Published More-or-Less 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.
Please note: We inadvertently omitted Robert Carter's Braille 'n Speak article from last month's disk, and we're very sorry. It's here in its entirety this month.
BRL N SPEAK TO BEX = Interfacing the Braille 'n Speak with BEX and the Apple II -- Robert Carter (print pages 17-19, April-May 1988)
READ ME FIRST = How To Read the RDC Newsletter on Disk
CONTENTS = Table of Contents (print page 1)
LASER LINES = Laser Lines from the Editors; New Faster VersaPoint Embosser (print page 2)
CLASX ANNOUNCE = Computer Braille Code and Linear Braille Format with ClasX -- Jesse Kaysen (print pages 2-5)
BEX BEGINNER = BEX Beginners Corner, includes: Careful Disk Handling -- Marie Porter and Sharon Duffy; Configuration Follies & Hanging Disks -- Phyllis Herrington (print pages 5-7)
TERMTALK REVIEW = TermTalk: An Exciting Step Forward in Terminal Communications (print pages 7-10)
BRAILLE CHAUVINISM = The Roots of Braille Chauvinism: A Response to Andrew Downie -- Alan Holst (print pages 10-12)
IBM & EMBOSSER = Interfacing Braille Embossers with the IBM-PC -- David Holladay (print pages 12-14)
IBM TO BNS = File Transfers between the IBM-PC and the Braille 'n Speak -- Phyllis Herrington (print pages 14-15)
FAX = Trademarks, The RDC Full Cell, Production Notes
Last month's article on interfacing the Braille 'n Speak with BEX was inadvertently omitted from the disk edition--we've included it on this month's disk. The late excuse this month is explored in detail lower on this page.
RDC is now selling the 40 character per second VersaPoint BP1C. All the features of the earlier models are a part of the BP1C, including bidirectional printing, graphics, sideways printing, multiple copy printing, and a 30K buffer. And now, it is twice as fast. The BP1C has the same physical design as the earlier models and it still comes with a one year warranty. The price of the BP1C is $3595, which includes shipping from RDC to your home or office (continental U.S. only).
In 1987, the Braille Authority of North America adopted two new braille codes: the
In the past, the term "computer braille" has referred to the often-ambiguous output you get when you send untranslated inkprint to a braille device. As introduced in the November, 1987
CBC also prescribes how to represent long inkprint expressions within the confines of the 41-cell braille line. One CBC format is unique among all the braille codes: CBC words may arbitrarily break between braille lines. The ClasX-CBC formatter knows how to conform to the CBC rules, even when CBC expressions are interspersed within literary Grade II braille. ClasX-CBC supports all the formats defined by the
CBC braille uses no contractions; you would never transcribe the prose portions of a document in CBC. ClasX-CBC does all of TranscriBEX's literary and textbook formats,
Computer-related texts are generally printed with the aid of a computer or word processor. For many years I've heard loose talk about the possibilities of working with "machine-readable text." I'm proud to say that the ClasX-CBC Manual includes an extensive discussion of basing your transcription on an existing computer file, which can save days of data entry time. In addition to background material on standard file formats and typesetting systems, there's an extensive section demonstrating the BEX Replace techniques required to slice-and-dice the data into workable braille.
As with TranscriBEX, the ClasX-CBC commands don't require you to understand the intricacies of braille format. Instead, the commands follow the functional divisions in the text. You enclose embedded CBC within \\cb and \\cf commands, and set-off CBC within \\cbs and \\cfs commands. ClasX-CBC takes care of placing all the dot 4-5-6 prefixes where needed.
Where the inkprint left indent varies to illustrate a program's structure, the corresponding ClasX-CBC commands are \\0c for the main level, \\1c for the first level of indent, \\2c for the second level, and so forth. ClasX-CBC automatically generates continuation indicators for both embedded and set-off computer notation, doing a near-perfect job of moving to a new braille line when required in embedded CBC.
ClasX-CBC is a logical extension of the TranscriBEX system. ClasX-CBC lets you painlessly add correctly translated and formatted CBC braille to your transcribing repertoire. The end result is that braille readers are better able to gain the computer literacy so important to their educational and vocational success.
Linear braille devices, like TSI's VersaBraille, first appeared in the late 1970s. Since linear braille devices generally present only a portion of a single braille line, the paper braille strategy of conveying format information through skipped lines, indent, and runover variations just doesn't work.
TranscriBEX's heritage and structure dramatically simplify the creation of linear transcriptions. From our very first program in 1981, RDC's software has closely supported the VersaBrailles. Since the VersaBraille is the most widely distributed linear braille device, many LBF requirements were implemented in our software before the LBF code was written.
Most importantly, TranscriBEX data entry is not line-oriented. Some computerized transcription tools require that you format the braille text manually: you must press <CR> at the end of each braille line. To create a new braille paragraph, you press <CR> once, then braille two spaces. A
For TranscriBEX and ClasX-LBF, however, you already use explicit symbols to mark new paragraphs. In fact, the BEX ($p) indicator is exactly the same as the LBF ($p) explicit new paragraph symbol. For paper braille and TranscriBEX, BEX's formatter interprets these symbols as commands, creating the right number of <CR>s and spaces at the moment of printing. For linear braille, BEX simply sends the (space, dots 1-2-4-6, dots 1-2-3-4, space) to the linear device, conforming to the LBF rules.
