Raised Dot Computing Newsletter Exploring Microcomputer Applications for the Visually Impaired -- ISSN 0890-0019. January-February 1992 -- Volume 10, Number 94.

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 and David Holladay.

Entire contents copyright 1991 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

It's that time of year again. Each year, in the March/April edition of the Newsletter, we introduce the latest products from Sensory Overload, Inc. Sensory Overload products have run the range from spoofs on existing sensory aids products or the entire sensory aids field to imaginative but overblown solutions to everyday problems of blind people. For example, one item several years ago was a talking cleaning aid. When attached to a sponge, mop, or other cleaning tool, the Speak 'n Span tells you where the dirty spots are. The listing is always datelined April 1st. We invite our readers to submit product ideas to Sensory Overload c/o Raised Dot Computing. Since the March/April issue may be more timely than this issue, don't delay. Send in your suggestions now. Call the tech line, (608) 257-8833, to discuss your ideas if you don't have time to send them in by mail.

In the last issue of the Newsletter, we started the feature "New Product Alert." Under that heading we list products that have not been discussed in the Newsletter before. We would greatly appreciate receiving reviews of any of these items or other new sensory aids products.

We have received quite a few inquiries about using BEX on the Mac LC. Recently we overcame a barrier in our work to eliminate the compatibility problems. Contact RDC if you want to use BEX on a Mac LC.

David Holladay will be raising the Raised Dot Computing banner at this year's convention of CTEVH (California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped) in Los Angeles. A few days later Aaron Leventhal will leave the back rooms of RDC and join David in L.A. for the C-SUN conference (California State University at Northridge). Both David and Aaron are excited about the opportunity to demonstrate what's cooking at RDC.

Hot Dots News -- Caryn Navy

In December we sent braille and print letters to registered Hot Dots 3.0 users about the free upgrade to Hot Dots 3.01. If you have not done so yet, take advantage of this offer. Send back our letter together with your original Hot Dots program disk (both Main and Supplemental program disks for the 5.25 inch package). Consult the last issue of the Newsletter for a discussion of the improvements made in this new version.

The manual for Hot Dots 3.01 is the same as for Hot Dots 3.0. So you don't have to send back your manual disk. There is a supplement to the manual in the file called {EXTRA.TXT} on the program disk (the Main program disk in the 5.25 inch package). One Hot Dots user reported a problem in using Hot Dots to make a braille copy of {EXTRA.TXT}. The formatting commands @startcontents and @endcontents, which are supposed to be part of the text, were instead executed when she processed the file with Hot Dots. Contact us if you would like a braille copy of {EXTRA.TXT}.

Sticky Space

Sometimes, in creating a document, you want to group two or more words together so that they are always on the same line. You want your software to treat the group of words as one word, even though it prints spaces between them. We call such a space a sticky space because the words on both sides stick to it (cannot be separated by a line break). Other software packages, such as WordPerfect, use the term hard space for the same construct. Beginning with Hot Dots 3.01, the input symbol for a sticky space in your braille output is the computer's accent key (the grave accent character).

For example, to make sure that the words "Hot Dots" are not separated by a line break in your braille output, type {Hot`Dots}. A space will be printed in place of the accent mark in the braille output. If the current line is not long enough for both words, both words are placed together on the next line, instead of fitting "Hot" on one line and "Dots" on the next line.

Note: The grave accent character functions as a sticky space only for the Hot Dots braille formatter, not for the inkprint formatter. There is no sticky space mechanism for the Hot Dots inkprint formatter.

Interfacing the Serial MBOSS-1

We have learned that our interfacing instructions for the serial MBOSS-1 in the Hot Dots manual are wrong. See the separate article in this issue for the correction.

Braille on Signs -- David Holladay

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a monumental act of legislation. After the Act was passed, various federal agencies had a year to produce regulations to implement the law. The first group of regulations went into effect on January 26, 1992. These first regulations have had a profound effect on some kinds of businesses.

One group thus affected is the sign making industry. The ADA regulations say that new permanent interior signs must have grade two braille on them. The inkprint portion must be in large print, have high contrast, and be raised from the surface (so that it can be read either by eye or by touch). Suddenly, there are many people in the sign making trade who want to be able to create grade two braille.

It is our impression that most blind persons are unaware of these provisions in the ADA. When I talk to people about braille on signs, their first reaction is something like, "Are you serious?" One issue that comes up is why there should be braille on signs when the intended audience probably does not know that the signs are there. In the next few years, as new signs are made during new construction and remodeling, signs inside of many businesses and public buildings will have braille on them. So look for braille signs on doors.

Many aspects of these regulations are causing turmoil in the sign making industry. Most of the current techniques for making signs are based on cutting letters into a surface (making incised letters) rather than raising letters from the surface. Yet the regulations insist on raised letters.

One sign maker who spoke with us was experimenting with a new, more efficient technique for making braille on signs. The only problem was that the braille dots were so sharp that they cut the fingers of test subjects.

Because of the requirements for putting grade two braille on permanent signs, a lot of sign makers have contacted Raised Dot Computing in the past few months. Sign makers have been learning about braille, and we have been learning a lot about the sign making trade.

