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.
RDC is now shipping version 1.5 of the braille translation utilities program for the IBM-PC, Hot Dots. This latest version features several improvements and enhancements. In particular, its "chatterbox" nature, described in these pages in May by Olga Espinola, has been tamed.
The menu prompts in the original Hot Dots program were 6-10 words long, considerably slowing down speech access. Lee reports that now, no prompt exceeds 20 characters. For example, "What is the name of the file to be created?" has been changed to "Output file?." Also, with version 1.5 the copyright notice is only displayed once, at the beginning, instead of every time you enter one of Hot Dots' program modules.
Trying to catch up with the ever-expanding hardware marketplace, a print driver has been added for the Ohtsuki brailler embosser. Option 7 on the printer menu now chooses the Ohtsuki brailler.
And finally, the Print ASCII to Braille translator can now be used to produce grade 1 braille. This is accomplished with translator controls similar to those in BEX: '_o' turns on Grade 1 translation and '_l' restores Grade 2 translation. The symbols disappear in the translated text.
Updates to version 1.5 are available to registered Hot Dots owners for $10 or four blank disks. Send for yours today.
Regular readers of the Newsletter may have noticed something missing from last month's issue. Yes, friends we're talking about the "register your BEX ownership" plea that's regularly appeared in these pages. Well, summer vacation is over, and here comes the lecture.
The very first sheet of paper in the BEX binder is a soothing shade of blue: it's labeled "Customer Registration." The text on this sheet (which is also read aloud at the beginning of the Read Me First cassette) draws your attention to the postage-paid card stapled to the lower right-hand corner. That's the "Customer Registration Card", and it's your ticket to BEX technical support. Please understand that we simply won't give you any BEX technical support until we receive that card, or a typed or brailled facsimile.
So far we've received customer registration cards from 65% of our BEX customers. In hopes of somehow reaching that other 35%, we'd like to share the two basic reasons we're so obsessive about customer registration.
One reason is accuracy. We want to know who is using the program, and the only way to get accurate information is straight from the user's mouth. We do provide updates and supplemental materials to registered BEX owners, and we don't want to waste time and money sending these items to the wrong person or the wrong address.
The other reason is fairness. While RDC started out as a tiny home business, we now have over 2000 customers. Nevertheless, we do our best to be personable, friendly, and down-to-earth. However, we don't have encyclopedic memories. We want to treat all our customers fairly, regardless of where they live and how long they've been a customer. When a customer calls and says, "Hi, I'm Aloysius from Prairie Home, Nebraska" it's easy to remember that a person with that distinctive name bought BEX. But when "Jane from Los Angeles" calls, it's a different story. Whether you're just starting out, having bought BEX last month, or are an old hand, having purchased BRAILLE-EDIT in 1983, you deserve the same technical support.
Just to reassure you, here are two things that won't happen when you return your registration card. We will never sell (or give) your name to anyone else. We won't clutter up your mailbox with promotional puff or vaporware press releases. So, please send in your customer registration card, eh? You'll be glad you did.
In last month's Newsletter, we proudly announced the availablility of press braille BEX documentation. We do indeed have a stack of 156 boxes of braille downstairs, and we did begin shipping them in the last week of July. Soon after that, we received a call from a new customer: Could we tell her what the incomprehensible text was that appeared so many times in the Learner Level?
The tech support staff checked the pages in question, and sure enough, they found random braille garbage. We'd carefully proofread the BEX Dox on our braille previewer. What had gone wrong?
We quickly saw the pattern: every instance of braille italics was garbled. Our hearts sank. The BEX Dox in braille were simply unreadable--especially at the Learner Level, where every term is shown with italics when introduced.
We're extremely distressed at how this situation is inconveniencing our customers, many of whom would really like to receive usable, complete, braille documentation. Actually, the problem also occurred with the BEX reference cards and index, but there are so few italicized passages in those documents that no one mentioned it to us.
We found the bug that caused the problem, and have discovered a way to work around it. We have scheduled the job to be re-run, and hope to have the corrected braille BEX Dox in October.
National Braille Press embossed and printed the BEX Dox, working from our Apple data disks. We did not ask them to proofread the material; in fact we specifically told them not to proofread. That's because we had already proofread the document by printing it to a "Video mode" brailler. The problem did not originate in the data disks, however--it was caused by a very obscure bug deep inside the Apple 2c.
