Category: Uncategorized

Anyone remember Usenet news groups? I wonder if they’re still around.

I don’t know why, but I found myself thinking about Usenet news groups and was wondering if anyone remembers them, or if anyone knows if they’re still a thing?  For those that aren’t aware, there used to be a system called Usenet which enabled people to have discussion-style conversations on thousands of topics.  These topics were hierarchically arranged by groups, called news groups.  I used to love Usenet groups back in the early-mid 90S as I could use any number of Reader applications to participate in the groups.  While today web-based forums seem to be the popular norm, the nice thing about the older news groups was that, for me at least, I had a standard way to participate in the discussion regardless of the group.  In contrast, I personally struggle with web-based forums, each of which seeming to have its own interface: I find them often complex and I get distracted with how to participate so much that I don’t actually wind up participating at all.  mailing lists are another discussion method that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed for the same reasons, but with many users becoming overwhelmed with Email and/or not understanding how to configure filters, these too have sadly fallen off in popularity.

 

So, does anyone out there remember Usenet news groups?  Does anyone else miss them?  For those wanting to learn more about Usenet, there’s a great Wikipedia article discussing its history which is really a fascinating read.

Tap tap tap, is this thing back on?

If this actually publishes, then I have successfully moved this blog to its new home at https://www.steves.life .  Surprisingly, beside the somewhat complicated-looking list of steps I needed to follow, the process went relatively smoothly.  I do want to send out a special thanks to the extremely kind folks at JetPack Support who calmly and patiently walked me through one particular technical issue.  For those unfamiliar, JetPack is a free plugin that adds additional functionality to WordPress and they offer plans that come with various levels of support.  

 

I want to thank those of you who have continued to follow me — despite my lack of posting activity — and to anyone new who has decided to follow, welcome to my blog in its new home.

Hey I’m back!

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged on here and honestly, I’m excited to be picking it back up again.  It’s been fun going through some of my old posts and seeing just how much has changed in what has relatively been a short amount of time.

One of the many things I will be changing as I pick up blogging again is the domain on which this blog is hosted.  Since I tend to blog more about technology and generally things going on in my life, I will be moving this site from https://steve.sawczyn.com to https://steves.life .  Not only is steves.life an actual domain, but it’s way easier to spell than steve.sawczyn.com . :). According to the “easy-to-follow” instructions I have, moving my blog should really be no trouble at all and I should expect to be up and running in no time at all.  I’m rather dubious, but will be sure to post as soon as everything is transferred and properly set up.  If you receive Email notifications of new posts, I’m told that you will not need to resubscribe, everything is supposedly going to transfer, and this being web-based technology, what could possibly go wrong?

I’m excited to be blogging again and am looking forward to re-engaging with all of you, especially those who have been wondering, “whatever happened to Steve?”

Looking for the perfect blog platform, wondering what readers prefer?

Blogging is something I really enjoy and yet I don’t do nearly enough of it.  Many things keep me from blogging: not thinking I have much of interest to actually blog about, not being sure that anyone actually reads my posts, and the big one, not being really sure what platform is really the best for blogging.  As I think about that last one, the actual platform, I realize that I have spent way way too much time pondering this question.  I’ve also tried just about every blogging solution I know of in the hopes of finding the perfect solution, one that has all the features I could possibly want while also being accessible and easy for readers to interact with.  Because I feel blogging is more than just the sharing of information, it’s an opportunity for dialog — discussion — and for all, reader and author alike, to learn from one another.  

 

WordPress has long been my favorite blogging platform.  It’s stable, it’s been around forever, many of the largest sites on the net are powered by it, it’s free, and the community has put in a tremendous amount of effort into its accessibility.  On the flip-side, WordPress requires a bit of maintaining and updating, there are frequent updates that address security vulnerabilities, because it’s so powerful and flexible the dashboard can be a bit daunting, and sometimes it’s difficult to make customizations to layout and design unless one possesses more knowledge than what I possess.  

Medium is a really neat service and I see more and more people using it.  On the plus side, Medium handles all the back-end stuff, the author need only log in and write.  There are limits though to Medium functionality, it doesn’t support plugins, they don’t host audio, readers need a Medium account in order to comment, accessibility is improving but there are definite gaps.

