Friday, October 28, 2016

Amazon Echo Dot: Review

This week I have been working with the new amazon Echo second generation oalso known as "The Dot."

I first saw the amazon Echo in use last year at the California Council of the Blind convention in Forest Hills, Los Angeles. A team of amazon tech experts were putting the Echo and the voice activated and resposne system known as Alexa through her paces. I was very impressed with the product, but was put off by the high price tag, at that time the Echo was in the region of $200, it has since come down in price but is still over $100.
my amazon echo dot on side table,  top blue ring light is illuminated showing that Alexa is working on a question.
Amazon Echo Dot

To read about  amazon Echo first generation click here.

A few months ago amazon announced the release of the second generation Echo Dot. This device would be smaller since it doesn't contain a lower frequency speaker  which fills most of the first generations case. To compensate you can link the Echo Dot to an existing sound system or use bluetooth to link to Bluetooth speakers or use   Bluetooth Headphones.

Since the new amazon Echo Dot costs less than $50 I decided to try it out.

When my Dot arrived I was surprised how small it is. The Dot is about the same diameter as a can of soup and a little over one inch high. It comes complete with a power cord in the box.

Set up was straight forward. Plug the power chord into the Dot and the other end into a power socket. The Dot lights up blue then orange or powering up. You then need to upload an app to your smart phone.  I had some trouble as  the app store on my iPhone 6 said that the app was compatable only with Android devices, so I went to and uploaded the iPhone version of the app from there.

Once you link your Dot to your phone via the app, you can then add your wi-fi settings to the Dot. Enter your wi-fi details by selecting from a drop down menu which appears on your phone and then enter your wi-fi security password on the app. Alexa will powerdown and restrt. You can then begin asking Alexa; amazon's equivalent of Siri, any questions you like.

The Dott does have it's own built in speaker which for me is very good at doing it's job.  I like to listen to the radio as I work so that is my main purpose for buying the Dot. The Dot will stream most services like, spotify, I heart Radio and NPR in the United States. I love to listen to the BBC Radio stations during the day and the Dot has streamed both spoken and music stations very well, even when my internet radio has sometimes dropped a signal, the Dot is still there.

You can also use the Dot to listen to books such as those available on Audible and since the Dot is linked to your amazon account you can also listen to any Kindle books in your library as long as they have " Text to Speech" enabled, which most books do these days.

You can program  your Dot to find stock prices, create personalized news reports, check the weather, prepare shopping lists and also turn on a thermostat or turn lights on and off, even at a long distance using the app on your phone.

As yet I have only scratched the surface of what the Dot and Alexa can do. To read more amazon Echo Dot reviews click here

amazon echo dot second generation with alexa
Amazon Echo Dot

Is the amazon Echo Dot Worth the money?

For me the answer to this question is a very definite yes. It fulfils a need for me as it stands. For less than $50 I have a great sounding internet radio. I can talk to Alexa and find out news sttories that are important to me. I can read my kindle and audible books easily at the command of my voice. No more trying to find a book on a book list croded screen. It can add other bits of hardware to my home to allow me to control lights and heating or cooling. I can do a lot more this week than I could last. That means a big thumbs up for the best $50 I have spent this year.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

'Blindside Fresno': Being a Blind Mom

The latest edition of 'Blindside Fresno' is now available on YouTube.

In this program, program 4, and in program 5 broadcast next  month. Two moms; Debbie Flowers, a High School Teacher and Sarah Harris,  talk about their individual experiences losing their vision. One having a degenerative eye disorder since being a child, the other losing her sight in a motor vehicle accident.

Facing blindness is hard, but being a parent is even harder especially when faced with the prospect of caring for a child which you cannot see. How do you know what food you are giving them? How do you cope when they are sick? How do you  push a stroller while wielding a long white cane?

Debbie talk about these things as well as talking with humor about the funny side of blind motherhood, such as why did the grocery store visit suddenly become more expensive? What can a child possibly do to disappear when it is wearing bells?

Some of the answers are here in this program, for the  rest you will have to wait until part two is broadcast next month.

