Raised Dot Computing Newsletter: Exploring Microcomputer Applications for the Visually Impaired -- ISSN 0890-0019. November-December 1988 -- Volume 6, Numbers 70 & 71.

Published Every Other Month by Raised Dot Computing, Inc., 408 South Baldwin Street, Madison, Wisconsin USA 53703. Telephone: 608-257-9595.

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 = Attention! New Format--Old Subscribers Take Note! How To Read the RDC Newsletter on Disk.

CONTENTS = (This Chapter) print page 1.

LASER LINES = Laser Lines from the Editor by Jesse Kaysen (print page 2).

FLIPPER CORRECT = Flipper Correction by Nevin Olson (print page 2).

HOT DOTS REVISIONS = Revisions to Hot Dots 2.0 (print pages 2-3).

PIXCELLS THANKYOU = A Thank You for pixCELLS Testers by Jesse Kaysen (print pages 3-4).

HARD LESSONS = Learning the Hard Way by Phyllis Herrington (print pages 4-5).

ADAPT FIRM & SPEECH = The Adaptive Firmware Card Expands Computer Access to a Blind Bilaterial Hand Amputee by Leonard J. Mowinski & Harvey Lauer (print pages 5-8).

TX BEX TRAINING = The Best Little BEX in Texas Training Institute by Cyral Miller, Nancy Toelle & Elaine Moses Juliano (print pages 8-10).

SPENCE TRAINING = More Texan BEX Training: Phyllis Herrington Interviews Diane Spence (print pages 10-11).

EUREKA A4 REVIEW = The Eureka A4: A Tool for Today by Mindy Fliegleman (print pages 11-16).

LETS PLAY TAG = Let's Play Tag: THe Promise of SGML by Jesse Kaysen (print pages 16-19).

BULLETIN BOARD = Includes: Plan Now for CTVEH Conference XXX in March 89; RDC Holiday Sale; Desktop Productivity Assistant -- Serious Software; Cranmer Brailler for Sale; More MS-DOS Tutorials on Audio Tape from FlipTrack (print pages 20-22).

FACTS ON FILE = Addresses Mentioned; Contributor's Notes; The RDC Full Cell; Production Notes; Trademarks (print pages 23-24).

We Welcome Submissions!

You can send in brief announcements for Bulletin Board, which we run as-is, or you can cut loose and write a masterpiece on using particular software or hardware, or wax eloquent on where you see the sensory aids market headed. 16 January 1989 is the deadline for the next issue--we hope the long holiday will inspire you to send in something for the RDC Newsletter.

Laser Lines from the Editor -- Jesse Kaysen

Looking back over my stack of Newsletters from 1984 to now, I noticed that October is a prime month to redesign the inkprint edition. Not wanting to break with tradition, this edition introduces yet another new look for our now bimonthly publication. The redesign required some new advances in file transfer technology: check out the Production Notes for a brief description. I welcome comments on its legibility from our low-vision readership.

We've come to the end of another year, and we're suitably amazed at the rapid passage of time. Is it really almost 1989 already? Thanks to your continuing support and encouragement, the months fly by. As has become our habit, we are closing the Raised Dot offices between Christmas and New Year's. Best wishes for Peace in the New Year from the happy Dots: Phyllis, David, Jesse, Caryn, Nevin, and Becky.

Flipper Corrections -- by Nevin Olson

If you read our announcement in the September/October Newsletter about the Flipper screen access program, a low-priced software package loaded with features for your adventures in MS-DOS, it may have seemed to good to be true. While all we said about Flipper's fast, flexible, easy-to-use features still stand, I must make two corrections.

First, the price for Flipper was misstated. The program actually sells for $325. In my hurry to get the announcement about Flipper in the Newsletter, I neglected to verify the price before we went to press. A quick check would have revealed my error--I apologize for misleading any of our readers.

The article incorrectly stated that Flipper had compatibility problems with IRMA. In fact, Flipper is very compatible with the IRMA board. Again, we are sorry for any inconvenience.

Revisions to Hot Dots 2.0 -- by Nevin Olson

We have made some revisions to Hot Dots 2.0 to fix some irritating bugs. We incorporated these fixes into the shipping disk in October 1988; we're now making them available to all registered Hot Dots 2.0 owners. The revisions disk improves the action of both forward and back translators, and also includes better versions of two common rules files.

Translator Fixes

The revisions disk corrects two frustrating problems in the forward translator. Some users have found the translator just hangs when they attempt to translate short print files--4000 characters or less--into grade 2 braille. We've also discovered that when the first 128 characters in a file are all uppercase, the translator gives you a "file read error" message and quits. Both these glitches are a thing of the past when you obtain the revisions disk.

Unfortunate bugs crept into the back translator as well. Depending on when you got your version of Hot Dots, you may encounter either or both of these bugs. VersaBraille users who prepare braille text in lowercase were frustrated by Hot Dots's inability to recognize five braille signs. In a computer file, the "ow" sign, "ou" sign, "er" sign, dots 4-5, and dot 4 can be represented by either one of a pair of characters. For example, the "ou" sign is stored as either a backslash character or a vertical bar character. Hot Dots's back translator only interpreted the backslash as an "ou" sign. If you entered a vertical bar for an "ou" sign, Hot Dots gave you an untranslated vertical bar in your print file.

The other bug concerned back translation of any contractions beginning with the letter "a." This affected some short-form words: for example, <alm> was not expanded to "almost," but left as "alm" in your print file. It also messed up back translation of braille numbers containing the digit 1. For example, the braille <#baj> was back-translated to <2aj> instead of the correct <210>.

Improved Rules Files

The revisions disk also contains improved versions of CRLF.RUL and FIXTXT.RUL. Most word processors store a blank line as two CR/LF pairs in a row, which CRLF.RUL or FIXTXT.RUL sees as a new paragraph and replaces with a paragraph ($p) indicator. However, some text editors put a space before the second CR/LF pair, so the existing rules files never have the opportunity to place a paragraph indicator. The newer versions eliminate this problem, as well as turning three or more CR/LF pairs into the Hot Dots commands ($l) followed by ($p), which will skip one line and give paragraph indent. With the older rules files, many carriage returns in the original file gave many paragraph symbols in the result, skipping lines unnecessarily.

Ordering Instructions

We have prepared 5.25-inch and 3.5-inch revision disks, and are happy to send them at no charge to registered Hot Dots owners. If you purchased Hot Dots after October 1988, then you don't need the revision disk--the changes have already been made to your program. If you bought Hot Dots before October 1988, registered your program, and want some software Raid, simply send us a written request for the updated files indicating your preference for 3.5 or 5.25 inch disk format. As always, if you are experiencing any problems or difficulties using the Hot Dots program, please write or call for help.

A Thank You for pixCELLS Testers -- Jesse Kaysen

We're deliriously happy to report that RDC began shipping pixCELLS on November 22, 1988. Thanks to the hard work of our pixCELLS beta testing team, the software got even more powerful and easier to use. We offer our heartfelt thanks to:

Nick Dotson

Conchita Gilbertson

Mary Helmsen

Alan Holst

Sharon Kelleher

Cathy Mack

Bruce McClanahan

Diane Spence

Lucy Stroschine

As reported in the last Newsletter, pixCELLS is the only brailler graphics program that lets you create and modify images as well as send them to a wide variety of braille embossers. In addition to typing in braille labels horizontally, you can also enter vertical braille reading up or reading down. Combining these braille label options with the ability to quickly draw vertical, horizontal, and 45-degree lines makes pixCELLS a great tool for sketching mobility diagrams. Our testers also helped us make pixCELLS work better with images from Lorin Software's Illustrations package: you can switch between pixCELLS Grid, which maximizes the number of brailler dots in two frames, and Illustrations's Grid, which distributes the brailler dots equally between six sheets.

