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 1992 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.
In the last issue of our Newsletter, we said that this issue would be coming very soon. That did not happen. We are still behind in our Newsletter production schedule because of working on MegaDots, but we are doing our best to get our schedule back on track. In any case, as the weather is getting cold in much of the United States and Canada, you can remember the summer as you curl up with the July-August RDC Newsletter.
Now that MegaDots is shipping, we will include more articles about MegaDots. In the next few issues we will focus on various aspects of MegaDots that we want to bring to a wider audience. In this issue, we have articles about how MegaDots automatically formats braille tables and MegaDots' new ability to import braille formatted files (files created by programs like PokaDot and Microbraille and formatted braille files created by Hot Dots or Duxbury). We also discuss moving TranscriBEX chapters into MegaDots.
Other things besides MegaDots are happening at RDC. We are delighted that Susan Haldiman has become our new Shipping Goddess in Training, completing the RDC Full Cell of six Dots (employees) again. Susan Haldiman will introduce herself in the next issue. Be aware of the possible "Susan confusion." Susan Haldiman joins Susan Murray, our Office Manager, on the RDC staff.
We are also very excited to announce that we are now selling Doug Wakefield's newest Talk-to-Me Tutorial, Go MS-DOS 5.0. It costs $100 when ordered by itself, or $75 when ordered with another Talk-to-Me Tutorial. The other tutorials cover WordPerfect 5.1, DBASE 3+, Lotus 123, and telecommunications. They cost $100 each. If you are interested, call us at (800) 347-9594 for our brochure.
An exciting product that RDC will be selling very soon is Flipper version 4.0. Steve Smith of Omnichron has rewritten Flipper from the ground up. While it has many new capabilities, allowing it to work much more automatically or exactly as you want it to, it builds upon the very friendly user interface and logical structure developed in the earlier versions. Version 4.0 also supports new synthesizers, such as the internal DECtalk card. The new version of Flipper brings the new price of $495. Upgrades from earlier versions will be available from Omnichron for $88. We will have more information on Flipper version 4.0 in the next issue of the Newsletter.
Although this is the July-August issue, I would like to sign off with a question in honor of the holiday shopping season. Recently I picked up a braille and print handout at Shopko. It welcomes customers with disabilities to shop there and ask for assistance. In the braille, the word "service" appears up-side-down in one instance. I take this as a cosmic reminder that sometimes when people try very hard to help out in a new way, the help comes out "up-side-down." Have any of you seen this handout? Do you have any guesses about how it was created and how that mistake happened?
As we have been saying for the last few months, MegaDots is our current "flagship product." We are devoting many of our technical resources right now to enhancing MegaDots. If you have a PC and want to know what the fuss is all about, ask for a MegaDots demonstration disk today!
In October we began distributing the third version of the MegaDots demo disk. Unlike the two previous versions of the demo disk, it can import some files. It imports short WordPerfect files and ASCII textfiles (under 3,000 characters). We think this is enough to give you an idea of how MegaDots imports files from other systems.
Since we started shipping MegaDots in early August, we have made quite a few changes to our shipping disk. Around Halloween we introduced MegaDots version 1.1. Because it contains a critical mass of bug fixes and new features, we mailed updating disks to all MegaDots users with version 1.0. We did this mailing to bring all MegaDots users up to version 1.1. Contact us if you have MegaDots version 1.0 and have not received the version 1.1 updating disk.
To find out the date of your MegaDots program, read the Program Credits help screen. From the editor, press F10 H M. The date is on the 7th line of the screen. If it does not say Nov. 2nd, please contact Raised Dot Computing for your free update.
For MegaDots' first year, we are mailing periodic free updates to all MegaDots purchasers. When the first year expires in August 1993, all MegaDots purchasers will have software equivalent to the August 1993 software. This will include many new features! The last section of the file BUGFIXES.MEG discusses some of the new features in the works. This file is included in MegaDots and is brought up to date by updating disks.
Okay, we know the next question: What happens after August 1993? It is too early to answer that question, but we pledge that our update policies will be reasonable and competitive.
Since first releasing MegaDots version 1.0, we have been adding quite a number of features. Here is a partial list (the complete list is in the file BUGFIXES.MEG):
The January-February 1991 issue of the RDC Newsletter was a special issue on CD-ROM applications. Since that time, I have not written much more on this topic. I will try to bring things up to date with this article.
I am still a big fan of using CD-ROM's. As with any other developing area of technology, I have my own preferences. If you have an application or needs different from mine, take any advice in this article with a grain of salt.
A CD-ROM is a disk that looks like a CD audio disk but is encoded for computer data, not music. A CD-ROM requires a special disk drive. A computer can read from a CD-ROM disk, but it cannot make any changes to it.
