This is a collection of articles from issues 1 through 6 of the RAISED DOT COMPUTING NEWSLETTER. This newsletter comes out each month in audio and print form. For subscription information, contact Raised Dot Computing at 310 S. 7th Street, Lewisburg, PA 17837. [[Note: The current address of Raised Dot Computing is 408 S. Baldwin Street, Madison, WI 53703; (608) 257-9595.]]
In preparing this collection, I cut out most of the product and publication announcements from Raised Dot Computing. If you are interested in these materials, then contact Raised Dot Computing for recent information. [[Note: copies of the original 6 Newsletters in print and disk are no longer available; all that remains of the first 6 months of publication is this compilation of the first six issues which was issued in the fall of 1983.]]
I would like to address an issue which many people have asked me about. This concerns disk copying. The BRAILLE-EDIT disk is fully copyable for your convenience. This means you can make backups. You can experiment with the translators. You can upgrade any ECHO II software (TEXTALKER programs). You can learn from the structure of my programs. The program is copyable not so you can pass out copies to your friends. And I know you know that, since none of you do. At least I have not found out about any cases of copies being passed around. Both you and I know how silly that would be. For all the investment in money and time in a computer system, it would be dumb to cut yourself out from the source of information and updates. There are few financial reasons for using an improper copy, since I offer a time payment plan for those that cannot afford $250 in one bite. Since there are no problems with the present set-up, why am I bringing up the whole painful subject? I feel that there will be increasing pressures to make improper copies for others now that suitable documentation is also available on disk, and there are fewer problems that require contact with me. As there are more customers, it is inevitable that I not give as much attention to each customer as I did in the past.
All I ask is that there be a policy that any copy of BRAILLE-EDIT be used only on one Apple. If a customer buys a copy and makes several copies of the program for his or her own use, that is OK. If copies are used on different Apples, that is not OK. If a school or a transcribing group has more than one Apple, I invite them to write me, explain their setup, and be legitimized. Any organization that has widely dispersed computers (for example, computers located in different buildings) should buy additional copies of BRAILLE-EDIT. Additional copies of BRAILLE-EDIT are available at a discount.
Recently, a new issue has surfaced. It is OK for BRAILLE-EDIT to be used by many students at a school (in fact that is encouraged). But what happens when the students graduate? Or if they get Apples at home? On one hand, I do not want to have copies of the program confiscated at the schoolhouse door (that is too reminiscent of Optacon non-dissemination plans). I do not want to deny someone a useful tool. On the other hand, I am being denied my due if with only one sale, dozens of people have copies of my program. I invite comments on how to deal with this issue. I favor having a reasonable "exit cost" being levied on each departing student. I also invite comments on how my interests can be protected while still being able to issue BRAILLE-EDIT in a copyable form.
There are some ways that you can enhance your Apple system. If you use the Videx keyboard enhancer, you can have a type ahead buffer. This can be especially useful when you use the Apple with an Echo II synthesizer. The Videx Enhancer is not cheap ($149). It is a complex beast not recommended for the raw beginner. But it can give you a full keyboard (upper and lower case), a type ahead buffer, and the ability to specify your own abbreviation or command system. The use of the Videx will kill the braille keyboard feature of BRAILLE-EDIT.
There is a way to speed up disk access dramatically on your system. All you need is a disk called ProntoDOS sold by Beagle Bos Micro Software (4315 Sierra Vista, San Diego, CA 92103) for $29. What you do is use the ProntoDOS to "improve" the BRAILLE-EDIT disk. This is a one-time operation. The result is a system which can use the disk twice or three times as fast. However the use of ProntoDOS is totally incompatible with the Echo II synthesizer. If you are going to use the Echo II, do not do this. You may want to speed up a disk copy of BRAILLE-EDIT, and retain a normal version for use with the Echo. Both the Echo II and ProntoDOS want to modify DOS in the same locations.
Many users of BRAILLE-EDIT have asked about using the program in conjunction with the CP/M operating system. The problem is that the popular CP/M system is incompatible with the Apple DOS system. What has been needed is a set of utility programs to transfer files between Apple textfiles and CP/M textfiles. I have been told that Val Golding of Call A.P.P.L.E. (a computer magazine) has good utility programs. His address is 6708 39th Ave S.W., Seattle, WA, (206) 932-6588.
I have been in contact with Prof. Neufeld on and off on the issue of grade three braille. He has been experimenting in adjusting the translation tables for grade three. He has a number of concerns. One of them is that there is not enough room in the translation tables. Another is that he often overflows his pages due to the enormous expansion possibilities of his personal grade three. Finally, he would like to have a special mode which would perform a transfer from the VersaBraille, back translate, and then print out all in one stroke. I have realized that all the things that he wants are possible. During translation, the hi-res area of memory is unused. There is no reason why the translation tables could not exist as two Apple pages with a maximum size of 8,192 (instead of the current maximum of 3,840 characters). Increasing the translation tables can dramatically increase the accuracy of the translation. Moving the tables can also open up room for the expansion of the translation program. This can give me the opportunity to keep fine-tuning the system. I anticipate being able to offer a choice of a much better grade two translation system or an almost grade three translation system. If any reader has a print copy of the rules of grade three, I would appreciate a copy. [Note added in July 1983, I now have copies of guides to grade three braille]. When all the changes are made, I anticipate users being able to write in grade three with embedded word-processing commands. With two keystrokes on the Apple, and two characters on the VersaBraille, a user can generate well formatted printed reports, complete with tabs, underlining, page numbering, and other special features. Such a system will make a blind worker unbelievably efficient in generating printed material. I am interested in embarking on this. Any comments and suggestions on this are welcome. VERSATRICKS
There is an interesting way to use the VersaBraille to help recover dead tapes, which TSI has not put in its manuals. Use of this trick may destroy your tapes and could conceivably damage the tape transport. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK. Perhaps TSI is concerned about the "unseemly" nature of this trick. It may not seem dignified to have to do this on an expensive machine. [This is also documented in a TSI Crosstalk].
Suppose you have a tape with a single chapter having two pages. You sit down and add twenty pages. All of a sudden, the power goes out, and the tape pops out. When you get power again, the VersaBraille tells you that the chapter has two pages in it. The problem is that the table of contents has not been updated. So take a freshly formatted tape and quickly create a chapter with twenty-two blank pages. Do something to update the table of contents (such as adding a new chapter). Then eject the new tape. Then ever so slowly push down the tape transport until the display tells you to select a mode. Press the braille key. Once the table of contents has loaded, release your finger and the tape should pop out. Pull out the new tape and put in the damaged tape and close the door securely. Now hit the eject button. The good table of contents will be written on the bad tape. The only material which cannot be retrieved at all is the last page you were working on. Rather lose half a page than half a tape! Rumor has it that there is a method of using the eject to move a page from one page to another page, or from one chapter into another chapter. As of this writing, I have been unable to duplicate the method. If anyone knows the trick, please write or call me so I can share it with others.
