Update: Now with a dramatic reading, as heard on NosillaCast #606, at about the 30 minute mark. Thanks to Allison for the opportunity to relive high school poetry interp competition.
Lots and lots of people have asked if I bought a new MacBook Pro; the one with the dongles and the touch bar. And then, I couldn’t sleep. So I wrote a poem.
I Did Not Buy a MacBook Pro
When I’m on a podcast show,
To talk the tech with friends I know,
I cannot share their Apple glow,
I did not buy a MacBook Pro.
At coffee shops I seem low rent,
At least my money’s not all spent,
I can afford a latte though,
I did not buy a MacBook Pro.
No touch bar tops my keyboard tray,
Below the Space my wrists must stay,
Escape is pretty easy, though,
I did not buy a MacBook Pro.
Adapters, dongles, I know not,
Just Ethernet and SD slot,
Old USB is not so slow,
I did not buy a MacBook Pro.
It makes me seem a low-tech lass,
And not so upper-middle-class,
To type on something three years old,
I did not buy a MacBook Pro.
But my curiosity does grow,
So I’ll brave the Texas ice and snow,
And to the Apple Store I’ll go,
To gaze upon the MacBook Pro.
Roku added a spoken interface to its video streaming devices. This is good news for blind and print-disabled folks who like the idea of an inexpensive, easy-to-use, full-featured streamer. In this audio demo, I roll through the Audio Guide interface, and show you where it shines, and where it fails. If you have feedback or questions after listening, please hit me up on Twitter at @shelly.
Direct Download Link
I’m thrilled to announce that the new edition of my book, iOS Access for All, is ready and waiting for you right here. There you’ll find buy links, the table of contents, and many more words you can read. Get the ePub for $20.
I’m really proud of this one, and there’s a bit more new material this time than last. That’s partly due to Apple’s interface changes, and partly because I added depth to several topics. In addition to a complete update for iOS 10, you’ll find 80 pages of completely new material. I’m scheduling some dates with a few podcasters, so watch your feeds, as well as this blog for the plugs.
Learn all there is to know at the Web site, or just buy it right here.
Buy the ePub edition
Buy from the iBooks Store
I listened to a well-known Apple-focused podcast the other day. The show is prat of a tech podcast network, and also part of a somewhat larger circle of people who, broadly speaking, cover the Apple beat. From this episode, I learned that the hosts love their iPads, their iOS apps, and their kind sponsors. I learned that they, like this week’s guest, have many friends who say things about Apple on their own tech podcasts. Actually, I knew that already, but the name dropping this week was especially heavy. The hosts’ mentions of their friends did not include a journalistic-style ID, just a first and last name for each colleague. In these familiar confines, no explanation seems necessary.
I can put myself in the minds of these hosts: they probably listen to the shows produced by their friends. They likely share a Slack channel. And drawing their combined Twitter feeds on a social graph would certainly produce a tight, overlapping set of circles. I have been that person, interacting with a smallish group of people who make and consume the same content, attend the same conferences, and venerate the same tech products, right down to the apps and phone cases they use. But when I listen in, I’m an outsider. I consume a few tech podcasts; shows that meet my interest in efficient delivery of information without a lot of chatter. I do not engage fully in the interlocking clusters of shows and networks that have developed around the Apple beat. Sure, my engagement is limited by my desire to listen to other kinds of shows, but I have always found fanboy insularity and group think to be a problem in Apple land. And podcasting has made it worse, with practitioners assuming that everyone listens to the same shows, and knows the same people. Uniformity of perspective, in-jokes, and a tendency toward referencing and respecting the same thought leaders make it difficult, and even a waste of time to listen to more than a few of these connected shows.
A few networks and thought leader types have made noises about diversity. It’s a thing now, right? Occasional adjustments to guest lists sometimes result in a slight opening of the tent to new voices. But so long as referencing one’s friends is endemic, and, more problematically, producers assume the audience has the same friends, real diversity doesn’t stand a chance in tech podcasting, or anywhere in media.
