Raised Dot Computing Newsletter: Exploring Microcomputer Applications for the Visually Impaired -- ISSN 0890-0019. May-June 1991 -- Volume 9, Number 90.

Published Every Other Month by Raised Dot Computing, Inc., 408 South Baldwin Street, Madison, Wisconsin USA 53703. Telephone: 608-257-9595. Fax: (608) 241-2498.

Subscriptions: $18/year Print, $20/year Audio Tape, $30/year Apple II BEX data disk or MS-DOS data disk. (Kindly add $20/year for postage outside N. America.)

Single issues: $4 each (specify medium).

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: Caryn Navy, David Holladay, and Phyllis Herrington.

Entire contents copyright 1990 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:

From the Editor -- Caryn Navy New ZoomText Version Available Great CD-ROM Deal from DAK Gets Even Better -- David Holladay Hot Dots Version 3.0: Braille Translator -- Steve Jacobson, Vice-President, NFB in Computer Science The Braille 'n Speak Disk Drive Accessory -- Phyllis Herrington Using Several Data Drives with BEX -- Phyllis Herrington The PDS Utilities: BuckScan and PicTac New Screen Access Program: ASAP -- MicroTalk Prodigy On-Line System Now Accessible -- Interface Systems International Prodigy Service: a Source of Continuing Controversy -- David Holladay Bulletin Board. Includes: New Computer Magazine: Computer Folks; GO-WordPerfect 5.1 Audio Tutorial Available; Quarterly Recorded Catalog Available from RFB; Toshiba T1600 for Sale; Braille Service Available Newsletter Index: 1989-1990 Facts on File. Includes Addresses Mentioned; RDC Full Cell Plus; Production Notes; Trademarks.

From the Editor -- Caryn Navy

We hope to meet many of you and your friends at conventions this summer. Phyllis Herrington and Carolyn Briggs will be at the ACB convention in Tampa, Florida. Sue Murray and I will be at the NFB convention in New Orleans.

We would like to publish a descriptive list of on-line bulletin boards and services which are specifically set up, or have a special interest group, for blind computer users. If you know of such a bulletin board, please let us know about it. Right now we are aware of BlinkLink, ATUG, MicroTalk, Baytalk, and 4-Sights. We are also aware that some larger on-line services, such as GEnie, have active discussion areas concerning the blind.

With the help of Hot Dots customers who report problems, we have been fixing some bugs as Hot Dots matures. If you find a problem in Hot Dots, give us a call on the tech line, (608) 257-8833. It may be a bug that we have already fixed, and we can send you an improved disk. If not, we will try to fix it promptly and send you a revised program; we may ask for a copy of the file with the presenting symptoms to help us diagnose the problem. We plan to send a Hot Dots revision to every registered customer later this summer. So this is a great time to call us about Hot Dots problems. Our goal is to deal promptly with user complaints but not to overwhelm all of our customers (or our front office staff, the Post Office, etc.) with a constant barrage of Hot Dots replacement disks.

Of course, we don't mind receiving other kinds of feedback about Hot Dots (or any of our other products). For example, one Hot Dots user reported that one of his students at a university submitted a paper on disk in the file format of the Leading Edge Word Processor. Using Hot Dots, he got a good braille copy. Since this customer does not have the Leading Edge Word Processor, Hot Dots was his only tool for accessing the material!

New ZoomText Version Available

Raised Dot Computing is now selling version 4.01 of ZoomText. ZoomText is a software-only screen enlargement program for the PC. It requires EGA or VGA graphics. The new program is much more flexible, giving you more options in setting up the screen.

Now you have the option of asking for only small portions of the screen (such as a single line) to be magnified. The Zoom Menu has four choices: Full, Quick, Area, and Glass. Full Zoom means the entire screen is uniformly enlarged. (The View menu selects which portion of it is being enlarged.) Quick Zoom uses a special typefont to give a quick response. (Quick Zoom is harder to read than Full Zoom, but Quick Zoom works better on fast changing displays.) Line Zoom enlarges just one line on the screen. The line option allows the user to see where there is text on the screen while having the current line magnified.

ZoomText 4.01 now has three different fonts: PC style, Helvetica and Courier. Each of these can be magnified from 2 times to 16 times normal size without any jagged edges. The screen colors as well can be set to the combination which works best for you.

Tracking options have also been increased. Tracking is the means by which the program selects which portion of the screen to enlarge. You can track the cursor, track highlighted areas, or track mouse movements.

If any of this sounds interesting, call Raised Dot Computing for a new demo disk. The demo disk contains much more thorough documentation than the demo disk for the previous version. ZoomText 4.01 still costs $495. Purchasers of earlier editions of ZoomText can upgrade to version 4.01 by contacting Raised Dot Computing, or by contacting Ai Squared, the manufacturer of ZoomText.

Great CD-ROM Deal from DAK Gets Even Better -- David Holladay

In the Jan/Feb 1991 Newsletter, we described a CD-ROM package deal offered by DAK Industries. In this original package for $699 (plus $19 for shipping), you get a set of 6 CD-ROM disks plus all the hardware you need to read CD-ROMs on an MS-DOS computer.

