed for.
I wonder if you could also forward this to your contacts with the development team on my behalf. I would love to hear their response to whether they have given any serious thought to the specific needs of music. Or if not yet, can we start having those discussions?”
Your wish is my command, Jeanie. Greg Stilson from APH says:
“Braille music is actually being built in to the eBraille spec so it reflows naturally, even though standard Braille music is designed for a 40 character by 25 line page. This is something the DAISY Consortium is looking into, and will most likely be an addendum to the V1 version coming out next year.
As mentioned, we very much wanted a 40 character line to be the winner from a size perspective. However, because we use extra cells to enable us to keep the standard Braille spacing with the equidistant pins, a display that was 40 characters wide was far too large for anyone’s workstation, and was clearly the least preferred out of any of the design options presented. Adding these additional cells to cover a 40 cell line would also increase the already sizable price tag by another 30% or so.”
I appreciate Greg providing such a timely response, and I hope that’s helpful. Jeanie, looks like Braille music is certainly being considered in this project. And I think the key here is this very flexible eBraille standard.
Meanwhile, I’m proud of myself for getting through that because I realized what I just did completely inadvertently. [laughs] I said, your wish is my command, Genie. Isn’t that supposed to be what a Genie says to me?
Anyway, why not a bit of reversal? Why not?
Hello to Lena. She says:
I applaud your speech. We must keep insisting on accessibility with these companies.
Apple has caused me so much grief these past 2 years. Apple ID site CAPTCHA that deaf-blind users cannot solve, the jumping VoiceOver cursor that … The list is endless.
Android isn’t perfect, but Samsung hasn’t annoyed me as much as Apple this last year.
The search feature on the Living Blindfully site is fabulous! Thank you. Keep these thoughtful and enjoyable shows coming.”
Thank you very much for your encouragement, Lena. Much appreciated.
I have never seen a CAPTCHA on the Apple ID website. Maybe just thinking about it, I might not have logged into the specific Apple ID website for a while. So maybe I should check that out again. I wonder under what circumstances that CAPTCHA comes up.
But that is frustrating, especially when there are other means of authentication at Apple’s disposal. They have a pretty robust 2-factor authentication system that is unique to the Apple ecosystem that works quite well. And when that’s not possible, you can always get an SMS. So I’m not sure what the CAPTCHA is all about.
If anybody else has experienced that CAPTCHA on the Apple ID site, let us know about that.
And speaking of accessibility issues that have been ongoing, Alco Canfield is back with a revision from the email sent, which we aired in episode 241. And this email says:
“Well, my initial enthusiasm about the Kindle app has cooled somewhat because it still skips up about a dozen lines on a regular basis, and you have to go find your place. This does not occur when listening, just when using a Braille display.
I guess I’m going to have to call and complain again.
I just got done calling the Kindle department of Amazon and thanking them for fixing the app. Oh, well.”
Actually, I think the issue here relates to the auto-scrolling in iOS. I don’t believe this is a Kindle bug because my understanding is it is affecting multiple apps. So you may want to direct your complaints to Apple on this one, Alco.
Francisco Crespo says:
I would first like to congratulate you on the awesome speech you gave to the NFB convention.”
Thank you very much.
“I hope your words will have the right impact on the big tech companies that are not treating us as equals.
But this email is to bring your attention to another Apple Podcast accessibility issue. This one from the consumer side.
I don’t remember when. But several updates ago, Apple broke accessibility of podcast chapters. When you enter the playback screen, VoiceOver doesn’t read the buttons that you jump to chapters. For VO users, it looks like there is nothing under the chapter’s heading.
I’ve reached out to Apple, and they were able to reproduce the problem, but they haven’t fixed it yet. I was happy with the Apple podcast experience, but I will have to consider other alternatives if this bug, which is very easy to fix, is not addressed soon.
I hope that someone at Apple is listening to this message on your podcast and takes care of it more seriously.”
Yes, I have had a lot of people email me about this. And I keep saying to them, “It’s not me.”
Because this is what happens, you see. When Apple breaks something like this, people think it must be the provider. And I get emails from people saying, “Yeah, you forgot to put chapters in your podcast, you nit.” And it’s not me. [laughs] It’s not me. It’s Apple.
And if you want to take advantage of the very cool chapter feature, then you will have to change apps for now.
I should also remind people that if you are listening online and you get the little show notes thing where we show you what’s coming up on the podcast and what time in the podcast, if you navigate to the time of the item that you’re interested in and you press enter, it will start playing at that point in the file. Genius! This is one of the things that we managed to make work when the Living Blindfully website went live.
But you’re right, Francisco. It’s not a big deal to fix. I really hope it gets done soon.
Here’s an intriguing one from Rhonda, who says:
“Please pass this on, in case someone else in the Living Blindfully audience has experienced a similar issue with their VoiceOver. This may save a boatload of grief and aggravation.
VoiceOver was giving me gibberish on my home screen settings and phone screens, resulting in a nearly unusable phone.
I contacted Apple support for folks with disabilities and spoke to a representative. The rep indicated that a VoiceOver bug had been flagged and reported, and that Apple was working to fix it. No date or timeline for this bug fix.
I downloaded the latest iOS 16.6, which did not solve the problem.
I told the support guy that if this was happening to sighted folks, etc., it would be fixed immediately. The Apple guy assured me that Apple has a vested interest in making sure their products work as promised, so no discrimination intended or present on Apple’s end. He obviously did not understand that VoiceOver users solely depended on its functioning correctly to be able to use their phones and other Apple products.
Today, I contacted a blind person smarter than I am. The upshot is that I installed Eloquence which correctly now reads my phone screen and resolved the issue. I am passing this on, in case installing Eloquence might resolve a voiceover gibberish issue for someone else.
As ever, thanks so much for your continued advocacy and production of Living Blindfully.”
Thank you very much, Rhonda.
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Inspired by the conversation that I initiated on the Living Blindfully account on Mastodon a few weeks ago, on episode 241, I raised the question of apps that we once used for our iPhones that no longer exist. Apps we remember with fondness.
Robin Frost starts us off on this. She says:
“Hi, Jonathan and all,
Firstly, thank you for this podcast which is always entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking.”
Thank you very much, Robin. I appreciate that.
“Remembering my early iPhone days makes me smile now to think upon it, but it wasn’t so funny at the time. I got my first iPhone in the autumn of 2010, and I spent the first 3 days thoroughly regretting my decision.
Those who were early pioneers kept talking about all these wondrous icons. But no matter what I did, I wasn’t seeing them.
I thought for sure the phone would go back, be thrown out a window, or I’d lose my mind.
Then on day 3 of my iPhone experience, a wise and discerning friend figured out the issue. I hadn’t been taught the difference between merely awakening it and actually unlocking the thing. Oopsie!
Once I unlocked it, I was off to the races and I never, ever looked back. Now I fondly think upon it, wishing to never forget, as it’s good to remember from whence you’ve come, as it makes it easier to help others who are newly embracing the technology, even today.
As for apps I pine for the most, there are 3 I think of often. Sadly, they never made it much past the switch from 32 to 64-bit apps.
The first was called Grande Clock.” (That’s grand with an E.) “It was a chiming clock app. But this one used samples of real chiming clocks. I always miss it terribly when the Westminster Chimes app experiences a breakage, as it now is for some. Hopefully, the Westminster dev will roll out a fix after the official release of iOS 17.
If others are experiencing chimes that aren’t working, do join my reporting the issue party. It’s always the more the merrier in these endeavors.
Another app that’s long gone is called iJew,” (That’s I, and then a capital J-E-W.) “and it was a fabulous app containing key prayers of the faith. But its neatest feature was its ability to send out push notifications for candle lighting times in the timezone of your choosing, as well as push notifications for key holidays.
The other app that seems to have been abandoned was a neat package tracking app called Shipwreck. Its beauty was its simplicity, as you could just email tracking numbers from your registered email address to its email, and your packages would just show up in the app with minimal effort. I’m sorry its developer abandoned it, but I understand why, as I’m certain the small amount of revenue generated never matched the effort put into keeping it going.
I thank developers of apps I enjoy very often. And I hope in doing so, they feel appreciated.
They were great apps in their day, and I enjoyed them as long as they lasted.
Thanks again for a great podcast. All the best to you and the family, and to all the fellow listeners.”
Lovely to have you writing in, Robin. Thank you so much for those memories.