People think I’m an Apple-only geek. I have done little to dispel this notion, by my book and podcast work. But yay, verily, I offer proof that I can cross the platform when need arises. Here’s my AccessWorld roundup of some nifty Android apps that folks with low vision should find useful.
I tackled the question of Apple TV accessibility for AccessWorld, the monthly magazine of the American Federation for the Blind.
I’m very excited to let you know that I’ve signed on as a contributor to the American Foundation for the Blind’s highly-regarded technology magazine, AccessWorld. My beats include tech products for low-vision users, and mobile stuff for both Android and iOS. My first piece is a review of the Revolution 22’, a hybrid consisting of a video magnifier and an Android tablet. It’s so much fun to be doing product reviews again!
Lately, I’ve been rediscovering my love of podcasting. For those of you who don’t know, and that includes a surprising number of friends and colleagues, I produced my first podcast in 2004, and continued to make shows on the regular for the better part of the next nine years. I have guested on many podcasts, and was active in the first wave podcasting community; the enthusiasts and semi-pros who congregated at the first few New Media Expo events. Oh yeah. And I ran Blogger & Podcaster Magazine, which sadly folded after a year-and-a-half run.
It’s weird to feel I need to summarize my podcasting resume, but I do feel that need. The real point is that after putting podcasting on the back burner as I hustled up writing work, and taught myself how to publish a book, I’m feeling drawn back into making audio.
My new show, now at episode #2, is called The Parallel: a tech podcast with accessibility sprinkles. As a consumer and a participant in both the mainstream tech journalism world, and the accessible tech community, I’m never entirely at home with the ways the two interact. My show brings these communities together for a conversation about tech that is informed by accessibility, but not dominated by it. Check out episode #1 for a slightly more detailed explanation.
Give it a listen, and if there’s anyone you think I should invite on, get in touch. The host plus two guests from different perspectives format could lend itself to some interesting conversations.
This morning, I retweeted a USA Today column by James Alan Fox, a legally blind professor. Because low-vision! Mainstream media outlet! Yay!
He writes about the experience of using airports as a visually impaired person. As I read, I ticked off each point he made, recognizing them as my own travel frustrations. I felt much more connected to this guy’s experience than I do to the usual gripes about flight delays and TSA policies. The article is mildly funny, so that didn’t hurt. I especially liked the bit about not trusting a bored teenaged kid to interpret a fast food menu to your specifications. Been there. And not just in the airport.
On reflection, I wonder whether the appearance of this point of view in the mainstream press, especially in the form of a commentary, is a good thing after all. Sure, we want people to understand how life works when you’re visually impaired, making your way in a world that imposes barriers to getting your sh*t done. But will such complaints lead to better travel experiences? And do they leave the impression that low-vision folks can’t travel effectively?
I have often said that an airport can be an easier environment for a low-vision traveler than a city street. Most people in the airport flow in a particular direction, completing steps in the same order, and following signs with arrows to numbered gates. We’re all on foot, and on unfamiliar ground, so the playing field is a bit closer to level. In the city, traffic patterns differ by road, intersection and neighborhood, and no two people aim for the same ultimate destination. Signage is random, and so are passersby one might ask for help. In recent years, smartphone apps have significantly improved the airport experience, if only in terms of providing up-to-date gate information, and providing a way to conduct transactions in an environment (the phone screen) that is accessible and tailored to your specific needs.
So is Professor Fox’s column useful? Most USA Today readers don’t design airports or those infuriating airline kiosks. And if our goal is to maintain independent travel experiences (rather than being held hostage to the whims of uninformed employees or fellow travelers trying to “help”) aren’t our efforts better spent lobbying airlines and educating architects about what does work for low-vision travelers?
