Thursday, December 1, 2016

KNFB Reader, a hands on experience

As mentioned in my previous post, I was looking for a mobile OCR apps to help me read the info  on packages.  I tried the TextGrabber (TG) and the result was very disappointing.  I mentioned that KNFB Reader may be an better OCR apps but I didn't want to buy it due to it's high cost.   Recently, I saw a notice on the KNFB website saying that Google is supporting  KNFB development, and the apps is selling for $20 for a limited time.  I thought the price was reasonable so I bought a copy.  I also found out that the apps has try before you buy option.   You can try the full function for 25 pictures, after that, you have to do in apps purchase in order to continue using the apps.

Unlike TG, KNFB Reader was designed for a blind user in mind.  There are couple ways to help a blind user to position the camera to capture a good image.   While TG only has manual mode, KNFB has three ways to capture an image, manual mode, auto mode, and stand mode.  There are extensive online video on on this app.   With that in mind, I would provide a link to each feature follow by my own hands on experience.  This demo video provides an overview of KNFB Reader's features. 

When you open the app, you are at the take picture screen.  In addition to take picture, this screen also let you change various options, like picture mode, language, file management, etc.  There are three ways to take a picture, manual mode, automatic mode, and stand mode.

Manual picture mode is the default mode.  If you can position your phone to take the picture manually, this is the fastest method.  After you press the shutter button, the OCR goes to work immediately and read the text on the reading screen within few seconds.  I use this mode to quickly sort out junk mails from important mails.

If you can't take the picture manually, you can take a picture with the automatic picture mode.  The camera will take a picture after it found all 4 corners of the paper.   This mode is fairly time consuming and doesn't work all the time, but if you put a light color paper on dark background, the automatic picture mode would work much better.  You can use the field of view and tilt assistance as additional help to take a picture.  Note:  the video demo the field of view usage with a split tap gesture on an iPhone, this gesture didn't work on my Android phone.

If you have a lot of material to scan, the stand mode would be very helpful.  You will need to buy an optional scan stand in order to use this mode.   Fopydo scanning stand appear to be a popular choice.  I have not tested this mode because I didn't have a scan stand.

One of the major reason that I want a mobile OCR apps is to read info on various packages while shopping.  I tried it out on one of my Costco shopping trip and I was disappointed with result.  The automatic mode was pretty much useless in a shopping environment because of product placement and/or lighting condition.   For example, there were boxes of food placed side by side on a shelf, the automatic mode was not able to take a picture because, I guess, it couldn't find all 4 corners of a box.  I had to pull one box out, put it on my chopping cart, for the automatic mode to work some of the time.  I ended up using manual mode for the rest of the shopping trip.

If the package is not printed on a flat surface, like the text on plastic food packages, the KNFB OCR result is about the same as TextGrabber, that mean both were poor visual aids for shopping.  The  automatic mode didn't work on the long strip of register tape either because again it couldn't find the 4 corners.   So I had to use manual mode to scan the long tape section by section, and because the tape won't lay flat on a table, I had to put a coin at the top and bottom of the tape to hold it flat.   I think the whold shopping experience was more trouble than its worth.

I had a much better result using KNFB reading food package at home because I could remove the food and flatten the plastic package.  Both KNFB and TG had similar OCR result with flattened packages.  I was surprised that KNFB able to read most text on curve surfaces. I took a picture of a plastic jar of peanut butter, a can of soup, and a small bottle of medication, the OCR result were just fair to good but I had enough useful info.  TG  was not able to recognize any text on curve surface. 

In conclusion, if you only want to scan plain black text printed on flat white paper, both KNFB and TG produced about the same OCR result.   The KNFB did slightly better than TG on color magazine pages and news letter with graphics.  Both apps have trouble reading text printed on non flat surfaces.  Unlike TG, KNFB was able to read text printed on curve surfaces.

