May 25, 2024

XKCD Web Comic #958: Hotels (described)

A web comic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.





Panel One: Drawing of a stick figure seated at a desk with an open laptop, turning to speak to a standing stick figure wearing a hat.

“What’s with this negative review? You liked that hotel.”

“I have a script that posts a bad review for every hotel I stay at. – It reduces demand, which means more vacancies and lower prices next time.”

Panel Two: Drawing of stick figure wearing a hat.

“What if the place sucks?”

“I change the review to positive to steer other people there.”

Panel Three: Drawing of a stick figure seated, talking to stick figure wearing a hat.

“You punish companies you like!”

“The odds of my review putting a hotel out of business are negligible.”

“If we all did that, the system would collapse!”

“Doesn’t affect my logic. Tragedy of the commons.”

Fourth Panel: Drawing of a stick figure seated, talking to stick figure wearing a hat.

“That’s not even the tragedy of the commons any more. That’s the tragedy of you’re a dick.”

“If you’re quick with a knife, you’ll find the invisible hand is made of delicious invisible meat.”

Hover text: 1/5. Room filled to brim with semen, and when front desk clerk opened mouth to talk, bedbugs poured out.


Comic by Described by BlindGadget.

HumanWare’s New Brailliant 40 Braille Display

Brailliant BI 40 Refreshable Braille display and keyboardHumanWare has announced that their new Brailliant  40 braille display is ready to ship. Gilles Pepin, CEO of HumanWare said, “As a proud supporter of braille literacy, HumanWare is committed to developing products that help people who are blind to fully participate in the quickly evolving, mobile world around them.”

The new Brailliant BI 40 display has 40 braille cells and is compatible with JAWS 10 and later and Window Eyes 7.5.2, on Windows operating system computers. HumanWare plans to  support other screen reader manufacturers such as Apple, Dolphin, NV Access as well. The compact design fits ergonomically in front of your laptop and includes an eight-key braille keyboard and thumb key controls.

We think the Brailliant BI 40 is a step in the right direction for price and portability,  but at $2995 it is still out of reach for most consumers. We hope to see even bigger steps toward price reduction in the future.

Source: Humanware

NASA Classic Sounds for Android and iPhone

Astronaut in spacesuit on the moonNASA has released historic sound bites that can be used for ring tones or computer messages.  Even the most mildly geeky among us must kvell at least a little at the thought. Imagine the delicate beeps of Sputnik gracing your ringer, or Neil Armstrong’s timeless “One small step for man….” The sound clips come in three formats, Android, iPhone and MP3. Personally, we find ourselves torn between the shuttle launch, the spooky Saturn emissions (apropos for Halloween!) and Astronaut Cooper’s comment, “It’s a new and strange environment, first, suddenly finding yourself in orbit.” We know the feeling, Coop!


Source: NASA

XKCD Web Comic #957: Development (described)

A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.





Scene: Drawing of a stick figure seated behind a news desk, in front of a weather screen.

“Fear turned to confusion today as Hurricane Rina developed to Piaget Stage 5, with sustained interests in objects and their properties.”

Hover text: Funding was quickly restored to the NHC and the APA was taken back off hurricane forecast duty.


Comic by Described by BlindGadget.



LookTel iPhone Money Reader Supports More Currencies

LookTel has released version 2.0 of the Money Reader. The Money Reader is a mobile application for the iPhone that identifies currency and speaks the denomination. Currency is recognized instantly and there is no need to worry about holding the camera still or waiting for a photo capture. The Money Reader recognizes currency in real time and no Internet connection is required.

The new version of The Money Reader recognizes several currencies including US Dollar, British Pound, Canadian Dollar, Australian Dollar, and the Euro. LookTel Money Reader provides Voice Over support for several languages including English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Polish, Russian, Korean, Finnish, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Japanese. A tone only mode is also available for added privacy. The LookTel Money Reader is available now in the Apple App Store.


Source: LookTel

XKCD Web Comic #956: Sharing (described)

A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.





Panel One: Drawing of two stick figures next to a tree. One stick figure sits on the ground in front of the tree and the other is standing and touching the tree.

“Whoa. What’s this?”

“What’s what?”

