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 issue that I had on ZT V10 is still 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. 

Because ZT V10.1's echo issue with Thunderbird, I had to go back to ZT V10.  I am very disappointed by this software upgrade, waste of money.

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 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 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.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Smartphone for a blind senior dummy

When I mentioned that I don't have a cell phone let alone a smartphone, some people thought I was kidding.  It was like saying I don't own a watch.  I don't have a smartphone because of the following excuses:
  • I don't go out that much by myself.  The landline at home works fine for me.
  • I don't have anyone who couldn't wait to talk to me until I am home.
  • I don't want to pay for a wireless plan that I would rarely use.  After all I am on fixed disability income, have to watch my expense.
  • All the smartphone are using touch screen to operate, how would a blind old man learn to do that.  I knew about the voice feedback feature on the smartphone, but I thought that was too much of trouble to operate a phone.
However, I now realize I have been left behind.  I felt like I am  using rotary phone while rest of the world is using touch tone phone.   Beside I need to learn something new to keep my brain working, learning to use a smartphone is like learning a new computer OS.  A cell phone would let me call for help in case of emergency while out walking with my guide dog.  OK, these are my lame excuses for getting a new toy.

The first decision that I have to make was which mobile OS to use.  I knew many blind people like the Apple's IOS due to its VoiceOver  and magnifier features  I was going to get an Apple iPhone but the price was just too high, even a used iPhone 5 would cost around $300 or more.  Given my low usage, I just couldn't justify the expense, so I had to go with the Android OS.

After looking into few Android smartphones, I decided on a $20 reconditioned LG L22C smartphone sold by TracFone.  This LG phone has a fairly large screen and runs on Android 5 OS.  This phone came with lifetime triple minutes, so the operating cost will be very low too.  I am sure the $20 prepaid plan for 90 days of service  will be fine for my low usage.  If I can't figure out how to use a smartphone, all I loss is $20, no big deal.

  When I got the phone, it looks brand new, all the parts were sealed in their plastic baggies. The only thing missing was the user manual.  Luckily I found the manual online and beside I can't read the hardcopy manual anyway.  Believe it or not, this is the first time I look and feel a smartphone in detail.  At first I couldn't even find the power button, then I found it at the back just below the camera lens.  I push it once and wait and nothing happen.  I thought I had a defective unit, until I figure out I need to press and hold the power button for couple seconds to turn on the phone.

Until I got this phone, I have never used a smartphone before.  So when I turn the phone on the first time, I had no idea what to do.  All I saw was a bunch icons on the screen.  Where is the phone dial pad? I thought I bought a phone.  Due to my visual impairment, I was not able to make out the function of each icon.  I knew I had to turn on the screen reader, Talkback, in order for me to operate this phone.  Because I couldn't see the icon, I had to get assistance to turn this feature under accessibility option in the setting apps.

The first time that Talkback was turn on I was offered a quick tutorial on gestures.  From what I learned, everything would take longer to do with Talkback enabled.  So, instead just tap once to select an item, I have to glide my finger on the screen until I hear the item I want to select, then I lift my finger and double tap anywhere in the screen to select that item.  For example, if I need to dial 303-555-1234, I have to glide my finger on the dialpad until I hear the first number 3, then I lift the finger and double tap on the screen to select this number.  Repeat this procedure for all 10 numbers and the call button. I have to do 33 taps instead 11 taps to dial a phone number.  I hate RP, it makes everything more difficult.

There are many more options under the accessibility settin.  I will need to try out each one to see how they would help me use the smartphone.  In addition, there are many apps that would help  blind people to use the smartphone to help them do some daily tasks easier. I probably post another blog on my learning effort.  

Update after 2 weeks play with this phone.
I found that Talkback did not work consistently with couple of Apps so far.  For example, when I dial a phone number, I have to do that triple tap to select a number.  But on the contact page, I only need to glide to a letter then lift my finger to select the letter or glide to a number and lift my finger to select the number.

The Talkback also seem to have problem with password entery field.  For examp, let say my voicemail PIN is 1234, when I triple tap on button 1, somehow number 8 was entered instead.  If I turn off Talkback, the PIN was entered correctly.

