This Band Is Pretty Good! I Wonder If They’re Turing!

I can’t remember if I’ve posted this before, and if I have, which is super possible since there’s so much stuff on here, oops.

A long time ago when computers were huge and vacuum-tube-powered, Alan Turing, you know, *the* Alan Turing, figured out how to make them sing. The recording of it was put away, and the poor thing was left to languish and distort. But some geniuses brought it back to its original glory, and here it is, recordings of a really old computer playing “God Save the King,” “Ba Ba Black Sheep”, and “In the Mood.”

I bet he was pissed when it would randomly stop, but it seemed the people around him were good about it.

Was there anything that guy couldn’t figure out?

Time To Patch Your Krap

Tricky as it might be to exploit, as far as internet security vulnerabilities go I’m not sure it gets much worse than Krack. Thankfully Carin and I are above buying shit like kettles and cookie jars and socks that require connectivity, so we’re probably good once we Windows Update the computers, upgrade the iPhones to iOS11 and our ISP pushes a fix to our modem. But boy, what a mess. One that, no matter how good we all are about patching, could very well screw up the internet in all sorts of fun and exciting ways for years to come. Good times.

A VULNERABILITY IN Wi-Fi encryption has sent the entire tech industry scrambling; the so-called Krack attack affects nearly every wireless device to some extent, leaving them subject to hijacked internet connections. In terms of scope, it doesn’t get much worse—especially for the Internet of Things.

The extent of the Krack fallout remains to be seen. Security analysts say it’s a tricky vulnerability to take advantage of, and major platforms like iOS, macOS, and Windows are either unaffected or have already been patched. But given the millions of routers and other IoT devices that will likely never see a fix, the true cost of Krack could play out for years.

Whatever advice you may have heard for dealing with Krack, only one actually has tangible benefit: Patch your devices. (You can find a running list of companies that have provided one here.)

If you have an iPhone, Mac, or Windows computer, you really should patch right now. If you have an Android device, an update’s in the offing, though it may take some time to reach you if you have anything but a Pixel or Nexus. But after that, you’re all set! Those are in good shape.

But your router? Your security camera? Your internet-connected garage door? Get comfy.

I Don’t Read Books, I Devour Them!

Quick note: I’ve updated the section about Audible Canada.

Between last Christmas and my birthday, Steve created a monster; a book-devouring monster. Here’s how.

First, he bought me Aftershokz Bluez2S headphones. Those things, although not perfect, are pretty cool. I can walk around, still hear, and listen to stuff from my phone. This made me realize just how much time I spend on the bus and walking that I could be listening to things.

Then, for my birthday, he bought me a 3-month subscription to Audible.com and the monster was born.

Man, they have a lot of books on there, and they tell you right away if they are abridged or not. Yea, no more of the rip-off scenario of buying abridged books. And they have some very very cool narrators. There’s only one narrator I wasn’t so fond of, but funnily enough, she read another book and I liked her better.
And the prices aren’t bad either! I remember when I would buy a book and it would cost me 30 or 40 bucks! I remember getting a massive Stephen King book and it was highway robbery…and that book was freaking dumb. That’s when it hurts to have to pay that much for a book.

With this, I pay a subscription every month, and with each plan, you get a certain number of credits which you can use on the books in the catalogue. I have never seen a book take more than one credit, and I just finished reading one that was 43 hours long. If you go over your credits, you can buy more, and each one is at a discount if you’re a member, so they’re pretty decent prices. And they have lots and lots and lots of sales where you can buy two books with one credit, or you can buy books for suuuuper cheap, and then they have the daily deals. So, there are lots of options. And you can download them to your phone or an MP3 player or whatever! No more sitting there listening to CD’s. I know, I’m late to the party.

First, I discovered that one credit a month was not a big enough subscription for me, because of that whole ability to listen on the move from my phone thing. So after I blew through the subscription Steve bought me, I got my own where I get 2 credits a month, with the ability to roll them over if you don’t use them all, and that’s worked well. Because of sales and this system, since February, I think I have read 32 books, and some of them were not small. I have read books about brain research, and old phone hackers, and people who sailed around the world alone, and people’s experience with mental illness, and weird sci-fi books, pretty much anything you can imagine. I discovered there are a lot of cracks in my day where I can put a book. Riding the bus? Turn on a book! Doing laundry? Brighten it up with a book! Grooming the dog or taking her for a pee? Put the book on! Getting on the rowing machine? Take in some book! It’s crazy how many opportunities there are to listen.


Then, I joined a book club. I have always wanted to, but I said “Who has the time to sit down and just take in a book?” Me, apparently, if I do it right.

And now, they’ve started Audible Canada, so if all goes well, I won’t have to worry about my subscription fee going through the stratosphere if the dollar tanks. I’m just trying to make triple quadruple sure that switching to Canada won’t shut me out of the American catalogue. I know I won’t lose the stuff in my library, but I don’t want to lose any potential that I already can access. The help says that in one teeny weeny spot, but I want to make sure I understand it.

