Wednesday, 31 December 2008

31. Choosing colours, typefaces and font preferences

I confess a personal interest in this, as it is my website for some research being carried out. But others can use it to find out their preferences. You can change the background colour, font colour, typeface, line spacing and even the gaps between letters. At the end you can print your results. If you fill in details we will be able to use your data as part of our research. (Details are not shared with anybody. But if you give us your email, it means you are happy to be invited to other research.)

Please note that there are other language versions in development, including Chinese and Portuguese. If you want to have your own language version, and are willing to collect data, please send me an email ( ).

Colour preferences - English
Colour preferences - Chinese

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

30. Cartoons for all the family - Bitstrips

This cartoon was made in Bitstrips. This is a simple way to make cartoons and can be fun for all the family. It allows hidden artistic talents to be put to the front, and minimal amounts of text required. (N.B. There is no built-in spellchecker. To read this cartoon about how an individual first discovered about his dyslexia and the impact it had, click on the link below.

Bitstrips Example 1
Bitstrips Example 2

Monday, 29 December 2008

29. Aesop's Fables - Listen and learn through AnswerTips

This is a resource that is fun, useful, and highlights a few different aspects important to the dyslexic individual. Although there are manyAesop's sites on the internet, this is slightly better than others I know. I like it because:

1) It uses Aesop's Fables, which are wonderful reminders that you can make a whole story with few words. So a child could read the story from start to end, and be shown that you do not have to write too many words to tell your story.

2) Some of the stories have been read out. The voice is not always easy to understand. (She is young America is a good reading, but does not have enough skills to add all the intonation that a professional reader does.) However, it could be a stimulus for encouraging a child to use the technology to record their own version.

3) The website uses AnswerTips. This means that any person that does not understand a word can double click on it and find the meaning (as well as listen to how the individual work is spoken). Some of the wording does tend to be archaic, so this is very useful. The use of this service is to be encouraged.

4) The stories can be use as a "rewrite in your own words" exercise.

Aesop's Fables

Keywords: Aesop's Fables, AnswerTips, recording

Sunday, 28 December 2008

28. Head in the cloud? - Online Desktops

I have just signed up to a new "developer" site called, which is an interesting concept. As I understand it, the site will allow developers to make software which users can access through a "virtual desktop." Of course there is a catch in that I could not quite come to grips with it because currently there is little there. But my feeling is that in a year or so there will be lots more places where you sign in with your browser to access a space that is your "desktop", and nothing is stored locally. It will have a number of knock-on effects, such as computers can become smaller, lighter and cheaper, as they do not need the storage space, nor the processing speeds. All they need is data transfer speed.

The implications for the dyslexic are that no longer will items be lost, and that you have a single working environment. But does it mean the wheel will have to be re-invented as every part that you currently like (let say you like a certain type of Sticky) has to be reinvented? And lets not forget the technical problems of text-to-speech and speech-to-text. What are data transfer implications? Or are these the applications that mean that, at least until we have rapid data transfer, the dyslexic will be restricted to at least some of the applications being used on their computer and not "in the cloud".

Or is this a case of "If you could start again, what would you do?"

"Isn't this a re-invention of, say, Google Docs?" I hear you say. No, because Google Docs looks like ..... Google Docs. I like MY desktop, not somebody else's. And the concept is appealing, though I would also want to work on my docs locally and not just in the cloud.

To date, I have only seen one similar concept, though there may be more. Unfortunately when I signed up to that one, the password never appeared, so I cannot comment on that. It had attempted to also provide a "browser desktop", but all the components (programs) were all supplied by the same developer. So any indiviuality, character or personal identity on the desktop was lost.

The idea of an environment where others can develop is a great idea. Not quite the new Linux (it is an environment not a plaform) but definately one of the things to watch for 2009.


Saturday, 27 December 2008

27. Online password management - Clipperz

Of all the recommendations I have made on this site, the one I use most is KeePass, the password managment software. However, it does worry me that I may be stuck somewhere without my compuer and I cannot access various sites online. So I have now signed up (and have a "passphrase"!) for an online password manager - Clipperz.


Keywords: Clipperz, KeePass, password managment, online password managment

Friday, 26 December 2008

26. Wikipedia on the move

There is now a Wikipedia for the mobile phone, so you can access this massive resource on the move. Apparently it will eventually have speech included, but no dates as yet.