I recently participated in a travel-related study; giving feedback about a system designed to facilitate independent travel within an airport. It wasn’t as emotionally satisfying to provide technical feedback as it was to cosign an article that mirrors my own travel gripes, but it’s a practical way to be a part of the change I want.
It’s an unspoken truism among people with disabilities that raising the consciousness of the non-disabled world can have unintended consequences. Cluing the mainstream in about “what it’s like for us” elicits sympathy, diminishing our stature as competent adults., and making it tougher to achieve the accommodations that facilitate independence.
This week’s announcement of faster, more colorful versions of the iPod Touch was met with:
- a) rapture
- b) sophisticated market analysis
- c) indifference
Actually, the answer is d) scorn.
You see, the lowly (that one always hurts) iPod Touch is not perceived as an aperitif for those wishing to sample the iOS menu. Nor is it the logical landing place for someone who prizes small, elegant things. It is also not a cost-effective way to get onto the Internet without all the carpel tunnel. No, dear readers, the iPod Touch kind of makes people crazy. Crazy the way reality TV makes me crazy. I mean, the existence of totally made up skits featuring surgically-enhanced blonde people doesn’t affect my life, but the very idea that they exist on a TV screen is kind of irritating. So it is in the brains of the iPod Touch skeptics, who outnumber me by the millions.
An iPod Touch hater has three modes: first, he or she, probably an iPhone/Apple Watch fan person, must be unimpressed. “It’s been so long since I thought about the iPod.” Next, it is good to be a prophet of doom. “I don’t think there’s much life left in that thing.” Finally, convert that one naife you know who secretly carries an iPod, into a cultural outsider. “I can see how you might get one for a five-year-old.”
And so the iPod Touch is an obsolete, doomed, toy. Case closed!
As I’m sure you have surmised, I beg to differ.
I got my iPod Touch in 2013, when I needed a test device for the first edition of my iOS accessibility book. I justified the purchase by promising myself to sell the underpowered thing once the book was done. But like so many Apple products before, my Touch, whose name is Sea Lion, burrowed its way into my life. Soon, it had become my primary podcast listening device, text message checker, and Kodi remote.
My case for the iPod Touch is a personal one: while the disdain in which it is held by the world at large is weird, I don’t suggest that everyone take a Touch to the prom. Chances are that if you don’t have one, you have arranged your life in such a way that the Touch would be redundant. But I use the thing every day, far more than my phone. With every fiber of my being, I am fighting the urge to anthropomorphize the little bugger.
Time for the bullet points. Here’s why I am The iPod Touch Fangirl:
- Thin n lite: Apple is thin-obsessed, as are many of its customers. You can’t beat the iPod Touch for thinness and lightness. It fits into any pocket or purse, and can be balanced between two of my small fingers for easy reading or button-tapping. Wrist strain is for iPhone users, myself included. I’ve never considered burdening the Touch with a case. I’m not sure how you could design a lighter, thinner Internet device that also includes a screen of useful size.
- Luxuriously long battery life: Because there’s no cellular radio to drain the battery, this thing is an Energizer, doing my bidding all day without complaint. I can’t say that of any iPhone I’ve owned, especially when I navigate with GPS, listen with VoiceOver, and/or make calls. Since I work from home where the wi-fi is fast and plentiful, the Touch doesn’t need a radio. When I leave the house, it’s full of podcasts and books, none of which make many demands on the battery. The phone’s job is to tell me when the next bus will arrive, and to take calls from my mom. Carrying two devices may seem a bit awkward, but it feels more like having a 16 Gb, wi-fi-enabled Mophie for my phone.
- Perfect podcast and audiobook machine: I know that music is all about streaming these days, and plenty of people stream podcasts, too. I use Overcast to do this crazy thing called downloading. On the go, it’s quick and easy to pull the tiny iPod from my outside purse pocket, should I need to switch from tech podcasts to something lighter. The phone slumbers on, in the inner pocket, dreaming of SMS and signal bars.