“This tree has a USB port.”

Panel Two: Drawing of both stick figures standing next to the tree. One stick figure is holding a laptop with a USB cable connected to the tree.

“Try connecting to it, I guess.”

“It’s offering up a drive with one file on it.”

Panel Three: Close-up of stick figure holding the laptop.

“What’s the file?”

“An e-book. “Shel_Silverstein_-_The_Giving_Tree.azw”

“Never heard of it. Let’s take a look!”

Panel Four: Close up of stick figure holding the laptop. The laptop displays an error message.

“DRM error.-You have not purchased rights to view this title.-Lending is not enabled.”

Panel Five: The two stick figures are silhouetted next to the tree. One holds the laptop with dangling USB cable under her arm.

“Huh. Oh well.”

“Let’s go see what Mike is up to.”

Panel Six: The tree stands silhouetted all alone.

Hover text: In the new edition of The Giving Tree, the tree uses social tools to share with its friends all the best places to buy things.


Comic by Described by BlindGadget.

XKCD Web Comic #955: Neutrinos (described)

A web comic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.

Panel One: Drawing of two stick figures, talking. The one on the left has long hair.

“Did you see the neutrino speed of light thing?”

“Yup! Good news; I need the cash.”

“Huh? Cash?”

Panel Two:

“Yeah, when there’s a news story about a study overturning all of physics, I used to urge caution, remind people that experts aren’t all stupid, and end up in pointless arguments about Galileo.

Flashback: Drawing of stickfigure typing on a laptop.

“No, this isn’t about whether relativity exists. If it didn’t, your GPS wouldn’t work.–What do you mean “science thought police”? Have you seen our budget? We couldn’t begin to afford our own thought police.”

Panel Three: Drawing of same two stick figures talking.

“That sounds miserable and unfulfilling.”

“Yup. So I gave it up, and now I just find excited believers and bet them $200 each that the new result won’t pan out.”

Panel Four: Drawing of same two stick figures talking.

“That’s mean.”

“It provides a good income and if I’m ever wrong, I’ll be too excited about the new physics to notice the loss.”

Hover text: I can’t speak to the paper’s scientific merits, but it’s really cool how on page 10, you can see how their reference GPS beacon is sensitive enough to pick up continental drift under the detector (interrupted halfway through by an earthquake).

Comic by Described by BlindGadget.

XKCD Web Comic #954: Chin-up Bar (described)


A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.





Panel One: Drawing of six stick figures riding up an escalator.

Panel Two: Close up of two of the stick figures. One is wearing a hat and carrying a chin-up bar over his shoulder.

“This is a long escalator.”

“70 meters. Longest in the country.”

Panel Three: Close up of the same two stick figures riding up the escalator.

Panel Four: Close up of the same two stick figures.

“Why are you carrying a chin-up bar?”

“Why aren’t you wearing a hat?”

Panel Five: Drawing of original six stick figures riding up the escalator. The same two stick figures are speaking.

“I’m not really a hat person.”

“And I’m not really a not-carrying-a-chin-up-bar person.”

Panel Six: Close up of the stick figure not wearing a hat.

Panel Seven: Drawing of five of the original six stick figures riding up the escalator.  The one in front has reached the top of the escalator. The same two stick figures are speaking.

“Seriously, why did you bring it?”

“How should I know? I’m not a psychologist.”

Panel Eight: View of the same two stick figures stepping off the escalator.  The stick figure wearing a hat turns and, with a “twist, click, click,” snaps the chin-up bar across the opening of the up escalator.

Panel Nine: Drawing of the up and down escalators as seen from the top. The chin-up bar is blocking the exit of the up escalator as other stick figures approach. The stick figure wearing a hat and the stick figure not wearing a hat are riding the down escalator.

Panel Ten: Side view of the escalators. The stick figure wearing a hat and the stick figure not wearing a hat have nearly reached the bottom of the down escalator. Stick figures riding the up escalator raise their arms in alarm as many other stick figures come tumbling down toward them.

Hover text: The few who escaped found the emergency cutoff box disabled. The stampede lasted two hours and reached the bottom three times.


Comic by Described by BlindGadget.

XKCD Web Comic #953: 1 to 10 (described)

A web comic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.





