As some of you may be aware, I’ve been a huge lover of text to speech (TTS) content for a long while, having first stumbled across TTS videos on YouTube in 2013. I can’t quite remember the first TTS video I watched, other than the fact that it featured Microsoft Sam. This was before I’d officially entered the world of smartphones and got a computer of my own, so I was confined to an Xbox with no screen reader for browsing YouTube.
At the very end of 2020, I decided that I’d do what I’ve been wanting to do for years and become a member of the TTS community (or TTSC for short) with the goal of eventually making my own TTS content. After all, I’m not the only blind person out there who’s into TTS. Chris Wright, formerly known as BlindGamer95, also creates TTS videos. It is worth noting, however, that because I’m without any eyesight, my content will be quite different to that of creators such as Thunderbirds101 and AT88TV, both of whom I mentioned in my 5 people I’d like to get to know in the Text to Speech community post. This post will explain exactly how my TTS content will work. That way, if I get a comment like: “Hey, why doesn’t this video have any images like a proper TTS video should?”, I can just point them to this post.
So, let’s get going!
There is next to nothing in the way of a screen reader accessible video editor out there. Not within my price range, anyway; money is basically nothing right now. That’s why, unfortunately, my text to speech content will contain no images or other visual effects. Normally, in something like an error video, the audio of a TTS voice reading the error will be synced with an image of the error, generated by a tool such as Atom Smasher’s Error Message Generator. The same goes for funny/weird sign videos. However, due to the reason I cited above, none of that is possible for me. Instead, you will only hear the voice reading the error or sign.
Sounds before errors
Normally, sounds aren’t cued unless a TTS voice malfunctions after raging at an error or there’s an OS switch, such as upgrading from Windows 95 to Windows 98 or downgrading from Windows XP to Windows 2000. In case of the former, the respective error sound of the operating system related to the error, such as Windows 95’s chord sound, will be cued. In case of the latter, the shutdown sound of the current operating system, followed by the startup sound of the new operating system, and its login sound if applicable, will be cued. However, I’ll have to make up for my lack of visuals with extra audio. Therefore, if I’m doing an error video, a single OS-related sound will be played before the error is read. For instance, if the current operating system in use is Windows XP, the critical stop sound will play. If it’s Windows 2000, 98 or 95, the chord sound will play. If Microsoft Sam should rage so hard that he flies off the face of the planet, either a small section of a sound will be looped to create a glitch/computer crash effect, or a massive explosion sound will play. It all depends on what best fits the mood.
I haven’t yet figured out what I’m going to do for stuff like sign videos, Christmas specials etc, so if you have any ideas, feel free to let me know in the comment section down below this post.
I hope this post helps you understand how, and why, my text to speech content will be different to that of other creaters in the TTSC. The reason I’ve been putting off doing TTS content for so long, besides not having the knowledge or tools to do so years ago, is because I’ve always been afraid that the TTSC would simply cast me out or think nothing of me for not being able to meet their standards and expectations.
I can’t exactly remember when I first encountered Nathan Tech, but I know it was a while ago; long before this site, and the Fireseed Network in general, was a thing. I found out about a MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) called Cosmic Rage. I was actively searching for MUDs to get into at the time, so I thought I’d try it out. Unfortunately, it turned out that me and MUDs don’t exactly mix. However, when I landed on the website where the MUD was, I did some deep diving and found that there was a whole lot more to this content generating entity than just Cosmic Rage. An RSS feed reader? A media player? A website builder? What the hell was going on here?
I eventually found out that the creator of these projects was a blind UK-based software developer by the handle of Nathan Tech. Having tried some of his products over the years, and having had the honour of actually meeting the man himself at the beginning of this year, I thought to myself: why not write a review about this guy? However, this thought would soon recede into the back of my mind and fade to dust. The event that really inspired me to write this article was a March Pat Price Tek Talk podcast in which Nathan discusses the history of Nathan Tech and the software and other projects he’s developed over the years.
Who, or what, is Nathan Tech?
First, let me start by saying that Nathan Tech is not this guy’s real name. It is simply the handle that all his projects fall under. His real name is actually Nathan Smith, which he shares publically.
As I mentioned above, Nathan Tech is a blind software developer from the United Kingdom. I say software developer, but he’s done a lot more than just develop software since he started in early 2013. Some of his most notable works include audio tutorials covering writing websites in HTML5, programming in Python and using Apple’s VoiceOver screen reader on iOS. He has also made some audio games over the years. The following is a list of some of his software projects.
Calliope, a powerful media player that has support for many different file types. It’ll basically play any audio or video file you throw at it.
