Archive for the ‘Finding eBooks on the Internet’ 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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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.

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.

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.

New Website for Main Menu

October 1, 2008

Main Menu, the blindness technology show on ACB Radio, has a new website that includes all shows from September 10, 2008, on. the site also includes announcements, information about the people running Main Menu, information on submitting content for possible airing on Main Menu, and more. download older shows here. The URL for subscribing to Main Menu as a podcast has not changed.

New developments in Reading Commercial eBooks

September 17, 2008

The past few months have been eventful in terms of access to commercial eBooks, and most of the changes are positive.

Secure Adobe eBooks Don’t Work

I’ll get the bad news out of the way first. Secure PDF eBooks — some of which were accessible using Adobe Reader 7 and earlier versions — are completely unusable by a blind person using Adobe Reader 8 or 9. IF you have one of the later versions of Adobe Reader, you must read secure pDF eBooks using a program called Digital Editions. For sighted users, this program has nice features, such as the ability to transfer secure eBooks to more computers than before, including mobile devices. However, no portion of Digital Editions talks, not even the installation or registration dialog boxes. Even using a screen reader’s mouse cursor, I can’t read anything — no menus, no buttons, no dialogs, and no text of a secure eBook. I tried the betas of JAWS 10 and Window-Eyes 7 to no avail. I sent a message to access at adobe.com to see whether anyone had any suggestions, but my message bounced twice. Customer service was particularly unhelpful, giving me inaccessible links to pages with videos describing how to open a web case to ask for help. I finally opened a web case, to no avail. So though Accessibility is the first link on the Adobe site, I am forced to conclude that for now, at least, accessibility is a low priority with Adobe.

MP3 Books available from OverDrive

Fortunately, there is excellent news on other fronts. OverDrive has started offering some of its audible eBooks as MP3 files. These are the books you can download from many public library systems. In the past, all OverDrive audiobooks were in protected WMA format, which limited the number of players the books would work with. Books in MP3 format, on the other hand, work with virtually all portable MP3 players. As with WMA eBooks, you can only play these audiobooks on your PC during the lending period — which is typically two or three weeks — and you must agree to delete copies on a portable player after the lending period is over.

Unfortunately, not all libraries using OverDrive offer MP3 books. To find out whether yours does, visit the main page for audiobooks and search for “mp3” using your screen reader’s Find command. You can also examine the combo box where you choose a book format to see whether MP3 is one of the options.

Since I live in a state that offers MP3 eBooks, I tried out the service today. I was able to transfer a six-part book to my Victor Stream with no problems. To do this, create a folder within the $VROtherBooks folder on your Stream, and choose to transfer the book to that folder. You make this choice in OverDrive Media Console (the software used to download OverDrive books, burn them to CD, and transfer them to portable devices). On the screen where you choose which parts to transfer, press the advanced button; you will be on a screen where you can choose the folder you want to use. The great thing about reading an OverDrive book on the Victor Stream is that your place is saved even if you listen to other files. And since all the files are treated as part of one audiobook, assuming you put them in one folder within $VROtherBooks, you don’t have to remember which part you were listening to; you simply select the book and resume where you were last reading.

PAC Mate’s Reader Mode Increases Accessibility of EReader, PDF, and other Formats

Another great development in eBook accessibility is Reader Mode in version 6.1 of the PAC Mate. Reader Mode lets you read using typical word processor commands in document-reading programs where you would ordinarily need to use the JAWS cursor, such as EReader and PDF Reader Mobile by Orneta. In the past, if you wanted to use such a program, you had to switch to the JAWS cursor, read a page, give the command to go to the next page (which often involved switching to the PC cursor, giving the command, and returning to the JAWS cursor), and moving to the top of the screen in order to read it. Using Reader Mode, you still have to give a command to switch pages, but one of the options for Reader Mode is “On with auto top of screen.” When this feature works well, as it does with both programs I mentioned, you read a screen, give the command to go to the next one, read that screen, etc., making reading much easier than before. Here are details of using Reader Mode with the PAC Mate Omni BX and QX. You must be running version 6.1 to use this mode.

