Uber iOS update Makes Service Worth Considering When Using VoiceOver

Uber bills itself as “everyone’s private driver”. I’m sure the marketing folks behind the service can give a full description about what’s supposed to be great about the service. To me, I think of it as a service trying to merge technology with taxis and improve on the situation.

The basic premise behind Uber is that you use your smart phone or a web site to request a driver and get notifications about how far away the driver is, ratings from other users about the driver, automatic credit card billing for the ride and such. As someone who has a need to take a cab from time to time, I was intrigued when I first read about the service and that it was available in the Seattle area. This was met with disappointment when I first tried the Uber app because it failed miserably with VoiceOver.

To Uber’s credit they recently updated the app to improve the VoiceOver experience and I can say that the app now works quite well with VoiceOver.

I’ve had the opportunity to try Uber for rides a few times recently and can say that if the service is available in your city it is worth exploring.

To be clear, Uber is more expensive than a traditional taxi. Rates differ in each city but as an example in King county Washington, where Seattle is located, taxi rates are as far as I know today $2.50 to get in a cab and $2.70 per mile. For comparison, Uber charges $7 to get a car, $3.75 per mile with a $12 minimum charge.

Although my sample size is small, I will say that the Uber estimates about driver arrival times so far have been accurate to within a minute on every ride I’ve scheduled. In the more than 12 years I’ve taken traditional cabs in Seattle, estimates about arrival time, let alone actually getting a cab in the areas where I travel, has always been at best an adventure. I know my last experience involved more than a 60 minute wait and at least three calls to the cab company.

For me Uber won’t replace all my traditional taxi use. As I mentioned, the price is clearly higher. Yes you can make the argument that you get what you pay for but I won’t necessarily always need the level of service Uber offers. Still I’ll give the company credit for addressing the VoiceOver and am fortunate to be in a position to support the accessibility efforts with my business from time to time.

I mention Uber to blog readers who may need another transit option to explore. If Uber is in your city, it is worth exploring.

Indian Wedding Barat Music

A few years ago Aimee and I travelled to India for the wedding of one of my coworkers. We had the privilege of taking part in one of the wedding traditions known as a Barat.


Dictionaries will tell you that a barat is a procession lead by the groom with his relatives and friends to the place of the wedding ceremony. It involves musicians, dancing and general celebration as the wedding party makes their way through the streets.


What I will tell you is that listening to this recording of some of the procession even today reminds me what a delightful experience we had at the wedding and taking part in the barat. Enjoy nine minutes of what was more than an hour long experience. The musicians mingled with the people in an ever-changing flowing arrangement of people. One minute you were near the front of the group, the next the back. One second a drum is beating just inches from your head, the next a horn. I’ve long wondered what it was like to be part of a marching band. Now I know.

Home Stretch

Hello All,
Sorry I haven’t written any updates in a while, but I’ve been in the sticks of Nepal where email access is nonexistent/unreliable. I’ve enjoyed the country, but aspects of the tour have been very disappointing, and the last several days have not been without drama. Let me explain.
We got to a nice resort in Pokhara called Tiger Mountain–very beautiful, remote placewhere Sir Ed Hillary and the Royals once stayed. Gorgeous views of the Annapurnas (which I saw at sunrise), had some lovely nature walks in the Gurung villages accompanied by a the guide’s dogs, children, and the occasional butterfly. Our tour agenda promised several activities but failed to mention only a few were covered by the tour, and we had to pay to go into Pokhara. The pony rides were not being offered. Great services and food though.
After Pokhara, we were picked up by a guide and drove to Lumbini via Tansen. Drive took longer than expected and the guide was totally unfamiliar with the area, culture, history, etc. Not good. Passed a hotel with a dead goat in front of its gates (the welcome mat, perhaps? An ad for dinner?) We were to stay at the Hokke Hotel, but ended up at another, which was a dump. Broken light fixtures, bad wiring on one lamp (a dim room), no info on what services the hotel provided, including when the hot water was shut off (a reality in this part of the world). The second night, Michelle and I got some food poisoning from the dinner–I had a mild case, but I was wiped out the next day, when we stayed at Temple Tiger in Royal Chitwan. Very nice, like in the jungle, but basically like camping without access to the Tharu villages as the agenda promised.
Today we were to go to Janakpur, but this had to be cancelled due to strikes in the area. I’m on my way back to Kathmandu, but wantd to send you all an update and to let you know I’m safe. More Later.
I will be home on the 15th.

