HACKED: When The Dark Web Arrives At Your Door

A few weeks ago, I brought you a fun story about acquiring and setting up my new Windows PC. And I definitely still love this machine and all that I get with it. My feelings have however been tempered by the ugliness regarding technology and the Internet that none of us likes to talk about: data breaches, possibly sold information, and a life set on its head.
It all started innocently enough for me. I was walking around my room this Monday afternoon, doing my 15 minutes of exercise with the sleep timer set on my audio book. As I wore out the carpet, I felt a tapping on my wrist. This meant that the Apple Watch had received a text message. “Ah, it’s just my cousin and friends chatting on our iPhone sports group,” I thought. Then I got another message. “And now they’re starting a conversation,” I said. A third “wow, what are they talking about!” a fourth, a fifth sixth seventh. “Ok, what the heck is going on” I asked myself, finally ceasing motion and disabling my sleep timer to check.
“Thank you for subscribing to…” the current message said, and even as it did so the phone pinged another three times. “Your log-in code is…” another said. “Go here to download the app…” a third said.
Within minutes, the count had exceeded 100 messages, and they kept coming without abandon. I paced in circles, wondering what the heck to do. Then, I sat at my laptop to try and get some sense of where to even begin solving this problem. I opened my email inbox and saw “677 unread messages”. Let’s just say a couple of expletives may have slid past my lips as my heart rate ramped up and I felt sick.
Definitely flummoxed by this point, I sought my wife so that I would have someone with more ideas. We then spent the next hour scratching our heads, resetting passwords, and checking everything on the phone and computer. I was happy that just de-linking the Gmail from my iPhone at least killed the flood of texts, but the emails were still coming.
At my wit’s end and with no other choice that I could see, I finally went for the nuclear option, deleting my email account entirely. It’s funny, I’m reading Ready Player Two right now and had been wondering why they chose to take such a negative bent toward technology. The main character had mused on the very idea of having to press the “big red button” to delete the Oasis, their virtual universe where most people lived during that disaster-ridden time of 2045, and how such a mammoth decision might unravel their lives.
My choice wasn’t quite that drastic, but it’s up there for sure. I’ve had that email account for some twelve years, and nearly every important thing came to me through it. I am still working vigorously to clean up the mess that caused, aware that there may have been identity theft and having taken preliminary steps to deal with that very big problem. Our news a few days later said that someone had broken into my hospital health system’s internet portal and stolen a lot of people’s information. While I’m not absolutely certain this is what happened to me, I think it likely. And especially as some other purchases were made using my name, probably on some kind of credit card someone acquired. So, I’m following the steps my bank gives and hoping that this will all clear up eventually.
More than anything, I felt violated. My trust in the inherent security of these products has now been shaken, and I suddenly am more empathetic to those who do not want to interact so fully with this stuff, especially with all of their personal information. Unfortunately though, we really kind of have to in order to survive in this modern world. So we can just protect ourselves the best we can, and hope that we are able to come back from whatever nonsense is doled out to us.

IOS Game Review: Swordy Quest

When selecting games to play on my iPhone, I usually have a hard time either because they are too challenging or they rely heavily on sound for direction and orientation. Naturally, the latter is going to be the case in those that are designed at least to some degree with blind people in mind, but they tend not to work as well for those, like myself, with significant hearing loss. If I have to put on a pair of headphones to fully perceive what is happening for instance, well I may as well not bother.

On the other hand, games that are say Tex-based are usually too abstract for me to follow and/or don’t have as many cool sound effects. The effects are what really make things come alive for me. Or if they do get all of this stuff right, they lack some key accessibility components that make it difficult for all but the most expert blind player to execute.

So imagine my surprise when I downloaded a fun game called Swordy Quest from the iOS App Store after hearing of it on the Blind Abilities podcast. (I guess it is only available on iOS, but do not know for sure). Before starting it, I figured it would be too involved for me to figure out what was going on and that I would quickly lose interest. But I’ve found that it very well walks the fine line between being too challenging and so simplistic that accomplishing anything offers little pleasure. The addition of a “spirit guide,” who tells you which moves you might want to consider next helps with that.