Voice message: Hello, Jonathan! This is Stan Warren Litrel in Medford, Oregon.
I just heard your latest episode.
I find the author of the book quite interesting when he talks about his excursion through becoming blind. And, of course, what my saying is always that life is all about context. All of us experience life in different ways.
I was thinking about your comments recently, or the comments of the listeners about being blind, and I think I’ve been congenitally blind all my life. But it’s interesting because some people, …
I know a friend who is also congenitally blind who hates his life, hates his blindness, hates his life. And he just gets so extreme that it’s hard for me to even listen to. I respect his opinion, but it is hard for me to deal with it because I almost want to say something that would be very hurtful, and I have bitten my lip clean into almost and not said anything.
But I guess the reason I thought about that was you seem to express the view that it only happens with people who become blind later in life, or become blind or visually impaired. But I think it can often be that people have trouble dealing with being blind from any age. I will be the first to say there are things that are off-putting, there are things I hate to have to deal with. But I’m a believer in blind pride. And I feel like you do, like you have expressed.
I haven’t read, obviously, The Country of the Blind, but it’s on my to-do list, I think.
But there was another book out called Hello Darkness, My Old Friend. And the interesting thing about that book … (The author’s name is escaping me right now, but the reader of the book was Art Garfunkel.) The gentleman talks about his life, but he refuses to use a cane and refuses to use a dog, either one. And I understand one or the other. People have their own views on that, as I do. But to not use either one, I shake my head and ponder.
But anyway, I think you might want to read it. It might be interesting for you to ponder. But the gentleman who wrote that book was the originator of the technology that is now used by, for example, the major book players, where you could speed up speech without making it sound like Donald Duck. And I remember hearing that first talked about in about 19… I was thinking about 1978.
I hope that you and Bonnie had a wonderful trip to the States, and it sounds like you did. Take care, and have an awesome week.
Jonathan: You too, Stan.
If there’s one thing that people are never happy about, it’s the weather. So we’re freezing at the moment in the wintertime. And we were complaining a few weeks ago about the scorching heat of Texas. Such is life.
For those who want to read the book Stan was referring to, it is called Hello Darkness, My Old Friend. It’s by Sanford Greenberg, or Sandy for short.
Certainly, we were focusing with Andrew, Stan, on people who become blind later in life. Adventitiously blind people. But I absolutely acknowledge that there are congenitally blind people who do not like being blind at all.
And in fact, we did have some discussion about this a few episodes ago with someone who wrote in (and I really appreciate that they did because it was a perspective we don’t often hear on this podcast), who is congenitally blind, and is not particularly happy about it, and is pretty frustrated with blindness.
One of the most impactful books I’ve ever read in my life is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I think I’ve referenced that on several occasions over the years.
And while I do strongly believe that we can change the world, and we should change the world to make it a better place, it’s also important to know what we have control over. And it seems to me that if we’ve only got one life to live, and we’re sitting here lamenting what might have been or what we think should have been, and we waste our lives away by lamenting the fact that we’re blind and thinking, why me? It seems like an extraordinary waste of life, because all of that angst, all of that worry is not going to change a thing. So my philosophy is to try and make the most of the opportunities that we have.
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Here’s an email from Aaron Linson, who says:
I’m responding to the listener who asked about canes.
The NFB does have folding canes. You can give the Boston, Massachusetts number a call and order one over the phone.
I switch between my NFB folding cane and my Ambutech cane. I like my NFB cane because it is very lightweight, and the tactile response from the metal tip is great.
I’m a constant contact cane user. By doing this technique, I find that sometimes my cane gets stuck in cracks, but not too often. I find the two-tap method very ineffective for my needs.
With the NFB canes, you have to be careful with them splintering. I replace my NFB cane about every 4 months or so. That’s when I use my Ambutech cane. I find that the Ambutech, even though it’s a graphite, is still very heavy and takes a couple of days to get used to.
I have a rolling marshmallow tip on my Ambutec cane and find that moving around different surfaces is easier. Tactile response in terms of sealing levels and bounce back aren’t as well defined, although passable in a pinch.
If you’re considering a cane holster to keep your cane in, Ambutech canes are the only ones that will fit within holsters. I’d recommend getting one from Executive Products Inc., as they have better quality and last longer.
I’d also suggest getting a couple of inches above the recommended middle of your chest that instructors usually quote. I’ve found that having a longer cane gives me more of a reaction time, and allows me to not immediately come into contact with whatever my cane is pointing out to me. Canes are like guide dogs in the case that not one is alike.
Have fun on your cane journey.”
Thank you very much, Aaron!
Canes are like dogs. This is an interesting thing. I mean, they’re both mobility tools, aren’t they? But you know, white canes don’t need relieving. They don’t need feeding. They don’t get sick.
On the other hand, do you treat your cane as some sort of treasured companion? Is your cane there for you when you’re feeling blue and you just need a snuggle? No, it is not. I can’t say I’ve ever snuggled with my cane. Just some random observations there.
I actually came across a cane that a friend of mine had, and it came from the RNIB. And apparently, the RNIB doesn’t ship them out to New Zealand, but it was really cool. It kind of folded in on itself. It was very lightweight and folded into a tiny shape. I’ve not seen anything quite like that.
I agree with you, Aaron, about the length of the cane. I learned when I went to my first NFB convention in 1995 that NFB had a different view about the cane having to come up to the sternum. And since then, I’ve had canes that come up to my nose, and it’s definitely improved my walking pace and detection. So I always pick a cane now that comes up to nose level.
This business of tapping versus swiping. (And I’m not talking about iPhones, I’m talking about the cane.) This is an interesting one.
I’ve obviously been using a white cane since I was very young. I think we started learning to walk with a white cane at maybe 7 or 8, perhaps a little earlier. I wish it had been even much earlier than that. I wish I had been using my cane before I was at school.
But at least in those days, O&M instructors (orientation and mobility instructors) always taught us here the constant contact method rather than tapping. So that’s what I’ve always done.
Does anyone have any view on this – constant contact versus the tap method? And any other white cane recommendations? An important subject. It is our most fundamental piece of technology, isn’t it? opinion@LivingBlindfully.com. You can attach an audio clip, or you can write to the email like Aaron just did. You can also give us a call on the listener line – 864-60-Mosen, 864-606-6736.
And always remember: when your white cane wags its tail, tell it you love it.
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Jonathan: I’m at the NFB convention still, and talking to some interesting people. This is great because we’ve got some, if dare I use the expression, veterans of the industry around the table. I guess I have to count myself in that group. [laughs]
We’ve also got Damian Pickering here. We’ll start with you, Damian. Welcome to you!
Damian: Well thank you, Jonathan. Thank you.
We do go way back. We’ve crossed paths, and we were just speaking a little earlier. We’ve both worked with, and represented some other veteran companies in the industry as well. And here we are in lovely Houston, Texas, after several years.
Jonathan: So I feel like you’ve got together the creme de la creme of people who are selling in the blindness space because obviously, you’ve got a strong record in this area. You’ve also got Mike Tindall, who many people will know, who’s been around for a long time.
And the company’s called Dream Vision Group. How did you come to found that company?
Damian: Well, once you’ve been around in the industry for quite some time and gone from company to company, the question is, you know, where do you go next? And always, in the back of my mind was, you know, I would like to start a company sometime and have a little more flexibility and independence than working directly for a manufacturer.
And so, you know, after managing and working with so many fine dealers and kind of building distribution networks, the timing, it seemed right.
Early 2020, a number of my friends and colleagues, including Jen Gibble and Mike Tindall, we were all working at HIMMS, Inc. at the time. But we found the time was right, we thought, and we did start Dream Vision Group and really wanting to emphasize training and support along with products. I mean, this idea that products don’t solve problems, people do, was a real motivating factor for us.
And we, you know, had the opportunity to work closely with HelpTech. We were friends with Sigi Kipke and just loved the Handy Tech Active Braille products, and so forth. And so it all came together.
And then, of course, we all know what else happened in 2020. So interestingly enough, COVID and the change in the industry to doing more virtual things for a while provided some silver linings, gave us some time to grow and work together as a company, and establish ourselves in this space with so many larger players.
And now, people certainly love some of the products we have, but they’re able to work with us in terms of just learning to use their technology more efficiently, and so forth. And we’re able to just slow down the pace a little bit and work with people where they are, and kind of use technology, in a way, to help us all accomplish our goals and get where we’re going. And it’s just been a very rewarding change of pace for us.
