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Inexpensive technology for overcoming hearing, speech and visual difficulties. Free tutorials and online programs.

Listening to Data: The Promising Sounds of Sonification

What is sonification?

Turning data into sound, or sonification, has been in the headlines lately, fascinating as it is because, well, “music from space” is part of it. Our interest in sonification is also reflected in pop culture: Have you seen the recent X-Files episode, in which agents Mulder and Scully investigate strange noises seemingly coming from the skies, which Mulder describes as “God blowing his own horn”?

Of course, music from space isn’t quite that. In a November 2015 article by Rossella Lorenzi, published on the Discovery News website, “Hear What the Earth Sounds Like,” Domenico Vicinanza, director of Anglia Ruskin University’s Sound And Game Engineering (SAGE) research group, talked about the algorithms he has developed with his colleague Genevieve Williams, to “give a specific pitch and melody to each image sent back from the satellite.”

“Sonification gives space research a new dimension. When you hear the resulting music you really are hearing the data,” commented Vicinanza, who, in addition to being a physicist, is a classical composer.

“Image May Contain…” – Alt Text and Other Breakthroughs in Assistive Technology

Sometimes the screen has to go dark in the middle of an important presentation to make a point. That’s exactly what Matt King did during his, to show others in the room what he sees. King is an engineer at Facebook, and is also blind.Facebook’s automatic alt text uses AIKing was presenting the results of the project he was part of at Facebook, an AI-powered tool, officially unveiled by the company on April 4.In its press release, “Using Artificial Intelligence to Help Blind People ‘See’ Facebook,” written by Shaomei Wu, Software Engineer and Hermes Pique, Software Engineer on iOS, and Jeffrey Wieland, Head of Accessibility, Facebook introduced automatic alternative text, or automatic alt text, a new development for its applications that generates a description of an image using object recognition technology.This is how the feature works, according to the press release:

People using screen readers on iOS devices will hear a list of items a photo may contain as they swipe past photos on Facebook. Before today, people using screen readers would only hear the name of the person who shared the photo, followed by the term “photo” when they came upon an image in News Feed. Now we can offer a richer description of what’s in a photo thanks to automatic alt text. For instance, someone could now hear, “Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.”

Chromebook Chronicles, Part 3

Staunton Media Lab (SML) has concluded its three-week workshop series on Chromebook via live broadcast on March 16. The workshop was held on Google Hangouts and streamed on YouTube. Chromebook is a cloud-based netbook computer with a WiFi connection and limited storage. Last week’s broadcast covered security, storage options, accessibility settings, among other features.

Below are a few key points that were covered this week.

Touchpad or mouse?

As MaryKatherine Feehan, SML’s social media volunteer coordinator, explained, the Chromebook’s touchpad has no left- or right-click button, so you can use a mouse, or you can try some tricks using your fingers and the touchpad:

  • move one finger to move the cursor
  • use two fingers to right-click
  • use two fingers to scroll it up and down the page
  • move two fingers left or right to go back and forward on a page
  • if you move three fingers up and down it will minimize the screen

Chromebook Chronicles, Part 2

The Staunton Media Lab (SML) has launched a series of copyright-free workshops, first announced in February, on using  Chromebook computers. The first installment aired March 1; it was a disaster and the video was quickly removed. The second session on March 9 went much better. The Google Hangout on Air ran live on YouTube and the video is now archived there.

The live, online workshop included a live transcription window. Theoretically, hearing-impaired participants could watch the transcript unfurl live online. In practice, the transcription software had trouble keeping up with four different participants. The service used, http://speechpad.pw, is free and is still highly recommended by the Staunton Media Lab for the hearing-impaired.

In the future, SML is working to add live ASL to the workshops, so that hard-of-hearing participants can watch the ASL screen and participate in the workshops that way. SML is also looking at adding an ASL translation to the video after it airs. If you know ASL and are interested in helping sign our webcasts, please contact Steve O’Keefe today. Thanks!

How Can You Help?

Check out our tutes! SML has copyright-free tutorials on accessibility, assistive technology, video editing, audo editing, Chromebooks, and many other topics available at YouTube, SoundCloud and from the SML website.

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Staunton Media Lab - Copyright 2017