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 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; the words after the equals sign are the actual article titles.
Yes friends, it's finally true. The braille BEX Dox have been expeditiously reprinted by National Braille Press and speedily shipped to our door by the US Mail. Five volume set of Learner User and Master Levels costs $50, shipped UPS.
We deeply appreciate the patience you've shown with the delays!
We're pleased to announce that we are now selling the VersaPoint continuous-form embosser manufactured by TSI. We feel the VersaPoint is a well-designed and rugged machine; we're selling it for $3,595.
Since we have a strong interest in increasing the availability of braille, RDC makes a point to contact companies in the process of brailler design and offer them assistance and testing. TSI took us up on our offer: since February they've been picking our brains about embosser design. We had the opportunity to thoroughly test a number of prototypes and make suggestions. We're delighted that, at our urging, a number of useful features were added and some undesirable features changed. We're convinced that TSI is seriously committed to producing and supporting an excellent, medium-cost braille embosser.
The VersaPoint's stated embossing rate is 20 characters per second. In real-life tests, we've found that it embosses between 16 cps and 24 cps, depending on the length and format of the document. One of the VersaPoint's best features is its huge buffer, which holds 30,000 characters--around 32 braille pages. The large buffer frees your computer for other tasks: it takes around 1 minute to print a 6-page Zippy chapter to the VersaPoint. During embossing, you can pause and restart the VersaPoint at a flick of the on-line switch.
Any machine that punches dots into paper is going to make noise, but the VersaPoint is quiet enough that you can have it in the same room with you. In our tests with a production unit, it measured 80-85 dBA above threshold. (For comparison, the Personal Brailler and MBOSS-1 also measured 80-85 dBA, while a "new" Cranmer measured 95 dBA and our 2-year-old Thiel was 75-80 dBA.) Recognizing that noise can be an irritant, TSI has designed a "Quietizer" sound hood that fits around the VersaPoint and dramatically reduces the noise level. It's available from us for $295.
Setting up the VersaPoint to work with a computer is very straightforward, because it does not have dip switches. The VersaPoint comes with both a Centronics parallel port and an RS-232C serial port. To define the embossing and communication parameters, you go through a configuration dialogue. The VersaPoint brailles out its questions and you respond by pressing one of the four control buttons. When your computer connection is serial, the VersaPoint sends the questions to the computer screen as well as embossing them, making it a snap for sighted non-braille readers to configure the machine. Once you've answered the questions, the VersaPoint saves the answers in "non-volatile" memory--the VersaPoint is configured until you decide to change it again. (Of course, VersaPoints that you buy from RDC are already configured to work with BEX.) In addition to baud rate, stop bits, data bits, auto line feed, etc., the VersaPoint lets you select page length (11 or 12 inches), lines per page (25, 28, or 29), cells per line (30 to 42), and word wrap.
The VersaPoint was designed to be a continuous-form braille embosser; it's not a modified version of a brailler or printer. TSI currently has a patent pending on how it embosses dots. The movable platen and embossing head allow braille dots to be placed anywhere on the line. TSI is currently working on a graphics option that will allow the VersaPoint to draw continuous lines, working from its own internal software. (Our experience with Cranmer Graphics allowed us to suggest several innovative software options to TSI's designers.)
The actual embossing is accomplished with eleven solenoids. For each line of dots, the head moves four times: the first pass embosses dots 1 and 4 for cells 1, 5, 9, 13, 17, 21, 25, 29, 33, 38, and 42. The next pass embosses dots 1 and 4 for cells 2, 6, 10, etc. At the end of the first line of dots, the VersaPoint head and platen travel backwards for the second line of dots. Eleven solenoids spreads the work of embossing around, which helps to minimize downtime. The VersaPoint make nice readable dots, which will easily reproduce on a thermoform machine.
The VersaPoint weighs in at 39 pounds, and measures 16 inches deep by 19-1/2 inches wide by 6-1/2 inches tall. An embossing assembly cover sits across the front third of the machine; the five control buttons are clustered on the back right corner. The paper path on the VersaPoint is admirably simple: you feed paper from the front using the adjustable tractor guides, under the embossing bar and on out the back. The tractor guides are adjustable between 8 and 12 inches, allowing you to use a variety of paper sizes. The left guide is adjustable as well as the right, so you can braille very near the left edge of the sheet if you wish. The VersaPoint embosses up, so you can read the braille as soon as it advances past the embossing assembly cover. There's also a "Read" button: one press advances the braille enough to review it, and another press feeds it back under the bar for more embossing.
