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Jonathan Mosen: I’m Jonathan Mosen. This is Mosen At Large, the show that’s got the blind community talking. This week, cast your votes for your top 10 holiday songs. Mushroom FM goes all in on Mastodon. Dan Clarke from Focusrite talks about accessibility initiatives at the company and we demonstrate the new version of Vocaster Hub.
Mosen At Large podcast.
Welcome to Idaho
Jonathan: A warm welcome to episode 208, and 208 is the United States Area Code for Idaho. It covers the whole state of Idaho.
Recorded Voice: Dude.
Jonathan: There you go. Boris, now that you’re a bit less busy than you once were, maybe you can visit Idaho. Now, I don’t know a lot about Idaho. I visited many states in the United States, Idaho unfortunately is not one of them. If someone wants to organize a speaking engagement for me in Idaho or something, that could be fun. What I seem to recall about Idaho is that is where some of the best potatoes in the United States come from. I have never had potatoes so huge as I have had in the United States. Some of them are just humongonormous, and of course, you don’t just get the potato, they like to stuff them with bacon and cheese and all sorts of things like that.
I have been doing the keto lifestyle for quite a few years now, eating low carb, and it’s made me feel full of energy and vim and vigor, and I don’t really feel most of the time like I’m making any sacrifices. I don’t miss bread and I don’t miss pasta, and I don’t miss cookies and things. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I went totally off the wagon when I had COVID. It was awful. I was just craving carbs all over the place, but I’m back on the wagon now and feeling much better for it. Usually, it’s not a problem for me to be low carb, but the one weakness I still have is potatoes. This is why perhaps going to Idaho would not be in my best interest.
Jacket potatoes, absolutely smothered in butter coming out of the– even the microwave is fine actually with the jacket potatoes. Roast potatoes, sitting down with a really nice meal. Maybe you were having turkey in recent times if you’re listening from the United States because it was Thanksgiving just the other day. Get the roast potatoes on there with the turkey, I am a goner. It is very hard for me to say no to the roast potatoes. Take the dessert away, no problem. You can fill my plate with crème brûlée and cheesecake and whatever it takes, I will not succumb, but the potatoes, that’s another matter. Not mash though. I hate mashed potatoes. Do not give them to me. Roast potatoes, baked potatoes, oh my word. Thank you Idaho for the potatoes and for whatever else you do in Idaho, and welcome to episode 208.
Voting is open in Mushroom FM’s holiday countdown and Christmas party
We’re in holiday season mode now, and that means that we are getting ready for a wonderful tradition, and this is the Mushroom FM holiday countdown and Christmas party. People look forward to this, and it’s wonderful that they do. It’s a privilege to be able to do this. The way this works, in case you’re not aware, is that once again voting is open for you to vote for your top 10 holiday songs of all time, or at least how you’re feeling this year. I know that my vote every year varies a little bit. There are two ways that you can vote. You can simply type the name of a song into an edit field, or there’s a list beside each position, and you can scroll through this massive list of Christmas songs that we’ve crowdsourced over the years. Every year the list gets a little bit longer with people adding new holiday songs.
Fill in your top 10 in either of those ways, and you might use an edit box for one of them and the combo box for others, that’s fine, and submit your vote. Now, when you do that, you get a personalized invitation to our holiday countdown and Christmas party, which is happening this year on a Saturday. We’ve got a bit more fun guy availability on a Saturday, and it also starts slightly earlier. Which means that when we get to number one, it’s at a much more acceptable time for more people. It’s not late in Europe. It’s still at a good time in the United States.
It’s a bit earlier when we start in the United States, though, particularly if you are on the Pacific Time zone, but we know that people really want to hang around and find out what made it to number one. We believe this will optimize your opportunity to do that. This year Mushroom FM’s Holiday Countdown and Christmas Party is going to be on Saturday the 17th of December, and it begins at [7:00] AM Eastern and will wrap up after 10 hours at [5:00] PM Eastern. That’s [7:00] AM Eastern midday in the UK on Saturday, the 17th of December.
If you want to find out what that is in your time zone we will have it up on the schedule when we get closer, of course, which does display in your time zone, but you can ask your personal assistant to convert that time for you, and I’m sure that it will. The most important thing I want to stress at this stage is please cast your vote. Let’s have as representative a sample as possible of votes from around the world.
Last year, number one was Fairy Tale of New York by The Pogues. We actually had a really interesting thing happen to us last year, and that is that we got a tie. It was a tie between Fairytale of New York and my I Want the Google Driving Car for Christmas song. Both got the same number of points. How did we break the tie? Oh, it was a thriller I tell you. If you missed it, you missed all this drama. How we broke the tie was we awarded the number one position to the song that most people voted number one. Although my little Christmas song got the same number of points, fewer people voted it number one than voted The Pogues number one, and that was how we broke the tie.
We’ve never had a tie in the countdown before, so never let it be said that your vote doesn’t matter. It could make the difference. If you would like to vote, we’d love you to vote and be there, mushroomfm.com/countdown2022.
That allows me to transition and talk about something that’s a bit different that’s going on at Mushroom FM at the moment. We have this Christmas party that goes on in association with this countdown, and that’s what makes it special. There are lots of holiday countdowns out there, but when you vote, we divide all those who voted into four tables, virtual tables for our Christmas party, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen.
On the day of the countdown, you are told what table you are assigned to and you use social media to compete for points. You can also do email as well. If you’re not on social media, that’s fine. You can email the broadcaster who’s on at the moment and try and say something witty or constructive or fun or whatever, and at the discretion of the fan guy on air, you are awarded points and they all get accumulated to your table, so it’s a lot of fun.
Now, in the past, we have used Twitter for this, and as you know if you’ve been listening to the last couple of episodes of Mosen At large, I have been dabbling in Mastodon quite majorly. Now there’s a bit of history here because you might remember that I did some commentary when Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter was first mooted and Robert Kinget wrote in, I was reading the transcript of this the other day and he was talking about Mastodon and I was a wee bit dismissive and I said, “Well, this is back to the future. It does remind me of the old bulletin board days and things like that,” and left it at that, and I thought, “Well, I’ll keep Mastodon in the back of my mind.” I knew about it, of course, and have done for well over five years, but I didn’t feel compelled to check it out.
The recent shenanigans and Twitter changed all that and I checked it out and I really like Mastodon. I like the vibes and some people have argued, “Well, the vibes are temporary because there are fewer people on Mastodon, and when those people migrate from Twitter, the bad vibes will come back.” I’ve come to the conclusion that’s not necessarily true, and the reason why it’s not necessarily true is that the federation concept of Mastodon means that moderation is spread across a large number of volunteers who will make sure that their culture is preserved.
We also know that Twitter is pretty precarious right now and that they’ve fired their entire accessibility team. There are going to be a lot of changes, assuming Twitter does manage to survive, and that is questionable, but if they do, I don’t think we can be assured of good quality accessibility going forward. Anyway, the upshot of all this thinking is that after a lot of soul-searching, I made the decision that Mastodon would be Mushroom FM’s primary social media outlet. We will remain on Twitter as long as we can, and we are tweeting automated announcements as we always have about blog posts and shows that are coming up, but the actual interaction side for live shows, that kind of thing, takes place on Mastodon.
If you want to get the full scoop on this, you can go to mushroomfm.com/mastodonmove, all one word, mushroomfm.com/mastodonmove. I would like to read you some extracts from a lengthy blog post that I wrote on this to give you some context. I’ll abridge it a little bit because it is long, but also because some of the things that I discuss in that post you already know about if you’re a Mosen At Large listener. Since we launched Mushroom FM in 2010, Twitter has played a major role in the way we communicate with our listeners, the Mushroom crowd around the world. In fact, even before our launch, the build-up to Mushroom FM took place via Twitter. Over the years we’ve held numerous special events including virtual concerts, cruises, murder mystery weekends, train journeys, benefit concerts, and holiday countdowns.
We harnessed Twitter in a way that set the bar. You can understand then why scaling back our Twitter presence took considerable soul-searching. In light of recent changes and the existential threat the platform faces, it is time. Mushroom FM has a history of making these calls at the right moment. We want to make this change at a stage where we are not being rushed due to events at Twitter over which we have no control. Being forced into a panic response is never good.
While Twitter’s survival has been the primary motivator for us making this decision now, in recent years Twitter has not served us as well as it once did, particularly for the majority of users who choose to use Twitter’s own official offerings such as mobile apps or its website. Once, Twitter was a chronological timeline where each tweet had equal value. You can still get that experience if you use a third-party app, although at this stage it is unclear how much longer such apps will be permitted on Twitter if Twitter survives at all.
Now, for most people, Twitter is a curated timeline based on an algorithm that promotes certain content. This disadvantages services like us. This week alone, we are starting to see some large companies like Tumblr adopting ActivityPub, the protocol behind Mastodon, and a wide range of other services.
There is a growing realization that social media should be interconnected and not owned by one corporate or individual. Social media should be more like email. If you’re on Gmail, you can email someone with an iCloud address. That’s how social media should be too and together we can make it happen. It is starting to happen with a clear course correction underway. Mushroom FM wants to be a part of that future because it is fundamentally good for blind people. The more open something is, the more accessible options can be developed that meet everyone’s needs.
As blind people, it is in our interest to help Mastodon succeed, particularly given that Twitter’s new owner has fired every single member of Twitter’s accessibility team, and there is no guarantee that future features will be accessible. We hope that other blindness internet radio projects will also make it to Mastodon.
Mushroom FM has set up its own Mastodon instance at social.mushroomfm.com, which we are affectionately calling Mushtodon. This means that you can engage with us differently and better than you ever could on Twitter. Only the fun guys have accounts on Mastodon, so when you see someone posting from there, you know it’s a genuine Mushroom FM account. We expect you will see more and more of this branding as collective entities of all kinds become part of the social media spring.
First, we are replicating the existing functionality you are used to on Twitter and to get that you can now on Mastodon follow announcements at social.mushroomfm.com. If you follow this account, you’ll receive blog posts and a reminder 30 minutes before a show starts. Now things get interesting because any fun guy who wishes to can set up their own Mushtodon account for their own shows so they can interact with you and perhaps post items that interest them between shows. If they have elected to do this, the account will be the fun guy’s first name @social.mushroomfm.com. If you want to follow me, for example, you would follow firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to follow Sara Hillis, for example, she is Sara without an H, S-A-R-A@social.mushroomfm.com, and on it goes.
We’ve made it super easy because our Mastodon addresses are consistent with our email addresses. With Mushroom FM-specific accounts, it is my hope that the fun guys will interact even more with you about things pertaining to their shows. Many of us know that, sad though it makes us, not everyone who follows us on our main accounts wants to hear us on Mushroom FM. I think that tends to temper the amount of Mushroom FM-related content we post. With a dedicated account for such things, we can toot our hearts out.
While I didn’t mention this in the blog post, I should insert here that of course you can attach audio media to toots on Mastodon, and that could lend itself to all sorts of useful Mushroom FM applications as well. You can also use the Mushroom FM hashtag on Mastodon. Mastodon has rolled out a new feature where rather than just searching on hashtags, you can follow them so they appear in your main timeline. Model clients support this yet, but more and more will over time, and this is where all the fun will be happening for our 2022 countdown. We know many people love the spirit of our countdown and Christmas party, so we wanted to give people ample notice of this change that it is happening on Mastodon this year, and not Twitter, so you have the chance if you want to sign up to Mastodon, get familiar and participate on the 17th.
