Raised Dot Computing Newsletter: Exploring Microcomputer Applications for the Visually Impaired -- ISSN 0890-0019 Volume 6 -- MARCH 1988 -- Number 61

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. Editors: Jesse Kaysen & Phyllis Herrington

Entire contents copyright 1988 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 (print page 2)

SENSORY OVERLOAD PART1 = Sensory Overload IV: The Umpire Strikes Back (print pages 2-3)

BRAILLE N SPEAK = Elegant Access Technology in Your Pocket: A Review of the Braille 'n Speak -- Robert Carter (print pages 3-7)

BEX TRICK REF = includes "Create Sentences as Handy Units" and "Fun with an Apple IIgs: RAM Drives & Keyboard Buffering" (print pages 7-9)

VB VS KEYNOTE = A Comparison of the Keynote and VersaBraille -- Andrew Downie (print pages 9-11)

NEWEST TEXTALKER = Exploring the Latest TEXTALKER 3.1.3 -- Caryn Navy (print pages 11-14)

NEWSBITS = NewsBits: A High-Tech Computer Magazine -- Phyllis Herrington (print pages 14-15)

BULLETIN BOARD = includes "Workstation Software For Sale" & "Echo GP for Sale" (print page 15)

FACTS ON FILE = Names and addresses mentioned in the Newsletter (print page 15)

Laser Lines from the Editor

Boy oh boy, when I make a mistake it's a doozy! Last month I printed the wrong phone number for the RDC Technical Hotline. A host of careful Newsletter readers assumed that we had changed the number, but all that changed was my ability to think clearly. The RDC Technical Hotline number has been, is now, and will continue to be 608-257-8833.

This month's issue includes the "BEX Trick Reference Card" column for BEX hotshots. Look for the "BEX Beginner's Corner" next month.

Sensory Overload IV: The Umpire Strikes Back

As the frozen piles of slush begin to ooze away and reveal the ossified memories of yesteryear, we know that it's time again for the trendiest of technobabble from Sensory Overload, Inc. As regular readers know, Sensory Overload, Inc. is RDC's annual contribution to the world of marketing hype. We don't want to limit the lampooning of the (generally stranger-than-fiction) sensory aids universe to just RDC staff, so once again, we are running a ...

Sensory Overload Contest

We invite your submissions for the April issue. The top five (5) contestants will receive a one-year subscription to the RDC Newsletter in your choice of audio tape, large print, or BEX data disk. Here's the lowdown on how the contest works:

-- All entries must be submitted in writing--print, disk or braille is fine; the telephone is a no-no.

-- You may submit as many entries as you dare, but each person is only eligible to receive one prize.

-- Please include your name and phone number on your entry. By submitting an entry, you are giving us permission to publish it in the April RDC Newsletter. We won't print your name, however, unless you explicitly tell us it's OK.

-- The decision of the judges is totally arbitrary and final.

-- Employees of RDC, Inc. and their relatives have already had their chance, and can't enter the contest.

-- Entries must be in our offices by 5 P.M. on April 15th, 1988--coincidentally, an important deadline in most people's lives.

-- What goes around comes around, so don't be nasty.

-- Potty humor certainly makes the staff giggle, but it definitely won't get printed.

And now, in order to get you in the mood, we proudly present:

Right or Wrong, We Do Stuff: Sensory Overload, Inc.

Sensory Overload has yet another candidate for the crowded speech access software field: the Siskel & Ebert Screen Review Program. Siskel & Ebert has many unique features. It uses two voices which argue with each other. It does all that you expect of a screen review program, and it also judges the software you're using. It is the first screen review program designed to work well with Meryl, Streep Electronics' voice synthesizer that lets you choose between many different accents. It does columns, but only in Chicago.

There are a lot of portable braille notetakers around. For those who are old-fashioned, we have created Punch 'n Speak, a slate and stylus with voice output. We originally announced this product as the Voice-a-Braille, but another firm objected. (They thought that, in the New York City area, this name would be confused with their product name.)

Sensory Overload Inc. is proud to announce a revolutionary new concept in learning systems: the Squawk-to-Me Tutorials. These friendly, self-paced audio lessons painlessly lead you through the use of Bird Perfect, Bird Star, and PC-Flight, as well as the screen review program Flapper. In addition to a human narrator, the Squawk-to-Me Tutorials use Avian Alice, who speaks through DUCKtalk.

Visually impaired diplomats around the world are excited by Sensory Overload's latest entry in the wide-open brailler market. The Embossador brailles on erasable Magic Slate paper, so you no longer need to bring SHUX (or even BRAILLE-SHREDDIT) on your tricky diplomatic missions. While in its quiet mode, the Embossador does not disturb meetings. But in its noisy mode, it confuses even the most sophisticated bugging device.

Blind graduates from schools of education have always encountered stiff discrimination in landing that first teaching job. Sighted administrators often object that a blind teacher can't be an effective test proctor. Sensory Overload to the rescue! The Sneaqualizer gives you parity with sighted teachers when monitoring quizzes and exams. Small enough to slip into your pocket, the Sneaqualizer has several modes. Especially for high school teachers, "Teen Review" provides, through a discreet earphone, a running commentary on all your students' behavior. In its default "Guile-Talk" mode, the Sneaqualizer delivers a stern lecture whenever it recognizes cheating going on. You can also choose the "Squirm-Talk" mode, where the Sneaqualizer issues random warnings, keeping all your students on their best behavior. And when the time of reckoning at last approaches, the "ClassAXE" option swiftly dispenses punishment tailored to the crime.