Micro.blog is another really neat platform.  The thing I love about Micro.blog is that it’s possible to aggregate feeds from a number of services into one place.  Users of the service can also comment on and mention one another.  There are lots of really cool aspects to Micro.blog, but … it does not support commenting on posts directly other than mentions from other Micro.blog users; think expanded Twitter-like functionality.  Micro.blog also does not support plugins, does not really allow for category-based organization (at least not as of the last time I tried it), and limits the amount of audio and video that can be hosted.  I really want to love Micro.blog as I love the concepts behind it, but I just really want it to have some additional features.

 

And so in my quest to find the perfect blogging platform, I’ve lost sight of the reason behind it, blogging.  And so as I think about more topics about which I might blog, I’m curious what platforms people out there prefer?  Which do you find easiest to use, what features make for a better experience either as a blogger, or reader?  

Android, giving Pie a try

Those of you who have followed me for quite some time know that every so often, I decide to give Android a try, to see if I can use it as my primary mobile operating system.  I confess, the geek in me loves the openness of Android, the idea that I can customize just about everything on the platform and make it my own.  Alas, my particular use case is such that I depend on my mobile device quite heavily in a professional setting and so efficiency for me matters a great deal.  In the past, my experience with Android has been that while I could accomplish *most* of the tasks I need to accomplish,I was unable to do so with enough efficiency to make a switch possible.  Still, I keep being drawn back to Android for many reasons, one of the main being the multitude of device and price options available.

 

I want to stop right here for a moment and realize that everyone’s use case is different.  It’s important to recognize that there are many folks who have been using Android, with little to no complaint, for years and can’t imagine using anything else.  When it comes to Android versus iOS, I think the “better” operating system is the one that works best for each individual.  Sure, one could compare the number of accessible apps, the level of standards-based accessibility support, or any one of a number of factors, but the real measure, in my opinion, is: does it do for me what I need it to do?

 

For this time around, I chose to go with the Essential phone because it runs the latest version of Android, Pie, doesn’t contain a bunch of apps and other stuff I don’t care about, is available at a decent price point for the specs, and probably most important, was available on Amazon PrimeNow which meant I could have the device in-hand in under an hour; yeah, I’m not the most patient person, especially when it comes to tech.  I decided that I wouldn’t immediately blog about my experience as I wanted to see first if this really would be a viable option for me.  After over a month in, I’m able to report that I’m extremely impressed with the accessibility changes that have come to Android and its apps.

 

Initial struggles and frustrations

 

I think it’s fair to say that whenever switching to a new operating system or hardware device, there are bound to be some initial user frustrations.  In this case, I switched both things and found that I needed to remind myself of this quite a bit especially during the first week.

 

Initial setup wizard accessibility

Right out of the box, I encountered some initial accessibility challenges with the Android getting started wizard whereby TalkBack, the Android screen reader, wouldn’t let me activate certain options.  These issues have since been fixed, however, my phone did not come with the latest updates installed.  I needed to explore by touch until I found the correct options, disable TalkBack, touch where I thought I had found the option on the screen, re-enable TalkBack, and hope that I had done everything correctly.  Eventually, I was able to successfully get through initial setup and was then able to install the latest updates ensuring that this problem will go away if I should ever need to reset my phone in the future.

 

Speech options

Personal preference alert here, but I am not a huge fan of Google’s text to speech which is the only option available during initial setup.  Additional voices can later be purchased from the Google Play store, Google’s marketplace for apps, music, books and other things, but new users might not be aware of this.  There are actually quite a number of voices available including Eloquence and eSpeak which are likely familiar to Windows screen reader users.  Purchasing additional voices via the Play store makes perfect sense, but because this is very different than what I’ve gotten used to with iOS, it was an initial frustration for me.

 

No native braille screen input,

Lack of native braille screen input is definitely my largest frustration to date.  When this feature was first introduced to iOS, I wasn’t sure if I would ever get used to it, however in time, the ability to use my screen to enter braille characters enabled me to type with incredible efficiency.  This functionality is missing from Android and I dearly miss it.  Third party options are available, but i have yet to find one that works as fluidly as the solution on iOS.  For one thing, TalkBack must be disabled in order to use any of the third party solutions and while the solutions are mainly self-voicing, this is definitely a frustrating step.  I’ve found one Android-based braille screen input solution that works extremely well, Soft Braille Keyboard.  Unfortunately, while Soft Braille Keyboard can still be installed, it cannot be obtained from the Google Play store.  I also have no idea if updates for Soft Braille are forthcoming which is a real shame.  Braille screen input has the potential to make a real difference in how a blind person enters text on a mobile device and I sincerely hope we see additional innovation in this area on Android.

