FreeCodeCamp for Me, #HourOfCOde For The Kids!

FreeCodeCamp for Me, #HourOfCOde For The Kids!

Where have you been?

Good question, let me answer that. since #GetOnlineWeek , my blog has fallen silent. I think it’s about time I explained why. Instead of just consuming the web, I wanted to learn how to create it too. You might say I took that step when I started this blog, however I can’t take credit for the look or functionality of this little corner of the internet, we have WordPress to thank for that. No, I want to dive deep into the code and do it from scratch.

This has been a fantasy of mine for some time now. In all honesty, it isn’t my first attempt either. I have taken several miss steps towards this goal in the past but this time, I’m determined. With a lot of help  and motivation from a very good friend of mine @kazziegriff , I have the best chance ever at success.

 

So Why Now?

Shortly after posting my last post, I was struck by a fit of frustration due to my lack of progress. To try and remedy this,  I turned to the internet for advice. Thankfully, the internet didn’t let me down, introducing me to FreeCodeCamp. This site takes the learning approach a little differently to other programming tutorial sites I’ve tried. As well as teaching you the skills, it also provides you with the ability to put these skills to use by contributing to non profit organisations, once your training is complete.

Due to a sequence of events, I have found myself with a lot of free time on my hands lately. Other than shepherding my children to and from school and keeping the bed warm while my wife is hard at work, my body and mind were idle, not a great place to be when you suffer from depression. So after several conversations / counseling sessions with @kazziegriff  we hit on retraining as a solution, with the long term goal to move me out of the rut I’d found myself in and back into the big wide world.

 

So Where To Next

@kazziegriff  consulted some of her web development colleagues on my behalf, asking them what would be desired by a web development firm, looking to hire a junior web developer. It turns out qualifications aren’t that important, much more important is demonstrating you have the knowledge they’re after. A great way to demonstrate this knowledge is with a portfolio.

Great I thought, I’ve had no clients, not even unpaid, how am I to build a portfolio of work (Always looking on the down side as usual). However, FreeCodeCamp came to the rescue. Not only does it differ from the other coding tutorial sites out there with it’s hands off, community focused teaching approach. The opportunity it grants it’s graduates to work on real world projects for non profit organisations would provide me the ideal opportunity to build my portfolio. Also throughout the course, you are prompted to complete challenges which involve producing different, custom, examples of functional websites, again perfect for my portfolio.

 

What’s taken you so long?

At the time of drafting this post, I am 24 days into my journey with FreeCodeCamp. I know this as my progress is tracked on my profile, providing a level of motivation to keep you coming back day after day, not wanting to break your streak, I fear however, now that I am approaching the intermediate level of challenges, my streak will break. Not because I’m not coming back day after day but because the challenges will just take me that much longer to complete.

(UPDATE: My prediction was correct. Since writing the last paragraph, my streak has come to an end, taking longer than expected to complete the next challenge to maintain it. This did introduce a little negative energy into my learning process, as I imagined it would. However, I remain determined to complete my goal and the lists of challenges set in front of me by FreeCodeCamp.)

Keeping It In The Family.

FreeCodeCamp is perfect for me and what I’m trying to achieve, however my family isn’t getting much from it in exchange for their father and husband spending hours hunched over his computer night after night. It so happens, my writing of this blog post coincides perfectly with the #HourOfCode initiative from code.org and Computer Science Week. This provides me with the perfect opportunity to introduce my wife and children to programming. Code.org have provided everyone with a fun and easy to absorb introduction to this ever more important field.

code-org_logo-svg

The gamer in me couldn’t help but notice Minecraft’s participation in this initiative., in the form of a Minecraft themed project, where the user has to manipulate on screen objects using blocks of code.  This is perfect as my son, my wife, even my little 3 year old girl love Minecraft, so I couldn’t have chosen a better themed project if I’d tried, (well maybe Pokemon but MInecraft will do just fine!)

My children are aged 3 and 6, my 3 year old daughter may be too young for this project. However I’m hoping that my son may catch the coding bug. After my son has completed this Minecraft project, passer a few of the others available on code.org, I’ll need a way  to keep the coding flame alight.

