As many of you will know Kraken my guide dog retired at the end of last September 
and is now enjoying a well deserved and relaxing time with me and an ever growing 
collection of toys.

People keep asking how long it will likely be before I get another dog which 
I'm sad to say will still be a good while.  Latest Guide dog official figures
report in February 2024 that there are around 1,200 people waiting for a dog, a 
rise of aprroximately 200 since Peter Osborne's, chief operations manager, May 2023 statement.
With 469 partnerships successfully trained in 2023 the maths don't look good 
especially for those just joined the list.

Where has guide dogs gone wrong? we know that covid  had an impact on so many
things but I feel/know that there is more to the problems with the guide
dog operation, have they diversified into too many areas of blind welfare and taken 
their eye off the dog training target? are they not listening to staff 
with years of knowledge such as Alan Brooks who is recognised internationally
for his work with guide dogs over many decades.

So much damage being done to so many people now, not only the dog owners 
but their families, work colleagues  and friends.  I just hope the situation 
can be recoverd before it totally falls apart.

And what can be done? Listen to the hundreds of guide dog owners and GDBA staff who 
are saying the new techniques are not working, remind senior managers and directors 
that what they are controlling is not a business but an organisation that provides
a very valuable service without which thousands of peopl will have their lives
damaged or in some cases destroyed.

The names and figures mentioned above can be found via a Google searches.
Had a few problems with the garden railway site domain but it should all be back
to normal now plus there is now a dedicated email address assigned to the railway:-
email the railway - stationmaster@theblatchingtonbranch.com
To allow me to use my computers for a wide variety of tasks I use the following
two accessibility software packages backed up by a selection of main stream items;

Accessibility:-
* NVDA 2023.3.3; Note this is the last version that will support Windows 7.
* BRLTTY 6.4.1 (6.6 works on Android but not on my Winds 11 machine yet);

and tend to use :-
* Brave 1.62.165;
* Firefox 123.0;
* Thunderbird 115.8.0;
* LibreOffice 7.6.4.1;

the combined effect of these products is to offer a fast and effective 
computer access suite for your Windows version 10 or 11 machines which is 
all free of charge! although please do make donations to the products if you can 
to keep the development of future releases possible.

Please note that version 6.6 of BRLTTY was released in July 2023 but I'm still 
unable to install it successfully on my Windows machines using an Alva 
terminal running via serial and/or usb to serial adaptor port.

My displays do work with the latest BRLTTY  release on my Android devices.
Although the weather did it's best last year to stop us playing trains on my
garden railway we did manage to open the line to the public on a couple of very
successful weekends when, with the help of my brilliant friends, we managed to 
not only have a great few days with the trains but also raised £1,400 for
charity.

We're hoping this year we'll manage three public running weekends when we'll
be once again playing trains and raising funds for the Juvenile Diabetes 
Research Foundation (JDRF) which was brought to my attention by one of my 
brilliant team of helpers.

Before all that can happen there's lots of work to do on the line including
installing a new section of track which should make the journey round the house
a bit more interesting.  We started this work last year but the weather
and supply of parts held us back.

Hope to see lots of you during the year, keep your eye on these pages for updates
and the 2024 timetable.
Better late than never - Happy new year!

And just what  does 2024 have in store?well much the same as 2023 I suspect!
More work on my garden railway, trying do get more out of my guitars,
trying to manage a few days away somewhere sunny and dealing with anything else 
that life chucks in my direction.
Coming to the end of 2023 it's time to visit these web pages to clear out some
dead wood and check a few links.  Also this is a good moment to remind 
everybody to check that you are using the latest versions of browsers and that you 
are seeing the latest versions of these pages.  To check your browser version 
look under the help menu and click on 'About', in most cases this will show 
the installed version and if an update is available.  To check if you are seeing 
the latest version of this page the bottom line on your screen should look something 
like:-
'Copyright Martin R. Murdoch 2006/2023 (MRMV = 12/10/2023 @ 10:35)'
(or a later date and time).  If it doesn't please try pressing F5 or Ctrl+F5 
to force your browser to reload the page from scratch.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all!
Hope you've found something to interest you in these pages over the last
year and I'm looking forward to doing more in 2024.