A single CD-ROM can contain 660 million characters of data. That is a lot of data! A blind computer user with a CD-ROM system can look up an article in an electronic encyclopedia faster than a sighted person can find it in a mountain of inkprint. My favorite statistic is that if you had 10 CD-ROMs packed with text and turned their contents into braille, you could fill up the volume of a small apartment.
There is a flip side. All is not well in CD-ROM land. The selection of titles is somewhat limited. Many titles are graphically based and thus not accessible to the blind user relying on access technology. The list price for most CD-ROM titles is fairly steep. However, if you shop carefully, you can get quite a few bargains.
The first rule is to buy your CD-ROM disk drive very carefully. Most vendors offer "bundles" which combine a number of CD-ROM titles and a CD-ROM drive for your PC for one package price. When you work it out, each title in a bundle costs about $30, instead of $300 to $1000 when bought individually.
Compared with lots of other kinds of equipment (stereos, cars, camcorders), there is little variation between different CD-ROM drives. One distinguishing characteristic between CD-ROM drives is average access time. Make sure that the CD-ROM drive you buy has a reasonable average access time. An access time of 300 milliseconds is good; 600 milliseconds is slow. Remember, even the fastest CD-ROM drive sometimes seems sluggish. CD-ROM drives can be installed inside or outside your computer. I prefer the external kind since that means you can shift your CD-ROM access to another computer more easily if you have to.
CD-ROM drives come in "caddy" or "caddyless" configuration. A CD-ROM caddy is a cartridge that protects the CD-ROM. The caddies are expensive, about $7 each. In general, caddy systems have a better performance than non-caddy systems (including faster access time). But it seems that some people object to the extra handling required to load the CD-ROMs from shipping container to caddy and back again. My own preference is to use a caddy system and to buy a caddy for each CD-ROM title I own. Then the CD-ROM titles are protected from drops and accidental handling by wayward two-year-olds. Each caddy can have a braille label giving the name of the batch file used to call it. This approach costs a little more, but it makes CD-ROM use more convenient.
There are many companies offering very enticing packages. I bought my package from DAK Inc., an electronics distributor in Canoga Park, California. One nice thing about DAK is that once you buy a CD-ROM drive from them, they keep on offering you cut rate deals. For example, when I bought my drive, it was offered with only one package of 6 CD-ROM disks. Since then, DAK has offered many more package deals for those buying new drives. Each time a new package is put together, DAK sends me a mailing to offer me the same package with the same terms. Effectively, you become a permanent member of the "DAK CD-ROM buyer's club." With other companies, once you have bought the package with your CD-ROM drive, you lose the ability to buy titles cheaply.
Right now, a number of electronics companies offer attractive CD-ROM deals. For example, I get a catalog called Power Up! which offers a 340ms caddy drive (340 millisecond access time), a set of speakers, and 12 titles (half of them accessible) for $799. If you want additional caddies, Power Up! wants $17.95 each instead of the usual cost of $6 to $9. The phone number for Power Up! is (800) 851-2917.
I still think that DAK offers the very best deal. They are fairly good on technical support. If you have difficulty, you can call their 800 number. Be warned, though, that this line is often busy. To cut down on the tech calls, DAK includes their own supplemental manuals with the products they sell.
DAK offers a 380ms external CD-ROM caddy drive for $399 (plus $19 for postage and handling). This is DAK order number 3231A. With the drive, DAK throws in 3 titles: the 1991 Microsoft Bookshelf, the Family Doctor, and Battle Chess. Microsoft Bookshelf is a collection of reference books (dictionary, thesaurus, quotations, concise encyclopedia, etc.). The Family Doctor is a collection of brief answers to common medical questions. Battle Chess is a graphically based (inaccessible) chess game. However, DAK offers a vast array of software bundles, and you can buy as many additional ones as you want at the time you buy the drive. Be careful: If you decline to buy a package and want it later, you cannot get it. These bundles are available only when you buy a drive or when the bundle is first introduced in the catalog. [News Flash: I just got a notice from DAK. They are allowing a one-month "amnesty" to give DAK CD-ROM drive purchasers a second chance to purchase older bundles.]
The DAK CD-ROM package Fast Facts and In-Depth Data includes the 1991 Grolier Encyclopedia, the Library of the Future First Edition, the Toolworks Reference Library, the Complete Monarch Notes, the Toolworks World Atlas, and the Toolworks U.S. Atlas. All titles except the two atlases are accessible. This package costs $299 (plus $6 for shipping and handling). It is DAK order number 3101.
If you want to, you can upgrade from Library of the Future First Edition to the Second Edition. Contact DAK for the details. As we noted last year, using software supplied by Raised Dot Computing, you can convert entire titles from Library of the Future into cleaned up textfiles on your hard disk. This gives you the ability to produce entire books in braille very quickly. The Library of the Future First Edition contains over 450 plays, poems, novels, and historical documents. The Second Edition contains over 900 works.
