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 1987 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.
In last month's Newsletter, we issued a challenge to all readers to submit your ideas for Sensory Overload's 1987 product catalog. Thanks to all of you for your submissions. Unfortunately, we don't have space to print them all. A box of ten flippy disks is winging its way to each of the five finalists (in alphabetical order): Chad Andrelli, David Goldstein, Dan Marshall, Dean Martineau, and Dan Nagengast. Their winning entries, along with one anonymous entry we couldn't resist, are printed below.
Have you ever met a prospective date and wanted to know all the vital info? Well, with the AdVantage Analyzer, you can have it all! The AdVantage Analyzer will give you height, weight, hair color, eye color (if glasses are removed), and skin color. That's not all!! It even gives you the necessary measurements (this is explained in greater detail in the instruction manual). Finally, for only $5 extra the AdVantage Analyzer can be equipped with a ten point rating system that will calculate to three decimal places. This factory set option is based on the likes and dislikes of the programmer. If you want to set the rating system yourself, for only $99.99, you can get our self programming system with easy to set dip switches. (P.S. Our programmer has a tendency to enjoy the looks of Phyllis Diller.)
With the conviction that the Laser Cane falls short of its title, Sensory Overload introduces the Ultimate Laser Cane. A high concentration laser beam clears the way in front of the blind traveller. It melts snow, it melts pavement, and it allows you to plow through storefronts and high-rise buildings unscathed.
Do you daydream when you should be writing? Then you need the Write Prompter, the new software package for the IBM-PC. Every 2-1/2 minutes that you have not written anything or moved the cursor, Write Prompter causes your Echo to emit a squawk through your headphones. Seven seconds later, Write Prompter deletes your last two words and inserts an irrelevant phrase selected at random from its factory programmed vocabulary.
Extensive market research reveals that the solution for accessible books does not lie in new technology. The answer has been there all along, lurking in old-fashioned player piano rolls. Wipe the cobwebs off your instrument and install the StringBuster communications card. The board contains a speech chip, as well as provisions for interfacing three additional pianos to your ensemble. A tactile version, called ForteBraille, will be released soon.
Sensory Overload presents Cafeteria Experience Xpress, better known as CEX. This portable machine and attendant software makes it a pleasure to wind your way through the buffet of your choice. CEX tells you what's in the dishes, where to find the utensils to serve your own food and finally, where to arrange your food on your plate by using the clock method. CEX even double-checks the cash register totals and verifies the cash you use to pay the bill.
The aspiring blind birdwatcher has long felt deprived, but no longer! Not with BEAKS, the bird processor. With the aid of this device and our special outdoor line of speech synthesizers, the Echo or the Cricket, you can receive audible bird identification at distances not quite equaling those offered by the naked eye. No more memorizing bird calls!
The problems of the independent blind mariner have been solved, too. DECK-Talk gives you complete information about any object you have collided with, whether above or below the waterline, and in your choice of five well-synthesized voices!
Artists and Bohemians, why pay for more than you need? The Van Gogh Ear Phone is now available. Our Ear Phone offers all the features of APH or Walkman ear phones at half the price--the Van Gogh Ear Phone is available in left or right ear models. (Please be sure to specify which!) Options available at slight extra cost include: Gauze Pad or REALISTIC EAR for non-functioning side of Ear Phone. REALISTIC EAR may be ordered in several life-like flesh tone colors. Send us a sample! We'll return it to your loved one as "good as new." Rock fans may wish to purchase the "TIN EAR", a fashionable look and a social commentary combined. The "TIN EAR" comes pre-drilled with earring holes. There is a slight additional charge for more than three. The first 100 artists to order will also receive a free package of sunflower seeds. Grow your own! They may be worth millions! We're waiting to 'ear from you.
Away with all the hoopla over whether a text editor is WYSIWYG or not WYSIWYG. Peek-a-Boo Corp. announces the wave of the future: the NYSINYD editor! Why debate whether What You See Is What You Get when you can have the best of both worlds with Now You See It Now You Don't? This is better than that hot product of a decade ago, the Autogate Tape Eraser. That primitive machine required user intervention to erase selected portions of tape. But the new NYSINYD editor is so advanced that it erases portions of your text totally at random, ALL BY ITSELF!!! Days or months later, when you've retyped all that text you thought was lost, it can magically reappear in an unrelated file!