Random Musings

Hi All,
The last couple of days has been low-key, which I’ve needed for rest, reflection, and shopping. I’ve gotten some uninterrupted sleep, and I think I’m kicking this cold. The first night I was in Bangkok I was awakened by periodic booms. At first I thought it was fireworks, but then it occurred to me it could be gunfire (there are political protests currently in Thailand and Bangkok, but not near where I’m staying or hanging around). I peeked out my curtains and saw the people next to me were looking out over their balcony (not likely to be hit when you are 54 floors up). I didn’t hear anything on the news, so I’m not sure what it was.
Interestingly, three days after we crossed into Cambodia, a border dispute erupted again between Thailand and Cambodia (stemming from where Preah Vihear, an ancient temple sitting on the border that is considered an UNESCO World Heritage Site), in which I think 2 soldiers were killed and hostages were taken. I was far away in Phnom Pehn when it happened, although we passed a military convoy that day.
The Lebua at State Tower is very nice, a bit precious though. Had a drink at Skybar and dinner at the Sirocco (both at Lebua) which has incredible view of Bangkok. Both charged obscene prices, even by Western standards, for the privilege. If you get to Bangkok, I would recommend the drink at Skybar. The food is that typical overwrought frou-frou stuff that tastes fine, but is portioned for a small child.
On being an American: As an American, I am sensitive to the reputation we somehow acquired abroad for behaving badly. And while I’ve seen a few examples of it when I have traveled, I’ve seen plenty of examples of boorish behavior from other nationals. For example, in a hotel, a woman at the counter was raising her voice and having a mini-meltdown. My co-travelers commented that she was “not American”. At the One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi, which has stood since 1074, a Japanese tourist shoved and elbowed her way to the top of the incline and took over the worship spot. That she behaved such in the presence of a being perceived to be god-like didn’t occur to her. One of my co-travelers on the Vietnam leg of the journey was a spoiled British girl who threw a fit when the hotel laundry service “ruined” her nice white skirt. Why you would bring your nice things on a trip and expect no problems with laundering that is not associated with a 5-star accommodation is beyond me. And two travelers, the aforementioned Brit and an Irish woman, often wore mini-skirts and skimpy “singlets” (camisole tops), which is considered big time slut-wear in SE Asia (and complain that they are seen/treated as sex objects). When do these other nations own up to their behavior?
BTW, when I was asked wehre I was from in both Cambodia and Vietnam, few knew where Seattle was.
“Happy-ness” in SE Asia: If you are asked how happy would you like your food, it means how much marijuana would you like in it. Personally I prefer my food unhappy, thank you very much. A “Happy house” in Vietnam is a toilet. Sometimes it’s a squatty potty and not happy at all.
What I dislike about traveling: Not being with my husband, loneliness, racking up dirty laundry, heat/humidity and the perpetual sour smell of sweat, a lack of TP in most places (I carry my own), being treated like a walking ATM, distrust of shopkeepers/taxi driver-types.
I’m off to Nepal in a few days, will give you more updates then.

Hue, Above, and Beyond

Xinchao/Sawadee ka,
I’m back in Bangkok, having concluded my Cambodian/Vietnamese adventures. I can hardly believe how fast it has gone. I’ve done just about every mode of transportation and saw all sorts of stuff. Most of the time, the experiences were fabulous. Made a few new friends to boot. Let me bring ya’ll up to speed on the last week:
The last week has been very fast-paced, and that’s why I’ve been so quiet. Spent a few days in Hoi An, formerly known as Faifo. Lovely quaint town with tailor shops galore and tourists to boot. Spent almost 2 days in Hue, the former capital of Nam. The highlight of that was a motorcycle ride, driven by “Minh the Merciless” through alley ways and countryside. Also took a brief cruise on the Perfume River. From there took the Reunification Express to Hanoi, a 13 hour trip. Spent the night with some folks I didn’t care much for, but at least they weren’t smoking and chatting all night like two of my fellow travelers experienced. Hanoi has broad tree lined boulevards, designed by the French, but the Soviet influence of propaganda billboards is noted.
The absolute highlight was an overnight cruise on Halong Bay, which, in spite of the droves of tourist boats, manages to maintain an otherworldly beauty–limestone karsts in an emerald sea. I kayaked (my first time) around about an hour, and there were places you could hear nothing but birds, almost as if time didn’t exist. Didn’t get pictures since I didn’t bring an underwater camera. The food was great, although much of it was fried. Had my own cabin, which was great, except it was right by the kitchen. At Midnight was awakened by a weird creaking, when I went to investigate, I heard scurrying of rats on top of and behind the wall of my cabin. None were in the room, thank goodness.
I’m in Bangkok for a few days, recuperating at the Lebua at State Tower (check it out on line). This place is more luxurious than anticipated, and it feels like the Ritz–the price I’m paying would easily be double in the US or Europe. I am going to enjoy a drink at the renowned Sky Bar and then a Mediterranean dinner at the World’s highest al fresco restaurant.
More reflections will follow. Hope all is well with you–Aimee

