Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Punctuation Made Simple with Big Dog's Grammar

There are a lot of writers out there who absolutely hate the idea of grammar. I myself am one of them. To me it seems overly complex. I probably couldn't put together a decent sentence to save my life. But now I no longer need to fear incorrectly using punctuation because this site makes it, well, simple.

At Punctuation Made Simple you can learn the correct way to use a colon, semicolon, comma, dash, or even an apostrophe. The site is broken down into a section for each one of these delightful punctuators.

Best of all not only do they explain why they are used in the correct fashion, but they give you multiple excellent examples of how they are used correctly in a sentence. I wish I had this site back in college, things would have been a little easier.
Click here to visit the Punctuation Made Simple web site:

Big Dog's Grammar

Here's another site to help you college students and anyone who's concerned with their writing skills. Not only does it give you the bare bones of grammar you need to be successful, but it also includes self-tests you can take to test your grasp of the concepts, as well as, an MLA Quick Guide.

You'll find navigation on the menu to the right of the Big Dog logo. It's broken down into these categories: subjects, Verbs, Prepositions, Fragments, Comma-Splices Fused Sentences, Joiners, Agreement (both Subject Verb and Pronoun Antecedent), Dangling Modifiers, Misplaced Modifiers, Parallel Structure, Reference, Pronouns, Consistency and Active/Passive Constructions. That's quite a bit to cover, so it's great it's broken down so much. What I love the most is how it breaks grammar down into layman's terms so it's easily understood. It leads you through the thought process of how it works and it leaves you with a self-test to prove you have the hang of it!

The self-tests are an important part of this Website, because they let you know if you really grasped the content you studied. You start by following the instructions for each test, type your answers in the blank text field and then click on the Submit button. The site grades your test to let you know if you're right or wrong. If you're right, it pops up with Correct. If you're wrong, it pops up with Incorrect, but it tells you what you may have done wrong. (For example, some questions have more than one answer that must be submitted in a certain way, such as men, women rather than men women).

The MLA Quick Guide is a must for any college student. When you write papers for school, they usually have to be in the MLA format. This section guides you through how to do that and what is expected of you when you use the format.

Click this link to visit the Big Dog's Grammar website at

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Accessible Public Transportation: I Know it's Out There, but How Do I Find It?

This is a good and useful question, to which the answers are not necessarily obvious. Fortunately, there are several ways to check it out. The easiest thing to do is to contact your local Department or Commission for the Blind and ask them for the information. They are your best source because they know your area and the options available to you.

Another possibility is to call your local Transit Authority. They will know what services they offer and can give you all of the information you need. You may be able to accomplish this by asking a bus driver or perhaps a cab driver, but they would probably suggest that you call their office for the information.

Internet Options
There are many sites on the internet that can provide you with information about accessible public transportation. For one, your local Transit Authority probably has a web page with information such as: operating times, reservation requirements, and of course the cost of the service. Be forewarned: it is possible that this site won't be accessible.

There is an accessible resource available to you if you live in the US. The Project ACTION Accessible Traveler's Database was created to provide information on accessible transportation services in the US. It is a very useful source if you are traveling and need information about a new city. This database includes detailed information about public operators (both urban and rural), accessible taxis, airport transportation, and hotel shuttle services. They also maintain a list of the toll-free numbers for national companies such as airlines, bus companies, Amtrak, and major hotel chains. You can find this resource at: Project ACTION Accessible Traveler's Database :

Another website you might want to check out is provided by Disability Resources Monthly: They have a list of useful links.

Enabling Technologies maintains a website with an extensive collection of links. Not only do they have links to transportation directories, they also have links to sites dealing with air, sea, and rail travel, with passports, and with the official pages of cities around the world. This resource can be found here: Enabling Technologies: http://www.braill

Public Transportation the Website

Among the Transit Facts offered by the American Public Transportation Association are reports on how much money you can save by using public transit, and how much you can reduce your carbon footprint. You'll find other reports, news, and links to other resources as well.

Click this link to visit

Top Ten Myths About the Mac and Its Accessibility to the Blind

By Josh de Lioncourt, updated by Michael McCarty

I have compiled this list based on many false beliefs I have seen expressed in a variety of forums and from many individuals in the blind and visually impaired community. If you have questions please ask, and feel free to pass this list on to any and all you think may benefit from it.

The following list is not all inclusive, but it does provide information on the most commonly held Mac myths in the visually impaired community. I hope you find this list informative and helpful.

  1. Myth: VoiceOver does not include scripting functionality, like that in Jaws for Windows, rendering it less useful than its Windows counterparts.

    Truth: While VoiceOver itself does not include scripting functionality, the Mac OS X operating system does. AppleScript provides a great deal of similar functionality and features visually impaired Windows users are used to in Jaws scripts, and then some. Other tools, such as the Automator are also available, which may be used in enhancing access to applications and the OS. The upshot to all of which is, of course, that VoiceOver does not need to duplicate that which the operating system already provides.

  2. Myth: ITunes is not accessible on the Mac with VoiceOver.

    Truth: ITunes is almost entirely accessible with VoiceOver, and has been steadily improving as updates to Apple's media player have been released. VoiceOver users can easily browse, organize, listen to, and manage their music and playlists, as well as work with the content on their iPods.

  3. Myth: VoiceOver is very limited due to its lack of using an OSM (off screen model).

    Truth: Windows screen readers that do not use an OSM are severely limited, which is likely where this misconception arises. Mac has a much more robust and well-designed accessibility infrastructure. It has undergone radical renovations in recent years, and has been designed with accessibility in mind. Unlike Windows, OSM's are not critical to making the OS and third-party applications accessible. Just like Windows, visually impaired users will suffer inaccessibility when trying to use applications which are highly graphical in nature. Overall access between the two systems is very comparable, with Mac surpassing Windows in many key areas, due to its better accessibility framework.

  4. Myth: There is no Braille display support on the Mac.

    Truth: Braille displays are supported.