I wonder what 2024 will have to offer? certainly lots of work on the garden 
railway with hopefully three public running weekends, more guitar playing
and.... well who knows.
I've been caught, hands up!  Was looking for memory sticks to use as backup devices
and found a real bargain on Ebay - 2Tb for under £6 - too good to be true I hear
you say and you are righht it's a con.

Got the two sticks which work to an extent, they appear to work but when you try
to add large amounts of files they vanish as soon as you remove the stick from
the computer.  They appear to format and handle correctly but they dont.  The
device has been hacked, a smaller memory capacity being altered to show a
large capacity.

Researching this on the net further there are articles about this scam, large
memory sticks are available but at a much higher price.

I've reported this to Ebay.  Lucky for me it was on a few quid, lesson learnt.
As many of you will know I have a railway round my house which requires
regular work on it to keep it up and running.  To help me do this I have
a variety of tools to which I've added two more recently.

Sold by Machine Dro in the UK the spirit level and pretractor are produced
by wixy.com and are speech enabled via an app on your smart phone.

Gone are the days of a various pitch tone telling you the level now you get
a reading in degrees likewise with the pretractor as you move the arms apart
your are given the angle - a real bonus to these devices is that they are good and
designed for the sighted and still fully accessible.

I'll add links to these products and more details on a wixey page shortly, for
the time being if you'd like to find out more about the wr300bt spirit level 
or the wr41bt pretractor visit the web site below:-
Wixey tools details, reviews and instructions
Machine Dro (UK suplier)
I found the staff very helpful and there's a phone sales desk if you prefer.
After 9 years of hard and magnificent team work Kraken, my guide dog, will hang up 
his harness for the last time today and start a well deserved retirement 
staying with me as a much loved and wanted pet.

So many fond memories of nearly 40 years out and about feeling safe and proud of 
Bruce, Nelson, Trent and Krakan covering 100,000's of miles right across the 
UK and sadly to say the fear of what is to come in an uncertain future.

Earlier in the year I undertook three very unpleasant and humiliating 
interviews from guide dogs where my 40 years record with and experience of 
working dogs was more or less totally ignored and threats were made that if I 
did not agree with everything that guide dogs stipulated I would never get 
another dog.

Questions like 'Why do I want a dog?' and 'Why dont you use a stick?' were
asked; as if I'd commit to many years for the fun of it!

Anyway I got through all this and am now on the waiting list but with around a two 
year wait for a replacement guide dog from an organisation who I, like many other 
guide dog owners, can nolonger be confident in leaves me feeling dreadful.

They seemed to have lost their way with new training techniques introduced 
over the last few years also a massive widening of their scope of operation
into other spheres of sight loss welfare - try calling there contact number shown
on their website (0800 781 1444) and you findthat the first option on the main menu
is not for guide dogs!  Chuck into the mix a woke agenda and? well probably 
enough said for the time being.

I'm now setting out on my last walk with Kraken as a working guide dog with 
a very heavy heart, teers in my eyes and thoughts of going out the first time
on my own with Bruce my first dog all those years ago - it's safe to say they've 
have kept me sane - thanks boys.
This is going to be a dog week, a dog week I hear you ask? The weeks starts with
the anniversary with the 25 September being the birthday of my first guide dog 
Bruce who I teamed up with in the mid 1980's and the 30 September being the 
birthday and retirement day of my current working dog Kraken.

So many fond memories of years out and about with Bruce, Nelson, Trent and 
Krakan covering 1,000's of miles right across the UK and sadly to say the fear of 
what is to come in the future with around a two year waiting list for a replacement 
guide dog from an organisation who I'm no longer totally confident in.

They seemed to have lost their way with new training techniques introduced 
over the last few years also a massive widening of their scope of operation
into other spheres of sight loss welfare - try calling there contact number shown
on their website (0800 781 1444) and you findthat the first option on the main menu
is not for guide dogs - probably enough said for the time being.
A big thankyou to all who came along to the last railway weekend of 2023, a
good time was had by all and at the end of the years fund raising we were
able to send £1,400 to the Motor Neurone Association.

Thanks to my friends who help out at these events for all their hard work without
this brilliant team it would not be possible.

