Raspberry Pi, Dropbox and syncing external folders

In order to silence my every so slightly aging iMac I decided to swap the mechanical HD for a SSD. This also had the added benefit of increased speed, with one downside. A large reduction in storage capacity, I had gone from 1Tb down to 240Gb.

Around the same time I had upgraded my Dropbox to the Pro account, 1Tb of storage. I thought my storage problem would be solved. Oh wait, hang on, I still need the files locally to sync with Dropbox.

This problem set me down the path of configuring my Dropbox to sync files outside of the Dropbox folder. But instead of the folder being on an external drive (too noisy!), I would place the external folder on a Raspberry Pi with an external drive, placed in another room. No noise!

The following is a guide on how you can configure a Raspberry Pi with a Samba share, which in turn can be symbolically linked on OS X to a folder within Dropbox. Therefore, allowing you to have a large synchronised version of your Dropbox files locally.

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An accessible oven?

Continuing my foray into the kitchen, I am amassing an even larger collection of specific kitchen gadgets. With the new diet commencing, I had a need for omelettes. In an attempt to be a little healthier I use more whites than yolks. To aid in splitting the whites from the yolks I purchased an egg separator. It works surprisingly well and acts as a reminder. There is often a solution to a problem, you just have to look for it.


It is often these gadgets created for very specific use cases that enable me to function in the kitchen. While never envisaged to be used for the blind their highly specialised function often makes them suitable for myself.


I have found there are numerous gadgets that aid in the prperation of food but not in the actual cooking. I feel this is because the oven. Hob and microwave don’t receive much focus in terms of specific use cases, and therefore, do not see large functional improvements.

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Now anyone can bake?

Over the past few weeks I have become interested in advancing my baking and cookery skills. This introduces a number of obstacles as a blind individual, mainly there are a lot of tasks that have the potential to hurt you!

I have begun to break down these tasks and will be covering them in a series of posts. For today though I would like to focus on weighing.

This is a surprisingly difficult task, from measuring out liquids to weighing items for baking and cooking. There are a few speak kitchen scales out there, but as ever with products for the visually impaired they are grossly over priced for their limited and often lacklustre feature set.

So I was incredibly excited when I found the Drop scales, especially with their slogan “Now anyone can bake”. I certainly fit into the anyone category, so I popped down to the local Apple Store and made a purchase with the idea to test their accessibility. The Drop scale connects over bluetooth to an iPad and displays the weight on screen, it also has a large array of features that walk you through baking and cooking specific items as well as such features as auto scaling the weights of recipes.

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Review – FitBit Charge HR


I am a great fan of anything related to fitness tracking. I am constantly testing different wearables to identify one that not only tracks useful information, but is accessible. I was excited to hear about the FitBit Charge HR, as I have become interested in tracking my heart rate. The following review is thanks to FitBit allowing me to test out the Charge HR, in order to highlight how useful it can be to someone with a visual impairment. The FitBit Charge HR is a watch type wearable that is able to track steps taken, heart rate, floors ascended, distance moved and calories burnt.


For the visually impaired market there are not many consumer goods that can be purchased and configured without sighted assistance. The one exception being Apple, well I say one, there are now two exceptions. As the other is FitBit. I was pleasantly surprised by the configuration of my Aria WiFi Scales, as this could all be achieved from my iPhone. I was further surprised when the same could be said for the Charge HR. As the configuration takes place within the FitBit app it means the entire process can be assisted with VoiceOver, there is however, one little caveat – Bluetooth pairing. This requires you to input a 4 digit number displayed on the screen of the Charge HR, the screen is high contrast so a low vision user would be able to pair. If you are unable to rely on sighted assistance this step can be overcome by using a service such as TapTapSee or BeMyEyes, as the screen is of high enough contrast for it to be easily seen by either of these services.

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Qualifying for Boston

Running Boston often appears on many marathon runners radars, it had appeared on mine. I did however think a qualifier was a long way off, perhaps 5 years down the line. That was until I had breakfast with a friend of mine.

We were chatting about marathons and I flippantly said yeah cant run Boston this year as its the same day as Manchester. “No it isn’t Simon, its the day after”. Wait so if I ran Manchester quick enough I could get on a plane and run Boston? Then jump on another plane and run London?

After realising it was possible there was only one thing left to do, find a qualifier. It turned out there was one, and only one qualifier left in the UK. Therefore, I had one shot, the only snag, I hadn’t trained since returning injured from the USA.

I turned up to Birchington-on-sea barely fit enough to run a half and had to run a Boston qualifier. It turned out to be one of the toughest races in recent memory. The course itself was a simple out and back repeat, with an aid station back at the start. The first half went reasonably well, then my lack of training shone through, my body just wasnt conditioned to run a marathon, it had been two months of little training while I healed.

