Just the ramblings of a Scottish ICT Co-ordinator

Category: Life

Long Cane Training

Picture of a long cane being held up in front of a computer workstation

As some of you may know I am partially sighted, so while I’ve struggled on uneven surfaces, which I am sad to say now includes pavements and walkways in most towns as councils up and down the UK are trying to tighten their belts in an attempt to save money amid the ongoing cost of living crisis, I have never until now felt that I needed to use a long white cane. Sure I’ve had symbol canes before, but I have found them to be useless as people don’t seem to be aware that a white stick = eyes not working so well, so I stopped using them because essentially I’m sacrificing a hand for no good reason.

However I was approached by a mobility officer at NorthEast Sensory Services to do some long cane training. The difference between a long cane and a symbol cane is that in the UK the standard long cane will have a ball on the end that can allow the cane to be rolled back and foth in order for a blind or partially sighted person to get a lay of the land in front of them and as such they can prepare for any obstacle or changes in elevation on the ground.

So how have I found long cane usage so far? It can be very useful both for helping me get a lay of the land, due to the difficulties I had previously outlined, but also, unlike a symbol cane, people actually seem to realise you are visually impaired or blind. One thing I will say though I feel like I have some imposter syndrome with the cane as I’ve not ever used one up until now in my mid-30s.

An issue that I do have with the cane is it can put quite a strain on the wrist, and given the state of pavements in Aberdeen, the cane can vibrate sometimes unbearably so, which can become uncomfortable and tiring. Also with the cane I am finding I’m walking a lot slower, so my Apple Watch will not pick up my footsteps as exercise. Hopefully these will all be problems I can overcome as I can imagine I will find the cane can really help with my personal mobility.

Elgin, Beautiful Elgin

I was invited to go with Patchouli Rain to Elgin to see her parents this last week. I gladly accepted this invitation as a) I needed to get away from everything for a wee bit and b) I love spending time in Elgin.

As I’m a wee bit short on money at the moment I’m not doing too many elaborate things. That said I have, as usual, been enjoying the beauty and atmosphere of Elgin.

I took the decision to come down off my antidepressants by reducing my dose in November 2020, and have completed the transition. Despite the usual side effects of doing such a thing I am feeling a lot more “there”. It took a lot of soul searching for me to decide to do this. This is not something that you should do lightly, and even then only under guidance from a medical professional.

So anyway, back to my own situation, since coming off the antidepressants I have been feeling a lot more “get up and go”. Because of the improved weather we have had over the past week or so, I’ve been taking a small walk once a day, and this has continued to be the case while I’ve been on holiday in Elgin.

I do not know what it is about Elgin, but ever since I visited Last June I have felt in love with the place, and for a while was even thinking of trying to move there permanently. I feel that it would have been a good place to try and think about working to re-establish a small computer business, like I had back in 2012-2013 with Jay Wakefield Computers. That said, I am now wanting to be closer to family and friends who live in England, while still living in Scotland, so I have decided that Edinburgh may be a better bet.

Back to my walks in Elgin, even around where I am currently staying there are nice streets to have a wee evening walk around. People’s flowers are starting to come in, but even with that aside, I am enjoying the air up here.

An Apple Blossom tree in bloom with almost xanadu green coloured leaves hanging over a wooden picket fence
A Tree whose branches look like they’re made out of pipe cleaner.

I am glad that I have felt the urge to go walking. I love the Spring and Summer months, walking helps me to be able to go out there and experience the warmer, brighter weather, as well as helping me to use up some of those annoying kilocalories that seem to just get in the road.

That said, while I am in Elgin, I hope to take full advantage of what is on offer, and even exercise my shutter finger.

Being Accessible with Apple

Apple HomePod Mini sat on a desk with the top lit up

I have been using Apple tech on and off since I bought my first piece of Apple hardware, a green iPod Nano 3rd Generation in early 2008. One thing that always struck me about Apple, having used a friend’s 2007 MacBook briefly in 2007 before purchasing my own in 2008 was how accessible they made their devices, from the iPod shuffle that could read out the names of tracks, to iOS, which over the years has developed a whole raft of accessibility options so that as many people as possible can use the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad, to the Mac lineup, all of which come with assitive technology out of (ever shrinking) box. This technology was great in that it could allow people to access the their devices. What happens however if you want to access something bigger. What if you want to access …. life?

Since the introduction of Siri on the iPhone 4S back in 2011 (one of which I owned and loved, despite scoffing at it when it came out. That’ll show me!) Apple, along with Amazon, Google and even Microsoft, have been trying to turn a simple digital assistant into something that can run facilitate in any aspect of your life. Now as dystopian as that may sound, certain “skills” (as Amazon might call them) that you can install to a digital assistant can genuinely make life easier for people with disabilities.

