Published Quarterly by Raised Dot Computing, Inc., 408 South Baldwin Street, Madison, Wisconsin USA 53703. Telephone: 608-257-9595. Fax: (608) 241-2498.
Subscriptions: $18/year Print, $20/year Audio Tape, $24/year Apple II BEX data disk or MS-DOS data disk. (Kindly add $20/year for postage outside N. America.)
Single issues: $4 each (specify medium).
Submissions are always welcome, especially on diskette. All are subject to editing for style and clarity. All opinions expressed are those of the author. Editors: Caryn Navy and David Holladay.
Entire contents copyright 1992 by Raised Dot Computing, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Nothing may be reprinted in any medium--print, braille, audio, or electronic--without prior written permission from RDC Inc.
The RDC Newsletter staff is pleased to announce that we are starting 1994 with a clean slate. As many of you must have noticed, we produced only one issue dated 1993, issue 100 for January-March 1993. Adding to the confusion, the PC disk version had the wrong masthead and looked like issue 98-99. For the record, in April 1993 we produced issue 98-99 for September-December 1992. Now, tired of trying to play catch-up, we are facing reality and making this issue the first quarterly issue of 1994. To compensate our paid subscribers, we are extending by one year all paid subscriptions that should have included any issues dated in 1993. This does not include the one-year free subscriptions that come with a purchase of one of our software packages.
We express our sincere regrets for putting the Newsletter on the back burner during 1993 while so many other projects were cooking. We hope to brew up some interesting articles during 1994. And don't forget that we welcome your pot luck contributions. We especially welcome reviews of adaptive technology products or descriptions of your experiences with these products. We thank you for your continued interest.
Since the next issue, #102, will be for April through June 1994, it will include the annual catalog of Sensory Overload, Inc. So send your whimsical ideas to Sensory Overload, Inc. c/o Raised Dot Computing.
We are delighted to welcome Laurie Porter as our newest staff member. She will introduce herself in a later issue.
We had an interesting summer and fall. We have been busy working on MegaDots improvements, including the amazing new MegaDots Spell Checker add-on. We think that the new MegaDots Spell Checker is a great technological breakthrough because it makes working with scanned material much easier. When David and Aaron attended the annual Closing the Gap conference in October, they gave many demonstrations of the MegaDots Spell Checker. We heard one report that it was one of the hits of the conference. We'll tell you more about the spell checker later on in this issue.
Our next conferences will be the annual California State University at North Ridge (C-SUN) and California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped (CTEVH) conferences in the spring. The C-SUN conference will be held as scheduled in spite of the very tragic results of the recent earthquake in Northridge, California, where the conference is usually organized. Aaron will be attending the C-SUN conference, and I will attend the CTEVH conference. Ken Smith, the Assistive Technology Specialist for CTEVH, will conduct a MegaDots workshop at the CTEVH conference with my assistance.
[Note to disk readers: We apologize for the lateness of the disk version. The event mentioned below already took place.]
We just received an announcement from Colleen Heiden and Bruce McClanahan at the Washington State School for the Blind. On March 4 they will conduct a technology workshop which will include several MegaDots training sessions. For more information call (206) 696-6321. If you are organizing a MegaDots training workshop that is open for enrollment, please send us the information for inclusion in the Newsletter, which really will come out quarterly.
As computers continue to change how information is disseminated in our society, an incident from presidential politics provides a useful reminder about the dangers of relying too much on the fast pace of computer-based activity. Just minutes before President Clinton began his major address on health care this fall, he and his speech writers scrambled to put the finishing touches on the address. As he started delivering his speech, a technician realized that he had sent the wrong speech to the computer-driven teleprompter. President Clinton coped with watching the wrong text passing before him until technicians corrected the problem eight minutes later. Working faster is not always better, since nobody's perfect even with the most sophisticated technology. Rather than eliminating errors, new technologies make for interesting new kinds of errors.
Raised Dot Computing has lowered the price barrier for Duxbury owners to get MegaDots. During the first 6 months of 1994, you can trade in your copy of Duxbury for MegaDots for only $125. Previously, the trade-in price was $250.
What is the catch? The catch is that you have to act fast. No ifs, ands, or buts, this offer expires on June 30, 1994. If it takes your organization a while to put a purchase order together, start now.
To qualify for the trade-in, you need to send us a check, purchase order, or credit card order for $125 with your Duxbury disk and print binder.
If it has been at least a year since you purchased Duxbury or a Duxbury update, it will cost you $175 to get an upcoming Duxbury update. Now you can buy MegaDots, with its proven high performance and modern design, for $50 less. You can purchase the MegaDots Spell Checker (see below) out of the savings!
For the record, you can also trade in all versions of BEX or Hot Dots for MegaDots for $250. Other major PC braille translation programs which are capable of processing both ASCII and WordPerfect files are also eligible for a trade-in for MegaDots for $250. The $125 special deal for Hot Dots 3.0 expired on Dec. 31, 1993.
We are happy to announce that MegaDots 1.3 update disks were mailed to registered MegaDots users on November 12 and 13. If you have purchased MegaDots, but have not received your update package, contact us immediately. MegaDots 1.3 contains the following new features:
MEGA filename -NOTABS <Enter>. Or type
SET NOTABS=1 <Enter>at the command line before launching MegaDots; or add this line to your
AUTOEXEC.BATfile to have it in place whenever you use MegaDots. We will come up with a better fix later in 1994.
For quite some time, Raised Dot Computing talked about producing a spell checker to use inside of MegaDots. In fact, right from the very first version of MegaDots the "Run spell checker" option was listed in the Tools Menu. Well, the wait is over. Once you have gotten your MegaDots 1.3 update, you can purchase the MegaDots Spell Checker for $35. The MegaDots Spell Checker is unique in that it can handle not just conventional typing errors, but also the mangled words that appear in files from optically scanned documents. The spell checker works well and is highly efficient for both blind and sighted users.
