Accessibility at Cream City Code

As promised, here are the slides from my Accessibility talk at Cream City Code. Aside from the links (which, if you saw the talk, are probably why you’re here) there’s a fair amount of extra detail in the presentation notes that I didn’t have time for in the talk.

I saw people taking notes during the talk, which is great – this is stuff we need to be implementing! I’d like to particularly thank those people who actually heard me speak on this topic at That Conference last year and decided it was worth their time to come hear me again.

Accessibility slides

First thoughts on the Apple Watch

The last time I bought a new watch was probably 2008 or 2009. It was a self-winding mechanical watch with exposed gears that was absolutely beautiful; unfortunately it stopped keeping time in 2010. I received another watch that Christmas, which I wore for a few months, but after that I stopped; after all, why wear a watch when we’re constantly surrounded by clocks? So I’ve been watchless for five years.

One thing I’ve considered for a few years now is a smartwatch, but they haven’t seemed to have enough capability to be worth the money. After reading John Sonmez’s review of the Apple Watch, however, it seemed like it might be worth the investment (particularly when it’s on sale) and my wife picked one up for my birthday present this year. I’ve now been wearing it for about five days, and thought I’d put down my first impressions.

Apple watch - stock image
The Apple Watch – Sport in Space Gray

First things first: I chose the black (Apple calls it Space Gray) 42mm sport watch. This is the second least expensive one (the 38mm sport watch is $50 cheaper); Apple just cut the price to $349 from $399 (along with introducing a number of new bands), but it goes on sale for $299 fairly regularly. The watches all have the same functionality, but depending on which case and band you want, you can spend up to $17,000.

The watch band is a bit odd, but I got used to it pretty quickly. It’s not easy to describe, but it seems to work. Charging is simple – just put the watch on the magnetic inductive charging station and you’re good to go – and pretty quick – I’ve mostly been charging the watch for about an hour a day.

Why get a smartwatch?

Ok, enough of the basics – why am I willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a fancy watch that needs to be charged regularly?

There are, so far as I’ve seen, no “gee-whiz”, astounding apps that make the watch a must have. What it does have is a lot of little conveniences that make your life that much easier. For me, most of them break down into two categories: work and travel.


Like probably most of the people reading this blog, I use a smartphone (obviously, an iPhone) and I get a lot of notifications. At work I’d started leaving my phone on my desk to that I can see why it’s vibrating rather than pulling it out of my pocket; if someone’s calling me, I try to Google the number quickly on the off-chance that it’s someone I’d want to talk to (it almost never is – most of these searches show it’s a scammer calling). Now I leave my phone in my pocket and take a quick look at my watch to see if it’s anything I need to deal with. When I’m out of my office, meeting details come up on my watch so that, again, I don’t have to pull out my phone to see where I’m supposed to be next. It’s not a big deal – is taking your phone out of your pocket really all that difficult? – but it removes a minor irritation.


A year ago, I took up listening to audiobooks on my commute; unfortunately, sometimes I miss something, and even if I’m stopped at a light I can’t really pull my phone out and rewind. Now I have the Audible app, so I can just hit the rewind button without taking my eyes off the road. That’s useful.


Ok, how about non-commuting travel, to new cities? This was actually my justification for getting the watch, as I travel within the US for business and will be visiting London and Paris next month. This past weekend, I tried out the watch features on a trip to Chicago.

When I’m driving someplace unfamiliar, I always use my phone for directions, but I don’t always hear the street name (actually, I usually don’t). Now I can just glance at my watch to see what the next street is and how long until I need to turn; it also vibrates when I reach the turn. This isn’t perfect – the watch is sometimes a bit slow to update after a turn and this seems to drain the battery – but it’s pretty helpful.

The same functionality also works with walking; you can be walking around the city and get your directions without having to take your phone out (and become a target for pickpockets). I used this when walking a few places in Chicago, and I’m looking forward to using it again when riding the tube in London.

I mentioned battery life – aside from the drive to Chicago, I don’t seem to go through battery that quickly. The last few days I’ve slept with my watch on and used the alarm to wake up, then charged the watch for an hour before leaving for work. So far, so good. Since I’m completely deaf when I’m not wearing the processor for my cochlear implant I normally have to carry a vibrating alarm clock when I travel; as you might imagine, this both takes up space and slows down getting through airport security. If the watch keeps waking me up successfully, I’ll no longer need to carry a clock when I travel; I’ll just have to make sure the watch is sufficiently charged before I go to bed!