  5. Myth: You cannot produce or emboss Braille content from a Mac.

    Truth: Many free open source tools, complete with GUI interfaces, have been developed for the Mac for just such a purpose. Louis for Mac is a great tool for Braille translation into a variety of languages, and is freely available at

  6. Myth: You cannot perform OCR with a Mac.

    Truth: While not entirely flawless solutions, several OCR packages for Mac are perfectly usable with VoiceOver, including the popular OmniPage. For users with less robust needs, several Canon CanoScan models of scanners come with basic accessible OCR software for less than $80, all inclusive.

  7. Myth: You can't read PDF files with VoiceOver.

    Truth: Reading PDF files with VoiceOver is simple and painless, and is far easier with the Mac's built-in Preview program for PDF viewing than with Adobe Acrobat Reader under Windows with Windows screen readers.

  8. Myth: VoiceOver has not been updated in over two years.

    Truth: VoiceOver is an integral part of the operating system. As software and components of the operating system are updated, accessibility with VoiceOver often improves. VoiceOver itself does not need to have new releases for better performance, and indeed we have seen a number of OS updates that have improved accessibility on the Mac.

  9. Myth: Most software for the Mac doesn't work with VoiceOver.

    Truth: Most modern software for the Mac is developed with Cocoa, a derivitive of Objective C. Cocoa provides inherent accessibility functionality, and the XCode tools needed to build Cocoa applications is available with every Mac. Most Mac software developed in the last several years will work well to stellar with VoiceOver without any effort on the part of the third-party developer. As a result, a treasure trove of Mac freeware and shareware is available that works out of the box with VoiceOver. Much of this software can be found at and a newly begun list of software and its accessibility rating with VoiceOver can be found at

  10. Myth: VoiceOver requires you to learn a huge array of extremely complicated commands to use the OS effectively.

    Truth: VoiceOver commands are logical and designed not to conflict with application or OS commands. The Mac OS provides built-in navigation similar to what Windows users are accustomed to, such as tab to move from control to control, and spacebar to activate them. VoiceOver navigation and usage is no more complex than any other screen reader on any other platform, though it is significantly innovative in its strategy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Find And Download Ebooks with WitGuides

Here is another web resource where you can browse and download free ebooks. You can search for books, browse by category such as Computers, Health, Business, Self Improvement, Cooking etc. You can also check out the recent additions (under "New" and "popular" books, which means the most downloaded, "rate" and "leave comments".

Click this link to find ebooks at

Friday, October 24, 2008

Adobe Acrobat: Current Solutions to Accessing PDF files

Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) is a universal file format that preserves all the fonts, formatting, colors, and graphics of any document, regardless of the application and platform used to create it. Adobe Acrobat software converts any document to Adobe PDF files, even documents that have been scanned. Adobe PDF is a common file found on the World Wide Web. It is also used to distribute electronic documents over corporate networks, via e-mail, hard disks or CD-ROM.

Since Adobe PDF can represent documents that contain graphics, columns, vertical labels or other complex layouts, screen reading software for the blind may not be able to correctly reproduce some of these documents. However, Adobe studied the W3C guidelines for accessibility and Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Reader now include a number of tools and features that help make information in Adobe PDF files accessible to the visually impaired. These include the following:

  1. Microsoft Active Accessibility. MSAA is a programming interface that allows Windows-based programs to present information about their content and its structure to assistive technologies, such as screen readers with speech or with braille displays.
  2. Tagged Adobe PDF. This is a feature that incorporates definitions of the document's structure into the file's format. By identifying organizational sections, such as the title page, chapters, and smaller structural headings, Adobe has made the navigation of large documents easier and more accurate. Here are some of the specific features:
    • Both content and logical structure are included in the Adobe PDF file.
    • Document content can be exported as Rich Text Format (RTF) files, allowing the information to be used in other programs or to be read by assistive technologies that aren't MSAA compatible.
    • Alternate text (ALT text) can be used for images.
  3. High-contrast color schemes. Low vision users can override the colors defined by the document with a color scheme optimized for their useful vision.
  4. Keyboard shortcuts allow the user to navigate the interface without a mouse.
  5. Reflowable text blocks. Magnified text blocks will now automatically wrap to fit on the screen instead of requiring awkward horizontal scrolling.
  6. Make Accessible plug-in. This plug-in provides accessibility to Windows screen-reading programs. The Acrobat Access plug-in converts untagged Adobe PDF files, including older files made with previous versions of Adobe Acrobat, into tagged Adobe PDF files that can be better understood by assistive technology.
  7. Adobe also has added a number of editing tools for people who are creating Adobe PDF files, including an Accessibility Checker that identifies and alerts the author to common problems. You can find out more about these at the website.

Adobe also offers a free, Web-based service at: This service converts any Adobe PDF document on the Internet into HTML or plain text. The document is also reformatted into a single column of text that can be read easily by screen readers. The site provides two conversion options:

  • The first is a Web-based form that can be used to convert PDF documents that are on the Internet. Users may type the URL to an Adobe PDF document and click a button that reads, "Get This PDF Document as HTML". The document is converted instantly into HTML and is returned immediately to the Web browser.
  • The second option is to use email to send Adobe either the URL of an Adobe PDF file on the Web or to send (as an attachment) the file from a local source (floppy disk, network drive, CD-ROM, etc.). The document is converted into HTML or into ASCII text and is sent back in a new e-mail in a matter of minutes.

When converts Adobe PDF to HTML, all existing hypertext links are converted to HTML links. This includes intradocument links as well as links to other documents on the Internet. Adobe also adds extra links to make navigation within the document easier:

  • "Document Body" links to the start of the document.
  • "Page Navigation Panel" has a numbered link to each page in the document (i.e. 1, 2, 3, etc).
  • "Next" and "Previous" links are inserted between pages
  • Finally, if the Adobe PDF contained "Acrobat Bookmarks," a type of table of contents, the converted file will have a "Document Outline" with links that equate to the original Acrobat Bookmarks.

Convert PDF to a Text File

So you've got a cool book in PDF format, and you'd love to read that book with your Braille+? How do you convert that PDF to something you can use? Don't purchase software costing thousands of dollars, simply use your Adobe Reader.