Jonathan: Right. That’s really an interesting backstory, because one of the things that keeps people listening to this podcast is people understand the promise of this technology, if I can put it that way. But it can be very frustrating because when you add accessibility into the mix, you unfortunately add complexity. And then when it comes to actually helping with that, it’s one thing to understand it. It’s a different skill set entirely to explain it to someone else. That’s a real art form, isn’t it?
Damian: It is. It really is. And yes, technology opens doors, levels the playing field, whatever cliche you want to do. It truly does. It’s powerful, but it also creates headaches, problems, and frustrations that we had no idea about before. [laughs]
So that’s where the people part comes in. And I always say, no matter who you are, you have two people that know more about technology than you do. And so far, everyone has at least two people on their list to call when they need to get a tip or get out of a jam. So it’s all about the networks, both technology and people-wise.
Jonathan: Yeah. Bonnie always tells me she doesn’t mind if I’m not particularly handy around the house, or that I’m not a plumber or an electrician. But as long as I can put her technology to rights, she’s going to keep me around. So, …
Damian: Well, there you go. [laughs]
Jonathan: Yeah. [laughs]
Damian: That keeps us all. Yes. Amen, brother.
Jonathan: I do want to introduce our next guest, and that is Sigi Kipke from HelpTech. And Sigi has been manufacturing Braille displays for a long, long time.
Jonathan: I’ve always lusted after the HelpTech Braille displays for a very long time because I’ve always perceived them to be the pinnacle of Braille – things like the automatic scrolling that Sigi introduced years and years ago.
So it’s good to have you here, Sigi. How long have you been working in the industry now? How long have you been manufacturing Braille displays?
Sigi: Oh, good question. I started ’88. So it is a few years down the road.
And yes, as you may have picked, yes, with my funny accent, I’m from Germany. And we produced and developed this with all our heart behind this. And we struggled to get it a little better and a little more functional, and a little easier to use. And this I can promise. We always try to have something a little different. I think we started here with the concave-shaped Braille cell.
Sigi: People say, “Oh, what? Braille is flattened.” But we did the concave-shaped Braille cell, and it seems really fitting nicely for the fingertip and minimizing the scrubbing movement maybe you need to do when you’re reading. So it really speeds up also your reading speed and makes it just a little easier, especially when you’re reading long hours.
And then, the ATC technology where we say, “Okay, we have to turn a Braille display into a touch-sensitive device so that we’ll be able to really know where’s the reading position.” And this is not an easy task because maybe you have 8 fingers on the Braille display. Which one is the reading position?
So we had to find a solution where we really actually can detect the reading finger by detecting a slightly different movement than all the rest of the fingers. And so this was taking us quite some time, but I think it’s really worth it.
You see, in the sighted world with the step from a screen to a touchscreen and finally to smartphones, it was so important that there is a touch feedback. It was opening completely new worlds. And this is what we’re trying with the touch sensitivity of a Braille display.
And we always try to do the next step. And the next step is sitting here on the table. It’s called Activator. We try to bring different concepts together.
And yeah, maybe Damian can dive into this a little.
But Jonathan, it’s sitting right in front of you here on the table. And if I may, I can guide you a little around what you’re seeing here.
Sigi: Yes, you see a Braille keyboard.
Sigi: You see a 40-character Braille display with some navigation keys, left and right.
Sigi: A suite of navigation keys.
Jonathan: Are there cursor routing keys?
Sigi: And you have a little 5-way navigation stick in the middle.
Jonathan: Oh, right.
Sigi: There are 2 space keys.
Jonathan: There’s kind of a tiny little joystick. It’s kind of like a little trackpad-type device.
Sigi: On the left side, there’s an on switch.
But there’s even more than an on switch. We’re switching channels, and we come to this maybe in a second.
And then, there’s the USB-C connector.
Sigi: But what I would love to show you is here.
You see, the Braille keyboard is cool. But what is even cooler, …
Jonathan: Oh, right. So the keyboard flips. Oh.
Sigi: Yes, yes. Now you see? [laughs]
Jonathan: That is really cool.
So what just happened there is that the keyboard was a standard 8-key Perkins-style keyboard, and it’s lying flat like a fairly traditional Braille display. Although, these are concave cells too, right?
Jonathan: Yup, a pretty traditional Braille display form factor.
But then, the keyboard flipped backwards. So the Perkins-style keyboard is now on the underside, a bit like what you might have with a tablet where you can flip the screen back.
And on the other side which is now the side facing upwards, you have actually what looks and feels exactly like an Apple keyboard in terms of its texture. But it has more keys than an Apple keyboard. It’s got your standard arrow keys to the right, it’s got the function keys by the spacebar. But then, it looks like it has maybe other keys.
Sigi: At the upper right corner, you have the insert key.
So it is optimized also for the screen reader use because it’s using also 3 Bluetooth connections, and a USB-C connection.
And it’s a full fledged keyboard. Normally, a standard keyboard has 6-key rows. We have here 5-key rows. And so key row number 6, the function keys you do with FN and 1 is for F1 and so on.
Sigi: So it’s a full-fledged keyboard. Everything you need, and the cursor is here. We have also marked them with a little orientation.
Jonathan: Yeah. So a real good nub on the down arrow there.
Sigi: Yeah, exactly.
Jonathan: So you’re saying that the top row here is actually the number row. Is that right?
Jonathan: And then you push FN to get the function keys?
Jonathan: Okay. All right.
So the Braille display has powered up, and I see that Activator is there and it’s giving me a version number.
Are you using the Braille HID protocol for this, or how does it connect?
Sigi: Yes, we do.
Jonathan: Because I know Android at this point on Bluetooth. [laughs]
Sigi: Yeah, not yet, but it will.
But we can also switch to the traditional protocol. We need this for JAWS. JAWS is not supporting HID. So we need both worlds – the standard protocol and the HID protocol. And we’re really happy that the HID protocol slowly takes off and it will be adapted, I think, in the future. So cool.
And when we scroll through the scrolling key, it has the standard functions.
Jonathan: It says editor. So you’ve got some basic note-taking functions here?
The next one is maybe interesting.
Jonathan: iOS apps.
Sigi: Yes. And the other one is…
Jonathan: Smart services.
Sigi: Yes, yes. Maybe we could talk about this right now?
Jonathan: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.
Sigi: So you see, what I would love to give you in your hand is a little flat thing you can put on the side of the Braille display.
Sigi: On the right side. Jonathan: Okay. So it’s kind of like a dock, and it just clipped into place, slid in pretty effortlessly.
Sigi: We call it smart dock, and this is for the iPhone. And the idea is we all have such a powerful tool in our pockets. Why not use it also for really fancy Braille functionality?
And this is the path we are going here with the Activator, that we have implemented also our own HelpTech Plus app, providing extra smart services, adding a lot of functionality since we can harvest all the power you can get from the iPhone. Real-time text-to-Braille functionality is really easy for us. A lot of possibilities we are using here, and will grow as the app keeps updating on the App Store.
And so maybe, let me just, if it’s okay, I hook on my iPhone.
Sigi: What I did is, you see, there’s a little lightning connector.
Jonathan: Oh, right.
Sigi: And I put it in here and into the iPhone, and this gives me actually the feedback.
Jonathan: Oh, okay.
Sigi: What I do is now start VoiceOver, and you hear the little beep, and you have the little…
Sigi: So now, you can start navigating.
Jonathan: Okay, so it’s…
Sigi: Okay, one moment.
Jonathan: It’s showing clock on the display.
Sigi: Mm-hmm, yeah, yes.
Sigi: So I have different channels I go through. But this channel we are using now is the SmartDock channel. You see the SmartDock?
Jonathan: SmartDock, yeah.
Sigi: And if I go around the home screen, I find also now, HelpTech plus. I can use the cursor routing to open this.
Jonathan: So can I just understand what the difference is between using this dock with a lightning connection, which is quite nifty, and pairing to your iPhone with Bluetooth? Do you get better functionality by doing this?
Sigi: Yes, exactly. So it’s not just that we can charge the iPhone while in the dock.
Sigi: The main reason is parallel to the VoiceOver connectivity with all the Braille functionality, we are adding in a second communication channel. And the second communication channel allows us to do anything, basically adding functionality.