The error was in no way NBP's fault. However, each volume says: "Printed by National Braille Press" in both print and braille on the cover. We did not want our mistake to become NBP's public relations problem, so that's why we are reprinting the entire job. The cause of the problem was so convoluted that we thought it might be instructive to explain what happened.
Last year, RDC worked out the interface between an Apple 2c and the PED plate embosser at National Braille Press. Once we formatted our data disks appropriately, we send the disks to NBP to punch the plates. once punched, the plates are used to produce several hundred braille copies on the braille press. Examples of items we have produced this way are the BRAILLE-EDIT User's Guide, the BEX Quick and Thick Reference cards, and the BEX Index.
BEX's Grade 2 translator uses the appearance of BEX's underlining commands to place braille italics symbols. BEX knows that braille devices can't underline, so it filters out the effects of the $$ub and $$uf commands when printing to a braille device. The PED plate embosser is configured as a braille device, so if all went well, there should be no problem.
When BEX prints underlined material to the 80- or 40-column computer screen, it shows the underlined text with inverse video--dark characters on a light background instead of light on dark. This fact was the culprit. The driver software that controls output to the PED plate embosser is unique: during the printing process, the text sent out the 2c port is also sent to the computer screen.
When you send inverse video to the Apple 2c screen, the Apple 2c changes two bits in each character in a systematic way. The way this process is supposed to work is that only the character sent to the screen is modified; the character going out of the Apple 2c port should be totally unaffected. The bug is that both the character sent to the screen and the character sent out the port is changed. That's why every character that appeared as inverse video on the Apple 2c screen--every underlined character--got garbled in braille. Fortunately, this bug only affects the PED driver software because it's the only place in BEX where video output is turned on during the printing process. (The BRAILLE-EDIT Users Guide did not contain $$ub or $$uf commands, so it was unaffected by the bug.)
We are not sure what the lessons are in all this. Certainly, this problem could have been avoided if we had tested things more thoroughly. (We could have done earlier what we ended up doing to trace down the bug: configured with a PED printer, then directed output to a VersaBraille. That way we're able to examine exactly how each character is received by the PED.) A careful post-mortem revealed that there were some isolated examples of scrambled italics in the BEX reference cards and BEX Index. If only someone had spotted and reported these glitches, then this fiasco could have been avoided! But one thing is certain: David is not getting a Christmas bonus this year.
"It's a monkey!"
Eileen, a member of our staff at the Chicago Guild for the Blind, was walking by as I worked on a new braille drawing. Although I had not finished more than the head and shoulders, she recognized the monkey as it emerged from my braille writer.
That's what I want. I want braille to be a shared thing. I want drawing to be an experience completely under the control of blind people, using a skill that is essential to them--as essential as a pad and pencil to a sighted person. BRAILLABLES are my attempt at bringing art and braille together to make drawing possible, to make braille less mysterious and isolating. A floppy-eared dog, a curly-tailed pig, a Christmas tree, a lion sitting on a stool, a clown pushing a popcorn cart, a simple teddy bear, a more complicated teddy bear riding a bicycle--these are the kinds of things I have drawn.
I began by using a slate and stylus to make flash cards and accompanying pictures of an apple, a bell, a house, a candle--all simple drawings that would fit on an index card. This became too tedious and I began using a braille writer to make my BRAILLABLES. Now my creative juices were really flowing and a lot of ideas poured out into children's books (15 of them, so far). As a natural outgrowth of my work, I have written a manual for teachers and parents, a book of step-by-step instructions for drawing 30 pictures with a sample of each picture included.
Some of the books are for beginner readers and have simple pictures. Some are for more experienced readers and introduce two-handed pictures that accompany original stories and poems. Some are for older children and emphasize illustrating stories with drawings that follow along with what is happening. We are finding that not only children benefit from the pictures, but adults, learning to read braille, enjoy the stories and trying to figure out what the pictures are all about.
The next logical step in producing my materials was to get them on computer and make paper copies of them for people who wanted them. I have been able to do this using an Apple 2e, a braille embosser, and BRAILLE-EDIT. Using the braille keyboard mode on the Apple, I have placed all my work on disks and can run it off on demand. Lots of work, but exciting.
