The beginning of the year is a good time for reflection and for looking ahead. This issue of the Raised Dot Computing Newsletter will focus on what happened in 1983 and what can be expected in 1984.
Much of the reflection has been inspired by Paul Edwards' article "The Fading Future" in the last issue. He has helped me to realize that Raised Dot Computing is a community resource which should be managed by the community. In that spirit, I have set up a board of directors. I am also giving a role in the management of Raised Dot Computing to all members of the BRAILLE-EDIT community (i.e., purchasers of BRAILLE-EDIT).
The board's main function is to set policy for Raised Dot Computing. The board has the power to raise any issue concerning policy or priorities at Raised Dot Computing. If there is a disagreement between myself and the board, both sides will publish their arguments in the newsletter. The BRAILLE-EDIT membership will then vote on the issue. The vote of the membership will be binding.
The first board is being appointed, and it will serve for one year. The next board will be elected by purchasers of BRAILLE-EDIT. Purchasers will have the right to raise any appropriate issues with the members of the board. Stating your date of purchase is your ticket for making your voice heard. This is an experiment in blending the style of a for-profit, proprietary company with some of the structure of a non-profit organization.
Over the past three years I have been able to take Raised Dot Computing from an idea into a thriving organization. In spite of that track record, as an individual I cannot deal with every issue appropriately. Increasingly, I will need to rely on the guidance of others. The roles of the policy board and of the BRAILLE-EDIT community membership formalize that relationship.
Six members have already been chosen for the Raised Dot Computing Policy Board, and a seventh is still to be chosen. The six members are:
A lot happened in 1983. In one year, we went from 37 to 238 BRAILLE-EDIT customers. The newsletter started with 50 copies run off a dot-matrix printer in February. The audio edition started in March. A letter-quality printer was purchased in May. The interface guide was issued in June. Version 2.44 of BRAILLE-EDIT was released in July. I began selling Cranmer braillers in July. Cindy Peltier was hired full time in August. A Thiel embosser was ordered in December.
Along the way, BRAILLE-EDIT was improved, and the "Lecture Projector", the "Braille Training Program", the "Form Letter Program", and the "Super Cranmer Graphics Package" were all written. A variety of cables and adapters were developed for sale. Techniques for working with the Kurzweil Reading Machine, Dipner Dots, and old LED-120 embossers were developed. The interface manual was released and updated 4 times in 1983. A wide variety of material has been written and is available in print, in audio, on disk, and on VersaBraille tape. (When the Thiel arrives, the literature will be available in paper braille as well.) While my literature certainly has its rough edges, I stand by my record of being able to deliver quality technical information in an accessible form.
This last year has been a good year for increasing the public awareness of Raised Dot Computing. Through brochures and mailings, the newsletter, interviews, and personal and proxy conference attendance, the message is getting out.
I have noticed that I have had an impact on other sensory aids suppliers. I have seen this in their prices, their product lines, their attitudes toward improvements, and their willingness to share technical information. I hope that Raised Dot Computing and its customers will continue to influence the sensory aids field and to bend the equation toward the needs of the consumer.
Although my customer base has increased by a factor of 6 in a year's time, I think my customer support has improved immensely. Quite frankly, one of the main functions of the newsletter is to provide prompt customer support.
Things did not always progress perfectly in 1983. I delayed hiring a full-time worker for too long. I still haven't gotten my hard-disk unit to work. The ETF-80 and IBM braille typewriter project was a flop. Quite a bit of my literature is riddled with illusive organization, typos, and grammatical errors. The manual for BRAILLE-EDIT needs a massive re-organization. Too many of the VersaBraille tapes that I issued have produced poor copies. I have to find ways to get around being perceived as a one-man operation. A number of promised delivery dates for programs and literature had to be pushed back.
I am fully confident that Raised Dot Computing will have more successes (and fewer duds) in 1984.
A complete financial statement for Raised Dot Computing for 1983 is available upon request. This is an opportunity to find out where your dollars are going to.
Sometime soon, version 2.45 of BRAILLE-EDIT will be released. Soon after that, I will totally revise the BRAILLE-EDIT manual. As mentioned earlier, a wealth of literature will be available in paper braille once I get the Thiel brailler in place, as it can produce a braille page in 8 seconds.
