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
Entire contents copyright 1987 by Raised Dot Computing, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Nothing may be reprinted in any medium--print, braille, audio, or electronic--without prior written permission from RDC Inc.
Table of Contents: the all-uppercase words name the disk chapters; the words after the equals sign are the actual article titles.
READ ME FIRST = How To Read the RDC Newsletter on Disk
CONTENTS = Table of Contents (print page 1)
LASER LINES = Laser Lines from the Editor -- Jesse Kaysen (print page 2)
ANNOUNCING BEX 3-0 = Announcing BEX 3.0 (print pages 2 through 8)
COMPUTERS & RELIGION = Computers and Religion: A Meditation on Metaphors -- Harvey Lauer (print pages 8 through 13)
TALKING PD SOFTWARE = Attention Educators: Talking Public Domain Disks Available -- Fareed Haj (print pages 13 through 15)
FAN MAIL = Letters from our Readers: Notions of a Novice -- Fred Sanderson (print pages 15 through 16)
JOY OF TBEX = The Joy of TranscriBEX: Proofreading Print Page Indicators -- Jesse Kaysen (print page 16)
TRANSCRIBING PC TEXT = Using BEX to Reformat Text from the IBM-PC -- David Holladay (print pages 17 through 19)
TOSHIBA T1100 REVIEW = Toshiba T1100 Plus: A Very Personal MS-DOS Laptop Computer -- Eric Clegg (print pages 19 through 21)
BEX TIME TRIALS = BEX 3.0 Time Trials -- David Holladay (print pages 21 through 22)
WHY DOS THREE THREE = BEX 3.0: Why DOS 3.3? -- Nevin Olson (print pages 22 through 23)
FACTS ON FILE = Who's Who at Raised Dot Computing, Inc. -- Names and Addresses Mentioned in the Newsletter -- Trademarks & Copyrights
This Newsletter wins the prize for lateness: I appreciate your patience! I guess you could call it vaporware in reverse, or editorial time travel. An issue dated "September-October" that arrives in mid-November is not my idea of timeliness. Rest assured that the truly November issue should hit your mailboxes before they start hanging up Christmas decorations.
Perhaps there's a connection here with the graffiti we found in our entry way when we came to work on this Friday the 13th: "Afghan Void: Because Punks Don't Think." (Afghan Void is a local hardcore band.) But then again, maybe not.
As always, the RDC Newsletter is eagerly awaiting your contributions. Is there a product you have used that you think other people should know about? Is there something you want to get off your chest? Let your creativity boil! While I prefer submissions on disk (DOS 3.3, ProDOS, or MS-DOS) good old-fashioned print is OK too.
As of this week, we began shipping BEX version 3.0. The biggest difference in this new version is that BEX 3.0 takes full advantage of the new Apple IIgs. While we were at it, we made a host of other improvements, particularly in the area of RAM drive support. The price remains the same: $400. For all registered BEX owners, instructions on ordering an upgrade to BEX 3.0 are included as an insert in this issue of the Newsletter.
As of this week, we began shipping BEX version 3.0. The biggest difference in this new version is that BEX 3.0 takes full advantage of the new Apple IIgs. While we were at it, we made a host of other improvements, particularly in the area of RAM drive support. The price remains the same: $400. Existing registered BEX owners can purchase an upgrade to BEX 3.0. We are in the process of sending ordering instructions--check your mailboxes!
We completely rewrote the BEX Dox. We guarantee that, even if you know BEX by heart, you'll learn some new things by reading the new BEX Dox. The audio version has a much better tone-indexing system; the "Read Me First" tape contains the complete Table of Contents and Index, making it easier to find your way around. The braille version uses the Code for Computer Braille Notation. The large print version uses changes in typeface that make it much easier to find the information you're after.
If you are involved in teaching BEX to new computer users, you'll be happy to know that we narrowed the focus of the Learner Level. We only discuss a few Editor commands. Learner Level Section 5 includes an extensive discussion of setting up your printer correctly. In that Section, we use the "GRID" chapters supplied on the new BEXtras disk to help new users understand the numbering system used in BEX format commands.
Master Level Section 6, Contextual Replace, wins the prize for greatest expansion. The old Master Level Section 7 was 13 print pages; the new version is 55 print pages. We hope this means more people can take advantage of this powerful feature.
We strongly recommend the 128K Apple as the appropriate base for BEX. We therefore discourage use of the Apple II Plus; all information regarding its use is moved to Appendix 4 in the revised BEX Dox (where you'll find some sneaky ways to use Master Level features on an Apple II Plus). By the way, if you have been using a Titan Accelerator speed-up card, BEX 3.0 will run more slowly than BEX 2.2, because BEX 3.0 executes programs in auxiliary memory. The Titan card only speeds up main memory activity.
BEX 3.0 supports the Apple IIgs in a variety of ways; it's quicker to mention the limitations of our Apple IIgs support:
-- Built-in Apple IIgs ports cannot be used for tape-based VersaBraille transfers.
-- Built-in Apple IIgs ports cannot be used for Input through slot from an external serial device
-- You can't install the BEX program itself on a 3.5-inch microfloppy disk drive, though you can use 3.5-inch disks for BEX data
-- Apple IIgs keyboard cannot be used for braille keyboard mode in BEX's Editor
-- Some characters look slightly mangled with 40 column HI-RES screen display in the Editor. (But 20-column display looks the same, and it's a lot faster on the IIgs.)
Because the Apple IIgs can not display the character checkerboard, we had to change the Zippy chapter's name and which character it's specified with. It's now the Ready chapter; its single-character name is right bracket. We chose "Ready" because that's how the Echo pronounces "]", and it's always ready for your data, even when you don't have a disk in the drive. Since the Apple IIgs always has at least 256K memory, BEX can hold up to 20 Ready chapter pages in memory. That's around 76,000 characters--95 braille pages or 38 print pages.
We've dramatically improved large print screen display in BEX 3.0. Earlier versions used the "screen flip" system. You saw one screen of data, then it manually or automatically flipped to the next screen. BEX 3.0 replaces this with true scrolling and a true cursor. You can control the speed of scrolling; you can momentarily freeze the screen display, and you can slow the screen display down to a crawl.
BEX 3.0 includes many features allowing Master Level access to more disk drives. In previous versions of BEX, we used the term "nonstandard disk drives" when talking about the Disco-RAM, RAM drives, and the Sider. For BEX 3.0, we use the more positive term "extended disk systems." We found it very hard to get the Disco-RAM and BEX to cooperate; since BEX 3.0's RAM drive support is so thorough, we no longer support the Disco-RAM card.
Configuring RAM drives Your Apple can get more than 128K memory when you install an auxiliary slot card on the IIe, its equivalent on the IIc, a memory expansion slot card on the IIgs, or a slot 1 through 7 card on any Apple model. When your Apple has more than 128K memory, BEX 3.0 lets you configure up to 1 megabyte of memory as RAM drives. (BEX 3.0 includes the patches needed to create DOS 3.3 RAM drives from auxiliary slot and expanded memory slot cards.) You can tell BEX to use one RAM drive to hold all the programs on the Main side of your BEX disk. When you do, BEX automatically copies the Main side programs to the RAM drives when you press the spacebar at the Starting Menu. See David Holladay's time trials article elsewhere in this issue for the dramatic speed increase RAM drives bring to BEX.
3.5-inch disk drives BEX 3.0 includes a specially patched version of DOS 3.3 that works with 3.5-inch microfloppy drives, so 3.5-inch microfloppies may be used for your BEX data. However, BEX still requires that the program be booted and loaded from a 5.25-inch floppy drive, so your system must have at least one 5.25-inch floppy disk drive. When you include 3.5-inch disk drives in your configuration, then you can read ProDOS textfiles from ProDOS 3.5-inch disks, as well as read and write DOS 3.3 data.