Depending on the PDF security properties of a file, you may be able to export PDF documents to a text file for opening in programs such as Notepad, or for sending to a notetaker. Note that this best works for documents that contain mostly text; graphical documents and those with complex formatting may produce questionable results.

  1. Open a PDF document in Adobe Reader.
  2. Select "File" from the top menu by either clicking the word "file" or by using the keyboard command ALT+F.
  3. From the resulting menu, click on, or arrow down to "Save as Text" and press "enter".
  4. Choose a folder to place your document.
  5. Give the document a filename.
  6. Click, or tab to "Save" and press "enter".

Each page of the converted PDF will have the following header:

FILENAME page nnn of nnn


Bookmarks Page 1 of 4

Each page of the converted PDF will have the following footer:



file://C:\blah.htm 1/16/2005

Your document should now be ready for your notetaker.

PDF2TXT: Access PDF Docs in a Flash

By Darrell Shandrow
Blind Access Journal:

I urge all blind computer users to download, install and use Jamal Mazrui's PDF2TXT utility whenever quick, effective access to PDF documents is required.

My new position requires that I review and search a large quantity of documentation, most of which is only available in PDF. PDF2TXT has been an absolute Godsend in this area.

The program quickly converts single PDF documents or a large batch of PDF files into plain text format that is extremely usable and understandable for those of us relying on screen readers. Though I have known about this handy software for quite some time now, I delayed giving it a try myself. Don't make the same mistake. Get PDF2TXT today!

Click this link to download PDF2TXT:

TechDis Accessibility Essentials

The JISC TechDis Accessibility Essentials Guide on making the most of PDFs has been designed to provide step-by-step information to enable anyone creating Portable Document Format (PDF) documents do so in a more accessible manner. These hints and tips will benefit those who create PDF documents using scanned materials or word processed documents, or receive a PDF version of publicity materials from a graphic designer.

PDF to Word

Free PDF to Word Doc Converter is a simple website that solves a big problem. upload your PDF and download your word file. No registering, nothing. Nifty idea.

Click this link to convert PDF documents to MS-Word documents:
If you want to turn it back, or do the job the other way, try

Another Easy to use online PDF to Word converter is To use this site, click on the "Browse" button and select the PDF file you want to convert. Then click "Convert and Download" and wait for conversion to complete. Now you're ready to download the Microsoft Word document to your computer. There's no limits, convert as many files as you like. with no restriction on the individual PDF file size and there's no website registration required.

Click this link to visit ConvertPdfToWord at
Click this link to visit another PDF to Word Converter site:

Click this link to check out Adobe's blog on accessibility:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

NOAA Weather Radio Online and Weather Via RSS

The National Weather Service says that you may be in for some bad weather. How are you going to keep up with the changes? You could hunt around to find a local radio station that actually gives the complete weather forecasts, you could turn on the TV and hope they say something, or you could use a service that delivers the weather to your computer. delivers the current weather conditions to you through RSS technology. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and can be read through a variety of programs and websites.

Using this service is simple, and you'll love the convenience of getting the up to the minute weather conditions.

  1. Click this link to visit the home page:

  2. This website is so smart that it should have put you directly on the weather page for your state. If it didn't, simply enter the name of your state in the edit box provided.,

  3. Click on the link that represents your county.

  4. Click on the link for your city.

  5. You will now be presented with the current conditions for your chosen city. This page will include current moon conditions, links for any warnings, current radar links, Climate information, and two RSS links.

The RSS links are the ones we want to look at very closely. By clicking on the RSS links, you can create a URL that can be copied to any RSS reader or RSS enabled website. Once this URL is properly added, you will receive weather updates specific to your city.

If you click on the "Custom RSS 2.0 Feed" you can tell exactly what information you wish to receive. This is a great site and it's free!

For more information on RSS technology search the Fred's Head Database or the Fred's Head Companion for "RSS".

Stream NOAA Radio

Here's a website which allows you to listen to live audio streams of NOAA Weather Radio stations, throughout the United States.

Click this link to visit the NOAA Weather Radio website:

For those who like to use software to track weather and get forecasts for here and there, a free program to use is Weather Pulse from Tropic Designs Software. Users report that the latest version is more accessible with the JAWS and Hal screen readers.

Click this link to learn more or to download Weather Pulse.

Shades of Doom: An Audio Adventure for the Blind

One of the first audio games I ever played was Shades of Doom from GMA games. This is the most real-life audio game I've played, and man, can you get hooked.

My wife and I have played this game for hours and we never got tired of going through the various levels. The sounds are so real, and the adventure is wonderful.

Shades of Doom is a revolutionary Window's-based game for the visually impaired. It creates a virtual reality using sound as it's medium. It features multi-dimensional multi-layered sound, immersing the gamer into a world of action and suspense set in the not too distant future. The game is self-voicing, so no screen reader is required to play.

You are equipped with a medical kit, a few grenades, a gun, a knife, your fists, and a computer to analyze your surroundings. You must make your way through many levels of a top secret military research base, and shut down the ill-fated experiment. You will use the sound of the wind in the passages and rooms, the echo of your footsteps, the sounds of nearby equipment, and optionally, the guidance from your environment analyzer computer, to make your way through this dark world. You will definitely want to collect better weapons, armour, and equipment to help you succeed in this mission. Find the clues to shut down the experiment as you make your way to the ninth and most dangerous area.

Due to the graphic nature of the sounds, GMA recommends that this game should not be played by people under the age of 13.

Features include:

  • Dynamic and realistic Multi-layered, 3D sound with up to 32 sounds playing simultaneously which can make use of a stereo or surround sound system
  • Use of Doppler for realistic movement sound
  • synthesized 3D effects for non-surround sound systems
  • Real-time game play, that is, the game is not move based, and the game continues as in real life
  • A true 32-bit Window's application
  • Use of Microsoft's DirectX 8 and above
  • Full accessible help
  • Optional joystick support
  • Original music
  • Easy to remember one key commands
  • Five difficulty levels from easy to very challenging
  • Nine areas to explore, plus an aending level
  • Ability to save, and later reload, up to 9 game snap shots
  • Many types of weapons, monsters, armour, and other equipment and objects
  • Ability to pick your own way to navigate, that is, wind sounds, step echoes, maps, markers, and verbal navigation
  • Ability to create Braille-ready maps
  • Optionally, all major commands can be accessed through the menu
  • Cheat codes are available

To hear the introduction to Shades of Doom produced by Kelly Sapergia, click this link to download or play the MP3 file. Note that this was made from a previous version of the game and that some features have been added since it was produced.