Finally, Sensory Overload Inc. announces the ULTIMATE upgrade: BUX version 3000. This greatly improved program runs on all computers ever manufactured or marketed. Thanks to its ASHRAM drives BUX puts you in software nirvana. To obtain BUX, send in your first-born child as proof of your desire to upgrade, plus wire Sensory Overload the contents of your entire bank account.

Elegant Access Technology in Your Pocket: A Review of the Braille 'n Speak -- Robert Carter

The Braille 'n Speak is a brand new product designed and marketed by Deane Blazie, once the president of Maryland Computer Services and now owner of Blazie Engineering. In many ways the Braille 'n Speak is similar to the Kentucky Pocketbraille. Both are portable note-taking devices with braille style keyboards and built-in speech synthesizers.

Unlike the original Pocketbraille, the Braille 'n Speak has nonvolatile memory, a file management system, and a back from grade 2 braille translator. The Braille 'n Speak has neither a braille nor video display: the built-in speech synthesizer vocalizes the data in the machine.

A Brief Tour of the Braille 'n Speak

The Braille 'n Speak is eight inches wide, four inches deep, a little less than one inch thick, and it weighs just under one pound. It's very similar in bulk to a paperback book, and it's a joy to slip into a pocket or backpack. The device is housed inside a rugged, rather elegant-feeling, plastic case. The top of the unit has an almost silent seven-key braille keyboard with a sturdy feel.

On one side is the "off" switch, recessed to prevent the device from being turned on accidentally. The Braille 'n Speak has a small but quite good internal speaker for listening to its built-in speech synthesizer, or one can plug an external speaker or earphone into the jack next to the "off" switch. On the other side are a battery charger jack and two RS-232 serial port connectors. The Braille 'n Speak has internal rechargable batteries that are good for at least ten hours of continuous use. I'll provide some interfacing details after I give an overview of how the Braille 'n Speak works.

Managing Files in Memory

The Braille 'n Speak has 200K of "nonvolatile" or permanent memory. Whatever is in memory remains until the user deletes it; turning the unit off does not affect the data stored in memory. The memory chips are guaranteed to retain their contents for at least ten years.

An undivided chunk of 200K memory would be unwieldy, and happily the Braille 'n Speak has a file management system that divides up into easily-retrievable portions. This file management system is like a Disk Operating System: one can create files, delete files, list a directory of files, move from one file to another, find out the name of the currently opened file, and so on. Only one file can be open at a time, and opening a new file automatically closes the previous file, minimizing the number of memory management commands one needs to remember.

If several files are stored in the Braille 'n Speak, deletions and insertions are a little slow. This is because the Braille 'n Speak has to reorganize its memory. (Actually, the speed of the computer age has caused me to become impatient. I have never known the deletion of a file to take more than a minute or two.) The Braille 'n Speak clicks while it is deleting, inserting, or searching for text to let you know that it hasn't gone to sleep.

The Benefits of Braille in a Speech Device

By incorporating a back from grade 2 braille translator into the system, the Braille 'n Speak allows the user to work with both braille and print data. I find grade 2 braille data entry on a six-key plus spacebar keyboard to be a very efficient note-taking system. When I want to hear what I've written, I use the back translator's ability to operate "on the fly." Whatever's typed in grade 2 is voiced as print: what I enter as dots 2-4-5-6, 1-3-5, 1-3-4-5, 1-4-5, 1-2-4-5-6, 5-6, 1-2-3 the Braille 'n Speak says as "wonderful"! In addition to listening to this back-translation, the text can be sent out the serial port to an inkprint printer.

Of course, one can turn off the back-translator as well, so one can send a grade 2 file directly to a braille embosser. In addition to having the ability to turn the back translator on and off for an entire file, embedded commands control the translator within a file. This allows one to mix computer braille and grade 2 braille in the same file. The back translator is not perfect, but it is certainly good enough for note taking and most other applications.

Editing with the Braille 'n Speak

Even though the Braille 'n Speak does not have a highly sophisticated text editor, it is capable of rudimentary word processing--one can perform deletions, insertions, and character string searches. Text can be deleted by the character, word, or line, or from the cursor position to the end of the file. At this time, it is not possible to perform block moves either within or between files. It is likely that this capability will be added in the future. In addition to data entry in contracted grade 2 braille, the Braille 'n Speak has uppercase commands that let one enter correctly capitalized inkprint. One can even enter control characters to get fancy effects on printers or what have you.

The editor commands are logical and easy to remember. If one happens to forget a command, there is a help file built-in to the Braille 'n Speak that's always accessible. I really appreciate how the Braille 'n Speak handles cursor positioning and data entry in its editor. Whatever one writes is always appended to the end of the file. One can turn the machine on and start writing immediately without worrying about where the cursor is located. There is no danger of accidentally overwriting previously entered text. This encourages you to turn the Braille 'n Speak off when you're not using it, significantly increasing its battery life.

