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.
While going over some old papers, I stumbled on an interesting document written over 6 years ago. It was the first time I set down anything in writing about my plans for writing software to work with sensory aids equipment. The remarkable thing is that virtually all the issues and ideas critical to Raised Dot were barely mentioned. I thought that it might be fun to excerpt portions of this document for the Newsletter. However, it is important to give some more background about the history of Raised Dot Computing.
In the summer of 1980, I saw a flyer describing a VersaBraille paperless brailler. I was very familiar with personal computers: I had been involved with two firms (ECD Corp. of Cambridge and Mohr Labs of Madison) that tried to make early personal computers. (They both went bankrupt, but not because I hung out there.) Both machines were based on the 6502 chip, the processor at the heart of the Apple computer. I had a friend from MIT who had recommended that I look into the Apple computer. He had a vested interest: Alan Baum, together with Steve Wozniak, designed the Apple 2.
The possibilities of combining the VersaBraille and Apple computer intrigued me. When Caryn and I were MIT students, we'd dreamed about designing a device we called "the Homework Machine". It was critical that the device be able to process mathematical braille since most of our homework was mathematical equations. The Homework Machine was to have an electronic braille keyboard to accept grade two braille and Nemeth code braille. The computer-based device would process the braille into printed form that could be handed in as homework. In 1972 we figured that such a device would cost around $75,000.
You can understand my excitement in 1980 when I first read about the VersaBraille. What was so amazing to me was that this braille entry device was portable, so notes and material could be entered where most convenient. I figured that a VersaBraille, a personal computer, a dot matrix printer and assorted peripherals would only cost $10,000, which was a lot cheaper than $75,000.
Caryn and I bought an Apple system in August of 1980. We ordered a VersaBraille unit (the State of Wisconsin paid for 60% of the VersaBraille). I decided that one way I could defray all these hardware costs would be to develop Apple software specifically to work with the VersaBraille. I didn't consider speech output at the time, because this was before the Type-'N-Talk or the Echo synthesizer were available.
I realized early on that I needed cooperation from Apple Computer, Inc. and Telesensory Systems, Inc., and I was fortunate to get it. Apple provided me with disk copies of their manuals to run into VersaBraille tape. TSI provided me with very early technical specifications--I was the first person outside TSI to see the VersaBraille I/O Manual. I was very eager to get started on the project, so I tried to write software to make another computer act like a VersaBraille. (We couldn't afford another Apple, so I cobbled together a Mohr labs computer, which we dubbed the "Orange.") Unfortunately, the VersaBraille was so much more sophisticated than the Orange that the simulator didn't help at all. I decided not to apply for any grant money. It seemed silly since we could buy equipment using our savings. My aversion to grant money was critical to the later success of Raised Dot Computing.
Here are the applications that I listed in 1980 for an Apple/VersaBraille system:
A pretty ambitious list, eh? In my proposal to TSI, I mentioned still more elaborate projects: video disk direct access, translation of braille music into printed symbols, map display digitizers and more. All this before I had worked with a VersaBraille and barely before I had unpacked the Apple computer! Since I was working full time as a computer programmer for the University of Wisconsin, it is hard to see how I thought I could do more than a small fraction of those projects.
It is interesting to note that the project that I really wanted to work on--a translator from Nemeth code to print math symbols--was barely mentioned. I suppose I did not want TSI to think that I was so interested in a project with such a small commercial potential. Although I'd set some high goals, I felt pretty confident. I was a fairly skilled programmer and Caryn had a good sense of what was useful. Besides, my housemates at the time (Jesse Kaysen and Nevin Olson) believed that the venture just might fly!
In February, 1981, Caryn received her VersaBraille. (Thus began several years of wrangling over who got to use it when.) After a few months, I had written a crude text editing program for the Apple. The program could move text from Apple to VersaBraille and VersaBraille to Apple. The program could print out material on a printer as well. The program did not contain any braille translation, could not work with any voice output devices, had no configuration program, and was virtually unusable by a blind person. I called the program "BRAILLE-EDIT."
Next month: The Lewisburg years.
In the Spring of 1986, Apple introduced the "3.5 ROM" version of the Apple 2c. As the name hints, the 3.5 ROM allows the Apple 2c to work with the 3-1/2 inch disks in Apple's UniDISK drives. In addition to changing the disk controller, the 3.5 ROM upgrade adds to the Apple 2c ports' interfacing abilities. With the upgrade, the 2c ports can generate "software handshakes," also known as "X-on/X-off" or "DC1/DC3" handshakes.
