Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Blogging From The Mac

So much to do and so little time! I have learned to truly enjoy using mail on the Mac as I was told I would. I have decided that Skype is much more pleasant to use on the Mac than I first believed as well. My work schedule has kept me from spending as much time with the Mac Book as I would like, but I have successfully made a recording with Audio Hijack Pro, one of the pieces of software that many podcasters use. In almost two weeks with the Mac Book Pro, this is the first time I have used Text Edit, which would certainly be a part of my weekly routine if I in fact owned this computer. I imagine that I would be willing to purchase iWork for the added functionality that suite of programs provides, especially if VoiceOver is able to give me information such as what page I am on and when I pass over a page break, two pieces of information I absolutely require for my work. If this information is not readily available, this would be a serious impediment to my owning a Mac, if not an actuals show-stopper.

There is much more to learn and little remaining time to learn it in, so I expect to be sitting in my comfortable recliner with this computer on my lap a lot over the coming days.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Being Productive With The Mac

Yesterday was filled with church, a visit with friends my wife and I hadn’t seen for some time, paperwork, and a nap. No time for the Mac at all. Today wasn’t a lot better, but I did something today I have not done since acquiring the Mac—I did something simply because it needed doing. In other words, I was productive.
As I stated in my last post, setting up mail was a joy and reading it was about as much fun today. I managed to set up my Gmail account as an SMTP account rather than an IMAP account as I had intended, and I do not yet know how to sort messages by conversation thread, my preferred way of reading. I also need to review the VoiceOver commands for reading word by word, etc. While using standard Apple commands works pretty well, I think the dedicated VO commands will be of great value in the mail program.
Another thing that every Mac enthusiast raves about is having a spell checker from anywhere one is. I am beginning to see the benefit of this as I work with the Mac. Whether in Twitter or Mail, it has been easy to spot misspelled words. I have up to this point simply edited them. I have not played with how to get suggested replacement words, etc.
All in all, another good day with the Mac.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

To Tweet Or Not To Tweet, That Is The Question.

Not much to report on the Mac front today. Some time spent with my wife and two cats, house chores and a couple of errands took up most of the day. I listened to more podcasts from Vision Australia and then tackled setting up e-mail. All I can say is “Wow!” It was an easier process than I could have hoped for. I was reading messages in no time.
I then turned my attention to Twitter. I figured I would look in the app store for Syrinx, the Twitter client recommended to me by Dr. Robert Carter of the Tech Doctor Podcast. I was unable to figure out how to search the app store. I quickly abandoned the store and went to Google where the program was obtained and installed with no problem whatsoever. I learned during my podcast listening that Quick Nav was my friend on the Web. It made the experience more like using my iPod Touch with a Bluetooth keyboard than ever before.
I played with Syrinx a bit and decided to send out a couple test posts. The public post went fine. Another intended as a direct message went public. Fortunately it was not of an extremely sensitive nature, a hasty apology was issued, and no harm was done. I discovered that along with finders and sidebars and tables, I really my want to explore menus a bit more. What a concept!
All in all, not a bad day with the Mac. Tomorrow is church, some paperwork for my job, and possibly a bit more time with the Mac.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Finders and Sidebars and Tables, Oh My!

Today was all about listening to podcasts, reading manuals, exploring files and folders, and attempting to install programs. I began today's Mac experience by listening to part of Mike Arrigo's
Blind Cool Tech podcast entitled "Mac Demo 7" that deals with how to accomplish various tasks including installation of new software. The first program I attempted to install was Adobe's Flash Player update which the Mac insisted I needed in order to play a YouTube video. Either the program installed itself automatically last evening or I simply was unable to properly update it myself today. YouTube, the Mac, nor I are happy about that at this point. My second attempt which turned out better was the installation of Skype. One thing I learned during the process of installing programs on the Mac was that one really needs to allow the displaying of file extensions. By default, file extensions are hidden, so I decided to try installing programs that way first. Showing file extensions as suggested in Mike's podcast really does help. When a program is installed on the Mac, one downloads a DMG or disk image file to the downloads folder of the hard drive. When this file is opened, a virtual disk is mounted on the desktop. Opening this disk or folder if you prefer, shows an install file with an APP extension. This file is copied to the applications folder and run from there. I understand that when an application is purchased from the app store, it is downloaded and installed automatically. You can quickly understand from the explanation above why being aware of what types of files you are working with is very important.

The process of moving around in the Finder where folders and files can be worked with is rather straightforward when explained. One interacts with a table that allows one to choose folders such as downloads or applications. At that point, one stops interacting with that table and moves to a table where a list of files is shown. Interacting with the second table allows one to work with these files. The problem for me was that for some reason I really struggled with the fact that I needed to stop interacting with one table so I could view the contents of another table.
A considerable amount of fussing and near cussing convinced me to walk away for a bit. When I returned after dinner with my wife, things seemed to fall into place and a previously difficult task seemed quite easy.