 

Same apps are not necessarily the same.

One of the first things I did on Android was to search for and install the apps I’ve been using on iOS.  I was pleased to find that in most cases so far, the android counterparts to my iOS apps have been very accessible.  That said, the design and layout of these apps is often very different leading to some initial confusion for me.  On iOS for example, my banking app has tabs across the bottom that allow for quick navigation between sections of the app.  On Android, however, that same banking app has a hamburger-style menu that contains similar options, similar, but just different enough to make for some initial confusion, at least for me.  It’s These differences are certainly to be expected, but if you’re switching from iOS, they may be a source of initial frustration.

 

Helpful resources and the awesome community

As I’ve tried to get up-to-speed, there are a few resources that have proven invaluable.  First, the really awesome Eyes-Free community is full of people who have been very patient with me, and with others new to Android.  I’ve gotten tons of fantastic resources through this mailing list-based community and am extremely grateful to all those who have been willing to share their knowledge and tolerate my frequent questions.  Inclusive Android is another fantastic community resource with a wealth of information.  In time, I would like to create a page dedicated to Android resources that would be helpful to new users, or to developers wishing to build more accessible applications.  If you know of a resource that should be included, let me know.

 

Conclusion

I haven’t actually sold my iOS device yet, but I’m very impressed with just how far Android has come.  While it’s certainly not free of frustrations, but what operating system is?  Android has gone from an operating system that was challenging for me to use in my daily life to one that I can use almost as effectively as iOS.  And I say “almost as effectively” in part because I’m still getting up-to-speed and the natural learning curve of any new operating system is bound to cause a temporary drag on productivity.  I’m really excited with what I’ve seen thus far though and hope you will continue to join me as I blog about this new adventure.

 

Gabby’s Gifts 2018, helping kids at the children’s hospital who can’t come home over the holidays.

Gabby’s Gifts 2018, helping kids at the children’s hospital who can’t come home over the holidays.

Since she was little, my daughter, Gabby, has had a medical condition that has required frequent visits to the children’s hospital.  One of the more positive things to come out of this is that she has developed a deep sensitivity for children who don’t get to leave the hospital to spend the holidays at home.  At age nine, Gabby decided to start a program to get gifts for children who must remain at the hospital.  These gifts are purchased from a list provided by the hospital based on things the children have asked for which do not pose any medical or other risks.  Gabby delivers these gifts to the hospital where they are sterilized, wrapped and delivered to the children by hospital staff.

In 2016, I took Gabby’s initiative online in the form of a GoFundMe campaign and the response was overwhelming.  In a somewhat ironic twist, Gabby herself wound up in the hospital last year becoming one of the very kids she has tried so hard to help.  After months of recovery, I am happy to say that Gabby is doing extremely well.  Gabby remains very committed to this cause, and is again raising money for the 2018 holiday season.

 

If you are able to take a few minutes to check out her campaign, I would appreciate it.  I think what she’s doing is really incredible, even more so after our experience last year.  Gabby’s Gifts 2018 can be found here.

 

Thanks in advance for taking the time to check out her campaign and for sharing.

 

 

Blogging with WordPress again, is this thing still on?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog entry on WordPress and so I have no idea if this thing is even still working or if there’s updates somewhere that I still need to install.  For the past while, I’ve been experimenting with a service called Micro.blog and while I love Micro.blog, it has the current drawback that posts can’t be categorized.  Anyway, I won’t write much here as for all I know I”m blogging to myself, but if things are working, I’ll start blogging something more useful soon. 🙂

 

 

How Microsoft’s accessible OneNote helps me to manage a medical crisis

On April 25, our daughter, Gabrielle, was rushed to the hospital by ambulance after having a breathing episode.  Gabrielle (Gabby) has a condition which unfortunately causes her to have many such episodes, however, this time was different as she had a seizure and lost consciousness, twice.  To say that the weeks since have been a nightmare would be a huge understatement.