Over the past couple of years I have installed a plethora of smart devices in my home inclusing a few smart plugs from Meross, some smart bulbs from LIFX and VOCOLinc as well as a heat diffuser. I bought an Apple Homepod Mini at the beginning of this year to use as a Homehub. Apple Home made these devices very easy to set up as they are Apple HomeKit compatible, and can be often set up with nothing more than the quick scan of a QR code (which admittedly is an inaccessible way of doing things if you have limited vision). What has resulted is that I have a home that is easier to use, with the ability to turn off those hard to reach plugs instead of just leaving them on (which is very important given current energy prices).

I fiund this useful for people with limited vision as they might not always be able to tell if plus (and even lights) are switched off. While the Apple HomePod has fewer “skills” than an Amazon Echo, the ones it does have can be useful. I’ve found the Intercom feature to be very useful for communicating with people when I’m not home, even for a simple “That’s me away back, please can you put the kettle on?”

Last year, Apple launched the AirTag­­™. This wee device can be placed in, or clipped on to any valuable item and as such can be pinged by any Siri-enabled devices which will cause the AirTag™ to play a sound which you can then locate. If you have an iPhone 11 or higher, you can be directed to the missing AirTagged device by the U1 chip in the iPhone which will vibrate to let you know how far away you are from the AirTagged item.

Like I said in my last blog post (I promise I’m not being paid by Apple or any of their affiliates, honest!) I can’t even begin to tell you just what an absolutely fantastic invention the Apple AirTag™ is. Being visually impaired and on the Autistic spectrum can make it so that I’ll absent-mindedly put things down (yes, even important items) and promptly lose them. Now with a quick enquiry to Siri on my iPhone I can be reunited with any lost AirTagged items and hopefully avoid any unpleasant and unnecessary meltdowns.

Going back to the iPhone, a flick down from the top right of the Home screen on my iPhone 11 presents me with, among other things, a magnifying glass feature. Not so long ago you’d have to spend hundreds of pounds on a handheld video magnifier with the visual acuity needed to magnify text, or even more if you wanted a full-sized CCTV camera system. Now though, Apple have you covered thanks to the iPhone. Supplement that with the Seeing AI app from Microsoft, and your iPhone can even tell you about your surroundings, read documents and even tell you what colour an item is (though every blonde haired person I’ve tried it on has been unceremoniously told that they have brown, grey or even green hair).

Speaking of colours, the smart bulbs I have installed in my home are very easy to set up and use through HomeKit, though their respective apps will give you more flexibility. I’d like to give the LIFX app commendation for not only being accessible with VoiceOver, but also for observing the text size in iOS. This is an excellent app to access if you are visually impaired. While LIFX has made their app accessible, I must confess that I prefer the behaviour of the VOCOLinc Bulbs. This is a shame because I have found the VOCOLinc app to be quite inaccessible, using small font sizes even if iOS’s text size is turned up, and not having support for VoiceOver. I hope this is something that VOCOLinc will implement in their app.

Anyhoo, I have been able to make scenes that incorporated both the LIFX and VOCOLinc bulbs using the Apple Home app. That said I have found it easier to do this in the VOCOLinc app ironically as it will show you the current colour or temperature, or brightness each bulb is set to if it is switched on, which can make it easier to make scenes if you’ve found a colour you like while messing with the in-app colour wheel. Apple Home by comparison will initially show you a grid of six colours to choose from when setting up a light bulb’s colour. While you can access a colour wheel by tapping on a colour to select it, and tapping on it again, the current colour of the bulb will not be the one that’s selected, which means you have to select it manually, and you have to then preview the entire scene to see if it is iindeed the right colour for what you want. I hope this is something that could be implemented into Apple Home.

I am aware that the Amazon Echo works with a wider array of smart IoT devices, but I feel that I would still use the Apple HomePod over an Amazon Echo or Google Nest as Apple takes privacy seriously, which can make me feel safe.

So I’m sat here in my Apple Homekit enabled Smart Home, and want to kick back and relax. Given an Apple Music subscription I could ask Siri to start playing my favourite music on my HomePod mini. That’s fantastic, but what if I wanted to watch TV? I bought an Apple TV 4K in late January, and have found it to be extremely accessible. I previously owned an Amazon Fire TV 4K, and while it worked beautifully when I first set it up, it started to become quite glitchy, and when I enabled the screen reader, it would not shut up if I was starting a video through Plex. My Apple TV 4K by comparison will talk when I want it to, but won’t when I don’t thanks to my being able to access an Accessibility shortcut.

An Apple TV 4K Set up underneath a TV.