When someone spends $3595 on any device, they have a right to expect reliability and good service. We felt that a 90-day warranty was simply too short, and TSI agreed: the VersaPoint comes with a full one-year warranty on parts and labor. This one-year warranty is the longest in the braille embosser business, and it's one of the reasons we decided to sell the VersaPoint.
RDC feels keenly our responsibilities to our customers; we thought long and hard about whether the VersaPoint was the embosser we wanted to sell. We wanted a unit that was well-designed, sturdy, and easy to interface. We know that our customers need a full braille line (the VersaPoint can emboss 42 cells) and strong, thermoform-able dots. We understand the crucial importance of reliability and good, dependable service. We feel the VersaPoint fits the bill.
The VersaPoint costs $3595 from RDC, including shipping within the continental US. (Our arrangement with TSI states that we only sell VersaPoints within the 50 United States. Canadians and others outside the US should contact TSI directly.) To connect the VersaPoint to your computer, you need an appropriate cable. For an Apple Super Serial Card, it's the 9M; for an Apple 2c, it's the 10M, and for an IBM-PC serial port, it's an 8M. Each of these cables costs $35.
For those just starting out, we have two VersaPoint packages that bundle software and hardware. The BEX & VersaPoint package costs $4195, and it includes the VersaPoint, BEX, a Super Serial Card and 9M cable, and an Echo Plus. The TranscriBEX & VersaPoint adds the TranscriBEX module to those items; it costs $4295.
[Editor's Note: Way back in May 1985, we announced a program called "BETTE-BEX." Since then, there's been nothing but loud silence on the topic. That's because we learned our lesson the hard way with BEX: never announce a program before it's ready to ship out the door! Well, we may have been quiet, but we've not been idle. And so without further ado ... JK]
RDC is proud to announce that we're now shipping TranscriBEX Version 2.0. The TranscriBEX module consists of a detailed manual and a disk of transformation chapters and sample data. Adding the TranscriBEX module turns BEX into a high-quality braille transcription system, that allows individuals with widely varying skills to contribute to the task of braille production.
Over the years those interested in braille have adopted detailed braille format standards. English Braille--American Edition, 1969 defines the complex rules by which print is contracted into Grade 2 braille, as well as providing formatting standards for general text material. More rigorous formatting standards have been developed for braille textbooks, where the braille reader must be able to relate the braille text to the pagination of the print original. The Code of Braille Textbook Formats and Techniques, 1977, establishes set routines for representing inkprint texts in a consistent, readable, and efficient manner. The standards set by the Code and English Braille free the individual transcriber from the responsibility of redesigning braille format with every transcription.
TranscriBEX supports the vast majority of the standards established by these two books, including:
As you can see from this list, TranscriBEX is designed for rigorous transcription of already-published print materials. Not every person producing braille documents needs TranscriBEX's power. BEX alone suffices when you're only producing "casual" braille. By "casual" we mean short worksheets, simple tests, papers, and reports. Especially when you're creating print and braille editions of the same document, BEX alone is fine.
As you can see from the list of supported formats, TranscriBEX can do a lot more than BETTE. And TranscriBEX's base program, BEX, is much easier to use than BRAILLE-EDIT. TranscriBEX is so much better than BETTE, in fact, that we've stopped selling BETTE. We're offering real bargains to encourage existing BETTE users to convert to TranscriBEX. We've prepared a 13-page "Difference Manual" that explains the nitty-gritty details of TranscriBEX and BETTE. This week we sent out letters to all the BETTE users for whom we have addresses. If you have not yet received a letter, please give us a call today!
TranscriBEX is a transcribing-specific way of using BEX. You enter and correct text and store it on disk using BEX's Editor. (BEX can also read the textfiles that most Apple word processors create, so it's possible to do data entry in another editor, if your prefer.) Experienced transcribers can enter data directly in braille using the Apple keyboard as a braillewriter. People who know nothing about braille, however, can do all their data entry in print, because BEX's braille translator changes regular inkprint text into Grade 1 or 2 braille appropriate for transmission to a computer-driven braille device. TranscriBEX supplies a set of transformation rules for use with BEX's file-driven Replace characters. This serves as an automatic link between the mnemonic TranscriBEX commands and the complex instructions that control the formatter. BEX's formatter generates the appropriate page format in accordance with the Code and English Braille.
