Feature Writer Lynne Tatum

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Tech Trails

The year is barely a week old but I’ve already experienced technological turmoil and triumphs. Here’s a brief sketch on how my 2014 began.

Have your fingers and mind ever conspired against you, forcing you to perform unexpected tasks at your computer keyboard? Generally a mindful computer user, I sat momentarily horrified when I thought I’d deleted the My Documents folder while attempting to delete another folder altogether. Returning to my senses, I restored the folder and immediately backed it up to my Drop Box storage area. Heaven help us if anything ever happens to that indispensable service.

This might be old news to many, but I thought it the coolest thing. While reading a book using the BARD Mobile app, a song was mentioned that I’d never heard. I immediately paused the book, opened the YouPlayer app (more about that in the next paragraph), searched for and listened to the song. I’d never thought to do that. Back in the day when an unfamiliar song was mentioned we didn’t have immediate access to hearing it. These days information is literally at our fingertips, and it is a magnificent thing.

For those looking for an alternative to the less than stellar YouTube iOS app, YouPlayer is a wonderfully Voiceover-accessible solution. I liked it so much I purchased the premium version. Activities such as searching for, playing and saving videos to the Favorites section are a breeze. After Twitter, this has become my go to app for YouTube content. I wonder how many videos I can save to the Favorites? I’m certain YouPlayer will provide a little popup message to let me know.

Speaking of iOS apps – have you heard of or begun using Voice Dream Reader? I first heard this app mentioned on an NPR podcast. The developer created it while on an extended vacation in a country with extremely cold days and long nights. He admitted to needing something to occupy his time. The app “plays” a multitude of text formats, including mp3 files and it syncs to your Drop Box account. It took a bit of fiddling but I’m getting the hang of it and believe the app will be quite useful for learning lyrics. Impressed with the Acapella James voice, I purchased it and downloaded a book from the Guttenberg Project to try it out.

While on the subject of speech synthesizers, I was introduced to The Synthocast Players. Curious, I downloaded the album “A Most Unusual Vacation” from www.amazon.com/mp3. It took what seemed forever to download. The entire tale is told by speech synthesizers with excellent sound effects. Upon first hearing, it appears to be a delightful Harry potter-esque adventure.

I’m forever travelling the technological trail.

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Back to Bose

Some years ago QVC demonstrated, and I eagerly purchased, the Bose Sound Wave Music System. Would you believe I gave it away about two years ago? Why? Though it had a CD player with attractive features and a handy remote control, I felt there was something missing in terms of sound quality. The player provided great bass and highs, but it lacked the warm mid-range sound that I craved. When I admitted I’d given it away folks thought me slightly mad, but I was pleased to have it go to a home where I knew it would be appreciated. This year, however, I was once again bitten by the Bose bug. Here’s how it happened.

One evening, as we were readying ourselves for our Jam59 rehearsal, a band member arrived and casually mentioned that she was carrying her Bose SoundLink Bluetooth speaker. Immediately intrigued, I had to hear it to ascertain whether or not the sound quality had improved. She then pulled from her knapsack a relatively large speaker, perched it on a chair and turned it on. I sheepishly sidled over, sat down and became transfixed. The sound was remarkably crisp and clear yet warm. To my ear, Bose had come a long way from the Sound Wave. I didn’t think I’d be schlepping it around in my backpack, though. It’s a bit bulky and my back would mightily revolt.

There was no doubt I’d have one at some point. It would be the impetus I needed to replace the wired speakers that dotted our apartment. So you can imagine my undiluted joy as I opened the box on Christmas Eve. Excited beyond thought, I opened the Google search page, typed the name of the speakers plus the word “demo” and opened the first link. We soon learned that we’d unnecessarily pried off the cover (which doubles as a stand). The next crucial piece of information was the location of the controls. Containing only six buttons, here they are from left to right: Power, Auxiliary (you can plug in an mp3 cable), Bluetooth, Mute, Volume Up and Volume Down. Plug in the power cable, allow it to charge for approximately an hour or so and you’ll be ready to either pair it with your favorite Bluetooth-enabled device or plug in your trusty DAISY/MP3 player. I’ve happily paired it to my iPad Mini and it sounds fantastic!

For those wishing to pair it to their iPhones, you might be disappointed to know that it does not have speakerphone capability. I also wish they’d provided a remote control but I’m certain they presumed you’d use the controls on your device/player. That aside, I predict hours of pleasurable listening activities for years to come.

