To take the doldrums out of summer, RDC, Inc. has a special sale for people who want to set up an Apple computer-Cranmer Brailler system.
From June 15 through August 15, with purchase of a Cranmer Brailler, we will sell RDC, Inc. software at 50% off list price. Other savings, too:
Each Cranmer Brailler comes with the Cranmer Interface Disk, an interactive disk which steps a novice through the process of connecting the Cranmer Brailler to the Apple. The Cranmer Interface Disk is only available from us, and usually costs $100.
Cranmer Brailler with free Interface Disk, ground shipping, 90-day warranty -- only $2950.
BEX is a totally separate program from BRAILLE-EDIT. Some BRAILLE-EDIT customers will want to stay with BRAILLE-EDIT, some will want to only use BEX, and some will want to use both. We offer two ways current BRAILLE-EDIT users can get BEX: one costs $75, the other costs $250.
The $75 conversion charge means that you are trading in your rights to BRAILLE-EDIT to get BEX. We assume that you throw your BRAILLE-EDIT disks and documentation in the trash. We won't answer technical questions about BRAILLE-EDIT and we won't fix bugs you find in BRAILLE-EDIT, because you are no longer a BRAILLE-EDIT customer, you are a BEX customer.
If you want to continue to use BRAILLE-EDIT and also get BEX, you want to get the "BEX/BRAILLE-EDIT Dual Support Plan" for $250. This plan means
The Dual Support Plan means you get two complete word processing programs, and represents a savings of $220 over the cost of items 1, 6, 7, and 8 bought separately. It's our way of saying thank you to the BRAILLE-EDIT customers who have made the R&D money available for creating BEX.
We printed the incorrect phone number for Larry Skutchan. The author of WORDS, Larry's correct phone number is (501) 568-2172.
For sale: VersaBraille. Model P2C; used approximately 20 hours; $5,500 or best offer; includes manuals, tapes, and interface cables for hookup to an Apple computer; will deliver UPS immediately on receipt of payment. Contact Lucille Uttermohlen, P.O. Box 278, Monticello, IN 47960, (219) 583-6661.
BEX will support any of three levels: learner, user, and master. The features available at the BEX "user" level will be similar to the current BRAILLE-EDIT, with the addition of more large print modes and the line-oriented EDITOR. Heavy BRAILLE-EDIT users will be interested in some of the new features available at the "master" level, which include:
1) A "zippy" six-page CHAPTER residing totally in RAM. Available for speedy editing, or as a transformation CHAPTER in Global Replace, or as a "macro" CHAPTER (see #3).
2) Logical statements in Global Replace. For example, you'll be able to change every appearance of "lowercase X, any numeral" with "lowercase X, control-C 58".
3) Creating "macros"--special chapters containing frequently-used keystroke sequences to automate routine work.
4) New commands for BEX to turn on or off up to four different output devices on the fly. For example, BEX will automatically load TEXTALKER if it senses an Echo or Cricket attached to the Apple. This means that a sighted user can enter 3 keystrokes at any MENU and turn on Echo voice when their blind co-worker enters the room.
5) In the configuration process, the ability to specify control sequences to automatically send to different devices.
6) Supporting "non-standard" disk drive arrangements.
That was the good news. The bad news is that the master level requires 128K memory, so it will only be available for the Apple 2c, or on an Apple 2e with an extended 80-column card. There are two kinds of 80-column cards: a plain old "80-column card", and the "extended 80-column card", which has 64K extra memory. If you want to use BEX's "master level" features on an Apple 2e, then you must have an extended 80-column card. (The Apple 2c has a built-in extended 80-column card.)
At this time, I am unaware of any circuit card that will turn an Apple 2 plus into the exact equivalent of an Apple 2e with an extended 80-column card. I have heard rumors about such a project. Perhaps such a card will be available when BEX is released this fall. Without such a circuit card, the master level of BEX will not be available to Apple 2 plus users.
On the subject of interesting circuit cards that increase the Apple's performance, I should mention the "Accelerator Card" made by Titan Technologies. This card speeds up all non-disk aspects of the Apple 2 plus or 2e by a factor of three. The Accelerator Card's speed is most apparent in computer calculations, so it's most useful in speeding up translations, Global Replace, and the Editor. The Accelerator Card would speed up both BRAILLE-EDIT and BEX; I've seen it advertised mail-order for between $250 and $400.
You are probably wondering what I mean by "non-standard disk arrangements" in item 6. An Apple 2e running BEX at the master level will support up to six disk drives. These can either be physical disk drives, or "Disco-RAM" cards from Orbital Systems. The Disco-RAM card acts exactly like a disk drive, only it has 128K of RAM, so it's very fast. The RAM disk drive can contain either program or data disks. In future newsletters, I will discuss these different circuit cards in greater detail. For now, I want people contemplating BEX to be aware that they may want to budget some money for additional memory devices and gadgets for their Apple computer systems.
Perhaps BRAILLE-EDIT is not the finest word processing program which any sighted person could use. I heartily support the position that BRAILLE-EDIT it is, but being my opinion, that's debatable. There's one position, though, which admits of little argument: If BRAILLE-EDIT is already available (because a blind person is using it), it is so universally effective that a sighted person should have no need to seek out and learn another, separate program. In the interest of compatability of work and free exchange of data, all those in the presence of BRAILLE-EDIT should be encouraged to make use of it.
As a sighted user, I'm finding that this program meets virtually all of my needs for word processing. Text can be edited and formatted in a great variety of ways. And, learning to do so is easy and natural. Products like WordStar involve massive manuals and extensive practice. That's not to say that BRAILLE-EDIT is a simple or limited program. With each use, I gain better understanding of familiar features and explore new ones, getting ever improving results. Here are a few of my observations:
Printing to the 80-column screen (SW) will yield a close approximation of the final product. The effectiveness of formatting commands is instantly visible. Since all of the text appears on just a few screens, this is a quick way to avoid being surprised when it's time for the the printout.
The line of information at the bottom of the screen in edit mode is especially helpful. By knowing the control characters, and consulting the letter above the word "page", I can tell what function the cursor is currently preforming. The number after the word "top" tells me how many screens are filled with text. Each screen is 600 characters, so two screens will read 1200, etc. This is important when I'm using a letter quality printer with single sheet paper. I've found that one sheet holds about four and a half screens (less than 2,500 characters).
Inserting and deleting without error, on the first try, is a process which still needs perfection. The quickest way for me to change a word or line seems to be to write or space over it. I'll also erase a sentence which needs changing in order to assist my thinking by making the faulty words disappear.