System Requirements

  • a Pentium system 233 Megahertz or higher
  • 64 megabytes of memory
  • Windows 98 or higher
  • Microsoft's DirectX version 8 software (available free from the HTTP:// site or on any Shades of Doom CD)
  • a Windows supported 16 bit stereo or surround sound card (headphones recommended for stereo systems)

Note that Shades of Doom uses some advanced sound features available in most newer sound cards. You may need to update your sound card driver if you are having problems, for example, if you find sounds are not being played in stereo. You should be able to obtain the most recent sound card drivers from your card manufacturer's web page.

Click this link to visit the Shades of Doom page on the GMA Games website:

Braille Music

Music can be, and is, written in braille. Braille music looks and feels nothing like its printed counterpart. Because a blind musician's fingers are used to read music, as well as to play the instrument, he/she must memorize the entire score in order to play it efficiently.

When music is written in braille, first the "right hand" is presented for a bar, then the "left." A two-character symbol indicates whether the material that follows is for the right or left hand.

Rests, whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes can be expressed in braille, however, there are times when more than one braille character (cell) is required to give all the information that belongs to a given note. Despite this fact, anything expressed in regular staff notation can be expressed in braille.

Two good books about teaching braille music are:

How to Read Braille Music, by Bettye Krolick, which is available from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped; and

Who's Afraid of Braille Music
By Richard Taesch and William McCann

A Short Introduction and Resource Handbook for Parents, Teachers and Students

Are you a teacher or parent of a blind student who has an interest or need to learn to read braille music? Want to help, but feeling a bit anxious or unprepared to do so?

Are you, yourself a blind musician who wants to know more about how music looks in braille? Have people warned you that it's "so hard"?

Then "Who's Afraid of Braille Music?" is for you! Find out how sensible Louis Braille's system for music really is. Learn to read, write, play and sing music in braille.

For more information, click this link to visit Dancing Dots for a full description of the book:

Finding braille music has become easier with the advent of the Internet. Here are some links to braille music transcription products, software and individuals who offer braille music transcription services.

1. American Printing House for the Blind Louis Database: The APH Louis Database is a database of accessible materials for people who are blind or visually impaired. The Louis search engine can guide you to braille music reference books, scores and instructional recordings.

2. National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped: The NLS, a department of the Library of Congress, has a Music Program repository that contains music scores in braille and large print, textbooks, and recorded voice instruction for voice, piano, organ and other instruments. You will also find a list of individual braille music transcribers across the United States (current as of 1997) who can be contacted for additional information.

3. BrailleM: The Braille Music List. BrailleM is an email list where individuals with an interest in braille music can share ideas, sources for finding braille music, and find assistance with difficult passages and formats. To subscribe to the list, visit the site and follow the instructions.

4. Optek Systems is an Australian company that manufactures a braille music transcription software program called Toccata and PictureBraille: The Windows-based programs can be ordered from the site or by contacting the company at: PO Box 277, Rydalmere, NSW 1701, Australia, or by calling (+612) 9891-6600.

5. Opus Technologies: Opus Technologies specializes in developing and selling braille music reference materials. Braille music reference books, sheet music and instruction manuals are available for purchase at the company's website or by contacting them directly at: 13333 Thunderhead Street, San Diego, CA 92129-2329, USA, (858) 538-9401 or by email at

6. Dancing Dots: Dancing Dots offers a braille music transcription software called Goodfeel. Goodfeel can automatically convert several kinds of music files to braille. You can download a free Goodfeel demo at the website. For more information, contact Dancing Dots at: 1754 Quarry Lane, PO Box 927, Valley Forge, PA 19482, USA, Phone 610-783-6692 or email at
The National Federation of the Blind has a web page devoted to braille music resources, as well as a braille music video:

Teaching Music To Blind Students

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) of the Library of Congress has a booklet called Teaching Music to Blind Students. Designed for people who teach students, the booklet is available in an ordinary printed version for sighted instructors and in a braille version for students who are blind.

For more information, contact:

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS)
Phone: 800-424-8567

Contributor: Fred Gissoni

Friday, October 17, 2008

How to Fix a Scratched CD or DVD

While compact discs (CDs) are remarkably durable, it's nearly impossible to prevent scratches and scuffs from occurring from time to time. The resulting damage can be either a skip in your favorite Bob Marley track or, in the case of data CDs, the loss of that spreadsheet you worked on for two weeks. Don't despair-repair! While commercial CD repair kits and CD refinishing machines are available, you may be able to repair the damage on your own with products you already have. Here's how.

  1. Clean the disc. Even if a CD isn't actually scratched or scuffed, dust, oil, and other surface contaminants can prevent it from playing properly. Thus cleaning the disc should always be your first move. Run warm water over the damaged disc to remove dust. If there is stubborn dirt or grease on the disc, gently rub it with your finger while you are washing it, and use a gentle detergent (with the water) or rubbing alcohol (in place of water.) Anytime you rub or wipe a CD, you should do so by starting at or near the center of the disc and rubbing straight outward toward the edge to prevent further scratching. Shake the water off and let the disc air-dry (do not dry it with a towel or cloth).

  2. Try to play the disc. Many times a good cleaning is all that is needed. If, however, problems persist after cleaning, try to play the disc in a different CD player. Some players handle scratches better than others; computer CD drives tend to be best.

  3. Burn a new disc. If you can get the CD to work in one CD player-especially your computer's-but not in others, try burning a new disc. The CD burning utility on your computer may be able to read the CD well enough to produce a perfect copy. You may wish to try this even if the CD doesn't play correctly on the computer.