 

in addition to all the emotional stuff, the sheer volume of incoming information soon became overwhelming.  Multiple doctors conducting multiple tests, prescribing multiple medications, making multiple changes to her diet, proposing multiple theories as to what might be going on with her.  Our focus needed to be on Gabby and on the situation and yet we also needed to do our best to stay on top of the ever-growing pile of information if we were to have any hope of making informed decisions in reference to her care.  How to manage it all?

 

Information was coming in all sorts of formats.  “Call me with any questions,” said many of the doctors while handing me their printed cards.  “Here’s a bunch of articles I’ve printed out for you to read,” said others.  My own frantic research attempts were turning up links and information at a staggering rate.  And of course there were the actual meetings with her medical team that required me to write stuff down very quickly and without much time to prepare.  I have a plethora of scanning and note-taking apps, but I really needed everything centralized in one place.  not only that, but I needed to make sure my wife and I could share information back and forth without giving any thought to the actual logistics of making that happen.

 

I’ve been a huge OneNote fan ever since learning of the Microsoft Accessibility team’s efforts to make it accessible.  I use OneNote primarily for work, but also use it to keep track of various things going on in my personal life.  Still, I’ve always had the luxury of knowing that if OneNote failed me, I could use a backup option and while it might be less convenient, I could certainly make due.  Within hours, I no longer felt like I had that luxury:  I needed a system that would work for more than just me.  I needed a system that would be dependable.  I needed a system that would allow me to use my phone, my computer, or Anything my wife, Jenn might have access to from the hospital.  OneNote met all those requirements, but accessibility of OneNote is relatively new, should I really trust it for something like this?

 

Dealing with all the print.

 

Microsoft makes a product called Office Lens which allows a photo to be taken of a printed page.  The text in that photo can then be recognized using optical character recognition and the results read aloud.  One of the really awesome things about Office Lens, at least on iOS is that I get spoken feedback when positioning the camera.  I can also send the original image, along with the recognized text version to OneNote.  Whenever given something in print, whether a sheet of paper or business card, I tried to immediately capture it using Office Lens.  Being wired on caffeine and Adrenalin, I’m amazed i was able to hold my phone’s camera steady enough to capture anything, but Office Lens talked me through the positioning and for the most part, it worked great.  Certainly I didn’t get 100% accuracy, but I got names and numbers and enough text to get the gist.  Microsoft also makes a version of Office Lens for Windows 10 which I was very excited about until I realized it wouldn’t let me use my flatbed scanner, apparently, like the mobile versions, it’s really designed to use a camera.  I found a work-around by scanning pages using an alternative app and importing the images into Office Lens, but maybe someone out there knows of a better way?  During this past CSUN, Microsoft demonstrated the ability to scan a document using their Surface Pro, I may need to add this thing to my Christmas list if it really works.

 

Quickly writing stuff down.

 

i don’t know how many times I’ve heard the saying “there’s never a pen around when you need one,” but it’s true.  No matter how prepared I think I am to write something down, it almost never fails that someone has information for me when I’m in the most inconvenient place to receive it.  One great aspect of OneNote is that there are numerous ways to quickly take down information.  On iOS, there’s a OneNote widget that allows me quick access from any screen.  I can pull down the notification center, swipe right and my OneNote widget is the first widget on my list.  I simply select the type of note I wish to write, text, photo, or list, and get a blank page for writing.  I have the option of titling my page although if I’m in a hurry, I’ve found it easier to just write whatever it is down and title the page later.  If I’m not in a position to type, or if there’s simply too much information, OneNote gives me the option to attach a voice recording to a note.

 

If I’m at my computer, I have a really great option for taking a quick note:  The OneNote desktop app which is bundled as part of office has a feature called, Quick Note.  From anywhere, I simply press windows+n and I’m placed in the title of a new blank page.  I can write a title or title it later, most important, I’m at a place where I can just start writing.  When I close the window, my note is saved and I’m returned to wherever I was when I hit windows+n.  This makes it possible for me to take down a note literally at a moment’s notice, i don’t even have to cycle through open windows which is great since I generally have a ton of those open at any given time.  My only gripe is that OneNote stores these quick notes in their own notebook and I have to move them to the correct place later.  I’m hopeful there’s a setting somewhere which will allow me to configure this behavior, but if not, I consider it a very small price to pay for an ultra-convenient way to take a quick note.