TG was not designed for blind user in mind, so you must to see well enough to point and shoot the document manually.  You also need to press couple more buttons to have the text read to you after you took the picture.  If you can't do point and shoot, KNFB is the way to go.  This apps would read out the text after a picture is taken without additional action.  I think a better camera and more user experience would probably improve the OCR result on either apps.

Finally, TG is a lot cheaper at $2 a copy, while KNFB costs $100 at regular price, but often on sale.  I bought my copy for only $20.  Only you can determine whether the much higher price of KNFB is worth  for you.  I think I would use a Bluetooth headset when using the KNFB in public to avoid unwanted attention. 





 

 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Ooma, an almost free phone service

I am always looking for bargain.  So, when I saw the ads about free phone service offers by Ooma, I have to give it a try.

Few years back I had the traditional copper wire telephone service provided by CentryLink at around $30 per month.  The monthly fee only gave me local call, no caller ID or long distance call.  Then I switched over to Walmart's BasicTalk phone service for $13 per month.  BasicTalk was a VoIP phone service.  Unlimited nationwide call, caller ID, and voice mail were included in the monthly fee.

Ooma is also  VoIP phone service.  In order to get the free phone service, you have to buy the Ooma Telo device.  The Ooma Telo usually sold for $100 at Amazon but I bought mine on sale for $80.  Although the phone calls are free but you still have to pay the taxes and fees monthly.  The taxes and fees was only $3 when I was using the BasicTalk, to my surprise, they are nearly $5.30 for Ooma.  I just don't understand why Ooma charge more.  Also, Ooma charges $40 to port your current phone number if you sign up for the basic service.   BasicTalk did not charge for number porting.   See the cost comparison at the end of this post.

The hardware connection to your home network is very simple, just connect the included Ethernet cable  between the Ooma Telo and your router, plug in the power supply and your phone to the back of Ooma Telo and you are ready to sign up for service.  You can also buy an optional wireless adapter to connect Ooma Telo to yur router via WiFi connection.  Note: for some unknown reason, my talking telephone doesn't work with Ooma phone service, see below.  

 Signing up for Ooma phone service was also very easy.  You just go to their website, enter the Ooma Telo serial number and following the on screen instruction.  When you first sign up for the basic service, you would also receive 2 months of free trial for the premier service.  The premier service provide you with second phone number, call blocking capability, and other features.   I have no intention to keep the premier service for additional monthly fee after the free trial.

How is the call quality with Ooma?  Like most VoIP phone service, it has some noise, echo and delay, they are more noticeable on some calls especially with cordless phone.   I would say the call quality is about the same as Walmart's BasicTalk.  I think the traditional copper wire phone service had the best call quality. 

In conclusion, if you have a reliable broadband internet connection and can live a slightly lower call quality, Ooma is a good low cost alternative phone service.

After all said and done, I was very disappointed that my RadioShack talking telephone would not work with Ooma Telo device.  The talking phone can make out going calls, but would hang up after one ring with incoming calls.  This talking phone had no problem with Walmart's BasicTalk phone service.  Due to my low vision, I really miss all the features from this talking phone.


RadioShack Talking Telephone
I am now using a Panasonic phone with Ooma phone service.  The Panasonic has talking caller ID but no talking phonebook and no talking keypad.  I think I can use the Ooma mobile apps to get around this problem.  Using the Ooma mobile apps on my smartphone with Talkback enabled, this apps would act like a talking dialer.  

If you have an Amazon Ecoh device, you could also use it to make the call for you, but you still need to pick up a telephone to talk.


Following table shows the 2016 cost comparison between Walmart's BasicTalk and Ooma Basic at the same address.

