Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Access Technology in the Ivory Tower

When I was younger, computing used to be a whole lot more fun. Of course, when you have a job, with deadlines, bosses and responsibilities, the fun quotient goes down significantly.
So why is it that today's modern access technology products often don't play nice with each other? It's especially unexcusable when the gladiators are from the same company.
I got two new computers last week. I'd been waiting for seven years for new computers -- college budgets being what they are nowadays -- and I can't tell you happy I was to get these core 2 duo babies. They're identical with 150GB hard drives and 2GB of RAM.
I produce alternate media and serve around 80 students per quarter. That's quarter, not semester! I'm a one-woman department, and when I get a student's book, I have to boogey to scan, OCR, format, and burn the thing to CD. I do have a high-speed scanner to help; it can gobble 90 pages per minute according to its specs.
I produce Braille, MP3, Daisy, Kurzweil, PDF and text files. I also do various versions of Office, MS Works, even OpenBook Ruby. I'm proud to be able to handle most any format a student requests.
But since my old computer had recently crashed, I'd been running around campus like a headless chicken trying to catch up on my work using lab computers that disabled students normally use. Tired of setting the LSHOSTS environment variable, not to mention hauling a backpack full of books around, I was glad enough to have my shiny new Dell machines installed in my office.
After I got JAWS working, and updated Windows (which takes forteen forevers itself!) I had a line of students eager for me to make their request first. So I had to install K1000. Got that working and patched and registered and happy. Scanned a few books, got a few MP3 texts finished, and I realized I was going to need K3000.
I like K3000 primarily for its automator. K1000 has an automator as well, but it's less convenient for me to operate because I have to create a special no-speech settings file for K1000. Also sometimes a student complains that the image isn't right if I OCR a book in K1000, even though their formats are supposed to be compatible. Being kind of in a rush, I figured I'd quickly install K3000, run a pile of tiffs through the automator and try my best to get caught up before students started complaining to my boss about my inefficiency!
And now, of course, neither product is working. I get a C++ runtime library crash with Version 10 of K3000, and I get a "fine objects unhandled internal error" crash with Ver 11 of k1000. I vaguely remember something about you needing to install the latest Kurzweil product last, and I probably should've done it.
But wait, isn't this a more enlightened age. Don't both K3000 and K1000 belong to the same company? Can't these programmers all meet together and get this compatibility thing figured out once and for all?
What peeves me is that these companies, and Kesi isn't the only one for sure, are so busy adding features and improvements that they never go back to fix that which has been broken for a long long time. Don't they realize that people who work with access technology use several products? Don't they realize that learning disabled instructors might teach blind students and that visually impaired students might be receiving services from a blind staffer? It seems to me that making your product play nice with a variety of other AT products, and a variety of versions of those products should be high on the priority list for all designers of access technology!
So now, I'm more behind than even before. Why am I wasting time ranting to this blog? Because I'm virus scanning and malware scanning before I re-install anything, and also I want to schmooze with Nick in tech support whose line is busy at the moment. Being hyper-efficient, I of course installed and registered K3000 on both machines, meaning I probably have to uninstall both products twice, re-install, re-register, and re-patch! No wonder my students think I spend my day goofing off!

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