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.
From the Editor -- Caryn Navy
New Staff Member -- Susan Haldiman
In an effort to be more realistic about our schedule, we have decided to make this a double issue (98-99) for September through December 1992. The RDC Newsletter will become a quarterly publication beginning with issue #100, the issue for winter 1993. We believe that the quarterly schedule is one that we can keep to, no matter what other projects are keeping us busy. The prices will remain the same: $18 a year for print, $20 for audio tape, and $24 for disk (BEX or MS-DOS data disk). When ordering the newsletter on disk, specify BEX or MS-DOS format and disk size.
Issue #100 also marks the 10th anniversary of the RDC Newsletter. We thank the hundreds of readers who have subscribed and sent in articles over the first ten years. Now that MegaDots is firmly planted and we are switching to a quarterly schedule, we hope to bring a lot of new energy to the newsletter. Send us your articles or your ideas about what should be in the newsletter as we begin its second decade.
This issue of the newsletter marks a turning point of sorts. For the first time we are doing the newsletter editing on a PC with MegaDots. However, we want the Newsletter to continue to address the needs of BEX and Hot Dots users as well as MegaDots users. In keeping with the spirit of the Newsletter, David and I have both an Apple 2gs and an IBM-PC clone in our household. We are proud to be raising a child who is equally accomplished on both computers. Our two-year-old son Seth has managed to modify the set-up menu settings on our PC and the control panel settings on our Apple 2gs. He also loves to "put disk in driveway" on both machines, as well as on the Braille 'n Speak Disk Accessory. He even puts 3.5 inch disks in our CD-ROM "driveway"; we do not recommend this.
One recent tech call reminded me that BEX seems to have a life of its own. A long-time BEX user called and said that all of a sudden BEX was giving him very terse prompts. Instead of saying "Drive or chapter:", it was saying "Chapter:"; instead of saying "Replace characters", it was simply saying "Replace". When I told him that he was simply using BEX at the master level, he was steadfast in his disbelief. Together we listened to the "View a configuration" output for his current configuration, and sure enough it was listed as a master level configuration. Still he swore that he had not changed from the user level up to the master level. My technical log says that his Fairy BEX-Mother decided that it was time for him to graduate to the BEX master level.
In the last issue I said that this issue would have more information about Flipper 4.0. However, I am putting that off until the next issue because I expect Flipper 4.0 to be shipping by that time. I am very excited by some of the new features in Flipper 4.0. For example, you can tell Flipper to look for up to ten different kinds of cursors and react in very specific ways to each kind of cursor.
It is slightly old news, but I am delighted to mention that there is now daytime technical support for ASAP. It is provided by Dennis Brown in Georgia at (404) 508-1418 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time.
In the last issue of the Newsletter we included an article by David Holladay about purchasing CD-ROM equipment and titles which described many CD-ROM packages sold by DAK Inc. Shortly after we sent out that issue, we got a catalog from DAK with all the same CD-ROM titles arranged in different bundles with different names. I suspect that you can buy either the old bundles or the new bundles. Please get a new catalog from DAK before ordering.
After consulting with the Board Members of that wacky company Sensory Overload, Inc., we have decided that their catalog will appear in our winter 1993 issue.
That issue will go into production somewhat late, in May 1993. If you have product ideas for Sensory Overload or any other articles for that issue, please send them to us or contact us by May 17. We would love to receive reviews or articles about your experiences with new devices, such as the Juliet Embosser from Enabling Technology, the Everest Embosser from TeleSensory, An Open Book from Arkenstone, the Reading Edge from Kurzweil-Xerox Imaging, the Porta Thiel embosser, etc. <endarticle>
Alas, Carolyn the Shipping Goddess has transcended to other planes. So who is that mysterious woman whose name was in the last issue? Hello. There's another Sue in the office now (oh no!), and while I haven't yet achieved godhood, I am in charge of buying coffee for the office, which makes me a pretty powerful figure around here. Even though I've only been here a little while, I'm already up for employee of the month for knowing more animated-Christmas-special trivia quiz answers than anyone else.
I come to Raised Dot with a very "colorful" job history, which is what comes with an English degree these days. I do the shipping, data entry, and disk repair, and look forward to increasing my knowledge of computers so that I can expand even more in the company. My main interests are art, feminism (just ask Aaron!) and hanging out in coffeehouses. <endarticle>
Since the birth of MegaDots in August, we have been nursing it and watching it grow. In April we will ship version 1.2 and distribute updating disks to all previous customers. A new MegaDots demo disk is available as well. There are some major improvements in version 1.2 over version 1.1. Because of the major changes, we have sent a pre-release edition out to a group of beta testers.
