Telesensory Systems has developed a new version of the VersaBraille, the model D. The model D VersaBraille is designed for the international market. It is not intended to replace the model C for the domestic market. In other words, unless you live in France, you will not be shipped a model D unless you ask for it.
The model D has in innovative method for displaying and manipulating capital letters and control characters. These can be displayed as blinking braille characters, as a means of making them stand out from small letters. There are a whole new set of computer braille codes for different European countries (Germany, France, England, and Sweden). To make programming space for these new changes, the grade one translator has been eliminated on the model D.
Here is a list of the changes from the model C to the model D:
1) The grade one translator has been replaced by four more computer braille codes.
2) To enter a control character, do a chord dot 4-5-6 followed by the appropriate letter. The control character is stored internally as a single character.
3) There are two display modes for control characters. A control character will either be a dash (dots 3-6) or a an ordinary letter. Hit a chord 4-6 to switch between these two display modes.
4) Besides upper case lock (chord/U) and lower case lock (chord/L), there is also chord/S. This is "shift-next-character-only". It will help reduce errors caused by forgetting to go back into lower case.
5) There are two display modes for capital letters. They can either appear as normal letters or as blinking characters. A chord dots 4-5 takes you into blinking mode for capital letters. A chord dots 5-6 takes you to non-vibrating capital letters.
6) The translator options are: n, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and x. Options n and x are familiar from the model C. Translators 1-4 are European computer braille translators. Translator 5 is the American code, the same as option "c" on the model C VersaBraille. The default is 5.
7) For 8-bit transfers, control characters are represented with both bit 7 and bit 8 set to 1.
8) There is a means to represent ASCII 0, 31, and 127 on the model D. These control codes are rarely used. $L 9) Insert is handled differently. You must use the proper chord to finish an insert. When an insert is done, the machine beeps. These changes allow an insertion of mixed capital and small letters. They also give a beginner more feedback. An experienced VersaBraille user may find these "features" annoying.
Only recently have I been able to modify BRAILLE-EDIT to work with a model D. Control character sent to the Apple come out as capital letters with early versions of BRAILLE-EDIT and the model D VersaBraille. If you plan to use a model D VersaBraille, get a copy dated "DECEMBER 21 1983" in the disk catalog. When you run a transfer, answer "no" to the question about control characters. Because of the special way that control characters are represented, you will get control characters in your Apple files.
The model D is unquestionably an advance in computer terminals for the blind. One problem faced by many manufacturers is the representation of capital letters and control letters. Some European manufacturers use an 8 dot braille cell. I think that a blinking braille cell is a superior solution.
Users of VersaBraille/BRAILLE-EDIT systems know that BRAILLE-EDIT makes no use of the VersaBraille grade one translator. I personally believe that the model D is the model of choice for use with the Apple and BRAILLE-EDIT. TSI designed the model D with the needs of the international market in mind. I think they have a superior product for the domestic market as well.
I can think of one way to improve the model D with a special overlay. There needs to be an overlay that allows a "frozen frame" reading. By that I mean a display that will show all the characters in a line from the 1st to the 20th. When you hit the advance bar, you get to see characters 21 through 40, etc. If you have an 80 column output, then hitting the advance bar 4 times would show what is exactly underneath the present display. Since the model D allows for perfect reading of any ASCII character, a "freeze frame" reading overlay would allow a VersaBraille user to quickly read column-oriented screens. It would also allow the user to proofread material and be aware of how it would be formatted on a printed page.
Remember, the model D has no grade one translator. If you have any use for the grade one translator in the VersaBraille, DO NOT have your VersaBraille upgraded to a model D.
An earlier feature of this newsletter has been a column called VersaTricks. A VersaTrick is something you can do to the VersaBraille to make it do something useful which was not documented by TSI. We will reprint all previous VersaTricks and give some new ones. My thanks to Harvey Jossem, Noel Runyion, Caryn Navy, and Fred Wisner for their contributions.
All the VersaTricks that I am aware of are based on three principles. The first principle is an awareness of what is being stored on the tape at any given moment. For example, as you write material on the tape, each page is stored on the tape as you go along. Only when you hit the eject button is the table of contents updated.