Software handshaking is crucial for using a modem, and is also necessary for communicating with some serial printers (for example, the Apple LaserWriter) and DECtalk.
Now that you know why you'd want the 3.5 ROM upgrade, the logical next step is finding out if you've got one. While Apple included the 3.5 ROM in all Apple 2c's beginning in spring of 1986, the date you purchased the Apple 2c does not supply a definite answer. That's because Apple 2c sales have not met Apple's expectations. Many dealers have had Apple 2c's sitting on the shelf, so a machine purchased in June of 1986 may have been manufactured in December 1985, before the 3.5 ROM upgrade.
Fortunately, there's a very simple test to discover if your 2c has the 3.5 ROM feature. You don't need to load any software to perform this test; if you want speech or large print output, of course, it's easiest if you've booted appropriate software.
You test for the presence of another feature that comes with the 3.5 ROM: a built-in "Mini-Assembler" that you can call from the Apple's Monitor. First you get to the Monitor by typing "CALL -151" at the BASIC prompt. The Monitor prompts you with a single asterisk character. Respond by entering two characters: exclamation point followed by <CR>.
The Apple 2c can respond in two ways. When the Mini-Assembler is there, it prompts you with a single exclamation point. This means the 2c does have the 3.5 ROM upgrade. On the other hand, when the 2c just beeps and reprompts with a single asterisk, then it lacks the 3.5 ROM upgrade. Your authorized Apple dealer can install the upgrade for a nominal fee, if you'd like.
If the previous discussion reads like so much Greek babble, here's how the test would look, step-by-step. Following the RDC standard, pressing the Return key is shown with: <CR>.
At the right bracket BASIC prompt, get into the Monitor:
]CALL -151 <CR>
At the asterisk Monitor prompt, request the Mini-Assembler:
If you have 3.5 ROM, you get:
If you lack 3.5 ROM, you get:
The Foundation for the Junior Blind in Los Angeles is seeking a Computer Coordinator/Trainer, to start immediately. Qualifications: Teaching experience, and computer work required. BA desirable. Looking for an individual who is interested in computer systems and finds adventure in developing practical alternatives for various client/work situation needs. Experience working with visually handicapped persons desired. The salary range is $22,000 to $28,000 based on experience and background. For more information, please send resume to
Judy H Lloyd, Director of Adult Services
Foundation for the Junior Blind
5300 Angeles Vista Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90043
Do you use an Apple computer with an Echo speech synthesizer? Are you interested in learning more about programming? Do you like to play computer games? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, have we got a deal for you!
Apple Talk is a quarterly magazine for Apple computer users with speech synthesizers. This magazine will be on computer disks and will be published in February, May, August, and November of 1987. The magazine will include articles about programming, peeks pokes and calls, notices about computer products and software, exec tricks, games, and utility programs. Apple Talk also maintains a disk library of public domain programs which work with speech output. These programs are available to Apple Talk subscribers for a small copying charge. Each issue will also contain resource materials as well as lists of recorded and brailled manuals and computer books. In order to keep the cost low, re-usable mailers are used to mail the disks, and the disk and mailer must be returned in order to receive the next issue. One year's subscription to Apple Talk for 1987 will cost $15.00. This price is good in the United States and Canada. Payment must accompany your order! Absolutely no invoicing will be accepted!
The rate for overseas subscriptions is $32.00 which allows the reader to keep all four disks and to receive the magazine airmail. All checks or money orders must be payable in U. S. funds and must be drawn on a U. S. bank. Make checks payable to Jeff Weiss and mail to
3015 South Tyler Street
Little Rock, AR 72204
501-666-6552 6-9 PM central time, only
For many years, Joe Giovanelli of Audio-Tech edited BAUD (Blind Apple Users Discussion), a free-wheeling cassette-only magazine for blind Apple enthusiasts. Joe has decided to move on to other projects, and there had been some question as to whether BAUD would survive.
That question has been answered: two expert Apple users (and programmers), Larry Skutchan and Peter Scialli, have picked up the torch.