Supplies are limited, so order your NYSINYD editor today. Act extra-quickly to receive a special limited edition that not only randomly erases portions of your text, but blanks out portions of your favorite programs as well! Amaze your favorite computer repair-person! Contact:
000 Shady Lane
Dllsville, M, 985UA
It's now possible to produce printed braille dot patterns, or "flat" braille, with BEX. To do this, you need two things: a printer that can produce large print with BEX, and the Braille Dot Font disk. Large print in BEX is currently supported with the Apple ImageWriter, the ImageWriter II, the Epson FX-80, and other dot matrix printers compatible with one of these. If your printer isn't capable of doing "regular" large print with BEX, it can't use the Braille Dot Pattern Font.
The Braille Dot Font disk contains a font file and hints on formatting "flat" braille. Instructions are available in large print, paper braille, and on disk. The flat braille can be used to prepare teaching materials for transcribing students, or for braille proofreading by sighted proofreaders. To assist the sighted reader in identifying the dot patterns, all dots are shown in each cell. The embossed dots in each cell are large and dark; the reference dots are smaller and fainter.
The U.S. Computer Braille Code (also sometimes known as the MIT Braille Code) defines how to represent the 95 printable characters in the lower ASCII 128. The Braille Dot-Pattern Font uses this code as its standard.
The Braille Dot-Pattern Font Disk may be obtained by registered BEX owners in one of three ways:
Please indicate your choice of large print or braille documentation.
This continuing column offers ways you can make better use of BEX. Contributions are always welcome!
Two Contextual Replace pattern codes claim to represent "punctuation:" upper- or lowercase p matches just punctuation, and upper- or lowercase q matches punctuation or delimiter. Great, I thought, these pattern codes let me define all sorts of different sentence contexts--when words touch commas, periods, quotes, parentheses, exclamation points, and the like. Imagine my surprise when I defined a find string of "space, p, space" with a pattern code of QxQ--and all my paragraph indicators disappeared!
I expressed my bewilderment to the Techies: "Since when is a dollar sign punctuation?" David and Caryn calmly replied, "But, of course a dollar sign is punctuation." What we have here is a classic semantic muddle.
The programmers' idea of punctuation is definitely warped. As far as Contextual Replace is concerned, any character is "punctuation" if it's not a letter, a numeral, a space, or a control character. In addition to the characters you naturally use to punctuate sentences, this definition of "punctuation" includes some symbols that certainly surprised me. For the record, Contextual Replace's p and q codes match the at-sign, number sign, dollar sign, percent sign, caret, ampersand, asterisk, underbar, plus and minus signs, backslash, and vertical bar.
I have literally hundreds of transformation chapters I use for various reformatting tasks. One way to keep them all straight is to give them long, descriptive names. But, when you tell BEX which transformation chapter to use, it's no fun typing in a long chapter name. I've developed a much better way to keep track of my transformation chapters: I add comments to the end. BEX recognizes the end of a transformation chapter by multiple occurrences of the terminator: two in a row for plain chapters and three in a row for contextual chapters. BEX simply ignores any other characters that follow. When I write a transformation chapter, I include a sentence or two that describes its function, and reminds me at what point in the data's history that transformation chapter should be used. I also add the date it was last changed.
We often hear ominous warnings about backing up our disks, but if we have not been the victim of a disk failure we may go on for quite a while without heeding this advice. When it does happen, we may experience a sudden surge of despair as we realize that we have lost some precious data or text that we cannot recover. At best, you must recreate the text from another form; at worst, it may mean permanent loss of irreplaceable material. The death of one flippy disk could mean as many as two hundred thousand characters lost.
The solution is relatively simple: "backup your disks." I offer the following suggestions in hopes of preventing agony.
When you initialize a disk, label it with a number in the left corner--for example, number one. Immediately, initialize a second disk, and label it 11. Now you have easy access and quick identification of both the original and the backup. I find that numbering disks is easier than naming them, since you can get so much on a disk that a single name does not apply to all the files. I've also developed an "suffix" system that helps me identify the nature of a chapter. I add txt for text, lr for letters, ts for tests, etc.
One problem I quickly encountered was locating a particular chapter. With many chapters on each disk and many disks on my desk, finding a particular file can be a major project. I've developed a crude way to facilitate this search.