EReader allows you to read books in protected and unprotected Palm format. A wide selection is available on both the EReader website and at Fictionwise. Click the EReader pro link and choose the version for “Windows Mobile Smartphone and PocketPC 2003 or Later.” The download is a zip file that includes the EReader software, a program for installing eBooks on your PAC Mate, and a Readme file. Be sure to read the Readme, as it walks you through the installation process in detail.

Once the program and at least one book are installed, open EReader and select a book. It’s best to install only one book to start with because the initial dialog where you select a book doesn’t speak well. If the book is in a secure format, you will need to unlock it with your name and the credit card number you used to purchase it. The dialog for doing this is very accessible. Then the book opens, and you can start reading. The next time you open EReader, you will automatically be focused on the page you were reading when you closed it. There are also menu commands for going to the next page, the first page, the page of your choice, etc.

Orneta’s PDF Reader Mobile does not let you read the secure PDF eBooks discussed above, PDF files that contain only images, or files with certain security restrictions. It does let you read standard PDF documents, however, such as product manuals and company newsletters. It costs about $20, and there is a demo you can try. During the purchase process, I was asked to choose which Smartphone I planned to install it on. I chose one of the HP IPAQ models, but was told by Maria Cristic on the PAC Mate mailing list that it doesn’t matter which device you choose. I had to use the PC to install the version I downloaded, but it is also possible to download a CAB file that you can install directly on the PAC Mate.

A nice feature of this program is that you don’t have to wait for an entire PDF to load before you start reading it; you can read a page as soon as it has been loaded. Depending how much memory is available on your PAC Mate, the program can handle quite long documents. It choked on the 297-page cell phone manual I tried, but was able to handle the 80-page iPod manual. It includes a Save to Text option on the File menu, which can be handy if you plan to use a long file frequently, as the text version will be smaller and will load faster. Like EReader, this program includes commands that let you choose the page you want to read.

Converting PDF to text or HTML on PAC Mate and PC

If you have an earlier version of the PAC Mate, you want a free option, or you want to convert PDF files to text or HTML and don’t care about reading them in PDF format, try PDFMate, created by Ken Parry from Blinksoft. It works with the PAC Mate Omni as well as earlier versions and can handle the same types of PDF files as PDF Reader Mobile. When you open the program, you are in a list of all the pDF documents on your computer. Press Enter, work through the save As dialog, press Enter on the Save button, and the new file is created. I was impressed with how quickly PDFMate converted my 80-page iPod manual to text. I found that for that manual, at least, Jamal Mazrui’s PDF2TXT program for the PC did a much better job organizing the manual in a logical way than either PDFMate or PDF Reader Mobile. So if you have access to a PC, I would recommend this program; it’s simple to use, extremely fast, and good at figuring out the structure of most documents. But if you need to read a PDF and don’t have a PC handy, either of the PAC Mate options is a good choice.

In short, it’s wonderful to see the number and type of reading materials available expand. I hope the trend continues.

RFB&D Starts Book Download Service

September 11, 2008

Recording for the blind and dyslexic recently began offering many of its recorded books as downloads to members in the U.S. See the RFB&D Auyio Access FAQ for details of how the service works. Books are in protected WMA format, and if you want to play them on something other than a PC, your player must be able to play subscription-protected WMA.

There are some great things about this service:

  • Books are available as quickly as you can download them.
  • You don’t have to purchase or install a user authorization key to use the books.

There are also significant disadvantages:

  • Few accessible players can play these books. As far as I know, your only options are the PAC Mate and some mobile phones, and my experience with the Nokia N75 suggests that even if the phone can play the format, it may be difficult to transfer the books to it (more on that in another post).
  • The only level of navigation available is by page. Each page is in a separate file, so you can use your player’s Next and Previous Track buttons to move by page, but there’s no way to move by section or chapter. If your player has search functionality, you might be able to search for a portion of a file name, such as a page number, to get to the right place, but this would probably be tedious.
  • Many players that can play these books don’t keep your place. If you need to reset your PAC Mate or you shut down Media Player, for example, your place is lost. And the limited navigation mentioned above means it’s not easy to find your place again if you’ve read very far in the book.
  • Most players that can play these books don’t include speech compression, so you generally won’t be able to listen quickly.
  • You have to use Windows Media Player 10 or 11 to transfer the books to your player. This is doable, but version 11 is not the most pleasant piece of software to work with.