For those of you who missed the earlier Newsletter, CD-ROM disks hold vast amounts of information (about 500 million characters on one disk that looks just like an audio CD disk). Using this technology, a blind (or sighted) person can search through an entire encyclopedia for a desired topic in seconds. The blind user can read any article through a voice synthesizer or quickly produce it in braille or large print.

DAK is now offering a "bonus CD-ROM package," a series of 5 additional CD-ROM disks for $149 (plus $8 for shipping and handling), available if you buy it at the same time as the original DAK CD-ROM package. Thus for a grand total of $875, you get a CD-ROM player, an interface card for your MS-DOS computer, all the necessary cables, and a collection of 11 CD-ROM disks.

The five bonus disks are all text-based and are all accessible to blind computer users. All of them allow you to copy material into textfiles.

I have found the most amazing disk to be something called the "Magazine Rack." It contains over 110,000 articles from 342 different magazines, newsletters, and trade journals from December 1989 through December 1990. For most of these publications, you get the full text of the selected articles. The four major categories of magazines are general, business, health, and computers. Within each category, you can search by keyword, by author, by magazine name, by type of article, or by word(s) to be located in the full text of the articles. You can execute thorough searches through this data in seconds.

I have been able to search through the "Magazine Rack" looking for articles on really obscure topics, and virtually every time I have come up with several articles. Truly awesome! In fact, the article about Prodigy in this issue of the Newsletter is based on my research in the "Magazine Rack." I came up with 18 articles about Prodigy. One article gave the phone number for one of the leaders of the consumer protest against Prodigy. So I was able to obtain up-to-the-minute information about the ongoing struggle between some Prodigy consumers and the Prodigy management.

Before visiting a doctor, Caryn prepared herself by looking up a health topic of concern in the "Magazine Rack." She read a number of useful articles from medical journals and felt much better informed. She has been thrilled to find current information of all kinds without needing to round up a sighted reader.

The user interface for the "Magazine Rack" is fairly tricky. Picking through menus can be frustrating. You have to keep pressing the tab key to advance the cursor until you land on a special bullet just before the menu item you want. But once you get the hang of it, you have instant access to a world of information. With a simple command, you can copy any article into a textfile on your hard disk or floppy disk.

The second bonus disk is called the "Time Compact Almanac." It contains the full text of 5,000 articles printed in Time Magazine, including the full text of every article published in 1989. Many articles from 1980 through 1988 are printed as well. Also included are detailed summaries of current events from the 1920's through 1980. You can also find some information often found in almanacs, such as a complete congressional directory. All of the text material in the "Time Compact Almanac" can be copied easily into a textfile.

But that's not all! You also get "U.S. History on CD-ROM," which ordinarily sells for $395. This disk contains the full text of over 100 books on U.S. history. I did a search for "Holladay" and found two references to my scoundrel relative, Ben Holladay, who was involved in quite a few unsavory business deals in the Old West. I learned that his decision to change a stagecoach route in Wyoming ended up costing the U.S. Army quite a bit of money.

Another of the five bonus disks is the "Bible Library." This disk contains 9 versions of the Bible, 20 biblical dictionaries, commentaries, and other reference works. The software on this disk is designed to show the same verse in the different Bible versions you select.

The final disk is the "Small Business Consultant with Stat Pack." This is a collection of Small Business Administration documents collected by Microsoft Corporation and crammed into one CD-ROM disk. It is packed with advice on all aspects of business.

In my personal opinion, the Grolier Encyclopedia and the "Magazine Rack" justify the purchase of the combined DAK package. The value of the other disks depends on your own interest in the Bible, current affairs, U.S. history, foreign languages, and great literature. The major weakness of this collection is the "Reference Library" (a combination of reference works, including a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a business directory). The user interface on this disk is so tangled as to make it almost useless. For those needing frequent access to these reference books, I recommend buying the "Microsoft Bookshelf" (a different collection of reference books with a better user interface, which is not part of the combined DAK package). Overall, I wish that I had access to a system like this when I was in high school.

Ordering Materials from DAK

To order from DAK, call (800) 325-0800 with your credit card handy. Or you can send a check to the address listed in Facts on File. The external CD-ROM drive with 6 CD-ROM disks is item number 5719 from their catalog and costs $699 plus $19 postage and handling. The bonus package of 5 CD-ROM disks is item number 5877 and costs $149 plus $8 postage and handling. Note: You cannot buy the bonus package separately; it must be purchased at the same time you buy a CD-ROM drive from DAK. However, if you bought the original DAK package before the introduction of the bonus package, you have an opportunity to buy the bonus package separately (you should have received a special mailing from DAK.)

RDC Improves Free CD-ROM Install Disk

Since I have bought these two collections of CD-ROMs, I have installed them on my computer. I found that the installation software that comes on the CD-ROM disks required that I be sighted and used up too much of my hard disk space. I have rearranged the software to take up much less room on the hard disk. I have also written up some technical notes and some reference notes to make it easier for you to use these two collections of CD-ROM disks.