Walmart            BasicTalkOOMA Basic
Hardware             $9.99$79.99
Number porting $0.00$39.99
Monthly service$9.99$0.00
County Tax$0.13
Sales Tax$0.86$0.31
Regulartory Compliance$1.26$1.98
911 Service Fee          $1.79
Fed Universial                Charge$0.46
County 911$0.75$0.75
State USF$0.15
Monthly Total$12.99$5.29
Annual Toal$155.88$63.48                                                                                                                                                                    
 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

ZoomText V10.1 upgrade, not for me

My PC is running Window 7 and ZoomText Ver 10 with no major issue.  ZT V10 does not run on Window 10, even though I have no intention to move over to Window 10, I had  concern that I won't able to buy a Window 7 PC in the future, so I bought ZoomText Ver 10.1 upgrade when it was on sale. 

I installed the ZT V10.1 into my current Window 7 PC to find out whether any performance improvement.  As soon as I put the CD, I encountered a problem.  The very first installation screen was in normal font, black text on white black background and not voiced.  I had no idea what to do until I had sighted help to continue.  The rest of installation steps were in large font.

The major issue I had with ZT V10.1 is that it no longer work properly with my Thunderbird mail client.  I like to use the ZT's mouse echo function to read my email line by line.  With ZT 10, when I hover the mouse pointer on line of text, it would speak the whole line then stop and the end of the line.  When move the pointer to next line, it would speak the next line to the end again.  If I hover on a link, it would speak the name of the link.  With ZT V10.1, the echo function no longer work correctly.  When I hover the line, it speak the first sentence only and stop speaking on the first period.  Moving the pointer to the next sentence or next line would not resume the voice.  When the pointer hover over a link, it would speak the link's long URL address instead the name of the link.  Watch the video below to see what I mean.  ZoomText tech support is aware of this issue and had no plan to fix it.

The other issues that I had on ZT V10 is that  in ZT V10.1.  The issue is when PC wake up from sleep mode, the speech function would be disabled sometime.  The only way to enable the speech is to reboot the PC.  I also found out that MS Office 2000 is no longer work properly with ZT V10.1/

Because ZT V10.1's echo issue with Thunderbird and MS OFffice 2000, I had to go back to ZT V10.  I am very disappointed by this software upgrade, waste of money.  Of course all this issues might be resolved if I upgrade to Window 10, not use Thunderbird, and use the latest MS Office, but the current working setup is working well for me and I don't have the extra cash for all the SW upgrade.

One last issue, after I uninstall ZT version 10.1 I noticed ZT V10 had few stability issues.  For example, ZT would not start up correctly all the time, had shutdown issue sometime, and others.  I had to unstall V10 and reinstall to get ZT Version 10 fully working correctly again.

ZoomText V10.1 Echo

Sunday, July 17, 2016

ABBYY TextGrabber, not I was hoping for

As an old man with severe visual impairment due to RP, I depend on technologies to help me read the printed material.  For example, I use the ZoomText screen reader to read the text on the monitor, I use a desktop CCTV to read printed material,   and I have a portable CCTV when I am away from my desk.  I also use the scanner and a OCR program called ABBYY FineReader to convert  the scanned printed material to text format for my Zoomtext reader to read it to me.

When I saw the ABBYY TextGrabber app in the Google play store selling for only $2.00, I bought a copy.  The FineReader works really well on my PC with the scanned material and I was hoping the TextGrabber would work equally well on a smartphone.  What I was hoping the TextGrabber to do is to let me take a photo of the text on a item and let the OCR generate a text file from the photo, after that I would let Talkback read the text to me.  I was hoping I can use this mobile app in the stores so I can read nutritional fact, cooking direction, and any other info before buying that item.   I knew the TextGrabber was designed to recognize text on flat paper, and I wanted to fine out whether it would recognize text on flat surfaces like text on front and back of various packages.

The TextGrabber was not designed for a blind user in mind.  A person who use this app must have enough vision to position the camera about 12 inches away from the text to take a photo.  The app's main user interface screen only has 2 large icons.The upper icon is a camera and the lower icon is a photo album.  The  operation of this app is very easy.  After you tap the camera icon, you  would position the camera and tap the shutter  button  to take a photo of the text that you want the OCR function to work on.   After the photo was taken, tap the read button, the OCR would convert the image into a text file in few seconds. When the text file appear on the screen, you tap the screen to let Talkback read the text to you.  The photo album has the previous photos you have taken.  The TextGrabber app also have a language translation function which I won't test at this time.

