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.

I thought this could be the perfect item for me, a feature rich set of scales that would display the weight of an item on screen. VoiceOver could read the weight to me and these scales would solve a large kitchen problem.

Upon testing the app VoiceOver works surprisingly well, a large number of the features can be read aloud and buttons are labelled well. The problem came when I tested the scales core feature, weighing. The current weight is not a VoiceOver selectable item, therefore, the weight cannot be read aloud.

It is worth highlighting that if you have low vision these scales will work well, the current weight is displayed in a white font on a black background. It is very high contrast and is far superior to the small screens that usually accompany kitchen scales.

Not deterred by the scales current lack of VoiceOver support I emailed Drop putting in a request for the current weight to be selectable by VoiceOver. I unfortunately received a boiler plate response that said it was something they may investigate in the future and thanking me for my patience.

This disappointed me more than the scales not working for me. The companies lack of insight into an opportunity. The Drop scales are on price parity with other accessible scales, but are far more feature rich. Therefore, if they were accessible, they could easily take a large chunk out of that market.

There is also the additional business case of the positive marketing they would receive from making this change. It would certainly bring them attention from the VI media as well as the mainstream media.

 The business case for this change appears to make sense and that is what is disappointing. As ever making something accessible is way down on the priority list, mainly because this company fails to see the positive impact making something accessible could make.

It would make a huge impact on individuals like myself where it would solve a problem, but it would make an impact on their bottom line. The development cost to make this change would easily be outweighed by the new market these scales would be opened too and the press coverage. Companies need to stop seeing making a product or service accessible as low priority and understand the positive business case for making the change.


Then perhaps the slogan “Now anyone can bake” would hold true.


Boston to NYC – The Line

While running with a friend I had a little flashback to a moment from my Boston to NYC adventure. As my friend and I ran down a road I was using my usual trick of feeling the line underfoot, when I remembered a moment from the roads of Connecticut.

It was when I began to really think about running the line. My guide was off in front with the simple instruction, “follow the line Simon!”. Everyone in the group including myself readily accepted my ability to feel the line and stick to it, one foot wrong and I would be facing the enormity of the american traffic. For a single moment I realised just how high risk the belief in my ability was. But that was it, one single passing moment of “I cant see and I am just feeling this line!” and then it faded away. I quickly flicked back into the moment and carried on chatting to my guide out front.

Those months of honing my skill of following the lines has really automated the task, and I rarely think about it. Following the line has just become second nature.

Dream to Reality

A few years ago I began to think of a few adventures I would love to embark on. I came up with three: The Pilgrimage, The Return and The Dream. Late last month I was fortunate enough for The Pilgramage to become a reality.

The basic premise of The Pilgrimage was to pay homage to RunKeeper and visit a city close to my heart – NYC. The dream was to run from the HQ of RunKeeper in Boston, to NYC then compete in the NYC marathon. The idea to visit the RunKeeper HQ was to thank them for where I am today. Their app enabled me to believe running solo was possible, the reason NYC? I spent a bit of time there, while I could still see. Therefore, the city remains close to my heart.

The adventure was made possible by a few select companies, namely Twitter, PayPal and AirBnB, Little did I know that partnering with AirBnB would elevate the adventure so greatly.

I have decided to break the details of the adventure up into a little series of moments, rather than detailing the adventure chronologically, I will highlight the memories that were forged and hopefully paint a picture of how I will remember the adventure.

It is worth noting at this point how great all the companies, hosts and especially my crew were in making this a reality. Even now 2 weeks after my return the experiences are difficult to comprehend. It became more than a run, and far more than the pilgrimage I had intended it to be.

A Call for A SmartTreadmill

I currently own a NordicTrack T14 treadmill. What makes this treadmill so special is its iFit Live system. The iFit live system allows a route to be plotted online through google maps that is then sent to the treadmill. So any inclines that appear on the plotted route are automatically changed by the treadmill. It basically allows you to practice running the inclines of any given route.

This really is a nice system, you can even hook up a TV and navigate to the iFit website and it will display the google street view of your current location. However after using this treadmill for a while I can see a number of areas it could be improved to make a truly great treadmill.

The Smart Treadmill as I envisage it would be controlled by an iPad this is for a number of reasons.

1. Reduced cost for developing the console. The consoles are usually terrible on low to mid level treadmills. With the high end treadmills simply gaining features such as television. Utilising an iPad for a console would give great access to technology.

2. Unique features of the iPad, there is already a music player built in, movies built in, web browser and a never ending list of applications.

3. Brilliant touch screen technology. Lets face it Apple’s touch screens are just beautiful compared to the competitors.

4. New revenue streams for the manufacturer. Currently the manufacturer creates the treadmill then sells it. Revenue stream over. However make the iPad the console and you have now created a market place. A market place where you can sell workout packs, map packs and a whole host of other products that could produce revenue years after the sale of the treadmill.

5. Accessibility. It is simply not financially viable for current manufacturers to create an accessible treadmill for the blind. Make a treadmill that has an iPad for a console and this problem is solved. With VoiceOver built into the iPad all information that is on the screen can be read out. How amazing would that be an accessible treadmill!

