Shareware Beach

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Having Eyes Is Cheaper

Filed under: Ergonomics — Jan @ 18:39

I just replied to an inquiry from a blind prospective EditPad customer. Apparently (a beta version of) his screen reader won’t read EditPad’s “File” menu. I find that a bit weird as EditPad uses an ordinary Delphi TMainMenu. If the bug is indeed with EditPad, then it’s a bug in Delphi.

Anyway, as I was looking into the matter I saw the prices on the Window Eyes web site. Ouch! That’s more than most people spend on their whole computer. Even a 60-day trial costs almost as much as a full license to EditPad Pro! Having eyes is definitely cheaper. You can buy yourself a very nice pair of LCD screens for $895 these days.

So I thought maybe this product is a bit overpriced. So I looked at the prices for JAWS, which one of our long-time blind EditPad users swears by. The standard version costs exactly the same. The braille displays in the same store make my DataHand look absolutely cheap.

Our products have quite a few blind and low-vision customers. I’m always happy to improve our products to make them easier to use for these people, even when it doesn’t make sense from a financial point of view. I prefer to contribute to society this way instead of handing out money to charities.

Hopefully CodeGear won’t procrastinate on adding full MSAA (Microsoft Active Accessibility) support to Delphi as long as Borland has. MSAA is essentially an easy way for developers to describe what’s being shown on the screen, so screen readers and other accessibility software can deal with it without guessing. Instead of the screen reader looking and a handle and figuring out if it looks like a menu bar, EditPad would simply tell that the File menu is active. (Actually, Delphi’s VCL would do it. I would just fill out a few more properties.)

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Lovin’ My Dual Monitors

Filed under: Hardware & Gadgets — Jan @ 17:58

I’ve been on the road (or should I say: in the air and on the rails) for a bit over two weeks. Sitting down at my desktop PC again, I couldn’t help but be happy about sheer space and luxury offered by the dual monitors on my desk. And they’re only 19″ TN LCDs, which today occupy pretty much the bottom of the market. At 1280*1024 each they’re giving me about 2.5 times the virtual real estate the 15.4″ 1280*800 LCD on my laptop gives me. And that’s pretty big for a laptop.

If you have a lonely LCD sitting on your desk, and you’re staring at it all day, tell Santa to bring it a buddy next month. You’ll wonder how you ever managed to get any work done with just one screen. Unless that happens to be a 30″ monster, of course.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

European Software Conference 2007

Filed under: Conferences — Jan @ 21:13

Last weekend I attended the 7th European Shareware Software Conference. The 2007 edition was held in Cologne, Germany, where it all started in 2001. The last conference I attended was the ESWC 2005 two years ago. It was good to be back and meet my old friends and acquaintances in the industry.

Attendance was at a record high with 207 registrations. At the end of the conference, less than a dozen badges were left unclaimed. The conference sessions were very informative, with scantly any self-promotion and only a little bit of warmed-over content from previous years.

During one session on the role of the Internet, somebody in the audience raised the question on why we were all there in that room, vs. doing the conference over the Internet. If your goal is to learn more about a particular topic, online resources are certainly more effective than traveling to a conference. Particularly for topics that don’t involve anything tangible in the first place. But for me, and for many other old hats that I’ve spoken with, the main benefit of the conference is not the knowledge that is shared during the conference itself, but the socializing with other shareware industry players. Being in a room together is the whole point. It reminds you you’re not the only one trying to make a living as a shareware author or micro-ISV or whatever you like to call your occupation. It’s the best cure for burn-out, even if you sleep through the sessions on personal productivity. And if you’re just starting out or even just planning to, hearing people’s success stories may be just what you need to push through with your ideas.

Disadvantage of attending conferences is that it makes you an ideal guinea pig for geeks who’ve just thrown some cash at a brand new DSLR camera. Evidence in my ESWC 07 photo gallery. If you recognize anybody whose name isn’t mentioned, please click on the thumbnail to see the larger photo, and leave a comment below the photo. I always remember people’s faces, but never people’s names.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Slow Burn

Filed under: Recommended Reading — Jan @ 18:05

The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution: The Slow Motion Exercise That Will Change Your Body in 30 Minutes a Week I bought the book Slow Burn by Fred Hahn because it was recommended in the book It’s Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome I reviewed this August. The latter book tells about a hairdresser whose treatment for RSI wasn’t helping (yes: keyboards aren’t the only things bad for your hands). When she consulted with Fred, he told her she didn’t have the muscular strength required for her job, and simply doing her job wouldn’t give her that strength. Ballgame athletes also train in the gym in addition to training for their sports. After training with Fred for some time, the hairdresser was eventually able to carry on with her business.

The Slow Burn book consists of two parts. The first eight chapters explain the benefits of strength training and weight training. The effects of various training methods and dietary habits are explained in clear language that is easy to understand, even for geeks who are more familiar with a computer’s innards than with their own.

The second part has only two chapters. The first gives step by step methods to apply the slow burn method at home using dumb weights. The second does the same using the contraptions you find at the gym. While the cover and part one of the book talks about “30 minutes” a week, that’s actually a minimum. Part two of the book recommends every five days or even twice a week. I’ve also found that my actual sessions are closer to 40 or 45 minutes. I don’t rush myself going from one exercise to the next.

The key point of the slow burn method is that instead of doing however many sets of however many repetitions, you choose a weight that you can comfortably yet barely lift. Moving the weight slowly, at a deliberate pace, you work your muscles to exhaustion in only half a dozen or so repetitions. This is why you can actually get results even if you only train 30 minutes a week. The disadvantage is that it’s no fun at all. To me it seems this method is perfect for people who have (far) more determination than time to train their bodies.

I did the at home method for a couple of months. Though I did the routine twice a week, I didn’t make any significant progress. I didn’t really feel any different, even though the records I kept with repetitions and weights showed an increase. The exercises were uncomfortable. I felt I was spending more effort trying to keep my balance than actually training the muscle that was supposed to do the work for each exercise.

Then in June a brand new gym opened close to our house. At only 5 to 10 minutes driving, depending on traffic, it could hardly be any closer. For the past five months I’ve been burning slowly three days a week. Since the membership cost is a fixed monthly fee, it seemed like a waste to go only once a week. Going every other day and one day off has been working just fine for me. The weight machines at the gym keep my balance for me. I just sit down. All the effort is taken by the muscles that each machine isolates.

And I’ve been making real progress. No, I don’t look like Schwarzenegger, and I never will. Unless I’m wearing a body-hugging shirt, you likely won’t see any difference. I was never overweight, and I didn’t try to lose any. But I do feel much stronger and fitter. Somebody should have told me this ten years ago. Somebody probably did, but I didn’t listen. At least I didn’t wait until I couldn’t get up the stairs any more. (“Slow Burn” explains why that happens.) Three hours a week seems like such a small investment now. Though it cuts into my working schedule, I’m not less productive. My energy levels are higher and getting up early seems easier now.

I’m not a personal trainer, so I can’t say if the slow burn method is good for you. There are other ways to train your body. Just don’t let your tombstone say “he was a real couch potato”.

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