The DAK CD-ROM package Information on Demand includes the Microsoft Small Business Consultant, the Magazine Rack, U.S. History on CD-ROM, the Bible Library, and the Time Magazine Almanac. All of these CD-ROM titles are accessible. Of these, the one we find most interesting in our household is the Magazine Rack. It contains 110,000 articles or abstracts from 340 general interest magazines covering a one-year span about 2 years ago. This package costs $149 (plus $8 for shipping and handling). It is DAK order number 3102.
The DAK package the Paths of Mankind is a disappointment. It contains three titles called Time Tables of History. The text is displayed in a graphical font so that the information is not accessible. I returned it for a refund.
The DAK package Publishing and World Intrigue is a strange mixture. It combines the desktop publishing program Publish-It! with two disks of information about different countries. These are Countries of the World and the KGB-CIA World Factbook. The KGB-CIA disk contains so little information that it is a disappointment. On the other hand, I think the Countries of the World disk is worth the price of the entire package. It is a dense and rich text-based resource on all aspects of different nations. It is incredibly detailed, fully indexed, and very easy to use. For example, I found a minute by minute account of the recent revolt in Romania, a detailed account of the anti-Nazi resistance in Holland, and a discussion of Finnish baseball. This trio of CD-ROM titles costs $130 (plus $9 for shipping and handling). The DAK order number is 3213. I recommend purchasing this bundle and then selling the other two titles to a sighted CD-ROM user.
The DAK package Multimedia CD-ROM Safari is a collection of "multi-media" animal disks. The titles are National Geographic Mammals, Birds of America, and Audubon's Mammals. This package costs $90 (plus $9 for shipping and handling). It is DAK order number 3103.
The DAK package How to Find Anyone (or Anything) In Seconds contains residential and business directories. Two disks hold 72 million residential listings of names, addresses, and phone numbers collected from 5,000 different phone books. I found out that there are at least 25 other people named "David Holladay" in the United States, but I married the only "Caryn Navy." Also included is a disk containing the names and addresses of 7 million businesses in the U.S. The user interface is the same as for the two residential disks, with some exciting additions. There is an index of addresses and an index of phone numbers. Once you have located a business, you can instantly find all the other businesses in the same building, on the same block, etc.! You can type in a phone number and find out what business has that number. Anyway, all three disks are available for $139 (plus $7 for shipping and handling). It is DAK order number 3247.
The DAK package PC Newsstand contains a single CD-ROM with 81,000 articles about computers from 162 of the world's leading computer related magazines, trade journals, and newsletters. It is a consumer edition of a CD-ROM which costs $1000 a year for an annual subscription. The disk also includes hundreds of useful utility programs. PC Newsstand is available for $100 (plus $6 for shipping and handling). It is DAK order number 3312.
No, this is not a joke. There really is an outfit that has a department called Crazy Bob's CD-ROM Mania. ERM Electronic Liquidators buys overstocks from CD-ROM vendors and sells them for very low prices.
How low? They sell a text-only version of the 1991 Grolier's Encyclopedia for $19. They sell the Magazine Rack for $29. The Magazine Rack has been awarded the coveted "David's and Caryn's Favorite CD-ROM Title Award." It contains full text or substantial abstracts of 110,000 articles that appeared in 340 different general interest magazines over a one-year period about two years ago. Because you can search for topics or words, it is a tremendous resource. It is our hope that the developers of the Magazine Rack pull things together to make newer editions.
Crazy Bob sells CD-ROM's made by Chestnut Software for $19 each. The Chestnut disks are vast storehouses of shareware with moderate to low organization. We purchased the Dictionaries and Languages disk. It is described as containing "a giant compilation of dictionaries; thesauruses; word processors; style/syntax checkers; glossaries; lessons in French, German, Italian, Hebrew, Russian, Czech, Greek, Japanese, Spanish, Cantonese; and MORE! It includes many humorous glossaries, crossword solvers, cryptogram solvers, and a variety of shareware word processors. Not bad for $19.
A word about the Chestnut disks. Unlike most other CD-ROM titles with a uniform user interface, these disks require quite a bit of digging by the purchaser. Basically, the disks are organized like one giant floppy disk. You have to locate the list of files, copy each application into your hard disk, and execute any required unpacking programs. You really need to be experienced at manipulating DOS files and directories (and to have plenty of hard disk space).
We also bought from Crazy Bob the Chestnut disk called the Colossal Cookbook with over 4000 recipes. Most of the recipes are in the "Meal Master format." After some playing around, I figured out how to search through the main complex of recipes. I did a search for all recipes whose title contains the word lamb. Among the lamb recipes, it selected one called Banana Flambe. Ah computers!
Other Chestnut disks are Bibles & Religion, Shareware Overload, HAM Radio, and XXX Extreme (600 megabytes of adult-only sleezy images).