I have recently been in contact with Bud Hagen, who produces the newsletter "Closing the Gap". This newsletter concentrates on applications of microcomputers to special education. A recent issue focused on applications for the visually impaired. There was more than a full page on Raised Dot Computing. Although some of the material was inaccurate (such as quoting the wrong price for BRAILLE-EDIT), it was gratifying to get so much exposure. I have been asked to be a contributing editor. This means that I write an article every two months for CLOSING THE GAP. They are interested in low-cost computer applications to problems of educating blind children. If anyone has heard of some program or application that has any bearing on the blind, I would like to hear about it. I can share it with others in this newsletter and/or in CLOSING THE GAP. Readers of this newsletter are urged to subscribe. The cost is $15/year for the bimonthly publication. The address is Closing the Gap, Route Two, Box 39, Henderson, MN 56044. Telephone (612) 665-6573.
It is about time someone wrote a good article surveying small computer applications for the blind. I am in a bad position to do it since I am too close to my own work. I will now solicit comments, articles, and other submissions from readers about their own experiences. I will do a brief survey of the field.
Raised Dot Computing has obtained a significant reputation for its program BRAILLE-EDIT. The program has many, many capabilities to integrate word-processing using voice, print, and braille using the Apple II computer. The program includes a grade two translator and a reverse grade two translator. The program works well with the VersaBraille, many voice synthesizers, and braille embossers (both conventional and unconventional). The program has been well received, especially by blind professionals using the VersaBraille.
My chief competition is COMPUTER AIDS, the firm run by Bill Grimm of Fort Wayne, Indiana (his address is: PO Box 5502, Fort Wayne, IN 46895; telephone (219) 456-1856). He has a number of programs: DOCUMENTS, a talking word processor; DIRECTORIES, a talking data base system; and AGENDA, a talking personal appointment system. His programs run on the Apple II. They use the Echo II exclusively. DOCUMENTS is used by blind persons to generate printed material through voice feedback. On the plus side, the program is easy for a beginner to learn. On the minus side, it is more limited in scope. But if that is all you want to do, you do not have to deal with all the bells and whistles. I would like a user of both systems to offer a comparison. I will gladly print an unedited comparison.
On the braille translation front, my closest competition is Duxbury Systems (77 Great Road, Acton, Mass. 01720, telephone (617) 263-7761). They have recently announced a braille translator for the CP/M 2.2 operating system. This will run on a variety of machines, such as the IBM PC, North Star, Apple II with softcard, and Osborne. The translation system is fast and accurate. Their literature mentions a speed of 400 characters per second, which is 5 times as fast as BRAILLE-EDIT. Their translators are also more accurate than the current version of BRAILLE-EDIT. On the other hand, their system lacks the reverse translator, the ability to use the computer as an electronic braillewriter, the direct support of speech devices, and the ability to output on exotic low-cost braille devices. Also a license for the Duxbury system is at least $1000, and CP/M systems with all the peripherals are more expensive than a regular Apple II system. All in all, the Duxbury system meets the needs of an agency producing braille, and BRAILLE-EDIT meets the needs of the individual.
Maryland Computer Services sells the ITS system (Information Through Speech). This is a talking small computer which does a wide variety of text-editing functions. It has been well received and is selling well. Reportedly the text-editing is awkward. It gets strong points for having a special driver for filling out forms. I would also like to write a good forms driver.
There are other sources of braille and talking software. These include ARTS Computer Products, Jupiter Systems, and Peter Maggs. Right now, I do not have full specifications on their systems. I will have more details in later issues of this newsletter. All in all, there has been a tendency for suppliers in this field to pretend that the others do not exist and that they are the only source of equipment and knowledge. I am trying not to fall into the same trap. I would like to know about good features in other systems. Readers are asked to send in comments.
The best way to learn about BRAILLE-EDIT is to send for a set of documentation disks. These are two disks packed with information which can be sent to the Apple screen, voice output, VersaBraille, or a printer. Just send me three blank disks and I will mail you a set of documentation disks. Just specify whether you have a single drive or double drive system.
Another way to learn about BRAILLE-EDIT is to subscribe to this newsletter. After a while you can learn that it is a word processing system for the Apple which integrates use of print, voice, and braille. Included are translators into grade two braille and out of grade two braille. The program can send and receive from many devices. BRAILLE-EDIT is well known for how well it works with the VersaBraille. It also works with a wide variety of paper braille devices. The program is designed to be operated by either blind or sighted persons. BRAILLE-EDIT is so flexible that a coherent description is fairly difficult.
I have more information about the Cranmer Brailler. Tim Cranmer has improved the design to include dot graphics. I understand that he is working on a system to automatically take a printed diagram and generate a brailled outline of that diagram.
Maryland Computer Services is gearing up for production of the Cranmer brailler. I do not know the final price, but I understand that it is close to $2,900. [July 1983, the MCS price is $2,750]. Maryland Computers has made some improvements from Tim Cranmer's design. They have improved the software, and are including some custom plastic parts to enhance the unit. Maryland Computers has recently offered to make me a dealer of their units. I urge all those who are interested in using the Cranmer brailler with an Apple computer to get in contact with me.
Donald Chumley has spoken to me about his desire to build and market the Cranmer brailler. His address is 2113 Madison Ave., Huntington, WV 25704, (304) 429-2085. He has indicated a price of under $2,000 to me. I hope Mr. Chumley can get his enterprise off the ground. When competition heats up, no manufacturer can take any market segment for granted. It has to be earned.
It is time that I gave a report on the IBM braille typewriter. It is possible to make braille output from the Apple by using an IBM braille typewriter. This is a large electric typewriter (a model D) modified to print braille. These are available for $350. You need about $600 worth of gizmos to connect the typewriter to the Apple. You need an ETF-80 solenoid controller with an Epsom parallel card (these are available from Personal Microcomputers, 475 Ellis Street, Mountainview, CA 94043, (415) 962-0220). I have bought all the parts for this form of braille output. I have found that it is critical that you have an IBM braille typewriter in perfect adjustment. I borrowed one machine which sometimes did not operate when you hit several of the keys. Then I bought my own braille typewriter. I found that the shift key did not work. If the typewriter does not work when you hit the keys with your fingers, you cannot expect it to work when you have a computer controlled box punching the keys.
The ETF-80 is a strange unit. I find the package and the cable to be fairly crude. It is difficult to open it up to get to some crucial switches. If you are interested in this, write me for complete details. I will keep you posted on whether I ever get the shift working properly.
It is possible to use the Diablo (or Queme) printer to generate braille. You need to make some simple adjustments to the roller assembly. You need to use a special typewheel which has one character which will punch out a suitable braille dot. The printer has to be set for the proper horizontal and vertical pitches. Finally, you need to declare a type "D" printer in your BRAILLE-EDIT configuration. Write me for full details on this method of generating braille.
I have finally learned the trick for moving text inside the VersaBraille from one page to another. This trick can be called a bug by some persons. Others will call this a feature because it allows you to do things which you could not do without an Apple computer. Let's say you want to move the contents of one page onto another page. Several conditions must be true. The destination page must already exist. You must be in the source page and make a change. Indicate that you want to move to the destination page. The VersaBraille will save the source page and start moving to the destination page. After it saves the source page and before it reaches the destination page, hit the eject button. The VersaBraille will save another copy of the source page on top of whatever was in the destination page. My telling you this has three effects. First it explains how page two got moved into page 44 last month. Second, it gives you a new tool now that you know how to use it. Third, it gives you new respect for the power of the eject button.