Luna RSS, a fully featured RSS feed reader, podcatcher and feed builder
Sunrise Waterfall, a feature-packed utility that allows you to make awesome websites and documentation files without any coding skills whatsoever
All Nathan Tech’s software is 100% accessible to the blind/visually impaired. It is also written for Windows, which kind of makes sense when you think about it. Nathan Tech, NT, Windows NT!
How this review works
This review is divided into 3 sections: upsides, downsides, and over all rating out of 10. The magnitude of the upsides and downsides will decide the over all rating, so future review subjects… beware! Each upside and downside will be titled with a level 3 heading, then a brief explanation will follow. Don’t fly in expecting a perfect 10, however, as there’s a downside to all things in this world, and not everyone is perfect.
1. Nathan Tech gives all and expects nothing back
Every single project of Nathan Tech’s is usable by everyone free of charge, and nothing is expected of anyone in return. Basically, Nathan’s view on donations is that if you’re going to ask for donations, you might as well charge. While I kind of agree with him, I have to ask: is he sort of saying that projects like NVDA should be paid? Never the less, this is definitely worth a million altruism points.
2. No annoying nags
Before I continue with the video, let me remind you to please subscribe to my channel and purchase my merch.
Today’s Top Deal! (insert product here) is now 75% off for one week only!
We’ve all been there before. Don’t you just find yourself pressing the skip button? I do. However, Nathan Tech doesn’t do any of that stuff. What you get with Nathan Tech is free of charge and free of hassle! Like a radio station that lets you enjoy your favourite music hits constantly without cutting to a 10+ minute ad break every 5 god damn minutes, or ending a song after the first verse so the DJ can chat a load of useless hot garbage about “the latest trend that’s sweeping the internet!”.
3. Always willing to improve
No project is free of errors, and Nathan Tech’s projects are no exception. However, he’s always reaching out to people for ways he can make his work better for everyone, be it fixing software bugs, correcting errors in a tutorial or improving the accessibility and user experience of his products. Most companies will just give you a canned reply, telling you that they value your feedback and they’ll pass it on to their teams so they can look into it. The next thing you know, it’s 5 months later and the company hasn’t done a god damn thing to resolve the issue you reported. Either that, or they started working on your issue 3 months prior, but have been too busy sitting on their backsides all day drinking tea to finish the job. Give Nathan a problem to solve, and it’ll most likely be solved in a matter of days or weeks!
4. He knows how to deal with tech illiterates
If there’s one thing Nathan is a lot better at than me, it’s dumbing stuff down so that the computer illiterate crowd can understand the points he’s putting across. Not only that, but he breaks things down into little pieces, assisting those who struggle to process very large amounts of information so they can take each bit of information in and process it in their own time. This is especially good for people like me who have a hell of a hard time dealing with huge user manuals with thousands of pages and subpages that are divided into a hundred different sections and subsections.
5. Accessible to all
I mentioned at the start of this article that Nathan Tech’s products are 100% accessible to the blind/visually impaired. However, they are really built with everyone in mind, no matter what kind of disability you have, or if you’re not disabled at all. Nathan’s tag line is
It’s not disability, it’s ability
. I don’t agree with this all the way from a realistic, scientific prospective, but the work he produces for the community at large really lives up to it.
Honestly, the upsides mostly outweigh the downsides. However, as I stated at the start of this article, everything in this world has a downside.
1. OS Limiting
OK, I’ll be reasonable with this one, as not everyone has the same mind set as me. If you know me well, you’ll know that I absolutely hate OS limiting software. That is, software that has very strict operating system requirements, such as only running on 64-bit versions of an operating system or requiring the latest and greatest operating system in order to run; I’m looking right at you, AltStore! Being a part of the vintage/retro tech community, I believe software developers should strive to make their software available on as wide a range of operating systems as possible, both new and old. Why can’t we have more RetroArch’s in this world?
A large amount of Nathan Tech’s software, including Calliope and Sunrise, suffers from OS limiting, requiring at least Windows 7 with a bunch of updates in order to run. However, they do support Windows 7, and they do run under 32-bit versions of Windows. Also, Luna RSS has Windows XP support. Hell, I even managed to get the thing to run under Windows 2000!
2. He was here, now he’s not
Again, I won’t be too harsh with this one, as I believe Nathan is doing a university degree at time of writing. I know how stressful education can be, I’ve been there many a time. However, it can be quite frustrating at times. Nathan can be very active online, chatting, developing, releasing… and then he’ll just fly off the face of the earth, taking days or even weeks to return.