In previous versions of BEX, you were limited to six "virtual drives;" for BEX 3.0, the limit is eight virtual drives. One of these drives can be the controller card for a Sider hard disk, which in turn gives you access to the Sider's own "volume number" virtual drive system. It's possible for one configuration to include two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, two 3.5-inch microfloppy disk drives, one Sider with many disk "volumes", plus three RAM drives from an extended memory card.
The variety of extended disk systems required some Starting Menu modifications. Option I - Initialize disks prevents you from initializing a RAM drive; you may initialize 5.25 or 3.5-inch disks. Option C - Copy disks refuses to copy anything except 5.25-inch disks. (The April 87 RDC Newsletter article about RAM drives warned about conflicts between the RAMDRIVE software and initializing from the BASIC prompt. BEX 3.0 automatically modifies the RAMDRIVE program, so you can use options I and C on the Starting Menu and even type INIT HELLO at the BASIC prompt.)
When configuring at the User or Master Levels, you may specify "auto linefeed" and/or "pause on form feed" for braillers. BEX no longer asks the "auto linefeed" question for large print printers, since you must answer yes. (That was probably the single most troublesome thing when trying to do BEX large print.)
There's a new Starting Menu option: R - Recognition of cards. This option lets you teach BEX about circuit cards it doesn't recognize; we are sure this option will reduce a lot of hassle as manufacturers improve and modify their cards.
Option W - What is in this computer now lists the current configuration name and whether RAM drives are available. You may have encountered a bug trying to initialize totally blank disks twice in a row. Option I - Initialize disks no longer assumes you want to initialize another disk; after the initialization in complete, you're back at the Starting Menu.
When working for a long time at the Page Menu with earlier versions, BEX may have crashed with the OUT OF MEMORY error. You may also have encountered this error when working with long lists of chapters. BEX 3.0 manages memory much better, so these problems are a thing of the past.
Whenever you name a BEX chapter, BEX 3.0 checks to make sure that the chapter name won't end in space. This checking occurs whether you're typing the chapter name or you're using a target chapter naming method. In previous versions, a BEX chapter name ending in space was a real pain: it appeared in catalogs and numbered chapter lists, but you couldn't use it for anything.
Partition chapters goes away Partition chapters was a remnant from BRAILLE-EDIT days, when Grab pages only allowed you to grab a single page at a time to an existing chapter. When you want to create two (or more) chapters from an existing chapter in BEX, you can Grab pages into a new chapter, thereby copying information into a new chapter. BEX's Partition chapters was "destructive"; it did not make copies as it divided the source chapter. Even if you specified the First new target chapter and Second new target chapter on different drives, they were created on the drive where the source chapter was. This was BEX's only "destructive" option, and the only one where you could not direct the target chapter to a different drive, so removing it increases consistency.
No marking BEX page breaks when writing textfiles With BEX 2.2 and earlier, you're prompted "Do you want page markers? N" when you Write chapters to a textfile. When you answer Y, BEX theoretically places a control-Y in the textfile at the transition between BEX pages. When you Read a textfile to a chapter, BEX theoretically moves to a new BEX page when it encounters a control-Y. We're using the word "theoretically" for a good reason--we have never been able to make this feature work correctly. Each BEX version has had a slightly different bug in regards to control-Y page breaks. The primary reason we thought this feature up was to facilitate transferring files between BEX and a ProDOS spell checker. Now that QTC is available, we thought, gee, why bother?
BEX page size for Input through slot You can use option I - Input through slot to capture serial output from a wide variety of devices. Some send print data, like the IBM-PC; others send braille data, like the disk-based VersaBraille II. In earlier versions, BEX created pages holding between 3300 and 3400 characters during Input through slot. When you back-translate pages this big, you can easily have an overflow error. In BEX 3.0, Input through slot creates two different page sizes. When your data is all lowercase or all uppercase, BEX assumes it's braille, and limits page size to around 3072 characters. When your data is a mixture of lowercase and uppercase, BEX assumes it's print, and changes BEX pages at around 3800 characters.
Improvements to Fix chapters Previously, Fix chapters could miss some of the page files on disk; when Fix chapters was finished rebuilding the directory file, it left you at the BASIC prompt. In the new version, Fix chapters is bullet-proof; when it's done, you're back at the Second Menu prompt.
Refinements to the Paperless Brailler To transfer data from BEX to the disk-based VersaBraille II, you configure one printer as class P - Paperless brailler. In earlier versions of BEX, a Paperless brailler functioned just like a generic printer, except that BEX automatically placed the $$z zap format command at the start of each print stream. If your chapter contained the $$d reset to default command, then BEX would wake up and start formatting the text. If your chapter contained any control characters, in particular the discretionary line break, you had to use the "FILTER" transformation before you printed to the VersaBraille II. These problems are history. A Paperless brailler in BEX 3.0 automatically filters <Control-T>, <Control-S>, , and . The Paperless brailler never interprets any $$ commands.
Preventing crashes when printing to HI-RES screen In previous versions of BEX, people frequently crashed the program when they printed material from the BEXtras disk to the HI-RES screen--that is: SH, SL, SB, SJ, etc. The worst offender was the "RESUME" chapter, because it contained $$w72 $$f58 format commands that set the carriage width and form length greater than the built-in values for 40 or 20 column screen. BEX 3.0 is a little smarter in this regard: the print program ignores any $$w# or $$f# commands when # is larger than the maximum carriage width or form length of the chosen screen mode.
You may have encountered some problems trying to center text on the first line of a braille page; these have been fixed. We've added a few new $$ commands: check the Thick Reference Card for information about Roman numeral page numbering and conditional page breaks.
Saving the current page As with previous versions, control-P # <Space> saves the current page and moves to page #. The new feature is that control-P 0 <Space> saves the current page and then returns you to it, at position zero. (This was a BRAILLE-EDIT feature that was brought back to life.)
"Dig Those Booping Returns" During voice output with control-G, control-R, control-T, and control-O, BEX boops when passing a hard <CR>.
Control-O Talks to End of Page In previous versions of BEX, control-O moved the cursor forward and spoke approximately 500 characters. The number 500 was totally arbitrary; based on user requests, control-O now talks until the end of the current BEX page, unless stopped with the spacebar. When you toggle off "jerky" speech with control-S J, then speech pauses slightly at the end of each sentence.
Moving and deleting by lines We've added a new "unit character" for the advance cursor, zoom back cursor, and delete text group of Editor commands. Just as control-W stands for a BEX word, and control-P stands for a BEX paragraph, control-L stands for an explicit new line: a hard <CR> or the BEX new-line ($l) indicator. BEX 3.0 does not have a WYSIWYG editor, so control-A control-L does not advance to the next printed or output line.
Screen display during keyboard insert Pressing control-I or Tab now turns all characters in front of the cursor into the underline character. When the insert is completed by control-N the underlines turn back into the text that was there. This makes Editor screen display less disconcerting to sighted people during keyboard insertion.
The DP-10 toggle In previous versions of BEX, all control characters were represented with the key checkerboard in W and N Editor screen modes. The DP-10 large print screen display device can not show the key checkerboard, nor can it show BEX's HI-RES screen. Enter control-S D to change the control-character representative from the key to the at-sign, which the DP-10 can display.
