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, especially on diskette. All are subject to editing for style and clarity. All opinions expressed are those of the author. Editor: Jesse Kaysen
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.
The hard-working chemists in the BEX laboratory have been busy. With a flash of green smoke, we proudly present: BEX Version 2.2!
The new version is in many ways a radically different program, although some of the differences are not immediately apparent to the user. The Print and Grade 2 translator programs have been totally rewritten to support the needs of TranscriBEX. We've also been able to nail quite a few irritating bugs from earlier versions of BEX, and add some handy new features we're sure you'll enjoy.
A brief tour of the new features is in order. BEX 2.2 comes with both TEXTALKER 3.1.2 and SCAT 1.0. Depending on whether you have an Echo or a SlotBuster in your system, BEX now loads the latest in screen access software. (More details on both programs are elsewhere in this issue of the Newsletter.) We've modified TEXTALKER so that you can no longer change the Echo's command character from control-E to another control character. This should make BEX's Editor much friendlier for beginners.
When you're configuring, you have a few more options. BEX treats the SlotBuster as an internal, integral device, like the Echo. You can define an automatic set-up sequence for the SlotBuster, and for a paperless brailler.
At the Starting menu, you have two new choices. S - System description creates disk files that may help us solve your technical problems, if you ever encounter them. When you use option V - View a configuration, your automatic set-up sequences are displayed. You can now press the number sign at this and all other BEX menus to get the number of free sectors available on disk.
Moving along to the Main menu, there's a lot that's new. Again, pressing the number gets the free sectors remaining on any disk drive. The Editor has a new class of commands oriented around sentences: you can now advance and zoom back silently by one or more sentences, as well as delete by sentences. To round out the sentence-oriented features, speech output in non-jerky mode also pauses slightly at the end of a sentence, making the reading much more natural. In addition, we've finally squashed the bugs that sometimes caused pitch weirdnesses with control-O and control-T.
Also in the Editor, we've changed the braille keyboard mode in two ways. You now use S-D-F J-K-L and the spacebar for braille data entry; the "home row" is much more comfortable for people with all their fingers. Speedy braillists have encountered problems due to a conflict between BEX's keyboard buffer and the braille keyboard so we've disabled the keyboard for braille data entry.
The Grade 2 translator's accuracy has been greatly improved, thanks to sustained hacking by Caryn Navy. It now places the termination sign (dots 6-3) to show a mid-word change from uppercase to lowercase. It also places a special control character--ASCII 30--after hyphens and dashes.
The totally new Print program interprets this control character as a "discretionary line break"; when the whole word can't fit on the braille line, then the Print program moves to a new line after the hyphen or dash. You can enter the discretionary line break in print text yourself. You can also enter a "discretionary hyphen," with ASCII 31. When the Print program can't fit in an entire word containing this character, it breaks the line and prints a hyphen.
One consequence of the new Print program has been the elimination of many bugs--detailed in the supplemental documentation. Your runningheads may be up to 128 characters long. You can now do roman numeral page numbering. In addition to left and right margins, you can now set a top margin, which greatly simplifies getting your text to start at the right place at the top of the page.
Scooting along to the Second Menu, Adjust pages has been certified friendly in regards to the Zippy chapter as both source or target. Learner Level folks now can use option M - Merge chapters. Option I - Input through slot has become more flexible: it now supports both hardware and software handshaking. Elsewhere in this Newsletter you'll find details on sending text from the IBM-PC to the Apple using this new feature. Subtle changes to the display at the Page Menu should make 20-column screen users happy.
We wish we could simply send out this update free to every registered BEX owner--but we can't. It's economically unfeasible with our current BEX base of over 900 customers. We have tried to keep the costs as low as possible--$25.
On May 5, 1986, we began shipping BEX Version 2.1. All registered BEX owners who purchased their programs at full price ($400 or $375 cash) after May 5, 1986 get the 2.2 Updating Disk at no charge. We put them in the mail before Christmas.
We have mailed all other registered BEX owners a large print and braille announcement that explains how to order the BEX 2.2 Updating Disk. Those forgetful folk who have not yet registered their BEX have been sent nothing--the cure, of course, is registering your BEX.
The DP-10 is a large print screen access device from VTEK. It works with both BRAILLE-EDIT and BEX, but not in exactly the same way. Several people have complained that BEX's Normal (non-HI-RES 40 column) screen display in the Editor is less friendly to the DP-10 than BRAILLE-EDIT's. In BRAILLE-EDIT, all control characters were represented with the at-sign (@). In BEX, all control characters are shown with the delete key checkerboard.