As one of our testers said, "the program is very easy to learn and use, once you get the hang of it. The on-line help was great and provided short concise help when needed." We got a dramatic demonstration of this point last week. A noted Biblical scholar with a Luddite view of technology visited his son David for the Thanksgiving holiday. Bill Holladay, who happily types all his books in BRAILLE-EDIT version 2.44a on an Apple II Plus, skeptically sat down to play with pixCELLS. Within thirty minutes he'd produced two maps of the Holy Land, without even reading the manual.

If you want to create brailler graphics, all you need is an Apple II with 128K memory, a braille embosser, and $150 U.S. Send the last item to us, and we'll rush you the pixCELLS program disk (not copy-protected), two disks of sample graphics, and the pixCELLS Manual in print and audio tape.

Learning the Hard Way -- by Phyllis Herrington

Recent events have proved that the best teacher is life itself. Until we suffer the consequences of neglect, it's easy to believe that the "rules and regulations" don't apply to us. This year I took a graduate course in the Computer Department at the School of Experience.

I have used computers for almost four and a half years, and I've been offering technical advice for approximately three. When all of a sudden your computer goes into a state of rebellion, you reach the point where you want to get rid of the thing, replacing it with a soothing choir of parakeets or perhaps some house plants. I did not retire my computer, but I did learn three lessons which I hope you don't have to learn the hard way.

I don't know how many times I've reminded people to make a backup copy of their data. Unfortunately, those of us who give the warnings are not always good practitioners. As I sat down to print some materials for a Monday night class I'm taking, I was completed dismayed to find my data had been scrambled by a bad disk drive. The next 24 hours were hectic, as I had to reconstruct detailed outlines of Genesis through Deuteronomy. Think of the grief I could have avoided if I'd only made a backup copy!

Here's a trick for developing the backup habit. Whenever you make any changes to your data disks during a session at the computer, don't put the disks back into the shoebox or disk holder. Instead, pile them up at your side. When you're ready to quit working, make a copy of each disk from the stack before you put it in its place.

The other lesson I learned through grim experience concerns plugging disk drives into the disk controller card. Make sure the pins on the card align exactly straight with the holes on the cable connector! If the card and connector are not seated squarely, you will short the card, the disk drive, or both. And of course, do not move any cards or plug anything in to the cards while the power is still on. If you do, you will have fireworks rivaling the Fourth of July! If by chance you have inserted cards or plugged cables, and then you notice a burning smell when you power up, turn the computer off immediately and disconnect it from the power supply. You can then lug the whole mess to the Apple shop for repair.

If you continue to have computer problems, you may need to get your electrical circuits and/or wall socket checked out. Grounding is especially important. Wall sockets with three holes are automatically grounded, but many homes don't have these type of sockets. To accommodate all my computer peripherals, I've got a power strip with several three-hole outlets. But if you plug the power strip's plug into a two-hole socket, you won't have the ground protection you need! The solution is to correctly install one of those three-prong to two-prong adaptors. The two-prong side has a short "grounding" wire that ends in a small brass "Y." Loosen the center screw on the wall socket plate, then slip this brass "Y" under the screw and tighten, then plug the adaptor into the wall. Finally, plug the power strip into the adaptor.

The moral is: the so-called experts have fits with their computers too. Now when you call for technical support, please don't feel embarrassed when you think everything that can go wrong does. The cloud still has the silver lining. I got more sleep that week when my computer was down than I had gotten for several weeks.

The Adaptive Firmware Card Expands Computer Access to a Blind Bilateral Hand Amputee -- Leonard J. Mowinski & Harvey L. Lauer

"Do you remember when we tried to read braille with our tongues and type it with our toes?" The year was 1984, and the voice on the phone belonged to Bill Wedekind. Bill had been a trainee at the Hines Blind Center in 1969. He was referring to our failed attempt at helping him regain written communication skills after the loss of his hands and eyesight in the Vietnam War.

"I sure do, Bill. That was fifteen years ago, and now, besides braille and typing, we are teaching people to use computers. But tell me, Bill, what have you been doing?"

Bill said, "Among other things, I have become an amateur radio operator. I work the controls, including a Morse Code Keyer, with my stumps. Many of my friends are using computers, and computers are what I called you about. Could I possibly use Morse Code to control and type into a computer?"

My heart pounded like a Code Keyer. "Bill," I shouted, "I just read about a new keyboard replacement device called the Adaptive Firmware Card. Among many other kinds of inputs, it can accept Morse Code. If it works along with the applications software and the speech output we have been using, the answer to your question is a loud 'Yes'."

Bill was elated. "Then, maybe you can finally teach me written communication. That was my biggest problem in taking college courses." So began the venture about which we are now reporting.

Who We Are

In the Technology Transfer Department of the Veteran's Administration Central Blind Rehabilitation Center, we are responsible for evaluating, researching and teaching adapted sensory aids. In 1982, our emphasis changed to include computer hardware and software, specifically computers with synthetic speech, large print and braille outputs. We have written many papers about selecting, interfacing and using computer aids. Most have been published, and we can provide copies of the relevant ones; that is, those which haven't been outdated by changes in this frantically-paced field.

The impetus for emphasis on computer access technology came, not from the bureaucracy which was somewhat resistive, but through phone calls for help from veterans around the country. Now, six years later, the budget hasn't changed, and the phones keep jangling.

Bill's Rehabilitation: A Challenge for Everyone

One of those phone calls came from our old friend, Bill Wedekind. Bill is a Vietnam era veteran who came to our center for rehabilitation training in 1969. Bill was not your typical client. In addition to losing his vision in both eyes, his multiple wounds included amputation of both hands, perforation in both ears, leg fractures and metal fragments over his entire body. The road to recovery was long and arduous.

Several surgical procedures were necessary including Krukenburg operations. The Krukenburg consists of splitting the forearm between the ulna and radius and mobilizing the radius which then moves independently from and against the ulna. This divided forearm stump can be used in a forceps-like manner to grasp things. Bill is the first person we know of to have been surgically provided with two Krukenburgs.

The combination of blindness and the loss of both hands poses a special set of problems. An ordinary prosthesis is useless without eyes to see or a hand to feel what it's doing. Hence, the Krukenburgs which, after long practice, afforded a bit of tactual perception and a modicum of proprioceptive feedback in addition to their manipulative powers. Other parts of his body, mainly face and tongue, provide additional valuable feedback.

With the help of the staff and his own ingenuity, Bill learned to handle most daily activities independently. His progress is chronicled in films and files at the Blind Center. Some special devices were fabricated including a foot control for his electric razor. Some solutions were of marginal help such as typing on a modified typewriter. Some ideas proved impractical, including the one for using braille that was mentioned above. In preparation for that attempt, Lauer used a braille writer with his toes and read the output on plastic sheets with his tongue. But Bill found that using a cassette tape recorder was a little more efficient and a lot more conventional.

Bill tried college but had difficulty completing written assignments. Amateur radio and making pottery proved to be challenging hobbies, but he wanted greater independence and better means of expressing his creativity.

Could Technology Help?

In 1984, Bill contacted the Technology Transfer Department concerning his use of a personal computer. Aware that blind people could access computers, he hoped desperately that a peripheral was available which would allow him to enter text by a means other than the keyboard.

