Brown’s Bargains Episode Fourteen

AmazonBasics 5-6 Sheet Cross Cut Shredder with Removable Bin for Paper and Credit Cards: £23.99.

The AmazonBasics Desktop Paper Shredder’s simple features make it easy to use and perfect for your home office. It shreds important documents and credit cards to keep your information safe. The small cross-cut design keeps your information safer than strip-cut. Fast and secure: Do you want to keep your information secure and shred documents quickly? The AmazonBasics Shredder’s cross-cut size (7/32″ x 1 27/32″) makes it more secure than strip-cut and faster than micro-cut shredders. It’ll help you get back to your life with the peace of mind that personal information is safe. The AmazonBasics Shredder destroys cards. Great for your home office: From old tax records to bills and bank statements, everyone has sensitive information that needs to be kept safe. Insert up to six sheets of paper at a time to destroy your confidential information before discarding. You don’t even need to remove small paper clips or staples. The reverse feature makes easy work of paper jams. Avoid paper jams: Paper jams are frustrating. Luckily, your AmazonBasics Shredder has a reverse feature to clear them. If paper gets stuck, just slide the switch to reverse the paper out, then continue shredding. Plus, the shredder head lifts off to easily empty the 3.8-gallon wastebasket and help avoid the problem altogether. Shreds more than paper: Don’t dull your scissors by cutting up plastic cards into small pieces. Insert them one at a time into the card slot of your AmazonBasics Shredder. It chews up old credit, debit, insurance, and identification cards.

AmazonBasics Adjustable Monitor Stand: £15.49.

The AmazonBasics adjustable monitor stand features a smooth black platform with 2 black legs. Its bold profile and smooth, rounded contours create an overall effect of space-efficient convenience and contemporary style that will add a touch of sleek sophistication to any home or office.
• Monitor stand with column-style stackable legs to choose your height
• Adjustable height up to 12.5 cm (in 2.5 cm increments)
• 28-cm-wide storage space underneath for laptops and video game consoles
• Non-skid feet help keep stand in place.

AmazonBasics Ni-MH AA & AAA Battery Charger With USB: £10.69.

Keep your must-have, battery-powered devices up and running with help from this AmazonBasics Ni-MH Battery Charger. The unit plugs into an AC wall outlet, and provides versatile charging space for both AA and AAA batteries as well as USB devices. With just one AC outlet, you have an instant charging station, and in less than four hours, your batteries will be fully charged and ready to go.

• 4-hour charger for 2 or 4 AA/AAA Ni-MH batteries at a time
• USB outlet for charging a smartphone or other device
• Protects against wrong polarity and over charging
• Built-in switching power technology for worldwide use (100-240 V AC)

Brown’s Bargains Episode Twelve

In keeping with the much-anticipated Apple WWDC event on 13 June, Brown’s Bargains went in search of some apple products with a difference …

Maplin Digital LCD Talking Apple Clock With Thermometer: £4.99.

• LCD display alarm clock shaped like an apple
• 12/24-hour digital clock
• White body with blue display
• Powered by two AAA batteries – order code L42AL (not included)
• Measuring just 75mm x 50mm x 84mm making it perfect for a travel alarm clock

What makes this clock different? This alarm clock comes in a white, apple shaped design with a blue backlit LCD display. It comes with both a 12 and 24 hour digital display and can also speak the time, within the ranges of 7am and 9pm, as well as tell you the temperature by simply pressing the stalk on the top of the clock.

How easy is the clock and alarm to set? On the back of the unit, there are three buttons. These are used to change the time and set an alarm. Using the hour and minute buttons, you can set the time quickly and easily.

Oxo Good Grips Apple Corer: £6.82, available from Amazon.

• Comfortable non slip handle, wet or dry
• Fruit core removes easily from corer head
• Corer head is stainless steel for precise cut and is dishwasher safe for easy cleaning
• Large handle hole for easy storage
• Dimensions (cm): 2.5(L) x 2.5(W) x 20(H)

Apple Design Placemat by Beyond The Fridge, £12.00, available from
www.notonthehighstreet.com

Choose from our delicious crop of Apple design placemats.
Have you been searching for the perfect placemat? We have and they’re surprisingly difficult to find. Our solution was to design our own with everything we wanted in a placemat and coaster. So here’s our collection which are a little bigger than average table mats, is our own ‘friendly’ shape (which looks great on both square and round tables), has a tough work surface texture (i.e. not laminated paper like most table mats) and of course, great designs.
We’ve got red apples, green apples, russet apples and golden delicious apples placemats and coasters. Which are your favourite? Go ahead and take your pick.
made from:
Our placemats are made from medium-density fibreboard with a tough scratch and heat resistant laminated surface that is textured for a better grip and have a cork backing.
dimensions:
26cm x 26cm

Brown’s Bargains Episode Eleven

This week, we examine memory. No, not that in your head, but the electronic kind we use daily on our computers and portable devices.