To give you an idea of the changes in store, I'll quote directly from the new editors, speaking on the September issue. First, Peter Scialli: "We plan to have definite Apple and IBM sections on the magazine. We really do want to devote a fair amount of time to the IBM, dictated by the amount of material we get. We don't feel constrained to limit it to computer technology. We'll seek to put a table of contents at the start of each issue. We're going to encourage people to submit things in print--we've found that people can be more succinct when they do this--as well as on audio tape. We hope to bring you some articles from some of the mainstream journals--we're writing to the editors of A+ and inCider in hopes of reprinting some of their articles in BAUD. Continuing in the tradition of "Talks with Bill Grimm," we hope to bring you interviews with individuals from other firms producing hardware and software."
And from Larry Skutchan: "I think you're going to find the magazine a lot more structured, and even predictable. We plan on including some new features ... a questions-and-answers section, a sort of mailbag. You can send in any kind of question about the Apple and IBM and we'll dig up an answer for you. We have some exciting new reviews and announcements--as a researcher and programmer at the American Printing House, I've got my hands on some really exciting things we can all look forward to."
One thing has not changed: annual subscriptions to BAUD cost $24 for six issues. Currently, subscriptions must be paid with a check or money order; in 1987 they will be able to accept purchase orders. For more information, contact:
337 South Peterson
Louisville KY 40206
Larry Skutchan: 502-896-1288
Peter Scialli: 201-342-3034
Free Bible cassette tapes of the Old and New Testaments, plus Bible Messages and Bible Studies in English and many other languages are available free of charge to every person of low vision, visually impaired or blind, and to every person who has a physical disability which permanently affects their ability to read. Bible Alliance, Inc., is a non-profit non-denominational organization which records the Scripture on cassette for free distribution to the visually impaired through organizations that serve these persons. Our sister organization, Bible Alliance Mission, Inc., provides for distribution directly to visually impaired individuals. Agencies and organizations should order on their letterhead. Orders from individuals should include written certification of blindness or reading impairment from a source recognized by the Library of Congress.
The material will be sent "Free Matter for the Blind" within 6 weeks. Contact us for further details:
Bible Alliance/Bible Alliance Mission, Inc.
PO Box 1549
Bradenton FL 33506
In the past few years, hard disk drives have become widely available to microcomputer owners. In the last year, their cost has dropped dramatically. Hard drives have long been available for the IBM-PC and clones; more recently they've been designed for the Apple 2 and Macintosh. This article won't review any specific brands. My purpose is to raise a number of issues worthy of consideration before you buy a hard drive.
Hard drives have a language all their own, which can seem confusing to the uninitiated. Formally, they're know as "mass storage devices." Their storage capacity is measured in millions of bytes, or "Megabytes", commonly abbreviated to "Megs." The "hard" in hard drive refers to the storage medium, a metal (usually aluminum) platter coated with magnetic material. A "Winchester" drive uses a fixed, hard medium--most hard drives for micros are based on the Winchester design. A fixed disk by definition is not removable; if you want a portable version of a file on a fixed disk, you must copy it to a floppy disk. Recently some mass storage devices have been developed that use a large-capacity removable floppy cartridge. These are often referred to as "Bernoulli-type" disk drives. While the medium in this case is not hard and not fixed, it's still familiarly known as a hard drive.
A hard drive is somewhat similar to a floppy drive in operation. For storing and retrieving information from the magnetic surface, it uses a read/write head that functions like the tonearm and cartridge of a record player. When everything works correctly, the read/write head floats a few thousandths of an inch above the surface of the disk, which is spinning very fast. When the read/write head actually touches the surface of the disk, it's called a "head crash." (It's also called a pain in the butt, because usually all your data is lost.)
Fixed disk and hard disk storage technologies have been around for use with mini- and mainframe computers for 15 years. Because of the larger scale of data manipulation on a mainframe or mini, disk storage systems have typically been on the order of 75 Megs and more. For microcomputers, common storage capacities are 10 and 20 Megs. Finally, "back-up" is one word that must become part of the hard driver's vocabulary. Backing-up means copying data from the hard drive on to another storage medium. If you're loaded with cash, you can back up to another hard drive. For less money, you can buy a special-purpose 8-track cassette-like device called a "streaming tape sub-system." Most mortals, though, back up on to floppy disks.
All the hard drive ads trumpet the ease and speed of mass storage. Anyone who has ever saved too many chapters to a disk can't help being tempted by 10 or 20 Megs of storage at your fingertips. For comparison, an Apple floppy holds around 140 Kbytes of information--a 20 Meg hard drive can hold as much information as 150 or so floppy disks. (For purposes of comparison, I'll stick to the stated capacities of floppies and hard drives. In practice, the listed capacity of any storage medium is usually greater than the amount of data it can actually store. The difference is used by the operating system to keep track of where the files are. To further confuse things, a kilobyte is actually not, as its name suggests, 1000 bytes, but 1024 bytes. Everyone in the computer world rounds this down to a thousand just to simplify life a little.)
