Archive for the ‘A Pocketful of Sound’ Category

Useful BookSense Information

September 25, 2009

Since its release in early July, interest in GW Micro’s BookSense portable book and music player has been high in the blind community. Upon release, GW Micro released a comprehensive demonstration of the BookSense. Since then, several useful reviews have been produced.

Robert Carter demonstrates the BookSense, Victor Reader Stream, Braille Plus, Icon, Plextalk Pocket, and NLS player in the context of playing books from the National Library Service in a podcast he produced for Accessible Devices. Even if you have no interest in NLS, hearing basic features of so many players demonstrated back to back is useful. Features he demonstrates include loading a book, navigating by first and second level headings, and changing the playback speed.

Today the latest issue of Infotech was released. Infotech is an audio magazine providing detailed information and reviews concerning a wide variety of products. The September issue includes a two-hour demonstration of the BookSense. An annual subscription costs £30 or $70. You can also purchase an individual issue for £5; I’m not sure what the U.S. cost is.

With so many portable media players to choose from, both mainstream and specialist, it’s wonderful to have detailed information so as to make informed choices about which player to purchase. Thanks to everyone who has reviewed the BookSense.

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iPod Shuffle Podcast

September 25, 2009

I recently produced a podcast demonstrating the third generation iPod Shuffle. It shows you how to do the following:

  • Operate all functions on the Shuffle.
  • Configure iTunes when you connect the Shuffle to a computer for the first time.
  • Sync music manually via cut and paste and Autofill.
  • Sync music and podcasts automatically.

The podcast was created on a Mac, but I provide Windows commands as well, so users of either operating system should find useful information here. If you use a larger iPod, the information on putting music and podcasts on the Shuffle is relevant. Though a new version of iTunes has come out since I recorded this podcast, most of the information is still accurate. The main difference is that if you use Windows and you press TAB while your iPod is connected and focus doesn’t move to the right place, try F6; that should work. Enjoy.

RFB&D Individual Membership and Player Authorizations now Free

September 25, 2009

Thanks to the Department of Education and other funders, individual membership to Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic is now free to people with print disabilities. In addition, members can now register flash-based DAISY players such as the Victor Reader Stream and Plextalk Pocket online and for free. This sure beats the days of paying $20 and waiting for a CD containing registration information to arrive in the mail. CD-based DAISY players must still be sent to RFB&D to have authorization keys installed unless those players were purchased directly from RFB&D.

I tried to find out whether free membership applies only to people in the United States, but received no answer to my inquiry from RFB&d.

Cut and paste now Reorders iTunes Playlists

May 31, 2009

Apple has recently added the ability to change the order of tracks in an iTunes playlist using cut and paste. This works with any screen reader. Simply cut the track you want to move with CTRL+X and paste it where you want with CTRL+V. I’m delighted this feature has been implemented; I just wish Apple documented such improvements so people could start using them right away when they are introduced.

Accessible iPod Book now Available

May 29, 2009

I recently wrote a book about the new talking iPods for National Braille Press called Using the Accessible iPod, and it is now available in multiple formats. This book tells you how to get started with iTunes, and how to use every accessible feature on the fourth generation iPod Nano and any iPod Shuffle. There is a frequently asked questions section, as well as a section on how your iPod and iTunes organize music and how to fix tagging errors that make it hard to find the music you want. And a resources section at the back includes all websites mentioned in the book, plus sources for additional information. It costs US$15. Enjoy!

NLS Launches Permanent Digital Book Download Site

May 5, 2009

On April 28, the U.S. National Library Service ended its digital downloads pilot program, and on April 30, it launched its new Braille and Audio Reading Download service (BARD for short. If you used the pilot site, the new site will look familiar. The list of recently added books, the keyword search, the lists that let you browse by author, title or subject, and the Magazines and Account Settings links are all there. Browsing through recently added books and keyword search results works as it did before, as does downloading books. One addition is the Most Popular Books list, which displays the books most frequently downloaded in the past 90 days. Another change is that there is no longer a limit on how many books you can download.

It’s great to see this service move into high gear. What a wonderful week for people who like to download audiobooks.

RFB&D Offers All Books as DAISY Downloads

May 5, 2009

Last week, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic began offering all their books for download in DAISY format. To download a book, order it as you always have, but choose the AudioPlus Download format and check out. If the book is available, you can download it immediately from the Downloads section of your account if you have installed RFB&D’s Download Manager. (Download Manager is easy to install.) If the book is not available, you will receive an e-mail notifying you when it is. Currently, many books are not immediately available because the service is new, but this should be less of an issue as time goes on.