The internet once again provided the answer, in the form of a programming language called Scratch, exactly what I was looking for. It uses a similar interface to the hour of code, a simple drag and drop affair. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Code.org is using an implementation of Scratch for it’s Minecraft project, the similarities are so strong.

I look forward to seeing what my son can create with the tools that Scratch puts at his disposal, should he choose to continue. I hope wholeheartedly that he does. I don’t mind holding my hands up to the accusation that I will try to encourage it as I feel that a basic understanding of programming would be a very beneficial tool to have under his belt moving forward.

 

Moving Forward

In the coming months, I hope that my FreeCoeCamp experience will lead to me possibly obtaining paid employment in the web development sphere. Not only that, I hope to start sharing my passion for programming with my family, with the help of code.org, so that when I rush into the living room excited about a problem I’ve just solved, they don’t all collectively roll their eyes as I start talking about Functions Variables and for loops.

Either way, I’m sure this won’t be the last you’ll hear about my programming journey on my blog. If you’ve had experience with either of these websites, please share them with me, I want to hear of your experiences. Are you a web developer, more importantly, are you a visually impaired developer . I’d really be interested in hearing your story. Do you have any other programming resources you think I and others may find useful, share them with me please, I need all the help I can get.

As always feel free to leave comments below or contact me on Facebook or Twitter.  Also if you’d consider sharing this post too on your social media I would really appreciate it. Thanks for reading and I’ll catch() you next time.

The Journey That Ended In Me Being #OnlineToday

The Journey That Ended In Me Being #OnlineToday

Recently, @jaympaul on twitter brought to my attention #GetOnlineWeek, which  is a long running campaign managed by the Tinder Foundation. The campaign runs between the 17th and the 23rd of October, it’s aim to help people discover the benefits of being online.  This year the campaign is celebrating it’s 10 year anniversary, giving me the  ideal opportunity to talk about how technology has helped me get and stay online.

It has also given me the chance to shine a spotlight on the RNIB‘s #OnlineToday initiative, where they help people with sensory loss access their devices and get online.

My aim is to bring out a series of blog posts on how me and my family use the internet throughout October. Although as my plans tend to go awry, like the best laid  plans of mice and men, I wanted to at least release this post looking at an overview of my journey to getting online, a brief mention of some of the devices I use to get online and what I do while connected.

 

My Journey To The Internet.

As you may or may not be aware, I am a legally blind 29 year old, from the UK, suffering from Retinitis Pigmentosa. This can have some limiting effects on certain aspects of my life.  Thankfully however, having embraced technology from an early age, I have been able to stay up to date with the benefits it can provide to someone like me.

When I first got online, nearly two decades ago, there was only one option available to everyone, that was to get your hands on a PC, be it Windows or Mac. Personally I went down the Windows rout. Nagging my mum year after year, in  a forlorn hope that she may crack and buy me a computer, one summer, shortly before starting high school, a delivery lorry pulled up at the front of our house unexpectedly. Out came box after box, each one containing a piece to the puzzle that would keep me entertained for years to come.

Unpacking each box, me and my brother made an event of connecting each grey box together. We strung cables from the monitor to the base unit, then went in the mouse and keyboard, finally the printer and speakers. Thankfully all the cables were colour coordinated or it may have taken us a lot longer to figure things out, neither one of us having done it before, let alone used one.  in hope that when we turned the power on it would all work.

After a huge amount of hugs and kisses in thanks to my mum and promises made that it would only be used for school work, I switched on that Packard Bell PC, marking the first steps on my journey to the internet.

How things have changed, with the ubiquity of smart phones, tablets, smart TV’s and the plethora of other connected devices, there is a bewildering number of ways you can get online today.

After years of waiting for it to make it’s journey across the Atlantic and become readily available in the UK. Our family recently took delivery of the newest member to our connected household, the Amazon Echo. Yet another way our family is making use of the technology and internet combination, making our lives easier and more full filled.

Not only the number of devices we use to get online have increased , but the means in which those devices talk to each other, the internet, has also increased in availability and speed, while reducing in price for the most part.

When I first got online, broadband was still in it’s infancy and the majority of people were still accessing the world wide web via a dial up connection. Now, mobile internet access and broadband internet access have reached a parity in a lot of areas of the country, making dial up pretty much a non entity, thank goodness.