For example, the Braille monitor. What we do is I open this. Then, I see what’s on the Braille display now as a sighted person. I even see your reading position.
Jonathan: So as a sighted person, you’re seeing where my fingers are running over the display?
Sigi: Yes, I can see.
You could connect an iPad to this as well, I presume, could you, as well as an iPhone?
Sigi: We’re working on a slightly different dock, or maybe a longer cable.
Sigi: We’re not really sure how we do this, but this request we had several times so that teachers could maybe place an iPad just behind the unit and have it also as a…
And when I switch through, it also prompts the …
And so let’s go back to the menu.
Damian: The menu mode is the internal menu of the Activator. So a quick tap on the power button cycles you through the different modes. So standalone menu mode for the activator, USB device, and then smart dock.
You’re back over with the phone in the smart dock.
And of course, the VoiceOver is giving text-to-speech, regardless if you’re navigating the phone or you’re navigating the internal menus of the Activator.
Does the Activator have speech on its own, or is it getting all its speech from whatever it’s connected to?
Damian: It’s getting the speech through VoiceOver on the phone.
Jonathan: Right, okay. So that’s interesting.
What other applications do you think you might be able to achieve with the dock feature?
Sigi: What we have now in the smart service is a news service. So what it does, it calls (and you can configure this as you like) different news feeds live, and gather this. And if there is a text version available, then we open the text version of the news feed. And so you have always up-to-date news.
And this is just one example where we’re using the iPhone capability to go out in the web, do whatever we need, and bring us the service, optimized. This is the general idea that we do here.
Jonathan: So the smarts for that are actually on the Activator itself, and you’re using the internet connection of the iPhone. Is that how it’s working?
Sigi: Yes, yes, exactly.
Sigi: So we’re using all the power.
Also, the speech you hear is not from the Activator. It’s from the iPhone echoing the prompt, and all this.
Sigi: So I hope we get the idea communicated – that we’ve been thinking almost every customer has an iPhone in their pocket. Why not use it? It’s already there, and it’s so powerful. So we said, yes, let’s go there.
And here, one of the devices, the first one probably we had in the US is also sitting with Apple. Today, almost nobody is using Braille with VoiceOver. And so there’s a lot of ground to optimize Braille VoiceOver synergy. And I think here, I’m really really happy that Apple really wants to dive into this challenge to make it better. I’m really proud that they have one device, and we are communicating really closely with Apple how to improve. And this is the overall improvement for Braille support for all the devices, of course.
Jonathan: Well, there’s a lot of improvement that’s needed because I would describe Braille on iOS at best as idiosyncratic. Sigi: Yes. [laughs]
Jonathan: And you can be Brailling, for example, in a document and press a cursor routing key, and the cursor simply does not end up where you expect it to be. Some of the forward translation issues have been fixed to some degree, but it’s still a bit strange.
How much are you doing on device before you send it there? If I go into a text message or an iMessage, for example, and I Braille something lengthy, is all that happening on the Activator before it finally gets sent, or how’s that working?
Sigi: Probably most fancy internal functionality for pre-processing, whatever we do send over is the grade 2 translation we have implemented.
So maybe you know RTFC. It’s really a high-end grade 2 translator. We’re doing also UEB, and we do this internally. But a lot of the additional functionality is done by the iPhone.
Jonathan: Right. And I guess if you are inputting text, then all you need to do is flip the keyboard back and you’ve got QWERTY anyway. [laughs]
Jonathan: And presumably, it’s like a tablet in the sense that when you flip this back, the Braille keyboard on the underside just gets disabled. Is that right?
Damian: Yes, that is correct.
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah, okay.
Damian: And one other thing I think is worth mentioning, talking about the synergies. You noticed earlier, Jonathan, when you were scrolling through the menu, it said iOS apps.
Damian: And that when you’re connected with the iPhone and the SmartDock and you open iOS apps from the menu mode on the Activator, you have a list of iOS apps which you can launch directly from the Activator. So instead of pairing, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, double tapping to open, you can just hit enter or cursor router and launch that app directly.
And then at the bottom of the list, it says edit, and it allows you to add a list of whatever app on your phone that you wish to be able to open in that way. So it just builds a little bit more of a seamless integration.
And ultimately, right now, we’re starting to ship this month. So this is still kind of a late prototype that you’re looking at.
Ultimately, first-letter navigation will work through those apps lists. People have always wished they could have first-letter navigation on their iPhone. Ultimately, when you add your list of apps altogether here on Activator, it’s like building your favorites list. You’ll be able to just boom – open iOS apps, hit the letter of the app you want, cycle through if there’s the same letter beginning, and launch that directly.
So it just starts to give a little more efficiency. I mean, we all have our iPhones. We love them, and we can’t live without them. But we all wish that they could behave a little bit more like some of the traditional functionality that we’ve come to rely on on other devices.
This is fascinating because essentially, you’re taking some of the concepts that made notetakers so enjoyable, and using the power of the iPhone so that essentially, nothing gets obsolete. Because obviously, the iOS apps are done by development teams at Apple, the core ones, who continually improve them. And this way, you can just add those favorite apps to that menu. Is there a limit on the number of apps you can add?
Sigi: No, not at all. No way. No, no.
Damian: The sky is the limit.
Jonathan: How do I navigate? I noticed on the front of the device, you’ve got a key on the left and like a kind of a thumb key, and then you’ve got the five-way rocker. Does that press in as well?
Damian: So, yes. The 5-way rocker presses in, so that’s a way to select.
You have the double space bars, so you can do your space dot 1, space dot 4 traditional keyboard navigation. And you have 3 navigation keys on either end of the display itself. So some of you who are familiar with Active Braille, Actilino, or some of the other HandyTech displays, it replaces the 3-way rocker. So the top of the button pans left. The bottom button closest to the user would pan right or forward. And then, there’s a line marking the center button on the right side, that’s select or enter. And on the left side, it’s escape or back out a level.
So again, the detail, the nuance to the use, the efficiency of use. So if you’re reading and your fingers are on the display, that’s your primary function. You have navigation options right there. If you’re doing a writing task and your hands are in that position, I mean, you have options there. So I mean, it really supports whatever workflow that you’re doing. And that’s that level of detail that we just love on the HelpTech devices.
Jonathan: Right. So those keys on either side of the navigation control are spacebars, is that right?
Jonathan: That’s an interesting place to put a spacebar.
Damian: Yeah. But there’s also the spacebar in between dots 1 and 4, kind of where you would expect that.
Jonathan: Right. But actually, no spacebar. Right.
So now, we’ve just flipped it back. So yeah, that spacebar’s where I would expect.
But if you flip it back and you get the QWERTY, wee! that’s fun. [laughs] There’s no spacebar just under the, … Oh yes, there is. I’m sorry. Yes, there is. Okay. Forget that. There is a spacebar. It’s just kind of quite recessed. Yeah, that’s really interesting.
So the activators also including your Braille reading cell technology, Sigi, does it automatically sense when you get to the end of a line, that kind of stuff that HelpTech is famous for?
Sigi: This is exactly what it does. For example, every menu item does have a little question mark on the very last Braille cell. If you press the cursor routing above it, it opens a little help file for each, individually.
Jonathan: Oh, wow!
Sigi: So it’s a context-sensitive help.
Jonathan: This is the file menu. You can choose to create… Oh, gosh!
Sigi: Yes, and here is a good example where you scroll through the text and it moves on, so you can read endlessly without pressing any button.
Jonathan: God, that is impressive.
So just to explain to listeners what’s going on here. We’ve opened the help for the file menu, which just happened to be in focus when we clicked the cursor routing key above the question mark. And then, I started to read the help text.
When I got to the end of the row of the line of Braille, without having to press anything, it scrolled to the next line. That is quite seriously impressive.
Damian: Right. And it’s not like auto-scroll on other devices where you have to keep up with it.
Jonathan: No, like it’s teleprompted.
Damian: And if you answer a phone call, it goes on without you.
This follows you because it tracks your finger position. So if you pause, it pauses. It’s the action of your finger getting to the last character on the display that triggers the advance.
Jonathan: That is really quite amazing. I’m just sitting here, reading this way. It’s really really amazing. Wow!
Is that the way you scroll, or are there other ways? Can you turn that off? I don’t know why you’d want to turn it off, but yeah. [laughs]
Damian: You can.
Sigi: The navigation keys left and right are of course, also scrolling keys.