BEX's formatter supports every brailler on the market. In addition, BEX's braille previewer allows you to proofread format and braille translation on the computer screen before committing anything to paper. Thanks to the braille previewer, every TranscriBEX user doesn't need to own a computer-driven braille embosser. You can confidently perform the first four steps of the braille transcription process and then send the final disks to a brailling center for actual embossing.
The TranscriBEX Manual is aimed at both novices and experts. It provides basic background information on braille translation and format, as well as specific references to the Code and English Braille where needed. In addition to reference material on specific page formats, the TranscriBEX Manual and disk contain a step-by-step tutorial. Combining the BEX Dox, the TranscriBEX Manual, and occasional consultation with an experienced transcriber, someone knowing nothing about computers or braille transcription can produce many types of braille.
While no micro-computer-based braille translator can be 100% perfect, our translator comes very close. Even if you know absolutely nothing about braille, you can enter print and quickly generate highly readable braille. The TranscriBEX Manual explains how you can slightly modify your print data entry to create truly perfect braille. A logical system of special symbols let you force or suppress placement of the braille letter sign, show braille italics and boldface, distinguish between the braille apostrophe and opening and closing single quotes, and more. You can switch between Grade 1 and Grade 2 translation, and you can transcribe non-English languages like French and Spanish, complete with all diacritic marks. We supply a list of transformation rules that automatically fix any obscure braille translation errors that may occur, and tell you how to add to that list.
The TranscriBEX commands don't require that you remember the particular page layout that the rule books mandate. Instead, the commands are named after the type of format you want to create. Each TranscriBEX command begins with two backslashes. Following the \\, there is an English-like word or words.
Suppose you're transcribing a poem with three levels of indentation; the print original numbers every fifth line in the left margin. The Code requires three different indents: the first-level lines to cell 1, the second-level lines to cell 3, and the third-level lines to cell 5. All levels runover to cell 7. The last six cells of each line are reserved for the line numbers, which must appear (without the number sign), on the same braille line where the poetic line begins. Manually keeping track of the varying indent and runover can be a real chore: TranscriBEX simplifies the process considerably.
The TranscriBEX commands are patterned after what you see in print. In this case, you enter \\poem \\3level \\numberedlines to establish the appropriate framework. Each poetic line is preceded with \\1p, \\2p, or \\3p, depending on how it's indented in print. To place a line number over on the right hand side, you enter \\ln 5, \\ln 10, etc.
The TranscriBEX Manual thoroughly explains the hundred-odd \\ commands, as well as providing references to the relevant portions of the Code and English Braille.
Because BEX's formatter creates the proper braille format as it is printing, the text itself is very easy to change. Inserting or deleting characters, words, or paragraphs does not affect the page format, because the text on disk is not page-oriented. The transcription of a single book can be divided among several transcribers. Each can independently proofread their portion for typographical errors, braille translation, and appropriate print page indicators. One individual then collates the various disks into a single document. To facilitate this division of labor, we've developed special package prices for transcribing groups--contact us for more information.
The TranscriBEX system allows individuals with a wide variety of transcribing skills to contribute to the job of getting a braille translation finished. Because BEX lets you use DOS 3.3 and ProDOS textfiles from other Apple word processors, data entry volunteers don't need to own BEX or TranscriBEX. "Braille-naive" users can do print data entry using the widely-available AppleWorks software, for example. As they become more familiar with braille format, they could also enter some of the simpler TranscriBEX commands, like the print page indicators.
Slightly more experienced TranscriBEX users then convert the data from the AppleWorks file structure to BEX's "chapters"--full details on this are supplied in the TranscriBEX Manual. They "massage" the data, entering transcriber's notes and establishing the appropriate braille formats with TranscriBEX commands.
Skilled braillists can do data entry directly in braille, using six keys on the Apple's keyboard as an electronic braillewriter. It's also possible to print the braille text as braille dot patterns on the computer screen, which allows skilled braillists to read braille in a familiar way.
The TranscriBEX system is in no way an attempt to obsolete the skilled transcriber. Just the opposite: by automating the more routine aspects of braille transcription, it frees the skilled braillist for more challenging work. By serving as a resource for the data entry team, one skilled transcriber can help create many accurate and well-formatted documents quickly.