After taking photos of many type of packages, the result was very disappointing.  The TextGrabber's OCR function had problem recognize almost all the text at the front of the package.  The OCR did do a little bit better with text at the side of back of the packages.   I think this is not the fault of TextGrabber because it was not design for this purpose.  Anyway, I can't use this app to ID items or get useful info from packages.  This app is pretty much useless to me as a low vision aid, luckily it only cost me $2.00.

Here are few photos:
Box of tea bags

Box of cereal

Bottle of prune juice

Can of SPAM




The app didn't  do that much better with regular printed material, like junk mail, post card, menu, etc.  If I have to guess, it had at most 50% accuracy.  The best OCR result came from a perfectly flat paper, with high contrast text and good lighting.  The ABBYY FineReader running in my PC had much better OCR result, I estimated at least 90% accuracy.  I am sure the resolution of the camera and the skill of a user also affect the OCR result.  I ran the test on my LG 22C smartphone which has a 5MP camera.

Look like I would need to find something else if I like to ID stuff on my own.  I knew another mobile OCR app called KNFB Reader.  This app was specially designed for blind user.  This app usually cost $100 but often on sale for around $75.  I have no idea whether it would do any better  reading text on packages.  I don't want to spend that kind of money to find out at this time.  If anyone has experience on this app, feel free to comment below.  As far as I can tell, no OCR can read text on a curved surface, that mean I couldn't use it the read the cooking direction on a can of soup.
  KNFB Reader Demo Video

Another app have received a lot of media attention isTapTapSee.  This app let you take a photo of an object, send the photo to the cloud, and tell you what the object in the photo in about 10 seconds.
The last I checked, this service is no longer free.  Right now there are 2 price plan.  One costs $8.00 to ID 100 images with no time limit. The other costs $9.00 per month with unlimited number of image.
TapTapSee Demo Video

If you need live help to ID a item, BeMyEyes is an app let that let a blind user and a sighted volunteer  establish a video link on smartphone  so the volunteer can  tell the user what the camera is pointing at.  This is a free service.
BeMyEyes Demo video

The info at the directionsforme.com is what I was hoping in a mobile app.  The website contains product info on thousands of food items, health care items and other misc items.  You can search the info by product name or using an optional barcode  scanner.  Won't it be great if an app can use a smartphone's camera as a scanner and enter the UPC code directly into the database?  Probably someone is working on that reight now, I hope.
Directionsforme website

I really hate blindness,  I have jump through hoops just to get some cooking direction.



ABBYY TextGrabber, not I was hoping for

As an old man with severe visual impairment due to RP, I depend on technologies to help me read the printed material.  For example, I use the ZoomText screen reader to read the text on the monitor, I use a desktop CCTV to read printed material,   and I have a portable CCTV when I am away from my desk.  I also use the scanner and a OCR program called ABBYY FineReader to read the scanned printed material.

When I saw the ABBYY TextGrabber app in the Google play store selling for only $2.00, I bought a copy.  The FineReader works really well on my PC with the scanned material and I was hoping the TextGrabber would work equally well on a smartphone.  What I was hoping the TextGrabber to do is to let me take a photo of the text on a item and let the OCR generate a text file from the photo, after that I would let Talkback read the text to me.  I was hoping I can use this mobile app in the stores so I can read nutritional fact, cooking direction, and any other info before buying that item.   I knew the TextGrabber was designed to recognize text on flat paper, and I wanted to fine out whether it would recognize text on flat surfaces like text on front and back of various packages.