10 Meg hard drives are available for between $600 and $1,200; 20 Meg drives will set you back somewhere between $900 and $2,000. It's not much of a bargain on cost per kilobyte. We sell flippy disks for $1.50 each: 2 sides X 140K per side = 280K for $1.50, or $.005 per kilobyte of storage. Our Sider 20 Meg hard drive cost $900, which works out to $.045 per kilobyte, or nine times the cost of floppies. And once you buy the hard drive, you still need to buy 20 Megs worth of floppy disks so you can back it up. It's clear that floppy disks are cheaper. There are other reasons people buy hard disks.
If you have ever inadvertently folded a floppy--it was just a little bit!--but enough so that it doesn't work any more, you can appreciate the reliability of the hard magnetic surface and protective casing provided with a hard disk. If you share your computer room with adventuresome 2-year-olds, the hard disk is much less vulnerable. If you have some difficulty physically inserting and removing floppy disks, then the hard disk is much easier to use.
But the biggest advantage of hard drives is their speed of operation--most of the time. With floppies, loading complex programs can be insufferable, especially if you are switching back and forth between different programs (for example, BEX and Sensible Speller). Hard disks operate much faster than floppy disk drives, on the order of 10 to 100 times faster at storing and retrieving the same information. This is primarily due to differences in the internal design of a hard versus a floppy drive. If you store your ten most frequently used programs on a hard disk and then proceed to sequentially load each of them, you will see just how much faster (and more convenient) it is than trying to do the same thing by hand from floppies. So, if these things are so great, why don't we all use them?
As mentioned before, hard disks require regular back-up of data to avoid catastrophe. Electronic and magnetic data processing become ethereal phenomena at the most inconvenient times. When a floppy fails, you just lose the 140K on that one disk. When the hard disk crashes, you lose it all. You then must set aside a large block of time to reorganize and "restore" (copy the backed-up files) the disk. [Editor's note: that's why the September Newsletter was late. Unfortunately, I don't have that handy excuse for this Newsletter. JK]
A frequent reason to invest in a hard disk is the feeling that you've just got "too much stuff" to use floppies anymore. This is something that we at Raised Dot can really relate to. Picture this: Beside each of our 9 Apples there's a large-capacity diskette holder, filled to overflowing. There are always at least 3 disks sitting around on the drives or on top of the monitor, and both drives are full, too. We're talking about a data management problem. Let's get a hard disk and solve the problem, right?
Hard drives don't perform miracles. Data management problems don't go away when you hide everything on the hard disk. Like closets, hard drives have to be properly organized to be useful. And I'm afraid that I've seen too many Fibber McGee-type hard disks. Files must be properly labeled and ordered to be used effectively. Programs and data that change frequently must be kept up-to-date. Too often the answer has been to rely more heavily on the miracle of the computer than to use some common sense and think about the consequences of organizing your data in a useful fashion. Here's a simple test for you to decide whether you have a real need for a hard disk or you just need to get your act together.
Do you have a backup copy of every data disk and program that you currently use? If yes, go to the head of the class. If no, you should probably take your money to the racetrack rather that buying a hard disk--the odds are better! In my fifteen years of working with computers, I have yet to see a hard disk that didn't crash, losing all the data.
Have you been conscientious and consistent in naming, labeling, recording, and updating all your disks and files so that you know what and where all those things are? Again, if yes, a pat on the back. If no, reflect on this: Sensory overload is not a good reason to take on a new technology.
Because a hard drive can contain so much information, you need more than an organized mind to keep track of things. You need the assistance of an appropriate operating system. This is why Apple designed ProDOS. The "pathnames" that can drive beginners wild when you're working on floppy disks are wonderful when you're working with a hard drive. ProDOS lets you establish nested directories, which divide the raw 20 Megs of space into logical working units. Can you imagine listening to a CATALOG of 20 Megs of information? Of course not. ProDOS' pathnames let you whittle down your working space to a manageable size.