As best I can tell, you’re on this island in a world called Fonetazia (like Fantasia? Haha). You fight all sorts of strange animals and travel about the island gathering resources that you can use to build stuff and trade. The story behind what you’re doing slowly unfolds as you unearth clues by solving fun puzzles that involve matching pairs of items. The sound effects are rich, especially as you fight and defeat the animals. And I’ve found that turning the in-game music volume down to 10% allows me to hear VoiceOver speaking and yet leave said music on to enhance the game’s mood.

And on the subject of hearing, and accessibility in general, I do not know if this title was built specifically for individuals who are blind but the accessibility is top notch. You are even told how to best use VoiceOver’s features to navigate among items within the game, and there are buttons that allow you to quickly revert to the top of the list after skimming your inventory items, for instance. I would even say that, while it might be kind of clunky to do so, one who is deafblind and fully relies on a Braille display could play this game. All of the prompts appear in text, and you would only need to touch the screen to hold down the button for gathering stuff. You can feel the phone’s haptic engine causing it to vibrate in your hand, and if the alert duration was set high enough, say at 3 seconds, you could read in Braille which items and how many you’ve collected. I have encountered very few games of this complexity that also reach such a high level of access for everyone. For this reason, I am certainly inclined to support it financially to the extent that I can.

I started playing on Friday night, and well we probably shouldn’t talk about how much time I’ve already put into it. But it’s a great way to kill rainy summer days, and it makes me feel more motivated when I do sit down to do the work that needs doing. This is the best iOS game I’ve seen since the makers of Dice World began working with us some eight years ago to improve accessibility of that platform. If you like that sense of adventure, I would say you’ll love Swordy Quest.

A Christmas Gift To Myself: My Upgrade from iPhone 8 to 12 Pro

After listening to visionaries like Shelly Brisbin of the Parallel Podcast, and Blind Abilities, both of which have done extensive demos, I finally opted to acquire an iPhone 12 Pro. Ever since Apple began what is essentially its new presentation of iPhone form factors with the 10, I have both contemplated and rebelled against upgrading into this line. The mai reason is because I knew that, like the headphone jack before it with the 7 upgrade, I had to swallow the fact that Apple would take away another item that I loved: the home button. I’ve had my new piece of hardware for almost a week, and I have a few thoughts about what it does, and doesn’t, do the way I want it.

First, there is the loss of that blasted home button, and perhaps more importantly the loss of Touch ID. I used to love being able to just place my fingers on the phone and launching the unlock screen from my pocket, and thus being able to hop onto my Braille display without even having to remove the phone. Even more though, as a blind person who has little idea of how to have a camera “see” me, it took a few tries and some suggestions from my wife To figure out how to get the thing to work. And what I’ve learned is that the best way for me to open it is to place the phone on level with my nose and move it about a foot away before squeezing the side button to activate. If the Face ID works, I get less haptic feedback than if it doesn’t work. I assume there is also a sound that accompanies that, but I have that feature turned off because sound effects with my Braille display would not be convenient, to say the least.

That aggravation, the use and somewhat unreliable results of Face ID, is real but not a deal breaker. What I do like, love! about this phone is the much-improved battery life. By the time I ditched my 8, I was charging it nearly 3 times a day. Now of course that has a lot to do with how old the phone had become, but even at its newest, I only could get a good half a day with it if I wished to use it extensively. Now, I get home from work and still have nearly 75% left, meaning I can just plug it in prior to bed time, get it off right before going to sleep, and it’s ready for the next day.

Power is important, but processing capacity matters to me even more. I could read the tea leaves, and tell that pretty soon I would not be able to use the newest accessibility features on a phone that lacks “juice,” one might say. Already, some of the stuff available in the 12 line, such as photo and text recognition, are not fully available in anything lower than the 10. And the photo recognition is fantastic, as it can explain pictures on sites like Facebook with context that I have hardly ever seen anywhere else. I can truly understand for the first time what is actually intended by a person’s photo.

I know that many say that some of what the 12 Pro brings in particular with the Lidar, are largely not useful yet, but with apps like Microsoft’s Seeing AI And others are already lining up to take advantage of this technology in ways we cannot fully fathom. So from my point of view, I feel that the purchase was worth it.