SanDisk Ultra 32gb SDHC Class 10 memory card: RRP £11.95, available from Amazon for £9.95.

Suitable for note-takers, DAISY players and any other equipment that supports up to 32gb of storage.

SanDisk Ultra 64gb USB Flash Drive USB 3: RRP £34.99, available from Amazon for £13.95.

USB Flash Drives come in various sizes and colours, and are so useful for carrying files, photos and music to swap between devices. This USB 3.0 Flash Drive is backward compatible, so it works with USB 2.0.

TaiPove 16gb USB Flash Drive with lightning connector to use with iPhone/iPod/iPad: £17.99, available through Amazon.

• Lightning Connector – Just slide the switch on the Flash Drive to switch the USB connector to an Apple approved Lightning connector.
• Download Photos – Free up space on your iPhone by backing up all your photos, videos and files to the high capacity 16gb Flash Drive. No need to pay for recurring online Cloud storage subscription.
• Playback Music – You can transfer music from the computer to an iPod touch or playback directly . No need for lengthy synchronization or pay for streaming services.
• Stream Movies – Stream tons of movies directly onto your iPad, anytime and anywhere you want, even on planes. No Internet or wireless network required.
• Safe & Secure – safe and secure since no data is sent through 3rd party services or transferred through the Internet or Cloud where hackers and others (like server operators) may gain access.

You can bypass iTunes completely to copy your files across between your computer and iOS device. Download the i-USB-Storer app from the App Store and use it to find all your stuff!

(NB: These come in higher storage capacities outwith the remit of Brown’s Bargains.)

Windows Woes

When a new version of the Microsoft operating system or its Office products become available, those of us using assistive technology start to get edgy. This is because we all wonder whether upgrading is going to put paid to our screenreader’s ability to work properly for us; whether a Braille display will be compatible; whether we need to purchase more expensive kit in order to keep up … you get the drift.

But I have tried to go with the flow over the years, and decided it was time to venture into the world of Windows 10. This meant having to upgrade my computers from Windows 7. And while on a roll, update Microsoft Office to 2016 from 2013 in the process. I completely skipped Windows 8 and 8.1 because reports about it were not exactly encouraging.

THE UPDATES

I began by updating to Windows 10 on my oldest laptop. I primarily use this machine for Skype conversations, producing Braille, and recording podcasts. My day-to-day work is done on my beloved desktop machine which I vowed to save until last!

The upgrade went smoothly, in all honesty. I followed the Windows prompts, using the JAWS screenreader until the upgrade began. It varies on how long the upgrade will take, but I gave it about two hours just to make sure, then went back to my laptop and activated Narrator. This is Microsoft’s attempt at a screenreader which is limited and not really suitable for long term use. While upgrading to Windows, JAWS won’t speak. Narrator told me the update was complete, so I began to move around the operating system with Narrator’s help, albeit limited in its capabilities.

Once I re-established contact with JAWS and ditched Narrator, I began to navigate my way around the various Windows 10 menus to customise my machine. I only have a version of Office 2007 on the laptop, so decided not to bother upgrading to 2016 as it serves my needs.

With that done, I went to update my second laptop which I keep attached to my hifi system downstairs. I primarily use this laptop for music, so it really only required the upgrade to Windows 10 and some customisation.

Finally, I decided to bite the bullet and upgrade my desktop machine to Windows 10 as well. This is where I took a very deep breath and a long pause. My desktop is the centre of my world. It is where I create all my documents, access Emails, surf the Internet, use a scanner, Braille display and printer, and is my first port of call for anything computer-related. It is the hub of my little Tardis, where my laptops are networked to it, and external drives are connected for storing backups of all my work.

So it was with great trepidation yet resolve that I upgraded. It went well, and I proceeded to update Microsoft Office to 2016 at the same time. Even this was straightforward until I launched Outlook … and noticed something was wrong …

THE PROBLEMS

My Braille display alerted an unusual message when I opened Outlook, but it went away as I started to scroll through my Emails. The spurious message turned out to be something relating to iCloud, so this was fixed. But it was when I wanted to reply to, or forward an Email, that JAWS began to hang. It felt like I was trying to fight with an elastic band that wouldn’t ping back. I checked all my settings, and found them to be as before, the way I like them. But nothing stopped my screenreader from misbehaving.