I hope that you will consider signing up to a Mastodon instance, if you’re not already, and it’s amazing how many regular blind Twitter users are now already there, and it’s great. If you want to find a Mastodon instance, TweeseCake is a good one, tweesecake.social is there. The signup process is simple. It’s a great group of people. It seems to be well-run. Choose one that you’re comfortable with because as we’ve discussed before, it doesn’t matter which one you choose, you can still follow people on other instances and that’s how we all communicate with each other. I’m glad we’ve made this move and I’m also quite heartened by the support that we’ve received.
Here’s an example from Tim, who we haven’t heard from ages. Glad to know that you’re out there, Tim. Tim says, “Great move. I’ve never been a bird and my face is off the books, partially because I don’t like to be controlled by big tech, but a decentralized platform, as you describe here, I would consider. However, when I visit social.mushroomfm.com, NVDA reads your English language text in a Dutch voice and I have to turn automatic language switching off. Looks like Mastodon tries to be smart by displaying itself in my system language and putting a corresponding lang tag on the whole page.”
Well, that’s a bummer, Tim. I don’t know how to fix that or if I can fix it. Hopefully, you can work around it and we look forward to seeing you on the Fediverse, and maybe even participating in the holiday countdown if you feel so inclined. Tim says, “Are you still going to buy Musk’s self-driving car if it reaches the market before Google or Apple?” Yes, I am, Tim. I want whatever self-driving car I can get, no matter who manufactures it, I want to be there.
He says, “Btw, my hearing aid search has been on hold for a while but I’m going to record the latest updates soon.” That’s good because I was quite enthralled by your Tim’s new hearing aids feature and then suddenly it dried up. I mean we don’t pay you for it or anything so we’ve got no right to expect it, but I will look forward to the next installment. Good to hear from you, Tim.
In the Netherlands, Brian Gaff is in touch from the UK and I think he’s pretty enthusiastic about Mastodon as well. He’s making the point that there are some similarities between Mastodon and good old Usenet newsgroups. Man, I can’t remember when I started using those but I think it was in the early ’90s, maybe even the late ’80s, but it was a long time ago. They’re still around and there are lots of interesting things happening on those newsgroups.
I completely understand the similarity that you find there, Brian. Obviously, there are some differences, some significant ones, because this is social media. I think the critical point is the decentralization, the control of the data that users post remaining in the hands of users and volunteers, and not large corporations that are seeking to exploit the data in pretty cynical, and destructive ways. I’m a convert, I’m really on board with this. Maybe we will see you on Mastodon in due course, Brian. I hope so.
We certainly look forward to more of the blind community jumping on Mastodon. Of course don’t forget you can follow all things Mushroom FM related there, announcements at social.mushroomfm.com. This podcast is there as well if you want to follow Mosen at Large where we toot about all sorts of interesting technology things and let you know when episodes are published, and transcripts are published. You can do that by following email@example.com. That’s Mosen at Large, all one word, @mstdn.social.
Pre-recorded Voice: Transcripts of Mosen at Large are brought to you by Pneuma Solutions. A global leader in accessible cloud technologies. On the web @pneumasolutions.com, that’s P-N-E-U-M-Asolutions.com.
Spontaneous iPhone reboots
Jonathan: Let’s have our regular dollop of iOS conversation. Richard Bartholomew is writing and he says, “Hi, Jonathan, in response to one of your listener’s comments about the iPhone 13 randomly rebooting itself, I haven’t had the exact experience, but something similar. In my case, I recharge my iPhone 13 Pro wirelessly overnight, and two or three times in recent months, I have awoken to find that my phone has powered off and on during the recharging process as it’s prompting me to enter my pin because of the reboot. Unfortunately, each time this has happened, it’s caught me out, and so, I haven’t been able to determine if there’s a pattern.
To try and help troubleshoot this, I’ve installed a utility called System Status, so that I can retrospectively see what’s been going on in a very limited fashion. I’ve only had this running for a couple of weeks, and to date, the spontaneous reboot hasn’t recurred, of course.” Yes, of course. It’s always the way, isn’t it? “I do leave several apps running in the app switcher every day, e.g., reading apps such as EasyReader and Voice Dream Reader, along with Castro, Mail, Spring, et cetera, so I don’t know whether this impacts things.
The googling I’ve done hasn’t resulted in anything overly relevant, so I’m intrigued to see if the utility helps at all. Although the power off and on doesn’t cause any issues on the face of it, there’s always that nagging feeling that a rogue bit of software is running on the phone.” Intriguing, Richard, and I guess you would get a prompt of iPhone had updated itself with an iOS update or something like that, so it’s probably not that. If you track it down, if you find out what it is, I and other listeners would be intrigued, I’m sure to hear your findings.
Multiple iOS 16 issues
Pam MacNeil writes in and says, “Hi, Jonathan, I’m having considerable issues with my iPhone SE (2020) since updating to iOS 16.1.11.” Well, there’s a lot of ones. “I have my email set up so that the first few lines of each message are read without me opening it. This helps me identifying spam, which I can then delete. Lately, I may be glancing at an email at the top of the list, but VoiceOver is reading the first few lines of a completely different message.” Yes, I can confirm this one Pam. “The sad news is that at the time that I’m recording this anyway, with the iOS 16.2 beta, this is still a problem. It’s frustrating for sure.
Two, Siri doesn’t often appear to hear me.” What? “When I ask it to undertake tasks and even comes up with ridiculous answers, which while frustrating, are sometimes quite funny. For instance, I just asked what tomorrow’s weather forecast is, to which Siri replied, ‘Let me tell you about Morris in the USA.’ Three, Siri tells me I don’t have some apps I asked her to open when I in fact do. I have also noticed many of my apps seem to be now in iCloud.”
I’ve been raving on for a while Pam about Siri not hearing me, and in fact, when we did the Mastodon demo, you heard this in action, I can say something very clearly as I normally do Siri is set to recognize New Zealand English, and it will sometimes say, “I didn’t quite catch that,” and at other times, it will do as you say something completely different from what you asked. This has been a problem for a wee while, and a lot of people are saying it’s an iOS 16 thing. I took some time to put iOS 16 on my, shall we say, production phone, which at that time was an iPhone 12 Pro Max. I saw this with later builds of iOS 15. It seems to be happening at the Siri side.
If your apps are in iCloud, what that normally means is that the app no longer exists, unfortunately, but just to be sure, you could try going back to the app store and downloading it. It could be that you’re running out of space, I guess. It may be that you’re offloading apps that you don’t use very often, but if you do use them very often, sometimes what happens particularly when you get a new phone is that you just can’t get those apps back anymore, and having taken a two-year break, which is unusual for me, I went from an iPhone 12 Pro Max to an iPhone 14 Pro Max. I got a lot of apps that I couldn’t use anymore. I was a bit sad about that because even if they had been withdrawn and they weren’t being updated, they were working fine for me.
I’m not sure if that fully accounts in your case for what’s going on because you haven’t upgraded to a new device. You’ve just done a minor operating system update, so you could do some troubleshooting. You could just make sure that you are in fact signed into your iCloud account. If you go into settings right at the top, it should show whether you’re signed into your iCloud account or not and you might just like to check how much storage you have on your device. You can go into Settings and then general, and finally on iPhone storage, and you should be able to see how much space you have and whether anything was going on automatically to manage that storage that you might not be aware of.
“Four, if I ask Siri to call someone in my contacts list, Siri asks me what I want to tell the person named and so I have asked Siri to send a text. Five, my notifications don’t read upon arrival anymore. I get the assigned audio in my case R2D2, but no message is read.” I’m wondering if that’s mail notifications or notifications, generally. “Six, my contacts list is no longer displaying as it should, and when I use the rotor to scroll by heading, it stops after a couple of headings and won’t accept the gesture anymore until I swipe right a couple of times, but then it only lets me swipe down by heading a few more times before once again refusing to budge.
Seven, finally, my EasyReader app doesn’t work correctly anymore. Although I am unsure if this is related to the iOS update since it mainly seems to affect Calibre books.” I presume that’s how you pronounce that. “I am discussing this issue with Calibre. Also, I’d be very interested to know if others are having similar issues, and equally interested to know how they have fixed these.”
That sounds like a plethora of annoying issues, Pam. I don’t often use the built-in contacts app in the iPhone because I have an app from Flexibits, the people who make the amazing fantastical app called Cardhop, and this is an incredible way to engage with your contacts. If you like typing things into a command line type interface, you can do some really slick things with your contacts very quickly. Let’s see what others have to say on this.
If you want to comment on any of these iOS things or a different iOS thing of your own, 86460 Mosen is my number if you’d like to be in touch that way. 864-606-6736, that is in the United States. You can also email me, that email could have an audio attachment because it’s great to have a variety of voices on here, or you can write it down in a good old-fashioned way and send it into firstname.lastname@example.org, that’s J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com.
Emergency SOS satellite feature on iPhone
Mike May: Hi, this is Mike May from Reno, Nevada. Having worked on a satellite system for emergency communication off the grid, I wanted to comment a bit on the one that Apple is released. There’s two common commercial products that people use for satellite communication. One is the Garmin inReach, which is a subscription-based product, maybe $25 a month, plus the hardware, and then Spot. Those devices, much like a handheld walkie talkie have a display, you can send text messages back and forth anywhere in the world, whether you’re in the cell network or not. That’s what backcountry skiers and snowmobile people and search and rescue people would be using.
The iPhone 14 Pro and Max have a satellite service that’s a bit more limited than those paid versions, but it’s free, so it’s worth checking out. Go into settings, emergency, and down at the bottom of that emergency SOS, there’s a demo button. Follow the Wizard to fill out the different things you’ll need to do in terms of emergency contacts and options, and then at the end, you actually go outside and move the phone around to pick up the satellites and you get VoiceOver instructions about move left, move right.
It’s important to know that these satellites are 600 miles up LEO, Low Earth Orbit versus the GPS satellites, which are at 10,000 miles in a very different network. The phone has a satellite antenna about an inch long, which is a quarter wave for the frequency it’s on, and hopefully, it’s at the top of the phone so your hand doesn’t block it. The good news is that the software seems to keep searching no matter where you have the phone pointing even though VoiceOver is giving you instructions where to move, how to get oriented.
Unlike some satellite systems that are in the southwest of the sky, these could be anywhere along the north-south axis, so you need that coaching to get your phone in the right position to help speed up the transmission, but from what I’ve read, messages can take depending on the length of them anywhere from a few seconds to a minute to get through the phone. Just keeps trying until it goes out.
This is a very important service because about 20 or 30% of the US anyway is not in the cellular network, and those tend to be places where you might be in a rural location, slide off the road in the snow, or be camping and can’t get any cell coverage, and in case of emergency, you really need an alternative. This is a good one to consider since most people unless you’re a dedicated enthusiast, may not have an in-reach or a spot device. It’s pretty straightforward in how you use it.