Some General Observations

  • I can’t seem to get Face ID to work in-app, to enter passwords and such, so usually have to enter the passcode. Annoying, but again not the end of the world
  • This phone’s sound, especially when connected to my Bose speaker, is different. I’m no audiophile and am mostly deaf, so can’t say if it’s better or worse, but I did have to tinker to get it set so I could hear speech clearly
  • The added accessibility features won’t really work unless you turn VoiceOver Recognition on in the accessibility settings. So it could be a little confusing when using, say the Magnifier app, to identify what’s in one’s surroundings

So I guess my main hope is to get at least three years out of this thing, and that by such time I still feel like the decision was worth it. I do hope that they don’t leave those who with to maintain the use of Touch ID and perhaps even a home button out of further advancements, but I fear we may be headed in that direction. If I’m wrong and something comes out next year that still wraps all of this into one package, I won’t be mad! Till then though, I’ll enjoy and have fun exploring the world in new ways.

Eight Years of I: My Thoughts On Apple’s Recent Updates

On this day way back in 2012, I posted my first ever iPhone status to Facebook. It was error-riddled, but still I was proud to have mastered use of the touch screen enough to do so. Did auto-correct exist then? I don’t know, but perhaps even if it did I hadn’t learned to use it as I’d only owned the device for a couple of days.

Who could have known in those days that the iPhone, and really all aspects of Apple would take me in as they have. As an aside: what does the letter “i” even stand for as Apple uses it? Internet? Information? In any event, they seem to be deprecating it as time goes on, which makes sense as the company matures.

As I note eight years of Apple products, I thought it would be fun to look at my favorite and least favorite aspects of them. First, there’s my trusty iPhone (now I’m up to the 8 as I have been since this time in 2018). I upgraded it to iOS 14, and it’s still mostly working fine. On-screen typing seems a bit laggy, but I can still do it. This is not a huge deal anyway, since I now have the Mantis Display, which is also working considerably better under 14. So I do most of my typing on this keyboard anyway.

I also notice cosmetic changes, like the fact that it describes Facebook photos better with VoiceOver on, although the 8 does not gain full access to the newest accessibility features like image and text recognition because of its slower processor. I have thus been bouncing back and forth on whether to acquire the iPhone SE 2020, as I suspect that whatever else comes the 8 will be just about unable to handle anyway. But I am glad I have held out now, as rumor has it that the new iPhone 12 might re-introduce some form of Touch ID. If they do, we’ll see how much the phone goes for and consider it.

The biggest, and happiest, change I’ve gotten from the Apple updates Has been to the Apple Watch. My issue with this watch has been the inconsistent vibration to check time that one initiates via a double tap. If your finger didn’t hit the watch quite right, or sometimes if the system just got confused as double tap is an extremely common gesture in VoiceOver anyway, the time would be spoken aloud. This meant that if, say, I opted to check time during a meeting, I was rolling the dice and might end up ruffling feathers, especially at work. So what they seem to have done to fix this, and it took me a while and a whole lot of frustration to figure it out at first, is to make it where you first activate the watch with a single tap, then perform whichever gesture you wish. This, along with speeding up the haptic output, has made the response a lot more consistent and thus has decreased the amount of aggravation I might give my coworkers as I keep needling that clock toward the end of the day. And even more than that, I now have access to Volume Control right from the VoiceOver Rotor, meaning that if I’m in a situation where I really don’t want it to speak I can easily turn the watch down without needing the phone as before.

And that’s about the heart of it, from my perspective. The major Mac update hasn’t launched yet, at least I don’t think it has as I rarely turn on that machine anymore these days other than to edit and post these entries. But I’m satisfied with the fairly small but important improvements I have noticed. The watch vibration thing is especially useful to me, as it even allows me to check the time without reinserting the hearing aids or disturbing my wife. Without knowledge of the time, the night can seem to drag and I feel uncertain as to whether I’ve overshot my wake time, even though she has the alarm there and will let me know.

Anyhow, Apple has continued to enhance the power and usefulness of these products to those with disabilities over these 8 years, and I look forward to however many more they have as a relevant tech company.

App Review: EXPRESS Yourself

I was trolling around in the app store a few weeks ago, in response to one of the Emails that Apple sends out, and found an amazing product that does something no other app has, at least that I’m aware of: it makes the face visible to me! What do I mean? Read on.

