ShellyBlog Shelly Brisbin's life consists of several long tails. She writes about them here.

April 16, 2015

Apple Watch Demos, and the Irony of Low-Vision

Filed under: Access and Disability,New Media and Tech — Tags: , , , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 8:10 AM

I wrote last week about Apple Watch accessibility, mostly pointing to the first hands-on articles written by VoiceOver users. Many of our questions have now been addressed. VO is part of the watch, and so are some low-vision features, including zoom and grayscale. But during the long few weeks between watch pre-orders and watch unboxings, uncertainty obviously remains. In the larger context, that’s the point of the in-store try-on program, right? You use some combination of wrist, fingers, ears, and eyes to assure yourself that this new gadget is a thing you want, and will actually be able to use.

Last week’s first look stories told me much of what I wanted to know. But as a low-vision user whose primary interaction with screens happens through my eyes, two decidedly visual resources gave me even more clarity. Apple’s updated watch accessibility page, which I linked last week, includes great big screenshots for many watch features and apps. I mean, really big screenshots! From them, I learned that many screens use light text on a dark background; my preferred color scheme. This was welcome news, since there is apparently no Invert Colors option. Last night, I happened to see David Sparks’ Periscope broadcast of his visit to an Apple Store. His camera focused on a working Apple Watch (not the demo loop videos provided to try-on customers.) David and his companion scrolled through various screens, even responding to the questions of chat viewers, who wanted to see this or that app in action. Again, I got to see a lot of screens with easy-to-read text, along with the gestures used to manipulate their contents.

If I could leave just one mark on the tech world, it would be a giant mashup of access-focused and mainstream-focused product coverage. There’s so much we can learn from one another. 

April 10, 2015

Watching the Accessible Watch Coverage

Filed under: Access and Disability,New Media and Tech — Tags: , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 11:29 AM

I snarked on Wednesday about the number of Apple Watch reviews, and the seemingly larger number of Apple Watch review roundups. A day or so after the big-picture coverage, we got a couple of write-ups that focused on Apple Watch accessibility. Which was terrific, and answered questions many potential watch buyers had been asking since September, and which Apple had only begun to address on its site within the past few days. (By the way, the Apple page continues to gain info and good screen shots, so keep an eye on it.)

AppleVis contributor David Woodbridge, and Steven Aquino, writing for iMore, each described their hands-on experience with the watch, compared its accessibility to iOS, and listed a number of accessibility-oriented features and options. David’s piece gives an in-depth, nuts-and bolts look at the Watch experience of a blind user, while Steven adds the perspective of someone with both visual and motor disabilities. He also attempts to place the watch in the context of how gadgets can improve people’s lives.

Both articles were great, and I’m pleased that Apple saw fit to give these writers early access to the watch. The detailed discussion of what is and isn’t accessible, and how the interface differs from iOS will make pre-ordering decisions easier for a lot of people. But as I followed the story of Apple Watch accessibility on Twitter, and in my RSS reader, I couldn’t help but notice that one of these two articles received a good deal of attention and linkage from the mainstream Apple press, while the other scored love and traffic inside the accessibility community. Even when the topic is access, it seems, there’s a weird divide between segments of this corner of the tech world.

 

August 14, 2014

Mentioning My Twitter Doppelgängers

Filed under: General Store,New Media and Tech — Tags: , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 12:01 PM

I have a very special first-world problem. It’s not the kind that revolvers around money, or stuff, or even the temperature of my latte. It’s a social media first-world problem. 

I joined Twitter early. Like, in February or March 2007. I was actually invited in late 2006, but there’s no need to gild this particular lille. Because I could, I claimed the Twitter name @shelly for my own. Had I not joined Twitter for professional reasons, I would have been @shellyspodcast, which is how I rolled in those days, producing my own weekly eponymous podcast for the enjoyment of hundreds of people. But in 2007, I was also managing editor at the late lamented Blogger & Podcaster, and was writing my first feature article for the magazine. The B&P publisher was eager for me to put Robert Scoble, noted tech gadfly and early adopter of trendy things, on the cover of our first issue. Robert was evangelizing Twitter, just then. Fortunately for me, this made him eminently stalkable, once I had also signed up and followed him. When Robert came to Austin for SXSW in March, I tracked him to a meetup at Salt Lick, a famous BBQ emporium. I never actually got to speak to him there, due to an abundance of panting fanboys who surrounded him at all times. (I did talk to him later, having observed that people who pronounce how open and transparent they are usually have their own rules about what that means, and the obeisances expected.)  In the end, Twitter did provide a nice lede for my Scoble story. 

