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brianhartgen's blog

General Chat

Hi again everyone!

This week has been quite a busy one although it is slowing down in pace now it is drawing to a close. Let me tell you what has been happening to me.

First, thanks to those who read my blog entry about internet radio broadcasting. Quite a few people emailed questions and comments to me and I think I have answered all of those.

Tuesday and Wednesday were taken up with work of course. At the moment, I a working a four day week rather than five, and my non-working day this week was Thursday given that the Friday is the Bank Holiday Good Friday. Are you still with me?

Anyway, this meant that my Easter break began when I finished work on Wednesday afternoon, so I got on a train and travelled from Milton Keynes to Birmingham, and then to Cardiff.

It was really cold on the wednesday and I waited on a platform on Milton Keynes station for 40 minutes. It was bloody freezing out there! Anyway, the train came along and to get on that lovely warm Virgin Train out of the cold was just heaven. Then, to make it even better, the Train Manager came along and she asked if she could get me anything from the shop which was really nice so I wouldn't have to find it. So I got hot food and drink, exactly what I wanted!

It was lovely to get to L's on Wednesday evening to have dinner and relax. And that is what I have been doing today, not a great deal, but that's fine. L brought to me breakfast in bed and for once I didn't get up till quite late, she is so wonderful.

I've read a couple of blog posts today from RNIB's TechKnowMore blog. On my Twitter account, as well as documenting what I do in life and talking to people, I like to include technology news I come across which people may find useful. I have sometimes tweeted items from this blog.

One item was about iOS games for blind and partially sighted gamers. I was surprised that it didn't make any reference to "The Night Jar" or "Papa Sangre", two of the most high quality audio games I have heard and experienced!

Also today I received from L a gift of a wireless headset and I've written a review of that in a separate post. I am using it now and I must say, I love it. My computer is not located near to the sofa where we sit, so I really need the headset in addition to the wireless keyboard which I use while I am here. This is absolutely perfect.

So, what is to come for the rest of the break.

My non-working day next week is Tuesday, and so this means I have really quite a long break at the moment, looking on the positive side. This leads me nicely to the end section of this blog entry.

Books I am reading:
I have just completed "Straight" by Dick Francis, I do love that book.
We are together reading "The Handmaid's Tale by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. We've just obtained an excellent reading of it from Audible.

Things I am looking forward to:
1. The return of L's radio programme, "The Bear's Lair", to The Global Voice tomorrow. I really hope it goes well for her. She has been doing some preparation for it today.
2. Visiting L's family on Monday.
3. Going out to a restaurant with L's family on Tuesday.
4. Being with L over the Easter break.
5. We're getting a desk here in the living area for me to work at on Tuesday and that will be fantastic!

I think that is about all for now, will write again soon.

Happy Easter everyone!

Review of the Logitech H600 Wireless Headset for PC and Mac

Hi everyone!

One of the presents I have received from L this Easter is going to help me a great deal when I stay at her home, both for work and leisure purposes, and I thought I would review it for you today.

We use headphones quite a lot when we are together and at the times when we work with our computers. This is natural when two blind people are together, not because we want privacy from each other but we each use a screen-reader and if they are both talking simultaneously it doesn't necessarily make you productive when you are working with applications.

L has just purchased for me the Logitech H600 Wireless Headset for PC and Mac. I have not owned a wireless headset before and so I was curious as to its performance. Professionally, I work extensively with voice input/output technology and I know from experience that Bluetooth headset/microphones do not offer particularly good reproduction of speech output (such as when using JAWS).

The lightweight headset is comfortable to wear. The microphone can either be folded away into the headset when you are not using it or of course it can be extended to a position near to your mouth but not too close so as to avoid distortion.

A very small dongle plugs into the USB port of the computer from where the headset receives its wireless signals. "Small" is the operative word here; I nearly didn't find it in the packaging.

In addition, a standard USB cable is provided to connect the headset to the computer for charging purposes. The battery will give you approximately six hours of use when fully charged, however you can continue to use the headset if the cable connects the unit to the computer which is a nice feature.

Unlike many cordless headphones, there is no background noise to interfere with the computer's output and the audio quality is more than reasonable. The headset has a range of 10 metres (33 feet) and of course contains an adjustable headband.

This headset could have been made for us as blind people. A slide switch on the right earphone naturally switches the unit on when in the up position. It takes a few seconds for the headset to be enabled and this is indicated by an audible beep. Below the On/Off control is a press-button mute switch. When an ascending tone is heard, the microphone is active. A descending tone indicates that the microphone is muted.

Pressing the upper part of the right earphone increases the volume and pushing the lower part decreases it. An audible tone (different to those referred to above) denotes the volume has reached maximum level.

The USB socket to connect the aforementioned computer charging cable can also be found on the right earphone.

I did test the unit with Dragon NaturallySpeaking with excellent results after giving the software only 30 seconds of voice awareness which was impressive.

In summary, this headset is a really wonderful gift and I am absolutely delighted with it. It can be obtained through Amazon or other online electrical retail stores which you can consult for pricing in your country. Thanks very much L!