Mobile Wikipedia

Thursday, 25 December 2008

25. Forgetting dates - You need a freminder

Sitting here at my desk every morning as I do, I sometimes forget what day it is. I never was very socialable, but I ought to remember a few key dates that are special to friends. So I looked for a good online reminder system that was online and could send me an email of important events. It is littered with ads, but then it is free.


Wednesday, 24 December 2008

24. Screen and video capture made easy - Jing

Jing is a very effective, user friendly tool for capturing parts of the screen, either as a still image or as video. It is simple and intuitive, and you can save in a variety of formats. It is great for when a screen freezes and you need to capture what you can see before you exit or reboot.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

23. Search engine meets concept maps

This is (yet another) visual browser, that is worth looking at, but will not work for all. It attempts to bring together the ideas of visual browsers and concept mapping.


Monday, 22 December 2008

22. Online video chat - Oovoo

If you are a regular user of Skype, you may have noted a drop off in quality. This may be due to the huge number of users. However, there are alternatives out there. This is one that seems to be good especially with the video format.


Sunday, 21 December 2008

21. The future of computing

There is a suddenly flurry announcements of interesting developments that make you speculate what technology will arrive in 2009. And at least some will be of interest to the dyslexic individual.

For example, it seems that IBM have announce a new laptop with two screens. The primary screen is 17 inch (1920 x 1200 pixels) while the secondary screen is 10.6 inch (1280 x 768 pixels). It also has a small drawing palm rest tablet, and a camera. This could be wonderful for the dyslexics, especially those working in the creative arts. The catch (and there is always a catch) it that it is over 4.5kg.

This IBM one seems to be real (though no dates and no costs available as yet) while the better looking Apple triBook one appears to be only a concept.

And apparently Dell are about to bring out a laptop that is thinner than the Apple Air.

Then there is the story of a Canadian PhD student finding a way to improve mobile battery life by a factor of 12. (It is to do with the way power and signal are transmitted.)

Now if you could give me three screens with 24 hours of battery life and weighing under 1kg .......

IBM ThinkPad W700

Apple Tribook

Saturday, 20 December 2008

20. Pronounce it - Howjsay

Ever wondered how you pronounce a word? Well here is the web site that will tell you. Just type in the word and it will give the pronunciation. And it does have a very impressive collection too.


Friday, 19 December 2008

19. Ultimate sharing experience - Dimdim

Every now and again something comes to my attention that screams out to be added to my Favourites list. Dimdim is one such item. Put simply, it is a web conferencing suite. Dig a little deeper and we find it has the ability to share (i.e. it appears on two or more screens at the same time) slide shows, there is a whiteboard (shared drawing), chat, talk, live video and you can save all of it too (some free, some paid for). This brings together many of the individual collaborative components discussed in earlier blog entries in a seamless way.

Who will use it? Clearly this is marketed at the project team in business. However, I see great potential in remote support for the dyslexic individual in school, college and work. One example would be the student at college or university who is working on an essay, or struggling with a particular concept being supported by a colleague or tutor. It would be useful in supporting those trying to install software, and learn how to use it. However, there are no limits to its creative use, from kids doing work collaboratively, to helping those in work.

You can use the cut down free version, with additional services (e.g. more than one webcam) in the low cost professional version.


Keywords: Collaborative, conference, dimdim, remote support. whiteboard, chat, video conferencing.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

18. Remember about mnemonics - Joblab

I was never quite convinced about mnemonics as I can never quiet work out how people remember which mnemonic to use! (I wish I knew a way to remember how to spell mnemonic!) Typically it is about remembering how to spell "BECAUSE" or the order of the planets.

However, this mnemonic making website could be enough fun in doing the task that the word is remembered.


Wednesday, 17 December 2008

17. Note online - Evernote

There is an increasing number of note-taking software, and range of activities you can do with them. Evernote provide a diversity of sophisticated techniques from searching to indexing. It can use text as well as images and video, and it is even clever enough to search for text within images. As it is online, it works on all platforms, and you can access it on your mobile phone.

Rather than list all the modes, see the introductory video on their website.


Keywords: Evernote, note-taking

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

16. Back-ups

This is small portable (i.e. you can put it on your USB memory stick) software that helps you "synchronise, backup and secure your data". So data should not be lost ever again. (Provided you use it.)