I tried the service a couple of days ago, and it worked very well. My book was not immediately available, but it was posted the next day. Downloading was straightforward; the Download Manager handled the downloading and unpacking of the book files. The zipped versions go in a folder in your Documents or My Documents folder called RFBD Downloads, and the unpacked versions go in RFBD Media Files. The book is in a folder whose name is the shelf number of the book. To put the book on a Victor Reader Stream or similar player, use Windows Explorer’s Copy and Paste commands. You can also listen on your computer or burn the book to CD to read with a CD-based DAISY player.

If you download a book and it doesn’t play correctly, you can download it again. I had to do this with my book, and redownloading solved the problem.

RFB&D made another nice change as well. You don’t have to type in your PIN number when you open RFB&D booksorderd on CD or downloaded after April 27. This makes playing books easier, particularly if you need to switch frequently between books.

It’s exciting to have RFB&D’s collection available as downloadable DAISY books. This will be a great help to students all over the U.S.

Stream and Stream Companion Updates Released

May 1, 2009

At the end of March, HumanWare released updates for the Victor Reader Stream and the Stream Companion transfer software. New features of the Victor Stream include:

  • Search capability within text, BRF, and DAISY text files.
  • The ability to organize podcasts, music, audiobooks, and text files into folders and to navigate by file or by several levels of folders. This makes it easier to organize large SD cards.
  • The ability to make any folder a temporary playlist so that you can play all the music on a particular album, by a particular artist, or of a particular genre, depending on how you organize your music. When you select a folder as a temporary playlist, all subfolders are included. You can shuffle temporary playlists if you like.
  • The ability to create a text label for an SD card. The text label is spoken when you insert the card into your Stream to make it easy to identify.

The new version of Stream Companion, which has been renamed HumanWare Companion because it also works with the ClassMate Reader (basically a Victor Reader Stream with a screen), is easier to use than its predicessor. You can choose the part of the program you want (Talking Books, Notes, etc.) with hotkeys or from a menu rather than having to move between them with CTRL+TAB, you can append music to a previously created playlist, and you can find out how much space is available on your player at any time by reading the status line.

You can visit the documentation page to read release notes for the Stream software or HumanWare Companion, download tutorials, or try a new option called Stream Audio Clips, which are short MP3 files, each of which explains a particular Stream feature. I’m glad to see HumanWare continuing to create great training materials as well as excellent Stream updates.

First Impressions of Talking Third generation iPod Shuffle

March 30, 2009

Apple released the third generation of its iPod Shuffle a couple of weeks ago. It’s smaller than the previous versions, and it talks. I’ve had a chance to experiment a bit with it; here’s what I’ve learned so far:

This Shuffle is tiny. It’s about the size of half a stick of gum, but a little thicker. Like the second generation Shuffle, it has a clip on the back, so you can attach it easily to anything you like. Unfortunately, this tiny size was achieved by moving most of the controls to three buttons on the headphones — the top and bottom buttons, which are Volume Up and Volume Down, and the center button, which is used for almost everything else. This is nice in some ways; the controls are within easy reach regardless of where you have clipped the Shuffle. As a result, however, you need an adapter to use it with other headphones or external speakers. As far as I can tell, no such adapter has been produced yet, though at least one is in the works. Another drawback to the controls is that the middle button has about seven different functions, depending on how many times you click it, and whether you hold it down afterward:

  • Click once to start or pause playback.
  • Hold for one second to speak the title and artist of the current track.
  • Hold until you hear a tone to go to a list of all the playlists on the Shuffle; you can then either wait to hear the name of the playlist you want or move through the list of playlists with Volume Up and Volume Down, and then click the center button to choose the playlist you want.
  • Click twice to go to the next track.
  • Click twice and hold to fast forward within the current track.
  • Click three times to go to the beginning of the current track or the previous track, depending how far into the track you are.
  • Click three times and hold to rewind within the current track.

I think having a couple of additional controls or finding a way to use Volume Up and Volume Down for the rewind and fast forward and previous and next track functions would have been preferable. Perhaps when adapters start coming out, they will include better controls.

I like a lot of this Shuffle’s features, however.