The trouble with having a Twitter name that is also your first name is that folks use it in @mentions that are addressed to people who are not you. Some don’t realize that typing a space after @shelly will direct the mention to my timeline (as in @shelly kramer). Others have a friend named Shelly, and don’t bother to look up that person’s actual Twitter name. Finally,  Internet sharing tools will sometimes introduce a space where there shouldn’t be one. That’s how I get lots of mentions intended for a woman who shares dessert recipes on Pinterest. She’s very popular, by the way.

The long and the short of all this is that my morning rituals now include blocking Twitter mentions that belong to others. Tweetdeck on the desktop excels at this this. Sometimes, there are a couple of notes (often in a language I don’t speak) addressed to random Shellys around the world. There’s also a Shelly who has adopted the persona of a white teenaged girl who is a virulent racist. Perhaps that’s actually who she is, but I sincerely hope it’s a fake identity. Apparently, there are a couple of reality TV “stars” named Shelly, too. People don’t like them very much. Occasionally, one of the other Shellys, usually the one who is both a dude and a “social media expert”, gets retweeted heavily. On those mornings, I hit Block quite a bit. God help me if he’s attending a social media schmoozefest; aka a conference. 

So whadaya think? Should I tweet this post out to all the Shellys of the Internet? Will they @mention and retweet me back, or is @shelly destined for a thousand block lists? 

May 2, 2013

Kindle Accessibility: So What?

Filed under: Access and Disability,General Store,New Media and Tech — Tags: , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 7:31 AM

Amazon announced yesterday that its Kindle app for iOS had been updated to provide “more accessibility.” In fact, the update (with the inauspicious version number, 3.7) turns a largely inaccessible app into one that VoiceOver screen reader users can rely upon to read, navigate, and manage the contents of a Kindle library. And they did a great job, not merely making the app usable, but opening all Kindle iOS features up to VO.

The fact that blind people have Kindle libraries, given the limited native accessibility of Amazon’s hardware and mobile apps, is testament to the company’s dominant place in book-selling. So, too, are the aggressive efforts made by advocacy organizations for blind users, who have been lobbying Amazon to make this happen for some time. Sure, iOS users have been able to access iBooks since its inception, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook app was born speaking VoiceOver. But Amazon and Kindle retain big dog status, and those of us who have been nursing mistrust of the company must now work out for ourselves whether the proper reaction is joy and gratitude, or a harumphy “it’s about time.”

And despite the world-weary cynicism you might take from the previous paragraph, you should know that the accessible Kindle app is truly a thrilling thing. I have Kindle on my iOS devices, and quickly downloaded the update. When I opened the app with VoiceOver on, I anticipated something great. When I ran my finger across the screen and heard the iPad read book titles and the Kindle menu options (without the “btw” suffix that often indicates marginal accessibility), I was excited. And when I double-tapped to open a book, then did a two-finger swipe to tell VoiceOver to read a page, I became positively giddy.

Accessibility can be like that. You feel as if you have been given the keys to the locked room you’ve always wondered about. To use a closer metaphor, it’s like putting on your first pair of glasses, and suddenly being able to see the blackboard in school. Though I can and have read Kindle books with my eyes, and can and have used VoiceOver to read iBooks and Nook books, I have a strong urge to find a cozy corner, do a two-finger swipe, and luxuriate in the spoken/written word, brought to me by the accessible Kindle app, which gives me access to a library far larger than the one Apple offers.

Putting my news analyst hat back on for a moment, it’s worth reminding those of you who don’t follow this stuff that Amazon’s own hardware is not yet fully accessible, nor is the Kindle Android app. I take this as evidence of the power of those who fought for Kindle accessibility. You see, the people who use screen readers have invested their mobile device dollars in iOS, not Kindles, and not Android phones. Amazon got its priorities right, even if it took them far longer to make this move than many of us would have liked.