I have been asked by several persons about connecting the VersaBraille and the Kurzweil Reading Machine. This is a fairly straightforward procedure. Telesensory Systems has a crosstalk bulletin which describes the connection. It is my understanding that the new VersaBraille I/O plug fits directly in the lower Kurzweil jack. No null modem is necessary. The baud rate on the Kurzweil is set at the factory. The VersaBraille must match this number. The TSI crosstalk lists the other CCPs. I will not list them here. Many persons report that when the devices are connected up, the Kurzweil does not send any carriage returns or spaces indicating the end of a line. You get the last word of one line jammed against the first word of the next line. Other users have reported that there are ways to get around this problem. I am interested in hearing from persons who have gotten their Kurzweil to generate spaces or carriage returns at the end of a line. As is always the case with the Kurzweil, quality of the output is related to the print quality of the printed page being read. It is my feeling that there will be an increasing trend for blind persons who have VersaBrailles to use Kurzweil machines in libraries to make a "rough draft" of printed material on their VersaBraille. Of course if users have access to an Apple II/BRAILLE-EDIT system, they can generate a grade two copy of the material.
Many people have commented on my comparison between BRAILLE-EDIT and the Duxbury translator on just the areas where BRAILLE-EDIT is weaker (speed and accuracy). It was my hope that I can create a forum that will speak frankly and accurately about products on the market. Of course, by doing so I will make some people angry. I cannot always put down only my own products. Sometimes I will have to come down on others.
Last month I mentioned Bill Grimm's DOCUMENTS program. This program allows the Apple to be used as a talking typewriter. I feel I must speak frankly about a weakness of the DOCUMENTS program. It is quite difficult to get textfiles from other programs to be read into it. This means that if a blind person wants to have a sighted person enter material into the system it must be entered with the DOCUMENTS program. The DOCUMENTS program was never meant to be operated by a sighted person. Bill Grimm has said that only Harvey Lauer and myself have complained about this. I think he is wrong. I am considering writing a special program which will read in a regular textfile and will generate a DOCUMENTS style textfile. I am interested in hearing from DOCUMENTS users who could use such a program.
It is my understanding that there are four other companies selling braille translators in the United States. These are Duxbury Systems, ARTS Computer Products, Jupiter Technology, and Maryland Computers. In a later edition of the newsletter, I will try to compare each of their programs.
Few people are aware that the BRAILLE-EDIT program can be of special use to braille transcribers. There are some features in BRAILLE-EDIT which were put there specially for transcribers. These are the braille keyboard and braille video modes in data entry, and the special "print-to-screen" mode in regular print or in braille dots. There are two major obstacles for braille transcribers to use computer technology. One is cost. It is hard enough to buy and feed a thermoform machine. It is another thing to buy an Apple system, two disk drives, and a Cranmer brailler. The other problem is training. There is not much I can do about the first problem. In a more just world, each transcriber group would be fully funded, and the military would have to hold bake sales to buy their tools of annihilation and world doom.
It is too easy to point to money as the problem when there is a major problem of providing documentation to assist the braille transcriber. It is my experience that transcribers are highly intelligent and quite versed in manipulating new symbol systems. One of the problems is just in vocabulary. I feel that the only way I can write good documentation for a transcriber is to collaborate with a transcriber or a committee of transcribers. I would like to hear from anybody who is interested.
What can the BRAILLE-EDIT program do for a transcriber? Braille can be entered directly in a Perkins-style keyboard. It can be proofread on the screen in a braille dot pattern and corrected electronically. Braille files can be reverse translated back to print for proofreading. Many subtle braille errors show up as really garbled print. By comparing the back translation with the original text, a transcriber and quickly and easily do most of the proofreading without looking at a single braille dot. The braille file can be sent to any number of braille printers (including the new Cranmer brailler) or a VersaBraille. The new word processing option means that the braille can be printed in proper braille paragraph format with optional braille page numbers.
Quite a few schools for the blind have bought BRAILLE-EDIT. Usually when a school buys BRAILLE-EDIT, I do not hear from them again. I have heard from the New York Institute for the Blind in the Bronx. Frank Irzyk reports that his students have been using the program quite heavily, and that the students are getting "report crazy". In fact, so many students want to upgrade their typing skills to use the computer keyboard, that the typing class has gone from being unpopular to being quite popular. The New York Institute is lucky enough to have an Apple, a VersaBraille, and a Kurzweil machine. I suspect that there are other schools which are also making good use of BRAILLE-EDIT. I am interested in hearing from schools about how they are using the program and how they think the program could be improved to meet the needs of visually impaired students in a school setting.
Bill Grimm's newsletter has a new address. The cost is still $10 for a bimonthy audio subscription. The address is Joseph Giovanelli, Audio*tech Laboratories, 1158 Stewart Avenue, Bethpage, NY 11714.
There have been two groups forming VersaBraille user's group newsletters. They are in the process of joining forces. The cost is $10 for a quarterly VersaBraille tape (provided you mail back a blank tape). Contact Sharon Connor, Sensory Aids Foundation, 399 Sherman Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94306, (415) 329-0430.
Yet another interesting publication is the "Memorandum" of the Braille Revival League (or BRL). This comes out in print and in braille. A subscription is $5. Contact Vernon Daigle, 1919 N. Amelia Avenue, Gonzales, LA 70737. The BRL is trying to revive interest in the use of braille and the teaching of braille, a goal I can endorse without hesitation.
As I see it, there are three major trends in computer applications for the blind. The first approach is to take a voice output box and attach it to a computer and declare that you have a computer for the blind. The second approach is to patch the operating system so the blind user knows what is happening on the screen. The third approach is to write a small stable of applications programs that are designed expressly for use by the blind.
The first approach is not worth discussing. The presence of voice output is worthless unless it is practical. The second approach deserves more careful study. This is the method used by Maryland Computer Services' ITS system (Information Through Speech) and by the Talking Osborne. The idea is to be able to use off-the-shelf software. I submit that it is possible to run off-the-shelf software on these systems, but at a heavy cost. The user needs to learn two levels of complex controls. First, there is the computer program, and then there is the system of controls that gives the user access to the program. The combination may be very complex.
Finally, there is the approach taken by BRAILLE-EDIT using the Apple computer. The Apple by itself is a very flexible machine. It is very easy to interface. It is easy to modify. BRAILLE-EDIT is an applications program which is expressly written to be used by blind persons. It is designed to work with a wide variety of different devices. If BRAILLE-EDIT can serve your needs, it can serve them very well. It can use the devices which you want to use.
The major catch is: can BRAILLE-EDIT and other Apple programs meet your needs? I will arbitrarily divide small computer uses into four categories. These are word processing, terminal applications, database systems, and financial systems. I know there are many other areas, but this division will suffice for this discussion. Between BRAILLE-EDIT and Bill Grimm's DOCUMENTS, the Apple does an excellent job of being a word processing station for the blind. If you are going to be slinging words around, use the Apple. It is that simple.
Until recently, terminal software for the blind for the Apple was lacking in power and flexibility. Mr. Grimm is arranging for the superb TRANSEND system to be adapted to the Echo II. When this project is finished in a few months, the Apple will be an extremely cost-effective, powerful voice terminal. If you prefer braille output for a terminal, I would recommend the VersaBraille.
There are some database systems that use voice on the Apple. These are not known for their power and speed. Right now there is little or no financial software set up for voice output or braille output. This may change very soon. At this instant in time, I would not recommend the Apple for a blind person interested mostly in database and financial applications.