First, it never ceases to surprise me the extent to which this one piece of metal? plastic? whatever your iOS device is made of, has brought to my life as a blind person. And yes I know, Android is nearly there, and maybe surpassing iOS in some aspects, but I’ve not yet played with a device running this system so I can’t say what I would think of it.

Anyway, with my trusty phone stowed safely in pocket and Braile display on my lap, I can use programs to read, write, listen to music, and even navigate successfully on the bus. And thanks to some enterprising individuals and organizations, there are even apps that allow me to do more complex things, such as take my own photos, (no guarantees as to their correctness but I can be pretty sure I’m at least shooting the right thing), and read my own mail. All great, life-changing stuff.

But what about that most elemental of human interactions: the ability to communicate. More specifically, that communication which occurs nonverbaly, which studies have repeatedly shown to be far more believed than mere words. While some of this is passed along through other body language cues, much of it happens through that most natural of transmissions: facial expressions. Blind folks prove its innateness in fact, as we too are able to call up a smile, frown, etc when it reflects our inner emotion, or even if we want to kind of fake some inner emotion. These expressions tend to be more believable though, since they are harder to “make up” than spoken language.

Enter Express, a powerful engine that can, through quick analysis of pictures shot via a discretely placed camera, provide unprecedented information regarding one’s possible thoughts, as displayed on that facial window to the soul.

How It Works

The Express app can run in the background and even with a locked screen, so long as it is launched and the camera activated prior to use. If you think you’re entering a situation where you might wanna know what is being unsaid, simply open the app and tap the “Start” button. You are then presented with two options: Constant, or Summary Analysis.

If you pick Constant, the app takes a shot of the face you’re “focusing” on in adjustable intervals, and alerts you through a series of vibrations as to what the likely expression is. The list of vibrations and their meanings can be found in the “Demos” menu. It is important to practice these repeatedly, so that you know what you’re getting when it comes across. It wouldn’t do, after all, to think that she’s smiling at you when you’ve actually made her quite angry!

(DISCLAIMER: The app developers assert that the rendered interpretations are reasonably accurate, but cannot guarantee 100% certainty. In field testing however, very few errors were reported. Use with some caution, and act on this info at your own risk.)

If you choose “Summary” the app will still take pictures of the person’s face, but instead of vibrating regularly it will generate a report of overall mood: how often did they fluctuate, were there sudden changes, and the like. This might be a good idea if you don’t want the person to wonder why you keep vibrating.

“Goodness! Are you just crazy popular or something?”

Equipment/Accessories

You can, in theory anyway, use the phone itself to snap these pictures. However, the developers suggest that this might introduce unnecessary error into the results. How will you know, for example, if she still finds that joke you’ve told for the fourth time amusing, or is just wondering why you’re sitting there holding your device aloft for no apparent reason?

So, for an additional $45.99, the user can get a specialized camera made of a strong, thin material that matches the color of the wearer’s skin so as to significantly decrease visibility. It is fitted with a revolutionary adhesive that bonds to the skin, probably the forehead, at the molecular level, making it water-resistant. No worries though, as it can be taken off by simply scrubbing with a finger in a circular motion, as it responds to a bacterium that all humans carry.

The camera charges using kinetic energy, that which is generated from movement. So if the battery begins to run low and you for whatever reason are unable to engage your entire body, just nod your head a few times. It is recommended that care is used in so doing, though, as this too may alter the interaction and lead to inaccuracies.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Are you actually agreeing with me, or just really sleepy.”

My Final Thoughts

I’ve used this app for about 12 days now, and it has unquestionably changed my life. As I sit here on this warm day at the beginning of April and write this, one of my friends is playing with it, sitting across the table from me and informing me that it reports that I have a big, silly grin on my face. I love it! Now for something to come along that can clean my apartment. MMM.

So, have any of you gotten this thing yet? If so, what do you think of it. If you wanna find it, do a search in the app store for Express, o yes! for iOS (Don’t ask me who decided to call it that, and let me know how it goes.

iTurn 2: and 12 Apps List

And now, I have had this wonderful piece of technology, the iPhone, for just over two years. The huge leaps and bounds in what it can do astound me, and give me plenty of reason for optimism going forward. I think we, those with disabilities, do have an obligation to stay on these folks and make sure that they continue to value accessibility though.