ClasX-LBF is a parallel path to TranscriBEX. The ClasX-LBF Manual explains how to modify your TranscriBEX data entry so one set of data can generate both paper and linear transcriptions, as well as how you make linear versions of existing TranscriBEX data. Only a handful of transcribing situations require LBF-specific data entry, and ClasX-LBF automatically flags these situations for your attention. ClasX-LBF even includes tools that change line-for-line braille tables into the LBF format, adding in the column keys without your intervention.
The utility software that moves the finished transcription from Apple disk to linear braille device is built in to BEX. But ClasX-LBF does not require that every transcriber own a linear braille device. As with TranscriBEX, ClasX-LBF provides a preview capability; you can check the accuracy of the linear transcription on the Apple. Once you've previewed the data, you can send the Apple disk to a central location that does have access to linear braille devices. ClasX-LBF extends all of TranscriBEX's formats to linear braille. This doubles the utility of your TranscriBEX data entry, providing greater flexibility at minimal cost.
Creating ClasX was a fascinating challenge. Caryn Navy spent many weeks reworking the translator and designing transformation chapters, while David Holladay revised the formatter to correspond to the unique requirements of CBC braille. Yours truly had an opportunity to recapitulate many years working with type as I wrote the Manuals. As always, we deeply appreciate the advice and suggestions provided by members of the transcribing community, who generously answered many questions and tested the software:
Darleen Bogart; Tim Cranmer; Bill Davis; Warren Figueiredo; Chris Gray; Priscilla Harris; Don McDowell; Sandy Ruconich. Our undying gratitude for service above and beyond the call of duty (or telephone) goes to Gloria Buntrock and Conchita Gilbertson.
To use ClasX, you need BEX version 3.0 and TranscriBEX. BEX version 3.0 requires an Apple IIgs, IIc, or 128K Apple IIe. Two disk drives are an absolute minimum; installation of a memory expansion card will greatly speed up your use of the software.
The ClasX module, including both ClasX-CBC and ClasX-LBF, costs $50 U.S. ClasX comes with four disks of tools and sample data and large print manuals; braille manuals are available on request at time of purchase. We've already sent out flyers to TranscriBEX users describing our special upgrade pricing. New purchasers need BEX 3.0 at $400, plus TranscriBEX at $100, plus ClasX at $50 for a total of $550 U.S.
We welcome contributions to this regular column addressed to new BEX users.
Disks should be handled with extreme care, because data can be erased if they are touched in the exposed portion of the disk. To insert a disk into the computer, place the notched side to the left, with the label closest to you and the exposed portion facing away from you. If you have an older "Disk II" disk drive, open up the slot by flipping up the hinged door in the center. With an Apple IIc disk drive, you open the door by pushing straight back on the latch in the center; it then catches and flips up by itself. Hold the disk level, and push it in as far as it will go without forcing. Now push the drive door back down--you should encounter no resistance.
If you remove a disk from the drive for any reason, slip it into its protective jacket. Slide it in the jacket as you would slide it into the drive: the exposed portion goes in first.
Never label a disk by writing or brailling directly on the disk. Prepare the label first, then affix the completed label to the disk. Repositionable adhesive tape, like "Scotch Magic," makes excellent braille labels. Place a four-inch length of tape on a shiny paper carrier, like that used to back address labels, then slip the carrier with tape into your braille slate. Braille the disk information on the tape, then peel it off the carrier and tape it on the disk. Many people find it easiest to put braille labels upside down and backwards, since you can read through the contents of a disk holder easiest that way.
Have you ever configured your BEX to work on your system then taken it to another system to do some work and things go a little crazy? You get frustrated and swear the program will be your death. Before you start listening for harps and angel choirs, let's take a quick look at what's happening.
Although BEX will boot on any Apple II system with 64K, this does not mean that it will work the way it should. As you create a configuration, BEX checks to make sure that what you're asking for will work. When you give BEX credible answers, BEX saves the replies in a configuration file on the boot side. BEX's error-checking only happens as you construct the configuration. As long as you correctly type the name of the configuration file, BEX allows you to use any configuration on any Apple. For example, you create a configuration on an Apple IIe with an Apple Super Serial card in slot 4. BEX lets you define a printer through slot 4, because it can sense a card in that slot. If you boot this BEX on an Apple IIc and use the same configuration, you won't be able to print. The Apple IIc's slot 4 is reserved for the joystick/mouse controller: you can't connect a printer there. The solution is to always establish configurations on the Apple you are going to use BEX on.