At the beginning, I ignored commands which applied only to the Echo or Versabraille. This gave me a smaller number of details to remember at the start. After getting used to the basics of editing and cursor movement, I was comfortable enough to try exploring more of BRAILLE-EDIT's capabilities. Now I change screens with control-F's, control-B's and control-A's. I move along lines with control-G's and control-R's. I even insert and delete more accurately. Every added technique brings its rewards. Without execption, that "resilient old Chevy" keeps rolling along!
I'd enjoy corresponding with other BRAILLE-EDIT enthusiasts. My address is: Gale Clegg, 604 Washington Square, Philadelphia, PA 19106.
Sherry Lowry publishes a resource directory of Apple-related resources for Echo compatible software, large-print software, peripherals, and accessories, and publications. The list is 35 pages long. The list is available in print or in disk form (Apple textfiles). To order the list in print send EITHER $7.50 or 3 blank disks. To order list in disk form send EITHER $10.00 or 4 blank disks. No purchase orders please. To speed up delivery, please include a mailing label. All communications should be in print. The address is: Sherry Lowry, SPEECH Enterprises, P.O. Box 7986, Houston, TX 77270, (713) 461-1666.
To the average individual the word "spreadsheet" conjures up images of bleary-eyed accountants bent over enormous sheets of paper, squinting at column after column of figures. Heaven forbid if the poor soul makes an error. He'll have to start over, filling in all those numbers again, doing all those calculations again. Ugh!
The computer has banished this dismal picture. It has opened up a brand new field for the visually impaired. Programs like Lotus 1-2-3, VisiCalc and SuperCalc are finally accessible to the blind. The speech software that makes this all possible must be totally interactive with commercial software such as those mentioned here. It must allow for the flexibility of working with word processors as well. For a full discussion of such a program, see my review in Newsletter 25/26, March/April 1985. [Editor's note: The commercial and screen-reader software discussed here are available for the IBM-PC universe. As yet, this accessible combination is not possible with the Apple.]
How is a spreadsheet set up? On a computer it's a little different from the conventional "paper" spreadsheet - that is, it consists of two parts: the status area (or control panel) meant only for the user and not to be printed up, and the main body of the spreadsheet. Columns and rows comprise the "mask" of the spreadsheet. Columns are referred to by letters, starting with A as the leftmost column, working through the alphabet, then beginning again with AA, AB, and so on through to IV (for a total of 255 columns). In Lotus, for example, there are 2048 rows and A through IV columns available for the user. Chances are your computer will run out of memory long before you use them all up. The rows are numbered from 1 at the top through 2048. A "cell" is a column/row location on the spreadsheet. The address A 1, then, refers to the top left corner of the spreadsheet. The computer understands these addresses and you'll utilize them often in formulas and spreadsheet commands.
What do you do with a spreadsheet? Applications range from a simple, personal monthly budget to a sophisticated cash flow analysis or a statistical prospectus of accounts by ledger. When first arranging the spreadsheet, labels for rows and columns must be established by the user. The input will consist mainly of numerical data. Formulas can then be written to calculate the data automatically. The software provides built-in functions for the user to make complex calculations easier to handle.
The best way to explain all this is through an example. Suppose you wanted to set up a personal monthly budget. (We'll make it a simple one for this illustration.) Let's have the columns B through M represent the months of the year with labels at row 1. So B 1 is January, C 1 is February, and so forth. Let's go down column A with our monthly expenses: in row 2 put the label rent (mortgage); in row 3 phone; in row 4 electric; in row 5 fuel; in row 6 groceries; in row 7 miscellaneous (i.e., clothes, bus fare, going out to dinner, etc.). Now you can put in figures to match our labels.
If you were doing this on paper you would need to write all the numbers in one by one, even those that remain constant each month like the rent. In a case like this, it would be nice if you could put in the figure just once and have that number duplicated for you. The computer does this by cell address referencing. Suppose you put in that your rent was $400 a month. You want this figure to appear in each column at the row labeled "rent". According to our spreadsheet, you would write $400 in cell B 2. Then you could use the COPY or REPLICATE command of your software to make the computer place that number at all the other months. What a time-saver!
Now you can go ahead and fill in the rest of the columns. Of course, you would then like to know the total of your expenses each month. Label row 8 with TOTAL. Normally you'd have to sit there and add them up. But with the computer, this tedious job is eliminated. A summation function is built into the software. So you can just tell the computer to add the numbers in cells B 2 through B 7. In fact, if you'd like, all the months can be calculated at once. Just take the formula you just invoked for adding the January column and have the computer copy it in for all the other months. That way all your data will be calculated automatically. If you should change any of the figures, the computer will immediately recalculate everything and give you the corrected results. You never have to put in the formulas again because you can save the entire file on disk.
In many cases, you can even name ranges of cells. For example, suppose we expand our little spreadsheet to include an income section. You could set up your income by months just as before but this time label your rows with salary, interest from bank accounts, dividends, tax refund, etc. Again you would have a row with totals. You could now compare your income against expenses and by subtracting out the total expenses each month, you'd have a pretty good idea of how much you could put away in your savings account each month. Rather than doing this month by month, name the row of totals for expenses something like EXP and the row of totals for income INC. Now you'd label another row SAVINGS. Your formula would just say EXP-INC. You wouldn't even have to remember which cells the numbers were in. An ambitious person might even wish to graph these results on a bar graph or pie chart. Lotus 1-2-3, for instance, has these additional facilities. Because of the way the spreadsheet is structured, the blind person can tell what the pie chart will look like even though the talking software can't "speak" the graph. You can print up any portion of the spreadsheet and/or graph you desire for sighted colleagues. All the columns and rows will be perfectly aligned. All errors can be removed before printing.
Obviously, this poor example does not fully demonstrate the power of a computerized spreadsheet. Much more complex manipulations of data are possible. With the search capabilities of software like Lotus, these become fun and easy for the visually impaired person to handle.
One of the built-in features of Lotus is a GoTo key. You simply hit this key and type in a cell address like D 38. When you hit the Enter key, the cursor will immediately jump to that cell on the spreadsheet. When you press the left or right arrows, the cursor moves one column over (that is, a spreadsheet column, not a single character. Hitting the Backspace key will take you back by a single character at a time.) If you move with the up or down arrows, the cursor will go up or down one row. You can even move up and down by screenfuls and you can always go "home" (back to cell A 1). Also, a Query key lets you search out specific information. You could ask for all the names of all the people whose salaries are over $20,000 who work on the third floor and in the marketing department, for instance. So it is not just used for numbers, but for recordkeeping of any kind.
There are utilities that allow for merging of spreadsheets, extracting part of one spreadsheet and making a new file out of that while still keeping the original intact, splitting a spreadsheet into two new ones, moving ranges of cells from one section of a spreadsheet to another section of the same spreadsheet, inserting and deleting columns and rows, etc.