TranscriBEX replaces BETTE, the first Apple program to support the Code of Braille Textbook Formats and Techniques, 1977. TranscriBEX incorporates many suggestions from the more-than-150 BETTE users around the country. Suggestions from seven "beta testers" helped us to make BETTE and TranscriBEX better programs; for all their work and insights, we thank: David Barnett and associates at the Prose & Cons Braille Unit; Bill Davis and associates at the New Mexico School for the Visually Impaired; Conchita Gilbertson of Virginia; Rebecca Keenan of the Virginia IMRC; Bettye Krolick of Colorado; Daveed Mandell of San Francisco; and William Peary of Baha'i Service for the Blind.
RDC is committed to supporting TranscriBEX users, because we are committed to increasing braille availability in general and braille literacy in the schools in particular. We're very excited about TranscriBEX: we feel the quality of its output compares favorably with any other microcomputer-based braille translation system.
A complete package of BEX plus the TranscriBEX module costs $500. This includes the BEX program disk and documentation in large print and audio tape; the TranscriBEX module disk with transformation chapters and sample data in every stage of the TranscriBEX process; and the TranscriBEX Reference Card and Manual in large print. (The TranscriBEX Manual and Reference Card are also available in braille upon request.)
For individuals who already own BEX, the TranscriBEX module alone costs $100. We urge transcribing groups interested in multiple copies of TranscriBEX to contact us for special group prices.
WORD-TALK is a talking, ProDOS-based word processor for the Apple and Echo from Computer Aids Corporation. Unlike BEX and ProWORDS, WORD-TALK is a "what you see is what you get" (WYSWYG) program. The editor screen always resembles the currently formatted printed page. There are no embedded print format commands to learn. To indent a paragraph or create several columns of words or numbers, simply press the tab key and the cursor will go to the preset positions called up by the program. (You can change these positions to your liking.) To center a line, simply press control-W at the end of the text you want centered. The appropriate number of spaces are inserted in the beginning of the line so it's moved over to the correct position.
Additional format options are supplied in the format menu. Here you can set margins, single sheet or continuous feed, page numbering, running headers and footers, or decide the specific page or pages of a multiple page document you wish to have printed. And when you have finished formatting, you can simply return to the editor to check out your new parameters.
This is easily done, because WORD-TALK's menus are logically arranged like a tree with branches going off from the main menu "trunk" in several directions. For example, press F at the main menu and you are immediately in the format menu. Press M in the format menu and you are in the margins menu. At all menus, pressing the Escape key always takes you back to the previous menu, and Open-Apple Escape takes you back to the main menu. What's more, in whatever menu you are currently working, you are only one key stroke away from the editor. Enter the margins menu, for example, change the margins, and press return to enter the editor at that point, and there you are, ready to check out your new format.
Place the cursor where ever you wish, and press control-A. The column, line, and page location of the cursor will immediately be spoken. Or you can press control-G, and direct the cursor to "Go" to whatever column, line, or page you desire.
By placing the printed page at the tips of the user's fingers, WORD-TALK allows those of us who cannot see to more easily accomplish a variety of tasks. Anyone who spends more than a few minutes a day writing or proofreading forms which contain information in specific column and line locations probably doesn't need to be convinced of the merits of this program. Except for the absence of a command designed to right justify the text on a particular line, WORD-TALK seems to have all the formats and flexibility required for form-filling applications. Or, you may need to check the exact word placement of a complicated brochure you will be sending your customers. Understanding how the page appears to people who can see may help you more confidently determine the shape of the final product.
Add to all this the fact that the WORD-TALK manual, free from the necessity of explaining a complex variety of embedded commands, is short, well written and easily understood, and you're on your way.
This particular "what you see is what you get" program can be a mixed blessing, especially for those who write long documents. The absence of embedded commands can make locating text difficult. Consider, for example, searching for titles and paragraphs in a 15 page document. A blind user can't just arrow the cursor to these boundaries when they only appear on the screen.
I started by searching for the returns that most often mark paragraphs. But WORD-TALK does not place searchable <CR>s in the text. The return key simply causes the cursor to go to the next line, so that strategy won't work. Searching for multiple spaces finds the spaces at the ends of lines as well as at the beginnings. I contacted the folks at Computer Aids Corp for guidance, and they suggested two approaches. Use the "Go To" command, mentioned above, to move to the line number that contains the title, or, simply search for the words that begin the title or paragraph in question. But I find it all but impossible to recall that information from among the hundreds of words and lines in a 15 page document, especially one I may have written several months ago.