It took me about 30 minutes of struggling to figure out how to save a complete article from the "Magazine Rack" onto disk. Why should you go through the same struggle? Get a copy of my notes, and get this shortcut plus dozens more.

My earlier version of the CD-ROM Install Disk was for the original DAK package. I have now revised this disk to cover the combined DAK package.

Raised Dot Computing is distributing the CD-ROM Install Disk to simplify the installation of the combined DAK package of CD-ROMs. The CD-ROM Install Disk contains all the files you need to install the combined DAK package (all 11 CD-ROM disks) on your hard disk. It contains notes on using all 11 disks. The purpose of this disk is to provide all the software, tools, and instructions needed for a blind user to get up and running on the combined DAK CD-ROM package.

The CD-ROM Install Disk is free. Just write to Raised Dot Computing and ask for it. Please include a self-addressed mailing label and a letter stating that you have ordered the DAK CD-ROM package. If you already have a copy of the CD-ROM Install Disk, but want the revised edition describing the 5 bonus disks, just send back the old disk and include another mailing label.

Hot Dots Version 3.0: Braille Translator -- Steve Jacobson, Vice-President, NFB in Computer Science

[Editor's note: This article is reprinted with permission from Computer Science Update, the newsletter of the NFB in Computer Science. To subscribe, send your request for cassette or print and a check for $5, payable to NFB in Computer Science, to: Susie Stanzel, Secretary-Treasurer, NFB in Computer Science, 11905 Mohawk Lane, Leawood, KS 66209.]

If you are already confused as to which braille grade II translator you should buy, this article will probably make things worse by describing yet another good one for IBM compatibles. Hot Dots version 3.0 from Raised Dot Computing has been largely rewritten to include many improvements and new features. It has joined the growing list of translators that can convert word processor files directly into formatted grade II braille. One thing that sets Hot Dots apart is that it can handle over thirty different word processors, the greatest number known to us. In addition, Hot Dots 3.0 provides modules for translating, back translating, text formatting, global search and replace, and special drivers for some of those hard to handle braille printers, including support for paperless braille devices. A complete manual, including thorough interfacing notes for most embossers, is provided in ink-print, on audio cassette, and on diskette in both text and translated braille formats. A comprehensive 23-page reference "card" is supplied in braille. The price for all of this is $350.00, making it one of the least expensive braille translating systems for IBM compatibles. For more information or to receive a demonstration diskette, write to Raised Dot Computing at 408 South Baldwin Street, Madison, WI 53703; Phone: 608-257-9595.

Using Hot Dots

Raised Dot Computing's approach to braille production divides the process into four steps. These are: importing text from a word processor; translating the text; formatting the text; and printing (brailling) the text. As mentioned earlier, there are separate programs that perform each of these tasks, but these steps are also neatly tied together. The user can select which steps to execute from an easy-to-use menu, or batch files are provided that automatically run the required steps in sequence. Although the experienced user will want to understand each step, the beginner can take a document from beginning to end by typing: "DOTS1234 DOCUMENT WORD-PROCESSOR PRINTER-LOCATION" and that's it. The "PRINTER-LOCATION" is simply the desired serial or parallel port name. In this way, Raised Dot Computing has attempted to offer the best of two worlds. One can either feed a document straight through and get pretty accurate formatting, or one can fine tune the process after each step.

Braille Format in Hot Dots

To make formatting easy and flexible, Hot Dots has numerous formatting commands that can be placed within a document. Some of the formatting functions supported include centering, right justifying, Arabic and Roman Numeral page numbers, print and braille page numbering, headers, footers, tab stops, hanging indent paragraphs, and conditional page break. Anyone working with braille translators has likely found the centered title of a section on the bottom of a page with the body of the text on the next page. One of the Hot Dots centering commands will automatically go to a new page if the last line of the current page is centered. There is, of course, a way to center the bottom line if that is required. Page numbers can be automatically placed at the top or bottom of the page. In addition, page numbers can be placed anywhere in a header or footer line.

Importing Files from Other Programs

Although one could type text into an ASCII file along with the desired formatting commands thereby creating a perfect braille copy, the Hot Dots IMPORT program does most of this work automatically. Among the thirty or so word processor types that can be analyzed are several styles of ASCII files. What this means is that a "print image" file can be converted into a file containing Hot Dots format commands, allowing just about any word processor's output to be turned into formatted braille text.

Unfortunately, through no fault of Hot Dots, the conversion of ink-print formatting to braille is not an exact science. For example, there are two ways to achieve hanging indent paragraphs in WordPerfect. Hot Dots converts one method just fine but does not convert the other, but the manual does explain this thoroughly. Without intervention, Hot Dots, like several other braille translators, will indent the salutation line of a letter, regarding it as a new paragraph. Yet, other translators that do not indent the salutation line also seem to incorrectly handle paragraphs at other times. Life was much simpler when all print paragraphs were indented, at least for braille format conversions. The point here is not really to criticize Hot Dots. Rather, be aware that the ability to fine tune the formatting is very important, and Hot Dots supports that very well. Much of the formatting work, particularly centering, suppression and skipping of blank lines, indenting normal paragraphs, and underlining usually convert accurately. Also, the Hot Dots manual provides some guidance as to how one can improve automatic formatting by altering one's formatting style. As a test, I brailled documents from WordPerfect 5.1, Microsoft Word 5.0, and Peachtext 5000, and the results were really quite nice without any fine tuning.