Sadly, DOS 3.3 was not designed to work with hard disk drives, so only a few of the hard disks on the market support it. The Sider is a significant exception: its own utilities are DOS 3.3-based. (It also supports ProDOS, CP/M, and Pascal--you decide how much space to allocate to each operating system when you set it up.) With the Sider, you establish some number of DOS 3.3 "volumes"--big ones hold 400K, and little ones are just floppy-sized, 140K. Our Sider has 43 volumes. Instead of drive 1 or drive 2, we can enter drive numbers 1 through 43! Combined with BEX's restrictive scanning with the slash, it's a workable system.
Hard disk drives can radically change how you compute. In deciding to purchase a hard drive, you should consider your own computing and organizational style. For the disciplined "power user", they're a delight. For a befuddled novice, they can be the driving force towards better computer use and better data organization.
One of the best features of BEX is that it is a very smart program; it does a lot of things for you without your even knowing that it's doing them. Unfortunately, if you want to do something non-standard, it can be a shade too smart.
The new version of Dipner Dots, for instance, sends escape codes to your printer (if your printer is smart enough to receive them) that will adjust it for braille that is sized almost exactly like transcription-quality, instead of being a bit squashed like the braille from BRAILLE-EDIT 2.50. But what if you want it squashed? 15-pitch braille is nice and compact, but still quite readable, and it allows you to get a standard 40 or 42-cell line on an 8-1/2 x 11 page. But to print it, you have to outsmart BEX, which will try to reset everything to produce the size of braille it thinks you should have.
To do this, consult your printer manual and see if you can find an escape sequence that resets your horizontal pitch to the switch panel settings. (See David Holladay's article in the Nov. 1985 Newsletter for more on escape sequences.) On our Brother HR-15 this is an ESC-S. After sending this sequence to kill the adjustments that BEX has made for you, you can set the pitch to 15 from the switch panel.
Unfortunately, on some printers such as the Brother, this will also kill your linefeed pitch adjustment, so you will get hugely elongated braille cells. In this case, follow the first escape sequence with another to reset the linefeed pitch. You'll have to consult your printer manual again and play around to find a pitch setting that produces comfortable braille (on the Brother, the four characters Esc Control-> Control-E <CR> does the trick). You can put this sequence at the beginning of your files or in a set-up chapter. Simpler yet, you can define an automatic set-up sequence containing the appropriate commands right in your printer configuration Now you can go ahead and make braille that, while not as nicely proportioned as the unmeddled version, is more compact.
As many readers may know, TSI has recently upgraded the VersaBraille II. This upgrade makes many welcome changes and improvements to the VersaBraille II. However, some changes invalidate the interfacing instructions given in issue 33 of the RDC Newsletter (October, 1985) and in the BEX Interface Guide.
Before the upgrade, the VB2 was secretly respecting software handshaking, even while set for hardware handshaking. After the upgrade, this secret support disappeared. Accordingly, we are providing revised information.
In setting up the VersaBraille II to send material to the Apple, change the DCI and DCO parameters to YES; they appear as I and O among the VB2 serial parameters. This sets the VB2 for software handshaking, which Input through slot requires to avoid losing characters at Apple page changes. When printing to the VB2, set the VB2 for hardware handshaking again by changing DCI and DCO for NO. (As an alternative, you could set your Super Serial Card for software handshaking with control-I X <space> E, and leave VB2's DCI and DCO parameters at YES.)
This provides a very instructive reminder about connecting devices. It is very easy to point the finger too quickly. You might have thought, "Input through slot from the VB2 was working fine before my VB2 was upgraded. Now it is losing characters. The upgrade must have messed things up." However, the upgraded VB2 is behaving just as it should. This problem just reveals that our former instructions no longer apply; RDC took advantage of a useful quirk in the VB2.
In the "BEX laboratory," where new versions of BEX are born, we have a version of Input through slot that uses hardware, as well as software, handshaking. With this improvement, you could leave the VB2 set for hardware handshaking for file transfers in both directions. Anyone sending material from the IBM-PC to the Apple will find such a new feature especially wonderful.
1. Use the VB2's DTE port, the leftmost of its two serial ports.
2. To terminate a transmission into the VB2, use chord-Z with VB emulate off, or chord-R with VB emulate on.
3. In describing printing from the VB2 to the Apple, we recommended answering yes to the VB2's "format printout" question. There is no particular reason for doing this. In fact, you would probably want to answer no, to keep paragraph symbols, avoid extra carriage returns, etc.
