iTunes 11 Feature Helps Visually Impaired Redeem Gift Cards

A feature in Apple's iTunes 11 allows you to scan a gift card code using your computer's camera. The feature is particularly intriguing for the blind, visually impaired and for dyslexics. While it may be inconvenient for most people to type the 16 digit code, it is impossible for users who are blind or visually impaired, and can be a struggle for some dyslexics. To use the feature position the gift card in front of the computer's camera. For people with visual impairments VoiceOver, Apple's built in screen reader on your Mac will help you frame the card in the picture. Then iTunes recognizes the code and credits the money to your iTunes account. This feature makes it possible for the blind and visually impaired to easily and independently redeem iTunes gift cards. Maybe this cool scanning feature will make its way to iOS in the near future.

Click read more below to view pictures of the scanning feature in action.

Band rocks out to help ill mum (w/ #MND) speak through eye gaze technology


Musical fundraiser: Angela Fung with husband Daniel

Stan Granite: MP Rob Wilson with (l-r) Greg Eaton, Colin Stewart, Mike Ryan and Anthony Giblin

A ROCK band is drumming up support for a mum-of-four with an incurable debilitating disease who wants to raise up to £6,000 for a revolutionary machine to communicate with her family.
Stan Granite will perform next month in aid of Angela Fung, who has motor neurone disease and left her teaching job at St Anne's Primary School, Caversham, in January with the illness getting progressively worse.
The disease damages the nervous system and attacked her vocal chords and has left Angela, 53, in a wheelchair.
Her family is trying to raise money for a high-tech computer - allowing her to type using her eyes and converting the written words into speech.
Angela wrote: "I cannot do anything for myself, I have to be hoisted, fed and cleaned.
"My speech has deteriorated so much that even my husband and my sons don't undertsand me any more.
"That is why this 'Eye Gaze' machine it so important to me, it is giving me the chance to be a mum again, a wife again and a friend."
Husband Daniel, who quit work as a telecommunications engineer to care for her full time, added: "It will help her a lot, it's becoming harder to understand what she is saying.
"She will be able to email, use Facebook and Skype and communicate with friends and relatives."
The NHS has agreed to fund half the £12,000 cost, with the Motor Neurone Disease Association hoping to help the couple by paying part of the remainder. But Angela and Daniel also have everyday costs to meet because their application for continuing healthcare was rejected by the NHS earlier this year.
The couple, who live with their four children aged 15 to 24 in Caversham Park were ruled out because of their £26,000 savings, but are paying out more than £800 a month on benefits of around £500.
Daniel added: "It is very inflexible, the money we saved was for our future and it will run out. We have been using our savings for the last two or three years and also have our children to support."
Reading's Stan Granite, who play rock covers, has organised a Rockin' for Angela concert on Saturday, December 15, at St Anne's School Hall.
It is made up of accountant Greg Eaton, business consultant Colin Stewart, scientist Anthony Gibli and Pack and Send UK chief executive Mike Ryan, who will be joined by the Mordecai Smyth Players.
Reading East MP Rob Wilson, a critic of the NHS funding decision, joined the band at rehearsals at last week.
Tickets at £10, and £5 for children, are available from the school, Pack and Send or by emailing

A Leap Forward in Brain-Controlled Computer Cursors

From: Stanford University - 11/18/2012

By: Kelly Servick


Stanford University researchers have developed ReFIT, an algorithm that improves the speed and accuracy of neural prosthetics that control computer cursors. In a side-by-side comparison, the cursors controlled by the ReFIT algorithm doubled the performance of existing systems and approached the performance of a real arm. "These findings could lead to greatly improved prosthetic system performance and robustness in paralyzed people, which we are actively pursuing as part of the FDA Phase-I BrainGate2 clinical trial here at Stanford," says Stanford professor Krishna Shenoy. The system uses a silicon chip that is implanted in the brain. The chip records "action potentials" in neural activity from several electrode sensors and sends the data to a computer. The researchers want to understand how the system works under closed-loop control conditions in which the computer analyzes and implements visual feedback taken in real time as the user neurally controls the cursor toward an onscreen target. The system can make adjustments in real time while guiding the cursor to a target, similar to how the hand and eye work in tandem to move a mouse cursor. The researchers designed the algorithm to learn from the user's corrective movements, allowing the cursor to move more precisely than in other systems.