In my own work, I use Lotus to do cost-of-money analyses, rate history maintenance and setting the weekly rates and their annual yields. Much of this information is distributed to the department heads of the bank and the rate changes are printed up and sent around to the branches. Knowing how to work with numbers is an asset to this kind of work. But the spreadsheet is easy enough to understand even for the novice. Once its basic concepts are mastered, there is no limit to what a visually impaired person might achieve with this new and exciting tool.
The Camwil Company of Hawaii makes specially modified typeballs and typewheels. They have recently developed a typeball that enables some IBM Electronic Typewriters to generate braille. Since a typeball is easy to change, it would be possible to use the same typewriter for producing braille and print. The catch is that you need to interface the IBM typewriter to your Apple computer. In fact, you'd need six items to get the system working:
This list represents something much superior to the kludge-iest of homebrew interfaces, the ETF-80-to-Braille Typewriter. The IBM Electronic Typewriters are true computerized devices; item 3 is a box that translates between ASCII Apple output and IBM's proprietary typewriter-control language. Camwil is now testing a prototype of the #186-EM element to refine dot height and spacing. Even when perfected, this set-up will only yield draft-quality braille, not Perkins quality.
C-TEC of California is field testing all six items. We're excited about the possibilities for this relatively low-cost combination of software and hardware to produce both print and braille. Stay tuned to the Newsletter for progress reports!
The Slot Buster is a four-in-one interface card for the Apple 2 computer: one card contains a parallel interface, a serial interface, a memory buffer, and an unlimited vocabulary synthesizer. I found the printer interfaces very useful, and the 24,000 character built-in buffer increases their usefulness. Because of this buffer, it is possible to print small to medium sized documents without tying up your computer for long periods.
The Slot Buster speech sythesizer is based on the SSI263 voice chip, an upgrade of the older Votrax SC01 chip. I found the voice texture of the Slot Buster very robotic. It also pronounces punctuation marks inefficiently. For example, it says "divided by" instead of "slash", and "multiplied by" instead of "star". It pronounces numbers in English. 999 is spoken as "nine hundred ninety nine" instead of "nine nine nine". You can imagine what this does to telephone numbers. But it does make it easier to listen to BASIC program listings.
I ran Slot Buster with BRAILLE-EDIT, and all functions worked fairly well. For all practical purposes, the Slot Buster runs like a Echo-GP, though not as well. I set up a configuration to send primary output to the Slot Buster, and most functions worked fairly well, especially the Print Option. However, the Slot Buster does not work well in the EDITOR because it must be put in Letter mode in order to speak individual letters properly.
I did like the fact that Slot Buster's text-to-speech rules were resident on the card, making it virtually transparent to most programs. Unlike the Echo/Cricket, you do not need to use Apple DOS. But the Slot Buster has little practical applications for a blind computer user. There are no screen review functions, and the speech is rougher than what I am used to. If you are looking for a good buffered serial and/or parallel printer interface, buy the Slot Buster. You will also have a little bit of fun playing with its speech, but it is not as useful a talker as the workhorse Echo. The card is available for $229.95 from: RC SYSTEMS, Inc., 121 W. Winesap Road, Bothell, Wa 98012, (206) 771-6883.
[Editor's note: I also use the Slot Buster as a buffered serial printer port, and it's wonderful how quickly I can regain control of the Apple. I've spoken with several people at the manufacturer, and they've expressed interest in developing text-to-speech rules more appropriate for blind users. There's an opportunity for someone who enjoys tweaking subtle rules to get involved in improving the product.--JK]
[Editor's note: Due to many inquiries, RDC bought an Omni Reader to test. We were stymied, so we passed it on to Mssrs. Lauer and Mowinski (of the VA Sensory Aids Dept. at Hines, Illinois) for their evaluation of the amount of work required to make it workable for a blind user. What follows is a preliminary report]
The Omni Reader is a $500 print scanner which outputs ASCII to a host computer. It's been widely advertised in the commercial computer press, and many people have wondered if it could be a truly low-cost useful scanner for blind computerists. We are now using one borrowed from RDC. After a few hours of work, we have interfaced the Omni Reader with the Apple 2e running the Street Electronics talking terminal program (a program that talks without saving data). We also used BRAILLE-EDIT, which can save data without talking as it receives. (We used option I - Input From Slot to rapidly transfer data into a BRAILLE-EDIT CHAPTER for later examination in any desired medium.) It would doubtless work with other programs. I also made the Omni Reader speak using the Cricket and the Apple 2c running a short (four line) BASIC program. We found that the Omni can feed the VersaBraille, the Intex Talker and the Votrax PSS. We have not yet tried to input data to the Omni from a host.
Thus far, we've only scanned the manufacturer's test sheet. The only thing we can report about its character-recognition capability is that it works!
In order to change type styles and throw several other software switches, the user is required to scan what amount to bar codes. Compared to directly keying in commands on the computer, this is an awkward approach for both sighted and blind users. We could touch-label the bar codes, but We harbor the hope (unsupported by documentation or experience) that the maker left the door open for entry of commands to the Omni through its serial port.
The design of the scanner camera and tracking slide causes problems for blind users. It is possible for a skilled reading aid (Optacon or Stereotoner) user to hold the aid's camera beside the Omni's camera to get some feedback on tracking. But the reading aid image is out of focus because there isn't enough room to fit the aid's camera in the Omni's tracking slide. The tracking slide has a timing strip printed on it that's required to calibrate the scanned output.
We feel a better tracking aid would help everyone, and some modification would be indispensable for blind people. A good start would be to incorporate the timing strip into a modified carriage that would also accommodate an Optacon camera. Of course, options other than a second small reading aid for the tasks of locating, measuring, aligning and tracking print without sight should be considered. Those four tasks must be addressed in one way or another even if the aid of a sighted person is enlisted in the set-up procedure. The Omni must be "told" the size, pitch and font to be read. Then the print must be identified as such, located, aligned and scanned. None of those tasks are trivial.
We need to find out the facility with which other type fonts can be loaded from disk into the Omni's memory and the availability of such fonts. Alternatively, and perhaps preferably, we need the capability of "training" the machine on desired fonts, and saving the instructions to disk for later reloading into the Omni Reader's memory. There are now four fonts resident in the Omni's memory and room for a fifth to be loaded from the disk of a host computer. No claims are made as to facility with related fonts, and we currently have no idea how font-specific the machine is. Road testing may not yet have been done to compare performance with the same font generated by different printers. Print quality and contrast requirements must also be studied.
Signaling by the device needs to be studied. Some useful audio beeps indicate if lines are read successfully or not, but many of the Omni's signals appear only as lights. If only a few appear as lights, we can use a light probe to read them, but hopefully they can all be made audible. Additionally, the beep frequency currently used is high. We found that the beeps cannot be heard well by people with high-frequency hearing losses.