Jonathan: Yeah. I don’t know if I’d want to turn it off because I really like my thumb keys. Because I find that if I’m reading, I like to keep my Braille-reading fingers on the display, and just use my thumbs to navigate. But it’s probably irrelevant if this is doing what it’s doing.
Sigi: Of course. Also, with the scrolling function on the space keys here, it’s very easy.
Jonathan: I read a lot out loud for this podcast, and other things. I’m getting up at the general session on Thursday, and using my current device which is a Mantis to read.
It would be very interesting to sort of spend time with one of these in my daily life, in my studio and that kind of thing, to find out what this is like in the real world because on the surface, it’s very very impressive.
And the other thing about it, … I realize this is a pretty narrow use case. But for people who do audio production, this is really silent. I mean, your cells, when they come up, are very very quiet. And there’s no clicky thumb keys because you’re just scrolling through automatically and you’re not pressing anything. So it’s actually an ideal thing for a studio environment.
Sigi: What I have done is I have just switched to UEB. So the same text you see, now in UEB.
Jonathan: Right. Sorry. I’m just absolutely fascinated by this. Just scrolling along here. That is so cool!
Are there any other features of the Activator we should know about that we haven’t talked about?
Damian: Well, maybe Sigi can talk a little bit about the future possibilities and plans of what we might be seeing.
Sigi: I’m delighted to do this.
So what we think is really important is to help boost and support Braille literacy. So here, we have a wonderful platform where we can have reading position knowledge. We can do a lot of interactive learning, combined with our app here. This is probably one step we want to do.
But there’s thousands of ideas of what could be done.
Real-time translation, where you maybe mark a block in a text, and you have it translated into French, or whatever. It’s all there because we have the power of the iPhone. So we can use it. We can look up dictionaries. There’s a lot of possibilities.
But probably, the first step is real, nice, interactive learning tutorial for Braille.
Damian: The other thing Sigi and I were talking about … On the Active Braille and the Actilino, there is a music editor that allows you to enter Braille music from the keyboard and have notes played. And then with the ATC technology, as you read the notes and your finger touches the note, it plays a tone. And with the Activator synergy with the iPhone and something like GarageBand, we were talking about taking music Braille to a whole new level.
Damian: Maybe speak to that quickly, Sigi.
Sigi: Yeah, and also be able to use multi-channels and multi-instruments. That would be so cool!
Some of my blind colleagues, they are into music very deeply, and using GarageBand. And so there is a lot of potential here. And also, a lot of potential for just doing some fun stuff, interactive fun stuff. It does not need to be so serious all the time.
Learning is also about having fun with what I’m doing. And then, I learn it.
So hopefully, we have a chance here with the interaction, direct connecting with the reading position. Yeah. We have endless possibilities here.
Damian: One of the things that I found with Sigi over the years is Sigi as a person, and HelpTech as a company, is extremely interested in getting feedback and ideas from all of us using these products and other products. Sigi, is the email ideas@HelpTech.de still live?
Sigi: Yes, it’s still live, and I would be more than happy to. Any idea should. This always triggers new ideas. And hopefully, we come up with new solutions here. Yes please, please.
Damian: And then also, you can reach us with any of your requests, feedback, or ideas for the Activator or any of the other HelpTech Braille products. And Jonathan, if I may, I’ll give the Dream Vision Group coordinates.
Damian: We can be reached at www.dvg-llc.com. And here, for North American customers, a phone number would be 512-662-1629. And at HelpTech.de, those listeners in other countries can locate the dealer for their region to find out more about Activator and the other HelpTech products.
Jonathan: So is there an activator app that gets installed on iPhone to power this, or is that not necessary?
Damian: It’s called HelpTech plus.
Damian: And the app is available now on the Apple iStore.
Jonathan: Right. So this is very iPhone-centric at the moment. Do you anticipate bringing it to Android at some point?
Sigi: Yes, yes. I think since it is expected that everything is moving to USB-C port and it’s really easy, we just exchange the docking station with a USB-C connection. And then, the door is open also for Android.
Jonathan: Right. iPhone 15 is going USB-C, so that’s right. And that would get around the Bluetooth HID issue that Android’s got because they do support HID over USB. So there you go. [laughs]
What are the applications on board like, in terms of just using this as a notetaker, perhaps when you’re out and about and you just need something really portable to make a quick note? What expectations should people have? Can you do sophisticated word-processing, or is it a fairly elemental basic editor on board?
Sigi: It’s elemental, solid editor with copy, paste, search. You can have 5 files open parallel, you have a clipboard, easy navigation, an easy way of marking a block.
Even a little calculator is built in, so you can type in your calculation, press the equal sign, chord equal, and then it gives you the result.
So things that have been proven really robust and well-used, especially often from students and at school also.
But the fancy stuff with all the formatting, we do with the Word app.
Here, we optimize the presentation, and how it is used on a Braille display. I think this is the way we want to go using standard apps on the iPhone.
You see on the docking station, you have also a little USB-A connector for a USB stick, so that you can also open files and transfer files back and forth from the Activator to the iPhone, and also do the conversion here.
What we didn’t mention yet is probably, compared to the existing range of HandyTech Braille displays and now the Activator is even … Look at the height here. We’re talking about 18 millimeters now. It is concavely shaped. This is why we have managed to change the Braille cell again to make it flatter, but still keep the same radius people loved with the concave. So the concave area is exactly the same with all the other proven HandyTech Braille displays, but we managed to have it more compact.
And you see also, the keyboard is built into the housing. So there is no edge here. So it’s really really really…
Jonathan: Right. Nice solid hinge there.
Sigi: And it’s aluminum housing for the keyboard. So really robust. I think it looks nice with the silver of the keyboard and Braille display unit fits nicely together.
Jonathan: What file formats will the device open on its own, in terms of reading material or editing material?
Sigi: Internally, it’s just a text file.
But with all the fancy stuff going on on the iPhone, then like I said, the sky is the limit here.
Jonathan: Right. Yeah. So you don’t anticipate, for example, in the US market, companies like Bookshare or NFB Newsline, Bard, of course, would not be built into the device? You would just use the apps that are available for those services?
Sigi: We have to think about this – how we should do it, where should we divide functionality between…
Jonathan: That is the perennial question, isn’t it? [laughs]
Sigi: Yes, as always. Yes, yes. And ideas are welcome, really.
We have a very powerful processor inside. So you see with the real-time grade 2 translation, no problem. Also, grade 2 or UEB input, live backward translation is also possible.
We have a powerful processor inside, so we could do more also on the Activator side. We’re not sure if we should because we have such a flexible platform.
And if we decide to have another function next week, we roll it out just by putting this on the App Store.
Sigi: I see it so often. I come to customers and then they have a firmware version 5 years old or so, and they say, oh gosh, we have a mechanism to update the firmware. And it’s not so difficult. But still, you find a lot of people running on old firmwares missing out a lot of functionality.
But with apps, everybody is used to update their apps all the time.
Sigi: So you will get always new functionality, and it’s just natural for everybody to update their apps. Why not update the HelpTech plus app?
Jonathan: And given that the iPhone 15 is coming up in just a few months with USB-C, is that cable that’s on the dock replaceable at the dock end?
Sigi: We are not sure if we will provide a little adapter, or just a different cable.
Sigi: Sorry, because the lightning adapter is not just a little plug. And if you look at the documentation of the lightning adapter of Apple, it has something like 800 pages. It’s a complete ecosystem, the lightning adapter, and the little plug is not just a little plug. It’s its own processor. So you have to negotiate with the little processor in the plug. Am I allowed to charge the unit? What can I do? There’s a whole ecosystem around the lightning technology.
Jonathan: Yeah, and it will be around a while. I mean…
Sigi: It’s very interesting to see how probably, some of the technology will move into the iPhone. If this is the case, probably, that makes life for us a little easier to do both with the same Android and iPhone iOS. But we don’t know yet, sorry. This, we don’t have the details yet.
Jonathan: Whenever I think about a product seriously, I start to think about Executive Products cases for them, Damian. [laughs] And it might be quite a challenge for Executive Products to design a case for this because you’ve got to account for using it with and without the dock, or with and without the keyboard flip back.
Sigi: Oh, and the different sizes of iPhones.
Sigi: You see, we have this mechanism.
Jonathan: Oh, right. So it will accommodate my massive Max?
Damian: Right. Yes, it will.