For over a year, I have been constantly improving BRAILLE-EDIT. I have been making slow, evolutionary changes. It is now time for a revolutionary change. I am working on an entirely new structure for BRAILLE-EDIT which can have important consequences on how you use your Apple computer. I am going to collect all the key input and output assembly language programs and put them in one place. This will allow all parts of BRAILLE-EDIT to be more consistent and to have access to the best kind of input and output programs. This will also free up a lot of space, allowing me to improve the editor, global replace, the translators, and many other parts of BRAILLE-EDIT. Now comes the fun part. I intend to fully document this core program and allow other programmers to write programs using it. It will mean that many applications programs can be written in BASIC and still have access to the best parts of the assembly language of BRAILLE-EDIT. It is my hope that others will write database and financial programs for the Apple.
One of the consequences is that I will be spending several months writing new programs. Only when the whole thing is completed will I distribute new copies to customers. In the meantime, I will only fix bugs in the existing BRAILLE-EDIT. This is a good time to send me a wish list of what you would like to see in the new version of the programs.
I have gotten many requests to make a CP/M version of my programs. Unfortunately, I do not have a CP/M system, nor do I want to spend the time (to say nothing of the money) learning a new system. There may be an answer to all you CP/M users reading this. A programmer named Bert Pardes in Denver, Colorado is interested in setting up a quality system for the blind on the IBM-PC. I have decided to give Mr. Pardes's project whatever support that I can. This includes a well-documented source listing of the translators, the translator tables, and a complete road-map to BRAILLE-EDIT. It will probably take him a year to get his product to the market. I will make sure that he has the benefit of what I have learned about this field. I urge interested parties to get in touch with Mr. Pardes. His address is 2107 South St. Paul, Denver, CO 80210, (303) 759-1663.
Readers may remember my comments in the last newsletter concerning Bill Grimm's DOCUMENTS program. I criticized it because of problems of transferring files. Mr. Grimm is in the process of writing the programs to move textfiles from other word processors into his system and vice versa. This was my only reservation about the program. I now recommend the DOCUMENTS program to all blind users of BRAILLE-EDIT. It is a good program and it does a number of things that BRAILLE-EDIT does not do. Mr. Grimm is a good programmer who is using some of the proceeds of sales to finance some special projects to make the Apple more useful for blind persons. By supporting Mr. Grimm, you can make it easier for these projects to be completed.
As a daily user of Bill Grimm's DOCUMENTS program and David Holladay's BRAILLE-EDIT program, I would like to offer a personal comparison based on my particular applications. These applications include a tremendous amount of research, reading, and writing most of which I do on my VersaBraille and talking Apple system. Accuracy and speed are essential in my work and I interface continually with sighted colleagues.
With that caveat stated let me make specific comparisons between the two programs. DOCUMENTS features word processing functions which are line oriented and based on the printed page. BRAILLE-EDIT is sequentially oriented, a long string of text which is formatted more by the Print program than by the user. I find the concept of DOCUMENTS preferable but the practicality of BRAILLE-EDIT generally superior.
Both programs are capable of typical word processing functions such as delete, insert, move text, search text, format text etc. Each program handles these functions in different ways. Most DOCUMENTS' commands entail two key strokes whereas most BRAILLE-EDIT commands require just one key stroke. Two unique features of DOCUMENTS are the Delete Word command and the higher pitch voice for capital letters and tabs. Unique to BRAILLE-EDIT are the following: rearrange text, delete any specific section of text, and globally change or omit text.
I prefer the way BRAILLE-EDIT voices text over the way DOCUMENTS does. DOCUMENTS speaks the entire current line or any line you designate. If you happen to be in the middle of the line and hit the review command, all of the line to the right of your cursor will be deleted. I find DOCUMENTS' means of speaking a page or full document manageable but inconvenient. You must change the output slot to zero and then Print, giving you little flexibility in reviewing and editing the text.
Besides needing only one key stroke for commands BRAILLE-EDIT is more flexible when reviewing text than DOCUMENTS. You have your choice of speaking one, ten, or one-hundred words at a time. Most important, you can speak up to ten words without moving your cursor. This ability to listen ahead helps me keep track of where I am relative to the rest of the text without losing my place for editing. You can also print to slot zero if you want to hear the entire document.
Though handled differently, I find the text formatting capabilities of both programs to balance out. BRAILLE-EDIT has a few more automatic features and DOCUMENTS has better manual formatting. Both offer multiple copies, set margins, selectable line spacing, etc. BRAILLE-EDIT has a unique command to "center and underline". There are other subtle differences and it takes practice with both programs before you discover the full utility.
For any new readers I should point out that I have been talking only about the word processing part of BRAILLE-EDIT. Since I do many of my original drafts on the VersaBraille, several other functions of BRAILLE-EDIT, not addressed by DOCUMENTS, are of tremendous utility to me. I constantly send data back and forth between the VersaBraille and the Apple and interface with other computers as well. BRAILLE-EDIT will translate in and out of grade two. There are several other useful functions too numerous to go into here.
I would recommend having both DOCUMENTS and BRAILLE-EDIT. Both have good word processing functions and both have enhancements in the works. If I could afford only one I would get BRAILLE-EDIT. Again, this depends greatly on your specific needs. Mine are quite diverse so I have sought out as many options as possible and continue to do so. Hats off to Grimm and Holladay for their innovations and personal attention which are pioneering low cost computer aids for the blind.
It has come to my attention that I have not given my most important consultant much public credit. That consultant is Caryn Navy. She is also my wife. She has given me many good ideas which were obvious once they were pointed out to me. She was the person who told me that a reverse grade two translator would be a good idea. She solved a thorny problem concerning transferring files to the VersaBraille without having the pins thrash constantly. I have constantly bounced ideas off of her to the point that Raised Dot Computing and Apples have totally dominated our conversation for several years. Her knowledge of braille codes and of computer programming have been essential in getting the braille translators off the ground.
The special display system described in a past newsletter has been operational for the last two weeks. Most of the bugs have been yanked out of the programs. I would like to describe the system in detail since I think that it solves many of the "blackboard problems" of blind teachers. My detractors may call it total technological overkill.
Last year I wrote a program which reverse translates the Nemeth mathematics code. It was used to take a VersaBraille tape of math equations and grade two and generate a printed copy. I wrote a program (listed on my old price list as "80-column math program" and now listed as "NUMBERS") that was an extension of BRAILLE-EDIT. It took an Apple file and would automatically print up the contents using a dot matrix printer (for all the special math symbols). The program was quite sophisticated and efficient. In minutes, a file that was sitting on the VersaBraille could be printed up, even with integral signs, complex fractions, Greek letters, square roots, and the whole shebang. The printed sheets were taken to the duplicating office to make copies for Caryn's students.
I thought the project was done. But Caryn was asked to use the same technology to display text and equations on TV monitors to replace her blackboard work. It seems some thought her handwriting was a touch messy (what did they expect from a blind professor, perfect penmanship?). We tried some experiments with some large TV monitors and my Electronic Blackboard program, and found both wanting. [The Electronic Blackboard takes braille directly from the Apple keyboard and instantly translates the braille into displayed text and equations]. The monitors were fuzzy, and the program was difficult with masses of material. Back to the drawing board. We arranged for the installation of a device called a data projector in Caryn's class. This $5,000 Cyclops eye takes a video input and projects a 6 foot high image on a movie screen. I wrote a program which does a nice job of displaying material from a VersaBraille file.