So far, the evidence points to this: If it proves feasible to make enhancements, the machine may become a valuable tool for blind people. The above discussion is intended as the opening statement in a dialogue to determine what is required. We can say of the required effort that it would be too much for a single basement workshop effort and a single user/test pilot to tackle. An informal consortium of them might do it. The project looks good for private resources or for a grant. Maybe this would be a good way for someone in the academic research community to become reinvolved in this pregnant field. We have mixed feelings about that because of our experience of the past several years. With few fortunate exceptions, the commitment of researchers has waned in inverse proportion to the urgency of the need for computer aids by blind people.
When did you order your MBOSS-1?
The MBOSS-1 is Vtek's new braille printer. I ordered mine in January of 1985 and received it on March 26th. I got a unit from the very first production run.
Why did you buy an MBOSS?
I needed a hard-copy braille output device that used continuous paper. I could not afford a Thiel or an LED-120 by a long shot.
How did the unit come?
One box contained the printer, tractor feed, printer power cord, a small pad of 90-pound tag fanfold braille paper, and a copy of the print manual. The separate printer stand, its print manual, an Allen wrench, and a package of screws and the stand's feet came in a separate box. Since I bought an early unit, it did not come with a braille manual. However, I already had a Starwriter F-10 daisy wheel printer (on which the MBOSS is based), so I felt pretty comfortable with it.
How did you put it together?
First, I put the printer stand together. After a brief examination of the parts, things went together nicely; this despite the fact that I hardly know one end of a screw-driver from another. Duveen Winter, Computer Products Specialist for Vtek, stayed after work on two occasions to help me reassure myself that I was doing things correctly.
The MBOSS has a well designed paper guide. However, it is somewhat difficult to place the tractor feed onto the printer. I had to take some time and effort to examine the tractor feed and figure just how it operated before I could successfuly mount it onto the printer. Rushing this process risks smashing your fingers between the printer and the tractor feed.
How does the MBOSS-1 work?
The MBOSS-1 is a heavily modified version of the Starwriter F-10 printer. It has a single pin braille embossing head which feels pretty much like a stylus point. Vtek has removed the platen and replaced it with a metal die similar to the back plate of a braille slate. The print head travels bi-directionally across the paper printing one line of the braille cell at a time. First, dots 1 and 4 are printed, then dots 5 and 2, finally dots 3 and 6 are printed. You have the option to print 8 dot computer braille if you want to. In fact, I think that except for the firmware and the printhead, the brailler can be serviced locally at some point. But right now, only Vtek can service the unit.
How did you connect it with your Apple?
The MBOSS-1 is available with either Serial or Parallel interface. My serial MBOSS-1 came all set up to plug in to a Super Serial Card. It was real easy. I unpacked the printer, set it on its stand, loaded the paper, plugged in a straight-through cable, turned on the power, and sent it a BRAILLE-EDIT chapter. I used a type "T" brailler when I was setting up my BRAILLE-EDIT configuration.
How does it run?
Real nice. I think it is quiet. It is as loud as a conventional letter quality printer. I ran 1,000 pages in a 30-hour marathon over the last weekend. I think that works out to about 9 characters per second. I think that devices like the MBOSS will increase demand for low-cost form-feed braille paper. I can hardly wait until someone buys some paper in massive quantities and turns over some of the savings to the consumer. That would lower the operating cost of the brailler.
Did you have any problems with it?
Well, I ran into two kinds of problems. First, there were a few glitches in the first MBOSS production run. I think these were clashes between hardware design and firmware (software built-in) which didn't show up in the prototypes. My unit broke soon after I got it. I got a replacement very fast, but it still has a glitch. Every once and a while it will stop dead and beep. This happened 3 times in the 1,000 page run I did recently. Vtek has found the bug and is just now in the process of running a recall of the first production run and fixing them. Of course, any new product will have a few problems. I personally enjoy being part of the debugging process.
What was the other kind of problem?
You know me, I always have ideas about how to improve the products that I use. Vtek is very willing to listen to and respond quickly to user feedback. For all I know, these items have been attended to by the time this gets printed.
Vtek has placed 96 holes in the backing plate that keeps the stylus from making holes through the paper. This means that there could conceivably be up to 48 cells produced horizontally. The MBOSS-1 is said to have a normal carriage width of 40 with 2 cells available on the left hand margin for the continuation symbol for use with the braille computer code. Normally, the brailling begins in the 3rd cell. This doesn't leave enough room for GBC punching, or 3 hole punching between the perforation strip and the braille. This also produces too much of a right margin. So, I have suggested that Vtek change the firmware so that printing would begin in either the 4th or 5th cell. This would still allow enough room for an adequate right margin and would solve the problem of having enough room on the left to compensate for the binding.
I think that it is too hard to get to the DIP switches inside the unit. In my opinion, they should cut a hole in the front cover to allow easier access, especially for a blind user. Finally, I think they should supply a longer serial cable with each brailler. You need a cable 6 to 10 feet long since most blind users have a lot of equipment placed close to their Apple.
How would you sum up?
The MBOSS-1 is an exciting entry in the computer peripherals market for the blind. I think it's quieter than the Cranmer. Finally, we have an affordable form feed braille embosser. I know I have a few problems with my unit, but I have total confidence that they will be taken care of. I'm quite proud of my MBOSS-1 and would be glad to answer questions about it. My address is: Nick Dotson, 1901 N. Baylen Street, Pensacola FL 32501, 904-432-0894.
I've had my Macintosh for around 2 weeks, and I've had the opportunity to play with some truly enjoyable software. Not surprisingly, I'm working on producing Large Print documentation for all of RDC's products. Please don't send POs yet--I'm still in the experimental stages--but keep in mind that Large Print is definitely on the horizon. In addition to playing with the Macintosh's built-in Large Print fonts, I'm researching POSTSCRIPT, which is a graphics programming languagge to control the Apple LaserWriter. From my initial research, it seems clear that low-cost laser printers will make Large Print production very easy.
A crucial element in all this is transferring my BRAILLE-EDIT files to the Mac, and this afternoon I received a simply wonderful piece of software that does this task beautifully.
"Mac.Transfer" is published by Southeastern Software Inc. and is available from them for $45 plus P&H. (It's also available for less through standard mail-order outlets.) Their documentation is crystal clear, the program design is simple and elegant, and it took me a total of 25 minutes to go from unwrapping the package to working with a transferred file on my Mac. You don't even need a modem (alhough it supports many common ones.) I simply set the jumper block on my Super Serial Card to "modem", and plugged one end of my ImageWriter cable into the SSC and the other into the modem port on the Mac. That's it. Mac.Terminal sends control sequences to the SSC for all the switch settings, so you don't have to fuss with them.