Raised Dot Computing has been licensing our Hot Dots braille translator to sign making supply firms which are in the position of offering complete solutions to sign makers. To date our most successful licensee has been Lamro Inc. of Mesa, Arizona. Lamro sells fonts and logos for virtually every kind of engraving machine. Right now, Lamro is offering a package for $495 containing a braille translator, a braille font for the engraving machine you specify, and a collection of other fonts and logos needed for ADA-compliant signs. When we get phone calls from sign makers requesting help in coping with the ADA regulations, we send them to Lamro. Lamro knows sign makers and the ins and outs of their equipment, and it has an excellent reputation for low prices and excellent service. If you get a phone call from a sign maker who wants to know how to make braille signs (and has an engraving machine), send them to Lamro. Their phone number is (800) 525-2676.

At RDC we also get phone calls from sign makers who simply don't want to mess around with making braille. They want to make the rest of the sign and contract with another firm to get the braille portion. We have spoken with two sign making firms that are willing to bid on such jobs. One contact is Bill Townsend at Dakota Awards in Bismarck, North Dakota at (701) 222-0827. Another contact is Carl at the Alphabet Shop in Elgin, Illinois at (708) 888-3150. If you are contacted by a sign maker who wants this kind of service, pass this information along.

We are delighted to see a whole new industry learning about braille. The next time you need to have a plaque or trophy engraved in braille, there will be many more engravers who can handle the job.

Raised Dot Computing Unveils Major Project

For the last two years, Raised Dot Computing has been working on a project to create an improved braille translation system. This project has been principally funded by the National Science Foundation with some additional funding from IBM. At this point, the sign makers of America are (unbeknownst to them) providing the final funding to help us get this new software to the marketplace.

Why have we been keeping it a secret? This software is totally revolutionary. We felt that if we were open about it, we would be swamped with questions about its progress (and pleas to be beta testers).

Every so often, we are asked if we are going to write "BEX for the PC." We think we are doing something that is even better than that. We have been writing a powerful word processor/braille translation program. Basically, it is a nifty word processor that knows the rules for braille translation and braille formatting. We are calling this system "MegaDots."

If you have a copy of Hot Dots 3.0, then you have been exposed to a part of "MegaDots." The translator portion of Hot Dots 3.0 was also written for MegaDots. This explains our mania for making sure that the translator in Hot Dots 3.0 is as accurate as possible. By correcting the translator now, we ensure that the translator in MegaDots is ultra-accurate.

The Design for MegaDots

MegaDots incorporates four unique technologies:

MegaDots -- A Style-Based System

A "style" is a collection of formatting attributes which can be applied to an entire paragraph in one stroke. In many advanced word processors, the use of styles is an option for advanced users. A style allows a consistent pattern of output for similar material. For example, a style named "head2" may stand for "heading level 2." By marking a paragraph as "head2," a user guarantees that the paragraph will have all the formatting attributes of a second level heading. When applying this style, the user does not have to remember the line spacing, the font, the font size, or other attributes associated with "second level headings." The result is a more uniform document.

The price for this convenience is the effort to create an adequate set of styles. Since the use of styles does not give you any new attribute, the average computer user is not motivated to learn how to use styles.

In MegaDots, this problem is addressed by having the program come with several collections of styles pre-programmed for you. The program will come with a selection of style "pallets" (groups of styles designed to work together). In MegaDots, the styles describe the formatting attributes in both the print manifestation and the braille manifestation. When the text is translated from print into braille, the system knows all the formatting attributes, since it knows the style of each paragraph.

Why did we use a style-based system? Our goal is to reduce most of the transcriber decisions to choosing the correct style for each paragraph. We believe that the act of applying styles can be very simple and easy to learn.

We want it to be as easy as possible for a person without any background in braille to produce well-formatted braille, which would otherwise require an expert in braille.

One drawback to the style system is that it makes it more difficult for someone who wants to create something in a non-standard braille format. This is a consequence of a design that helps you create documents using standard braille formats. The creation of the style editor in MegaDots required a detailed analysis of all the braille rules for formatting in order to discern all the elements of braille formatting. Virtually every aspect of braille format can be changed by the user. But fully understanding how we have structured the style elements would take a considerable effort.

Smart File Importation System

When you import a file into MegaDots, each paragraph is inspected intimately. The size of the paragraph, the number of sentences, the use of emphasis, the kinds of characters that are in the paragraph are all checked over. Based on these inspections, the file importation system guesses what style to apply to the paragraph. This means that when you bring a file into MegaDots, you do not have to go through it and apply styles exhaustively to each and every paragraph (this is body text, this is a heading, this is body text, ...). Instead, you simply have to go through the document and fix those places where the importation system guessed incorrectly.

One consequence is that MegaDots does an excellent job of translating a document into braille even if the user chooses not to make any changes to the file.

Instant Feedback

Our original design proposal spoke of the need for a previewing system. The idea was that a user should be able to find out what a braille file looks like before it is committed to paper. We want the user to be entirely confident before brailling starts.

As we started to work out the design, we realized our goals were based on our experience with our BEX/TranscriBEX software. In our Apple II-based system, a user goes through a number of steps to prepare a braille file. At the conclusion of these steps, the user can display the final braille on the screen but cannot make any changes in the final braille. The user is forced to write down any observations of errors and go back to step one to correct them. For many users, this can be a frustrating experience.

In the MegaDots editing environment, once a change is made, the user can see the results in their choice of print or braille. When you look at a print file on the screen, it is formatted as it would show up on the printed page. With the click of a single button, you can make the file shift between print and braille. Once the file has been translated, it is quickly reformatted on the screen for the appropriate medium (braille or print). If an error is noticed on the screen, the user has the choice of fixing it in print or in braille.