When you turn the Braille 'n Speak back on again, it remembers everything, including which file was open and where the cursor was in that file. When the power is turned on, the Braille 'n Speak will be exactly as it was when it was last turned off. The Braille 'n Speak remembers cursor position between files, as well; when an existing file is entered, the cursor will be wherever it was the last time the file was exited.

A real strength of the Braille 'n Speak's editor is the control that the user has over the speech synthesizer. The synthesizer can be commanded to move either backwards or forwards through the text by a character, a word, or a line at a time. When moving by characters, the speech synthesizer raises its pitch upon crossing a capital letter. If the user has difficulty understanding a particular character, the Braille 'n Speak can be commanded to pronounce the phonetic equivalent of that character. You can also use the spell mode to talk your text character by character. When the back translator is on, the unit "talks the dots;" a hyphen, for example, is pronounced as "3-6." When the translator's off, the Braille 'n Speak would say "hyphen."

Pitch, volume, speech rate, and level of punctuation are all user controllable. It is possible to skim backwards or forwards through the text by paragraphs as well. The Braille 'n Speak defines a paragraph as two carriage returns. The Braille 'n Speak can either say numbers as individual digits or as full numbers. There is a speech box mode where the Braille 'n Speak can be used as a battery powered speech synthesizer for other equipment. Finally, like the current version of TEXTALKER, pressing any key silences the speech and executes the command that is implemented with that keystroke. This makes skimming through text quick and easy.

Interfacing the Braille 'n Speak

As mentioned earlier, there are two serial ports on the Braille 'n Speak, but right now only one is usable. This bidirectional port can be used to both send and receive data. When sending text out the port, the user can specify how much text is to be sent, from one line up to an entire file. When sending text to a printer, one can specify settings for line length, page length, left margin, and top margin.

To save room, the Braille 'n Speak uses its own seven-pin connector instead of the standard DB-25 serial connector. But since the unit comes with a short cable that presents a standard 25-pin RS-232 male connector on the other end, this non-standard jack presents no problems. Thanks to my many years of experience with the RS-232 system, I find the Braille 'n Speak an easy device to work with. However, getting a serial interface to work properly can be a complex and frustrating task, and the Braille 'n Speak manual does not go into depth on this topic.

I have successfully interfaced the Braille 'n Speak with a wide variety of printers, braille embossers, modems, the tape-based VersaBraille, and other devices. A quick trip to Radio Shack for a universal null modem adapter and a sex change adapter gave me the right tools for these connections. [Editor's Note: Blazie now sells an "interface kit" for $45 with these two adapters and a miniature breakout box. PH] The common interface parameters--baud rate, data length, stop bits, parity, and handshaking--are selected from the keyboard, and the settings are stored until you explicitly change them.

The Braille 'n Speak works quite well as a computer terminal. One could use the device as a remote keyboard for the Apple while running BEX, for example. I often use mine with a battery powered pocket modem. This allows me to telecommunicate from almost anywhere.


The Braille 'n Speak documentation was written by Fred Gissoni, who is a trailblazing pioneer in pocket-sized access technology. Mr. Gissoni is one of the inventors of the original Kentucky Pocketbraille, and the Braille 'n Speak documentation is similar in style and content to the Pocketbraille's manual. While Mr. Gissoni's level of technical expertise and knowledge of the Braille 'n Speak are impressive, my five years of experience training blind people to use access technology leads me to believe that the manual is far too advanced for the beginning user.

The manual adequately explains most of the Braille 'n Speak commands. A few important commands are not discussed at all, and some are mentioned only briefly. There is nothing mentioned about controlling the back from grade 2 braille translator within a file, and the section dealing with interfacing the Braille 'n Speak is extremely brief. I am concerned that this would be particularly frustrating to anyone who has not had a lot of experience with the RS-232 serial interface. Further, the manual describes the Braille 'n Speak commands in alphabetical order instead of grouping similar functions and concepts together.

This makes the manual seem disorganized, and is especially a problem in that the documentation is only available on audio tape and in print. The cassette version is tone indexed, but, in my opinion, a braille version of the manual is badly needed. The Braille 'n Speak is shipped with both the print and cassette versions of the documentation.

One supplement to the documentation is the Braille 'n Speak Newsletter that Blazie Engineering has recently published. It covers the commands that are missing from the manual and discusses how to interface the Braille 'n Speak with two devices. It also includes a commendably honest bug list. I have written some interfacing instructions for connecting the Braille 'n Speak with an Apple. [Editor's note: Unfortunately, the first Braille 'n Speak Newsletter was only published in print. Look for Robert Carter's Apple to Braille 'n Speak interfacing notes in the April RDC Newsletter. JK]


I have owned my Braille 'n Speak for a little over three months. Although this is a relatively short time, I have used the machine extensively in my work as a university counselor. The limitations that I have discovered are minor and should not be a major deterrent to seriously considering the Braille 'n Speak.

First, the file management system requires one to specify the size of a file when it is created. Each Braille 'n Speak file is made up of one or more 4096-character blocks, called a Braille 'n Speak "page." (BEX users will find the 4,096 character page size particularly familiar and comfortable to work with.) After entering the name of a new file, the Braille 'n Speak prompts one to enter the maximum number of pages that can be used for that file. There's no alternative to opening a new file when one hits this limit. Files cannot be merged or combined, but switching between files is quick and easy. If one overestimates how much room is needed, the extra unused space is not utilized. This is not a serious problem given the fact that there is 200K of memory available--roughly 50 Braille 'n Speak "pages."