Damian: The dock has a little springy thing that comes out and takes any phone. But exactly to your point, Jonathan, and we are discussing how to accommodate that because the Activator currently ships with a really nice kind of bag that accommodates the dock, the Activator, chargers, and whatever gear you want to have with you.
But in terms of a case to hang around your neck and so forth, we haven’t crossed the best way to do that yet. Jonathan: Yeah.
Damian: Because also, the magnetic connection of the dock is very robust. But as you’re operating, if you were just carrying it around your neck in that way, you’d have to be careful not to separate the connection. So we’re thinking we would need a case that has a little bit of a hard surface on the underside that would support that connection.
I mean, it’s doable. It’s just a matter of designing it, and we’re aware of that, thinking about that, and do anticipate having a solution for that.
Jonathan: Yeah. I mean, that’s really important.
Yesterday, I think you and I were communicating. And I was in the exhibit hall, and it was noisy and I’m hearing impaired. Bad set of circumstances.
But I was able to use my Braille display over my shoulder, you know, around my neck, and just walk around and answer you completely from Braille. So that would be functionality for me that it would be critical not to lose.
What’s the price? Let’s hear it. What’s this gonna sell for?
Damian: $6495, the same price that the Active Braille 40 has been.
And the Active Braille 40 is still available.
I do want to mention. As always, when people, you know, kind of take in that price… The HelpTech products all come with a 3-year warranty included. So that, I think, needs to be factored in, and softens that a little bit.
And also worth mentioning, Dream Vision Group does offer financing options through our website. So you know, as individuals are looking at how to budget and work their things, people always kind of compare buying Braille products to buying cars and things like that. Well, people have so many options and choices for financing, you know, with that. So I’m glad to see that more companies are making those types of financial planning tools available for these devices as well.
Jonathan: You’ve had a lot of experience selling products. And obviously, when you look at who competitors are in this space, there’s nothing quite like this. I mean, there’s nothing that offers that docking, that Braille-QWERTY combination, and of course, that amazing automatic scrolling technology which just blows me away.
But are you confident, particularly in this market where, I guess, a few more people purchase the Braille displays themselves than, say, Europeans do. Is that a sustainable price point, do you think? What’s the big point of difference that you would say, okay, I’m going to spend quite a bit more money on this rather than buy a Mantis, let’s say, or a Brailliant?
Damian: Well, I mean, again, I, I will never argue with somebody. I mean, $6495 is 16, or 495.
Damian: And I, as a user, I’m glad that there are more choices and things at lower price points, and new Braille cell technologies on the horizon, things coming down.
I mean, it’s what do you want? Like, not all cars are self-driving cars yet, you know. Not all Braille displays are self-driving Braille.
Jonathan: This is kind of a self-driving Braille display, isn’t it?
Damian: A little bit. I mean, that analogy holds.
Damian: But the quality and reliability, the nuances, … I mean, if you do a lot of reading, there’s nothing else like this. And so the products and the use cases kind of define the niche.
And we do fine. We just have to take that unapologetic, … Like, we can’t tell people it isn’t that price. But people do get what they pay for.
And you know, one thing I can say is when people get a HelpTech product, no matter what they paid, there’s never buyer’s remorse.
Damian: And it’s a product that just stays in your hands, doing work for you, and spends a lot less time in the shop needing to be repaired.
And schools and individuals who’ve had experience with some of these other things, when you rely on something to do your work or even just your recreation, some of those frustrations are if your device is constantly needing to go in to be repaired.
And so I guess, that’s just my thing is, it’s a hard decision upfront. But it’s an investment that really pays off for those people who decide that this is the right product for them.
Jonathan: There are a lot of moving parts in Braille displays. So what does happen if the display does need to be serviced? How quickly can that be accomplished in the United States?
Damian: So our plan has always been to set up a repair center here. And we do have the people and everything in place.
As I said, COVID happened. I mean, Sigi was on a plane coming to do training with us. Was supposed to arrive March 8th in 2020, and his flight was canceled.
Now that we’re back, travel’s opened up, our plan is in the next months, to set up that repair center.
Currently, what people do is send their device to us at Dream Vision Group, and we facilitate getting it to and from Germany for repairs. We do offer our customers loaner devices while that’s happening.
And again, we’re a small company. But since we’re users ourselves, we know the importance of having a device while yours is in for repair.
And the quality of these products, I mean, again, they sometimes need repairs. But it’s seldom enough that even as a small business, we’re able to keep up with that and provide that level of service and support to people when their devices need to go in.
So it doesn’t typically take any longer than getting devices in to the other companies and back. We’re usually able to turn those around in, on average, a 2-week period, start to finish. And if we coordinate that with a loaner device, it’s worked pretty well.
And in the not-too-distant future, we’ll be able to probably cut that in half with setting up, we’re going to be setting up our repair center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Jonathan: Do you disclose who the sale provider is of the sales that are in use here?
Sigi: We worked hard on this new design here to have it even flatter now, but still concave, because this was a criticism, compared to other products that they’re using flat cells that have been significantly lower than … Because we are, for example, active 26 millimeters. Now, we’re down to 18. And so yeah, it’s something that we’re really proud of that we found a solution.
Jonathan: And what’s international distribution like? We’ve got listeners in 113 countries, last I counted. So in the, say, Pacific area or my part of the world, Australia and New Zealand, are there distribution channels available for HelpTech there?
Sigi: Yes. Barry, oh, what’s his company?
Jonathan: Pacific Vision?
Sigi: Yes, of course. Thank you. [laughs]
Sigi: You will always remember that than the people behind. Yes, Pacific Vision. We just have signed a contract with them, and they’re building up now, in also New Zealand, Australia.
Jonathan: Okay. Well, thank you both.
This is a very very interesting device, and I certainly look forward to finding out what happens with it.
So when do you officially hope to get this on the market?
Sigi: Um, in 2 weeks, actually.
Sigi: So in 15 of July, so it’s not even far.
Sigi: 11 days now. [laughs]
Jonathan: Yup, of course, so very close.
Sigi: Happy Independence Day to everybody.
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah. [laughs]
Jonathan: We’re recording on the 4th.
Thank you so much, you both, for taking me through that.
Is there anything that I haven’t covered that we should have, just before we wrap?
Damian: No, I don’t think so. I mean, we were so pleased to be able to unfold this with you live.
Jonathan: Literally unfold. [laughs]
Damian: Yeah, get to see your natural reactions.
Jonathan: Yeah. Well, yeah. Perhaps not the most impartial reaction, but it is a very impressive device.
Sigi: What I would like to add is, so first of all, the homepage of HelpTech is www.HelpTech.de, so T-E-C-H.D-E.
And we have also YouTube channel. And here, we have done now 7 tutorials showing specific aspects of the Activator.
For the moment, it’s in German. Probably when you hear it, it’s also available, all the tutorials, in English. We’re just doing the English version also.
So look up the tutorial on our YouTube channel. It’s really worth it because we go through having specific little videos – 2 minutes, showing one specific aspect of the Activator.
Jonathan: Right. Wonderful. Thank you both. I really appreciate you taking some time to do this.
Damian: Thank you, Jonathan.
Advertisement: Transcripts of Living Blindfully are brought to you by Pneuma Solutions, a global leader in accessible cloud technologies. On the web at PneumaSolutions.com. That’s P-N-E-U-M-A solutions dot com.
If you are craving a cup of coffee, then have I got the review for you. We’re going to cross the ditch to hear from Scott Rutkowski in Sydney, Australia.
Scott: Welcome to my Nespresso Vertuo Plus demo. I had a few people wanting to hear this, so I hope you all enjoy it.
So those who own the original Nespresso Pod machine would be familiar with how that works. This is a very similar principle.
There are different size Vertuo machines. And if you want to know more, you can just go to Nespresso.com/au for further details.
So the machine that I’ve had, I think I’ve had it since 2013 or 15. I can’t, I forgot when I bought it. [laughs] But anyway, it’s a great machine.
I was actually tired of the original capsules or pods – 45 mils, 2 sips, and the coffee is gone. So when the new Vertuo line became available, I jumped at the chance.
I’m very happy to go check it out at our Nespresso store in the city.
So this is where we are. So basically, it’s fairly tall. Couldn’t give you an exact figure.
So on the front, you have where you can put your cup, and you can take the cup holder off. There’s 3 different positions. So you could have it in the lowest position, middle, or top to accommodate larger cups or smaller-size cups.