Now for a few months off before next years events, when I say time off that
excludes the new points to build, engines to repair and various bits to do on
the tunnel... a real quiet patch then!
Another two years gone by and time again to sort out a new mobile phone and
contract.  This year sees me leaving EE and moving to Three, after more than
25 years with Orange and then EE they could not offer me anything close to
many other suppliers £83 from EE and £53 from Affordable mobiles and as far as 
I can see an identical product.  Do spend time searching for contracts, 
you can save £100's over the contract term doing this but it will take some
time to work your way through the dozens of offerings from dozens ofproviders.

So anyway I'm now busy setting up my new Samsung galaxy S23 Ultra 256gb - so far so good!

A bit of a hitch trying to move my EE number to Three, the web site via my PC
was not accessible and I had a very difficult time sorting it out until I
found the Three disabled assistance phone number, after about 30 minutes on 
the phone things were setup and hpefully running.

If you have accessibility issues with Three try calling their dedicated
accessibility help line on 0333 338 1012.

I'll add details to various pages and make comments here shortly.
Thanks to everybody that came along to my railway open weekend and all my 
friends who help out at these events, together we've raised £550 for MND so far and
there's the september event still to go.

Now for more work on the railway to try and keep it up to scratch and even 
better than it is already.
One of those strange dates in life that makes you reflect on times gone by, the 
2nd July would have been my mothers 100th birthday - how the world has changed
over those years from her living in a cottage in rural Suffok lit by oil
lamps to are mobile phone technology of today.
Had my first play with Chatty GPT that you'll have heard about on the news recently,
not too difficult to sign up to and yes impressive but as articles have
mentioned the results can be off the mark.  For example I asked it about my
garden railway and it did tell me some things about it like there are bridges,
tunnels and landsape gardens (landscape is a little over the top) and then it mentioned 
going through fields! I wish.

Also signed up for Googles Bard but this has a waiting list before you can use it.

Anyway give them a try .... There's much more to explore here.
A new web site allows patients to get access to medical records, test results and
letters about their health care direct to them or does it?

I signed up for this service which sounded like a good idea but sadly, you guesed it'
it's not truely accessible!  The first copy of a letter I received was a PDF containing
a graphic representation of a text docuemnt so for me to readd it
with a screen reader I had to:-
* download the pdf to my pc;
* find a web service that would perform OCR on the document;
* Download the resulting .txt file;
* And then read it!
Certainly not happy that I had to upload what might have been a very personal file
to an unknown third party for them to read it.  Needless to say it was nothing that
intimate in this case.

I've contacted the web site and pointed out their legal duty to make material
accessible to all - we wati to see what they say.

I'll also make my local surgery and GP aware of the situation.
As a screen reader user on my PC and other digital devices I rely on  synthetic voice
to provide feedback from these devices.  Long gone are the scratchy robotic noises we
had we now get near human quality speech, think of the satnavc in cars or
the announcements on trains and buses.

For the main stream computer user these voices can be helpful too, having long documents
read to you or monitoring a process without having to keep an eye on a 
screen can be very useful.

Over the last week or so I've been revisiting these 'Text to speech' (TTS) systems and
have added to several pages on this site - highlights to be added here shortly and
lots more to add as technology moves quickly.

While doing these various edits I've also found several pages that needed bringing
up to date so you should find things working a lot better now!
After watching several reviews on YouTube I finally decided to order a Geekom
it11 mini PC - so far not impressed, infact bloody cross, as they claimed
delivery within 2 to 3 business days within the UK when I placed the
order on 16 January; Now on 31 January it finally arrived.

There was  no method of contacting the company during this time, emails got an 
out of office message saying they were on holiday likewise with phone calls.

When I got an email saying it was on its way even the tracking link did not
work and pointed me to a link asking if I wanted to be an Amazon delivery
driver.

Needless to say my credit card was debited on the 16 January for the full 
amount.

Not good for a world wide company so I ask myself:-

* Caution:- Have Geekom ceased trading?' or on the rocks?
*  Is Geekom a one man band working from a 'shed' in China?
* What is their technical support and after sales service like?

Strongly recommend before placing an order with them do call to see that
there is actually someone in the office and that they are not on holiday again!