The second principle is that it is possible to switch tapes on the VersaBraille without the VersaBraille noticing. When you insert a tape, close the door slowly, and hit the "braille" button the instant the display tells you to select a mode. Later, you can lift up your finger to remove the tape and insert another tape.
Finally, there is a bug in the VersaBraille concerning how the tape is ejected. Under certain conditions, you can have a page copied in another location. There are three things which must be true to copy a page. The target page must exist. You must make a change to the source page. Finally, you have to hit the eject button after the source page is saved but before the transport mechanism reaches the target page.
1) Protect your tapes against accidental power loss. Sometime you have to use your VersaBraille in places where you may lose power (such as with loose wall outlet). When you start a new chapter, create a lot of blank pages (keep hitting "page" and "forward"). That way, the table of contents does not have to be updated in a power loss. Of course, you will lose the page you were working on at the time of the power loss.
2) Sometimes you may want to selectively transfer some chapters (but not all chapters) from the VersaBraille to the Apple or another VersaBraille. Just delete the chapters you do not want to send. Use the chord/X T to transfer the tape. When the transfer is over, TURN OFF THE VERSABRAILLE. DO NOT EJECT THE TAPE. The chapters you deleted will still be there because the table of contents will not be updated.
3) Changing overlays on a tape. You may want to change an overlay on an existing tape. First load the overlay you want stored. Then load the tape you want to change. Delete all the chapters from the end until you delete the old overlay. Then save the new overlay with the chord/O command. Once the overlay is stored, TURN OFF THE POWER ON THE VERSABRAILLE. Since the table of contents will not be updated, the only permanent effect will be to the page containing the overlay.
4) Changing the table of contents. One of the most powerful VersaTricks allows you to change the table of contents. First load a trash tape and create the table of contents you want on your good tape. Just create the chapters you want with the appropriate number of pages. Do not put anything in the pages. Eject the tape and re-insert the trash tape with the "slow close" technique. Select braille mode. List out the tape and insert the good tape. Hit the eject button. The new table of contents will be loaded into the good tape. This method will restore tapes damaged by accidental power loses. It is also a way to combine or split chapters on a VersaBraille.
5) Double Table of Contents Changes. You can use method 4 to move the table of contents from a good tape to a trash tape. Then make a trivial change on the trash tape (such as adding pages on the last chapter). Then use the same method to move the table of contents back from the trash tape to the good tape.
6a) Moving a page within a chapter. Use the third principle. For example, lets say you wanted to move the page 2 of a chapter to page 7. First make sure there is a page 7. Page 7 can be blank, but it must exist. Next load page 2. Make a trivial change. Then move to page 7. As soon as page 2 is saved on the tape tap the eject button. The tape will continue to page 7 and obliterate the old page 7 and store page 2 at that spot. The closer the source and target pages are the more critical the timing is. You may want to practice on a trash tape before you ever do this to your production data.
6b) Moving a page from chapter to chapter. First make sure the target page exists. Then load the source page and make a trivial change. Hit the chapter button and enter the name of the target page. Then hit the forward button. This puts you into table of contents mode. Hit the page button, the target page number, and then the forward button. As soon as the source page is saved, hit the eject button.
6c) Moving a page to another tape. Use the first page of every tape as a "port chapter". This technique works best if there is a blank one page chapter in the beginning of every tape. First load the target tape and load the port page. Once the tape is in the right position, turn off the power and remove the tape. Next use method 6b to move the source page into the port page of the source tape. Then load the source tape with the "slow close" technique. When the first page is loaded, make a trivial change. Then switch tapes and hit the eject button. This puts the page onto the port page of the target tape. Now use method 6b to move the page to the desired location of the target tape. Now that was real easy, wasn't it?
7) Transferring marginal tapes. Sometimes you want to transfer a chapter off a tape, but you keep getting a bad page error. The problem may be caused by the stretching caused by going fast forward. Just load the first chapter. Read through the tape page by page. Keep hitting page advance to cruise through a chapter. At the end of a chapter, just do a chapter advance. The idea is to go through the tape a page at a time until you get to the chapter you want to send. Then transfer it. This may not work in every case, but it is worth a try. I call this "babying a tape"
Of course, if you have a VersaTrick, please do not hesitate to write in without delay. Do not assume that any technique is "common knowledge". What is obvious to you can be a revelation to someone else.