The concept of displaying on the screen what a document looks like during the editing process is not new. It is called WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). But this degree of WYSIWYG is new for braille. One example I have used begins with a simple table of contents. A simple table of contents is one where all items are at the main level (no sub-items). In a simple table of contents in braille, the runover is two cells from the margin. If I put the cursor on an item and press Alt-right arrow (the MegaDots command to push something down one notch in the hierarchy), then I create a complex table of contents (one containing a mixture of different levels in a hierarchy). Instantly, the screen display of the braille page shifts around. The reason is that in braille, the runover in complex tables of contents is four cells from the indent level. MegaDots noticed that a change in one line affects the entire table of contents and made the appropriate adjustments.

Fast Translators that Withstand "Round Trips"

Those of you who have worked with Hot Dots 3.0 may be impressed with the accuracy of the braille translation, but may not be impressed with the speed of the software. It takes Hot Dots 3.0 a good chunk of time to import, translate, format, and output a file. In truth, the time delay is in the importation.

If you timed just the braille translation, you would find that it is quite fast. In MegaDots, once you press the F5 button to translate a file, it takes just a few seconds. No matter what computer you use, you will be impressed with the speed of the translation.

When we started the design process, we wanted to work out a system that would allow easy manipulation of a print file or a braille file. In our original design, we had both the print and the braille in memory at the same time. Any time the user made a change to one file, the program would figure out the consequence to the other file and make the appropriate change. As we worked out our design, we found that the system was collapsing under its own weight. We abandoned this approach.

Our current approach is based on perfect (or virtually perfect) round trips from inkprint to braille and back to inkprint. To do this we had to eliminate the ambiguities of braille (and inkprint). In braille, the same symbol can mean several different things. For example, a slash and the letters "st" are written the same way in braille. We did not want a system that would translate a slash into braille but would back-translate it into the letters "st". To prevent this from happening, the MegaDots translator places invisible control characters in the braille file indicating that dots 3-4 came from a slash rather than an "st".

With perfect round trip translators, it was no longer necessary to retain a print version of a file once it was translated into braille. You can edit a print file, translate it to braille, make changes to the braille, back translate it again, make changes, and then translate to braille again. The result is an astonishing power to manipulate a file in the way that you want to.

With the addition of the invisible ambiguity-resolving markup, a braille file contains all the information needed to create the precise inkprint file from which it was created. This duality permits live editing of both the inkprint and the braille without any complicated links. In a way, a MegaDots braille file is also a MegaDots print file and vice-versa, since the translations are so reliable.

Other MegaDots Features

Braille files can be viewed on the screen in one of four modes: braille dots, ASCII characters, pseudo text, or line by line back-translation into inkprint. Pseudo text is our new screen font in which the letters that stand for a braille contraction are shown jammed together; for example, the > character, which represents dots 3-4-5, the braille (ar) sign, is shown as the letters a and r jammed together. Aaron Leventhal, our MegaDots programmer, came up with this font. Others on the staff thought that the font was not very useful. Imagine our surprise when we received very positive feedback for this feature at the Closing the Gap conference last October!

In the line by line back translation display, the braille file is formatted into braille pages, and then each line is back translated into inkprint. This display helps a sighted person who has no knowledge of braille to control the layout of a braille file by showing what would go on each line of each braille page. To remind the user that this is just a display mode for a braille file, the system shows the line with the cursor in one of the other three braille screen modes.

Data entry can be done in the user's choice of regular keyboard or 6-key braille keyboard.

The software also supports linear braille devices (devices like the VersaBraille). Each style definition also contains the explicit identifiers needed to create proper linear braille. By switching one field in the document definition screen, the user can switch between excellent paper braille and excellent linear braille.

MegaDots supports the Computer Braille Code. It also has a number of tools to facilitate following context-dependent braille rules.

MegaDots supports large print output.

We have been very concerned about the user interface for MegaDots. We do not want to create a program so complicated that only the software developers feel comfortable with it. We are writing detailed context-sensitive help to reduce the need for a lengthy manual.

MegaDots Computer Requirements

MegaDots requires an MS-DOS or IBM compatible computer. A hard disk is absolutely required. While the software will run on early IBM-PC's and XT's, we strongly recommend that it be run on AT-class computers or above. An AT-class computer means a 286. So a 286, a 386SX, a 386, a 486SX, or a 486 computer will work fine. We find that the original 8086 computers are so slow as to make the program very frustrating to use.

MegaDots Availability and Pricing

We project a release date for MegaDots in June, 1992. Please do not phone us about getting an early copy or being a tester. Your efforts in this regard will only delay us. Feel free to call us to get on the mailing list to receive the official announcement when MegaDots is available.

We intend to put the price of $600 on MegaDots. During 1992 a discount of $100 will bring the retail price of MegaDots if purchased this year to $500.

We have offered many, many people an upgrade from Hot Dots 3.0 to MegaDots for $25 less than the difference in prices of the two programs. Since Hot Dots 3.0 costs $350, the price of a Hot Dots 3.0 to MegaDots upgrade is $125 during 1992, or $225 after 1992. This low-cost upgrade applies only to copies of Hot Dots 3.0 purchased before the availability of MegaDots. The purpose of the low-cost upgrade is to encourage the sales of Hot Dots 3.0 now, while offering an exceptional bargain once our next program is available.