 

Managing Gabby’s home care.

 

While Gabby still has a long medical journey ahead, she is stable and is able to be home with medication, monitors and other supports in place.  Coordinating which medications she needs to take and when, in addition tracking other aspects of her condition is again something we’re managing to accomplish with OneNote.  First, we created a to-do list of all her medications to use as a sort of template.  We then copied this list renaming each copy to a corresponding date.  In this way, we can keep track, day-to-day, of which medications have been taken and which remain; no back-and-forth between Jenn and me around whether Gabby has taken a specific medication or not.  There are a few drawbacks to this system, most notably that if any of her medications change, we’ll need to delete and re-create all the future pages in her journal section.  There are certainly other to-do apps that could help us more easily manage recurring to-dos like this, but by using OneNote, we’re able to keep all her information centralized and synchronized.  In addition, using OneNote makes it easy for us to track events such as breathing episodes and other real-time observations which we could not properly capture in a to-do app.  As we continue to work toward figuring out the best next step for Gabby, we have a central place to compile research.  Also, as medical bills and insurance claim determinations start arriving by mail (amazing how fast that happens) we have a way to organize that as well.

 

Problems and challenges.

 

I don’t regret my decision to use OneNote to help me manage these past few weeks, not even a little.  That said, I have encountered some challenges and feel they’re worth mentioning.  To be fair, i see that OneNote for iOS actually has an update today, so some of these may no longer exist.

 

On the iOS app, when using a Bluetooth keyboard, editing text doesn’t seem to work as expected.  Specifically, when i arrow around, sometimes I find myself on a different line, sometimes on a different word, commands to move word by word don’t seem to work as I think they should.  My stopgap solution has been to simply not edit on iOS; I hit the asterisk ‘*’ key a few times to mark that there’s a problem, hit enter and just keep on typing..  While editing would be great on iOS, and maybe it’s just me who’s doing something wrong, my primary interest is in capturing the information knowing that I can always clean it up and edit it later on my PC.  When using Braille Screen input, my preferred method of typing on iOS, i sometimes need to double tap the text area even though the keyboard is visible.  I’m not sure why this is the case, but it’s an easy fix to a strange problem.

 

On the PC side, working with the Windows 10 OneNote application is far easier than working with the OneNote Desktop application provided as part of Office.  That said, the Quick Note functionality is only available in the Office version, not the Windows 10 app version.  For the most part this doesn’t cause any problems, it’s just a little confusing as if you want to use Quick Notes, you have to make sure the Office version of OneNote is installed even if, like me, you don’t use it for anything else.

My other frustration with the Quick Notes functionality of the Office app, as mentioned above, is that i can’t seem to change where it wants to actually put my quick notes.  I want them in the cloud, within a specific notebook, and Office wants them on my local machine, in a different notebook.  Fortunately it’s very easy to move notes from one place to another, it’s just one more thing I need to remember to do and if I forget, those notes won’t be synchronized to my phone and to Jenn.

Currently, in the Windows 10 OneNote app, I cannot figure out how to check items off the to-do lists.  I can read the lists just fine, but can’t tell what’s checked and what isn’t.  My solution for this is to simply use iOS for now when checking off Gabby’s medication.

 

Office Lens has got to be one of the coolest apps ever, especially on iOS where it provides fantastic guidance for positioning the camera.  On Windows, Office Lens seems very accessible although I haven’t figured out how to make it work with my flatbed scanner. I don’t know if there’s a way to fix this, or if I need to find another way to import scanned images into the windows 10 OneNote app, such that text within the image is recognized.

 

Summary

 

Throughout my life I’ve done many things to prepare for all sorts of emergencies, starting as far back as fire drills in elementary school, but I’ve never given a great deal of thought to what for now I’ll call, informational preparedness.  The following are a few questions you may wish to consider as, having the answers now when they’re not needed, is much better than not having them later, when they might be.