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Our First Holiday Cabaret

How could we forget that the streets of New York City during the holiday season are absolutely crammed with shoppers and tourists? As the bus inched its way down Fifth Avenue, I thanked everything that we were on a bus that makes limited stops. First stop — an ATM. I’ve scoped out several in that part of Midtown. As we weaved through the crowds, I fervently wished I could have taken to the skies like Mary Poppins.

From the bank we walked briskly to the famous makeup artists of M.A.C Cosmetics. Maria and I are a great team. I navigated us to the general area and she suggested we enter the brightly-lit establishment, which happened to be the correct entrance. Foolishly, I’d made our appointments too close to the time we’d need to be at the club for a tech run-through. I hoped that two makeup artists would do our faces at the same time — and that is indeed what happened. I was pleased that we’d requested the basic application, because it kept the cost to the reasonable price of $50.00. The compliments we received were a testament to their artistry.

Had I remembered that I could have used a special app to hail a cab for people with disabilities, we wouldn’t have had to fight our way through the even denser holiday crowds when we left M.A.C. I sighed in relief as we approached a waiting bus. Even though it also had limited stops, it still seemed to take forever to get from 56th Street to 46th Street. Then there was the long schlep from Fifth Avenue to Eighth Avenue. My shoes were comfortable, but Maria had counted on us being able to catch a cab and hers were not made for long walks. Ever the trooper, she gingerly made her way. Be warned: the huge, brightly-lit billboards extend from 42nd to 46th Streets. With my double-vision and glare, this is an unwelcome light show and I kept my eyes lowered as much as I dared. The milling throngs can also cause one to become completely disoriented. There at last, a few tunes were rehearsed for our tech engineer while our videographer set up the angles for her shots. I didn’t know that I’d have so much trouble finding the microphone. It became a running joke during the show.

Did the show go off without a hitch? No, but all reports suggest that a fun time was had by all. Maria and I have a naturally funny patter and we really do enjoy ourselves when performing. Our audience seemed pleased with our mix of traditional standards and humorous tunes, and we plan to stick with that formula. The fact that we’ve been invited back by the booking manager is thrilling. We ended the evening by savoring a delicious dinner in the club’s restaurant.

Happy Holidays to all the fantastic readers and writers of this wonderful newsletter.

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Voice Teachers Past and Present

I’ve been singing for many years and have had several fabulous voice teachers. Here are some brief sketches of the wonderful artists who have helped shape my vocal life.

While at the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, I auditioned for and was accepted to the Chautauqua Summer School of the Arts program. It was there that I met the woman who would become my first private voice teacher, Ms. Maxine Davis. We worked on breath support, posture and repertoire. Ironically, Maxine gave lessons in an apartment in the residential hotel where we lived for a few years.

My next teacher, Jean Hakes, was a singer of some renown whom I met while studying at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. She is memorable for her technique (some of which I could barely understand at the time). I still recall the train ride to Brooklyn, the five-block walk to her private home and schlep up the stairs to her teaching studio. How they hoisted her baby grand piano up there is beyond me.

A student of the Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School at Lighthouse International for almost 30 years, I’ve experienced the good, the bad, the ugly and so much more. It was there, though, that I was introduced to Ms. Mindy Fliegelman and Mr. Robert Brown (both totally blind). Mindy was a great voice teacher who recorded songs on tape to Bob’s able accompaniment. How marvelous! I was freed from the strain of using a hand-held magnifier to read standard printed music. Later, Mindy and Bob became our excellent computer instructors and I credit them with kindling my love for technology. You just never know.

Ms. Helen Guilet was a wonderfully animated voice teacher who shall forever be remembered for her canned accompaniments. Knowing her limited piano skills, she had a pianist friend record the song. Once we were ready to sing it all the way through, the play button was promptly pressed on her cassette tape player. This spurred me on to finding the famous (or infamous) 24 Italian Songs and Arias karaoke version on CD, which I still own.

Also at the Lighthouse Music School, Mr. Richard Eikenberry introduced me to several glorious arias and Mr. Paul Chamlin taught a wealth of songs from the Broadway stage that were lyrically and musically interesting. Ms. Charlotte Surkin was a terrific voice teacher who concentrated on your vocal apparatus and vocal health in addition to repertoire.

Currently, I have an electronic voice teacher named Ms. Christina E. Brands. I found her course on www.amazon.com/mp3. She offers useful and effective vocal techniques and exercises that I do prior to our cabaret shows.