Skype on the Mac is ... well ... Skype! Viewing and working with contacts is quite easy. Making a call and initiating a chat are no problem either. Reading incoming chats was a bit more tedious for me, but I suspect practice both with VoiceOver navigation commands and moving around the Skype application itself will help matters. Ending this part of our discussion on a more positive note, audio quality on the Mac Book is superb. I used the built-in speakers and microphone to chat with David Woodbridge who produces a set of instructional podcasts for
Vision Australia which we shall talk about later, and Kevin Chao of the
VoiceOver On podcast. My audio being sent to them and theirs to me was crystal clear!

I have always been someone who prefers to customize programs as little as possible. I don't know why this is, but I will always try to use default settings where I can. That being said, I highly recommend that any new Mac user quickly visit Vision Australia's AT podcasts and work through the session on how to make your Mac easier to use. The explanations are straightforward and the setting adjustments which are recommended really do help the blind Mac user have a better experience with VoiceOver and the Mac operating system.

To any experienced Mac users reading this entry, my explanations probably seem very crude and clumsy. Scroll areas, sidebars, and tables are all jumbled together in my head at this point. Any comments you wish to make will be read and appreciated. All I ask is that you be gentle with me at this point.

The euphoria was bound to subside sooner or later and I'm glad it has. Today's exploration of the Mac felt like work, but I learned a lot and am ready for round three tomorrow. I think I will tackle setting up e-mail. If I have time, maybe Twitter? We shall see!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My First Day with the Mac

I was recently granted a loan of an early 2011-model 15-inch Mac Book Pro for evaluation on behalf of Acb Radio's Main Menu program which I currently produce and host. My curiosity about using the Mac with VoiceOver has increased over the past couple years or so as I have listened to a myriad of podcasts and tutorials on using the product. As I interviewed people about the Mac, it became increasingly apparent to me that the only way I could continue to ask new questions about the process of using a Mac with a screen reader was to actually play with one myself. One can only learn so much through second-hand information. When I learned that I would be evaluating a Mac for a month, I began counting down the days excitedly. Any chance to play with new technology is one I will not pass up.

When the package arrived at my door this morning at about 10:30, I began the painstaking process of opening a box that did not actually belong to me. Much more care was needed to preserve the integrity of this package than most, but all went well. After the box was finally opened, the unpacking of the equipment was much as it always is--packing material, cords, manuals, and trying to make sure nothing gets lost in the shuffle.

Having listened to more than one Mac setup podcast, I was not surprised but still very pleased to hear the familiar voice of Alex, the text-to-speech engine that is the default when a Mac is first turn on out of the box. I was struck by the fact that I had to do nothing special to make this happen--it just did!

I worked my way through the VoiceOver tutorial and set up the Mac with no problems at all. I quickly explored the dock and opened Safari. I was struck with how similar using VoiceOver on the Mac was compared to using VoiceOver on my iPod Touch; the transition was almost seamless. I was comfortable enough with Safari to log into my bank's Web site and transfer money from our home checking account to savings with no misgivings whatsoever. Finally, I adjusted some VoiceOver settings which included telling VoiceOver to speak at the log on screen.

As interested as I was in my own initial reaction to using a Mac, I was equally interested in my sighted wife Stacie's reaction. She has an aversion to most technology and especially hates computers. The one exception to her general dislike of technology is her iPod which she absolutely loves! When Stacie came home from work, I showed her how to turn VoiceOver off and allowed her to play with the computer. I had no way to guide her in using the Mac as I barely knew how to do the basics with a screen reader running, let alone trying to help her figure out what was going on visually. Stacie began surfing the Web on the Mac as though she had done it every day for a year. She was intrigued with Face Time and spent some time on Face Book as well. She confirmed that the snapshot I had taken of myself during account setup was satisfactory and then she gave the computer back to me.

I placed a CD into the computer to demonstrate the quality of the Mac Book's speakers. Navigating iTunes for the first time was a bit tricky. I was finally able to play the CD and search the help text to find out how to eject the CD when I was finished with it. It never occurred to me to simply explore the menus. It's funny how a little stress can cause one not to think clearly enough to solve a simple problem.

Since my wife and I had an appointment later in the evening, I shut the computer down and rested my mind a bit before leaving the house.

My first impressions of the Mac in general and VoiceOver in particular are quite favorable. I was able to rearrange my work schedule so that I could take today and tomorrow off, so day two of my journey with the Mac should be full of excitement. Stay tuned!