Southeastern Software has been selling Apple software for five years. The two disks (one for the Apple, one for the Mac) have the same copy-protection scheme as BRAILLE-EDIT: trust your customers. I'm delighted; if you want to do file transfers between your Mac and Apple, do yourself a favor and contact Southeastern Software, 7743 Briarwood Drive, New Orleans, LA 70128 phone either 504-246-8438 or 246-7937.
The Cranmer Brailler is more than a mindless embosser. Since you can feel the braille as soon as it is embossed, it is well suited for interactive use with a computer. The keyboard is not there just for show or to put Perkins users at ease. We want to enable people to make the best possible use of some of the Cranmer's built-in features. For example, if your phone rings, you can IMMEDIATELY stop embossing a BRAILLE-EDIT chapter, and then resume without trouble. Enter Command Mode with chord-dots 3-6 and the embossing stops. To resume, enter Remote again with chord-R.
A number of people have asked me about reprinting a sheet on the Cranmer when using BRAILLE-EDIT. Here is one method I have used. It takes a little longer at the page change, but it gives you extra control and insurance in case the paper jams. This method uses the Cranmer's internal Editor. For more information about it, see the Cranmer Manual.
When you set up a configuration, reserve 2 printer descriptions for the Cranmer. For printer 1, follow the script from the Interface Guide [appropriate slot number; brailler type "C"; desired carriage width up to 42; form length 25; and "no pause on form feed"]. For printer 2, answer the same way for the first four questions, but answer "yes" to the question about pause on form feed. Use printer 1 for routine brailling. Use printer 2 if you want "insurance" against a messed-up page.
In printing with "the insurance set-up", the Apple sends 25 lines to the Cranmer's buffer and stops, waiting for you to hit the Apple spacebar. Meanwhile, the Cranmer goes about printing those 25 lines. If the page is printed as you like, then remove the sheet, insert the next, and enter chord-N chord-(full cell) to clear the Cranmer buffer and then chord-dots 4-5 to get the Cranmer ready again. Finally hit the Apple spacebar to send the next page.
Since you clear the Cranmer's buffer before the Apple sends a new page, the buffer contains just one braille page at a time. If a page jams, do the following:
Step 6 reprints the page that was messed up. To move on and print the next sheet, just insert a new sheet and introduce it with chord-dots 4-5. Clear the Cranmer's buffer with chord-N chord-(full cell). Return to Remote Mode with chord-R, and hit the Apple spacebar.
Of course, you can use this method for other purposes. If you find and fix an error in a BRAILLE-EDIT CHAPTER, you can use this "insurance set-up" and the Cranmer's "embossing off" mode to selectively reprint particular braille pages. Suppose you just want to reprint the sixth braille page. Before you start, turn scrolling on (chord-S Y) and embossing off (chord-dot-5). Then, using printer 2, PRINT the CHAPTER. At the first pause, hit the spacebar. BRAILLE-EDIT has finished sending the first page. Tap the Apple spacebar and wait for a count of three. Do this a total of four times and you've sent the first five braille pages to the Cranmer without embossing them. Now turn embossing on (chord-dot-1) and tap the Apple spacebar; the Cranmer prints the sixth page.
The Cranmer Editor is line-oriented. It recognizes "a line" sent from the Apple by the <CR> and linefeed at the end. We recently realized that the way we set the Cranmer's and SSC switches sometimes interferes with the Cranmer recognizing <CR>s. Our switch settings work fine for the most common applications: using the Cranmer as a computer-driven embosser and downloading data with Input from Slot.
To make the Cranmer recognize <CR>s so that you can move around in the Cranmer's buffer, simply set the Cranmer for 7 data bits with chord-dots 3-4-5-6 C 7. Your start-up sequence should be: chord-H H chord-S Y chord-dots-3-4-5-6 C 7 chord-R.
By setting the Cranmer for 7 data bits, you ensure that the Cranmer can recognize Apple carriage returns in all situations. A few users have reported failure of the Cranmer's "append auto linefeed in receive" command (chord-J R Y) in use with the Apple. As it turns out, the Cranmer was not recognizing the Apple's carriage returns and did not know where to add linefeeds. This command will work just fine when the Cranmer is set at 7 data bits.
Here are just a few possible uses of the Cranmer's ability to deal with material it got from BRAILLE-EDIT (provided you set the Cranmer for 7 data bits). You can move around the buffer with Cranmer Editor commands to reprint or resume printing without having to clear the buffer at each page change or using the "insurance set-up". In printing a letter, you can tell the Apple to print 24-line pages. Before embossing a page, use the Cranmer Editor to insert a line of dashes as the middle line, for easy folding and mailing. You can also print several copies, using the Cranmer Editor to change the salutation line between copies.
We sell the Kentucky Cranmer Operator's Manual in paper braille for $20; it's very well-organized and easy to find your way around in. In addition, Dr. Abraham Nemeth has transcribed MCS's flowchart that explains which commands work in which mode. Dr. Nemeth's transcription uses both text and graphics--I'm preparing a disk copy of this chart from his Cranmer cassette. If you would like to output this flowchart on your Cranmer, please send two blank disks with your request to my attention.
A number of teachers have asked us how their students can prepare material in grade 2 braille on the Cranmer and transfer the data to BRAILLE-EDIT to make a print copy. This is quite possible using option I - Input from Slot on the Main Menu. It's important to remember that you can also use the Apple directly, as a "talking typewriter" or "talking braillewriter". Each approach has its own advantages; if you're curious about using Input from Slot, try it out to explore its plusses and minuses.
To use option I - Input From Slot, you must connect your brailler to the Apple by way of an Apple Super Serial Card, an Apple 2c port, or a CCS 7710 card. (A CCS 7711 will NOT work.) You need to create a configuration which tells the Apple about your plans to use Input From Slot. In setting it up, just answer yes to the question, "Do you want to download from slot?" When prompted, give your Cranmer slot number. Then just answer no to the "end of file character" question.
When you choose option I, BRAILLE-EDIT asks for a target chapter. It will save the imported material in a BRAILLE-EDIT chapter by that name. BRAILLE-EDIT then says "START DEVICE" but is very patient. Your brailler has the Apple "on hold". BRAILLE-EDIT accepts material only when you tell the Cranmer to send something over. You can do this one or more times. In the meantime BRAILLE-EDIT just waits, while you do what you want on the brailler.
When you first turn on the Cranmer, give it two set-up commands: chord-H S (for software handshaking) and chord-J T N (to suppress auto linefeeds in transmitting to the Apple).
When you first chord-E yourself into the Cranmer Editor, I advise you to issue the chord-R L command, to create lowercase letters. That is advisable for some applications.