Another common configuration folly concerns voice output. When you specify a voice configuration name on an Apple that doesn't have an Echo, Cricket, or SlotBuster installed, then the screen looks very strange. All the menus are double spaced, and the first letter in the first column on the screen is a duplicate of the last letter on that line. You won't see the chapter numbers when BEX presents a numbered list. The best solution is to write a configuration that describes your preferred equipment.
The maximum number of configurations you can save to a BEX disk is twenty. (You can use option K - Kill configurations to erase the files you have no more use for.) Although I don't expect you to have this maximum number, rest assured that you can write and save configurations to fit different working situations in which you may find yourself.
Recently we've received calls reporting that when the user runs a BEX chapter through Replace characters the disk seems as if it were hanging: all they hear is dead silence. We ask the individual to send us their disk for evaluation. Upon further investigation we find a page overflow error at the point where the caller reported the symptom of a hanging disk. (See my article last month for how to prevent page overflow errors.) This was perplexing: why didn't the users report that they'd encounter that oh-so-distinctive overflow shriek?
The solution turned out to be very straightforward. The users weren't hearing anything during Replace characters: not the normal clicks and boops, nor the overflow shriek that tells them of an over-filled BEX page. Since they couldn't hear the shriek, BEX seemed to be hanging. BEX makes these sounds through the Apple speaker, and these users had unwittingly silenced the speaker's output. These sounds of the Apple are as beneficial to a sighted user as they are to a visually impaired user.
There are several ways you can cut yourself off from BEX's tones. The Apple IIc and IIgs have volume controls for speaker output. On the IIc, volume is controlled with a knob on the left side, underneath the general vicinity of the Tab key. Rotating this knob away from you increases the volume. The IIgs Control Panel lets you set both the volume and pitch of the Apple speaker: get to the Control Panel with open-Apple-control-Escape or Computer Aids' Talking Control Panel utility and set the volume to something you can hear!
Another common cause of no sound is the installation of an Echo IIb or a SlotBuster in your Apple. The SlotBuster speech is routed through the Apple speaker. In order to hear the Apple's own noises in addition to SlotBuster speech, you must connect the Apple's speaker wire to the appropriate jack on the SlotBuster card. When you install an Echo IIb, you can use a "jumper" wire to route all the Apple's own sounds through the Echo IIb's external speaker. Once you do this, the Echo IIb's volume knob controls the volume of the Apple speaker.
When a sighted person uses a talking BEX configuration, they may turn down the Echo's volume knob so they don't have to hear the Echo talking. The problem is this also cuts you off from BEX's useful tones. There's a better way: the VOICE OFF auto chapter. At the Main, Second or Page Menus, type control-A. When BEX prompts Auto chapter: type 1VOICE OFF <CR> and BEX turns off speech output temporarily. You can also establish a new configuration that doesn't include Echo or SlotBuster speech.
If you think there is something wrong because you are running a chapter through Replace Characters or the Grade 2 translator and the disk is just sitting there, it is possible you are experiencing a page overflow error and don't know it because the sounds are not audible. A quick way to check that the speaker's connected is to press control-Reset. You should hear a beep. If you don't, make sure the Apple volume isn't all the way down (on the IIc or IIgs), the Echo IIb volume knob isn't all the way down, or that the jumper wire is connected to the SlotBuster.
When you boot up Term-Talk you are ready to talk to the world. This latest addition to Computer Aid's family of talking software for the Apple computer is a powerful and logically designed program. With Term-Talk and a modem, your computer can communicate with other computers over telephone lines. Chat with a friend in another part of the country, download information from bulletin boards and educational resources, or transmit files to a mainframe computer at your place of business. Term-Talk's impressive range of features does more than make this possible, it makes it quite easy to accomplish.
Based in ProDOS, Term-Talk works with Apple IIe, Apple IIc, and Apple IIgs computers equipped with a minimum of 128K of memory. It's also compatible with a wide variety of voice synthesizers.
Thirty-four seconds after booting up, you arrive at Term-Talk's main menu. As with other Computer Aids programs, Term-Talk's menus are arranged like a tree with scores of sub-menus branching off the Main menu. Since the program is loaded into memory, the disk drives do not have to be accessed when moving from one menu to another. When you arrive at a menu, you only hear its one-word title. To get the list of choices, you press the spacebar. To find out what the choices do, you press H for Help and you're given information about that particular menu. At all menus, one letter moves you to another menu, the Escape key backs you up to the previous menu, and Open-Apple-Escape goes directly to the Main menu.
Press D at the main menu, and you are instantly at the Directory menu. Press return, and you are ready to store the first of up to 50 names and phone numbers, along with the appropriate baud rate, parity, stop bits, data bits, and duplex settings necessary to access a particular remote computer. The directory also allows you to store and save a whole range of separate settings for each directory entry. These include: XON/XOFF flow control, VT100 terminal emulation, automatic line wrap and screen scroll, line feed requirements, high bit settings for incoming and out going information, as well as 10 macros per setting. Don't worry, if you're new to the world of terminal communication, Term-Talk's manual explains this and other technical information in an easy to understand manner.