As I had last year, I thought it would be fun to list my 12 favorite, (i.e) most used, apps of this past year of the iPhone. I think they clearly demonstrate my love for travel, learning about the area around me, and gaining access to so much more information than I have ever been able to have before. The list is long, and so I’d recommend you use the headers to skim and look for ones you would like to read more about. Also, the ones with stars have received their second recommendation. So, let’s go, shall we?

Ariadne GPS:

I know that most blind folks have fallen in love with BlindSquare lately, I’m sure with good reason. I haven’t yet purchased this one though, and still enjoy Ariadne for its feelable onscreen maps.

I can click to explore around where I actually am, or put in another city to peruse its layout. This has actually proven helpful in some cases, as I would know which streets were nearby as the bus or other form of transportation approached where I needed to exit.

I have also discovered some interesting sites that I might want to visit someday, like the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago? That sounds cool.

Finally, I enjoy the sounds it makes to indicate water, kind of relaxing, a park or green area, the highway, and even someone walking. It’s fun, and the price, about $5, can’t be beat!

*At Bat:

The official app of Major League Baseball, I love this one because it is so wonderfully accessible. They are the only sports league that even seems to get it, ahem NFL Mobile and NBA Gametime. I especially wish the NFL would step up to the plate and fix that thing! a fact about which I have complained a few times on Twitter. I’d listed theirs as one of my favorites last year, but they definitely broke things even harder this season sadly.

Anyway back to baseball. I can so easily view the schedules, standings, scores, and flip from game to game and team network to team network if I wish. I am glad that this app has basically remained the same as it was last season.

Audible:

Need I say more? One of several reading apps I use actually, I like it because usually the books are well marked up and I can stop at chapter’s end with the sleep timer. I say usually, because there have been some cases where the timing was off for whatever reason. This once led to an amusing case where I kept on reading past the bell while at work, having gotten so into the section without the timer stopping it appropriately. I had to run full tilt back to my work section after that lunch!

I began using this app to read a novel by Veronica Scott, one of my favorite authors on Twitter, at about this time last year. Since, I have consumed approximately 15 other titles. I like how quickly they can get new audio books up there, often very close to the same time the printed version is dropped.

Downcast:

A podcast-grabbing app, I’ve gotten more into this one over the last couple months as I aim to consume less cellular data. It will download and store content while I am on a WiFi connection, and I can listen to that content when on the move or at work on break. I love that the WiFi aboard Triangle Transit buses has improved so drastically as well, often allowing me to acquire new shows more quickly than I can even at home.

I don’t listen to a whole lot of shows, yet. Thus far, I subscribe to Airplane Geeks, Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase, On Being, and Serotalk. This usually gives me enough to listen to during the week.

Google Maps:

Well, I still love this app because it can show me where the nearest restaurants are located, as well as menus, numbers to call, and their website. The only thing is, in the last month or so I’m noticing that the menus seem a lot less accessible, as I noted on my birthday. They keep refreshing, and don’t allow me to finish checking all of the options before I am put back at the beginning. I hope they fix this.

I think overall though that this app now works a lot better than it used to. I haven’t really played with the Public Transit directions in a while, but believe that now even that information is more viewable with VoiceOver than it had been in previous iterations.

KNFB Reader:

I acquired this app only yesterday, and already it has risen to the top of my favorites list. It makes possible excellent object character recognition (OCR) on the iPhone. Heck, I would argue that I’ve seen some of the best OCR with that thing that I’ve ever known.

It’s technically not even supported on my current hardware, the iPhone 4S, but given that I’m due to get my 6 next Wednesday and I suddenly can’t find my mail-checking older neighbor, I figured I would go ahead and try it out. Once I came up with a method of holding the phone in the most optimal level position that involved placing both elbows on the table, putting both thumbs on the bottom edges of the phone and both middle fingers on the top edges, it read my text nearly flawlessly.

I often experience anxiety until I can find out what a letter says, and so finally having the freedom to view it immediately is a huge deal. Plus, one never knows in what other situations good OCR may well be needed. I should note that the app costs $99, but in my opinion it is money well spent.

