Computers

I guess when there’s nobody else there for you, maybe your computer’s there.

Micheal Johnson

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Eye pressure

I don’t get it. I squashed my eyes until the intraocular pressure was way past that of anyone with glaucoma. I squeezed my fingers in until the tips were literally inside my eye sockets. I pressed down until my eye felt like a hard ball, about to explode with any further compression, and in so much pain that I almost threw up. Yet still I can see as perfectly as always.

Micheal Johnson

Building a custom Debian system, part 3

This is the third and final part of a three-part tutorial on setting up a customised Debian system. In this part, you can get an overview of some of the customisation options available, and step-by-step instructions for setting up some common basic configurations. The previous part walked through installing the base system that you will be working from in this part, and the first part explained how to choose and download an installation image for installing the base system.Read More »

Building a custom Debian system, part 1

I wrote a few days ago about the advantages of building a Debian-based system from scratch. Now I’m going to explain how to do this. Remember that, while this isn’t the most complicated thing to do, it takes a fairly solid knowledge of how a Linux system is structured and how the apt package manager works, so if you’re just looking to try out another desktop environment then this isn’t for you. If you have a solid idea of exactly what you want in a Linux system, but you can’t find a distro that doesn’t need considerable hacking up to get it to work the way you want it to, then this may well be the right choice.

This is the first part of a three-part tutorial. It covers downloading, preparing, and booting the installation image. The next part will walk you through the installation process, and the final part will cover the range of customisation options available after installation.Read More »

When BIID bites…

The past few weeks have been very quiet for me as far as BIID goes. Yes it’s still been there, but I haven’t thought about pretending for a long time and I can’t say that I’ve felt as if I need to pretend. I’m not sure why this is, and I still suspect that it might be a mental blockage spilt over from the incident at college which continues to haunt me to this day (I have flashbacks almost every day to that moment when I was told not to use my cane at college – I didn’t quite capture in that post exactly how much it hurt me), but nevertheless it’s been that way for a good few weeks now and I kind of hoped that maybe I was “recovering” from BIID, or whatever this blindness thing of mine is.

But no, I was wrong. It only takes one small thing to set it off again. Testing the screenreader on my new computer didn’t do it. Disposing of Braille labels that had worn flat didn’t do it. Neither did packing my cane away in the garage on Friday last week (considering that I wasn’t using it anymore) do it. Yes, it really seemed like I was cured. In some ways I was loathed to lose this “other part” of me – this blind, but not physically blind, part – but nevertheless it would be better in the long run if BIID went away. But as I say, it didn’t. For some reason it started coming back to me again last night. Although I think that happens every Saturday night, probably because Saturdays were always the days when my mother and I went out with me pretending to be blind. But that’s not what I’m talking about now.Read More »

Custom Debian systems

Ever set up a new Ubuntu installation only to then attempt to remove most of the installed packages? I have, when I wanted to put a small, fast-to-boot, command-line only live Linux system on the backup hard drives to facilitate backing up the computer without an optical drive. And it was a real pain, because I pretty soon had a broken Ubuntu system which nevertheless had a lot of clutter left behind from packages that I didn’t even know were there until I removed a dependency thereof. Fortunately I gave up on trying to “slim down” an Ubuntu system and turned to Google for an answer.

This should have been much easier to find, but it wasn’t, and that’s why I’m posting it here: Debian. Debian live, to be precise. Yes, unless you specifically choose a version that includes a graphical desktop, you get just a basic command-line interface with a number – but not an excessive number – of common Linux tools included. Exactly what I needed.

But the real power of this “base” Debian system is not how little software comes pre-installed, but rather how much software is available. You’ve got the full Debian package repositories available – the same repositories that projects such as Ubuntu are based off of – and combined with the slim system that you get either in the live environment or after installation, you’ll be building up your perfect system from modular blocks rather than stripping it down from a pile of bloat.Read More »

Most accessible: Ubuntu MATE

Yes, that’s right. The most accessible Linux distro that I’ve used so far is not Vinux, a purpose-built Ubuntu remix designed for blind users. Neither is it the standard Ubuntu with the Unity desktop environment. It’s Ubuntu MATE.

But why? Well, let’s start with standard Ubuntu. The Orca screenreader works out of the box and is easily launched with a simple keyboard combination (alt+winkey+s for those who are interested), and pretty much all of the installed software works nicely with it, including LibreOffice which relies on a bridge between Java and the Linux ATK framework for Orca to work with it. The only thing which doesn’t work nicely with the screenreader is… the desktop itself. Switching between multiple windows of the same application in the Unity desktop environment ideally requires one to see the thumbnails of the windows. Pinning and rearranging items in the launcher is impossible without the mouse (or at least so difficult that even I can’t figure it out). Let’s not even mention the dash – it crashed the screenreader every time I tried it.

Now I’ll tell you a secret about Vinux: it’s really just Ubuntu under a different name. You’d think that it’s been “tweaked” a little to make it more accessible – in fact that’s what they claim on their website – but actually it hasn’t. Short of being configured with a different wallpaper and login sound, a larger mouse pointer, and a screenreader that starts up by default rather than by pressing a key combination, there’s pretty much no difference between Vinux and Ubuntu. It’s got the same Unity desktop environment with the same accessibility issues as standard Ubuntu. Furthermore, for some reason LibreOffice isn’t installed by default and it doesn’t work with the screenreader when one installs it from the package repositories – the latter of which are almost completely broken due to numerous mis-matched package versions which prevent apt from installing additional packages that depend on them. In short, Vinux is a hacked-up Ubuntu system that doesn’t offer any genuine advantage in terms of accessibility for blind users.Read More »