Link to Blindside Fresno: Being a Blind Mom

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Low Vision Kitchen: Finger Guard Review

One of my biggest fears in the kitchen is using knives. I have in the past added a little nail to my celery,, a touch of finger tip to a diced onion and sliced into a finger knuckle instead of a tomato. So it came as a relief recently when my wife bought me a Buy In House Finger Guard

the buy in house finger guard amazon affiliate link, picture shows fingers safely inside the finger guard as vegetables are chopped with a knife
Buy In House Finger Guard
The finger guard at first seemed a little flimsy. But here we will be sliding the knife down the surface of the finger guard and not chopping with a cleaver or stabbing at our  fruit, vegetable or meats as we prepare them.

My fingers are also on the large size and the metal is maliable enough to accommodate my fingers in the guard for the time it takes me to chop my ingredients.. If I needed to use this guard for several hours on end in a professional kitchen it would not be comfortable but for the five or ten minutes it may take me to prepare a meal then this finger guard is  good enough.

 Holding most items like onions and vegetables is easy, I have found the finger guard doesn't really interfere with my ability to control the items which I am chopping. In fact I am now able to cut softer items such as tomatoes more easily as I hold the tomato much closer to where the knife blade is cutting preventing the squashing effect of the blade.

The Buy In House Finger Guard is easy to clean as there are no hidden places where food particles can clog into and it is also easy to keep clean while you work. You can quickly chop an onion was the finger guard and then chop an egg without having the onion flavor transfer to your egg.

This finger guard is less expensive than most similar products which are often made from a heavier gauge of steel or even chain mail gloves which also protect the whole hand.

To read reviews of the Buy In House Finger Guard click here.

The Buy In House Finger Guard  could also make a great gift for anyone who is not happy using a knife to chop vegetables in the kitchen or would be great for children who are learning to cook.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Blindside Fresno: Blind Parenting

The next 'Blindside Fresno' program will air next Tuesday on Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC). The scheduled airtime is 7pm PDT on Tuesday October 18, 2016.

Interviewees: Debbie Flowers; Sarah Harris and Hostess Darcie Elliott on Right sit beside a table covered in a rich blue cloth, behind them a blue backdrop and in front of the table is a vase of white flowers. A screenshot of the recording of blindside fresno.
Blindside Fresno Program 4 Left to Right Debbie, Sarah, Darcie

The program is the first part of a two part show about being a mom coping with vision loss and raising children. Our guests Debbie Flowers and Sarah Harris are both experienced moms.

Debbie has three children, she has a degenerative eye condition that though she could see as a child meant increasing vision loss as she grew up. Her vision deteriorated rapidly at the same time as she was raising her children.
Sarah on the other hand lost her sight suddenly in a motor vehicle accident. A few months after the accident she learned she was pregnant with her now twelve year old daughter.

So both women have a different experience in raising children while coping with blindness. They talk frankly about family attitudes to their having children and also the reaction of others in society. While raising children is hard work, they also discuss the funny side of parenting sighted children.

One question answered in these two programs is how can grocery shopping suddenly become so much more expensive when a blind mom takes her sighted child to the grocery store?

The scope of this program was so broad that I decided that we had enough material for two complete programs. This program is the first half, the second program will be shown in November.

As always CMAC will air the show first then the show will be available on my YouTube Channel  or  Blindside Fresno Playlist

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Pressure Growing to Allow Blind Drivers to Use Self-Driving Cars Alone

A few weeks ago I posted that Ford were to begin production of autonomous vehicles also called "Google Cars". The initial vehicles were to be built for fleet services, possibly Uber type ride share services. If you would like to read that earlier blog go to  Ford Motor Company Looks Toward Autonomous Motor Vehicle Fleets by 2021.

A white car parked in a driveway infront of a house and surrounded by trees and well kept shrubs and trees.
Possible Ford Autonomous  Vehicle
 In recent  months there have been a flurry of test services put out on the streets where the autonomous vehicles along with a technician and a human driver have operated in several cities around the world. As yet though these autonomouss vehicles have not been licensed to work alone and still require a sighted driver to take over if things go wrong.

To add to complications even when autonomous vehicles do become legal on the road and operate without any controls in the cabin, no gas pedal, no brake pedal and no steering wheel they will still require a sighted "driver" to accompany any blind person.

Recently, Elizabeth Woycke wrote an article  The Blind Have High Hopes For Self Driving Cars published in MIT Technology Review on October 12, 2016.