  • If I were in a situation where I needed to write something down, right now, how would I do it?
  • Am I dependent on one device?  Put another way, if I drop my phone or laptop and it smashes, what does that mean for the information that’s important to me?
  • Do i have the contact numbers for friends, family, doctors, transportation services, friends and any others I might need and can i access them quickly?  Do I have these on more than one device and do I know how to access them wherever they are?
  • Do I have a way to share information with someone else in a way that makes sense to me and them? Who might that someone else be and have we discussed this specifically?
  • How do i handle materials in an inaccessible format to me in an urgent situation? it might be fine for my neighbor to help me read my mail, but they may not be available to me all day, every day.
  • Does my doctor/pharmacy/healthcare provider have a way to send me information in a more accessible format? Many places are using online systems similar to MyChart, but getting that set up when it’s actually needed it is not fun — it’s really not.

I’m sure there are many other questions that should be asked, but the above list should be a good starting point. Certainly let’s keep the conversation going and if there are others, put them in the comments and I can add them to the list.

 

Finally, I want to thank the OneNote team and countless others who have been working to make technology accessible.  Technology is truly an equalizer in ways that, even as a member of the accessibility field, continue to amaze me and I couldn’t be more appreciative.

 

My Frustrations with Android Notifications

Notifications:  They tell me when I’ve missed a call, gotten an Email, received a text message and so so much more.  Notifications have become a critical part of how I work and play and without them, I sometimes wonder if I’d know where to begin.

 

The Lock Screen

On iOS, the first way I likely  encounter notifications is on my lock screen.  Quite simply, when I wake my phone, notifications show on my lock screen in the order received, oldest to newest.  So, when I wake up in the morning, or come out of a meeting and grab my phone, I can quickly skim through whatever notifications I’ve missed over night.  On Android, the experience is very different.  First, my lock screen shows notifications, however, they do not seem ordered in any particular way.  For example, looking at my lock screen right now, I see a FaceBook notification that came in an hour ago followed by a Skype notification telling me about a message I received three minutes ago.  Next to both of these notifications, I have an “expand” button which, if activated, will show me additional notifications from that application.  Put another way, the notifications seem to be grouped even if the groups themselves don’t seem ordered in any particular method.  On the one hand this grouping thing is kind of neat as I can quickly see the apps that have sent me notifications and, if I’m interested in the particulars of any, I can expand them.  The problem is that this too doesn’t seem standardized between applications:  Some applications group notifications as just described, others don’t.  In addition, some applications have a specific button that says “expand” to which I can swipe and others require me to tap on the notification itself and go on faith that it will expand to show additional content.  Others say “dismissable” although I haven’t figured out how to actually dismiss them.  Much as I like the concept of grouped notifications, the inconsistencies I’ve observed so far make it more confusing than anything else.  One cool thing that Android seems to have on the lock screen though is this thing I’m calling the notification summary bar.  If I explore by touch, moving upward from the bottom of the lock screen, I encounter a line that, when touched, reads a number followed by a detailed listing of all my notifications.  I’m not sure what this looks like visually as there’s just no way all the content that gets read aloud would fit on the lock screen, let alone a single line.  Still, it’s a good way to quickly get an overview of all notifications.

 

Notification Center and the Notification Shade

Both iOS and Android have a way to display notifications once the device is unlocked, iOS calls this the notification center and Android (at least TalkBack) calls this the Notification Shade.  On iOS, the Notification Center is opened by using a three-finger swipe down gesture from the top status bar.  On Android, there are two ways to access the Notification Shade, either a TalkBack-specific swipe right then down gesture, or a two-finger swipe down from top gesture.  I’m improving, however in the beginning, it was a bit challenging for me to perform either of these gestures reliably.  When the Notification Shade is activated, I first encounter the time followed by my WIFI status and a control to disable WIFI, then my cellular signal status, then my battery status, then my Bluetooth status, then my screen orientation, and then my notifications.  While this is quite a bit to have to go through, having a sort of quick control center easily available is neat.  As with the lock screen, notifications are grouped, or at least they attempt to be and like the lock screen, the grouping doesn’t seem consistent.  On the shade, I have a GMail notification that says “nine more notifications inside”.  Other notifications though don’t tell me how much additional content they may or may not include and I only know they are expandable as they are followed by a button that says “expand.”  This button isn’t programmatically associated with the notification though, so unless I swipe through this shade, I’m not sure which notifications are associated with buttons to expand additional content.  The Notification Shade also contains a few details that don’t appear on my lock screen, one is my local weather and another is an Android notification advising me that I can enable the ability to unlock my phone with my voice.  While it doesn’t really bother me, the weather appearing here is a bit incongruous with the other types of notifications present.  At the very end of the Notification Shade is an unlabeled button which I’ve discovered is a clear all notifications button of some sort.  I know it’s possible to clear all notifications on iOS if using an iDevice with 3D touch, however, this seemingly simple and logical feature has existed on Android for a long time now and it could almost be fantastic.  I say almost because, when I activate this button, my phone starts going crazy and counting down messages while playing a notification tone, “82 messages 81 messages 80 messages 79 messages 78 messages …” and a tone for each one.  I’ve discovered that if I lock my screen at this point, the countdown seems to proceed much faster, probably because TalkBack isn’t trying to read the number of messages.  I really have no idea why this is happening, but while the clear all notifications feature is a good one, I definitely hesitate before using it.

