Over the last several years I've been dealing with various stages of disability thanks to ALS. My goal is to share solutions and review various products/tools/devices that I have found particularly helpful.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

More Autohotkey Goodness

While paying one of my many visits to life hacker, which is one of my favorite sites they posted some new stuff for autohotkey scripts. I was really impressed with both of these scripts, they're too good not to share.

The first, is really a great way to get started with autohotkey. What life hacker has done, is created a webpage which will automatically generate your first autohotkey scripts allowing you to bind all sorts of commands to various buttons on the keyboard that don't really see a lot the use on a day-to-day basis. Not only is this a great way to create your first scripts, is really a great way to get started learning what autohotkey can do for you.

Check out how to Put Your Keyboard’s Unused Keys to Use (by Turning Them into Awesome Shortcuts)!

And as an added bonus, if you are using voice to text software such as DragonDictate these commands are now available to you via voice by simply saying "press F1" for example…

The next tool they recently posted, is a story about how a fella out on the Internet has used autohotkey to modify the function of the number pad to interface with the Windows Aero snap feature.

For me the Windows Aero snap feature is something I used really quite a lot and with a 16:9 monitors, it's a great way to manage your screen space. For me I would always have what I'm writing on the left and my research/references on the right. This feature was really great for that.

; my first Windows hotkey override
F2:: #Left
F3:: #Right
LAlt:: LWin
However once my hands started to not work so well, I found myself really unable to manage the screen the way I was accustomed. Not having easy access to this snap feature (via pressing the Windows key and the left or right cursor arrow) is in fact what drove me to find autohotkey in the first place… I was looking for a way that I could trigger the snap features via DragonDictate, and autohotkey was letting me do this. In fact, this was some of my first attempts at scripting. For fun I've posted them here:

This was a very, very basic. Nowhere near the level of function you'll see and window pad… But I was very quickly able to use F2 and F3 to stop the window to the left or right of my screen... And it was available to DragonDictate ;-)

Now window pad is considerably more complex to modify, and its default state won't really work with DragonDictate… Because Dragon dictate does not recognize the Windows key... also, I've not really had a chance to play with window pad much yet, but I sure am planning to look into it and figuring out how to change the hotkeys so don't rely on a dual key press is going to be my personal project ;-)

WindowPad Uses Your Number Pad to Snap Windows to the Screen Edge

Both of these scripts are free and well worth the time and effort to check amount… And I feel both of which will likely make your interactions with the computer far smoother. Especially if you have Dragon ;-)

Thursday, 14 June 2012

One Touch Openers

I'm not really able to do much in the kitchen anymore, but a few things that I can do… I like to do. One of those things is a spaghetti sauce, but the real challenge is accessing all of the canned goods.

I can't operate a manual can opener anymore, don't have the strength or the dexterity for that and there's a whole ton of choices for electric can openers… And the one I have didn't work worth a damn and just ended up causing me far more aggravation than they need.

Then I discovered One Touch kitchen products. I must admit, I was quite skeptical at first that their advertised with that classy "as seen on TV" logo which usually serves to me as a warning of "this item is potentially crap". But I really have to say, these products are really quite good and ideal for someone with dexterity or strength issues.

I have the jar opener and the can opener. I've not yet tried the other products,but I really am interested in trying the vegetable slicer. I will post about it when I find. Both the jar opener in the can opener requires four AA batteries and they really do work as advertised. You put the over on top of the can or jar, push and hold the button for a few seconds, letting go and stand back and wait for your can to be opened.

I found both of these at Canadian tire, each priced at about C$20. On par with other openers, however I would say these are far superior in their function and would recommend them to anyone.

So if you still can dabbled in the kitchen and need an opener, I highly recommend these.

Cost: C$20
Pro: very easy to operate, and they work great. They also operate on batteries so there's no cable to mess with.
Con: they operate on batteries, and consequently will sometimes need to be changed.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

DragonDictate voice-recognition

The computer for me is a bit of a lifeline, I spent most of my career working with it and very much enjoyed spending time entertaining myself surfing the web and playing video games. It's been a great escape for me. As my hands have been steadily getting worse for some time now I have found myself less and less able to manage the keyboard and mouse. I have lost most of the dexterity which tends to cause me to push random keys and my shoulders tire out very quickly.

This is caused me to go looking for alternative ways in which I could interface with my computer to maintain a degree of independence. fortunately I don't seem to be exhibiting much in the way of the bulbar symptoms and my the voice is still quite strong, so I started looking at voice recognition software. I first started by looking at the Windows 7 speech recognition which is built in to the operating system (even the home version I believe). The price was right (free) and it worked really quite well, but he did seem to have some consistent comprehension issues for me which I found particularly frustrating. I'll discuss more of the Windows 7 speech recognition in another blog…

I started looking at Nuance Dragon dictate software, which the home version is a reasonably priced but does have limitations to its functionality. Personally I bought the premium version which better suited my needs. There are a few things in particular but the premium version that makes it worthwhile.