There are a number of ways in which I wish to extend the capabilities of the family of BRAILLE-EDIT and sibling programs. It needs a better "terminal" program to import and export files to other systems. It also needs database capability. I want to produce official braille textbook format. I foresee further improvements in the braille translators and improved page formatting. I also foresee a line-oriented text-editor, for transcribers and others who prefer line-oriented editing. I will not rest until BRAILLE-EDIT can be favorably compared to Applewriter, DOCUMENTS, Bob Stepp's ED-It, the Duxbury Translator, Mr. Neufeld's VersaText, and INFO. The BRAILLE-EDIT family will also have features not found in any of these programs. I can make no promises, but it would be nice if all these upgrades could be finished in 1984.
During 1984, I hope to improve the quality of literature in print, in audio, on disk, and on VersaBraille tape. Raised Dot Computing will buy an appropriate tape duplicator to produce VersaBraille tapes in-house. After I move to Madison, I hope to work closely with a particular typesetter and graphic artist to improve the quality of RDC'S printed material. I also expect to make an investment in audio equipment to improve the quality of the audio tapes.
In the middle of the year, my wife Caryn will start to work for Raised Dot Computing. One of her goals is to write a program to facilitate the production of material in Nemeth code (the braille math code).
We look forward to working with the Raised Dot Computing Policy Board to make sure that Raised Dot Computing best serves its growing customer base.
The BRAILLE-EDIT community needs to be responsive to the needs of the rest of the blind community. It has been my experience that computerized aids have applications way beyond the populations currently served by sensory aids. If agencies and programs are not properly serving these needs, then we as individuals must do the outreach.
The BRAILLE-EDIT community must begin to share information on programs which are accessible. For example, I have a list of game programs which work with the Echo II. I will be sending a copy to David Holladay soon. I presume that he will print it in the newsletter or find another way to make it available to others.
There needs to be a central clearinghouse of tapes and manuals. Think of all the devices that some or all of you are working with: the Apple computer, the Echo II, the BRAILLE-EDIT program, DOCUMENTS, INFO, TRANSEND, the VersaBraille, the Cranmer Brailler, the Source, Compuserve, etc., etc. Where are the manuals for all these systems? How many are recorded? How many are in braille? How do we get access to them? I do not mean to pretend that an enormous amount of work has not been done in this area. But it would be nice if there was one place we could turn to in order to get our manuals in our choice of print, audio, disk, VersaBraille tape, or paper braille. Any ideas on how to get started?
It is important that each user in the BRAILLE-EDIT community take responsibility and become an expert in some area. There has to be a lot of sharing of material. We have to get off our rear ends and write some long articles. The National Braille Press has written a good volume one on the use of computers by the blind. We have to get out there and write volumes 2 through 20.
The BRAILLE-EDIT community needs to get involved in other organizations. We have to spread out and share our results. How many of you are members of the Braille Revival League? The National Braille Association? The National Federation of the Blind? The American Council of the Blind?
We have to speak with one voice to say that the "Provisional Braille Code for Computer Notation, 1972" has to be rejected. Blind persons prefer to have computer programs brailled in the terminal code (also called computer braille). As long as the computer manuals brailled by transcribers come out in such a difficult braille code, we will have difficulty using the new technology.
We have to network together to share notes, information, techniques, files, and equipment. As long as we all try to solve our problems separately, we will not get very far. The best way to do this is with hands-on training. Another approach is to organize a meeting of medium and experienced users and record a structured conversation. The tape could be distributed to others cheaply.
We have to get better at going after grant money. We know it is there. Why not apply for a grant to support the programs and ideas that we know are necessary?
The listing of Roger Petersen as a consultant has caused a lot of confusion. Let me clarify the role of the consultant. A consultant helps other people or organizations get set up with BRAILLE-EDIT. Any fees are between the consultant and the client. I will endeavor to inform the consultant of potential clients. Consultants will be listed in the newsletter. In return, I expect the consultants to inform me of potential customers. Consultants cannot expect much of a percentage of a BRAILLE-EDIT sale. But they should try to get fees of several hundred dollars a day from organizations desiring knowledge of computers applications for the blind. I am willing to cover the direct costs of attending some exhibits. I will not pay a penny unless the exhibit and the guidelines are worked out ahead of time.