Crazy Bob also sells random overstocks at affordable prices. Occasionally, I have been known to go to the University Medical Library to run searches on the MEDLINE CD-ROM system for various topics of interest to myself or relatives. A subscription to MEDLINE on CD-ROM is out of reach for mere mortals. But you can buy Core MEDLINE disks from Crazy Bob for $9 each. Each disk covers an arbitrary 12-month period; the catch is that you cannot specify the period. You can also buy a Magazine Abstracting Service for $9 for an arbitrary 12-month period. Again, you cannot specify the period. I looked up the service in another catalog and found a yearly subscription rate of $400.
The most insane offer is for a grab bag of 4 CD-ROM rejects for a total of $19. I don't recommend this. Of the 4 disks that I received, two didn't work at all (the ad said they were rejects and no refunds are allowed), and one is a virtual duplicate of a title I had already bought. The fourth is an interesting "CD-ROM magazine" designed for the general public. It does offer a substantial database of existing CD-ROM titles sold for the general public. Unfortunately, the text is displayed as remapped high bit characters and is not accessible to screen access users. All in all, I recommend avoiding the $19 grab bag unless you love a bizarre challenge.
One way I judge the reasonableness of a CD-ROM vendor is how much they charge for empty caddies. Crazy Bob passes the test. Crazy Bob sells one caddy for $8, three for $21, and ten for $65.
One final warning: If you buy from Crazy Bob, you are not allowed to call the original vendor for technical support. You have to call Crazy Bob if you run into any problems. Do not buy your first titles from Crazy Bob. Once you have gained experience in installing and using CD-ROMs, then call Crazy Bob for a catalog. Their phone number is (617) 662-9363.
[Editor's note: RDC's free CD-ROM Access Disk has been updated to include information about and batch files for some of the newer CD-ROM titles.]
Right now, MegaDots is our flagship program for creating braille. We are often asked for a list of differences between our BEX-TranscriBEX Apple II software and MegaDots. Part of the difficulty of coming up with a list is that MegaDots works so seamlessly that it is difficult to sort MegaDots into a list of features.
(Facilitating Simultaneous Preparation of Print and Braille)
We invite you to tell us about other differences you have noticed between TranscriBEX/BEX and MegaDots.
We have had some reports that the screen access program JAWS does not work with MegaDots. The problems go away when you load JAWS into high memory. For information about loading TSR programs into high memory, read the file MEM.MEG in your MegaDots directory (an article from the March-April 1992 Newsletter). We have tested MegaDots with JAWS version 2.2, and things work. We cannot vouch for earlier versions of JAWS. If you are having problems with MegaDots, please contact us for assistance.
Yes, it is true; MegaDots is a RAM memory intensive program. The best way to find out how much RAM memory you have available is to use DOS 5.0. At the DOS prompt (with DOS 5.0), type MEM /C <Enter>. Look at the line that describes the "largest executable program in DOS." We recommend that this number be at least 525,000 bytes before you use MegaDots. Some users have substantial amounts of RAM tied up in TSR programs (for example, having both Navigator and VERT software loaded at once). These systems may not be able to run MegaDots.
As we refine our software, we will make it usable on systems with less free RAM.
Some TSR programs do not work with the standard MegaDots. For example, the ZoomText screen enlargement program, the Navigator, and ASAP are not compatible with the standard MegaDots. We believe that these problems are caused by conflicts with the MegaDots braille keyboard program. The problems go away when you disable the MegaDots braille keyboard program.
The MegaDots braille keyboard program is a TSR called BKEYSDRV. When you install MegaDots on your system, the installation program requests permission to modify your AUTOEXEC.BAT file. If you gave this permission, the installation program inserted a line in AUTOEXEC.BAT which loads BKEYSDRV. To prevent the BKEYSDRV driver from being loaded, edit your AUTOEXEC.BAT file to add REM at the beginning of the line. The line should then read REM BKEYSDRV. For help on editing your AUTOEXEC.BAT file, see the item below. Now reboot your computer, and try MegaDots again with ZoomText, Navigator, ASAP, or whatever else you are working with. Please call Raised Dot Computing so that we can try to eliminate the clashes between the MegaDots braille keyboard driver and other software programs.
Before modifying AUTOEXEC.BAT, copy it to a floppy disk in case you mess it up and need to restore it. AUTOEXEC.BAT is a DOS textfile in your root directory which tells DOS what to do when you first boot your system. It is easiest to edit it with a textfile editor, if you use one. However, some people who have called our technical help line do all of their editing in WordPerfect. It is fine to edit your AUTOEXEC.BAT file in WordPerfect, as long as you make the proper choices. Load WordPerfect, press control-F5, and choose option 2 (to retrieve a DOS textfile, turning line breaks into hard returns). Give the filename C:\AUTOEXEC.BAT. Then do your editing. When you have finished editing, do not simply tell WordPerfect to save your document in C:\AUTOEXEC.BAT. If you did that, your textfile would be overwritten by a WordPerfect file which DOS cannot interpret properly. Instead, tell WordPerfect to "save generic" by pressing control-F5 and then choosing option 3 on the resulting menu. WordPerfect uses this term to describe saving your document in a textfile without inserting any carriage returns except for the hard returns in your document. Some of the lines in your AUTOEXEC.BAT file may be longer than 80 characters (especially the line with your path statement). Saving a generic file rather than a DOS textfile prevents WordPerfect from splitting up long lines which DOS needs to see as one line.