BRAILLABLES, then, are drawings made using braille as the brush. By using a skill with which blind people have explored the wonders of books, we are poking into the fantasies of art. Why not? Braille is a joiner, not a loner. Braille is a simple arrangement of dots in configurations that are completely logical, practical, and able to be manipulated. Where do you think the idea of dot matrix printers came from? (Well, perhaps that's stretching it a bit.)
Traditionalists may shudder a bit at this novel use of braille, but I am more concerned about the children and adults who might be turned on to braille reading. BRAILLABLES lets them see that braille is not so distancing, so strange, so out of step with what they know other people are experiencing.
Braille need not be a painful reminder of vision lost. It should be, and can be, shared with sighted people. We hope kids draw braille pictures and bring them home to show parents, to hang on refrigerator doors, to have people say, "It's a tree!"
I think blind parents can share drawings with their sighted children. I think teachers can use BRAILLABLES as another way to stretch blind children's environment. I think BRAILLABLES can give children a means of expressing themselves in ways we cannot determine. They can draw what they know, what they think, what they imagine, what they want people to see. Finally, and maybe most important, BRAILLABLES are fun.
If you are interested in a listing of our books, or have questions or suggestions, please contact me!
Guild for the Blind
180 N Michigan Avenue
Chicago IL 60601
Al Gayzagian reviewed Peter Scialli's Ultimate File Cabinet program in last month's Newsletter. The major drawback he cited was the program's frequent disk access. Thanks to the magic of electronic mail, I'm happy to pass along the following:
I just wanted to drop you a note with reference to the review just published in RDC News of the Ultimate File Cabinet. In particular, I was aware of Albert's displeasure with the slowness of the program when searching on a floppy disk. Although I did not tell Al, I have, thanks to Larry Skutchan, been able to modify the program slightly. This modification has increased the speed by a large margin: The program is now quite fast when being run from a floppy, and extremely fast when making use of a RAM or hard disk--Peter Scialli
Way back in the March 1986 Newsletter, we mentioned that Rick Ehrler and Dennis Walker had written a detailed "Review and Users Guide" for the talking version of Sensible Speller. We distributed copies of this to people who contacted us, but it's been outdated by a lot of changes in the intervening months. In March, Mssrs. Ehrler and Walker reported about a number of inconveniences and a few bugs. In April, Sensible Software wrote us to say that by and large these had been fixed. There's also been some fascinating chatter on the topic on the Disabilities Forum SIG of CompuSERVE.
In short: There is an Echo Plus-compatible ProDOS version of Sensible Speller. Direct from the publishers, it costs $125. For more information, please contact them at:
Sensible Software, Inc.
210 S. Woodward, Suite 229
Birmingham MI 48011
I was surprised and delighted by the volume of response to my article in the March 1986 Newsletter. It seems that readers from all over the US and Canada are interested in modifying Public Domain software to work with speech.
Experience has changed my mind about some of the recommendations I made in March. I've learned some organizational tricks that have resulted in many improvements to the set of fifteen double-sided disks. These changes have made it possible for very young children to work with Public Domain (PD) material. In fact, the Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System--South (FDLRS-South) is currently in the middle of a pilot project in which fifteen blind preschool children are using these newly adapted PD programs to learn computing.
A major improvement is the addition of a menu program. You longer need to decipher the exact program name and RUN or BRUN it. When the fifth program on the disk looks appealing, you just press the number 5. This menu program runs in Integer BASIC, so we've grouped the PD software written in that dialect together. Another menu program runs in AppleSoft; it lets you choose Apple-Soft-based programs by letter.
I've also realized that placing the TEXTALKER voice software first on the disk is not crucial. You can use a fast-copy program like DiversiCOPY to duplicate the PD disks, and then use FID to add TEXTALKER later. This approach is much less time-consuming.
Adding to the FDLRS-South PD material, and improving our techniques are ongoing activities. Although accessing PD software is now more efficient, it could stand even more improvement. In particular, it would be wonderful to have the program boot directly to a menu. That way the visually handicapped user needn't type "RUN MENU" for each disk. This could save perhaps a minute in start-up time--a period that can seem very long indeed for very young children. We're also beginning to experiment with ProDOS here at FDLRS-South. As always, your suggestions, comments, helpful hints, and idea-sharing is most welcome!