Write material on the Cranmer, making use of its Edit mode commands. You can write up to a buffer's worth, 4000 characters. To send what you have written, first go to Command mode. Then issue the Transmit command, chord-dots 1-2-5-6, to send what's in the buffer. All is going well if you hear a "scratching" sound from the Apple speaker. If you just want to send one buffer's worth, type Q on the Apple keyboard. Your BRAILLE-EDIT CHAPTER will be saved. Otherwise, clear the Cranmer, prepare something else, and send it over. You can do this repeatedly. BRAILLE-EDIT remembers its place and adds new material where it left off; to prevent full pages, it automatically saves the page and opens a new one. If you want to force a move to a new page after a round of transmission, type P on the Apple. When you have finished the last round, hit Q on the Apple.
Now your chapter is ready for the Back From Grade Two Translator and whatever other processing you want. You may choose to use Global Replace to remove carriage returns.
As our audio subscribers are aware, the audio edition of this newsletter alternates between human readers and DECtalk. Occasionally, we are asked about how the DECtalk editions are produced. The audio newsletter takes a lot of human effort, even with a wide array of computers, printers, and software. Here are the eleven steps involved:
1) Copy the disk that was used to generate the print Newsletter.
2) Use Global Replace on the whole disk with a special transformation CHAPTER. We use Uppity Ursula's voice for headlines and Perfect Paul's voice for the text. We insert beep tones at the start of articles, using: [AH<2000,60>] [:pp2000]. [:pp100] [AH<2000,60>]. This makes two 2-second 60 cycle tones. The transformation CHAPTER also misspells some words to improve pronunciation, in the manner of ECHOTRAN. Right now, we have to manually insert spaces between numbers so that DECtalk won't pronounce zip codes as "fifty-three thousand seven hundred three." We're eagerly looking forward to "master BEX" and the logical Global Replace. This will let us search for and change "any five-digit number followed by a period."
3) Print this transformed disk to DECtalk, and take notes of any problems.
4) Manually fix any problems. This may mean inserting spaces, hyphens, or (in extreme cases), using phonemes. For example "piracy" was spelled as [p'ayraxsiy] so it did not sound like "peer-a-see".
5) Repeat steps 3 and 4 until statisfied.
6) Patch audio output of DECtalk to input on cassette deck, then PRINT entire disk.
If it's a human's turn to read the Newsletter, we can skip these six steps. We simply feed Jesse 3 cups of coffee and lock her downstairs with the cassette deck. From this point on, production is the same for human and DECtalk editions:
7) Make print-and-braille cassette labels by first running labels through the letter-quality printer, and then through the Thiel Brailler.
8) Duplicate around 300 cassettes using the Recordex 330 one-on-three duplicator. When fed continuously, we can get 60 copies an hour.
9) Use AppleWorks to print address labels (sorted by first 3 digits of ZIP code.)
10) Final production: rubber stamp "free matter for the blind" on the padded envelopes, attach the two sets of labels, insert the tapes in the envelopes, and staple them shut.
11) Rush the pre-sorted bags of tapes to the main post office on the edge of Madison. The audio newsletters usually get to subscribers at about the same time as the print newsletters.
The Apple Super Serial Card can be controlled in two ways: by physically changing the switch settings, or by sending it special control sequences. The ability to control the Super Serial Card (SSC) through software sequences is described in the SSC manual, but barely mentioned in Raised Dot literature. One reason is that Raised Dot devised one set of physical switch settings (what we call our "Basic Recipe") that works with a wide range of devices (VersaBraille, Cranmer Brailler, Thiel Brailler, and Echo GP). For the record, the Basic Recipe is to set the jumper block to "terminal" and have switch bank 1 set at OFF OFF OFF ON OFF ON OFF, and switch bank 2 set at OFF OFF ON ON ON OFF OFF.
Since the Apple 2c's ports are basically stripped-down, built-in Super Serial Cards, many of the command sequences for the SSC are almost identical to those for the Apple 2c. For instance, to change the baud rate, data format, or parity on the Super Serial Card, you can use the sequences written up in the Interface Guide for setting these parameters on the Apple 2c. There is one crucial difference: the "command character" for the SSC in terminal mode is a control-I. For example, to set the baud rate to 4800 baud, send the following four characters: control-I 12 B (spaces included for clarity). To change the data format to 8 data bits and one stop bit, send the following three characters: control-I 0 D (control-I zero D). Sending these two sequences would be useful in setting the Super Serial Card up for use with the Kurzeil Reading Machine.
The special sequences for terminal mode are discussed in pages 11 through 19 of the Super Serial Card manual. I will use the SSC manual's notation (an underbar means a space that is part of the command sequence). Here is a list of some commands of interest to BRAILLE-EDIT users:
The Kurzweil application brings up some interesting issues about this whole technique. If you are going to use the same card for two different devices (for example for both a VersaBraille and a KRM), then you cannot simultaneously use them both with your Apple. To switch from one application to another requires recabling and printing special "control CHAPTERs" to the SSC. If you forget to recable or to send the special sequence, then your application will "hang" or otherwise behave abnormally. There is an additional problem. Often, it is new users that need to use these special sequences. Usually, new computer users cannot handle the extra complexity of learning how to "program" a device like the SSC. So an expert user assists the beginner and writes the special "set-up" CHAPTER that contains the right control characters. If the beginner accidentally erases or loses the disk with the set-up CHAPTER, it can be very frustrating to all concerned. The purpose of this little excursion into computer reality is to point up why it may be expedient to buy more that one interface card.
BRAILLE-EDIT Version 2.50 is a solid program, which we will continue to support for a long time to come. Our goal is to make BRAILLE-EDIT easier to use and to support; to this end, we've spent over three months writing a brand new BRAILLE-EDIT manual. In fact, we are calling it the BRAILLE-EDIT User's Guide to distinguish it from the BRAILLE-EDIT Manual, which it replaces. The User's Guide is much better organized and three times longer (120 pages versus 40 pages). The BRAILLE-EDIT User's Guide costs $40.00. The print and audio editions are available now, and the braille edition (also $40.00) will be available in a month.
The best way to illustrate the advantages of the BRAILLE-EDIT User's Guide is to reproduce a section. The following is the complete text of Section 4: DON'T PANIC--BRAILLE-EDIT Error Recovery:
We've tried to make BRAILLE-EDIT as resilient as an old Chevy, but occasionally, the program will "crash". This sounds serious, but it isn't. In fact, there are times when you choose to induce a program crash to stop BRAILLE-EDIT.
The BRAILLE-EDIT program has many parts. The MAIN side is filled with software. To maintain compatibility with the Apple 2 plus, we use 64K of memory. We've chosen to maximize the power of the software, which means BRAILLE-EDIT does not have extensive "error messages".