I’m having a little trouble switching over, namely, the link referenced in their help doesn’t seem to show up on my homepage, but the good folks at Audible Canada are offering to help me.
Edit: The reason I can’t find the link to switch is my membership level isn’t supported yet on the Canada side…so switching would be a downgrade. They say they are thinking about it but not yet. Ok, I’ll stay where I am.

At any rate, Audible is a very cool way to take in books if time to sit down and read is in short supply. If you’re like me and haven’t already figured it out, give it a try!

Hear The Sound, Blind Guys!

I’m not sure if you heard, since nobody seems to be talking about it, but there’s an eclipse tomorrow. Everybody’s all excited about it, except my grandma who hopes it will be too cloudy for people to stare at the sun and do dumb things. I get that the moon will block out the sun, but I don’t know if I’ll truly get what the fuss is all about. But maybe this neat little app might help.

Winter and a small team have now launched Eclipse Soundscapes, an app (already on iTunes with a Google version expected before Aug. 21) which can provide various ways for visually impaired and blind users to experience the eclipse.
The first experience will be to hear what’s happening; with help from the National Centre for Accessible Media the app will give “illustrative descriptions” of what’s happening during the eclipse. The descriptions can be read either by the voiceover option on a smartphone or through a recording on the app, Winter said.

Pretty freaking cool!

It reminds me of one time when there was an especially spectacular lunar eclipse. I can’t remember what year it was. Mom and dad took a piece of paper representing the moon and cut out pieces to show me how much was left and the shape the remaining visible moon made. At the time, all I did was sort of look at it and go “Hmmm cool I guess.” and run away to do something stupid and childlike, but now I appreciate what they were trying to do, and think they were pretty cool.

I downloaded the app, and it looks like they have plans to have it work for future eclipses and other astronomical events. How awesome is that? Plus, the NCAM is involved, so I’m sure it will be amazing.

I imagine being as distracted tomorrow as the folks staring at the eclipse through their glasses if I end up playing with this app.

So Long To Adobe Flash, One Of The Best Worst Things About The Internet

I realize this news isn’t exactly breaking, but there are only so many times you get to celebrate the death of something as goddamned irritating as Adobe Flash, sooooo…

Adobe Systems Inc.’s Flash, a once-ubiquitous technology used to power most of the media content found online, will be retired at the end of 2020, the software company announced Tuesday.
Adobe, along with partners Apple Inc, Microsoft Corp, Alphabet Inc’s Google, Facebook Inc and Mozilla Corp, said support for Flash will ramp down across the internet in phases over the next three years.

After 2020, Adobe will stop releasing updates for Flash and web browsers will no longer support it. The companies are encouraging developers to migrate their software onto modern programming standards.

To be fair, Flash wasn’t all bad. I think it’s safe to say that without it, the internet would be a drastically different place. YouTube, for instance, absolutely would not be what it is today had Flash not been around in 2005. For that reason, it deserves to be celebrated as the groundbreaking innovation it so clearly was.

But at the same time as it has absolutely been critically important to the evolution of the web as we know it, it’s also been responsible for some of the most frustrating, screenreader inaccessible user experiences in the history of the fucking earth. Ucking ear, reenreader periencfucking earth.

Sorry, most of you. That’s a little humour for any of my fellow screenreader users who have ever been caught in bouncing Flash animation hell while just trying to read a frigging webpage, a group I like to call all of us. And it is for that reason, not to mention the button button button button flash movie start flash movie end phenomenon and the countless dangerous security flaws it’s responsible for that it deserves to be thrown into a pit far underneath hell, never to return.

Good riddance and thank you all at once, you brilliant piece of garbage you.

Even Geniuses Create Monsters…

I know this is old, but in a sense, it’s really old, so it doesn’t matter.

A long time ago, I came across an article about talking dolls invented by Thomas Edison. These things, although technological marvels for the time, could give you nightmares. Observe.

Ok ok, you can take your hands off your ears now. Seriously. If you think those little kids reading prayers in horror movies are spooky, they have nothing on these big ol’ creepy dolls. Apparently, they looked just as creepy as they sounded.

In early April 1890, each doll that emerged from Edison’s vast West Orange, New Jersey, site stood 22’ inches tall, weighed a heavy four pounds, and sported a porcelain head and jointed wooden limbs. Embedded in each doll’s tin torso was a miniaturized model of his phonograph, its conical horn trained toward a series of perforations in the doll’s chest, its wax recording surface etched with a 20-second rendition of one of a dozen rhymes, among them “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Jack and Jill” and “Hickory Dickory Dock.” With the steady rotation of a hand crank located on the doll’s back, a child could summon from the doll a single nursery rhyme.

Even back then when they were an amazing technological feat, they didn’t sell too well. Gee, I wonder why! For $20, which was the equivalent of $574 in 1890’s money, you could have a heavy, fragile, buggy doll which you hand-cranked to get often incomprehensible speech. Notice how that video says “restored” on it. Eek!

When I was a kid I always wanted talking dolls. Maybe my mom should have showed me an Edison doll. I never would have wanted one again!