Dr. Fareed Haj
12333 South West 32 Terrace
Miami FL 33165
Dr. Richard Hutcheson of Potsdam New York is offering a used VersaBraille for sale. It's a model P2C, and it's still under a service agreement. All this for $3000 or best offer. For more information, give him a call: 315-267-2587 days, or 314-265-5757 in the evening.
National Braille Press is thinking about producing a book on BASIC programming for the Apple--in braille, of course. The book is a very popular one on the market right now, offering a self-paced, self-instructional format. Before NBP commits the necessary time and resources to this type of book, they want to know whether people would buy it (at a reasonable price).
If you want this type of book in braille, contact:
National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen Street
Boston MA 02115
The Communicator Publishers announce the availability of over 10 talking software disks. The disks available include adventure simulations, address listings, a geography practice, a pilot authoring system, and much more. All have been adapted from Public Domain software to be accessible to speech with an Echo 2, Echo Plus, or Cricket speech synthesizer, on an Apple 2 series computer. The Public Domain software programs themselves are free, however, a handling fee is being charged to cover disk, postage, and copying.
The disks are being distributed by the Communicator Publishers. In addition to distributing talking software, they publish a bi-monthly newsletter for teachers of the visually handicapped. "The Communicator" costs $6 per year, and is available in regular print, large print, and on audio tape.
TALKING EAMON ADVENTURE SERIES:
Each disk costs $5. Contact:
The Communicator Publishers
Route 4 Box 263
Hillsville VA 24343-8047
The more I use BEX, the more I want to use BEX! What can be done for me? Phyllis, in technical support, understands and tries to help. She's good, really good -- calm when I've panicked; a follow-through-er when I think I've stumped her (never have yet) and most importantly, friendly and courteous, regardless of how dumb my questions have been. But alas, Phyllis can't prescribe a cure for BEXaholicism.
So Caryn was consulted. She flipped open her BEX manual, skipped from Learner level to User level, to Master level. She even went to the Interface Guide with its many, many pages on printers and cables and ... Now Caryn's solved many of my beginner's minor problems, even quickly mailing me back issues of the Newsletter... but she didn't know what to do when the answer to BEXaholicism wasn't even in the Appendix.
Dave! Dave! The chant began. The crescendo of voices finally spiralled up into the programmer's special lair. Dave! Dave! Save us! David grabbed a keyboard. Fingers flashed. Smoke began cascading from slot 3. "Aha!" said he. We all held our breath ... "We'll make a "Fix-it Disk."
Alas ... the disk only improved BEX, correcting a minor bug. Now I can use the Clipboard and all block commands combined with 10-column screen size. But my BEXaholicism is worse than ever. I'm even trying to figure out how to take BEX to bed. WHAT CAN I DO?
My problem turned acute after reading Sue Story's article, "HELP! I'm a Prisoner of the Software Marketplace" (in last month's RDC Newsletter). After reading her article twice, I feel very, very lucky. Duane Christianson of the Chicago Lighthouse first told me of BEX. Harvey Lauer then showed it to me and explained what it could do. Harvey, thank you very much for putting me on the right path, (my current BEXdulgence excepted).
I bought an Apple 2e fully equipped as per RDC instructions and ordered BEX. I have never been disappointed since! Even as a total newcomer to computers and word processing, in a very short time I was typing again, after becoming legally blind. What a pleasure. I don't know what I would have done if I had problems like the ones Sue refers to in her article.
Too bad Sue didn't name names, so her readers would know what to stay away from. But, I want to tell all you readers not, I repeat, not to stay away from BEX. It works and works extremely well!
Off the top of my head, here are fourteen BEX features I like a lot: -- It boots fast -- You can move quickly between all four menus -- The menus are short and helpful -- The documentation is very supportive -- The reference cards are excellent -- The large-print letters are crisp and quickly written -- The word processing commands are memorable and easy to use -- The format commands work -- The technical support is there with courtesy and the answers -- The clipboard is easy to use and works -- The locate command's memory finds many, many things quickly -- The page advance or zoom back works extremely quickly -- RDC staff is very open to suggestions -- Control-Y is handy to review ahead without moving the cursor
Yes, I'll stop extolling some, yes, just some of BEX's virtues -- AFTER ALL, I'M A BEXaholic!
