Over the last several years I've been dealing with various stages of disability thanks to ALS. My goal is to share solutions and review various products/tools/devices that I have found particularly helpful.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Accessing the Power of Autohotkey through Voxcommando

Back when I first mentioned voxcommando, I talked about how it can be used with autohotkey, but didn't provide an example. Honestly, I wasn't quite Happy with it for me to put public and I wanted to solve an example to do with pushing buttons in dialogue boxes. Now that I have it figured out… Here it is! :-)

Autohotkey and voxcommando example.zip

Yes, I know Python is integrated into voxcommando as a plug-in. So please don't jump on me for not using it. I chose to use autohotkey for two very specific reasons. First off, autohotkey is intended to emulated mouse and keyboard input. Which is exactly what I needed to achieve. In particular we need access to the Windows key button. Which I'm not sure can be easily achieved through Python. This is native and integral to autohotkey.

Secondly, which is a bit more off and aside. Autohotkey provides a hotstring and hotkey override/functionality. Which is particularly useful with a disability such as ALS. Because of this, I had developed a previous understanding of autohotkey.

Okay, about the example. Its core functionality is really quite simple. I create a command inside voxcommando, which is then used to execute a autohotkey scripts which passes in a command line parameter, such as "showdesktop". The command line parameter is then parsed out and the relevant bit of script is executed. Which in this case is to press Windows key and D (or in autohotkey language Send #{d} ).

In the example script, you will find examples for the snapping a window to the left, right and the four corners of your screen. Force rebooting your computer (don't worry it asks for confirmation first.) And how you can use autohotkey to pushing buttons in dialog boxes.(Eventually, I may expand it to do more. Right now it does just buttons)

I am told user account controls no longer
provides much benefit. Make it less annoying by
shutting it off
The dialogue box and button example was something I really wanted to get working. It provided more headache than expected, which is what caused the delay in publishing this article. However, the difficulty was not in the autohotkey script itself, nor voxcommando. Both of those worked beautifully. The issue was in finding a way around the user account controls provided by Windows. This was blocking the  autohotkey script to push the buttons. I tried numerous solutions and workarounds. The most successful support program was something called "UAC trust shortcut". While this worked, the functionality was erratic. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it would not. Could not figure out why. I found the best solution was to simply turn off the user account controls altogether.

What's that you say? It's a security feature? Yes it is. However, I discussed at length some of my computer programmer friends (who have much bigger brains than my own) that the security provided by user account controls is somewhat outdated and offer little benefit anymore. So would their assurances, I have turned mine off. (Don't worry. There is nothing compiled in the zip file. You can examine all the autohotkey scripts before using them).

Okay, I can get you thinking, "why is this a problem?" Well, in order for autohotkey to be able to send button commands to another dialog box. That Script needs to be run as an administrator, then the upgraded to do so, he has to come from another script.

Dont forget, if you want to give this script a try you need to install autohotkey from http://ahkscript.org/ other versions will likely not work.

Because autohotkey and voxcommando play so very well toghther, each get a thumbs up!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Beating the Cold with Milwaukee's Heated Hoodie & Camping Slippers

Seeing as it's freakishly cold here in Montréal right now, swinging between a balmy -20°C and -40°C. It seemed like a good time to introduce a proper Canadian tradition, the good old the Canadian "two-fer". As in two for one… But sometimes also applies to a case of 24 beer… Sorry kids, not that one. ;-)

Before hoodie...
Around about this time last year, you may recall I posted an article about the Milwaukee heated jacket. While the jacket was very good, it was just not quite right to replace a winter jacket. The big issue lies in the fact that, by itself, it was quite warm enough. Especially in the arms. So I would find I had to put on another layer between my skin and the heating elements, which in turn reduced the effectiveness of the heating element.

This is where the heated hoodie is really great. The material is made from is basically like a jogging suit. But a bit heavier, so it's quite warm as is. It has the same heating elements and functionality as Milwaukee heated jacket. But, being a hoodie . I find I am able to put on a regular T-shirt (sometimes longsleeved), hoodie and then my regular winter jacket. And this combination works out really quite well. Beginning elements of liberty are brought much closer to my skin and consequently have much more affect. This also means I can run it on the lower setting and still have a similar effect. Usually, when I first leave the house I turn it on medium. Only posting at the high after I have been out for a while. Needless to say this extends the battery life by about an hour.

I should however mentioned that I've only tested this off to about -20. I have not tried going out in colder weather. Mostly because the sidewalks are not that clean. Makes it hard on my neck, and is a real mess in the house afterwards.

If I have to say anything against the hoodie, is that the battery pouch is a little bit awkward. In the jacket, it's a nice tight pocket. They keeps the battery in place and consistently oriented in a vertical fashion. The pocket in the hoodie is much larger and looser, causing it to travel in more of a horizontal position. Which can sometimes get in the way when sitting down. It is usually easily adjusted to fit in the void of my wheelchair back. Also, unlike the jacket the battery pouches on the inside of the hoodie. Meaning that if you have to change it, you have to open the hoodie up. This is not an issue for me yet.