Starting with BEX 2.1, you can save the output of the Page Menu's Whole disk catalog in a BEX chapter. I've created a separate disk that's my "library master": it just contains catalogs of all my numbered disks. Once I'm at the Page Menu, I remove my BEX disk from drive 1, then choose option W. I enter &1 (ampersand digit 1) at the first prompt and 2 at the second prompt.
BEX starts saving all the characters on the screen in a special buffer. Once both drives are cataloged, BEX prompts "Save list as", and I respond with "Disk 1" or whatever the number is. Since I use flippy (two-sided) disks, I want to get a catalog of both sides. This means I need to stop the computer before it goes to the second drive--which is really a snap. I start out with one side in drive 1. When I hear the total number of characters for the first side, I press control-S. This suspends the Apple's operation, and gives me time to remove the disk from drive one, turn it over, and place it in drive two. Pressing control-S again resumes the Apple: BEX finishes with the catalog for the other side.
Now I can search through the chapters on the "library master" disk, rather than shuffling through the disks on my desk. You could also make a print or braille library listing, or even record the Echo speaking it all. But most important of all, don't forget your backups!
For three years, the New York Institute for Special Education (formerly known as the NY Institute for the Education of the Blind) has provided computer training to blind and visually impaired adolescents at its summer camp in Vermont. Each summer approximately 12 applicants are transported to Camp Wapanacki in north central Vermont for a 4-week residential computing and camping experience. The students attending the camp do not need any prior computer experience, but some typing knowledge is preferred. They spend at least three hours daily learning how to use Apple computers and various programs oriented for use by the blind. The campers are integrated into regular camp activities for the rest of the day.
Camp Wapanacki's purpose is giving campers the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to use access technology with Apple computers as a communication tool. Campers in the computer program become familiar with the components of microcomputers, as well as using access equipment such as the VersaBraille, braille printers, and Echo speech synthesizers. They'll use specially-designed or adapted software to learn the computer as a communication tool through word processing, data base management, and as a communication aid. Last but not least, they'll learn about the computer as a recreational pursuit. Students interested in attending should request information from the Camp Director, Joe Ingram--see Facts on File for the address and phone number.
The Carroll Center for the Blind, near Boston MA, has a busy schedule of summer short-course offerings. There will be three different seminars for teachers, parents, and rehab professionals: "Introduction to Microcomputers and Access Devices" runs from July 13 to July 17, providing an overview of what's available for novices or others with limited computer experience. This course serves as a prerequisite for the other two. "Access Devices for the Apple" runs from July 20 through 24; "Access Devices for the IBM" runs from July 27 through July 31. (Experience with Apple or IBM DOS and BASIC may be substituted for the first, introductory course.) All three courses run from 9 am to 3 pm, with an open lab from 3 to 5 pm. Each course is limited to 12 participants. Each course costs $225; add $50 if credit is desired. Limited housing is also available. The deadline for applications is June 20, 1987.
The "Word Processing and Computer Literacy" course is aimed at visually impaired students between the ages of 13 and 19. They'll learn computer terminology, word processing concepts, speech adaptations, and telecommunications using Apple computers. Some computer background is helpful, but not required; applicants should know how to touch type. The course runs August 17th to 21st, and costs $250. Limited housing is available for an additional $130. The application deadline for this course is July 15, 1987. For more information on any of these courses, contact Dina Wischkin at the Carroll Center for the Blind--more information in Facts on File.
A RAM drive is a portion of the Apple's memory that acts like a floppy disk. ("RAM" stands for Random Access Memory.) You can read and write information from the RAM drive to the Apple's main memory, and you can read and write information from a RAM drive to a floppy disk. A RAM drive is very similar in function to BEX's Zippy chapter. Since all "disk" access to a RAM drive is just playing around with electrons, it happens very quickly. As with the Zippy chapter, any information on a RAM drive disappears when you turn off the power. (Master Level Section 2 in the BEX Dox is all about the Zippy chapter. Even if you've been using the Zippy chapter for ages, you may find it useful to review the material about how it works.)
Apple's newer operating system, ProDOS, automatically creates a RAM drive when you have extra memory in your Apple. In plain old DOS 3.3, the only kind of disk drive you can use is the kind you stick 5-1/4 inch disks into. Fortunately, it's possible to make minor modifications (commonly known as "patches") to DOS 3.3 that let you use extra memory as a RAM drive. These patches only work when you have more than 128K memory in your Apple. You get the extra memory by plugging in a "memory card."