  4. If you have some vision, locate the scratch. Actually repairing the disc will be easier if you can figure out where the offending scratch is. Visually inspect the CD's playing surface for scratches or scuffs. Scratches that run perpendicular to the CD's spiral-that is, those that run generally from the center to the rim-may not affect playing at all, and in any case are generally less damaging than those that roughly follow the direction of the spiral. If there are several scratches, but the CD only skips in one or two places, you may be able to approximate the location of the offending scratches based on which track skips. Keep in mind that the first track of a CD begins near the center, and the direction of play proceeds outward to the edge.

  5. Polish the CD. Though counterintuitive, polishing a disc can repair a scratched CD by removing some of the outer plastic coating and thus making existing scratches shallower. A number of common household products can be used to polish the CD, but toothpaste-especially baking soda toothpaste-and Brasso are probably the most tried-and-true. Apply a small amount toothpaste (must be paste, not gel) or Brasso to a soft, clean, lint-free cloth: an eyeglass-cleaning cloth works well. Gently rub the cloth on the scratch or scuff in a radial motion (from inside to outside). Try to focus your efforts solely on the scratch or scratches you've identified (if possible). Polish in this manner for a couple minutes, reapplying Brasso or toothpaste to the cloth as necessary. Be careful not to apply much pressure, although you will still be able to feel the cloth gently scratching the CD as it polishes.

  6. Remove polishing product from disc. If you used toothpaste, rinse the disc thoroughly with warm water and let dry. Make sure to remove all of the toothpaste and let the disc dry completely before trying to play it. With Brasso, wipe off excess product and let the rest dry. Then, using a clean cloth, gently wipe disc again. If you are using Brasso, make sure to do so in a well-ventilated area, and avoid breathing in the fumes. Always read the safety instructions and warnings on any chemical product as many (such as rubbing alcohol) are flammable and / or can cause skin, eye, or respiratory irritation.

    Keep in mind that it is possible to further damage a CD if you do this incorrectly (i.e. if you apply too much pressure while polishing or rub the CD in a circular motion).

    Make sure the surface upon which the disc is laid is flat and firm but not hard or abrasive. Data is stored on the foil or dye layers on the top of the disc (label side) and the proective top layer is very thin by comparison to the polycarbonate plastic bottom layer you will polish. The thin top layer can easily be scratched or perforated. If this happens the data is lost forever as it is not repairable by any means. Pressing on disc upon too soft a surface may crack it or cause it to delaminate.

  7. Test the disc. If the problem persists, polish again for up to 15 minutes or until the scratch is almost completely buffed out. The surface around the scratch should begin to look shiny with many tiny scratches. If you still don't notice any difference after polishing for a few minutes, the scratch may be extremely deep, or you may be polishing the wrong scratch.

  8. Wax the tracks. If polishing doesn't work, apply a very thin coat of Vaseline, liquid car wax, neutral shoe polish or furniture wax to the CD's playing surface. Wipe excess off using clean, soft, lint-free cloth in a radial (inside to outside) motion. If using wax, follow manufacturer's instructions (some need to dry before you wipe them off, while others should be wiped off while still wet).

  9. Test disc again. If the wax or Vaseline does the trick, burn a new copy of the CD immediately. The waxing method is only a temporary solution.

  10. Bring the CD in to get refinished. If the disc still doesn't play correctly, bring it in to a music store (especially one that sells used CDs) or a DVD rental store and ask if they can repair the disc for you. Many of these businesses have CD refinishing machines that do a remarkable job, and they'll probably charge you less than five dollars to repair the CD.

Severely damaged CDs may not be repairable. Very deep scratches will probably require an industrial-quality machine to repair, and cracks or scratches that reach the CD's foil may render a CD forever useless.

To determine if the foil layer of your CD is scratched, have someone hold the CD up to a fairly bright light and see if any pinholes are visible. Holes in the foil layer of a CD are generally not repairable, even for a professional. Remember not to stare at the light for a long period of time. A 60-100 Watt bulb should be more than enough to see pinholes in the foil layer. Do not use the sun!

Practice repairing scratched CDs that you don't care much about before you set out to repair your favorites.

If a CD is scratched but continues to play correctly, make a backup and don't bother trying to repair it.

Make sure the disc is indeed scratched. If the disc is not visibly scratched, the problem likely lies elsewhere. Other problems could be surface dirt or a malfunctioning CD player. The steps above should help you to clarify where the problem is.

Deep gouges are not repairable. However, because of the way redunancy is used in the data on the disc and the way the data are distributed along the spiral track, cleaning a disc area away from a scratch can improve data recovery; a number of smaller defects distributed along the track can be as bad or worse than one larger defect.

The polycarbonate bottom layer of the disk acts as a lens, which focuses a larger patch of laser light down to a smaller size needed to see the track on the data layer. This lets the laser look through some small imperfections on the plastic surface which are much larger than the track on the data layer. Removing a lot of plastic can affect the refractive property of the lens making the data unreadable. This means that even a visibly scuffed or spider-web of scratches may play well because, though the defects are visible to your eye, the laser sees around/through them. This is why waxing can help. A repair doesn't have to look perfectly polished to work.

If the disc has important data on it, your best choice is probably to pay the money to get the disc repaired professionally before you try to repair it yourself. That way, you can make sure you don't damage the CD any further in your repair attempts.

If you have a lot of discs to repair, you might want to buy a CD refinishing machine. These can cost as little as $25, but highly effective industrial machines cost anywhere from $300-6,000.

To prevent damage to your CD player, make sure CDs are completely dry and free of excess polishing products or waxes before you attempt to play them.

Click this link to find reviews of various CD cleaning kits at

JFileRecovery can read movies and mp3s from seriously damaged CDs and hard drives.

Article Source:

Beep Baseball is all the buzz

The sharp crack of ball meeting bat. The umpire's cry of "Fair ball!" The flat-out foot-falls of the batter running toward base...

From the sound of it, you've just come across a good old-fashioned baseball game. Listen closer. The buzz you're hearing is more than the excited chatter of the crowd: it's coming from the base. And that beeping? It's not a car alarm triggered out in the parking lot. It's the ball, and it's on its way out of the park.

