A couple of days ago, I got to catch up with one of our members who is working on the NVDA project. Tamas Geczy. Tamas has been helping us for a while now and the we made him take some time off to answer some questions we were dying to ask. So there you go ladies and gentlemen, Tamas and what he has been up to, a Bookbolé member spotlight.
Me: hey Thomas, what’s happening
Thomas: well, I spent most of it sorting through my old CDS and I came across a whole batch of books which I’m slowly uploading to BookBolé. How was yours?
Me: I saw that, thanks a ton Thomas that was a brilliant three pages of uploads
Thanks a ton
Mine was good, I had to work on a better uploader tool too
Thomas: oh it’s quite alright. But I’m very flexible when it comes to technology been around it since age 6.
Me: I had not been too keen on tech till I joined college
Thomas: ha-ha there’s more coming down the pipe and BookBolé desktop was a help in getting some of those up as well.
Well you see I used to love technology but somehow I realized that while it’s good, I would never be able to program in front of my computer all day (I know 3 programming languages to date) because I like being outside and around people a lot. So now I’ll probably major in communications and maybe minor in programming or networking.
Me: what do you think about the BookBolé Desktop
Thomas: well. You see I only have a very low speed internet at home, I live in a wooded area and usually use dial-up or my cell phone’s internet, so it takes about 5 minutes to upload 1 mb of data anyway.
Thomas: hmm. The Application would have to accommodate people with a wide range of visual impairments.. The application is simple to use with the keyboard shortcuts (I think that’s what most people will be using) so I’d for sure keep those. Maybe instead of having a table listing file status you could have 2 lists in the window one showing queued and the other chosen files, and the user could navigate to and from these lists with alt+1 and 2. The lists could have headers which show the status/file information. The only reason I can see the tables as a bit confusing is because of navigation and while most screen readers support web applications, there might be exceptions with others.
And of course, in general the window should pop to the for ground with a cancel button until it has logged onto CIS. Overall though, it’s a great tool
Me: ok, tell us a bit about yourself, and what you were up to in the last few days?
Thomas: As always, I would first wish to thank the team for conducting this interview – for me it is an honor because of the potentials I see in the service. I was born in the country of Hungary with a visual impairment known as ROP (retinopathy of Prematurity) and can only see light with my right eye as a result. With the help of my mom I moved to the US in 2003, having visited it for half a year in 2000. So I not only had the chance to see how accessibility progressed/progresses in my home nation, but also have the opportunity to live in the US where a lot of laws and technologies are in place and at work. That’s why I try to help the Hungarian blind community, and I translated the free NVDA screen reader into Hungarian as a result. Because my Hungarian language skills have declined however I gave the project to Robert and a few of my Hungarian boarding school friends, and to this date they work and do a great job in maintaining the translation. As for my latest projects… Well, I do my radio show three times a week as always, am working on getting more books for BookBolé, and there’s always school to worry about
Me: thanks Thomas, how is school coming along, what are you studying currently?
Thomas: Just your average high school as of yet I’m in the 12th grade, so it’s my last year. I do however take vocational classes half the day, so I spend half of my day at another school doing computer programming credits for college and the other half of it at my home high school. Overall I’m doing well academically but socially even here I sometimes feel how the sighted perceive me because of my disability.
Me: so Thomas, when and why did you start working on NVDA?
Thomas: It was during the middle of the night that I got the idea for translating it, I was thinking of the visually impaired people back there. I think the date was sometime at the end of February 2007, so actually a while back. I already knew some Python which is NVDA’s source language, so I got to working on it that afternoon and by that night had an ok prototype of it. In Hungary, JAWS exists, but it is quite costly compared to the average salary of a Hungarian which is about $600. So NVDA was the perfect free alternative and I at least wanted to provide a screen reader to the VI of that country which was usable day-to-day and easy to navigate. NVDA of course has grown quite a lot since then and I didn’t know enough of the Hungarian language to be able to translate technical words like “tear-off Menu” which screen readers use, + my grammar wasn’t the best. So in Early 2008 I gave the project to some of my boarding school friends and to this day they maintain it frequently with newer and better Message translations.
Me: sweet, so how many iterations have you gone through till now?
Thomas: with NVDA?
Thomas: Well, at first there was no Hungarian eSpeak, which is NVDA’s Text to speech engine. So I worked with Jonathan in getting that speech engine to be in Hungarian. Then there were lots of updates to the actual NVDA translation and a lot of it was re-written by the community with better grammar. I know a lot of people use NVDA today in Hungary, and actually our next project will be to get a better speech voice which is more clear, so my eventual goal will be to raise a couple thousand dollars in college and spend it on working with the Hungarian universities towards a natural, free, open-source TTS engine which speaks Hungarian.
Me: awesome. All the best for the venture Thomas
Now about your friends, how many are involved in the project! How did you meet them?
Thomas: Most of my friends are actually spread across the country. Sweden, Croatia, some in India, Columbia, but those who worked with me on NVDA was mainly friends who I met in 5th grade, when I attended the Budapest boarding school for the Blind for a year. I kept in touch with them, and there was another person from Hungary who they introduced me to, Robert. He also went to the US and so his English and Hungarian is very good. For a total, I’d say about 7 or 8 people are working on fixing things, with Robert being the main English translator. I also try to keep base with Aaron and Istvan to see what’s happening in the country and with NVDA over there.
Me: interesting. You read a lot right…
Thomas: yes, I love reading I know English, Hungarian and Spanish Braille so sometimes I read Braille and electronic books.