I expect that consultants to have a general knowledge of the use of BRAILLE-EDIT. I prefer that a consultant have direct knowledge of the Cranmer Brailler and/or the VersaBraille. I expect a consultant to know how to grab a page, rearrange pages, split pages, fix chapters, use Utility Two, get braille on the screen using the print utility, use global replace and transformation chapters, use the braille keyboard on the Apple, use the translators, and how to use the word processing commands. I expect that a consultant would be very familiar with interfacing and to have a knowledge of what cable or adapter is needed with each kind of connection. I expect a consultant to have a passing knowledge of the contents of the back issues of the newsletter.
If you want to be a consultant, write me a letter. Indicate your level of expertise. Indicate the territory that you want to cover. I may call you if I do not have prior knowledge of your expertise. If I approve, you will get a letter from me indicating your consultant status.
Consultants will get periodic mailings from Raised Dot Computing. These will include free copies of all program updates, new copies of the interface guide (print or disk), and a special newsletter for consultants. Consultants are expected to write a quarterly report describing their activities to remain in the active list.
As you may know, BRAILLE-EDIT has a powerful "file-driven" global replace capability. The global replace feature enables you to change all occurrences of "Pepsi" to "Coca-Cola" in one fell swoop. "File-driven" refers to the ability to set up and save the instructions for a particular set of changes in a so-called "transformation chapter". Once the file is set up, you may never have to change it again. You can literally sweep through entire disks making complex changes by referring to a particular transformation chapter.
There are a number of exciting applications for this feature of BRAILLE-EDIT. Harvey Lauer has realized one that has been talked about for a long time. He has written a transformation chapter that distorts spelling to improve pronunciation by the Echo II or other voice device.
At the end of the audio edition of this newsletter, I will try to have samples of the kind of improvement that is possible.
A disk containing the transformation chapters, some instructions, and some other material is available upon request. Send two blank disks or a check for $5 for "Lauer's Echo Transformation disk". Please do not send a purchase order.
Magnetic media is a fancy word for computer-readable disks and tapes. Those of you with Apple systems have recognized that you can do a lot with an article or a book once it is stored on Apple disk. You can run it to the screen, to your voice device, to an inkprint printer, or into braille depending on the devices that you have attached to your Apple. Using global replace, you can make sweeping format changes to facilitate each mode.
In short, once you have some text on Apple disk, the text is readable, changeable, and easily copyable. Alan Holst once told me that he wished that someone would make a big splash in the print media about how useful it is for blind persons to get text in magnetic media. He finds himself explaining over and over again why he wants material on Apple disks so he can read it easily. Perhaps some others have had the same experience. Perhaps some of you who are good at dealing with reporters could try to get that point across.
There was a recent conference at AFB on how to deal with the threat of increased independent braille production. There was a lot of attention to format problems. I do not know exactly what went on because I was not invited. As I see it, there are four separate questions relating to format:
What output mode are you working with? Are you preparing material for paper braille, paperless braille, or voice output? The formatting considerations are different in each situation.
Do you really need strict textbook format? I think there is an overemphasis on very strict format among providers of braille. In many situations (such as preparing textbooks) this is appropriate. In many situations, undue focus on format is unhealthy.
Does BRAILLE-EDIT facilitate strict textbook format? The answer is no. The handling of strict textbook format was not an objective of the current version of BRAILLE-EDIT. People have been calling me about how to get the page numbers to come out right, about italics and color indicators. These are legitimate questions. Soon, I will be addressing the needs of strict textbook format head-on. I will not rest until all the appropriate indicators can be easily prepared for paper or paperless braille. Transcribers who are preparing books with BRAILLE-EDIT are invited to send me their wish lists.
What are the problems that are caused by a breakdown in format? By this I am referring to problems if each person preparing material on disk has their own format indicators. If a transcriber invents his or her own format for paper braille, there is nothing you can do. But with magnetic media, you can sweep through a disk (manually or automatically) changing format indicators. In a sense we are all in an experimental stage. If someone figures out a way to prepare a book that makes it easier to read, they should be encouraged to work it out. Later when formats are standardized, it will be easy to go back and clean up the old disks.