They did supply me with an undocumented trick. You can set up your own "tokens" by pressing Open-Apple-Number. For example, for the start of each paragraph, enter Open-Apple-1. These tokens show as inverse characters on the screen and can be searched for, but they do not appear in the printout. This trick works, but not perfectly. The tokens take up space on the line. When your paragraphs indent five spaces, a token at position four is no problem, but when you have block style paragraphs, your line lengths will be off by one. Also the numbered tokens are recognized as real characters by other programs that can read the WORD-TALK textfile which contains them. Thus, they are faithfully printed out by both ProWORDS and BEX.
But even with these user tokens to mark title and paragraph boundaries, I still had problems. WORD-TALK can only search forwards. As a result, if you're currently at paragraph 12 and you want to go back to paragraph nine, you either return to the beginning of the document and attempt to find paragraph 9 by starting the search procedure all over again, or you spend a fair amount of time running the cursor up the left hand margin in search of the desired boundary. When you do, the Echo pronounces the first letter of each word passed over. Eventually you come to a space that signifies either a blank or indented line. But this is a very slow process for a blind user.
WORD-TALK provides a distinctive beep that marks the transition between print pages. But, unlike BEX and ProWORDS, WORD-TALK has no way of preventing the very bottom line on that print page from containing the title of a major section of the document. The only way around this dilemma is to insert a blank line before the title, thus forcing that title to appear on the next page. So I used WORD-TALK's "Go To" command to call up the last line of each page of the document and insert a blank line where ever needed.
Unfortunately, you could have the same problem I had. When I arrived at the final page of my document I realized that there was only one line of print on that page. "Easy!" I said, entering the format menu and making my right margin a little narrower. "Let's hear it for the magic of computers." Oh for some magic indeed, for now my 14-page document had added lines that all were in the wrong place. And, for all I knew, the bottom line of any page could still contain a title.
There was nothing to do but begin this procedure all over again, and then I discovered another problem. My centered titles were the same number of spaces from the left margin they had been before I reformatted the document by adding 3 spaces to each line. In other words, my titles were no longer centered. Since WORD-TALK does not make use of embedded commands, I was forced to once again search for all 13 titles and perform the control-W centering operation on each of them in turn. If WORD-TALK had the ability to search for format information as well as characters, it would be a lot more flexible.
Computer Aids has modified a very early version of the TEXTALKER program which, among other things, mispronounces a far greater number of words than some of the later versions. Three speech speeds are available, and the punctuation parameters can be controlled separately in both the keyboard or typing mode and in the review or listening mode. But the pitch and delay defaults of the voice output cannot be adjusted. The absence of the TEXTALKER screen review mode makes it difficult to spell out catalog entries and other relevant information.
Like ProWORDS, WORD-TALK saves information to disk as a ProDOS sequential textfile. It will also read textfiles written by other programs. But there is no way to search for and delete the numerous undesired returns that might be scattered throughout the file. Those returns simply show up as new lines on the WORD-TALK screen, and each unwanted line break must be reformatted by hand.
WORD-TALK provides only limited DOS utilities--you must leave WORD-TALK to format or copy disks, copy files, or convert information between DOS 3.3 and ProDOS. It does allow you to delete and rename files as well as create additional ProDOS sub-directories. When loading or saving a document, it is always necessary to include the name of the volume you are accessing, since WORD-TALK always defaults to the volume which contains the program. The WORD-TALK manual makes almost no attempt to explain even the limited ProDOS utilities it provides, and it does even less to help the beginning ProDOS user cope with the concept of volumes, subdirectories, pathnames, etc.
There are some definite advantages to a "what you see is what you get" program. WORD-TALK provides that certain sense of security in always knowing exactly what your printed page will look like. For people writing short memos and letters or filling out forms, WORD-TALK is an easily-navigated and easy-to-use program. However, for people writing longer documents, the price paid for WYSWYG security may be too high. Without embedded commands that control page formatting, margins, paragraph indents, centering, etc., one must constantly reformat the text by hand, much as you would on a very good talking typewriter.