Monday, 15 December 2008

15. Looking up word in Adobe Acrobat

Did you know that if you found a word in a PDF document that you did not know, you could put the mouse over the word, right click and the menu will provide you with "Look up XXXX"? The link will take you directly to, where you will be given the word definition, pronunciation guide and the sound file if you wish.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

14. Organising list of lists

What is an "Organiser"? An organiser should be something that makes your life simpler, and allows you to access information in a structured way. It may be simple list of tasks to do, birthdays to remember, appointments to attend or assignments to hand in. aids planning and memory. However, the quality of the "output" will always be dependent on the input!

Most people have some form of "organiser", but the problem is that the good intentions rarely last. Many start of with simple "stickies" (little yellow squares), until the screen is full. Then they try another, which maybe sends email to their smart phone, only to find that they still forgot the task as they were unable to do it immediately. And many return to the old fashioned notebook.

But why is this? It is because everybody has their own needs and preferences, and probably the only way they will every succeed (if ever!) is if they a) find one that is perfectly in line with the way they work, or b) they design their own. And of course now they can be online as well as offline.

So, how do you choose? The problem is that until you have tried it, you do not know which is the best. There is not even much point in taking somebody else's recommendation as what works for them is unlikely to work for you. And sometimes they are so "all powerful" that it is difficult to know where to start.

There is no simple answer, but there is choice. And while choice is not always a good thing, here is a website of 100 online Organisers and Task Managers, complete with screen shots and brief descriptions.

List of Online Organisers and Task Managers

Saturday, 13 December 2008

13. Stickies stick together - Stickysorter

This software seems to fall exactly half way between Stickies and concept mapping. I have briefly tried it, and I am sure it will be useful. I just have not quite worked out how. But well worth a look, with some quite clever parts, like grouping, zooming etc.


Friday, 12 December 2008

12. Concept mapping with speech-to-text - MindManager 8

Earlier this week Citnexus launched VoxEnable to bring the power of voice recognition to concept mapping. Apparently it combines the MindManager 8 with Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 to provide total voice control. According to the blurb, users "can capture, organise, and communicate information without having to type it using a PC keyboard.” It goes on to say "Over 150 voice-enabled functions have been incorporated into this release and users can transcribe and create MindManager 8 visualisations which can be manipulated, scrolled, scaled, zoomed, printed and exported by voice. Text can be dictated directly into topics with formatting, editing and search capabilities."


Thursday, 11 December 2008

11. Beat the Deadline

The website says "Deadline is the simplest calendar ever made. You write in plain English, and it will set up a reminder for you." Not a lot more to say really. Try it for yourself.


Wednesday, 10 December 2008

10. Task manager - Google Tasks

It seems that (according to trade blogs) Google have been a little upset about the success of "Remember the milk", the reminders website (See 17th August). Yesterday they launched their own Tasks software, integral within Gmail. At first glance it does not look as exciting as Remember the Milk. But we shall see what gets the interest.

To use the Google Tasks, you first have to activate it in Settings within your Gmail account.

Remember the Milk

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

9. File splitting - Gsplit

With huge files, the traditional way to "send" them to others is to upload them to a storage site for others to download. Now with GSplit you can break your document into several chunks (up to 4 gig!) and send it in manageable parcels. Although I am no sure when I would prefer this (and the uncertainty of the jigsaw fitting together again!) as opposed to uploading, there may be occasions it is worth considering.


Monday, 8 December 2008

8. Spoken text (in Spanish and French) - Spokentext

Being a website that attracts a multilingual audience, it is only right to highlight some software that may be of particular language groups. There are many online text-to-speech systems, with this one being similar to most. However, it does also offer facilities in Spanish and French. So you can download your text as an mp3 file and listen to it later in those languages (plus English).


Sunday, 7 December 2008

7. Commentary on listening to text and note taking

Over the past few months there have been a number of entries about software that can turn text into speech, allowing the individual to transfer their spoken text to a suitable player and listen to it at a time that is convenient. But the question arises (for all, not just the dyslexic individual) what about issues of short term memory? If you have a text of 30 minutes and are listening to it while you drive, how helpful is it?

The answer is that it depends on the text. It can be useful to listen as a "first pass" - a sort of "Ah ha!" principle. But if you are driving, you cannot make a note to yourself. (I find this frustrating if I am proofreading as I have to try to remember the problem and return to it later.) Of course on the bus of train you can make paper-based notes. And if you are still at the computer, you can use something like the low cost solution Lecture Recorder 4.4 (see 31 August), though there are many other solutions, including those from Microsoft.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

6. Time (mis) management - AppActivity 2.0

Ever worried you may be wasting time on certain activities but you never know it. Here is a cheap (around $10 (£7) – only 5 minutes on the demo) piece of software that will monitor your activities and you can download it for analysis in Excel. From what I have seen, the graphics are a little simplistic. But what do you expect for ten dollars?