4. This applies only to use of the VersaBraille II in conjunction with BRAILLE-EDIT and a Super Serial Card. (It does not apply to use with BEX.) When you print to the VB2 with "zapped format" provided by $$z, the Super Serial Card set for our "basic recipe" will occasionally throw 16 spaces into the works. To avoid this, change switch 2-3 to off. (This turns off the SSC's display to the screen.) However, a more long-lasting approach to using the Apple with the VB2 is to use BEX instead of BRAILLE-EDIT.
IBM-PC fever has hit Worcester Massachusetts! Two long-time Apple users are moving into the IBM-PC world--their change can be your bargain!
Apple hardware: Apple 2e with extended 80-column card; parallel printer card; Duo-Disk drive (works with ProDOS); 2 Super Serial Cards configured for VersaBraille and Cranmer; Echo 2 speech board and speaker
Apple Software: BEX; ListerTalker; numerous games disks, financial programs disks and utilities disks for Apple; complete disk set for Applesoft DOS and ProDOS and Master Talker to make ProDOS talk;
Cranmer Modified Perkins Brailler printer with all cables; adapter from SSC to VersaBraille and adapter from VersaBraille to Cranmer (from RDC originally);
all manuals that came with all equipment and cards in print and all braille manuals available; all Cranmer manuals on cassette and in braille; all BEX documentation as it comes from RDC, reference cards in braille and full binder as it comes from RDC with all disks that originally come with BEX.
Prospective buyers must be aware that RDC and CiderWare will be contacted when I no longer have their programs; it's up to the buyer to contact these vendors if they wish continued support.
I guarantee that none of this equipment has ever required any maintenance or service. I run the Cranmer with at least 200 pages a week and the Apple has run for nearly 24 hours straight at times. I've never had a problem with either. The Apple was purchased in April of 1984, the Cranmer in May of 1985. The Cranmer has always been under warranty and service contract, it will be under service contract when purchased.
I'm asking $3300 for the entire system or best offer. Call collect, if necessary and if you're serious.
24 Arthur Street #1
Worcester MA 01604
Apple system: Apple 2e with DuoDisk drives and controller card; extended 80-column card, parallel printer interface card; Super Serial Card; Echo 2 speech synthesizer; 80-column card; DOS 3.3 and ProDOS. All items have the original documentation and supporting software. Also BEX version 2.1 with its complete BEX Dox and update disks. All for $1500 or best offer.
Cranmer Brailler with cable to connect to the Apple still under warranty. $1500 or best offer. All items purchased during 1984 and are in excellent condition.
For details, contact me in print, braille or tape:
93 Elm Street
Worcester MA 01609
617-791-2272 ext 402 9-5 M-F
617-756-7650 PMs 'til 10 & weekends
There are a lot of good things to be said about ProWORDS, an Echo-compatible, ProDOS-based word processing program written by Larry Skutchan of Microtalk Software. So let's get right to it.
And that's exactly what the program does. Twenty-six seconds after the computer comes alive, you are ready to start writing. And while you write, you're a half second away from a rather impressive list of options that include: cataloging the disk, issuing DOS commands, determining the amount of memory still available, saving part or all of a document to disk, loading another document, determining the page, line, and column position of the cursor, and even arriving at the ASCII value of the character under the cursor. Press open-Apple-P, for example, and the current document will begin printing to a preselected source in about 1 second. The printing process can be halted at any time by pressing any key. The text on the screen can be accessed by screen review and the Echo parameters can also be changed. Printing can then be continued at the point where you left off.
ProWORDS also makes good use of the TEXTALKER program. Two reading speeds are available in the editor. The slower reading can be stopped at the end of each word and the faster one at the end of each sentence. In the faster mode, the Echo pauses slightly at the end of each sentence. This feature helps you develop an overall feel for the literary construction of your document. If the reading is not interrupted, by depressing the spacebar, the Echo will continue until the complete document has been read.
ProWORDS is an insert oriented program. When you type, the text after the cursor is not deleted. It is simply pushed ahead of the new information being added. Any unwanted material must then be consciously deleted. But unlike some insert oriented programs, ProWORDS also has the ability to over type, or delete, material to the right of the cursor as you are adding text.
The programs print format commands allow you to outdent text, use running headers and footers, right and left justify text, and more. Underlining, italics, or boldface are accomplished by embedding the appropriate printer control commands in your text. Its methods for deleting, marking and moving text are refreshingly unique. Its methods for incorporating already existing documents into the current chapter, and for splitting the current chapter into segments which can then be saved to disk are very logical and quite easy to use.
