Mind the Gap

With yesterday’s drama seemingly at an end, here follows a brief description of the events which brought about my sudden initiation into the “broken phone hall of fame”.

Having been gifted ample time for locating the optimal train doors for a speedy getaway, I stood waiting for my train home from work for several minutes. Eventually, the final Amersham stopper of the day arrived and slowed to a standstill. The doors opened as normal and my cane found its way almost automatically aboard the carriage through the centre of the open doorway. Unfortunately, my right foot was not quite so keen on emulating my cane’s bold approach. In fact, it lost height if not forward momentum such that it fell through the gap. I fell forwards onto my right knee and left thigh. I mercifully escaped serious injury, but my left thigh bore much of the impact, particularly the front left pocket of my jeans which contained my phone. Smartphones apparently react distastefully toward being caught between their owner’s unbalanced body and the sharp corner of a metallically reinforced tube trains, so the screen bid an abrupt farewell, shattering into countless tiny shards and taking with it much of the bottom edge, rendering future charging and headphone use impossible.

Some time spent queueing for service and my foresight in buying an inexpensive insurance policy for my phone several months ago lead to a relatively painless restoration. Even so, I would be well advised to start obeying those “mind the gap” announcements!

More Marvellous Memories

Let me tell you a story of a child’s first holiday away from his family. A warm and wet Saturday morning heralded the beginning of my six week vacation. The sounds of another dominant performance by the Australian cricket team accompanied me and my Dad in the car journey to Worcester, where I was bound for my first week. Though this was my first visit, I’d heard much talk of Worcester in the previous year. Dad was taking me to spend a week full of fun activities, hosted by the boarding school my parents were so keen for me not to attend. I was certainly excited, because this was the week of adventure promised to me instead of the year seven school trip to the river dart. This was it! Horse riding, bowling, computers, camping and freedom, all to look forward to! Yet, I found myself growing perhaps a little anxious throughout our journey along the country lanes that marked Dad’s preferred route through the Oxfordshire and Worcestershire countryside.

We turned into the grounds of New College a little before 3 in the afternoon. The rain had eased a little, but the day remained thick and faintly gloomy. Dad guided me down a small slope which lead to a porch entrance with two double doors that creaked as we went through, finding ourselves in a corridor. Our footsteps echoed as we turned left and made for a room at the end of the passage. We were met by one of the kind people who’d agreed to take care of me for the week. He ushered us through a side door and along a pathway to one of the three boarding houses reserved for our company. Through the front door, or was it the back door? I’m not sure. Upstairs, through a fire door and into a sparsely furnished but homely corridor. It certainly possessed that indefinable scent of anonymous cleanliness indicative of hospitals. One more door and bravo, my room! Our guide invited me to wander around upstairs while Dad retrieved my belongings from the car. I didn’t bother packing much; just a few clothes, towel, toothbrush and toothpaste, along with my walkman. So it took me next to no time to fill my three small chest drawers.

Dad stayed with me for another half an hour as another volunteer walked the grounds with me, until I’d learned how to navigate between the three main buildings we’d be using. Then after a cup of tea, Dad made to return home. As he prepared to leave, he took me aside, pressing a £20 note into my hand. Wow! For a young boy who was used to 60p pocket money, this was just like having a second birthday!

I quickly locked the money away upstairs before joining my new friends. This was my first time spending more than a few hours with other visually impaired young people. I was amazed to discover that I wasn’t the silliest there! We were divided into three groups and handed timetables. Wow, a Braille timetable! I devoured the details within with glee. So much to look forward to! Our first evening even included swimming! Can you imagine my delight at being able to swim around an entire pool without fear of hitting anyone else or being restricted to a single lane? There were even diving boards! So began my ridiculously short-lived career of belly-flop diving.

The highlight of the next day was the talking computer. We were granted a few days to acclimatise to our new surroundings and be distracted with informal class-like sessions of computing and baking. The computers could talk, let you type words into them, read back what you wrote, let you print it and then email it around. This was our chance to begin planning for the week’s project which we were set in our groups. From then on, there were opportunities to win points for our group.

Monday’s highlight was a trip to a local funfair. I bought my first ice cream! Sure I loved ice cream long before then, but this was the first time I experienced handling the entire transaction myself. That night we were told to pack for our three day camping trip. I couldn’t wait! I’d been camping before with cubs but this promised an altogether more intriguing adventure. This time, I wouldn’t be the only blind boy in the canoe.

Tuesday night was a warm, clear, dry night. We were invited to go trekking through the woods with our groups, encouraged by the promise of extra points for the group who returned fastest. To my surprise, our group leader asked me to lead our procession. I was amazed to find myself capable of this assignment. We were all blind folded, so for once it made sense for me to be at the front. I revelled in this new found freedom to explore. Our whole group made it back unscathed and in plenty of time to claim our bonus points. Brilliant!
The next day consisted of several other small tasks. In the afternoon we got to ride on a farmer’s trailer, towed by the farmer’s tractor through a couple of his meadows. I missed out on much of the haystack hilarity as I began violently sneezing everywhere! Still, what a treat awaited our return to camp.

