Friday, March 26, 2010

GPS Where Are You?

This week I attended a demonstration at Baruch College’s Computer Center for Visually Impaired People (CCVIP), titled: “GPS Solutions for Visually Impaired People.”

GPS is an intriguing topic, and it seems it would be a particularly important “solution” for people who can’t read the street signs. I often wish for the button I can push that will tell me exactly where I am.

In this day and age, it’s really not an unreasonable expectation. GPS, nowadays, makes an average driver into a brilliant navigator. You can even have your turn by turn directions delivered by the voice of Snoop Dogg, Ozzy Osbourne, or Homer Simpson.

The seminar was presented by a fabulous guy named Gus, who is a former colleague of mine at the Lighthouse, and now heads up the newly developed Demo Center at CCVIP. The audience was a good mix of people with varying visual acuities, looking for the GPS solution of their dreams...

Gus began his fair and balanced review of the Trekker Breeze by Humanware, with a video of his experience starting at Point A. Apparently, the user manual states that it could take up to 20 minutes for the device to figure out “where you are.” As he waited for the answer, Gus mused about how much easier, and quicker, it would be just to ask someone, and not wait for the GPS to figure it out.

The next issue was a biggie. The trekker will not allow you to enter your destination, Point B, unless you have already gone there with the device. Huh?

Through the rest of Gus’s video, (which will be linked here as soon as it is posted online) the Trekker Breeze delivered information at about 50% accuracy. I wondered could GPS be so successful in cars, if it was wrong half the time.

I asked the price of this device, and Gus replied, “$895.” Is that a rip-off? Yes, I believe it is. I understand that this device is known to not perform well in cities with tall buildings. So why do they sell it to visually impaired people who live in cities (with tall buildings)?

Funny thing though, the audience did not seem nearly as appalled by these facts as I did. Could it be that phenomenon I’ve witness before, where visually impaired people are just used to accepting mediocre products at obscenely high prices? They even pointed out the places where the Trekker seemed to work best, for instance in a cab or a bus. Huh?

Gus, whose good nature prevailed, finished his presentation by mentioning several other GPS devices which were of questionable value.

I recalled having experienced great GPS once. It was my nephew Evan giving me turn by turn directions, via my cell phone, taking me from the entrance of FAO Schwarz to the Lego (City Site) he had asked me to get him for his 10th birthday.

That's what I call -- a "solution!"

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Seven Year Itch

For seven years I’ve been in a dysfunctional relationship --- with my personal computer. Yesterday, in Apple Fifth Avenue, I ended it. No one was surprised. My dissatisfaction was obvious, really from the beginning.

I must admit I’ve had my eye on Mac, for a while. To further explore my feelings, I schedule a date with a personal shopper, who would totally focus on my needs. We looked at the iMac desktop with a 27 inch screen. It’s not just a nice computer; this is a work of art. Apple’s Personal Shopper demonstrated its “Universal Access” essential to my computer use. Zoom enlarged everything on the screen to a size I can see. Voice Over is available to read out loud, upon request. Voice Control will allow me to ask the computer to go to my favorite websites. All of these features, built into the operating system, at no extra charge. (My ex, PC, required a third party assistive software license, at a cost of $700­­).

My personal shopping appointment was not pressured; I had as much time as I needed. There was no heavy sales pitch, no empty promises, just amazing product and incredible customer service. How could I help, but fall in love?

I should have known my relationship, with my last PC, was not going to work. In order to get it at all, I had to hire an IT Guy, at $85 an hour, to order the computer, from Del, and to set it up. This was my first mistake. We did not communicate well, I did not understand him. He did not understand me!

It was a replacement, and upgrade, so it should have been an improvement. It was a better computer with a bigger monitor. But it just didn’t work for me…the chemistry was gone. The reason it lasted so long is because I used it, almost exclusively, for iTunes, until it could hold no more.

Apple made it so easy to make the move. They told me the simplest way to do it --- if you don’t mind schlepping --- is to bring your PC to the Apple Store and they will transfer your files into the iMac, at no additional charge.

That’s what I did. Yes, it could not have been easier. This morning, less than 24 hours later, they called to say my iMac is ready.

There are no guarantees for success in a relationship, but this one already has a lot going in its favor, including a year of One-to-One therapy – I mean Training.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Overcoming Techno-crastination

Sometimes I am a procrastinator, and sometimes I am a technophobe. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Procrastination is the putting off, and avoidance, of things you know you should (or must) do. Technophobia is, in my case, fear of letting go of the comfort of the old, and embracing the new, specifically: my iPhone.

Until last week, I was holding on to a decrepit old cell phone. The screen fell off regularly and collected dust and debris each time it was stuck back in place. I realize now that this was the first phone I have ever replaced before its death. It became my security blanket, when I did not turn its service off immediately, I told myself, “I’ll do it next week.”

Each next week ran into the next week. I was carrying around my beautiful new iPhone in one pocket, and the old, broken down, sad story in the other. It felt kind of safe.

Evan, my nephew (ten, soon eleven) would not allow me to continue my techno-crastination. He would ask to see the iPhone, and inquire as to whether I got rid of the “other” phone. I would tell him “next week.” Then, as if to say, “The blanky has got to go,” Evan said, “Dor, you just have to shut that old phone off.”

He was right, and I could hide my techno-crastination no longer. I turned off the old, and moved my mobile number to the iPhone.

Looking back at my blog post titled, "The iPhone Cometh," published in mid-July of last year, I became aware that I have been procrastinating for much longer than I realized. Three months, six months, eight months…but who’s counting?

Thanks for the nudge, Evan, I needed that!

Friday, March 5, 2010

If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It

Things get messed up, accidentally, all the time. It’s like going from good to worse. Sometimes, the updated version just does not live up to its predecessor. I wonder how this happens, did the designers get too cocky, did they pay no attention to the detail in the follow-up version, and did they fail to test it on actual users?

In the case of accessible technology, it constantly amazes me how rarely it is tested on the end user. I believed that there was some sort of protocol that requires testing your product before releasing it to market. I have been told by a software designer that he tested a program for people with low vision --- on himself and on his wife. The fact that neither is visually impaired, a minor technicality.

It surprised me to learn that a large manufacturer of elevators for skyscrapers had tested the accessibility of their newest product on only one person with low vision, and one person with no vision. Now this is an elevator that can easily transport thousands of people each day only tested on two for impaired vision…is that enough?

This morning I encountered, yet another, obvious testing faux pas. It’s disappointing, to say the least, that my favorite talking ATM’s at Bank of America, have been updated, but not for the better.

At first, as is typical, I blamed myself. In Donald Norman’s “The Psychology of Every Day Things”, he confirms that most of us think it is our fault when things don’t function properly. Our automatic assumption is that we are the problem, not that bad design is the culprit.

After a number of months, I was just not adjusting to the new audio prompts. They didn’t flow, seemed like too many steps, and literally got frozen after getting a balance, or a transfer between accounts. The point of an ATM is to get money quick, right? Well, the new talking ATM gets stuck and beeps 53 times, while you are waiting for it to end the transaction. During the prolonged beeping, you can push Cancel, Clear, and every other button on the keypad, and it just keeps beeping and won’t stop until it has beeped 53 times.

I must ask Bank of America, how many people with impaired vision tested this baby?