The TextGrabber was not designed for a blind user in mind.  A person who use this app must have enough vision to position the camera about 12 inches away from the text to take a photo.  The app's main user interface screen only has 2 large icons but they were not label, soTalkback unable to  tell you their function.  Anyway,  the upper icon is a camera and the lower icon is a photo album.  The  operation of this app is very easy.  After you tap the camera icon, you  would position the camera and tap the shutter  button  to take a photo of the text that you want the OCR function to work on.   After the photo was taken, tap the read button, the OCR would convert the image into a text file in few seconds. When the text file appear on the screen, you tap the screen to let Talkback read the text to you.  The photo album has the photos you took before and the OCR can work on those photo as well.  The TextGrabber app also have a language translation function which I won't test at this time.

After taking photos of many type of packages, the result was very disappointing.  The TextGrabber's OCR function had problem recognize almost all the text at the front of the package.  The OCR did do a little bit better with text at the side of back of the packages.   I think this is not the fault of TextGrabber because it was not design for this purpose.  Anyway, I can't use this app to ID items or get useful info from packages.  This app is pretty much useless to me as a shopping aid.  luckily it only cost me $2.00.

Here are few photos:
Box of tea bags

Box of cereal

Bottle of prune juice

Can of SPAM




The app didn't  do that much better with regular printed material either, like junk mail, post card, menu, etc.  If I have to guess, it had at most 50% accuracy.  The best OCR result came from a perfectly flat paper, with high contrast text and good lighting.  The ABBYY FineReader running in my PC had much better OCR result, I estimated at least 90% accuracy.  I am sure the resolution of the camera and the skill of a user also affect the OCR result.  I ran the test on my LG 22C smartphone which has a 5MP camera.

Look like I would need to find something else if I like to ID stuff on my own.  I aware of few alternative solutions.

I knew another mobile OCR app called KNFB Reader.  This app was specially designed for blind user.  This app usually cost $100 but often on sale for around $75.  I have no idea whether it would do any better  reading text on packages.  I don't want to spend that kind of money to find out at this time.  If anyone has experience on this app, feel free to comment below.  As far as I can tell, no OCR can read text on a curved surface, that mean I couldn't use it the read the cooking direction on can food.
  KNFB Reader Demo Video

Another app have received a lot of media attention isTapTapSee.  This app let you take a photo of an object, send the photo to the cloud, and tell you what the object in the photo in about 10 seconds.  This app is great if all you want is to ID an object. The last I checked, this service is no longer free.  Right now there are 2 price plan.  One costs $8.00 to ID 100 images with no time limit. The other costs $9.00 per month with unlimited number of image.
TapTapSee Demo Video

If you need live help to ID a item, BeMyEyes is an app let that let a blind user and a sighted volunteer  establish a video conference link on smartphone  so the volunteer can  tell the user what the camera is pointing at and provide additional info if needed.  This is a free service.
BeMyEyes Demo video

The info at the directionsforme.com is what I was hoping in a mobile app.  The website contains product info on thousands of food items, health care items and other misc items.  You can search the info by product name or using an optional barcode  scanner.  Won't it be great if an app can use a smartphone's camera as a scanner and enter the UPC code directly into the database?  Probably someone is working on that reight now, I hope.
Directionsforme website

I really hate RP,  I have to jump through hoops just to get some simple info.



Sunday, May 8, 2016

Smartphone as an electronics multi-tool

I like my Leatherman multi-tool because it has so many useful mechanical tools in one small package.  These tools including a pair  of needle nose pliers, a knife, a saw, a file couple of screwdrivers, and other helpful tools. 
Leatherman Multi-Tool



With my visual impairment, I am using a bunch electronics widgets to help me with many daily tasks.  Now that I have a smartphone, I could probably consolidate many functions provided by those widgets into one device.   My smartphone already came with some functions that could replace couple of my electronics devices. and I added few more apps to round out my electronics multi-tool collection. 