I eventually decided to contact the Microsoft Accessibility Help Desk. It is a dedicated team trained to understand how a screenreader works. They can go into your computer remotely to identify and fix any issues you are having. It is a free 0800 number, so I gave them a ring. I basically wanted to eliminate the Microsoft end of the deal.

The person assigned to my call was very pleasant. I explained my Outlook problems, and asked if he knew of any issues with Microsoft and JAWS. He attempted to take over my PC remotely, but he couldn’t get in. He said he could only see part of my screen, and asked if I had any antivirus software running that might be restricting him. I had Eset Smart Security on my computer, so the gentleman attempted to disable it. When he couldn’t, he tried uninstalling Eset with drastic consequences. Whether it was his remote software causing a conflict, or something else entirely, I have no idea, but Eset only half came out, meaning it was rendered useless to me.

By this time, I was utterly distraught. I am embarrassed to say that I then broke down, and my husband came to take over the call. I had visions of having to get the computer completely wiped and everything installed again from scratch. This takes time given the number of customisations you normally perform when it is up and running again. The tears came thick and fast as I imagined all sorts of complications that I might have to face, with no access to my favourite programs. Perhaps we have become too reliant on computers to serve our needs?

The gentleman at Microsoft said that I should sort out Eset, then contact them again to see if it would let his team into my computer to take a good look at Outlook. But I knew my first step was to contact the lovely people at Eset to fix their software for me. This they did, using special diagnostic tools to remove the program completely. Eset were fantastic, knowing exactly what to do as they have knowledge of screenreaders and, of course, their software.

Once Eset was completely removed, I found Outlook’s bizarre behaviour to be exactly the same. That at least ruled out my antivirus software playing tricks. Still on the hunt for a resolution, I decided to contact Sight and Sound Technology, the UK JAWS software dealer. Among other things, they uninstalled JAWS and put it back in; they uninstalled Microsoft Office 2016 and reinstalled it. And they ran other system diagnostics to check my computer was running properly. Everything came back with no anomalies, yet JAWS still continued to behave strangely in Outlook.

Technical Support at Sight and Sound said they would contact the JAWS developers, Freedom Scientific, in the US, and get back to me if they could come up with a fix. In the meantime, I was struggling to reply to, forward, or create new Emails because JAWS just fell over!

In a final throw of the dice, I reinstalled the AI Squared program, Window-Eyes. I had this on my PC before I upgraded it to Windows 10 to use as a second screenreader when JAWS wouldn’t play ball on a certain website. Different screenreaders can often behave in different ways. So, with Window-Eyes installed, I discovered that it allowed me to do all the things in Outlook that JAWS is now struggling with.

CURRENT SITUATION

The current position is that until Freedom Scientific comes up with a fix or explanation, I use Window-Eyes when launching Outlook, and revert back to JAWS for other tasks. I prefer JAWS to Window-Eyes only in the respect that it copes better with a Braille display. It is the screenreader I have used since 1999, so I am obviously more comfortable with it. But take nothing away from Window-Eyes. It works really well on the ribbon menus, it lets you customise your settings and navigate like JAWS, and technical support is very good. In all honesty, I now interact with both pieces of software to get my tasks completed on a daily basis.

TO UPGRADE OR NOT TO UPGRADE

I am sure there is a moral in this story somewhere. My advice is to upgrade to Windows 10, but customise some of the features that are not currently working with a screenreader such as Edge and Cortana. Choose Internet Explorer as your default browser, let Windows take all the updates available, and keep away from some apps and the Windows Store, as they don’t work for us at the time of writing. Depending on where you have upgraded from, Windows 10 is relatively straightforward to use with assistive technology. My old printer and scanner drivers allow me to use these peripherals, and I can find all the features I require to work with or customise.

The difficulty with not upgrading is that while it saves you a lot of hassle in the short term, the long term consideration is that programs – including screenreaders – update to take account of the latest applications. This means that if you stay on an older operating system, support begins to dwindle, security breaches can occur, and some assistive programs won’t run as smoothly.

I am technically inquisitive by nature, and I believe the only way to learn is to embrace changes as they come along. This can have consequences if something goes wrong, however, particularly when you have no sight and simply rely on your screenreader to get you out of the s**t. I have to believe that either Microsoft or Freedom Scientific will find a fix for the Outlook problem I am experiencing.

Computer upgrades can be notoriously unpredictable, but you may be lucky and not encounter a single hitch if you move to the latest operating system. Don’t be put off, try not to cry or become stressed out, and just bear in mind it isn’t always plain sailing!

