Welcome to my home page. I became blind at birth. I started programming computers at a young age. I also earned my general class amateur radio license, KA3TTT, a hobby to which I have returned with great joy. I practice Qigong and consider myself a Taoist. I use Linux as my desktop and Android as my mobile OS. I eat gluten-free vegan meals. For the rest you'll have to read my blog. To comment on what you read here, visit Disboardia, my bulletin board system.
The Philadelphia regional chapter of thePennsylvania Council of the Blind partnered with Apple to put on the first VoiceOver event in this area. The event took place at the Philadelphia Apple store, 1607 Walnut St. The Pier Apple store in Atlantic City, New Jersey also helped organize the event. It took place on Sunday March 11th from 07:00-09:00 PM.
My friend Angie and I gathered earlier in the day and relaxed. We ate sushi, drank jasmine green tea, and thought of Steve Jobs. I ordered a cab to pick us up at 05:45. They never asked me for my number, and called my landline when I had gone outside, so we missed them on the first go around. I called and they tersely told me that they would come back. The cabby asked for the address several times. When he said we had arrived, i asked my friend if I should check my GPS. We decided not to, since we figured how could someone miss a big Apple store? I should have checked. He had dropped us off at a random location! We had to get strangers to help us to our destination.
We stepped inside the store feeling relieved. A cool guy told us to wait for the event to start. He brought us over to a high table and brought us stools. That helped. We got our MacBook Airs ready for the event, and just sort of mingled and had fun hanging out.
Even before it started, we could feel the amazing energy. I have never come to the Philly Apple store before. I felt welcome, and this felt like quite a way to spend a first time in one. While just listening to our surroundings, we heard people come up near us. They said the entire agenda, and the different groups they would offer. We would pick a product to focus on: iPhone, iPad, or Mac, and they would divide us up into groups. It sounded like they would have a presentation, then let us play with equipment. We talked about how much you can hear if you just listen. Sure enough, soon after they came around and asked us our name, basic info, and which product we wanted to learn about. I didn’t even think about that, but Angie answered Mac so I figured I’d just say mac also and go with her. We both had our Macs and it seemed like the most hardcore choice.
The time had finally come for the event. They moved us one group at a time. A girl even brought over my MacBook Air. How nice! We found ourselves at the Mac table with MacBook Pros scattered around. We got out our Macs and felt right at home. I put on my Aftershokz and prepared myself. I said hi to a few people and showed one how to turn on VoiceOver. They asked us to quiet down and the event began.
A few people spoke, including Lynne Mayleaf from the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind, and a few Apple trainers. This event had 80 attendees, and involved 20-30 Apple employees. Consider what this means. Companies that just make equipment for the blind have to go to a convention to get 80 attendees, and Apple just had an event at a local store open to the public. They even had a waiting list. Steve Jobs would feel proud.
Linda described this event as her dream. When she wanted to know more about Mac, she went to an Apple store and met a trainer named Bobby. He said that everybody knows somebody that Apple products can touch. We did a lot of clapping and building enthusiasm. They announced that the ACB/PCB offers discounts. More clapping.
Bobby has a blind father, so this meant a lot to him. He wanted to help people have that wow moment like his father had. He gets it. This seemed like the theme. It felt more like an exciting show and less like a boring tech event.
A Keynote presentation about Voiceover followed. It showed the different products including Macs, the iPad, the iPhone, and an iPod Touch. They went around each of he three groups and had the trainers introduce themselves. I really tried to project a lot of enthusiasm for the Mac group. Better to be a pirate than to join the navy! It became clear that the iPhone group had the most people. The iPhone got me back into Apple products. I originally wrote that it changed my universe as soon as it entered it. That still holds true. My enthusiasm has not waned. I felt so glad to consider all the people considering this wonderful technology. Nothing makes me happier than seeing someone considering going from Windows to Mac.