By then, we were teaching word processing to visually-impaired veterans with BRAILLE-EDIT, the precursor of Raised Dot Computing's BEX. This multi-media software permits word processing in four output modes: regular print, large print, braille and speech. The speech we used was the Echo II speech synthesizer board from Street Electronics of Carpinteria, California. Blind people all over the country had begun to use the Apple and Echo combination for many other applications including programming, databases, communications and games. The system would be a boon for Bill, but only if we could find a usable input method.

We investigated several options, the most promising of which seemed to be the Adaptive Firmware Card. It was invented by Paul Schwejda, and it is manufactured by the company he formed, Adaptive Peripherals of Seattle, Washington. [It's now distributed by Don Johnston's Developmental Equipment, Inc.; address and phone appear in Facts on File. JK] This Apple II peripheral was just coming into use as a welcome alternative to keyboard entry for people with a broad range of manual disabilities. The big question for us was: Would it work with the Echo speech and the applications software he needed to use?

Buying Technology is the Easy Part

The first stage of the project was easy. A few phone calls elicited the probability that the combination would work and promises of support from the developers/vendors. Then came the hurdles. We needed $500 to buy and try the card and keyer, but there wasn't money in the budget for computer aids, so special requests had to be made. Then we had to work with Bill and his counselors to justify the request for his computer system. Then the requests for our services intensified with the popularity of MS-DOS and the advent of the VersaBraille II. We had to learn two new operating systems. Even innovators grow weary of newness. Our backlog of worthy projects grew inexorably, and we became part of the bottleneck.

Finally, however, the pleas of Bill and his family, coupled with our growing embarrassment and indignation, got results. Almost two years after the initial contact, Bill came for training.

The Big Interface

From then on, the project "took off." Everything worked, and it worked almost the first time it was tried! Bill learned the essentials of Apple "housekeeping", word processing and the beginnings of programming in BASIC in five weeks. From then on, a mere locked door couldn't have separated him from the computer. Bill's amiability and the flexibility of the components chosen made it a joy to help him learn. Our ingenuity and creativity were exercised as we helped him find ways of efficiently entering data and managing the system. A video tape was made near the end of training which illustrates those points.

Bill entered Morse Code at thirty words per minute when we last checked. He reads the screen and hears his keystrokes with the Echo speech synthesizer. His first letter was to his parents, and we'll never forget his reaction: "This is the first letter I've been able to write my folks in seventeen years."

Paul Schwejda has since written software to enhance the value of the Adaptive Firmware Card with Echo speech. The features of that card are too numerous to catalog in any one article. For example, all ASCII characters can be entered via Morse Code or its other media options. The use of macros can appreciably enhance efficiency, and so on.

The Happy Result

Bill got his computer, the software and the peripherals, including a hard disk to reduce the need for handling floppies. He went back to college. Now he is getting good grades and writing his own documents and computer programs. He even writes computer games for his children. We put one of them on our disk of games for children. That disk is distributed through Apple Talk and Speech Enterprises.

We believe that the flexibility of the Apple combined with recent hardware and software developments has only begun to give many handicapped individuals the tools which provide independence and allow them to become productive members of society. It meant a great deal to us when we could trade our typewriters for computers that spoke and brailled. It means a lot more to a guy like Bill Wedekind. Bill just got a job with the Blinded Veterans Association. He'll be using his computer to independently write reports and letters and to keep records.

The Best Little BEX in Texas Training Institute -- Cyral Miller, Nancy Toelle, and Elaine Moses Juliano

It began as a simple idea: "Let's put together a workshop on BEX in Austin." The need was evident from contacts with programs for the visually impaired throughout Texas. Although advances in technology have made faster production of braille possible, and widened horizons for braille users in both work and school settings, training for professionals has often lagged behind the availability of equipment. We decided to address at least part of that need in Texas by training teachers and assistants in the use of BEX. We hope our experience in designing a very exciting and successful summer institute encourages others interested in similar workshops for their area.

Advance Planning

The key was planning; and lots of it! Very early on, it was decided that one agency could not pull off this type of workshop. The Texas School for the Blind (TSB), the Education Service Center, Region XIII (ESC) and the University of Texas (UT) all got involved. Interagency coordination allowed for meeting the needs of a larger number of participants and most importantly, sharing of expenses, expertise and resources. By choosing a summer date, space for the program was available at the ESC, housing was available at the Texas School for the Blind, and participants did not have to negotiate release time from school. Interagency coordination also allowed us to offer incentives. The University of Texas included the BEX training as part of a broader summer course on technology for the visually impaired, and advanced academic training credit was made available through the ESC. We were thus able to offer credit for the training to any school personnel and college student who needed to learn BEX.

In addition to the costs for materials, trainers' salaries, and housing paid for by the three agencies, a $10 a day registration fee helped pay for lunch to be brought in so that participants remained on site all day. This provided invaluable time for these professionals from all over the state to share information about their programs.

Setting the Stage: Selecting Leaders, Students, Site and Equipment

One of the major planning decisions was carefully choosing our workshop leaders. We felt that they should have the following characteristics in addition to knowing the BEX program: good organizational skills, experience both in teaching adults and students, and training in the education field. Organizational abilities proved critical in preparing for and teaching computer skills to a large group.

Providing training in a very specialized subject such as BEX, it was felt that those attending should have a use for the material, receive instruction at their level, and be able to access BEX following the training. Invitations to attend were sent to VH teachers and Education Service Centers all over Texas. Rather than accepting all who first expressed an interest, a follow-up questionnaire solicited information about current skill levels and anticipated use of BEX.

We found that there were distinct categories; those who were beginning BEX and/or computer users, and people who were already using BEX but wanting more complex skills. As a result, we decided to split the group into beginning and advanced groups and offer two distinct workshops. We also identified a few people who did not need BEX training due to their job assignments or lack of contact with blind students. After narrowing down the list of those who were interested, we had a grand total of 40 participants to prepare materials for, feed, house, and train.

The facility used must have a room large enough to have computer workstations (2 persons to 1 computer) and ideally an area away from the computers for group discussions. We were very lucky to be based at the ESC, which had rooms spacious enough to accommodate both classes and an exceptionally beautiful area for eating both indoors and outside.

Finding enough equipment is probably the biggest nightmare of all when planning a computer class for forty people. After draining all 11 computers from the lab at the ESC, we had to locate ten more. Everyone had to pitch in to get enough computers, including the participants and planners. We even advertised the advanced training as BYOC to attend! The beginning class members were paired two to each computer, but we planned to have closer to a one-to-one ratio for the advanced class. As we found out, for both groups working as partners made learning faster (and more fun).

In addition to the computers, we needed all types of attachments such as the braille embossers, printers, Echo speech synthesizers, cables, and power strips. These were borrowed from many sources (and more or less returned properly). We were able to inexpensively rent BEX training programs from Raised Dot so that we would have enough BEX disks for all of the computers. We also encouraged participants to bring their own to ensure access when they returned to their districts.

Course Content

For the week-long beginner's class, the curriculum was designed by the workshop leader in modules that built expertise in the use of the BEX manual. The first morning was spent in establishing basic computer know-how; what the inside of the computer looks like, how the system hooks up, and what kind of "logic" computers understand. This was a necessary foundation for much of the class. Working with a partner, participants then progressed through five modules at their own pace with daily group discussion on the modules and other BEX-related issues (When do you teach BEX to a blind student? Who needs BEX? etc.). The modules included written directions that demonstrated each concept, guided practice, and finally discovery activities to expand on the lesson. Once a module was completed, a staff member checked for mastery before okaying progress to the next step. The topics covered by the modules included editor commands, format commands, configuration, production of braille, and related topics such as Echo, large print, etc.