The sequence of operations is for Caryn to write material for her classes on her VersaBraille. When it is ready, the material is transmitted to the Apple and brailled on our MIT Braillemboss [thank you, MIT for "selling" us this machine for $1.00]. Then the file is run through the translator and stored on a special disk. All this is done at home with the major Apple system. The disk is taken to the classroom where a simple Apple is connected to the data projector. The display program shows the material a screen at a time, theoretically at Caryn's complete control. Caryn can quickly shift between prestored files and the Electronic Blackboard. This allows her to answer questions that come up in class. The next project is to load the Electronic Blackboard on the Language Card so both systems can exist in memory at the same time and each use its own "window" on the screen.
One interesting aspect of the system is the role of the paper braille. Caryn has found it extremely useful to have a paper braille copy of the displayed material. Without it, she would literally be lost in a video nightmare. In subsequent conversations, she claims she told me how important the paper braille would be. I don't remember, or it never sunk in. I suppose that the VersaBraille could be used in the classroom. But using two electronic devices (VersaBraille and Apple) to scan through the material would be quite confusing.
This system is not for everyone. The raw equipment costs are impressive (A VersaBraille, two Apple computers, a braille embosser, and a data projector cost around $33,000). The trick is to get others to buy as much of the hardware as you can. I urge interested parties to get in touch with me. This system can be used to display ordinary text. It need not be used on mathematical equations.
I finally untangled the timing problem with the shift key. To my dismay, I found that the timing problem was disguising an even more intractable problem. The solenoid in the shift key does not have enough force to always activate the shift lock. Morgen Jones and Dan Walker, who have been working on this in parallel, have come to the same conclusion as I have. IBM charges $75 for a serviceman to come to your house and fine-tune your machine. Mr. Jones reports that he knows of one user with an IBM braille typewriter who has licked the shift key problem. So there may be hope. Stay tuned for further developments. I certainly do not recommend that anyone else get involved in this area unless they like to tinker, and do not mind risking failure.
In the past, I have reported that there are some problems connecting the Kurzweil reading machine with the VersaBraille. Apparently those "problems" were based on a misunderstanding of the configuration parameters for the VersaBraille. It is important to have "end of line in" set to CR or SPACE. The latest release of software from Kurzweil has dramatically improved the reading accuracy. Frank Irzyk from the New York Institute for the Blind reports good success in getting a VersaBraille copy of a document read from a Kurzweil. Then they transfer the chapter to the Apple, run the grade two translator, and then send the grade two copy back to the VersaBraille. That may sound complicated, but that way they quickly get a grade two copy of material that was in print just a few minutes earlier. The new "Input from slot" Utility allows one to directly siphon off material from the Kurzweil to the Apple. This saves one step in the process. As the year progresses, I hope that more persons will have access to a VersaBraille / Kurzweil / Apple system.
There is no command to update an overlay. You can create a new overlay, but you cannot change an existing overlay (to update to the model C, or to change parameters). First load the overlay you want stored. Then load the tape you want to modify. Delete all the chapters after the overlay, then delete the overlay. Now use the chord/O command to store the overlay in the same place as the old overlay was. Now hold down the eject button to cause the tape to pop out without saving the table of contents. The next time you load the tape, you will find that your "deleted" chapters are still there, since the table of contents was not stored. If you do not understand these instructions, do not try to use them. Thanks to Noel Runyion for telling me this trick. I must now tell my readers that I am out of "Versatricks". If you know of some special way of using the VersaBraille that is not mentioned in the instruction manual, please write or call me. It would be a shame to discontinue this column for lack of material.
As many of you know, I have been distributing connector plugs made by Fredrick Noesner. These plugs have print and braille markings similar to those on elevator button panels. If you need custom connector plugs made, I urge you to get in contact with him. His address is 369 Salem Rd., Union, New Jersey 07083.
Bill Grimm is financing the modification of a commercial communications package for use with the Echo II synthesizer. He is arranging to make a new version of the popular TRANSEND package. This program will allow your Apple to be a powerful talking terminal. You can shut off the voice and store material on disk. Later when you are off line, you can go through material. This can save a bundle of money for dial-up charges. Plus you can take parts of the "print-out" and merge them into a document for presentation to others.
It is to Mr. Grimm's credit that he is working on this project. It will cost him a lot of money, which he never recover.
Louise Kimborough has coined the term "Cran-Apple" to describe a system using a Cranmer modified brailler, and an Apple computer running BRAILLE-EDIT, and an Echo II synthesizer. Harvey Lauer and Sandy Ruconich have been using early models of the Cranmer brailler and have been connecting them to the Apple computer with BRAILLE-EDIT software. They have been enthusiastic about the results. In a recent demonstration, the Cranmer brailler was used as an entry device, as a printer, and as a terminal with the Apple. The only technical problem was not getting the handshakes right with the Super Serial Card, so they had to operate at 110 baud. Even though I do not currently know the wiring diagram necessary for the Apple Super Serial Card and the Cranmer brailler, I recommend the Super Serial Card. It has an "auto-linefeed" switch which is crucial for the brailler.
Speaking of the Cranmer brailler, I will be a dealer of these printers. I have promised Maryland Computer Services that I will sell 50 units in a year. That entitles me a 15% discount. I will be offering as a package deal the brailler, a serial card, cabling, and the BRAILLE-EDIT program. This is "everything you need to attach the brailler to your existing Apple". I also hope to be able to sell the brailler for slightly under the list price from MCS. Stay tuned for further developments.
For some time, I knew that the BRAILLE-EDIT program would work on the Franklin computer. What I did not know was whether the braille keyboard mode would work on a Franklin. It does. So, there is no technical reason why you should not use a Franklin. The decision should be based on price, service, and dealer support.
BRAILLE-EDIT works on the Apple II plus, the Apple IIe, and the Franklin. Most features work on the Apple III. Contact me for information if you want to use an Apple III with BRAILLE-EDIT.
Readers of this newsletter know that I have been proposing the writing of a grade three translator. I have decided not to write a grade three translator. Instead I will work on a better project. I will be changing them so that a translation will be a two stage process. For example, a back translation will first expand out abbreviations stored in a special table. Next it will use the standard table. The idea is that you store your personal abbreviations in the first table. You need not change the "Raised Dot Computing" table at all. If I make a change in the tables, it will not affect your personal table at all. So each translation table will be in two parts, a "user table" and a "system table". I am very excited about this idea. It would allow users to experiment with their own personal braille codes. I encourage people to get in touch with me with their questions and comments.
It is about time that I listed the braille devices which are supported (either slightly or fully). BRAILLE-EDIT will work with the RESUS or Thiel embossers from Europe. These are the braille embossers that I fully recommend. There are two device drivers for the LED-120. If your LED is a new type (large buffer, uses proper form feed character), use device type "B" (for Braille printer). If your LED-120 is old and uses a control/K for a form feed, use device type L. The LED-15 works with BRAILLE-EDIT if you declare it to be a Cranmer Perkins. This device driver just sends out a carriage return/line feed sequence for each carriage return. It turns out that this is required by both the Cranmer Perkins and the LED-15. BRAILLE-EDIT will work with the SAGEM (or any other brailler using the European computer braille code).