One thing I should mention that’s pretty cool: in order to save battery, the display is only on when you’re “looking” at it – by which I mean, you have your arm rotated such that the watch face is where you can see it. This isn’t perfect – I have to occasionally wake it up – but it works pretty well and it’s a cool feature.

Something I haven’t tried yet is Apple Pay on the watch – I’ve barely used it on my phone, even – but not having to take my wallet out seems like a good thing. We’ll see how that works out.

Overall impressions

I don’t love everything about the watch; for example, I still haven’t managed to get Siri to work (it activates, but then doesn’t seem to process that I’m talking). Even with the price cut, it’s still pretty expensive. I was used to winding my mechanical watch each day in case it didn’t self-wind enough, so the need to charge the watch isn’t a big deal to me, but it’s still something else to remember.

Are smartwatches, at this point, still overpriced toys? Yes, they are. Do you need to run out and buy one? No, not at all. But if you have a smartphone that supports it (iPhone 5 or later), it’s a pretty nifty gadget that removes a few of the little annoyances of day-to-day life.

I’d buy it again.

Test-driving a Tesla

The inside of the Model S
Testing the Tesla on the streets of Chicago

This past week, I had the opportunity to test-drive a Tesla.

Tesla has been on my radar for a few years now. I’m not much of a car person, but their cars are just really cool and I’ve been considering preordering the model 3, so I took advantage of a trip to Chicago to check out the S.

Overall, there were a few things that I didn’t like about the car. It’s pretty low and isn’t as easy to get into and out of as it could be (and it doesn’t feel as roomy as my Camry). There are no grab bars, but that can be fixed with aftermarket add-ons. The windows are narrower than I like, which cuts down on visibility – but the large screen showing what’s happening around you more or less makes up for that. Overall, the car feels comfortable enough, though not like anything particularly special.

The driving, though, is something else. The handling on this car is pretty solid, and I liked how quiet it is. Chicago traffic meant I never got it up above 35, but I’d love to see how it handles curves at freeway speeds. What little acceleration I was able to do was pretty smooth. I liked the regenerative braking, and I can definitely see why some people make a game out of never using the brakes.

The most interesting thing was probably the autopilot. I engaged it while sitting on the freeway on-ramp and the car immediately accelerated at the car in front of me, only to stop again seconds later – that was a little disconcerting! When that car tried to change lanes a few minutes later, without us having gotten up enough speed for the S to navigate off the lines instead, I had to retake control to keep us from changing lanes as well. The warning beep made it very clear that my attention was needed.

As I said, I’ve never been a car person, and I’ve definitely never considered spending good money on a luxury car. The point of the test drive was to see what Tesla’s work felt like so I could decide whether I’d like the model 3, which comes in at a much more reasonable $35k (before the $7500 tax credit).

But the more expensive versions sure seem awfully appealing…

Windows 7 Settings

So I ran across a cute little trick today that was apparently doing the rounds in January, but I never ran across it. It’s to make it easier to get to all the settings under Windows 7. It works with earlier versions of Windows as well, but apparently will crash 64-bit Vista.

What you want to do is create a new folder with the name XXX.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}, where XXX can be whatever you want (I called it “Master Settings”, but the rest of it, from the . to the closing }, should be exactly as written. This is a developer feature built into Windows; if you create a folder with the extension {YYY}, where YYY is a class ID, only the first part of the filename is shown and it does cool stuff. In this case, it gives you a search folder containing all the various controls you’d normally find in assorted folders in the Windows Control Panel.

If you’re like me, it can be difficult to remember where everything is. You can use the search to find it, which actually works pretty well, assuming you remember what it’s called, but it’s cool to have all the options available in one place.

One thing people have reported is that, should you decide to delete the folder, you might need to start the computer in safe mode. Additionally, while I haven’t tried it yet, there’s the possibility that this trick could allow users to get into settings that they normally shouldn’t. Depending on how you look at it, that could be a good thing or a bad thing; I’ve definitely been in situations where I had to tolerate a minor annoyance because I didn’t have sufficient access to change a setting!

Anyway, not exactly world-shaking news, but I thought I’d share. I’ve been using Windows 7 since the beta and I’m pretty happy with it; on the whole, it seems to work pretty well.

Granted, my websites are still going to run under Apache! :-)