Watch this space for comments on the machine itself once I've got it up and
running!
Several people have commented on the lack of quality of the thumbnail images
on the various picturs on these pages so I've had a look  round and found a
utility that should help this situation although it will take a good while to
work through the hundreds of images here.

While I was thinking about this my friend Marc Tiltman came across a very
interesting site that colourises black and white images, it's free and
easy to use.

Below you will see two images, the original photograph was taken around 1890;
|I've used the thumbnail and colouriser tools to get these results:-

Coming soon!
To try to keep things tidy I've started a new page with photography links,
may not come to anything but it's interesting what can be done.
Not sure how this is going to work out but I took delivery of this Samsung
smart watch today.  Mainly want to use it for health reasons to track blood
pressure and pulse etc. but thought it might be an interesting item to play
with.  Lets see if it lives up to the good press they keep getting and whether
it's useful or just a fashion accessory.

Will be using it with my Samsung galaxy S21, thoughts so far:-
* Setup requires sighted help to get talkback started (the screen reader);
* Linking phone to watch was simple, just follow your nose sort of stuff;
* Touch screen very fidley, not for those without steady hands and fingers.
* Looks like very good build quality;
* Cant shut the bloody thing up! doesn't seem an easy way to mute talkback when 
  not needed other than via settings.
* Much more to come!, probably develop a page about it;

Anyone who's got one or similar I'd be interested to hear how you get on with 
it.
Only seems such a short time since Kraken bounced into my life to take  over
from Trent my previous guide dog and now here we are starting to plan for
his retirement.

Before we go any further I'll be keeping him as a pet like I've done with my
other 3 dogs, I just could not part with them after such long and loyal 
service.

I'll be documenting the journey on these pages as we progress through the
time till a replacement can be found.  At the moment Guide dogs have a very
long waiting list which is put down to the effects of Covid but there is more
to it than that I feel, this looks like it's going to be a long, stressful and 
hard journey.
An extremely successful weekend on the railway which helped to raise £835 for
'Dogs for good'.  I'd like to thank all who came along over the weekend and
especially my friends who helped run the event, without them it just couldn't
happen.

In the minds of all who help run the railway we offered the Royal Family our 
heartfelt condolences at the recent death of queen Elizabeth, our thoughts were 
with them and of course to others who had lost a mum, dad or much loved friend
recently.

After talking to the team and the charity we supported I've decided 
we should continue with the open weekend as I suspect the queen herself would
have done.  
Turned my Android smart phone on this morning to find it had gone mad! the
speech rate was so fast.... anyway after a struggle I found the following
voice command that helps:-

Start voice command
1. On your device, one-finger swipe right then up.
2. Listen for the confirmation sound.
3. Speak your command.

To slow the voice rate say:-

"Decrease speech rate"

There are many other Talkback voice commands that are listed on the link 
below:-
List of Talkback voice commands
We all know that you've got to look at several online shops and retailors to
find the best price but it was only recently I came across another thing to
look for.

When buying my new DVD player a few days ago I found that the price at the
same shop varied by £10 depending on the device I used to access the internet, 
using a smart phone the price was £199 whilst on my windows desktop computer 
the price was £189 - same item, same retailor but 5% difference on the price.

Will be double checking in a few days and then talking to trading standards.
A number of my friends recently have mentioned that they are increasingly being
worried by the effects of tinnitus and as such have been looking for ways to
ease the problem.  One technique is to use a white noise generator, to cut
things short the Soundscape project that I'm working on might do the trick too.
So if you or one of your friends is effected by tinnitus why not point them
in the direction of the Soundscape project and see if it helps.

Below ar two links the first to the British tinnitus association and the second
to the Soundscape project:-
British tinnitus association
The Soundscape project
Is it just me or do people find it annoying and somewhat worrying when business
websites are not willing to clearly provide an address or phone number?
The lack of full contact details puts me off using such companies as I feel
that they don't trust their own product or abilities to provide a service. Also
if there are further details of a product you require a string of emails starts,
plus consider that not all web pages are accessible to some computer users
so this lack of contact could actually be a form of discrimination.
So if you feel the same let's stop using such businesses and where possible
drop them an email to let them know that they have lost your business in therailway
process.
Not that I'm much good at it but over the last few months I've been playing a
lot more with my guitars and added a couple of new ones too.  None of them are
high value instruments but all play nicely and are fun!  The latest to enter 
the collection are a Revelation RTE54 which is a very close run thing to a
Fender Telecaster, a Vintage V100 which is similar to a Gibson Les Paul, a 
Vintage v6 Stratocaster style and finally (for this year) a Vintage VSA500 
which heads towards the design of a Gibson 335.
This week I lost a very good friend to cancer, Tom Cunliffe who I first met 
when working in Hastings 30 years ago lost his battle with cancer last
week.  Tom was always very supportive to me in many ways especially when it
came to music, a excellent guitarist and mandolin player he gave me the push
I needed to keep playing and to try new things.