You want to play with a demo so you know ahead of time in case of emergency, you don’t have to figure it out. Dial 911 or use one of the shortcuts in order to get emergency services and it’ll go through the cell network if you’re in one or if you’re not, then it’ll prompt you to let you know that the satellite system is being used. You can use it for non-emergency situations using the Find My Location option. You have to make sure that whoever you want to share with is set up ahead of time before you’re off the network.
Get those people initially set up just in case, and then you can prompt the device under Find My to send your location to those people and let them know that you’ve reached your camping site or they can just track where you are. I read an article that said the service will be made available in Ireland, the UK, France, and Germany in December. I think it’s exciting that this service is being made available primarily for emergency purposes but also for other communications outside the network. It will be interesting to see what comes next. Check it out.
Jonathan: Thank you, Mike. I very much look forward to doing exactly that, checking it out if it ever makes it our way. I guess next time I’m in the US I can give it a spin as well.
VoiceOver focus issues
Kaloto: Hi Jonathan, this is Kaloto from Sweden. I want to shed some light on the VoiceOver focus issue. The main problem is that we as experienced VoiceOver users are impatient. The problem occurs when an application shows a view. For example, you have Facebook Messenger and it loads a lot of messages from the web, and you tap somewhere in the list and when the view has loaded all these messages, an event is triggered and the VoiceOver cursor is placed on some initial location.
The same is shown in the recent view. Probably you have a very long list of recent calls, you haven’t cleared it perhaps, and when you switch to that tab, your iPhone is busy loading and digging through what it should show you. If you then tap and double tap, there might be some event triggered between your single and double tap and then you call the wrong person. If we just take it more piano, it won’t happen.
Jonathan: Thanks, Kaloto. I’m not sure if it’s always been this way though, has it? Because I don’t recall anybody having these issues before iOS 16. It seems like some process may be slowing the focus refreshing down and that may be what is required for Apple to, if I might use the expression, focus upon to get this resolved.
Mosen At Large Podcast.
Jonathan: It’s always nice when you get inspired by your own podcast and with all this talk of amateur radio that we started in episode 206 with Jim Kutsch, Bonnie and I have been talking about maybe getting our ham tickets because that’ll be a fun thing to do together. I’m not sure if we will get to it this summer over our long summer break, which is traditional here in New Zealand because of course we’ve got the Grand Banana nearly here and I’m expecting that she will be a major focal point of this summer, but we may well get to it. We’re doing the studying at the moment, doing the due diligence.
Now Eden is writing in. She says, “Hello, I hope you are well. I’m enjoying Mastodon. Thanks for all your info on that. I followed you on this,” and I followed you back, Eden. Groovy isn’t it? She says, “I have two reasons for writing. Thanks for renewing my interest in ham radio. I got my technician license when I lived with a blind ham for a bit. However, I never got a radio of my own. Well, I did, but still couldn’t really figure it out. I forgot the model, but I’m open to new radios. Would you get me in touch with the people who talked about accessible rigs and accessible testing? I worried that people might still not be there anymore in ham radio.”
I think the best thing, Eden, would be to subscribe to that email group that Jim was talking about and that’s email@example.com or you can go to groups.io and search for Blind Hams, and I understand that that email list is quite active. That email address again is firstname.lastname@example.org.
“My other reason for writing is to update you on my court reporting and career journey. I can now type about 60 words per minute in stenography. I have only been at it for five months. I also started doing something called scoping. This is basically an editor for a court reporter. When you write at 225 words per minute, inevitably there are bound to be some mistakes. Basically think of me as an editor for sometimes very roughly written things.
Some people think voice writing will take over, but voice writing relies on Dragon. The reporter speaks into her microphone everything that’s being said, it’s very distracting in my honest opinion. I couldn’t do it, but some people can. Anyway, this is a good way to make money. I would be delighted to guide anyone who is either interested in the field of scoping or court reporting to contact me. If you feel so inclined, I’d be delighted to come share with your audience.
You can learn how to do this for very reasonable pricing, although the software itself is a wee bit expensive. I’m done rambling. I may send you a recorded voicemail one day, but I just can’t listen to it before I send. You see, I just hate the sound of my voice. I’m 48 and I still sound like a teenager.”
See, that might not be a bad thing, Eden. It might not. Anyway, she says, “KC9WHT signing off, 73s.” See, you got to get good with the phonetic alphabet on the ham. Kilo, Charlie, Nine, Whiskey, Hotel, Tango. I could get into this. Thank you, Eden. It’s a good idea. We should have a chat too you about the whole court reporting and scoping malarkey at some point.
Marvin Rush: Jonathan, you, and Bonnie, I hope you are all well. This is Marvin Rush over here in Southwest Louisiana and I thought I would take a minute and tell you that I have had my amateur radio license for about 38 years, somewhere thereabouts anyway, and I have met many, many lifelong friends on the radio. I talk to a group of guys every morning usually, and they are mostly all over Texas and Oklahoma, and Louisiana. We have talked to each other for as long as I’ve had my license.
Amateur radio is just like everything else. You get out of it what you put into it. Now there are so many things that you can get involved with, the digital modes, of course, we have the Blind Hams Bridge that Patrick Purdue put together and we have a lot of fun on that. Everybody, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving week. This is Marvin Rush, W5MRR signing off.
Jonathan: Some thoughts on the verbiage and usability of Windows. Joe writes, “Hi Jonathan. I’m following up here on your comments concerning the useless information revealed with JAWS when working with Microsoft products. I find the three major Microsoft products I use on a regular basis, Outlook, Word, and Edge to be unwieldy, loaded with features that are not easy to navigate, and generally reveal too much useless, distracting spoken information.
I find the unwieldy nature of the products and the spoken superfluous items to waste precious time and drag down my thinking and concentration. The learning curve with these products and JAWS is extremely steep and not at all intuitive, and I have been using JAWS for a long time. Because of these difficulties, I have focused my JAWS use on mastering Outlook and Word. I find that if I need to find something on the internet, I can more easily do that with the iPhone. By contrast, the iPhone is so much easier to use for a blind person than a Windows computer. The apps are lean, straightforward, easy to navigate, and don’t give you readouts of useless information. It is ironic that the iPhone is so easy, and then once I try to work with iTunes on a Windows PC, I find iTunes to be completely impossible and have given up on working with it.
I don’t know why Microsoft just doesn’t have a button on these office programs where it strips out all the bloat and unnecessary things that the average person won’t really use and that a blind person finds burdensome to work around. It would be great if there was such a mode that would be deployed in the enterprise environment. The computers get faster, the programs do more, and they never seem to get easier for a person who is blind and needs to navigate the Microsoft business environment.
Our business environment has started to promote the use of Microsoft Teams for interoffice instant messaging. I am working on learning how to use it and frankly, I find it extremely difficult. I appreciate this technology that allows me to do things I could never have done before, but the hours I need to spend to be able to learn how to use these programs and the distractions they create takes away from the time I could choose to learn topics relevant to my field of work. I am grateful for your efforts in educating Microsoft on these issues, keep up the great work.”
Nice to hear from you, Joe. To give the blame where it’s due, the iTunes issue is definitely an Apple One, and we see this Apple does not write good Windows applications. I don’t think they write very accessible Windows applications. You only need to look at iCloud to know that. iTunes is doable, but it is very flaky. It can hardly be said to be intuitive. Regarding Word and Outlook, at least if you don’t know about it, one thing that may help a lot, and it’s something I use a lot, is the Alt Q feature, which I think they still call Tell Me. If you press Alt Q, an edit field pops up and you can type what you’re looking for and then down arrow and you’ll usually find what you want really easily that way.
This feature to me is far more efficient than the ribbon, which is buried layers deep, and if you want to memorize the convoluted key sequences, you can get places pretty quickly, but I far preferred the menu bar structure that used to be in Office applications and I think the ribbon was a retrograde step. It’s not that it’s inaccessible, it’s just not very pleasant to use. That is interesting how some people just take to the iPhone.
I have seen people who I would have initially thought would find the iPhone difficult to use. It’s a very different interface. Some people that have always struggled with Windows just thrive on the iPhone. I guess it’s like some people are visual learners and some people are not. Maybe some people are just natural learners with the iPhone and some people are not. It’s just amazing to me seeing some people who struggled so much with Windows, just romping ahead leaps and bounds with their iPhones. It’s a joy to see.
Regarding Teams, I agree with you. It is quite bloated, it’s clunky. There’s no menu bar in Teams and I’m concerned that Microsoft Outlook might be going the same way. I’ve been using Microsoft Outlook since, I don’t know, Office 95 was it, or 97? It’s a long time now and it’s largely remained the same. It’s become a bit more expanded over the years, and of course, they’ve moved to the ribbon, but Outlook has been rewritten from scratch.
I understand that you can switch to this new Outlook application to try it, although I don’t think that at this stage any screen reader developer would encourage you to do that yet because I think some dialogue is still taking place between Microsoft and screen reader developers to optimize the experience. At this stage, there is no pressure to do this. There is no suggestion at all that a deprecation of the current Microsoft Outlook that so many of us are familiar with is on the horizon, but it will probably happen one day and I do hope that before that happens Outlook will not become like teams.
Here’s Rick Rodrick and he says, “Hi, Jonathan. Since you mentioned the topic of frustrations, I will mention some of mine. The spell checker in Word is very useful. I like to invoke it with F7. What I don’t like is autocorrect. I can’t figure out how to turn it off. Another question for you, what happened to attachments? I notice that most mass distributors of documents including yours, use web links. If I go to the link, it is automatically downloaded to my downloads folder, which is buried under several layers.
I would rather receive the transcript as attachments. That way I can go into Word and put it into a folder I might call Mosen. I can also rename the file if I choose. Microsoft does not make it easy to set Firefox as my default browser. I have also noted that when I go into a Word file, I often hear the word revised before each line. Why am I getting this?” Thanks for writing in, Rick. It is always good to hear from you, and I hope that all is well in sunny Louisville in Kentucky.
Now let’s have a look at some of the issues that you’ve raised. First of all, I’ll go into Microsoft Word and we’ll discuss autocorrect because what I’d like to do is demonstrate the power behind the Tell Me feature. I mentioned this earlier where if you find it difficult to traverse the ribbons, Microsoft Word is a powerful application, but man, it’s got a lot of features and finding the one you want can be a challenge. This is where using Alt Q can be so handy. In this case, we are going to go a search in for autocorrect. I’m going to press Alt Q.
Automated Voice System: Ribbon, type to search, and use the up and down arrows keys to navigate sub-menu Microsoft search edit, Alt, followed by Q.
Jonathan: Now I’m going to type auto-correct.
Automated Voice System: Auto-correct.
Jonathan: Karen is speaking back there. Now I’m just going to down arrow.
Automated Voice System: Best action group options, spelling, and proofing.
Jonathan: There we go. It’s founded options, spelling, and proofing. When I press enter.
Automated Voice System: Document one word ribbon type to search and use the up and down arrows keys to navigate sub-menu, Microsoft search edit, Alt followed by Q, list box word options proofing 3 of 11.
Jonathan: JAWS is actually saying quite a lot there. It’s saying too much, but nevertheless, we are there and we are in the proofing options in Word and now when I press tab.
Automated Voice System: Proofing auto-correct options, autocorrect options dot dot dot button, Alt plus A.