May 1, 2013

Accessible Kindling

Filed under: Access and Disability,General Store,New Media and Tech — Tags: , , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 10:10 AM

It’s an exciting day in accessible publishing. Amazon has finally released an accessible version of its Kindle app for iOS. Frankly, Kindle’s inaccessibility has made that platform easy to ignore, in the community of VoiceOver users. iBooks, Nook, and plenty of other ebook readers offer access via text-to-speech, but neither the Kindle devices, nor Amazon’s apps have done so. Where to buy books then? Anywhere but Amazon. And where to publish books about accessibility? Anywhere but Amazon. Now, though, the playing field is different.

I continue to work on my book about accessibility in Apple’s mobile devices; iOS Access for All. I’ve been asked many times which publishing formats I intended to use, and I’ve always said that Kindle was a low- or no-priority, mostly because the platform hasn’t been accessible. That is both a practical and a political decision on my part. Besides–and nothing Amazon has done today changes this–the Kindle Store imposes high costs on independent publishers. I will be running numbers and continuing to ask potential readers their opinions and platform preferences.

My next post takes a look at how Kindle accessibility feels from a reader’s perspective.

March 20, 2013

Me on the Tech Doctor Podcast

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of being a guest on Robert Carter’s Tech Doctor Podcast. It’s a weekly show focused on technology and blindness. I’ve corresponded with Robert before. Turns out he is a listener to Shelly’s Podcast, and a fellow Texan. It was nice to finally meet him. Along with his co-host, Allison Hartley, Robert and I had a wide-ranging discussion of my career, low vision, the Macintosh/iOS, and the book I’m writing.

I was surprised how much ground we covered. And on reflection, I realize that I’ve never discussed many of these topics before on a podcast, or even with most of my friends and colleagues in the tech world. If you want to know what it was and is like to make a career in tech journalism as a low vision person, give it a listen. I want to thank Robert and Allison for inviting me on. And now I am subscribed to one more really great podcast about technology and blindness. Have I mentioned how many great podcasts you’ll find in that category? I oughtta do a post about that sometime.

March 15, 2013

The Three Cs of Reading the News

Filed under: General Store,New Media and Tech,Politics and Public Affairs — Tags: , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 7:10 AM

When Google announced this week that it would be shutting down Reader, I took it as another indignity to be borne. I’ve seen services I like shut down, sold, and screwed up beyond recognition. And that’s just the Google stuff! Reader occupies a default tab in my Web browser. I check it first thing in the morning, and return to it all day. I have created something over 20 folders to sort my reading matter, which includes mainstream news sites, friends’ blogs, niche tech content, and long-tail feeds about things you do not care about at all. In short, RSS generally, and Reader specifically, are foundational to the way I live and work online.

I came late to Reader late. Back when I was running Blogger & Podcaster magazine, I had to keep up with what people like Robert Scoble said. And he was all about Reader and a complex web of shared lists and links. In those days, I was a happy NetNewswire user, not needing to sync my feeds to a mobile device or a second computer. So I ignored Scoble, partly because I found his righteousness about the whole thing aggravating, and partly because I wasn’t fussed about sharing what I was reading.

I changed the way I interacted with RSS about the time I got an iPhone. Or was it when a few friends of mine started sharing news items via Reader? I don’t recall exactly, but at some point I went all in with Reader, syncing to the desktop RSS reader, and eventually making that permanent browser tab and all those folders for News, Politics, Podcasting, Longform Writing, Fluff (I Can Haz Cheezburger?), and so on. For a long time, I devoted this here site to a link blog of items I was sharing with friends. It wasn’t the most original content in the world, but I thought my choices were interesting, and the ability to share in this way gave me a means of commenting on the world in a way that was completely in my control, and fun.

Well, the Goog killed off the Share feature just in time to put a lot of its social eggs in the Google+ basket. Being unwieldy, and not a place many of my former Share buddies spent time, Google+ (which does have a tab in my browser), never became a place I cared much about. And like a lot of people, I got more and more things to read from the social networks. But these have never replaced RSS for me. The Three Cs that explain why I prefer RSS to other methods of information-gathering.