The advanced group met for only two days. Their format was to introduce new BEX commands in a group discussion followed by practice of the commands using worksheets commonly found in classrooms. Some of the topics covered by the advanced group included formatting columns, setting tabs, foreign languages, math, and interfacing with other equipment.

Conclusions, or What We Now Know

We learned a lot in putting together this workshop. Perhaps our conclusions will help others build on our experience.

1. Almost to our surprise, and certainly to our relief, we found that twenty four beginners can and did learn functional BEX skills in a week with no prior BEX experience.

2. Although sixteen people with experience can and did learn huge chunks of BEX in two days, we found the pace quite fast, and feel that three days would permit more time to assimilate and practice new skills.

3. The beginner group needed a great deal of support from workshop leaders. We suggest that the ratio of staff to learners should be no less than 1 to 5 with a recommended maximum of 20 participants. Included in this number should be people with different expertise such as: a computer hardware person to troubleshoot the inevitable machine glitches, a site facilitator to coordinate the endless details of handling forty people, the workshop leader, and an assistant to help check for mastery and work with the learners individually.

4. Having different brands of braille embossers and printers, necessary in our case as we gathered them from several VH programs, was helpful in exposing the groups to a variety of available equipment.

5. Having extra computers available for individuals to practice on at night and in a separate area of the room allowed for more reinforcement of the skills learned.

6. Much to our surprise, those without previous experience using computers were able to pick up what they needed in the first morning computer introduction and advance through the training as competently as those with prior computer skills.

7. We invited sales representatives to come and demonstrate their latest equipment to the classes, which enriched the overall knowledge gained from the workshop. We would definitely repeat this for future workshops.

8. An activity we did not include, but would like to offer in the future, is a panel of blind computer users to speak about how they have used technology in school or work.

9. Not everyone learns best in a self-paced workshop format; we found a couple of people who would have benefitted more from individualized instruction, and one or two who preferred working on their own. However, we feel that paired learning was critical to our training process as it led to shared experiences and a supportive environment.

10. We found initially a surprising amount of computer phobia. In an introductory questionnaire over half of the beginners confessed to a fear that they wouldn't be able to figure BEX out. By the end of the week, computer phobia was a thing of the past.

11. The week long program was required for most participants, but a competency based schedule would permit faster learners to finish the modules at their own pace.

12. It works! These workshops were exciting to plan, deliver, and participate in. All involved left with new skills, and new friends and networks within the VH community.

We are already planning for the second and improved version. If you would like more information, please check facts on file for our phone numbers.

More Texan BEX Training: Phyllis Herrington interviews Diane Spence

Diane Spence serves as Supervisor of computer braille transcription in Region IV of Texas's Educational Service Centers. This September, I asked her a few questions pertaining to the BEX training she lead over the past summer for VH teachers.

PH: Why did you offer a BEX training seminar during the summer?

DS: The Educational Service Centers in Texas provide services to school districts with children who are visually handicapped. In addition to braille production, we consult with teachers and, if needed, provide training so the teachers can better serve their students. One immediate need of the teachers was being able to go back to their schools and teach the use of BEX to their students as well as being able to put necessary supplementary materials into braille as they are needed.

PH: Tell me a little about how your training session was structured.

DS: Funding was provided by the state of Texas through the Educational Service Centers. We had from 18 to 25 participants, depending upon how much training they needed. We offered 30 hours of training, but if an individual did not require this maximum amount of time, then the amount of training time was shorter for them.

PH: What were the participants prepared to do when they walked out of the training session?

DS: I wanted every individual to have a hands-on experience with the computer and BEX. We were fortunate in being able to offer such an environment for the teachers. Each morning a new concept was introduced to the entire group. After the folks demonstrated they had a handle on the concept, they were free to continue working on whatever project they wanted to ultimately emboss into braille. The intent of the program was for participants to feel comfortable with BEX. Besides learning formatting and editing strategies, they also learned how to write new configurations and how to determine what cards were in the computer and how to remove and insert cards. Setting up the computer and the various peripherals was something they were initially apprehensive about. My goal was to help the teachers feel comfortable with these tasks and not let configuring and setting up equipment intimidate them. To that end, we rearranged the cards in each computer several times, so the individuals were challenged to learn how to write and rewrite configurations.

PH: What advice would you give someone else who is contemplating offering similar workshops?

DS: You cannot wait until the last minute to put together a workshop of this nature. Materials must be prepared, and you must obtain the necessary equipment in adequate numbers. Whoever is doing the training should be an expert using BEX. If you, the organizer, are not familiar with the program, get someone to do the training who is and who is knowledgeable configuring and setting up the computer.

PH: Finally, do you view your training workshop as being a success?

DS: Oh, yes. Our objective was not to make power users out of the participants, but rather to help them become familiar with BEX and develop confidence in their abilities as users. The participants want to have forums so they can dialog about any difficulties they are running into as users--we plan on our first forum in October.

The Eureka A4: A Tool for Today -- Mindy Fliegleman

For some six months now, I have had the pleasure of working with the Eureka A4, manufactured by Robotron Pty. of Australia. Robotron likes to call the Eureka an "Electronic Secretary," since describing it as a "small computer" doesn't quite bring to mind all of its features.

Whether it's a secretary or a computer, the Eureka is certainly small and powerful. Robotron has been selling the device for the past year in English-speaking countries. She measures about 8-1/2 by 11 inches, and weighs in at approximately 3-1/2 pounds. The Eureka contains a built-in modem and a 3.5-inch disk drive, with 792K capacity per disk. Most of the Eureka's memory is devoted to its diverse built-in software; users have a scratchpad of 45K--more on this issue later.

I believe the Eureka is a machine which can be used effectively by lots of everyday people for lots of everyday tasks, and by many professionals whose fields require an extraordinary degree of versatility. Of course, any device which even purports to act like a computer must have, at the very least, a word processor and a calculator. The Eureka has these features, and many more. But first, let's take a look at how you interact with the machine.

You use the Perkins style keyboard to enter text, and a built-in speech synthesizer reads it back to you. This is the first computer device which houses an Australian woman. She takes a little getting used to, in the beginning, but after a few serious hours of practice, her voice is rather soothing, and easy to listen to for long periods of time. Volume and speed/pitch slide controls are conveniently located within easy reach of the braille keyboard. One thing which will need to be improved is the speed at which she speaks. As she gets faster, she gets higher, and her fastest speed is not more than 130 words a minute.

In addition to the braille keyboard, eight function keys and a five-key cursor cross let you control all the Eureka's functions. When the volume is turned down, the action of the keyboard is virtually silent. This makes the user extremely inconspicuous in a meeting or a classroom, where quiet means everything.

Instant Back-Translation

As you enter text through the Eureka's braille keyboard, you choose between entry in computer braille, Grade I, or Grade II. When you enter text in Grade I or Grade II, Eureka performs an instant back-translation. The Grade II braille translator can be considered either a blessing or a curse, depending upon what it's doing at any given moment.

It's really an awfully good back translator whose major advantage is that it translates what you are writing in grade II braille to straight ASCII, on the spot. This means that if, for example you write the word "braille", and then backspace over it, you will find the individual letters "B R A I L L E", rather than the "BRL" cells you entered. In this way, it is possible to know immediately whether or not a questionable word has been translated correctly, and, therefore, how it will be printed. That's a blessing!

The curse is that the translator doesn't always get it right on the first try, so you are often forced to delete the word and enter it again. It usually comes out right the second time, but until you get the feel of the keyboard, you do a lot of editing. I haven't gotten a chance to do a statistical analysis to see how the number of errors compares with other braille devices which I recommend, but, at least, the Eureka user can be sure how the text will actually appear when it is printed. This seems to me to be extremely important. Unfortunately, there's a part B to the curse. If you write extremely fast, (80 or 90 words a minute,) the translator cannot keep up, and you lose some of your letters. This doesn't effect most of the people I see every day, but, those who like to write at hyper-speed would probably have to slow down a little for the time being. Robotron is aware of this problem, and has already begun to address it with some new firmware which is being tested now.