There is one other major problem that has to be worked out. How do we protect an author's copyright if disks are being copied and sent around the country? We are in the same boat as other users of creations of the electronic age. Many books are being published on electronic databanks. It is a great way to make available time-dependent material that can be quickly and cheaply updated. But there are a lot of copyright problems if anyone can dial up and get a copy of a paragraph, a page or a chapter.
We all have to be very careful with copyrighted material. Unless we are actually protecting the rights of the copyright holder, we are being short-sighted. You might bootleg some material, but copyright holders would be put on notice not to cooperate in the future. Even a passing reference in an interview to a blind user's collection of books and manuals on disk could bring lawyers out on the trail.
If you have the opportunity to prepare a copyrighted text on magnetic media, get written permission first. Often computer manuals are written on Apple disks anyway. Write a letter asking for copies of the disks. Specify exactly what you will do with the disk, and stick to your word. I got several Apple manuals from Apple Computer by promising to release the manuals only in a braille form. That may be great for VersaBraille users, but bad news for those who have only an Echo synthesizer. Harvey Lauer may have provided a solution. If I run his ECHOTRAN over the text of the manuals, the result is garbled text as far as the sighted world is concerned. But it would be great for blind users. I suspect that no copyright holder would object to the distribution of their material in either a braille format or an "Echo format".
I am in the process of getting permission to distribute "The Apple IIe Owner's Manual" in "Echo-garbled" form. I am selling the set of two disks for $10, or in trade for four blank high-quality disks. The disks are in BRAILLE-EDIT file format. If you are interested in this new technology, order your copy of the manual today. Distribution will start once I get a license agreement from Apple Computer.
At this point in time, a number of large firms are switching from Apple II computers to other personal computers. Someone should set up a non-profit foundation to accept Apple computers given up in exchange for a tax deduction. The foundation could then add voice synthesizers, software, and an inkprint printer and make the system available to blind individuals (or transcribers) for a modest fee. Anybody interested in setting up such an organization? Now is the time to do this before all the Apples get disposed of in other channels.
The Prose and Cons Braille Unit is a group of transcribers working from the Nebraska State Penitentiary. The group was formed in September of 1980. As of October 1983, the unit has produced over 40,000 pages of custom braille in addition to a large number of textbooks. The group has grown to 22 men with a civilian director.
Recently, the Prose and Cons group has been using Apples and an LED-120 to produce braille. This has been very successful. They have set up an ambitious capital fund to buy 9 double disk Apple systems, 2 VersaBrailles, 2 Cranmer Braillers, 2 dot-matrix printers, 1 letter quality printer, software, and assorted media. The total cost of this campaign is $61,640. Since this group has been producing braille textbooks for 44 states, just this one institution may be able to make a sizable impact on the availability of braille textbooks. I encourage all readers of this newsletter to use whatever influence they have to get foundations and companies to give to this capital fund. For more information, contact John Marshall, Executive Director, Prose and Cons Braille Unit, Nebraska State Penitentiary, Post Office Box 2500, Lincoln, NE 68502; (402) 471-3161, ext. 373.
The Prose and Cons Braille Group provides a number of other services besides brailling. They provide thermoforming, braille writer repair, braille greeting cards, tactile diagrams, and braille book binding. Write for a price list.
Have you ever noticed that the roles of braille and audio are reversed? Why is it that blind people get their trash novels in braille (via NLS), and their computer manuals in audio form (via RFB and others)? What can we do to reverse this situation?
As a blind user of an Apple/VersaBraille system, I could use some teaching programs. I am sure that I am not alone. I would like to have programs to teach me different braille codes, how to use all the different pieces of equipment that I have, and how to use the different pieces of software. I could also use a program to drill me in correct spelling.