Those of us who aren't died-in-the-wool programmers sometimes find it easy to serve as armchair quarterbacks. We rave about certain parts of a program, but there are always those things "we" would have done better. Of course, we're likely unaware of the fact that someone just might have tried to do it our way. It was either not possible, or worse yet, it was possible, but only at the expense of some other part of the program which we simply couldn't have done without. With this firmly in mind, I offer a few critical comments.
Cursor Confusion Moving around in the editor can be slightly cumbersome. For example, paragraphs are demarcated by one or more returns, but ProWORDS' format commands are also demarcated by returns. Thus, locating the beginning of a paragraph without tripping over all kinds of unwanted commands can be difficult, especially for a beginner. And if you're proofreading a textfile with hundreds of embedded returns, it doesn't get any easier. Practice, and a good deal of attention to the particular commands you will be using should get you over the hump.
It's also tricky to move up or down one or more lines on the screen. The commands are often cumbersome, requiring multiple key strokes, and control-X must constantly be used to shut up the text. There are user-adjustable commands for quickly moving up and down the screen a prescribed number of lines, but I had difficulty implementing them. It is possible to mark up to nine points in each document and to instantaneously locate the text under each marker. But adding or deleting even one character prior to a marker will cause that and all subsequent markers to be out of place. Once again, some amount of persistence may be required.
Finally, Echo output while moving letter-by-letter through the text is confusing. It's different in ProWORDS than in BEX or WORD-TALK. In the latter two programs, the Echo always pronounces the letter your cursor lands on when you move with the left or right arrow key. In ProWORDS, you do hear the letter your cursor lands on when you arrow left, but you hear the letter the cursor moved from when you arrow right. An example may make this clearer: consider the word "white." Start with the cursor on the letter i. Press the left arrow; the cursor is on the letter h and the Echo says "h". Now press the right arrow; in ProWORDS the cursor is back on the letter i but the Echo says "h" again.
Setting Tabs ProWORDS makes use of the tab key to designate a particular column as a tab stop. Once you decide where the tabs are to be located, you have only to press the tab key and begin typing. Changing the location of tabular material is, however, a different matter. Since there is no easily changed embedded tab command, each individual tabbed entry has to be reset by hand.
Utility Programs One of ProWORDS' real weaknesses is its use of Apple's own DOS utility program to perform such tasks as initializing and copying disks, copying files, and converting information from DOS 3.3 to ProDOS. Because this program has been designed by Apple, its logic and operating procedure is unlike that used in other parts of the ProWORDS program. The DOS utility program can be a nightmare to learn and not much better to use, partly because it just won't stop talking. What it says is ultimately more confusing than it is helpful. To make matters worse, ProWORDS' documentation doesn't explain these utility commands as thoroughly as it explains the commands used in the other sections of the program.
Documentation The ProWORDS manual is short, concise, and well written. Its biggest problem is that it too often refers the reader to some other section of the document for further instruction which is often brief enough to have been stated in the current section.
Final Comments The ProWORDS talking word processing program is one of a growing number of programs that allow people who "see" with their ears to access the world of print. For the money, a mere $195, it does exactly that. So go ahead, put your check in the mail today, and then you too can contribute your suggestions about the one or two little things you don't happen to like. After all, that's exactly how people like Larry Skutchan know what to do to make a program like ProWORDS work for you.
For more information, contact Larry Skutchan
337 S Peterson Ave.
Louisville, KY 40206
[Editor's note: A package of ProWORDS and ProTERM (reviewed here in June 1986) is available for $320.]
Many people who have used BRAILLE-EDIT for a long time may not be aware of a number of BEX features that make using the program more pleasant. In the BEX documentation, we tried to point out the utility of the clipboard and the zippy chapter. We would like to remind BEX users of some of the other useful features that they may have overlooked.
When you configure with BEX, pressing a carriage return at any question gives you a suggested value, a definition, or a list of choices. If you are used to the unfriendly nature of the BRAILLE-EDIT configuration process, this assistance can be a big surprise. Each level of the BEX Dox contains guidance on setting up a configuration. In addition, the Interface Guide is designed to be understood by the novice computer user.
BEX makes it easier to produce well formatted braille. When you have a inkprint chapter containing page numbering (), paragraphs ($p), centering ($$c), and underlining ($$ub and $$uf), just run the Grade 2 translator and print to a braille device. There is no need to change any of these format commands. BEX knows when it is outputting to a braille device. Page numbering comes out in braille style (end of line 1), underlining is shown as braille italics, and paragraphs are adjusted to the braille standard.