I've written a short automatic procedure chapter that modifies the BEX Editor program so that N screen uses the at-sign for control characters. The auto chapter modifies the program in memory, so you have to run it every time you boot. I'd be delighted to supply copies of this auto chapter to any DP-10 user who'd like it: please send a blank disk to my attention with a short note.
It's only been a month, and TSI has already upgraded the VersaPoint! The following features are available on VersaPoints purchased from RDC:
Storing five different sets of configuration parameters in battery-backed memory, recallable by number
Eight-dot braille for representing uppercase letters and control characters
Instantaneously clearing the VersaPoint's buffer by pressing the Top-of-Form and Read buttons
"No Translator" mode to facilitate printing from the tape-based VersaBraille directly to the VersaPoint.
As mentioned last month, the VersaPoint uses a configuration dialogue to define how it communicates with a remote computer and how the braille is presented on the page. The VersaPoint asks you a series of questions and you respond by pressing the Top-of-form and Line Feed buttons; once you've answered all the questions, the VersaPoint stores the answers in a battery-backed computer memory chip. Originally, only one set of answers could be stored; with the new upgrade, you can define up to five different sets of "Communications Control Parameters" or CCPs. This feature is very handy when you work with more than one computer interface: you can define one parallel IBM interface and one serial Apple interface, for example, and easily switch between them.
The standard braille cell has six dots, numbered 1-2-3 from top to bottom on the left and 4-5-6 from top to bottom on the right. Eight dot braille adds dot 7 below dot 3 and dot 8 below dot 6. With eight-dot braille, all the ambiguities of the computer braille code are resolved. On the VersaPoint, you have several options available for displaying information using eight dots. An uppercase letter is indicated with dot 7; lowercase a is dot 1, uppercase A is dots 1-7. The accent grave is dot 4; the at-sign is dots 4-7. You can also ask that control characters be printed: control-A would be dots 1-8. Finally, you can ask that spaces be shown with dots 7-8. This can very useful in programming or when you wish a computer braille dump of columnar print material.
All these possibilities for eight-dot braille are controlled through the CCPs, mentioned above: you can set up various combinations of six- and eight-dot braille and recall them by number.
The VersaPoint's prodigious 30,000 character buffer is very handy when you're printing long documents. It can be a drag, however, if you realize that you don't want to abort printing a document. At our suggestions, TSI has added an external "clear the buffer" command: you just switch the VersaPoint off-line, then depress the Top-of-Form and Read buttons.
Usually the VersaPoint accepts ASCII characters and translates them using the US Computer Braille Code. You can specify which international braille code the VersaPoint uses with the "Language" parameter in the CCP dialogue. The new feature is that you can also specify "No Translator"--the hex braille you send to the VersaPoint is the braille you get embossed. This is particularly useful for printing from the tape-based VersaBraille to the VersaPoint.
We've designed two packages for people interested in the VersaPoint: the BEX Package and the TranscriBEX Package. Each package costs $4195, and includes shipping within the U.S. The BEX Package is aimed at schools and blind individuals. It includes the VersaPoint with 1-year warranty, BEX, an Echo Plus Speech Synthesizer, and an Apple Super Serial Card and 9M cable.
The TranscriBEX Package is aimed at sighted transcribers: it includes the VersaPoint, BEX + TranscriBEX Module, Super Serial Card and 9M cable. Other software discounts and VersaPoint braille samples are available on request--just drop us a card or give us a ring!
The Talking Apple Literacy Kit (TALK) was created by the American Printing House for the Blind to provide beginners, both children and adult, with their first exposure to microcomputers and synthesized speech. TALK introduces the exciting world of computers with tactile, aural, and visual experiences. This is a generic kit, which will complement almost any computer literacy text. In a program where visually handicapped or multiply handicapped students are mainstreamed, TALK makes an excellent introductory supplement for the whole class.
TALK is available in two versions: Student and Teacher. The Student kit contains:
a full-size thermoformed model of an Apple keyboard, with all keys labeled with their computer braille counterparts;
The program Talking Apple Presents Apple, an introduction to Apple computers, (master and backup disk);
The program Talking Writer, a typing tutor, three games, and an introductory word processing program that outputs speech and large print on the monitor (master disk);
Three braille reference guides: Getting Started, Tactile Keyboard Explanation, and Talking Writer Rules.
The Teachers Kit includes all the above, and additionally:
Teacher's Manual in print and on audio cassette
11 computer parts for tactual inspection (tubes, transistors, floppy disks, circuit cards, etc.)
TALK needs a 64K Apple 2e with Echo 2 or Echo Plus. APH recommends it for learners eight and up. The Teacher Kit, catalog # 1-08780, costs $81.68; the Student Kit, catalog 1-08790, costs $43.57. As with all products from the Print House, they may be purchased with quota dollars. For more information, contact:
American Print House for the Blind, Inc.