WORD-TALK is available for $195 from
Computer Aids Corporation
124 West Washington Blvd., Lower Arcade
Fort Wayne, IN 46802
Sensible Software, the publishers of Sensible Speller, has just announced that a new version of the program is available. Previously, the talking version used the ECHO software to speak. This meant the program only worked with an Echo Plus or Cricket, and that you did not have access to screen review.
The updated version is compatible with more computers, and, finally, uses TEXTALKER. Sensible Software lists these minimum hardware configurations:
128K Apple 2e with Extended 80-column card; either an Echo 2 or an Echo Plus
Apple 2c with Cricket
Apple 2GS with an Echo 2b (may require version 3.1.1.P of TEXTALKER)
The Talking Speller now includes version 3.1P of TEXTALKER from Street Electronics. TEXTALKER lets you customize speech output and provides screen review options that let you speak any line of text currently displayed on the video monitor.
The talking Sensible Speller for ProDOS works with many ProDOS word processors, including ProWORDS and WORD-TALK. It also reads any standard ProDOS sequential textfile. DOS 3.3 textfiles can be transferred to ProDOS using the CONVERT program.
This version of the Speller is available for $150 direct from the publisher. If you presently own a talking version of Sensible Spller for ProDOS and would like to update to the new version, send in all your program disks and $15. If you purchase the talking Sensible Speller for ProDOS within 30 days, send your program disks with a copy of your receipt for a no-charge update.
If you own the (non-talking) Sensible Spller for ProDOS or the Sensible Speller IV (DOS 3.3), you can update to this new talking version by sending all your Speller disks, the pages in the binder (but not the binder itself) and $29. (This is the difference in price between the original version and the talking version, plus $4 for shipping and handling.) You will receive a new manual and new disks.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to call us at the number below.
210 S. Woodward
Birmingham MI 48011
The Project on Science, Technology, and Disability of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) maintains a Resource Group of Scientists and Engineers with Disabilities, which currently numbers more than 1,200. Since 1975, members of the Resource Group have consulted with schools and colleges, employers, legislators, and other disabled persons, thereby helping to open doors to education and careers in math, science, and engineering for interested disabled people.
The First Edition of the Resource Directory of Scientists and Engineers with Disabilities, published in 1978, has become a valuable resource tool for educators, students, agencies, and organizations throughout the country. The grant-giving agencies, in particular, have a continuous need for qualified disabled individuals to serve on advisory committees and peer review panels.
The need to identify disabled scientists (including social scientists) is a continuous one. To meet this need, the National Science Foundation has awarded AAAS a grant to publish the Second Edition of the Resource Directory in Spring 1987. The Directory lists names and other helpful data among scientists and engineers with disabilities, and is, among other things, a valuable resource for educators and students seeking information on better access to educational programs. The Directory is especially useful to scientists and engineers who become disabled mid-career, and wish to learn coping strategies others have developed.
AAAS is making a concerted effort to locate new names and revisions for the Resource Directory before December 31, 1986 and requests that disabled scientists, engineers, and students of these disciplines cooperate in this national effort by identifying themselves. AAAS will contact those persons identified and will provide more information about joining the Resource Group and being listed in the Directory. AAAS will not use, without permission, the names of individual scientists or students of science who respond. Please write or call:
Project on Science, Technology & Disability
1333 H Street NW
Washington DC 20005
Sensory Aids Foundation announces the closing of the Computer Training and Evaluation Center (C-TEC). This remarkably successful program of Sensory Aids Foundation was established under the auspices of a three-year grant from the U.S. Office of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration. The Center was developed in cooperation with the Veterans Administration, Western Blind Rehabilitation Center in Palo Alto, California and provided services from October 1, 1983 to September 30, 1986.
C-TEC provided training in the use of customized software, voice synthesizers, electronic braille, and enlarged print computer output devices. Hands-on comparisons of computer access aids, hardware and software evaluations, public demonstrations, and information and referral services were available to blind and visually impaired persons, rehabilitation and special education professionals, employers, and the general public.
During this three-year project, 200 blind and visually impaired individuals received hands-on training or evaluation services. Two hundred professionals participated in applied courses and workshops and more than 5000 people were served through public presentations, equipment demonstrations, and responses to information requests.