NPR News:

Ah, I’m still and will probably always be an NPR junkie. This app allows me to listen to Morning Edition and All Things Considered wherever I am, as long as I can get an Internet connection. I also enjoy conducting random searches on topics that interest me and listening to audio and blog posts concerning them.

The app is reasonably accessible, though I wish they would only important the current day’s Morning Edition or ATC shows to the playlist when I click “Add All” as they once did. Now, it brings in the last 30. It can be difficult to tell when a show has actually ended.

Pandora:

This is the app that wakes me up in the morning and propels me out the door! I usually select from a varying list of stations. Sometimes I wanna bounce to some 70’s funk. Others, I mellow out to some early REAL! jzz. Or, I might open up my thinking pipes with some Mozart or Bethoven on the Classical Music for Studying Channel. All music is all good to me.

There was a bit of an accessibility kerfuffle when the names of stations suddenly became viewable only by enabling VoiceOver hints. I will credit the developers in eventually responding to and fixing this issue, though.

Rider:

A great, real-time transit app, I appreciate that Transloc Rider has worked to improve the accuracy of predictions regarding bus arrivals. This app has helped me and my sighted companions several times, by letting us know where the nearest stop was and when a bus would arrive.

The only issue we experienced with it is that we were never sure if the bus that was being referenced was inbound or outbound. This was usually not a huge deal, but it did mean that sometimes we would end up standing there 15 minutes longer than we had expected.

As stated when I last wrote about this app, I’m not sure how widely available it is. I guess you can try downloading it though and check it out. It definitely works with Triangle Transit and all of its associated networks (DATA, C-tran, CAT, Chapel Hill Transit, etc).

*Sports Alerts:

This is by far and away the best way for me to check scores on the iPhone. It reminds me of my Yahoo Sports days on the computer. I like that they are adding more information particularly to NFL and MLB scores, such as the team’s down and distance in the former and who is batting and pitching in the latter.

There had been a bit of an issue with refreshing, where the app would suck me back to the beginning of the list before I finished checking scores. However, this has somehow smoothed out with time. I think these developers do take accessibility into account, and I appreciate that.

Twitter:

I know many prefer to use other apps for this social media client, such as Twitterrific and Tweetlist, but lately I’ve much more enjoyed the native iPhone Twitter app. I’m finding it to be more stable, and haven’t yet had the kinds of problems with repeated crashing or it just becoming very slow that I experienced with those other two programs. I also like the way that it organizes conversations, making it easier for me to jump over threads with hundreds of replies (and yes I’ve seen some of those).

I am however having an issue where I no longer receive push notifications. I think this problem will be corrected once I am able to update to iOS 8 next week, though. So in the meantime, I just have to remember to check in periodically.

Uber:

Well I’ve been talking about this one for the past couple of months at least. For those not in the know, Uber is a rideshare service that allows you to summon a car with the push of a button on your phone. I love it, because I can put in my intended destination and get a fare estimate before departure. It also shows me the estimated time of arrival, changing as the vehicle gets closer. This makes life way easier for me, because I know once that timer goes to 0, if I still don’t hear anyone I should place a call. I have yet to have a bad experience with them.

I would say that the only thing I do notice is that the fare is usually at least a dollar higher than that which is quoted. This probably has more to do with the times I choose to travel though, and their subsequent heavy traffic. Again, for the last time I promise! if you want to try it out and help me in the process, use my promo code at sign-up: johnm1014. We’ll then both get a free ride!

And that’s my exhaustive apps list. I hope you find one or more that you can use and enjoy. Here’s to the coming years of iPhone 6! Mine had better stay straight.

GPS? Oh Yes!

So tell me, am I the only oddball with like eight different GPS apps on my iPhone? Well, there’s a lot of practical reason for this. They all do slightly different things, and I can usually benefit from each at its own time.

Google Maps: This one suddenly got a lot better than it had been when I first looked. Now, it’s about on the level of Google’s map on the computer. I love the ease with which I can plug in restaurants and actually view their menus. Also being able to see a comprehensive list of places nearby finally breaks me out of the difficulty I’ve so often had in deciding where we should eat when out with a friend, an issue that has often irked said friends!