Welcome to Beep Baseball--an exciting blend of baseball, high-tech gadgetry, and genuine grit and go-for-it hustle. Beep Baseball was born as a response to the difficulties that playing America's pastime presented to people who are blind or visually impaired.

  • Beep Beginnings: The sport traces its origins to 1964 when Charley Fairbank, an engineer with Mountain Bell telephone company, installed a transmitter in a baseball. The result? A baseball that beeped. Charley shared his invention with schools for the blind and the device caught on with the kids. It also fired the imagination of a few adults.

    In 1975, a new, larger beep baseball was invented that could withstand the pounding incurred in game situations. With this new beep baseball, two teams in the Minneapolis-St.Paul region held what is considered the sport's first official game.

    The following year, the National Beep Baseball Association-- the sport's governing organization--held the first Beep Baseball World Series. A crowd of more than 1500 spectators cheered the local St. Paul Gorillas on to a 36 to 27 victory over the Phoenix Thunderbirds.

    While Beep Baseball holds much in common with Doubleday's invention, there are some significant differences.

  • Duration: A Beep Baseball game lasts six innings (unless the contest is tied, in which case the game goes into extra innings.) Each team receives three outs per inning, and each batter is allowed four strikes (rather than the traditional three) and the last strike must be a clean miss and not a called strike on a pass ball.

  • Design: The layout of the field is a little different in Beep Baseball. There are two bases, one located 100 feet up the left foul line from home plate, the other an equal distance up the right foul line. A four-foot tall, foam-encased audio unit is located at each base. When a batter gets a hit, one or the other audio unit is activated and the batter runs toward that base. If the runner reaches base before the fielding team retrieves the ball, he or she is safe and scores a run for the team. If the defending team fields the ball before the runner reaches base, the runner is out.

  • Dream Team: Pitchers and catchers are members of the batter's team. These sighted team-mates work with the batter--the catcher by giving the batter a target and the pitcher by announcing when the pitch leaves his or her hands. Using timing gained through practice and by listening to the ball's audio signals, the batter gauges when it's time to swing. If the batter does connect, the ball must travel more than 40 feet to be considered fair (any distance less is a foul ball). If the ball travels more than 180 feet in the air it's considered a home run.

  • Defense, Defense, Defense: When it's a team's turn to play defense, it sends just six players (rather than nine) onto the field. Since defenders don't have to tag bases to record an out, it's up to each team to determine the defensive placement of its players. There are two sighted spotters -- one working the left side of the field, the other the right -- to assist defenders. The spotters are allowed to tell defenders which section of the field a hit ball is in or heading towards. While caught-fly balls are rare in beep baseball,(just four in the history of the sport, according to the NBBA) it can happen. More often, defenders use their bodies to knock down grounders and line drives. This can result in the occasional bruise and skinned elbow and knee, so prospective players are encouraged to consider their acceptable threshold for pain before joining a team.

  • The Cost of Competing: Due to the specialized equipment needed to hold a beep baseball game, the sport isn't exactly cheap. The 16-inch audio softballs cost around $25 each, while the 4-foot foam-encased audio bases run about $175 per set. There is also the cost of blindfolds to be worn by any sighted batters and fielders.

  • Get in the Game: Beep Baseball has a growing base of supporters and players. There are Beep Baseball leagues in cities all around the country, league tourneys, and even a Beep Baseball World Series hosted by the National Beep Baseball Association.

Want to learn more about Beep Baseball? The following links should help you score some helpful information, including further discussion of the sport's rules, equipment suppliers, leagues and teams.

  • WCRS Presents Beep Baseball
    2004 was the fifth season of covering Beep Baseball on WCRS. On this page you will find the 2004 Viper Classic, and the 2004 World Series held in Columbus. The audio files are in MP3 format, so they can be downloaded to a portible device for listening, or listened to through your computer.
  • National Beep Baseball Association
    The official site of the National Beep Baseball Association contains info on the NBBA, a history of the sport, and audio clips of past Games of the Week featuring Beep Baseball teams from various parts of the country. Contact: Email the NBBA at

  • Ability Magazine, Camryn Manheim Issue
    The article on Beep Baseball in this issue of Ability Magazine provides a good overview of the history, development and rules of the sport.

  • Long Island Bombers
    Visit the official website of the Long Island Bombers Beep Baseball Team.

  • Click this link to watch an ESPN report on beep baseball

The Beep Baseball PodCast

Fans of the sport of Beep Baseball are probably wondering what is PodCasting? Then again, PodCasters are saying, "what is Beep Baseball!"

Well, of course, neither Beep Baseball or PodCasting have anything in common! This is where "The Beep Baseball Guy" comes in to the picture!

The Beep Baseball Podcast is a collection of files which you can download and listen on your computer or MP3 player.

Click this link to learn more about the Beep Baseball Podcast:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Online Guide to Dog Medical Conditions has announced the launch of its Dog Medical Conditions section, where visitors can find what may be ailing their dog by browsing through a list of symptoms. The symptom list, located at was compiled by Dog Fancy's "Ask the Vet" expert Karla Rugh, DVM, Ph.D. of Rocheport, Missouri. The section contains the 40 most common signs of a sick dog, from appetite changes to yellow eyes, along with possible causes and treatment options.

Dr. Rugh also offers her expertise in the Dog Skin Conditions area ( where visitors can match their dog's skin condition to photographs and read a description of the skin problem.

Dr. Rugh is the author of What About Labrador Retrievers? (Howell, 2003) and English Setters: Everything About Purchase, Care, Nutrition, and Behavior (Barron's, 2000).