One of BEX's more delightful features is how easy configuring is compared with BRAILLE-EDIT. For example, BEX won't let you configure a printer through a slot containing an Echo or a disk drive controller, or a slot that's empty. That's because BEX recognizes which circuit cards are in each Apple slot.
Unfortunately, BEX can't recognize every card in the world. In fact, BEX goes about the business of card recognition in a fairly dull-witted way. Every circuit card has built-in software that controls how information passes through it; because this software program is burned into a chip on the card, it's called "firmware." BEX has profiles of the firmware contained in a good number of circuit cards. But when the card manufacturer makes just a tiny change in the firmware, BEX can't match the profile and reports you have an "unknown card."
An "unknown card" presents no problems when you wish to configure a Generic, Specific, or Voice printer. However, it can cause massive frustration when you're try to configure a Large Print printer. We've nagged and nagged about only supporting a limited group of interface cards for Large Print printers. You've done your research and bought a card on that list: you eagerly sit down at the Apple to make Large Print, and BEX refuses to cooperate! Aaaargh!
There's both a short-term and a long-term solution to this problem. The short-term solution involves making a tiny modification to your BEX program disk, forcing BEX to recognize the card. The long-term solution is supplying us with a paper printout of the firmware, so we can add it to BEX's library of profiles.
BEX labels the "known" interface cards with two numbers: one digit matches the slot number, and the other matches a number from this list:
To force BEX to recognize the card, you load the portion of BEX that controls configuring into the Apple's memory, add one line to that program, and then save this modified program back to your BEX disk. In the following sample, BEX isn't recognizing a Grappler Plus card in slot 4.
1. Boot BEX; supply any working configuration name; and arrive at the Starting menu.
1.5 (If you're using a large print screen, set "screen flip" to automatic.)
2. Press Q to get to the BASIC prompt.
3. Depress your Caps Lock key.
4. Type the following three lines, pressing return--shown here with <CR>--after each one:
LOAD SETCON,D1 <CR>
15 POKE CM+4,6 <CR>
SAVE SETCON <CR>
The second line starts with "15"--that refers to program line number 15 of the SETCON program. You must use that number. The digit "4" in the expression "CM+4" refers to the slot number of the card. The digit "6" is the code number for the Grappler Plus. Here's another example, where the unrecognized card is an Apple Parallel Card in slot 1. This is what you'd type:
15 POKE CM+1,7 <CR>
You must modify any working copies of BEX you've made. When you reboot the modified disk, you're able to establish the configuration. BEX, bowing to your will, recognizes the card per your instructions.
This technique also comes in handy for recent Sider purchasers. First Class Peripherals has recently changed the firmware on the Sider's controller card. We do have a print-out of this in hand, so the next BEX release will be able to cope.
Since you've added line 15 to SETCON, BEX believes that a previously "unknown" card is now an "approved" card. This lets you configure a Large Print printer. Changing SETCON does not affect what BEX tells you when you use option W - What is in your computer. More importantly, changing SETCON does not change BEX's Large Print software.
For example, in an attempt to save money, you don't buy a genuine Grappler Plus card. Instead, you purchase a card that claims to be "Grappler Plus compatible." BEX refuses to recognize this imposter as a Grappler Plus card. You follow the steps above to force BEX to recognize the card and configure a Large Print printer. But when you print to this printer, it still doesn't work. That's because the firmware profile that BEX uses to recognize the card is not the firmware that controls graphics printing. Changing one line of SETCON does not suddenly give the psuedo-Grappler Plus the ability to generate Large Print using our graphics software. End of lecture. (On the other hand, it may work fine--it all depends on just how compatible the card is.)
Modifying SETCON works fine for you, now. However, if you update BEX, you'll have to re-modify the updated version. You will, that is, unless you provide us with the firmware profile of your card. When you do that, we can add to BEX's card-recognition abilities. That way, future versions of BEX can recognize your card and everyone else's card, too.
