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For the visually impaired, there are lots of accessibility options if you want to browse the web — screen readers, podcast versions of articles and so on. But it can still be a pain to keep up with your favorite publications the way sighted app users do. BrailleVoice is a project that puts the news in a touch-tone phone interface, reading you the latest news from your favorite publications (like this one) easily from anywhere you get a signal.
It’s from SpaceNext, AKA Shan, who has a variety of useful little apps he’s developed over the years on his page — John wrote up one back in 2011. Several of them have an accessibility aspect to them, something that always piques my interest.
“Visually challenged users will find it difficult to navigate using apps,” he wrote in an email. “I thought with text to speech readily available… they would be able to make a call to a toll free number to listen to latest news from any site.”
All you do is dial 1-888-666-4013, then listen to the options on the menu. TechCrunch is the first outlet listed, so hit 1# and it’ll read out the headlines. Select one (of mine) and it’ll jump right in. That’s it! There are a couple of dozen sites listed right now, from LifeHacker (hit 15#) to the Times of India (hit 26#). You can also suggest new sites to add, presumably as long as they have some kind of RSS feed. (This should be a reminder why you should keep your website or news service accessible in some like manner.)
“More importantly,” he continued, “this works even without internet even in the remotest of places. You can listen to your favorite news site without having to spend a dime or worry about internet.”
Assuming you can get a voice signal and you’ve got minutes, anyway. I quite like the idea of someone walking into the nearest town, pulling out their old Nokia, dialing this up and keeping up to date with the most news-addicted of us.
The text to speech engine is pretty rudimentary, but it’s better than what we all had a few years back, and it’ll only get better as improved engines like Google’s and Apple’s trickle down for general purpose use. I’m going to ask them about that, actually.
It’s quite a basic service, but what more does it need to have, really? Shan is planning to integrate voice controls into the likes of Google Home and Alexa, so there’s that. But as is it may be enough to provide plenty of utility to the vision-impaired. Check out TextOnly too. I could use that for desktop.

Get the latest TC stories read to you over the phone with BrailleVoice

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins: “We Will Continue To Make The People That Use A BlackBerry Successful”

Thorsten_Heins

Blackberry’s future is the tech debate du jour, with pundits on either side promising either a BB10 renaissance or a slow-motion tailspin. While the jury was still out, we had a few moments to speak with RIM CEO Thorsten Heins about RIM’s way forward and where BB10 was going to put the company when it launches.

He was unsurprisingly forthright and more than accommodating even when we asked him the questions any BB fan would ask today: Why should I buy a new Blackberry device?

TC: In this interview we wanted to see what was in store for the consumer, what RIM is doing to maintain the energy that a lot of the BlackBerry users currently have, especially at work or in academia. What do you see as the best way forward for those folks?

Thorsten Heins: What we are doing right now is, if you look at the installed base, specifically in enterprise, corporate and consumers worldwide, there is still a lot of phones running BlackBerry 5, mainly in Asia-Pacific. So we are still working on a program to upgrade the installed base to BlackBerry 7, which from today’s view and perspective still is competitive, and I think an exciting platform.

So we are absolutely working on our consumer and enterprise base to get us to BlackBerry 7, which is a real upgraded experience compared to 5 and 6, and to a certain extent also 6. That’s the first thing we are doing.

Second is we are working on the BB10 platform to be launched in the first quarter next year. And this is not, as I said, based on a QWERTY device, which is a device type we dominate today. This will get us back into the full touch game, and this is where we will fight hard in the U.S. to regain market share and convince consumers that, well, BlackBerry is not just a great platform for productivity or for business people; it’s a great platform for consumers as well.

We will specifically talk to those consumers that are constantly on the move or need to stay ahead and introduce them to BB10. Given the ease of adoptions for this platform it will be a great gaming experience, a great media experience, and a great content experience.

TC: It seems like BlackBerry itself has always been very specific about the email side of things. Is your vision to bring the company into more direct competition with the iOS/Android situation, or is email still paramount?

Heins: The way I look at this is that email certainly is a core element of BlackBerry, but I would put a bigger frame around this. I think this is about being extremely socially connected.

In today’s world, email is not the only way to communicate anymore: it is Twittering, Facebook, BBMing, and other means of social communication networking.

So what it really is about, I think, is to put a different frame around it and say “We keep you extremely well-connected through your various communication channels and we are making it really easy to deal with and to manage and to respond to notifications.”

TC: In terms of BB10, are you at all concerned that the time involved in releasing this update is going to affect things negatively, and especially with 7-inch iPad rumors swirling?

Heins: First, those are rumors. But as for BB10 I think this is not just a product launch, this is a whole new platform launch with a really new BlackBerry experience. So from that perspective, am I to a certain extent disappointed that we have that delay in BlackBerry 10? Yes, I would say yes.

But on the other side, I just want this to be the best user experience, the best compelling quality that people see on a BlackBerry, and I will not sacrifice this. I just want this experience to be fantastic. And that’s what we are working towards.

So knowing what we are building our BlackBerry 10 on, the product, the capabilities, the empowerment it actually gives to the people that use it, I have no concerns about our success. We will be successful.