When formatting a document in textbook format, you need to indicate where the inkprint page transitions are. Place the cursor on the first character that is on the new inkprint page and press control-Ins I I <Enter>. If you look at the document with show markup, you should see the inkprint page indicator right adjacent to the first characters of the new page. Some users of MegaDots are adding an extra carriage return before and after the inkprint page indicator, so that it is in its own separate paragraph. MegaDots is not smart enough to filter out extra carriage returns. If you add extra returns in your data entry, you get extra carriage returns in the braille output.
If your document has a running head, do not put the first inkprint page indicator on the running head paragraph. Instead, advance the cursor to the next paragraph before inserting the inkprint page indicator.
The system that MegaDots uses for establishing your embosser (and inkprint printer) may be confusing to the uninitiated. Changing this information involves two steps, and a third step of saving your preferences. First we will give an example, and then we will explain how it works.
Suppose you want to say that your default embosser is the VersaPoint with carriage width 41 and form length 25 through LPT1. Select the Preferences Menu and then Braille Devices. Press <Ins> to insert a new device in your list, press F2 to get the list of possibilities, and select VersaPoint. Fill in the information requested on the form presented (carriage width, etc.). Then save that form with F10. Now you also need to tell MegaDots to format your new documents for the VersaPoint. Choose the Preferences Menu, New Document, Braille Document, and then Embosser. Press F2 to get the list of embossers, and choose VersaPoint from the list. MegaDots asks if you want to change this in all open documents. Answer "Yes." There is an important final step. If you don't save your preferences, your new settings will be lost when you exit MegaDots. In the Preferences Menu choose the Save Preferences option. Unless you keep several different sets of preferences, press <Enter> to accept the default name for the environment file (the file which contains your preferences).
Here is why you have to do both steps before saving your preferences. MegaDots uses two different pieces of information to know how to send braille to your embosser. In your list of MegaDots preferences are descriptions of various brailling devices, listed by the embosser name (from Bookmaker Interpoint to VersaPoint). Under Preferences, Braille Devices, you can fully describe each embosser that you use, giving carriage width and form length, connection port, etc. You can define as many of these as you want. But describing an embosser under Preferences, Braille Devices does not tell MegaDots that you want to use that embosser description for any particular MegaDots document. Which embosser you want to use is stored as part of each document. To tell MegaDots to use the VersaPoint embosser description for all new documents, choose Preferences, New Document, Braille Document, Embosser.
When you have saved your preferences with both of these items, things work much more smoothly. When you open a new document, MegaDots knows the carriage width and form length to use in the WYSIWYG braille format. When you choose F7 to print braille, you won't have to change the "embosser" all the time. When you braille a file from the command line, using /B <space> /Q after the filename, the output will be appropriate for your embosser.
You can also change previously created documents to be for the embosser you want. Just choose Document Menu, Braille Document Set-up, Embosser, and select the embosser you want. When you save the document with F4, the new information is stored with the document. Be aware that individual documents can vary from your standards. You can associate one document with the "Thiel" while most of your documents are associated with "VersaPoint."
Sometimes we get phone calls asking how to get rid of a special text enhancement, such as italics. Press Alt-W to get into show markup mode. In show markup mode, you can see the explicit start and end markup for things like italics. Get your cursor on top of either the start or end markup; the cursor will be on the left arrow which begins the markup command. Then press the delete key. Both the start markup and the end markup will disappear. There is no easy way of removing italics in WYSIWYG mode.
In MegaDots, hierarchy means what level an item is. Is an item in the table of contents at the main level, or is it at a sub-level, or at a sub-sub level, etc.?
Some MegaDots styles (such as contents, index, outline, exercise, and poetry) allow for a system of hierarchy. This simplifies the system of styles by allowing one style (such as contents) to stand for a whole collection.
The MegaDots Reference Card has a section giving the various keyboard commands which control hierarchy levels. Press Alt-right arrow to move down, for example from main level to sub level. Press Alt-left arrow to move up, for example from sub-sub level to sub level.
The MegaDots style system is comprehensive enough to include detailed information about how to format paragraphs at different hierarchy levels. For example, if all items in an index are found at the main level, then indent is at cell 1 and runover is at cell 3. If some items in an index are found at the sub level, then indent for the main level is at cell 1 and runover is at cell 5. For each additional level in a complex index, increase the indent by 2 cells, and increase the runover by 2 cells. For example, the sub-sub level has its indent at cell 5 and runover at cell 9.
