Raised Dot Computing Newsletter: Exploring Microcomputer Applications for the Visually Impaired
June 1986 -- Volume 4, Number 41
Published Monthly by Raised Dot Computing, Inc., 408 South Baldwin Street, Madison WI 53703. General phone: 608-257-9595. Technical Hotline: 608-257-8833.
Subscriptions: $18/year Print, $20/year Audio Tape, $30/year Disk. (Kindly add $20/year for postage outside N. America.)
Submissions are always welcome, particularly those on Apple diskette. All are subject to editing for style and clarity. All opinions expressed are those of the author.
Copyright 1986 by Raised Dot Computing, Inc., All Rights Reserved
Table of Contents: the all-uppercase words name the disk chapters; subheadings in each article are separated by two dashes.
For the past few months, we've been hammering our readership about the incredible bargain of BEX conversion. For owners of BRAILLE-EDIT Version 2.45 or later, you can get the full BEX package for just $75. Dual Support of BRAILLE-EDIT and BEX is available for $250. Regular readers of the Newsletter will be happy to know that this offer expires on June 30, 1986, so this is the last time you'll hear it announced. After that date, BEX costs $400 for everyone.
We've been asked why we established such a hard and fast deadline for BEX Conversion or Dual Support. RDC feels that word of mouth is the best possible advertising. We want to create a substantial base of BEX users as soon as possible to spread the word about its ease of use and power. BEX conversion is a way we can reward those who have put their trust in RDC software. So we decided we'd be willing to take a loss on BEX conversions for six months.
We have one last argument to bolster our position that getting BEX now is a bargain. We have analyzed the market for sensory aids equipment by asking that crucial question "how much does it cost per pound?" Using published list prices and shipping weight, we would like to provide (as a public service) the following chart:
Clearly, by this measure, BEX is the bargain of the sensory aids marketplace, even at full price.
On a more serious note, RDC is pleased to announce that we are now shipping BEX Version 2.1. Version 2.1 can read ProDOS textfiles as easily as it reads DOS 3.3 textfiles (the textfile bug in the February version has been exterminated). Version 2.1 can be installed on a Sider hard disk. All registered BEX owners have been sent a version 2.1 updating disk. If you haven't registered yet, please take the time to do it now. When you do, we'll send you the updating disk by return mail.
As mentioned last month in the Newsletter, registered BEX owners may obtain a certificate worth $1000 towards the purchase of a tape-based VersaBraille. All you have to do is request it in writing. TSI will redeem the certificates through December 31, 1986. To be eligible for a certificate, you must purchase BEX by June 30, 1986. You may request a certificate after that date, however.
A long time ago, in a strange land far away, the RDC Newsletter advertised the "Raised Dot Computing Brailling Service." Not that long ago--it was August/September 1984. Anyway, at that time we published detailed guidelines for submitting BRAILLE-EDIT data disks and getting paper braille.
For several reasons, we've decides we can no longer provide this service; we officially announce that the RDC Brailling Service is no more. The main reason is that our Thiel is busy most of the time producing our own literature. Secondarily, our Thiel had a bad year in 1985 and kept breaking down. It never failed that the day after it broke down, a large brailling job arrived. We realized that the only way to provide a predictable service was to purchase a back-up brailler; the volume of brailling service requests just didn't support that.
We have been referring people to other services that we're aware of. We'd like to be able to recommend your service. If you have some computer-driven braille device and are willing to braille out material on BRAILLE-EDIT, BEX or Hot Dots' data disks, please tell us about it. That way, we'll be able to refer people your way the next time we get a call.
In the May RDC Newsletter the topic of pirate copies of BRAILLE-EDIT was raised. The other day my office supplier called me to ask for my help in getting his BRAILLE-EDIT and printer to work together--something about underlining. Well, believe me, as one who was spoon fed and held by the hand when I first got my Apple and BRAILLE-EDIT back in 1983, I know how frustrating it is to have no idea of what you are doing when it comes to this stuff. I began to ask questions about double dollar commands, configurations, etc., in a sincere attempt to help. Then I remembered! "A recent issue of the RDC Newsletter has an article that will answer your question about your dot printer and underlining. Why don't you check it out?" Awkward silence followed. "You could call RDC. They're really good at ... why, don't you get the Newsletter?"
"Well, I--uh--kind of have this pirate copy."
His copy is version 2.50. Mine is Version 2.45. His version is newer and he didn't pay for his! I don't make that much money but I do have copies that have been paid for. Suddenly I forgot which issue the article was in, the underline command, what RDC stands for; I even forgot how much computer paper I was going to order from him!