Because there’s different size pods you can buy for this machine. You can buy the original 45 mil and go up to the, I’ve forgotten the next size up from this. I think it was 440, or something. I can’t remember the figure. But I like the mug size, which is 230 mil. There’s also an, I think there’s an 85 mil, and there’s another one in between. But I can’t remember the exact figure.
But anyway, that’s not that important. The important part is the machine itself.
So on the front, you’ve got where you put your cup on the little cup tray. Above that, you’ve got like a spout for the coffee that comes through the spout. Just above that, you have like a lever.
And if you want to open the top of the door, which I’ll be doing shortly, you push the lever up. And the pushing down of the lever, you push it down to actually close the top of the machine. I don’t know whether you can push it up to close the machine, or I just pushed it down.
You can also hold it down for 4 seconds to turn the machine off. Otherwise, it’ll turn itself off in 8 minutes if nothing happens.
And there’s also a menu you can go into for your de-scaling function and things of that nature, to de-scale your machine. They say every 6 months, you buy a, you get like a de-scaling kit. It’s like 2 bags of this solution that you can put into the water tank.
It’s a hard process. It’s a bit of a fiddly process, but it’s not as bad as some of the machines that I’ve seen in the past.
So in the top, when you open the lid, you’ve just got a little round receptacle for the pod. The pod’s probably about the size of the palm of your hand. One side is rounded, and the other side is completely flat, and you can shake it. There’s only a bit of coffee in there. Quite a nice pod. And they’re recyclable, too, which is even better.
And then on top of the machine, you’ve got a button, which is the button you press to brew your coffee. It takes about a minute and a half because it spins the pod around very very quickly. And then, the coffee gets spun, or the pod spins, the coffee comes into the cup, and then you’ve got a beautiful, nice foam crema on the top of the coffee. It’s really really good.
Just behind the top, you’ve got like a, like a giant container, where all your empty pods will go. You’re going to have up to store 10 empty pods in here before you go and empty the container out.
And then at the back, you’ve got your water tank, which I think stores 1.8 liters, which is cool.
So let’s get on with the coffee brewing. We’ve talked enough about it.
The machine takes about 25 seconds to heat up. So I’m going to press the button on the top – the brewing button. It also turns it on. You can also press that lever on the front to turn it on as well.
But I just wait for the, … Uh, I just, … There’s no indication when it’s done. There’s a light that changes, but, uh, don’t need to know about that. You just wait for your 25 seconds.
And if you press the button too soon, it’ll turn it off. And if you press the button too soon to brew coffee, it won’t happen. It’ll just wait for it to heat up.
So let’s put the pod in. So we’ll open up the top of the machine with this lever that I mentioned earlier. And there’s a motor that opens the lid, and you just take your pod. The flat side goes up, and you just put it in. And then, you pull the lever down on the front that I mentioned. It closes the lid and punctures the pod, getting it ready for the coffee brewing.
There you go. Heard that? That’s punctured, ready to go.
Now I’ll press the brew button, and let you guys listen to the process. It also reads the barcode. And then, it’ll start brewing.
So here we go. Got to do this now, and you’ll get to hear it.
It’s reading the barcode.
And now, you’ll hear the coffee being dispensed. This is the part I love the most.
[a long sound of coffee being poured in the coffee cup]
So The last part you heard when the machine spun quicker was to dry the pod before it goes into the little container where the empties go.
That’s finished. So all I have to do now is push the lever up.
The pod will eject into the little container.
There you go, it’s gone.
And I’ll just pull the lever down to close it.
And I’ll just hold it down for four seconds to turn off the machine.
Perfect! That’s it.
So there we are. That’s the Nespresso Vertuo Plus. Hope you all enjoyed the demo.
And if you have any questions, please reply, and I’ll be happy to try and help you out. Thank you.
Voice message: Hi, everybody. It’s David here.
When Sky did the upgrade of the apps, they completely changed the layout. So on the iPhone app, you have to go to the top left of your screen to find where it says Live 13. That’s where your channels are now on the iPhone app for Sky Sport.
Now, this is the streaming service for Sky Sport here in New Zealand, not Sky now in the UK.
Apple TV? It’s completely useless with VoiceOver. I’ve had to use Be My Eyes, or try to use Seeing AI.
The main thing I want to do is go through the Sky channels – what I want to watch, especially now the Women’s World Cup’s on.
And now in the 3rd round, you get games being played at the same time. And with the Netball World Cup about to start, as I record this on the 25th of July, sports are being moved around on Sky Sport now.
Jonathan: Thanks, David. It just goes to show you’re very dedicated if you’re willing to use Be My Eyes or Seeing AI to try and navigate an inaccessible app on the Apple TV. And it doesn’t sound optimal on the phone, either.
I would like to know what Sky says if you approach them and explain to them that their rewritten app has become inaccessible.
And if they’re not willing to take care of it, well, our human rights legislation in New Zealand could do with a lot more teeth, but it would be worth raising it with them, I think. And you might, as a result of that, get into some mediation with Sky, where hopefully, you can talk about the impact that this is having.
I’m sure that there are other blind New Zealanders who also want to consume Sky Sport Now, and one would really hope that they’ll come to the party here.
It is so frustrating that in many other countries, you have apps like this that are very accessible, that have dedicated teams committed to accessibility and making the experience as good as it can be for blind users. Yet here, it is so often a struggle.
So contact Sky, get onto it, constructively point out the issues, and see if you can get some progress with them. Take it further if you can’t.
To Ireland we go for this email from Derry Lawlor, who says:
I hope you and Bonnie are keeping well.”
We are super well, thank you. Hope you and Martha are as well, Derry.
I recently purchased a new Braille” (with an uppercase B) “display, the Mantis Q40.
I bought a Focus only 2 years ago, and had to send it back 3 times. So I cut my losses and got the lovely Mantis.
I purchased Andrew Leeland’s new book, read the whole thing in Braille on the Mantis, and loved it.
I felt that I could not have done this on the Focus, as it was not good enough, as dots were popping up, and some dots not coming down at all. So it would have made reading anything difficult.
I have the developer beta of iOS 17. I know you said never on the one device, the main one, but I did it anyway.
I am glad to report, using the Mantis, you can now type and read everything using the Mantis. This is fixed in the iOS 17 build 4. That is the developer build.
Keep up the super work.”
Thank you, Derry.
I also installed iOS developer beta 4 after I observed on my test device that it was working OK now with the Mantis, in the sense that you can type text.
But I ended up having to revert because I was having terrible difficulty getting Braille output working on the Mantis. A lot of the time, when I connected the Mantis, it would function just fine as a keyboard. And this is, of course, all part of the Braille HID protocol.
But I was not getting Braille output. And I use this thing all the time. For example, I just read your email on my iPhone connected to the Mantis, which is how I most often read contributions to this podcast. So when something breaks, it is a big deal.
And I was finding that even if I use the reconnect option that the Mantis offers in its user interface, that didn’t resolve it. I wouldn’t get Braille output back. If I turned Bluetooth off and on again on both the Mantis and my phone, that wouldn’t get Braille output back. If I restarted both devices, that didn’t help.
I found that some of the time, if I completely unpaired the iPhone and the Mantis running iOS 17 developer beta 4 at both ends and then reestablish the connection, it would work until the next time I shut the Mantis down and restarted it. And then, the problem started all over again. And when I would do the whole repairing thing, it didn’t always work.
Now, I don’t know what it is about my device that makes it unique. [laughs] I have the iPhone 14 Pro Max. It could be some sort of settings issue somewhere.
Now, this is a beta. You expect bugs. I’m not complaining. I’m just observing that this is what I’m finding at the moment.
Now I am, that said, a little bit nervous, given how long it can take Apple to respond to Braille issues. I am knocking on the wood and crossing the fingers, and hoping like anything that this one is resolved before the release. But that’s why I reverted. So, you know, it’s still going through the cycle right now.
I did notice, though, the new sound curtain for Braille displays.
When you turn sound curtain on, your device goes completely silent. No speech, no sounds from VoiceOver, nothing at all, which is pretty nice. That’s a cool feature.
And I understand why there’s a wee warning when you activate it – because obviously, if you don’t intend to have your phone go completely silent, you may be caught unaware.
I hope that doesn’t create too many tech support issues for Apple. But that is a very nice feature for dedicated Braille users, particularly deaf-blind people who don’t need their phone to make any kind of sound, that’s a very welcome addition.
