Important Messages, such as Service Disruption.

Our office hours are Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM UK time. We will try to give assistance to those people not living in the UK outside of those hours if possible.

We are closed for the Christmas holidays from the evening of Wednesday 20 December 2017 through to Tuesday 2 January 2018.

We would like to wish everyone a merry Christmas and happy New Year!

Improved Audio, Trains and More

Hi everyone!

Well it's been another really good week. Not much to tell you about but that doesn't mean to say it has been uninteresting or not particularly busy. So let's see.

Last weekend was spent doing a lot of audio production including one of our "Bert Dramas" and an audio promo for my upcoming show on The Global Voice,"The Music Machine". L had an idea for a good promo and so we set to work on Sunday putting that together which was great. It's turned out to be a bit wacky and one of my best, so that's good!

Let's talk about audio for a moment. We now have the new audio equipment set up, that is, the new microphone and sound mixer, both of which I am really pleased with. I worked out most of the controls myself, but fortunately L's mother and husband were over yesterday, so Geoff gave me a good description of the items I didn't know about. We also got the microphone stand and its boom in exactly the right place. Now I have the best audio quality I can get, in exactly the right setting and I am not restricted in any way at all in terms of giving a good performance on a show with great support from L. To that end, I really do feel that the work I'll be able to produce for the Global Voice will be some of the best I have ever done.

This week I've spent travelling around quite a lot on the trains: to Sheffield, St. Helens and to Bristol a couple of times. I am getting to learn a couple of things about Cardiff station. First, when I am waiting for trains to arrive, I listen to the announcements concerning where different trains are going to and from. This helps a lot so I can plan future journeys. But second, I am learning a lot about the geography of the station in terms of mobility. This helped a lot as I got to Cardiff Central at 5.30 Monday morning only to discover noone was around to help me onto the train. But I was able to resolve that and got on a train going in the right direction which always helps!

This morning, Friday, has been quite a busy morning although I got up fairly late. I did some audio production, some work on the website which needed to be done and as I write, I am sitting here on the comfortable sofa listening to L's radio show, "The Bear's Lair" and enjoying it a lot! I am going to do some broadcast testing tomorrow ready for next week but I don't expect any problems at all, more about the show nearer the time.

I have a plan for a redesign of a key area of our website, but it's going to take me a good couple of hours to implement that so I'll doubtless get that done in a week or so.

Regarding books, I am still reading "The Chamber" by John grisham, but I do have two Audible credits awaiting my attention which I haven't used, so I am looking forward to choosing something good to read.

I'll write more really soon!

It's All Happening at The Bear's Lair

Hi, everyone.

I'm just dropping by with your weekly invitation to The Bear's Lair, which you can hear at 13 hours UTC, 9 AM Eastern, 8 AM Central, 6 AM Pacific, or 2 PM in the UK , on The Global Voice.

Settle back on my big squashy sofa with your favourite drink and prepare for two hours of friendly chat, fun and, of course, fantastic music. There is always plenty of room for your requests, so do please feel free to get in touch at any time.

This week we have a right royal Crank it Up corner, and a colourful Love Zone, which I hope you will enjoy. Don't forget if you would like to hear your own choices in either of these features you can find out how by tuning into the show.

The lair would be a very empty place without you, so I'd love to hear from you during the show. Getting in touch is easy. Just Email yourvoice@theglobalvoice.info or tweet @lulu_bear.

I look forward to your company at 13 hours UTC when the Bear's Lair opens its door once more, in the meantime, have a great day.

Irish Actor Required for Fun Audio Drama!

Hi everyone!

As many of you will know, we have become well-known for producing the audio dramas featuring Bert the leprechaun. On this website, in "Bert's Place", you can read his blog, hear his audio adventures and take a sneak peak at his private journal. "Bert's Place" attracts hundreds of visitors and we will soon be expanding this section of the site with more audio and visual features!

Our dramas particularly are extremely detailed and a great deal of time is invested in each production.

We are looking for someone who would be interested in taking part in one of our upcoming audio drama productions. If you like audio production, acting, and would like to be part of a fun project, we would love to hear from you!

1. Interested participants may be maile or female, but must be able to act convincingly.

2. Interested participants must be Irish, or be able to do an excellent authentic Irish accent that will not slip.

3. Interested participants must be able to produce a good standard of audio, using a high quality portable recorder such as a Zoom H-product, Plextalk, computer-based audio or similar.

4. Interested participants should be aware that though we are unable to offer remuneration, the time involved in recording lines should be short, and the project gets good exposure on Twitter, and on our website as described above.