While finishing my second round of studies here in Madison, I had only just begun my search for the perfect job. Then I saw an ad in the Isthmus (an alternative local weekly where lots of great alternatives can be found) for a "documentation specialist", and it sounded like just the thing for me. That's how I found the folks here at RDC. Fortunately, they thought I sounded like just the thing for them, too, so here I am documenting away!
On my way to becoming a Dot, I have acquired degrees in the rather unrelated fields of political science and electronics technology. Hopefully, I can use skills acquired in the pursuit of each to help more people benefit from the wonders of computer technology. RDC's personnel ads stress the high quality of life in Madison and because I agree wholeheartedly, I've spent the last five years here supporting myself as a beverage and nutriment gratification engineer (otherwise referred to as "Oh, miss!").
For my own gratification, I spend time with my dog and cat, Rufus and Chaka Khat, explore various fiber arts, and propel myself around the city bike paths on either two or eight wheels. I also drive for the Women's Transit Authority, which offers free rides to women at night. I'm very happy to be here at RDC, where my closest contact with food will be my Apple. These are bytes I can really enjoy!
"ProTERM" is a smart terminal program from Mr. Larry Skutchan. It's based on ProDOS and supports the Apple's 80-column screen, so it's intended for both blind and sighted users. For the blind, ProTERM supports the family of Echo voice synthesizers, including ALL review features.
ProTERM requires one of the "enhanced" 128K Apples. All Apple 2c's may be considered "enhanced," as well as any Apple 2e made within the past year or so. To use the program, you must also have an Apple Super Serial Card (SSC) and a 300 or 1200 baud modem.
If you are not sure about your Apple 2e's status, check for the word "enhanced" on the green power-on light next to the open-Apple key. If you have an older 2e, you must replace a set of four microchips to enhance the machine. These chips cost about $70 installed. They can often be purchased as a kit for between $40 and $65, so if you or someone you know can plug them in, you can save some money.
When you receive ProTERM, it is on a "user" disk. This disk boots up with a quick menu which allows you to select the terminal, the ProWORDS word processor (purchased separately or as a package with ProTERM) and the Apple FILER and CONVERT utilities which have been adapted to work well with speech. Use the arrow keys to move the cursor to "ProTERM," then press return. You are greeted with the legend: "ProTERM version 1.1" or whatever version you have. That is ALL that the program says. It has loaded, gone into terminal mode and addressed your modem all in the space of about 4 seconds. This compares favorably with other terminal programs which are speech compatible.
Assuming you are happy with the default parameters (and 99 percent of the time you will be), you can dial the phone number of the remote system with the numbers on your keyboard. After a connection is established, the modem will say "connect" to you and you'll be on your way. From that point on, you are communicating with the remote system.
ProTERM is entirely written in machine language and takes up only 14 blocks of space on the disk. In addition, it is not copy protected, so it can transferred to another floppy, or any other ProDOS device such as a hard disk, a UniDISK or a RAM disk.
The program is entirely command driven, so it accepts any commands at any time. There are no menus with one minor exception. When you receive it, ProTERM is preset for the most common set of communication parameters--baud rate, data bits, stop bits, word length, etc. By entering open-Apple-P, you're presented with a brief parameters menu where you can change any or all of these settings. You can even access this menu while you're on-line, unlike the menus you get with most terminal programs. Indeed, a unique feature of ProTERM is that it is always in terminal mode. There is never any guessing as to what your computer's relationship with you or the remote system is.
In general, ProTERM allows you to upload and download text files through your modem. Mr. Skutchan provides a routine which converts your non-text materials, such as Applesoft programs, into text files so that they may be transmitted to the remote system. With automatic saving of the large capture buffer, files of virtually limitless size may be captured and stored on your disk or any other storage device.
Another extremely useful feature is the "clicker," which lets you hear data as it is coming into your computer. The clicker functions at all baud rates supported by the program: 300, 1200, 2400, 4800 and 9600. Whenever you're transferring data, the voice readout lags far behind the data transfer. Of course, when you are downloading a long program or text file to be used later when you are off line, it is inconvenient and financially wasteful to have to wait for the voice output to finish. ProTERM lets you turn the voice off, while the clicker clearly informs you when the data transfer has stopped. At this point, you can dump the speech buffer and carry on with more telecommunicating, or log off. The clicker is designed to save the user time and money while connected to remote systems. This device alone makes the program quite special among terminal programs whether the user is blind or sighted.
With the program I used to use, I had to pick up the phone to determine when the transmission had ended--and you can't do that at 1200 baud. It's a joy to go onto a large data base such as CompuSERVE or GENIE and designate a program for downloading, sit back, and wait for the clicker to stop. Each week I add a substantial amount of new software to my library in just this way.