  • It holds 4 GB, so you can put an impressive amount of music or audiobooks onto it.
  • Not only can you select a playlist, but you can choose to repeat or shuffle everything in your iPod or just a particular playlist. You can’t turn Repeat off, but you can control what is repeated.
  • As with the larger iPods, you can manage your music manually, or you can sync your whole library if it’s small enough, or selected playlists if it isn’t. You can sync podcasts too, and your podcast settings are independent of your music settings.
  • Autofill is available if you manage your iPod manually, and this feature is also now available on the larger iPods.
  • The Shuffle plays Audible Enhanced, Audible’s new stereo format. This despite the fact that neither the Shuffle documentation nor Audible’s information about the new format mentions that capability.
  • The Shuffle lets you move between sections in Audible books, and unlike the Nano, it locates the sections perfectly regardless of the Audible format, rather than being off by a few seconds.
  • You can find out the battery status at any time by turning the Shuffle off and then quickly back on.
  • As mentioned earlier, you can hear the title and artist of the currently playing track at any time and can select any playlist you choose. The voice is fine;  I think it’s the same Samantha voice used on the Victor Reader Stream. If you use a Mac, you’ll hear a different voice; I believe its name is Alex.
  • Installing the voice kit is a matter of following completely accessible onscreen instructions and takes very little time. You don’t have to search for a voice or configure anything in Control Panel. You don’t have to worry about setting the language on the iPod either; all language settings are controlled from within iTunes. So it’s easier to get started with the Shuffle than with the Nano.

The Shuffle has some disadvantages besides the control issues mentioned earlier. Podcasts are considered a single playlist, so finding the one you want can be tricky. The only way to get an album treated as an album is to create a playlist containing all the tracks on the album, so if you want to access separate albums, you’ll have to create more playlists than you would with the larger iPods. Still, overall it’s a great product, especially given its $80 price.

BrailleNote and VoiceNote Work with New Bookshare Site

March 28, 2009

HumanWare recently released an update that allows the BrailleNote and VoiceNote to access Bookshare.org’s new site. This update is free to all KeySoft 7.5 users. You can read about the update and obtain installation instructions here.

Blind iPod Mailing List Name Changed to Portable Player

March 28, 2009

Since any portable media player may be discussed, not just iPods, the name of the Blind iPod e-mail list has been changed to Portable Player. In the past few months, this list has been particularly helpful to new users of talking iPods, but the Victor Reader Stream, sites for downloading music, and many other topics are discussed. You can read about the list and subscribe here.

Audible adds new Stereo Format

March 5, 2009

audible has just released a new format called Audible Enhanced Audio. It is stereo, it’s AAC-based, and it sounds great. (It takes up 28.8 MB per hour, so you do need to have quite a bit of room available if you plan to upgrade a lot of books to the new format.) It plays on third and fourth generation iPod Nanos and 6th generation iPod Classics, as well as the iPhone, iPod Touch, Microsoft Zune, and a few other players.

To play Audible Enhanced Audio, you need to download a new version of Audible Download Manager. If you use an iPod, follow the first link titled Selected on the software page I just referenced. Audible download Manager lets you choose whether to send your downloads to Audible Manager, iTunes, Windows Media Player, or any combination thereof. Download and install the software.

When you choose a book to download, it may not be available in Audible Enhanced format yet. About 11,000 books are currently available, and Audible hopes to add most of the rest of its titles by the end of the year.

The first time you try to download an Audible Enhanced title, you are prompted to upgrade Audible Manager. Follow the prompts to do this. Then download your book and load it into your iPod.

While this format probably won’t make that much difference for books read by a single narrator, it makes listening to dramas much more fun. I just tried it with the BBC dramatization of The Two Towers, and it sounds fantastic. Well done, Audible!

Icon and Braille Plus Now Work with Bookshare

February 9, 2009

Last friday, LevelStar released an upgrade for the Icon and Braille Plus — version 2.0 — which includes support for the new Bookshare site. Bookshare support is the same as it was before the bookshare update, except that you can’t search by category, but you can search recently added books to find out what’s new. LevelStar hopes to add category search to a later release.

This release includes other useful features, including a radio tuner for easily selecting among Shoutcast Internet radio stations, an interface to simplify working with Twitter, and a revised calendar and address book designed to synchronize more effectively with outlook. If you have an Icon or a Braille Plus, you can use its check for Updates feature to download and install the new release, which includes a What’s New document and a revised manual.