I bet someone could earn a fair income by just setting up all the forms for state agencies, the IRS, and Social Security on VersaBraille tape and Apple disk. Are there any takers out there? One problem with such an enterprise is collecting your fee from these organizations. It may be OK to help an organization untangle its red tape, unless your paycheck gets tangled in the mess. But in all seriousness, it would be very beneficial if there was someone outside of these agencies that specialized in setting up the forms. It would reduce the burden on each blind worker to become an expert at everything all at once.
Finally, we users of all this equipment should make ourselves more visible. I would like to set up some programs to give blind persons hands-on experience with a variety of sensory aids. Only with a meeting of minds and equipment can we make progress.
I am taking this opportunity to repeat the request for networking information. So far, I have not received enough responses to make a networking mailing worthwhile. Please send in you response without delay.
I would like to increase the communication between BRAILLE-EDIT customers. I am setting up a number of special interest groups. Here is how it works. I will list the various categories. Each BRAILLE-EDIT customer is asked to write me and tell me which groups you want to belong to. Each member of each group will get a list of all the other members of the group. You may sign up to more than one group. I will arbitrarily place a limit of ten groups per person. I would like to get a letter from every BRAILLE-EDIT customer. I have been in close contact with a number of customers. I know what equipment they have and what their interests are. I will not put them in any groups until they write me.
There are three lists of groups. The first is based on equipment. The second on occupations. The third on interests. I do not care why you sign up for a group. If you would like to know more about a VersaBraille before you buy one, you can sign up for the VersaBraille group so you can get in touch with others who have VersaBrailles. What actually happens in any group is up to the members. It may be an excellent way for persons who have a similar use of BRAILLE-EDIT to get together and press demands on me for new program features or better documentation.
I have tried to come up with enough categories to satisfy just about anybody. If you can think of other categories, I will accept nominations from the floor.
If you want to get in touch with people of similar interests, write me without delay. To put it bluntly, Raised Dot Computing will collapse under the weight of dealing with the technical questions of BRAILLE-EDIT users unless there is a mechanism for users to help in the exchange and distribution of these important applications. If you want the services you have enjoyed in the past to continue (especially this newsletter), you must get involved today.
Each copy in each form costs $10. For example, getting 2 copies each of two manuals in three different forms (print, audio, and VB tape) would cost $120. The Newsletter back issues count as double sized ($20 each). The Rubic's Cube tape is intended to work with AFB'S new tactile Rubic's Cube. The tape is free.
Raised Dot Computing is making arrangements with two enterprising individuals for the distribution of disks and tapes containing technical material. Joseph Lazzaro will be distributing disks and Harvey Jossem will be distributing VersaBraille tapes. Frequently, Raised Dot Computing gets orders for stray disks or VersaBraille tapes that are not in stock. To relieve the burden, these individuals have indicated that they are willing to provide disks or tapes to those that contact them. Both are in the process of working on their initial offerings. The next newsletter will give their addresses, their initial product line, and their prices.
Emerson Foulke has two manuals. One is a guide to the computer braille system. It is available as a single volume of braille for $5. I highly recommend it as a means of learning the braille "terminal code". The second manual is a disk containing interfacing and applications notes on the Epson MX80 printer. I believe that it is also $5. Emerson's address is: Perceptual Alternatives Lab, 358 Life Sciences Bldg., University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40292.
I know of two groups that are in the process of setting up computerized braille production facilities. One group is in Kentucky. It is being organized by Emerson Foulke and Fred Gisoni. The other group is in San Francisco. It is being organized by Daveed Mandell. For both facilities, the big ticket item is a braille embosser.
I would like to print periodic status reports of these and any similar project that strives to increase the availability of braille material.
By now, a significant number of readers of this newsletter have Cranmer Braillers. I would like to encourage the production of any materials of general interest on the Cranmer. I am setting up a "paper grant" system. First, send me a print or braille copy of the material you want to distribute. If I approve, I will send you a free ream of heavy braille paper. I will also announce your publication in the newsletter. You are under no obligation to use all the braille paper for distribution to others. You may charge a modest fee to cover your time and effort.
I am making this offer since I swapped a program for 11 reams of paper. It has come to my attention that many institutions have closets full of braille paper because braille paper can be bought with federal "quota dollars". If I continue to swap program disks for braille paper, I can continue to distribute braille paper to those willing to share their work with others.