The service certainly has value. You can order both the downloadable and CD versions of a book, so if you found out on the first day of class that you needed to read a chapter of a book available in this format by the next class period, you could order both formats, download your book, and use the downloaded version until the CD arrived. And this service makes the books available to people who don’t have or can’t afford a DAISY player. However, RFB&D stated in a recent newsletter article that the organization will soon offer downloadable books in DAISY format, and I, for one, will find that a much more convenient option.

Book Port Sold Out

September 9, 2008

APH has run out of Book Ports to sell. They plan to produce another media player, but can share no details at this time.

More Audiopuzzle Info for People Outside the U.S.

December 12, 2007

This post concerns the Audacious Audiopuzzles book I discussed in the previous post. If you live in the United States and order the book directly from the creators’ website, you can request a braille track listing and to have the CD case labeled in braille. If you live outside the United States, you can’t order directly from Audiopuzzles.com and must order from Amazon.com, and Amazon doesn’t provide a means to order the braille options. However, no matter where you live, you can contact the Audacious Audiopuzzles creators through their website and request braille track listings and braille labels you can put on the CD case. So while the process is slightly more complicated for people outside the U.S., everyone who needs it can get the book information in braille.

Accessible Audiopuzzles Book Available

December 10, 2007

If you enjoy puzzles, you might take a look at Audacious Audiopuzzles Book #1. While not a downloadable book — you have to buy it on CD (for US$14.99) — I am mentioning this book here because the content is completely accessible, and the creators have put a great deal of effort into further enhancing its accessibility to braille readers. The copy they sent me included a braille track list, and the CD case was labeled in braille. If you order from their website, you can request these options. The book is also available through Amazon.com, but braille track listings and CD labels are not available if you order from Amazon. Other ways to get the track listings are from the Audiopuzzles website and by inserting the CDs into your computer. The book is listed with the Gracenote CD database, so if you use iTunes, Winamp, or another program that makes use of that database, you’ll be all set, and you can rip the CDs to files you can play on a portable player if you wish.

The book consists of 40 puzzles on two CDs. The range of puzzles included is wide — logic, word, and math puzzles; brain teasers; sound identification; and more. My family and I and two children we take in a carpool have been listening to the puzzles while driving to and from school, and everyone is enjoying them; the kids ask for them whenever they get into the car. We are about halfway through the book. The children range in age from six to ten, and quite a few of the puzzles are over their heads, but they can do just enough of them to hold their interest. The sound identification puzzles — where you are presented with six related sounds and have to figure out what they are — are particularly popular. My husband and I are enjoying all the puzzles. Occasionally a clue or puzzle seems rather obscure, but in most cases they are great fun. The creators assume you are doing the puzzles in your head; they never refer to pictures or other written material. So this is a fun, accessible product for children and adults, blind and sighted alike.

MP3 Audiobooks Available on eMusic

September 19, 2007

eMusic has offered music in unprotected MP3 format at reasonable prices for quite a while; I have been a satisfied customer for two years now. So I was pleased to learn today that they have begun to offer audiobooks in this format as well. It was hard to find information about exactly how the service will work, as it’s very new, but here’s what I know:

  • For $9.95 per month, you can download one eBook each month.
  • You can cancel online at any time.
  • For now, you get a free book the first month, so you get 2 books for $9.95. This may be a temporary offer.
  • There may be a subscription where you pay more to download two books per month, but I couldn’t find a price for it.

It will be interesting to see how this service works out. I am pleased that authors and audiobook producers are willing to offer popular material in an open format, and I wish the venture well.