There are two distinct types of memory cards: the "Auxiliary slot cards" and the "regular slot cards." BEX 2.2 can work with both kinds of memory cards, but each kind of card has its own quirks. The auxiliary slot cards are definitely friendlier to DOS 3.3 (and to BEX) than the regular slot cards. There's a much larger installed base of auxiliary slot cards than regular slot cards; partly because, until recently, AppleWorks could only work with auxiliary slot cards. For these reasons, we only discuss the details of how to use auxiliary slot cards with BEX in this article. The details for using a regular slot card are different; if you need these directions, write to us and we'll send them to you on disk.
The "Auxiliary slot cards" go into the auxiliary slot of the Apple IIe. Some brand names are the RamWorks card from Applied Engineering and the MultiRAM card from Checkmate Technologies. Comparable cards are available for the Apple IIc, though it doesn't have slots. The Z-RAM card from Applied Engineering or the MultiRam CX card from Checkmate Technologies can be installed in an Apple IIc. They act like an Aux slot card, and BEX treats them that way.
The "regular slot cards" can be installed in slot 1 through slot 7 in the Apple IIe. Examples of regular slot cards are the Apple Memory Card made by Apple, and the RamFactor card made by Applied Engineering. You can't use a regular slot card for DOS 3.3 RAM drives in a system that also contains a Sider hard disk. (Both devices try to patch DOS 3.3 at the same place, and their patches are different.) You can use both an auxiliary slot card and a regular slot card in the same system; how to do this is left as an exercise to the reader.
One reason why the Aux slot cards are friendlier to DOS 3.3 is due to the efforts of Applied Engineering. AE supplies all sorts of wonderful patches that let you use their cards with almost any program. (And AE is also continually upgrading their cards. The current version is RamWorks III; which has allowed us to buy RamWorks I cards at a significant discount.)
Speaking of significant discounts, let's take time out for a plug. We've purchased all our cards from a computer mail order firm named "Preferred Computing." We think that name is quite accurate: they have great prices, they're very fast, and the folks on the phone are helpful. As of March 1987, they were selling a 512K original RamWorks card for $139. Contact Preferred Computing at 214-484-5464.
The Apple IIgs' auxiliary slot uses a different type of card. So "regular slot cards" might make more sense if you're planning on upgrading your IIe to a IIgs sometime soon.
Before you can integrate an auxiliary slot card with BEX, you must do two things. First, you modify your BEX Boot side, and set up a configuration at the Master Level which uses a "non-standard disk system." Then you must learn how to make use of the RAM drives, which means changing some of your working habits. The biggest drawback to RAM drives is that they limit your ability to initialize or copy disks, so it's a good idea to initialize a big stack of data disks before you start using the RAM drives. In addition to using the RAM drive to hold data, you can also install the BEX Main side programs on a RAM drive.
Turn off the power to your computer whenever you plug in cards! Grab your RamWorks (I, II or II) or MultiRAM card and plug it into the Auxiliary slot of your Apple IIe. If you have an 80-column card in slot 3, remove it from your system. The Aux slot card performs all the functions of your 80-column card. (You can't put the Echo in slot 3 when you have an Aux slot card in the Auxiliary slot--BEX goes nuts. Put it in any other available slot.)
Don't try to install an Aux slot card in an Apple IIc yourself. Have a trained technician install the card for you. Despite the so-called "easy to follow instructions," installing a circuit card inside an Apple IIc is very tricky.
To make an Aux slot card act like a RAM drive, you need software that patches DOS 3.3. You have to add this software to your BEX 2.2 Boot side and then change BEX so that it loads this software into the Apple's memory. The software is called "RAMDRIVE"; it's available from Applied Engineering, manufacturers of the RamWorks cards. The RAMDRIVE program is a DOS 3.3 binary file, and it's found on the "back" side of Applied Engineering's "Super AppleWorks Desktop Expander" disk--which is included with any RamWorks card you buy. The following instructions are based on our experience with version 5.3.1 of RAMDRIVE.
(The MultiRAM card from Checkmate comes with a different program that performs the same function. In our experience, Applied Engineering's RAMDRIVE program is superior to Checkmate's program. In our tests, the Checkmate card functioned perfectly with Applied Engineering's RAMDRIVE software. To obtain the RAMDRIVE software, contact Applied Engineering at 214-241-6060.)