I would really love this treadmill to exist. The feature list could be huge, with an easy updateable system this feature list can be expanded over time.

Plotting routes via a mapping system would be incredibly easy with the iPad controlling the treadmill. Also utilising a system like google street view would also be easy. Hell without the need to create an embedded control system the development time would be far quicker.

So please treadmill manufactures make this treadmill! Oh and if you do please send me one for suggesting it in the first place!

Technology frustration

A lot of what I consider my daily life is only possible thanks to particular pieces of technology. Therefore my reliance on these gadgets is incredibly high so when one fails or in this case failure after failure I get incredibly frustrated.

I decided to go and run a steady 15 miles this morning, so packed my plastic drop bag with the essentials; water and some Twix’s. It was already feeling like it would rain heavy so I warned my wife I might come back early as I didn’t want to run in the rain today.

I dropped my bag near my usual lamppost and opened up RunKeeper. “start activity” I placed it in my pocket “activity stopped” dammit. So I pulled it out and did it again, put it in my pocket and accidentally pressed the button for a distance update. “3.95 miles” well considering I had taken 2 steps that may be a little off. So after trying nearly 8 times and just not getting RunKeeper working through a combination of user input error and poor GPS signal I thought I might just run at home. So my wife circled back and picked me up (at least the iPhone worked to make a call!).

Arriving home I thought I would jump straight on the treadmill. My wife then brought the AppleTV in from the other room and plugged it in. At least I could listen to some movies while I ran, something to pass the time. However Plex decided to be a total pain in the ass and not work, frustrated I decided to turn to the radio.

Listening to the radio poses one problem though I am reliant on the presenter given time updates so I can figure out how far I have ran. Thanks to the new BBCR1 morning presenter these time updates never happened.

So frustrated that RunKeeper had failed, then Plex, then the radio had failed me I was getting frustrated. I had no idea how long I had been running or how far I had ran. I am used to receiving feedback through audio so when I lose that I lose motivation.

So unmotivated and frustrated I just decided to call it a day. So I sat on the treadmill and ate a snack size Twix and Grayson stole a packet of Maltesers and we cheered ourselves up through chocolate.

Now there are solutions to all these problems but when you are already annoyed you don’t think clearly. So next time I will just try and be more prepared.

A Rough Day

Today has just seemed like one of those days where everything seems to go slightly wrong.

The day started out pretty well, I had to make a few adjustments in travel arrangements today so I headed round to my sisters to get a lift in with my brother in law. I then ended up shooting my willing nephew repeatedly with a Nerf gun. This was certainly a fun morning activity!

Arriving in sheffield we missed my first lecture due to a few issues and I had decided my time would be better spent working on an essay. A quick call from the press association attempting to schedule filming for that day gave me an opportunity to bargain for a lift home! They didn’t go for it so we rearranged for another day and I had to figure out another way to get home.

Shortly after this is where it all started going wrong. I had to attend an afternoon lecture to get an opportunity to chat to the lecturer about an essay I am yet to begin.

Just as I was about to approach the lecturer my phone rang. At the minute I always answer my phone immediately just in case its Guide Dogs, I am desperate for a guide dog so any phone call I hope it to be the one. Turned out it wasn’t and the lecturer left before I got a chance to talk to him. That was pretty much the entire reason I went in today for that quick chat to the lecturer.

I decided to make plans to get home and arranged to meet someone at the train station where I live. This meant a simply trip on the tram and train something I do regularly. However this time it just didn’t seem to go smoothly.

All the stair wells had been closed off, so when you use a cane the only way you find this out is when you bump into the barriers. So I eventually made it to the platform I needed to be at with a little assistance and I waited patiently for my train. My train always leaves on the same platform, so its a simply case of waiting on platform 2 for the right train.

“the train approaching platform 2 is the 1520 to Leeds”

Thats a little early I thought, surely its only around 1500. So I moved away from the platform and waited for the next train. A few minutes later another announcement.

“the train approaching platform 3 is the 1520 to Leeds”

Eh? So the train I just missed was the one I wanted? Dammit. So now getting annoyed I waited for the next train.

“the train approaching platform 2 is the late 1520 to Leeds”

This time I thought I would ask the conductor who got off the train what was going on. Turned out this train was actually the late 1520 to Leeds, who knows what the others were.

So I continued to wait and finally a train I could catch was announced. By this time I was becoming frustrated as I was worried I would miss my lift the other end. The train was announced and 10 minutes later it still hadn’t arrived!

When it finally did I boardedd the train squeezed into the totally inadequate seating and waited for the conductor. Who then proceeded to annoy me by questioning the validity of my rail card. Felt like swearing but I let it be and headed home in a grumpy mood.

So there it is my rant about today, seems stupid now and it was pretty much forgotten once I had finished my run. But british rail you do annoy me

Marathon Sandwich

The first of this years challenges has been entitled the Marathon Sandwich. It will involve me running the Sheffield half marathon, then running a full marathon, with a half tacked on the end.

The halves make the break while the marathon is the filling, making for a marathon sandwich! It will be a steady 52.4 mile run that I am intending to use for training for the South Downs Way 100 which is 4 weeks later.