 

Sounds, vibrations and other observations

One of the more baffling things I’ve noticed about notification sounds on Android is that, at least on the devices I’ve tried, they always play through both the headphones (assuming headphones are plugged in) and the phone’s speaker.  So, let’s say I’m in a meeting and I decide to have a text conversation with someone — strictly a hypothetical situation in case my boss happens to be reading this blog post. 🙂  I plug headphones in and send a text.  When I receive an answer though, the notification sound is played through both the headphones and the phone’s speaker.  I can set my notification alerts to vibrate only and solve this problem, but it still strikes me as odd that I can’t make notification sounds play strictly through headphones.  Conversely, if I’m on a call, phone/Skype/WebEx/other, I don’t hear any notification sounds at all.  Presumably the thinking here is that I wouldn’t want my call interrupted with additional sounds being played, however, I find those notification sounds very helpful for determining the notification I just received.  If I get a notification while on a call, indicated by a vibration, the only thing I can do is open the Notification Shade and hope that the most recent notification is on top, or at least not grouped with other notifications.  In reality, this has proven extremely problematic for me, almost to the point of being a complete deal breaker.  Part of the reason this doesn’t work as smoothly as it possibly could is because TalkBack forces me to make a very difficult choice; whether notifications should be read aloud when the phone’s screen is locked.  If I enable this feature, all my notifications get read aloud when the screen is locked including sensitive content such as text messages, Hangouts conversations and so forth.  If I disable this feature, TalkBack stays quiet when notifications appear on the lock screen, however, as the screen automatically locks after a short period of time when on a call, this means nothing gets read which isn’t helpful since I don’t get the sounds in the call scenario either.  But let’s push that entire mess to the side for just a moment and talk a little about notification sounds themselves.  One of the really cool things about Android is that many apps allow their notification sound to be customized.  This means that unlike in iOS where many applications use the default iOS tri-tone notification default sound, Android applications allow the user to pick from whatever text/notification sounds exist on the device.  This is one feature I absolutely love, at least I would if Android would stop resetting certain sounds to the default sound.  For example, I configured my device to play one notification sound when receiving work Email and another sound when receiving personal Email.  That worked fantastic for three days or so, but now I’m getting the default notification sound regardless of whether Email is received on my work or personal accounts.  Other apps which have unique notification sounds on iOS don’t seem to have any unique sounds on Android, either that, or they do have the same unique sounds, but the default notification sound is being played for reasons I can’t explain.  For example, there’s an accessible dice game called Dice World which has a notification sound of dice rolling when an opponent has played their turn.  Initially, this sound would play just fine on my device, but now, I just get the standard notification sound and don’t seem able to change it.  Quick side note:  Yes, I do have the “play notification sound” enabled in Dice World.  Same situation with Tweetings, a very powerful Twitter client that has built-in notification sounds that initially played, but which now no longer do.  Point here is that the ability to customize notification sounds is extremely powerful, but I’m not sure how stable it is.  In addition, not all apps allow notification sounds to be customized in the first place.

 

As I wrap up this blog post, I’m left with the feeling that I’m barely scratching the surface of Android notifications.  I say this because I’ve gotten feedback on Twitter and elsewhere that others are not having the same experiences as me.  For example, some people claim to have an edit button on their Notification Shade which allows them to specify how notifications get sorted while others do not.  I’m also not sure if anyone else is experiencing the same inconsistencies as me with regard to notification sound preferences resetting themselves to default.  In the end though, I remain confident that I can find workable solutions to these challenges, how difficult those solutions may be to implement remains to be seen.