Our two trainers gave a nice introduction to VoiceOver. I felt impressed. When I first tried to buy a Mac at an Apple store, the employees knew nothing about how to use VoiceOver. This delayed my purchase for a day and that bothered me. Seeing employes with more of a practical knowledge about VoiceOver shows Apple’s continuing commitment to accessibility. My friend and I already knew this stuff of course, so we just enjoyed the experience.
Our trainers knew this and periodically came up to us and asked if we needed anything. One told us that she first found out about VoiceOver when she accidentally turned it on and had to take it to an Apple store to get it turned off. That sparked her curiosity and now she does basic training. She asked if we knew that when we type a password, clicks happen to indicate hidden characters. We said we did. “Yeah, and it randomly clicks so someone listening doesn’t know how many characters you’ve typed.” said Angie. “Really? I always thought that was a bug.” I said. Then Angie and I said the old programmer’s saying at the same time: “It’s not a bug it’s a feature.” The trainer told me what I’ve heard from a few other employees: “You should work at Apple.”
I do have one suggestion for the introduction to the Mac. They need to at least introduce the concept of interacting. You have to understanding interacting to use VoiceOver on a Mac. Other than that, they did a great job getting everyone going. I hope it will convince some JAWS for Windows users to take the plunge.
After the demonstration, they had a question and answer session. This included a demonstration of Siri. They had a few people speak about their experiences. Everyone seemed interested in learning more. I hope they do.
They ended it with something nice. Steve Jobs always liked to have one more thing. And one more thing: ACB members get product discounts. The Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation will give a $1000 lone to buy APple products at 0% interest. This went over well. They also let people keep their Apple earbuds. The event ended on a high note. It reminded me of the ice mint mango drops I had purchased for the event, the mango providing a sophisticated balance to the coolness of the mint.
Given my experience with the cabby on the way up, I sort of dreaded the journey back. As they concluded they said that they would help us with anything we might need, such as finding the restroom or getting a cab. I needed to do both. One of the Mac trainers named Lindsay said she’d help. We walked into the bowels of the Apple store. I had never gone here and it felt exciting. We took an elevator up to the second floor and she showed me the door. I went to the bathroom then we went back downstairs. Another trainer named Ashley if I remember right hailed me a cab and the two of them walked me over. Leave it to Apple to take their of their customers until the end.
They will have more of these VoiceOver events in Philadelphia, so stay tuned. Lynne wants to start having them on a national level, so you never know where one might pop up. I would recommend going, you have nothing to lose and so much to gain. No other consumer electronics company has done what Apple has done for the blind.
I just fought an epic battle with Verizon. I thought I would document it here, and give some tips for power users. Get ready for a confusing and ultimately victorious account.
My Mom and I both moved into condos wired for FiOS already. When Mom called them to move her services, they told her they did not offer FiOS and to install a satellite dish on her roof. She informed them that condos don’t have roofs and called back. The next person told her that in fact they do offer FiOS and transferred her over. Since she had standard residential services things went easily. They did not go so easily for me.
I got FiOS in my old house as soon as it came out in 2009. Since I run a number of services on a Linux machine, I wanted a static IP. They did not offer that through residential and still don’t, so told me to get my internet through their business center. For a while I had that arrangement: a phone and cable bundle through residential, and my awesome unrestricted internet through business. It got a little confusing having two bills, but it worked.
When I moved, I wanted to see about trimming things down, consolidating things, and saving money. They told me what they told me before, and I left my services intact and just had things transferred. I figured I would deal with modifications after the move since I had enough else to deal with. In retrospect I should have just switched everything over to residential then. It would have saved me a lot of problems and money.
The Verizon techs came at 08:30 A.M. on the day after I moved and installed my services. They did an awesome job putting up with my weird demands, such as wanting to use my own router. I also asked them to run an ethernet instead of a coaxial connection, which they did. They also ran a phone cord so I’d have it by my computer. The poor guy expended the most effort installing the stupid cable box. I kept telling him I could hardly use the damn thing anyway since I can’t see its visual menus, but it didn’t matter. He wanted it working! It just would not work and they did not give him the right tools. Verizon take note: your techs feel under-equipped unhappy! Still, the guy did his best and finally left at around 05:00 in the evening.