Duration of changes you make to the Editor environment In previous versions of BEX, most, but not all changes to the Editor environment lasted until you rebooted. We have attempted to make things more consistent. With this version every change to the Editor environment lasts until you reboot with the single exception of braille keyboard mode. When you enter control-S K B and Quit, you really don't want to use braille keyboard at the menus.
Editor Bug Fixes The block marker is no longer cleared when you use control-V to preview format in the Editor. Control-O and control-T use the correct pitch at the end of a BEX page. When you configure without speech, BEX just beeps when you press control-E.
Option B - Back translate from grade 2 got its first meaningful overhaul in some time. A number of annoying bugs are gone, and there are a few new features. Half an hour spent with User Level Section 9, Parts 2 and 3 will get you up to date on all the latest back translator news.
In brief: the back translator recognizes a mid word change in capitalization signalled by the termination mark, dot 6, dot 3. What you want in print is DECtalk and BRaT; you enter ,,dec,'talk and ,,br,'a,t in your grade 2 chapters. We've changed how the back translator decides between the ble sign and the number sign. The program back-translates dots 3-4-5-6 as a number sign when the word begins with either a letter sign or a single capital letter followed by a number. A good example is Canadian postal codes: you can now back-translate M4G 7Y6 as long as you enter it as ,m#d,g #g,y#f in your grade 2 chapter. In earlier versions of BEX, the back-translator never created a slash in inkprint. With BEX 3.0 letter sign, st-sign is back translated to slash.
Previously, a single letter inside parentheses was gobbled up in back translation. BEX 3.0 translates it without damage. Previously, two hyphens (a braille dash) were back-translated to space, hyphen, space. BEX 3.0 just leaves the two hyphens alone.
When you turn off back-translation with space, underbar, hyphen, space your text is totally left alone. In earlier versions, various problems occurred during no-translation mode. BEX 3.0's back translator does absolutely nothing to text that starts with (@-) or (_-) and ends with (@l) or (_l). This means you can enter tricky number-and-letter combinations in computer braille and be confident that the back-translator won't mangle them.
We're getting closer and closer to the elusive goal of a perfect Grade 2 translator. The "dash clash" problem--detailed in the June 1987 Newsletter--has been fixed. The translator generally creates an apostrophe rather than a close single quote after a word ending in the letter s. It used to fail for most words ending in double s. The translator in BEX 3.0 is more clever in this regard.
When you show a range of Roman numeral page numbers, you need to have a letter sign after the hyphen and before the second Roman numeral. For BEX 3.0, the translator automatically creates letter signs for both numbers.
When a word ends in a hyphen followed by a single letter, the translator creates a letter sign, even if the letter is followed by punctuation. For example, the translator places a letter sign before the X in Use control-X. The translator doesn't place the discretionary line break character in this situation, since you wouldn't want the letter X all alone at the start of a braille line.
It's now possible to have both the SlotBuster and an Echo in your system without BEX acting up. BEX decides which software to load (TEXTALKER or SCAT) depending on which device is in the highest numbered slot. So when the Echo is in slot 4 and the SlotBuster is in slot 1, BEX loads TEXTALKER. When the SlotBuster is in slot 7 and the Echo is in slot 2, BEX loads SCAT. Appendix 2 is devoted to using the SlotBuster with BEX.
BEX 3.0 does not provide a "Set the SlotBuster parameters" question as it does for the Echo family. However, you are asked if you want to send an automatic set-up sequence to the SlotBuster. In previous versions of BEX, you had to remember to change the command character from control-E to a different control character so SCAT wouldn't eat the control-E commands before BEX got them. Now, when you say Y to the automatic set-up sequence question, BEX 3.0 automatically changes the SlotBuster command character to control-Q. You can enter control-E commands to your heart's content. Once you finish the sequence with the key, BEX changes the command character back to control-E.
In addition to supporting the SlotBuster's printer ports, BEX 3.0 lets you use the modem port for Input through slot and tape-based VersaBraille transfers. You need to add a 3F adapter to the SlotBuster's cable to attach any RDC-standard cable.
Earlier versions of BEX were very rude when it came to managing the SlotBuster's buffer. When you were using the SlotBuster as both a printer interface card and a voice device, the data you wanted printed frequently got clobbered. BEX 3.0 won't do this. However, you cannot add SlotBuster speech to a document that's being printed through the SlotBuster printer port.
The "enter line review" command character for the SlotBuster's SCAT software is control-R. This has prevented SlotBuster users from beginning or cancelling Remember Mode. For BEX 3.0, the asterisk (*) character functions exactly as control-R does at BEX menus. You can use either control-R or asterisk to start remembering keystrokes, or cancel remembering keystrokes after you've started.
BEX 3.0 is an evolutionary change, not a revolutionary one. The revised documentation reflects two years of experience answering the questions of new BEX users. We're confident that BEX 3.0 is the sturdiest program we've ever shipped, and that it can continue to serve as a useful tool for years to come. One reason we're confident is the able assistance of our beta testers, who put the new version through various torture tests:
Diann & Ken Smith
I believe that the public knows less about computers than about anything except the human soul. Maybe that's why I see many parallels between the marketplaces of computers and of religion. As a laborer in both vineyards, I encourage both computer literacy and spiritual literacy. To that end, we must occasionally look at the dark alleys as well as the bright storefronts. But first a caution: taking up residence in these dark alleys could lead to chronic pessimism or negativity. I hope this brief excursion can, rather, help us create and explore new dimensions of computer usage. With this purpose in mind, let's examine many ways in which the computer business is a lot like our approach to religion.
Both computers and religion are seen by our society as major means for improvement. Religion officially promotes spiritual unfolding and growth; computers officially promise mental and material advancement. We seek religion for many reasons including the fear of hell and the lure of heaven. Some want to see God; some want to serve others better. Computer access is viewed as a major means of gaining prestige, power, productivity, and creativity. Some seek computers as if the devil were chasing them; they fear loss or shame if they don't have the "best." Others crave the power and glory. Some want to improve the quality of life for others; some see computers as tools for liberating their creative powers.
Both computers and religion attract frenzied and fanatical activity. Just look at the periodicals and books about computers and religion that are being produced. I need braille, disks, tapes, reading machines, and sighted help. Heck! I need computers to help me read about the computers that are used to produce all those books and magazines. Where will it end?
An early sign of spiritual growth is the awareness that religion can be corrupted into self-defeating fanaticism. Some developers of adaptive aids for the disabled have a "savior" complex; that is, they appear to claim exclusive right to "help" the disabled. Some others have a cultish attitude I call the Cartel Complex, namely: "If the world doesn't revolve around us and our products, it should." Still others are ethical and will pull a product from the market when something better is available, even if they could sell it anyway, exploiting ignorance to make a profit.
Both the fields of religion and computers have people who function as priests. A priest in a religious context is honored; but in the computer business, a priest is a negative term. The legitimate function of any clergy is to equip the faithful to serve. The real function of a "computer priest" is not to foster dependence upon experts but to facilitate computer access by users. When "computers" meant "mainframes," executives must have stayed awake nights figuring out how to keep people dependent upon experts.
Now, however, there aren't enough experts to go around, so the "theologians" of data processing have taken to designing software that forces users to buy more software, memory, hard disks, etc. whether it is helpful or not. The frantic race that has resulted promises greater efficiency in the long run; but right now, the horse race of computer technology is a bucking bronco to us. We are scrambling to implement access to new technology through the media of braille, speech, and large print.
Both fields are replete with mysteries. If the public knew as little about airplanes as it knows about computers, we would be putting passengers into pilots' seats and crashing more planes. An occasional computer crash is less fatal, but frequent computer crashes can destroy working lives.