Click this link to visit

DogChannel's Dog Medical and Skin Conditions are intended for educational purposes only. They are not meant to replace the expertise and experience of a veterinarian. If dog owners notice changes in their dog's health or behavior, they should take their pet to the nearest veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic as soon as possible.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Forty Things to Do with Old Socks

Deborah Ng over at Simply Thrifty created a great list of forty things you can do with old socks. This is a good one because, as we all know, there's always odd socks from the dryer. Here's her list:

  1. Use them for dusting - I know lots of people who put an old sock on their hands and dust. It’s especially great for nooks and crannies. I do this often with my son when he wants to help, it makes the work fun.
  2. Use them for kids’ crafts and make sock puppets.
  3. Make a sock frog.
  4. Make a cat toy buy filling with catnip.
  5. Make roses from baby socks.
  6. Place in door and window cracks to keep cold air from coming through.
  7. Use to store golf balls, tennis balls and other small toys.
  8. Fill part of the foot with potpourri and use as a sachet for drawers and closets.
  9. Use them to make wrist rests.
  10. Use them to wash or wax the car.
  11. Use it for a Christmas Stocking.
  12. Make a patchwork quilt. Cut the good parts into patches.
  13. Cut off the foot and use to insulate bottles and cups - keep the cold cold and warm warm.
  14. Use over ice packs.
  15. Make a sock garden.
  16. Use over hot water bottles.
  17. Use to moisturize very dry hands. Slather hands with lotion and cover with socks. Sleep on it and in the morning you have nice, soft hands. Ditto feet.
  18. Use on your Swiffer instead of the Swiffer sheets.
  19. Make a blanket out of socks.
  20. Take big socks and use to keep your shoes clean while doing chores or yard work.
  21. When I was a teenager we had a dog with a broken leg. We used old socks to keep the cast covered and dry.
  22. Make a rice sock.
  23. Make a sock monster.
  24. Make a tube sock snowman.
  25. Make a sock doll.
  26. Make a bunny sock doll.
  27. Make a sock purse.
  28. Make a heat pack.
  29. Make a back massager.
  30. Make a sock monkey.
  31. Make a sock bun.
  32. Make a sock dog.
  33. Make a “LuvSock” for your iguana. No really.
  34. Make a dog sweater.
  35. Make sock poi. I’m not sure what one is or what it does, but you can make it out of socks.
  36. Make a sock bird.
  37. Make baby legwarmers.
  38. Make arm warmers.
  39. Use to assist in removing scratches from furniture.
  40. Use for sending or packing fragile items.


You might also be interested in:

How about a bonus tip? I never thought of this super simple solution for an old sock, and I thought I'd heard all the cord organizing tricks out there! Courtesy of this month's issue of Real Simple, the editors suggest using an old trouser sock to wrap around cords to keep them together. Just snip off the toe part so you have a little tube, unplug from the power strip, insert the cords, and then plug them back in. I could also see using them to keep cords wrapped tightly around one another when they're put away.

Convert Blogs to Podcasts

Here are seven services that turn blogs and news feeds into audio files or podcasts.


Odiogo's media-shifting technology expands the reach of your content: It transforms news sites and blog posts into high fidelity, near human quality audio files ready to download and play anywhere, anytime, on any device. Odiogo mobilizes your media, transforming textual content into audio formats downloadable directly to the PC, iPods/MP3 players and mobile phones!

  • High quality text-to-speech solutions
  • Smooth integration with your website
  • Optional end-to-end advertising system
  • Comprehensive statistics
  • Flexible packaging options
  • Supports thousands of concurrent downloads
Click this link to visit Click any of the Fred's Head Companion pages to hear this service in action.


VozMe converts typed text to speech producing an mp3 file. VozMe can also be added to your blog or website as well as your browser. Both male and female voices are provided and several languages are available. Templates and complete instructions are given for the major blogging platforms, just follow the instructions and your blog will be talking within minutes.

Click this link to visit

If you can point to a Really Simple Syndication feed, it will convert it. can also provide you with a podcast of your favorite news sources, so you can have your own sort of radio newscasts downloaded to a portable player. is free if you listen to blogs that have arrangements with the service. A subscription plan is available if you want other blogs processed for playback.

Speakwire is offered by CEC Systems, whose primary business is Speegle (, a search service that speaks the results of Web searches.

Speakwire users can pick news feeds, collate them, and play them as a speaking newswire service. Speakwire news feeds by voice are available free at

AudioDizer uses AT&T's text-to-speech software to convert articles fed from newspaper and magazine Websites to MP3 files. The stories can be read by male or female voices in a variety of accents. AudioDizer can even add short music clips to turn a news story into a radio-style experience.

Click this link to visit


The world's first "talking social news site" at is a free "new media" service that lets anyone with Internet access or an MP3 player listen to thousands of breaking text news and blog stories that they would otherwise have to read.

Throughout the day, the site's proprietary software scours the Internet for text stories matching each user's preferences. The site then converts text content to near-human sounding audio in real time, using text-to-speech technology similar to technology used in talking GPS navigation systems.

During the sign up process, users select their favorite topics from hundreds of text-based news and blog publishers to create a "personalized talking newspaper." For deep personalization, users can choose content from fifty-seven unique categories, including Technology, Entertainment, Sports, Politics, Colleges, Business, Visually Impaired and more.

Users with iPods, iPhones, Zunes and other MP3 players automatically receive fresh content matching their preferences every morning for listening on-the-go, whenever and wherever they desire, allowing users to stay current on their favorite news and blogs without being at a computer. The company believes this feature will appeal to people with active lifestyles and commuters.

The site also includes rich social media tools for users to rate, share and participate in the distribution of news and blog stories. With a single click, users can email audio versions of stories to friends, or post them to Facebook, Twitter, Digg,, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Mixx, and other social sites.

The Fred's Head Companion has been added to the Visually Impaired catagory. If you have suggestions for this, or any catagory, email the feed name and RSS feed url to

Anyone with Internet access can sign up for the free service at

The Israeli based BNarrator gives your website a voice. The narration is implemented through a widget which you place on your site. After you place the widget on your web page(s), BNarrator is notified of new content and has its narrators work on your content. Once you approve the narration anyone will be able to listen to the link and they'll be able to grab the widget for their own site. There's also an RSS based widget for bloggers. For premium clients, BNarrator DailyCast plays multiple posts within one day; content can be played in sequence using the next and previous buttons, unavailable in other versions. Users will hear a brief ad before each narration begins, and they can choose to download them or listen to them on their mobile phones. Site owners can take a slice of the ad revenue, 30% with 5% going to support charities for the blind.

Click this link to learn more about

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Sources for Braille Math and Science Textbooks

Fred's Head would like to thank Susan Osterhaus of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, for allowing us to reprint this information. The comments that follow some of the entries in this list are hers, unless otherwise noted.