About a week ago, I got my bill for the business internet. It had a $99.99 charge for the stupid router they give to everyone that I won’t use anyway. It also had a $149.99 activation charge for the internet. I did not want to pay either of these charges. The activation fee seemed especially annoying. They never said anything about that!
The calls started on Monday. I took care of the router easily enough. They said they would send a return kit and I just can send that back and they will refund the charge. Good enough. The activation charge came from the fact that I had a single service on business, the internet. I explained my configuration to them but it mattered not. So it begins.
After a lot of talking, the people in the business center said I could bring my phone over to business, then pay $127.99 a month for those. I would lose cable but I would save money and I don’t watch cable much anyway. That sounded good. They said they would transfer me back to residential, where I would cancel my order for those services. Then, business would pick up that order and move them over to their side. It sounded a little complicated but I did.
It took them ten minutes to disconnect everything. I felt kind of amazed and the tech in business agreed. He had given me his email address and this remained my sole way of correspondence through this madness. At least that worked. He asked if I could move it to Thursday. This happened on Monday. He said they needed 3-5 business days. I called back Residential, but everything had gone through. Business told me that they would proceed as fast as they could.
On Tuesday I got another email. “We have a problem.” I could not have my old phone number, the number I’ve had for over twenty years. It seems residential uses digital voice and business does not. He gave me a choice: either proceed and lose my beloved number, or cancel the order. This would mean reverting to the previous billing configuration as well. I decided to revert and consider my options. I felt angry and needed dinner.
After some time I realized what I had to do. I had to transfer my internet to residential so I could take advantage of a bundle. I would just have to put up with the stupid limitations of a residential connection, including a dynamic IP and port 25 blocking. I’ll go over how to circumvent these problems later. The more I thought about it the more sensible it seemed.
Wednesday came and I had no phone services. I would have to use a low quality cell connection to do everything. The iPhone rules, but a cell phone sounds like a cell phone. I emailed my contact in business and told him I had no phone service, and asked if he had cancelled the order. He wrote back that he had. I figured they just had to get everything connected or whatever. The day ended, but I still had no phone service.
By Thursday I had enough! I got an email back saying that business had cancelled the order, but I would have to call residential to get my service turned back on. Now that I look through previous emails it does say that I would have to call residential, but the full meaning of this didn’t quite hit me until then. So I sat for a day without service just because of this little misunderstanding.
Verizon has a serious communication problem between their departments. The residential side cannot access the business side, and the business side cannot access the residential side. This proved an increasing source of frustration. I began getting bounced around so much I don’t even know what happened or who I talked to. I remembered that part from The Pirates of Silicon Valley when Steve Jobs yells: “You people are a bunch of clock punching morons! I need Artists!”
At one point I found myself talking to someone in residential about my plan. She told me I could do it, and that she would conference us in with the retention department in the business center. This would coordinate the cancellation of my business internet with the activation of my residential internet. That sounded great. The phone rang. A woman from business picked up. The woman from residential had vanished! No! I felt trapped and alone. I could hear Hunter Thompson yelling: “You scurvy shyster bastards! I’m a doctor of journalism!”
The woman in business listened to the story so far and seemed to offer a ray of hope. She said that they could transfer me to business after all, but it just takes a little more work. I began to get excited. She put me on hold. She came back and said some encouraging things. She put me on hold again. She came back and told me that she didn’t realize I had a phone number from another area and that in fact they could not do it after all oh sorry. I told her of my plan to transfer my internet to residential, then get a bundle and have the activation charge waved. She said it would work, but that I would have to talk to someone in residential to get the activation fee waved. Finding ourselves back at square one, she transferred me back to residential. At least she had a good attitude.