Computer technology for the disabled costs more to apply than to buy. Few agencies serving the disabled are aware of this fact. Barry Rodgers envisions a new rehabilitation professional he calls the Aid Systems Integrator. This person would prescribe and install computer aids, then train disabled persons how to use them. He says that our crazy current approach is like going to the dentist, expecting to pay for the filling, and get free installation (Rodgers, 1985). This Aid Systems Integrator could function as the Computer Deacon--the data base administrator, the management information specialist, the consultant. Through the work of the Computer Deacon, the mysteries of the computer world could be explored; the computer flock would be better able to serve their own needs.
Computers and religion have outrageous hucksters, both in marketing and in philosophizing. People who compare computer power with human mental ability might as well expend their energies trying to chase cars on foot down a highway. In the same stupid way, philosophers, ignorant of the soul, envy birds their power of flight. But just as the strongest bird can't outfly the soul, so the mightiest computer can't hold a candle to the soul's powers. Simply put, while we live on this plane in physical and mental bodies, we can use cars as vehicles for physical transportation. And while here, computers afford us mental transportation. They are vehicles, nothing more.
Nevertheless, like all machines, computers reflect qualities of the people who design, build, teach, service, and use them. They, more than other machines, can have a pseudo-creature quality. We express this when we say things like, "Computers have no feelings, except that sometimes they are cruel." Or we may say, "This is a user-friendly system." We even say that a computer can "read" to us. Of course, computers can't hate or love or read, because they cannot comprehend. What they do is translate, transcribe, calculate, and record. When they do those things well, we users should credit their designers, programmers, builders, teachers, and technicians.
One way to express our appreciation and reduce our frustration is to recognize the difference between a toy, an appliance, and a tool. Computers can be each of those things in different circumstances. At one end of the documentation spectrum, some applications shouldn't require study on our part. At the other end, some deserve extensive effort to learn.
We have a curious way of overstating the value of computers and religion but then undermining their implementation. What we do with technology for the disabled is tokenism when compared with our implementation of technology generally. We may rub our hands and say, "Isn't it wonderful what technology is doing for the handicapped." That's true, but let us also look at how the use of technology tends to increase handicaps. In our society, we use commerce and industry to accelerate change, and to serve mainly mass and military markets. Some of us see this as a fatal flaw in our culture that needs alteration. Whatever your opinion of militarism, it means we must draw attention to technology that can meet the needs of persons with disabilities. Commerce and industry tend to ignore us because we don't qualify as mass or military markets.
Not surprisingly, we practice tokenism in other areas by seeking the minimum instead of the optimum. The "minimum daily requirement" of vitamins may not keep our bodies healthy in the degraded ecological environment we are creating. The "minimum weekly requirement" of church attendance is no match for the jungle world we have created. (We are attempting to recreate the world of human society in the image of the super ape we currently think we are.) It simply hasn't dawned upon most of us yet that life-changing decisions are made in face-to-face relationships, not through sermons or books. Large gatherings serve mainly to reinforce what we believe and how we feel. Many people can't learn to use a computer in a large class.
Despite all the options in both religion and computers, many people end up with the inappropriate tools. Service delivery systems in both fields are very poor. For every success story, I see two failures or partial successes. The success ratio is lower among people with disabilities who are trying to use computers to overcome the very handicaps created by computer use.
Many religious groups focus only on the needs and abilities of spiritually-average people. They don't know how to handle the very sick and the very well. The oppressed, the addicted, the criminal, and the deranged are avoided or ridiculed. The spiritually gifted and prophets are discouraged or spurned. Ironically, those who are the most well--the highly gifted--are the very people who could best serve the sickest.
This propensity for mediocrity helped me to discover Lauer's Law of the Tri-level Accessibility of Knowledge. This law applies to all human endeavors including science, technology, art, and religion. Simply put, we learn about that which is third rate through hearing people boast of their superiority to it. We learn about the second rate because it must be advertised in order to be sold.
However, knowledge of the first rate is rare. We must actively and diligently seek it out. We can learn about the first rate through selfless people, such as prophets--but prophets are scarce. And sadly, that which is top quality is perceived as a threat to the angry and hostile. It is seen as a terror to the fearful and insecure. The remorseful and guilty feel it as a stab wound. The entrenched and the proud see it as an affront. Why else do you think innovators are hated and prophets are killed?
Our priorities in dealing with computers and religion are upside-down. The wrong way to run a business is to think first of the stockholders, then the customers, and finally the workers. The right way is to consider the workers who will take care of the customers so that the stockholders may benefit.
At its worst, religious institutions must spend much effort healing the wounds they have helped to cause. The wrong way to run a church is to concentrate first on how to keep it clean, pure, and powerful--in hopes of gaining favor with God and attracting people who can then benefit from its teachings. The right way is to foster within people the growth that will enable such qualities as cooperation, discernment, purity, and fellowship. Only such people can maintain an organization which is clean, pure, cohesive, and attractive.
In addition, most people under utilize both their spiritual faith and their computers. We have known people to switch computers to get utility they could have had with their old ones if they only knew the "truth." Most unfortunate are those who switch computers and then can't get back the features or power they once had. Many of us are unaware or fearful of the spiritual resources available through both our inner selves and other humans, so we either flit from flock to flock, join a harmful cult, or live uneventful lives of quiet desperation.
Both are means which are often mistaken for ends. Religion can be a vehicle for instruction, a discipline to practice, a church, or an association to implement goals. It is not Divine Awareness or spirituality itself. The Divine Awareness is the Goal. Some people go after computers for the power and prestige they seek. But, ironically, computer power is a moving target. Computers are the most plastic, flexible tool ever devised by humans. We are so fascinated with their plasticity that we haven't figured out when it's best to quit forming and bending them. The lure of "vaporware" and "knee-jerk" design strategies is irresistible to many. So chasing computer power, as necessary as it is in some endeavors where competition is keen, is like chasing the "elusive butterfly of love." We may get so caught up in desire that we stumble--like the seeker after Truth stumbles when he so keenly desires the object of his search that he can't feel Truth tapping his shoulder.
Our view of both computers and religion is ambivalent. We love them and hate them. We see them as liberating and as enslaving. The fact is that, like other forms of power, both can be used in both ways. The trick is to see clearly and act wisely. My computer can let me write more accurate documents more quickly, but if I become only a pedantic perfectionist, what good is it? It can enhance my creativity, unless I use it to gamble or embezzle. It can provide me with mental exercise, but if I play computer games when the boss isn't looking, am I not "gaining the world" but "losing my soul"? Contrary to the popular cliche, it's not power or technology that corrupts, it's people who corrupt.
If I am moved by love to reach out with help to others in need, I am doing God's work here in the world. But if I conceal the Truth, or if I brandish it like a club, I would be better off without my religion and my computer because I could then do less harm.
Both tempt people to quick and easy solutions. Computers have a special attraction for the people Barry Rodgers calls "puzzle solvers." Solving puzzles is important, but we also need "tool maker" types--patient, careful builders. (Rodgers, 1985) Religion attracts more than its share of people offering quick and easy solutions. Too often, these solutions are half-baked and don't work.
Finding your way in the fields of religion and computers can test your patience and tolerance. If you are willing, you can use either to develop these qualities, as I have seen others do. Some software developers have the patience and good sense to spend half their effort on manuals and training materials. At the other end of the spectrum, some computer manuals should be approached like a detective approaches evidence. You may need to learn to use an operating system that is three times more complex than the applications software you are using, and five times more complicated than it really needs to be. Anyone who develops more than a superficial relationship with a church will encounter situations where patience and tolerance are essential for participation and growth.