The MegaDots Spell Checker has a dual personality. When you use the spell checker, you tell it how to behave. You can tell it to act like a conventional spell checker designed for fixing typos. You can also tell it to reconstruct words misread by optical character recognition (OCR) scanning systems, which we like to call "scannos." An example of a conventional typo is the word success mistyped as sucess. An example of a "scanno" is the word from misread as the sequence of characters fi-ol7i; the r is misread as i-, and the m is misread as l7i.
Another example of a scanno is the word lighting misread as The _ below is the underbar character. I'ght'n_2. When the MegaDots Spell Checker encounters this mistake in a file in its "unmangle from optical scanner" mode, it offers lighting as its first suggestion for correcting the error.
How does the MegaDots Spell Checker do it? The spell checker has a dictionary of over 90,000 words. When the MegaDots Spell Checker finds a word it does not recognize, then it looks at a separate list of about 200 ways characters are misread by optical scanners. For example, an OCR system may misread an m as iii or an r as i-. The program uses that list to try out many possible combinations of characters. In some cases, the software may test close to a thousand different combinations. The spell checker tests each of these combinations to see if it is a legal word in the dictionary. The program uses a variety of techniques to try to ensure that the first suggestion that it presents is, in fact, the correct word. The important thing to remember is that when the software correctly decodes the mangled word, the user just presses Enter to perform the substitution. You can clean up your files in record time.
Conventional spell checkers do not notice some other potential problems in scanned files. For example, it is common for optical scanners to put a space between the digit one and other numbers, so "312" comes out as "3 1 2." The MegaDots Spell Checker looks for these situations and asks if you want these extra spaces deleted.
The program also examines the pattern of punctuation usage in each paragraph. If it finds opening or closing punctuation marks which are not matched within the paragraph, it considers them as possible scannos which are actually misread letters. For example, if it finds (lose with no matching close parenthesis in the paragraph, then the program suggests close as the correct word. But if there is a matching close parenthesis, the program does not complain about the word lose. This awareness of punctuation increases the chance for making correct guesses.
We have paid attention to the issue of making a spell checker that works well with voice or refreshable braille output. A spell checker usually shows a sample of the text with the misspelled word highlighted and provides some complex screens for choosing spellings. These complex screens can make spell checkers frustrating to use with speech output.
The MegaDots Spell Checker has different screen layouts for blind and sighted users. Blind users find that the line of text containing the misspelled word is always on screen line 22. Each suggested correction is pronounced and then spelled out by the voice synthesizer. To reduce screen clutter, each screen line offers only one choice. The Visit Mode (see below) is especially useful for a blind user. It lets you explore the complete context around a misspelled word.
In most spell checkers, you are very limited in the ways you can make changes in the text while you are spell checking. The MegaDots Spell Checker frees you from these restrictions. We have included a powerful visit mode which allows you to edit text while using the spell checker. Pressing V for Visit Mode drops you back into the MegaDots Editor. You can type, delete, search, and even perform global replace operations. When you're finished editing, just press Escape or F10 to continue spell checking from where you left off. Once you have used the Visit Mode, you will find it difficult to use any other spell checker!
When you use the MegaDots Spell Checker in its mode for optically scanned documents, it looks through your document for forced page breaks. If there are forced page breaks spread throughout the document, the spell checker realizes that they might come from the ends of pages in the paper document which was scanned. It gives you three options for handling the page breaks: turning them into inkprint page indicators for textbook format, deleting them, or leaving them alone. When you import a file containing a manual or other book marked with page breaks, you can use this feature even if it was not scanned. Just tell MegaDots that it is a scanned document, let MegaDots handle the forced page breaks, and then leave the spell checker.
One of the major complaints about MegaDots from sighted users was the difficulty of reading the braille dots on the screen. MegaDots 1.3 contains big, readable braille dots. To select big dots, type Control-Z D B (B for big dots). You can set "big dots" as your default "braille view mode in the Editor Preferences Menu." You need EGA or VGA graphics to use big dots. MegaDots also gives you control over the use of "shadow dots," which mark the unused dots. In the Editor Preferences Menu you can set "braille shadow dots" to none, light, or heavy. For those who prefer smaller dots, they are still available as well.
Yes, we now have a file convertor for the very latest program from WordPerfect Corporation. You can now read native WordPerfect 6.0 files right into MegaDots. At this point, MegaDots is the only braille translation program which works with files from this popular word processor.
Raised Dot Computing now joins the long list of software firms that charge for some technical support. Starting in 1994, we are offering three levels of MegaDots support: Basic, Expedited, and Premium. When anyone purchases MegaDots, they get 90 days at the Expedited support level at no additional charge, as well as free updates for one year. After 90 days, they drop to the Basic Support level unless they make other arrangements. The support plans are available for the calendar year or for the school year, starting in January or September. To purchase a support plan for the remainder of the calendar year or school year, contact us about a prorated fee. These support options apply to all purchased copies of MegaDots, including those purchased by dealers for their own use.
Most of our technical support is done over the phone. Our technical support number is (608) 257-8833. Our hours are Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Central Time.
We have sent free MegaDots updates to all registered users ever since we first began shipping MegaDots. We plan to distribute one more free update to all registered users. Be aware that after that updates will no longer be free in 1994. We plan to ship 2-3 program updates in 1994.
For those with tight schedules and adequate budgets, we offer Premium Support. For $125, this plan offers the largest variety of support services. If you send us a file that does not format or operate correctly, we will strive to see that you get a bug fix for the problem within 3 working days. For a maximum of 3 occasions per year, we will offer our Federal Express account number to let you send problem disks to us at our expense. If you have a problem file under 100K, we will make arrangements to receive it electronically.
If you need a newsletter article or other piece of printed instructions from RDC, we will fax it within 2 hours.
All program updates during your support period will be shipped to you automatically, at no additional charge. The value of this service alone may be as much as $75.
For those purchasing Premium Support we are willing to write out instructions involving unusual applications, equipment, or file formats. RDC will help untangle clashes with TSR programs or complex memory management problems. We will help rewrite CONFIG.SYS or AUTOEXEC.BAT files.