Braille Translation in Hot Dots

The braille translation also appears to be very good. I placed a word with an imbedded apostrophe inside single quotes which were, in turn, inside double quotes and the translation was correct. When writing the name Al, and when referring to the ALT key, the letter sign was also used correctly. Even 'tis and "'tis," came out right. Raised Dot Computing recognizes that Hot Dots isn't perfect and has provided commands to insert opening and closing single and double quotes, as well as the apostrophe and letter-sign.

The grade II translation table cannot be modified by the user, however, a global search and replace program can be used to correct words and names that are translated incorrectly. This module allows one to store "rules" in files on disk, and these rules can be automatically applied when documents are brailled. Rules files can also be used to handle some additional format conversions saving the user even more work. It should be noted, though, that Hot Dots handles such problem words as "chemotherapy" and "dished," as well as several problem names that are often translated incorrectly. To further insure translation accuracy, a "financial incentive" is offered by Raised Dot Computing to those who find and report errors in translation.

Printing from Hot Dots

A great variety of output options are provided by Hot Dots. Modules to further prepare braille output for fussy printers like the LED-120 make braille production smoother. The manual provides a great deal of specific information on most braille embossers to make the setup process a smooth one. In addition to embossers, paperless braille devices are also supported.


In short, Hot Dots worked well. The manual was both clear and complete. It would be nice if the program had the ability to direct output to a second file to automate the production of tables of contents, but it has plenty of company in that regard. Even so, it did a nice job of taking documents from word processor to formatted braille, and it did so fairly quickly even on an IBM XT. Hot Dots 3.0 is a very complete braille translation and formatting system.

The Braille 'n Speak Disk Drive Accessory -- Phyllis Herrington

In the March/April 1991 issue of the RDC Newsletter, we annouced that a disk drive accessory is available for the Braille 'n Speak. I already knew how versatile the Braille 'n Speak was. I transfered files to and from the PC, and to and from the Apple IIgs using BEX, as well as using it to write, read, and access files I permanently keep in the Braille 'n Speak. After reading about the availability of the disk drive, the "new computer toy" bug bit. I realized I could easily save and reload files in and out of the Braille 'n Speak without having to be at my Apple or PC. Since receiving the disk drive, I've been doing a lot of playing.

Braille 'n Speak Requirements

The disk drive accessory does not automatically work with every Braille 'n Speak. You must have the July 1990 or later ROM revision. In addition, the previously unused port on the Braille 'n Speak needs a hardware fix to be activated. (Contact Blazie Engineering for details.)

Operating the Disk Drive

I found the disk drive quite easy to operate. It comes with the documentation on a 3.5 inch disk and in inkprint. Enclosed in the package are braille instructions explaining how to connect the disk drive to the Braille 'n Speak and how to read the file containing the manual. Also contained in the package are a cable to connect the drive to the Braille 'n Speak and a power cord for recharging the disk drive battery. An additional serial cable can be purchased for $25 for using the disk drive with other devices such as the PocketBraille, the VersaBrailles, and just about any other computerized device. I have not yet purchased the serial cable. However, I plan to buy one and report on its use in a future Newsletter.

With the disk drive facing you, the back panel contains, from right to left, the port for the cable, the jack for the power cord, and the on/off rocker switch. You cannot activate the disk drive unless the cable is plugged into the port. This prevents accidentally turning on the drive and running down the battery while transporting it from one location to another. After you connect the cable to the back of the drive, it emits a doorbell-like sound when you press the rocker switch. It reminds me of the sound the Cranmer Modified Perkins Brailler makes when it's turned on, except softer. The disk drive also emits tones while formatting a disk and when it has completed saving a file, loading a file into the Braille 'n Speak, or performing some other task.

After I read the enclosed instructions and had cabled the disk drive to the Braille 'n Speak, I was loading files into the Braille 'n Speak, saving files to disk, formatting disks, and creating subdirectories in a short period of time. All commands are given from the Braille 'n Speak's keyboard. Chord-S activates the storage process. Disk drive command sequences start with a chord-S.

The commands are logical and easy to remember. For example, if you want to format a disk, you enter chord-S F. The disk drive whirs and begins formatting the disk. Or if you want to load a file into the Braille 'n Speak, you enter chord-S L. You're prompted for the file to load. You can also save files, kill files, create subdirectories, and erase subdirectories from the disk.

The disks used on the Braille 'n Speak disk accessory are compatible with MS-DOS. That is, the Braille 'n Speak disk accessory and 3.5 inch disk drives on MS-DOS computers can read each other's data without any conversion. The disk accessory can handle MS-DOS disks which are high density (1.44 million bytes) or low density (720 thousand bytes).

The disk drive accessory therefore has the same rules for naming files as MS-DOS, and it uses many of the same conventions for manipulating files. Filenames consist of a basename which is up to eight characters long followed by a period and an extension up to three characters long. You can also use the wildcard characters {*} and {?} as in MS-DOS. For example, {*.*} means any filename (any basename with any extension).