Yesterday, in fact, I’d taken a look at a lot of our local eateries as I attempted to decide where I and one of my former grad school classmates would go. I wanted to eat at Piedmont Restaurant, but some of their entrees went for $27! Also, they seemed not to have a whole lot of options. So, I ended up going with Texas Roadhouse. I wanted more of that delicious Country-fried Chicken. She had chosen pulled pork at first, but they’d run out of it. How often does a restaurant run out of one of its main menu items? So she had to settle for barbecue chicken.

And man was it loud in there, and it seemed the servers were celebrating birthdays every 3 minutes. There was also some kind of odd musical performance of which my friend was audibly relieved when it ended.

To get to that restaurant, I opted to use MapQuest. This is because while I like Google Maps for many things, I’m not yet sure how well I trust its directions yet. As I noted when I’d had someone take me to the Greyhound station to begin my Christmas vacation, Google Maps didn’t always tell me whether we were to turn left or right onto major thoroughfares. I figured the less frustration, the better.

Well, sort of. In returning home, I decided to try Seeing Eye GPS, the blindness-specific app about which I wrote back in July. I have to say that it performs a lot better now, I’m guessing due both to the fact that I now have a 4S which is better than a 4, and that they’ve probably made quite a few modifications.

The main reason I’d chosen to use it was that you can just press the button labeled “Go Home,” and it’ll take you to the place you’ve saved in that slot. Figuring out how to tell people this apartment’s address has always vexed me, since half of the people over here aren’t even sure just what it is. I can say just enter at 311 South LaSalle St, which is near the leasing office, and come on back; but sometimes that can throw people not particularly familiar with my neighborhood.

Things went well with that app, for the most part. VoiceOver tends to read most of the information though, and can sometimes oververbalize the street names. Plus I’m not sure it told us which direction we needed to go when getting on 15-501, meaning that we ended up taking one exit up to North Gate Mall, then riding back to my place on street level like the bus does. It was interesting though, because Seeing Eye called out a lot of the area businesses and every street we crossed. She also laughed at the silly sounds it makes: a turn signal when you should turn, and a three-part ascending chime when the next set of directions are to be followed.

I’ve also found out that another app, a free one no less, does a pretty good job at describing street layouts and will even point out local businesses as we pass. This one deals with transit specifically and is called Rider. It comes from a company called Transloc, and it works by connecting with your local transit agency and telling you which buses can be caught in your area. It can even give alerts for up to five minutes before a bus is to arrive at your stop.

I’m not sure with how many agencies this works currently, but they said on Twitter that they’re constantly trying to expand their presence and so if it doesn’t yet work where you are and you want it to, call your agency and ask. I liked the app well enough, though it seemed to be an even bigger battery drain than GPS units usually are. So I’d just have to be juiced up well before boarding if I wanted to use it.

And speaking of battery drain, I’ll talk about my favorite activity to do of probably anything I do with the phone, play with the maps feature on Ariadne GPS. I believe this one is a blindness-specific program too, but I’m not entirely sure on that. In any event, it does work well with VoiceOver. I love putting in cities nearby and farflung and moving my finger around the screen to discover things. It has special sounds that indicate water, very relaxing, a park or more naturalistic setting, also very relaxing, train tracks I think?, and a couple of other sounds indicating things of which I’m not entirely certain. It also, if you move your finger slowly enough, makes the sound of the character walking in what sounds like high heels. I find that amusing.

Because of this app, I finally know the answers to some questions that have always confounded me.

How is the UK laid out? Scotland is to the north of England, Wales to the west, and Ireland across the Irish sea farther to the west. There is also a body of water called the Celtic sea, I think a bit to the south of the Irish sea. Then going east from London is Esses, and to the southeast Dover and the English Channel.

I explored Egypt and its relation to the Red Sea, which lies to the East, and the Mediterranean, which is north of the country. Looking at Japan was interesting, because only the universities were labeled in English. This activity is so fascinating to me though, and when I get wrapped up in it I can go for hours.

A little of my weirdness, but perhaps one of life’s simple pleasures too. I actually hope that some of this information is helpful to other individuals who are blind, or anyone else for that matter. More later.