I am featured in the Smorgasbord blog magazine. See the below post. My thanks to the community there that has engaged with my post. Please keep the comments and questions coming.
To anyone in law enforcement, do not be mislead by the use of the word foray in the title; Sacheta and I did not go to plunder the stores but the amount of preparation we did was extensive and the whole project felt like a campaign. Yes, we stepped out of the house after 40 calendar days to do a little shopping and to go to the automatic teller machine. Sadly, not everyone accepts online payments.
- We kept a bucket ready to put our used clothes in. That bucket had a little water and some detergent.
- We were wearing masks and I was naturally also wearing the vOICe
- We were carrying a bottle of hand sanitizer.
- I kept my eyes on the clock. We can only be out until 19:30 IST.
- We were carrying identity documents in case the police wanted to see them.
The walk to the market was without incident. There were plenty of people on the road and as we got closer to the market, there were a fair number of vehicles. There was no public transport and cab services like Uber were not operating.
The first thing different was the queue to get into the shop. We had to stand 6 feet apart from one another. There were painted circles on the road. Sacheta and I were able to stand together but I spent several anxious minutes staring in front of me, watching for changes in the scene. My ears and the vOICe both gave me clues to the change. This was particularly useful as we got closer to the shop. The staff and customers were coming out and we had to almost hug the wall to avoid touching them. I could see the scene change so was ready to move aside.
Things got even more interesting as we reached the entrance. The guard had an infrared thermameter and he refused to let me go because of me having a higher temperature. The thermameter registered about 103 degrees Fahrenheit I explained that I was wearing a camera and moved the glasses such that the camera pointed to the sealing The temperature was then in an acceptable range I think it was around 97 degrees F and I was permitted to enter. Moral of the story, beware if you are wearing the glasses. You may want to move them away from your forehead when you know your temperature is going to be measured.
The rest of the trip past without anything worth recording.
I did not sense any change in people’s attitudes. Social distancing is just one more thing that people are taking in their stride. Yes, the whole experience is strange because no restaurants are open and offline shopping is incredibly tedious with long lines. Not more than 5 persons are permitted to be in a shop at one time.
Some of you may wonder why I did not take my cane. For one thing, I needed my hands free. Moreover, it would have been one more thing to sanitize. The glasses stayed on my person and did not come into any contact with anything or anyone. Finally, the cane would usually not answer the question what. The vOICe though not 100% accurate gives me enough information to determine if I am approaching a structure or a person. A cane would not do that unless it came in contact with the obstacle.
Sacheta and I were in Sri Lanka on vacation. We started with Kandy in the center, went south to Galle and then came to Bentota.
I had the vOICe with me and did not experience any problems in its usage. The sky was clear and I experienced many rich soundscapes. This time, I had a way to label images on the fly. I have recently switch to a Nokia 9 pure view phone and thanks to Rich D of the tasker mailing list, I had a solution where, once a new photo was taken by the camera, I was asked for a file name which I entered. The image was renamed to that name so I had labeled photographs and could record what I saw without resorting to post trip sighted descriptions. The downside to this was that I took fewer photographs because it was taking me time to label them on the fly. To mitigate this, I took some videos and described what I was seeing. If you are using the vOICe, then use the screen and or window sonification feature to view the images in the video. I am still looking for a solution to record the soundscapes from my glasses so that I can bring you what I saw that made me take the video. When I took the videos, I was scanning the scene in front of me and then raising the phone to the right place to capture said scene.
Kandy is in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. The breeze was super and our hotel was good both in terms of the views of the hills, the staff as well as the quality of the food. We were unable to visit the temple of the tooth due to it being full of people. It was impossible to get parking space there and. We did however visit another temple from where we had a terrific view of the sunset and a superb experience of the breeze. This was the first location where I took some videos. We were able to climb a tall statue of the Buddha into his neck and look about.
A video from the top of the statue. I had to hold on to the phone or risk it being blown away.
See the sunset from a little lower down.
Finally,, some intriguing decorated trees as we walked down the staircase.
See the below image for the hut that was present in our hotel.
Galle, our tiny paradise
If there is a must see place in Sri Lanka, it is Galle. The food is super, the beaches are clean and our hotel Amari is in a class of its own. Do not go by the star rating. The hotel will can give any 5 star a run for its money.
We visited the Galle fort. It is not much to speak off in terms of height or preserved weapons etc but the breeze is excellent and you get good views of the surrounding city from it. The stairs are not too bad. We did not go to the very top but were high enough to see whatever there was to see.
Another plus point of Social is the staff. They are very helpful. A case in point, we are extremely uncomfortable around dogs and so far, I have not practiced detecting them with the vOICe. The staff ensured we were not bothered.
We also visited the Galle lighthouse. I believe it is no longer operational but it is not possible to go up or touch the lighthouse. The vOICe came to my rescue once more.