Jonathan: There’s what you’re looking for. We’ll press the space bar to go into autocorrect options.
Automated Voice System: Replace edit, Alt plus R. C, word options, dialogue, autocorrect English Australia, replace edit combo. With edit combo, exceptions, dot dot dot button, Alt plus E.
Jonathan: The first thing that we are seeing here is where you can type a string and replace it with another string, which can be very handy if you find yourself typing the same thing a lot but if we press tab.
Automated Voice System: Automatically, use suggestions from the spelling, check box checked. Alt plus G.
Jonathan: I suspect it’s that one that you want to turn off. We’ll keep tabbing.
Automated Voice System: Okay, button.
Jonathan: There we go. We’ve got the okay button. If you uncheck that box about automatically using suggestions from the spell checker, it may get you the behavior that you want. We’ll talk about your next question regarding the Mosen at large podcast transcripts.
The reason why I send a link out on social media and the Mosen Media email list is that we offer the transcript in three formats. You can just go to the link and read it in your browser, and a lot of people do that. In recent months, we also made a positive change where you can navigate to sections of the podcast by heading in the transcript. The same way that listeners to the podcast who have a podcast app capable of chapters can navigate from section to section. It’s easy to get to the section that you want, and that means that even more people like to use the browser now because it’s so easy to use navigation quick keys to get to where you want to be.
If you want to, you can download either a Microsoft Word version of the transcript or a fully accessible PDF version of the transcript. I’m a little bit perplexed about where your files are going because by default, if you go into File Explorer and you land in the quick access section by default, then your downloads folder is right there. You can just press D-O-W and you’ll find the downloads folder.
If for some reason you are storing your files in a different folder that is buried several layers deep, go into File Explorer, locate that folder, bring up the context menu by pressing Shift F10 or the application key and choose Pin to quick access. When you do that, you’ll easily be able to find that downloads folder the moment you press windows with E to get into File Explorer. I have changed my Downloads folder to one in Dropbox.
The advantage of that is that my downloads are the same everywhere. It’s really annoying when you go to find a file that you’ve downloaded and then you realize, oh, I downloaded this to my desktop, but now I want it on my laptop. My default downloads folder is actually in Dropbox. They stay in sync across multiple computers. The trick to getting this working optimally is to understand that when you go into quick access and you choose the download by default, that’s actually a shortcut to a folder and if you go to the downloads folder in File Explorer and without opening it, press Alt Enter to get into the file properties, you can actually change the location to which that downloads folder shortcut points. I’ve actually changed it there to Dropbox. What’s really nice about recent versions of Windows is that by default, the files are sorted, not alphabetically as they are in most folders but by recently downloaded, so you have your most recent files at the top.
I hope that helps. You should be able to make your downloads folder right there when you load File Explorer with a little bit of setup then once done, you’ll never have to think about it again. Regarding the revised thing, that sounds to me like you have a document open with track changes enabled, track changes is a powerful tool that allows people to collaborate on documents, see suggested revisions. If you have no cause to work with this, you can go into the JAWS verbosity section and stop all the verbiage relating to track changes or you could turn track changes off.
Jonathan Mosen, Mosen At Large podcast.
Guide dog refusal stories
Jonathan: Let’s talk guide dog refusals inspired by the discussion that Bonnie and I had and that other listeners picked up regarding the near refusal that Bonnie and I experienced at a hotel earlier in the year and Don Rosman is back. He says, “Hello Jonathan, I want to thank you very much for reading my note about guide dogs and hotels. I am curious, how do you read notes like mine so smoothly? Do you have it brailed with a lowercase B out first?”
I’m just reading it on my APH Mantis, which is a refreshable Braille display, Don. I get your email on my iPhone actually, and I have the iPhone paired with it and that means that I can stay in REAPER in case I need to do any editing or anything like that and read from my iPhone with my Braille display, so I’m just reading direct from the phone.” Don says, “I did not realize that the hotel had refunded your money. In other words, they did apologize for the mistake. I might suggest that you go back and give them a chance to correct their error. I have been using a guide dog now for 48 years.” Wow, Don, you must have the oldest guide dog in the world. I guess it might not be the same dog, right? I guess it might not be.
“There have been times, as I said in my last note when I have been challenged, the first time was about 47 years ago. There were four adults and five children wanting to go into a restaurant for a drink and to get warmed up as the temperature was about -10 degrees Fahrenheit. They only used my guide dog as an excuse not to allow us in. I figured out after that that in truth it was not the guide dog that he did not want in but it was the children as they would be taking up space for adults to sit and order alcoholic drinks.
I wrote the owner later and suggested that if it happened again, I would carry the issue further. When we went back to the restaurant about a month later, there was nothing said. Over the years, I have met that owner who still refers to that incident. Another time there were four of us going into a nightclub to listen to music. There was a long lineup of people waiting to get in. I was told I could not take my guide dog in. The whole line of people said that if the dog cannot go in, then we are all leaving. Needless to say, we went in.
One other experience I had was in another restaurant. They were reluctant to let my Patty in. I explained that there was a rule and a fine for not letting me in. They relented and let me in. In no time at all, they came over and asked if I wanted any water for the dog. They had never had a guide dog in the establishment before, so did not know what to expect. Once they realized how well-behaved my dog was, they realized the era of their ways. Keep up the good work Jonathan, I enjoy your podcasts.”
Thank you very much, Don. Some good guide dog refusal stories there and I’m sure many of us have them. I don’t handle a dog at the moment, but of course, as we know Bonnie does, she’s got Eclipse, the dog to eclipse all dogs direct from the seeing eye and I tell people here that you can tell that Eclipse is an American dog because she barks with an American accent.
I like to categorize or classify things and I think there are different classifications of guide dog refusals. You have people who do it out of genuine ignorance and most of the time they are persuadable in some form. If you get somebody who says no pets allowed in here or something, and you explain that actually, she’s not a pet, she’s a guide dog and there are laws around that, maybe sometimes they have to call their manager or something like that but most of the time it gets sorted out and you just have to be patient. Unfortunately, we may not like it all the time. We may wish we could just go about our lives but sometimes there is an education element isn’t there and that’s just the way that it is.
Then there are those times when it doesn’t matter what the law says, you get people who just will not take the dog. I’ve talked about Uber refusals here before, it seems to be rampant in Uber in New Zealand which is extremely unfortunate because you just don’t know when it’s going to happen. You can be having a really nice night out. All you want to do is get home or of course, as we’ve discussed before, all you want to do is get to an appointment. You may be going somewhere for professional reasons and some driver turns up and breaks the law. I have taken great pleasure in having some of those drivers de-platformed for their breaking of the law. If you don’t want to carry a guide dog, don’t drive a cab, don’t drive an Uber, simple, ay.
Don, you mentioned the expression of public support that you sometimes get around a guide dog refusal and it’s heartening when that happens, isn’t it? One that really stands out for me relating to a cab refusal actually was when Bonnie and I, took a long train journey from Wellington to Auckland for our wedding anniversary a few years ago. I remember it very clearly because it was the day of the Brexit referendum and so while we were traveling up the country by train, I was glued to the Brexit referendum coverage.
When we got there, the shock vote had been determined and we got off after about a maybe 9 or 10-hour train journey. It was very pleasant. I loved traveling by train. We wanted to get a taxi to the hotel that we had booked and this was at the Britomart railway station in Auckland, so it’s the big railway station in the city and they have a marshal type of person who guides people to the taxis. We explained we wanted a taxi and where we wanted to go, and the marshal gave us the first cab on the rank and the cabby refused to take us because of the dog, which was Bonnie’s dog Lizzy at that stage.
There was a line of people who were waiting for a taxi. When this driver refused to take the dog, the marshal said, “Get out of here, if you won’t take the dog, if you’re breaking the law, we don’t want law-breaking taxi drivers here go away.” The driver tried to protest and ask this line of people if they would like a taxi and they all said, no, if you’re breaking the law, if you’re refusing these people with a guide dog, we don’t want to get in your taxi and so the driver had to slink away in shame and was not welcome at the railway station. We had the number plate of the cab, we reported it, they reported it. It was a very supportive experience.
One of the more hilarious ones was when I had been working on a Saturday, probably about 1996 when I had my guide dog, Pearl. In those days, I was a pizza eater and so I decided to go into Pizza Hut with a couple of people and get a bite to eat and so I went in there and I got the third degree from this waiter person who said, “Is he good?” I said, “Well actually he’s a she, and she’s a guide dog and of course she’s good and anyway, it’s not discretionary, you’re required to take the dog.” He somewhat glumly said, “Okay, we’ll put you on this table here where we can keep an eye on you.”
He made it really abundantly clear that we were not welcome and so I said, “Well, if that’s your attitude, we’ll go and take our business somewhere else forward Pearl.” I said confidently. What did Pearl do? She wandered straight for the kitchen, somewhat blunted by great exit. It was a bit hilarious in retrospect. I have been in situations where I have been refused at a restaurant where I was taking people out for business purposes that was very embarrassing, one of which actually involved getting the police in and the police were interesting in that case because they came to basically enforce the law but the police also called the media.
That restaurant owner really did learn a valuable lesson because it was in the paper the next morning and he also got taken to the Human Rights Commission through a mediation process but you just don’t want the argy-bargy, do you? You just want to get on with your life and that guy just would not listen. It’s not like he didn’t know there was an education opportunity there, he was just not having it.
One Uber driver, and perhaps Bonnie can talk about this when we next have her on the show. I was traveling with Bonnie, and the Uber driver wanted to put the dog in the boot of the car, which is what Americans call the trunk of the car. Bonnie, of course, was horrified, but she talked to the driver because he didn’t outright refuse and explained what a guide dog was and everything like that. By the end of the trip, he said, “Look, I apologize for how we got off on the wrong foot. I’ve never had a guide dog in my vehicle before, in my Uber vehicle, and the dog was so well-behaved, and I really appreciate you explaining to me.”
Bonnie said, “Oh, that’s fine.” You do have to assume, I suppose, goodwill until you’re confident that there isn’t any, but it can be fatiguing. You just want to go about your thing. Now, in the hotel’s case, what we got was one bad experience with a previous guide-dog handler, and with rights come responsibilities. Sometimes, I feel like we don’t talk about that enough. If you’ve got the right to take your dog places where dogs are not normally allowed, you have a responsibility to keep that dog in good condition.
Make sure the dog is well-groomed and not shedding hair. Make sure that it is free of fleas. That is the responsibility that we have for these rights that we have fought hard for. In this hotel’s case, they had basically decided that all guide dogs were full of fleas, that somehow all blind people were the same. There are some complexities with that one. If you want to share your guide-dog refusal stories, whether they worked out well, or whether you had to take some kind of action, then do let me know.
They’re wonderful mobility tools, and of course, precious companions, aren’t they? but it can be stressful. If you want to share your experience, email@example.com on the email. Write it down or attach an audio clip or 864-60MOSEN in the US. 864-606-6736.
Dan Clarke from Focusrite
Those of us of a certain age may have started with cassette recorders, and if you go even further back than that, maybe even open real recorders. Well, I’m sure there are many people who don’t even know what they are, but now, we are in the digital domain. No matter how we do it, many blind people love to create audio. One of the leaders in this field of digital content creation hardware is Focusrite.