In the YouTube link above you can see him performing one of his own songs which 
is, in my mind, brilliant and is part of a lovely legacy - please do give it a 
listen and also please do search for his many other musical clips on YouTube.
There are now several text to speech services that you can plug into your web
site to get them 'talking' to you but so far few sites take advantage of this
facility.  

I've recently been playing with such systems to get the Tannoy working on my 
soundscape project and as a result of this work have added some new features to 
the feedback form on the contact details page listed in the contents section above. 

Now if you miss a field in the feedback form and try and submit it you will be
told which field is missing or if there is a problem with the email address,
please try it and let me know if it is useful or annoying!  I certainly think 
that the technique would be very useful on large forms where it can be quite
tricky to spot where you've gone wrong.
For those of you currently on DLA you might find the following link of interest,
it's a very strange & scarey process for many, people being told that you cant
be blind as you are looking at them etc. & that is from the expert assessing 
you for the benefit!  Don't panic though, many are successful with their claim.
PIP assistance
Went to my good friend Mike gold's 50th a few days ago & Jan managed to catch
this picture of St. Paul's church Chigwell - hope you like it.
Thanks to John Squire I was lucky enough to get a trip to the Lynton & 
Barnstaple railway in his 1931 Rolls Royce to attend the lines gala weekend at 
the end of September.  Pictured above is the car with Sid, one of the locos 
that was in steam for the weekend - a boys dream too, I had the chance to drive 
the loco for a couple of minutes!  Many thanks to Tony Nicholson for the copy
of the picture - my camera decided to play up at the vital moment!
Just to show the world my mum was not the only person with green fingers in
this family, mind you it does help that it is the sort of plant you can
forget for up to a month without the bloody thing dying on you!
There are several reasons for why I started to build these pages, firstly it
gives me some practical purpose to play with HTML & Javascript, secondly it 
will eventually, hopefully, provide examples of both attractive and accessible 
web page design which can be used as an outline reference for others involved 
in web page creation - who knows, the contents might even be useful!

This site is constantly being tested with a variety of screen readers & access
devices running on Windows 11 and 10 machines including:-

* NVDA 2023.3.3 with Acapela, Espeak, Vocalizer and BRLTTY 6.4.1 (6.5 still not working
   for me))
* Various Alva Braille terminals, mainly Alva satelite 584 pro,
* Mozilla Firefox 123.0 (64 bit), Brave 1.62.165, Google Chrome 121.0.6167, 
  Opera, Microsoft Edge and Vivaldi,
* Firefox on Samsung galaxy S23 ultra running Android 14.0 (Accessibility suite 
  version 9.2?) and BRLTTY 6.5;

I'm no longer testing with:-
* Jaws screen reader due to lack of Braille support on 64 bit systems and
  price;
* Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8.0 or 8.1.  Windows 8.1 and beyond should not have any
  problems.

The upshot of all this testing is that these pages should be fully accessible 
by the blind & many of those using speech recognition systems.

I will be adding more detailed notes on design considerations with examples
of small HTML changes that will make all the difference to disabled
users being able to access your web pages easily.

The contents of these pages are always changing so please do visit frequently
to find updates.

If you have noticed any bugs on these pages or have found a broken link please
do let me know via the feedback form which can be found along with my contact 
details.

I'm always looking for bits to add so let me have links I should include
especially if they use fancy HTML that is still accessible.

Just a small bit of legal stuff here, although most of the material contained 
in these pages is largely in the public domain please do contact me before 
using any text, photos or videos to double check that they are free to use.

Thankyou to Responsivevoice.org who provide the spoken prompts on these pages