The first thing you must do is copy RAMDRIVE onto the Boot side of your BEX disk. Use the file-handling utility FID (on the Starting menu) to do this. Once RAMDRIVE is on the Boot side, you must modify BEX.
WARNING: Use utmost care when you modify BEX or any other program. Follow the text and spacing shown here exactly. At the Starting Menu of BEX, press Q to get to the BASIC prompt. Type the following:
Now, every time you boot BEX, it automatically loads and runs the RAMDRIVE program. To make sure that you've done it right, reboot BEX. Choose option W on the Starting Menu. It should announce the number of RAM drives available to you through slot 3. If it doesn't, there's a problem. Go back and make sure the Aux slot card is securely connected. Then reenter the above text that modifies BEX.
The RAMDRIVE program divides the extra memory on the Aux slot card into several chunks. The maximum amount of memory that the RAMDRIVE program can manage is 1 megabyte--five full RAM drives. Any additional memory above 1 megabyte is ignored.
RAMDRIVE allocates 64K for the auxiliary memory that brings the Apple up to 128K. Then it begins dividing the remaining memory into RAM drives of 192K each. When there's less than 192K left to allocate, the RAMDRIVE creates 64K RAM drives. Each RAM drive created this way is then treated as a separate disk drive attached to slot 3. The first 64K goes for the "extended" memory; Slot 3, drive 1 holds one 192K RAM drive; slot 3, drive 2 holds the other; and slot 3, drive 3 holds the 64K RAM drive.
Because you've altered BEX so that it loads the RAMDRIVE software when you boot, you must establish a configuration to work with the RAM drives. When you configure at the Master Level, you are asked if you have a "non-standard disk system." When you answer "yes," you're then prompted to assign a pair of slot and drive numbers to a "virtual drive" number, as in the example below. The highest virtual drive number you configure becomes your "default data drive." You must have BEX 2.2 to configure with RAM drives; earlier versions would rebel if you tried to assign a virtual drive to slot 3. Here's a sample configuration dialog:
Do you have a non-standard disk system? Y <CR>
Virtual drive 1 is for the program disk.
For virtual drive 1
Slot: 6 <CR>
Drive: 1 <CR>
For virtual drive 2
Slot: 6 <CR>
Drive: 2 <CR>
For virtual drive 3
Slot: 3 <CR>
Drive: 1 <CR>
For virtual drive 4
Slot: 3 <CR>
Drive: 2 <CR>
For virtual drive 5
Slot: 3 <CR>
Drive: 3 <CR>
For virtual drive 6
Slot: 0 <CR>
Enter a name for this configuration : (etc.)
This configuration expects the program disk in slot 6, drive 1 (the same place it is without a RAM drive). The default data drive is drive number 5, the 64K RAM drive.
The RAMDRIVE software manages the interaction between DOS 3.3 and the RAM disk. The RAMDRIVE software is disabled if you issue the DOS command "INIT." You won't lose the data on your RAM drives if you use this command, but you must re-enable the RAMDRIVE software to get to it.
Two options on BEX's Starting menu issue the INIT command, invisibly to the user: C - Copy disks and I - Initialize disks. After you use either of these options, you must reload the RAMDRIVE program. After completing any initializing or disk copying you have to do, Quit BEX to get the BASIC prompt. Then put the Boot side of BEX in slot 6, drive 1, and type the following:
BRUN RAMDRIVE,S6,D1 <CR>
This reloads the RAMDRIVE software. Put the Main side
of BEX into that same drive, and type:
<CR> and you're up and running again.
Because BEX does not automatically disable options I and C, it's crucial that you remember that INIT crashes the RAMDRIVE program. If you used I or C by mistake, you wouldn't be able to catalog the RAM drives. But don't panic; just BRUN RAMDRIVE. Of course, if you issued the INIT command directly, by typing "INIT HELLO" for example, you would also disable the RAMDRIVE software. You would then have to re-enable it, using the procedure above.
We recommend that, before you start using BEX with a RAM drive configuration, you sit down and initialize a stack of floppy disks. When you need an initialized floppy, take one from your stack. Refrain from copying disks while you are using your RAM drives. You can still copy chapters, however, and you can also use FID.