As on MS-DOS disks, you can create subdirectories and store files in them; you use the MS-DOS backslash convention to give the subdirectory and then the filename. Unlike MS-DOS, the Braille 'n Speak disk accessory has no command to change the current directory. If you want to save a file in or load a file from a particular subdirectory, you must give the complete path. For example, I have a subdirectory named {LETTERS}. To save a letter in this directory from my Braille 'n Speak, I have to give the subdirectory name as well as the name I want to save the data under, when prompted for a file name. So if I want to save a letter I've written to a friend, I give as my file name {\letters\friend.txt}. To enter the backslash character, first enter chord-U for uppercase followed by the ou sign (dots 1-2-5-6). Try to avoid the mistake I made of typing chord-(dots 1-2-5-6), since that fouls up the filename.

Getting a directory of the disk is much like getting directory information from the PC. When you issue the disk directory command, you must specify what type of information you want. If you enter {*.*}, you get a listing of all the files in the root directory, including all the subdirectory names. To find out all the files within a specific subdirectory, you enter {\<subdirectory>\*.*}. (Terminate all these commands with a chord-E.) You get a listing of all the files in that subdirectory. If you want only a listing of the files ending in {.txt}, enter {\<subdirectory>\*.txt}.

When you hear the disk drive beep and the Braille 'n Speak say "okay," you know the information has been transmitted from the disk drive to the Braille 'n Speak. When you ask for a directory, the information is sent to the clipboard. After the disk drive and Braille 'n Speak alert you that the information you've asked for is in the clipboard, you're immediately in the clipboard. You read the information as you would any Braille 'n Speak file. You are told the file names as well as how many characters are in the file. At this writing there is no command in the Braille 'n Speak to give a volume name to the disk or to stamp the file with a time and date of creation. However, you are given the number of characters in the file. When the disk is about half full of files, you're also given the number of available free bytes. You're also told how many files were found. Use chord-Z to quit the clipboard, and you are back in the file where you were working before venturing into the clipboard.


If you want to enhance the use of your Braille 'n Speak, the disk drive accessory might be just the ticket you're looking for. It's portable and easy to operate. Because it saves data as ASCII textfiles in MS-DOS format, it is easy to share information between the PC at work or at home and the Braille 'n Speak. The disk accessory enables you to free up space in the Braille 'n Speak when you're not physically near a computer.

Using Several Data Drives with BEX -- Phyllis Herrington

Recently we have received several phone calls from callers in a panic. These callers wanted to translate a BEX chapter, but their data disk was full. "What do I do now?" is the usual plea for help. But there's no need for alarm. If you're using BEX with a configuration set for two or more disk drives, you can easily save chapters on a disk drive other than the default drive.

When you answer a BEX chapter prompt by typing a chapter name, BEX uses your default data drive. When you copy, translate, replace characters, etc., BEX prompts for a target chapter name. Although the chapter you're working with originated on your default drive, you can save the end result, or target chapter, on another drive. The only requirement is that the disk in the drive (3.5 or 5.25 inch) has been prepared to receive data (initialized). It is a good practice to keep several initialized disks lying around for just such an occasion.

Let's say you wish to translate a chapter on the disk in drive 2 (your default drive). You check to see how many free sectors are left on the disk. You determine there might not be enough space on the disk. (Or maybe you learned this by translating and getting a "disk full" message.) Press G to access the grade 2 translator. Give the chapter name when prompted. Remove the BEX program disk from drive 1 and insert a data disk. When you're asked for a target chapter name, enter the digit 1 followed by the chapter name. There is no space between the number and the chapter name. So if you have a chapter on the disk in drive 2 named {ENGLISH}, you give as the target name {1ENGLISH2}. The translated version of {ENGLISH} is saved on the disk in drive 1 under the name of {ENGLISH2}.

The process of copying a chapter from one drive to another in a multiple-drive system is accomplished in the same manner as described above. Any time you want to address a disk drive other than the default drive, you must precede the chapter name with the drive number. Or press just a number followed by <cr> to scan all the chapters on a drive. You can find out how many free sectors are available on any drive by pressing {#} from any menu. BEX then asks you which drive to look at. If you don't know which drives are available in your BEX set-up, press question mark to get the list.

The fundamental idea in using other drives for data is to tell BEX which drive to access if it happens to be different from the default data drive. For more information on chapters and drives, see User Level Section 4, "Working with Chapters."

The PDS Utilities: BuckScan and PicTac

Personal Data Systems has released a pair of utility programs to add to your Arkenstone Reader. The Arkenstone Reader is an optical scanning system for MS-DOS computers based on the Calera Truescan system. The two new utilities from PDS, BuckScan and PicTac, add two exciting new capabilities to the Arkenstone Reader (or to any other Calera-based scanning system).

BuckScan identifies U.S. paper currency, and PicTac produces tactile diagrams on your embosser. These utility programs are sold together as The PDS Utilities.