MegaDots knows that and knows when an index shifts from "being all at the main level" to "being multilevel". MegaDots knows how deep a poem goes and automatically calculates the runover. MegaDots also knows that you do not show a hierarchy in a poem in literary format. Try it: set up a multi-level poem and shift between textbook format and literary format.
Most elements of formatting in MegaDots are done on a paragraph basis. One thing which does not fit into this easy pattern is transcriber's notes. A transcriber's note can come in the middle of a paragraph. So MegaDots treats transcriber's notes as belonging to a paragraph. When you want a transcriber's note between two paragraphs, type the transcriber's note as if it were at the end of the previous paragraph. Now highlight the transcriber's note as a block, and type control-F T.
Expensive programs for converting MS-DOS files to Apple DOS 3.3 or ProDOS files, and for converting Apple DOS 3.3 or ProDOS files to MS-DOS files are available. I do these conversions with my Braille 'n Speak. The process involves importing files into BEX from the Braille 'n Speak, and printing the results back to the Braille 'n Speak. Before describing the steps in the procedure, I need to point out that I am using an Apple IIe with BEX version 2.2 and a Braille 'n Speak 640 with an external disk drive (available from Blazie Engineering). To my mind, this indicates that you do not need the latest equipment in order to do these conversions.
That is all there is to it. Good luck.
[About the Author: Fred Sanderson is a Braille 'n Speak fan in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and works as a guidance counselor at the Oneida Tribal School. He has a Masters Degree in Counseling from Marquette University and another Masters Degree in Classical Languages from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.]
One of MegaDots' amazing features is the ability to automatically format braille tables. Braille tables are extremely difficult and time-consuming to produce by hand in columnar form (officially called the line-for-line method). Before the introduction of MegaDots, there was no quick and easy way, with or without a computer, to produce braille tables.
We think that it is easy to create braille tables with MegaDots. In a computer file, each row in a table contains several items separated by the tab character or by multiple spaces. When MegaDots imports a file from another word processor containing a table in this format, it automatically turns it into a MegaDots table. If you are typing a table directly into MegaDots, just press the tab key between items and the carriage return key at the end of each row. You tell MegaDots how to format a table by choosing one of six different "table styles."
MegaDots is a style-based system. In a MegaDots document, each paragraph has a style, which tells MegaDots how to format it. MegaDots has 6 different styles for tables, which allow for different methods of formatting a table. Press Alt-T to get the list of table styles. Press F1 for help, which amounts to a summary of this article. Once you have a table in MegaDots, you can change the style quickly to try a different layout. The table styles are named Line-for-Line, Stairstep, Paragraph, Offset, Labeled, and Dual. When the cursor is anywhere in the table, press Alt-T and select one of the six table styles shown. MegaDots immediately formats the entire table accordingly. (As described below, MegaDots sometimes cannot accept your choice of the line-for-line table style.)
The line-for-line table format is an official format approved by the Braille Authority of North America. It is described as part of the Textbook Code, and the Literary Code references that. The layout of a line-for-line braille table is very much like the layout of an inkprint table, but there are very specific formatting rules. In a braille line-for-line table, each column is separated from the next column by a "gutter" of two braille cells. (If two adjacent columns are both entirely numeric, then the gutter between those two columns is only one cell.) Any blank items in the table are shown as a dash (a double hyphen). If there would be five or more spaces between adjacent items, you use guide dots in place of some of the spaces. These are placed so that the first item is followed by one space, two or more guide dots, two spaces, and the next item. MegaDots handles these table formatting rules and others automatically.
The biggest problem with line-for-line tables is fitting the average print table into a braille page with its carriage width of 40 or so. Even if you divide some items between two lines (with item runover), many tables just do not fit into the line-for-line format.
For a human transcriber, this is not too much of a problem since there are several alternative ways of preparing tables in braille. A human transcriber can choose the most appropriate alternative approach. These sorts of judgment calls are harder for computer software to make. MegaDots solves this problem by switching from line-for-line to a different table style. The user specifies what to use as the alternative table style. One of the set-up questions in MegaDots is "back-up table style." This defines what MegaDots is to do if it cannot figure out a way to arrange a particular table in the line-for-line format.
Thus MegaDots is totally automatic when it comes to tables. Your tables in WordPerfect or WordStar are automatically formatted in braille. MegaDots analyzes the table to figure out the most appropriate tab settings. If MegaDots finds reasonable tab stops, it does a good job of creating a line-for-line braille table according to all appropriate rules for braille formatting.
The stairstep format for braille tables is an official format approved by the Braille Authority of North America. However, a stairstep table uses up a lot of braille paper. Each item in a stairstep table begins on a new line. The first item in each row is blocked to cell 1. The second item in each row is blocked to cell 3. The third item in each row is blocked to cell 5, and so on. Each item is like a stairstep, with the items in one row making a staircase.