Thoughts on Internet Radio Broadcasting

Hi everyone

Apart from L's journey to the global Voice internet radio station which I wrote about last time, I didn't comment upon my own status in terms of internet broadcasting. That lack of comment resulted in a few e-mail and Twitter messages from people asking if the Music Machine, (my own show), was coming back. So I thought it would be a cool idea to write about my progress in that regard and hope someone finds it interesting, smile.

First, thank you so very much for asking about it and it is nice to know that quite a number of people would like it to be broadcast again. Certainly I've enjoyed producing it over the years irrespective of which network it has been on.

It struck me however that, before I even think about the logistics of getting it on the air, I need to find somewhere to host the show. In looking around for a station where it could be broadcast, I was simply appalled at how few stations use visual appeal and social media integration to attract listeners, hence this blog post. Certainly I could promote the show as much as I was able to, but this is of little value if an effective mechanism of promotion is not available to the broadcaster offered by the station itself.

Producing high quality audio programming is surely only part of what today's internet broadcasting is about. With on demand music services so readily available (where you select the genre of music preferred), or the ease by which one can download music to a portable player or phone, attracting listeners to a station has to be much much more than a host playing songs and injecting his or her personality into the show. I feel the station has to have a vibrant internet presence which attracts the mainstream listening audience worldwide. There has to be something to attract a web surfer from the get go.

I've been involved with several internet radio projects now and I've found there are two recurring topics of discussion among staff, namely, "how can we attract more listeners", and, "how can we best appeal to sighted listeners", baring in mind that the operators predominantly comprise visually impaired people. So, lets talk about both of those things.

Being visually impaired should in itself have no baring on the audio output because, after all, you cannot see the broadcaster! So noone need know the host or hostess of a show is blind unless that fact is communicated to the audience. But the visual appeal of the website is critical, and there are some stations which appear to be shouting at the world, "we are blind". How is that done? Because there are no graphics on the site, no photographs of presenters, in many cases not even a logo. It is plain text. The layout of the text often is better than others but there is nothing particularly eye-catching about the pages.

But turning to the subject of promotion, the mainstream audience surely will not know of the existence of a station until they are told about it. I was frankly shocked at how few stations in "the visual impairment internet radio community" (please forgive the expression) use social media to good effect. Social media and frequently updated websites are so important today as many people have Twitter and Facebook accounts, even if they do not have a computer or compatible phone available to them. There are 750 million active Facebook users for example. That's a hell of a lot of people to tap into, and doubtless Twitter has a similar number, if not more.

Some of the sites I viewed belonging to stations in this group had not sent a tweet using Twitter for over a month, some did not display their Twitter presence on their home page at all, some web pages hadn't been updated for seven years and the Facebook presence is minimal. By far the clear leader in this field that I've seen is Mushroom FM which has an extremely active Twitter and blog presence at least and does a fine job in that regard. What is impressive about this station is the way they have tightly integrated their social media tools (using the service IFTTT).

But with many of these stations there still appears to be some way to go. This is not a blog post to slate or criticise any station in this community, far from it, but rather to give food for thought about promotional tools or services which could be used to enhance web presence. Everyone without exception would want more people to listen to them. So here are a few things which (if you are running such a station) you may care to consider.
1. Try not to shout to your web browsing audience: "we are a group of blind people". Think about how your site could be made more visually attractive. Visual appeal and accessibility can go hand in hand.
2. Frequently update your web pages to include upcoming shows, new content and station promotions.
3. Consider having a Flash Player on the site. Activating a link on a page (or having a station included in an internet radio directory is fine), but perhaps make it easy for people to hear how fantastic your shows are directly from the site itself.
4. Embed a player for your radio station into your Facebook main page or use a viral distribution tool to place it on the station's wall, friends' walls or any groups created. Once a player is shared with the station's friends, their friends will see it and be curious and may listen to you!
5. Design the theme of the player to match the station's brand and colours.
6. Use services which Facebook offer to its users. Some Facebook sites of stations simply relay the Twitter feed which is fine, but Facebook as a lot more to offer such as chat, the ability to post photos, the creation of groups, and more.
7. Use services such as AudioBoo to readily promote what is being offered. If you have a team of broadcasters then presumably they like producing audio! It makes sense then to use AudioBoo as a promotion tool and encourage people to follow the station that way. AudioBoo is obviously very popular so it is worth using.

Clearly, the above will take some degree of implementation and maintenance. Maintenance is the key word here. After all, there is no point in implementing the tools only for them to lie dormant. But it seems to me that no harm can be done by implementing these or similar techniques and it is only through such channels that a bridge between visually impaired and sighted broadcasters may be constructed.

OK, that is my little blog entry almost over for the moment. Let me end with my usual section on things I am looking forward to, and, because we are in an internet radio context, I'll try and keep it all related to that subject.

Things I am looking forward to.
1. Bringing my show, "The Music Machine", back at some stage on internet radio. That's a long-term goal I think, OK, scrap that, these are all long-term goals.
2. Broadcasting in an environment in which I feel relaxed and comfortable. OK, I have that one, L's home, although she doesn't know it yet.
3. Modifying the equipment I have so I can use a sound mixer and good quality microphone.
4. Finding a station to host it who are good at promotion. As I've said, that is a tough one! Maybe I need to go outside this community to find it.