Finally, both can lead to humbling experiences. With patience from within, and good spiritual guidance from without, you can walk the path of humility to an awareness of your soul. Alternatively, you may choose a path of fanaticism, or holy wars, or militarism, and get nowhere. On the computer path, the proud are often quickly clobbered. The "computer know-it-all" simply doesn't exist--there are no across-the-board computer experts. You never know when a novice will tell you about some simple option you forgot or missed. If you are "stickly prickly," and can't stand having egg on your face, stay away from computers and stay out of church. (Unless you are masochistic or truly willing to learn humility.)
By now it's clear that I have some reservations about computers and religion. Let me complete the picture by telling you that after meditating, I prayerfully contemplated the contents of this paper, and I am now typing it into my computer.
"New Dimensions Radio" begins its programs with the following affirmation: "It is only through a change of consciousness that the world will be transformed. As we bring mind, body, psyche, and spirit into harmony, and unity; so also will the world be changed. This is our responsibility as we create, and explore new dimensions of being."
Let me paraphrase that statement: The computer world will be transformed through a rise in consciousness followed by a rise in computer literacy. As we bring skills, attitudes, hardware, and software into harmony and utility, we are also making the computer world friendlier and more fruitful for us. This is our responsibility as we create and explore new dimensions of ethical computer usage.
Rodgers, Barry L., A Future Perspective On the Holistic Use of Technology for People with Disabilities, Version 2.1, May, 1985. An unpublished paper from the Trace Center, 1500 Highland Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin 53705.
New Dimensions Radio, Department K, P. O. Box 410510, San Francisco, California 94141. (Heard on National Public Radio, WBEZ, Chicago, 6 a.m., Saturday mornings.)
About the Author: Harvey Lauer is a Blind Rehabilitation Specialist at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Hines, Illinois. He's been exploring sensory aids for twenty years, and religion for several lifetimes.
While talking computer programs have been an interesting enhancement for the general population, they are almost a necessity for the visually impaired. People who can't see regular print on the screen need an alternative way of knowing what's being displayed. Computer users with some vision may be able to see a large print screen display, but there are many who can't do even that. One alternative would be for the visually impaired computer user to make hardcopy large print or braille versions of all computer output--but think of the tremendous waste of paper, the constant disruptive noise, and the hours spent waiting for the hardcopy to be printed!
Listening through synthesized speech is often the only viable option. The problem with this solution is that most commercial Apple disks refuse to speak at all. Developers, understandably concerned with safeguarding their profits, place copy impediments on their disks. But this copy protection usually means the program can't be modified to work with speech. It is this situation that makes Public Domain (PD) programs particularly attractive to the blind. PD disks are free to anyone wishing to use them; therefore, they're not copy protected. The chances of modifying them to work with speech are much greater.
But not every PD disk is suitable for the visually impaired--in our experience, less then 25% are truly useful. A PD disk that displays maps, illustrations, pictures, or other graphics has nothing to say to the blind computer user. Even with that limitation, however, there are already hundreds of programs that have been successfully modified.
At the Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resource Center-South we examined thousands of PD programs designed for general use. We chose the programs that seemed to have value for the blind. At first it was a painfully slow process, since we learned as we went. After two years of work, we now have what is probably the most comprehensive collection of talking PD software available anywhere. We've been getting requests from all over the U.S. and Canada, and we want to share what we've learned.
Our emphasis has been on educational talking software. As we found a program, we placed it on a disk with similar subjects. Once the disk was close to full, we added a greeting program plus the voice software that makes the programs work with the Echo family of synthesizers. The hardest part of collecting was developing a menu system to enable the blind student to select a program by number. We ended up writing custom menus for most of the disks. While this meant more work for us as developers, the end result is a product that's easier for the users.
All disks in our collection are organized around topics or themes. To cut down on bulk, all disks are double-sided "flippies." To make ordering easier, each side of programs has a volume number. All disks are bootable: they load the speech software then prompt you for slow or fast speech. When programs need Integer BASIC, that software is automatically loaded. The list of programs on each disk is available by typing RUN MENU at the BASIC prompt.
Volume 1 is a collection of Morse Code programs. Many people with vision impairments are interested in amateur radio; this disk full of twenty Morse Code programs provides all the drill they're likely to need. The back is volume 2; it contains DOS 3.3 utilities. These utilities let you add speech programs to your own disks, manipulate individual files, copy whole disks, and create and read textfiles. Since these utilities are so handy, we've included them on a number of other disks as well.
Disks three to eight contain around 80 basic math programs, covering addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, time concepts, and rudimentary fractions.
Disk 9 is a small collection of guidance programs. Since this fills just one side, the back contains the same DOS 3.3 utilities as volume 2. You'll tend to put the most wear on the utilities disk, and we want you to have another copy available when you need it!
Our most comprehensive collection is in the Language Arts area. Volumes 11 through 24 include vocabulary, grammar, and reading programs, ranging in difficulty from preschool to high school. Volumes 25 and 26 are Social Studies simulations that students can use to explore the issues--for example, one is a stock market simulation. Volumes 27 and 28 contain Social Studies drill programs for history and geography, providing practice with names of presidents, capital cities in the world, and similar material. Volumes 29 and 30 have musical selections.
Volumes 31 and 32 are typing drills; some work in large print and colors as well as speech, developing both typing skills and color concepts for students with some limited vision. The six volumes from 33 to 38 contain a variety of educational games at different difficulty levels.
It seems that Special Education resources too often focus on the elementary level, neglecting the needs of high school students. Volumes 39 to 61 are our attempt to redress this problem. Volumes 39 through 45 focus on Computer Science, including Apple and DOS tutorials, utilities, and samples of ways to use computers. Volume 45 duplicates the handy DOS 3.3 utilities on volume 2. Volumes 47 and 48 focus on Physics, while volumes 49 and 50 are full of General Science files.
Volumes 51 through 54 provide disk-based worksheets for specific high school texts, including pre-Algebra, Geometry, Algebra, and pre-Calculus.
Volumes 55 through 61 provide visually impaired students with the opportunity to explore prevocational and vocational education. These disks relate to the Industrial Arts; the only modification we made was to add speech. Special education and rehab professionals, as well as blind people themselves, are painfully aware of how much we need to develop these areas.
Volumes 62 through 71 relate to the public domain word processor FrEdWriter. This ProDOS word processor is a wonderful learning tool: it is relatively easy to use, comes with comprehensive and clear documentation on disk, and is totally free. The only drawback to FrEdWriter is that we've been unable to make its editor talk--perhaps a Newsletter reader out there has solved this problem? While FrEdWriter is not now a workable tool for blind students, it's an excellent way for sighted people to do data entry for BEX or TranscriBEX. FrEdWriter creates ProDOS textfiles, which BEX can read directly. The ten disks include the FrEdWriter program and utilities, the FrEdWriter documentation, and comprehensive tutorials on using FrEdWriter to do a host of things.
If you are interested in obtaining any of these disks, we will gladly share it with you. All we ask is that you send us disks and postage. (If you're willing to chance it, we can mail disks Free Matter, but we can't guarantee they will arrive safely!) We're constantly adding to our collection--if you want more details, just give us a call! (See Facts on File for the address and phone number.)
About the Author: Dr. Fareed Haj is Educational Specialist at Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resource Center-South.
One of the most gratifying parts of the software business is hearing what our customers are up to. We get many fascinating letters and calls. We always welcome comments and suggestions on how we can improve our products.