For those on a more restricted budget, we offer Expedited Support. If you send us a file that does not format or operate correctly, we will strive to see that you get a bug fix for the problem within a week. You do not have access to our Federal Express account number, nor will we make any arrangements to receive files electronically.
If you need a newsletter article or other piece of printed instructions from RDC, we will fax it within 24 hours.
Program updates will be available at a discount of at least $10 off per update.
For those purchasing Expedited Support we are willing to consult on the phone about unusual applications, equipment, or file formats. RDC will help untangle clashes with TSR programs or complex memory management problems. We will offer telephone advice on how to deal with these problems.
For those with a truly limited budget, we offer Basic Support. This is the level of support we offer at no charge to those whose MegaDots is older than 90 days. Our fundamental guarantee with the Basic level of support is that we will eliminate problems that interfere with your use of MegaDots. If you send us a file that does not format or operate correctly, we will strive to see that you get a bug fix for the problem within 2 weeks. You do not have access to our Federal Express account number. No fax service is available. We will not make any arrangements to receive files electronically.
We will not help customers with situations we describe as unusual applications, equipment or file formats. RDC will not untangle clashes with TSR programs or complex memory management problems. We will limit our advice to getting MegaDots functioning. Our advice may consist of suggesting that you remove programs or set-ups which clash with MegaDots.
Program updates will be available at the list price.
From the time you receive a MegaDots program update, until it is installed on your computer, all technical support from Raised Dot Computing is temporarily null and void. Raised Dot Computing will not provide any assistance to someone who has failed to install an update (except for any assistance required to actually install the software update).
Those working for schools will be glad to know that we do not include the summer months June, July, and August in the "90 days of free Expedited Support".
Those organizations who have more than one copy of the program should contact Raised Dot Computing for details on support plans for multiple copies of MegaDots.
Raised Dot Computing has been selling DoubleTalk synthesizers made by RC Systems for quite some time, first the DoubleTalk for Apple II computers and then the DoubleTalk-PC, an internal card for PC-compatible computers. Now we are adding the third member of the DoubleTalk family, the DoubleTalk LT, to our product line. Like its Apple and PC compatible counterparts, DoubleTalk LT is the most cost effective portable speech output device you can buy. Because it relies only on a simple external connection to your computer, DoubleTalk LT can go anywhere you go. And it's just as much at home with an Apple II or Macintosh as it is with a PC or laptop.
DoubleTalk LT inherited the traits of the other DoubleTalk family members that have made them so popular. High quality text-to-speech conversion, PCM/ADPCM (digitized) speech, LPC and CVSD speech--it's all there. DoubleTalk LT is compatible with ASAP, Flipper, JAWS, Provox, Soft-Vert, Tiny-Talk, Vocal-Eyes, and other screen access programs. What's more, DoubleTalk LT is compatible with the Echo IIc and Echo LC synthesizers, enabling it to work with programs written specifically for the Echo.
The DoubleTalk LT/PC comes with an AC power adapter and a serial connector designed for a PC serial port; it can also be used with the Mac LC and the Apple IIc Plus. You can order the DoubleTalk LT from Raised Dot Computing for $310. Like all products of RC Systems, the DoubleTalk LT is backed by a two-year warranty from RC Systems. Call us with your inquiries at (800) 347-9594.
With the MegaDots 1.3 update we introduced some problems, described below, involving different methods of viewing braille. We have fixed these bugs and have sent bug fix disks to those who contacted us about these problems.
Just before we sent the MegaDots 1.3 update disk out for duplication, we made a small change in the files that create two of the MegaDots fonts for viewing braille--regular dots and the special font. We accidentally messed these up. The result is that all spaces appear to be number signs when you use either of these two fonts. Your MegaDots document file is really just fine, but the viewing software makes it look wrong.
Lurking in our new big dots feature was a bug which causes MegaDots to crash if you make heavy use of viewing big dots. Since it was our intention that people make heavy use of big dots, this was not welcome news. We are very grateful to Marilyn Koziol of Virginia for giving us the detailed information that helped us to pinpoint the bug.
What happened? Of our pool of testers, Warren Figueiredo reported serious problems when using big dots. Because we were not having major problems and our other testers were not experiencing any problems, we thought there was something else causing Warren's problems, perhaps flaky hardware or odd TSR programs (i.e., "terminate and stay ready" programs, programs that remain in effect even when you use other applications like MegaDots). We were wrong.
If you need either of these bugs fixed, contact us by letter, fax, E-mail, phone call or smoke signal. We would be delighted to rid your system of these bugs.
We would like to increase our quality control at Raised Dot Computing. We want to make sure that all software we ship is of exceptionally high quality. This means innovative software and innovative quality control. The major tool of quality control at Raised Dot Computing now is an automated program called MEGATEST. MEGATEST imports, translates, back translates, and exports dozens of files in a variety of formats and carriage widths. The results are matched against past results. It is virtually impossible for a program change in MegaDots to adversely affect these portions of the MegaDots software.
But there are other portions of MegaDots that need better coverage. We intend to build automated testers for the spell checker, the file importer, the table formatter, the table of contents generator, and find/replace.
That still leaves a few areas of the software not tested automatically. The general operation of the Editor, the use of menus and forms, the different screen fonts, the output drivers, and the braille keyboard driver all need to be tested by hand.
We promise to build more testing and quality control into our production schedules. We realize that more and more people are using MegaDots for time-critical applications. We do not want to do anything to compromise their work flow.
We would also like to expand and formalize our merry band of testers. We would like to send disks out on a more frequent basis to a larger pool of testers. At this point, we consider the ideal tester pool to be 30-50 persons who are willing to receive 2-4 unofficial updates per year. Testers must willingly use these disks on their production work. The benefits are more frequent access to new features at no charge. The drawback is the resulting headaches if you do find a bug.
If you are interested in joining our formal pool of testers, please give us a call. However, we will decide on whether to include volunteers in the testing pool based on how we feel they will help the software testing process.