Both the clicker and the voicing of key strokes may be toggled on or off. ProTERM also allows you to create "macros," so that you can define one key on your keyboard to incorporate many typed characters. For example, you can include your log-in account number and password in a macro, set it to a number or letter which reminds you of what it includes and use just the one key to transmit all of the information.
After having used ProTERM for a short time, I would never consider returning to the menu driven program I once used. ProTERM is extremely easy to use. I had it up and running within 1 minute. Other programs I've used take longer than that to load.
Mr. Skutchan has provided an extensive and well written manual both on the back of the disk and in print. In addition, there is a quick reference command page.
With "ProWORDS", Mr. Skutchan's word processor, I can quickly and easily create text files for sending bulletins or electronic mail. Switching between the two programs takes about one half second with a RAM disk. I have never had it so easy! ProTERM has managed to combine all the facilities of off-the-shelf professional terminal software with the speech features which have so widely helped the blind user. It is completely competitive with the best of them.
While it is customary for a reviewer to make some constructive criticisms, I have none to make. Mr. Skutchan has, in fact, always been very receptive to user's suggestions, but I have none. He has single-handedly increased the power of my computer by many fold.
ProTERM costs $150, which includes manual in print and on disk and technical support from the author. You can contact Mr. Skutchan at
337 South Peterson
Louisville, KY 40206
Editor's Note: Mr. Scialli may be familiar to some of you as the author of the Ultimate Banker and Ultimate File Cabinet. As a programmer in both DOS 3.3 and ProDOS, he's quite comfortable with both operating systems. I thought it might prove useful for the readers to hear another point of view. I knew that Neal Ewers, who's comfortable with BEX, had recently purchased ProWORDS and ProTERM, so I asked him for his comments. -- Jesse Kaysen
I've had ProTERM for around 3 weeks, and in general I find it a useful and powerful program. There are a couple of points I'd like to make about the program's documentation. While the manual is well-written and concise, I found it a little frustrating to use. In many places, I was referred to another Section for the details of an operation. When reading on disk or on audio tape, it's difficult to jump to another section. When I did find the Section, the information was often only a sentence or two--I wish Mr. Skutchan had simply repeated that information in two places. A braille manual would have been much easier to use--a braille reference card would have helped a lot also.
One feature that's both good and bad is the automatic suppression of repeating characters--if more than three of the same character appears sequentially, the others are not spoken by the Echo. If an on-line service uses punctuation to draw borders on the screen, then it's a real blessing not to hear 80 hyphens or equals signs in a row. However, my phone number happens to contain four digit 4s, and it was quite disconcerting when ProTERM didn't pronounce the full number.
ProTERM is just a terminal program. To write macros, prepare messages, or do any other writing task requires a text editor. If you don't have ProWORDS, then you need some other text editor, preferably ProDOS based.
Finally, learning to use ProTERM involved learning about ProDOS. My main application for ProTERM is telecommunicating the text of my book to the typesetter. Since I wrote the book using BEX, that meant converting my BEX chapters to ProDOS textfiles. Mr. Skutchan does supply a talking version of Apple's CONVERT utility, but the screen layout in that program is maximally confusing. Now that I know how the process should work, it's merely annoying, not difficult. (The confusion is Apple's fault. Unfortunately, Mr. Skutchan has not been able to obtain the source code for the CONVERT utility so that he could redesign the screen display.) The ProTERM Manual does state that the reader should be familiar with Apple's "ProDOS Users Manual," and I heartily concur.
We receive literally scores of new product announcements. Last month I published several, and this month I have a few more. I'm curious to know if anyone out there is interested in reading them. Many of the announcements are also published in other periodicals, so readers who subscribe to the RDC Newsletter, and BAUD, and Sensory Aids Update, and ... are probably quite bored by the same old ads. In fact, the RDC Newsletter as a whole could be viewed as one large ad for Raised Dot Computing. On the other hand, there are some readers for whom these announcements are the only accessible computer ads.
A number of people have recently inquired about our "ad policy." Up to this point, it's been pretty loose. I use different criteria based on the phases of the moon. I'm more inclined to publish ads/announcements from small developers than from large sensory aids firms who can afford to pay for advertising. I'm more inclined to publish ads from individuals who have our software than those who don't. I'm more likely to publish something that I think you'd find useful than something that looks like a "frill." Finally, I'm more inclined to publish something that comes in on disk (DOS 3.3, ProDOS, or MS-DOS) than something on paper that I have to retype.
In the end, it's all subjective. The RDC Newsletter does not pretend to be an objective organ, so I think our "ad policy" is consistent with our "editorial policy." Comments, please?