Read the entire article and a video (0:25) at:



Krishna Shenoy


Neural Prosthetic Systems Laboratory


A high-performance neural prosthesis enabled by control algorithm design


"Granny pods": Inside housing alternative for aging loved ones


Watch video at:

(CBS News) AARP says about 23 million Americans take care of their elderly parents. Many of them have to choose between letting aging parents live alone or moving them into a nursing home.

Now there's now another option that brings families closer -- even if they're not living under the same roof.

When Viola Baez began to need constant care last winter, her daughter Soccorrito Page, would not even consider moving her to a nursing home. Baez told everyone for years, no nursing homes -- not ever.

Page said, "Whenever we had to visit somebody who was in a nursing home, or we drove past one, she said, 'I don't want to be in a place like that.' "

She said it was a "very, very clear" instruction.

Page wanted her mother to live nearby their Alexandria, Va. home, and wanted her to have some independence, so she bought a portable apartment called a "MedCottage." She put the cottage in the yard, right outside the kitchen window and built a 20-foot walkway so Baez can come and go at will.

Page said, "It's her space, but it's still with us."

The MedCottage is basically a three-room apartment equipped like a hospital room. There are safety rails, lighted floorboards, and a wall with a first-aid kit and defibrillator machine.

The structure also comes with three built-in cameras, including one in the ceiling overlooking the kitchen. There's also a camera that's mounted in the floor, and is designed to alert the family in the event that Baez falls.

Ken Dupin, who founded the company, says MedCottage is the formal name for his product, but it's not what most people call it. It's been known as "the Granny pod."

"That wasn't our name," he said. "You don't get to choose your nickname."

Whatever the apartment is called, Dupin believes he's found an answer for millions of baby boomers who are facing both their own retirements and the need to care for their parents.

Dupin said, "We wanted to say, 'There's got to be a better way to do this,' particularly as it involves family. And we feel that this is a very American solution."

The solution can be expensive. Page's cottage cost $125,000, but Page figured that a nursing home would cost more than $60,000 a year, and take Baez where she didn't want to be.

So what does Baez think of her new house? She said, "Well, as long as I live with my family, it's OK."

For Baez, the cottage outside the window represents the safety and care she always wanted, but for millions of other Americans, it's a possible glimpse of the future.

Nook App for iOS Updated to Support VoiceOver and Zoom

Great news, the Nook app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch is now accessible to the blind, visually impaired and people with print disabilities. The updated app now supports VoiceOver and Zoom. VoiceOver and Zoom are built in accessibility features in iOS. To learn more about VoiceOver click here. With VoiceOver you can have the book read aloud using text-to-speech. Oddly enough the update makes the Nook app more accessible than current Nooks. Serious kudos to Barns & Noble's for making their app accessible. To download the app for free click here.

Click read more below to view more screenshots.

How Khan Academy Nike Training Club and SparkPeople Motivate Users Behavior

I mentioned in my post Online Systems for Behavior Change that I'm working on a very interesting project that is designed to lead to some important changes in behavior that has already had dramatic impacts.  But we want to do even better and so we are studying some parallel offerings and what they are doing relative to promoting specific behavior in their systems. 

Ultimately, we are trying to design something that will motivate users to take action that we know will have positive impact.  However, there's often this gap between what people know they should do and getting them to actually do it (and that's not just with online systems). 

I'm reviewing: Khan Academy, Nike Training Club and SparkPeople.  I've included lots of screen shots of what I'm seeing and some thoughts as I'm going through them.  I'm not claiming this is scientific in any real way.  Rather, I'm collecting some thoughts in terms of design concepts.

I would very much welcome feedback/comments on this:
  • What else have you seen or used that motivates action in online systems for behavior change?
  • What articles have you seen that talk about use of goals, badges, points, community, etc. for motivating user action?

Khan Academy

Nice walkthrough of your profile, but interestingly it didn't take me into it automatically.
Provides an interesting concept in terms of allowing users to earn points to be able to change their avatar.  Similarly, it shows you holes where badges would go.  Suggested activities with progress indicator and easy click to access.  Shows recently completed activity and rewards earned.
Tons of Badges and explanation of the badges:
Nice statistics.
I will say that I found the content presentation to be fairly standard.  It uses very familiar voice/language that makes it feel comfortable.  But there wasn't anything that special or different about it.
Practice was also not all that different and generally was very simple.  The system does have a good use of progress indicators.   And it also has very simple, consistent format.
Each practice results in rewards and clear indication of how to move on.  Uses longest streak, quick answers and total leaves (points).
Shows you how to use it in your classroom.
Teachers can setup students in the system so that they can get reports on their progress.
Can see stats easily on your class to determine how they are doing.  As a teacher, this could be a great tool to help figure out where you might want to spend more time.  The interface is really easy to understand.