Bentota and the Madu river safari
Our last stop was Bentota. The highlight of this stop was the Madu river safari. The Madu river forest is a mangrove forest with a significant degree of bio diversity. We were taken in a fiber glass boat with an outboard engine. I expected to see different types of roots in terms of shapes but after a bit, the entire scenery was more or less similar.
We landed on 2 islands. Cinnamon island is the more interesting of the two due to more nature being preserved. The people on the island demonstrated how a Cinnamon tree is peeled. I tried watching the demonstration but was hard put to follow the scraping movements. The way that the branch is peeled is that it is held vertically and then it is sliced along its middle. The first layer of Cinnamon is then scooped out and then the second layer is cut out. As far as I could tell, a single knife was the only tool being used in the entire process.
I enjoyed the smell too which is what hit me besides the vegetation as soon as we landed on the island.
The next island was the one that had the Buddha temple on it. See the Bodhi tree. It was crowded and I did not take too many pictures. The vOICe however kept running so I was able to see the statue of the Buddha, the temple and the rest of the island. I expected the monks to object to the hardware but they did not.
We did pass another island with a temple on it. The most fascinating part was how much of the structure I could see from the boat and how clear it was.
In addition, I got permission to sail the boat. The controls were simple namely a tiller equipped with a hand throttle like that on a motorbike. The problem was that the boat was controlled from the stern so it was difficult to gauge how far things were from it. Moreover, I sailed in open water therefore there were no obstructions which I could use as any kind of reference. I saw through the glasses a lot of open water and sky. I had the vOICe at double speed so that I could keep up with changes in the scenery as the boat moved forward. It will take a significant amount of practice though to navigate and I would like to start with a boat where I am at the bow or at least mount the camera at the bow.
- Wearing video glasses does not attract undue attention. Sacheta tells me we did have many people staring at us but that could also be the novelty of blind tourists on the streets.
- Be careful when you are getting rooms allocated in hotels. Hotel staff tend to equate blindness with wheelchair access and assign rooms accordingly. Do not surrender to their assumptions. Stay alert and ask for what you want.
- Hats with large brims really help because they keep the glasses cool. Do adjust the brim if you see a curved object at a height.
- If on a beech, remember that the waves can be quite strong so keep a firm grip on your technology and mount it as high up on your body as you can.
- In addition, remember, you are in a coastal country in the tropics so it can rain any time so carry rain gear with you..
- Elevators do not talk at least where we went and in hotels specially in Kandy, watch out for steps. Remember, you are among the hills.
I often wear the the vOICe running on my vision 800 glasses to my office. Some of you may find this surprising. I have good blindness skills and the office is a known environment. Moreover, it is visually the same that is, not much changes at least in my office.
So why then bother with synthetic vision? Why not use something like a cane?
I can certainly use a cane and these days, this has become even easier with the smart cane made by IIT Delhi in collaboration with a number of partners. However, sonar and the cane do not give me sufficient information.
My office is on the second floor of a building. I usually take the stairs for two reasons. I like the exercise and the elevators do not talk. When I am climbing the stairs, it is very easy for me to read the floor indicator so I do not cross the second floor and end up at the cafeteria. It is also easier to walk towards doors because I can see them from a distance so can zero on them and reduce wiering. In the event that I do not see the floor indicator, I am able to see the walls. The office has windows on the landings and they are visually distinct as compared to the doors.
I accidentally discovered that the the vOICe is very handy during presentations because I can “look” at the screen of my laptop and read the text because said text is enlarged and the OCR in the vOICe picks it up without problems. This is very handy when evaluating products that contain dashboards etc.
I continue to refine my skills at detecting people, chairs and other obstacles. One experiment I plan to do is to read the names of meeting rooms.
I currently compliment synthetic vision with my blindness skills and may add other technology into the mix.
Today is a remarkable day for science. Researchers have released the first ever image of a black hole. See the below link for details.
First ever black hole image released
If you read the page, you will find that the images have alternative text and excellent captions. If you however want to perceive a black hole, textual descriptions fall far short. Leaving things to the reader’s imagination is good when reading novels but if you want accuracy you need something experiential. This is given by the The vOICe.
It is important to read the captions because they tell you what to expect in the image given that images of black holes are not routine. When I loaded the image from the story into The vOICe, I was able to make out the bright disk around the black hole due to the increase in pitch which meant that something high was in the image. The volume of the sound also increased signifying that there was something bright in the view. The panning of the sound allows me to find the black hole which is a soft agglomeration of dots towards the bottom right of the image.
If you are using NVDA, you may want to use the audio screen add-on to see the image. If however, you do not use audio screen and or NVDA then grab the image from the following direct link.
Image of black hole
You will need to use the vOICe running on windows or on the android version to import the image into the program to view to your heart’s content. When viewing the image with the vOICe, reduce the speed to quarter speed to fully enjoy the black hole and its surrounding bright ring of gasses. Zoom did not help much and negative video is not worth trying because you do not want the background.