The Enhanced Edition of MegaDots uses a program called the Phar Lap 286 DOS Extender to allow use of memory beyond conventional memory, limited by DOS to 640K. The "286" in the name means that it runs only on computers with a 286 chip or higher (i.e., 386, 486, or Pentium). When you run the Enhanced Edition of MegaDots, the Phar Lap 286 software is running in the background, switching the computer's operation between "real mode" and "protected mode." In real mode, software is restricted to the capabilities of the older 8086 chip, while in protected mode, software takes advantage of the special features of the 286 chip to use memory beyond 640K.
You do not need to use any memory management program
of your own in order to use the Enhanced Edition of MegaDots. However,
many MegaDots users make use of other memory managers as part of their
system software to handle other applications, such as optical scanner
reading systems. In the
CONFIG.SYS file, it is common to run
a memory management program called EMM386. EMM386, which makes expanded
memory available, requires at least a 386 computer. Like Phar Lap, it
switches the computer's operation between the real and protected
modes. In order for the Enhanced Edition of MegaDots and EMM386 or other
memory managers to work at the same time, both programs need to use an
accepted protocol to exchange information. Some versions of EMM386 have
had problems communicating with DOS extenders like Phar Lap.
The MegaDots Manual has some inaccurate recommendations about blending the Enhanced Edition of MegaDots with EMM386. We recently had some communications with the technical support staff at Phar Lap. Here is the real story. What you should do depends on which version of EMM386 or which other memory manager you use.
CONFIG.SYS file can be
scary. You should keep a back-up copy of your unmodified
CONFIG.SYS file and a bootable floppy disk so that you can
rescue yourself if you make your computer unbootable. This is always a
possibility if you really mangle your system files. It is easiest to edit
CONFIG.SYS file with a simple DOS textfile editor such
as EDLIN, which is part of DOS. At Raised Dot, we usually use the EDDIE
program. This small program based on WordStar is written by Steve Smith of
Omnichron. It is part of the Flipper program and demo disks. You can use
WordPerfect, as long as you save the modified file as a generic word
The program EMM386 did not exist with DOS 3.3. If you use DOS 3.3, you cannot have a clash with EMM386.
DOS 4.01 is notorious for its bugs and is not
recommended. Upgrade to DOS 5.0 or 6.0 immediately. The EMM386 program in
DOS 4.01 is not compatible with Phar Lap or with other software. If you
cannot upgrade to a reliable version of DOS, we recommend that you remove
the EMM386 line from your
CONFIG.SYS file to get MegaDots
Enhanced to work.
This is a serious step to take. It limits your use of high memory. In turn this means you may run out of conventional memory for applications other than MegaDots. Since MegaDots Enhanced runs even when only a tiny amount of conventional memory is available, this reduction in conventional memory will not affect MegaDots.
If you are using DOS 5, do not use the parameter NOEMS
in the EMM386 statement in your
CONFIG.SYS file. This is the
blanket instruction found in Chapter 2 of the MegaDots Manual. However,
the cure given in Chapter 2 (substituting
64 RAM FRAME=NONE
for NOEMS) is wrong. Leave out the 64 RAM, so that this part of the line
Be aware that EMM386 has many more options than are
described here. The line in your
CONFIG.SYS file can have
other qualifiers after the NOEMS, or
FRAME=NONE. However, it
is possible to construct a line with options that contradict each other.
FRAME=NONE tells EMM386 not to use any page
frame, and another option might tell EMM386 where the page frame should be
located. Contradictory memory options can foul up MegaDots or other
software in strange ways. If your use of EMM386 requires additional
parameters, please call RDC so that we can help you out.
DOS 6.0 has a quality EMM386 program. You can use the
NOEMS parameter without any problem. If the MegaDots install program
CONFIG.SYS file and you now have problems with
other software, change the line back again to contain
QEMM is the expanded memory manager from Quarterdeck
Office Systems. We recommend using a line in the
file such as:
386MAX is the expanded memory manager from Qualitas.
We recommend using a line in the
CONFIG.SYS file such as:
DEVICE=C:\386MAX\386MAX.Sys PRO=C:\386MAX\386MAX.Pro. The
386MAX.Pro is a profile file. You can use either the
EMS=0 option without interfering with
the Enhanced Edition of MegaDots.
We have found that it is tricky to set up the
CONFIG.SYS file so that MegaDots and Arkenstone Open Book
both work. Here is how to do it with DOS 5. (Remember that you need a 386
computer to run Open Book.)
We need the
FRAME=NONE option in the
EMM386 statement for DOS 5. The
x=... qualifier excludes a
memory range. Each Arkenstone set-up may need to exclude a different
memory range; so be careful with the
The process of developing the MegaDots Spell Checker has been so interesting that we thought we would share some of the development history.
David had the original idea for a special spell checker. This spring he wondered what would happen if a spell checker was equipped with information about how optical scanner systems mangle text and could use it to suggest appropriate corrections. We quickly realized that this was a good example of a benefit possible with an integrated product like MegaDots. With a feature like this we could refute the question, "Why should I learn how to use another word processor when I already know how to use WordPerfect?" WordPerfect Corporation is not going to provide significant features designed specifically for blind and visually impaired users and service providers. But Raised Dot Computing can and will build these features into the core of MegaDots.
In the spring we went to the National Braille Association (NBA) meeting in St. Louis. It was there that we realized that transcribers would not accept MegaDots until we made the dots bigger on the screen. We decided that our development priorities would be bigger dots first and a spell checker second.
We described the spell checker idea to other vendors at the summer conventions. The reaction we got was fairly negative. Those in the optical scanning industry doubted that we could come up with a tool that would significantly assist in cleaning up files from scanned documents.
After we got the big dots working and got the regular spell checker functioning, we started work on the "optically scanned text mode" for the spell checker. Aaron thought that the best way to make it work was to create a list of every possible word fragment error made commonly by OCR systems. Then, when a word is not recognized by the spell checker, it uses the list of scanner errors to figure out all the possible substitutions within the word. Internally, the spell checker generates hundreds of possible replacements for the word and tests each one to see if it is a legal word. If it does find legal words, it presents them to the user as possible corrections.
