Given that monthly recaps are rather redundant for the time being, I’m going to try and do updates on a more regular basis during the lockdown (which started here in the UK on 23 March). My aim is to do a post every week or fortnight about the things that I’m enjoying, to give you and me a positive distraction. But we’ll see how it goes. It will depend on how much I have to talk about.
It’s safe to say that things have felt very strange these last few weeks, and like everybody else I was very anxious about the situation at first. It’s still going to be a concern for a while, and all of the changes to our lives are a lot to get used to. But I know that we’re doing it for the right reasons, to save lives. And I do feel that my mother and I are adjusting as well as can be expected, we feel relatively relaxed at the moment. It also helps that I’m not checking news and social media updates as often as I was initially, and I’ve muted certain phrases and blocked various accounts to make browsing social media a calmer experience. Things like that certainly make a big difference to one’s mindset.
I’m already a homeworker too, so that’s made things easier. Although, as it happens, I haven’t fully gone back to work yet, because by chance I had already booked these past 2 weeks off to use up my annual leave quota (after an illness last year meant I couldn’t use as much holiday as I’d hoped). Granted, I couldn’t use this holiday time to go anywhere nice, except the local park, but the time has been very useful to ensure that Mum and I are stocked up and can settle into this temporary new way of living. So it will only be this coming week when I start getting into a proper routine again (although even then Easter ensures I’ll only have 2 four-day weeks). But of course, many people have far more difficult and stressful jobs than I do, especially our hard workers in the NHS who deserve every praise and much more for their incredible dedication during all of this.
It’s a very uncertain time, and we don’t know how long this will last, but I want to keep myself occupied as best I can. There are certainly lots of options for things to do – and if you need any ideas, check out my special Lockdown Resources page – so I’ll try my best not to get bored. And with that in mind, here’s my latest post and video update of things that have kept me occupied during the past couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy.
I don’t plan to discuss the virus much at all, but it is only right to acknowledge that many visually impaired people are finding the situation difficult, especially when it comes to essential tasks like shopping, as discussed by BBC News, BBC Breakfast, the Daily Mail and Emily at Fashioneyesta, among others. There’s also an RNIB guide to the policies that shops have in place. Please do sign the petition for blind people to be given priority access to online delivery services, because it will make their lives a lot easier and safer.
And of course many other disabled people are struggling too. It’s only because I’m visually impaired myself that I focus on that aspect. The government has pledged its support for disabled people, but it’s clear that a lot still needs to be done. In any case, I hope everybody is able to get the help they need in some way e.g. through family, friends, neighbours, online services, charities, local mutual aid groups, etc.
And talking of disability, I’ve also published a guest post that has 10 Top Tips to Care for Disabled and Special Needs Children. It is a paid advertisement post, and I’m extremely picky about accepting such content, but I believe it fits well with the disability and visual impairment themes of my blog, and has a lot of useful, concise information for parents in particular, who form a significant part of my audience. Indeed, one parent has given very positive feedback on the post already, as have a few other people. So I hope you find it interesting. And nothing else I mention in this Favourites post is sponsored by the way, in case you’re wondering.
Mac Catalina Upgrade
I’ve finally upgraded my Mac computer to the Catalina operating system. I always wait for a little while after new versions are released, as there’s usually no immediate rush, and it gives them a chance to iron out any major launch issues. And for the most part, not much has changed that affects me greatly with this release. The installation was quick and painless as well. But there are a few things that have particularly caught my attention for one reason or another, good or bad.
I’ve always used the Invert Colours feature heavily, as it’s much easier on my eyes to have dark backgrounds with light text. And in Catalina, like the iPhone, this has been given a ‘smart’ upgrade, so it will invert text and backgrounds while keeping images and videos in their proper colours.
However, it doesn’t work well everywhere. In the Music app, for example, it causes the sidebar to have unreadable dark text on a dark background. I can fix that by also selecting Increase Contrast, but then just causes the music listings to have a bright and glary white background instead. Another alternative is the operating system’s new Dark Mode, but that doesn’t help everywhere either. It doesn’t transform things like websites, for example (unless they’ve been specifically designed to support Dark Mode), so they often still have white backgrounds.
So for me the simple solution has been to tick the Classic Invert box (keeping Increase Contrast activated as well), which basically restores things to how they were before. It means images and video also get inverted, but the keyboard shortcut to switch inversion on and off is really simple, so I don’t mind using that. But I have enabled the dark or night mode that’s built into some websites, particularly Twitter and Youtube, which allows me to turn off inversion while I use them.
The most exciting new accessibility feature in Catalina, however, is Voice Control. It’s not something I personally need, so I’ve only had a brief play with it so far. But it looks very interesting and I’m going to explore it further. It may, for example, be a very useful way to enable Mum to use the MacBook laptop we also have. In conjunction with Voiceover I can imagine it being very useful for some visually impaired people. And it’s also going to make a big difference to people with dexterity issues who can’t use a keyboard and mouse easily or at all. So I may talk more about that feature at a later date.