One thing is certain, when you've set up your directory to include the information you need to access each remote computer, the only thing left to do is dial the phone. And guess what! Term-Talk can do that for you automatically. The program makes it easy to quickly search for any one of your fifty entries. Press Open-Apple-D when the cursor is located on any part of an entry, and the phone number of that entry is dialed. You can also dial numbers manually from the keyboard.
Any number dialed, manually or from the directory, can be automatically redialed by the computer. You can even ask Term-Talk to automatically dial a remote computer you call often, when the program is first booted up. And if that's not enough, when you receive Term-Talk, the directory already contains the names and parameter settings for a number of well known bulletin boards and computer services. These, or any other entries, can be deleted or changed at any time.
Both text which you type and information coming in from the modem can be held in the 37K capture buffer. The contents of the buffer can be saved on a formatted disk and files on a disk can be reloaded into the buffer. You can choose to have the buffer automatically save incoming information to disk whenever the buffer is nearly full. You can also easily turn the buffer on and off, therefore capturing only the information you wish to save when downloading data from another computer.
Since information from a bulletin board is transmitted faster than your computer can speak it, you may wish to shut up the speech until you have received all of it. Term-Talk can be set to produce an audible clicking sound as long as it is receiving incoming information. When the clicking stops, indicating the end of that portion of the transmission, you can easily go into line review mode where the cursor will be positioned on the last line of text. Once the information is in the buffer, it can easily be examined with Term-Talk's line editor.
Inserting, deleting, searching for character strings, and pasting text, can all be accomplished. The number of each line of text in the buffer can also be spoken, and the many cursor movement commands include a command which takes you directly to the numbered line you specify. Text in the buffer can be read by letter, word, or line. By accessing Term-Talk's review mode, large blocks of text starting at the current cursor position, or between any 2 line numbers you specify will be read, either with or without line numbers. This simple line number selection feature also enables you to selectively delete or paste large blocks of text. This, of course, requires that you first discover the line numbers of the text in question. However, this is complicated by the fact that moving around in the editor slows down considerably when the buffer contains a lot of information. When the buffer is completely full, for example, it can take up to three seconds to move down one line with the down arrow key. One quickly discovers the power of reading through specific information with the review mode which accesses each line much more quickly. The problem is, when you read text in the review mode, the cursor does not follow the speech. If you hear something you want to change, you have to get out of review mode, get the cursor to the desired place, and then make the change. This is simple enough if you have asked the program to read each line number. But this also slows down the reading process. In all fairness, Term-Talk's editor is not meant to take the place of a dedicated word processing program.
Term-Talk's printing options are simple and straight forward. You can print any file on the disk, or you can selectively print all or part of the information stored in the capture buffer. You can also print the information currently on the screen to both paper and to disk. As a matter of fact, you can do all of this while you are still connected to a remote computer.
Term-Talk allows you to choose four ways to send information to another computer. You can perform a simple ASCII transfer, and Term-Talk gives you a tremendous degree of flexibility over the way you format this type of transfer. You can also take advantage of the error checking features of three other types of transfers; XMODEM (either ProDOS or regular); YMODEM; and KERMIT. The manual describes each of these transfers in easy to read detail. More than that, it explains some of the subtle differences between them, and it discusses the reasons why certain types of transfers might be more useful in particular situations.
The manual, like the program itself, is designed to be fully responsive to the needs of beginners while allowing the more expert user to quickly and easily discover and use the program's features. This is accomplished by providing chapters of detailed, easy to read information which are summarized in the appendices. The manual itself suggests that while a beginner might want to read the information starting with chapter one, a more knowledgeable user might simply wish to read the appendices and refer back to the main body of the manual if necessary. The appendices get right to the point, while the main body of the manual discusses, at some length, program features and operations, the nature and use of transfer parameters and protocols, what to expect when connecting with a bulletin board, a list of some of the most often used bulletin boards and computer services which can be accessed by a modem, and much more.
There isn't enough room to discuss Term-Talk's many impressive features in detail. I can only mention some of them in passing to give the reader an idea of the scope of this excellent program.
Menu driven or command driven? In reality, Term-Talk is both a menu driven and a command driven program. Everything you can do from a menu, you can also do from terminal mode, while you're connected to another computer. In terminal mode, functions are performed by using the control key as well as the open and closed Apple keys in conjunction with other keys. A list of these functions is always only two keystrokes away. If you're chatting with a friend and you need to change parameters or get rid of spoken pronunciation, this and more can be done mid-sentence.
Character filters. Many bulletin boards produce interesting looking, but not very interesting sounding, borders with percent signs, dollar signs, etc. Term-Talk has a character filter which can be set to stop reading repeating characters after the third one has been pronounced. If you wish, you can even get a quick reading of the number of times that character appears on the line. There are also three different translation tables which translate characters into other characters or, into no character at all. For example, if you were connected with a bulletin board that bracketed the menu commands with the greater-than and less-than signs, you could either cause them to be stored in the buffer but not spoken by the computer, or you could have them ignored by both. You can also select characters to ignore when transmitting information.