It’s been my privilege to have worked with such talented singers and instructors.

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Holiday Show Prep

We’ll soon be performing our first holiday show at the famous Don’t Tell Mamma cabaret. I’m thoroughly excited – and terrified. Each time you step onto a stage, it’s a new adventure. There is no other feeling in the world like it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. As each show goes by, I think of the similarities and differences. The only constant is that all aspects of any show we do will change.

This show has been pared down considerably in that there will only be MaLyn and our brilliant coach/pianist/arranger. I tried to keep the costs low during a season where wallets are sorely strained. We will, however, have a video made, as it is wise to have a YouTube presence.

I hope you’ve been well, Faithful Reader. It has been frustrating beyond belief getting over a horrible cold, now just beginning to ease, that left my sinuses an absolute mess. Sheer panic drove me to find the ear, nose and throat specialist I used two years ago for a similar malady. On the day of the appointment, we had an exasperating time trying to find the office. We were finally assisted by someone meandering near the building. I wanted to shriek at one guy who kept repeating, “It’s right there! It’s over there!” Once ensconced in the offices of the genial but efficient staff, I felt that I would actually be able to sing. I was becoming quite alarmed.

Students often feel all websites and video controls should be accessible to all screen readers. In a perfect world, this would be the case; however, we know the reality of that sad tale. I’ve written that I use www.musicnotes.com to purchase and print sheet music for our shows. I don’t believe the website designers gave too much thought to accessibility for those of us using screen readers but their site just worked and I’d streamlined my procedure for purchasing a good deal of music. Well, just to get Lynne out of her comfort zone, they changed the website and one must now first add your items to a wish list before moving them to your shopping cart. Only steely determination saw me through this aggravating process. I’m surprised I didn’t have to shake off drops of perspiration from the music once it exited the printer.

Amazon MP3, what are you doing? Seems just when I’ve wrestled your website into submission, you return to the design drawing board and undo all my hard work. This is witnessed by the fact that you’ve removed the terrific tables used to contain the selections of an album. Additionally, buying a single track now finds us confronted with an unlabeled “complete purchase” text-only element, and we must guess whether to press the Spacebar or enter key on it. Recently, neither keystroke worked, so I turned to my trusty iOS Amazon MP3 Store app, which, thankfully, worked like the proverbial charm.

Who knows what crazy changes I’ll encounter in the coming months as I plan our next show. I’m really hoping that websites stay at their current layouts (or even improve with regard to accessibility). I realize this is asking a lot but… wish us luck!

Wishing you a time of glorious music!

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – First Impressions of my iPad Mini

There we were standing in the famous (or infamous) Walmart and all at once we stopped in our tracks and began listening intently to the public address system, as a sales associate announced that older iPads of several varieties were on sale for a 30 percent discount. We requested that Maria’s sister promptly guide us to the area to investigate. I hadn’t entered the store thinking I’d come out with any electronic items; however, it seems a shiny, new iPad Mini 32gb (Wi-Fi only) was in my immediate future. The fact that I managed to snag the last one made the purchase that much sweeter. Full disclosure: of course, the transaction couldn’t be without a hitch as they had difficulty with my card. Consequently, my bank texted, called and emailed me to ensure that I did indeed want to make the purchase. One could say that the Fraud Department was on the money!

Once back at the home of Maria’s sister, I immediately requested that we be connected to their Wi-Fi in order that I begin the intense setup process. I decided to handle the update to iOS7 when we arrived back home in our own apartment. Performing various tasks cemented that the extra iPad real estate poses a real challenge in terms of swiping from tile to tile. I’m slowly getting used to it but my double-vision plays horrible tricks on me. This is precisely why I’m glad I use the voiceover screen reader.

I’m forcing myself into the iPad frame of mind, but changing items in the Settings area still throws me for a loop. I must remember that once you’ve located the category you want, you then need to move to the right side to find the options. I’m doing more swiping now than the Swiper character on Dora the Explorer.

You might recall my writing about an app called Swell Radio that checks iTunes for any podcasts to which you might have subscribed and intermittently sprinkles in new ones for your listening pleasure. I fully intended to install this app on my Mini but, alas, there is no iPad version. My feeling is if I have an iPad Mini, I might as well install apps that will be shown in a full-screen view. Perhaps it was with this reason that I decided to install Apple’s apps, such as pages, Numbers, Keynote and others. I’m enthusiastic to assess their accessibility.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve typed my Apple username and password. Seems like hundreds! Uh-oh! I have already experienced confusion about whether I’m on my phone or the iPad. I’m viewing this as a Mini adventure that I’m eager to share with you all.