Over all rating
Over all, Nathan Tech gets an excellent 8.75 out of 10. His altruistic nature, fiery passion for his work and willingness to help and support others no matter what earns him my highest honour. Let’s all take our hats off to this guy and what he brings to our world! Keep up the awesome work!
If you’d like to experience Nathan Tech’s work and show him some love yourself, you can check out his website and follow him on Twitter. The more people who know about this guy, the better. So go on, spread the awesomeness!
Last month saw the 2 year anniversary of what was quite possibly the most devastating event of my cyber life. I’m still feeling the pain and recovering to this very day. In this blog post, I’ll explain everything that happened, as well as the act of sheer stupidity on my part that caused it. Be warned, however, this post contains a hell of a lot of tech language. Therefore, you may want to
have the Tech Terms Computer Dictionary open in a separate tab for reference to save your brain from exploding. I’d rather not spend all day cleaning up pieces of your grey matter, thank you very much.
At this particular time, my 2016 Stone Group laptop, which has a 2.3GHz Intel Pentium 3550M and a 500GB Western Digital HDD, was running Windows 10. I really wasn’t happy with this. The system would run slow as hell at times, the fans were always on full power for no reason, and… well… it ran the giant piece of spyware, adware and bloatware we all know as Windows 10! I wanted to restore the laptop to its former glory by downgrading it to its home operating system, Windows 8.1. However, there was one problem, I didn’t have a clue how to access the PC’s BIOS or boot menu screen. As any competent PC user knows, installing a different operating system requires that you boot into external media, be it a CD, DVD or USB drive. Because Windows 8.1’s boot image doesn’t come with Narrator, I’d have to boot into a special preinstallation environment (PE) with the NVDA screen reader installed, then launch the Windows setup program from another resource, such as an ISO file or other storage location.
After turning the web upside down, I eventually found what seemed like the perfect solution to my problem. EasyBCD by NeoSmart Technologies is a tool that allows you to modify the Windows boot configuration database (BCD) so you can get a dual boot configuration going. Since it modifies the Windows boot loader, it doesn’t require any form of BIOS access. Many minutes of fighting with not so EasyBCD were spent before I finally had a boot entry configured for my talking PE. Then, it was time for the downgrade party to begin!
Where it all went awry
Here’s where things start to go sideways. I’m booted into the preinstallation environment, proceeding through the standard Windows 8.1 setup steps. I selected my region, language and keyboard layout, chose a partition on which to install Windows and waited a while for the setup program to copy files and do whatever else it needed to do.
I noticed something was wrong seconds after the laptop restarted. There was no activity from the 500GB Western Digital drive. Usually, with mechanical hard drives, you can hear quiet clicking sounds as the drive head reads and writes data to the drive. In this case, however, there was nothing. Complete silence. I waited about half an hour, then pressed Windows + Enter to see if Narrator would start. The initial installation stage was complete at this point, so Narrator would have indeed been available for the rest of the setup process. However, nothing happened when I used the Win + Enter shortcut. I waited 10 to 15 minutes and tried the shortcut again, but still nothing happened.
After many restarts and a call to the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk through the free Be My Eyes service, I eventually found out what the problem was. In a fit of utter idiocy that Homer Simpson would be proud of, I’d forgotten to format the drive before installing Windows, ultimately frying the boot loader and making the system completely unusable! And things were about to get a whole lot worse!
The Real Devastation
Many days have passed. My PC is still in an unusable state, even more so than before. The BIOS is now all kinds of messed up, and my talking Windows preinstallation environment, my one and only lifeline, was no more. Don’t ask me how this happened; I have absolutely no clue! The PE, along with all my other data, was stored on a 1TB Toshiba HDD, since that was the only means of external data storage I had at the time. I knew I only had one option, which I was not going to like one bit! I was gonna have to use my mum’s crappy Lenovo laptop to download another copy of the talking PE and write it to the Toshiba drive. This, of course, requires that the drive be reformatted… destroying all the data on the drive! Oh, and I also needed another Windows 8.1 ISO. After what felt like forever and a week, I finally had a new, fresh, clean PE drive to boot from. But I knew I couldn’t even attempt to boot from the thing, knowing the way my computer’s BIOS was. Luckily, I was able to find the manual on the manufacturer’s website and use it to help me reset the BIOS back to default. It took another call to the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk to get me around the BIOS and into the PE where I could independently install Windows. Soon, I had a clean install of Windows running and my PC was alive once more! However, all that rewriting of PE images and reformatting of drives had resulted in a combined total of over 500GB (half a terabyte) of valuable data being permanently lost. I’d experienced the digital equivalent of a house fire, losing all my personal belongings and everything I held dear in the blink of an eye.