Scene: Drawing of two stick figures talking.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is it that this question is using binary?”


“What’s a 4?”

Hover text: If you get an 11/100 on a CS test, but you claim it should be counted as a ‘C’, they’ll probably decide you deserve the upgrade.


Comic by Described by BlindGadget.

Jaws 13 Convenient OCR Hands-On

Freedom Scientific has released the public beta of version 13 of their popular Jaws screen reader into the wild. The 32 bit and 64 bit versions are now available for download at the Jaws HQ site. We had no problem installing the 32 bit version on our old Windows test system and we were up and running in no time without a hitch.

As we wrote last week, the most ground breaking new feature of Jaws 13 is “Convenient OCR”. Convenient OCR provides a simple means to read text on the screen contained in graphical images. It has not been possible to accomplish this feat using any other screen reader before Jaws 13. We believe that Convenient OCR represents a significant advancement in screen reader technology and it will quickly become an indispensable daily productivity tool.

We tested Convenient OCR on two of the most annoying accessibility problems we regularly encounter. The first is an HP printer driver installation program with unlabeled buttons and other inaccessible text. Although it is sometimes fun to just start clicking on stuff to see what will happen, it is unacceptable that common system programs like this are still inaccessible when a simple fix would make them available to everyone. Using Convenient OCR, we were able to easily read the screen text and, for the first time, click on the buttons with confidence.

The other problem we often encounter is PDF files we get from professors and other sources that contain scanned images of text. These images are not readable by the screen reader which reports them as blank pages. (Sometimes it seems as though the screen reader has a little bit too much attitude about this.) While we can always save the PDF and convert it with a stand alone OCR package, what we really want is for the screen reader to read it. We are pleased to report that Convenient OCR does it, and does it well.

We have also been told that Convenient OCR can be used to overcome the shortcomings of Narrator when installing the new Windows 8 beta. It can read buttons and text which would otherwise require sighted assistance. Even though it is essential that Microsoft correct these problems and make Windows 8 accessible, it is good to report that the new Convenient OCR feature of Jaws 13 got the job done.

Finally, we do not want to leave the impression that we think Convenient OCR is perfect and Freedom Scientific got it one hundred percent right the first time. The ability to virtualize the text generated by Convenient OCR into the results viewer so it can be cut and pasted into other documents or read using regular navigation commands is a glaring omission. Freedom Scientific has said that they could not get this feature ready in time for the release. We think the omission probably goes more to protecting sales of their Open Book product, since virtualizing text is at the core of the Jaws system functionality. We hope Freedom Scientific will see the light and provide this functionality right away.

XKCD Web Comic #952: Stud Finder (described)

A web comic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.





Scene: A drawing of a stick figure holding a painting under one arm and a screwdriver in the other hand. Another stick figure wearing a black pork pie hat sits in a club chair, reading.

“Have you seen my stud finder? I’ve looked everywhere.”

“It sounds like you may be interested in my new product, a–”

“Shut up.”

Hover text: According to every stud finder I’ve tried to use, my walls contain a rapidly shifting network of hundreds and hundreds of studs.

Comic by Described by BlindGadget.

Heathkit is Bringing Back the Magic

Heathkit SB100, front viewHeathkit has announced they will be getting back into the electronic kit business. The Heathkit Educational Systems was famous for opening the door to the magic world of electronics for countless hobbyists through their broad line of electronic kits. They are best known for their ham radio kits–many still in use today. Heathkit also sold kits for televisions, hi-fi audio, and a variety of kits for building test equipment and other gadgets. You could even get the EC-1 Computer kit long before PCs hit the market.

The thought of Heathkit brings back a lot of good memories for many of us gadgeteers. There was one family in our neighborhood that held out on buying a television because the parents believed it would corrupt the minds of their children. Even though they were clearly right about that, one day an incredible thing happened. The dad came home with a TV kit from the Heathkit store. The kit was amazing. It unlocked the secrets of television into what seemed like millions of little parts and multiple volumes of documentation. It took several months for him to assemble the kit and the anticipation was high when the switch was finally thrown. The set flickered on! (Although it worked perfectly, the set never found a home in their living room and is probably still on that workbench.)