They manufacture a wide range of audio interfaces including the Vocaster, which we featured back in episode 189. Joining me from Focusrite itself is Dan Clarke. He’s a senior product designer at Focusrite. Dan, it is great to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much for being here.
Dan Clarke: Thanks, Jonathan. Really appreciate the opportunity to come on and talk with you. Yes, super excited. Let’s get to it.
Jonathan: I always like to find out a little bit about how people in a position like yours got to where they got to. How long have you been with Focusrite and what’s your background?
Dan: I’ve been at Focusrite for 11 years now, which is scary when you say it. I went to university a little bit later than some people. I didn’t go until I was 22. I studied music and audio production in the UK, and that was actually a part of the engineering school there. Although we did some music production and recording, we also did some MATLAB, some Max/MSP, some design stuff as well. Then after uni, I went back to working in retail, which is where I’d been working before selling guitars and tech, and stuff like that.
Eventually, an opportunity came up at Focusrite as a QA engineer, so testing products that were in development. When I joined, I don’t think the first version of Scarlett had come out yet. I think it came out probably in my first year there. In those first couple of years, doing quality assurance work, I was testing things like the MiniNova, the Bass Station II, both of those from Novation, the Focusrite Forte, and a few other things.
Eventually, I transitioned into a product design role after about 18 months, maybe two years at the company, and that was when product design, user experience design, interaction design, whichever name you want to give it, there are countless ones, was becoming quite a prominent field. I was the first product designer in the company.
Jonathan: It sounds like it’s the music that’s also in your blood. It’s not just the engineering side, but the fact that you were selling guitars, that kind of thing, you like music.
Dan: Oh, yes, absolutely. Music’s been a key part of my life in some form or another. Since the beginning, my dad playing lots of records, incredibly loudly when I was growing up. Jethro Tull, and Stones, and Dylan, and everything like that, and as a teenager in bands. I went to university and I was going to be the next big producer, the next Dr. Dre, or Trent Rezner, or something like that. That didn’t happen, but I’m fine with that. [chuckles] Yes, it’s always been a very important part of my life.
Jonathan: You must be fascinated by what’s going on with these Beatles remixes. I’m a major Beatles nut anyway, and just seeing what they were able to do with AI and some of this demixing technology that– Peter Jackson, actually, just down the road from me here in New Zealand, have worked on to make the Revolver remix possible, where they essentially disassembled four tracks and created many, many tracks. It’s pretty cool stuff, isn’t it?
Dan: Yes, it’s amazing and a little scary just at how good things can be now when you’re using AI. I think Adobe recently announced– I’ve forgotten the name of it right now, but a new recording platform for audio, which can just fix the environmental issues with this and post-processing that just make you sound really clean. It’s amazing what these AI algorithms can do now.
Jonathan: I’ve heard good things about that and I’ve not checked out the accessibility. Let’s talk about Focusrite and what you’re doing there. What does a senior product designer do?
Dan: [chuckles] Many things, actually. Despite being a large group and a continually growing group, a lot of us wear more than one hat or involved in more than one project. A product designer at Focusrite Novation in their day-to-day, they’re working on the next products that are coming out. Normally, that means that we do some research, we figure out what kind of product we should be making, who we should be making it for, what kind of problems we’re looking to solve for them.
Then product designers focus on speaking more with those customers, designing solutions, iterating on them, and testing them with the real end users. Then once we feel set, that we know we are going in the right direction, that’s when we really start making it proper with the engineering teams. Then the product designers remain involved throughout that process, and as we iterate through things and iron out any issues that may occur along the way.
I still do a whole bunch of that. I’m still involved on day-to-day projects and I was the lead designer on Vocaster. Outside of that, I do a lot of research activities and also a lot within the field of accessibility. I’m part of the accessibility steering group at Focusrite.
Jonathan: When was that formed, the accessibility steering group?
Dan: I want to say it officially came into form about two and a half years ago and had probably been existing just loosely between some interested people for a year or so before that.
Jonathan: Okay, because a number of us have been a bit grumpy, that’s what you do on Twitter, about how long it seems to have taken for Focusrite’s software to become accessible, and we are not there yet, I have to say. I’ve had a Focusrite 8i6 for a wee while now. This was the third generation. It’s great, I really enjoyed, but I have to have somebody set it up initially. I will say that Focusrite tech support are absolutely fantastic.
They appreciate the problem, they do actually sympathize. If you call, they will work with you to get the settings you need and then save them as a preset, and all that good stuff. Of course, it’s not the same and it’s the principle of the thing. I got to ask you, how is that going? When are we likely to see the same degree of accessibility in the Scarlett range and other products that we now have in the Vocaster range?
Dan: That’s a really great question. What I can tell you is that Focusrite aims in the long term to make all of our audio interfaces as accessible as they possibly can be. We are actively investigating the possibility of bringing screen reader support to the current and previous generations of Scarlett Audio interfaces. I don’t have a timeline for that right now, but I can tell you it’s something that we are actively working on.
Jonathan: Not even a ballpark figure. If we were talking in November of 2023, should we expect to have some progress or you can’t even be more specific than that?
Dan: How specific can I be? I would hope there would be some public news about progress in the area by this time next year. [chuckles]
Jonathan: Right, because there’s some underlying technology as I understand it that has become more accessible, that is powering the Focusrite Control panel in all operating systems. It’s not just like it’s a bit problematic. If you run the control panel in iOS and in Windows, I’m not a Mac user, but I’m sure it’s the same, it’s like you’re not running any software at all, it just doesn’t work one job. It is pretty significant, but I understand that some of the underlying technologies that Focusrite is using in this regard may have improved.
Dan: Yes, absolutely. The platform, the Focusrite Control and Vocaster Hub are built upon is JUCE, J-U-C-E. That’s what we use as the platform to build everything upon. When we made Focusrite Control originally, JUCE was not accessible, just literally no way to do it even if you wanted to. Now, when we adopted JUCE many years ago, maybe accessibility wasn’t talked about as much as it should have been or is now. That was probably why it wasn’t considered then. Since Pace, who said, “Do I lock?” have acquired JUCE, they’ve started to introduce the ability to make products built on JUCE accessible, which is great. That is why Vocaster Hub now is accessible. Yes, whether in Focusrite Control itself or something else in the future, we definitely plan to take advantage of those features in JUCE.
Jonathan: As I understand it, the primary ranges– We’re going to talk about Vocaster quite a bit shortly, but you’ve also got Scarlet, which is what I’m using here in my studio and there is Clarett as well. Can you explain the differences between those two models and when you would choose one over the other?
Dan: That’s a good question. I’ve got to put my salesman hat on now, which I haven’t done in about 15 years. Scarletts have gone from strength to strength with each generation. The latency is fantastic, the preamp sound awesome and they are the top-selling audio interface in the world, that saying that we’re very proud of. If you are starting out in music in particular, and I guess Pre-Vocaster, I would’ve said for podcasting as well, things like the solo and 2i2 are really excellent entry points for that.
When we are looking at the Clarett, what you are looking at primarily is an improvement in specs. The preamps perform a bit better than the Scarletts do. We also originally came out with the Claretts as the Thunderbolt interfaces back when Scarletts was still on USB2. We’re always looking to push those elements forward with Clarett.
Jonathan: I really enjoy my Scarlett and the fact that I’m still persisting with it while we wait for the accessibility is a testimony to how much I really find it to be a great product. Now, Vocaster is obviously a look at the way the world will be eventually in all Focusrite products because it’s a great accessibility experience. How’s that gone? It seems to me when I read reviews of Vocaster, it’s being very well-received. There’s a lot of excitement around that product.
Dan: Yes, absolutely. We’re delighted with the feedback we’ve received from reviewers and everyone who’s used the product. It’s amazing how far simple features can go. We’ve got things on here like the auto gain, where you just speak into the microphone and it figures out your gain levels. We’ve got the enhancements feature, which is some built-in DSP, some EQ and compression. The thing that everyone always talks about is the mute button [chuckles] which is great.
On the Vocaster too, you’ve got two preamps, you’ve got two mute buttons and I’ve used it on this call already. When I needed to clear my throat, I just pressed the button on the interface next to me. I think that was one of the things that we really focused on. For the Vocaster, it was really getting to understand podcasters. What their needs are, how they speak, how they think, and where the real benefits come from for them.
We have had some feedback about the fact that there’s only XLR inputs on the unit and it’s not a kind of combi jack where you can plug in a guitar as well and that’s really great feedback. At the same time, that was an intentional decision that we wanted to make this device for people exclusively recording voice and making that the best, it can be.
Jonathan: I get very enthusiastic about products like this because in the blind community there are added hoops that you have to go through. You’ve got to be a reasonably proficient user of your digital audio workstation. You’ve got to be a reasonably good screen reader user. Anything that can be done to reduce the barrier to entry in podcasting. I’m really– as my kids would say down with that because there are a lot of people with important things to say and they shouldn’t have to be audio geeks to be able to say them in a way that is good enough for people to listen to.
Dan: Yes, 100%. Part of what I do as a product designer and speaking with customers is developing a picture of who the kind of archetype is for, who’s going to be using this product. You do that via surveys and you do it by speaking to a whole bunch of different representative customers, but you learn an awful lot by doing that. One of the things that we on Vocaster Two, you’ve got two inputs and they’re labeled Host and Guest. On a regular audio interface, it would be labeled one and two or Input 1 or 2 or XLR 1 or 2 or Preamp 1 or 2. When you label it Host and Guest, and then you put it in front of a podcaster and you tell them about it, they go, “Oh, well, that’s obviously for me because it’s using a language that I understand.”
It’s the same thing with what we’ve done with the DSP that’s built in. You don’t necessarily need to know all of the intricacies of how the EQ’s working, what Q values is set at. Sometimes just a really good preset is all you need.
Jonathan: Now, you’re probably going to say I don’t have anything to announce today and I get that, but I’ve got to ask anyway. What about a Vocaster Four or a Vocaster Eight, is there any possibility that they might be happening?
Dan: [laughs] I don’t have anything to announce today.
Dan: We see Vocaster as a new line for us. I’m very confident with it. Who knows what the future will bring and we certainly know those kind of use cases as we would call them exist in the world. You never know.
Jonathan: You have a new software update for the Vocaster Two and the Vocaster for that matter. At the time that we are releasing this podcast that is out, can you tell me a bit about that?
Dan: Yes. One thing very specific to what we are talking about around accessibility here is some improvements to that workflow. When Vocaster first released with the Vocaster Hub, the navigation wasn’t quite working as intended. We tried to fix a different accessibility issue around screen focus and had inadvertently introduced a bug, and essentially that affected the focus traversal through the app. It meant that you had to use special modes on screen readers and essentially you couldn’t use the tab key to navigate. Since then, we’ve learned a lot about the implementation and how we should go about these things.
We’ve been working with people like Jason [unintelligible [01:16:19] who’s a close friend and a key collaborator on accessibility with Focusrite and many others in the industry. We’ve gone through that and we’ve found ways to not only improve our code, but most importantly fix that issue so that now you can navigate with your screen reader as you would expect. That’s been really important for us to work on and super excited to have that out.
Jonathan: That’s fantastic and very encouraging. It may mean that, for example, third-party scripts for JAWS might not be necessary because it’s all built into the AMP now.