  • Completeness: Twitter sits on my desktop as I work during the day. I read it and Facebook (probably too much) when I’m at the computer, but hours sometimes go by when I don’t see Twitter. There’s the phone, of course, but I’m not glued to it. Because of the sheer volume of stuff available (I follow 500+ people, talking about topics ranging from cocktails to iOS; accessibility to Austin food), there’s no chance of scrolling back to catch up on what I’ve missed when I’m not plugged into TweetDeck. Unlike a good RSS reader, Twitter is an asynchonous fire hose, even with lists. I could follow fewer people, but if I have better ways of gathering and storing information until I’m able to consume it, why should I? Twitter’s function is not to tell me everything I need to know about the world, but to offer a running commentary, while I’m available to consume it. Twitter works best if you think of it as a party line, or a live TV channel.
  • Customization: I do love my Google Reader folders, and they serve me well. Far better than Twitter lists, they allow me to concentrate on, or ignore a topic, based on what’s going on in my world. If I’m following an election campaign closely, the blogs about classic film can wait awhile. Ditto the stories about podcasting, when I’m hip-deep in a book about accessibility. If I need a break, the Music folder awaits. If I want to substitute someone else’s curation for my own, I can subscribe to Slate writer John Dickerson’s set of public RSS feeds. He’s subscribed to some right-wing sites, and though I don’t want to wade through that stuff every day, I do sometimes take a quick look, mark everything I don’t have time for as read, and move on to the pictures of cats.
  • Context: This one qualifies as a pet peeve. A couple of weeks ago, I went to San Diego for a conference. I used Twitter primarily to keep track of goings on within a quarter-mile radius. I needed to find people and learn about events. Politics and cocktails, for once, were not on my radar. When I got home, I re-activated the Twitter fire hose. The people covering politics were all on about “the Woodward thing.” I had no idea what they were talking about, and no one provided context. Could I have Googled it up? Sure, but why? Political sites whose RSS feeds I have stored under that tab would explain it in complete sentences the next time I checked. And frankly, I was put off by the assumption implicit in the Twitter shorthand that everyone was completely up-to-date with whatever temporal kerfuffle was blowing through the political world, even if it was a story that wouldn’t matter, 12 hours after it trended. This happens a lot, and not just when I travel. A story hits at 9 AM, and by noon, Twitter has stopped telling you what the story is, and proceeded to analyze it, hashtag it, shorthand it, and make fun of it. You have to be mighty curious to work up enough interest to find out what the holy heck is going on.

I realize that the thing I am attached to is not Google Reader: it’s RSS, and the ability to organize a large group of feeds so that I can consume them on multiple devices, maintaining update status, and controlling the ability to subscribe and unsubscribe as I like. A few other services exist (Google Reader pointed me to a Lifehacker article about them), and I think we have yet to know what the full RSS landscape will be, post-Reader. For my part, I’ve been pondering the feasibility of maintaining my own synced RSS feed file on a server I control. There’s still research to be done on both the server and client sides of that equation. I have til July, apparently.

February 26, 2013

Apple Versus Samsung, My Take

Here is a story I wrote for Stabley Times about the latest Samsung lawsuit against Apple. This one is all about a subject that’s near and dear to my heart, the accessibility of iOS.

January 24, 2013

Pack Rat

People talk a lot about hoarding nowadays. I’m told by multiple sources that there is a reality TV show featuring people who do it to the extent that their houses and lives are destroyed. Sounds super-entertaining, huh? That’s another subject, and one on which you probably wouldn’t like my opinion. But whether it’s inspired by basic cable or not, the word “hoarder” comes up all the time when people need a word to describe their inability to unburden themselves of the objects they have accumulated. Is it a different thing when you need to carry the objects with you?

Before I go on a trip, I feel compelled to stockpile things that I might need; electronic equipment, cables, batteries, and bar tools have all ben stuffed into roll-y bags for trips both long and short. Lately though, what with iPads and phones, and tiny audio recorders, I don’t carry so much excess heavy stuff. All of my pre-travel pack ratting is digital.

To wit:

I’m about to go to San Francisco for five days. I expect my days and evenings to be packed with events, and that I will tumble exhausted into my bed at ridiculous times of night. And yet, my iPad Mini, iPhone, and iPod Nano are each stuffed to the gills with movies, music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Why? Because I detest the thought of reaching for a digital entertainment and finding that I don’t have it.

I need a movie for the plane ride. Better take four, in case film noir seems more appealing than a musical once I’m in the air. But wait! About half the time, plane cabins on morning flights are too bright to watch a movie, and I scroll through podcasts to find a Fresh Air interview, or a friend’s vacation story show. And what of those late nights when I fall into bed and grope for the device charging next to me? I’ll need some audio drama, or the latest episode of my favorite hometown radio show–until I fall asleep after 20 minutes.