  • voice macros: you can create your own custom voice commands. This is a very handy feature, however it is limited to pasting formatted text. If you want to go for the full power version, you need professional… Which is $500… Ouch.
  • upgrade support: when you upgrade to newer versions of Dragon, your profiles will go with you. The home version does not support this.
  • headset included: whoopee... It is however a Plantronics which is very good quality. But I don't use it, I have a Logitech that I bought some time ago for about $30. More comfortable and still works just fine.
  • Dragon remote microphone: this is kind of a cool little feature that allows you to use your iPhone as a dictation device. I've only used it once as I prefer the headset. Worked just fine.
The general integration of Dragon into the Windows environment is really quite good and you can access most functionality just by reading what says on tab. This is particularly true for any of the MS office products. Windows 7 did have one command which I kind of preferred called "show numbers" which would put in number over top of all of the buttons accessible on the screen. To access the command you simply said the appropriate number. Dragon doesn't quite have this, but everything is still quite accessible and I find it superior comprehension to the Windows speech recognition far more valuable.

me: "Galea" on server Executus
Perhaps one of my favorite features about the Dragon software is that you can order a software bundle which further extends Dragon's integration into other software's. personally I ordered the gaming speech pack as I still like to find an escape into the World of Warcraft. The software pack is called voxenable and exposes all of the common commands of the game to Dragon. Even some of the basic movement commands in many cases. There are many games that are covered, I've only tried warcraft and portal2 and it does work quite well, there is however a little bit of latency in execution of the command.

However in the case of World of Warcraft,   Nuance Dragon dictate and voxenable allowed me to continue to play the game and socialize with people online. It works really quite well for chat and covering your basic needs. I don't recommend it for PVP, and I've not really tried it on raids (personal choice).

 don't go buy a version in the local store, or order it directly online. Call the sales representative directly. 

 They gave me nearly a 50% discount just because I called them!
Over all I'm very satisfied with my purchase of Dragon, I use it just for just about everything on the computer now. As a matter of fact, nearly this entire blog is created using Dragon. It does however take a little bit to get used to using, I find it's nothing major but you do have to train Dragon to recognize your voice and you do have to learn to speak little bit more slowly. I tend to speak rather quickly at times, and well Dragon is usually very good about keeping up with me it does tend to make more mistakes when I do.

Dragon also learns your voice and speech pattern every time you make a correction or run the Accuracy Center, which I find to be very useful as no doubt my voice changes a little bit from day-to-day and will of course change of time. Dragon will adapt to this. I speak with a fairly typically Canadian accent and I've heard some stories about people having stronger accents than my own having some difficulties getting started with Dragon. That said, when you first create your profile there is a very large selection of "accents" you can choose from. This should help get you started…

Pro: very good voice recognition functionality as well integrated into the operating system.  voxenable   option is a huge plus in my book.
Also available for Mac!
Con:it does take a little bit to get used to, and if you've already started using the Windows 7 speech functionality it's a little tricky to break some of the old habits and commands
Cost: US$75 and up.
I paid about US$150 for the premium with the gamer speech pack and the training DVD. The best advertised value online right now is for the home version with gamer speech pack

It's official! Siri is coming to iPad

Siri Learns some new tricks and is coming to iPad

some general news about iOS 6 and some more details about the new siri update

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Friendly Mouse Autohotkey Script

When using the mouse, my right hand has a tendency to spasm and rather inconveniently pushes the right mouse button. Needless to say this is quite annoying...

This was one of the first questions I directed at the technology  group of my rehabilitation facility. They were a little short on options they did eventually find a program called "right off". While this program worked, I was quite dissatisfied with it, in particular the interface. There was no convenience to it. E.g. if my hand was working rather well at the moment I would have to navigate through task manager find the program and and its process. Also,this program gave no outward sign that it was actually running. Nothing showed the trail on the taskbar.

So I went about writing my own using autohotkey.

The Friendly Mouse the script is available here. It creates a nice, neat little interface where you can toggle on and off function of the mouse buttons and also swap them. Future functionality will include an optional sticky left mouse.

Just a reminder, be sure to have autohotkey installed on your system before attempting to run the script. You can find all the insatructions you need on the autohotkey page

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Siri personal assistant coming to iPad?

It looks like the Siri personal assistant for the iPhone 4s is going to be coming to the iPad on iOS6! you can read about it here on 9to5 Mac.

Now, if your hands are like mine this is a pretty big deal as it will make a whole bunch of the iPad's functionality much more accessible.

So far I've been very impressed with the iPad threes voice to text functionality, but it's limited in its accessibility. Basically the way it works right now is anywhere you have access to the keyboard, you have access to the voice dictation function. Siri however will allow you to all sorts of things simply by pressing the home button such as create e-mail, reminder, search for something on the web, etc.

Is a video of what Siri can doon the iPhone 4S… Hopefully all this functionality will be available to the iPad. This is some great news! I can't wait!