Once we were that far, we realized that there is a lot more to the problem. Sometimes words are jammed together or contain spurious spaces which split them up. Sometimes the first character of a word is missing. Sometimes a single quote is misread as the letter "j." Sometimes a single quote in the file was not in the original text and needs to be thrown away, but sometimes it really should be a single quote. Hyphens, paragraph boundaries and sentence beginnings all needed complex handling.
Aaron has been able to arrange the program so that it suggests the correct word in a very high percentage of the cases with very little processing time. Exactly how he has been able to do this will have to remain proprietary to Raised Dot Computing.
The moral of this story is that we had no idea of what we were doing when we got started. This project really has had a life of its own. While David had the original idea, he had no conception of how it would work in practice. Aaron wrote the original code which got us working on how to make further improvements. Caryn was able to contribute her search and replace routine and her ideas on how to make the spell checker work well with speech output. She also pointed out that another important need in processing scanned documents is dealing with the page breaks in the original copy, and we added options for handling them to the spell checker's scanned document mode. David kept testing the software to make sure it was working well with a variety of samples. And finally Aaron was able to rebuild the software in a way that further increased the accuracy and speeded it up in the process.
We hope you will appreciate the work that we have put into the MegaDots Spell Checker. If you do find problems or situations we did not anticipate, tell us about them. Write down the word or words which were not handled correctly. Now that this product has been released, we can all take part in further product development.
Recently I took a 6-page article from a magazine and
turned it into braille. Here are the steps I took. I scanned the article
using my copy of Open Book Unbound. Once each page was scanned and
converted, I pressed the Escape key followed by the Scan key (the Ins key
on the numeric keypad) to scan the next page. When the scanning was
finished, I used the Library Export command to convert the file into a
WordPerfect file in my export directory. I gave the name
COMPLAY (the system adds the file extension
Then I quit Open Book to begin processing the article
into braille. I imported the article while launching MegaDots by typing
MEGA \EXPORT\COMPLAY.DOC <Enter> to import the article.
From the MegaDots Editor I typed F10 T R to run the MegaDots Spell
Checker. I was asked, Is this text coming from an optical
scanner? I pressed Y for yes. Then I was asked, What do you
want to do with the forced page breaks? I chose inkprint page
indicators and gave the starting inkprint page number. In one stroke
MegaDots put all of the inkprint page indicators into the file.
I did my fix-ups in several passes. In the first pass, I did not look at the inkprint copy at all. I just looked at the screen and the suggestions from the spell checker. If there was something I was not sure about, I just accepted it, by pressing A, so that I could deal with it later.
Then I did a second pass with the inkprint in front of me. The magazine title was in such large print that it was not scanned. I typed it in manually. I deleted the extra text which came from running headers and footers. In addition, on every print page part of the text was repeated in the white space between the columns as an attention grabber which was out of context in the scanned file. I deleted this text as well.
In the second pass I concentrated mainly on the start of paragraphs. A few paragraphs were broken up or combined. I fixed them by deleting or inserting carriage returns. I kept using the Alt-down arrow key to take me to the top of the next paragraph. I made sure that the top of each paragraph matched up with the paragraphs in the inkprint.
The trickiest problem concerned a sidebar. The article had a three-column format. The next-to-last inkprint page had a half-page sidebar that was in a four-column format. Needless to say, Open Book Unbound did not properly arrange the seven columns on the page. So I moved the sidebar to the end of the article. I needed to do some careful clipboarding to collect the sidebar away from the rest of the article.
In my final pass through the article I still had the inkprint in front of me. I used the spell checker and fixed the spelling errors which I had passed over before. I also made sure that names were spelled right. Then I was finished.
What this description does not properly convey is how easy the whole process is. The software in the MegaDots Spell Checker is expressly written to make this kind of project go quickly without tedium.
We got a phone call from a MegaDots customer who was concerned about the way we handle the issue of file conversions. MegaDots can automatically accept and create files in about 95 different file formats. But we ship the program with the ability to handle only about half that number. To get the full complement of conversion software, you have to pay $35. This is the cost of the Supplemental Conversion Package.
We do this for several reasons. Quite frankly, only a small number of MegaDots purchasers are interested in the additional conversions. We made every effort to include all of the most common file formats in the MegaDots Basic Package. Right now less than one in thirty is purchasing the additional package. If we supplied the conversion software to everyone, it would greatly add to the cost of shipping MegaDots and of providing updates (since sometimes we need to replace all the conversion software too).
But there is an additional burden. MegaDots now takes up 3 megabytes of hard disk space. If we supplied all the conversions to everybody, then MegaDots would take up 6 megabytes. We think that this would cause some people to think of MegaDots as "fatware," clogging up their hard disk. By shipping a trimmed down collection of file conversion software, we ship a leaner, meaner program.
If you have any concerns about MegaDots, please write or call Raised Dot Computing. We welcome the opportunity to learn about your concerns or needs.
MegaDots can read both BEX and TranscriBEX files which have been transferred from the Apple to the PC. For TranscriBEX, MegaDots wants the original inkprint TranscriBEX files, the ones with the double backslash commands in them. TranscriBEX files come out very well with MegaDots because they include such rich formatting information. Do not expect such high quality format from ordinary BEX files, formatted with double dollar sign commands.
In order to read BEX and TranscriBEX files, you need to move the Apple II data onto a PC. We find that the best way to do this is to place the Apple computer and the PC computer on the same table and cable them together.
On the PC, you need a serial port and a modem program. We use the shareware program PROCOMM, but any decent modem program will do. On the Apple end, for an Apple IIe you need an Apple Super Serial Card. If you have an Apple IIc, an Apple IIc Plus, or an Apple IIgs, you can use one of the built-in serial ports and do not need a Super Serial Card.
To connect the PC serial port to an Apple Super Serial Card, you need a straight-through male-to-female cable. To connect the PC serial port to the original Apple IIc, use an RDC 2F cable. Finally, to connect the PC serial port to an Apple IIc Plus or an Apple IIgs, use an RDC 11F cable. If the PC has a 9-pin serial port, you need to add a 9 pin to 25 pin serial adapter to the cable.