Catalina sees a major overhaul in how media files are organised, dividing them up between dedicated Music, Podcasts, Books & TV apps. And for the most part, that works fine. All of my files were successfully moved to their new homes automatically, without any obvious issues. And the Music app is pretty much the same as iTunes, but without the clutter of the other elements. I had to reconfigure the view the way I like it, but that was fine. Likewise, I can use the Podcasts and TV apps easily enough as well.
The big problem, however, is with audiobooks. These have been badly shoehorned into the Books app, meaning you no longer have the ability to edit any of their information or see the individual tracks that make them up. So if, like me, you have a large and carefully maintained collection of audiobooks, including many ripped from audio CDs, it makes their organisation much more difficult. It’s also clear from the various threads and articles I’ve seen that many other people are frustrated with Apple’s new way of doing things, as there are other major issues beyond just the one I encountered.
Suggested workarounds include using apps called Plex and Prologue, or importing books back into the Music app with their own genre and playlist, or just moving files into the Finder and organising them there – and it’s the latter that I’ve chosen to do. I looked up the media folder locations and copied all the audiobooks into a separate directory, before deleting them from the Books app. Each book was already in its own folder, luckily, but with randomly generated folder names, so I’ve had to manually rename them all. But now I’ve done that, I can organise them much more easily than the Books app allows.
So those are my immediate first reactions to Catalina – apart from one more aspect that I’ll mention in the next section. On the whole it’s fine, and my experience of using the Mac hasn’t changed too much as a result. But the new way of managing audiobooks seriously lets it down, and if you’re yet to upgrade your Mac I would investigate it very carefully first. Let’s hope Apple hears all the feedback and fixes it one day.
I’ve done very little gaming for a long time, because I’ve had plenty of other things to distract me. But now I have the opportunity to get back into it more, I’ve started to experiment with them again. So I want to mention the first two games that I’ve tried recently.
Another big new feature of Catalina on the Mac is Apple Arcade. It gives you access to a library of 100 games for a monthly subscription of £4.99, without any adverts or in-app purchases, and you can play the games across all your Apple devices. So I’ve signed up for the free trial, that lasts for a month, to see what I think.
And the first game I decided to play was Spyder, where you control an intelligent mechanical spider that has to sabotage evil plans by an organisation called S.I.N. The controls are simple enough – the W, A, S & D keys move the spider, Space allows you to interact with things, and by holding down Ctrl you can use the mouse to move the camera around (although the camera angle does default to certain positions as you navigate the levels). On other devices the controls will naturally be different.
The graphics are beautiful, and you can move around the environments with a fair degree of freedom. Being a spider, you can climb up, over and under things as well as walking across them, which you need to use to your advantage a lot of the time. There are of course limitations too, with surfaces that are too slippery or dangerous or blocked off, so your progression through each level is ultimately linear. But within each space, you still have a wide degree of movement, and often need to explore it thoroughly to find items and answers to puzzles. Each time you complete a task, the next one is immediately given at the bottom of the screen, while arrows and distance markers are regularly provided to indicate where you should be heading next.
Although there one or two points where I got a bit stuck, I never had to look for any help online to figure things out, so I was pleased with myself when I completed the 6th and final level. Once I got used to how to play – and the first level is a very good tutorial for that – I quickly got into it. You can also play through the levels again after you’ve finished the game, as you get a bonus side-quest to do along the way, which I won’t reveal here. I had a brief look at it in the first level, and it’s a nice addition, but I didn’t fancy going through the entire game again just for that. It will add good replay value for some people though.
Obviously a game like this is going to be very difficult if you’re visually impaired. My sight is fortunately good enough to focus on it, although I had to be careful not to do too much, as playing games does tire my eyes after a while. And the text for each task at the bottom of the screen is quite small. But for others with more severe slight loss, it’s not going to be accessible. I suspect a lot of the Arcade games will have that issue. But I personally enjoyed playing Spyder, and I’m looking forward to trying some of the other Arcade titles, which I’ll review in future posts.
Seeing as my original plans to visit a couple of escape rooms this year had to be abandoned, this Alexa game looked like a fun alternative. And I enjoyed playing it. The commands are very basic, but the puzzles really do make you think, so it’s a great way to test your brain.
There are a variety of different environments, all of which are free except for the spaceship, which is a larger space that costs £4.99 to unlock (or £4 if you’re a Prime subscriber). The purchase fee also unlocks unlimited hints across the other rooms (as without paying you can only ask for 1 hint per room). I did need a few hints in the big spaceship level, but I got through it. And I successfully completed the other levels, only asking for a hint in one of them when I had a bit of trouble.