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – In Tandem Bike

For various reasons, we were unable to tandem bike ride this spring, and I truly missed it. Additionally, it was a tremendous blow when we learned that the charismatic leader of the then Achilles Tandem Bike Program, Mr. Artie Elefant, had passed away. It seemed so sudden to us as we had no idea he was ailing. We were stunned into silence before we began sobbing. My last sweet memory of him was his playful antics as we completed the Summer Streets Bike Ride. As I stood cooling off, I felt cool water dripping onto my head and down my shoulders. There stood Artie, wickedly grinning. I shrieked, but, of course, ended up laughing. How could I have known it would be the last time I would see his smiling face? We thought surely the tandem program had died with him. Thankfully, we were wrong.

Ms. Ayesha McGowan and Mr. Matt Molina, dedicated captains, took on the Herculean task of reviving the program in Artie’s name. Obtaining new bikes, sponsorship and captains, they got the program rolling again.

Maria and I were asked to do some promotional videos and pictures for the newly-named In Tandem Bike website (www.intandembike.org). To my knowledge, we are no longer affiliated with the Achilles program.

A charge went through me as I read the email that the Tandem program would be reborn. It would take time to recruit captains and contact stokers but it would happen. Finally, on a chilly October morning, there we stood, waiting at the familiar Engineer’s Gate in Central Park. How exciting to hop on a new bike and once again go whizzing around the park in all its Autumnal splendor. In addition to new bikes and captains, we now must sign insurance forms each time we ride. My captain is an employee of a group of our most keen supporters. Little did I know that I’d soon be visiting their offices.

Googling Maria and I, Ayesha learned that we sing as the MaLyn duo and invited us to perform at an inaugural event for the program. Coincidentally, it would be held at the offices of the aforementioned captain in the New York Times Building. What floor? 44?! From the moment I heard the number, I went into freefall and panic mode, so much so that on the night of the event, I grabbed Maria’s new guitar instead of my familiar Fender. Somehow I kept myself together as we rapidly ascended in an elevator without buttons. Guess one could say I literally rose to the occasion.

It is my hope that this vital program continues gathering participants and popularity and that it engenders the spirit of camaraderie and wellbeing that Artie intended.

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Our Bazaar Experience

Feeling like something our cats dragged in, I cringe as Maria announces she is ready to label the bags and fill them with the caravan of candy we’ve purchased. As much as I love every tantalizing bite, I’m not tempted in the least. After all, I don’t want to eat into our profits and this horrible cold has me absolutely exhausted. Maria does the lion’s share of the work and all I need to do is make certain all candy is safely ensconced in large, plastic bags. Why did we agree to do this Holiday bazaar? Oh, we thought we’d make a few extra dollars. Right!

There’s a persistent hum in my bedroom/recording studio. I can’t have that on the Word tutorial. I know. I’ll go to an actual recording studio and record it there. Hmm, the recording sounds fine when I’m not using the keyboard. Otherwise, it sounds as if a herd of deer is trampling through the forest. What to do?! I’ll set up my wonderful Blue Yeti microphone at home (hum and all) and see what happens. Actually, the recording is not bad at all. It’s clear and that’s all that matters. Struggling through a hacking cough and copious nose-blowing, I’m pleased it only took three hours to record the project. It is my hope that it will be of help to those who require a running start with Microsoft Word. Oh, no! I awaken realizing I’ve neglected to stress a crucial point regarding text selection. I must insert that. I’ll burn 20 CDs and we’ll see how they sell.

Gee, we really do need a professional burner. We have to check each CD to make certain it plays in any CD player. After four false starts, I think we’ve got the process down. Who knew this would take hours as well?

Print and Braille CD inserts would be a nice touch. Maria chooses a lovely font and size and I print them. She then turns to her labeler and begins the painstaking process of Brailling 20 labels. I fall asleep as she works. Not even Stephen Sondheim’s clever musical, Company, is lively enough to keep me awake.

We need CD jewel cases and index cards. We have a coaching scheduled downtown , so we’ll just get it all done while there. Ah, and why not give ourselves a treat by purchasing some pies from this new establishment we’ve been made aware of called Pie Face? I enjoy the best-tasting pumpkin pie I’ve had all season. What a scrumptious way to end our day!