If you would like to help, please contact brianh@hartgen.org.

Thank you for reading!

The Global Voice, Games and Chat

Hi everyone

(Writing from the car heading for Warrington).

Quite a lot has happened this past week so I'll pick up the detail from last Friday which was part of the Easter break.

Good Friday was the day L relaunched her radio show, (The Bear's Lair), on the internet station the Global Voice. I was really pleased to have been there to support her on that day as she was quite nervous. But, as with her audition, she need not have been because the listening figures were very good and it was an excellent programme!

Immediately after that, I thought I would give internet broadcasting another try and I wrote to the station for an audition. That took place this past Sunday and I start producing the Music Machine again at the end of the month!

I am very pleased to be working as part of the team at the Global Voice. They seem a very friendly group of people, their audio standards of quality are high, they have an excellent broadcasting technical infrastructure in place and I am sure there will be other good things they will offer over time. I have already given a great deal of thought as to how I can improve my programme in terms of different features which can be added, themed shows and so on. People always seem to have enjoyed the show, but I definitely want to take it up a notch on this station and make it even better. I have some thoughts as to how I might do that.

The Music Machine will be broadcast live each Sunday at 5 PM UK which is a very good time slot. I would have loved to be back on Saturdays at 7 PM, but hey, you cannot have everything, and the time slot I have is probably the next best one, so I cannot complain in the slightest!

So, lots to look forward to there and to that end, I have a new microphone and audio sound mixer, both of which were very much needed. I haven't seen them yet but they have been delivered. I also have a new pair of speakers. Headphones are essential for broadcasting, but I do like to review a lot of my audio production work on speakers and I am sure these will be excellent. They haven't arrived yet though.

So, what else has been happening?

Staying with technology, L has got me back into playing games again. I've never been a brilliant game player in terms of achieving high scores, but I do enjoy some of them and have for a number of years. But I tend to go through phases of playing games and I am now, thanks to L, back in such a mood.

The game I am "addicted to" at the moment is called Super Egg Hunt from L-Works Games. You have to collect as many eggs as you can by placing each egg in the centre of the stereo field. Cleverly, different sounds indicate whether the egg is in front of you or behind you. There is a chicken which can be annoying and will reduce the level of time you have available together with disturbing your place on the grid through which you move with the four Arrow keys. You can also collect clocks to lengthen the time period you have to play with. The default is three minutes.

I am getting better at this game. I am not as good as L, but she has played it for years. But I am consistently getting scores in the range of 110 to 115 which is quite good for the time being. It is my first week!

But this has started me once again on a bit of a game quest. I used to play two games quite avidly, Troopanum and Pipe, from a company called Games for the Blind. I may well get licences for at least one of those at some stage and start playing them again.

Away from technology now, we went to L's parents on Monday for a "family get together" which was lovely. L's mother is a very good hostess, (I know where her daughter gets her skills from in that area), and it was good to meet up with the rest of her family. On Tuesday, L's sister Ellie and husband Steve came over to put together a desk, so we now have one each. The living area does look very nice now and there is plenty of room when I stay there for us both to work comfortably.

Wednesday it was back to work. If you follow me on Twitter, you will have seen I've been to quite a few places, got caught up in a heavy pile of traffic on Thursday which wasn't good, and I am travelling back to L's today. The next two weeks look very busy in that regard too.

(Writing from the train to Cardiff).

Well this is good. It seems that the speakers have now arrived! That is great news.

Before closing this blog entry, I wanted to just write a paragraph about Bert.

Bert is, (or was), a cartoon-like character I invented to help produce radio promos and so on. However, in the past nine months or so he has taken on alife of his own with dramatic audio adventures, a blog and now, a private journal.

What amazes me is that people actually do follow the life of Bert and want to know what he is doing on a day-to-day basis, what his fears are, what makes him angry, about his family, etc. I can say that "Bert's Place" on our website gets hundreds of hits a week. People are interested. They tell us.

Why am I blogging about this? Because over this week we've made a start on re-designing the whole of Bert's place into something which is going to bee just so so cool. So if you do read or listen to his items, you are in for a bit of a surprise over the coming month or two I would think.

Books I am reading:
With L, I was reading one of the James Herriot books.
On my own, John Grisham's "The Chamber". I've read it a few times but it is one of my favourites by him.

