Archive for April, 2008

Tek talk Presentation about Playing Chess as a Blind Person

April 22, 2008

On Monday April 21, I did a Tek Talk presentation about playing chess as a blind person along with Alan Dicey, president of the U.S. Braille Chess Association. The presentation went well, and we were pleased to have the chance to let people know that blindness doesn’t have to be a barrier to playing this great game. If you’re interested, you can download the MP3 file from the Tek Talk archives.


Icon and Icon Braille+ now Play NLS Books and Serotek Content; Audible Support Imminent

April 4, 2008

LevelStar and APH released an update to the Icon and Icon Braille+ earlier this week that includes a variety of useful new features. The ones related to playing books and music include the following:

  • If you are a patron of one of the National Library Service regional libraries in the U.S. and have a high-speed Internet connection, you can now authorize these players to play NLS books. The process is similar to that used for registering the Victor Reader Stream, as described in A Pocketful of Sound, except that you don’t have to enter your unit’s serial number on a website or manually download an authorization key and copy it to your Icon or Braille+. Instead, you use the Check for Updates feature to download and install the key once it’s available. You can download and unzip NLS books using your unit’s web browser and bookshelf features, and you can use all DAISY navigation levels provided in the book, move by various time increments, and set bookmarks.
  • If you are a System Access Mobile Network subscriber, you can download most content on that network, including described movies, to your Icon or Braille+, just as you can with a victor Reader Stream. See my previous post for more information.
  • The Icon and Braille+should be able to play books from within a few weeks.
  • The music player can play FLAC files.
  • In addition to browsing and sorting tracks in the music player based on their ID3 tags, you can now view them using the file structure you created when copying music to the Icon. This should make it easier to find files with bad or nonexistent tags.
  • You can speed up any audio on the Icon or Braille+, but you can’t slow it below normal speed.

Updating to version 1.1 is a three-step process that includes registering your unit with either LevelStar or APH, depending on the unit. Registering is important if you want to play protected formats such as NLS books.

SA Mobile Network Content Plays on victor Reader Stream

April 3, 2008

If you subscribe to Serotek’s System Access Mobile Network, you can play almost any content from that network on a Victor reader Stream running version 1.2. This includes described movies, radio shows, podcasts, e-mail messages, blog posts, and more. All you need is a PC running System Access – either installed on the PC or via a thumb drive – or the web-based SA To Go screen reader. Step-by-step instructions and audio demonstrations are available.

One particularly refreshing aspect of this service is that though your Stream must be authorized to play the protected content on the SA Mobile Network, you don’t have to do anything to authorize it. Authorization is handled completely automatically, so that the only indication you have that it’s happening is an occasional “Book key processed” message. If your Stream isn’t running version 1.2 when you attempt to use it with the SA Mobile Network for the first time, the network updates it automatically as well. It is wonderful to have these usually tedious processes handled so gracefully. Serotek is to be congratulated.

Version 1.2 of the Stream includes some other nice features as well.

  • Transfer time is significantly faster than in earlier versions, so that while a card reader is still faster, it is no longer required when transferring large files.
  • Speaker volume has been boosted. While it’s not loud enough to be useful in a noisy environment, you can listen to books or music without headphones in many more situations than was possible before.
  • You can adjust the bass and treble of music files. While the adjustment is slight, it can make a difference in the sound of your music.
  • More text-to-speech voices and languages are available. If you want to switch among the English voices, you have to run the update that uses the language you want. If you have a non-English voice on your Stream, however, you can switch between it and the English voice by holding down key 7 for several seconds.

In short, this is a particularly useful Stream update.

New Players Similar to zen Stone Add Nice features

April 3, 2008

The zen Stone is still out there, and its price has been reduced to 34.99 on the Creative website. However, Creative has also released two new players without screens that have the accessibility of the Zen Stone plus some nice new features.

One is the zen Stone with Speaker 2 GB. As far as I can tell, this player is exactly like the Zen Stone except that it has 2 GB of memory and a built-in speaker. I have not seen one, so I don’t know what the sound quality of the speaker is like. It costs $49.99.

The other is the MuVo T100. This player has 4 GB of storage; plays Audible formats 2, 3, and 4; has a one-touch bass boost; and connects directly to a USB port without the need for a cable. The only drawback of this player, as reported by a T100 user on the Blind iPod mailing list, is that it apparently doesn’t move between sections in Audible books correctly. It costs $69.99.

Creative has produced other inexpensive MP3 players, but these include screens and extra features such as voice recorders and stopwatches. Based on what I’ve heard about Creative players with screens in the past, it is likely that the basic features of these players are reasonably easy to use, but that the more complex features require memorizing menus or are difficult to access wihtout sight. If you want a fully accessible player, therefore, be sure no screen is mentioned in the description of the player you’re considering.

I think it’s interesting that both Creative and Apple have produced players with larger memories and no screens. Presumably the hardiness and small size of these players make them appealing to sighted users. I hope this type of player continues to be popular for a long time.

iPod Shuffle News

April 3, 2008

Apple has reduced the cost of the second generation 1 GB iPod Shuffle reviewed in A Pocketful of Sound to $49. The company has also released a 2 GB version of the Shuffle, which costs $69. As far as I know, the two types of Shuffle are identical except for the amount of storage.

A Pocketful of Sound Released

April 3, 2008

My new book, A Pocketful of Sound: A Quick-Start and Buyer’s Guide to Accessible Book and music Players, was released yesterday. A lot has happened since I turned in the book for publication, so I’ll be posting frequently over the next few days to share what’s been going on. If you like listening to books and music on a portable player, these are exciting times!