Dan: Yes, yes, exactly. We have some visually impaired or blind beta testers who have been trying out and have confirmed all our fixes, so looking really positive. At the same time, we’re always looking for feedback. If anyone has any feedback or requests or anything they come across, then please let us know.
Jonathan: Any general enhancements or is it mainly bug fixes?
Dan: Well, there is actually a fairly big feature which is that we are introducing the ability to edit some of the enhanced presets.
Jonathan: Ah, I wondered if that would come.
Dan: Yes. A lot of people have asked for it and it’s something we’d always planned to do. Now, on Vocaster Hub I don’t know if all of your listeners will know the layout of the software, but it’s basically split into three panels if we’re talking about Vocaster Two. You have a panel labeled host which is that first microphone input where you set your game level. You’ve got your mute, enhance, and auto-game buttons. Then there’s another panel for guest, which is just the same settings, and then below those there is a mixer panel where you can mix all of your different inputs.
For each of those preamps host and guest, there’s now an edit button which flips the view round and it opens up some settings where you can basically change the intensity of the compressor and low, mid, and high values plus or minus a few DB in each direction. Again, it’s not super technical, we’re not going into some parametric EQs and Q values and all of this kind of stuff. It’s meant to be like, “Okay, this preset sounds pretty good for me but it’s not quite right for my voice. What can I do just to tweak it up just a little bit to get it just right?” We’re really excited to get that out and hear what people think about it.
Jonathan: I imagine there might have been a bit of philosophical discussion about this, because I used to be a product manager and I know all about scope creep and I suppose there’s an argument that says this is not really part of the ethos of what we want to do with something like Vocaster that it’s supposed to be really simple “plug and play, don’t worry about it, don’t get too geeky”. The balance must have been quite difficult to strike, I would imagine?
Dan: It always is. We had many conversations about how it should work and what the layout should be, and various other finer details that we needed to argue over internally. The important thing for me is the editing these presets, using the EQ and the compressor settings, it’s not a barrier. If you just want to turn on the enhanced mode and select a preset, it’s going to sound great.
Then if you do feel like you want to go and tweak some things, again, it’s not overwhelming, there’s not 50 different settings you have to navigate through. It is pretty much four sliders and a radio group for saying the [unintelligible [01:19:43] to get rid of that kind of rumble that you might have. Again, we’ve tried just to keep it as something that is digestible and learnable.
Jonathan: There is a bundle available for Vocaster, isn’t there? Somebody who listens to this and thinks, “I could do a better Job,” and I’m sure they probably can. You can just purchase from Focusrite something that will get you completely up and running. Assuming that you have a computer to record with or an iPad say, and you get headphones, a microphone. I don’t know much about the Focusrite microphone, and I don’t hear a lot about it, so I’m not sure what you would consider its key strengths to be. I guess the important thing is, it’s a turnkey solution. You can have something come to you on the courier that will basically give you all you need to do to start a podcast.
Dan: Yes, absolutely, and that was really important to us as well. In the bundle you get Hindenburg, I think is there, a pro-license for a few months and then a light license perpetually. When you look at software for recording a podcast, Hindenburg’s up there at the top [crosstalk].
Jonathan: It’s a great piece of software that’s totally inaccessible, unfortunately. We need to ping them as well, and they know it. I’ve written to them over the years and they’ve said, “Yes, we know it’s not accessible.” They haven’t given any commitment at this stage to make it so.
Dan: When I next have a chat with any of them, I’ll mention it again.
Jonathan: Thank you.
Dan: In terms of what you can get, so Vocaster One is just a one microphone input. The Vocaster Two has two microphone inputs. It also has Bluetooth, so if you want to connect up a phone and copy-play in that way, you can do that. Both of them also have a camera output on the TRRS connector. If you want to go out to a camera if you’re doing video, they both feature Phantom power as well. In terms of the studio packs as we call them, we’re using dynamic microphones, and that was an important thing for us as well.
If you look at Scarlett bundles, they come with a condenser microphone because when you’re trying to catch the subtlety through the singer’s voice in great detail, those condensers are great. When you’re making a podcast, you really need that kind of dynamic cardioid microphone to get this kind of clean direct sound. The Vocaster One studio pack comes with a dynamic mic that’s kind of similar in look and feel to like an SM58. That’s the DM1 microphone, and then the Vocaster Two comes with the DM14v, which looks a little bit like an SM7B and performs in a similar kind of way.
Yes, if you get one of those packs, you’ll be all setup. We do actually now so what we call a broadcast pack which is just the headphones and the microphone. If anyone just wants that or wants to add an extra pair of mics or headphones, then they can do.
Jonathan: It might be overkill I suppose, but maybe not. Do you see a market for Vocaster particularly the single channel version for those who are doing a lot of work from home with audio conferencing these days, people are using microphones built-in to webcams. It sounds like they’re talking through a tunnel. It’s really bad, and then you even get people who have that setup talking on radio, and it just sounds abysmal. I actually switch it off sometimes because the audio of guests is so bad. It seems to me there’s quite a potentially big market for just a Vocaster and a halfway decent mic and adding a little bit of tonal quality with the presets.
Dan: Yes, absolutely. I must confess. In my day-to-day Zoom meetings because I work remotely, I’m just speaking into a webcam.
I’m not always using the best quality. Yes, it’s definitely important and we obviously seen a rise of that over the last couple of years. We’ve seen many more people remote-working, so many more people making podcasts and content as well. That was one of the things for us. We know that so many people make podcast, and what they’re interested in is telling their story. They’ve got literally a fiction story to tell or something that they are passionate about whether it’s history, or film, or politics, and that’s what they want to focus on. They want to focus on telling their story and speaking to their guest.
They don’t necessarily want to be dealing with all of the technical complexities, but we do know that podcast with poorer quality audio tend to have more significant drop-off rates. People don’t always stick around if it’s not great to listen to. We definitely see Vocaster is definitely an upgrade on a webcam, an upgrade on some of the USB microphones which tend to be condensers as well, so you get a bit more room noise from them. With so many people doing video conferencing, there’s lots of opportunities for it. People doing voiceover work as well. Recording for TV and film, or anything else, it could be really valuable.
Jonathan: I’m on an email list for blind podcast creators, and we will try and help each other out. Particularly, new blind people who want to get started with podcasting. The response to Vocaster has been so encouraging. I’ve definitely seen people who had that demo on episode 189 of this podcast, and just felt some confidence in getting the Vocaster because it was so simple to get going.
It’s really encouraging and it’s working its magic. As we wrap, can we talk a bit about expectations around that accessibility steering group. Obviously, you’ll be embedding accessibility into any new products that might be coming along, and there will be– I take it just some work ongoing, retro fitting those products that are not yet accessible. Is that the priority?
Dan: Yes, absolutely. Accessibility is super important. Yes, our goal is going to be to make all of our future products as accessible as they can be. Yes, in the long run we hope to offer that same support to products that are already out in the market. Maybe not every single product that Focusrite Novation make, but Scarlett’s definitely at the top of that list.
Jonathan: Right, given that it is the most popular audio interface in the world.
Jonathan: Yes, that’d be great. Dan, I really appreciate you coming on the show, and I also appreciate the dialogue that we have had over the last few months. The commitment is undeniable, and we can see that in what’s happening with Vocaster and it gives me considerable encouragement. I hope we can keep in touch as things develop.
Dan: Yes, absolutely. We’re always as a company looking to hear from people. I’m definitely open to hearing from people as well, if you want to send out my email address with the show notes or anything like that. Next week is the Audio Developer Conference in London, and Focusrite’s going to be there. Jason [unintelligible [01:26:19] who some of you may know and who I mentioned earlier is going to have a booth day where he’s going to be demoing accessible music production. He’s going to have products from [unintelligible [01:26:29], he’s also going to have Vocasters.
I think we’re giving a couple of Vocasters away. One of my colleagues in the accessibility steering group, Harry [unintelligible [01:26:37], he’s also a developer. He’s going to be there. He’s going to be on a panel with Jason as are others in the industry. Yes, if anyone’s going along to that, please show up and fire questions our way, but yes, we’re always looking forward to hearing more from people.
Jonathan: It’s super encouraging. Everybody would love for people to be able to snap their fingers and magic accessibility into reality. It is actually quite a complex thing, but the fact that there’s so much awareness in the industry now, thanks to people like Jason and the advocacy work that they’ve been doing is a very positive sign, and that will trickle down eventually.
Dan: Yes, absolutely. It’s one of those things where [chuckles] I wish I could think of a more positive phrase, but it’s a war of attrition. Like you said, it’d be great just to snap your fingers and have it there, but it’s a process that takes time. As more and more people do it, it becomes more the vernacular and becomes the norm. There isn’t something additional that you have to do. It’s just like, “Well, of course it’s accessible.”
That’s what we’re seeing a lot from our internal teams at Focusrite now. It’s just that kind of part of what we call our definition of done is a feature accessible. Yes, I definitely hope for a groundswell over time. We’re looking to work with other organizations as well. Earlier this year, well, we started working with the Able Artist Foundation, which is an organization that offers discounts for disabled members. Primarily with software companies, they give 50% off. Focusrite became the first company to also offer a hardware discount of 30% off to those members. Yes, if anyone’s interested in that. They can head over to the Able Artist Foundation and see about signing up.
Jonathan: Fantastic. Really appreciate it, and we look forward to having you on the podcast in the future when there are other things to talk about.
Dan: Thanks, Jonathan. Really appreciate it and looking forward to it.
Jonathan: We can make transcripts of Mosen At Large available thanks to the generous sponsorship of Pneuma Solutions. Pneuma Solutions, among other things are the RIM people. If you haven’t used Remote Incident Manager yet, you really want to give it a try. It is a fully accessible screen reader agnostic way to either get or provide remote assistance.
We all want to use accessible websites whenever possible, but there are sometimes where we just have to get something done on a website that’s not accessible. I try not to do it too often, but every so often, I’ll get in touch with one of my adult children and ask them if they have a couple of minutes to get me past a difficult accessibility problem on a website or even in a specific app.
For this, we use RIM. I like it because I don’t have to tab around looking for some sort of arbitrary code in a semi-accessible app. We can choose the keyword that is going to be used. I’m pleased to be a RIM user because Remote Incident Manager was designed by blind people with blind people in mind. That it has advantages over other remote access solutions that sighted people have been used to using but are nowhere near as accessible.
If you have a family member sometimes assisting you through a murky web situation, I’m sure you won’t regret switching to Remote Incident Manager to get the job done. To get the app for both you and those assisting you, just head over to getrim.app. That’s G-E-T-R-I-M.app.
Vocaster Hub update
Thanks to Dan Clarke not only for the encouraging discussion, but also for giving me an advanced copy of the Vocaster Hub update. This may not quite be the one that gets released, so there may be some slight variations but this is basically what you will get when you update your Vocaster Hub software. I’m in that software now on my Thinkpad where I have the Focusrite connected and the title is Vocaster Hub. When you open the app focus is placed on the first checkbox item in the host panel which determines whether you’re getting 48 volts power sent to the microphone inputs or not.