For example, if you have only one disk drive, you must faithfully switch between the program disk and your data disk as prompted. There is only one INSERT DATA DISK or INSERT PROGRAM DISK prompt; if BRAILLE-EDIT tries to load the SECOND MENU from a data disk, it crashes. When this occurs, you receive an "Apple Error Message": a high beep, a cryptic message, and the BASIC prompt (a right square bracket on the screen, the Echo says "ready"). Examples are: FILE NOT FOUND, BREAK IN LINE 4050, or OUT OF MEMORY ERROR.
Some software has an "UNDO" feature, or uses the Esc key to stop or postpone a program function. To stop BRAILLE-EDIT's PRINT OR OUTPUT function, you do use the Esc key. To stop BRAILLE-EDIT in other situations, you type control-RESET and induce a program crash.
NOTE: Remember, control-RESET is a safe way to stop BRAILLE-EDIT. Many other programs are not as resilient as BRAILLE-EDIT--if you type control-RESET, you may lose data.
The control-RESET key is different for each Apple model.
--- Apple 2e
The RESET key is in the upper right-hand corner, to the right of the Delete key. The RESET key is a smaller, square key with a circular depression. Press the control key, and simultaneously push RESET.
--- Apple 2c
The RESET key is above the upper left-hand corner of the keyboard. Recessed almost level with the surface of the computer, it's shaped like a trapezoid. Again, press the control key and simultaneously push the RESET key.
--- Apple 2 plus
The RESET key is part of the main keyboard, located in the upper right hand corner. The Apple 2 plus has a switch inside that determines whether you need to press both control and RESET, or whether pressing RESET only induces a program crash.
There are two situations when you want to induce a program crash in the EDITOR: If the Apple is not responding to your commands, or if you type control-D control-P by mistake, and want to recover your data.
If the Apple is not responding to your commands, the first thing to do is to type <CR>. Some EDITOR commands require a <CR>; if you've omitted it, BRAILLE-EDIT just waits. If this doesn't work, enter Control-Q to Quit the EDITOR. You will receive the "QUIT THE EDITOR" message, hear the disk whir, and get the MAIN MENU, ENTER COMMAND prompt.
Use the following method if you still cannot get the Apple to respond, or if you indavertently delete data.
a) Depress the Caps Lock key.
b) Enter control-RESET (as directed for your model Apple.) You will receive the BASIC prompt. Type PR#0 to turn the Echo back on (or PR#4 to turn on the primary output device in slot 4).
c) Type: RUN 999<CR>. The disk drive whirs for about a minute, and then BRAILLE-EDIT prompts: FIX CHAPTER SAVE TO RECOVER followed by the BASIC prompt. BRAILLE-EDIT creates a file named SAVE.A, which contains all the information in the "page buffer." (The page buffer is BRAILLE-EDIT's "scratch pad" for the EDITOR. It holds all the information in the current PAGE. Even when you Delete the rest of the PAGE with control-D control-P, the deleted characters are still in the page buffer.)
d) At the BASIC prompt, type: RUN SECOND,D1 <CR>. You're rewarded with SECOND MENU, ENTER COMMAND. To use the data in SAVE.A, you must first give it a massage by using F - FIX FILES. This option creates a BRAILLE-EDIT CHAPTER named "SAVE."
Jump back to the MAIN MENU and EDIT this SAVE CHAPTER. There are usually strange characters lurking at the end of the page buffer that appear at the end of the "fixed" PAGE. Delete unnecessary characters, and use M - MERGE CHAPTERS (on the SECOND MENU) to place the data in SAVE back into the correct CHAPTER. (See 12-4 for the theory behind all of this sleight-of-hand.)
If you choose a MENU option and change your mind, you have three ways to recover. The simplest is: type control-RESET. You'll be rewarded by the BASIC prompt. Depress your Caps Lock key and type: RUN <CR>. You'll return to the most recent MENU.
If the choice you regret has moved you to another MENU, choose the option that returns you to the previous MENU.
If the option you choose prompts for data, then typing <CR> will return you to the MENU. If the option supplies defaults, then typing <CR> will not return you to the MENU. See 12-1.
If BRAILLE-EDIT crashes by itself while working at a MENU, you receive an Apple error message: a high beep, followed by a phrase like "FILE NOT FOUND, BREAK IN LINE 3060" or "OUT OF MEMORY ERROR, BREAK IN 4045" followed by the BASIC prompt.
Again, the solution is straightforward: Depress the Caps Lock key and type: RUN <CR>. You will return to the most recent MENU.
Program crashes can also be caused by an Apple Disk Operating System failure. This rare situation can be caused by sparks and voltage surges. If you type: RUN <CR> but get another Apple error message, reboot BRAILLE-EDIT.
Don't be afraid to use control-RESET. Even if you are in the EDITOR, you can use "RUN 999" to recover your data. Outside the EDITOR, all you do is type RUN.
Every program has limits. Some BRAILLE-EDIT operations are irreversible. The following are also discussed in detail in their appropriate Sections. We compile them here to warn you!
a) INITIALIZING a disk is irrevocable; you can't restore the data.
b) If you DELETE a PAGE using D on the PAGE MENU, your data is gone.
c) If you KILL a CHAPTER using K on the SECOND MENU, your CHAPTER is gone.
d) If you use the same name for source and TARGET CHAPTER, then your source CHAPTER is either overwritten or has a damaged structure. Sometimes you want to overwrite your source CHAPTER, especially with G - GLOBAL REPLACE on the SECOND MENU; and G - GRADE TWO TRANSLATOR and B - BACK FROM GRADE TWO on the MAIN MENU.
Certain options won't let you use the same names; you'll get a high beep and an ERROR - IDENTICAL CHAPTER NAME message.
If you use the same source and TARGET name with N - NAME CHANGE FOR CHAPTERS, no data is lost, but your PAGEs will not be in order. Use the PAGE MENU to fix this. You may also have two PAGE files with the same name--see Recovering Damaged Data in the Appendix for how to cope.
Because of a special grant from Apple computer, the Tennessee School for the Blind (TSB) has about 30 Apple computers. This has enabled them to use BRAILLE-EDIT in a wide variety of settings. In our opinion, the most dramatic application is in Dr. Mila Truan's 6th grade Language Arts Class. At TSB, computer classes start in the 7th grade. Dr. Truan introduced computers to her English class purely as a tool to help students produce better written material.
Recently, Dr. Truan's students wrote letters to RDC as part of a class project. We wrote back, and asked them to write newsletter articles. We chose two articles (both written on the computer with BRAILLE-EDIT), from Amy Harris (a 6th grader), and Tracey Haynes (a 10th grader).