The Word Processor

The word processor is a full-service one which allows the user to perform the usual operations such as deleting characters, words, and lines, inserting as much text as is necessary, (insert mode is the default), search and replace, and moving blocks of text from one place to another. The Word Processor provides all the usual print attributes like bold face, italics, and underlining. It is also possible to set up text in columns, and to indent text for part of the document, while leaving other parts at the original left margin.

The "where am I" button announces column, line and page, so that the user can always picture where he/she is within the document. One feature which high school and college students will love is the word counter. It is a fast and efficient means of discerning the exact extent of one's verbosity.

The Eureka provides a variety of ways to read the text you type in the Word Processor. In addition to the usual read character, word, line, and page, there is an easy command which allows the reading of the whole document. If you press the shift key at any point during the reading, the cursor stops on a dime. The punctuation is expressed so clearly, that, with a little practice, it is possible to determine whether your commas, question marks or periods have been properly placed without explicitly hearing them pronounced. (This is assuming that you know your grammar to begin with). Another nice thing is that when you delete a letter or a word, that particular letter or word is spoken. That is to say, if you delete the word "dog," your little "electronic secretary" will announce "dog", rather than either the next word or, worse, silence!

The Word Processor is one of the Eureka functions that uses the 45K RAM mentioned above. This is the equivalent of approximately 15 to 20 inkprint pages. Once this is full, the user can save it on disk, clear the memory, and continue writing. The page numbering of the next section can begin with the appropriate consecutive numeral.

The Note Taker

The Note Taker has exactly the same functions as the Word Processor. The difference is that it always remains in the computer's memory no matter what program you're running--or even if you turn the machine off. This means that if you are working on an important word processor document and the phone rings, it only takes two key strokes to exit the Word Processor and get into the Note Taker, ready to jot down a message. The same two keystrokes take you back to the spot in your document where you were when you answered the phone. The Note Taker can hold approximately 2.5K of information, or around one print or two and a half braille pages. Once you have filled it, it can be saved on disk and then loaded back into the Note Taker or Word Processor.

The Clock, Calendar, and Diary

A clock and calendar should be standard features of any good adaptive computer type device for the blind or visually impaired. The Eureka's provides more functions than those built into most of the laptop computers with which we are familiar. The Stopwatch and Count-down Timer are pretty standard, but in addition, the Clock feature contains an alarm which will wake you up whether you are working with the machine, or are sleeping and the computer is turned off. It also contains a chimer which will play a pretty melody on the hour, or announce the time every minute, five, ten, fifteen, or sixty minutes.

The Calendar allows you to type in a given date (between the years 1900 and 2088) and hear the day of the week on which that date occurs. You can also request to know what say, six weeks from today, will be. This is particularly helpful if you are planning meetings or classes with someone over the phone. It lends efficiency, class and dignity to your operation.

The Diary function is hooked into the Clock and Calendar, and can remind you of any appointments you have entered. I usually ask the computer to come on at nine in the morning to remind me of the things I need to do during that day. If the obligation is particularly forgettable, I have it remind me again, about fifteen minutes before the blessed event. Now all I have to do is remember to enter the appointment in the first place. The Eureka will do the rest!

Terminal Communications

One of the real advantages of the Eureka A4 is the built-in modem and communications software, which allows you to use any phone with a modular jack, at any time, to call information services, bulletin boards, or send electronic mail, virtually anywhere in the world! In this country, the modem operates at 300 baud, and the software which drives it is extremely easy to use. If you prefer faster communications, you will find that external Hayes compatible modems interface quite nicely with the built-in serial port, which allows data transfer at up to 38,400 baud. The Eureka System Diskette includes an extended communications program that makes it possible to exchange data with an Apple or IBM-PC compatible computer. [Editor's note: Look for a follow-up article in the next Newsletter detailing the IBM and Apple interfaces with the Eureka. JK]

One way to use the serial port is in connection with the Talker feature which makes the Eureka an external speech synthesizer connecting to the COM port of an IBM-PC or compatible. Robotron offers a screen reader program as an option, loaded from disk. Robotron expects to offer an advanced user option which will contain a 1200 baud modem, a spelling checker, and over-all speedier braille and voice operations before the end of the year.

A Few Nice Bells and Whistles

What a change--it's nice to have a few bells and whistles designed especially for us! The Eureka A4 houses a built-in thermometer which, in actual fact, measures the temperature of the inside of the machine, but if it is not in your lap, the effect is that you get a realistic idea of the room temperature. There is also a voltmeter for which the probes have not made it across the sea. The company says, though, that they are coming soon.

The telephone directory on board the Eureka is accessed with the touch of a button, and is so much like the old Apple program "Phone List" that it brings back fond and funny memories of a simpler time. (You may laugh to hear it, but after all the computers and speech synthesizers I have taught and dealt with on one level or another, I still stand in awe, at times, when that old Apple and Echo wake up and implore me to "ENTER CONFIGURATION:".) Actually, the Eureka often reminds me of the Apple because of its structure, which allows for approximately the same amount of power and versatility we had in those old machines. But back to the phone directory.

It holds up to 100 numbers and addresses in memory at all times. These can be saved on disk and any number of different lists can be maintained for use as needed. You can call up a number and Eureka will automatically dial it for you. The Database Manager, which is loaded from disk, may be most closely compared with the long forgotten "DIRECTORIES", which was an easy and efficient means of filing small amounts of information, such as students' grades, the order of books or tapes on a shelf, etc.

Many BASIC programs and games exist for the Eureka, and they are accessed by loading a form of Microsoft BASIC into the computer's memory. I have noticed that some of these games and programs far exceed the 45K scratchpad buffer, so much bank switching must be taking place. The games are the ones we are used to, including Monopoly, Adventure, etc. A user network is beginning to grow in this country, and people are programming like crazy!

The Eureka is capable of running and reading several CP/M-based programs. I'm afraid I have had very little experience with this aspect of the machine, but I do know that it will run dBase II, and a fellow consultant in Canada has told me first hand about a spell checking program he has found.

The disk utilities offer many of the same features as FID. One can search, rename files, copy or delete one or more files at a time, lock or unlock files, determine the length of a given file, or the number of files and the amount of free space on the disk.

The Music Composer

And here, my friends, is the crowning jewel. The Music Composer puts the "eureka" into the Eureka A4, and makes it absolutely unique. It lets you write, edit, play, and print music.

The Music Composer is like a line editor. A series of notes are arranged in staves, as they would be on a sheet of paper. As you press the up or down cursor keys, you hear the notes being played higher or lower. You can also have the notes spoken as words, for example, "C Lower Stave". When your cursor movement has put you at the note you wish to enter, you simply write the first letter of the time value you wish that note to be. So let's say I have come to a "C" and I want it to be a quarter note. I write a braille "Q" and move to the next voice. The Music Composer currently handles up to four voices, but the next revision, which I have had the pleasure of using, will handle up to eight. It will also have a small rhythm section and 16 different instruments.

For some people, it would be easier to just write the individual notes and measures into the Word Processor, without having to worry about moving up and down the staff, which is, admittedly, a slow means of writing music. The Eureka System Diskette provides a utility which allows the user to enter all of his/her music into the Word Processor, and then translates the information into a melody file, which can then be played by the Music Composer. It can also be printed out on blank paper by a dot matrix printer. The program draws the lines and staves, and then prints the notes in the appropriate places.