Bookshare Launches New Site

January 30, 2009

After a year’s worth of preparation, Bookshare.org has launched a new version of its website. The new site has some great new features:

  • Headings make the site easier to navigate.
  • The “Skip to main content” links are more reliable than in the past.
  • The site can remember your login information for up to two weeks and log you in automatically.
  • When viewing a list of search results, you can choose between a table, which lets you move through results quickly, or a list view, which shows each book’s synopsis for more detailed browsing.
  • Low vision users can easily change the size of print on the site.
  • If you download BRF (braille) files, you can choose the line length and grade of braille you want.
  • You no longer need a proprietary unpack program to unzip books you download from Bookshare; any program that can handle password-protected zip files will do.
  • You can view a list of all the books you have downloaded from Bookshare. Mine goes back to when the site first launched, but some people’s lists only go back to 2005 or so.
  • Every book page includes a link you can use to report quality problems with the book. Textbooks get highest priority, but the Bookshare staff is committed to improving the quality of the entire collection.
  • There is a new version of Victor Reader Soft — a self-voicing program that reads Bookshare books on your PC and is designed for blind and low vision users — as well as a program called READ:OutLoud that is designed to be particularly useful to people with learning disabilities. Acapela voices that work with these programs are available free. A version of Victor Reader Soft that will run on the Mac is promised in the near future.

Some features benefit volunteers submitting and proofreading books. for instance, if you enter a book’s ISBN when submitting a book, Bookshare looks it up and attempts to fill in other book information automatically, such as the title, author, and synopsis. It didn’t work on the book I tried, which surprised me because it is a Caldecott Honor Book. When it does work, though, it will save volunteers a lot of time. When you submit a book, it is quickly checked for spelling, and the number and percentage of words not in Bookshare’s spelling dictionary are reported to help you judge scan quality.

Bookshare has hired a librarian. One of her responsibilities will be to categorize the books more precisely, to make them easier to find. There will be several main categories, each containing subcategories, to help readers find the books they want.

Kurzweil 1000 released a patch right away when the site was launched, enabling users to search Bookshare and download and open books just as they have for years. this patch is available for previous versions of Kurzweil, not just version 11. Choose Search for Updates from the Online menu to download and install the patch. If you install it, but Kurzweil doesn’t search bookshare when you conduct an online book search, Go to the Bookshare site, choose the Log Out link, and don’t use the Remember Me feature; automatic login breaks Kurzweil’s online search tool.

The zip program built into the PAC Mate can’t unzip password-protected files, but you can download several free and accessible programs that can. One of these is Total Commander; Freedom scientific has posted detailed directions for downloading, installing, and using this software.

LevelStar has stated that an update that will allow the Icon and Icon Braille Plus to search and unpack Bookshare content from the new site will be available very soon, and HumanWare has stated that support for Bookshare on the BrailleNote will be available in Keysoft version 8, which the company plans to release in March. If you use one of these products, you have two options until the update is released: You can download and unzip books on a PC and transfer the unzipped versions to your device; or, you can download in the usual way from a pre-release version of the Bookshare site. New books aren’t being added to this site, but you can use it to download any books that were available prior to the launch of the new site.

The first time you log into the new Bookshare site, you are asked for your birth date (required information for some of Bookshare’s grants) as well as several questions about the assistive technology you use. Your answers are used to set up a Preferences section in your user account, but you can change those preferences at any time. The set-up process also takes you to pages providing detailed information about the new site.

Bookshare conducted two webinars on Accessible World, explaining the features of the new site. Both include many questions and answers, and much useful information. The January 20 webinar focuses on searching for and downloading books, while the January 28 presentation focuses more on the process of volunteering for bookshare.

It’s always a bit of an adjustment when a long-established site makes major changes, especially if you use hardware or software that is programmed to deal with the site the way it was before. The changes Bookshare has made are worth the difficulties, however, and it sounds as though the organization will become even better over the next few months and years.

HumanWare Creates Resource Page for Podcasts and Downloadable Books and music

January 29, 2009

In an effort to help Victor Reader Stream users find content for their players, Humanware has established a comprehensive web page that links to a wealth of sources for accessible eBooks, DAISY books, audiobooks on cD and for download, old time radio, and podcasts. While this page is great for Stream users, it benefits anyone who likes to read or listen to books, music, drama, and information on a computer or any portable device. If you’re new to online books and audio, this is a great place to start, and if you’re more experienced, you are still likely to find new resources here. Thanks, HumanWare, for putting together such a useful site.