There have been many inquiries concerning Stat Talk since the May R.D.C. Newsletter appeared. At the time of that article, Stat Talk Computer Products was not able to process purchase orders from institutions. Since that time, because of the large number of inquiries concerning this point, we are pleased to announce that our staff can handle purchase orders.
For information concerning Stat Talk, the talking statistical software package, please contact:
Stat Talk Computer Products
285 Hardenburgh Avenue
Demarest, NJ 07627
Screenless Games is ready to market its first disc of sophisticated computer games. These games were designed on an Apple 2e using an Echo 2 speech synthesizer, but they should work equally well on any Apple 2 with 64K of memory. This first disc includes two levels of tic-tac-toe, over 25 maze-type games, and the code game "Jotto." Some games are easy and others quite difficult. The inventor, for one, has spent many hours enjoying himself, and we feel you will as well.
In the mazes, for instance, four keys are designated for moving up, down, right, and left. If one tries to move in a direction which is blocked, a long low-pitched beep is sounded. Otherwise one hears higher-pitched beeps. The further to the right one moves, the higher the pitch, and the further up one moves the shorter the length of the note.
Screenless Games plans to produce more speech-oriented game discs, and free updates will be available for one year to those ordering the first disc now.
To order, please send $20 to:
P.O. Box 7951
Boulder, CO 80306-7951
This all-new version of the Ultimate Banker comes as a result of user suggestions arising from previous versions. The Ultimate Banker, still available in both DOS 3.3 and ProDOS versions, now supports the 80 column screen. It is much easier than before to use the Echo screen review features: Just hit "control-L" and then review line "A". You will be at the top of the last readout! The 80 column display also makes it much easier for sighted people to use the program either alone or in conjunction with the blind user.
In addition to the new display, the Ultimate Banker no longer speaks its menus unless they are requested. Once you are familiar with the program, you need NEVER hear another menu. Also, verification of all transaction inputs has been eliminated: this makes the program much more convenient as well as faster. Speed has also been increased by the addition of "hot" key commands--no need to hit return when commanding the program.
The really big news is that the checkwriting on the program has been improved tremendously. In addition to being much friendlier than before and easier to use, you can now store up to three separate check formats!
The price of the Ultimate Banker is still $40 complete (no invoicing). You must specify if you want the DOS 3.3 version or the ProDOS version. Note: the ProDOS version requires a 128k Apple 2e or 2c!
If you've purchased earlier versions of the Ultimate Banker, the update is free. To get the new version, simply send a disk which contains the older version of the program (this does not have to be the original, a copy will do.) Please include a way of returning the new program: a self-addressed disk mailer or envelope large enough for a floppy disk.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions:
17 Zabriskie Street
Hackensack, NJ 07601
Since the early 1960's, there has been talk about using machine readable text to make print material accessible to the visually impaired. The argument usually goes "they use computers to typeset books and magazines, and they use computers to produce braille, so it should be no problem."
Well, it is true that computers are used for many tasks. Unfortunately, it is not easy to turn a computer file into a braille book. The first problem is getting a machine readable copy of the book. Virtually every publisher is nervous about making their material available in machine readable form. Once you do obtain a copy of the file you need to get the file loaded on the computer system that does braille translation. This usually requires a conversion from 9-track mag tape to diskette. This means subcontracting with a "media conversion" firm--and these services can be expensive.
Usually, files designed for typesetters contain many, many special format marks to direct operations on the typesetting equipment. The process of removing these formatting indicators can turn out to be a custom programming job. My personal experience with this task involved converting a 9-track mag tape of the City of Madison street directory into a VersaBraille cassette. It took about 30 hours of intensive programming to make an acceptable braille copy of something that is a booklet in print. (In this particular case, it would have been much easier to rekey the data by hand. On the plus side, however, it's the main reason why BRAILLE-EDIT and BEX feature a file-driven global search and replace.) It due to this experience that I'm a confirmed skeptic: When someone gushes about magically producing braille books from typesetter's tapes, I can sound a little cranky.
The hard truth is that a typesetter's tape is really a rough draft. The final draft is the camera ready copy used for the production of a book. Once the camera ready copy is done, there's no need to correct or save the "raw" computer files.
Fortunately, typesetter's tapes are not the only source of data for braille readers. Many people are logging onto on-line services and downloading files into their personal computers. The advantage of these files is their almost total lack of format indicators: usually, the data is formatted solely with carriage returns and spaces. The disadvantage of on-line services is that you have to pay by the minute. As any telecommunications addict can tell you, the habit can get quite expensive when you obtain large files. Currently, the mainstream computer world is getting frustrated with many on-line services for the same reason. There is a real need for a simple, cheap medium for storing large databases.