The below instructions have been written by Devin Prater, a fellow user of the The vOICe
I have not edited these instructions except to activate links and to fix formatting.
* First off, download the vOICe for Windows The first time you run it, you’ll see a license agreement, agree to it.
Running it also puts an icon for it * on your desktop, called “The vOICe.”
* After this, you should hear a repeating sound scape, which is a car
in a parking lot, I believe.
Now, let’s get Foobar2000, which is a media player which can be
extended to offer the ability to play YouTube videos.
* Go to foobar2000.org, and press enter on the download link.
* Download the version under the “latest stable version.”
* Once it’s downloaded, open the installer file, and install it as you
would a normal program. During the installation steps, you may choose
to install the “full package,” with all components, which add
functionality, or choose which components you have installed.
* After installing Foobar2000, open it from the desktop or start menu.
You’ll be given a chance to set up how Foobar2000 looks, but we’re not
worried about that, so just close that dialog box.
* You’ll land on a “playlist list.” That is where Foobar2000 collects
all the things you wish to play.
* Currently, there are no keyboard shortcuts set up for playing,
pausing, rewinding, or fast forwarding media. You can set these up by
Control+P, tabbing to the tree few, and pressing K for keyboard shortcuts.
Once there, press Tab twice to “add new, shift tab to the list and
make sure you’re on the new keyboard command, called “not set,” tab to
the tree view of actions, find the one you want, tab to the edit
field, and press the key you want to assign to the command.
* Continue setting up shortcuts until you’re happy with the functionality.
You don’t have to do all this, it just makes things a bit easier when
Now, let’s get the Foo_Youtube component.
* You can download the Foo_Youtube component from
* The download links are in the table on the page.
* Once downloaded, open the component. It’ll open in Foobar2000, and
will ask if you want to install the component.
* Click yes, then press OK in the preferences dialog that is open.
Foobar2000 will say it needs to restart, press OK again.
* After Foobar2000 restarts; or if it doesn’t restart just open it
from the desktop, you’ll be back at the playlist list.
* Now, we’ll need to set Foo-YouTube to go into full screen when a
* Press Control+P for Preferences, Y for YouTube, right to expand that
section, down to Video, tab to Show Window Combo Box, and arrow to
“manually, full screen.” Tab to OK, and press enter.
* Now, you can start the vOICe if it’s not already started.
* You’ll hear “left, right,” in your left and right headphone, and
that car in a parking lot sound.
* Now, press Control+F9 to turn on the sonification of the “window”.
* If you want to explore other options, press Alt in The vOICe’s
window, and arrow right to the options menu, and down through the options there.
The relevant option we just turned on is in the “Sonify GUI” menu.
* Now that we have that going, we can start a YouTube video. To do
this, we’ll go back to the Foobar2000 window, and press Alt+F, then Y, then T.
This opens the file menu, the YouTube submenu, then chooses the Title
* There, we have an edit box, and a combo box with options. Type
something into the edit box.
* Now, shift tab to the combo box, and arrow down to the Limits submenu.
Press right arrow to the into the menu, and you’ll probably have “1.”
This limits the amount of videos to just one, which isn’t at all how
YouTube usually works.
* Press Enter on 1, type in 50, and press the OK button.
* Now, you’ll be put back into the dialog box where you enter what
you’re searching for.
* Now, after making sure you have entered what you’re looking for,
press the OK button.
You’ll be placed on a dialog box as the videos are searched.
* After they’ve been found, you’ll be placed back on the file menu in
Foobar2000 window. Press either escape or alt to get back to the playlist.
* Now, press down arrow. You’ll hear the first video’s title. Press enter.
When you hear the video begin to play, press Alt+V, then V, then Enter.
Alt+V goes to the video menu, V to the visualization menu, and Enter
Now, the vOICe will be sonifying the video. To exit the video and go
back to the results, press escape. To get back into the video, do
Alt+V, V, enter again.
* To search for something else, Press Control+A to select all results,
and delete to delete them from the playlist, and search for videos again.
* when you’re done, press Alt+F4 to exit Foobar2000, Alt+Tab to the
vOICe, and exit that with Alt+F4, then Enter.
It was the weekend and I was on a family outing. We drifted into a coffee shop and found a table without difficulty. My mother remarked that the table was dirty. I tilted my head by 30 degrees and sure enough I could detect some dark objects on the table. I do not know what they were and did not care to find out. Once the waiter had cleaned the table, I took another look. I got a nice clean sound with no obstructions. I am going to develop the habit of scanning every restaurant table.
It took some thinking to figure out what I was going to drink. I do not like coffee so settled for an Oreo shake. The shake came in a jar like container which was short but had a large diameter. I tilted my head down and saw this cylindrical structure. It was astonishingly dark. It appears that Oreo shakes are brown and do not allow light to pass through them. As I drank the shake, I kept glancing at the container and was able to detect an increase in light. Visual confirmation that I was getting through the shake.