The arrival of my Apple IIe computer, Echo II synthesizer, ImageWriter II printer and BEX software represented three long years of research about which computer hardware and software to purchase. I based my decision on several factors. First, I wanted to use the computer for word processing in my professional activities: as an owner of a small mail order business (specializing in products for visually handicapped people) and as a school counselor. Second, I wanted the independence and convenience a computer could provide in recordkeeping. Third, I wanted a system that could be up and running with a minimum of problems--I didn't want to learn a new keyboard and a host of commands.
I continue to be impressed with the organization of the BEX manual, and the uncanny anticipation of its authors regarding problems a novice user might encounter. The three levels of competency enable the novice computer user to become familiar with the system without becoming overwhelmed with complexities and jargon. As the computer user gains confidence, it is possible to advance to more sophisticated procedures. The movement through the BEX instructional materials can be as slow or rapid as the user chooses.
The other facet of BEX that I have found very impressive is the quality of technical support. In my situation, for example, the support team at RDC discovered that one of my disk drives was malfunctioning so that it was carving small grooves into my computer disks. This was resulting a number of frustrating experiences: the computer was sounding off with a loud piercing buzz during printing. The computer had lost the program it was reading from disk, and could not continue sending data to the printer. When I asked the RDC technical support team why I could not print an entire document, they did some research and called me back. They said I had a defective disk drive; I replaced it and my problem was solved.
I am pleased with my new computer system, with the BEX software, and with the technical support that RDC provides. Please keep up the good work.
About the author: Fred Sanderson runs the Option Central mail order firm from his home in glorious Green Bay, Wisconsin.
This regular column explores ways to use TranscriBEX, the add-on module for BEX that supports Library of Congress standards for braille translation and format. Contributions are always welcome!
I recently finished transcribing the latest version of the BEX manuals--all 14 volumes. I was fortunate to be able to use BEX 3.0 on an Apple IIgs with 1 megabyte of memory. While RAM drives are always fun to work with, they are particularly helpful when using TranscriBEX. I do my \\ command data entry on the RAM drive, then copy it down to disk when it's OK. Running MAKE$ and then the Grade 2 translator on the RAM drives is very speedy indeed. I only copy my final translated $2 chapters to floppy disk when they're perfect.
One thing I've always hated proofreading for is missing print page indicators. Because Replace characters is so fast when reading and writing from RAM drives, I developed a little trick to help me with this task. When I think my chapters are ready, I do the following transformation:
Main Menu: R
Drive or chapter: 7 <CR>
There are 5 chapters
Use entire list? Y <CR>
Target naming method: 7A* <CR>
Transformation chapter name: <CR>
Enter terminator: <CR>
Change to: $$vn$$vk \\pp<CR>
Continue? Y <CR>
Starting to replace
Replaced # times ...
The number of times the replacement occurred must match the number of print pages I have transcribed; if it's high or low, then I know I've missed a print page indicator. Because I specify \\pp and not \\pp<Space> this one rule finds both \\pp and \\pph. When the number is correct, then I print the transformed chapter to SW, the 80-column screen. Each print page indicator is preceded by two BEX $$ commands. $$vn means that BEX moves to a new output page just before each print page indicator. $$vk forces the next BEX "word" to the right margin. In this case, that word is either "\\pp" or "\\pph". So when I'm reading the 80-column screen, TranscriBEX's print page indicator command is all alone on line 1, with the actual print page number at the start of line 2.
This makes it a snap to compare what's on the screen with my print original. When everything checks out, then I know I can copy my original \\ chapters down to floppy disk. I simply kill off the transformed chapters from my RAM drive. Since I added the asterisk character to the chapter names when I transformed them, I can specify 7/* to delete only those ones when killing chapters.
About the Author: Jesse Kaysen is Publications Manager at RDC; she's learning more about braille transcribing than she ever thought possible.
I've recently completed a braille transcription of a lengthy IBM-PC file. As an well-known Apple partisan, I of course transferred the file to my trusty IIgs so I could use contextual Replace to help me. This file, the PC-WRITE Tutorial and Quick Guide, contained several tables and other sticky formats; it forced me to new heights of experimentation. In the process, I've learned some nifty tricks I want to share with other BEX users.
Getting the data from the IBM-PC to the Apple is a snap. As Phyllis Herrington described in her January 1987 RDC Newsletter article, you cable the Apple and IBM-PC together. Then you use the MS-DOS PRINT command to send the data out of the IBM-PC's serial port, and BEX's Input through slot to capture the data to disk on the Apple. (This procedure is detailed in the new BEX 3.0 documentation.)
But once the data is saved in BEX chapters, there's still a lot of reformatting required to make good braille. For one thing, BEX and the IBM have different ideas about the function of carriage returns, (which I will abbreviate to <CR>). BEX uses <CR> to mark a meaningful new line while paragraphs are signalled with ($p). In the IBM, every output line ends with a pair of control characters: <CR> plus linefeed (also known as control-J). Since many of these <CR>-linefeed pairs are only relevant to the inkprint carriage width, I want to delete them. But I don't want to delete the <CR>-linefeed that defines the end of each item in a list. For items in a list, I want to change these <CR>-linefeed pairs to BEX's paragraph ($p) indicator. What was a list of lines in print can become a series of outdented paragraphs in braille. (In TranscriBEX, you use \\items and \\enditems for this type of format.)
While the lines in general text material are usually quite long, items in a list usually fill less than one full line. When the IBM data is formatted at a carriage width of 72 characters, for example, then any line of 54 characters or less is probably one item in a list. And of course, the last line of a text paragraph is also short as well. (Generally, the beginning of prose paragraphs is easy to spot, since print paragraphs are usually double-spaced.) Because the PC-WRITE Quick Guide includes many short, single-spaced paragraphs showing samples of what you type, it was important to "catch" all the possible paragraph beginnings.
The tools I use are two contextual Replace pattern codes: letters X and O. The X code means an exact match with the find string partner; the O code mean every character except the find string partner. Remember that uppercase pattern code letters represent characters that do not depart--they remain in the transformed chapters. Lowercase pattern codes show BEX where to remove characters.
To illustrate how these work, imagine that you wanted to change all lines containing exactly five characters into a plus sign. When the terminator is number sign (#), the rule would look like this:
Change to: +#
The only group of characters that would trigger replacement is one <CR>; followed by any five characters that are not <CR>s, followed by one <CR>. This is how you define a "line of exactly five characters." The sample rule would turn those characters into one plus sign, but leave the <CR>s alone.
Now that we have introduced the cast of characters, let's get back to my large IBM file. Since the IBM always marks lines with two characters, <CR>-linefeed, I can delete all the linefeeds first off. The file had a maximum carriage width of 72. Stated another way, at no point are there more than 72 characters between <CR>s. My technique is based on the idea that a <CR> after a short line should be preserved, while a <CR> after a long line should be changed to a space.
I structured a group of rules similar to the sample above: Each find string consisted of only <CR>s. One rule contained 74 <CR>s. The pattern string was uppercase X, 72 uppercase O's, then finally one lowercase x. The change to string was <CR>@<CR>. By inserting an at-sign plus one more <CR>, I made the ends of lines distinctive; I knew that at the end of my transformation chapter, any <CR>@<CR> could be replaced with one space.
You may be wondering why I didn't just replace the <CR> with space right away, since it was an "irrelevant <CR>." Here's why: in the original file, the <CR> at the end of an "irrelevant" output line serves two roles: it marks the end of one line and the beginning of the next line. By adding at-sign <CR>, I preserve this dual function while still marking the <CR>s for further transformation later.