Second, the October 15, 1987 version of the Braille 'n Speak has a number of relatively minor software bugs. One occurs when you ask the unit to speak all of a multi-page file. Of course, the Braille 'n Speak should speak the entire file without stopping. Instead, when the device reaches the Braille 'n Speak page boundary, it jumps back to the top of the just completed page and begins reading it again. There's a simple workaround, and this bug doesn't affect cursor movement by character, word, or line. This bug will be repaired when the next version of the Braille 'n Speak's firmware is released.

I have noticed a few other minor bugs in the Braille 'n Speak's editor, and have reported them to Blazie Engineering. As mentioned, the Braille 'n Speak Newsletter included a thorough list of current bugs plus ways to work around them until they're fixed. Blazie will be releasing firmware updates that will both add new features to the Braille 'n Speak and fix the current bugs. Honesty demands that I mention these minor bugs, but I would not rule out the Braille 'n Speak because of them.

Final Comments

During the past ten years, I have been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of sensory aids equipment. I have found the Braille 'n Speak to be an incredibly convenient and useful device. I find new ways to use mine nearly every day. No wonder I'm excited: this device is powerful, portable, affordable, easy-to-use, and it creatively promotes the use of grade 2 braille.

And the best news is saved for last: the Braille 'n Speak only costs $945. That price includes the Braille 'n Speak, the documentation in print and audio tape, an earphone, the battery charger, the interface cable, and a 90-day warranty. (A $50 discount is offered when payment accompanies the order.) An extended warranty can be purchased for an additional $99. Address and phone numbers appear in Facts on File.

About the author: Robert Carter is a doctoral candidate in psychology at a great Floridian university. Luckily for RDC, he has served as a beta tester for every version of BEX.

BEX Trick Reference Card

This regular column explores nifty things you can do with BEX. Contributions are always welcome!

Create Sentences as Handy Units -- Harvey Lauer

Beginning with BEX 2.2, you can use "sentences" as cursor movement and text deletion units. For example, pressing control-D control-T deletes from the cursor up to the next sentence ending; control-Z 2 control-T zooms the cursor back two sentence endings. I often "artificially" create sentences to take advantage of these sentence-oriented Editor commands. In effect, the characters "period space" become another way to mark your text in addition to BEX's block marker.

When I write something, then decide I want to delete it, I move my cursor back to the last unwanted word then type "period space." Now my unwanted text is defined as a sentence; control-Z control-T moves my cursor to the start of the text, control-D control-T deletes it, and I'm ready to write my revised version.

Fun with an Apple IIgs: RAM Drives and Keyboard Buffering -- Jesse Kaysen

Since I'm lucky enough to have an Apple IIgs with 1 megabyte of memory, I do all my BEX work with RAM drives. I have two "specific" printers in my office, an Apple LaserWriter (used in Diablo 630 emulation mode) and a tattered but still able ImageWriter I. Because BEX only allows one "specific printer" in each configuration, I have two "favorite" configurations, "IW" and "LW."

The first time I had to reboot to switch from one configuration to another, I thought I would lose all the data on my RAM drives, including the BEX Main programs stored on RAM drive 1. To my delight, the RAM drive data survived completely intact. And when the BEX Main program is already loaded on the RAM drive, rebooting doesn't take much time at all--30 seconds from typing "PR#6" to the "Main:" prompt.

One of the reasons that rebooting is so fast is that I use the Apple IIgs's "keyboard buffering" feature. BEX's Editor has a keyboard buffer that lets you type faster than the letters can show up on the screen. This is wonderful when you're a fast typist, but it can be tricky if you hold down an arrow key for a few seconds by mistake. The Apple IIgs hardware also has a keyboard buffer that can hold up to 256 characters. For novice users, this keyboard buffer can get them in a lot of trouble, so the Apple IIgs from the store turns off the keyboard buffer feature.

To enable the keyboard buffer, you use the Control Panel. The fifth item on the Control Panel menu is "Options"; and the third item on the Options menu is "Keyboard Buffering." Sighted folks simply press Escape-Control-Command to get the Control Panel; blind users can take advantage of Computer Aids' delightful free Talking Control Panel software.

Now that I have keyboard buffering, I can use BEX at an even faster rate. It's almost like creating "automatic procedure chapters" on the fly. For example, I know that I want to merge all the chapters on RAM drive 7 in to a "BIG CHAPTER" on the floppy disk in drive 3. At the Main menu, I can type:


all at once, then wander away as BEX goes about copying the data. And when it's time to reboot, I put the Boot side of BEX in my booting drive, Quit BEX, and type:


The first five characters reboot the Apple. The next BEX prompt is "Enter configuration:" and the configuration named "IW" is waiting in the keyboard buffer. The final space moves from the Starting Menu to the Main Menu on RAM drive.