The Music Composer was originally designed as a "just for fun" feature, so there are still a few serious shortcomings. The people at Robotron never guessed how important it would be to those of us who are, or would be, musicians, but they have been extremely responsive to our suggestions in this area. At first, there was no means of printing out the music or using the word processor in conjunction with it, but within a few short months, these features were added. It is possible to use accidentals, but it is neither smooth nor consistent. Also, there needs to be a means of writing triplets. And as with most music programs for sighted computer users, crescendos and decrescendos are problematic. Graphics won't, of course, help us, and so this question should also be addressed.

The important thing, here, is that a student, for example, could do most of his/her work for theory classes without help, and cut down substantially on the number of reader hours required. If I had had access to a device like the Eureka, I know I would have gained a much deeper understanding of my high school and college music classes. It would also have enabled me to communicate more effectively with my sighted music students.

The Uses of Memory

A word, if I might, about memory. As many of you will remember, I am a consultant who has been around the field for some 5 years now. I've had the opportunity to see many people in their places of employment. Considering that the Eureka's 45K memory is well-managed, its small size must be evaluated in a real-world context. Specifically, an attorney who is writing briefs running hundreds of pages needs as much memory as he/she can pack into the computer. A ticket clerk using a database to access mounds of information needs the power of at least 640K bytes of RAM. On the other hand, a psychologist who keeps records on patients would do fine with 20 pages or so in each file. Most of the forms which social workers fill out don't run any more than 8 pages. The key point is that any device which is to be used in the work place should be evaluated in terms of the job which needs to be done.


While the Eureka A4 may not be a total panacea, its portability and versatility are certainly a significant step forward for the blind community. Its $2450 price tag reflects the cost of all that built-in software--after all, it's a stand-alone computer. The fact that it can communicate with the Apple or IBM PC makes it a realistic option for a second system, or for someone who has never used a computer before. The tutorial, which comes on cassette, in inkprint and on disk, is pretty easy to learn from, and I have noticed that most owners don't need formal training. The company, however, does offer about an hour and a half of free instruction to every new user.

If you're thinking that there are an awful lot of computers and other adaptive devices on the market today, you are right. There is much that may be said about the times we live in--both good and bad, but for the blind and visually impaired, they might hold in store the most dynamic chapter in our history to date. Let us revel in the number of alternatives which are becoming available to us and applaud the different approaches to the problems we all face in the work place and on the home front. Isn't it nice, for a change, to be a consumer with a choice!

Let's Play Tag: The Promise of SGML -- Jesse Kaysen

Here's a utopian scenario: A document you want to read is available on disk. The publisher can readily supply it to you with no concern for computer system compatibility. If the publisher doesn't happen to have your brand of computer, they can send it to you over the phone lines without losing any of its format. Once you get it, the format is immediately obvious. You can identify all the headings, you can instantly find the tables and lists, you have no doubts about italics or other font changes.

If you want a braille edition, you don't have to worry about stripping out control characters or manually changing some word processor's commands to those appropriate for braille. If you're using a voice output screen reader or voice editor, you don't have to search for screen enhancements or other such nonsense. If you're using a large print display system, you needn't worry about how the text is broken into lines.

Recent developments in both the publishing and microcomputer industries may make this utopian scenario a reality. The American Association of Publishers is promulgating a new standard for encoding format and structural information into text stored on computers. It's called the Standardized Generalized Markup Language, or SGML for short. Anyone who works with words a lot will find the SGML approach to formatting data attractive, and happily, SGML promises easier access to inkprint documents through speech, braille, and large print.

The Origins and Purpose of SGML

While the introduction of computers to book and magazine production brought dramatic efficiency, it also introduced the publishing industry to the incompatibility problems familiar to all microcomputer wordsmiths. Each computerized typesetting system spoke its own language. The type set by one company could not be used as the basis of a revision by another; even inside one publisher, upgrading equipment meant that old files would need rekeying for revised printings. To further complicate things, in the late '70s and early '80s, more and more authors began using personal computer word processors to prepare their manuscripts.

At first, publishers were very enthusiastic about this development: authors could submit their manuscripts electronically, and publishers could fire typesetters left and right! (At this point, I must admit that in an earlier life I was a typesetter, and my sympathies tend toward the labor side of the equation.) But as anyone who's tried to do it knows from grim experience, when you get down to the nitty-gritty, transferring formatted data between microcomputers requires a lot of work.

Electronic manuscript submission often required so much interfacing time that it was cheaper for a publisher to rekey the manuscript (short reprieve for the typesetters). Matters might have rested there, except for the explosive growth of electronic publishing. Nowadays, reference documents are often prepared in several media: in inkprint, as a database searchable on a personal computer or over the phone, and most recently, on CD-ROM (compact disks that store text and pictures as well as music). When a publisher faces the task of producing several versions of a document, they of course want to minimize the work involved.

And that's where SGML comes in. SGML solves several problems. First and foremost, SGML is system-independent: it's not tied to any particular hardware or software. You can create an SGML document on any kind of computer system--or even on a typewriter! SGML is based on the ASCII character system: just about any computer in the world can create ASCII. An SGML document follows a standard pattern, which includes all the information needed to publish versions in any medium.

The Power of Explicit Tags

To understand SGML's coding system, let's take a quick look at the challenge of database publishing. (Don't let the word "database" make your eyes glaze over. A database is basically just a collection of facts, arranged so you can find a particular fact easily.) When you're using database software to find information, you can count on it knowing what goes where. But when you need to export that information to another program to publish it, the document must contain information about its own contents.

Suppose you want to find a paper written by Dr. Wilhemina Smallmind. If you use a database like AppleWorks to create a file of information on papers, you can simply use AppleWorks's own searching features to look for that name in the "author" category. But when you export that information out of AppleWorks, how can you find out who the author is? If you just search for any appearance of the words "Wilhemina Smallmind" in a document, you'd find any place her name appears, not just where she's the author.

SGML gets around this problem with special labels, called tags, which define the structural function of the text they enclose. For the author of a paper, for example, you use:

{Wilhemina Smallmind}

From the database designer's point of view, data in SGML format carry their own field names. From the braille transcriber's point of view, SGML documents are structured instead of formatted.

A Peek At Tag Syntax

SGML tags generally come in pairs. The start tag begins with the less-than < character. In between are a few characters chosen to remind you of the function, in this case "au" for "author." The end tag is identical to the start-tag, except that you slip in a slash </> character after the first less-than.

In the SGML system, explicit tags identify every element of the document. A major heading, for example, begins with <h1> and ends with </h1>. "In-line" quotations (short enough so that you don't have to place them in a separate paragraph) are enclosed within <> and <> tags. Various typographic emphasis--italics, boldface, etc.--is coded with numbered emphasis tags. Italicized text could begin with <> and ends with <>. A plain old text paragraph begins with <p>.

Notice that these tags are truly generic. They say nothing about what size or style of type to use when making an inkprint heading. To create the final, published version of a document, you use other software that expands the SGML tags to media-specific instructions. In this Newsletter, for example, the <h1> tag is expanded to "draw a rule, then change to 14 point Bookman Bold, flush left with a 2 pica indent." If you wanted to make a textbook format braille version of the document, you'd change <h1> to "skip a line, then center the following text with at least three blank cells on either side." These generic tags also facilitate correct publishing in accordance with different national traditions. For an English document, for example, the <> and <> tags would expand to single curling quotes, while an American version would use double curling quotes.