 

 

My download speed has increased from 56 kbps back in the Packard Bell era of my computing history, to (up to!) an astonishing 150 mbps today, although as the graphic above shows, 108.81 mbps is the best I could achieve here . In addition to this speed increase, the cost of that access has fallen.

I touched on mobile internet a little earlier. This has possibly been one of the biggest changes in technology in recent years. It’s untethered people from their desktops and enabled people to stay connected no matter where they are.

Mobile phones had only just become a thing as I started to lose my sight as a child, I along with the rest of the world had no idea how fast and how far mobile technology would come. But I do know that technology, the internet in particular has played a huge part in my life. I can only see the impact of it growing as I embrace its potential.

 

But you’re blind, you can’t see to use mainstream technology.

Ah, that’s where you’re wrong. There may still be devices that haven’t picked up the accessibility baton and hammered their devices into shape with it. However, you’ll be surprised just how many mainstream devices have accessibility features baked into them from the get go.

While the hardware manufacturers and infrastructure companies innovated, accessibility advocates and engineers didn’t sit on their hands, oh no, they were hard at work too.  macOSWindowsiOS and not forgetting Android, the four operating systems that most major consumer devices are based, all have accessibility features installed by default.

There are also devices like the Amazon Echo, that do away with the screen all together. Once the device is configured, which requires the use of a smart phone, either iOS or Android based, the device is accessed entirely via verbal commands. This enables you to access streaming music services like Amazon Prime Music and Spotify. manage your calendar and a myriad of other functions that are constantly being expanded via the Amazon Skills API. This device levels the accessibility playing field massively, perhaps due to a lucky accident, but the end result is still the same.

An Image and Link to the Amazon Echo

My 6 year old son did over estimate the echo’s capabilities a little however,  with his first voice command being “Alexa, make me a snack”. If the 10 inch cylindrical form of the Amazon echo had a face, it would have had a look of bewilderment painted on it, as it thought about how it would complete this task. Little did we know, the Echo is capable of ordering take away meals, via ‘Just Eat‘, so his request isn’t as far fetched as it may have first sounded to me and his mum, as we rolled around laughing.

 

This thing can also make phone calls.

I’d be lost without my PC and I love the new technology that comes onto the market like the echo, however, this past 5 years or so I’ve come to rely a lot on my smart phone. After years of struggling with a magnifying glass to try and read text messages and navigate through phone menus, when I reach 16 years old it came to the point where I just couldn’t manage it any more and my use of mobile devices just stopped.

Then came the smart phone revolution, triggered in part by the original iPhone. As usual, I was a little slow on the uptake. I jumped on board with the Samsung Galaxy S3, when I realised just how accessible the devices have become. Since then things have just got better and better. Now, I’m using the Samsung Galaxy S6  and I wouldn’t be without it.

Accessing email, twitter and streaming content in the same way a sighted person would, my mobile experience is a world away from what it used to be. And on the occasion I need to make a phone call, it handles that pretty well too.

 

Some mainstream technology is difficult to access.

That doesn’t mean I had to give up and spend the rest of my life offline. There are hundreds, if not thousands of products out there,  specifically designed to make accessing technology easier. These either adapt mainstream technology to make it accessible or give you an alternative device with similar features to off the shelf products, in an accessible form-factor.

These products include third party screen magnification and screen reader software, an example of this is Dolphin’s Supernova, a product I am familiar with and used to use during my time at college. Since then, they have continued to advance it’s capabilities and it now boasts a complete suite of accessibility features that is drawing my attention.

A screen shot of the supernova website.
A screen shot of the supernova website.

Software adaptations aren’t limited to desktop and laptop devices however, companies like Synaptic Software provide a software package designed for android devices that simplifies the user interface and makes it easier to access for people with visual impairments. You can also buy devices with this software pre-installed.

As far as my smart phone goes, I am happy, for the most part, with the built in accessibility features provided by the Android operating system. Features I expand upon via the use of third party apps like ‘Tap Tap See.

