Archive for June, 2013

The office Doctors

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

It started with a Christmas present: a set of LEGO-but-not-real-LEGO Doctor Who figures. They ended up in my office to help keep me company.

When I am trying to figure something out, I absent-mindedly fiddle with one of the figures, and normally end up leaving him on my MacBook as a good luck charm as I code.

Doctor debugger
“Doctor debugger”


Taking a kid to a barcamp

Monday, June 17th, 2013
Computing at my school (from an 8 year old). Delighted to see this talk at  a Barcamp! #bcb13

Last weekend was Barcamp Berkshire. Barcamps are something I’ve explained before. In short, they’re conferences where each attendee contributes a session on any topic they want. This makes for an unplanned and eclectic mix of talks, presentations and discussions representing the wide range of hobbies, skills and experiences of the people who happen to be attending.

It’s not particularly new that I went to a barcamp, as I’ve been going to things like this for many years.

What was new was that this time, I brought Grace.


A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

I passed another Coursera course last month.

Last year I wrote about my experience doing a Coursera course. Most of that still applies so I wont repeat it all here, but I thought I’d share some of the differences.

I did a couple of Coursera courses last year. They were both fairly technical topics: Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning.

This time I wanted to try something a little different: A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior. No coding this time – it was described in the course overview as:

…learn about some of the many ways in which people behave in less than rational ways, and how we might overcome these problems


W4A : Accessibility of the web

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

This is the last of four posts sharing some of the things I saw while at the International World Wide Web Conference for w4a.

Several presentations looked at how accessible the web is.

Web Accessibility Snapshot

In 2006, an audit was performed by Nomensa for the United Nations. They reviewed 100 popular websites for conformance to accessibility guidelines.

The results weren’t positive: 97% of sites didn’t meet WCAG level 1.

Obviously, conformance to guidelines doesn’t mean a site is accessible, but it’s an important factor. It’s not sufficient, but it is required. Conformance to guidelines can’t prove that a website is accessible, however there are some guidelines that we can be certain would break accessibility if not followed. So they are at least a useful starting point.

However, 2006 is a long time ago now, and the Internet has changed a lot since. One project, from colleagues of mine at IBM, is creating a more up to date picture of the state of the web. They analysed a thousand of the most popular websites (according to Alexa) as well as a random sampling of a thousand other sites.

(Interestingly, they found no statistically significant difference between conformance in the most popular websites and the randomly selected ones).

Their intention is to perform this regularly, creating a Web Accessibility Snapshot, with regular updates on the status of accessibility of the web. It looks like it could become a valuable source of information.

W4A2013 – Web Accessibility Snapshot: An Effort to Reveal Coding Guidelines Conformance from Vagner Santana


Dyslexia at W4A

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

This is the third of four posts sharing some of the things I saw while at the International World Wide Web Conference for w4a.

There were a few sessions presenting work done to improve understanding of how to better support people with dyslexia.

One interesting study investigated the effect of font size and line spacing on the readibility of wikipedia articles.

This was assessed in a variety of ways, some of which were based on the reader’s opinions, while others were based on measurements made of the reader during reading and of their understanding of the content after. The underlying question (can we make Wikipedia easier to read for dyslexics?) was compelling. It was also interesting to see this performed not on abstract passages of text, but in the context of using an actual website.


W4A : Future of screen readers

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

This is the second of four posts sharing some of the things I saw while at the International World Wide Web Conference for w4a.

Several of the projects that I saw showed glimpses of a possible future for screen readers.

I’ve written about screen readers before, and some of the challenges with using them.

Interactive SIGHT

One project interpreted pictures of charts or graphs and created a textual summary of the information shown in them.

I’m still amazed at this. It takes a picture of a graph, not the original raw data, and generates sensible summaries of what it shows.

For example, given this image:

It can generate:

This graphic is about United States. The graphic shows that United States at 35 thousand dollars is the third highest with respect to the dollar value of gross domestic product per capita 2001 among the countries listed. Luxembourg at 44.2 thousand dollars is the highest


Web technologies I saw at W4A

Monday, June 3rd, 2013


Last month I went to the International World Wide Web Conference for w4a. I saw a lot of cool web technologies and accessibility projects while I was there, so thought I would share links to some of the more interesting bits.

There are too many to put in a single post, so I’ll write a few posts to cover them all.


Subtitles and transcripts came up a few times. One study presented looked at online video, comparing single-line subtitle captions overlaid on the video with multi-line off-screen transcripts adjacent to it.

It examined which is more effective from a variety of perspectives, including readability, reader enjoyment, the effect on understanding and so on. In summary, it found that overlaid captions are generally better, although transcripts are better for content which is more technical.

Real-time transcription from a stenographer at W4A

We had subtitles for all the talks and presentations. Impressively, a separate screen projected a live transcription of the speaker. For deaf attendees, it allowed them to follow what the speaker was saying. For talks given in Portuguese, the English subtitles allowed non-Portuguese speakers like me to understand.

They did this by having live stenographers listening to an audio feed from the talks. This is apparently expensive as stenography is a skilled expertise, and it needs to be scheduled in advance. It’s perhaps only practical for larger conferences.