Set the Super Serial Card or the IIgs port to the RDC standard settings of 9600 baud, 8 data bits, 2 stop bits, and no parity. For a IIgs port, use the control panel to set the appropriate slot for "built-in port" and the other settings. On the Super Serial Card set the jumper block to terminal; bank one to: off off off on off on off; and bank two to: off off on on on off off. The BEX program takes care of setting the IIc and IIc Plus ports. On all of these Apple computers you can verify that you have the standard settings with the "What is in my computer?" option in the BEX Starting Menu.
On the PC, start the modem program. In Procomm, the Alt-P command sets up the communications parameters. Set the appropriate serial port (COM1 or COM2) that you have cabled to the Apple. Set the PC to 9600 baud, 8 data bits, 1 stop bit, and no parity. Get the PC modem program ready to accept data. For example, in Procomm type Alt-F1 to create a log file and give a filename. All the data coming from the Apple will be saved in this file on the PC.
On the Apple, make sure that you use a BEX
configuration that sets up printing through the desired Super Serial Card
or serial port. It really does not matter what carriage width or form
length you use for the printer set-up, because the method you will use for
printing ignores these settings. Create a BEX chapter on your program disk
that consists of the following characters:
<control-I> 1 D
<CR> <control-I> 7 P <CR> $$z. To create the
character control-I in the BEX editor, press control-C followed by the
letter I. The control-I commands set the Super Serial Card to 7 data bits,
1 stop bit, and space parity, and the dollar dollar z command suppresses
BEX formatting activity during printing. If you are using an Apple IIc,
Apple IIc Plus, or Apple IIgs port set in modem mode, substitute control-A
in place of the control-I's in the above sequence. Notice that the
communications parameters are deliberately mismatched: 8-1-no on the PC,
and 7-1-space on the Apple). If you do not do this, the communication does
Still on the Apple, print the set-up chapter immediately followed by your real data in the same printing operation. You must work at the BEX User or Master Level, because at the Learner Level BEX prompts you for only one chapter to print and does not reprompt you for additional chapters.You can print a whole Apple data disk to the PC in one operation if you want to. But the drawback of that is getting all the data in one big file on the PC.
Then the data should appear on the screen as it comes into the PC. If no data appears, then the problem is a bad cable or the wrong slot or port specified on one or both computers. Recheck the cable, and verify the slot number and the port number. If you get garbled data, then recheck the baud rate and other communications parameter settings. Good luck!
At the end of the file transfer, close the file on the PC. For example, in Procomm, type Alt-F1 to close the log file. If you want to start a new transfer, press Alt-F1 again to open a new log file. Specify the same filename to add to the same log file or a different filename to start a new one.
Now you can import the file or files into MegaDots. MegaDots is designed to recognize them automatically as TranscriBEX or BEX files and to convert the formatting commands into MegaDots style information.
[Editor's note: We received the following note this summer from Larry Skutchan of MicroTalk. MicroTalk produces ASAP and other fine access products.]
It is true. MicroTalk and the MicroTalk BBS (bulletin board system) have moved to Texas! Here are the new address and phone numbers:
Why the Move? We have moved back home. My wife and I were both raised in southwest Arkansas. Our families both live there, and we feel grateful we have the flexibility and opportunity to move back.
Leaving the Louisville area was a particularly difficult decision for the whole family. We originally came to Louisville in 1985 to accept a position at the American Printing House for the Blind helping launch their software and technology products. It did not take long for the whole family to fall in love with the city. Everything was either in walking distance or a short ride from our home, and there are sidewalks all over the place. We will miss the convenience and variety of the big city. At the same time, the family is also looking forward to the down home personalized attention of a small town.
Hopefully, the move does not cause you too much inconvenience. We anticipate it delaying the Windows project only slightly.
[Editor's note: The technical support phone number for ASAP is (404) 508-1418.]
I read Ken Smith's article "Using a Hand Scanner for Raised Line Drawings" in issue 98-99, and I would like to describe the method we use to produce raised line drawings at the school where I am a transcriber. I recommend this method for those who are not steady of hand at running the scanner or do not own a scanner.
First enlarge the drawings on a copy machine so that they fit on a braille page, and tape each one down to a sheet of braille paper. Put a piece of pencil carbon paper on the desk with the carbon side up; pencil carbon paper is really best for this application. Put your braille paper on top of it and trace the picture. When you have finished, you have good clear lines on the back of the braille page. Use a spur wheel on the outlines. Then roll the sheet into the brailler to add braille labels.
The system works very well and gives a true copy. You can texture on paper by using scrap cloth or cardboard or any other scrap that comes to hand ... rickrack, lace ... all sorts of textures work--especially if you Thermoform.
You can also use this approach if you use the metal kit from American Printing House. Copy your picture in the same way, and texture it as you want. Then paste braille labels on the metal and put the metal on a braille page or larger tag board sheet. We make the backing sheet slightly larger and tape the metal down with 3-inch box tape from 3M so that the children don't cut their hands on the edges of the metal.
[Editor's note from Caryn: This article is based on a brochure from RFB and some telephone conversations with Dick Huber of RFB.]
On July 1, 1993 Recording for the Blind began offering for sale to its registered borrowers an exciting new tool for reading specially produced books on disk. Registered RFB borrowers can purchase the BookManager software which provides extremely flexible access to books produced on disk in the specialized BookManager format.
The BookManager system, developed and trademarked by IBM, provides highly sophisticated search and retrieval capabilities. According to Jim Marks, Co-Chair of the AHEAD Special Interest Group on Blindness and Visual Impairments, BookManager is "a truly effective means of manipulating printed information. This kind of power is something everyone will want."
As described in an RFB brochure about the BookManager system, "BookManager is powerful yet easy to use. Whether you're an expert or an average computer user, you can quickly take full advantage of all of BookManager's capabilities. ... You can find the information you want using BookManager's sophisticated and efficient search capabilities. Search for phrases, related forms of words, synonyms ... BookManager can even cope with misspellings. And it will tell you which references are most likely to provide the information you want. Flip between pages, use the index or table of contents, take notes in the margin, search several books at the same time ... You can do it all with BookManager!" In addition, in case you want to braille some parts of a book, you can save portions in ASCII textfile format.