Amateur radio transmissions. Term-Talk can also be used to transmit computer information to an amateur radio transmitter and thus over the airwaves. At least two features have been added to make this possible. A slower than normal Baud rate of 110, as well as an alpha pronunciation capability. Any group of characters which contain numerals, can be pronounced one character at a time instead of as a word. The call letters of a HAM radio operator, such as W 5 N X D, become much more understandable.
Terminal emulation. There is also the possibility of forcing your computer to emulate a VT100 compatible terminal. This allows the Apple family of computers to use some of the full screen applications of main frame computers.
Term-Talk costs $195. For that price, you receive two duplicate program disks, one on a 5.25 inch floppy and another on a 3.5 inch disk. You also receive four versions of the manual, on cassette, on a 5.25 inch floppy, on a 3.5 inch disk, and in print. For further information, contact
The April 1988 issue of the
In no way are my responses intended as criticisms of the virtues of the Keynote. I believe that Sensory Aids Corp.'s Keynote is a fine product, and it may be the best speech device among those with similar features and capabilities. However, the trend toward speech devices as one's major means of gleaning information is of grave concern to me.
Due to the cost of good sensory aids devices, you must be sure the purchase you make will meet your needs for a long time. The potential purchaser of a sensory aid should consider how adaptable the device is to various work and living situations. What impact will speech devices like the Braille 'n Speak and the Keynote have on the way you live and interact with others?
As a blind professional, my image and the impression I make on my colleagues, customers, and associates is of great concern to me. As a young child, I was taught to look at the person with whom I was speaking. What effect would using a speech device have on this carefully cultivated habit? To avoid disrupting a class or a meeting, you use an earphone with a speech device. But how do you maintain eye contact if one of your ears has an earphone stopping it up? Do colleagues and classmates feel intimidated by the fact that while
In a work situation, how quickly and confidentially can you retrieve material when it is needed? With the VersaBraille you do not have to be concerned about disrupting a meeting while searching for information on a client or locating an available date on your calendar. I fear speech devices do not facilitate such flexibility.
While the Keynote may have met many of Mr. Downie's needs, the trend toward talking computer devices disturbs me greatly. I fear they may contribute to the movement away from the use of braille, resulting in a form of illiteracy. At a time when many of us are concerned about braille literacy, we need to be careful. I think it's crucial that the decisions we make when obtaining sensory aid devices promote rather than inhibit the development of good braille skills.
Since computers are so much a part of our lives and are an integral part of our learning and work environments, blind students are introduced to computers early in their academic lives. If teachers, rehabilitation professionals, and parents choose a product like the Keynote, they are choosing a device which will discourage the use of braille. I'm sure Mr. Downie will agree that such discouragement is indeed a tragedy.
I believe full screen systems put blind people at a competitive disadvantage. Whether we use braille or speech, we simply don't have the scanning skills which convey critical context information to a sighted user. Blind users can only view a certain portion of the monitor at a time. Consider the standard IBM monitor, displaying 25 lines with eighty characters each. With a voice system, you are able to monitor a single word or screen location at a given time. With a twenty cell braille display, you view only one per cent of the screen. Even an eighty cell braille display would give access to only four per cent of the screen.
In no way do I wish to imply full screen access tools are unimportant, but we shouldn't become so obsessed with duplicating what's available for sighted people that we create an environment which puts us at a competitive disadvantage. As some of our friends in the National Federation of the Blind so quickly point out, "identical" and "equal" don't necessarily mean the same thing. To a sighted person accustomed to assimilating information at a glance, a linear braille device appears awkward and clumsy. However, to a blind individual a linear braille device provides ready, random access well suited to our abilities.
And to slip on my TSI hat for a second, if you do need to access the full screen of a PC system, our Braille Interface Terminal program is ideal for accomplishing the task. B.I.T. enables you to easily move the VB II's twenty cell display to any location on the screen: The VB II's display becomes an access window. With the VersaBraille's two dimensional cursor cross, constructing a mental picture of how information is displayed on the PC monitor is much easier. By using a joystick to control the movement of the B.I.T. window, much of the same information gleaned by a sighted person visually scanning the screen can be easily accessed by the blind individual. In my experiences with speech systems, I don't know of any which allow you to stay in touch with the information on the screen as do braille and B.I.T. This month we are releasing the L1D model VersaBraille II+, which lets you instantly switch between VB II-as-B.I.T.-window and VB II as a stand-alone reading and entry device.
Mr. Downie raised three concerns about the VersaBraille II and VersaBraille II+ in his newsletter article: the lack of a WYSIWYG word processor; the limitations of the terminal emulation; and the keyboard.
We at TSI agree that being able to preview a document before actually printing it is an important feature. Engineers have worked to solve this problem while maintaining the linear logic so many of us have come to love and appreciate. The brand-new model L1D VersaBraille II lets you print a file to disk, and then edit the file to see exactly what you'll get on paper. Many individuals who grew up with the original VersaBraille have also commented on the VB II's terminal emulation. We are taking a hard look at this problem and anticipate having some exciting news later on this year.
