Accessibility apps of awesomeness

So, earlier this year, Perkins got funding from Google to develop an app to solve a problem people who are visually impaired have: finding the bus stop. Basically, the issue is that GPS is good to about 35 feet of where you want to go, but not reliably more precise than that. And 35 feet is not enough to get you to the right bus stop and be visibly waiting for the bus.

The goal was to provide an app that could (via crowdsourced info) provide additional location details to help someone navigate to the precise location, and ideally also help with when a bus was coming.

It just launched!

If you’re in the area served by the MBTA (greater Boston), you can download BlindWays on iOS (it’s designed to use VoiceOver). There’s a map of bus stops that indicates which stops need more clues. (Which right now is basically all of them.)

Clues are things that will help someone navigate. For example, on the closest stop to the Perkins campus, here’s what the clues say:

Approaching the stop with the street on your left

1) Before the stop, there is a fire hydrant.

2) Closer to the stop, there is a tree.

3) The bus stop sign is on a square pole, along the curb.

4) Beyond the stop there is a driveway.

5) Further past the stop, there is a metal pole.

On stops without clues, you can pick from predetermined options or do free form text entry clues. There are tips on the website for entry, and I believe also in the app. You can also edit clues or confirm them in the app.

The plan is, I believe, to test it in the MBTA, and then broaden it out from there, once they’ve got a solid chunk of geographic data and can test for bugs. It will also provide information about when the next bus should arrive at that stop, so useful if you are sighted, as well.

Email, an update

This week’s Thing in my work projects is talking about managing email. While I talked about this back in January, I’ve changed enough of my methods that it’s probably worth talking briefly about it again.

Continue reading Email, an update


I mentioned last week that I intended to do a review of Oyster, so here it is, because I know more than a few people who are curious about it.

The basics: It’s been described as like Netflix for books, which is fairly accurate. Their FAQ and help info is on their website.

  • It is currently iPhone and iPod Touch only: they’re working on an iPad version, and then expect to work on other platforms.
  • Cost is $9.95 a month.
  • They have signed agreements with HarperCollins and a number of smaller publishers, they are actively working on others. The current catalog is about 100,000 titles.

It is invitation only, but they are rolling out invites steadily (I got mine about 6 days after requesting one.)

My take: For my reading patterns (more below the cut) this is a worthwhile service for me right now (and I’ll note that I do almost all of my booklength reading on my phone). It may or may not be the right fit for you, or right now.

It is clearly a service in process: there are some things about the interface it’s taken me a while to get used to, and there are some glitches (described below) though none of them have been dealbreakers for me. Obviously, too, whether they have content you want is going to be a good question. (It is probably not the right fit for you if you only read in a couple of specific genres, or read a book or less a month from their catalog, or mostly read very recently released work.)

I’ll also note that I expect to use Oyster the way I use Netflix and Spotify: I take in a bunch of content (and love having the chance to try things out without having to store it – even digital storage takes management!) but I continue to buy things I know I want to keep or have access to even if licensing agreements change, or when I want to make sure the creators get encouraged to make more things like that.

The biggest note I’d make is that books you read are default public (you can mark individual titles private) in their sharing service. I am extremely weird about sharing what I’m reading with other people, and I wish you could default to making things private.

Onward in much more detail

Continue reading Oyster


(picking up this series again, really)

I haven’t owned a TV since 2006.

This is not, let me rush to assure you, because I think the TV is not useful. I just haven’t owned the physical object. In 2006 I moved in with housemates who had a perfectly nice TV when I was around to watch it (that was also the year I was working full time, starting grad school again, and working on several community projects, so my free time, it was not exactly vast.)

And then I moved into a tiny little 400 square foot apartment with no convenient place to put one, and then 18 months ago, moved across the country (when I got rid of anything I didn’t absolutely love enough to move that far.)

These days, however, I do watch a fair bit of visual media – TV series, movies, random other things. And I do it entirely on my computer, as I have since 2006. Mostly, I do this while I’m knitting, and very long series work wonderfully for this – two episodes of whatever are about as long as I want to spend knitting most evenings, and that’ll get me 8-10 rows further in my current blanket project.

(I just finished watching The West Wing, which I’d seen about the first half of around when it aired, but where the last two seasons were entirely new. It’s aged remarkably well as a show, given that it’s ten years old.)

Continue reading Watching

Managing links + reading

Next installment in the “How I use my technology” series, let’s talk about managing links and reading.