I found myself talking to a new woman in residential. I explained my story for the seventy-eighth time. She sympathized, and we talked about the various bundles they offer. She sold me the fastest internet they offer (35 mbps up/down), telephone, and cable for $99.99. This sounded great. SHe understood about transferring the business internet. She gave me a temporary phone number, and assured me that I would have my old number back in a day or so. She told me I could keep the DVR I already had. This sounded great. I asked her about getting a refund for the activation charge. I told her what the business people had said. She told me that I had to talk to them since the charge happened on my business account, but they would do it now that I had placed this order. I began to get a headache. This did not sound so great. Back to Business.
The guy in business seemed to have a problem with his computer. It “crashed” for lack of a better word. I sat on hold for a while looking at dynamic DNS providers. After a while, he came back on and said that he had to reboot the system. After more time past, he said that he would have to try to place the order later. He assured me that he would have it placed by 08:00 AM, in time for the residential internet. I could only hope for the best, and say a quick prayer to Goddess. The image of a crazy woman goddess of confusion ruling over the material world made perfect sense, completely reaffirming my faith in Discordianism.
I then brought up the $149.99 activation charge, since now I had proof that I had internet through them in the form of the order number. He brusquely told me that they could not just credit my account. I explained that I had simply transferred my service, and at no point did anyone mention anything about a $150 activation fee. If they had, surely I would have just gone with residential to start with. He insisted that he could not credit me, since I had purchased a new installation of a single service. I insisted that residential told me that business had to credit me, since the charge happened on a business account. That made logical sense, so it meant nothing. After bantering back and forth, he finally agreed to roll back the order to the beginning of the month, which would credit me for that month’s worth of internet, around $109. We said our good byes. By this point I had to take a shit, so did.
On Friday I woke up and to my delight, found all my services working, though with a few little glitches. I had to reconfigure my router which went flawlessly. I also had to update addresses in a few servers, perfectly normal. I still had my temporary number, but that would get resolved. I had done it. I had won the battle and with a few easy technical tricks, retained my power. Now I will show you how.
First, I will share a tip anyone can use. It involves updating your DNS server. If you don’t know how a DNS server works, then for the sake of the internet’s freedom please learn. Basically, a DNS server takes an internet domain name such as “behindthecurtain.us” and resolves it into a string of numbers called an IP address like “18.104.22.168”. To find out these numbers, your router contacts a DNS server. By default, Verizon FiOS routers come configured to use special Verizon servers with some nasty little surprises. Thiese servers give Verizon an easy way to know every single domain name you visit. They also help target the advertisements you see when you type an incorrect URL. Fortunately, you can fix this rather easily.
First, log into your router. You do this by going to a web browser and opening its address. If you don’t know the address try 192.168.1.1, or check the documentation which came with it. Now find where you enter the DNS servers. If you use the shitty router they give you, just go to the My network icon, and then click Network Connections on the left menu. Now find your connection. Look for something like “Broadband” which shows as connected. Go down to settings and choose the DNS servers from the drop down menu. I ripped off these instructions from this article. By contrast, if you use Tomato USB as I do, go to Basic, then Network. So simple. If you have a different router, just find where you’d enter the DNS. If you used the settings Verizon gave you, then you will see a sequence of numbers ending in “.12”. Change the 2 to a 4 so it reads “.14”. This uses Verizon’s DNS servers without the nastiness. You could also use a service like Open DNS. if you wish. Bottom line: get off the default servers.
Now we will discuss IP addresses, the things domain names resolve to. Business FiOS offers static IPs. This gives an easy way to refer to a machine which would never change. Residential does not offer this service. It offers dynamic IPs. These addresses come from a pool, and renew often. I knew I would need to use a service which would give me a constant domain name which would resolve to my changing dynamic IP.
A number of these Dynamic DNS services exist. I worried about using one. Would a stream of data continue without interruption? Could I get it working easily? Would it cause everything to break? I wrestled with these questions and battled with CAPTCHAs. I finally settled on NoIP, because they had a number where I could talk to a human who helped a blind user set up a free account to get free services. Very nice! Tomato once again came to my rescue, as it has a NoIP client built right in. THis means that I do not have to run some program on a computer which could fail, it runs right on my router. And I feel pleased to say that everything works flawlessly.