Consumer technology to the rescue! There's been a revolution in audio, called the compact disk. Recently, there's been much interest in the compact disk read-only memory, or CD-ROM. These disks are the same size as the popular compact music disks, but they are encoded with digital data. A CD-ROM disk can be cheaply replicated from an expensive master. Users cannot add or change data on CD-ROMs. A single CD-ROM contains about 500 megabytes--the equivalent of 3500 Apple floppy disks.
Microcomputer applications for CD-ROMs are bursting out all over. They're particularly useful for storing large databases, where the cost of the CD-ROMs and CD-ROM readers can be spread among a large group of users. For example, you can buy the Grolier American Encyclopedia on CD-ROM for $199 (you can buy the disk with a CD-ROM disk drive for the IBM-PC for $1495). The encyclopedia on a disk contains extensive indexes. For detailed information on the current CD-ROM technology, see the articles "Laser Libraries" and "Roundup of Optical Drives" in the May 1986 Byte magazine. These articles describe a number of CD-ROM readers, including one for the Apple 2e. The one CD-ROM reader available for the Apple uses a 68000 emulator board to run software designed for an Atari computer, and costs around $2000. There's a real market for CD-ROM based reference works in the school, so it's not unlikely that some manufacturer will produce a more straightforward board that will be accessible to the visually impaired.
Right now, most of the information available on laser disks are vast book listings used by libraries. However, the cost advantage of laser disks are causing many information providers to study this new technology. Two large on-line information providers, BRS Information Technologies and Lockheed's Dialog, are testing CD-ROM products. There seems to be a trend towards production of full-text products (as opposed to massive indexes) on laser disks.
In summary, it's easy to imagine that CD-ROM technology may be a real boon to the visually impaired. It is a technology that solves fundamental problems of distribution of information for sighted people. It's a happy trend when the interests of visually impaired persons converge with the interests of the mainstream market. Here's my prediction: in five years a low-cost voice or braille output CD-ROM reader will be considered standard sensory aids hardware.
Half the RDC staff will be gone to conventions during the usual Newsletter production time. Planning ahead for the first time in our lives, we'd want to alert you that the next RDC Newsletter will be a combined issue for July and August, 1986. It should arrive in your mailbox around the 3rd week of July. That gives budding authors a few weeks' grace--do consider submitting an article!
(If you're planning to go to the NFB Convention in Kansas City, the ACB Convention in Knoxville, or the AER Convention in Chicago, please stop by and visit us!)
Last month, I described file transfer from an AppleWorks word processor file to BEX. AppleWorks is the single most popular program for the Apple 2 family of computers, integrating database, word processing, and spreadsheet functions into one program that's designed to be accessible to a true computer beginner. We use AppleWorks' database here at RDC to maintain our Newsletter subscriptions, customer lists, and accounts receivable reports. This month, I'll discuss the details of file transfer with an AppleWorks database file, based on my true-to-life experience here at work. My weekly task is generating a grade 2 braille edition of registered BEX owners for the RDC Tech Support staff. It took some trial and error to develop the process described here; it's important to keep in mind that, as with any data transfer, establishing the routine is the challenging and time-consuming part. Now that I know exactly what to do, the entire process only takes around 10 minutes.
The set-up work in AppleWorks involves defining one printer as printing to disk and establishing the appropriate report format. The set-up work in BEX involves writing a transformation chapter to change AppleWorks' format information--spaces and <CR>s--to BEX format information. Once set-up is accomplished, you tell AppleWorks to use a particular report format and print it to disk. You take that same disk and ask BEX to Read the ProDOS textfile into a BEX chapter. Use Replace characters and the transformation chapter to reformat this BEX chapter, translate it to braille, and finally, Print it to a brailler.
AppleWorks allows you to store text on disk in three ways. The first way is the most common: using AppleWorks' unique binary file format, which BEX can't read directly. Alternatively, whenever you instruct AppleWorks to print by pressing open-Apple-P, AppleWorks gives you the option to "a text (ASCII) file on disk." When you save a textfile this way, AppleWorks doesn't try to format the information at all. The only <CR>s or spaces in the resulting textfile are those that appear in the original AppleWorks file. As described last month, saving a file this way works well for Word Processor files. In the case of a Database file, AppleWorks places one <CR> after each category, and one <CR> at the start of each record.
The third approach involves defining one of your printers as "Printing to Disk." This option works best for Database files. The tricky part is that the AppleWorks manual only mentions it in passing.