My transformation chapter contained 17 more rules like this: the next rule was 73 <CR>s paired with uppercase X, 71 uppercase O's, then lowercase x; the change to string was again <CR>@<CR>. The next rule was 72 <CR>s, and so on down to 57 <CR>s. Of course, I used the clipboard to build up the transformation chapter with all the repetitious entries, and then run it on my data. After these rules are executed, I've marked all the "irrelevant" line endings. The next transformation chapter changes all <CR>@<CR> to space, then changes two <CR>s into the paragraph ($p) indicator.
For the brave and trusting, the whole operation can be done in one step. But since I was working on Apple IIgs RAM drives, it was pretty fast anyway. Two steps meant I could take a close look at the intermediate data. And it was a good thing that I did, because I realized I had made a mistake.
Imagine the last line of a paragraph that contains, say 64 characters. After the 64th character, there are two <CR>s, then the text at the start of the next paragraph. One of the 18 rules mentioned above would mark the <CR> at the end of this paragraph for deletion, so the data would look like:
end of paragraph <CR>@<CR><CR> start of paragraph
If I change two <CR>s to the paragraph indicator, then I have:
end of paragraph <CR>@$pstart of paragraph
and I've lost my <CR>@<CR> that should be changed to a space. The solution is to first change any appearance of two <CR>s to three <CR>s. Here's the order of the rules in an ideal transformation chapter:
1. Remove all linefeeds
2. Change two <CR>s to three <CR>s
3. Change four <CR>s to three <CR>s (just in case there's an extra <CR> between paragraphs)
4. Change "irrelevant" line endings to <CR>@<CR>, using the group of 18 rules described above for 72- to 55-character lines
5. Change <CR>@<CR> to one space
6. Change three <CR>s to two <CR>s
7. Change two <CR>s to a paragraph symbol
Combining the X and O pattern codes with the seductive speed of BEX 3.0 on an Apple IIgs, I was able to transcribe a difficult manual in about two days. Now of course, not everything was automatic. When Input through slot saves incoming data in BEX pages, it recognizes <CR> as a good place to start a fresh BEX page. It's likely that some occurrences of two <CR>s are split between BEX pages. So when all the transformations are done, I cruised through the data in the Editor, checking for <CR>s at the start and end of each BEX page. Next month, I'll discuss some of the braille translation issues involved in the project.
About the Author: David Holladay started playing with data at an early age; even though he helped design contextual Replace, he's still searching for a teacher who can help him learn more.
I'd been using an Apple computer happily at work and at home for years. Suddenly, the portability bug bit. Last summer I had managed to get a Radio Shack Model 100 laptop to talk. It involved converting its parallel output to a serial output so it could work with an Echo GP. The whole lashup was briefcase portable and with its approximately 16 batteries was no lightweight. This system set me back $800. While I nicknamed it "Small Kludge," it did enable me to take notes on the go, then dump the material to an Apple for later processing with BEX.
But by February of this year, the desire for an MS-DOS computer had crystallized. I had narrowed my choice to a Leading Edge Model D. Portables seemed to be out of the question. Those that existed were either too expensive, or too limited by their one floppy disk drive, or too confining due to poor battery performance. And most importantly, none of the ones available had an internal speech synthesizer.
While visiting with family in Maryland the options suddenly and impressively broadened. I and a bunch of other blind ham radio operators took over a local Baltimore repeater for an evening of good conversation about talking computers and other blindness issues. One of the people on frequency was Randy Knapp of PC Partners, Inc. of Baltimore. I informed him that I'd been considering the purchase of a Leading Edge computer. He responded that there was an interesting portable with a custom-made speech synthesizer that was to come onto the market soon. Later that week he called to describe the Toshiba T1100 Plus, and stated that PC Partners would be selling units for $2395 in late April of 1987.
On March 24, 1987, a demonstration was arranged at Associated Services for the Blind in Philadelphia. The equipment was impressive: it actually did what was claimed for it and the demonstrators were knowledgeable and honest. Not surprisingly, three orders for Toshibas were taken that day, including mine.
In late April I finally got my hands on my own unit. In addition to the Toshiba with built-in synthesizer, my $2395 got me MS-DOS version 3.20, SideKick, lightweight headphones, and an external speaker. The Toshiba T1100 Plus is a battery-powered fully IBM-compatible MS-DOS laptop portable computer with 640K of RAM. It can run for approximately 8 hours continuously with its built-in rechargable battery. (The two 3.5-inch 720K disk drives are the most power-hungry part of the unit, so if you do a lot of disk access, you will get less than 8 hours from fully charged batteries.) With its 80 column by 25 line LCD screen closed, it's roughly the same size as an Apple IIc: 2.6 by 12.2 by 12 inches. The LCD screen can be tilted at an angle for viewing or laid flat against the computer itself when fully opened. When closed it latches shut and completely covers the keyboard. A carrying handle lifts out of the bottom front of the machine; it only weighs 10 pounds.
Underneath the power switch and charger jack on the back panel, you will find the built-in Synphonix Speech Synthesizer from Artic Technologies. Its little volume and tone control stems sticking out from the back. There's a little row of holes for the speaker, as well as a mini-stereo headphone/external speaker socket. Also on the back panel are video jacks (both composite and RGB) as well as two ports: one Centronics parallel and one nine-pin AT-style serial.
Those accustomed to a full-sized IBM-style keyboard may take a little time to get used to the T1100's smaller keyboard. Toshiba had to squeeze a lot of keys into a small space: the function keys, ordinarily clustered in two columns to the left of the main keyboard, form a fifth row above the number row. The Home, Page Up, Page Down, and End keys form a column on the right hand edge of the machine. The Enter key is fairly large, and they've moved the dreaded backslash key so your lefthand little finger doesn't mistakenly hit it instead of the shift key. The left, down and right arrow keys are on the bottom row of the keyboard, with the up arrow key just above the down arrow key--it looks like a braille letter R lying on its back.
Since space was so limited, the Toshiba's designers did not include a separate numeric keypad. Instead, the numeric keys, plus the gray plus and gray minus keys, are mapped on to the regular keyboard. After you press Nums Lock, pressing K gets the digit 2. The Business Vision screen review software includes keystrokes for screen navigation that get around the lack of a separate built in numbers pad.
You can change how fast the Toshiba T1100 Plus's 80C86 Microprocessor operates: either 4.77 or 7.16 mHZ. I have been successfully using a variety of word processing packages including WordPerfect, PC-Write and Word-Talk. All programs have worked extremely well with speech, although I must admit that PC-Write is my current favorite. I have also used the Toshiba to do data base work and to play adventure and other games. The Business Vision software is lightning fast in both Application Tracking and Review modes. One can zip around the screen effortlessly just as in BEX or BRAILLE-EDIT. And unlike the Apple, the speech program rarely crashes although it has happened on occasion. The Business Vision program lets you control all aspects of the speech rate, tone pitch and volume. It also lets you set speech windows to selectively read portions of the screen. These configurations can be set from review mode and can be customized to the user's style or application program.
Probably the Toshiba's weakest parts are the volume and tone control stems that protrude from the bottom of the machine. These loosen occasionally and the stems must be pushed back onto their shafts. Since these controls are mounted directly on the Artic Synmponix circuit board, it's a fragile arrangement to begin with. And since the Toshiba has 3.5-inch disk drives, users must find a way to transfer software from 5.25 to 3.5-inch disks. I purchased the external 5.25-inch disk drive, available for an extra $350, but it was easy enough finding 3.5-inch versions of the programs I wanted to use anyway.
Unfortunately, the Toshiba lacks an audible warning when your battery is about to die. One minute you are computing, the next you are dead without power. I sometimes carry a light probe to monitor the status of the LED since it will flash for a while before the battery bites the dust but that's an unnecessary hassle.