Me: what genres do you specifically like? Any authors that you love? And why would you suggest them to your friends on BookBolé
Thomas: hmm. There’s a vast of them I don’t have a limit on what genres I read, although I’m not too fond of horror books much. I’ve read Science fiction, historical books, some dealing with new-age/spirituality, some romance and fiction… It really is endless. I think my favorite Scifi/fantisy books were the City of Ember series, the Animorphs books, H. G. Wells, and Steven Hawking. I’ve read a lot of children’s books like all 7 Harry Potters, the Inheritance series, and a series of Unfortunate Events – they are all excellent ones
Me: we loved the city of ember series. Why did you like it?
Thomas: It was a good book which relayed I think a plot that could happen in our world today – where wars and plagues cause the government to build a city underground, in order to preserve Humanity. I’m an optimist, so I don’t think that such a destruction event will ever happen and the need to build an underground city, but I suppose it has a very small possibility always.
Me: I agree. I found the series to be defiantly positive and eager, something I found missing in some other books of the same genre
Thomas: It also was as I recall one of the first American books I read in 7th grade.
Me: oh, well
I read it recently.
Thomas: did you also read the continuation (The People of Sparks)?
Me: yes, that’s when they realize the scale of the destruction, but
somehow the book was still lilting
Thomas: by the way I’m going through my cell phone for internet access when its battery dies so does my internet go. lol.
Me: you use a cell phone to access the internet for your computer?
Thomas: yes exactly right
Me: sweet, which
phone do you use?
Thomas: it’s a Windows Mobile phone, called the Motorola q.
Me: a lot of friends who have visual impairment, use the nokias, you are the first person I know who uses a windows phone
Thomas: yes, in India and other European countries Symbian phones are very popular. It’s very interesting, I’ve never used one, since in the US the blind can only use Windows Mobile powered phones.
Thomas: I do beta testing work for Code Factory who makes Mobile speak and there were some rough beta builds in the past ha-ha.
Me: sweet, so Thomas, about your favorite authors, who would you recommend?
Thomas: Well, a lot of the books that I’m uploading to date come from my own personal collection and I’ve read most of them through the years. So as a 7th grader the Chronicles of Narnia was my big book series (that’s by C. S. Lewis), in 9th grade I’ve read all 54 Animorph books by K. A. Applegate, in 10th the Series of Unfortunate events books… I’m not sure if any of them are “favorite” over others, they’ve all written great books. I know I’ve Mentioned some of my recommend author’s before, and all of them have also written some great works
Me: now about BookBolé, how do you expect it to evolve over time?
Thomas: hmm. I feel that the service has a lot of potentials because of the great team that’s behind it, as well as the honesty of it’s community Members. A lot of friends here in the US have complained about not having any disability checks in place (so that there is no way to know if someone who signed up is blind or not), but I’m sure that a solution will be made for that, either through the community or a dedicated team. Since BookBolé has so many people around the world, I know that a multi-language interface will also help it’s growth. I’m not sure how things are when it comes to copyrighted books, but I feel that as the BookBolé grows so will publishers extend rights to keep the copyrighted books on the site, since their removal would make an impact on the number of books people can download being visually impaired.
Me: rightly put Thomas, we really are trying hard for that, it
doesn’t make sense otherwise
Thomas: well, I’m not sure what the public domain copyright limit is in India, but in the US it takes over 100 years for a book to be put in the public domain, and to date I’d say there are only a few thousand books listed as public – most of which are really old.
Thomas: I think the saddest part of it is that we have the technologies and laws in place here in the US, and still only about 5 to 10% of books are digitalized or accessible. Of course bookshare.org and other sites are working hard, but it’s a slow process. Again that’s where I see BookBolé’s future, because it’s worldwide, I have no doubts that it will outgrow the collections of many major digital/Braille libraries that exist even here.
Me: text books are tough to come by, imagine if we could start sharing books on programming, we could get a substantial chunk of the blind employed
Thomas: I have most of my textbooks on CDs from the publisher – some, like my physics book, are actually online so you need internet to access the material.
Thomas: yes, employment is a universal problem, though I’d imagine with 17 million Visually Impaired in India versus the about a million here, it is probably a bigger issue there. I think our unemployment rate is 70% or more, though it probably rose because of the economic recession we had.
Me: exactly, anyway, one more question before I let you go to bed, Thomas. What inspires you help people
I think it’s what I’ve gone through in life just growing up… You know, in boarding school, because I went to America for half a year, some kids felt jealous. Not all, but some. So they would often box my lungs and beat me up (I was a shy kid) and so I would have high fevers and would be stuck on the train back and forth from the school to my dad’s house which took four hours. When I returned to the US in 2003, I was traumatized as a result. But eventually I faced the past and told myself that NO VISUALLY IMPAIRED child should ever have to go through some of the experiences I had living in poverty and with old technologies. In my mind there exists no racism, so I made this vow for any blind of any nation, or even any person. I try to stick to it as much as I can
Me: Sweet thought man, thank you so much for contributing to BookBolé. Sure hope we get to work with you more often and help change a few things around the world. Thank you so much Thomas, was great talking to you.
Thomas: Thanks for the interview, and I will always try my best to help out Bookbolé with anything I can, as well as anyone from the community who requires help.
It was great Meeting and talking with you as well and I hope to send lots of feedback to you guys as time goes by.
Me: Thanks Thomas, your help is more than appreciated, Thank you.
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