The cost of The PDS Utilities depends on how you obtained your equipment. It costs $195 if you have an Arkenstone not purchased from PDS, $295 if you have a Calera-based system which is not an Arkenstone (such as OsCaR or AdHoc), or $95 if you bought your Arkenstone system from Personal Data Systems. Call Personal Data Systems at (408) 866-1126 for more information.


BuckScan identifies your paper money. Just call the BuckScan software, put the bill along the top edge of your scanner, and press the space bar. The program scans only about 3 inches of material. So the scanning is very fast. BuckScan quickly reports what kind of a bill it is, what the orientation is, and what level of confidence the program has in its decision (on a scale of 1 to 100). Be warned: BuckScan is designed as a money identifier, not a forgery detection system.

BuckScan can identify 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 dollar bills. A Canadian version of BuckScan is under development.

If you have a particularly faded bill, you should hold it down with your entire hand. BuckScan seems to work well even with faded money.

One very happy user is a landlady who collects rent money once a month from her tenants. Now any "errors" can be dealt with quickly. Another user reports that with BuckScan, he folds his money so that he knows the orientation. If he needs to use a change machine, he doesn't have to try out all four possibilities.


PicTac takes an image from the scanner and produces a tactile image on your embosser. PicTac works only with embossers that produce "full graphics." These include the VersaPoint, the Cranmer, the Braille Blazer, the Romeo, the Ohtsuki, the Index, and the Bookmaker. PicTac also supports Dipner Dots (informal braille produced on a letter quality printer with a soft roller).

PicTac is very different from our pixCELLS program. PixCELLS contains a graphics editor to manipulate an image by adding braille labels or by adding and removing dots. The only similarity is that both programs send graphics information to many different kinds of embossers. Raised Dot Computing is proud of our role in the creation of PicTac: we supplied our "recipes" for dealing with different flavors of embossers.

PicTac works best when it scans simple line drawings. The kinds of drawings in coloring books are perfect. Don't get too elaborate: touch is very different from sight, and it is easy to produce diagrams which are too complicated to be meaningful.

One useful feature of PicTac is that it can switch an area diagram into a line diagram. Area diagrams are difficult to interpret tactually because large fields of dots are harder to discern than an outline of dots.

Another useful feature is enlargement. At the maximum enlargement, something as small as a postage stamp can be enlarged to the size of a braille page.


All in all, these are two exciting, useful, and innovative programs from Personal Data Systems. Noel Runyan of PDS has clearly paid attention to all the small details that make the difference between a ordinary product and an excellent product. Each purchaser gets a manual in print and on tape and a summary of commands in braille. The manual is also supplied on disk. A braille copy of the manual is available on request.

New Screen Access Program: ASAP -- MicroTalk

MicroTalk is pleased to announce the introduction of ASAP. ASAP (Automatic Screen Access Program) gives you complete speech access to applications software automatically. As its name suggests, ASAP works with thousands of programs perfectly without the usual bother of configuration for speech. You don't have to set up complicated configurations for each program you use. Instead, you operate the computer like your sighted peers, concentrating on the application of interest rather than the speech interface to that application.

ASAP uses a new technique that employs artificial intelligence to decide what part of the screen catches a sighted user's eye, and announces that material automatically. Combine this hands-off approach with the excellent quality of the speech, as you can tell from the demonstration tape (available upon request), and you've got a speech access system simple enough for the novice and powerful enough for the most savvy user.

For the first time, you can confidently begin working with a new program immediately. Compare this to the approach taken by other speech access packages where you spend hours configuring the system to work with a particular application. In many cases, you waste more time making the speech work properly with the system than it takes to actually use the application. ASAP changes all that.

ASAP automatically detects pop up windows, menu bars, soft cursors, and more. Best of all, when such a situation occurs, ASAP announces the important part of the screen automatically. All the characteristics that make your applications difficult with normal speech access approaches actually enhance your computing experience with ASAP working for you. In short, if the program is visually appealing, ASAP makes it auditorially appealing, too.

In addition to its automatic operation, ASAP offers features like the following that make it an especially attractive choice for the professional and novice alike.

ASAP is written completely in assembly language. While that doesn't sound like much at first glance, it means that all these features are packed into a program that takes less than 20K of memory and that runs at the maximum speed available to your computer. (ASAP also stands for "As Soon As Possible.")

ASAP consists of two simple to install components, a high quality speech synthesizer and the ASAP software. After about a ten minute installation, you'll never have to fuss with configuration or poor speech access again. The concise, clearly written documentation comes in three formats: print, cassette tape, and as an ASCII file on the disk.

Cost and Compatibility

ASAP comes in two configurations. The standard ASAP package comes with a speech synthesizer board (with external speaker) that fits into a normal computer slot. It costs $795. The second configuration comes with a portable, battery-operated synthesizer that connects to your computer by one of its serial or parallel ports. This configuration is suitable for use on laptop and micro channel computers. It costs $895.

Money Back Guarantee

MicroTalk is so confident about ASAP that it offers a 30-day money back guarantee. If, after 30 days, you decide the package isn't absolutely the best you've ever used, send it back for a full refund. There will be no restocking fee nor any questions asked. You'll receive a prompt and complete refund.