Note that BookManager can be used only with books in the BookManager format. It does not work with material saved in the E-Text ASCII format. A sample list of available books is included in this article.
Here's an example of BookManager's power:
In a book about growth and development, you need to find some information about recreational activities that are appropriate for children. You could search on a specific word, but since you do not need an exact word match, you narrow your search by searching on several words simultaneously: "child game activity."
BookManager finds several matches and prioritizes them for you:
First, it finds "children's activities" in a heading. This phrase contains two matches and since it is in a heading it receives top ranking. Note that BookManager intelligently expands the search to include plural references even though the search words are in the singular.
Next, BookManager lists the words "children's games." This phrase ranks as the second match since two words match, but they are in the text, not the heading, and therefore not as important.
Finally, BookManager cites the phrase "games for children." This phrase is in the body of the text. BookManager finds this reference even though the words are in reverse order from what you originally specified. BookManager ranks this reference third.
Then you can move to any one or more of the cited references in the list. This sophisticated method of searching for text greatly increases your productivity in using books on disk.
You can contact RFB at (609) 520-8000 to request a list (in your chosen medium) of books available in the BookManager format.
Here are some sample books that are currently available:
New titles are continually added! Law books and college texts are coming soon!
IBM developed BookManager to give its own employees flexible and efficient access to IBM internal documentation. IBM also sells the BookManager system to companies as a means of compiling and referencing their corporate documents on disk.
RFB's addition of the BookManager format to its E-Text (Electronic Text) program is the result of a joint project agreement RFB established with IBM in 1992. Under that agreement, IBM agreed to permit RFB to remarket BookManager software to its borrowers at a reduced rate and RFB agreed to develop the BookManager tutorial for people who can't read standard print. The RFB BookManager package is available only to the print disabled and to agencies providing services to the print disabled. "IBM is to be commended for the commitment to helping make the printed word accessible to people with visual and print disabilities," said RFB President, Ritchie Geisel. "They continue to demonstrate leadership in an area that is too often overlooked."
Producing a book in BookManager format is much more involved than making a recording. So you cannot simply send in two inkprint copies of a book and receive a copy in BookManager format. However, according to Dick Huber of RFB, RFB intends to be responsive to the needs of its BookManager users in determining which books to produce, pending cooperation of the publisher. They plan to focus on books in which the ability to search freely for information is crucial. While the book list currently emphasizes books which deal with using or programming computers, RFB intends to broaden the range of topics. For example, an advisory committee is working on recommendations for how to present mathematics in BookManager texts.
Mr. Huber pointed out that educational and vocational rehabilitation agencies are beginning to recognize the potential of BookManager. Recently RFB added the entire Prentice Hall science series for grades 6 through 8 as part of a joint project with the California Department of Education. The California Department of Education underwrote the production of the books and purchases the BookManager software for use by middle school students who need one or more of these books in their classes. In addition, some BookManager software packages have been purchased for clients by vocational rehabilitation agencies.
RFB will continue to produce E-Text books in the original ASCII E-Text format in addition to the BookManager format. E-Text books in ASCII format do not require any special software but do not afford the flexible methods of searching and retrieving information that are possible with BookManager.
The regular RFB price for BookManager is $125. RFB began their BookManager program with a special introductory price of $99. This special price will be available until RFB has completed its survey of initial users. According to Dick Huber, in mid-January RFB had about 160 BookManager users and the survey would be over soon. Books in the BookManager format are available for $7.95 each. There are also some packages containing a series of related books. The price for a package is $7.95 for the first volume and $5.00 each for the subsequent volumes. Shipping by your choice of first class mail or UPS costs an additional $2.50.
I just purchased the entire series of manuals for the Borland C++ compiler system for $47.95 ($7.95 for the first volume and $5 each for eight additional volumes). I am excited about the prospect of being able to reference these books much more efficiently (i.e., without bothering Aaron or David).
[Editor's note from Caryn: I am experimenting with Flipper 4.0.]
Most speech synthesizers work with BookManager. These include such products as DECtalk, Accent PC, Speakqualizer, etc.
To receive a brochure on RFB's BookManager program, including a current book list, to ask for further information, or to place an order, call (609) 520-8000.
Ferguson Enterprises is proud to announce the following new products and services. Purchase your WordPerfect 6.0 upgrade for $129.00 and receive in braille, cassette, or large print a WordPerfect 6.0 reference card and installation instructions, the WordPerfect 6.0 manual on disk, and your disks labeled in braille or large print at no extra charge.
You may purchase a WordPerfect 6.0 Tutorial on cassette for $125.00, an ASAP Tutorial on cassette for $15.00, and much more.
We are also proud to announce our low prices on CD-ROMs and CD-ROM drives available in our store. We have in stock the Mitsumi CD-ROM Drive for $250. It is very new with all the latest features. It is caddyless and has double speed and a 280ms access time.
A list of CD-ROMs and prices is available on disk, in large print, or on cassette. Here is the list of CD-ROMs available from Ferguson:
If there are CD-ROM's that you know work with speech and they are not on this list, please tell us what they are, and we'll get the best prices for you.
The address is: Ferguson Enterprises, RR1 Box 238, Manchester, SD 57353. Call us at (605) 546-2366.
Now available for sale through the Superintendent of Documents is a detailed listing of nearly 300 CD-ROM products with a wide range of Federal information that are currently available or under development.
Each entry in the SIGCAT CD-ROM Compendium includes an abstract describing the contents of the CD-ROM, as well as information on the software retrieval engine used, the system requirements, and the price. Both the source agency for the data and the distributors/vendors of the CD-ROM's are identified. In addition, there is a listing of reference materials, compiled by the Special Interest Group on CD-ROM Applications and Technology (SIGCAT), that users of CD-ROM's will find useful.