Sensory Aids Foundation will continue to offer: demonstrations of computer access devices for IBM and Apple personal computers; consultation in worksite adaptations and the selection of appropriate computer hardware and software; and information and referral services for the purchase of equipment and training in this area. Contact them at:
Sensory Aids Foundation
399 Sherman Avenue, Suite 12
Palo Alto CA 94306
The Western Blind Rehabilitation Center, VA Medical Center will continue to provide training in the use of adapted computer aids to interested, qualified, and eligible blinded veterans, without fees. The Center also functions as a Research and Evaluation Unit. Contact them at:
Western Blind Rehabilitation Center
VA Medical Center
3801 Miranda Avenue
Palo Alto CA 94304
415-493-5000 ext 4358
[Editor's Note: Now that HOT DOTS includes a year's Newsletter subscription, I urged Lee to introduce himself to the Newsletter readership. "Write a little something to illuminate your background," I told him. This is what he sent. JK]
I admit it. I was an employee of Kurzweil Computer Products (KCP) before teaming up with Raised Dot to work on software for the IBM-PC. KCP is (in)famous for its development of the Kurzweil Reading Machine. This audacious device is supposed to read any printed matter placed on top of it. Many of you readers may have an opinion on the veracity of this claim.
From its inception in Raymond Kurzweil's basement, KCP was always a company with a sense of humor. Many Kurzweils contain hidden features. For example, on model 3's with version 21 software (I think), if you hit the Page key, then the Message key immediately afterward, you'll hear the message, "The truck is here." This was used to announce the arrival of the canteen truck. There is a hidden features for adventurous souls who have access to a model 4. Try Special command 21.
Employees at many companies have complaints or suggestions that they refer to management through a suggestion box. Major decisions at KCP are handled by an executive body known as the "EXecutive COmmittee" or ECOM. ECOM makes its decisions known by posting them on a public bulletin board. Employees voice their objections by writing a memo of their own. They'd try to mimic the memo's style exactly and hint at its unofficial nature with a "From: ECONN" instead of "From: ECOM". An example of such a memo exchange might be:
Date: October 8
To: All Employees
Subject: KRM-Manufacturing Liaison
As of next week, Bob Smith will serve as liaison between the reading machine marketing department and the manufacturing department. We wish to thank Bob for his willingness to take on this new responsibility and hope you will co-operate with him.
Date: October 8
To: All Employees
Subject: KRM-Manufacturing Liaison
As of next week, Bob Smith will serve as liaison and shuttle service between the reading machine marketing department and the manufacturing department. In accordance with this responsibility, we have moved his office to the elevator. Since the reading machine department is on the second floor and manufacturing is on the first, we hope you will cooperate with Bob and use our new procedure when you want to talk with him. Go into the elevator and press 2 when you want to talk with him about the reading machine. Press 1 when you want to talk to him about manufacturing. You may only talk to him in his liaison capacity when the elevator is in motion.
We at KCP had an archive of these memos located in the elevator shaft. The ECONN librarian would put their hands into the elevator as it closed, then open the elevator doors halfway between the first and second floor. The elevator would stop because the doors were open and the librarian would reference the ECONN forms.
What could we do? It was the only way we could talk to Bob Smith about his liaison duties.
In the spring of 1981, Caryn received her Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin. She had spread 70 copies of her resume across the land. She got two offers for a teaching position: one from Auburn University in Alabama, and one from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Auburn sent a free tactile Rubik's Cube; Bucknell offered cheap housing. We were going to Lewisburg.
Moving to Lewisburg meant breaking up our household: for over a year we had been renting a house in Madison with Jesse Kaysen and Nevin Olson. On moving day I made a prediction in jest: the work I was doing in my spare time with small computers would expand into a business that would eventually employ all four of us. We laughed.
Actually, my plan was to get a regular computer job. It turned out that Lewisburg was quite small with few opportunities for an over-excited computer programmer. I blew the one good job interview I had by not wearing a tie and then explaining in detail to my prospective supervisor why his plans would fail. I spent a few weeks making houses of cards and watching the Munsters on TV before committing myself to home-based computer operations full time.
In the fall of 1981, I taught the Apple to mimic another VersaBraille in what the real VersaBraille thought was a VersaBraille to VersaBraille data transfer. One month I wrote a grade two translator, the next month I wrote a back translator. I put in some crude speech output capabilities into my software. By late fall, "BRAILLE-EDIT" almost looked like a practical program. It was strictly designed to augment a VersaBraille--provide translation and reformatting capabilities. The first few customers found out about me through TSI.