2 Years On
Here we are, 2 years on from that fateful period. The Stone laptop is still alive and well, now quite happily running Windows 7. Yes, I know Microsoft doesn’t support Windows 7 anymore, but quite frankly, I couldn’t give 3 craps! I like Windows 7 and it works well for me. There is an enthusiastic community of retro tech lovers out there who are doing all they can to keep it and other icons of the past alive. I’m proud to be a part of said community and won’t be leaving any time soon! I’m also much more cautious about backing up my data now. I still have my 1TB Toshiba drive, but now I’m making use of cloud storage services like pCloud and OneDrive, so I always know where my data is. I also make more of a deal out of saving my work often. If I’m not sure if I’ve saved a piece of work yet, I save it anyway, even if I did actually save it earlier on. Better to save twice than to not save at all.
I’d also like to thank Be My Eyes and the awesome Microsoft Disability Answer Desk staff for helping me get back on my feet. I really don’t know what I’d have done without them.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an expert when it comes to computers and technology. Conceded, I don’t know every single nitty gritty detail, but then again, who does? The field is so wide and it’s getting wider and wider by the day; it’s virtually impossible to know every single thing about the cyber world. In my many years of experience with computers, I have grown to really detest certain things people might say or do. If you want to get along with me in any computer related conversation, these are the things you need to watch out for and avoid at all costs!
1: Browsing the internet
Think about what you’re saying when you say “Browsing the internet”. The internet is a network of networks. Computers, routers, printers, smartphones, tablets, smart home appliances, all interlinked together. Are you saying that you have access to every single device connected to the internet and you’re browsing through their files right now? You must be the best hacker in the world! No, what you mean to say is: “Browsing the web”. The web is a large collection of HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) files that reside on millions of high-powered computers located across the world known as web servers. The web, or the World Wide Web, is a feature of the internet; it is not the internet! Why do you think web browsers, web servers and websites have the word “Web” in their name?
2: My (insert here) is not working
“My Facebook isn’t working”. “My Google won’t load”. These are phrases I really hate! You don’t own Google. You don’t own Facebook. They’re not yours. You’re really talking about the products, not the company itself. Say things like: “The Facebook app on my phone won’t load” or “I can’t seem to access Apple’s website”. It will make life a whole lot easier for me when trying to diagnose what the problem might be and it’ll also save you from getting an apple pie in the face.
3: It’s a virus!
Computer is running extremely slowly: virus. A program crashes while you’re working: virus. You get popup messages in your web browser: virus. Seriously, there are more than just viruses you know! There are many different types of malware including spyware, viruses, worms, trojans, keyloggers, adware etc. Yes, they can be extremely harmful to your machine, but they’re not all viruses! For god’s sake, get it right! Refer to the Tech Terms Computer Dictionary for information about the different types of malware your machine can pick up.
4: A tower drive?
No, that large box thing is not the hard drive! That’s called the tower unit or system unit. All your computer’s components, including the hard drive, Central Processing Unit (CPU), RAM and ROM chips, NICs (Network Interface Cards) etc, are all housed inside the tower unit. They are all connected together by slots and wires on the motherboard. Please, never again refer to the tower as the hard drive, CPU or anything else like that!
5: Big B, little b
Nothing makes me want to angrily smash every window in my house more than when bits and bytes get mixed up. Get this straight: a bit is a single binary digit (a zero or a one). A byte is a group of 8 bits. Bits are indicated by a little b while bytes are indicated by a big B. Bytes are commonly used to measure file sizes and drive storage capacities. Byte measurements include kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes and terabytes. Bits, however, are commonly used to measure data transfer speeds (bits per second). See this paragraph.
The file I am downloading is 500MB in size. My download speed is 60Mbps.
Can you tell the difference? Just remember: a byte is bigger than a bit, so you use a big B.
6: I just got hacked
This is kind of similar to number 3. People sometimes think that just because their PC is displaying weird pop-up messages or running slow as hell, the PC has been hacked. If someone somehow managed to decrypt the password of your user account and use a remote access tool to log into your PC over the internet, then yes, your computer has been hacked. Getting pop-up messages and being redirected to dodgy websites is just a result of you clicking links you shouldn’t have clicked in the first place. Also, leaving your PC unlocked and coming back to find a casino site on your screen doesn’t count as getting hacked. That’s just your own stupid fault for not logging out or pressing Windows + L to lock your account before stepping away from the PC! The access is already there, so no hacking is needed.
7: Just google it!