Some users of the Classic VersaBraille are not satisfied with the rubber brane keyboard of the VersaBraille II and II+. I submit that the newer keyboard has several advantages. First and foremost, it's extremely quiet--much quieter than the slate and stylus, the Perkins, the Classic VersaBraille, and even the QWERTY keyboard on the Keynote. The brane keyboard is less disruptive in classroom settings and in meetings. But a mum keyboard can initially disconcert Classic VersaBraille users. Since the sound of the display registering a keystroke lags slightly behind the actual keystroke, you might think the machine is limiting input speed. This is not the case: you can type as fast as you want because the VB II has a typeahead buffer.
Additionally, the rubber brane keyboard is more resistant to damage due to shock and fluids spilled into the unit. Finally, it's easier to maintain by TSI's service personnel, thus contributing to the lower cost of VB II's service contract when compared to the original VersaBraille.
At the conclusion of his article, Mr. Downie says, "If electronic braille devices are to survive, much more imagination must be applied to the software." We at TSI are in total agreement and take thought-provoking comments like his into consideration as we plan for the future. We hope that the improvements in the new L1D reflect some of his concerns.
When you connect a braille embosser (or any kind of printer) to a computer, you have a choice: a serial interface or a parallel interface. I won't go into the details of how each method works, but it's important for you to understand that you can't mix and match them. A parallel interface requires a parallel interface card or port on your computer, a parallel cable, and a parallel jack on your embosser. Likewise, a serial interface has its own type of interface card/port, cable, and jack. In this article I'll review the easiest way to interface a variety of braille embossers with the IBM-PC.
Because the Apple IIc and IIgs have built-in serial ports, (and Apple sells the Apple-brand Super Serial Card for the other Apple II's), Apple computer users generally tend to serial interfaces. Since all braille embossers sold in the United States come with serial jacks, this has made the interfacing of Apple computers to embossers pretty straightforward. IBM-PC's, on the other hand, have always treated parallel as the preferred interface. You can purchase plug-in cards that add serial interfacing capability, but you have to work a little harder to get serial output on the IBM.
Unfortunately, it can be tricky to tell the two types of jacks apart. Both IBM serial and parallel jacks use a 25-pin connector. (Some laptops use a nine-pin connector--contact your vendor for cabling information.) The serial jack is
Three braille embossers come with dual personalities: the VersaPoint, Romeo, and Ohtsuki have both serial and parallel interfaces. When working with the IBM, it's simpler to use a parallel interface. On the VersaPoint and the Romeo you can store multiple "configurations" so you can quickly switch between serial and parallel (if you have both Apple and IBM computers). Do not even attempt to connect the Ohtsuki to an IBM serial port. The Ohtsuki serial interface conforms to an unusual Japanese standard and is quite difficult to work with. The Ohtsuki parallel interface is quite standard and easy to deal with.
Other embossers only come with serial interfaces: Thiel, Cranmer, Personal Brailler, LED-120, serial MBOSS-1, and MBOSS-35. To connect these devices to an IBM serial port, you need the right cable. You can have a cable made locally, or buy one from RDC. All of our cables cost $35 each.
The Cranmer, MBOSS-1, MBOSS-35, and VersaPoint require the "8M" cable. The 8M cable is a male-to-female cable with the following wiring pattern: wire 1 straight through; wire 7 straight through; wires 2 and 3 swapped; wires 4 and 8 swapped; wires 5 and 20 swapped; and wires 6 and 9 swapped.
The Romeo and the Thiel require the "8F" cable. The 8F cable is identical to the 8M except that it is a female-to-female cable. Our 8M and 8F cables are 8 feet long. Plug a female end of your cable into the IBM serial port. If it doesn't fit, perhaps you're emulating our bozo example and are trying to plug it into a female, parallel port.
Once you have the cable right, you have to tell DOS to send the output in the right direction. To direct printer output through the serial port, enter the following at the DOS prompt:
The preceding sets up the serial port for 9600 baud, 8 data bits, 1 stop bit, and no parity. If you desire 2 stop bits, change the "8,1,P" to "8,2,P".
The remaining variable is setting the right communications parameters on the embosser. Depending on your embosser, you have to flip DIP switches, push buttons in a dialogue, or press a numeric pad to set the parameters. A common error is setting the embosser for the wrong translation mode. You don't want the embosser to attempt grade 1 translation when you plan to send it grade 2 braille. Set your unit for "computer braille" or "no translation" to get good results. The manual that came with your embosser should tell you how to get these variables right. Make sure that you match the general type of interface: serial or parallel. If it's serial, match the baud rate, stop bits, and the parity. If you own an RDC program, cannot understand your embosser manual, and cannot get clear instructions from the vendor, call us at 608-257-8833.
In the May issue of the
Before any transfer of data can take place, you
In order to successfully transfer data between any computer devices, there must be proper communication. When the serial parameters on the two device match, they can "speak" the same language.