AppActivity 2.0

Friday, 5 December 2008

5. Listen to books

This is a simple concept, of using famous (or not so famous) people to read books. Here are 21 stories read by people as diverse as Bradley Whitford (West Wing and Studio 66), Al Gore (former vice president) and Elijah Wood (ex-hobbit). They are a good way of how the internet can be used to involve the reluctant reader.

Storyline Online

Thursday, 4 December 2008

4. Combining text versions - Textflow

This is a useful work tool if you are the sort of person who has to manage report comments from others and then combine them all. This helps you, making the process simple, and uses visuals to help you. Their video helps to explain it.


Keywords: Parellel word processing, Textflow

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

3. Advance search from Google - or not!

There are two new search related feature to mention here. One is "useful" while the other is "wait and see".

Google has a page of "featured" searches which allow quick access to a range of special areas. Searches include maps, conversions (like Celsius to Fahrenheit), and local restaurants. The significance is that it saves trying to find and type in all the right search words.

Google Features

However, I cannot be so enthusiastic about Google SearchWiki. It seems they (again?) have launched it too quickly, with fundamental problems like you cannot turn it off. It is supposed to improve personalised searches, but many commentators think it is far from ready. So no link is provided.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

2. Scaning for free - TopOCR

These days scanning software usually comes with the scanner. If you want top of the range software that will perform good character recognition on poor quality photocopies you will need to pay a lot of money for good software such as OmniPage.

However, if you simply want to convert some plain layouts into standard text that you can copy and paste into Microsoft Word, so you can highlight it, have full access etc., then one simple solution is TopOCR. This is wonderful no-frill software (actually, that is a bit of a disservice as there are quite a few frill) that will take an image and turn it into editable text. So maybe it is a pdf or a photograph of a page (you can even use your camera as a scanner) then there are no problems.

So, why pay for the more expensive software? The answer is simple - if the layout is a simple block of text, there is not a problem for the low/no cost solutions. But if there is are columns, or complex layouts, this cheaper software may struggle to make sense of it. For example, if there are two columns, it may read straight across the page, ignoring the column gap in the middle.

Unfortunately in the example above, which was a screen shot of files in a folder that I wanted as text, it did not like the small size. But I have had reasonable success when the text is a lot bigger. The first three were as follows
Colours2.ppt --- :olours 2.ppt
02chapter1-4.pdf --- 12chapted -4.pM
3_2_5AssessmentMaterials.pdf ---- 1_2_5AssessmentMateriak.pd~

Keywords: scanning, TopOCR

Monday, 1 December 2008

1. November summary

There are two concerns (for this blog) about the financial uncertainty. On the one hand you have the need for fiscal efficiency - meaning you have to be cost effective in your expenditure, particularly with respect to assistive technology (i.e. why pay a lot of money for a multifunctional piece of software when you do not use most of the functions). On the other hand, how many of the exciting new services coming online will still be there in two years time. With the question mark over the long term funding, as well as rival services and failed technological expectations, as well as products being too far ahead of their time (a euphemism for not very popular) one has to question how much time and effort is worth investing in learning, using and relying on something that is new. In many cases, the functionality is the same as similar programs. But even so, you need to stop and think about making a commitment to a new service.

This past months has seen a good number of speech related products highlighted, with entries in this category on eight days. They range from taking calculators (3), to making podcasts (10). The new “online phone” service from Google is briefly mentioned in comparison to Skype (27), as well as how to record Skype conversations (12). Mobile text-to-speech appears to have taken a leap forward (21), while the most innovative of the month seems to be to be searching the web by voice (19). Another online text-to-speech service was also launched (29).

There were two online programs for making conversions – one to change a pdf into a Word document (25) and one to save YouTube file onto your computer (28)

Reflections (Cloud computing 2, 30: ideal computer, 6: futuristic history, 8: concept mapping 14: future directions, 23)

Programs that facilitated writing were highlighted through concept mapping (13) and comic strip production (7)

New free 3D drawing was reported (20) as well as screen capture and annotation (26)

Design (18), websites (22) and accessibility (4) had single entries, as did visual browsers (5)

Learning resources were mentioned three times through language learning (24) and teachers resources (9, 11)

This month saw only one piece of hardware mentioned – a data projector (17)