P. O. Box 6085
Louisville KY 40206-0085
[Editor's Note: I had the good fortune to have a free afternoon to spend playing with the Talking Apple Presents Apple disk. It's marvelous! I tried as hard as I could to make a mistake--it resisted every attempt. I'd be confident that even a four-year-old could use it! It thoroughly explains the Apple keyboard, basic concepts like menus and control characters, and provides a good introduction to TEXTALKER and screen review as well. It's also very funny. Hats off to Larry Skutchan and associates at APH for an excellent program that fills a real need! JK]
The days of waiting for the Echo speech synthesizer to catch up with the computer are over! We no longer must listen to text we're not interested in or continually use control-X to silence the voice.
Larry Skutchan of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has modified the TEXTALKER program so that we can easily interrupt it. The delightful features I discuss in this article are found in TEXTALKER Version 3.1.1 (DOS 3.3) and 3.1.1P (ProDOS). [Editor's Note: Since this article was written, Mr. Skutchan has slightly modified TEXTALKER again so it's also compatible with the Apple 2gs and the Echo 2b card. This latest version, TEXTALKER 3.1.2, is now shipping on BEX. JK] The new TEXTALKER enables us to operate our computers at a much faster rate thereby making the blind or visually impaired computer operator more productive.
The gain is productivity is due to the ability to interrupt the voice so that the computer can continue operating. It is the voice that slows the computer functions. Using earlier TEXTALKERs, once the Echo receives text, it speaks it all before allowing you to issue commands to the computer. You can issue the "temporary silence" command, control-X, but you still must wait for TEXTALKER to finish speaking silently to itself.
With the new TEXTALKER, this wait is a thing of the past. Pressing any keystroke while the Echo is speaking now does two things: it immediately shuts up the Echo and it passes the keystroke you pressed to the Apple. When you work with programs you're familiar with, this feature lets you move much faster. You know what the next command you want to enter is, so all you have to do is enter it. The entering of the command will interrupt the voice and execute the new command.
A good example is using Apple's FILER. You've explored all the menus and options, so you know your way around. As soon as you run the program, press the "V" for volume commands. The next thing you hear is "VOLUME COMMANDS." Immediately press the "F" key to choose "FORMAT A VOLUME"--it silences the speech and makes the next selection. Here's another example with BEX: you want to print a document but you wish to be reminded of the printers in your current configuration. Enter "? <CR>" at the "Which printer?" prompt, and BEX begins listing the printers by number. Number 2 is the one you want: press 2 as soon as you hear it described and you don't have to listen to the other printers on the list. If you press the space bar after pressing any key, including Control-X, the speech is reconnected.
TEXTALKER 3.1.1 provides several improvements to the Echo's Line Review. When you enter line review with control-L, you still must select a line to review by pressing a letter from A to X. In previous versions, TEXTALKER would respond with the name of the line; if you pressed the "K", for instance, older software would respond with "LINE K." The new TEXTALKER responds by immediately pronouncing the text that appears on line K.
Similarly, a press of the up or down arrow key results in the immediate pronunciation of the text on that line of the screen. This permits you to obtain a much clearer picture of what appears on the screen. Combined with the ability to silence the speech with any keystroke, it permits very rapid scanning through the screen contents. Just up and down arrow your way through the screen; each press immediately silences the speech and then starts talking the next line.
Getting into review mode is much easier with the new TEXTALKER. Previously, you could only enter review when the Apple was waiting for input. Now you can still do that, but you can also enter review while any text is being sent through the normal output routine. In other words, the TEXTALKER code always now checks to see if you're pressing control-L. If so, TEXTALKER freezes the program and enters review. When you exit review, the other program resumes where it left off. This provides extra flexibility to programmers, for instance, who wish to examine a program listing without actually stopping the listing. The feature also allows users to stop other programs not specifically designed for speech so that may utilize TEXTALKER's review mode no matter the method of accepting input.
One of the most significant new features is the new TEXTALKER's ability to review in columns. You may now define up to nine different columns on the screen. (This is in addition to the normal "full line" mode.) The nine columns have default values which aid in reviewing the CATALOG. These values are, however, easily altered.
You select which column to use by pressing a number from 1 to 9 while in review mode. (Selecting 0 reverts back to the normal full line mode.) You may switch from column to column at will by pressing the number of the desired column. Instructions on adjusting column width and all the other new features are included in the the documentation that comes with the TEXTALKER version 3.1.1.