The interface of the Apple TV is much easier to navigate. Sure you can wind up in the Apple TV+ screen which will show advertisements of recommended programmes, but a quick click of the TV button will take me back to the Home Screen which is set up very much like it would be on iOS, save for the rectangle icons in place of iOS’ square ones. I’ve also found that turning on audio description in the Apple TV settings will make any app that observes the setting deliver audio description. I was pleasantly surprised for example to hear a Disney film being audio described to me on Disney+, a service that I’d never been able to turn Audio Description on in before.

So it seems that while Apple still strives to make their devices themselves as accessible as possible, I feel they are trying to make it so that you can use their devices to make more of life accessible, and that I feel is an amazing thing.

UPDATE: Because of every other device manufacturer’s unhealthy desire to copy everything Apple does, we have seen implementations of various accessibility features in various other devices running Android and, and Windows Mobile when it was still relevant, and I think this is a good thing. The only issue is that some of these accessibility solutions can be a wee bit clunky at best, but we can live in hope that these are updated and improved as time goes on.

Cross Stitching by Holly Pritchard – a book review

Cross Stitching by Holly Pritchard (Picture of front cover thanks to Goodreads)

For the first time (I think ever), I am going to write a book review on a blog.

Cross Stitching is the third book from Welsh author Holly Pritchard (formerly Holly Stockport), and is a departure from the Melanie Winters universe (the subject of her first two novels).

Here, we meet some brand new characters. Isabelle is the heroine of this novel, having being blindsided by her parents’ divorce, she is undergoing therapy sessions that appear to be doing more harm than good, leaving her at her lowest. This is when she happens upon a mysterious world quite by accident and meets Erin, who the author describes as “a bubbly girl under a shy surface that has demons of her own”. Erin is wrestling with her own demons, and as Isabelle gets to know Erin and this world, she starts to learn some of the secrets of Erin’s past threatening to tear them apart.

So now that I’ve paraphrased the blurb, what do I think of this LGBT romance novel? Holly has a cosy writing style that has been honed over the course of her first two novels and I am delighted to see is present throughout this novel. It seems that the characters are never more than five minutes away from a steaming hot mug of tea, and the banality of real life made cozy by the author. That said, as you progress through the story, you will experience the strange world that Erin inhabits through Isabelle’s eyes as it reveals itself layer by layer, becoming more sinister as it does.

The structure of this book lends itself well to being easy to read, and once you start you will want to keep reading; something highlighted by the fact that I am currently up at 4:55AM writing this blog post after having read my copy.

All I can say is this: I have a great many thoughts on Cross Stitching, and could spend quite some time discussing the narrative and plot devices it uses. If I did that, I would be spoiling it all for you all, but what I can say is that I believe that if you’re looking for something new, exciting and thought-provoking to read, you should definitely pick up a copy.What I will say is that it proves that the Author has gone from strength to strength in her writing career and it shows in this book.

I’d like to thank Holly Pritchard for the pre-release copy of this book I recieved. I very much enjoyed reading it.

Welcome to my new blog

Welcome to my new blog. I have the old domain name JayWakefield.com back, and this time I have decided to give FastHosts a try. Most likely because I’m wanting to win the ultimate Work From Home Bundle as part of a competition that is currently running in partnership with The Nostalgia Nerd on YouTube.

Now I did not need to set this website up in order to enter the competition., I believe that is being run on what marketing men might call a ‘no purchase necessary’ basis. The reason I decided to plunge myself into this endeavour is because I have been toying with the idea of starting up a new blog throught the Spring as I (surprise surprise) have a lot to talk about, and having seen some of Fasthosts’ introductory offers I decided to give this a wee shot.

So what have I been upto? Well recently I went with Patchouli Rain who is a good friend of mine’s to visit her parents up in what they call “Beautiful Elgin”. This is the second time that I have been there this year, the first time wound up in my being admitted to hospital, something which can be viewed in this YouTube video.

My first attempt at a trip to “Beautiful Elgin”

My second visit to “Beautiful Elgin” went a lot more smoothly, and Patchouli Rain’s paretns took us to see interesting places, including Roseisle beach in Roseisle, Lossiemouth, Grant Park in Forres, and the Forres town centre. I made a YouTube video of our exploits which can be seen below.

Our second attempt at a trip to “”Beautiful Elgin”

Of course while I was there I took many photographs. I recieved a Canon EOS 400D Digital SLR camera for my Christmas back in 2019, but I have not had as many opportunities to use it as I would have liked, but I feel I am getting used to how to use it, so while up in “Beautiful Elgin” and the surrounding areas, I made extensive use of my Canon and some of its modes, the results of which can be viewed below.

As you can see there were ample opportunities in Moray for photography as it is a really beautiful part of Scotland.

While we were in Forres, we paid a visit to Babalu, a shop which sells a variety of alternative healing items including crystals and incense, as well as sustainable clothing, and some beautifully designed cushions, and some rather fetching pottery, some of which I purchased.

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