Dealer support with a new product like this can be crucial. PC Partners have been exemplary in their tech support and ability to field questions--reminding me of a small Midwestern computer company I know that gave the world the NursaBraille. When the time came for me to purchase a modem we had to work together to acquire the RIGHT kind of serial cable. but we all stuck it out and that minor problem too has been solved.
In my opinion, the Toshiba T1100 Plus is the finest, most user-friendly MS-DOS portable on the market at this moment. In both the mass media and the blindness media, much controversy has raged over Toshiba's sale to the Soviet Union of sensitive military systems for silencing submarine propellers. I feel that this controversy is besides the point, and it does a disservice to us as blind persons. Access technology that works well and that can deliver on what it promises can be hard to find at any price. A product that can deliver so ably on that promise as the Toshiba T1100 Plus is priceless. When it comes to this sort of thing, false patriotism and neoconservatism should take a back seat. Perhaps we ought to consider contacting our senators and congress critters to strongly suggest that they exempt such important access technology from tariffs and so forth.
I would be pleased to provide additional information to Raised Dot Computing Newsletter readers about this computer or they may contact the Toshiba dealers listed in Facts on File.
About the Author: An enthusiastic ham radio operator, Eric Clegg works for the US Government and makes his home in Philadelphia.
One of the most important new features in BEX 3.0 is how well it works with the new Apple IIgs. I'm proud to say that BEX truly flies! One reason is that the Apple IIgs central processing unit runs two and one-half times faster than the Apple IIe's and IIc's chip. Another reason is the DOS 3.3 RAM drive software I wrote for the Apple IIgs's expansion memory. This DOS 3.3 patch loads and saves data from RAM drive at more than 300 sectors per second. (Out of programmer's curiosity, I also tested out ProDOS RAM drives on the IIgs. My tests showed loading and saving 56 blocks per second. Each ProDOS block holds the equivalent of two DOS 3.3 sectors, so that "obsolete and slow" DOS 3.3 operating system was twice as fast as ProDOS for this operation.)
I've done a number of comparison tests that illustrate why BEX 3.0 feels like a totally different program. All my test numbers involve screen-only configurations, since the time required for the Echo to speak slows down all activities equally.
When I loaded the BEX Main side programs onto a IIgs RAM drive, I clocked a 900% increase in speed compared with BEX 2.2. My first test involved Jumping from the Second Menu to the Main Menu, and then pressing G to do Grade 2 translation. I clicked the stopwatch when BEX prompted for the chapter to translate, after it was done loading the Grade 2 translator and tables from the program disk into memory. For BEX 2.2 on a regular Apple IIe, this process required 9.9 seconds; for BEX 3.0 on an Apple IIe RAM drive, it took 1.8 seconds, while BEX 3.0 with a IIgs RAM drive took just 1.1 seconds.
The second test involved translating the QUANDARY chapter with a variety of configurations. Ever since Caryn Navy took over programming the translators, I've watched in delight as they get more accurate and faster. When translating from disk to disk on a regular Apple IIe, the QUANDARY chapter required 189 seconds for BEX 2.2 and 165 seconds for BEX 3.0, a 14% increase in performance. Translating the Zippy (Ready) chapter on top of itself, BEX 2.2 took 158 seconds, while BEX 3.0 used 134 seconds, a 17% increase. The same test on an Apple IIgs blew my socks off; I had to double check to make sure that I hadn't missed anything! When translating from Apple IIgs RAM drive to RAM drive, the QUANDARY chapter took a grand total of 53 seconds, or more than three and one-half times as fast as the same trial disk-to-disk with BEX 2.2.
About the author: David Holladay wears many hats at RDC: Founder, President, Programmer, and Janitor.
As we announce our newest contribution to the sensory aids marketplace, some of you are questioning the wisdom of releasing yet another version of a DOS 3.3 program for the Apple II. As one reader put it, don't we tire of working with buggy whips in this age of supersonic transport? After all, newer and "better" operating systems abound. There are several compelling reasons why we are still supporting "yesterday's technology."
The concept that DOS 3.3 is a dead operating system comes from Apple Computer, Inc., and not from Apple users. In case you hadn't noticed, that fuzzy, friendly startup company has become a multibillion dollar industry leader. Apple is now the dominant supplier in the personal computer marketplace. Like any other market leader, Apple is rightly concerned with maintaining its dominance.
Marketing played an important role in Apple's decision to leave DOS 3.3 behind. When marketing the Apple II line against the MS-DOS machines, Apple came up short in regards to hard disk storage. Apple saw the answer in the Apple III and its SOS operating system (an acronym guaranteed to undermine confidence!). The Apple III was a marketing bust, but SOS, renamed ProDOS, rose out of the ashes. ProDOS is a hierarchical operating system that's great for storing data on hard disks. Its pathname system, admittedly confusing for beginners, makes a wide variety of storage media workable.
But according to Apple's own statistics, the majority of Apple software runs in DOS 3.3, not ProDOS. Clearly, DOS 3.3 remained the preferred system of the typical Apple programmer, who after all, was not that concerned about Big Blue in the first place. Programmers like DOS 3.3 because it is compact and easy to modify. The ProDOS operating system requires at least 16K more workspace in the Apple's memory. There are probably more minor revisions or patches available for DOS 3.3 than there are Apple III systems still in use.
And so we arrive in late 1987, with Apple IIgs computers commonly sporting 1 megabyte of memory. Yet contrary to all of Apple Computer's predictions and edicts, DOS 3.3 is still alive and well. Here at RDC, we've sewn together a few patches ourselves that make it feasible for BEX, running in old-fashioned DOS 3.3, to take advantage of most of the Apple IIgs's up-to-the-minute features.
This isn't to say we haven't seriously considered ProDOS. (Just ask David how many hours I've spent in past two years browbeating him.) We wanted to improve upon BEX, and a program with this many features just isn't possible in ProDOS without a 256K system and 3.5 inch drives. You would all have to go out and buy new IIgs systems. Apple would love it.
We are working in ProDOS and you can expect to see some of those applications in the coming months. But we are being cautious, since the ProDOS path is undergoing many rapid changes. Fashion is a tricky thing. We all want to look good in public and even to ourselves. But it is costly to stay up with the trends; we thought that it was a price that our customers just couldn't afford. The result is BEX 3.0 in DOS 3.3, guaranteed to make the most of the equipment you currently own.
About the author: Nevin Olson is familiar with DOS 3.3, ProDOS, MS-DOS, VS/WANG, and Holladay operating systems; he's also RDC's Business Manager.
Phyllis Herrington -- Technical Support
David Holladay -- Programming
Jesse Kaysen -- Publications Manager
Caryn Navy -- Programming
Nevin Olson -- Business Manager
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Apple Computer, Apple IIc, Apple IIe, Apple IIgs, DOS 3.3, ImageWriter II, & ProDOS are trademarks of Apple Computer Inc.; Cricket, Echo ][, Echo Plus, & TEXTALKER are trademarks of Street Electronics Corp.; DECtalk is a trademark of Digital Equipment Corp.; IBM-PC is a trademark of International Business Machines, Inc.; MS-DOS is a registered trademark of Microsoft, Inc.; PC-Write is a trademark of Quicksoft, Inc.; SideKick is a trademark of Borland, Intl.; SlotBuster II is a trademark of RC Systems, Inc.; Synphonix and Business Vision are trademarks of Artic Technologies, Inc.; Toshiba T1100 Plus is a trademark of Toshiba of America Corp.; TranscriBEX, BEX, and BRAILLE-EDIT are trademarks of Raised Dot Computing, Inc.; VersaBraille and BRaT are trademarks of Telesensory Systems, Inc.