At AppleWorks' Main Menu, choose option 5 - Other Activities. Now choose option 7 - Specify information about your printers. Choose option 2 - Add a printer. The next screen is full of different printer brand names and models. Choose option 4 - Apple Silentype. This is the simplest, most generic printer driver that AppleWorks has: it generates no Escape codes when printing to a Silentype-type printer. AppleWorks asks you to name the printer: I named mine "BEX Textfiles." AppleWorks automatically adds the parenthetical comment "(Disk)" to remind you that this is not a standard, paper output printer. After you name the printer, you're asked "How is this printer accessed?" Choose the last option - Print onto disk or to another Apple.
The Apple Silentype printer driver does not exactly meet the need, but fortunately, AppleWorks is flexible enough to let you modify it. The next screen lets you define 4 printer qualities: you change every one. Answer N to number 1 so you won't have a control-J after every <CR>. For number 2, answer Y; you'll get a single control-L character instead of tens of <CR>s when AppleWorks decides to go to a new page. For number 3, answer N, so your printing to disk happens continuously. Finally, for number 4, answer 11 inches and your lines don't get broken halfway across.
Now you're finished defining the disk printer--when you direct output its way, AppleWorks literally prints to disk, so all the spaces and <CR>s (and page numbers, and report headers) appear in the textfile AppleWorks creates. Escape your way back to the "Other Activities" screen and choose option 5 - Format a disk, so you have one handy to use for file transfer. Because the Tech Support staff office houses two guide dogs, I named my disk "/kennel". You must make note of whatever name you choose, because you won't be able to print to disk without it.
You also need to define a report format that will arrange information appropriately for braille output. You need to keep notes of what you do at this point, because you use this format information in writing the BEX transformation chapter. The clearest way to illustrate this process is with a real-life example.
In our case, we provide the Tech Support staff with a braille list of customers entitled to telephone support. We maintain an AppleWorks database of BEX customers: each BEX customer gets a record; each record contains 15 categories. To make the braille list less bulky, we omit some of the categories when we print the report. The final braille format is similar to a catalog: the information on each customer is one paragraph, divided into several "clauses," separated by semicolons. The paragraphs are "outdented" to simplify scanning the list.
I defined a special report format just for this list, named "KennelList." When you press open-Apple-P to Print, AppleWorks presents the Report Menu. To define the new report format, choose option 3 - Create a new "labels" format. (Option 2 - "tables" format is not appropriate, since it contains running headers, footers, and various horizontal and vertical lines, which you'd have to get rid of before braille translation. It's also very unlikely that you'll be able to arrange braille material in an 80-character line).
As we've emphasized, only people who have returned their customer registration cards (or a braille equivalent) may obtain customer support, so one of the categories in our BEX database shows either Y or N to the question, "Have we received the customer registration card?" AppleWorks' open-Apple-R function lets you change the record selection rules: I select only those records where the category "Reg Card" equals "Y". Because of this selection rule, I don't need to include that category in the "KennelList": when the Tech Support staff can't find a person's name on the list, it means they haven't registered yet.
There are nine categories that appear in the KennelList report format: Zip code, first name, last name, organization, city, state, phone number, BEX serial number, and BEX Ownership Type. For customers in the US, we sort by Zip code, so the Zip code appears as the first item in all the records in the braille version. I use the open-Apple and arrow keys to move the categories around, and place the Zip in the upper left hand corner. All subsequent lines indent three spaces. I arrange the data so that the information on any single line can run together as a "clause." For example, the second line contains the First name category, starting at the fourth position on the line. It's followed by the "Last name" category, set to "justify" by pressing open-Apple J. When a category is justified in this way, it always prints one space after the end of the data in the category to its left, no matter how long or short the "First name" data ends up being.
Because this line is indented three spaces, it will start with a single <CR> and three spaces in the textfile AppleWorks creates. In the BEX transformation chapter, I change "one <CR> and three spaces" to "semicolon space." The semicolon alerts the braille reader to the end of one "clause." It's much more efficient than moving to a new line.
The third line contains the Organization category, again starting in the fourth position. The fourth line contains the City category, followed by the State category, justified. Although it's common to place a comma between a city name and the state abbreviation in print, its omission does not make the braille document any less clear. The fifth line contains the Phone number, then the BEX Ownership Type and Serial number, both justified. The Type category only contains one of three codes: either NEW or CON (for conversion) or DSY (for dual support)--I do some massage with this data later in the BEX transformation chapter. Because these three categories create data with a regular structure, it's possible to make them one "clause." This "clause" always contains a 10 digit number, then three letters, then some more numbers. The sixth, seventh, and eighth lines are blank, so every record ends with four <CR>s. In the BEX transformation chapter, I change "four <CR>s" to the BEX paragraph indicator, "space, dollar-sign, lowercase P, space."