When you tell MegaDots that a table has the stairstep style, it formats the table as a stairstep table in braille. Despite its drawbacks, the stairstep style is our choice as the default back-up style, to be used when the line-for-line style does not work out.
The paragraph format for braille tables is also an official format approved by the Braille Authority of North America. A paragraph table makes a paragraph out of each row of the table. The first item in each paragraph (row) is followed by a colon and a space. Subsequent items in the paragraph are followed by a semi-colon and a space. The last item in each paragraph is followed by a period. The paragraph is outdented in list format, with indent to cell 1 and runover to cell 3.
The problem with the paragraph style is that it does not allow for reading down one column. The paragraph table format is ideal for something like a table of switch settings for different baud rates. When you use a table like that, there is no need to read down any column, but only across. For example, you just want to know how to set the switches for 9600 baud (across one row); you are not interested in knowing how switch 3 is set for the different baud rates (down one column).
When you tell MegaDots to format a table in the paragraph style, it creates a paragraph table in braille. Since the paragraph style butchers tables so badly, it is not useful in most applications.
In the spirit of adventure, Raised Dot Computing also offers three additional styles for formatting tables that have no official standing at all. These styles were inspired by the problem of producing bus schedules in braille. If you like these methods of formatting tables or have some suggestions for additional methods, let us know. We can all encourage BANA (the Braille Authority of North America) to add additional methods for formatting tables.
Essentially, the offset style is just like line-for-line, except that there is no cell runover, and more than one braille line is used for each inkprint row. Columns in the additional lines are offset from those in the first line, so that the braille reader knows whether she is reading the first or the second braille line of each inkprint row. MegaDots creates this format when you specify "offset table style" for a table. Do not use this style when producing braille for others without a detailed transcriber's note explaining how to read these tables.
The Labeled style is just like our offset table style, except that each item has a letter indicating its column. The first column is labeled a, the second b, etc.
In the dual style, you squeeze in as many columns as you can using the line-for-line method (without cell runover). The extra columns are then done using the stairstep method (starting in cell 3).
The table styles of Offset and Labeled were invented at Raised Dot Computing. Inside of RDC, we had different ideas of how to calculate the tab stops in the subsequent braille lines. Rather than compromise, we made both systems available to the MegaDots user.
In the Braille Document Submenu of the Document Menu, one field (question) is Compact Offset and Labeled Tables? The answer to this question determines how the tab settings are calculated for these two table styles. If you answer "No," then the tab settings for the second line (or beyond) are based on the layout for the first line of braille, but indented by two cells. This may create large gaps in these lines. If you answer "Yes," then the program sets the tab settings in a fashion designed to eliminate "wasted space." The price for eliminating the extra spaces is that the table may be more difficult to read.
In the MegaDots Editor, type in a short table of your choice. To demonstrate MegaDots at Closing the Gap, we made a table where column one had the name of a political candidate, column two had a food enjoyed by the candidate, and column three had a food disliked. To type in a table, press the tab key to separate table items. Just press return at the end of each row. Now highlight the entire table as one block and press Alt-T LI <Enter> (for line-for-line table style). To see the proper layout, translate the file into braille, and select WYSIWYG mode.
You have just created a line-for-line table. Or perhaps you didn't. If the lines are too long to fit in the line-for-line format, the table will automatically shift into the back-up style you specified in your preferences. If you never specified a back-up table style in your preferences, it will be the stairstep style (the default back-up table style). If you prefer a different style for a particular table, assign it in the editor. Just put your cursor anywhere in the table and select a different table style. If you prefer, delete some material from the table until it shifts into the line-for-line style.
To see the power of MegaDots, change the table style. Put the cursor anywhere on the table and select different table styles. Press Alt-T P <enter> for the paragraph style. Press Alt-T S <Enter> for the stairstep style. Now press Alt-T LI <enter> to get back to the line-for-line style. Amuse yourself by inserting or deleting characters from the longest item in a column (but not in the last column). Entire columns shift around to show you that MegaDots recalculates each table for each one of your keystrokes. Enjoy.
MegaDots now has the ability to read braille formatted files into MegaDots. This feature is available in MegaDots 1.1. [See the article "Introducing MegaDots Version 1.1" for the details.] There are many different sources of braille formatted files. Hot Dots creates .BFM files, Duxbury creates .BRF files, PokaDot creates braille formatted files, and Microbraille creates a special format that includes many high bit characters. All of these files can now be read into MegaDots.
One of the major problems with braille formatted files is that they are difficult to change. If you need to modify a braille formatted file for a narrower carriage width, you are out of luck. If you need to correct massive misspellings or add omitted text, then you have a major problem on your hands.