If you shift-tab from there, you’ve got the Settings button. If you heard that episode on Vocaster Hub, you’ll know what that Settings button contains. I’m pressing Tab and I should emphasize that at this point, I have no third-party scripts loaded at all. This is the default experience. There’s the checkbox and it says not checked and it also says, off. If you check this, you will get 48-volt phantom power sent to the microphone inputs. I’ll press Tab. This is the feature that Dan talked about in our discussion.
If you press this edit button, you’ll be able to make tweaks to the presets that you have selected. I’ll press the Spacebar to activate the Edit button and this will change the dialogue. The first thing that happens when we press the Edit button is that we jumped to the enhancement checkbox because for these changes to take effect, you do have to have the enhancements feature enabled.
If I press Tab again, we’re in a nice friendly combo box where you can determine which preset is selected. I really like the radio preset and since I did my own review of the Vocaster, I’ve heard other reviews in the mainstream that also think the radio one is really good. We can up and down arrow through the other choices.
Radio is at the top for me at the moment. It’s slightly verbose because it’s speaking things twice, but it’s better than not speaking them at all. I’ll keep the radio preset on and press the Tab key. We can close the Enhance Edit Button or we can keep going.
This adjusts the compressor and the fact that it’s 73 suggests that it’s quite compressed. Now, I have not been able to use home in page up or page down to make big adjustments. The only thing that appears to work is the arrow keys, so if I down-arrow. It goes down to 72. If I left-arrow, it’s going down to 71. I’ll hold down the arrow keys and just see how low we can go. We can take it all the way down to zero and presumably we can also if I hold the Up Arrow key down. Takes a while to get there, we can get all the way to 100. That will be super punchy and compressed, I imagine. I’ll press the Tab key.
Having set the compression, we can now do a little bit of equalization and it’s very simple to understand. You’ve got bass here, if we press Tab. The mid– They’ve actually taken a little bit of the mids away with this preset that’s interesting and a wee bit of a treble boost. This is accessible in two ways, actually. It’s accessible in the way that we often talk about accessibility on Mosen At Large and that a screen reader can engage with us effectively but it’s also accessible to those people who are not audio geeks, who want to understand what the settings are doing.
An audio geek wants to be able to get into the weeds and look at various DB levels, and also maybe a wider band equalizer, thresholds, gates, all those good things but for people who just want to tweak their sound, and who don’t necessarily have a background in audio engineering. This is quite a good way to go. If you read the manual, who would have thought? Read the manual, you will actually see all the details if you are an audio geek and you want to understand precisely what these compression levels and equalization levels are doing. I’ll press Tab. There’s low rumble reduction. I’m not clear why there are two of these, one is off and when is on.
Now, we are over on the guest setting, so I’m going to Shift-Tab. I can press the Spacebar. Focus is placed back where it was when I launched the app, and now I can Tab.
Will ignore the Edit button this time and this is what happens when you’re not on that Edit screen. We’re looking at the host options here. This is the volume control for the host mic level, you can adjust that with the physical control. I’ll press Tab. Mute. If we uncheck this checkbox, then we will turn the enhancement off and we won’t have any compression or equalization. I’ll press Tab.
This is the famous Auto Gain feature. Again, there’s a way of doing this in the hardware. Now we’re on to the guest feature. That demonstrates that I’m just tabbing around here, there is no need anymore to go into the touch cursor or in JAWS or anything like that. It is very accessible. I’m not aware of any hotkeys that allow you to jump between major sections.
For example, Host and Guest and the scripts that Brian Hartgen put together do facilitate this. I will have to check with Brian or Brian may be listening and he may wish to comment on whether now that the issues with tab have been resolved in the app, whether he may come up with an update to his free Vocaster Hub scripts that take away the workarounds for the lack of tabbing around but keep that feature where you can jump with hotkeys to various parts of the UI.
As you configure this and become more expert at it and use it every day, there is value in being able to jump to the section of the interface that you want to work with. Congratulations to Focusrite for releasing this. This is a significant accessibility update to Vocaster Hub, and the ability to make tweaks to the equalization and the compression is great. It’s kind of a cool introductory way for people who aren’t used to audio things to play with compression and equalization, and just listen in their headphones to the effects that it’s having.
Speaker: Be the first to know what’s coming in the next episode of Mosen At Large opt into the Mosen Media List and receive a brief email on what’s coming, so you can get your contribution in ahead of the show. You can stop receiving emails anytime. To join, send a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org That’s media-subscribe@M-O-S-E-N.org. Stay in the know with Mosen At Large.
DecTalk on iOS
Jonathan: You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one, someone else who’s a dreamer is Christopher Wright and he says, “Hi, Jonathan, we didn’t think eloquence would come to Apple systems yet it did. I wonder how feasible deck talk is. I recently discovered a version for sappy five and NVDA that sounds decent as it uses the older 4.3 version, and would love it as yet another choice. I’ll send this feedback to Apple and would encourage others to do so as well. On a related note, don’t you find it strange eloquence isn’t included on the Apple Watch or TV? I don’t use either of these platforms or that speech engine but I still requested that Apple add it because I’m in favor of more choice.
It’s sad it took them 10 years to get to this point. I’ve wanted this kind of variety in voices since I started using iOS back with iOS 5. If the sighted would get their animated emoji and other themes, I’m happy we finally get singing voices and a broader selection of options to choose from.” Wouldn’t it be even better, Christopher, if we could get the deck talk on the iPhone that can sing, imagine how much fun there would be as people send in their contributions to Mosen At Large with the latest song that they have their iPhone singing with deck talk. I don’t think that capability was ever in any of the software versions though.
Dragon Naturally Speaking and the Windows Start Menu
Imke: Hello, Jonathan and Mosen-At-Largers. This is Imke from Asheville, North Carolina in the United States. I wanted to respond to a question that came up maybe about two or three months ago regarding Windows and Dragon NaturallySpeaking. One of the Mosen-At-Largers out there asked about how to get to the shutdown dialog box when the Dragon Bar gets in the way or even to the search box in Windows. I have found that one more reliable method than pressing just the Windows key is to press Windows key X. For example, I’m going to press that here now. Now I’m in the Windows context menu after pressing Windows key X. If I move down through the menu, you can hear the choices.
Speaker: Add-in features F, Mobility Center B, Power Options O, Event Viewer V, System Y, Device Manager M, network connections W, Disk Management K, Computer Management G, Windows PowerShell I, Windows PowerShell left parenth and admin right parenth A, task manager T, settings N, File Explorer E, Search S, Run R, shut down or sign-out submenu U, Desktop D.
Imke: There you go. If you press U, you get to shut down and sign out. If you press S, you get to search. Then there are a number of the other options as you hopefully could hear. I just in testing and found that the S does not always reliably get me into the search box either but shut down, pressing U for sign out or shutdown seems to always work. I hope that helps the person that asked the question.
Jonathan: Here is Kay who was following up on a question that Scott asked in his contribution, which was so full of information. I completely forgot to answer it, so here we go. “Hi, Jonathan,” says Kay, “What Bluetooth transmitter do you use? Patti and I are in the market for one. Help, a man asked this question on the podcast and I don’t believe you answered his inquiry. Another great show.” Thank you, Kay and I shall castigate myself.
This is actually a transmitter and a receiver, which is pretty significant in this case. I picked this up from a very geeky little store that sells all sorts of componentry and bits and bobs here in New Zealand called Jaycar Electronics. It’s manufactured by a company called Digitech, D-I-G-I-T-E-C-H, and the model number is AA2104. Here’s the blurb about it. The Digitech Bluetooth receiver and transmitter is a two-in-one wireless audio adapter featuring the latest Bluetooth 4.1 Class 2 technology. It can operate either as a transmitter or as a receiver via the Tx/Rx select door switch on the side of the unit. It retains full digital quality.
The unit has an internal lithium battery and charges in around two hours for approximately 12 hours of send-and-receive time. It is tiny, 44 millimeters by 44 millimeters by 12 millimeters, and lightweight at 18 grabs so you can take it anywhere. When the receiver RX mode is selected, it allows you to send music or audio from your phone or another Bluetooth-enabled device to a Bluetooth-enabled amplifier-powered speaker or battery-powered, portable PC system.
When the transmitter TX mode is selected, it allows music or audio to be transmitted from a non-Bluetooth enabled device to Bluetooth-enabled devices such as Bluetooth headphones or amplifier/receivers. Perfect for transmitting the audio output from your TV to your Bluetooth-enabled headphones. That’s the end of the blurb. It’s a cool little gadget, tiny wee thing. Over the years, I’ve used it to get audio from Apple TVs and the Envision glasses, and the Apple Watch. As you heard on that episode 202, it does a stellar job of it.
The Bonnie Bulletin
It’s the festive season again and it’s time for an extremely festive Bonnie bulletin. Welcome.
Bonnie Mosen: Hey, guys.
Jonathan: How’s it going?
Jonathan: You’re feeling the spirit yet?
Bonnie: No. [laughs]
Jonathan: When will that happen?
Bonnie: I don’t know. It’s interesting, I’ve been having a conversation with a friend in the US who wants to come to New Zealand and Australia and do a study and I think she might be onto something. You know how a lot of people get sad around the holiday season. She’s wondering if there’s a correlation between it being winter in the northern hemisphere and being dark and cold and gloomy, and if it’s different here in the southern hemisphere.
Jonathan: No. It amazes me what people study when there are bleeding obvious answers. The reason-
Bonnie: Well, I don’t know because I’ve talked to a couple of people here that say that they think there might be something to it.
Jonathan: There’s nothing to it.
Bonnie: How do you know?
Jonathan: The reason why Christmas is such a difficult time for a lot of people is because of past memories. You’re missing loved ones that you were once with at Christmas, whether it be an ex-spouse or your parents who have passed on, or whatever. That’s the cause of the difficulties that people have at Christmas, and they’re just as common here as they are in the northern hemisphere.
Bonnie: I get sad around the holiday times, but it’s a little better here because it’s not cold. You’re going into the mall and they’re doing commercials for swimsuits.
Jonathan: Are they playing Christmas carols in the mall yet?
Bonnie: They were, the other day.
Bonnie: I think Santa Claus is coming next weekend, not this weekend, and then they’re going to have pets and get your pet’s picture set up. [chuckles]
Jonathan: We always have this discussion every year about when do we start playing Christmas tunes on Mushroom FM. I’ve just decided that we’ll-
Bonnie: December 20th. [chuckles]
Jonathan: -go with the consensus after Thanksgiving, which is a bit arbitrary because only America [crosstalk] Thanksgiving–
Bonnie: Well, that’s starting to change. I was reading yesterday where it’s becoming maybe a thing in Britain and now New Zeeland.
Jonathan: Black Friday has also become this massive thing all over the place and some of those Black Friday specials are not exactly legit.
Bonnie: No, they’re not.
Jonathan: You got to be careful.
Bonnie: They got to make money somehow. If they can start selling turkeys, roasts, and whatever on a certain Thursday, November, then how about it?
Jonathan: It is well-acknowledged that you are an influencer-
Bonnie: I don’t think so.
Jonathan: -and now that voting is open for the Mushroom FM holiday countdown and Christmas party, we will be rocking Mastodon with our Christmas party for the first time this year on Mastodon. What do you want to get to number one?
Bonnie: The River by Joni Mitchell.