I found the following info very helpful:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

ZoomText Fusion, a quick review

The latest product from AI Squared is called ZoomText Fusion 10.1.  This is a ZT magnifier integrated with Window-Eyes 9.2.   This product seems to target people with progressive vision loss, such as those with retinitis pigmentosa, to transition seamlessly from magnifier to a full time screen reader.  Unlike the screed reader that was in the ZoomText Magnifier/Reader 10, the Window-Eyes  screen reader in the ZT Fusion has lot more capabilities. With my continue worsening vision, I have been looking into a full time screen reader for awhile.  I have tried JAWS and NVDA screen readers but found them hard to use because of all those hard to remember hotkey shortcut.  ZT Fusion is supposedly easier to use, especially for those who already familiar with the ZT Magnifier/Reader, that's me.  I have to give ZT Fusion a try so I downloaded the free 60-day trial before deciding whether to spend the money to upgrade.  BTW, the upgrade price from ZT Magnifier/Reader is $399 while buying a new copy is $999.

I installed the trial software in a laptop PC running Windows 7 Professional.  This PC already had ZT Magnifier/Reader 10 installed on it.  There is no need to uninstall ZT 10 to run the trial software.   During ZT Fusion installation, Avast anti virus program thought one of the file was a virus and stopped the installation.  I had to stop the anti virus program in order to continue.  I noticed the installation process has been improved.  There is a tool bar to change font size and enable or disable voice at the top of each installation screen.  If you enable voice, you would hear what button or options on the screen.  The setup wizard would run as part of the installation, you can choose to run the wizard or choose the default setting. If you choose the default setting, you can change the setting later.  It took about 5 minutes to install all the software components.  There was a progress bar on the screen but no audio feedback during this component installation.  If you can't see the screen, you might not know what's going on.

Oh, ZT Fusion supports Window 7, Window 8.1 and Window 10, it also support touch screen.   I am happy with Win 7 and have no plan to move to Win 10, so the additional Window OS support has no value to me.

After completing the installation and restarting the PC, you would see the ZT Fusion 10.1  tool bar which is very similar to the ZT 1Magnifier/Reader 10 tool bar but with an additional tab labeled Fusion.
Magnifier Tool Bar

The magnifier tab looks the same but has more finer magnification granularities for the lower magnification range.  While this is nice, I won't  upgrade for this feature because I don't think it would benefit me if my vision is getting worse down the road.

The Reader tab also look the same but has three new sections under Verbosity setting.  These new sections offer verbosity settings for common tasks, browser mode, and MS office.   Additional screen reader control can be found on the Fusion tool bar.  In addition to IE and Firefox browsers, the ZT Fusion now also support Google Chrome browser.   ZT Fusion also has bunch of settings for MS Office. This has little value to me because I use Firefox browser and Google Doc.

The Tool tab has an additional icon called Image Reader.  This is an additional  OCR and hardware product to read hardcopy documents.  I think my Abbyy OCR software and scanner could provide similar function.

Since I chose the default setting during the installation, I wanted to bring up the setup wizard to see what options were set.  The setup wizard is a new choice under the settings on the menu bar.  The setup wizard let you set the most common options for magnifier, reader, and tools in few screens.  Alternatively, you can do the same setting and more under each tab.  After revewing the settings and changing some to my liking, I want to look at what's new under the Fusion tab.  Clicking the Fusion tab would bring up the following Fusion tool bar which contain 3 groups.

Fusion Tool Bar

Settings: this icon would bring up the Window-Eyes 9.2 control panel.  The control panel contains many screen reading advanced options that are all new to me. Pressing PF1 key would bring up the window-Eyes user manual which has description for all the options.  I think I have to read through this manual in order to use the screen reader.

BrowserMode :  turn on or off automatic browser mode while on the web.  If you click on an input field like in a form, it would turn off the browser mode so you can enter data.  You can also manually turn off browser mode by pressing insert + z keys.

PageNav : pressing this icon while on a web page would list all the headings, links, and landmarks on that web page.  I think the Web Finder on the magnifier tool bar provides the similar  function.

TutorMode:  provide voice guide while you running application.  The amount of guidance is depended on the verbosity setting. For this quick look, I turned on the beginner level and checked many boxes on the verbosity setting for web. 

LearnCtr: contains online tutorial on various ZT Fusion topics such as magnifier, screen reader, web page, Microsoft office.

Pronunciations : offer a way to change the pronounciation of a word to your liking.

OK, let's take ZT Fusion to a spin on the web.  The first website I visited was  The site detected I was using a screen reader and offer a screen reader friendly website at  The website didn't offer this option when I was using ZT 10.  Once on the alternate amazon website, ZT Fusion read  out number of links on the home page.  The ZT Fusion turn on browser mode automatically, you can tell because the pointer was changed from an arrow to a pointing finger with arrow keypad symbol.  At this time, you can use the up and down arrow key to move around the webpage or use hotkey shortcut to do the same.