Jackie’s Air Travel Tips

Going anywhere can be stressful, both at the preparation stage, and when you begin to travel. For blind and visually impaired people, however, it can be extremely daunting, particularly when you are relying on someone to help you in an airport to get to your destination on time.

As someone who uses an airport on a fairly regular basis, I would like to pass on a few travel tips.

BOOKING YOUR FLIGHT

Whether you book the flight yourself, or get someone to do it for you, request assistance by checking the box before you pay for your journey. This is really quite important, particularly if you have little or no sight, and will be travelling on your own.

When you get to the airport, your boarding pass should have the indication on it that you have requested assistance, but point it out to the airline operator at the desk anyway, just to be sure.

LUGGAGE

Whether you are putting your luggage in the hold of the plane, or taking it onto the aircraft with you, make sure you can identify what is yours. Tie a coloured piece of ribbon or similar material round the handle of your bag so that if anyone is helping you to collect it from the carousel, you can identify it. Remember that thousands of bags in all shapes, sizes and colours go through airports every day. Knowing the colour of your luggage, and being able to identify it quickly, saves you time and hassle. You can even take a photo of it to show anyone if you are having difficulty retrieving what belongs to you.

If you are only going away for a couple of days, and are taking your luggage onto the plane with you, remember that you cannot pack liquids of more than 100ml. To save time, buy a plastic sealable litre bag and put your travel size essentials into it. Make sure you can put your hand on these quickly. When you go through your security check, hand the bag over so that staff can search it quickly and allow you to move through the queue without the hassle of having to rummage through your belongings.

Similarly, ensure that any medication you need to take is clearly labelled with your name on it, and keep this with you at all times if you are required to take it frequently.

Try, wherever possible, to keep valuables to a minimum … just in case!

BE SECURITY CONSCIOUS

Most members of staff are incredibly helpful, but are also extremely busy. Ask the person who takes you through security to sit you next to, or close to, the gate from where you are due to depart. If you think your flight is being called, and you have not had someone come to take you to the aircraft, alert the person at the gate that you should have received assistance. It is unlikely, but has been known, so don’t sit waiting when you think your flight has been called.

Make sure you have your passport or other photo ID and boarding pass to hand; you cannot go anywhere without these. Keep them in a safe but prominent place so you can find them quickly. Never ever carry anything for another person no matter how genuine they sound!

If you are taking a Braille note-taker or other portable devices, let security staff know as you go through so they know what the Braille device is. Request that they do not swab this due to the delicacy of the Braille cells.

DURING THE FLIGHT

The cabin crew are always incredibly helpful. One of them should take you through the safety procedures. Be specific about the call bell above your head so that if you do need help, you know where to press the button to summon assistance. I have found fellow passengers to be exceptional in offering to help.

Also ask the cabin crew to ensure that someone will come to collect you from the plane when it has landed. You are normally told to wait behind until all passengers have disembarked before it is your turn.

Brown’s Bargains Episode Ten

BROWN’S BARGAINS EPISODE TEN

Deluxe RFID Money Travel Belt (large): £12.97, available online including Amazon

• TravelGenixx Travel Money belt #1 Premium Travelers Solution large enough to keep your passport, credit card, money, phone secure in your new money belts! A cool hidden and Concealed money belt.
• This Money belt for Travel is Equipped with Hidden back pockets to keep your belongings undercover and documents secured in your waist protected from theft, all with your deluxe new document holder and travel security pouch.
• Wear it over or under your clothes. Comfortable Amazing Delux silk feeling pouch making travelling security nothing to worry about. Undergarment RFID travel Money belt.
• Known as a Must have among Traveler Accessories: Cash Knit Moneybelt. Can also be used as a small fanny mesh pack when hiking, fitness or excersice.

Super Eight Pill Organiser With Multiple Alarms: product code: DH308, £16.99, available from RNIB

If you need to take regular and complex medication, this small product might be suitable for you. Alarms can be set to remind you both audibly and visually with eight compartments to store daily medication. This is very useful if you are travelling and need access to your medication quickly and with minimal fuss.

Go Travel Worldwide Travel Adaptor: £18.00, available online and Boots.

This Worldwide travel adaptor is a fantastic travel must have for any globe trotter, with four adaptors in one and compatible with UK, USA, European, Australian and Chinese plugs. Just slide the selector, only one can be used at a time, to select the appropriate adaptor. Once finished with the adaptor push the button at the side and slide the selector back. The worldwide travel adaptor provides a safe connection for all your class II non earthed electronic appliances up to 2.5A 110V-220V (275-550W).