For more information, contact: MicroTalk, 337 South Peterson, Louisville, KY 40206; (502) 897-2705.

Prodigy On-Line System Now Accessible -- Interface Systems International

Most on-line systems cost between $6 and $25 an hour or more. These high fees have been a major barrier to blind persons who otherwise would make heavy use of on-line services. Prodigy is a new service that has created quite a stir with its flat-rate fee of $12.95 for virtually unlimited access (with a $40 sign-up fee). [See the related article about Prodigy.]

Prodigy offers pretty much the same information that is carried by its competitors: GEnie and CompuServe. Prodigy has over 800 services and features. Included are travel services, banking, shopping, an encyclopedia, news, sports, weather reports, electronic messaging, educational games, and resources.

However, Prodigy takes over your computer system in order to display information using graphics displays. The use of graphics screens and the way Prodigy runs your computer have made it unaccessible to blind persons using speech synthesizers.

Interface Systems International, a pioneer in adaptive speech technology for over a decade, has found a way to get Prodigy to talk. Using a special interfacing module called Prospeak, ISI's Interactive Speech Operating System (ISOS) is able to read text from Prodigy's graphics screens. The combination of ISOS, Prospeak, and Prodigy offers speech users full text access to the Prodigy system as if it were just another text-based application.

ISOS retails for $499, Prospeak for $79. For a limited time these programs are available for a combined price of just $499. A free demonstration disk is available on request. See Facts on File for the address.

Prodigy Service: a Source of Continuing Controversy -- David Holladay

Prodigy, a graphical on-line service owned by IBM and Sears, has been involved in a series of controversies in the last year.

The fundamental approach of Prodigy is to collect most of its revenues from advertisers. As you use the service, the computer learns of your likes and dislikes by watching which areas of the on-line service you are using. As you use Prodigy, you are forced to receive advertisements on your computer that relate to your interests. Prodigy is also a shopping service. It collects 10% on all purchases made through the service.

Is It Really a Flat Fee System?

When Prodigy was first announced, the advertisements promised unlimited electronic messages and a flat fee of $9.95 per month. Many people found that the electronic mail features of Prodigy were especially attractive. Soon, officials at Prodigy found that a large portion of their computer resources were being tied up sending electronic mail between members. Since this was a cost without compensating advertising revenue, Prodigy decided to pull the plug.

They announced surcharges on users with large volumes of mail (a charge of $.25 for each message over 30 in a month), and they announced a price increase on the base monthly fee (from $9.95 to $12.95). Since many users signed up on the promise of unlimited mail, there were many unhappy users.

Some Prodigy customers, using the mechanisms available on Prodigy, started a campaign of sending electronic mail to other customers asking them to send messages back if they were displeased with the new pricing structure. According to reports, over 18,000 replies were received.

Prodigy officials began terminating the accounts of the protest leaders. In a move which generated even more controversy, they terminated the accounts of individuals who were sending letters to Prodigy advertisers advising them of the situation. Many customers (and observers in the computer community) were outraged by the apparent censorship.

According to Penny Hay, one of the persons protesting the policies of Prodigy, Prodigy has banned any on-line discussion about the surcharge for electronic messages on the Prodigy system. Anyone who violates the ban is likely to get their account canceled. In addition, anyone who writes a letter to a Prodigy advertiser addressing these concerns also faces having their account canceled. Advertising brochures still being distributed promise a straight flat fee system with unlimited electronic messages. When they sign up, they find out that it is not a flat-fee system. Consumer regulators in several jurisdictions have been investigating Prodigy to find out if any laws have been violated in the Prodigy promotional material. In an out-of-court settlement in Texas, consumers have been able to obtain refunds.

Technical Limitations

From a technical standpoint, many observers are critical of Prodigy. It offers no features for uploading or downloading text. Thus you can use Prodigy to read information, but there is no easy way to retain it for further use. For example, you can call up charts showing the progress of your favorite stocks or securities, but you cannot download the data for analysis on your spreadsheet.

Prodigy is very slow. It takes a long time to transmit the graphical image to your computer.


Prodigy has definitely been one of the hottest topics in the computer press over the last year. There have been many articles about the Prodigy management style and about the competition with the other on-line services. GEnie has responded with a product called Star*Services which offers dozens of services at night-time hours at a flat rate of $4.95 a month, thus undercutting Prodigy. CompuServe has not responded with any flat rate program. The competition with Prodigy will probably force GEnie and CompuServe to jazz up their systems with more graphics. Competition may also force Prodigy to offer program uploads and downloads, real-time messages, and real-time technical support.

Depending on your needs, Prodigy may be an excellent value. If you travel a lot, you may find the travel features very attractive. (Reportedly Prodigy makes it easy to book airline travel for yourself, and it offers excellent restaurant reviews.) The shopping features may be especially attractive to a blind user. But before you sign up, figure out the costs and benefits, as well as those of the competition.

Bulletin Board

New Computer Magazine: Computer Folks

We are about to launch a new computer magazine. We call it Computer Folks. This is your computer magazine. We have nothing to sell but your ideas. We are Computer Folks.