After you boot your PC, set the PC parameters with DOS commands. When the DOS prompt appears on the screen, type the following:
Instead of LPT1 equaling COM1, it can equal COM2. The parameters of the Braille 'n Speak must match those of the PC. Set the Braille 'n Speak to 9600 baud, no parity, 8 data bits, and 1 stop bit. If you use your Braille 'n Speak with BEX as well as PC software, you may have the Braille 'n Speak set for 2 stop bits instead of 1. If this is the case, set the stop bits for the PC to 2 instead of 1.
There are two approaches you can take to send information from the PC to the Braille 'n Speak: the DOS print command or Hot Dots' print program. Whichever you choose, get the Braille 'n Speak ready to receive data first. Open a new file; make sure the translator is set on or off, depending upon your particular needs; turn the serial port on; and make sure the cable is firmly installed.
To print with DOS, place the DOS disk in your default drive. Type:
You must clue DOS in to your printing device the first time you transfer. If the com port is 1, you type:
The computer informs you that your file is in the queue and is being printed. When you print another file to the Braille 'n Speak during the current session, you will not be asked again by DOS to designate the printing device, since you have now established one.
To send data to the Braille 'n Speak with Hot Dots, get to its Print Menu (5 from the Main Menu). You specify a filename, and then the program asks you to enter a printer number. Select a printer driver which is vanilla in nature: MBOSS, Thiel, and VersaPoint, and then press Enter. Press Enter again to start printing, and the Braille 'n Speak should be receiving text.
Unfortunately, the Braille 'n Speak is silent as it receives data from the PC. As the data is sent, pay attention to the disk drive. When it has stopped whirring, then you are safe in assuming that the transfer is complete. Because the Braille 'n Speak captures the data in its buffer instead of storing it to disk, transfers occur much faster than if disk access were required.
Chances are you've created files using the Braille 'n Speak and you want to transfer these files to the PC. Here are some techniques used by the staff at RDC. If you have a system other than the one described below,
We use the DOS COPY COM technique to capture data to disk. As mentioned in the February, 1988 Newsletter, DOS is limited to 65,000 characters when saving data with COPY COM. Keeping this limitation in mind, transferring files is straightforward.
One important change in the parameters for both the Braille 'n Speak and PC must be made. I was only able to get transfer of material at 4800 baud, not at 9600. You still need 8 data bits, 1 or 2 stop bits, (depending on your choice but both devices must match), and no parity. In setting MODE COM, you may wish to add the letter
Once the parameters match on both devices, and you've set LPT1 equal to COM1, type:
To ready a file for transfer from the Braille 'n Speak to the PC, you must add a control character at the end. MS-DOS only saves the file to disk when it sees a control-Z character. The file from the Braille 'n Speak must end with a control-Z, so go to the end of the file you are transferring and braille chord-X Z. When the PC gets this control character, the disk drive will whir and close the file.
Now you're ready to send the data. Move the cursor to the top of the file. Activate the serial port by issuing chord-P. You are then told to enter a parameter. At this point issue a dropped
Apple Computer, Apple IIc, Apple IIe, Apple IIgs, Apple II+, ImageWriter, ImageWriter II, ImageWriter LQ, Macintosh, ProDOS, and Super Serial Card - Apple Computer Inc.; Braille 'n Speak - Blazie Engineering; Term-Talk - Computer Aids Corp.; Romeo & Personal Braille - Enabling Technologies, Inc.; Ohtsuki - Ohtsuki Communications, Inc.; BEX, ClasX, QTC, & TranscriBEX - Raised Dot Computing, Inc.; SlotBuster II - RC Systems, Inc.; Keynote - Sensory Aids Corporation; Cricket, Echo Plus, Echo IIb & TEXTALKER - Street Electronics Corp.; B.I.T., VersaBraille II Plus, & VersaPoint - Telesensory Systems, Inc.; MBOSS-1 & MBOSS-35 - VTEK Corp.
The RDC Newsletter is written & edited with BEX on an Apple IIgs; file transfer with BEX, ASLtalk DA, QTC & Apple File Exchange to Mac Plus; spellchecking with Spellswell; page layout with JustText, offset master output on an Apple LaserWriter & duplicated at The Print Shop. Two-track audio edition mastered on APH Recorder & copied at on high-speed Recordex 3-to-1 duplicators.
As promised last month in my review of the Braille 'n Speak portable notetaker from Blazie Engineering, this article explains how to connect the Braille 'n Speak with BEX. The Braille 'n Speak's RS-232 serial port enables it to communicate in two directions with any other serial computer speaking the RS-232 dialect. For any two serial devices to communicate successfully, the serial port "communications parameters" must be matched and the proper cabling configuration must be established. This article details the connection of the Braille 'n Speak to both the Apple IIe and Apple IIc computers.
When a Braille 'n Speak file is sent to a computer, the file is said to have been "uploaded." When files are sent from a computer to the Braille 'n Speak, the term "downloaded" is commonly used. The ability to upload and download files makes the Braille 'n Speak a very powerful tool indeed.