LEXIS is one of the nation's leading legal databases. Until recently, blind lawyers could not connect their VersaBrailles into the Lexis system. This problem was mentioned in Robert Sweetman's article about technology for blind lawyers.
Robert Madsen, a technician for Mead Data Central (the parent company for Lexis) has worked out an interface for the VersaBraille. It involves a special parallel to serial spooler between the Lexis terminal and the VersaBraille. This spooler is available commercially. In addition, there are two special cables that have to be set up.
I have Mr. Madsen's complete instructions. It is available without charge through Raised Dot Computing to blind attorneys. All others can get a copy from TSI or Mead Data Central.
For almost a year, I have been talking about re-writing BRAILLE-EDIT from the ground up. This new version will take into account the comments of hundreds of users. I am pleased to announce that the project is coming along very well. I expect to have a usable version (minus the editor) by Valentine's day. At that point, I can have the new version field tested. The new editor will take several more weeks. Then I have to write a whole new manual.
The new version is much cleaner, does more things, and is much easier to use. There is full support for the Apple II plus shift key modification, the Apple IIe 80 column card, and the Visualtek DP-10.
The new version uses two program disks, a boot disk and a main program disk. The boot disk brings in all the programs used by the rest of the system and handles the configuration. It prompts "Starting Menu". The Starting Menu allows you to initialize disks, copy disks, get instructional material, manipulate configurations, or go to the main program disk. On the program disk, there are three menus, Main Menu, Second Menu, and Page Menu. The Main Menu handles all the input and output plus the braille translators. The Second Menu has the file manipulations (merge, name change, textfiles). The Page Menu allows manipulation of individual pages (it is effectively the old "Edit Menu").
When you boot the new version, you have the same choice of entering a configuration or setting up a new configuration (with the asterisk code). The configuration section asks a lot more questions. The program itself asks far fewer questions. The prompts for chapter are vastly streamlined. They combine what used to be in Utility and Utility Two. There is no separate prompt for which disk drive. For specific details of some of the improvements, see the article in the October 1983 Newsletter. I am also enclosing some excerpts from my internal documentation:
Printer one section
Printer two section (same as above)
Printer three section (same as above)
Printer four section (same as above)
Enter a name for this configuration:
The Cranmer Brailler comes with a 90 day warranty. It is strongly recommended that you buy a service policy from MCS to cover your purchase once the initial 90 days expires. MCS charges $90 per quarter. You can pay $270 to finish out the first year, or $360 for a full year after the initial 90 days.
If you buy your brailler through Raised Dot Computing, we can pass the service contract charges through to MCS. Or you can deal with MCS directly. In any event, make sure that your brailler is protected by a service policy.
The purchase of BRAILLE-EDIT entitles you to a free subscription to the newsletter for one year. It also entitles you to free support for a year. Some of you have had your programs for over a year. You will soon be getting letters asking you to re-subscribe to the newsletter and asking you to purchase support for 1984. Support for 1984 costs $40. Support plus a year's newsletter subscription is $50.
Those under a support plan can get a copy of version 2.44A by sending 2 blank disks. Those under a support plan will be able to get a copy of version 2.45 for $25. If your support plan has lapsed, I will be forced to consider you as a new customer.
I have issued instruction sheets on "The VersaBraille and the Apple" and "The Cranmer and the Apple". These instructions give slightly different switch settings for interfacing with the Super Serial Card. If you are lucky enough to have both devices, use the switch settings for the Cranmer. They will also work for the VersaBraille. Caryn and I use the same Super Serial Card for the VersaBraille as the Cranmer. We find that there is never a time when we need both devices connected to the Apple at the same time.