BRAILLE-EDIT will produce Dipner Dots on a Diablo or Queme printer. This is a method of producing braille by making a simple modification to a letter quality printer. BRAILLE-EDIT produces braille in two forms, tactile dots by punching into the printer (slate mode), and inkprint braille dots (braillewriter mode). It turns out that inkprint dots are easy to learn to read with an Optacon. The Cranmer modified Perkins works very well with BRAILLE-EDIT. The modified Perkins is a complete braille computer terminal. BRAILLE-EDIT also generates braille on an IBM braille typewriter with an ETF-80 solenoid controller.
In the paperless brailler sweepstakes, both the VersaBraille and the Microbrailler work with BRAILLE-EDIT. I have more comments about these machines later in this newsletter.
I should include the Apple computer itself as a "braille device", since BRAILLE-EDIT can make it work like an electronic braillewriter. The keyboard can be used as a braille keyboard, and the screen can show braille characters.
That rounds out the current list of braille devices that work with BRAILLE-EDIT. Of course, it also works with the Echo II and any serial text-to-speech voice synthesizer. It supports virtually all inkprint printers. The new "input from slot" feature means you can cable the Apple to any serial device and load a file. This serial device can be a Kurzweil reading machine, an IBM-PC, or a mainframe. The new "dump to a typesetter" print mode means you can perform a raw dump of a file to any interfaceable device without any page formatting. If that list is not sufficient for your needs, please contact me so I can help you get set up with your electronic equipment. For actual information about how to connect the Apple to any of these devices please contact me. I have prepared a master interfacing guide for the Apple computer and BRAILLE-EDIT.
It is about time for me to talk about the Microbrailler, made by Triformations of Florida, the folks who brought you the LED-120. The Microbrailler is a paperless brailler device which is competing with the VersaBraille. Its chief selling point is its price, which is $4,800 compared with the VersaBraille's $6,950.
Before I get too far into this, I should mention that I have an informal association with Telesensory Systems. This consists mostly of exchanging technical and marketing information. I do get a finder's fee for some of the VersaBrailles that are purchased for use with the BRAILLE-EDIT program.
I have received a number of telephoned reports about the Microbrailler. I do not think it would be prudent to discuss now what I have heard about the Microbrailler. I have learned enough to ask anyone who is interested in buying a paperless brailler to carefully check out both offerings before making a purchasing decision. There is more involved than price. Ask for the interface manual from both vendors. Inspect both machines. Find out how easy it is to locate and modify any section of tape. Make sure you inspect each brailler interfaced with some other system. Talk to users of both devices to learn the pitfalls of each system. Once you have done all that, write up a report of your investigation and submit it for publication in this newsletter. Before I leave this subject, I would like to discuss one aspect of the Microbrailler in detail.
One popular application of paperless braillers is to interface them with an inkprint printer. The user writes a letter, report or memo in grade one braille or computer braille (grade one letters with Nemeth numbers and strange punctuation). When the report is finished, the contents are dumped out the port to the printer. On the VersaBraille you load the hardcopy overlay. This can be prepared with prestored communications parameters (including carriage width). The VersaBraille does the work of deciding where to place the carriage returns (if you do not put them in explicitly) to make a presentable document.
The Microbrailler cannot do that. All carriage returns must be explicitly written in the document (using a chord dots 3-6). If you remove 120 characters from a file, you have to change the location of all the carriage returns so the document will not look lumpy. When you re-read the braille, you find that the carriage returns are indistinguishable from spaces. One way to deal with this is to make a trial printout and check the appearance with your Optacon. Using the printout as a guide, you can remove or insert carriage returns to fix things up. Then make another trial printout. If you made a mistake, fix it again. Probably, you will have to make a number of trial printouts before the paragraph is fixed up.
Any Microbrailler user who wanted to generate a large number of printed documents would need an external computer system (such as the Apple) to do the reformatting. It is important to recognize that a VersaBraille user would not need an external computer.
I want to make it known that just because I have modified BRAILLE-EDIT so that it works with a particular device, it does not mean that I approve of that device or that I recommend that device. It may just be that I am sympathetic to the plight of the user of the device.
I have gotten a number of phone calls and letters from persons who have asked for a list of resources for blind Apple users. People want to know about good applications programs that work with the Echo II. People want to know about accessible documentation. What people don't do is tell me what they know. So, let's get this ball rolling. If you know of any program (besides mine and Mr. Grimm's) which deserves notice, please write me.
Mr. Hauck of the Hadley School for the blind is especially interested in gathering this information. Since Hadley School has an 800 number (800 323-4238), why don't you call David Hauck and give him any information worthy of distribution. Mr. Hauck has informed me that the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind has recorded a number of Apple manuals and has those tapes available at $5 per tape. And before I forget, Mr. Hauck is interested in writing business programs for blind persons. If you are interested, give him a call.
Nick Dotson has discovered that a number of older commercial programs work with the Echo II after some minor modification. He has discovered that a program called M.I.S. (Microcomputer Information System) is more powerful than any other talking database program that he has used. For more information, call Nick at home at (904) 432-0894.
Readers of this newsletter are probably sick of hearing about the Cranmer brailler. I am selling the brailler for $2,700 as a dealer for Maryland Computer Services. It is only fair to mention another source of this device. Mike Miller of Baltimore is also making them. His price is $1,850 plus your brailler. His number is (301) 646-1218. Be sure you are satisfied with the arrangements before entrusting your check to anyone. By listing Mr. Miller's service, I am not recommending him. I have met him and I am personally satisfied that he is quite skilled mechanically and electronically.
I have spent so much time talking about BRAILLE-EDIT that sometimes people don't know about the other programs that I sell. I have a program called The Electronic Blackboard. It directly translates braille input from the Apple keyboard into text or equations on the CRT screen. It understands grade two and the Nemeth code. It can be used by a blind student to display his or her work for a sighted teacher. Or it can be used by a blind teacher to present material for a sighted class. It is really meant for occasions when the blind user is in verbal contact with one or more sighted persons watching the screen. The program is not a word processor. Its most advanced editing command wipes out the screen. Despite these limitations, it is neater than cheese. It really freaks out sighted persons, especially those that know about the braille math code. And for $80 how can you complain about the cost.
I am renaming the "80-column math program" NUMBERS, which stands for Nemeth Users' Mathematical Braille Effortless Reproduction System. The NUMBERS program allows a VersaBraille user to write mathematical material in Nemeth code and grade two, and have the chapter printed up in print symbols. Caryn Navy and Kent Cullers are active users of this program. Both find it important to get paper copies of their mathematical work within minutes of writing it in braille.
I have a program to train sighted persons in grade two braille. Actually my present program is incomplete. I intend to upgrade it substantially over the summer. Any current purchaser gets the current version. When the improved program is available, they get a free update. The Braille Training Program costs $200. The heart of it is a drill program. The user is presented with some text on the screen and has to braille it in. When the user is finished, the computer compares the entered braille with the correct braille and highlights any discrepancies.
Recently, I have gotten a request for an audio version of the program. The person calling wants to teach blind children grade two braille. Why not have an Apple with an Echo II do the job? I would like to have a sample version of the program ready before September.