Also if you look at the channels that we are serving, basically through the carriers, they see not just the risk anymore, I think they see reality coming that there’s a duopoly of suppliers they can work with and that they can source from right now.

They have a huge installed base of BlackBerry customers out there, they want to protect that installed base. They want them to be successful too. We get a lot of endorsement from carriers and the carrier partners globally on BlackBerry 10. So I am confident that we will make a good appearance in the rest of the world, but I am also confident that we are actually in a position to fight back in the U.S. based on the BlackBerry 10 portfolio.

TC: I guess it seems like people need a pep talk. So what would you say to the folks who say, “RIM isn’t thinking about us specifically, us early adopters, us hardcore BB users, we haven’t put down our BlackBerry since the late 90s.” What will you say to them?

Heins: The pep talk is that we will continue to make the people that use a BlackBerry successful. That is really the DNA. It just allowed people to manage their life and have a very comfortable way of communicating. And with BlackBerry 10, we will take this to a whole new level.

It’s not just about you communicating with somebody else; it’s about actually communicating with the whole network around you. So the strength in this whole social network and the strength is also in other elements that are not particularly BlackBerry elements, like gaming, because the platform supports it. We will not develop our own games, but the platform we are building allows game developers to program and to deliver really fantastic-performing games.

I myself, I use PlayBook a lot to play racing games because I can look at PlayBook from a performance perspective and say, with the highest rendering requirement, with the highest load on the graphic unit, is it a good performance, is it a good experience? And it is.

TC: And how many BlackBerrys do you carry around with you?

Heins: I have a PlayBook I use for work. I have a PlayBook that I use privately. I am on a 9900 right now. And I am using a kind of an ultra device for L-series right now, for BB10.

TC: You don’t have a secret Google Galaxy Nexus hidden in there somewhere?

Heins: What I always do is try be connected with the industry and know what’s going on there. I always have competitive devices on my desk that I check out that I work with, just to really understand what’s going on. I think this is just a good way of understanding what the industry is and where it’s headed. So we constantly do this.


RIM CEO Thorsten Heins: “We Will Continue To Make The People That Use A BlackBerry Successful”

Blurtt Co-Founder Jeanette Cajide Explains Why We Need Another Photo App

HKS Talent show

Blurtt is a photo sharing app with a twist – you can add funny captions to your photos before you share them (a little like Hipster, but not) and essentially turn your dull life into LOL life. I spoke with founder Jeanette Cajide about the process of building an app from the ground up and how important it is to have a strong pivot.

The app originally was supposed to let you create and send real postcards from a print shop in Dallas, but as the founding team assessed the cost – and the competition – they built a way to have a bit of goofy fun (and serious fun if you want to get all mopey in your captions) with photos you take on the go.

TC: Tell me about yourself and your team? What did you do before this? Is this a full-time thing?

Jeanette: Blurtt is a company that is run by a Cuban-American, with another founder named Kuba Tymula who is not Cuban but Polish, and another founder named Laura Gurasich who has many skills – one of them is serving as my English-As-A-Second Language translator, as I learned English watching “Sesame Street”. We all met in at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. We did not off-shore a single line of code for Blurtt – it was all built in Dallas.

Truth about what I was doing before: I was working to lift the Cuban-US embargo before joining Blurtt, but Fidel Castro wouldn’t take my calls. I’d have to be mostly incompetent to be considered a good diplomat so I bolted and decided to live my dream of being an entrepreneur.

And yes, this is most definitely full-time for me. The rest of the team comes in when needed. We run a lean operation.

TC: Blurtt used to be a postcard creation service that actually sent postcards to people. Now you can add captions to photos and share them with friends. It’s definitely changed a lot over the past few months. Why did you pivot?

J: I shit my pants when Postagram launched. I am a huge fan of Matt Brezina, and Postagram was funded, so I had to make a decision within a day. Do we keep trying the postcard biz or pivot? I was still stuck in fundraising mode with no product. I saw writing on the wall. When Apple announced postcards I was glad we pivoted. We love Postagram and hope to see blurtts in their system someday.

TC: Why another photo sharing service? Don’t we have too many?

J: Yikes John. Calm down. Blurtt is not a photo sharing service. We are a communications tool – we enable you to make a visual statement about what it is you want to say or feel. Yes we are using images but Blurtt is about taking the image in your head or heart (from our image search engine powered by Bing and Flickr) and turning it into a digital expression with your own words. You can also use your own pictures. Like this guy who made me laugh this morning.

TC: What have you learned building Blurtt?

J: Building and deploying an app is like learning to build an airplane in the air. Our best practice is to keep calm and drink margaritas when things go well and beer when things don’t go so well. It keeps everyone happy. I am also lucky I have the best team of engineers anyone can ask for. They are my secret weapon. The key thing I learned is you cannot create awesome stuff if you are always asking for permission.

TC: Why should anyone download this?