BEX treats a RAM drive like any other drive. When virtual drive 3 is a RAM drive, then editing chapter "3LETTER" creates a chapter named LETTER on drive 3. A RAM drive is like having many zippy chapters. Of course, you lose your data if you lose power. You must copy your chapters to disk before powering down. In fact, we recommend that you routinely copy your chapters to disk every half-hour. (You never know when the power can go on the fritz!)
You can print, edit, replace, and translate chapters on RAM drives. You can use all the file-manipulating options on the Page Menu with chapters on a RAM drive. The same holds true for the Second Menu, with one exception: you cannot read a ProDOS textfile from a ProDOS RAM drive. The Second menu's option R can only read ProDOS textfiles on 5-1/4 inch floppy disks. You can read DOS 3.3 textfiles from the RAM drive.
Never try to use Copy disks on the Starting menu to copy information to or from a RAM drive. When copying material between floppy drives and RAM drives, use the Copy chapters option on the Main or Second Menu. Remember that the RAM drives are not the same size as a floppy disk. A floppy initialized by BEX can hold 140K; with the sample system we've defined, you have two 192K and one 64K RAM drives.
The RAMDRIVE software has two useful extra features built in. Usually, a visual indicator in the lower right-hand corner of the screen tells you when you're reading and writing to the RAM drive. You can turn this into an audio indicator. When you boot, hold down the open-Apple key until you hear a clicking sound. You'll then hear the same clicking sound whenever you read from or write to the RAM drives. This is handy, since normally reading and writing to the RAM drive is totally silent.
As mentioned above, reloading the RAMDRIVE software does not wipe out the contents of the RAM drives. You can wipe out the contents if you want to, though. When you do a warm boot, hold down the closed-Apple key; the RAM drives are initialized (wiped clean).
When your RAM drives are holding data, life is grand. You can have many multi-page chapters that are as fast as the Zippy chapter! It's also possible to load the Main side of BEX onto a RAM drive; then moving between menus speeds up considerably.
BEX starts out assuming that the program is always in slot 6, drive 1. You have to pull a few tricks to tell BEX it's been relocated. You must first define a configuration where the Virtual drive 1 (the program drive) is not slot 6, drive 1. Then, before you can use this configuration, you must copy all the program files on to the RAM drive.
Establish a Master level configuration something like this:
Virtual drive 1: slot 3, drive 1
Virtual drive 2: slot 6, drive 1
Virtual drive 3: slot 3, drive 2
Virtual drive 4: slot 3, drive 3
Virtual drive 5: slot 6, drive 2
Let's call this configuration SPEEDY. In this particular configuration, the default data drive is a floppy. You could rearrange virtual drives 3, 4, and 5 to suit your tastes; the assignment for virtual drives 1 and 2 must follow the pattern shown.
You have just told BEX that the Starting Menu can be found at virtual drive 2--slot 6, drive 1. (Using another totally undocumented programmer's back door.) You can save this series of keystrokes as an Auto chapter on your Boot disk.
6) When you want access to the Starting menu, put the Boot side of BEX into that first floppy drive and press the spacebar. (But don't use options I or C!) Press the spacebar to get back to the Main Menu. You now have access to all of BEX software: the Boot Side from a floppy, and the Main Side from a RAM drive.
Phyllis stopped me in the hall with a question last month: "Jesse, I hate to be rude, but don't you know the difference between a P and a Q?" That brought me up short. "Of course I do, Phyl, what can you mean?" "Well, you know that rough draft you just brailled for me to review? A number of paragraphs that should start out with the letter P are brailled with a Q. Here--see?"
My heart sank. I knew I'd entered Ps in my text! Was the Thiel randomly adding dot 5s to some letters? I ran downstairs and starting testing, and my worst fears were confirmed. Ps became Qs, As became Es, and my usual smile was rapidly becoming a frown. Two years ago we'd had terrible problems getting our Thiel serviced. Finally, MCS had supplied us with a replacement unit, and we'd experienced two blissful years of reliable brailling.
In the intervening years, VTEK had picked up sales of the Thiel in the U.S. As we reported in these pages almost a year ago, they were also willing to service Thiels that had not been purchased from them. And now, unfortunately, it was time to put their service to the test.
I'm delighted to report that they passed the test with flying colors. The service that VTEK provided us should serve as a model throughout the sensory aids field. Many people know that the Thiel is an excellent high-speed brailler, well worth the $18,000 price. But other than price, a factor that may deter people from going ahead with a purchase is that Thiels are not manufactured in the U.S. Based on our experience with VTEK, however, excellent service is available in the States.