If software adaptations don’t go far enough, there are several peripherals you can buy to increase the accessibility of your device. These range widely from high contrast keyboards to braille displays that can help you access your smart phone or PC, a lot of which can be found on the RNIB Online Shop.

As my vision is so reduced, combined with the fact I am a touch typist, high contrast keyboards are of little use to me, a braille display is a product I would consider adding to my arsenal in the future however.

 

But I’m not like you, I’m new to technology .

That’s OK, no one expects you to turn on a device and instantly know how to access it and get the most from it. That’s why there are governmental projects and charitable organisations out there to help you get started. An example of this would be the RNIB’s Online Today Initiative , put in place to help those with sight loss access and get the most from their technology.

Take a look at the video below produced by RNIB, where Andrew gives a brief look at what he does while online and the advantages being online offers. He also gives an overview on how the RNIB‘s Online Today team can help you if you suffer from sensory loss.

 

 

I know it’s often easy for someone like me who has surrounded themselves with technology and the internet, to underestimate how difficult it can be to take that first step. However people like Andrew, along with the other staff members and volunteers at RNIB have the training and experience to guide you through the process, so that you can take those first steps together.

 

Technology opened the door to other interests.

The pure love of technology is what got me lusting after a connected life style all those years ago. Although I knew nothing about it, something about computers and technology attracted my introverted personality.

Technology doesn’t have to be the reason you get online though, technology can just be a tool enabling you to stay connected with friends and family, or maybe even make new friends. Endless amounts of information is just a question away when your connected to the internet too. Hours of entertainment can be had, either through online video streaming services, games or audio books.

Speaking of audio books, the RNIB has recently made their “Talking Books” service free of charge, so you can now access thousands of audio books  online, either on your PC or mobile using the Overdrive app. This is another service I make good use of.

If instant information or entertainment isn’t what you’re after and you want a bit of retail therapy, don’t worry, the internet has you well covered on that front. Providing you access to more products than you could ever hope to find on the high street, you’ll run out of money long before you run out of shiny new things to buy online.

Having long forgotten the promises I made to my mum, that my computer would only be used for school work. Chat rooms were the initial draw that got me draping a telephone cable across the living room floor to my pc and waiting for my computer to dial up all those years ago.

Once I grew up (depending on who you ask, some would argue that still hasn’t happened.) and gained access to a little bit of money, online shopping  soon became the major draw for me. Having instant access to all the latest reviews and price comparisons on all the latest technology, it’s a veritable wonderland for someone like me. If only the supply of money could keep up with my growing wish list.

An image of the twitter logo

 

Shopping aside, another huge benefit of being online for me, that I have started making use of within the last year or so is Twitter, having known about it and Facebook for years, as has everyone I imagine, I was a little slow on the up take though, the shy introvert inside preventing me from taking advantage of these platforms obvious benefits. that has enabled me to stay connected with friends and family. It has also enabled me to make lots of new friends with similar interest to me. Being on Twitter also exposes me to information that I wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise and let’s me get involved in conversations relevant to me.

As my blog’s name alludes to, you won’t be surprised that gaming has also historically taken up a huge proportion of my time online. As my eye sight has deteriorated, the type of games I play has started to change, you’ll be surprised how many of these games are becoming accessible to the blind though, with audio and text based games taking the forefront.

But regardless of your interests, no matter how niche you think it may be, I can almost guarantee it, within seconds of being online, you’ll find other people just like you and a host of information or entertainment based around it.

 

So what are you waiting for?

The fact you’re here reading this blog post shows you’re already online and have doubtlessly fallen in love with the benefits of it, but If you find yourself using excuses as to why you don’t get online more or embrace technology, take a few minutes to think of all the benefits you’re missing out on.

More to the point, if you have family members who are visually impaired that don’t currently get online, take some time to talk to them about their interests and how getting online may benefit them. There’s very few reasons why you can’t get #OnlineToday.

As always, please share this post using the social media links provided and feel free to leave a comment. Share with me how you use technology and the internet. I want to hear your stories on how you might use them both  to further your hobbies and interests or how you use them to simplify your day to day life. You can also contact me on Facebook and Twitter. And if you are on those social networks, please feel free to join the conversation by adding #onlinetoday or #GetOnlineWeek to your posts.