Ric Claypool says:
I have a quick question for you.
In 2012, I bought an ESys EuroBraille 12-cell display from a friend.
The info on the display says it takes a USB micro connection, but mine does not. The port is the same for charging, and is a round connector.
Do you know if ESys made proprietary connectors for their display? And if so, is there a way to buy one? I’m glad,” concludes Rick, “you’ve been having a good time in Maryland.”
Thanks, Rick. I think that refers to my reference to Silver Spring in 240. It has been a while since I’ve been in Maryland, I must say. But I have fond memories of the state.
I don’t know anything about these EuroBraille displays, but that round port does indeed sound proprietary.
I wonder if you can reach out to them via the web. Google for EuroBraille, get in touch with them, and see if they can help.
But the very knowledgeable Living Blindfully community may have some hints for you as well.
If you can help Rick out with information on this display, opinion@LivingBlindfully.com, or 864-60-Mosen in the US.
Jonathan: When we last did an intro to the Bonnie Bulletin like that with a unique piece of music, they were all ABBA-related because we were going to ABBA Voyage. Hard to believe, Bonnie, that’s almost a year ago.
Bonnie: I know, it’s crazy.
Jonathan: And you must have picked up from that little piece of music. We are heading to a Paul McCartney concert. Sir Paul McCartney, no less, who has snubbed New Zealand this time.
Jonathan: In 2017, he came out to New Zealand and Australia. But he’s only coming to Australia this time, so we’re heading across the ditch to Melbourne.
And what’s terrible about this is that Tay Tay is doing the same thing.
Jonathan: Why do you think it is?
Bonnie: I don’t know. With Taylor Swift, I heard the stadiums weren’t big enough.
Bonnie: I don’t know about Paul.
Jonathan: That’s terrible that he’s not coming out here.
Although the Beatles got very bored when they came to New Zealand in 1964 because TV closed down early, and there wasn’t a very exciting life here. And they thought it was pretty boring.
Bonnie: Maybe they think it’s still pretty boring.
Jonathan: Well, we’re a very different country now, I’ll have you know.
Jonathan: Very lively.
Bonnie: Melbourne’s a nice city.
Jonathan: Yes, it is. We’re looking forward to going.
Just in case we can’t procure the tickets, (because at the time we’re recording this, the tickets aren’t available), I’ve got refundable everything. I knew as soon as it was announced that Sir Paul was going to Melbourne, or to Australia, there’s a whole lot of dates, that there would be demand on airfares and hotels. So I booked it all right away.
Bonnie: So we’ve got refundable tickets?
Jonathan: Yes. It’s exciting!
Also, happy birthday to the horses in this part of the world.
Bonnie: Oh, yes. Happy birthday, horses!
Jonathan: They turn another year older on the 1st of August.
Bonnie: Does that mean Marcus and Levi are a year older?
Jonathan: No, because they’re American horses. And don’t they turn a year older on the 1st of January?
Jonathan: I wonder why there’s that difference.
Bonnie: I don’t know, actually.
Jonathan: You know, you’ve got that Nespresso coffee machine?
Jonathan: Is it the Nespresso Vertuo Plus?
Bonnie: It’s the Nespresso Delonghi.
Bonnie: Who has the Vertuo Plus?
Jonathan: Scott Rutkowski was just demoing it before your bulletin, so I wondered if it’s what you have.
Jonathan: It’s got a lever.
Bonnie: No, this has a button.
Jonathan: Oh. So what’s yours like? Do you recommend it? Is it accessible?
Bonnie: It is. It’s very accessible.
Right now, it has an issue that I’m not sure what its issue is.
But it’s very simple, because some of them were quite complicated. You know, the temperature of the milk, the temperature of the water, the strength of the coffee.
This one, you put the cup, you put the little capsule in, and then you fill up the little carafe, and then you put the capsule in, then you push the button, and presto! Coffee.
Jonathan: Now, when I ran this on the show, I thought, do they have Nespresso in America? Will they know what Nespresso is?
Bonnie: I think so.
Jonathan: Okay. Good, good, because everybody does K-Cup.
Bonnie: Well, Keurig is sort of a generic term because everything’s a Keurig, even if it’s not a Keurig.
Jonathan: Just like everything’s a Xerox, when you used to photocopy everything.
Bonnie: Yeah. Because the other day, I was running it when I was on the phone, I hear the Keurig. I’m like, well, it’s Keurig-like.
Emma and Mark have a machine that they really like. I think it’s a, oh, I forget what theirs is.
But apparently, it’s very accessible as well, and it uses real coffee beans. And you put the beans in, and it grinds them up, and then it makes the coffee.
Jonathan: I mean, people spend many many dollars on these coffee machines, don’t they?
Bonnie: Some of them are in the thousands. I refuse to pay thousands of dollars for a coffee machine. [laughs]
Jonathan: And some people, you can control your coffee machine with your tablet and all sorts of things like that.
I don’t know anything about coffee. I don’t know about all the different types that they have.
Bonnie: Oh, some people, … A good friend of mine who sadly passed on was a coffee snob. And I remember when I’d be making my Keurig, he’d say, “You know that’s just fancy instant coffee.”
Jonathan: Yep, yep.
Okay, so yours is not the Nespresso Vertuo Plus?
Bonnie: No, it’s the Nespresso De’Longhi.
Jonathan: Isn’t De’Longhi the brand? De’Longhi’s the manufacturer, isn’t it?
Jonathan: They make all sorts of different things.
Jonathan: So it’s a De’Longhi coffee maker that takes Nespresso?
Bonnie: No, it’s actually owned by Nespresso.
Jonathan: Oh, I’m very confused.
Bonnie: I know. I don’t even know, actually. I went for the cheapest, most accessible one.
Jonathan: Okay, good. That sounds good to me.
I’m very conflicted about coffee because I keep reading about the health benefits of it and how it has all these antioxidants and benefits, but I think I’m very very caffeine-sensitive.
Now, I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing recently. When we got our sauna upstairs, which is the, what is it called? Sunstream sauna, isn’t it?
Bonnie: Sunstream sauna, yeah.
Jonathan: We got that in January, and we love it, don’t we?
Jonathan: It’s in our gym room, so it’s very accessible.
We used to have a sauna in the garage. And at this time of the year, when it’s winter, it was just so cold going in there.
Bonnie: Yeah, and who wants to sit in the garage?
Jonathan: I mean, who wants to? Yeah.
So we’ve got it in our gym room now, and we use it a lot.
And I got into this really cool habit after doing some research. You stay in the sauna for about 15 minutes, and you’re nice and hot. And then, you leap in a tub full of cold water, and you totally immerse yourself in ice-cold water. And it’s amazing. And then, you rinse and repeat. You do it 2 or 3 times, and it’s incredibly effective.
And I keep reading about the benefits of cold water plungers. So for the last 2 weeks, I’ve been getting up, (and we get up at 5 AM, or thereabouts), and I do my shaving and stuff like that. And while I’m doing that, I run the tub absolutely full to the brim with cold water. And even without doing the sauna, I leap in and immerse myself for between 2 and 3 or 4 minutes, depending on how much I can handle, and it’s invigorating. Man! I cannot tell you how much better I feel, how relaxed I feel. It is genius!
So this is my alternative to coffee, because it gives you the same sort of jolt without the low that you get when the caffeine wears off.
Well, thank you for coming on the podcast in this Brief Bonnie Bulletin.
Bonnie: Thank you.
Jonathan: We haven’t heard from you for a while. And you know, people keep saying where’s the Bonnie Bulletin?
Bonnie: Where am I? Yeah, exactly. [laughs]
Jonathan: Yeah. So I just wanted to assure the audience that you haven’t sort of disappeared Kremlin-style.
Bonnie: No, I’ve been just vanished.
Bonnie: I’m just gone. [laughs]
Jonathan: Yeah, you’re still here, and I’m glad of it.
Bonnie: Yeah. Me, too.
Jonathan: Goodbye! [laughs]
Bonnie: Bye! [laughs]
And that wraps up this edition of Living Blindfully.
Thank you so much for your contributions, your opinions, your information. It really makes it so worthwhile to do.
Looking forward to being back with you next week.
In the meantime, remember that when you’re out there with your guide dog, you’ve harnessed success. And with your cane, you’re able.
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