Our final night in the woods was spent in the company of a drumming band. I was in my element! Here was a chance to make noise and be proud of it. Fantastic!

The highlight of our final day of camp was the minibus tug of war. I was startled to discover that eight people could pull a minibus by rope, even with the driver standing on the brake!

Back to New College and back to bowling. I don’t think I scored particularly well but I certainly had fun.

Friday was our last full day and so the momentum of our project preparations was in full swing. We travelled to Worcester city centre in the morning and I remember having a wonderful time climbing the spire of Worcester Cathedral and celebrating with a hot chocolate in the cafe afterwards.

The last night witnessed all of our project presentations. Our group won! I even got to play with the hi-fi equipment as temporary DJ during the final night disco!

I began the week with trepidation and ended it in triumph. None of us wanted to go home! I simply couldn’t wait to be back for Worcester Vacation Scheme 1998.

Crash! Why?

Here is an amusing summary of a software crash which I recently experienced, according to its manufacturer.

“This problem occurred because Microsoft Internet Explorer, which was created by Microsoft Corporation, was slow or unresponsive. This type of problem occurs when a program is slow or has stopped responding and you choose to shut it down. This is also referred to as an application hang. Most of the time, there’s nothing you could have done to prevent this type of error. It’s hard to determine exactly what causes Internet Explorer to stop responding.”

Bottom line – When you next fall fowl of an unresolved software glitch, don’t panic, you’re not alone. Chances are, the people responsible for causing you inconvenience don’t know what’s going on yet either!

Open Letter to Transport for London


I am writing to express my frustration and deepp sadness regarding the measures recently adopted by station staff at Victoria Underground Station, concerning provision for assisting blind passengers to and from platforms during the afternoon rush hour. I personally experienced a 35 minute delay at Victoria in August. However my grievance was strengthened by an article published today on the BBC News website, entitled “Victoria Tube station: Staff told not to help blind people”.

The quoted leaked memo suggests that between 1530 and 1930 Monday-Friday, VIPs are advised to travel to nearby stations and avoid Victoria completely. In my view, this is contrary to disability and equality legislation and also indicates a blatant contradiction of TFL’s policy, as stated on the Tube section of the transport accessibility area of the TFL website.

I would be the first to acknowledge the difficulties in sustaining passenger services during the undertaking of vital maintenance work. Nevertheless, it is totally unacceptable for London Underground to pursue this policy of undeserved and unwarranted persecution. Indeed, it is the legal and moral responsibility of station staff to accommodate the needs of all lawabiding passengers wishing to utilise its services.

I am a blind person and therefore, directly benefit from the assistance provided by tireless and thoroughly committed members of London Underground staff. The assistance I have experienced is for the most part, exemplary and highly efficient. I strongly desire this to continue. These measures at Victoria are a phoenomenal backward step. At best they are incompetence, at worst they are effectively communicating that disabled people are second class citizens. It’s utterly deplorable seeing the promotion, encouragement and prosperity of such blatant prejudice, within the very governance of what is supposedly the most sophisticated transport infrastructure in the world. I urge this matter to be addressed swiftly, with immediate priority.

Yours faithfully,

Darren Paskell

ZoomReader Review


ZoomReader is an OCR app for the iPhone 4,. It is manufactured by Ai Squared, who also develop and support the ZoomText desktop magnification software for Windows platforms. I was encouraged to try out ZoomReader, in light of this reputation. I had not previously attempted OCR on my iPhone and so this is not a comparison between existing IOS OCR solutions. Rather than concentrate on my findings, I have focused on describing ZoomReader and its interface, in order that anyone may make an informed decision regarding its suitability for themselves.

Initial Impressions

  • I tested ZoomReader three times with the same small business card.
  • The third attempt yielded the best results, probably because I made more of an effort lining up the shot.
  • Accuracy was approximately 85 percent. However I anticipate better when trialing with a larger printed page.


  • ZoomReader is currently only compatible with iPhone 4 handsets. It will not run on iPhone 3GS devices.
  • There’s no reason why it shouldn’t work with iPad 2 models, but this is not advertised and could be a planned future free upgrade.

Software Overview

There are three main screens which reflect the start, image scanning and OCR stages of operation. Here are summaries of each.

The Home screen

  • Contains buttons for settings adjustment, camera configuration, image capture and photo library browsal.
  • It is possible to select an existing picture from the iPhone’s photo library to use for recognition. The iPhone’s photo library is also where any saved page images are stored.

The Photo screen

  • Contains Save and OCR buttons.
  • It is not necessary to save an image before performing OCR on it.