Between my professional RSS feeds and my personal ones, I read a sort of scary (no, edit that, it’s not ‘sort of’) number of blogs, accounts, and other resources online. To be precise, that’s currently 98 feeds in my professional account, 153 in the personal account, and somewhere north of 250 accounts between Dreamwidth and LiveJournal (there’s overlap there, and I’m not going to bother to count exactly how much)

Now many of those don’t necessarily update all that regularly (at least half of the above update somewhere between once every couple of days and every couple of weeks, and very few update multiple times a day.) But that’s still a lot of stuff to sort through.

I read very fast, which is handy. And I skim even faster.

Anyway, as you might guess, there’s a lot of interesting stuff that comes my way, and I use a couple of different tools to manage it. It took me a good while to figure out, though, once I moved from using one computer most of the time to using at least 3 different devices regularly, and sometimes four (my work computer, my home computer, the iPad, and the iPhone. I mostly don’t read webpages/etc. from the phone, but every so often…)

Continue reading Managing links + reading

IM chat

I’m spending a lot more time on instant messenger chat than I used to. And I have to admit, I really enjoy it.

Continue reading IM chat


Picking this up again. (Hi. Life. Other projects. Yeah.)

So. I have a bunch of email addresses. And a bunch of email. To be precise, I currently have:

  • 2 emails I use for personal stuff
  • 3 emails on various professional stuff that is not my actual work email
  • a small handful of ‘utility’ email addresses that I use for site signins, etc.

In practice, all of these dump into a single Gmail account, because in practice, I may be accessing my email from four different devices or so, and Gmail is the best solution to that. However, I would like to have a backup, and I would, ideally, like to have my email better cleaned out from all the random stuff that I really do not need to archive.  I’m slowly working on that, courtesy some new tools from Gmail that make it easier to find unlabelled emails (or large files, or emails from more than X years or months ago…) However, since there’s 23,000 emails in my Gmail, give or take a few, this might take me a while.

Continue reading Email


Next round in “how I use my computer”, how I read things. Much of what I do on my computer is fundamentally text based (I watch movies, and I do play with graphic design, but at least 80% of my daily use is basically words.)

  • Things I read on my computer: Lots of web-based things. A couple of online web-based forums. A lot of blogs. Webcomics.
  • Things I mostly don’t read on my computer: ebooks (I generally read those on the iPhone, and sometimes on the iPad). Newspapers/magazines/etc.

Tools I use: 

Web browsers:

These days, I do most of my web stuff in Chrome, for stability, and because I’m using a number of other Google products, and there are places where the stability/response/etc. is a bit better in Chrome. (It is not uncommon for me to have 15ish GDocs tabs open at once, for example.)

Tabs I usually have open at home include:

  • Gmail (I’ll discuss email more in its own post)
  • My Dreamwidth circle page
  • My LiveJournal reading page
  • The reading page for the online project
  • And then usually a couple to a couple of dozen other tabs, depending on what I’m doing at the moment.

I do still use Firefox, but mostly for Netflix (which only supports Chrome on PC, not Mac). I do find there’s some benefit in having a separate browser for streaming video – if the browser hangs, or gets cranky if I reload the page after a long idle (pretty common for me: I go through seasons of TV shows, and often leave it paused overnight part way through an episode) it’s easier to quit without worrying about the rest of my tabs/open comments/etc.

I use a small handful of extensions to make my life easier.

  • minimalist which removes various elements from Gmail and Google Reader.
  • Do Not Track Me – a privacy extension. (I’ve been reasonably happy with it, but I should probably do another round of checking in to see what’s new in that area)
  • LJ new comments which makes it easy to browse new comments in threads at both LiveJournal and Dreamwidth. (There’s a good explanation over on the dw_nifty community.) Installing it is a little fiddly: I have the best luck in Chrome installing it in Tampermonkey.

Reading tools:

I’m going to talk more about how I manage things in my RSS feeds in its own post, but I’ll note here that I use Instapaper  as my first step to keeping links that I want later. My toolbar bookmarks inclue the “Read Later” bookmark for it, plus the “popup with tags” bookmark for Pinboard. For actually managing my RSS feeds, I use Google Reader.

Background tools and basics

I spent the last two days watching my computer be a 45 minute drive away according to FedEx, but it turned up this morning!

So, the first thing that I do with a new machine is set up all those small things that make life manageable. Plus all the individual little touches. Then setting up the basics of the dock, and the apps I use most frequently, and then the bookmarks for the browsers. (You can click through for larger versions, and I’ve got closeups of the dock and menu bar below.


The desktop when I started: galaxy wallpaper, default application items in dock




wallpaper of light filtering down into water, with icons in blue, black, and grays in the dock (description of icons follows)

new computer – after

dock - icons in blues and grays and blacks, described below

Continue reading Background tools and basics

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

More about my job and a day in the life

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