The final step for my report format is modifying some of the printer options. Press open-Apple-O at the report format screen, and you get the printer options screen. I set all the margins--left, right, top and bottom--to zero. The characters per inch, line width, and printing length don't really affect things much--I've set mine to 10 cpi and line width and printing length both 11 inches. The center bottom of the screen shows the "Formatting options." The first four values should all be "No." This means you're not sending special codes to the printer, you're not printing a dash when an entry's blank, you're not printing a report header at the top of each page, and you're not omitting lines when all entries are blank.
The last step is a slight modification of the AppleWorks data. For each BEX file, I've added one "dummy" record, which is blank except for two categories. The Last name category contains a title for the report and the date; the Reg Card category contains Y. The titles are "BEX USA by ZIP"; "BEX Canada by Serial Number"; and "BEX Foreign by Serial Number." Since this record contains no Zip code, it appears first when I arrange the file by Zip. The "dummy" last name is printed with one <CR> and three spaces, and becomes my headline in braille.
All that's involved on the BEX end is writing one transformation chapter. The first rule changes this:
<CR> <space> <space> <space> BEX
$$d $$vn $$np $$ml2 $$i-2 $$cBEX
This string of format commands resets the print-thinker to default, moves to a new page (unless that would create a blank page), numbers pages in braille format, and sets up outdenting. The centering command centers the title.
The second transformation rule changes four <CR>s to space, dollar-sign, lowercase P, space. This means that each record in AppleWorks becomes a paragraph in BEX. The next rule changes one <CR> followed by three spaces to semi-colon, space, breaking each record up into "clauses." The fourth rule changes one <CR> to nothing, thereby deleting it. In a perfect world, this rule wouldn't be necessary, but every once in a while an extra <CR> slips in to the AppleWorks textfile. The next three rules change the BEX Ownership Types from all caps to lowercase, which shortens each customer's paragraph by two characters since it eliminates the two dot 6's. The eighth rule deletes any control-L's (form feeds); the ninth rule changes any appearance of two spaces to one space, and the last rule changes any appearance of two paragraph symbols to one paragraph symbol. Again, in a perfect world the last rule wouldn't be necessary, but it does serve to tidy things up in the world I live in. I've saved this transformation chapter as "AW TRANS."
Now all the pieces are in place. Every Friday, I boot AppleWorks and add all the BEX files to the Desktop. First off, I enter today's date in my dummy records. Then I press open-Apple-P to print, choose option 1 - Get a Report Format, choose the "KennelList" format by number, then choose the printer named "BEX Textfiles (Disk.)"
Then comes the trickiest part: in the lower left hand corner, AppleWorks prompts: Pathname? I must type in the complete ProDOS pathname: first a slash, then the volume name for my floppy disk, then another slash, finished with name of the textfile. With the US BEX records, I type: \kennel\bexusa.
This is why it's tricky: when you print to a textfile on disk, AppleWorks does not automatically write to "the standard location for your data disk" (which usually appears in the upper left hand corner). Instead, the textfile is written to the "current ProDOS volume"--which is usually the AppleWorks program disk. If you type just a file name, with no slash at the beginning, AppleWorks would try to write the textfile on the AppleWorks program disk. There's never enough room on the AppleWorks program disk, so you get the message: "Unable to continue writing this file." On the other hand, if you type just: \bexusa then AppleWorks would look for the directory with that name, and can't find it, so it tells you: "Unable to begin this file."
It took me around 3 hours just to figure that one out, but thank heavens, I have it down to a routine now. I go through this procedure a total of three times, to get textfile versions of the US, Canada, and Foreign BEX Customer lists. Now I'm done with AppleWorks, so I quit.
I pop the ProDOS disk in drive 2 and boot BEX. I go to BEX's Second menu and choose option R - Read textfile to chapter. I specify 2 <CR> and BEX gives me the numbered list of ProDOS textfiles on disk, in this case, BEXUSA, BEXCANADA, and BEXFOREIGN. (To make life easier, I named the ProDOS textfiles without spaces and without periods, thereby satisfying the naming rules for both ProDOS and BEX.) Since BEX can't write DOS 3.3 textfiles on a disk that's formatted for ProDOS, I must write the BEX chapters on drive 1. I add today's date to the end of the ProDOS filenames to make the BEX chapter names--the last time I did this, I entered "1A 5-20" to the "Target chapter naming method" prompt. BEX speedily reads the ProDOS textfiles into chapters. It takes a total of 3 minutes to write these textfiles to disk in AppleWorks, but it only takes around 90 seconds for BEX to read them into chapters.