Broad generalizations are all well and good, but what did VTEK do that was so hot? Let's get concrete. After I'd done some testing and was able to pinpoint the problem, I called Jack Wood at VTEK in California. I began to describe the symptoms: "Extra dot 5s are appearing in cell 1 around 40% of the time," I told him. I could almost hear Jack nodding in agreement. Before I could continue, Jack politely interrupted. "Let me tell you some things about your Thiel, Jesse," he said. "You use it at least two hours a day. Every once in a while, the paper rips in cell 1. You may even have had trouble with it not holding its parameters. It's been at least a year since it's been serviced." Jack was totally right on all points. No, he isn't clairvoyant. He'd simply learned his stuff. VTEK has sent several people to Germany for intensive training on Thiel maintenance and repair.
Jack Wood went on to explain the likely source of my symptoms. The intermittent paper tears and extra dot 5s indicated uneven wear to the bar that the embossing pins rest upon. My understanding is that all Thiel owners should plan for a yearly check on the wear to this bar. Minor differences in bar height can be solved by machining the surface. As it turned out, the bar on our Thiel was so worn that it could not be machined back to flatness--but I'm getting ahead of myself. The loss of parameters is much easier to fix. I'd never realized that the Thiel's parameters are stored in a battery-powered computer chip--and that those batteries wear out after a while. (And by the way, whenever you run the Thiel's self-test, you wipe out any changes you've made in the parameters.)
Now I knew what the problems were; it was time to schedule service. To ensure a quick response time, VTEK has trained Thiel repairpeople on both coasts: at the home office in California and at "Sighted Electronics" in New Jersey. Since Madison is east of the Mississippi River, I sent our unit Federal Express to the Garden State. I spoke with the high-technician himself, David Pillischer, who promised to work over the weekend to get our Thiel back as soon as possible. If he got it on Friday, he'd return it to us on Tuesday.
Of course, there was a snag. The bar was too worn to be machined. Mr. Pillischer called me first thing Tuesday. He said it was the first time he'd seen this problem; he would have to order the part from Germany. "Can't you get the part made locally?" I whined. "Well, no; the tolerances are so close that local manufacture would be at least three times more expensive than shipping the bar from Germany--and not much faster. Now that I know this bar can wear out, I've ordered five bars from Germany. But the only way we could get a new bar in the U.S. would be to dismantle a working unit. How much do you use this Thiel, anyway?"
"Well, we depend on it heavily. While we can use one of our other braillers for short correspondence, we must have the Thiel for manuals, and sales literature, and listings for our programmers, and ..." "Tell you what, Jesse, let me call California."
Forty-five minutes later, he called me back. "VTEK understands how important the Thiel is to you, Jesse, so they're going to dismantle one of their demonstration units. I'll be able to install it on Thursday, test the Thiel to make sure it's right, and ship it your way on Friday."
And he did. Our Thiel is back now, humming away happily, thanks to VTEK's excellent service. They had the right training to fix the unit. When they encountered problems, they did not try to hide it. They honestly explained the situation to me. When I explained our needs, they went out of the way to supply them. In short, VTEK is servicing the Thiel with style! If your Thiel needs service, don't hesitate to call 1-800-345-2256.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Handicapped has again failed to notify its readership of the upcoming meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Collection Development Policies, which will take place this year in May. As the Western regional representative of this Committee, I would be happy to receive any suggestions, as specific as possible, concerning gaps which N.L.S. could fill in its braille and recorded book collections.
One major agenda item for this meeting will be computer books and magazines. What computer-related materials if any should N.L.S. produce, in what media? Are you happy with Personal Computing magazine? If they ever do add a recorded computer magazine, what should it be?
I'm eager to hear your thoughts--before May 12. You don't have to live in the Western states, and you may write in any medium, or just call me--see Facts on File for phone numbers.
If an Optacon, VersaBraille, TeleBraille, speech synthesizer or Braille output device will help you get a job, increase your effectiveness as a volunteer in your community, improve your present work situation, reduce your need for sighted assistance in managing your personal affairs, or otherwise make a significant difference in your life ... pay heed! You may qualify for a partial subsidy through the Electronic Aids Program at Associated Services for the Blind. Limited funding is available to assist serious, aspiring visually impaired users in the purchase of helpful high-tech. To receive a large print or braille application to the program, just look up the contact information in Facts on File.