Right now, there are two Apple programs that can aid a braille transcriber. One is BRAILLE-EDIT. The other is ED-IT, written by Bob Stepp of Champaign, ILL.
Mr. Stepp works closely with Bettye Krolick, a nationally renowned transcriber and resource person. The ED-IT program does some things that BRAILLE-EDIT cannot do, and vice-versa. The ED-IT program was written expressly for a transcriber working with a modified Perkins brailler. It displays an image of the page being created. The editing commands are line oriented. BRAILLE-EDIT is character oriented. By using the word processing commands in BRAILLE-EDIT, it is possible to make very well formatted braille pages. It is possible to get an image of the page by "Printing to the Screen". But the lack of an image of the page during the editing process is a definite disadvantage of BRAILLE-EDIT. On the other hand, BRAILLE-EDIT can translate the entered braille into regular text. That text can be proofread against the source text as a first pass for braille errors. Most of the errors can be located without having to look at a single dot. Also, you can take files from most word processing programs on the Apple and automatically translate them into grade two braille. While the translation may not be absolutely perfect, it is quite good. Transcribers who think the BRAILLE-EDIT translator must be bad are in for a pleasant surprise. I intend to continuously upgrade the program in co-operation with transcribers until it fully meets their standards.
There is no need to ever answer the question "which program is best?". You can get both. Files from one program can be transferred to the other program.
I welcome articles from people who have tried both programs. If you would like to get in touch with Mr. Stepp, his address is Station A, Box 5002, Champaign, IL 61820.
I have just heard some exciting news about a new card for the Apple computer which will vastly increase the Apple's usefulness for blind persons. This is the Zero Card, made by Cyberon Corporation. The address is 1175 Wendy Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48103, (313) 994-0326. The developer is Eliot Friedman, who has developed the Cybertalker (a Votrax-like speech synthesizer).
The Zero Card plugs into any slot. It directly takes the output of the video ROM and pumps the characters down a 9600 baud port. At the other end you could have a voice output device (such as an Intex or a Cybertalker), or a VersaBraille. This will work with either protected software or unprotected software. There are some limitations. Currently, it is wirewrapped, so it physically takes up two slot locations. It only outputs at 9600 baud. There are no handshakes. This means you can not use a Votrax Type-'N-Talk with it. The price is $250.
This is a new device. You may want to wait awhile until you are satisfied that the device does all that it is claimed to do. I am only reporting a telephone call from Harvey Lauer. I welcome hearing more about the Zero Card.
For a long time, I have heard that it was technically possible to build a "software transparent" voice output device for the Apple. If it truly makes the bulk of Apple software accessible, this is a real breakthrough.
National Braille Press of Boston is making arrangements to install an Apple computer in their facility. This will allow them to receive disks mailed to them and send back paper braille. There will be a fee, of course. There can be no quoting of prices until they get the system running with their main computers. NBP needs to know how much braille they will be doing. They also need to know how much disruption of their normal operations the Apple will cause. NBP will also be in a position to produce press braille direct from Apple disks as well. I intend to use this as a means to generate large volumes of much needed paper braille documentation.
All this opens up many exciting possibilities. If you have a means of producing paper braille, it is good to know that there is a back-up production method. A school with an Apple system can be in the braille production business with a BRAILLE-EDIT disk, a pile of blank disks, and an account with National Braille Press. Blind persons who have been using the Apple as a means to do word processing will have a way to generate paper braille. VersaBraille owners will have a means to share their work with those who cannot afford a paperless brailler.
For a number of reasons, I am personally excited about this project. I think it would be a good idea for readers of this newsletter to write NBP and tell them how much paper braille you could foresee doing on such a system. The address is Diane Croft, National Braille Press, 88 St. Stephen St., Boston, MA 02115.
ARTS Computer Products will soon announce their long awaited DOTMAN brailler. It will go at 13 characters a second. It is Z-80 based. It has a grade two translator built in (or grade one or computer braille). I have been quoted a price of $3,700. Mr. Duran has chosen Caryn and me as test pilots to check it out. I will certainly keep people informed as to what it does and how well it does it. ARTS Computer Products is located at 80 Boylston St. Suite 1260, Boston, MA 02116, (617) 482-8248.
I literally have access to the world using a VersaBraille, modem and telephone. The talking Apple and BRAILLE-EDIT Program add the icing to the cake. I am talking about the use of Dialog Systems, a computer timeshare system which contains over 200 data bases covering every conceivable subject. From my office, I can instantly research millions of documents via the massive Dialog computers.
First, I will explain what I use Dialog for and then how to use it. I frequently use the National Newspaper Index data base. This voluminous file contains articles for the past eight years from ten major national newspapers and 300 magazines.
Let's say for example, that I want to know about the development of light industry in Nigeria. I issue the command "SEARCH NIGERIA and (LIGHT INDUSTRY or MANUFACTURING)". After about ten seconds, the computer will tell me it found 200 articles with those combined words. I could use other terms to refine the selection further or I can print out summaries of any or all of the articles. I can broaden the search by selecting any number of related data bases.
Other interesting data bases include the Congressional Record, National Technical Information Service, Electronic Yellow Pages and the Dissertation Index, a file of all PHDs back to 1868. There is a Micro Computer data base and Career Placement data base.
You name it, Dialog has it, and it will cost you. The search of Nigeria I described, would cost about $15. Rates for connect-time range from $15 to $90 per hour. After business-hour rates are considerably less.
Connecting to Dialog is simple. I use my VersaBraille, a modem and the Tymnet Telecommunications network. I have found Tymnet to be the best means of connecting to Dialog Systems. CCPs on the VersaBraille are set as follows: b 1200, d 7, p E, s 2, dx F, hs dc3, co cr, ak Y, cts N, dci Y. The baud rate can be 300 and the other CCPs can be set to suit your requirements.
You can also access Dialog through a direct number, however there is a good reason for using Tymnet instead. When logging on to the system, a control/R can be entered before the user name, in this case DIALOG, in order to enable the xon/xoff feature of Tymnet. Without this enabled, you risk losing data when your VersaBraille is advancing to a new page. It happens, that Tymnet will hold the information coming from Dialog while your VersaBraille is advancing. However, depending on the load on the Tymnet system, you may occasionally become disconnected if the VersaBraille gets too far behind Tymnet.
There is one safe way of making sure this does not happen. Keep in mind you may be paying $90 an hour so time consuming mistakes could be costly. Use the DISPLAY command instead of the TYPE command when logged into Dialog. This allows you to select the number of characters per line and lines per page. Keep the total character count less than 1000 and the output will stop in time for you to advance the VersaBraille page and then issue a Dialog command to resume the data flow.
If there is a high volume of output from a search, I use BRAILLE-EDIT to translate it into grade two before reading. After screening the abstracts. I can log back into Dialog and order (online, in hardcopy) the books or articles I wish to read in full.
I have only touched on the basic capabilities of Dialog which can be useful and cost effective to students and professionals. This is particularly true for blind people. You may, by a quirk of good fortune, not have the option of your sighted colleagues to laboriously skim through mountains of print material. For you, and definitely for me, the speed and freedom provided by a system like Dialog, can not only be a means of keeping pace with sighted co-workers - it can be the key to moving ahead in this age of the "information revolution".