I started to learn how to use the computer when I was in the fifth grade. I had worked a little with it in the fourth grade, but I only got to understand it in the fifth grade so that learning the computer was made a little easier for me. I had one problem; I could not see the small print, but I can see print if it is big enough. When we found out how to put the computer into large print, my problem was simplified.
Another way learning the computer was made easy for me was my 6th grade teacher, Dr. Mila Truan, who helped me a lot with things I did not know or things I needed help on. She still helps me with new commands and old commands which I need help on.
Almost all of them are Apple 2e computers. We also have two VersaBrailles. We have three print printers and two braille printers. At the beginning of the year we only had a few computers and only one VersaBraille. We only had one print printer and no braille printers.
At first I did not start out on the computer. I started on the Versabraille. Whern I moved to the computer, I knew a little about the functions of the VersaBraille.
When I started, I knew enough about the keyboard to use the computer pretty well. One of my biggest problems was having to count the number keys to get the one I wanted. When I learned my numbers in typing, that problem was simplified.
Computers were not taught as a class. I mainly used it to complete my English assignments. To earn free time on the computer, I had to come in after school or turn in my English in ahead of time.
I feel that I have learned to use the computer very well. I think that I have improved on the computer and can still expand my knowledge. The computer has helped expand my knowledge. The computer has helped me a lot with my English. I can go back and make corrections without much trouble. The computer has been a great friend to me.
I love everything to do with computers. I have taken almost two full years of computer classes, and I really enjoy it. I can take just about anything and figure out just a little bit at a time.
My strongest point is word processing. It makes things a lot easier. The BRAILLE-EDIT program has made it very easy for the partially sighted and the totally blind to do word processing.
I learned most of the BRAILLE-EDIT program outside of class. We only worked on it for about six weeks in my class, and I really didn't get to work on it a lot then. I did have an advantage over the other people in my class because I had worked on the program a pretty good bit outside of class before they started learning it. I had to learn it before they did because I had to use it on my job after school typing worksheets for a teacher. It is a very easy program to catch on to, and it really does make things very convenient.
Another good thing about BRAILLE-EDIT is that it helps the people who have low vision to take classes in the public schools. I myself take a couple of classes in a community public school, and it is very easy for me to do my homework with this program. I can just type the homework, print it off, and turn it in the next day.
The teachers here were not as lucky as the students. They had to learn BRAILLE-EDIT in a one-week crash course. Some of them didn't catch on at first, but the ones who didn't, got another teacher who caught on to teach them. They caught on very well from what I have seen, and BRAILLE-EDIT makes things a lot easier on them, also. They can type the worksheets that they want us to do on the Apple and Perk them out for us to do. [Editor's note: "perk" is TSB slang for output on a Cranmer Modified PERKins Brailler.] They can also do their own reports and other things with the program, so you can see this is very convenient for them, too.
The BRAILLE-EDIT program is doing good for everyone. It is easy to learn, and makes using the computer a lot easier for us low vision people. This is a very good program, and Mr. Holladay is making it easier all the time.
Raised Dot Computing feels that our technical support policies and techniques are effective and economical. We urge all sensory aids companies to examine our technical support methods, because we believe that if other companies followed our example, then our job would be a lot easier.
Each BRAILLE-EDIT customer gets a copy of our BRAILLE-EDIT Interface Guide, our interfacing "Bible". We've tried to supply the answers to most technical questions in the Interface Guide. We make it available in print, audio, and braille, because we trust that our customers can handle technical details. We publish corrections, refinements and additions in this Newsletter.
A crucial quality of the technical material that we publish is its real-life accuracy. We cross-check all the details ourselves. Some other companies just collect and Xerox field reports. Some field reports reflect very poor knowledge of the equipment involved. By publishing all our technical reports, we increase the chance that our errors will be spotted by someone. Sometimes this means public embarrassment, but we prefer that to user frustration.
For the Cranmer Brailler, we took this philosophy a step further. We devised a special program whose sole function is to take a naive user through the steps in interfacing their Cranmer Brailler with their Apple computer. The "Cranmer Interface Disk" program is able to detect improper switch settings and bad cables. Since we started including a copy of it with each Cranmer that we sell, we have received hardly any phone calls from our customers about Cranmer interfacing.
Finally, we back up our publishing efforts with a technical hot-line. When we realize that we are getting several calls on a particular issue, we write a newsletter article. We try very hard to answer questions before people have to call us.
Other companies market their equipment on the basis of their simplicity and all-inclusiveness. Any discussion of technical details clashes with that marketing statement. I have yet to see a newsletter from another sensory aids company that accurately describes a difficult interface. RDC tries to empower the users of its materials. Publishing technical nitty-gritty details is entirely consistent with that philosophy.
Telesensory Systems, Inc. collects interface information in what they call the "Crosstalk Bulletins". These are photocopies of interfacing notes written by customers, interface jockeys, and TSI personnel. If someone calls for interfacing information, they might be sent a photocopy of an appropriate "Crosstalk". At about the same time that TSI published a "Crosstalk" about interfacing the IBM-PC and the VersaBraille, Olga Espinola published some articles in BAUD and in this Newsletter about her experiences with these two devices. When VersaBraille users had problems following TSI's instructions, they called Olga at work. In desperation, Olga called RDC and asked us to publish an article giving accurate details on this interface. (See May 1985, Vol 3, No. 28.)
The "Crosstalk Bulletins" are a wonderful institution, and TSI deserves credit for producing them. Unfortunately, TSI has no mechanism for alerting the VersaBraille end-users about technical information. In fact, TSI does not even have a mailing list of VersaBraille end-users. They just have a list of who paid the bill. It is very important to keep the end-users in the information loop, to be able to finetune your instructions based on new information and insights.
In order to earn its place in the sensory aids marketplace, RDC worked hard to support other products without any compensation. We understand the workings of the VersaBraille, Thiel Brailler, and Cranmer Brailler because we bought one of each. Only Digital Equipment Corp. has compensated us for our efforts in establishing effective interfaces. DEC has loaned us a DECtalk unit for this past year at no charge. We are eager to return the favor, and we are willing to share our knowledge of DECtalk with our customers.
As anyone who has surveyed this field knows, buying every device that hits the marketplace is very expensive. RDC, Inc. is totally supported by its sales. We receive no grants, loans, or subsidies. Up to this point, we've paid for interfacing research in two ways: we swallow the cost ourselves, or our end-users pay through the price of our products. We feel this should change. We believe that the sensory aids manufacturers should begin to carry some of this burden. If you are even considering buying a VersaBraille-II, an MBOSS-1, a Personal Brailler, or any other new computerized sensory aid, we urge you to ask the salesperson this question: "How is your firm helping RDC gain experience on this device so I can get the level of technical support that I need?"