The reason is simple. A braille formatted file is just a list of the characters that need to be sent to the embosser, with a carriage return at the end of each braille line. If adding text to a line makes it run over into the next line, you have to manually adjust the format of the lines which follow. The text on the lines with the page numbers will change also. Adjusting for the position of page numbers is really tricky, and best left to a computer.
When MegaDots reads a braille formatted file, it breaks the file into the constituent parts. It figures out which lines make up different paragraphs. MegaDots identifies important formatting structures: title pages, tables of contents, main body pages, page numbers, inkprint page indicators, running heads, and so much more.
To bring a braille formatted file into MegaDots, just type MEGA, then the filename, and then <Enter>. For example, to edit a Microbraille file called WEST.BRL in MegaDots, just type MEGA WEST.BRL <Enter> at the command line. MegaDots recognizes the file as a Microbraille file and imports it as a braille file. If you want to, you can run the back translator and fix the file in inkprint. When you are satisfied with the document, you can translate it back into braille. The braille can be formatted for the carriage width that you want, perhaps a narrow width for the Braille Blazer.
At some point, someone will develop a simple, inexpensive means of optically scanning paper braille into computer files. If this technology existed, then libraries could save their existing paper masters of braille on computer disk. The traditional way of producing braille is transcribing by hand on paper. Duplicate copies are made by means of the Thermoform machine (using vacuum-formed plastic on the paper masters).
If the paper masters were scanned onto computer disks, then MegaDots could be used to create files which allow for modification of the original work. Possible applications include correcting errors in braille contractions or formatting, correcting errors of missing or extra dots, and including omitted material. A future application might be making new braille copies to conform to changes in the official braille codes.
There are several reasons for scanning all the paper masters. One is security. Several warehouses full of paper masters of braille have had fires. Once the paper masters are gone, there is no way to reconstruct the braille without repeating the exhausting work of transcribing the books into braille again. Once books are stored in computer files, back-up copies can be saved at a secondary site.
Another reason to scan braille masters is cost. It is very expensive to inventory and store all the paper masters. If the "master copies" of all the books for an organization were stored on disk, then the space requirements for that organization would drop tremendously.
Finally, the time is right to scan. Embossers are getting better, faster, more reliable, and cheaper. More books are being created and distributed electronically. Translation programs (like MegaDots) are getting more powerful and more user friendly. Technologies like CD-ROM look like the ideal way of distributing vast numbers of "braille formatted files" cheaply. For thoughts in this direction, see the article "Some Thoughts on Braille Transcribing" in the November/December 1991 issue of the RDC Newsletter.
MegaDots can also read TranscriBEX files. This is a great way of saving all your hard work without having to keep an Apple around for your old files. Besides, the translator and formatter are better in MegaDots, giving you better braille when the data is moved over to MegaDots.
TranscriBEX is our Apple II braille transcribing software. Source files in TranscriBEX contain a series of commands starting with \\.
Your first job is to convert the Apple II files into PC files. The best way is to use a straight through cable to connect the Super Serial Card with the PC serial port (assuming that you can arrange it so that your Apple sits next to a PC). On the Apple, create a set-up chapter consisting of: <control-I> 1D <CR> <control-I> 7P <CR> $$z (do not put anything after the z). On the PC, use modem software (such as Procomm) to listen to the serial port.
Tell your modem software which serial port you are using (COM1 or COM2), and set the port for 9600 baud, 8 data bits, no parity, and 1 stop bit. Tell the modem software to save the incoming text to a file (on Procomm this is Alt-F1). On the Apple, print the set-up chapter followed by your TranscriBEX chapters. (You can print several TranscriBEX chapters if you want to combine them in one file on the PC.) When the Apple is finished, close the file on the PC and exit the modem software. You have just transfered a TranscriBEX chapter to the PC.
To read the file into MegaDots, just type MEGA filename <Enter>. MegaDots will automatically recognize the file as a TranscriBEX file (because of the \\ commands) and will invoke the necessary file conversion software!
Equipment For Sale: I have several items for sale: Kurzweil Personal Reader Model 30 with bookedge scanner, hand-camera, version 2.1 software, and PC/KPR adapter kit (board for PC and accompanying software). It is in mint condition, with all cables and manuals in braille, cassette, and print.
I also have two VersaBraille Classic Model P2Cs in good working condition. No manuals included but all cables and chargers are included.
I will provide one hour of free technical support on installation, set-up, and usage. I will consider any reasonable offer. Call collect if necessary for more information or to make an offer.
Contact Olga Espinola at: 1906 Brookhaven Circle, NE Atlanta, GA 30319
Susan Haldiman, Shipper to the Stars; David Holladay, President; Aaron Leventhal, Software Development; Linda Millard, Bookkeeper; Susan Murray, Offic Manager; Caryn Navy, Vice-President.
We have mentioned many products in this Newsletter. All are trademarked by their respective companies.