Braille Publishers, Inc. announces a weekly braille magazine, called World News Today. Working with United Press International as the primary news source, World News Today offers a format similar to Newsweek or U.S. News and World Report. Included in national and international news are medicine, science, finance, and human interest stories, along with commercial advertising. Advertisements by national producers of food, home, health and pet care products may include special offers, recipes or coupons much like those in Good Housekeeping.
World News Today uses a newly developed braille publishing system that transforms paper braille output into short-run one-sided press braille plates. The publisher claims that this new system will provide cost and time efficient production, putting news and advertisements in the braille readers' hands while it's still current. The premiere sample issue is 80 pages long--they anticipate that future issues will contain from 80 to 120 pages. The publisher's goal is giving braille readers access to news as it happens, just as sighted readers can pick up a Newsweek or TIME.
World News Today is not a subsidized publication; Roger Ebbett, the publisher, feels that blind people are capable of paying for a service like this. Therefore, no grants, subsidies, affiliations or political influences will support the magazine--just subscriptions and advertising revenue. The annual rate for 50 issues of World News Today is $40; six-month subscriptions are also available for $25. A limited number of free samples are still available--contact the address shown in Facts on File for details.
The publisher says, "We have heard concerns about a decline in the number of braille readers and schools not emphasizing the importance of learning to read and write for a lack of available current materials. Recent TV shows have bemoaned the growth of illiteracy in the United States. What's true for the sighted is true for the unsighted. If you cannot or will not read and write, you are at a disadvantage in the job market, as a consumer, and in social relationships. World News Today endeavors to challenge this situation by offerring braille readers information on the labor and business scene, product knowledge, and current news that affects our everyday activities."
This project came about because of my frustration with locating drill and practice software when I began using computers in October, 1984. BRAILLE-EDIT fulfilled an important role, but the sighted students were using drill and practice software and I wanted to provide my students with the same instruction. I obtained grants for Area Education Agency 6 from the Iowa Department of Education, which helped to pay for software modification and publicity.
A computer programmer named Dave Cook actually wrote the code that added speech output to the programs. The software that was selected for modification had to be text-oriented and in most cases this meant older software. Even with text-oriented software it was necessary for the programmer to almost completely rewrite some programs.
The collection now contains 36 disks in the areas of language arts, math, science, typing, social studies, mobility and simulations. Permission has been obtained from the following publishers to modify their products: Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation, Southern Prairiesoft, and J. Weston Walch. Staff at the American Printing House for the Blind were helpful in obtaining permission to modify the MECC software. Now all the software is distributed free statewide by the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School. An important part of the project was getting the word out: Catalogs were distributed to teachers of the visually impaired at statewide meetings and to date over 320 disks have been sent to visually impaired students in Iowa.
In fact the original grant was just going to provide software for my students. Once the software was modified I decided that I would like to share it with the state. Fortunately the publishers agreed to free statewide distribution in return for the rights to the modified software. One by-product of the project was that I designed a disk-based orientation-and-mobility drill program.
Similar to a text-adventure game, the user starts at a particular street corner. The program, which has Echo output, then asks questions like: "You start at the N.E. corner of 4th and State Street. Walk one block N on 4th. What is the name of the first street that intersects 4th?" The program also includes a routine to braille out a map for the user's reference. I'm happy to provide further information about the software collection and about the O&M drill programs. Feel free to contact me at the address shown in "Facts on File."
Carroll Center for the Blind
Attn: Dina Wischkin, Project CABLE
770 Centre Street
Newton MA 02158
Hardwick VT 05843
508 S. Rockford Dr.
Tempe AZ 85281-3021
Applied Engineering, Inc.
P O Box 798
Carrolltown TX 75006
Preferred Computing, Inc.
P.O. Box 815828
Dallas TX 75381
1625 Olympic Blvd.
Santa Monica CA 90404
Phone: 800-345-3356 (USA); 800-521-5605 (California); 213-452-5966 (Canada)
6809 Sacramento S.W.
Tacoma, WA 98499
Work phone: 206-565-9000
Home phone: 206-581-3622
Electronic Aids Program
Associated Services for the Blind
919 Walnut Street
Philadelphia PA 19107
World News Today
PO Box 675
Alamo CA 94507
1306 Rolling Meadows
Marshalltown, IA 50158