It's only fair to warn you that the Apple IIgs keyboard buffer has a few drawbacks. Most importantly, you can't change your mind once you start building up characters in the keyboard buffer. I've created more than one chapter named "Y" when I thought I was answering "Y <CR>" to BEX's "Use entire list? N" question. You only want to use keyboard buffering for actions where you don't need the Echo to tell you what's going on, since TEXTALKER will be silent until all the stored keystrokes are executed.

Finally, keyboard buffering will drive you crazy if you're using the Braille Previewer or Braille Previewer with Voice. When you press down arrow to see the rest of the page, but you are already at the bottom of that page, BEX hangs. You can press the spacebar 'til your fingers are numb, but the "extra" down arrow in the IIgs's keyboard buffer prevents BEX ever getting the space. The short-term solution is pressing control-Reset then typing "RUN <CR>".

A Comparison of the Keynote and the VersaBraille -- Andrew Downie

Having read the two articles on the trials and tribulations of VersaBraille II+ users in the June 1987 RDC Newsletter, I decided that an article comparing and contrasting that machine with the Keynote was warranted. [Editor's Note: Manufactured by Telesensory Systems, Inc., the VersaBraille II+ is a portable stand-alone computer system with one built-in disk drive, a Perkins-style keyboard for data entry, and a 20-cell refreshable braille display. In addition to the disk drive, the VB II+ has 30K internal memory, thus allowing the user to do word processing without continuous disk access. PH]

Before delving into what I see as the advantages and disadvantages of the two machines, I had better say a little about my background. I bought a tape-based or "Classic" VersaBraille model B at the end of 1981, prior to commencing an honours year in psychology, and later upgraded it to a Model D. I found it an extremely valuable tool in that year. With the VB I was able to prepare two theses, collect experimental data from an Apple, and use the VB as terminal to the university's Vax computer for statistical work. Much of my work on the Vax was done via a modem from home. Because of the VB's limited word processing facilities, I used the Vax Runoff text formatter.

When I started working as a vocational counsellor in 1983, I used the VB for all client notes and reports. Again, I had access to a Vax and this allowed me to use Runoff for formatting the more important documents. As my work load increased, I began looking for something which would provide faster access time and better word processing. Because I am somewhat nomadic, any new machine had to be portable and battery powered. Being something of a braille enthusiast, I ruled out synthetic speech devices, arguing that I could not be sure enough of locating errors.

When the VB II was released, the Australian distributors loaned me a unit for a one-week trial. I wrote a five-page list of concerns and most of these were resolved in subsequent updates. But my three major criticisms have still not been addressed: the difficult keyboard; the non-WYSIWYG word processor; and the limited terminal emulation.

I did my best to convince myself that, with enough practice, I could master the keyboard (I consider myself to be a fast and accurate typist, so found my numerous errors frustrating). Having used Runoff, I was not afraid of embedded "dot commands." However, a modern word processor that lacks any preview function is, in my view, seriously deficient. I don't understand why TSI didn't develop a "what you see is what you get" word processor for the VB II. The least they could have done was allowed the user to create a formatted output file, which could be checked for errors before it's too late. The specific shortcomings of the VB's terminal facilities were covered in detail in the June 1987 RDC Newsletter.

Braille vs. Speech--A Change of Bias

Here was my dilemma: I could spend a great deal of money for a machine which was not really what I wanted, or, I could face continuing excessive pressure at work because my current tools were not adequate. My agony was resolved by the arrival of the Keynote. [Editor's Note: A product of Sensory Aids Corporation, the Keynote is a portable talking computer based on the Epson Geneva. Information is entered via a regular computer-style keyboard. It has 64K memory, one internal 3.5-inch disk drive, and a miniature printer useful for memos and the like. PH]

Despite my bias against synthetic speech, I found the Keynote's output very acceptable. Having used the Optacon to read the screen on a Wang word processor in a previous life, I was well aware of what a good word processor could be. For my purposes, the Keynote's word processing capabilities were most impressive. Indeed, the whole package was so well-suited to my needs that, based on experience with a prototype, I ordered one.

Well, what did I get for my money? What follows is an inadequate summary. First off, the Keynote is very easy to learn. Its comprehensive help feature is "context-sensitive." At any point, one press of the help key provides you with specifics on the choices available at your current position. Added to this, an "announce key" mode allows you to browse through the many features: when you press a key in this mode, the Keynote tells you what that key does instead of actually doing it.

The word processor always shows you how the text is broken into lines, paragraphs, and pages with superbly flexible margins and tabs. Ten place markers can be set; it is possible to jump to a specified page, line, or column; and the reading and editing facilities are excellent. Ten files can be held in RAM simultaneously. When working on one file, material can be inserted from a disk file and can be inserted from or sent to another RAM file.

The current time, date, and a comprehensive scientific calculator are never more than a button press away, even when running disk-based software. You can calculate a problem and insert the result right in your document. The Keynote's copying facilities are another lovely feature. You can transmit or receive files between the Keynote and other devices without disturbing those files already in RAM. In fact, it is even possible to append information to an existing file via the block copy option.

Keynote's Terminal Features

A basic "dumb terminal" program called Keyterm is included in the Keynote package. It does a good job of controlling data flowing through the serial port, and Keyterm can be used without killing RAM files. You can always query your position on the screen. When in review, you can jump to a specified line and column and you can also search fore and aft for a text string. A very nice feature is the ability to transmit a text file to the host or to capture your interaction with the host into a RAM file.