The Floppotron


We’ve posted a few different computer hardware musical creations here over the years, but nothing on this scale, I don’t think.

Polish engineer Paweł Zadrożniak built the Floppotron, a synchronized array of obsolete computer hardware programmed to play tunes. The current Floppotron 2.0 build sports 64 floppy drives, 8 hard drives, and a pair of flatbed scanners—most of these items have had their covers removed, apparently for improved acoustic performance.

Zadrożniak harnessed the power of the stepper motors in the floppy drives and scanners. By driving those motors at specific speeds, he can force them to generate pitches that sound a lot like string instruments. The hard drives can be gently overloaded to force the read/write heads to whack against metal guard rails—voila, percussion!

Saying it sounds “a lot like string instruments” is awfully generous, but that’s not me saying it isn’t pretty cool and even kinda good.

If you’d like to read more about how it all works and see more videos of it in action, here ya go.

Microsoft’s Seeing AI App Sounds Like TapTapSee On Steroids

I haven’t tried it for myself just yet since this is the first I’ve heard of it, but if Microsoft’s Seeing AI app works as advertised, holy shit!

Seeing AI, a free app that narrates the world around you, is available now to iOS customers in the United States, Canada, India, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Singapore.
Designed for the blind and low vision community, this ongoing research project harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to open up the visual world and describe nearby people, text and objects.

The app uses artificial intelligence and the camera on your iPhone to perform a number of useful functions:

  • Reading documents, including spoken hints to capture all corners of a document so that you capture the full page. It then recognizes the structure of the document, such as headings, paragraphs and lists, allowing you to rapidly skip through the document using voiceover.
  • Identifying a product based on its barcode. Move the phone’s camera over the product; beeps indicate how close the barcode is – the faster the beeps, the closer you are – until the full barcode is detected. It then snaps a photo and reads the name of the product.
  • Recognizing people based on their face, and providing a description of their visual appearance, such as their gender, facial expression and other identifying characteristics.
  • Recognizing images within other apps – just tap Share, and Recognize with Seeing AI.

In addition to full documents and barcodes, it will also be able to read things like signs and labels, which if done well could be a pretty big step up from what the still awesome and useful TapTapSee does now. Oh, and it will even try to describe any picture you take in detail, a handy feature for anyone who has ever let a sighted friend borrow their phone or had one take a photo for you only to discover that they actually took 12 of them.

And remember, all of this is free. Maybe it’s only free because it’s a research project, but if it’s going to lead to greater accessibility in all sorts of mainstream applications down the line, who cares?

DirecTV and U-Verse Now Have Accessibility Features

Good news, American blind kids. You now have even more choices when it comes to accessibly watching television.

In this interview John Herzog, Accessibility Solutions Engineer, describes the many advancements AT&T media based products have been gaining since November 2016. Both the DirecTV apps for Android and iOS are speech friendly now with their respective screen readers. John will take us on a tour of the iOS app with stops by the DVR Manager and live TV functions. You will also hear how you can turn on the talking guide on your DirecTV box along with some other information about accessing your secondary audio. John will also provide information about how similar features can be utilized via the U-Verse apps. All of this amazing access is free to U-Verse and DirecTV subscribers.

I’m listening now, and while not every feature is absolutely perfect, it sounds pretty amazing. Seriously Canada, can we get with the fuckin’ program here?

You can check out the interview here, and you can go here for more info on DirecTV’s talking guide and here for more about U-Verse’s offerings.

Photoshopped Voices, Now With Less Data And More AI

These Lyrebird people haven’t yet reached Adobe VoCo levels of voice fakery, but they’re getting there. And though their aim is to sell their technology to companies whose products include speech synthesis, once it’s widely available, the implications are quite similar.

What you’re listening to is a Lyrebird generated Donald Trump, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton talking about the company. Right now they sound quite low quality and computer generated, but with the arguable exception of Hillary it isn’t hard to figure out which voices those are. And though it may be tempting to write that sample off as digitized garbage and move on, it’s worth keeping in mind that those voices are as close to the genuine article as they are after the use of voice samples under a minute long as opposed to the 20 minutes required by VoCo.

This is all made by possible through the use of artificial neural networks, which function in a manner similar to the biological neural networks in the human brain. Essentially, the algorithm learns to recognize patterns in a particular person’s speech, and then reproduce those patterns during simulated speech.

“We train our models on a huge dataset with thousands of speakers,” Jose Sotelo, a team member at Lyrebird and a speech synthesis expert, told Gizmodo. “Then, for a new speaker we compress their information in a small key that contains their voice DNA. We use this key to say new sentences.”
The end result is far from perfect—the samples still exhibit digital artifacts, clarity problems, and other weirdness—but there’s little doubt who is being imitated by the speech generator. Changes in intonation are also discernible. Unlike other systems, Lyrebird’s solution requires less data per speaker to produce a new voice, and it works in real time. The company plans to offer its tool to companies in need of speech synthesis solutions.
“We are currently raising funds and growing our engineering team,” said Sotelo. “We are working on improving the quality of the audio to make it less robotic, and we hope to start beta testing soon.”