One major improvement in version 1.2 is the ability to handle large files. On 286 or higher systems with at least 2 megabytes of RAM, you can use MegaDots Enhanced. MegaDots Enhanced is able to use expanded memory to store your documents. This means that MegaDots Enhanced can handle much larger files without problems. David and Aaron demonstrated MegaDots 1.2 at the Can-SUN (California State University at Northridge) conference on technology and disability on a 33 megahertz 486 machine with 8 megabytes of memory. A highlight of their demonstration was processing the novel War and Peace into braille. On the computer they brought, it took 80 seconds to translate the entire novel into braille (embossing time not included!). It would be 2786 braille pages (40 by 25).
Be aware that this demo left out the time it took to import the ASCII file into an inkprint MegaDots file. A fairer demonstration would take War and Peace from ASCII textfile up to the time the embosser starts up. On the same computer, this takes 12 minutes (i.e. over 90% of the processing time is file importation). Thanks go to Nick Dotson of Dots-On Enterprises for giving us the idea to show off MegaDots with War and Peace.
MegaDots 1.2 also includes an unenhanced version for machines without the memory required for using MegaDots Enhanced. Except for the ability to handle massive files, the Regular Edition has all of the features of the Enhanced Edition.
The other major improvement is in the area of voice access. In version 1.2, tracking the cursor with voice in the MegaDots menus does not require any special fiddling with your screen reading program; if you ask for voice parameters when you load MegaDots, it always uses the regular DOS cursor. MegaDots 1.2 gives an assortment of friendly verbal messages to let you know what is happening. It also has special voice commands to hear specific parts of your document or to get information about where you are.
We have reorganized the MegaDots manual for version 1.2. There is more tutorial material, and there are more entries in the Reference Manual. When you receive your MegaDots update, the improved manual is on the disk. Feel free to make a print, braille, or textfile copy. When the text is fully stabilized, we will record an audio copy and send it out to all earlier MegaDots customers.
MegaDots version 1.2 can import BEX and Hot Dots files, interpreting $$ formatting commands and creating roughly equivalent formatting information in the MegaDots document.
There are many other new features and bug fixes in version 1.2. We thank our MegaDots customers for their input about MegaDots, and we thank Aaron Leventhal for his lead role in maintaining rapid progress. We will continue to provide periodic free MegaDots updates until MegaDots' first birthday later this year.
We are keeping the prices for MegaDots stable until the end of 1993. MegaDots costs $500. A trade-in from Hot Dots version 3 costs $125, and a trade-in from BEX or an earlier version of Hot Dots costs $250. Duxbury owners: ask about our competitive trade-in deal. <endarticle>
The new Echo PC is a complete, stand-alone speech synthesizer from Echo Speech Corporation (formerly Street Electronics). At present, it is supported by the following screen access programs: ASAP, Flipper 4.0, IBM Screen Reader, JAWS, Slimware Window Bridge, Soft Vert, Tiny Talk, and Vocal-Eyes.
Like the earlier Echo PC, it has an on-board microprocessor, a built-in speaker, text-to-speech firmware, serial interface, and a wall-mounted power supply. However, there are a number of differences between the new battery powered Echo PC and the older version.
The Echo PC may now be powered with either a 9 volt battery (alkaline or rechargeable NiCad) or with the included plug-in power supply. NiCads require their own charger and are not recharged within the Echo using its power supply. Battery life will vary depending on the quantity of speech being spoken and its volume. Current estimates are 5 to 15 hours with an alkaline battery and about half that with a NiCad. When a new battery or recharge is necessary, a spoken low battery alarm will be activated.
There are no DIP switches included on the new Echo. The baud rate is set at 9600 with one stop bit and no parity. Either Xon/Xoff protocol or hardware handshaking may be used. The Xon and Xoff are automatically sent every time the status lines change state, regardless of status levels from the host.
The amount of RAM built into the new Echo is very small. The text buffer is only 32 bytes with status lines cleared and Xoff sent at 24 characters and the status lines set and Xon sent at 16 characters. The phoeneme buffer is somewhat larger and can buffer phonemes equivalent to roughly one line of text. Talking is generated when a carriage return or punctuation character is sent, or when the phoneme buffer overflows.