Please note that the upgrade to MegaDots applies only to purchasers of Hot Dots version 3.0 or 3.01. We will continue to sell and actively support BEX and Hot Dots once MegaDots is released. For more information about the MegaDots project, please stay tuned to your Newsletter.

Getting Started with BEX, Part 1

[This article is based on a workshop handout prepared by Ken Smith and David Holladay.]

BEX Configurations

The way BEX behaves depends on a special file called a configuration. A configuration contains information about whether you are a beginning or advanced user, whether you are using voice output and/or large print output, what printers you have connected, what other special equipment you have connected, and what kinds of disk drives you will be using.

When you create a configuration, you declare whether it will be at the Learner Level, User Level, or Master Level. If you are working at the Learner Level, you need to concern yourself only with the Learner Level portion of the BEX Manual.

What happens when you go from the Learner Level to the User Level to the Master Level? The prompts become shorter and more direct. You are asked more questions when you configure. You have more options at the Menus and in the Editor. Some of these new options can save you lots of time and effort, and some of them give you new capabilities not found at all at the Learner Level.

Here is a list of key facts about configurations:

Section 1 of the Learner Level is called "Before You Turn on the Computer." This section gives an excellent introduction to using your computer. It describes the structure of the BEX manual, and the symbols used in the manual. You learn key facts about the different kinds of Apple II computers as they relate to using BEX. One important function of this opening section of the manual is to draw your attention to the BEX Interface Guide if you need to know how to connect specialized equipment to your Apple computer.

Section 2 of the Learner Level is a tutorial called "An Exploratory Trip through BEX." Nothing written here is better than sitting down with your computer and going through all the steps described in this tutorial. You learn how to boot your computer, how to use a supplied configuration, how to copy disks, how to initialize disks, how to get to the Main Menu, how to use the Editor, how to print things out, and how to explore all the menus.

Section 3 of the Learner Level is called "The Configuration Process." You learn how to find out about your computer system with the "What is in the Computer?" option, how to find out about your configuration with "View a configuration," and how to set up a new configuration. The questions are described in detail. After reading this section, setting up a new configuration should be a snap. The single most important piece of advice is: When you are setting up a configuration and do not understand a question or do not know how to answer, just press the carriage return key.

Project Gutenberg -- David Holladay

Michael Hart has a dream. He wants to put 10,000 different books in electronic form by the year 2001. He estimates that by that year, there will be over 100 million computer systems in use. If 10,000 titles could be made available for all 100 million computers, that would make 1 trillion books in circulation. Here is the punchline: he wants to distribute all these electronic books for free. In Michael Hart's vision of the future, anyone can walk into a public library and copy 90% of the information they want onto a computer disk that they don't have to return.

For twenty years, Mr. Hart has been working on his Project Gutenberg (named for the first producer of printed books). He has arranged for volunteers to type public domain books into a master computer system. "Public domain" means that the copyright has expired, making it legally permissible to make as many copies as you want without any royalties, fees, or restrictions. Mr. Hart has used Internet--a computer network linking university and government computers--as his main distribution system. In the last few years, there has been a large increase in the number of computers that are linked to Internet. By now over 500,000 computers are tied in. This has increased the number of people interested in Project Gutenberg.

The current production rate is 2 books per month. Mr. Hart hopes to double the monthly production rate each year for the next several years. Right now there is a core group of 40 volunteers who help turn printed matter into computer data. The goals of Project Gutenberg are quite sweeping. "Our volunteers are requested to work on their own favorite books, and all are encouraged to request that we prepare their favorite books. We hope to prepare all the most used books in the English language."

If you have scanned a book onto disk or have used a computer to transcribe into braille a book which is in the public domain (or might be in the public domain), please contact Project Gutenberg.

Contacting Project Gutenberg

Contacting Project Gutenberg and/or Michael Hart is somewhat tricky. Living as a pioneer on the electronic frontier, Mr. Hart does virtually all of his communications over computer networks. He does answer conventional letters, but only once a month. He tells me that he puts all letters in a box until he has a chance to answer them. The letters he prefers are those sent in duplicate: one copy for his files and the other to return with his reply.

Here are his electronic addresses on three networks: [email protected] on Internet; [email protected] on Bitnet; and >internet:[email protected] on Compuserve (just a pointer to his Internet address). His conventional mailing address is in Facts on File.

The main way in which Project Gutenberg communicates with the rest of the world is through a newsletter which is sent automatically to the electronic mailboxes of those who have contacted him. If you have access to electronic networks, use them rather than the U.S. Mail.

If you do not belong to any electronic network and would like to get a list of titles, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Project Gutenberg. Remember to send two copies of any inkprint letter. Mr. Hart is more willing to deal with letters written in disk form. He prefers 3.5 inch PC disks since they fit into a normal envelope.

These access instructions are admittedly complex. If you have some public domain books on disk, you can submit them to Project Gutenberg via Raised Dot Computing. Just send them to us, and we will forward the disks to Project Gutenberg. If you have a book transcribed in braille on disk, and you have just the grade two edition, we can back translate the book back into regular text. Rest assured that everything is perfectly legal. Some of the volunteers for Project Gutenberg are copyright experts, and only those items which can be proven to be in the public domain are accepted in the archive.