A few notes on my fellow travellers

I am travelling with a group of 11 other people on my journey through Cambodia and Vietnam. Most are in their 20-30s, and are from Australia, though one woman is from Ireland and a young couple are from Sweden. I am the “token”American. There are two other nurses, two MDs, a paramedic, a nursing assistant, a journalist, a child care worker, a shopkeeper are among those in our group. They are nice people and quite a few of them are much more well traveled than I am or probably will be. Not surprisingly, most are very well-informed on the history/politics of the region, though I am holding my own, thank you. I’ve noticed on this trip and others I encounter far more Europeans and Australians than Americans. Some of that I think is that Americans generally have less vacation time, but we are also spoiled with a beautiful, diverse country. There are more than a few that feel it is unnecessary to venture beyond our borders. But travelling to other places is important–it opens your eyes into how others live in a way no book or TV show can explain. Although the ügly American” (don’t know how an umlaut was substituted for a parens) does exist (I’ve seen it in person), travellers from other countries are just as guilty of being ignorant or disrespectful of local customs and traditions. If you do travel, you are essentially an ambassador for your country, and should conduct yourself accordingly.
Enough of the speeches–I’m off for breakfast, then Angkor Wat.

More on today’s journey

Ok, I will fire off more hoping the connection will stay stable.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s tough to take pictures of all you see when you are basically off roading in some places. Cambodia is basically flat, and as it’s the end of the wet season parts are flooded. About half the population is under 30, and half of those are aged 10 and under. The Khmer Rouge killed off the intellectuals and anyone with an education, so in that respect Cambodia was brought back to “Year Zero”. Education is not compulsory, so if family needs the child for work s/he does not go to school. When school is held, it’s a half-day session. Poverty is huge here–lots of heaps of garbage and broken down items. Also saw some lovely things, too: Patches of beautiful lotuses, kids frolicking in streams, a temple peeping out of green fields, people going about their daily lives, bridges and other structures being built. Saw some scarier things too: A family of four riding on a motorcycle; dad (who wore a helmet) holding an infant on his shoulders while the motorbike was in motion. Bottles of gasoline are stored in glass liter bottles at roadside stands–in the hot sun, no less.
More later–Aimee

The road to Siem Reap

Today we took a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Journey took about 10 hours, with about two hours for immigration and breaks. We entered at Poipet, which is apparently the last border to close after the Khmer Roughe took over–if you were going to get out, that was the place for it. I think it should be renamed “Poi-pit” or, rhythmically, “Toilet”. Dusty, hot, muggy, with piles of garbage and a road pockmarked with potholes the size of small ponds. Lots of kids working. The road to SR is pretty bumpy, so is difficult to take pictures. And the internet connection here in SR is pretty spotty, so my description will have to stay short for now.

Dispatch Number One

Sawadee ka!
Here I am in Bangkok. The total flight time was over 17 hours, and I got here at 11:30 p.m. Bangkok is 14 hours ahead of Seattle time. It was 80 + degrees with 90% humidity–totally different from 54 degrees and damp in Seattle! On the way to the hotel I saw roadside food stalls, and it looks like Chinatown was hopping in places late at night. I’m not terribly jetlagged, but am taking it easy this afternoon as I acclimate to time and climate changes. The hotel I’m at is in Chinatown and I took a stroll for a couple hours. All sorts of goods, from military gear, including a cheap rifle, to batiks, were offered. I was one of the few western faces around, and no one bothered me at all. Alleyways with smells of rice, frying bananas, fish, fruit, pollution, and some unidentified smells as well. Saw a dried up Khlong (canal) that looked like it doubled as a toilet. Poverty is here too but haven’t seen many beggars. Traffic is a big here, and my asthma is feeling it to a degree, though I’m glad I wore a mask outside.
Weirdest thing I saw on my way yesterday was a toilet in Narita International that in addition to having a functioning flush mechanism, gave options that included making a flushing sound…
Tomorrow I’ll try to see a few sights before hooking up with the tour group. Take care. Let’s hope the market crash halts quickly!