In August 2016, Perkins School for the Blind, began inviting tech companies from  a wide variety of regions to  co-operate in studies that would allow the new self-driving vehicles to have the ability to be operated by the blind. The problem at the moment being vehicle designers are just designing with sighted operators in mind. The Perkins School want to encourage a wider commitment from manufacturers to see the blind community as consumers of this new technology from the start. Building interfaces that would operate in a similar way to our smart phone apps with possible text to speech and haptic (vibrating ) feedback.

Organizations such as National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and American Council of the Blind (ACB) are also moving on legislators. They are looking for changes in current laws that fail to allow blind and visually impaired individuals to operate autonomous vehicles themselves. A recent legislation change in Nevada was blocked as being discriminatory as it allowed only sighted drivers to operate ALL types of self-driving vehicles under all circumstances.

The maintainance of laws which allow the blind and visually impaired to only use self-driving vehicles operated in the presence of a sighted operator leave us in the same position we are now. Today if I want to travel any long distance, I must rely on my wife, a friend or other relative, or a Taxi driver to take me. I have to wait upon them. I cannot use para-transit to take me somewhere because to use para-transit I must book 24 or 48 hours in advance. Neither of which allow me total independence.  I do have an option of using public transport such as buses and trains, but I am lucky in that  live in a city that has reasonable public transport systems in place. Two  years ago I lived in a sma rural town with little public transport out of town a simple journey took several hours and left me still requiring a relative or friend to drive me around town after the bus had left me at its stop.

We need to encourage our legislators to not se this new technology as just a car that can only be operated by the sighted. After all if the technology works perfectly, whether the driver is sighted or not will not be a factor. The driver of the future is really a passenger, doing other things while the vehicle takes care of the driving. They will work on daily tasks, read a book and even sleep. Never watching the road. Blind people do just that today. So why do we have to be second class citizens when this new technology would and should allow us parity with the sighted people around us.

Any Comments?  Leave a comment on this subject below

A steel travel mug with concept car designs available from
Concept Car Travel Mug

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

I Am On Screen In The Studio

Last night at the CMAC studio I was talking explosives. Big bangs, fireworks, pyrotechnics, black powder whatever you want to call it, to many of us British  it will soon be November 5, and that means Bonfire Night. The day we sort of celebrate not having our Parliament blown up by  poor old Guy Fawkes.

The CMAC control room monitors show the studio camera views as William Elliott, producer and host talks about Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot in the green screen studio while recording 'Remember, Remember'
William Elliott as viewed from the Control Room making 'Remember, Remember'

The project called "Remember, Remember,' was made with a green screen back drop. This is called Chroma-Key and it allows you to mix multiple video sources, so in this instance in the picture on this page you see me against a green background when the program is completed in the editing room that green area will be a bonfire. If I was visiting a tropical island it could be a white sandy beach lined with fluttering palm trees or  I could be shrunk to the size of a mouse and be climbing out of a hole in the wall.

Chroma Key or green screen is what makes television magical, the only limit to its use is the producers or directors imagination.

Last night I worked with a very good crew; Darcie, my wife and the usual host of 'Blindside Fresno'  and Mary Bell who has produced several programs at CMAC , take a look at Mary Bell's Producer page,were working in the control room as directors with Steve and Ace Manelski, who produce Valley Veterans Forum. with me in the studio.

This program began back at the end of July when I came up with the idea of producing and introducing a show about Guy Fawkes and Bonfire night. I submitted an initial proposal for the idea in August and when that was approved I began more detailed work. I contacted one of the members of CMAC 'Kiko' Romero  who specialises in editing but had helped me a great deal in the initial production of 'Blindside Fresno,' on this occasion I wanted a particular look to the title sequence. He took on the project to create some really great titles from my ideas.

Then I also began the work of in depth research for the program. One problem with history as any history major can testify is setting a beginning and end date for your story. You need specific dates on which to anchor a program, or essay. If you don't anchor a project with dates you cannot define a story. So while I did touch on some wider British and European history, most of the events for my project took place between May 1604 and January 1606. The dates when Fawkes met the main plotters for the first time and Fawkes execution.

Being blind also makes taking on such a project difficult in the TV studio. Many  might think of using a teleprompter or autocue. Just upload a script and read it to camera. Not reaally possible when you can't even see the camera. So I had to set to memory all the key names and dates of events.

Along the way since I have never worked in a green screen studio before I had to learn what green screen can do, and more importantly what it can't. For this I arranged meetings with members of CMAC's regular staff. They are very important in my view. They want a project to work and they are always willing to help out and answer questions like; How do ...? or "What can I do with ...?"