At this point, the list of books available from Project Gutenberg is rather limited. That is not the point. If the blind community and the transcriber community assist Project Gutenberg now by beefing up its offerings, this will increase the enthusiasm of others to contribute. The payoff some years down the road may be an immense list of books which can be read from disk or transcribed into braille.

If you want a list of books now available, mail a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Project Gutenberg. If you would like to send a check to Project Gutenberg, make it payable to Project Gutenberg/IBC. The IBC stands for Illinois Benedictine College, where Michael Hart is the Electronic Librarian.

"Saving Time" with Scanners and Publisher's Tapes -- Gloria K. Buntrock

[Gloria Buntrock is the Coordinator of Naperville Area Transcribing for the Blind in Naperville, Illinois and President of the National Braille Association.]

Several years ago our transcribing group added a translation typing section. As we produce textbooks for the state of Illinois and elsewhere, we are concerned with quality braille and demand that the end result is the same whether it began on the Perkins, a direct-entry braille computer program, or a translator. All work is proofread and corrected and as free from error as humanly possible. We found then that very little total time is saved with the translator. The difference is in who spends that time. The time a certified braillist had to spend on the volume that went through the translator was about 2-4 hours for checking format and making corrections after the final proofreading. That finding is still sound.

Recently we acquired a scanner. Again, very little time is saved but the difference once again is in who spends it. Although our experience is still limited, we are quickly learning that the best material for scanning is the very simplest with very little variation in format. Time to produce a volume is about the same as for translation typing, but editing is easier for some people than typing.

Now we have worked with our first publisher's files that had the printer commands left in place. Wow! Within an hour we were able to identify the 15-20 commands for line placement, italics, hyphens, etc. As it was a hymnal, it was important that each line had a command for formatting, and it did. It took another hour to write a Replace characters transformation chapter for BEX that quickly converted all the publisher's commands to working BEX commands. With very little additional editing, the files were ready for translation. With this albeit limited experience, it is obvious to me that good publisher's files with the commands intact will be a time saver in braille production provided you are able to use a replace characters option with the abilities of BEX's. The accuracy of the print is much better than scanning, and the ability to substitute BEX commands is a terrific help.

Whatever method is used, a final proofreading of the braille copy is necessary as there is always material that does not translate accurately for one reason or another. With care, it is possible to get excellent quality braille with the new technology available. By using translation typists, scanners, and publisher's files when practical, the certified braillist will be free to produce the more complicated formats that are so much in demand.

Regarding the Economics of Braille -- Elinor Savage [Editor's note: This is in response to David Holladay's article "Some Thoughts on Braille Transcribing" in the last issue.]#[Xstyle=Heading level 2]#

Technology is wonderful! But the preoccupation with technology has led to a very important consideration being overlooked in discussions regarding the production and economics of braille: that the first, and still the best method of producing quality braille is by braille transcribers. With existing software (yes, let's use our technology), quality braille, ready for embossing, can be produced by transcribers faster, cheaper, and most likely in greater quantities than is being done by technological means.

Of course, this cannot be accomplished by today's dwindling numbers of volunteer transcribers. The concept of braille transcribing as a VOLUNTEER SERVICE must be abandoned. No other work done by volunteers in any field comes close to demanding the amounts of time and effort required to learn and produce braille. It is time to institute a work force of PROFESSIONAL TRANSCRIBERS, as is done in many other countries.

The logistics for determining costs by paid transcribers are easily ascertained, and these costs should be high enough to satisfy the transcriber and low enough to satisfy those who need the braille. Many transcribers would be available immediately, and the means for recruiting and training new transcribers are virtually in place. With proper organization it is conceivable, and very likely, that the production of hundreds of thousands of pages of master braille could be achieved within 6 months to a year of inception of a paid transcribers program. Let's not lower our standards or "use our energies to find ways to simplify the braille rules" in order to accommodate current technology. Technologists have many other areas where their expertise is needed. Using readily available resources, let's see to it that quality braille gets produced NOW.

Changing BEX Data Entry to Comply with Changes in the Braille Rules -- Gloria K. Buntrock

In October, 1991, BANA adopted some changes to ENGLISH BRAILLE AMERICAN EDITION--1959 (1972 Revision). [See the BANA announcement in the Announcements section of this issue.] The changes to the official code of literary braille dealing with abbreviations and print symbols necessitate some adaptations in the way material is typed for braille translation in BEX and TranscriBEX. In the list below, note that entering a less-than sign followed by semicolon between two letters prevents them from contracting. For example, use this to avoid getting an (in) sign. Placing a greater-than sign followed by semicolon before a letter forces the placement of a letter sign.

Here is a table of possible solutions from the examples given in the revision and a few additional examples. In this table, first the print version is shown, then the data entry, followed by any comments. Try them with the BEX Heading Test option. [Editor's note: This data entry does not apply to Hot Dots.]

X*PRESS Update -- David Holladay

In the July/August 1991 Newsletter, we described a wonderful service called X*PRESS. This is a system that pipes wire service information from your cable TV system to your home computer.

For this system to be available to you, several things must be present. Your community must be covered by a cable TV system, your local cable system must subscribe to X*PRESS, you must subscribe to cable TV, and you need an X*PRESS convertor box. You also need a PC, a talking PC if you are blind.

In the July/August article, we said that the convertor box costs $100. In a phone call from X*PRESS, we just learned that the price is going up to $150. Apparently, the company was subsidizing the distribution of convertor boxes and selling them for less than their cost. X*PRESS has been ordered by its parent company to stop this practice. The result is a significant price increase.