For more information, call Dialog's 800 number for a list of data bases and rates. Call me at area code (408) 738-2888. I will be glad to send anyone sample output over the phone, on diskette or on VersaBraille cassette. I also have some braille reference material which could be made available.
This is only one of many interesting ways of using our computer systems. I hope to hear from others of you in this news letter about your particular applications.
If you want the best printout-brailleout system but cannot afford it, you might be interested in hearing about my system. I have an ETF-80 (Electric Typing Fingers). This is a small Japanese-made device that has as many solenoid fingers on its bottom side as there are keys on a typewriter. By placing the ETF on a typewriter's keyboard, you can get high-grade printout, not dot matrix. Moreover--and here is the real beauty of such a system--the ETF can be positioned on the keyboard of an IBM electric braillewriter to give a brailleout. Sounds great, doesn't it?
Yet here are some if's and but's. The ETF plus connections costs about $700. The IBM selectric (a type-bar machine is not recommended) costs maybe $1200, unless you can get a reconditioned one or borrow one. And the IBM braillewriter costs $350. Finally, although the ETF works like a charm on an IBM selectric, it is a trick to get the ETF to work properly on the IBM braillewriter. So much for the equipment and costs.
Here is something neat you can do with the above equipment. Version 2.43 of BRAILLE-EDIT with the word-processing option has "$$b" commands. Like other "$$" commands, the "$$b" commands are entered in a document to provide instructions to the printer; they themselves do not appear in the printout. What do the "$$b" commands do? They merely stop the printer. Why stop the printer? To change selectric balls--the letter b in the "$$b" commands stands for, ball change.
The "$$b" and "$$b0" commands will simply stop printout; a "$$b" followed immediately by a number other than 0 will both stop printout and beep that number of times. The beeps are spaced so that you can count them. Imagine! David thinks of everything. For example, if you insert "$$b1" in a document, the printer will stop at that point and the computer will beep once; if you insert "$$b2" in your document, the printer will stop and the computer will beep twice. A different number of beeps will mean different things to each user, but read on.
Here are the various beeps that I have worked out. My primary element (or ball) is the Prestige Elite, which produces twelve characters per inch, so "$$b0" signals elite for me. The "$$b1" indicates Letter Gothic, also twelve characters per inch, and this produces boldface print. The "$$b2" tells me to slip the Light Italic ball on, which also gives twelve characters per inch. Here is the way the system works. The document is being printed in elite, and suddenly the printer stops and the computer beeps once. I take the elite element off and put the boldface element on. When I press the spacebar, the printer resumes, now printing boldface. Suddenly the printer stops again without beeping at all, signaling me to remove the boldface ball and restore the elite ball. Then I press the spacebar again. causing the printout to resume. Sometimes it stops and beeps twice, and I change to italics and then back to elite when the italic portion is finished.
I also use "$$b3", "$$b4", and "$$b5". Three beeps means to backspace once and reverse the roller one notch for a footnote; after the footnote number is printed, printout stops again for me to turn the roller back again. Four beeps mean to simply backspace once (without reversing the roller); five beeps mean to simply reverse the roller (without backspacing); and six beeps mean to backspace and also change balls. I could explain the purposes of four, five, and six beeps in more detail if anyone is interested.
You would probably want to work out your own beep system for your own purposes. Naturally, as with all "$$" commands, you must leave one space before the command. You should not leave a space after them before the next character. With my equipment and the BRAILLE-EDIT word processer, I can produce excellent copy, material that is letter quality and camera-ready (i.e., publishable), and I can also get a grade 2 brailleout.
(The following was part of a letter.) You asked about the Microbrailler from Triformation Systems, Inc. I have been hearing distressing comments from users and observers. If they are true, irony will be its theme. You have the literature from which you can learn the positive features. On the negative side, although one can enter capital letters and control characters such as carriage return characters with it, apparently none of these can be read in the device itself. There is also no formatting option for having material automatically formatted for sending to a printer as with the VersaBraille. That means that unless you have your texts processed later in an Apple, or other computer, you could not have texts printed without breaking words or having uneven lines. Even if one entered material from a machine on which format could be derived as one typed with the ringing of a bell, for example, the format would be lost if insertions or deletions were later made because the formatting commands like carriage returns can't be read on the Microbrailler. Even if they could be read, it would be inefficient to fix the material up by hand which one would have to do. The Microbrailler has features that are useful for inserting and moving text. The VersaBraille does not have these features. However, since the text cannot be formatted, another computer is needed anyway for the final product. This is ironic and depressing in view of the long development process and the advice the company has been given by users of the existing machines like me. If what I have said is true, I will not consider the Microbrailler worth its $4,850 price. A lot depends on applications to be made. The Microbrailler has no Grade I translator which some people would want especially since capitals cannot be identified in its version of computer braille. (Capitals are very awkward to read in the VersaBraille except when the Grade I translator is invoked.) I would translate into Grade II in the Apple and format there also. Then I would send the material back to the brailler where I could read all the capitals and whatever formatting commands I want. Then, after editing, I could return it to the Apple and back translate it for printing. So for people like me, there may be little or no disadvantage to the Microbrailler. That's also ironic, since the best programs for doing the needed editing and translating were inspired by the strengths and the weaknesses of its chief competitor, the VersaBraille. I am referring to the BRAILLE-EDIT system of programs written for the Apple by David Holladay. That isn't the end of the irony. The maker of the MicroBrailler, Triformation Systems, Inc. sells a talking computer package that may do little to overcome the disadvantages of its brailler because BRAILLE-EDIT will not run in it. There is a much more costly translation program by Duxbury Systems which will run in it, but it will take some work to make that useful for individuals. It needs a back translator among several things. As it stands, that program is designed mainly for production facilities.
The Microbrailler is $2,000 less than the VersaBraille, but the Apple is less than half the cost of the comparable Triformations personal computer package which ironically doesn't contain most of the software for using speech that its name implies. Not least of the problems, however, is that the Apple system is a component system that is complex to assemble, so some would-be benefactors of this combination will need a lot of help if they are to benefit. The happiest alternative might be for Triformation Systems to sell Apples. Interestingly, so far, the Apple company could care less about all this.
The irony doesn't end. Along comes Maryland Computer Services with its history of providing expensive options. But now they come out with the Cranmer Modified Perkins for two thousand dollars less than the microBrailler. If it is successful, it should eclipse the $15,000 Triformation Systems hardcopy braille printer Model LED-120 except for production facilities.
The most tragic of ironies is the general ignorance among consumers and providers. This is due to the complexity and newness of all this as well as to the usual human factors that wash around efforts to help blind people now as they did in the last century. The most predictable result is that many people will get stuck with less than useful devices and combinations of devices.
This VersaTrick is useful when you are sending to the Apple some, but not all of the chapters on one side of a VersaBraille tape. Instead of sending each chapter over individually with a chord/X H, send them all at once. First delete from the VersaBraille's table of contents all but the chapters which you want the Apple to receive. Then, with a From VersaBraille command on the Apple and a chord/X T, transfer the remaining chapters to the Apple. Since you want to retain all of the chapters originally on the tape, don't update the tape's table of contents. Just turn off the power or do an emergency eject (holding your finger on the eject button) instead of ejecting the tape normally. Just be careful not to forget that important last step. You may regret having avoided babysitting if some of the kids get taken as hostages.