SGML Resources

An excellent introduction to the theory and practice of SGML appears in the Chicago Guide to Preparing Electronic Manuscripts, University of Chicago Press, 1987. It's aimed at the average writer and editor, providing a firm foundation in why the SGML approach works well. However, the Chicago Guide's tags don't quite conform to the SGML standard. If you're interested in the full details, contact the Graphic Communication Association (address in Facts on File) for information on ordering the reference works. The AAP has carefully designed the SGML tag system so that it's easy for humans to use, and for computer software to interpret.

In addition to SGML's inherent advantages of system independence, portability, and flexibility, there's another force that may help to establish SGML as a wide spread standard. The Department of Defense is implementing a series of standards for all materials prepared by its subcontractors. In addition to standard file formats for graphics, SGML is the military's choice for textual materials. While I'm personally appalled at the ubiquity of military research in American society, the Dept. of Defense's 1990 deadline for conforming to MIL-M-28001 will certainly make SGML documents more common.

One can use any text editing system to create an SGML document. To take an SGML document and publish the final inkprint (or whatever medium) version, you need software that's SGML-aware. As it happens, the BEX/TranscriBEX/ClasX system can create textbook format braille from an SGML file. So far, I've been describing "pure" or "ideal" SGML. To make SGML entry easier on humans, the AAP has a system of "markup minimization," allowing you to omit many of the end-tags. The ClasX Manual explores the Contextual Replace techniques you need to interpret these shortcuts, if you're interested in the details. (ClasX only costs $50 for TranscriBEX owners!)

A Canadian company called SoftQuad has recently begun shipping a so-far unique program for the Macintosh, called SoftQuad Author/Editor. It's basically an SGML-savvy editor, which automatically creates syntactically perfect SGML tags. It provides some typographic distinction on the screen to help sighted readers determine different parts of a document at a glance, but it saves data in pure ASCII. It can serve as the front end of any SGML-smart publishing software.

When it comes time to create a final inkprint document from SGML data, any software that can interpret plain text as commands can be SGML-aware. Xerox's Ventura Publisher is the most popular IBM-PC desktop-publishing program, and, with a little user programming, it can interpret SGML tags. Aldus's PageMaker (available for both IBM and Macintosh) can currently interpret tags only at the paragraph level. It can handle the <h1> tag for a heading, but won't catch the <> and <> tags for italics. I'm confident that, with the engine of militarism behind it, more and more software publishers will incorporate SGML awareness into their products.

Fantasies for the Future

With this background, you can see how SGML-formatted documents can improve alternative access to information on disk. Even with our current tools, finding <h1> is a lot easier than using a screen reader to search for centered headings in a line-oriented word processor. But why not reach for the moon?

Here's my dream of an SGML-aware voice access tool. It can recognize the existing tags, as well as interpret the "document declaration" you use to define new tags. At your command, it could skip over the tags, so you don't have to listen to all those "less-than"s and "greater-than"s. Or you could define an audible attribute for the announcement of tags: a soft beep followed by the tag characters spelled in a low-pitched voice. Or you could even define your own audible attributes for tagged text. Perhaps you want all your major headings output in a high-pitched voice? When the screen reader encounters <h1>, it knows it's found a major heading, and ups the pitch on your synthesizer for you.

As we navigate the stormy waters of new sensory aids products, let's keep SGML in mind. Its system-independent approach offers us flexibility and choices.

Bulletin Board

Plan Now for CTEVH Conference XXX in March 89

The California Transcribers and Educators's annual spring conference is a wonderful opportunity to meet other people working in braille and large print media. To be held the weekend of March 30th through April 1st, 1989 in San Jose, California, the 30th conference promises interesting workshops, good fellowship, and warm weather.

The CTEVH workshops are always a high point of the weekend. Among the scores to be offered, three workshops may be of particular interest to Newsletter readers. Ken Smith, the CTEVH Computer-Assisted Braille Co-Specialist, will be presenting "Leading the Way to BEX for Beginners." The workshop is appropriate for anyone who wants to know what BEX does, or has BEX and needs a little help getting started. He'll demonstrate initializing disks, configuring BEX, entering and editing text, and translating inkprint to Grade II braille. Participants will learn how to preview the braille before printing, as well as how to send the text to a printer or embosser. Mr. Smith will also review the functions on all BEX menus and provide some suggestions for better disk management.

RDC's Caryn Navy, developer of TranscriBEX and ClasX, will be teaming up with Diane Spence, Supervisor of the Texas Region IV Computer Braille Transcription Center, to present two workshops on TranscriBEX. The "From BEX to TranscriBEX" workshop is aimed at BEX users who need to step up to TranscriBEX. Perhaps you have TranscriBEX and haven't made much use of it, or you only have BEX and have been stymied by complex transcription tasks. After this three-hour workshop, you'll know how TranscriBEX works and how you can take advantage of its features.

For people who are already using TranscriBEX, the "Getting More Out of TranscriBEX" workshop will help you do just that. Caryn and Diane will explore intermediate topics like grade I foreign language braille, using optical scanners for data entry, customizing your transformation chapters, and more. Both of these workshops include hands-on practice in the computer lab, and the presenters will be happy to answer your thorny questions.

Registration for the CTEVH conference is a real bargain: only $20. Registration packets are being printed right now. If you'd like to receive more information, drop a note to: Lorraine Hamilton; Special Services Center; 40434 Sundale Drive; Fremont CA 94538.

RDC Holiday Sale -- by Nevin Olson

The rising tide of Xmas-shopping frenzy is lapping at RDC's front stairwell. Or to look at it another way, we've got some useful products that didn't sell at their original prices. If you need cables or 80-column cards, you're in luck!

Inventory Reduction Sale: We are overstocked with 2F and 2M cables, those little 3-foot beauties that connect an Apple IIc to a 25-pin device. To make room on our shelves for pixCELLS and Flipper, we have reduced our price on the 2M and 2F to $20 from now until January 15th.

Factory Closeout on Cables: Here is your opportunity to save BIG on some of the specialized cables and adapters from RDC. We have a large inventory of some cables and adapters that we will not be reordering. All the cables on this list are now on sale at $20 while the supply lasts. If you have previously purchased one of these cables and are thinking of a replacement soon, don't wait.

-- Adapter for tape-based VersaBraille I/O cable to Apple Super Serial card: please specify your VersaBraille model B, C, or D. RDC Order Code: 10M or 10F.

-- Adapter for the tape-based VersaBraille to another serial device (can be used as a null modem between VBs). Please specify your VersaBraille model B, C, or D. RDC Order Code: 3M or 3F.

-- 8-foot cables for the Kurzweil Reading Machine model 3 or KRM 400 to the Apple Super Serial card. RDC Order Code: 4F or 4M.

-- 8-foot cable to connect the KRM 3 and KRM 400 to the Apple IIc. RDC Order Code: 5F or 5M.

A Real Fire Sale: We had an overwhelming response to our last sale on MicroSci extended 80-column cards. But we have a few left in stock. So to make room for the new models of sensory aids, we are giving you one last chance to buy these great little cards at unheard-of prices. From now until January 31st, we've slashed the price to $50. So hurry to the phone and order yours TODAY!

Desktop Productivity Assistant: Serious Software! -- Peter Scialli

Now users of talking Apples and compatibles can experience the power of many off-the-shelf productivity packages. For home or office, the Desktop Productivity Assistant (DPA) incorporates a wide range of useful features in one integrated package. DPA enables the user to keep a detailed appointment record the whole year round. You can enter appointment times, dates and memos. DPA will not let you overbook your time! In addition, DPA has a unique Executive Notice feature which permits you to register important appointments or tasks as having special priority. When you bring the system up, you are instantly notified of these. DPA additionally incorporates a special event reminder. On important days, you will be reminded of a noteworthy event. For example, on December 25th, DPA will wish you Season's Greetings. You can set up your own events in the reminder to keep you abreast of holidays, birthdays, important meetings, Television of interest, etc.