I then tried Fusion with Google Chrome.  The first time I was on the Google home page, it offered a link to turn off the instant search option, which I didn't do.  After couple of search, Fusion crashed saying it had compatibility issue and told me go the browser's advance setting to turn off some options.   

Next, I opened the Thunder Bird mail client.  ZT Fusion told me to use arrow keys to move around in this application.  I was able to read and send email.

Finally I opened a Google Doc.  The document was opened in browser mode.  While in the browser mode, I used arrow keys to move around the page to read.  To edit the document, I pressed insert + z to get into edit mode.  Fusion seem to work fine with Google doc.

After using ZT Fusion for few days, I don't plan to update at this time for the following reasons:

ZT Fusion feature

What’s in for me

Win 10 & touch screen support

Np plan to use Win 10 or touch screen

MS office support

I use  Google Doc

Google Chrome support

I prefer Firefox

Window-Eyes screen reader

Nice to have, but the regular ZT screen reader is OK for my need at this time.  I might use the free NVDA screen reader in the future.

Supposedly easier to use for current ZT magnifier user

Not really, I still have to memorize all those hotkey shortcut just like other full time screen readers.  I like the tutorial mode and the auto browser mode.

Upgrade for $399

Too expensive, I would consider it for $100.

I will continue to use the ZT Fusion until the end of the trial period.  Who know, I might find some functions' I can't live without and bite the bullet.  Will update this as I learn more about ZT Fusion.

As a side note.  For the past few days, I have had few  crashes on Fusion start up and couple of crashes when trying Fusion with IE and Google Chrome.  These crashes might suggest stability issues and this is another reason that I don't want to upgrade.  The ZT Magnifier/Reader 10 is much more stable.

ZT released an update for Fusion on 12/16/2015.  After running Fusion with the update for few days, I don't think the update make any improvement.  I told ZT about this and they had me install an utility to collect system dump.  When I run the utility, all I got was a blank window screen, I had no idea what it done.

ZT released another update on 1/7/2016.  The release note didn't say what the update fixed.  The Fusion with this second update seem to be more stable.

After 60 days of free trial, I have decided not to update to Fusion Ver 10.1 for the above reasons.  After I deleted the Fusion trial software, I attempted to run the ZoomText Readder/Magnifier Ver 10.1 free trial, but keep having trial has expired message.  I guess I can only run one free trial software per PC.  When I delete the ZT Ver 10.1 software, it also deleted my current ZT Ver 10 software from the PC as well.

Disclaimer:  I am no expert on ZoomText products, this post may have inaccurate statements.  Please visit the following link for the most accurate and up to date product info. 
Zoom Text Fusion product info

FWIW, this July 2015 WebAIM survey seem to suggest that Window-Eyes is gaining popularity as a primary screen reader.  However, I think the gain is partly due to its inclusion with MS Office.  The following diagram is from the survey. 
Screen reader usage trends

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I hate Comcast, but little less this time

When I received my latest Comcast internet bill, I noticed my monthly internet cost has gone up from $54.99 to $82.99 for the Blast tier service.  The current download speed for Blast tier is 100Mbps.  The bill indicated the Performance tier would be $69.99 per month.  The current download speed for Performance tier is 50Mbps.   In order to save few bucks I want to downgrade my service back to Performance tier but I dread to call Comcast due to previous unpleasant experience.

When I call Comcast to downgrade my internet service, I was pleasantly surprised to talk to a very cheerful service reps.  I told her I want to downgrade my internet service to Performance tier due to the high cost, she offered me the current internet promotion.  She said the current offer for Blast tier is $69.99 per month and Performance tier is $59.99 per month.  She also said that the Blast download speed is 150Mbps and download speed for Performance is 75Mbps.  She even offered free cable TV with the $59.99 Performance service.  In order not to deal with Comcast, I declined all the offers and just change to Performance internet only service.  I just don't want to deal with cable box and another remote control, and then have to call them to cancel cable TV service later on.

I really hate the Comcast confusing service levels and  promotions. I also hate the annual price increase. Unless you beg, you don't get the lower price.  I was surprised to get the lower price without begging this time, I guess I was lucky to talk to a cheerful person.  All the people I deal with on the Comcast toll free number before gave me the impression they were either inpatient or grumpy, or hate their job.  Anyway, I am still looking forward to sign up the gigabit internet service offered by our city next year.  The charter price will be $49.99 per month for as long as I stay in the current address.  My advice to Comcast is to simplify your pricing and have more cheerful service reps.

This AskBob article mentioned the Colorado municipal broadband.

My history dealing with Comcast.

I hate Comcast

I hate Comcast, continue

Bye Bye Comcast cable TV