It only takes a few minutes to provide us with the information we need. Make sure there's at least one sheet of paper in your printer. At any BEX menu, press Q to get the BASIC prompt. Now you type three lines:
CALL -151 <CR>
The first line directs output to your (other) printer in slot 1. The second line gets you into the Apple's "monitor." The third line directs the Apple to list the firmware profile. The two digit "4"s in the third line refer to the card in slot 4. Using our second example above, you have an interface card in slot 1 and your printer is also in slot 1. Here's what you type:
CALL -151 <CR>
The listing only fills one-half of the sheet. Write the interface card's name and any model or serial numbers you can discover directly on the listing. Stuff the listing in an envelope and send it to me--future BEX owners will thank you.
[Editor's Note: This article is excerpted (with permission) from the Womyn's Braille Press Newsletter--If you think this excerpt is interesting, you should see the whole article! Subscription information is supplied at the end. JK]
Rebecca Maxwell of Melbourne, Australia is the author of the Braille User-Oriented Code (BUOC), an extension of current Grade 2 braille. She and her colleague, Barbara Williams, came to the U.S. in July of this year to promote the BUOC: they conducted a series of workshops at the American Council of the Blind National Convention in Nashville, Tennessee. Before traveling on to England, Rebecca came to Minneapolis for several days, where a group of women connected with WBP had an opportunity to learn about her BUOC and ask her many questions.
In her foreword to the Braille User-Oriented Code, Rebecca describes its purpose: "BUOC is designed to serve the slow reader and the avid reader. It makes reading and writing easier and quicker by minimizing the 'finger-effort,' thus cognitive effort and cognition are more nearly matched. That is: the quicker the finger gets it, the quicker the brain gets it! I have deliberately minimized the synthetic, analytical left-brain processes; this meant having to reduce finger travel over a word as much as possible to 'one span, one message.'
The tenets of BUOC, also taken from the foreword, are as follows:
1. No change to the meaning of existing signs.
2. Principle of abbreviation--reduced length of word--reduced finger-travel--to increase content per fingerfull.
3. Maximize the potential of a sign by building series to a pattern.
4. Maximize freedom of personal literacy by indicating possible abbreviation patterns, that is: a method, not just a list.
5. Make "root signs" memorable by choosing mnemonic elements within a contraction.
6. Patterns for extending known contractions (i.e. those in present braille).
7. Care taken not to fill up all possible signs (there are so few); free ones will be needed for personal and subject-matter words.
8. The important relief mechanism for any situation: when in doubt, write it out!
Rebecca has taught blind and sighted children in the elementary grades, as well as French, English, and Latin on the Secondary level. She has taught adults who were catching up in subjects that they had missed, and most recently she has taught English Literature and Creative Writing to older adults. Her work has involved teaching braille as well.
Through her teaching experience, Rebecca realized that slow students couldn't read because they had too much deciphering to do. With sighted students she could encourage them to trust themselves and take a plunge at reading the entire word instead of deciphering letter-by-letter. But the finger-travel it takes a braille reader to get through a word made short-cuts impossible. Yet even slow braille readers catch on to contractions, and read a whole word like knowledge in one "hit." This experience brought her to the realization that those long finger-traveling words must be cut down to one hit, that is, one cognitive effort.
She realized that to have successful communication in braille or print, the amount of analytical work done by the left hemisphere of the brain must be cut down. In print, you can work on the great capacity of the eye to take things in at a glance. The only way to do that in braille is to bring what has to be perceived by the fingers into a smaller space.
As a person who reads braille a lot, Rebecca says that she is aware of how much space it takes, and that "I might read it faster if only I could." She saw that the words contracted in braille are not the words we use the most. There are new vocabularies that have come out of new areas of knowledge.
In 1978, the Australian Guild of Business and Professional Blind had a meeting at which users asked each other what they did to make their braille reading and writing better. People explored each others' contracting methods, trying to understand the reasons behind them. Many ideas were put forth at this and subsequent meetings that Rebecca organized.
One common problem for those who made up their own contractions was they couldn't always read everything they had written, especially when there was a big time lapse between when they wrote something and when they tried to retrieve it. As a result of all this discussion, Rebecca formulated basic parameters for devising a system of contractions.
It had to be more accessible for those who had poor tactual perception. It had to be faster and less space consuming for those who wanted to read a lot. It had to be communicable without analysis for those who were slower. It had to fit into constraints on space, and it had to be retrievable. It needed to provide new contractions for the long words that are not sufficiently contracted by the existing Grade 2 rules. It would have to be memorable and easy to teach.