We will now dive into the mysterious world of port 25 blocking. Most residential internet service providers, including Verizon, block port 25, used for sending email. They had to start doing this when lots of Windows machines began getting infected by malware which turned the machines into hapless little spam zombies, running their own miniature mail servers and pumping out spam. Once again Windows caused the problem! THis block means that you can send email through Verizon’s servers, but cannot connect to any other mail server. This means if you use your own mail servers you run into a problem. I did not invest hours of my time just to use some other mail server, so I resolved to fix this.
The easiest way around this problem involves not using port 25 at all. Using SSL uses alternate ports, and gives you a more secure connection. If you use Postfix, just uncomment these lines in /etc/postfix/master.cf. This will allow you to connect on port 465 and 587. Remember to update your mail clients to use SSL.
smtps inet n – – – – smtpd
If you use another mail server, you could always write a port forwarding rule in iptables. To do this just run:
# /sbin/iptables -t nat -I PREROUTING -p tcp –dport 465 -j REDIRECT –to- port 25
Which redirects all requests from port 465, the alternate SMTP port, to port 25 internally.
That will do it for the tech tips. I hope you enjoyed them and learned something useful. I also hope you learned something from my battle with Verizon. You know you’ve talked to them too much when you have their hold music in your head.
I feel very excited to review the Aftershokz bone conducting headphones. These new headphones use bone conduction to deliver sound, leaving your ears open to the outside environment. Originally developed for special ops, they have now found their way into the public sector. They help the sighted and the blind even more.
As with many good things, synchronicity surrounded my discovery of Aftershokz. I wanted a way to hear my iPhone’s GPS while still leaving my ears free to hear my environment, especially given my recent interest in echolocation. At first I wondered about some kind of shoulder mounted speaker. I thought someone would have done this, but I found nothing. I started using a small earpiece, but it did obscure my hearing slightly in my left ear where I wore it. Still, it worked for the time being. As I pondered my options, I saw a tweet about these headphones, and I knew Goddess had answered my prayers!
I wondered how they would help the blind, and others did as well. I found a great review and podcast from SeroTalk. It got me excited and I ordered a pair of the mobile headphones on the spot. I received them yesterday and have had a chance to play with them a little. They deliver as promised, and I really enjoy using them.
The headphones look sort of like a little pair of regular headphones, but with some differences. The band wraps around the back of the head, and the ear pads sit in front of the earlobes right where the sinuses begin. Wearing them feels very comfortable. They have a single cord on the left side which connects to the battery box, and in the case of the mobile headphones, the inline microphone. The battery box also has a power light, and two buttons. The top button turns the headphones on and off, and the bottom button acts like the middle button no a pair of Apple headphones, allowing for answering calls, and playing and pausing music. The battery box also has a hefty clip to keep everything nice and untangled. The cord then continues down to a standard 3.5mm jack, the kind used by iPhones and iPods. The box also comes with a little extension cord and a USB charger which plugs into the headphones.
After plugging the USB charger into my iMac and letting the headphones charge for three hours, I wanted to try them out. I turned them on and hooked them up to my iPhone and fired up Ariadne GPS. I walked with my family to Hawthornes Cafe, an awesome local restaurant. To my delight, everything worked as expected. I could hear my location while carrying on a perfectly normal conversation with my family.
The sound has a slightly tinny quality to it, but I sort of expected that. I would not consider them for serious listening, but then again I did not get them for that purpose. For human and synthetic speech they sound just fine. The sound has an interesting quality since it comes through your bones. It sort of sounds like it comes from within your head as when wearing headphones, but something does seem a little different. I like it.
Later I had a call, and again the voice sounded fine. I asked how the mic sounded, and she said she didn’t even know I used the headphones and thought I just used the normal microphone on the iPhone. We talked for four hours and my ears never hurt or felt uncomfortable in any way, plus I could rome freely around my condo. This beats wearing headphones which makes navigating impossible even in a familiar space, or wearing one headphone over your ear and letting the other rest against the head to keep an ear open, or just leaving it on speaker phone and manipulating the phone while doing other tasks. This use really impressed me and showed the real potential of bone conduction.