Bye for now everyone!

March 30 2012

Hi everyone!

Welcome to my first blog entry. People have been blogging for years about all manner of subjects, but I have never had a blog and so, when I decided to recreate my website (of which more later), I thought it was high time I had one. So, here it is.

If you continue to read this blog when there are new entries posted to it, what kinds of things will you be reading about?

Frankly, it could be anything. It may be related to some technology news, what I have been doing day to day, about good food my partner Lulu (or L) and I have eaten, iPhone apps we like to use, books we are reading, absolutely anything at all. We'll just see what comes along and I won't do too much in the way of editing my thoughts.

If you want to comment on any of my posts, it is really easy. All you need do is register yourself as a user from my blog page, and, once the registration has been accepted, you can post comments. It's very simple and accessible, the way blogs should be.

I won't post a blog entry every day. I don't think it would be very interesting. But every few days there will hopefully be something good to write about.

I'll start then with a summary of some of the high points of this week beginning 26 March.

This week, I have been staying with L which has been lovely. I am extremely lucky to have her. When I am working, she takes very good care of me, making sure I have enough to eat and drink and making the home lovely and quiet for me to work in when I need to do that.

One of the things I have done during the evenings this week is to redesign my website. It seriously needed doing and I thought now was a good time to do so as there are some features over the months I would very much like to add to it. So, I made a good start and this item is the first blog entry.

So, on the site we have an area for the various JAWS screen-reader script files I have created, a page where my recent posts to Twitter and Facebook can be seen, this blog, and that was about all to start with. But then I thought it would be a great idea if L had an area on the site as well. So I broadened it out to include things that we both enjoy together with some pictures of us.

So now, we have an area I created to promote L's new internet radio show, "The Bear's Lair", and also a section devoted to Bert, a leprechaun I conceived originally to help create radio promos with but who has now developed into a full character where his adventures are posted to sites such as this one and AudioBoo. He also has a family he writes about in his private journal (which apparently you are going to get to see) and also a blog.

So, I ported Bert's blog and audio adventures over from the team-FM site to the domain. I rewrote the site using Drupal which gives me a lot of nice features to play with. I also researched how to add pictures and a podcast feed to the site, so there's quite a lot going for it right now.

OK, now let me bring you up-to-date with activities from the past couple of days or so.

So to Wednesday.

When I had finished work around 5, we set about pre-recording some material for L's audition for the internet radio station, The Global Voice. When our station Team-FM closed, L was extremely devastated. I think it hit her harder than it did me in some ways. But we closed it down, both got completely smashed out of our brains, and moved on. That is what you do.

Anyway, after a while, L felt that she did miss producing internet radio shows. She enjoys a lot of the preparation for, and the promotion of, each programme, (and I must admit so do I), but she felt she wanted to give internet radio another try. Brave lady.

She was listening to the Global Voice earlier in the week and she enjoyed listening to some of their output. So she decided to audition.

L was, I have to say, very nervous about this and I've absolutely no idea why. She could do the audition in her sleep but she was quite anxious about it. Nevertheless, we settled down and did some audio work, using the character Bert to produce a sketch which I tightly edited together. I also grabbed some podcasts from their website and edited out some of the promos and jingles so she had some items to work with.

So, she did the audition and it went really well. She didn't make a single mistake which is exactly what I expected. She learned fairly early on that she would be broadcasting there.

Quite what happens in that regard now, I don't know, as in, when she will be broadcasting, what day, what time, etc. Obviously I'll support her all I can, if she wants me to. You never know, occasionally she may want a little help from me.

Fairly soon after L had been accepted onto the station, I put a page together on my website so that at least she has a platform where she can promote it with plenty of detail. I also added her most recent Ttwitter posts to the appropriate page and that makes the site almost complete, for the time being.

I think because of the stress of the day for L, she had a very bad Asthma attack about 11.30, to the extent that the paramedics had to be called out to put her on a nebuliser. I have to say the guy came out to the flat very quickly and soon things were under control.

I think we got to bed about 1 in the morning when L had settled down. But it has taken its toll, and today L has not been too well at all. The aftereffects of the medication had resulted in a severe migraine. She seems now to be on the mend which is all to the good.

Before I leave this entry, there are two things I want to try and frequently publish in these writings, books we are reading and things I am looking forward to.

We are both very very avid audio book readers. With L, I am reading "Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince" by J K Rowling. We've both read it so many times but we are re-reading it as we have done with a number of the HP series recently. We both love this particular book.

When I am on my own, I am reading "Whiphand" by Dick Francis, another author L and I are reading quite a lot of at the moment.

Things I am looking forward to.

Updating the website on Saturday.
The arrival of the new wireless headset/microphone L has kindly bought for me.
The long Easter break with L which will start when I get back here this coming Wednesday evening.
Meeting L's sister which I will do during the easter break when I visit her family.

I think this blog entry has gone on for long enough. We've just decided that we are going to post quite a lot to the site on Saturday including this first blog entry. So I will stop writing now and write another entry in a few days. I hope you have enjoyed reading!


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