When you enter "2/R" at the chapter prompt, BEX scans drive 2 and presents you with a list of chapters ending with the letter R. This restrictive scanning with the slash can make it much easier to choose a chapter from disk.
BEX can read ProDOS textfiles as well as DOS 3.3 textfiles. This really speeds up the work of making braille copies of ProWORDS or AppleWorks files.
BEX can make 14 and 18 point large print on most of the popular dot matrix printers used with the Apple computer. The BEX Interface Guide stresses the Epson FX-80 and ImageWriter printers. However, many printers on the market are compatible with these two de-facto standards. Here at RDC, we do large print with the ImageWriter II and Panasonic KPX-1091 printers. (Check the Interface Guide for instructions and limitations.)
Here's one feature we've never publicly stated before (due to embarrassment.) BEX's Replace characters does not have the "infinite loop" problem that made BRAILLE-EDIT's Global replace a little tricky to use. In BRAILLE-EDIT, when you replace "x" with "xx", the program goes nuts. In BEX, when you replace "x" with "xx", you simply replace "x" with "xx". Also, the length of Find and Change to strings is increased to 99 characters in BEX, up from 48 characters in BRAILLE-EDIT.
The Grade 2 and Back from grade 2 translators in BEX are less likely to cause overflow errors. By overflow we mean the situation when the translated page would be larger than 4096 characters. Only if your text contains a huge number of short numbers and capitalized words could there be an overflow error going from print to braille. It is still prudent to make sure that your source pages do not exceed 3300 characters when you do a back translation (from braille to print).
Of course, there are many other improvements in BEX. The best way to learn them is to read through the BEX Dox. It is our hope that every BEX purchaser makes the very best use of their program.
Every so often, RDC gets inquiries about whether we are working with a new device which has just been announced. When it's a low cost braille device, the chances are that we are very interested. When the new device is designed for the mainstream computer market, we usually ignore it for a while.
It usually takes 12 to 18 months before RDC supports new technology for the Apple computer. RDC is never at the cutting edge of technology. But when we do apply our resources, we make very effective use of "last year's technology."
In early 1984, more than 12 months after the introduction of the Apple 2e, RDC finally sold a program that didn't assume that you had an Apple 2 plus. In early 1985, we finally got a version of TEXTALKER that worked with both the Apple 2c and the Apple 2e. It also took over a year to "adjust" to the Apple 2c. Only with BEX do we use the memory in the extended memory of the Apple 2e or Apple 2c. Only with version 2.1 does BEX work with ProDOS (Read Textfiles functions with either ProDOS disks or DOS 3.3 disks) and with the Sider hard disk.
There are advantages to waiting. We avoid supporting a losing system. More technical information is readily available. Specifications are not changed midstream. Since we have high standards for technical support, we try to avoid working with devices that are poorly documented. Our support for the Sider was done only after a lot of internal discussion. We had to write our own mini-manual on configuring the Sider.
It is not as if we are not interested in progress. A substantial portion of RDC staff time is spent in using BEX. We are constantly modifying our software to make our lives a little easier. We are interested in working with new devices and systems that are better, faster, and niftier. These tools make us more efficient.
Our aim is to provide tools that satisfy a broad range of users from the beginning user to the "power user." Our customers expect our software to be accessible to the beginner. We also know that the more we do to satisfy the needs and cravings of the "power users", the more likely we are to get referral sales. Thus, we are under pressure to make our programs easier to use and more powerful at the same time.
The reason we are going into all this is that we're already receiving inquiries about BEX and the new Apple 2gs. It is supposed to be compatible with "almost" all existing Apple software. Apple has stated that programs which strictly follow the Apple system programming protocol will work on the IIgs. "System protocol" means ProDOS; Apple lost control of the "rules" for DOS 3.3 a long time ago. Some portions of BEX are very processor-dependent: in particular, Input through slot and the tape-based VersaBraille transfers. We are doubtful that BEX can run on the IIgs without extensive modification; we won't know until we actually get our hands on the new Apple--we have one on order.
One thing's for certain: if modifications to our software are needed, and if we decide to make them, we will only be changing BEX. We won't be modifying BRAILLE-EDIT. In summary, please do not ask us to support the very latest in Apple technology quite yet. As always, it will take us quite a while to learn all that we need to know about it before we are even prepared to figure out how to put it to the best use. Stay tuned to the Newsletter for details.