I also played some music through them. First I loaded up a goa trance track by Psychonaut. I could actually feel the bass thumping into my head through the ear pads, though lower frequencies do sound a bit muted. It felt unique. Then I put on a mellow ambient track by the Orb. While the headphones don’t deliver the full bass response of standard headphones, they sound just fine for casual background listening.
The freedom offered by Aftershokz feels so wonderful. Now a blind person can hear any audio they desire without sacrificing their orientation and mobility. My Mom said I look like a space cadet because of the shining power indicator, and it sort of feels that way, walking and talking with a GPS overlaid onto my reality. I can see how soldiers would benefit from this technology. I recommend these to all blind users. They fill my needs perfectly, and arrived at the perfect time. They range in price from $59.99-$79.99. You can preorder them now and the site also has a link to order them immediately. Go get them now, you will not feel disappointed.
Today, Apple had an education event. It may not have received as much excitement and coverage as their last iPhone event, but I believe it has profound implications. The event covered three new apps which will greatly increase Apple’s position in the educational institutions. iBooks has a new version which features new beautiful interactive textbooks. iBooks Author for the Mac allows easy authoring and publishing of these books. iTunes U brings a full set of features for the creation and instruction of classes. These three things make the iPad a new indispensable educational tool.
Apple has always had education in its DNA, as they said at today’s event. Anyone around my age remembers some Apples sitting in a cold computer room. I got an Apple II/e, and I remember my school had an Apple II/+. I then transferred to an elementary school, but I don’t remember anything about computers there. After that I went to a private school for two years and I remember they had a bunch of Apple II/c’s but also PC’s. I used to amaze sighted students by going into the BASIC built into the Apple’s ROM and writing little programs without any kind of speech or other feedback. The programs worked and I loved working with Apples.
By the time I got to high school PC’s had taken over. I felt kind of sad not to see Apples, save for a lone sad Apple sitting in a disused corner. When rumors surfaced of today’s education announcement I began to wonder what Apple had in mind to reclaim its deserved status. Now I feel amazed looking back. I think Apple has done it again.
Textbooks suck! I know they stressed their bulk and weight at today’s event. Double that and you will know what a blind kid has to go through. A textbook does not take one bulky volume, it takes thirty. It really sucked when the class covered pages spanning two volumes. While throwing things out to prepare for moving, I chanced to find an old portable printer. I’d lug that thing around with a big heavy laptop and a backpack of braille books every day. The printer still feels unwieldy and heavy as an adult and so do big braille books. I can only Imagine the excitement felt by today’s sighted students at the prospect of doing work on an iPad. Now double that and you will know what blind kids must feel.
Print and braille have a static format, written in stone so to speak. They cannot change. They get damaged. They do not allow for easy indexing and searching. Again, try using a traditional index across a 30-volume braille set. Too bad if they haven’t published the part you need.
Electronic books solve all these problems. They also take advantage of the features offered by modern hypertext systems, including linking to other parts of the book or to external media and databases. As if that couldn’t get any better, Apple has already built VoiceOver support into the format by allowing authors to supply accessibility descriptions for widgets. This gives the potential to create the most accessible learning experience the blind have ever known.
To create one of these new electronic books, one uses the free iBooks Author app, which any Mac user can get in the Mac App Store. I tried it with VoiceOver, but got confused and trapped in a text box. Others have had better luck. Reading the help files would probably help. I really hope the blind can use this tool, and that Apple will make it as accessible as possible. I want to publish my book about meditation when I finish it. I still consider the app a tremendous step for Apple, and hope publishers will make full use of it and its accessibility features. Think of all the kids this will help.
Today’s event shows that Apple still recognizes the importance of education. It gives me a warm feeling to imagine how these developments will benefit the everyone, especially blind students. I know firsthand that having access to technology at a young age makes all the difference. I went to St. Lucy’s Day School for the Blind. They had Apples which talked. I bought one and started programming very soon thereafter. Now that school has kids making cute videos with iPads. Apple, you’ve done it again!