Finally, she knew that it should not change or do away with existing Grade 2 braille, because that would mean a loss of library stocks and expertise. "...and anyway, that's not how language moves. If you work in a written communication in parallel to how language develops, you don't make big changes. You accept growth. So that gave me the idea of making my work user-oriented."
Rebecca worked with colleagues in formulating the code, and in testing it on a variety of people. From these findings, she re-wrote and did more testing and development. In 1981, they advertised for people to train in transcribing with BUOC, with the idea of using the code in a regular context. 51 volunteers were trained. Blind people could ask for anything they wanted to be transcribed for their own personal use. Rebecca and Barbara have taken the code to several English-speaking countries, and they always meet with an excited response. The BUOC is quickly learned, and literature transcribed in BUOC takes up 10-35% less space than Grade 2 braille.
Rebecca acknowledges the scholarship on which the code is based. "I stand on the research in vocabulary frequency that is done by educators for reading schemes. I stand on the research and discoveries of psycho-linguistics experts and brain pathologists. I am grateful to these sciences and at the same time as acknowledging that gratitude, I can be more certain of my basis."
Rebecca says that she hopes that through grass-roots support and use of BUOC it will be adopted by groups such as BANA (Braille Authority of North America) which make decisions about braille usage. The Braille Authorities from various countries will be holding an international conference next year. "I think that organizations of the blind should make their voices heard about what they want. I reject being dictated to by a Braille Authority. If it must take the prerogative of speaking for me, then I want to tell it what to say...
"Louis Braille did what he could in his time, but language develops all the time, and somebody has got to take responsibility for making sure that braille keeps up with it. After all, print has made a lot of changes. ...if you can't express things, you end up suppressing them, and I feel we have enough straightjackets as blind people already. Why not take permission? ...and actually that was one of the things I thought of in defining the BUOC. We give ourselves permission sometimes to do things that aren't authorized, but we take that permission guiltily. Why not say it's okay for me to take that permission? It's readable, it still communicates, in fact, it communicates better in some cases."
Womyn's Braille Press is distributing copies of the Braille User-Oriented Code in braille and print for $1.00. The braille edition includes nine pages of readings written in BUOC. You can also contact its author directly for more information at:
38 Knaith Road
Ringwood East, 3135 Victoria
This article was excerpted from the Summer 1986 Womyn's Braille Press Newsletter, Volume 6, Issue 1. Their quarterly Newsletter is available in regular print, audio tape, or braille: annual subscriptions are set on a sliding scale. If your annual income is below $7500, an annual subscriptions costs $10; it costs $15 for incomes between $7500 and $12,000; between $12,000 and $15,000 it's $20; and the happy folks making more than $15,000 are asked to pay $25. Contact them at:
Womyn's Braille Press
P O Box 8475
Minneapolis, MN 55408
If your printer is not working, then using word processing software can be an exercise in frustration. After you have learned how to operate the software, initialize disks, put data on the disks, etc., it is hard to tolerate printer problems.
You may think that your software is totally in control of your printer. Actually, printing depends on teamwork between the printer, the interface card, and a proper cable. If teamwork breaks down, the printer may do nothing at all, or it may garble or lose characters, or it may print in the wrong place on the page. BEX has no way of knowing when things go wrong--it always assumes that everything's working fine.
When you do encounter printer problems, we recommend testing your printer without using BEX at all, using the techniques outlined here. If your printer works fine without BEX, but gets weird with it, then by all means give us a call!
However, if you get messed-up output with these techniques, then BEX is off the hook. In that case, the person who sold you the printer is a good front line resource. (This can be a disadvantage if you've bought mail-order.)
In investigating communication between your Apple and your printer, it helps to eliminate the participation of BEX, or any other complex software. It lets you try different things quickly and directly. Particularly when you're consulting with a computer dealer, it saves time if they don't need to learn BEX to help you out.
Get out of BEX at a menu by pressing control-Reset, and push down the caps lock key. In all the examples that follow, I will use 7 as the number of the slot for my printer: you would substitute the appropriate number for your system.