The Apple IIe does not have a built-in serial port. One must install a serial interface card in one of the seven expansion slots inside the computer. The most widely used of these interface cards is the Apple Super Serial Card (SSC), and this article deals exclusively with the SSC. Complete instructions on installing the SSC are available in the SSC User's Manual. On an Apple IIc, you can use the built-in serial port. [Editor's note: The Apple IIgs has two built-in serial ports, but BEX can't use them when the Braille 'n Speak is uploading. You can download from the Apple to the Braille 'n Speak through an Apple IIgs serial port. To upload from the Braille 'n Speak to an Apple IIgs with BEX, you must install an Apple SSC; follow the IIe instructions. PH.]
In addition to needing a serial port, the Apple must be running software that can import and export data through this serial port. Many of the popular software packages written for blind users have this capability: I'll focus on using BEX.
Set up the Super Serial Card to RDC's standard parameters. Make certain that the SSC jumper block, the one with a white triangle on it, points to the word "terminal" and not to the word "modem". If the triangle points toward "modem" remove the jumper block and turn it around. Now set the two banks of DIP switches to RDC's standards:
The SSC is now set for 9600 baud, 8 data bits, 2 stop bits, and no parity. Even if these technical terms mean nothing to you, it is essential that the communications parameters on the Braille 'n Speak have these same values.
The Braille 'n Speak's default communications parameters are 9600 baud, 8 data bits, 1 stop bit, and no parity. Only one Braille 'n Speak parameter does not match the SSC settings above: while the Braille 'n Speak default is 1 stop bit, the SSC is set for 2 stop bits. If the number of stop bits is not the same for both the Braille 'n Speak and the SSC, you will get garbage instead of data.
To change the number of stop bits to 2 on the Braille 'n Speak, you issue a three-cell command: braille chord-P S 2. Remember that the Braille 'n Speak will keep this new setting until you change it again.
The Braille 'n Speak's own interface cable plugs into the serial port closest to the battery charger jack. Although you can physically plug the other end of the cable into the SSC connector, do not do it. It is necessary to use a universal null modem adapter between your Braille 'n Speak cable and the SSC connector. This universal null modem adapter is available from Radio Shack. [Editor's note: RDC sells this cable adapter as a 3F cable for $35. PH] Plug the female side of the adapter into the Braille 'n Speak's interface cable, and plug the male side of the adapter into the SSC connector. Without this adapter, both the Braille 'n Speak and the Apple try to send and receive data on the same data lines, preventing any communication from taking place.
If the Braille 'n Speak's interface cable is too short to conveniently be plugged into the SSC connector, it is possible to use a straight-through 25-pin serial cable as an extension. You will still need to use the universal null modem adapter. If the extension cable has male connectors on both ends, as many printer cables do, you will need to add an RS-232 sex change adapter (also available from Radio Shack) to the universal null modem adapter. [RDC sells the sex change adapter as a 7F. As an alternative to two adapters plus a printer cable, you could purchase an 8M cable from RDC: female on one end, male on the other, and six feet long, it creates the serial connection needed for successful communications. PH]
Once the interface is working properly, it is a simple matter to send data back and forth between the Braille 'n Speak and BEX. Remember to turn the Braille 'n Speak's serial port on before attempting to communicate with the Apple: braille chord-P for port, then dropped e, (dots 2-6), then Y for yes.
Whenever you transfer files between computers, get the
To download text from BEX to the Braille 'n Speak, you first want to open a Braille 'n Speak file. After you've specified the file size and done a chord-E, set the translator on or off as you prefer. Now turn your attention to BEX: specify one or more chapters to Print. How you configure this printer determines the format of the Braille 'n Speak file once it's downloaded. If you want every BEX character in your Braille 'n Speak file, configure this printer as a class P - Paperless brailler. If you want to filter out underlining commands, configure it as any member of a class B - Brailler. If you want Braille 'n Speak-style paragraphs and no page breaks, then enter the commands$$f0$$s2$$i0$$l0 at the start of the first BEX chapter you print to the Braille 'n Speak. These commands set the form length to zero, two <CR>s and no indent for each ($p) indicator, and zero <CR>s at the end of every line.
While the BEX Dox don't specifically discuss the Braille 'n Speak, you can find general information on setting up a new serial interface. Uploading and downloading to the Braille 'n Speak is similar to working with a disk-based VersaBraille: see User Level Section 11, Part 4. User Level Section 12 details Input through slot; Interface Guide Section 6 discusses controlling the Super Serial Card and IIc ports.
The Apple IIc serial ports require a round nine-pin DIN connector, incompatible with the 25-pin male end of the Braille 'n Speak's interface cable. To get around this problem, use an Apple IIc printer cable. One end of this cable has the necessary 9-pin connector that fits the Apple IIc port. The other end has the standard 25-pin male RS-232 connector. This connector should be plugged into an RS-232 sex change adapter. The other side of the sex change adapter is plugged into the universal null modem adapter. The female side of the null modem adapter is plugged into the Braille 'n Speak's interface cable.