PC-Term is among the more powerful hardware-software packages for providing blind people with access to IBM PCs. (Its function is parallel to the BRaT screen access software for the VersaBraille II.) PC-Term gives you the option of using either IBM or Keynote keyboards, and there are facilities for capturing and transmitting material.

I am assured that Poly-Term is almost ready for release. [Editor's Note: Sensory Aids Corp in America says it is shipping now. PH] This will allow the Keynote to be used as a smart terminal. If it is as good as the previous software, it should be impressive.

Some Grumbles

The latest piece of software I have purchased is Keyspell (you've guessed it--a spell checking program). It's very effective, except it won't allow you to separate two words when you accidentally omit the space between them. No review is complete without some grumbles. There is still no disk copy facility and you cannot interact with the disk when in BASIC. I understand that both of these shortcomings are currently being worked on. The maximum baud rate of 4800 can be a nuisance. Moving between files can be slow: I clocked 15 seconds to enter and 40 seconds to exit a 45K document. Moving around those large files is also a bit slow. But on the positive side, when you leave the file, you know that it will be printed exactly as you left it and any delays here are much less frustrating than reprinting to correct layout problems.

Even with a massive price cut this year, the VB is still more than twice the cost of the Keynote in Australia and I understand that the situation is similar in America. The Keynote is also substantially smaller, even if you have to carry the disk drive. Its software is brilliantly thought out and it has far more nice features than there is room to discuss here. [Editor's Note: The American distributors provided us with this price information for comparison purposes: Basic VersaBraille II+ with internal 3.5-inch disk drive, calculator program, battery charger, soft case, and print and braille manuals $5495 without shipping. Basic Keynote with internal 3.5-inch disk drive, calculator and calendar built-in, and soft case $2694 without shipping. PH]

While price influenced my decision towards the Keynote, this price difference needs to be seen in context. It seems reasonable that a Braille display would cost more to produce than a synthetic speech output. I can also understand why the Braille machine might be bulkier. However, I could not justify spending substantially more money for a machine which, for my purposes, has limitations in so many areas of software. If electronic Braille display devices are to survive, much more imagination must be applied to the software.

About the author: Andrew Downie has been a vocational counsellor at the Royal Blind Society of New South Wales, Australia since 1983. His second career began when he graduated with honours from Macquarie University in 1982; prior to that time he had worked as a typist.

Exploring the Latest TEXTALKER 3.1.3 -- Caryn Navy

The American Printing House for the Blind is now shipping TEXTALKER version 3.1.3. No matter what version of TEXTALKER you currently have, this latest version offers some improvements. A mere $15.81 gets you both the DOS 3.3 and ProDOS versions and extensive documentation on the new features. You can safely put TEXTALKER 3.1.3 onto any version of BEX, and there are several excellent reasons to do so. However, you cannot install this new TEXTALKER on a BRAILLE-EDIT disk.

Beginning with BEX 2.2, RDC software has shipped with TEXTALKER version 3.1.2. Marshall Pierce's December 1986 RDC Newsletter article discussed the many improvements found in version 3.1.2; the most notable is how the Echo immediately shuts up whenever you press a key. The latest 3.1.3 version includes all of 3.1.2's features and then some.

To give you the full flavor of the TEXTALKER improvements, I've gathered together some BEX examples of the new features. The end of this article provides step-by-step instructions for installing the new TEXTALKER on your BEX disk. Obtain the software from APH using the ordering information in Facts on File.

TEXTALKER 3.1.1 worked on the Apple II Plus, but it did not work with the Apple IIgs. That was why version 3.1.2 came along. Unfortunately, while TEXTALKER 3.1.2 worked with the Apple IIgs, it didn't work with the Apple II Plus. TEXTALKER 3.1.3 works with all the Apple IIs.

"Some" Punctuation Gives More Information

I've generally used "Most" punctuation with TEXTALKER, since I want confirmation of characters like the quote and question mark when keying in BASIC programs. With version 3.1.2, I find myself using "Some" punctuation a lot more. That's because the Echo pronounces all the "Most" punctuation keys you press, even in "Some" punctuation mode. For example, as I name a chapter "NOTES 3-20", the Echo says "N, O, T, E, S, Three, Dash, Two, Zero."

This intelligent change to TEXTALKER is also available in line review mode. When you arrow over words in "Some" punctuation, you don't hear characters like quote, question mark, and dash. When you switch to letter-by-letter mode by pressing "L", then you do hear these punctuation characters. This improvement brings one of BEX's nicer features to TEXTALKER in general.

Restoring the Command Character to Control-E

When you have changed the Echo's command character from control-E to another control character, it can be very frustrating to change it back. The new version of TEXTALKER gives you a never-fail way out of this bind: pressing control-2 forces the command character back to control-E. This doesn't affect owners of BEX 3.0, since BEX 3.0 won't let you change the Echo command character at all. But if you have BEX 2.2 or earlier, and you don't have an Apple IIc, you can take advantage of control-2 when the Echo quits responding to your control-E commands. The Apple IIc keyboard won't let you type control-2; the TEXTALKER documentation explains what to do in this situation.