When you enter PR#7 <CR>, the Apple directs its output to slot 7 (and the printer beyond) instead of the screen. What you type on the Apple keyboard goes out through slot 7. Type CATALOG, and the contents of the disk is listed by the printer. You can also type commands for your interface card in this situation. For instance, if you have a Super Serial Card, you could enter "Control-I L space E <CR>" to instruct the SSC to do "auto linefeed." When you do, the Apple responds with a beep and "?SYNTAX ERROR" because Apple's DOS doesn't recognize the Super Serial Card commands. Just ignore this message, as it doesn't affect testing the printer. If you need to use the Echo or screen during the testing process enter PR#0 <CR>. To switch back to printer output, enter PR#7 <CR> again.
With BEX, the act of printing is really an interaction of the BEX printer description, the BEX text, the printer, and the interface card. To help decipher the interaction, you can configure a Class R "Review mode" printer. For example, you're having trouble with the 72 by 56 printer in slot 7. Configure a class R printer in slot 3 that's also 72 by 56. The "interface" between BEX and slot 3 is well established: when the same text prints fine to slot 3 but messes up to slot 7, then there's a good chance that something's awry in the interaction with the slot 7 printer.
Missing text can be subtle, and the problem go unnoticed until you are printing out your term paper. The printer works fine for several lines or even several pages and then starts losing characters. That printers and computers normally work fine is pretty marvelous: the printer and the interface card must agree on a lightning-fast way for the printer to say when it is ready to get more characters. This "ready or not" conversation is called handshaking. Missing characters means the handshaking is not happening right. Because the Apple and the printer can't agree, some characters get lost.
Usually, printers have large memory buffers so the problem does not show up immediately. The larger the buffer, the longer the printer can go without losing characters. A problem of this kind can be as simple as an improperly set switch on your printer or interface card, an improper cable, or an interface card incompatible with your printer. Your printer dealer is a good resource for these issues.
The faster your software can send out characters, the more crucial correct handshaking becomes. You might not have a problem with slow software. Some software, including software from RDC, can output at a very high rate. The fact that your printer interface worked with other software does not necessarily mean that the new software is losing the characters. The software just revealed a problem that was there all along.
Writing a short BASIC program can demonstrate handshaking problems when communicating directly with your printer. You want to print out enough text to let missing characters happen. You also want to make it easy to spot missing characters. Upon getting out of BEX with control-Reset, restore speech by entering PR#0 <CR>. Enter NEW <CR>. Then enter the following three-line program:
Turn on output to the printer again by entering PR#7 <CR>, and enter RUN <CR> to start the program. When things are working properly, your printer spits out 600 copies of the quoted text, each on a separate line. If you don't get these results, you've isolated handshaking as the source of your missing characters.
You may find yourself in a situation where your printer jumps to a new page when you don't expect it. The most common reason for this is not setting the top of form correctly. A less common cause is that the printer is using the wrong number for page length, so it's generating form feeds on its own. Diagnosing this problem requires understanding how BEX tells the printer to move to a new page.
As BEX is merrily printing, it sends out a <CR> at the end of each line. When you specify a form length of 56, BEX sends out 55 <CR>s. At the end of the 56th line, it sends out a <CR> followed by Control-L, the "form feed character." When the printer gets the form feed character, it advances the paper to the same relative place on the page where you set "top of form."
This means that the top of form defines where the first line on a page appears. (In this regard, BEX is different from some other software: some start each page by printing blank lines. For that type of software, you want to set the top of form at the exact top of the sheet, on the perforation line.)
If you're sure that you've set the top of form correctly and have not changed it by turning the roller by hand, then suspect that the printer is advancing pages on its own too early.
You want to re-establish a "normal" page length. With eleven-inch paper, that means 66 lines. Grab your printer manual. It is hard to generalize about this one as terms are less standardized. You're looking for phrases like "setting form (or page) length," "vertical tabbing," "setting Bottom of Form (or BOF)," or "skip over perforation." Usually you control this features with the printer's DIP switches. Fortunately, your goal is to get the simplest possible format, and even the worst printer manual should tell you how to do that somewhere. You need to look for the same phrases when the printer never advances pages and just prints right over the perforation.
Printer interfacing is probably the single most frustrating part of working with computers. It's usually one of the first tasks you must do, but it's not that easy for a newcomer to understand. On the bright side, you usually only have to do it once. I hope to have provided just a little background. If you do encounter problems getting BEX to work with your printer, please don't hesitate to give us a call!