BEX 2.2 contains TEXTALKER 3.1.2, with one slight modification. (You can't change the command character from control-E to another control character.) The documentation is supplied on the BEX 2.2 Updating Disk. The American Printing House for the Blind is distributing a two-sided disk containing an unmodified DOS 3.3 version, the ProDOS version, and documentation. This costs $15.50; its catalog number is D-89570. Contact:
American Printing House for the Blind
1829 Frankfort Avenue
Louisville KY 40206
The SlotBuster II is a multi-function circuit card for the Apple 2 plus, 2e, or 2gs manufactured by RC Systems of Washington state. It's a dramatic improvement on the original Slot-Buster, mentioned in these pages in June 1985.
The SlotBuster card can be obtained with up to six different functions: speech synthesizer; parallel printer port, serial printer (one-way communications) port, serial modem (two-way communications) port; clock/calendar card; and BSR controller port. (The BSR X-10 command console allows you to remotely control up to 16 devices through your Apple.) You can send information independently and simultaneously to each port. The card comes with an 8K buffer that's automatically apportioned to the various ports; you can obtain 32K or 64K buffer enhancements as well.
It's almost impossible to describe a speech synthesizer on paper. To my ear, the SlotBuster sounds more French (where the Echo sounds Swedish.) It has both inflected and monotone voices. The sound is actually created by tweaking the Apple's speaker; you can plug in a "Synthesizer Extender Cable" to route the sound to headphones, if you wish.
Of particular interest to blind users is the new SCreen ArTiculator (or SCAT) screen review software. It has all the features of TEXTALKER 3.1, and then some. (SCAT works equally well with the original Slot-Buster I.) You can review one or more lines on the screen, announce the position of the video or audio cursor, and read text by words or by letters. The interesting plus is the string search function: while in review mode, press period and SCAT responds: "Search." You then enter a string of characters, (which SCAT echoes,) finish with <CR>, and press an arrow key to search backward or forward. When SCAT finds the string, it announces the screen location; otherwise it says "String not found." SCAT also remembers the last line you reviewed and defaults to that position the next time you enter screen review. That's handy for a program like Apple's FILER, where useful information is clustered in the center of the screen.
SCAT gives you great control over the SlotBuster's speech. As with the Echo, you can set the pitch, speed, and volume. The SlotBuster has two modes for pronouncing numerals. The "digit" mode is like TEXTALKER: "9345" is pronounced "nine three four five"; in "number" mode the same string is "nine thousand three hundred forty five." (Phone numbers can sound pretty wild!) SCAT lets you set different environments for "text" (word-by-word) and "letter" (character-by-character) speech. You can specify the delay between characters or words and which punctuation is pronounced independently for "text" and "letter" modes. In letter mode, SCAT speaks uppercase letters at a higher pitch than lowercase.
The SlotBuster's buffer is a delight when printing; originally it was a little frustrating when using the synthesizer. The SlotBuster's designer, Randy Carlson, has carefully listened to suggestions from blind users, and has implemented a range of needed features. First off, there's a handy hardware modification. The SlotBuster II comes with a wire that you plug in to the game port on the Apple 2. Once installed, pressing the open- and closed-Apple keys simultaneously clears out the SlotBuster's buffer, stopping speech or printing on a dime.
Secondly, the SlotBuster speech now stops when you issue a control-X command. Finally, you can issue a command to disable the buffer for the synthesizer entirely, if you wish. When the buffer is enabled, you can stop speech quickly without resorting to Apple keys or control-X. While the SlotBuster's talking, any keypress silences speech and is handed over to the Apple. For example, suppose you press Return at a BEX menu; the SlotBuster starts speaking the list of options. Press E; the SlotBuster shuts up and BEX loads the Editor.
The SCAT software only requires 4K of memory; you can load it into the language card (like TEXTALKER) or into high memory. BEX 2.2 loads SCAT into the language card when it detects a SlotBuster (but no Echo) in your system. The SCAT disk also comes with a special 64K DiversiDOS version.
The SCAT command character is control-E. Most programs that are designed to work with TEXTALKER make sure that you have access to the control-E character, so they should be friendly to SCAT as well. SCAT's native screen review character is control-R. The SCAT documentation includes instructions on modifying TEXTALKER-compatible software to work with SCAT.
To increase compatibility even more, SCAT has a "Brand-X" (TEXTALKER) emulation mode. I tried it out with APPLE TALK (the excellent disk-based talking magazine from Jeff & Johnette Weiss) and it worked like a charm. I loaded SCAT into memory, then saved it under the name TEXTALKER.RAM. I added the statement
PRINT CHR$(5) "I"
to the HELLO program after "BRUN TEXTALKER.RAM." Control-E I tells the SlotBuster to go into TEXTALKER emulation, and everything worked fine from there on in. When in TEXTALKER emulation, the SlotBuster only responds to TEXTALKER commands: you don't have access to the string search function.