Heathkits were not at all accessible, but that did not stop us from poring over the catalogs with our sighted friends and riding the bus across town to have a look at the latest electronic wonder. The first new kits Heathkit will be releasing this year are the Parking Garage Attendant and the Wireless Swimming Pool Monitor. They are also planning to have a ham radio kit available by the end of the year. We will get back to you with a full accessibility and gadgeteer worthiness report.

Source: Heathkit Educational Systems

XKCD Web Comic #951: Working (described)

A web comic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.





Scene: Drawing of a stick figure next to a gas pump, filling up the gas tank of a car. Another stick figure with a ponytail is standing on the other side of the gas pump, pointing away.

“Why are you going here?–Gas is ten cents a gallon cheaper at the station five minutes that way.

“Because a penny saved is a penny earned.”

Caption: If you spend nine minutes of your time to save a dollar, you’re working for less than minimum wage.

Hover text: And if you drive a typical car more than a mile out of your way for each penny you save on the per-gallon price, it doesn’t matter how worthless your time is to you–the gas to get you there and back costs more than you save.


Comic by Described by BlindGadget.

Jaws 13 Will Include Integrated OCR

Freedom Scientific announced that version 13 of the popular Jaws screen reader will be available as a public beta next week. According to Eric Damery of Freedom Scientific, anyone will be able to download and install the beta during this period. A response form will be provided on the Jaws HQ web site for reporting bugs and other problems. The official release is expected in late October or early November.

The most exciting new feature in Jaws 13 is built-in OCR (optical character recognition). This feature, called convenient OCR, is designed to read text contained in graphical images not normally readable by Jaws. It will help solve the common problem encountered when the bank or utility company presents account information online in graphical form. The text hidden in the image can be read using regular Jaws navigation commands. Convenient OCR will also read those annoying PDF files that contain scanned images instead of text.

Jaws 13 will include a number of other useful enhancements including simplified commands for reading tables and a redesigned user configuration facility called quick settings. There is also expanded Aria support for Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox. Another very nice addition to the Internet Explorer support is web site specific search history. Search keywords previously entered for a particular web site can be quickly retrieved and recycled in new searches.

We are looking forward to the new features and performance enhancements coming in Jaws 13 and we think that Convenient OCR is a giant step forward in screen reader functionality. It is important to note that although Convenient OCR provides groundbreaking support for reading text contained in graphical images, it will not allow the text to be copied or saved. Freedom Scientific stated that they could not get this feature ready in time for the release. It seems to us, as outside observers, that it would be just as easy to display the translated text in the new results viewer as it is to output it to the voice synthesizer. It is our hope that Freedom Scientific will be able to include this functionality in the future.

Source: FSCast Episode 58

Bookshare Launches New Read2Go Book Reader for iOS Devices

Stylized drawing of open book, with the word "book" highlightedRead2Go is Bookshare’s new accessible e-book reader app for the Apple iPhone, Ipad, and iPod. The app makes it easy to locate, download, and read books from Bookshare from within a single program. There is no need to download your books to a computer to unzip them and transfer to your mobile device. Read2Go takes care of all the work for you.

Read2Go has many great new features that make reading easy and more accessible for Bookshare members including:

  • Read books using Apple’s VoiceOver navigation and built in voices.
  • Adjust reading speed, font size, and colors
  • Words are highlighted as they are read.
  • Read books with Braille using a Bluetooth display.

We applaud Bookshare for developing Read2Go for their members. It is very well designed and simple to use. Any Bookshare member with an iOS device will be downloading and reading books in no time using Read2Go. Although we usually like free apps the best, we think Read2Go is worth the price for the convenience and ease of use.

Source: Bookshare Blog

XKCD Web Comic #950: Mystery Solved (described)

A web comic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.





Panel One: Drawing of a twin prop airplane flying overhead.

“What’s that airplane?”

Panel Two: Drawing of a stick figure wearing an old-style aviator helmet with goggles pushed up, standing in front of the now parked twin prop airplane.

“Holy crap! Is that Amelia Earhart?”

Panel Three: Close up drawing of Amelia Earhart stick figure waving.

“Hello everyone! My flight was a success!”