Jonathan: That’s an interesting one.
Bonnie: I love that song.
Jonathan: I don’t think anyone’s ever voted that number one.
Bonnie: I’ve not voted number 1 but I have voted in the top 10.
Jonathan: You voted O Holy Night number 1 quite a few times.
Jonathan: Now you’re going for The River by Joni Mitchell.
Bonnie: Yes. It’s a great song. Barry Manilow also did a version of it.
Jonathan: You prefer the Joni version?
Bonnie: I think I do, yes. It comes up on my show. The first time I ever heard it was– I was watching figure skating and someone was doing their routine to it.
Jonathan: It comes up on your show.
Bonnie: Yes, it does.
Jonathan: It’s a Christmas song?
Bonnie: Yes, but it comes up on my show.
Jonathan: Oh, we need to take that out then. We don’t want to be playing Christmas stuff the rest of the year.
Bonnie: I don’t think it’s a complete Christmas song.
Bonnie: More like a winter song.
Jonathan: This is another debate that we have at this time of year. I remember when we first did-
Bonnie: Frosty the Snowman isn’t really a Christmas song.
Bonnie: Or Walking in a Winter Wonderland.
Jonathan: No, Let it snow, that’s another. Jingle Bells itself. Jingle Bells are so synonymous with Christmas, I guess, because of the sleigh thing and the fact that Santa has a sleigh, but Jingle Bells isn’t a Christmas song either.
Bonnie: I associate it more with Thanksgiving for some reason, because over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go.
Jonathan: Neither is that seemingly now controversial Baby it’s Cold Outside. That’s not a Christmas song.
Jonathan: Especially when it’s belting hot here in the summertime at Christmas time. It varies from country to country. I remember when we started the holiday countdown and a lot of the Brits that were working with us then said that you have to put Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s, The power of Love in there.
Jonathan: That’s not a Christmas song. A lot of it’s to do with when they came up because, of course, in the UK they have this huge tradition and interest in the Christmas number one. The Christmas number one is not always a Christmas song. Sometimes it is like Cliff Richard, Mistletoe and Wine. That’s a nice Christmas song.
Bonnie: I don’t like Marshmallow world, which–
Jonathan: That’s not a Christmas song either, is it?
Bonnie: Not really, but I think it gets played on our countdown.
Jonathan: Yes, I know it does. [laughs]
Bonnie: It’s a good song.
Jonathan: Sometimes you just got to give up fighting.
Bonnie: Maybe it’s between The river and Marshmallow. The river, she says it’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, but it could be November when they’re doing that. They’re talking about Reindeer, joy, and love, and peace, so it’s getting Christmas time but not necessarily a Christmas song.
Jonathan: We’re having a small family gathering for Christmas and we’ve got our turducken, and we have Mushroom FM to thank for the turducken because I’ve never heard of it until people started talking about turducken on The Mosen Explosion on Mushroom FM. I thought, “If we can get a hold of it, I have to try it,” and now it’s become a tradition. Anthony is absolutely raving about the turducken.
Bonnie: I know. He can’t wait. He’s telling people about it.
Jonathan: [laughs]. It’s a really nice Christmas piece.
Bonnie: I was listening to an interview with a turkey this morning. They were doing this funny interview with Tom Turkey. It was hilarious. Asking him about the turducken and he was like, “Yes, you take a–,” Had this “New Yorkie” accent. He goes, “Yes, you take a turkey and you stuff it in the duck.” We said, “Why don’t we just get a quail and stuff it in there too?”
Jonathan: Now, we should follow up on the whole discussion which was very interesting about the hotel and whether people would go back or whether they would not. We’ve actually found another hotel.
Bonnie: We hope.
Jonathan: Thanks to Amanda. That is just as good. It’s got grass for the dog and so far, they haven’t refused us because we’ve not been there yet.
Bonnie: Not been there, yes.
Jonathan: [laughs] We’re going to go there. That resolves the problem.
Bonnie: Hopefully, they’ll have room.
Jonathan: I’m very happy about that because the next time we go up it will be to see the grandchild. It should be a joyous occasion and we do not want it dampened by argy-bargy relating to the dog.
Bonnie: Of course, because we’re going at a short notice. We may have issues because it is the summertime. We have to be prepared for that.
Jonathan: We’ll try. We can’t book in advance-
Jonathan: -because we don’t know when “no man knoweth the hour.”
Bonnie: I think it’s going to be Christmas.
Jonathan: It’s possible.
Bonnie: I think it’s either going to be Christmas or New Year.
Jonathan: If we’re in the middle of our New Year’s festivities on Mushroom FM and the baby starts to show signs of arriving. Obviously, we’ll have to stop in mid-flight. Next weekend, we are heading off to the Billy Joel concert. This is exciting. He’s here for one night only at Eden Park in Auckland. We’re flying up to Auckland for the Billy Joel concert. We’re taking Heidi with us. One of the things that really frustrates me– I had to try and get over it because this is the price you pay. You pay a massive financial price for seeing these big stars.
One of the other prices you pay for seeing these aging rockers is that they start singing things in a different key from that in which it was originally recorded and it really bugs me. Some of them are dramatically different though it’s not just lowering it by a semitone or something a bit subtle. Some of the keys are radically different with some of these artists, and I always nudge you and say, “This is not in the right key.” It irritates me. Anyway, he’s been performing a long time. He hasn’t had a studio album since 1993.
Bonnie: Wow. That’s a long time.
Jonathan: Yes, and he’s still doing all right-
Bonnie: Yes, I’m sure.
Jonathan: -with stuff that-
Bonnie: Probably doing more.
Jonathan: -he lasted 30, 40 years ago, remarkable. You’re looking forward to that?
Bonnie: Yes, it’s going to be cool.
Jonathan: What’s your favorite Billy Joel song?
Bonnie: Oh, I don’t know. I’m not sure that I really have a favorite. I like a lot of them.
Jonathan: There are so many good Billy Joel songs.
Bonnie: I don’t know that I really have a favorite.
Jonathan: This will be my fourth time seeing Billy Joel. I’ve seen him once with Elton John, and now coming up to three times on his own.
Bonnie: Everybody has seen him with Elton John.
Jonathan: Did you?
Bonnie: A lot of people seen him.
Jonathan: That was a fantastic concept.
Bonnie: Rocket Man meets-
Jonathan: That was fantastic.
Bonnie: –Piano Man. I guess he’ll do Piano Man.
Jonathan: Oh, yes. That will probably be the last song is kind of the big piece that people are waiting for.
Bonnie: Only the Good Die Young.
Jonathan: Yes, that’s a good one, tremendous.
Bonnie: New York State of Mind that’s a good one.
Jonathan: Oh, you’re hoping he sings that one?
Bonnie: Yes, I like that song.
Jonathan: He wrote that one for Ray Charles.
Bonnie: Yes, I can see that.
Jonathan: He couldn’t get hold of him. When they were all recording, We Are the World back in 1985, he finally got to meet Ray Charles. Billy Joel said, “I wrote a song called New York’s State of Mind for you, but I couldn’t reach you to give it to you so that you know about it.” Ray Charles said, “Oh, if you ever write another song that you think we could do, let me know. I’ll give you my phone number.” Apparently, Billy Joel was going around going, “Wow, I’ve got Ray Charles’ phone number.”
Bonnie: Did he write another one?
Jonathan: Then they did Baby Grand on the bridge.
Bonnie: Oh, cool.
Jonathan: As a result of that meeting at the We Are the World Sessions.
Bonnie: A Matter of Trust is a good song, Modern Woman is–
Jonathan: Yes, of course, that Modern Woman is now probably elderly because that song came out nearly 40 years ago. Tremendous, this is what happens to us all.
Bonnie: Not Her Style that’s a good one.
Jonathan: There you go. I’m sure it’ll be a great concert assuming the weather behaves because that’s one of the risks you take when you fly and you book accommodation for an outdoor concert. The weather has been really dodgy here lately.
Bonnie: Outgone too.
Jonathan: Everybody’s getting ready for the sprint to the finish line. The thing that I really like– I was listening to a podcast that I really enjoy very much called Think Again with Adam Grant, who’s a clinical psychologist. They’ve just done one on the four-day work week actually. They were talking about how countries like New Zealand and many European countries as well really enforce this taking a long break over the summer so that you can recharge. Of course, this is quite separate from the four-day week discussion.
It’s interesting how that really has not taken off in America. Some of the Americans on the panel were talking about how people are just so burned out, because they never get a proper chance to recharge. This podcast, my work, I’m taking a complete break from everything for a month from the 21st of December actually until about the 24th of January. I won’t do much at all. The New Year’s thing– I’ll do the New Year’s thing for Mushroom FM, but other than that no deeds to do, no promises to keep.
Bonnie: I’m going back on the 9th.
Jonathan: That’s a nice long break.
Bonnie: Yes, but that’s when we reopen because it’s great. We get that a lot of people get that time off, but you do have to take leave. I think some people think that it’s automatically given to you and it’s not.
Jonathan: It is. You’re given four weeks by law.
Bonnie: By law.
Jonathan: The minimum that you have in this country is four weeks annually.
Bonnie: Yes, but if your organization, which a lot of them do shut down over Christmas, New Year, you have to take some of that leave.
Jonathan: Yes, absolutely.
Bonnie: Some people–
Jonathan: That’s what makes it work.
Bonnie: Under ordinary circumstances, I wouldn’t take– Depending on what I’m doing. Usually, I went home at Christmas when I was working in New Jersey and Boston, but I probably wouldn’t take four weeks off at that time of year. I’d want to take it when I wanted to take it.
Jonathan: Right. Four weeks is the statutory minimum. As the labor market has become hotter, you can get all sorts of incentives. Many people go beyond the four weeks minimum, so you can still take the four weeks if you want, and you’ve got a little bit up your sleeve. What a lot of people do is they combine their leave with public holidays sensibly so that they can actually get a lot of time off that way.
Bonnie: I think I did that last Easter. My organization is four-day workweek, so it’s pretty nice. I know the feds– I don’t know if they’re still doing it, but the federal government used to do a lot of that where you could work four days. You had to work more hours, but you could do four-day workweek. You can be off Friday or Monday. The state government did it too. You could do flexi hours because I know when I started in state government, I worked from [7:00] to [3:00] and that was great.
Jonathan: Flexible hours is a big thing. I think we’re starting to get a little bit more thoughtful about how we measure effectiveness because just because you require somebody to sit behind a desk for a set number of hours a week, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being productive. What matters most is actually what you output, not how long it takes you. That’s really good.
Bonnie: I’ve known people that have worked in other countries. I won’t name the country but was an American working in that country that worked typically very long workdays. He said half the day they goofed off, and the other half they were productive. What’s the point?
Jonathan: Yes, it’s good that we’re rethinking work and the degree to which it identifies us and controls our life. It’s good to have that balance. I wish you luck with getting the River by Joni Mitchell in a good position on the countdown. Of course, people can vote by going to mushroomfm.com/countdown2022.
I’d love to hear from you, so if you have any comments you want to contribute to the show, drop me an email written down or with an audio attachment to jonathan, J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com. If you’d rather call in, use the listener line number in the United States 864-606-6736.
[01:58:37] [END OF AUDIO]