The serial and parallel interfaces seem to work just grand; they're on the list of supported cards for BEX large print. RC Systems claims the modem port is hardware-compatible with the Apple Super Serial Card. We don't yet have one on hand to test; you can be sure that we'll publish detailed interface information as soon as we have it!
You can mix and match functions when you buy the SlotBuster, so how much it costs depends on the options. Just to give you an idea, a loaded SlotBuster II with 64K buffer, speech synthesizer, parallel port and cable, modem port and cable, and Talking Manual with SCAT disk lists for $377.90. A more modest configuration of SlotBuster II, speech synthesizer, serial printer port and cable, and Talking Manual lists for $259.75. Owners of older SlotBuster I's can purchase a SCAT disk alone for $19.95. (This includes three DOS 3.3 versions, documentation, ProSCAT for ProDOS, and Apple's FILER and CONVERT utilities.)
In summary, the SlotBuster II seems to be a well-thought-out, useful card. The speech synthesizer works well with its screen review software. If you're beginning to run out of slots on your Apple, the SlotBuster can be a real life-saver. For more information, contact:
RC Systems, Inc.
121 W. Winesap Road
Bothell, Washington 98012
206-672-6909 Noon-6 PM PST Monday - Saturday
The Greater Detroit Society, the Michigan Commission, and the American Foundation, together with a number of other organizations of and for the blind, are sponsoring a unqiue 3-day conference titled, "3 Tracks to a Successful Career." The focus is helping blind and visually impaired youngsters and adults find their way into careers which are most compatible with their talent and best potential. The program will be held at the Southfield Hilton Hotel in Southfield, Michigan April 2-4, 1987.
Presentations by successfully employed blind men and women, leaders in the field of education, and experts in the creation and application of adaptive technological devices to meet the needs of blind persons will speak on the three tracks of this conference. "Training" will focus on specialized training programs for the blind or partially seeing. "Technology" will focus upon the utilization of high technology and adaptive devices to facilitate contemporary education requirements and improve job performance in competitive work situations. Although "Careers Unlimited" will be primarily directed toward the visually impaired student/client and his/her parents, it will provide all conference attendees with the opportunity to interact with successfully employed blind men and women to learner who they are, what types of work they are doing, and how specific goals were accomplished. The programs will include general sessions, panel discussions, hands-on rotating workshop sessions, and general exhibits.
There will be a modest registration fee; however, some financial assistance is also available to visually impaired individuals. To receive detailed program and registration materials, contact the conference chair:
Bernard J. Pumo
Greater Detroit Society for the Blind
16625 Grand River
Detroit MI 48227
Diversi-COPY is the shockingly fast disk copying utility that's part of your BEX package. We've found the program invaluable, and we hope you have, too. (If you haven't tried it yet, you're in for a treat! There are two BEX chapters called "BLIND USERS" and "MANUAL" on the Diversi-COPY disk that supply detailed instructions on how to proceed.)
The program's author, Bill Basham, has bravely decided to distribute Diversi-COPY as "shareware." "Shareware" is a wonderful concept: get the program for free, try it out, and if you like it, then you pay for it. The key element, however, is that you have to do your share. If you've found Diversi-COPY useful, you owe it to your own conscience to send $30 to:
5848 Crampton Ct.
Rockford IL 61111
The Ohtsuki BT-5000 Printer is a hybrid device that can print, emboss, or do both simultaneously. It has internal Print to grade 1 and grade 2 to print translators. Sharon Kelleher of Ohtsuki Communication Products kindly supplied us with a unit for extensive testing. The Ohtsuki is supplied with both serial and parallel interfaces.
We tested a Grappler Plus with the Ohtsuki. The cable that comes with the Grappler works fine. There are four switches on the Grappler. Set them at:
off off ON ON.
Only the settings of the first bank of switches on the Ohtsuki are relevant to a parallel interface. Set bank one to:
ON ON off ON off off.
In addition, RDC has heard several field reports that the Apple parallel card works just as well. We do not have details of switches and cables for the Apple parallel card.
RDC has been informed of a set of switch settings that work with the Apple Super Serial Card. For a serial connection, the Ohtsuki needs a time delay at the end of each line. Switch 2-2 on the Super Serial Card provides the necessary time delay. Because the serial connection requires such tricky timing, RDC does not recommend any other serial interface card besides the Apple Super Serial Card. We do not know how to properly connect the Ohtsuki to the Apple 2c, since the 2c ports can not provide the needed time delay.