J: For starters, Blurtt will put therapists out of business. Just think of all the crap you can get off your chest in one minute increments. Happy, sad, frustrated, elated. People are blurtting consecutively sometimes. All these human emotions you feel all day. And best it can be easily shared via Twitter or Facebook, so rather than making your status updates boring as hell – you can increase engagement by rocking out an awesome blurtt that people will want to share with their friends and like on Facebook. Blurtts can go viral pretty fast. We are waiting for it but it’s only 6 days old so I’d give it some more time.

TC: What’s the favorite Blurtt you’ve seen so far?

J: Right now I’m loving this one.

I am a political junkie. I watch C-SPAN. That’s my pick up line at bars. I’m also still single.


Blurtt Co-Founder Jeanette Cajide Explains Why We Need Another Photo App

AT&T Gets Dirty, Threatens Plaintiff With Termination Of Service Unless He Shuts Up [Update: AT&T Responds]

death-star-att

Let me catch you up: Matt Spaccarelli, an everyday guy from California, recently took AT&T to small claims court regarding its questionable throttling practices. The judge ruled in his favor on February 24 and ordered AT&T to pay Spaccarelli $850 on the basis that the throttled speed does not live up to AT&T’s much-advertised promise of the nation’s “fastest network.” Anyway, the social consumer activist site PublikDemand recently rallied support around the story and posted a series of tips on how any consumer could do the same.

Now, two and a half weeks after Spaccarelli’s case was settled in small claims court, a lawyer for AT&T is reaching out and offering a slightly new settlement if he signs an NDA to stop talking about his case. But that’s the normal part. The letter starts out by explaining that since Spaccarelli is using his wireless data plan for tethering — a fact he admitted in court — AT&T “has the right to terminate [his] service.” It’s ’bout to get nasty in here.

As far as I can tell Spaccarelli does not need to sign this NDA. There’s also nothing in this initial letter that guarantees AT&T will not cancel his service based on tethering at a later time anyway. He might lose his service with AT&T, but I’m completely surprised he’s still there. Instead, he should simply pursue the small claims initial ruling of $850 and move to a different carrier. It’s very clear through the wording of the letter that AT&T is more interested in shutting the guy up than using his troubles to improve their wireless service. I wouldn’t want to support a company like that.

AT&T just doesn’t get it. The court ordered the massive wireless carrier to pay $850. That’s it. Their fucking lawyer probably charges $850 an hour. Instead, AT&T is going to have to clean up from yet another viral marketing mess.

UPDATE: AT&T just sent over a statement to TC concerning Matt Spaccarelli.

Mr. Spaccarelli reached out to us to initiate a discussion, and naturally, we responded to him to hear what was on his mind and discuss his data usage. Mr. Spaccarelli has said he tethers a second device to his smartphone, which is something that our unlimited data plans don’t allow. For customers who tether, we have plans that allow them to do just that.


AT&T Gets Dirty, Threatens Plaintiff With Termination Of Service Unless He Shuts Up [Update: AT&T Responds]

AT&T Gets Dirty, Threatens Plaintiff With Termination Of Service Unless He Shuts Up [Update: ATT Responds]

death-star-att

Let me catch you up: Matt Spaccarelli, an everyday guy from California, recently took AT&T to small claims court regarding its questionable throttling practices. The judge ruled in his favor on February 24 and ordered AT&T to pay Spaccarelli $850 on the basis that the throttled speed does not live up to AT&T’s much-advertised promise of the nation’s “fastest network.” Anyway, the social consumer activist site PublikDemand recently rallied support around the story and posted a series of tips on how any consumer could do the same.

Now, two and a half weeks after Spaccarelli’s case was settled in small claims court, a lawyer for AT&T is reaching out and offering a slightly new settlement if he signs an NDA to stop talking about his case. But that’s the normal part. The letter starts out by explaining that since Spaccarelli is using his wireless data plan for tethering — a fact he admitted in court — AT&T “has the right to terminate [his] service.” It’s ’bout to get nasty in here.

As far as I can tell Spaccarelli does not need to sign this NDA. There’s also nothing in this initial letter that guarantees AT&T will not cancel his service based on tethering at a later time anyway. He might lose his service with AT&T, but I’m completely surprised he’s still there. Instead, he should simply pursue the small claims initial ruling of $850 and move to a different carrier. It’s very clear through the wording of the letter that AT&T is more interested in shutting the guy up than using his troubles to improve their wireless service. I wouldn’t want to support a company like that.

AT&T just doesn’t get it. The court ordered the massive wireless carrier to pay $850. That’s it. Their fucking lawyer probably charges $850 an hour. Instead, AT&T is going to have to clean up from yet another viral marketing mess.

UPDATE: AT&T just sent over a statement to TC concerning Matt Spaccarelli.

Mr. Spaccarelli reached out to us to initiate a discussion, and naturally, we responded to him to hear what was on his mind and discuss his data usage. Mr. Spaccarelli has said he tethers a second device to his smartphone, which is something that our unlimited data plans don’t allow. For customers who tether, we have plans that allow them to do just that.


AT&T Gets Dirty, Threatens Plaintiff With Termination Of Service Unless He Shuts Up [Update: ATT Responds]