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Deep learning and audio description

The audio describing of video content is abysmal. Only a small a mount of video content on television is described and the same goes for movies. Move into the online sphere, Netflix, Vimeo, YoutTube and there is simply no described content.

There are numerous problems like this and addressing them creates huge possibilities for the sighted too. Hence when reading about Clarifai’s deep learning AI that can describe video content I was excited. There system has been created to increase the the capabilities of video search, as if the AI can identify the video content it can serve more accurate search results.

But the ability to perceive and describe what is in a video has implications for the sight impaired. If this could be released as an add-on for Chrome or another browser, it would allow a whole host of video content to be described. While this may be some way off, it is easy to see how such systems can serve multiple purposes.

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An international half

Over the past few months I have been training primarily with a friend, she is relatively new to running and is yet to compete heavily. So when the topic of her running her first half marathon came up I thought it might be fun to run it in the snow. That idea was quickly quashed as it turns out it is incredibly expensive to run a snow race – who knew!

A little searching around and we found another half in Terassa, a town an hours train journey from Barcelona. Neither of us could speak spanish but thanks to Google translate and a spanish speaking friend we managed to enter the race. A quick check of the race entrants we noticed we were the only brits, time to represent our country!

It wouldn’t just be a case of turning up and running, we first needed to collect our race numbers and timing chips from Terrassa the day before the race. After 8 modes of transport we finally arrived to collect our numbers and timing chips. This is the first time we noticed there may be a slight language barrier, while a high proportion of people in Barcelona can speak spanish, heading to the smaller towns reduces this considerably. To the point no one at the number collection spoke english, we managed to collect our number, chip, sack and present, we did however, lack any pins to attach our numbers.A prepared runner may have brought their own safety pins, but neither Rachel or I were particulary prepared.

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VoiceOver on the apple watch

From 9to5Mac

Like Apple’s other products, Apple Watch will have a series of key accessibility features.
To access Accessibility Settings on the fly, users will triple-click the Digital Crown.
The Apple Watch will have a VoiceOver feature that can speak text that is displayed on the screen. Users will be able to scroll through text to be spoken using two fingers. VoiceOver can be enabled either by merely raising a wrist or by double tapping the display.
Users will also be able to zoom on the Apple Watch’s screen: double tap with two fingers to zoom, use two fingers to pan around, and double tap while dragging to adjust the zoom.
There will also be accessibility settings to reduce motion, control stereo audio balance, reduce transparency, switch to grayscale mode, disable system animations, and enable bold text.

Great to see confirmation that the apple watch will support VoiceOver. From the original demo I had hoped accessibility would be baked in. Looking forward to another way to interact with my smartphone and the new possibilities that will enable. Particularly looking forward to the haptic navigation features, which is something I have been reaching out for wearable companies to add for over 2 years.

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Object recognition with Google Glass

When I first heard about Google Glass I imagined a future when Glass could assist in labelling objects in the environment. Well it seems that future might be rapidly approaching

Neurence has created a cloud based platform called Sense, which uses pattern based machine learning to identify objects within an environment. This system can be utilised on a number of devices including Google Glass.

Through pattern recognition the cloud based platform is able to recognise objects within the environment such as signs. This has incredible implications for the VI community and as the platform expands and adds more objects to its database it will only functionally be of greater value.

What really intrigues me about this device is how it can fit an incredible purpose for the VI community but is aimed squarely at a different market. As they are attempting to make the next generation of search – which they believe to be image based, it is creating an enormous database of objects. This database is open to the public and there is even an SDK to contribute to the platform. Therefore, it would be relatively trivial to create a system that the VI could use, but the userbase would be so large that it would actually be useful. Unlike other devices that are squarely aimed at the VI community, thus limiting their scope which, in turn limits how large the subsequent database of recognised objects will be.

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Google Cardboard – Adding vision to the blind

As Google Cardboard surpasses the 500,000 mark it reminded me of a possible interesting use for the VI community.

A big issue related to loss of sight is contrast, as vision deteriorates the outside world often lacks enough contrast to adequately identify objects. However, this can in many cases be overcome by observing the same scene through a backlit screen. For example, a couple of years ago my son received a Duplo train for christmas. Due to my sight loss I was unable to see the track. However, my wife used Apple’s AirPlay to mirror what she was viewing onto the TV screen. This increased level of contrast meant I could help build the track. It may seem strange that I cannot see the track when looking directly at it, but can through a screen. But thanks to the increased contrast I can identify outlines.

This is where cardboard could offer some interesting visual cues to the VI. Simply viewing the world through the screen may be enough to add increased contrast, or filters could even be applied to assist in increasing contrast. A step further and similar to augmented reality certain objects could be increased in constrast assisting in mobility or even enjoying a scene otherwise invisible.

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