Use a 6M (straight through male-to-male) cable to connect the Ohtsuki to the Super Serial Card. Set the SSC's jumper block to "terminal". Do not use the RDC standard switch settings for the interface with the Ohtsuki. The following settings use 1200 baud:
As mentioned earlier, the Ohtsuki has a number of different modes. You independently control the input mode (what type of text you are sending it) and output mode (how the Ohtsuki puts information on paper). Using the switch settings describe above, the Ohtsuki's default is to accept grade two text input, and output grade 2 braille and back-translated print on alternate lines.
You control the modes with "escape sequences," so called because the first character is the "escape" character. We represent this character with: <Esc>. For example, <Esc> l T means three characters: escape, lowercase l, uppercase T. Spaces are included between the characters for clarity's sake; don't include spaces in the sequence you send to the Ohtsuki. All input modes can be set by dip switches or by escape sequences; the output modes are only controlled through escape sequences.
With BEX, you can include escape sequences by defining an "automatic set up sequence" in your configuration. (Just press the Escape key to enter <Esc> in your sequence; the Echo only pronounces it when you're in All punctuation. It doesn't appear on the screen, unfortunately. You can check to be sure it's there with View a configuration.) A set-up sequence gets sent to the printer at the start of each print stream.
Since you can control input and output modes independently, you have a lot of choices! The following escape sequences assume your dip switches are set as given above. They're just a selected few of the possibilities--in no way a substitute for a careful reading of the Ohtsuki's manual.
Getting the carriage width and form length right depends on the output mode. For braille only, use a carriage width of 41 (or 42) and a form length of 25. For braille and print, use a smaller carriage width. If you use the <Esc> l T sequence, then you can have braille and print with 25 lines per page.
When you want to use the Ohtsuki for just print output, then configure it as a "Generic printer". Give a carriage width of 90 and a form length of 58, and an automatic set-up sequence of <Esc> P. We can not give any recommendations about carriage width for Ohtsuki-generated grade 1 braille. If the carriage width is set too wide, then the brailler truncates the end of a line. If the carriage width is set too short, much paper gets unused. Each user will have to determine a carriage width that works best for them.
inLARGE, published by Berkeley System Design, offers people with low vision a low cost way to use the Macintosh computer. The program, which is not copy-protected, works on any Mac 512K or Mac Plus, and lists for just $100. Since it's totally software, inLARGE is completely portable. Until now, the only way for a person with limited vision to get access to the Mac's screen was through an external monitor, costing in the neighborhood of $2000. inLARGE can open up a whole new computer to persons with vision impairments.
I've had the opportunity to test inLARGE for the past month on my Mac Plus with an Apple HD-20 hard drive. Two important caveats: Although I do wear thick glasses (and use 20-column screen in BEX), I don't consider myself visually impaired. Also, I was quite familiar with the Mac's operation before I started using inLARGE.
Once you load inLARGE into the Mac's memory, it provides a completely adjustable frame that magnifies everything--text and graphics--on the Mac's screen. You control the size and position of the frame, and the degree of magnification within it. The enlargement factor varies from two to 16 times; you can set horizontal and vertical magnification independently. You can invert the normally black-on-white screen display to white-on-black. Persons with field defects may find it useful to change the Mac's standard arrow cursor to a full frame cross-hair. Before I go into great detail about inLARGE's operations, though, I want to provide some basic background information on the Mac for those who may not be familiar with it.
In addition to a regular keyboard, the Mac uses a mouse for many types of input. The mouse is a small rectangular box with a single button on top; the box floats on a hard rubber ball. When you roll the mouse around on a flat surface, you control the position of a pointer on the Mac screen. Sometimes this pointer functions as the cursor--when you position the pointer and click the mouse button, you're telling the Mac what to do. However, it's also possible to simultaneously have an insertion point, independent of your pointer. A quick example may make this clear: as you're entering text in a word processor, it appears at the insertion point. Without changing the insertion point, you can move the pointer to the right-hand edge of the screen and click on little arrows that scroll your text up and down. Many Mac functions are controlled through dialogue boxes. These outlined boxes on the screen frequently contain both buttons for you to click with the pointer and insertion points for you to enter data. inLARGE does a good job of managing these "split cursor" situations.
When you run inLARGE, you get a copyright screen. Any options you set at this time are saved for future sessions. Click on the mouse, and you're ready to run any other Mac program and take advantage of inLARGE's diverse magnifying and screen scanning abilities. The Finder's "Set Startup" option allows you to automatically run inLARGE when you boot your Mac, so a person with vision impairments can operate the Mac completely independently.