DPA's "Blotter" functions just like a desktop blotter for jotting down quick notes to yourself, phone numbers taken on the fly, addresses etc. The Desktop Productivity Assistant has sophisticated clock and alarm features. If you have a system clock in your computer, you can use DPA like an alarm clock. It will sit quietly until a specified time. At that time a racket will ensue. You can additionally have DPA read time information from a schedule that you have created. It will sound an alarm at each of the specified times to remind you of appointments, meetings, cooking times and so on! DPA can maintain a phone list which can be updated and alphabetized. The built in scientific calculator is another handy feature and can help in accurately maintaining financial records.

Written to run at machine language speed, DPA will run on your Apple IIe, IIc or IIgs. In addition, it will run on compatible machines such as the Laser 128, 128X or Franklin Ace computers. The Desktop Productivity Assistant is written to be used by both the blind and sighted individual. At any time, just review, starting at the top line of the screen for relevant information. DPA is totally friendly with a clear instruction pamphlet which is provided in print, on cassette and on the program disk in standard ProDOS textfiles which may be read easily by any word processor or translated into Grade II Braille. DPA supports the full line of Street Electronics voice synthesizers including the Echo II, Echo II+, Echo IIb and Cricket. In addition, DPA supports use of the SlotBuster voice synthesizer from RC Systems.

The Desktop Productivity Assistant is available on both Apple 3.5-inch disk as well as standard 5.25-inch disk--please specify when ordering. The Desktop Productivity Assistant is available at the standard price of $150. However when payment (personal check, bank check or money order) accompanies your purchase, the price is just $75.

DPA is available as part of the integrated Desktop Productivity Center (DPC) which includes the Ultimate Banker, home banking software and the Ultimate File Cabinet, relational home filing system. The DPC package includes an easy-to-use menu for accessing any of the programs in the system, and is available only on Apple 3.5 inch disk. Individual programs may, however, be purchased on 5.25 inch floppy disk. The complete Desktop Productivity Center is available for a standard price of $250, but may be purchased for just $125 when payment accompanies your order. Please submit your questions or orders in print, tape or Apple disk formats to:

Peter M. Scialli, Ph.D.

630-X Park Street

Charlottesville, VA 22901


Cranmer Brailler for Sale

I would like to sell my Cranmer Modified Perkins Brailler (braille compiter printer)> The unit comes complete with shipping box, instruction manual, and supplied cables. The unit does work although currently only prints the first frame of the graphics window. The braille printer function works satisfactorily, and produces good braille. The "Perky" is reportedly the only unit which produces the "standard" quality braille dot. My asking price is $800. I will pay shipping within the continental U.S. Contact: Steve Ferguson; 2220 High Street; Bristol VA 24201; phone 703-669-6208.

More MS-DOS Tutorials on Audio Tape from FlipTrack

FlipTrack Learning Systems has added two more titles to its extensive list of audio tape tutorials for computer software and hardware. They claim that "'Using MS-DOS on a Hard Disk' teaches use of the computer and MS- or PC-DOS operating systems, versions 2.0 through 3.3, in a natural step-by-step mode that eliminates the need for reading." Topics covered include hard disk management, sub-directories and paths, formatting and duplicating floppy disks, basic batch processing, AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files, pipes, and EDLIN.

"How to Use WordPerfect 5.0" is aimed at both beginners and those upgrading from earlier versions of this popular PC word processing program. The course addresses getting started, creating and editing documents, printing documents, managing files, and special features like the thesaurus, spell checker, outliner, and more.

Both courses are supplied on four two-hour cassettes, and include inkprint Quick Reference Guides. For more information, contact: FlipTrack Learning Systems, 999 Main St., Glen Ellyn IL 60137. In Illinois, phone 312-790-1117; elsewhere call 800-222-3547.

Facts on File

Addresses Mentioned

Adaptive Firmware Card:

Developmental Equipment Inc.

PO Box 639, 100 N. Rand Rd., Bldg 115

Wauconda IL 60084

Phone: 312-526-2682

Hardware that allows alternative input for MS-DOS computers is available from:

Regenesis Environmental Control Systems

4381 Gallant Ave.

N. Vancouver BC V7G 1L1 Canada

Phone: 604-929-2414

Presenters of the "Best Little BEX in Texas" Workshop

Cyral Miller 512-454-8631

Elaine Moses Juliano 512-929-1340

Nancy Toelle 512-494-5978

American Distributors of Eureka A4:

Robotron Access Products

253 West 72nd Street, Suite 306

New York, NY 10023

Phone: 212-580-5956

SGML Information: The bimonthly newsletter, as well as reference materials and training, can be purchased from:

Marion Elledge

Graphic Communications Association

1730 N. Lynn St., Suite 604

Arlington VA 22209

Phone: 703-841-8160

SoftQuad Author/Editor

SoftQuad Inc.

720 Spadina Avenue

Toronto Ontario M5S 2T9 Canada

Phone: 416-963-8337

Contributor's Notes

Jesse Kaysen writes all sorts of stuff for RDC. She doesn't miss typesetting at all.

Nevin Olson is RDC's Business Manager--his nickname is "Mr. Schedule."

Phyllis Herrington answers hundreds of RDC's technical questions each week in a sweet Southern voice.

Harvey Lauer and Leonard Mowinski are Technology Transfer Specialists at the Hines VA Hospital. Write them at:

Central Blind Rehabilitation Center 124

Hines VA Hospital

Hines, IL 60141

Phone 312-343-7959

Cyral Miller is the Executive Assistant to the Superintendent of the Texas School for the Blind in Austin. Elaine Moses Juliano is a vision consultant for the Region XIII E.S.C. Nancy Toelle is a private national consultant for VH programs.

Diane Spence, in addition to her duties at the Region IV ESC, has served as a beta tester for RDC's TranscriBEX and pixCELLS.

Mindy Fliegelman owns Computer Access for the Blind, a NY consulting firm helping blind people find the technology they need. She's worked for Robtron as an independent consultant.

The RDC Full Cell

Phyllis Herrington, Tech Support/Newsletter; David Holladay, Programming; Jesse Kaysen, Publications; Caryn Navy, Programming; Nevin Olson, Business Manager; Becky Rundall, Sales Manager

Production Notes

Written & edited with BEX on an Apple IIgs. BEX commands changed to Microsoft's RTF/Interchange format control words with BEX's Contextual Replace. Fill transfer with BEX & Hayes's Smartcom II to an Apple Macintosh SE. RTF commands interpreted with Microsoft Word 3.01. Word files spell-checked with Working Software's Spellswell. Pages composed with Aldus's PageMaker 3.0, output on an Apple LaserWriter Plus, and printed at The Print Shop. Two-track audio edition mastered on APH Recorder & copied on high-speed Recordex 3-to-1 duplicators.


Apple Computer, Apple IIc, Apple IIe, Apple IIgs, Macintosh, & ProDOS: Apple Computer, Inc. BEX, BRAILLE-EDIT, ClasX, HOT DOTS, pixCELLS, & TranscriBEX: Raised Dot Computing, Inc. Echo, Cricket & TEXTALKER: Street Electronics Corp. Flipper: Omnichron. Eureka A4: Robotron Pty. Author/Editor: SoftQuad, Inc. Ventura Publishers: Ventura Software, Inc. IBM-PC: International Business Machines, Inc. SlotBuster: RC Systems, Inc.