Admit it! You say it too! In fact, pretty much everybody says this. The problem with this is that it assumes Google is the only search engine out there. What about Yahoo, Bing and Duck Duck Go? Yes, I know Google has enslaved half the population of planet Earth and you might not get the same results from other search engines, but other search engines do exist! Instead of saying “Google it”, say “Look it up online” or “do a web search”.
So, there you have it! 7 extremely annoying tech related things I absolutely cannot stand. I will definitely make a part 2 if I think of any more. Remember guys, if I catch you doing or saying any one of these 7 things, there will be hell to pay!
Those who know me well will know I am an expert when it comes to computers. Whenever someone in my family has an IT problem, I’m always the first to know about it. The question is, just why do I love computers so much? In this post, I will try to answer that question in the best way I can. Also think of this as my computing life story.
I’ve always been very much into how stuff works since I was a really small child. I did everything from messing around with light switches to randomly pushing buttons on TV remotes to taking the batteries out of stuff and trying to figure out which way they went back in.
It was the early 2000s; I wanna say around 2002/2003. My dad, who was in the army at the time, had a friend who worked for Microsoft. This was when my cyber life started. I was given a house-built desktop PC made by this friend of my dad’s and I loved it to death. I can’t quite remember the exact hardware specs, but it ran Windows 95 and came with a CD-ROM drive and a 3.5in floppy drive. I never got to use the floppy drive though as we had no floppy disks. I loved Windows 95 back then and still love it to this very day. I played many games on that PC. These included
Tonka Workshop, a game where you build and mend things such as houses, cars, computers etc and take part in fun games and contests.
Playskool Store, a casheer simulator type game where you had to price up items that customers wanted to buy, scan items and so on. You got gold stars for every successful transaction. If you got 15 gold stars, you got a virtual paycheck that you could print out.
The first time I used a computer in an educational environment was in my first years of primary school. It was a Packard Bell laptop that ran what would become my second favourite and still used operating system, Windows 98. This was also the time when I was learning how to touch type and how to use a screen reader. The reader I used at the time was the much loved and despised JAWS screen reader. I also had a laptop of my own around that time. It ran Windows 2000 and had the 40 minute trial version of JAWS because no way were my parents gunna pay a thousand quid for the thing! Unfortunately that glory was short-lived as my computer illiterate mother loaded the laptop with malware and it never saw the light of day again!
2007 was the year I got introduced to audio games. My school laptop, which ran Windows XP, had a selection of audio games including Crazy Darts, Sonic Match and Savage Gamut. Sonic match is a game where you have to press the arrow key(left, right, up or down) that corresponds to a specific sound. Savage Gamut is a hard-as-hell boxing game I still have yet to master.
Fast forward to 2009. I’m in a new house and a new school. My old custom-built desktop is still alive and well, now running my most favourite OS, Windows XP. I got myself introduced to one of the worst laptops I ever used. Well, the laptop wasn’t bad, but the screen reader was. Enter Supernova, one of theeeeee worst readers I’ve ever encountered! Seriously, why is that thing still around? It ran Windows XP and had Microsoft Office 2007 installed, so that was an upside I guess. More downsides were to come though, as 2011 was the year I said goodbye to my house-built desktop beast. I still miss the thing now. I hope to find it one day and see that it still works.
The period from 2012 to 2017 was when my love for technology would start to turn into frustration. Enter the crappy Windows 7 HP laptops from my secondary/high school days. That thing was the slowest slow thing to ever exist in the very slow world of slow things. It should take a few seconds to log into Windows, not 5 minutes! I also had to use Microsoft Narrator… I’ll leave you to figure out how that went. 2013 was the year I entered the world of note takers. My school’s sensory support team decided to purchase the Braillenote Apex… big mistake! Seriously, Uranium-235 is more stable than that thing! It froze, crashed, died and errored out like there was no tomorrow. In early 2014 I started to teach myself HTML because I wanted to create a website. At the time, I was confined to an iPhone and had no idea what a web host was. I launched many different websites on many different hosting platforms throughout 2014, all of which have since died out. 2015/2016 was the Python/MySQL period. Let me tell you, if I ever have to use MySQL ever again, I’ll rip my hair out!
This takes us up to right now. I’m currently studying Media at college after just finishing an IT course. The last year or 2 has seen me dig deeper into different operating systems such as GNU/Linux and MacOS. I now have an iPhone, an iPad, a Windows 7 laptop which I’m using to write this blog post and 2 Xbox consoles, an Xbox One and an Xbox 360. Also, my obsession with computers and technology is now stronger than ever. Who knows where the next 17 years will take me. We’ll just have to wait and C++