Ted Glaser bought the first copy of BRAILLE-EDIT on 12/20/81. To switch from a voice output version to a screen output version, you had to change a few lines in some BASIC programs. Ted suggested a "configuration file" set by the user to simplify customizing the disk. I rejected his suggestion as too complicated. After he made the suggestion two more times, I began to work on a configuration program.
Customer number four made Raised Dot possible. Harvey Lauer saw some potential in the software that I was selling. He sent me a list of 12 suggestions. No sooner had I revised the software then he sent another list of 12 suggestions. I got suspicious and asked him about it. Harvey said that he feared that if he presented the entire list of 24 suggestions that I would get discouraged and stop working on software for the blind. He molded BRAILLE-EDIT so that it was actually a useful tool.
Many people think that since my wife is blind, that she was giving me detailed feedback. This was not really true--she was too busy! Caryn was devoting her energies to teaching calculus (and bringing home enough money to support my programming pipe-dream). Caryn did provide me with an essential role model: she taught me how blind professionals live and cope with the sighted world. She also pointed out that a back translation program was needed to properly work with a device like the VersaBraille.
In February of 1982, I started work on a translator from Nemeth code into printed mathematics. Caryn needed a way to quickly generate handouts, tests, quiz solutions, etc. In early 1982, BRAILLE-EDIT was such a low volume seller that I had plenty of time to devote to this exciting project. After a month's work, we got some crude results. After a few more months, the program became a reality. Caryn could make the Apple automatically transfer a file from the VersaBraille, translate the various braille codes, and print out the result (with three levels of fractions, 16 levels of radicals, Greek letters, integrals, etc.) on a dot matrix printer.
Caryn's first major design effort was working out the system of double-dollar-sign formatting commands. I led Caryn to believe that these formatting commands would also be worked into the mathematics software. When it came time for a unique characters to distinguish the format commands from surrounding braille text, she picked "$$" since this did not conflict with anything in Nemeth code. At the time, neither one of us thought about the word "needed" ( _- ne$$ _l ) in grade two braille. But I lied: I never did integrate the BRAILLE-EDIT system of "$$" formatting indicators into the mathematics software.
So many of the early customers gave so many useful ideas. I was quite free in distributing updates, because I didn't like the idea that someone was not using the very latest version. According to the records which have survived, Michael May, customer number 12, bought BRAILLE-EDIT on 5/28/82. I sent updates on 7/30, 8/24, 1/27/83, 2/11, 3/3, 4/21, 5/30, and 7/18. The following early customers (customer numbers in parentheses), provided very useful suggestions, and helped to make BRAILLE-EDIT a real product:
After 18 months of operation, Raised Dot Computing had 37 customers. Revenues were about $11,000, and expenses were $14,000. The economics did not bother me a bit. I never expected that the sales of software would support me. As long as Caryn provided a monthly subsidy to the enterprise, there were no problems.
January of 1983 was a month of many changes: Apple was switching from the Apple two plus to the Apple 2e; TSI was switching from the VersaBraille P2B to the P2C; Street Electronics was switching to a new speech chip that required a new TEXTALKER; and I was trying to switch from exclusively supporting the CCS 7710 card to also supporting the Super Serial Card. Keeping in touch with all my customers about these issues by phone was overwhelming.
Besides, it seemed that I was on the phone 20 hours a day. On several occasions I moved the telephone into the bathroom and conducted business from the bathtub. I'm sure that the folks on the other end of the wire were a little surprised to hear the sloshing when I got up to get names and addresses.
In an attempt to keep customers up-to-date with all the changes, the first issue of the Raised Dot Computing Newsletter was published in February, 1983. I just wrote a BRAILLE-EDIT chapter and used "Multi-copy print" to produce 40 copies on my dot matrix printer. [If anyone has one of these originals, I would appreciate a copy for the archives.] For the March issue, I got a tape duplicator.
The Newsletter was useful in cutting down on phone time, but it also complicated my life. Very soon, I realized that I was spending about half my time doing the Newsletter. The other half of my time was spent opening mail, writing letters, and answering the phone. A third half of my time was spent trying to write programs. I was quickly running out of halves!
Next Month: Raised Dot Hires Someone & The Last Year in Lewisburg