I place the DOS 3.3 disk with these chapters in drive 2 and Jump back to the Main menu. I choose option R - Replace characters and a scanning code of /0 to get a list of just the chapters I've created. The naming method is S, and the Transformation chapter is the one I described a few pages back, "AW TRANS." Oh what lovely moans and groans! The penultimate step is to translate them all into grade 2 with option G. Finally, I sashay downstairs and run it off on the Thiel.
Actually, that's not exactly what I do. To simplify things, I neglected to mention that we keep our AppleWorks records on a Sider II 20-meg hard disk. Naturally, we have BEX installed in the DOS 3.3 partition of the Sider, configured with 45 disk drives. Both grade 2 translation and reading textfiles require BEX to load modules from the program disk. Since the Main side of the BEX program disk is in the Sider's volume 3, I can use both floppy drives for data. BEX can't read ProDOS textfiles from the Sider, so I place the ProDOS disk in floppy drive 1. I've been able to write an automatic procedure chapter to do all the reformatting and translating.
The automatic procedure chapter makes heavy use of restricted scanning based on the last digit of the current date. This means I have to edit the auto chapter to change the date to the current one; but after that, the whole procedure is truly automatic. Here's what that chapter does: Goes to the Second menu and loads option R. Scans virtual drive 44 (floppy drive 1) to get the list of source textfiles. It writes the BEX chapters on floppy drive 2, using 45A 5-20 for the naming method. Then it Jumps to the Main menu, and uses Replace characters. The source chapter list is 45/0; the target chapter naming method is 45S; and the transformation chapter is 45AW TRANS, described earlier. Finally, the auto chapter loads option G, with a scanning code of 45/0 and a naming method of 45S.
Judging from the number of phone calls we've received over the past several weeks, the word about Maryland Computer Services spread fast and wide. Contrary to what some of you may have heard, MCS is not abandoning the sensory aids market. I'll tell you what we know at this time, but a question remains: Where did all these different stories come from?
On May 16th, MCS was purchased by the company that owns Triformation Systems, Inc. Lee Brown of Triformation will be directing MCS. In the week prior to the sale, there was quite a shake-up at MCS. Many of MCS's sales and administrative staff were laid off in an attempt to ease the company's financial strain. During the coming months, many of these positions will be re-filled as MCS continues to function. MCS will continue to sell many of the same products as before, and additionally, MCS will carry Triformation's product line.
The question on many lips is "What about service?" Both Triformation and MCS have assured us that service will not be interrupted, and we've had proof. We sent our own Cranmer in for maintenance during the recent "crisis," and received it back in fine working order.
What all this brings to mind are the bittersweet qualities of the closely connected networks within the sensory aids field. As news of the changes at MCS leaked out, the grapevine came to life. It only required one afternoon for the word to spread from one coast to the other. But the quality of the news degraded; it took on new and false dimensions as it was passed along.
The sensory aids grapevine is remarkable. Consumers can directly contact and interact with vendors, and vendors are able to "get the word out" about their products and services. Here at Raised Dot, we're keenly aware of the importance of the grapevine: it helps identify our users' needs, and it's largely responsible for our success. Of course, RDC is not the only firm or agency in this field that's dependent on the network of consumers. To varying extents every sensory aids firm relies on public opinion to establish good will in the market.
I've personally experienced some of the dangers of a grapevine. Several years ago, I was a member of a large and closely-knit community. The 40 residents of my housing cooperative made decisions based on group consensus. Every decision, routine or radical, required exchanging information and opinions. Because each member could influence a decision, objections had to be faced.
One fellow spent a lot of time theorizing about the information exchange and decision-making process of our house. He concluded that each individual reacted to information in different ways. He reasoned that he could elicit the responses he desired by tailoring the information each individual received. He further decided that the grapevine need to be periodically "stimulated" in order to maintain and reinforce its structure. He proceeded to stimulate it with information of interest--salient, prurient, and mostly fraudulent. When individuals obtained their divergent "truths" from his lips, we had to spend many hours in our house meetings trying to repair the confusion. He created a lot of pain until his "hobby" was exposed.
My point is not to ascribe evil intentions to anyone in the sensory aids field. I do wish to draw our readers' attention to an important fact: many members of the grapevine, and sensory aids firms in particular, can benefit from others' misfortune. When you hear something first-hand, third-hand, or fiftieth-hand, it's cause for both rejoicing and skepticism. It's great to see information freely shared, but, how close to "the source" is your source? Do you know how to sort fact from fiction on the grapevine? If an unscrupulous individual decided to "stimulate" the grapevine by advertising a company's demise before the fact, could enough people believing in the crisis make it happen?