The solutions to puzzles aren’t always in the most logical of places (the toolbox in the garage was the sticking point I needed the hint for), so just remember to examine everything and consider every detail of what you hear, even if it doesn’t seem relevant. I found it was very useful to type up notes as I went along. And don’t feel bad if you need to ask for a hint either, in some cases it’s very understandable. So overall it’s a fun game, and I might also try the sequel, Escape The Room 2, at some point.
I’m still working my way through the Blu-ray box set of The X-Files that I mentioned in my previous Favourites post, and am just about to finish season 4. I’m also continuing to enjoy the fifth season of Outlander on Amazon. And series 6 of The Flash has resumed too. The first episode on its return was part of the latest crossover story with 4 other shows set in the same universe. I haven’t seen the other shows, but I understood enough to enjoy it from The Flash’s perspective. And the rest of the series has a new story arc, so we’ll be back to normal then.
In terms of comedy, I’m enjoying the new sitcom Mister Winner on BBC2, starring Spencer Jones as a man who gets himself into all sorts of awkward and farcical situations, a bit like a modern Frank Spencer. It’s quite funny. There’s also been a new episode of QI XL this weekend. And Season 18 of Family Guy has also returned on ITV2 as well, which is good (this is the season that will be released on DVD as season 20).
And Mum and I are also enjoying Richard Osman’s House Of Games. We hadn’t seen it before, but thought we’d check it out on the iPlayer, and it’s good fun. It’s a very easy-going, light-hearted quiz show, and all the questions have a fun twist to them, so you have to find the opposites of certain answers, for example, or smash certain answers together to make interesting new combinations, and so on. It makes you think outside the box a bit, and he has a good selection of celebrity contestants each week.
Podcasts & Music
On my Twitter and Facebook pages you can find me taking part in the 30 Day Song Challenge that VICTA have posted as part of their 20 ways to spend time at home and stay in touch, a list that also includes me among their list of recommended bloggers, so thank you VICTA for that! Once the challenge is done, I’ll post my full list of answers in one of my Favourites posts here.
And finally, here’s a list of online videos, mainly on Youtube, that I’m enjoying at the moment and recommend for you to check out.
- Andrew Lloyd Webber – The Shows Must Go On – Every Friday night at 7pm GMT, an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is being posted in full on Youtube for 48 hours, so you can watch it over the weekend. This weekend we’ve had Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, which was fun, and next weekend it’s Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s a fantastic idea, although the shows are not audio described if you need that kind of accessibility. Many other theatres are also doing special online streams and events, which you can read about via the links on my Covid Resources page.
- Extreme Dreams – The Lockdown Getaway – Dean Dunbar is a blind extreme sports enthusiast and a very good friend of mine. During the lockdown he’s sharing stories about his many amazing adventures, so please do go and check them out. You can also find out much more on his Extreme Dreams website.
- Freddie Mercury – Finding Freddie – This is a very interesting set of video podcasts that are being released on a regular basis, talking about various aspects of Freddie’s life, so they’re well worth a watch. I also recommend following Queen guitarist Brian May on his Youtube and Instagram pages, for his Micro Concertos and other bits of chat that he’s posting frequently.
- Jimmy Carr – Little Tiny Quiz Of The Lockdown – The comedian is posting a fun variety of questions every day to keep your brain busy. Some of them are visual in nature so won’t be suitable for everybody, but even if you can’t do those there are still plenty of other questions to have a go at.
- Taskmaster – Home Tasks – Alex Horne is setting fun and creative tasks for people to do at home, and then posting extensive compilations of everybody’s entries, with the show’s host Greg Davies picking his favourites. You can post your entries and follow those of others on Twitter using the hashtag #HomeTasking.
- All The Stations – Don’t Panic Stations! – Geoff and Vicki are doing regular live streams to keep them and us entertained, and they’re great fun. On Saturday evenings they’re online for an hour, and the most recent stream featured a London Underground quiz, which I didn’t score well on but still enjoyed. And on Wednesdays they’re doing a shorter half-hour stream for families and children (and big kids too), encouraging them to get creative. You can rewatch most of the streams if you missed them. A couple had to be taken down due to technical issues and a very amusing moment of accidental swearing by Vicki, but the rest are all online to enjoy.
- Spencer Kelly, host of BBC Click, has also been doing daily live streams on Periscope at around 12:30pm every day, with chat and humour and updates on his work. He and his team have also just posted a 20th anniversary special of the technology news programme, looking back at their best moments, which is interesting too.
And that’s it. There was quite a lot there, so I hope you found something amongst it all that interested you. I’ll try and do posts like this every week or two if I can, and feel free to recommend anything you think I should check out.
But in the meantime, please follow the guidelines to stay indoors, protect your health service and save lives, wherever you are in the world. I hope you all stay safe and well!