Camera: my smartphone came with a 5MP autofocus back camer and a 2MP front camera.  The camera app is very easy to use.  All the buttons are labeled.  This app even  let me take a photo with voice command, just say Cheese.  The main draw back of this camera is lack of optical zoom.  Needless to say, it has video recording function too.

Calculator: what can I say about the calculator app?  Oh, yes, it is a talking calculator.  I don't use my large digit calculator anymore.
Large Digit Calculator


Voice Recorder:  the voice recorder app replaces my portable digital voice recorder.  This simple voice recorder only has 3 buttons (record, pause, stop) and they are all labeled.   One big advantage of the portable voice recorder is its small size and its simple operation.
Digital Voice Recorder


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Better Smartphone For Me

As mentioned in my previous post, I recently bought a LG smartphone with Android 5 OS.  While the accessibility options in the Android OS made the phone somewhat easier for me to use, I want something even easier.  To that end, I have installed an app called Big Launcher(BL).  This app replaced the phone's home screen and made some other functions even easier to use.  The app costs $10 and well worth the price.  There is even a free version of this app but with some limited functions.

The original home screen has many small icons and poor contrast.  The BL home screen only has the essential functions with big icon and good contrast.  You can still access other apps under the app icon.  The default BL home screen has the phone, message, camera, and couple other basic functions icon as well as the clock, signal strength and battery status.  The default home screen layout can be change and all the icons can be customized.  See the user manual for full detail.


BL Home Screen
 
Original Home Screen
 

Touching the phone icon will bring up the big dial pad.   Even with my poor eyesight, I can see the huge high contrast numbers.   While the big dial pad is good, it wouldn't access my voice mail when long touch number 1 button.  There may be a way to set this up but haven't found it yet.  To get around this, I put my voice mail number and PIN in my contact list in the following format: 7205551234,,6789.  The first 10 digits are my voice mail number, the 2 comma to insert 2 seconds pause, and last 4 digits are the PIN.
 
Big Dial Pad
Original Dial Pad


 
Touching the envelope icon would bring up the messaging app but I found the tiny on screen keyboard on the messaging app was really difficult and time consuming to use.   I couldn't see the small letter on the buttons and couldn't't touch type like a real keyboard, so I had to depend on Talkback to let me know that my finger was on the intended letter.  I can type about 50 words per minute on a real keyboard and I can only enter about 4 letters per minute on this tiny keyboard. 
Tiny On Screen Keyboard
Then someone mention why not use voice input to enter my message. But I couldn't find the microphone symbols on the keyboard to let me do the voice typing.  I figured the LG keyboard probably don't support voice typing so I replaced it with the Google keyboard, and I was correct.  With voice typing, I couldn't enter message much faster.  I was very surprised that the voice typing works fairly well even with my heavily accented English.  Learn something new everyday.
 
Then someone told me to try a voice messaging app called Whatsapp.  This app would let me send a voice message or text message on WIFI connection.  Too bad, the buttons in this app were not labeled.  It took me a while to figure out which button do what function.  Initially I was also confused by the two microphones symbols on the screen, one called Voice Message and the other called Voice Input.  The first one would be used to send voice message while the other one for entering text message via voice input.  To send a voice message, I just touch and hold the voice message button to record my message and release the touch to send out the voice message.  I could also attach photo or other stuff with the voice message.  I really like this app, it is so simple to use.  This app is free for the first year then $1.00 per year after that.
  
Since this smartphone is essentially a portable computer, I plan to  build an electronics multi-tool out of this smartphone.  Read my next blog on this.
 
There are many settings under the accessibility option that you can adjust to best help your visual need.  In addition to the Talkback, I found the following settings most helpful for me:
  • Larger font - make the font larger in all applications
  • Color inversion - light text on dark background.  This setting can be quickly toggled on or off at the status bar by tapping the icon.
  • Power button to end call - let you hang up by pressing the power button, this is easier than tapping the hang up icon on the screen.
  
Reference