After hoodie...
One item I've been looking at is an extension wire for the battery. That way I could leave the battery in the pouch on the side of my wheelchair and easement. The changeup while I'm out. However, I have only found one with a car adapter. Not only did it yet, so I'm not too sure if we will suit my needs.

So all told, the heated hoodie is great! For the price of the $150 (including the battery and charging unit) At Home Depot.ca (Pro tip: I found it to be about $20 cheaper in-store than online) it's kind of like wearing a portable electric blanket. It comes in four colors: Black, gray (I have this one), khaki and special edition red. If you have a disability that impairs your ability to keep warm, get one! Well worth the money.

I have also been wearing a pair of down camping slippers quite a bit. The original idea, based on my reading was that I could possibly wear these out instead of winter boots (given the fact I'm not walking anymore). They were after all kind of like sleeping bags for your feet and being down feather they are in fact we comfortable and warm. But not quite good enough to replace winter boots simply because the wind goes through them pretty easily which quickly translates into cold feet. Even with heavy winter socks…
I bought the red ones just to be different

That being said, the slippers are still extremely good and works just fine for short trips outside. For example, going from the car into the shopping mall. I'm finding I am wearing them a lot. Especially around the house.

Been made with down feathers the weigh practically nothing  (Less than 300 g for both of them!) and are extremely comfortable. Also, because they are feather I find that they keep my feet at much more of a Goldilocks temperature. Not too hot, not too cold… Just right.

They also have a very good, durable no slip sole. But because of my particular walking technique, I preferred to kick them off when I have to walk. It's easier for me to shuffle my feet in my socks.

I bought them from Mountain equipment co-op for about $65. A bit more than one we usually consider spending for slippers, but at the same time I'm using them much more generally then I would a pair of slippers.

I'm finding I'm very pleased with the slippers and recommend them. You can also order them online from MEC.ca On this link, you will find several different styles and colors of the slippers, ranging in price from $39-$89.

To summarize, both of these win the awesome award!

Monday, 5 January 2015

2014 In Comical Review

I thought the best way to kick off my first post of 2015 would be to review some of the more humorous/ comical/ facepalm conversations and moments brought to you by ALS. Some of these I posted on my twitter feed or Facebook, but should be good for another laugh ;-)

ok, I know you *can* but

On Using an Electric Razor

my helper, holding the electric razor in hand looks at me pauses and then asks "where do you keep the shaving foam?"

Somebody Tripped Me

back in August, when I fell and broke my right arm. One of my regular helpers arrives for the scheduled appointment. This is her first time seeing me since, of course she is surprised to see me in a cast and immediately asks "what happened!?"

I tell her the story about how my right leg let go for no apparent reason and I fell on my wrist. Breaking my arm.

She replies, "well, you sure were lucky that Jesus was there!"

Me: "yeah, I know, it sure felt like somebody tripped me."

With a confused look on her face, pauses, then asks, "what do you mean?"

"Well, I sure didn't fall by myself. Somebody had to trip me."

"… I don't understand."

Me: "… Jesus tripped me…"

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for allowing people their individual beliefs. Just don't use it as a way to tell me how "lucky I am".

Proof of Life

my insurance company actually required me to get my Dr. To fill out a form, which is essentially confirmed that I was still alive and could continue coverage. Essentially, I had to provide proof of life for myself.

The Spacebar Lady

I could not go without me telling this one. Back in May, befor I e we moved in and broke my arm. I had modified my desktop computer so I could boot it by pressing the space bar. However, if I'm already sitting in my computer chair I cannot reach it on account of disability. On this day I asked for help…

Me: would you please press the space bar on keyboard?

Helper: what is the space bar?

Me: the large rectangular key on the bottom of the keyboard, press it

helper: I'm sorry, I don't know what that is

me: the button you press the put a space between words!

Helper: I don't understand.

Speaking in French this time, we pretty much repeat the above conversation. Finally, I get it frustrated and ask: Didn't you tell me you recently finished a computer course recently for something like Microsoft office?

Helper says proudly: yes I did, I got 94%

Me: then how on earth do you not know what a space bar is?

I think to myself, 94% for what. Attendance?

Wheelchair Versus the Stairs

the wife and I had to attend a meeting to sign some legal papers. The location was changed to accommodate my wheelchair needs. When we arrived in the front lobby, me and wheels 2.0. We are greeted at the front door by one of the assistants saying something like "so glad you can make it! We are happy. You could make it. Everyone is waiting for you upstairs."

Me: "great, where is the elevator?"

Gesturing to the stairs, the assistant says, "we don't have one, everyone is waiting for you upstairs."

Looking down at wheels 2.0 I replied "I'm going to give you a minute to realize the likely what the problem is…"


It's funny how some people don't immediately grab the obvious.

The Coffee Incident.

I have Nespresso coffee machine. It is unbelievably easy to use. Granted, the power button can be considered to be a bit "camouflaged". but other then that, extreemly logical and easy to us. so one day  after almost 15 min. of trying to explain to my helper how to make a cup of coffee… This happened