Bottom Line: We sold a good deal of candy but only one CD tutorial. It’s illustrative of the whims of the buying public.

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – California Pizza Kitchen, Our Favorite Eatery

We’ve enjoyed the delicious Southwestern cuisine of the California Pizza Kitchen restaurant since 1995 and have many awesome memories. The food and ambience have remained consistently excellent. Changes have been made to the menu that have not always been to our liking, but we plan to support this terrific hot-spot as long as it remains open in New York City.

During the first week of my employment at Lighthouse International, a supervisor was set to move to California with his family. To celebrate, our staff took him to what was then a relatively new restaurant. It was new to me anyway. I was completely enthralled with the unique menu and open environment and could barely wait to brag about my new find. We’ve since celebrated many an occasion there. When I was asked where Maria would like to go when she was laid off from her medical transcription job, I promptly responded that the get-together must be at CPK. We’ve since taken many friends there, celebrated several birthdays, met there after performances and gone there to relax after a long week. Acquainted with several staff members, they know to bring a Braille menu to our table. In fact, Maria has proofread many a menu, pronouncing the latest version thinner but acceptable.

And speaking of a thinner menu, this is one aspect of CPK that has driven me bonkers! Thanks to their corporate entity, the menu is in constant flux. We recently learned that the company is doing well but I tell you I’ve been sorely disappointed over the years as I’ve attempted to order favorite dishes and drinks that have been either replaced or discontinued. Frustrated from months of changes, I once made such a fuss that the manager came to our table to console me. The latest incident came as we were thwarted in our efforts to order their delicious pumpkin cheesecake, as it was sold out nationwide.

The most heartbreaking change was the closing of the CPK near Lighthouse International. This was the one we visited the most. Like so many establishments here in NYC, the landlord was demanding an exorbitant amount of rent for the sought-after Manhattan space and the management of CPK refused to pay. I’ll never forget the date as it coincided with that of our first cabaret show. The bright side is that there is a CPK conveniently located near my job and it’s become our new home.

Last week we were given a CPK points card. Our friendly server read the numbers, which I recorded. I’ll be visiting the website to investigate its accessibility.

I’m keeping my tastebuds crossed as word is that the scrumptious pumpkin cheesecake might return to the menu very soon.

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – I’m Doing My Best to be Sociable

I’m a moderately social person, at least as it relates to using Skype, Twitter and Facebook. Tending to use Twitter the most, I’ve begun gradually posting more Facebook status updates. I have Skype, Twitter and Facebook apps on my iPhone but I still find using my laptop with a full-sized USB keyboard more convenient when at home. Here are the Windows-based tools I currently use to maintain my online social life.

GW-Connect is a dedicated application that makes using Skype infinitely more pleasant. You can use the screen reader or screen magnifier of your choice. I use the free version, which has ads. Recently, they’ve begun introducing audible ads. Imagine my shock when voices and jingles began playing unbidden? Funny thing was, I actually recognized the voice of someone I met several years ago. I could have been using GW-Connect much sooner had I figured out how to setup the all-important microphone. I found the answer in the Options section. In addition to Skype calls, I’m happily using GW-Connect to access the menus during Skype out calls. Visit www.gwmicro.com for more information.

Currently, you can use www.m.twitter.com or try the recent rollout of new keystrokes for accessibility on the main website. Many third-party Twitter clients are, regrettably, subject to the whims of the developers at Twitter. Several years ago, however, I found an accessible client called The Qube and so far it’s working fine through all updates. Installation is relatively straightforward and it runs in the background using only keystrokes. There is no visual interface. I love the fact that you can be in any application, press a keystroke command and hear your timelines. For more information, visit http://www.quartzprojects.co.uk.

Dealing with the ultra-popular Facebook website has been ultra-frustrating! For this reason, I stayed away but for the occasional post and feeble attempts at reading friends’ status updates. This I did through www.m.facebook.com, which is a more screen-reader-friendly version of the ever-changing website. As you might know, apps for Facebook go in and out of accessibility and favor as those frantic Facebook developers make their multitudinous updates. It is for this reason that I purchased GW-Micro’s Social-Eyes application after about a half hour of going around and around the unknown interface. I know you’re thinking I should have dived into the manual. I’m finding it a lovely tool that enables me to hear status updates as they are posted. It seems that I’ll be forced to read the help files in order to figure out how to send a private message. So far, I can only do that when I receive a Facebook message in my Windows Mail inbox.

What tools have you found helpful in navigating your social world?