The Text screen

  • Contains recognised text, Read, Stop and Share buttons.
  • All buttons are self explanatory except the share button. This allows you to copy text to the iPhone’s clipboard, email it or save the original image.
  • You would save text output by first copying it to the clipboard and then pasting it elsewhere e.g. a new Note in the Notes app.

Additional Observations

  • Settings include highlight colour (yellow by default) and reading voice.
    • One American male voice is included with the app.
    • Two American female voices together with alternatives for foreign languages are available for £1.99 each.
    • The included voice, RealSpeak Tom, is also the default voice on Kindle.
  • It’s worth pointing out that you can also use the iPhone’s VoiceOver screen reader to read the displayed text.


ZoomReader is clearly designed for efficient text reading on-the-move. It is certainly not meant to be a replacement for the KNFB Reader Symbian software, given the absence of any sophisticated E-text library capabilities. I don’t know how its OCR accuracy compares to other apps in its class, but it is very straightforward and could potentially be quite effective in emergencies.

Coldplay – A Mini Essay

Everything’s not lost. Don’t panic, we never change! Trouble is not even worth a bunch of parachutes travelling at high speed. The warning sign was declared when the scientist said that spies don’t like daylight which is true! In my place, white shadows will talk until kingdom come. Let twisted logic be swallowed in the sea. The hardest part was asking god, what if? But in a whisper, God put a smile upon your face, bigger than the mass of yellow sparks in the sky over amsterdam which look like a message conveyed by low clocks, symbolic of a rush of blood to the head.

My BIG Year: an Introduction

Hello there!

A while ago, I promised to write more about my experiences of The BIG Year. The class of 2011 began two months ago and already our number has grown to twenty students! It’s been a real joy getting to share more of my life with a select few, representing a wide range of demographics and backgrounds. Were all united in our shared desire to know more about God.

We receive in depth teaching, mentoring and wisdom from the wonderful people responsible for leading River Church. I’m discovering more about myself each week. On Saturday we spent the day at Llanelli in Wales. We began at the Antioch Centre, where we were introduced to their ministries in the community. I’d love to spend more time there.

Afterwoods, we drove to Moriah Chapel, where we were made welcome by a very kind and knowledgeable elder of the church. I would gladly mention this lady by name, if I knew how to spell – my apologies. It’s hard to think of a man more committed than Evan Roberts. A minor who can find time to pray and lead an active life in the community.


Darren in the Pulpit
Darren in the Pulpit
A photo of Darren standing in the pulpit of Moriah Chapel, Wales; home church of Evan Roberts and the birth place of the 1904 Welsh Revival.

This was a very profound experience for me. Life is such a precious gift. I may share more of my thoughts in the future, but that’s all for now. Thank you for reading!

A big hello from my iPhone

Good morning, and what a glorious morning it is here in Englefield Green. This is my first post from our new house which we call “The Love Shack”! We’re all returning to our families this weekend, during which time I shall be meeting up with a few great friends on Saturday night and attending Fulham Football Club‘s first home fixture of the new premiership season on Sunday, against Manchester United. Really looking forward to it!

I’m also preparing for the Big Year which starts in September. I’m sure I’ll write more about it in due course. For now, thank you for reading.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.

Today, I love technology!

A very good afternoon from a comfortable coach on board the slightly delayed 12:00 train from Cambridge to Birmingham. Mobile broadband is at my disposal and so I’m doodling a few thoughts to help pass the time. Yesterday I watched the Great Britain Goalball squad commence their World Championship campaign and tomorrow I shall be returning for some more of the action. Goalball is not necessarily the most obvious spectators’ sport. Nevertheless, it’s great fun supporting our men and women and a real privilege to see our players perform at international level. If you have nothing else planned this week, come and grab a slice of the action for yourself in Sheffield. There’s no better opportunity until London 2012!

General Election: Personal Political Meandering

Here is a reflective summary of my personal political journey.

I have an unusually long memory where tory policy is concerned. I was featured on the front page of a tabloid newspaper the day after Thatcher’s government proposed a 50 percent cut to the RNIB’s public funding. I began to take an interest in British politics in the mid 90’s and remember wishing I could vote in 1997.

I had a GCSE exam on the day of the 2001 election. At the time, I remember saying that I would probably have voted Lib Dem, but that I liked Gordon Brown.

I doubt my personal political allegiance has changed much. It is possible to like or respect politicians from alternative political persuasions. I had more time for John Major than Tony Blair. However, I hope my final vote will be decided primarily on policy. No election manifesto has ever been fully implemented in a Parliament. The question is, which assortment of politicians are most likely to take their responsibility of governing this country seriously, in respect of us, the British public who put them there. Is there a party with a past Parliamentary record of anti corruption legislation? When we read between the lines, do any of our politicians appreciate the damage to their authority caused by the last Parliament’s blatant dereliction as exposed by the expenses revelations? Of course it’s in every politician’s interest to convince us that they are squeaky clean, so I intend to look beyond contemporary rhetoric when deciding where my vote goes.