The inLARGE frame normally follows the insertion point. This means that as you type along, the frame follows. When the Mac presents a dialogue box, for example, when saving a file, inLARGE's frame automatically moves to the insertion point for the file name.
However, when you move the mouse, inLARGE's frame follows the pointer. This allows you to scan information anywhere on the screen. inLARGE also has a "lock" mode that lets you move the pointer while freezing the frame on the insertion point. You can gain access to all the Mac features by combining these modes.
All of inLARGE's options are changed by pressing the Mac's option key. (Many programs use the option key in combination with another key--like the control key on the Apple. No program I tried uses the option key alone, which seems to ensure inLARGE's compatibility with other Mac programs.) The inch-high inLARGE icon pops up in the lower right hand corner, clearly indicating its readiness to get a command.
Press R to resize inLARGE's frame. The rest of the Mac screen is temporarily blanked out. Move the mouse to change the height and width of the frame, then click to set it. Option followed by A lets you see the outline of the frame on the normal Mac screen. This is very handy for getting your bearings. Option followed by P instantly toggles between the partial frame you've defined and a full screen frame. For reviewing long documents, you can invoke a scanning option. You roll the mouse to establish the direction and speed of scanning. A single mouse click pauses scanning; a double click returns the frame to the starting point.
I've successfully used inLARGE with a variety of Mac programs, including the Finder, JustText, Oasis, MacDraw, MacPaint, MacWrite, Microsoft Word, PageMaker, ResEDIT, Silicon Press, and Spellswell. When inLARGE is in memory, the Mac's screen display becomes slightly jerkier. (You toggle inLARGE off entirely--option followed by O--but it's still lurking in memory.) The only place this was really a problem was during telecommunications with Red Ryder. Even without inLARGE, text sort of jerks on the screen as it arrives at 1200 baud; with inLARGE, this jerking can become irritating. However, it's certainly possible (and cheaper) to just copy all the text to disk and then read it off-line at one's leisure. (The person at Berkeley System Design who I spoke with said that no one else had reported this problem; it may well be traceable to the idiosyncratic programming of Red Ryder.)
Many of the Mac's native features, when combined with inLARGE, provide a very comfortable working environment. Most Macintosh programs display text in windows. You can change the window size to match inLARGE's frame size. And, as most folks already know, the Mac is a natural for large print production.
inLARGE comes with a friendly, indexed manual, in three versions: one printed at 24 point, one at 12 point for CCTV reading, and one on disk for reading with inLARGE. In summary, inLARGE is a powerful and elegant software solution to the problem of Macintosh access. It allows a person with vision impairments to explore the Mac world with a minimal investment. For more information, contact:
Berkeley System Design
1708 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley CA 94709
In July of 1983, I went to the American Council of the Blind annual convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Between preparation, going to Arizona by way of Baltimore, and recovery time, it took a whole month of effort (and over $2,000). But it was worth it. More than anything else, the ACB convention involved me in the sensory aids swirl. I made many, many contacts, and sold quite a few Newsletter subscriptions.
The ACB convention gave me a chance to show off my latest item: a guide to interfacing devices to the Apple computer. By bundling detailed interfacing notes with each sale of BRAILLE-EDIT, I was able to cut down on some of the lengthy technical conversations.
I hired Cindy Peltier in August. She had the perfect background for my first employee: having worked in insurance, libraries, and retail, she had no experience with computers. We quickly became a very effective team. She did all the invoicing, shipping, newsletter subs, audio recording, record keeping. My grandfather had told me that the hardest transition for a business is when a second person is involved. There were so many things that I just kept in my head. Raised Dot's continued success depended on Cindy's ability to deftly extract this information from me.
One night the phone rang at 4 o'clock in the morning. Steveland Morris (also known by the stage name "Stevie Wonder") was having some problems with one of his VersaBrailles. I told him that one way to regenerate a worn out tape was to transfer the entire contents to an Apple computer and then transfer back to a fresh tape. His organization eventually purchased about $1,000 of software and hardware for RDC. They instructed me to put everything in a box and ship it out on the next flight--I had to drive 70 mph to get to the nearest airport. The whole experience was a fascinating glimpse at life in the fast lane.
Around the time that I hired Cindy, RDC started to sell the Cranmer Brailler as a dealer for MCS. At a time when Raised Dot was not making enough money to pay me a salary, signing a contract saying that Raised Dot would be buying $150,000 worth of equipment for resale was quite a gamble. I learned many hard lessons about business. I paid the invoices from MCS promptly in 30 days. Often a school or agency would wait three or four months to pay me. My profit margin was slim: one invoice past due complete consumed the cash flow cushion for seven units. The supply was unreliable: only rarely was MCS able to ship units promptly. It was very frustrating to deal with customers wondering when they were going to get their unit.