Epilog: Every apple has a worm. Apple has imposed some very severe restrictions in their end user licensing agreement for iBooks Author. If you write a book using iBooks Author, you can only publish it through Apple if you make a profit. If Apple wants to truly start a revolution, they must practice what they preach about their love of open standards. Restrictions will only hamper their efforts. They will have to address this issue if they want to succeed.
I have recently gotten AirPlay working to prepare for a move. As I wrote, I got an Airport Express and an Apple TV. At the time of writing I had to wait to get the Apple TV working. Now I have, and I love it. The whole model of content distribution needs to mature, and Apple will lead the way.
I ordered my Apple TV and it arrived within twenty-four hours. I felt amazed just examining the box and its contents. The Apple TV looks like a little square with a few ports on the back and rounded edges. The remote looks like the coolest remote I’ve ever seen, just a thin rectangle with convex surfaces and round corners. The remote has a button with the four arrows and enter in the center, plus a Menu/Back button and a Play/Pause button below it. It reflects a zen minimalism perfectly.
I couldn’t wait to get it working. Things worked out very nicely actually. For Christmas my Mom gave me a little lightweight TV to bring with me on the move, as compared with the bulky one I bought when I bought the house in 2002. It amazed me how in ten years media and the technology around it has totally changed. The old one didn’t even have an HDMI port, something Apple TV needs. I had a friend come over and haul the old one outside with a FREE sign on it. In my excitement I had tried hooking up the Apple TV to the new TV, but hit the wrong button on the new TV’s remote, putting it in a perpetual menu and making it silent and useless. I really hope APple really does come out with a full TV which talks! Imagine that, no more inaccessible menus.
My friend got the new TV working with Apple TV just fine. Hitting the lower right button (Play/Pause) three times during the initial setup will enable VoiceOver. Once we got it off the ground I could operate everything with Apple TV’s remote, plus a few buttons on the other remote my friend taught me. I could now try to evaluate this thing.
Apple TV has a simple menu structure. Going left and right goes through the different categories of things (movies, TV shows, etc.) and going up and down goes through the options in that category. In this way you can rent movies, watch TV shows, listen to music in your iTunes library, subscribe to podcasts, watch Youtube videos, and lots of other fascinating things. For the first time I can lounge in my recliner with a remote and browse on-demand content and have it talk to me, something sighted people have enjoyed for years. I love it!
First I looked at hot movies. Apple has a notorious anti-pornography stance, so it seemed interesting to see the fascinating documentary DMT: The Spirit Molecule in the top ten independent films. You can’t have sex, but smoke all the DMT you want! I also saw a documentary about Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, one of my heroes. I plan to rent both.
Next I looked at TV shows. I added some favorites to my list. I watched the latest episode of the Simpsons just to try it. The episode parodied Glen Beck and the tea party movement, and I enjoyed it. It felt cool to see all the different networks and shows. It just has on-demand content, nothing live. As soon as they start streaming live content we can cut the cable forever, and I look forward to that day.
Then I wandered over to the internet category. I watched a Ron Paul video on YouTube, and subscribed to a few podcasts, including the very funny Radio Free Oz. I really like listening to podcasts on my Apple TV from the comfort of my living room. I could really get more into podcasts this way. I also browsed my iTunes library, very cool. And of course, Apple TV acts as an AirPlay device, so I can hear anything I want over it as long as I can stream it.
All and all, I love Apple TV, but the current generation represents a stepping stone. I think that things need to mature so we can enjoy live TV. People have become tired of paying insane amounts of money to watch their favorite two or three channels on cable. In his biography, Steve Jobs said that he has cracked the secret to an easy high definition television. I hope he has, because I welcome a full Apple TV. Should you get one? If you like watching on-demand content or have a large iTunes library then I would say yes. If you don’t know then you might want to wait to see how the rumors play out. Either way, I have found my Zen TV.