Nike Training Club

This happens to be a program that my wife and daughter love.  Its very easy to get into and start using.  Choose your goal then your level.  Then your workout.
You can see pictures and videos ahead of time or while you are doing it.
Don't forget to plan your music that goes along with the workout.
During the workout, it's easy to understand what's going on.  There are voice commands that give you pointers and count down just like a trainer would.
There's a nice summary of your workout at the end.
You can automatically share your workout with friends.
The system really excels in terms of stats and rewards.


Quick call to action to sign-up.
Step 1 - setting goals
Window expanded based on entered goals to see what your planned goals turned into.  You can see the specific plan elements and easily change your goals on the same page.
Time to enter a bunch of preferences, its not clear how this impacts my experience.  Even after using the system for a while, it wasn't clear to me.  Likely it would have put me into additional teams (smaller forums - described below).
I'll be honest, its way too hard to use food trackers like this for me.  In this case, I tried typing in what I had for breakfast and it didn't come up with a reasonable choice.  What no normal Raisin Bran cereal.  It took me a bunch of tries to find that I needed to type in the brand of cereal first.  Entering the sandwich I made for lunch.  Way too much work for me personally, but I understand the value.
Same interface for tracking fitness, but so much easier to enter because there are a LOT fewer items.
Periodically you get a pop-up or other calls to action around the points.
Ugly ad right in the middle:
I won 3 points:
I'm not sure I buy this aspect of points, but I do think they've done a great job using a menu of actions along with associated points that basically motivate you to do the things that will be good for you to do on the system.  For example, posting in the forums earns you points.  Tracking each food item earns you points.  Maybe this would get me to be willing to spend the time on each item.
They also use this same approach to get you to try out additional features or refer other people.
SparkPeople makes heavy good use of streaks as a motivational tool.  These tie back to points and basically help to motivate daily use.  Of course, you get to cheat on most things by going back to previous days and entering values to keep your streaks alive.
Also can earn trophies, which I've been calling badges on other other sites.  Like the other sites, its easy to see what badges are possible and to find out what it will take to earn additional badges.  It's interesting to see that they use both badges and the central points mechanism.  I wonder if this gets lost a little.
SparkPeople does a lot of things to get people to interact with other users.  It starts with automated personal emails.
And lots of use of community.  You can see they have teams, message boards, challenges, member tips, member pages, member blogs, member success stories, and featured items.  You could easily spend a lot of time just in the community.  It also could be a bit overwhelming for first time users.  So, they have done some nice things to help first timers get started.  This is key as most users do not jump in and start communicating.
Automatically add you into a few teams.  For example, all the people who joined the same week I joined.
People somewhat automatically share aspects of what they are trying to achieve.

Design Aspects

There are some interesting common items between the systems.
  • Badges / Trophies are shown as gray until its filled in with color when you earn it.   Each makes it clear what is required to earn the item.
  • Each system offers early rewards and it steps up in complexity from there.
  • Streaks are used in Khan and SparkPeople as additional incentives.
Nike and Khan have simple, clean interfaces and a fairly limited set of actions.  The interfaces are very consistent.
Obviously, SparkPeople has somewhat thrown everything at the user, hasn't worried as much about the look of the interface, but has done a few things that stand out to me in terms of design:
  • Establish a clear goal around weight loss and possibly some other goals.  It's interesting to me that setting a goal is not much of a part of Khan or Nike.  In some ways, the broader efforts of Nike with Nike+ helps with longer term perspective.  There's an implicit goal in Khan Academy in terms of completing content.  Still there's something good about establishing a longer-term goal.  Of course, then you need to break it down into smaller goals.  That's something that SparkPeople does really well with Points.
  • Points as a central theme.  The menu of actions that have points directly tied to them is a great idea.  This is a good way to provide structured actions that tie back to the central motivational scheme.  Khan also provides points as a motivator.  Interesting, points don't really get me much in SparkPeople, but in Khan I can do simple things like changing my avatar.
  • Lots of community options and a good job drawing people into the community.  Nike does a little of this with posting to your friends about your workout.  Again, looking at Nike+ more broadly they are doing some interesting things around community.  Still the Nike Training Club is somewhat isolated.