This 184-page print book is available for $11.00 per copy. To order the SIGCAT CD-ROM Compendium, indicate the stock number 021-000-00158-9, and send your check or money order for $11.00 per copy, or send your VISA or MasterCard number and expiration date to: Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 37194, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. Price includes shipping and handling.
The Superintendent of Documents is the official source for the sale of information published by more than 100 federal departments, agencies, boards, commissions and committees. More than 13,000 books and periodicals are available on a wide range of subjects. In addition to the print products, there are a wide variety of electronic products available on CD-ROM, diskette, magnetic tape and on The Federal Bulletin Board. To find out more about these products, please call (202) 512-1530.
When Barbara Langendoen and Marilyn Packham, two Registered Nurses who work at a hospital in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, toured Zimbabwe, they witnessed numerous examples of severe poverty. One of the most vivid examples they saw was at the Kapota School for the Blind. The school, which is attended by 175 students, has only one brailler and lacks braille paper and textbooks and any braille or large print books that are in usable condition. Langendoen is trying to assist Zimbabwians by asking people to send to her braille or large print material such as textbooks, books for children, magazines, along with white canes, slates and styluses, and other equipment they are no longer in need of. All donations, including money, medical equipment, baby clothes, sheets, and other things which can be used to assist the general population, will be sent to Zimbabwe and distributed through Morgenster Mission, an organization which has been in existence since 1891 and is run by the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe.
Please send donations or inquiries to Barbara Langendoen at: 4 Miami Dr., St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, L2M 1T2; (416) 646-3010.
Many provisions of the tax law are affected significantly be disability. In this important new volume, a leading expert on the impact of U.S. tax law on disabled individuals provides a straightforward and practical guide that will assist people with disabilities to take maximum advantage of the current tax law for a range of services and purchases including assistive technology, attendant services, work-related expenses, and much more.
Mr. Mendelsohn proves that even complex principles of tax law and policy can be made clear to anyone who is willing to devote some time to the effort, and that the law need not remain forbidding for anyone of ordinary intelligence and average perseverance. Jargon is stripped away and information is presented clearly. Every reader will come away with information and insights that will be of practical financial benefit this April 15th and on many April 15ths to come. All statements are referenced for research by tax professionals.
Practical issues dealing with all aspects of the tax code as it relates to disability are considered. The book logically progresses from a discussion of the overall tax system, its underlying logic, and a description of basic terminology and tax planning considerations, through detailed discussions of specific aspects of the tax law as they apply to individuals with disabilities and their families. You will refer to "Tax Options and Strategies" often - both when preparing your tax forms and in all aspects of financial planning.
The cost is $19.95 for disk or softcover; $34.95 for hardcover. Specify 3.5 inch MS-DOS or MAC for the disk edition. The book is also available on audio cassette. Add $4.00 per order for postage and handling.
Contact: DEMOS PUBLICATIONS, 386 Park Avenue South, Suite 201, New York, NY 10016; (212) 683-0072.
A new package is now available for the blind and visually impaired that provides complete, detailed television listings in a Braille and speech friendly format. It is called PEGSPEAK and is available on the CompuServe Information Service in the Consumer Electronics Forum (Go CEFORUM) in Library 16.
There are two versions, PEGSPK.ZIP which includes only the software, and PEGSDM.ZIP which includes the software and a small demonstration database.
For the first time, blind and visually impaired users of adaptive technology can have up to 2 weeks of TV listings available in an intuitively easy operational environment that takes only a few minutes to learn. Each week of listings includes up to 18,000 programs and movies, and features detailed descriptions for even the oldest sitcoms and series. PEGSPEAK has navigational commands built right in; so there's no need to worry about speech cursors, review modes or setting up complex customized windows. The program features a large number of customization options so that television listings can be scanned in whatever way is most comfortable to each user. The package also allows for the customization of channels and stations.
Weekly television listing update files are available for 12 major US cities and in a satellite (TVRO)/NATIONAL cable/superstation edition. E-mail to CompuServe 73777,677 with your name and address to obtain a trial subscription authorization key of live data.
Now, instead of calling people and asking them, "Can you tell me what's on TV tonight?", you can have the most detailed reference database of television programming available right on your own personal computer.
This package requires an MS-DOS based PC and about 2 megabytes of hard disk space. The weekly updates are about 300K in length. There is a subscription fee of $1.25 per week. This service is provided by Lookahead Communications, Inc., 163 Amsterdam Ave - Room 309, New York, NY 10023; phone (212) 580-7948. Questions about this package may be referred to Mark Kaplinsky, CIS 73777,677.
Seedlings' 1994 catalog is available. The first catalog 10 years ago contained only 12 titles. Now Seedlings is pleased to offer close to 200 low-cost braille books for children, ages 1-14. Over 30 new books have been added this year including some book and tape sets for preschoolers, some new print-and-braille easy-readers, as well as some great fiction for older children like The Hardy Boys.
These books are kept in stock and prompt shipping is a high priority.
To obtain a free catalog, contact: SEEDLINGS, Box 2395, Livonia, Mi 48151-0395; or call toll-free: 800-777-8552.
SmallTalk For Sale: SmallTalk Talking Portable Computer Notebook, version 2.2: This electronic notebook weighs 5 pounds and has SlotBuster-quality speech, rechargeable NiCad batteries, clock-calendar, latest versions of the built-in software, WordTalk version 3.0, TermTalk version 1.3 with ASCII upload and download capability as well as VT 100 emulator, and the CalcTalk version 1.1 scientific calculator. The device can be interfaced with other computers, printers, and modems. It has a built-in mini dot matrix inkprinter, tape drive for storage of data, and a full typewriter-style ASCII keyboard. Although this machine is not an MS/DOS computer, you can write and save talking programs with the built-in BASIC language. Includes cables for connecting SmallTalk to modems, MS-DOS, and Apple II computers. Smart battery charger, custom briefcase, and a good supply of mini tapes and paper for the printer will also be included. The manuals are in print and on cassette. Will sell for best offer; all reasonable offers will be considered.
Contact: Mark Dubnick, P.O. Box 670, Washington Grove, MD 20880; phone (301) 963-0294. Please call me if you need more information.