Clicks for Inverse Video

You can now identify inverse video characters in line review. Every time you arrow over a word (or character) that's inverse video, you hear a little click from the Apple speaker. A bug is fixed as well: In previous versions, you heard garbage punctuation characters in line review in place of inverse video lowercase letters.

The new version allows BEX users to get more information from printing to SW or SN as well as inside the Editor with control-V. That's because BEX uses inverse video to show underlining in these situations. Previously, any underlined letters would sound like garbage; now the Echo pronounces them accurately and the clicks alert you to the underlining.

Entering Line Review and Setting Columns

Several new commands make entering line review more convenient. Pressing control-L <CR> enters line review, reads the entire line at the current cursor, and then exits line review. It's great when you're interrupted and need a reminder of the current prompt. In version 3.1.2, the same maneuver required four keystrokes: control-L Z R <Esc>.

And when you enter line review and then change your mind, you can just press <Esc> to immediately exit. Version 3.1.3 no longer requires that you first choose a line to read and then exit with <Esc>. As mentioned above, when you review text character-by-character, you hear "Most" punctuation even in "Some" punctuation mode. When you're arrowing a word at a time, TEXTALKER skips over multiple spaces. This makes it much simpler to review tabular material.

TEXTALKER version 3.1.1 added the ability to establish column windows inside line review. But it required patience to establish the columns: you had to arrow your audio cursor to the column boundaries to define them. TEXTALKER 3.1.3 adds a much simpler method for establishing columns, using a control-E command outside of line review.

Here's a quick sample of how handy this can be. When I use a review class printer or preview brailler in BEX, I like to establish a column that includes the full carriage width but not the line number or the surrounding vertical bars. If the carriage width is 72, then I set up a window from position 3 to position 74. This allows me to read the text without hearing the line numbers, but the line numbers are there when I want them. In version 3.1.2, I had to enter column one, right arrow my cursor to position 3 and press hyphen, then right arrow with the open-Apple key to position 74. In the new 3.1.3 TEXTALKER, the command string control-E1;3,74I sets column 1's left edge to 3 and its right edge to 74.

Improvements to "Talk Only" Mode

There were several bugs in TEXTALKER 3.1.2 that only showed up in the Echo's "talk only" mode--when you issue the control-E T that tells TEXTALKER not to send output to the screen. Since BEX always sets the Echo to "talk only" mode, these bugs have caused some problems in BEX 2.2 and 3.0. When you obtain TEXTALKER 3.1.3 and copy it to your BEX disk, the following things won't happen anymore:

You are using the BEX Editor with Echo speech and N or W screen mode. During talking cursor movement, you pass over two or more consecutive carriage returns. Then all the text on the screen, including the status line information, starts scrolling up. Your text has not disappeared; earlier versions of TEXTALKER were sending carriage returns to the screen. If you use the Echo and nobody looks at the screen, everything is fine. But if someone is looking at the screen and Echo speech is in use, you are sure that some extraterrestrials are communicating with you.

When an earlier TEXTALKER's repeat filter suppressed pronunciation of a character, that character erased the character in column 1 on the screen. When you do a disk catalog, a space overwrote screen column 1, so you lost the "star" telling you that a file is locked.

A BEX Oddity with the Delete Key

When you are in BEX's Editor, pressing the Delete key puts you in Echo line review instead of typing the character in your text. BEX is responsible for this minor miscommunication. Since you only type the character when you want to create a "page number token," this peculiarity won't affect you every day. When you do want to type a character in your text, I offer two workarounds.

After you press the Delete key and the Echo says "Review," you can change the "enter line review" character from to something else. I generally use control-right bracket. The Echo confirms that you've changed the control character and automatically takes you out of line review. You can now type the character in your text. The line review command character reverts to control-L when you move between BEX pages or leave the Editor.

Alternatively, you can type some unique characters, like three number signs (#), for each character you want, and then use Replace characters to change # to after you're done typing in the Editor. This miscommunication has an interesting sidelight. For the first time I could see what the Editor screen looks like in 80-column Wide and 40-column Non-HI-RES screen modes. It's kind of like seeing the dark side of the moon!

Installing TEXTALKER 3.1.3 on Your BEX Disk

The TEXTALKER software consists of two binary files, a small one named TEXTALKER.RAM and a larger one named TEXTALKER.OBJ . These files are not BEX chapters, so you can't use BEX's Copy chapters to move them on to your BEX disk. Instead, use the "FID" utility available as option F on BEX's Starting Menu. The following procedure requires two disk drives. Steps 1 through 4 are the same for all types of Apple IIs; Step 5 is only required for the Apple II Plus.

Step 1: Put your Boot BEX Disk in drive 1, get to the Starting Menu and press F.

Step 2: Choose FID's option 4 - Unlock files. Use source slot 6, drive 1. Answer TEXTALKER= to the "Filename" prompt, and N to the "Do you want prompting?" question.

Step 3: Choose FID's option 6 - Delete files. Answer TEXTALKER= to the "Filename" prompt, and N to the "Do you want prompting?" question.

Step 4: Put the new TEXTALKER disk in drive 2. Choose FID's option 1 - Copy files. The source drive is 6, and the source slot is 2. The target slot and drive are 6, 1. Answer TEXTALKER= to the "Filename" prompt, and N to the Do you want prompting? question.