Speaking of that radio show, though, it needs to be on the iPhone, along with the New York Times audio digest I listen to first thing every morning. I must be able to download the new shows while I’m gone, even though I packed gigabytes to take with me on the trip. I will dutifully fire up the slow hotel wi-fi just when everyone else is getting up too, impatiently checking to see that my newspaper has made it onto my iGadget when I exit the shower.

Music? This is the thing I am least likely to consume. I listen to podcasts when I walk or ride public transportation conveyances. Music is for writing time, or as a salve for bouts of insomnia at home. But wait! I might not be able to sleep in the hotel. Better take 4000 or so songs with me.

There’s one more media type clogging up my gigabytes: despite the fact that the average audiobook is at least eight hours long (many are far longer), I have loaded up 11 (ELEVEN) fiction and non-fiction titles. Because, like, how do I know whether I’ll be in the mood for World War II era spy novel, or a critique of the modern military general staff? Maybe it will be a book about how the British interacted with the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War. That’s on standby in case the Tom Perrotta novel with the great reviews seems boring. In any case, there is no chance at all that I will finish any single book during my trip.

Why do I do it? Why, when confronted with one of the greatest cities in the world, and both business and pleasure reasons for visiting, would I go to such lengths to make sure that I can entertain my ears in four or more different ways, on three machines? I don’t know, but TSA hasn’t regulated the digital heft of our iDevices (so far), and disk space continues to be of inconsequential cost. So I might as well, right?

January 23, 2013

Return to Macworld

Filed under: Announcements,General Store,New Media and Tech — Shelly Brisbin @ 7:59 AM

I used to go to Macworld Expo (now Macworld/iWorld) every year. I covered the show for MacUser along with a swarm of my colleagues, roving the aisles to find new products, and meeting with vendors who had secret things to show me. When I became a freelancer, I continued attending the show. I always had a book to sell, or a writing project research. A few times, I gave presentations or signed my books. I helped put on a few parties, and published a bucketful of podcasts, too. That was always a lot of fun. And then there was the annual spectacle of the Steve Jobs’ Keynote. I was there for all the big announcements, doing my best not to get sucked into the very real Reality Distortion Field. Macworld was a social whirl, too. I have so many friends in the Mac economy, and we had some truly great times, running from event to event on cold San Francisco nights in January.

My last Macworld was in 2008. I was editor of Blogger & Podcaster Magazine, and I was trying mightily to raise our profile that year. Sadly, it didn’t work. Our publisher declared bankruptcy. As you might expect, that pretty much killed the magazine.

This year, I’m headed back to San Francisco, and a Macworld/iWorld that seems, from the outside, anyway, to have changed quite a bit since I last attended. The event itself is less focused on business and professional Mac users, and more oriented toward hobbyists and iGadget fans. And of course, we are now fully immersed in the social media and mobile epochs, meaning that simple things like meeting up with friends, and finding venues will work very differently than they have in the past. And many people I’m used to seeing at the show won’t be there: they’ve moved on in their careers or, like me, haven’t been able to justify the trip in a tough economy. Social media comes into play here, too, as people find ways to connect without schlepping across county to shoulder a plastic bag and a laptop on a trade show floor for three days.

But the more profound change for me is that I will not be attending as a member of the press; gifted with an all-access pass to sessions, parties, and the mix-and-mingle center that is the press room. I can handle buying my own bottled water (gasp!), and even the inevitable sorting that goes on when an acquaintance or vendor peers at your badge and discovers that you are but another attendee (and potential customer), not a writer they want to impress. The challenging part will be physical separation from the friends, colleagues, and mover/shaker types who cleave to the behind-the-scenes spaces where one can relax, type out a news story, or scarf down a sandwich between vendor appointments. It is in these places that you run into people you need to run into.

And here I should take a moment to mention my reason for making the trip. I have a book project in the works, and I need to plug it to anyone who will listen. I’m still writing, so my promotional efforts are in the nature of a warning. Look out, because sometime this spring, awesomeness is headed your way, and I’ll be asking your help to promote it. I’ll have more to say about the book as we reach Macworld week and beyond. I need to keep you coming back here, don’t I?

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