In the previous article about X*PRESS, I mentioned the problems of saving the material to disk. I mentioned that I saved things by rerouting output to a serial port. There is a better solution. The program {PRN2FILE} can be used to reroute parallel printer output to a PC file. Saving output to a file is much more direct and much better than the method described in the previous article. The program {PRN2FILE} is on the CD-ROM Access Disk distributed free of charge by Raised Dot Computing.

I was also informed that quite a few blind persons have contacted X*PRESS because of the previous article in the RDC Newsletter. Several callers had just found out that their local cable companies do not carry X*PRESS. They were calling to find out how to convince their cable companies to carry X*PRESS. Since X*PRESS makes its money from fees from the cable companies, they were very gratified for this attention.

The equipment needed for a cable system to pick up X*PRESS costs about $1,000. For a cable system this is small change. The only extra work is checking every now and then that they are carrying a strong signal from X*PRESS. The fees to subscribe to X*PRESS are more significant: about 20 cents per subscriber per year. This means that a system with 50,000 subscribers has to pay about $10,000 to carry X*PRESS.

Many cable systems are affiliated with or owned by larger networks, such as TCI or Heritage. If the network has a contract for X*PRESS, an affiliated local cable company is covered by the national contract. This means that the local cable company has to pay only the $1,000 for the equipment. They have a right to carry X*PRESS for no additional charge. If your local cable system does not carry X*PRESS and is covered by a national contract, you should have little difficulty convincing them to offer this service that they are already paying for. Contact X*PRESS at (800) 772-6397 for information about your local cable system.

Some networks, like TCI, go a little further. They offer two free convertor boxes to any school that asks for them. Contact X*PRESS for details. They can mail or fax you the request forms. This service would be ideal for a school for the blind. The computer could pick up news from around the world, sports scores, and many other items of interest to young people. This could be an interesting vehicle for motivating more students to learn how to use a computer.

I also learned that you can pick up X*PRESS using a satellite dish. You need the big 10-foot size (the C band dish). The smaller KU band dishes do not work. The fact that you can pick up the X*PRESS signal with a big satellite dish is fascinating. But I doubt if many people will be setting up big dishes on their roofs so that they can pick up sports scores or soap opera summaries.

Interfacing The MBOSS-1 Embosser with a PC Serial Port -- Caryn Navy

Raised Dot Computing is proud of the range and accuracy of the interfacing information we supply with our braille translation products. After all, you cannot be a successful user of braille translation software unless you can get the embosser correctly interfaced to your computer. Sometimes we goof.

In the Hot Dots 3.0 manual, the information about how to connect the MBOSS-1 embosser to a PC serial port is wrong. Set the left group of switches (bank 40) to: open open open closed open closed closed open. Set the right group of switches (bank 41) to: open open open closed closed open open open open open. To connect the PC serial port to the MBOSS-1, use the following cable: wires 1 and 7 are straight through, swap wires 2 and 3, swap wires 4 and 5, and swap wires 6 and 20. Set the IBM serial port to: 9600 baud, no parity, 8 data bits, and 1 stop bit.

We greatly appreciate the persistence and patience of Chuck Morgenstern as we groped toward the correct interface. We also thank David Pillischer of Sighted Electronics and Nick Dotson of Dots-On Enterprises for helping us out.

Using the Blazie Engineering External Disk Drive with PortaBraille -- John Heilbrunn

[Editor's Note: this article is the first one we have received from Europe. John Heilbrunn is a lawyer and music studio owner in Denmark.]

Yes, folks, you heard right. PortaBraille is still alive, since the device still is operating in various places worldwide, for instance in Denmark, home of Hans Christian Andersen and Danish Pastry.

I got my PortaBraille back in 1987 and have worked with this nice device ever since. I have used it for doing everyday tasks at work and writing extensive reports in third world countries.

This article concerns using the PortaBraille with the Blazie External Disk Drive. You could also use these procedures with the PocketBraille, which is similar to the PortaBraille.

According to Blazie Engineering, the Blazie External Disk Drive can be operated from any device with an RS-232 port. I immediately got hold of one, since this way of storing data was likely to be easier and more accessible than using the sequential method recommended by the PortaBraille designers, namely onto tape via a tape interface. The tape method, by the way, has worked without problems, but is much slower than saving and loading a file by filename from a disk drive.

Because of quirks of both devices, I have worked out a procedure to transfer files between the two machines.

The power on sequence is very important. First turn on your PortaBraille. Then turn on its serial port. Now turn on the external disk drive. If you use another order, the disk drive seems to be messed up and confused and does not obey your commands.

The commands for using the external disk drive with a serial device other than the Braille 'N Speak are the same ones you use with the Braille 'N Speak: D for directory, M for make directory, R for remove directory, X for cancel file, L for load, S for save, etc. However, the command character for an external device is control-E (not chord-S as on the Braille 'N Speak). To generate control-E on the PortaBraille, write chord-X E. The external disk drive responds with a control-F ("acknowledge"). Then I write the command (for instance L or S or D) followed by the file's pathname. One ends the command with a carriage return-linefeed (chord-dots 4-6).