As mentioned in an earlier newsletter, I have written a program to take any high resolution Apple image and put it into tactile form on the Cranmer Brailler. The only problem is the creation of images on the Apple. I have purchased several graphics programs for the Apple. The one that seems most appropriate is called "The Complete Graphics System II" by Penguin Software. Penguin also sells a "Map Pack" for $19.95 which contains files of outline maps of the 50 states and several continents.
Several purchasers of the "Super Cranmer Graphics Package" have suggested improvements. These include the ability to shrink an image, the ability to reverse an image, the ability to quickly add braille labels, and the ability to braille only a portion of an image. I will implement them after I am finished with version 2.45 of BRAILLE-EDIT. The improved version will be mailed free of charge to all customers.
I am trying to make a list of unusual features, quirks, and bugs in the Cranmer Brailler. As with the VersaBraille, some of these quirks can be quite useful. Others can be amusing. Still others can be annoying. Here is my list so far:
1) The remote control graphics doesn't work. The regular graphics mode works fine. I will be unable to write programs to automatically merge text and tactile graphics until this is fixed.
2) The print sub-command in the edit mode sends out the characters as they are printed to the serial port. Since the Cranmer prints out forwards and backwards, the result is alternating forward and backwards text. It would be better if this "feature" could be eliminated.
3) A lower-case dots 4-5-6 comes out as a control character (the delete character). This is fully documented, but I still don't like it. If the Cranmer is used as a braille entry device, you should keep in upper case lock. Otherwise, you might lose your dot 4-5-6 characters.
4) If you set the page length, this must be an even number.
5) When you use remote mode, and you want to turn the emboss off, make sure the braille prints a few cells. Otherwise you will not get a beep when the buffer is full.
If you have discovered any other undocumented "features", please submit them to me. All of the items mentioned here are quite minor, and can be fixed up in a later release of software.
At this point in time, I figure that there are about a thousand people who think that if they call me long distance and tell me their names, I will remember who they are and what their situation is. Occasionally, I do recall previous conversations. When you call me, please identify yourself with a descriptive phrase that will jog my memory.
It is an aim of this newsletter to try to discourage telephone contact. If I can solve your problem now or though the mails, we are both ahead. If you are going to be working with the Cranmer Brailler or the VersaBraille and an Apple, please get a copy of my interfacing instructional sheet. These are free of charge.
If I do give you correct advice, please drop me a postcard to the effect that things are working fine (or working terribly). A little feedback goes a long way. I recently got a box of delicious cookies from Cathy Mack in the mail. She was glad that I could help her recover from an overfilled disk after normal business hours. I have also received phone calls at 4 in the morning and at 6 in the morning on a Saturday, and never got any cookies out of them.
What I am trying to say is that I will continue to answer phone calls concerning the use of technology for the blind as long as a few ground rules are followed. Keep your calls in reasonable hours. Collect your thoughts ahead of time. Write down a list of questions. Please try to stick to the issues at hand. Please write me a followup letter so I know how it all turned out. And if I really helped you out of a jam, you should be aware that I have a real weakness for Oatmeal Carob Chip.
Move over, David, so I can tell the readers what the Braille Training program is REALLY all about! You mentioned the program in newsletter No. 10, but you must have had other things on your mind because you neglected to tell everybody how exciting, and how efficient the Braille Training Program really is!
The Braille Training Program is a computer-assisted instruction package which parallels the Library of Congress "Instruction Manual for Braille Transcribing" (Dorf & Scharry, 1976). The program, designed to teach Grade II braille transcription, provides instructional text, followed by practice drills and exercises. Each drill provides the opportunity to transcribe print sentences (or dictated sentences with the Echo version) into braille.
David's programming allows the user to input braille symbols with the same six keys the BRAILLE-EDIT program accepts. Correction and feedback is then provided on the completed transcription. The menu provides the opportunity to peek at a series of "Crib Sheets" if the user needs a little help.
The program is presently being used on an experimental basis with future teachers of the visually impaired at Western Michigan University. I knew this would be the true test of our program's effectiveness. The preliminary results look good, but the feedback from the students about the program is excellent!! I predict the program will be useful in almost any situation in which teachers, transcribers, parents, volunteers, etc. wish to learn braille.