Despite all these problems, I realized how valuable it was to sell embossers. I was able to respond to folks inquiring about both hardware and software. By offering more elements of a "complete package," my product line was more attractive to schools and agencies. Such groups were often unsophisticated about computers, and didn't know how to put the pieces together themselves.
The Cranmer Brailler has its faults, and we were careful not to misrepresent it. In fact, our very low key sales of the Cranmer was a source of irritation to MCS. In the spring of 1984, Dan Gorney and Dean Blazie of MCS drove up in their three-piece suits to ask why we were not heavily promoting the Cranmer. I explained how the low margin meant my cash flow limited my ability to sell more units. They sweetened the deal by increasing the margin.
Starting in the fall of 1983, I began working on a very new version of BRAILLE-EDIT. I wanted to centralize all the best input/output routines in a large assembly language program which would always be present in memory. [These resident input/output programs were later expanded to become the core of BEX].
I finally finished BRAILLE-EDIT version 2.45 in the spring of 1984. Despite a number of virtually crippling bugs in the first few versions, BRAILLE-EDIT 2.45 was a significant improvement. It was possible to scan for chapters on most options. Large print on the screen was available in the Editor. This was the first two disk version of BRAILLE-EDIT.
One weakness of Raised Dot had been the lack of braille documentation. With my usual optimism, I decided that what we really needed was a Thiel embosser--at that time, it cost $15,000. It never occurred to me to get a loan for this capital equipment: in October 1983, I began a series of nagging articles in the Newsletter. "Buy more software so I can get a Thiel!" I harangued my readership. Much to my delight, it worked: in late December I was able to send MCS a check for $10,000 (the remaining $5000 was on 30-day account.) Looking back, I'm still proud of that stunt.
Thanks to the customer financing of the Thiel, the new version of BRAILLE-EDIT came with braille reference cards. I believe the popularity of version 2.45 of BRAILLE-EDIT had more to do with the availability of a braille reference card than with the features of the software. Having a Thiel made it possible to produce several manuals and other large documents in braille. However, BRAILLE-EDIT Version 2.45 did a very poor job of braille page format (braille page numbers at the end of a text line, print page indicators, running heads, etc. were not available). RDC's interest in improving this situation lead to BETTE and eventually to TranscriBEX.
I believe this is one of the strengths of Raised Dot. I was actually using our software for production tasks. That's why it was constantly changing. The main user was also a programmer: when I needed a particular feature to print or braille my documentation, I simply modified the program. It's also why RDC software is particularly good for producing print and braille versions of the same document. It's often seemed to me that many other sensory aids firms don't rely on their products as I did. For example, all of MCS's Thiels were travelling around the U.S., being demonstrated by sales personnel. Few MCS employees were able to gain expertise in using the equipment for production work. Raised Dot Computing ended up fielding a lot of technical phone calls on the Thiel and several other braillers.
The last year in Lewisburg was increasing hectic. RDC was completely taking over our rented house. I filled 20 boxes with my books so I could use the living room bookshelves for RDC products. Everytime we got a shipment of braille paper, the pile of boxes replaced our kitchen table. The dining room was dominated by the phone and the customer files. In addition, it was not easy running a business out of a small town. A modest mailing could clean out both stationary stores of a certain size of envelope. A broken print wheel meant an hour's drive to buy a replacement. Making more room in the house for more personnel would mean lessening the quality of our life.
Every week our old friends Jesse Kaysen and Nevin Olson would call and extol the virtues of Madison. I caved in.
Caryn decided (or maybe I persuaded her) to leave teaching and join Raised Dot full time. Jesse and Nevin were willing to help find a real office for RDC outside of someone's home. Jesse offered to work for RDC "for a few months" until we got settled. Unfortunately, Cindy could not relocate in Madison, since her partner was a tenured professor. I was going to be the only RDC employee to bridge the transition.
And what a transition it was! In addition to the logistics of packing up thousands of boxes, there was a minor cash flow crisis. In early June, I calculated I needed $37,000 to finance the move. The checking account had $5,000. I panicked. I didn't order any Cranmers for June to minimize my accounts payable. I attempted to use up every sticker and staple of office supplies, with plans to re-order once we landed in the Midwest. Most importantly, I began a marathon of phone calls to any customer who was out more than 30 days. I'm sure my daily phone calls made some enemies, but we did manage to scrape together enough cash to finance the move.
The RDC office in Lewisburg closed on July 18th, 1984. On July 24th, Caryn, Jesse, and I found ourselves in a spacious suite of grubby offices, surrounded by dozens of boxes. We had arrived.