Since one writes the command from the PortaBraille, the command string is stored--appended in the PortaBraille's memory. To avoid having this command end up in the file stored onto disk or loaded from disk, you can switch memory banks. Go to a blank portion of your memory banks, for instance, type chord-dots 3-4 followed by 0. The PortaBraille goes to bank 0. Type your command, for instance control-E L calendar\1991 (for loading your calender for the year 1991 from your disk into your PortaBraille). Then change to memory bank 1 by writing chord-dots 3-4 followed by a 1. The PortaBraille goes to bank 1. Then press carriage return-linefeed, and the disk will respond by giving you the desired data.

By using this method, your command line stays in bank 0, while your data is there for you in bank one.

When saving a file onto disk, also use the bank changing method. You have to do the extra transmit chord command in order to actually return data to the disk. And then you have to add (or already have appended) control-Z after the data to indicate "end of file".

I should mention that there have been some problems when the external disk drive is low on battery power. My device did not begin sounding its warning beeps, but it kept on refusing data and messed up the file. The file never was accessible, but the name of the file and the number of bytes were indicated with the use of the D (directory) command. However, I have not had the time to look into this matter (i.e., whether it is a onetime problem or a design problem that needs to be fixed by Blazie Engineering).

Blazie Engineering has done a good job of giving good and prompt technical support and sending necessary cables and connectors without charge. I really appreciate their level of service.

Our next project is to connect the Blazie External Disk Drive with the Danish LogText. This is a device with both braille and LCD displays that is widely used in Denmark as a notetaker in schools.

Fun with the Blazie Engineering External Disk Drive, Part 1 -- Caryn Navy

Phyllis Herrington introduced the Blazie Engineering External Disk Drive in this Newsletter in the May/June 1991 issue. The external disk drive makes it easy to pass material back and forth between the Braille 'n Speak and 3.5 inch disks completely compatible with MS-DOS systems. I lusted after this device for quite some time but regarded it as a luxury. Eventually, the desire to read material from disk while taking care of our infant son convinced me to go ahead and order the Blazie External Disk Drive. Several days after I sent my check to Blazie Engineering, a fire swept through their production facility. So it was a few more weeks before the UPS driver brought the long-awaited package from the resilent folks at Blazie Engineering.

It turns out that using the Braille 'n Speak and the external disk drive while doing child care for my one-year-old is not as easy as I thought. He thinks the Braille 'n Speak is a great toy!

To use the Blazie External Disk Drive with serial devices other than the Braille 'n Speak, you can buy an additional cable, the serial cable for the external disk drive. I purchased this cable to try out some other uses for the external disk drive.

Printing Directly from the External Disk Drive

When I got the external disk drive, I was anxious to try to print material directly from the drive to a serial printer, without making the material pass through the Braille 'n Speak. That would make the external disk drive a very portable device for printing MS-DOS files on a variety of printers located anywhere around Raised Dot Computing, without tying up any computer. Since I had forgotten to order the optional serial cable for the disk drive, I had to wait a few more days before experimenting. Here is what I learned about printing directly from the disk drive to a serial printer.

When you connect the external disk drive to a serial device with the serial cable, you can load files from disk into the serial device. The command for this is {<control-E> L [filename] <CR>}. (Control-E is the command character for serial operation of the disk drive, L is for load, and <CR> terminates serial commands.) I hoped that loading a file into a serial printer would cause it to be printed. The problem is that most serial printers, not designed to send characters out, can't send the Load command to the disk drive. The trick is to send the Load command from the Braille 'n Speak to the disk drive, make the disk drive pause, recable the disk drive to the printer, and then give the disk drive the signal that it's okay to start loading.

The external disk drive uses software handshaking. This is a simple system where the character control-S, sent as data, means "stop," and control-Q means "okay to send." (I don't know of a good mnemonic for the letter Q here.)

To print the file {BANANA.BFM} from the disk drive to the VersaPoint, I began by writing on the Braille 'n Speak. I opened a new file in the Braille 'n Speak and wrote {<control-E> L BANANA.BFM <CR> <control-S>}. Then I set the Braille 'n Speak for 9600 baud, 8 data bits, 1 stop bit, and software handshaking, and I turned on the serial port. I cabled the Braille 'n Speak serial port to the disk drive, using the Braille 'n Speak I/O cable, a null modem, and the serial cable for the disk drive. I turned on the disk drive and transfered my short file with chord-T Z. I set the VersaPoint for 9600 baud, 8 data bits, and XON/XOFF handshaking (another name for software handshaking) and switched to serial output. I turned on the VersaPoint and switched it off line. Then I cabled the disk drive to the VersaPoint serial port, using the serial cable for the disk drive and a male-to-male gender adapter. When I switched the VersaPoint on line again, the VersaPoint began printing the file {BANANA.BFM}. The braille came out with good format since the file was already formatted for braille output by Hot Dots.

Here is how this works. When you send the character control-S (the handshake for stop) to the disk drive after the Load command, the disk drive waits for a control-Q before loading the file to the device at the other end of the serial cable. When the VersaPoint is set for software handshaking and you switch it from off line to on line, it sends out the character control-Q to say, "Okay, I'm ready to receive now." When the disk drive receives this control-Q signal, it begins to load the file to the device at the other end of the serial cable, which is now the VersaPoint.

This method should work with any serial embosser or inkprint printer that can operate at 9600 baud with software handshaking and can be switched between off line and on line.

We will cable up again in Part 2 to discuss transfering data between the Blazie External Disk Drive and BEX.


