The Dutch Prutser's Blog

By: Harald van Breederode

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Archive for the ‘Accessibility’ Category

Should I switch to VirtualBox?

Posted by Harald van Breederode on March 22, 2009

Over the last two weeks several students advised me to switch from VMware Server to VirtualBox mainly because of better performance. So far I wasn’t unsatisfied by the performance of VMware, but if there is something freely available that is better I would be stupid to not give it a try.

Being a trainer I learned that reading documentation isn’t going to hurt you thus I first downloaded the manual, and after converting the PDF file to a Word document for better accessibility, I read through it and I was quite happy about the features I read about. Thus my first impression was very positive.

So yesterday I decided to give it a try and downloaded the software. After making a backup of my laptop I installed it. This went without any accessibility issues because the usage of a standard Windows installer which is quite accessible. During the installation the network was brought down, which was announced by the installer, but it failed to come up afterwards. Therefore the required registration process failed also. After a reboot things turned back to normal and I managed to finish the registration process although buttons were announced as edit fields. This raised my doubts about the accessibility.

Next I tried to build a new virtual machine using the GUI interface and this is where I gave up because this thing is almost totally inaccessible! Just as in the registration wizard buttons are announced as edit fields and many other GUI elements are not read at all by my screen reader. Also the menus in the menu bar don’t read as they should and multi-page dialogs don’t seem to respond to control+tab. Lucky enough the de-installation process ran smooth without screwing things up ;-)

So the answer to my question “Should I switch to VirtualBox?” is NO! I can’t verify if the performance is indeed better, but I do know that the accessibility of VMware is way better (although not perfect) than VirtualBox and that is the #1 feature I need. I know that VirtualBox can be managed using a command line interface, but overall I consider this less optimal than my current VMware environment. I rather have something slower but accessible than something quicker but inaccessible.


Posted in Accessibility, Linux | 15 Comments »

A new sounding look and feel

Posted by Harald van Breederode on February 25, 2009

As you probably have noticed I switched to a new look and feel for this blog, and I like to take the opportunity to say something about the reasons behind this change. Soon after I posted A misleading ORA-16047 people notified me that the alert.log contents and the code examples were overlapping with the sidebar at the right side of the screen. Because everything felt alright on my Braille display I didn’t noticed this myself at post time. Before this incident I noticed myself though, that the sidebar didn’t show up when entering my blog via the RSS feed.

So it was about time for a new look and feel for my blog, which is called a theme. But how does one judge the layout of a new theme being blind? With the patient assistance of a few friends I selected something that still looks nice, whatever that means, without the same problems of the original theme.

However soon after activating the new theme I discovered that it was much harder for me to find my most recent post. In order to understand this you need to know a little about how a blind person is able to surf over the Internet. Blind computer users are using a piece of Assistive technology called a screen reader. As its name implies, a screen reader reads the information from the computer screen out aloud or place it on a Braille display. In my case I am using the JAWS for Windows screen reader. JAWS has a feature called Quick Navigation Keys which allows me to quickly jump to a specific location on the screen, such as a button, an edit field or a heading. On Surfing the Internet with JAWS you can find more information about how JAWS helps me using the web.

The quick navigation key I use most is the one which moves me from one heading to another, which is a very convenient way of moving around on a well structured web page. On the old theme the most recent posting was three headings down from the top of the page and I could go there by three keystrokes. On the new theme however the most recent posting is twelve headings down and performing twelve keystrokes is no longer convenient. This behavior is caused by the fact that on the old theme the postings are located before the static section of the page, whilst on the new theme the postings are located behind the static section of the page. Immediately after activating this new theme my blind visitors started complaining about this.

This brought me into a moral dilemma: Do I choose for my blind visitors or do I choose for my poor sighted visitors? ;-) I have decided to go for the sighted visitors by offering them a nice look and feel, but I tried to help the blind as well by adding a tip on how to quickly jump to the most recent posting. Hopefully the sighted visitors understand that this has to be a two sided road and I expect that they build accessible web pages for the blind in return!

I like to thank Nienke, Eric, Lyon and Richard for their patience and feedback during my journey in finding an acceptable compromise between something that looks nice and is still accessible. Hopefully you like this new theme, but suggestions for further improvements are always welcome.

Posted in Accessibility | 3 Comments »

Remembering Lex de Haan

Posted by Harald van Breederode on February 1, 2009

Today it is three years ago that my dear friend Lex de Haan passed away after fighting an unfair battle against cancer. I know that many of you knew Lex and know what he meant for the Oracle community in general and for me in particular. Lex proposed my OakTable membership for example. I had the pleasure to work very closely with Lex on numerous occasions and today I like to share some of my memories with you.

My oldest memory goes back to the time when Lex was delivering seminars all over Europe and I was an Unix system administrator in the Dutch data center. I had no clue about what Lex was doing and to be honest I didn’t always understood why he needed things that no one else needed, like a FTP server to store his course material on. Lex always challenged me with very difficult to fulfill requests. Years later when I became a DBA instructor myself I begun to understand what Lex was doing and that he was actually a very nice and brilliant guy.

We really start to work together after I attended the Oracle9i New Features Train-The-Trainer (TTT) course held in Istanbul Turkey where Lex was one of the instructors. When it was time to upgrade this course from 9iR1 to 9iR2 Lex requested me to become part of the project team to take care of four lessons. I must admit that Lex was a very pleasant boss to work for and we became close friends.

By the time I was progressing to blindness, Lex left Oracle to start his own company called Natural-Join. When I had to attend the Oracle10g RAC TTT held in Paris I requested Lex to join me and we had a great time together. I had just started mobility training in order to learn how to walk with a mobility cane (white stick) and this was my first trip using the cane. Since both Lex and I are quite tall we both walk very quick. We were joking the whole week about me walking into someone’s back and let them trip over my mobility cane. Heading back home we were a bit late when we crossed the Gare du Nord railway station walking very fast not paying attention to other travelers. So suddenly there was a Frenchman lying on the floor in front of us who had tripped over my mobility cane. When he was back on his feet he apologized by saying “Sorry, I did not see you” and I responded with “I didn’t see you either because I am blind”. When we continued our rush to the train I discovered that my very expensive mobility cane was broken into two pieces, so I had to walk at Lex his arm for the rest of the day. It took us quite a while before we were able to stop laughing.
The months that followed Lex assisted me learning how to teach without sight and he wrote some PowerPoint macros for me to make it easier to use it. And he came up with the brilliant idea to use magnets on the whiteboard making it possible for me to find back what I wrote and also to use them while explaining things. As of today I still use the magnets and PowerPoint macros.

My last memory is from the day I had to say farewell to Lex while he was treated in the hospital. By that time the cancer had begun to affect his brain and Lex was in a bad condition when I visited him for the very last time. He was mostly asleep but woke up from time to time having a clear moment. When he realized I was there he took my mobility cane and while touching every centimeter of it he started a long monologue about what a brilliant wonderful piece of modern technology it was and that he certainly would choose the same model if he needed one himself. Four days later Lex passed away…

For more Lex memories please visit this Lex in Memoriam page on the OakTable site.

Posted in Accessibility, Oracle | 9 Comments »