Step 5: Apple II Plus Only You must add another file to your BEX boot disk, since BEX must find a TEXTALKER.PLUS file when you boot on an Apple II Plus. Again use option 1 - Copy files. Answer TEXTALKER.RAM to the "Filename" prompt. Because TEXTALKER.RAM already exists on your BEX disk, FID beeps and complains. You get the message "File TEXTALKER.RAM already exists. Type in a new file name ... " For the new filename, type TEXTALKER.PLUS <CR>

Once you've installed the new TEXTALKER, you reboot BEX to start exploring its many new features. Enjoy!

About the author: When she's not thinking up unprintable Sensory Overload items, Caryn does programming and technical support at RDC.

NewsBits: A High-Tech Computer Magazine -- Phyllis Herrington

Have you ever waited expectantly for the opening theme of your favorite radio or TV news magazine? When you hear those opening bars, you drop what you are doing and listen with rapt attention. I'm happy to tell you that such a magazine now exists on audio tape, whose main thrust is the blind computer user.

Talking Computers Inc. has begun publishing a magazine entitled "NewsBits." The publisher, Doug Wakefield, states that the intention of "NewsBits" is not the promotion of Talking Computers' products, but bringing to the visually impaired computer user information concerning the world of computers that is normally available in a print format. Topics covered include adaptive software and hardware for the visually impaired as well as changes and enhancements in computer equipment in general and software. "NewsBits" is oriented to the MS/PC-DOS market--if it can be connected to, put in, or run on an IBM or compatible, then it's fair game for the magazine.

"NewsBits" begins with music and titillating excerpts from articles to grab your interest. The sample issue I heard included articles on "Desktop Publishing" and "OS/2." Mr. Wakefield promises that the May issue of "NewsBits" will include audio samples of all speech synthesizers currently available. "NewsBits" cost $49 per year for 12 issues on audio tape. Subscribers receive a twelve-well cassette case with their first issue. For further information, contact:

Talking Computers, Inc.

6931 North 27th Road

Arlington VA 22213

800-458-6338 (outside VA)

703-241-8224 (in VA)

Bulletin Board

We're happy to publish short announcements from our readers. Send your 50 to 200-word announcement in print, braille or disk to "Bulletin Board," care of the RDC Newsletter.

Workstation Software for Sale

For those of you who dislike ProDOS and want a good database, I would like to sell my Workstation program for $50. I have the original, back-up copy, and audio tape documentation. Call Laura Mulraney at 713-590-4598, or write me at 3102 Kowis, Houston, TX 77093.

Echo GP for Sale

An Echo GP voice synthesizer for sale, power pack included but not cable or interface card, in perfect condition. Make me an offer. Write to Morgan Jones, 6 Lincoln Place, New Paltz, NY 12561, or call 914-255-1254 any day or evening E.S.T.

Facts on File

Braille 'n Speak Note-taker

Blazie Engineering

2818 College View Drive

Churchville, MD 21028


Keynote Talking Computer

Sensory Aids Corporation

205 West Grand Avenue, Suite 122 Bensenville, IL 60106


VersaBraille II+

Telesensory Systems, Inc.

455 North Bernardo Avenue

PO Box 7455

Mountain View CA 94039-7455

800-227-8418 (outside CA)

800-874-9009 (inside CA)

TEXTALKER version 3.1.3

Catalog Number D-89570, cost $15.81

American Printing House for the Blind

1829 Frankfort Avenue

Louisville KY 40206


Who's Who at Raised Dot Computing, Inc.

Phyllis Herrington - Technical Support

David Holladay - Programming

Jesse Kaysen - Publications Manager

Caryn Navy - Programming

Nevin Olson - Business Manager

Becky "Q" Rundall - Sales Manager

Production Notes

The large print edition of the RDC Newsletter is written and coded with BEX on an Apple IIgs; file transfer with BEX, QTC and Apple File Exchange to a Macintosh Plus; spelling checked with Spellswell 2.0; camera-ready offset masters of 13/15 Palatino and 14 point Bookman created with JustText and an Apple LaserWriter Plus; schlepped to The Print Shop for offset duplication.

Two-track audio edition recorded on APH Recorder then duplicated at high speed on Recordex 300 Series II 3-to-1 duplicators onto tapes from a dizzying variety of suppliers.

Trademark and Copyright Information

Apple Computer, Apple IIc, Apple IIe, Apple IIgs, LaserWriter Plus, ProDOS, & Super Serial Card are trademarks of Apple Computer Inc.; BEX and BRAILLE-EDIT are trademarks of Raised Dot Computing, Inc.; Braille 'n Speak is a trademark of Blazie Engineering; Cricket, Echo II, Echo Plus, Echo IIb, & TEXTALKER are trademarks of Street Electronics Corp.; FlipTrack is a registered trademark of FlipTrack Corporation; IBM-PC and MS-DOS are trademarks of International Business Machines, Inc.; JustText is a trademark of Knowledge Engineering; Keynote, PC-Term, and Poly-Term are trademarks of Sensory Aids Corporation; BRaT, Optacon, VersaBraille, and VersaBraille II+ are trademarks of Telesensory Systems, Inc.; Spellswell is a trademark of Working Software, Inc.