Norman Blessum has written a program to help transcribers on the IBM-PC, called Micro Braille. It is similar to Bob Stepp's program for the Apple, except that this program is user friendly. Mr. Blessum's address is: Micro Engineering, 955 Camino La Maida, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360, (805) 492-1003. The program allows a transcriber to directly input and edit braille. The system is line oriented, and is geared to the production of paper braille. It includes automatic page numbering and running heads. The program DOES NOT have a braille translator. It is strictly to assist a skilled braille transcriber.
Telesensory Systems has recently purchased Apollo Electronic Visual Aids. TSI has also been distributing the Viewscan. TSI is obviously branching out into products for the partially sighted.
I have heard rumors that Visualtek is developing a braille computer terminal. If true, it means that Visualtek is branching out into products for the totally blind.
I welcome any information on this or any other events in the sensory aids field.
Frequently, I get frantic phone calls from people trying to get various systems set up. The most frustrating phone calls involve pieces of equipment for which I have no knowledge. The most frequent offenders are inkprint printers. You would not believe the amount of variation in the workings and codes for different printers. I usually ask that people send me a Xerox copy of the manual for the offending printer. As a preventive measure, why don't you do send me a copy of your printer manual this week? The frustration you save may be your own.
I already have on file copies of the manuals for F10-40/55 Starwriter, the Comrex CR1, the Okidata Microline 92, and the Diablo 620. If you you do not feel like Xeroxing the whole manual, then at least send me a copy of the part that lists all the escape and control codes. There is no way that I can answer questions like "how do I get bold face" or "how do I get superscripts" without this information.
Emerson Foulke tells me that Life Science Associates is seeking out computer assisted instruction programs for the disabled. If you have been writing such a program, I urge you to get in touch with Emerson. His address is: Emerson Foulke, 1212 Royal Ave., Louisville, KY 40204.
The Carroll Center has just published the winter 1984 issue of the Aids and Appliances Review which focuses on braille and computers. It gives the best view of the present state of the art that is available. I was personally please to see good reviews of BRAILLE-EDIT. I was also pleased that the publication pointed out the wisdom of working with an Apple computer since "the interface between the Apple and adaptive units is extensively documented". As the one that did the extensive documenting, I was especially tickled to see that reference.
The Carroll Center is located at 770 Center Street, Newton, MA 02158, (617) 969-6200. The Aids and Appliances Review is available in print and in audio. To get an audio copy, send a blank C-90 cassette. If you have not done so already, get a copy of their last issue on voice-output computer systems.
Raised Dot Computing has made a bulk purchase of the National Braille Press Book on computers for the blind. Copies of this braille book can be borrowed free of charge. Just send me a letter indicating how long you want to borrow a copy. This borrowing program is open to any blind person that wants to learn more about small computers.
Frequently, I am asked how I got started in the sensory aids field. My first experience was a disaster. In 1976, I worked as a programmer for a struggling small computer firm. Mohr Labs, Inc. made about ten computers before it went bankrupt. While it was still afloat, I diverted some of my pay into a project to interface the Optacon to the Mohr Labs computer.
The idea was simple. The Optacon was my wife's only sensory aid. The Mohr Labs computer was my computer. At that time, a Votrax speech box was $4,000. It seemed obvious that interfacing the Optacon was the only way to go. The idea was to build an interface which would send signals to the Optacon that would form the letter shapes on the Optacon.
The technical aspects were very difficult. The Optacon wanted a line a information every 25 microseconds or so. It uses non-standard voltages and clock pulses. The were serious questions about the control of the flow of characters across the display. Quite frankly, the essential element that makes the Optacon work is the fact that the scanning camera is totally under the control of the user. If the user is just passively reading a tactile version of a Times Square sign, it was unclear if the whole thing would work.
The project never got off the ground. The FIFO chips never seemed to work. When Mohr Labs collapsed, I was left with a non-functioning wirewrap board. At the time, I swore that I would never get involved in custom hardware again. I figured that if I had any role to play, it was in software development. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I did get the Optacon interface working. I suspect that the device would be quickly relegated to the closet, since it would be obviously inferior to the current voice and braille technology.