We plan to offer from six to twelve issues per year on a 60-minute cassette. We may expand to 90-minute tapes, as your letters, articles, and demonstration tapes come pouring in. Ed Potter gave us the idea with Playback, an excellent recorded bimonthly, largely based on reader contributions.

We need your input. We welcome taped articles and braille letters with any information or helpful hints for the blind computer user. Tell us your best, your worst, or your funniest experience with a company or product. Feel free to demonstrate computers, speech synthesizers, screen readers, applications, software, bulletin boards, shareware, or games. Of course, we shall also feature articles and comments of our own which we hope will provide help and maybe a laugh or two.

The total price for one year's subscription is twenty dollars. Please send two dollars for a smaple copy, or a blank 60-minute cassette. We prefer braille or taped correspondence, for we are blind computer people just like you. However, we will accept typed letters or ASCII textfiles on an MS-DOS compatible diskette. Mail your checks or money orders to:

GO-WordPerfect 5.1 Audio Tutorial Available

GO-WordPerfect 5.1 is the latest Talk-To-Me Tutorial from Talking Computers, Inc. This new six-hour training course is divided up into two major parts. The first section is your extensive training in WordPerfect. The second section is an audio reference guide. The tutorial is now voice indexed for your convenience.

Doug Wakefield takes you through the basics of WordPerfect. He takes you through creating, editing, and printing documents. Learn to set up columns, to use mail merge, and to use other advanced features. Because GO-WordPerfect is voice indexed, you can easily find out where you left off after a break and you can easily review unfamiliar sections.

Quarterly Recorded Catalog Available from RFB

Recording for the Blind is starting a new audio newsletter called Quarterly Recorded Catalog or QRC. It contains a selection of approximately 350 titles from newly recorded books produced by RFB each quarter of the year. The first issue is Spring, 1991. The QRC is offered on an annual subscription basis at $12.00 per year.

The QRC is on 4-track, 15/16 ips (the same format as RFB's tapes). A brief description of each recorded book is provided, and the titles are arranged by subject. Shelf numbers are included for easier ordering. For more information, contact:

Toshiba T1600 for Sale

For sale: a Toshiba T1600 with 1 meg RAM, one 1.44 meg 3.5 inch floppy drive, two serial ports, one parallel port, and one external floppy drive port. The computer has one 20 meg hard drive, EGA graphics, a tilt screen, and a carrying case. An Accent speech board with Jaws speech software is included. The asking price is $2,400. There are 6 months left on the warranty. I will consider a trade for a VersaBraille II or a Navigator. Contact:

Braille Service Available

I am providing a brailling service. The cost is ten cents per braille page if done from diskette, fifteen cents per braille page if scanned. VersaBraille diskettes can be converted to MS-DOS format for three dollars per disk plus ten cents per file. If you need quality paper with 10 holes, add one cent per page to the above prices. All orders are shipped via UPS. Contact:

Newsletter Index: 1989-1990

Here is a complete index of the RDC Newsletter for the years 1989 and 1990. Be aware that the fast pace of change can make information outdated very quickly. Even though the Arkenstone Link was announced in the Sep/Oct 1990 issue, it was made obsolete with the arrival of Hot Dots 3.0 in early 1991.

Articles are indexed by topic. A few articles are indexed by their title, where the first word of the title is indicative of the topic. Within each topic, the articles are arranged in chronological order.

Individual back issues are $4 per issue in any medium. However, there is a special deal for a full year's worth of back issues in print. While the supply lasts, the back issues in print for 1989 and for 1990 are available for $10 per calendar year.






















Facts on File: Addresses Mentioned


Braille 'n Speak Disk Drive:

Computer Science Update: Susie Stanzel, Secretary-Treasurer

CD-ROM Package Deal: DAK Industries, Inc.

ISOS/Prodigy Access: Interface Systems International

PDS Utilities: Personal Data systems

The RDC Full Cell Plus

Carolyn Briggs, Shipping Goddess; Phyllis Herrington, Tech Support; David Holladay, President; Aaron Leventhal, Software Development; Linda Millard, Bookkeeper; Susan Murray, Office Manager; Caryn Navy, Vice-President.

Production Notes

Written & edited with RDCUs BEX on an Apple IIgs. BEX commands changed to RTF/Interchange format control words with BEX's Contextual Replace. File transfer with BEX and Hayes Smartcom II to an Apple Macintosh Plus. RTF commands interpreted and then spell checked by Microsoft Word 4.0. Pages composed with Aldus PageMaker 3.02, output on an Apple LaserWriter, and printed at the Print Shop. Two track audio edition mastered on APH Recorder and copied on high speed Recordex 3-to-1 duplicators.


Apple Computer Inc.: Apple II; Arkenstone Inc.: Arkenstone Reader; Blazie Engineering: Braille 'n Speak, Braille 'n Speak Disk Accessory; DAK Industries: DAK; Interface Systems International: ISOS, prospeak; Microsoft Corporation: MS-DOS; MicroTalk: ASAP; Personal Data systems: Audapter, BuckScan, PicTac; Raised Dot Computing: BEX, Hot Dots, pixCELLS; WordPerfect Corporation: WordPerfect.