  1. APH
    P.O. Box 6085
    Louisville, KY 40206-0085
    Toll-free: 800-223-1839
    Fax: 502-899-2274
    Web: American Printing House:

    • Also check the LOUIS database.

  2. Computers to Help People
    825 East Johnson Street
    Madison, WI 53703
    Phone: 608-257-5917
    Fax: 608-257-3480
    Web: Computers to Help People:

    • If you are a blind engineer, mathematician or scientist you may be interested in the Technical Braille Center established by a non-profit organization. This center will produce highly technical material in Nemeth Code braille. Tactile graphics will be included where practical. Books will be available to anyone at prices depending on the cost of production.

  3. Emerald City Braille Center
    Lane Regional Program
    200 North Monroe
    Eugene, OR 97402

    • Transcription of print materials into Literary or Nemeth Braille; interlined Literary Braille on a Transcend System; minimum order: 20 pages.

  4. gh, LLC
    3000 Kent Ave.
    Suite E2-201
    West Lafayette, IN 47906
    Phone: 765-775-3776
    Web: GH, LLC:

    • Math and science textbooks in braille, tactile graphics, other products and services.

  5. National Braille Association
    3 Townline Circle
    Rochester, NY 14623-2513
    Phone: 716-427-8260
    Fax: 716-427-0263
    Help-Line: 800-244-5797
    Web:National Braille Association:

    • Mission: To provide continuing educationto those who prepare braille, and to provide braille materials to persons who are visually impaired. (For example: Nemeth Code Reference Sheet, publications and workshops on Nemeth Code, tactile graphics, and Nemeth translation software).

  6. National Braille Press Inc.
    88 St. Stephen Street
    Boston, MA 02115
    Phone: 800-548-7323
    Fax: 617-437-0456
    Web: National Braille Press:

    • Math textbooks

  7. National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
    Library of Congress
    Washington, DC 20542
    Phone: 202-707-9275 or 202-707-5100
    Toll-free: 800-424-8567
    Fax: 202-707-0712
    Web: National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped:

    • Administers a free library program of braille and recorded materials circulated to eligible borrowers through a network of cooperating libraries. Can also supply a booklet listing others willing to braille materials.

  8. Region IV Educucation Service Center
    Computer Braille Center
    7145 West Tidwell
    Houston, TX 77092-2096
    Phone: 713-744-8144
    Fax: 713-744-8148

    • Producer of Nemeth Code and tactile graphics materials including textbooks and standardized assessments.

  9. Region 20 Education Service Center
    Braille Department
    1314 Hines Ave.
    San Antonio, TX 78208-1899
    Phone: 800-514-9310
    Fax: 210-370-5696
    Web: Region 20 Education Service Center:

    • Producer of Nemeth Code and tactile graphics materials including textbooks.

  10. Braille Works
    941 Darby Lake Street
    Seffner, FL 33584
    Toll Free: 800-258-7544
  11. Visual Aid Volunteers
    617 State Street
    Garland, TX 75040
    Phone: 214-272-1615

    • Producer of Nemeth Code and tactile graphics materials including textbooks.

  12. Valley Braille Services
    4615 Swenson Street
    Suite 210B
    Las Vegas, NV 89119
    Phone: 702-733-6941
    Web: Valley Braille Services:

Even if a textbook is available, worksheets,reviews, tests, and other math materials will need to be transcribed into Nemeth code. I would suggest using translation software for these. [Fred's Head notes: Ms Osterhaus recommends using either MegaDots or else Duxbury Braille Translator (DBT WIN 10.3) in conjunction with Scientific Notebook. See her comments following MacKichan Software below]

The resulting Nemeth code materials need to be proofread and any errors corrected by an expert.

If the student is at the college level, it would be advisable to speak with people who are experienced with producing college materials in Nemeth code.

[Fred's Head would like to add that Ms. Osterhaus' web site contains a great deal of useful information refined through her 20+ years of experience teaching at the TSBVI. The URL follows below. It is well worth a visit!] Computers to Help People, Inc. (CHPI) is a private, non-profit organization founded in 1981 and based in Madison, Wisconsin. One of the organization's central services is its Technical Braille Center (TBC). The TBC produces textbooks in Braille, large print, and electronic formats for scientists, engineers and other professionals who are blind, dsylexic or paralyzed. TBC textbooks are transcribed according to the Nemeth Code of Braille Mathematics and Scientific Notation, 1972, and all graphs are provided on thermoform sheets. The organization takes custom orders and, once completed, offers copies of transcribed text books for sale. You may also search for CHPI text books in the Louis Database of Accessible Materials on the APH web site.

CHPI's founder and Executive Director, John J. Boyer, is himself both deaf and blind. In addition to his duties with CHPI, Mr. Boyer provides computer-training for disabled Madison-area residents and refurbishes old, donated computers for disabled people who could not afford them.

Free Guide to Designing Tactile Illustrations for Children's Books

Guide to Designing Tactile Illustrations for Children's Books

The Guide offers teachers, caregivers, and transcribers information concerning:

  • the role of tactile illustrations in books for a young child
  • challenges and limitations of tactile illustrations
  • factors that contribute to a well-designed tactile illustration
  • considerations in designing a meaningful tactile illustration
  • information supporting an overall sequence of difficulty for various types of tactile illustrations
  • types of tactile illustrations and tools and materials to create them

The 35-page illustrated Guide is available in multiple file formats:

  • HTML
  • Print PDF (Portable Document Format)
  • BRF (Braille Ready File)

Follow the link below to the format of your choice:
or visit the APH homepage, click the "Research & Development" tab, then select "Research Resources." Click on Guide to Designing Tactile Illustrations for Children's Books.

Please help us spread the word about the availability of this new and useful guide!

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The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) makes every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data contained in the Fred's Head articles; however, APH makes no warranty, guarantee, or promise, expressed or implied, concerning the content or accuracy of the information provided in Fred's Head. APH does not endorse any technique, product, device, service, organization, or other information presented in Fred's Head, other than products and services directly offered by APH.

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