“But… where were you!?”

Panel Four: Drawing of Amelia Earhart stick figure with her arms at her sides.

“I flew around the world!”

“But you disappeared in 1937!”

Panel Five: Close up drawing of Amelia Earhart stick figure.

“Right, to fly around the world!”

“It’s 2011!”

“The world is big. It’s a long flight.”

Panel Six: Drawing of Amelia Earhart stick figure with her arms at her sides.

“But you… – It’s not… – I–”

“Can I talk to someone smarter?”

Hover text: The Roanoke Lost Colonists founded Roanoke, the Franklin Expedition reached the Pacific in 2009 when the Northwest Passage opened, and Jimmy Hoffa currently heads the Teamsters Union–he just started going by ‘James’.


Comic by Described by BlindGadget.


XKCD Web Comic #949: File Transfer (described)

XKCD logo

A web comic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.


Scene:  A drawing of a stick figure standing in front of a desk with a computer screen and a chair, speaking into a phone.

“You want your cousin to send you a file? Easy. He can email it to-…oh, it’s 25 MB? Hmm…–Do either of you have an FTP server? No, right.–If you had web hosting, you could upload it…– Hmm. We could try one of the megashare upload sites, but they’re flaky and full of delays and porn popouts.–How about AIM Direct Connect? Anyone still use that?–Oh, wait, Dropbox! It’s this recent startup from a few years back that syncs folders between computers. You just need to make an account, install the–Oh, he just drove over to your house with a USB drive?–Uh, cool, that works, too.”

Caption:  I like how we’ve had the internet for decades, yet “sending files” is something early adopters are still figuring out how to do.

Hover text:  Every time you email a file to yourself so you can pull it up on a friend’s laptop, Tim Bersers-Lee sheds a single tear.


Comic by xkcd. Described by BlindGadget.


Braille Book Lets You Touch the Face of the Moon

Cover of "Getting a Feel for Lunar Craters"-black and white moonscape“Getting a Feel for Lunar Craters” is a new book from NASA designed to educate blind and visually impaired people about the Moon’s surface using tactile diagrams. David Hurd, a space science professor at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, created the book along with tactile engineer John Matelock after a visually impaired student enrolled in Hurd’s introductory Astronomy course.

NASA’s Lunar Science Institute is committed to the development of resources to bring lunar science into the world of those who cannot see. ‘Getting a Feel for Lunar Craters’ is one giant step for humankind, making lunar science visible through touch and sound,” said Yvonne Pendleton, director of the NLSI.

“Getting a Feel for Lunar Craters” is an excellent educational tool and we give it a strong BlindGadget 5 Robots rating. It would have been great to have had access to a copy when we took on Astronomy 1014 a few semesters ago. The tactile edition is available from the NASA Lunar Science Institute and there are also text and audio editions available for download.

Virtual Eye Provides GPS Navigation and Tracking for Blind Children

Satellite orbiting earth The “Virtual Eye” is a GPS navigation system developed by B. Amutha  as part of her PhD research of SRM of India. The device is intended for blind and visually impaired children and provides simple voice guidance navigation. It is belt mounted and also reportedly uses sonar for detecting obstacles and GPRS for location tracking. Amutha is currently seeking government support to begin production.

Although we found the concept of tracking blind children with GPRS to be a bit alarming, combining GPS navigation with sonar and GPRS is an interesting innovation. Once you steel yourself against the attitudes that frame the original article, you can read more about the “Virtual Eye” in  The Times of India.

Sendero GPSAthon Good News for Gadgeteers


Sendero GPS deviceSendero Group has announced a special pricing program for individuals who purchase their GPS package for the BrailleNote or BrailleSense notetakers through the end of the year. Sendero recognizes that the relatively small market for blindness products tends to keep prices high and often out of reach for individual consumers.

Through the end of 2011, Sendero will be pricing the GPS software on a sliding scale, depending on how many orders are received. The maximum price, for a package that normally sells for as much as $1598, will be $888, with the potential of being as low as $428.

It is great to see companies like Sendero offer pricing for individual consumers, since many of us do not have the same resources as schools and agencies. Read more about the GPSathon at the Sendero Group website.