1991 BANA Meeting Notes

The BANA Board has announced the acceptance of the proposition to begin a research project to develop a unified braille code based on the literary code Grade 2 that encompasses the textbook, computer, and mathematics codes. The music code will not be included in any resulting unified code. The BANA Board will direct the unified code committee project with the assistance of Dr. T.V. Cranmer, Dr. Abraham Nemeth, and Mr. Joseph Sullivan.

APH has just published Addenda #3 for the Literary Code English Braille, American Edition. This is available for $1.10 for the print or the braille editions. It is also available from the National Library Service free of charge to NLS certified transcribers and proofreaders.

Data Transfer Instructions Printed in the NBA Bulletin

The Winter 1991-92 edition of the National Braille Association Bulletin has a summary of the techniques used to transfer files between the major transcribing programs. If you need to get files from one system to another, then you are involved with this technology to the extent that you should join the NBA.

The two page article describes BEX to POKADOT (latest edition), POKADOT to BEX, BEX to IBM DOS, IBM DOS to BEX, and BEX to ED-IT.

The article points out that the two most flexible programs for data transfer are BEX on the Apple and POKADOT on the IBM. POKADOT is available directly from the NBA for a nominal charge.

Talking Software for Apple Computer Users

Text Writer is an easy-to-use talking word processor which turns your Apple into a talking typewriter. ProDOS and DOS 3.3 versions are included, along with cassette instructions, instructions on disk, and a braille reference card. Text Writer sells for $50.

A-Talk Games is a ProDOS disk which contains four popular games--Trivia Talk, Fortune Talk, Password Talk, and Jeopardy Talk. The A-Talk talking disk sells for $35.

A-Talk Courses is a ProDOS disk which contains two study courses--Self-Improvement and Fitness Talk. The A-Talk Courses disk sells for $20.

All three of these packages come with a 5.25 inch disk containing the ProDOS version of the Textalker speech program for use with Echo Speech Synthesizers and a program launcher that makes it easy to get up and running. All orders must be pre-paid, with checks payable to Jeff Weiss. See Facts on File for the address.

Two Child Care Books in Braille from NBP

National Braille Press has prepared the latest edition of Dr. Spock's book in braille. Baby and Child Care (written with collaborator Dr. Michael B. Rothenberg) is available for $45. This 13 braille volume edition is being offered at this low cost because of an arrangement with the National Library Service.

Baby and Child Care has been the bible of new parents for forty years. Virtually every aspect of child care is covered, from diet to teething to bedtime. The new edition has been brought up to date to reflect our increasing knowledge about diseases and child development.

Thanks to the support of the Association of Trial Lawyers and the John Hopkins Injury Prevention Center, the brochure Play It Safe! is available in braille free of charge. Play It Safe tells parents which toys or items of furniture are dangerous and why they are dangerous. For the address of National Braille Press, see Facts on File.

New Products

In the last issue of the Newsletter we started this new feature. In this section we list new products and invite readers who are familiar with them to contact us about writing a review for a future issue of the Newsletter.

KTS Refreshable Braille Display

American Thermoform Corporation is now selling a German-made 40- or 80-cell braille display for PCs. It has a direct line selection function, a soft cursor, and a search function. The KTS comes with a three year warranty. Prices go from $7,000 to $16,000 depending on size and options.

Bulletin Board

IBM AT Talking Computer System For Sale

Apple II Plus System For Sale

I also have an Apple II Plus computer system for sale [see address for Larry Silvermintz above]. The package consists of:

$450 for the package. All items in original boxes with complete manuals & serial numbers. All items in excellent condition. I am available to talk you through setup and use of the system.

Computer Equipment For Sale

For Sale: Apple IIe computer system, 128K, two 5.25 inch disk drives, 19 inch Zenith RGB color monitor, Echo II speech synthesizer, and BEX with full documentation. Price: will negotiate a great deal for the buyer!

For sale: assorted IBM compatible hardware. Make an offer on: Amdek 310 amber monochrome monitor, Hercules Graphics card, 20 megabyte hard disk and Western Digital disk controller card.

For sale: TeleSensory external PC Vert speech synthesizer for use with XT compatibles.

For sale: table model Zenith 5 band shortwave radio (longwave, AM, SW1, SW2, and SW3); at least 20 years old but in good condition.

My address is: Larry Honaker, 1088 Bernhard Road, Columbus, OH 43227; (614) 338-0733.

Wanter: PC CD-ROMs

David Holladay wants to collect more CD-ROM disks for the PC. He is willing to swap or purchase various titles. He has a "Fun House" disk of games for the Mac he is willing to swap. David would like to thank Claude Garvin for the gift of the Street Atlas-USA disk. David can be reached at Raised Dot at (608) 257-8833.

Facts on File

A-Talk Games and Courses: A-Talk

Cheap or Free Electronic Books: Project Gutenburg

Child Care Books in Braille: National Braille Press

Information on Transfering Material Between Transcribing Programs: National Braille Association

Revision to English Braille, American Edition: APH

Braille Package for Engravers: Lamro Inc.

X*PRESS: X*PRESS Information Services

Blazie Disk Drive: Blazie Engineering

The RDC Staff

David Holladay, President; Aaron Leventhal, Software Development; Linda Millard, Bookkeeper; Susan Murray, Office Manager; Caryn Navy, Vice-President.

Production Notes

Written & edited with RDC's 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.