Things I am looking forward to:
1. Right this second, I want a cup of tea and something to eat. Where is the trolley on the train when you need it! There's no shop on here as its one of these awful Welsh trains which stops at every conceivable place you can imagine.
2. The weekend. I am travelling to Wales as I write.
3. Seeing L.
4. Using the new audio equipment we have, I think that will make for a separate blog entry.

That's about all for now!

Drop In to The Bear's Lair!

Hi, Everyone!

I just thought I'd pop in here to deliver your regular weekly invitation to The Bear's Lair, which you can hear on The Global voice today, and every Friday, at 13 hours UTC, 9 AM Eastern, 8 AM Central, 6 AM Pacific, or 2 PM in the UK.

Take your seat on the big squashy sofa, pick up your favourite drink, and prepare for two hours of friendly chat, fun and, of course, fantastic music! This week we have a twin-Spin of a popular Swedish group in the Crank it Up Corner, and no, I don't mean Abba! This week's love Zone is not themed, just two beautiful songs which will bring out the romantic in anyone.

Getting in touch with the show is easy. You can Email yourvoice@theglobalvoice.info, or send a tweet to @lulu_bear. I look forward to having your company, later today in The Bear's Lair.

The Bear's Lair Later Today!

Hi, Everyone.

I'm Lulu Wells, and I'd like to invite you to drop into my place, commonly
known as The Bear's Lair, tomorrow, and every Friday at 1300 UTC, 9 AM
Eastern, 8 AM Central, 6 AM Pacific, or 2 PM UK, only on The Global Voice.

I'll play you a variety of good mood music, ranging from oldies to great
tracks from today, with lots of room for your requests. I also have a
couple of great features, which you won't want to miss. This week, in my
Crank it Up corner, where I play two songs that you have to play as loud as
possible, we go back to the eighties for those turn it up tunes. In The
love zone, which happens during the second hour, you are going to want to
take time to relax and listen. That was a clue!

Getting in touch with the show is really easy, either Email
yourvoice@theglobalvoice.info while I'm on air, or tweet me any time,
@lulu_bear is the user name. I look forward to having your company, Friday,
1300 UTC for The Bear's Lair, on The Global Voice.

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!

Nervous? Me?

Hi, Everyone.

This has been an eventful week, and as we head into the Easter break, life should certainly not be boring! My sister has traveled down from Norfolk to spend time with us over the holidays. I got to see her on Tuesday, and we had a hectic day, shopping and trying on clothes, talking a lot and doing the things sisters do. I was exhausted all of yesterday, but gosh, it was worth it!

B got home yesterday evening, and it is always wonderful to have him back after being away. We had lots to catch up on, and he got to see the gift he had bought me for the first time. It is a funny thing, when you buy something online, you take a leap of faith, especially when it is something as special and personal as an eternity ring. We chose the ring together, but neither of us had ever touched it, we chose it by reading reviews, and by its description, and by what I know about jewellery. Anyway, it arrived Tuesday morning, and it is absolutely stunning. 3 beautiful rubies which look red, not pink or so dark they are almost black, complemented by tiny diamonds that look like a wave, and sparkle beautifully. I was just overjoyed with it, and everyone who has seen it loves it. Luckily when B saw it he loved it too, so our leap of faith paid off, and I can't thank B enough for such a special Easter gift.

Today has been fairly quiet, with us both relaxing, but my stomach has been full of butterflies for a lot of the time, because tomorrow my radio show The Bear's Lair is set to debut on The Global Voice. Yes, I know, I have done umpteen Bear's Lairs, in two different places, and this is only a two hour version when I am used to doing three hours, but this is a whole new ball game of a station, and wherever I broadcast, I want to do a good job. Lots of things are different, including the kind of server I am using, but it is going to be ok. I am looking forward to being back on air tomorrow. If you would like to know more, there is a longer description of the show and much more information which you can find by returning to our home page.

Life is odd. You can't plan it really, or at least I can't plan mine. I thought I would never do this again, but the bug, or something gave me a nudge, and here I am again, part of me saying yay! Back on air again, and part of me saying god! What am I doing this for, I can't do this! The same old mixture of excitement and butterflies, and rather more butterflies this time, as this station is still a very unknown quantity to me. Ah well, all I can do is what I always do. Promote it as well as I can, do the best job I can, and leave the rest in the hands of God. I hope I may see you tomorrow on the big, squashy sofa. 1300 UTC, 2 PM UK, 9 AM Eastern.

Book I am reading: The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood.

Things I am looking forward to: Easter eggs, I know I have one coming from Mum.
Seeing family over the holidays.
Dinner! I'm starved!

Thanks for reading, and Bye for now!

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!

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