The event takes place on the 27th of may. In order for people to take part we have decided to run the majority of the distance doing circuits of Endcliffe Park in Sheffield. So we are inviting anyone who would like to attend to run a 1.3 mile loop of the park.

I am raising money for a local blind charity Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind (SRSB). It is a wonderful charity that offers many services to the visually impaired within the district. It is the only local charity for some distance to offer such services as I travel all the way from Doncaster in order to attend their meetings.

More details of the challenge can be found over at Marathon Sandwich if you would like to donate to the charity please visit JustGiving

Post Surgery and the Media

Around a month ago I finally had eye surgery on my left eye. While the surgery went well I arrived home in quite a lot of pain. After 3 hours I couldn’t take the pain any longer and had to return to the hospital, turned out my cornea had been scratched during the operation and was causing my a lot of pain. Thankfully nothing serious so I went home and waited out the pain.

However the past few weeks have been incredibly difficult, the imbalance the surgery has created is too great. I am really struggling. This has unfortunately caused a few issues with university and training.

I will have to defer some of my university exams and essays till the summer. I simply don’t have enough time to catch up on everything I have missed. This is a real shame as I didn’t want to have to resort to this, but I would rather get a result I am happy with and wait till summer.

I also had to miss a small amount of training which is having an effect. My calf muscles seem to be having a real issue with lactic acid, I seem to build up the acid far to quickly. I hope this subsides in a week or so otherwise it will be a lot of grunting when I compete!

On the positive side I seem to be gaining a lot of media attention really and today received a wonderful writeup in the Guardian! You can read it over here. I have also given interviews for a number of magazines and newspapers, I will try and link to them as they are released!

Once in a lifetime

Once in a lifetime is a saying that gets easily used. When my wife and I travelled America we lauded how it was once in a lifetime. In reality we will no doubt repeat that trip in a decades time. We often use the saying when the task in actuality is easily repeated.

For once though I believe I have a once in a lifetime opportunity. I have been giving a condition place to be a London 2012 Olympic Torchbearer. The condition being I pass the security and background checks, pretty sure I will pass this easy enough!

So I am truly honoured to have been chosen. It is without a doubt the greatest reward for the past year of hard training and running. I would even rank it higher than my TV commercial!

Like most things in life there was a long string of interwoven events that led to me being nominated.

Disregarding all the training for a while, the timeline went a little like this:

I wrote a blog post about my experiences with RunKeeper and how it enabled me to train solo outdoors. This was quickly picked up by the RunKeeper team and appeared on their blog.

The Daily in New York found the story and ran an article on me.

This was quickly followed by Wired and CNN. Resulting in me filming a short for CNN that aired earlier this year. The Wired featured blog ran for a number of months and brought in lots more attention.

During the time I was writing for Wired I lost my pacing team. So I began a search for a new pacing team and perhaps the most instrumental people in the timeline were introduced.

I contacted UP & Running in the hopes they could help me piece together a pacing team. They went above and beyond and ran a small in store campaign and mentioned it on Twitter. This brought in the initial point of contact James Clay, along with James came Matt Puddy and Charlie Baxter.

Matt and Charlie took up the reigns and began to put together a team. Matt ran all the logistics, planning and organising. He was incredibly instrumental in allowing me to run my first ultra run.

With the run complete the next event was the ASICS call. They wanted a blind runner for a TV commercial and I didn’t really fit the bill. I had a quick chat and mentioned what I was doing alone and with my pacers was a better story than the one they were on the look out for. They agreed and the TV commercial was created.

These interwoven events created my running journey of the past year and were the basis of my nomination. I was kindle nominated by Charlie and Matt and was chosen. But without all those other people my story wouldn’t have got out there and the opportunity would never have presented itself.

So to all those people Thank you.

There is however one last mention. For my wife, she was there through all the difficulties of training, the time I was passed out on the bathroom floor, when my legs failed during training, when my water was stolen and most importantly she had the faith that when I said I could run alone she believed it.

Under The Knife

The majority of blind people are still have some level of vision. Only around 2% see total darkness. Luckily I fall within than 98%. For example I can still perceive light that in turn allows me to see shapes and movement as well as on good days make out a little detail. The sight I have lost is my peripheral vision, central vision, colour definition and I also have total night blindness.

To be able to utilise this small amount of vision I need to wear glasses. This is often frustrating as glasses and contact lenses cost me around £1000 a year. This is an enormous amount of money for frankly very little benefit. The cost has become far to prohibitive now I am a student and I simply cannot afford it.

Thankfully I have another issue with my eyes: cataracts. This may not at first seem like a lucky ailment to have, but it does mean I qualify for surgery. During surgery plastic lenses replace my natural biological ones, the great thing is these can be prescription lenses.

So thanks to the cataracts I will have my prescription partly corrected and I will be able to afford to use my limited vision once again.

I am also interested to see what happens when I walk around using my cane without glasses. Currently I believe people are less willing to help as they believe I have a large amount of vision. People have even approached me and started conversations assuming because of my glasses I am simply partially sighted.