- Um, I sleep with mine: I suffer from bouts of insomnia, but even when I turn out the lights, I like to curl up with a good audiobook. The Touch is a far more congenial bedmate than my iPhone 6, with its bulky case and large, bright screen. I’ll confess that I’ve dropped the phone onto my face while manipulating the Audible app. This is a personal coordination issue, but whatever! I’ve never seen this tested in a lab, but I assure you that an iPod Touch to the nose hurts less than an iPhone 6 does.
- Internet for kids: Finally! Something we can all agree on. Nope. Here’s where I make someone mad. If your kid is under the age of 14 or so, he or she shouldn’t have a smartphone. And if he or she is under the age of 10, an Internet device of one’s own is too much. So yes, the iPod Touch is a perfect tween machine. If Apple stopped making the iPod Touch tomorrow, would you give your 11-year-old his or her own iPhone? I know that passing an old phone on to your kids is among the best justifications for getting yourself a new one. And without the iPod Touch in the lineup, you can continue to do that. That’s right, mom and dad. I’m calling you out! Be honest about your own gadget desires. Give the kid an iPod Touch and let him or her grow into a phone when puberty hits. You’ll save money, if that’s a thing in your house.
- Low stakes in unclean places: My husband is the kind of guy who does not call a plumber or electrician when something goes wrong at our house. He’s also the kind of guy who built our pavestone driveway and a french drain, and who is currently digging for a retaining wall between our house and the next. Take that, y’all who need an app to turn off the lights at night! Wait, come back, I have a larger point to make. So Frank spends a lot of time out in the yard with shovels and wheelbarrows and stuff. He picked up the audiobook bug from me, and likes to listen while he’s toting that barge and lifting that bale. He also likes his phone to stay clean and dry, and inside the house. Entertainment while digging holes, along with no calls from your large family, is kind of a perfect use case for an iPod Touch, or even an iPod Nano. Cheap these gadgets are not, but replacing a lifeless one is simpler and quicker than performing the same maneuver when phone carriers are involved.
- Lower cost/no contract: Phone companies are evil. Can we all agree on that? You hate phone calls? Can we agree there, too? It’s unlikely that you would feel comfortable not having a device that can exchange calls on the telephone network, but your Phone app probably gets less use than Messages, Mail, or maybe even FaceTime. Therein lies the genius of Apple’s broad suite of communication tools. The iPod Touch costs 250 actual dollars, not 250 subsidized, we-own-your-ass-for-two-years dollars. I’ve heard half a dozen people say “95 percent of my calls and texts are with other iOS users.” I think most of them are exaggerating grievously, and my numbers are nothing like that either. But still! the iPod Touch can do everything a phone can do that doesn’t involve a cellular connection to the Internet, and making an old-school phone call. When I’m at home, I pick up whichever device is nearest. Sometimes, that’s my iMac, which is actually kind of heavy, and I plan to stop picking it up.
- Watch schmatch: Since April of this year, people really hate pulling their phones out of their pockets. It’s a bloody nightmare! Hence, they’ve invested $400 or more in a tiny screen that sits atop their wrists. Is it just me, or is “complication” a counter-intuitive name for something that’s supposed to make your mobile life easier? When I’m home, the battery-chewing iPhone 6 sits on a bar in the center of my house, continuously drinking the sweet nectar of electricity. When I get a text or Twitter notification, or need to dash off a quick email, Sea Lion is usually in my pocket. I possess just enough strength to pull it out. From there, I view the entire tweet or text on a single screen, and dictate or type a grammatically correct and people-pleasing email without need of contorting both arms to read and write on a tiny wrist screen. Did I mention that it’s half the price of the watch?
I haven’t placed an order for the faster, more colorful, camera-rific iPod Touch. The same stubborn, cheap streak in me that allows me to love the unlovable also keeps me from buying new gadgets right before vacation. I do have a birthday coming up, though.