For instance I imagined my program with the graphics added as I spoke, but I was advised because the program will be full of graphics that it would save time and be more accurate to place the graphics in later and just record against a green screen.

So that is just what we did.

The program itself will run for just thirty minutes when finished. We recorded nearly one hours worth of video, in that there are mistakes, places that I forgot some piece of information and also where I was not happy with how I had said something. Most of that will be edited out and  made to look better in the final product.

I am looking to have the program aired on CMAC in time for November 5. That gives us two weeks in post production editing and a two week submission process. That seems a lot of time, but I now know from experience it is no time at all.

This project was a great deal of fun. I learned some new things in the studio, got some insight in appearing before a full on studio camera, plus the funny part. Having my wife put me in make-up. It appears I have a very shiney head for TV.

Funny I didn't realise that I am as bald as I am. Chalk up another positive for not being able to look in a mirror.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Abused by, Struck by and Hurt by Old People in Electric Wheelchairs

One of the things that annoys me the most when using public transport is the wheel chair or scooter user who insists they can race onto the bus at high speed and drive all over my guide dogs paws.
A man wearing a t shirt with yellow writing sits in his electric scooter on a bus.
The  Man in the Scooter on the Bus

It hurts my dog. I know it does, I hear the squeeky intake of breath he makes.

This morning I had to go downtown to take my latest edition of 'Blindside Fresno' into the CMAC office. A lovely morning, some would say chilly. There was a hazy sun, the temperatures were in the mid fifties and Leif, my black lab guide dog was working hard at being a good guide. Such mornings are great. I love them. It could almost be called a pleasure to be blind and living in the Central Valley of California.

I got on the bus and until we reached the end of the line we sat on the seats at the front that are removable for  wheelchairs. Then because it is a decent length of a break at the end of the line, Leif and I moved to the front seats behind the panel which seperates the wheelchair area from the rest of the bus.

This is normal for me to do. Usually one or two wheelchair users get onto the bus heading downtown and as Leif and I can move why shouldn't we sit in an ordinary seat. I sometimes feel a little sick if I travel too far sideways too.

The buses don't always have a lot of space for a guide dog between the seat and the safety panel though, that was the case today. In fact  there was not enough room  for me to sit facing to the front I had to sit a little side saddle because my knees were pressed hard into the panel.

About half way downtown, I heard the bleeps of the wheelchair ramps go down and a whizz of an electric motor. A scooter type wheelchair raced onto the bus. He couldn't steer into the space left after the driver lifted the seats because the man in the scooter insisted in doing everything in the highest speed setting. Back and forth he went. on about the fourth forward I heard a squeel and felt Leif rise under my seat. A woman shouted, "Hey! You just drove over that dogs paws!"

The man an old man, just said, "F%#@ OFF!" Eventually getting into the space and being strapped in by the driver.

Leif is a good dog. I feel hurt when someone hurts him. But this man's attitude stunk. To behave in such a manner is however such a daily occurance these days. I feel like it is one section of the wheelchair crowd, older less secure people who feel somehow that their being wheelchair users is some excuse for bad behaviour. It doesn't.

We all have bad days. But don't take your bad day out on my guide dog. He did nothing to cause your problem and he saves me from problems that you'll never know.

Why is it these people, get to go out, in a heavy, physically dangerous vehicle. Drive along sidewalks at high speed, get on public transport erunning over peoples feet and failing to use reasonable control with no training? I had to go to school for two weeks to learn to work with my guide dog. I had to pass a test to use my guide dog.  I cannot be reckless with my guide dog, maybe we should look on these motor scooters like a real motor vehicle and make their users responsible for injuries and pain that they cause.

Maybe they should take a look at Driving Tips For Electric Wheelchair Users

Cicero, the Roman orator once lamented O! Tempora. O! Mores. when fellow citizens berated the youth of Rome for their lack of manners and poor attitudes. Cicero's statement was said in a manner to suggest the differing values of the old and young. Now I consider myself as older, I look at the manners of the old and lament the poor values they show.  Young people on the other hand are much less dismissive. One young man last week even just seconds after nearly hiiting me on a sidewalk, called me "Sir." and couldn't apologize enough for not looking where he was going.

O! Tempora. O! Mores.