The <control-E> command structure of the older version has been retained. All commands remain the same with the addition of the new rate and "zero punctuation" commands detailed below.
The new Echo supports 16 different speech rates. The older <control-Every>E and <control-Every>C commands still work. But you can select 16 different rates with a command like <control-E>11E.
A "zero" punctuation mode has been added to the "all", "most", and "some" punctuation modes of the older Echo. When a <control-E> Z command is issued, the Echo will not speak any punctuation that is sent to it, leaving all interpretation of punctuation up to the software in the host PC.
Sending a <control-X> will cause the Echo to "shut up" on a phoneme boundary, without the annoying "bloop," or "strangling noise," of the older Echo. Programmers should be aware that they may have to send a <control-X> regardless of the status line in order to make sure that the Echo does shut up.
The Echo also has an indexing feature. This gives a programmer of voice software more control over the Echo speech. Indexing lets the voice software know when each word is spoken; this means that the voice software can interrupt the speech at a desired location. Some of the screen access programs listed in this article may not use the Echo's indexing feature.
The new Echo uses a 9 pin connector rather than the older 25 pin connector. The unit has a single thumbwheel knob which controls the on/off and the volume. There is also an earphone jack. The LED power indicator of the older model has been eliminated.
RDC is selling the new Echo PC for $130, about half the price of the older Echo PC. <endarticle>
Are you a new computer user? Do you need to improve your computer skills? Are instructions only in print or on computer diskette? Perhaps you are wondering how you're going to manage.
Talk-to-Me Tutorials will lead you through computer set-up, teach you basic computer skills, or help you stay competitive in today's computer-intensive job market. A Talk-to-Me Tutorial will give you confidence and understanding of the program featured and its capabilities without your having to turn to the printed manual. All of the Talk-to-Me Tutorials are professionally recorded and come in handy bookshelf cases. As the commands typed in by instructor Doug Wakefield are repeated by the high quality voice synthesizer "Mechanical Max," the partnership reinforces learning and makes it fun. The audio format lets you learn at your own pace at home or at work.
RDC is pleased to announce the latest Talk-to-Me Tutorial, GO-MS-DOS 5.0. The price drop on all the Talk-to-Me Tutorials will make them even more attractive. RDC is now selling the Talk-to-Me Tutorials for $75 each.
Many people have asked us what kinds of files you can read into MegaDots. This article gives a complete list. Note that this list is different from the one for Hot Dots version 3. We chose to use a different vendor for licensing the conversion software. (Hot Dots uses R/DocX from Advanced Innovation Research; MegaDots uses Word for Word from Mastersoft.) We hope you agree that MegaDots has a comprehensive, modern list of file conversion possibilities.
You can also export MegaDots files into any of these formats. In effect, you could use MegaDots as a conversion engine. For example, you could import a file from Microsoft Word for Windows and export it to WordPerfect 5.1.
Some of the file converters are part of MegaDots. Others are part of an additional low-cost supplemental conversion package. Some people ask us why we divided the file converters into two lists. We have several reasons. One reason is that we are offered a discount from the file conversion software vendor for packages having under a certain number of file converters. Another reason is that when you install both groups of file converters plus the rest of MegaDots, you use up over 5 megabytes of hard disk space. We did not want MegaDots to get a reputation for using up a vast amount of hard disk space. Finally, if MegaDots included all the file converters, some people would think they were "being forced" to buy something they do not intend to use.
One nice feature of MegaDots is that you usually don't
have to know which file type a file is. MegaDots includes an automatic
file type recognizer. All you have to do is type
<Enter>, and MegaDots works out all the details to import
JUNK.DOC, as long as it is one of the file types on the
supported list. You do not need to know if it is a WordStar file or an
In the two lists below, file types marked with an asterisk were added in MegaDots version 1.2.
The following file conversions are possible with MegaDots. They require the purchase of the Supplemental Package for MegaDots. This package deal is $35 for all of the file types in this list.
You can control many aspects of MegaDots when you call
it from the command line (the DOS
> prompt). One
deficiency of the MegaDots manual is that it does not cover the variety of
options available when you call MegaDots. See the beginning of the
MegaDots Reference Card for a summary of the options described in this
Use these options to get more information about how to use MegaDots at the command line. These commands do not actually load or execute the MegaDots software.
MEGA /? <Enter> to get a
summary list of command line options. This displays a screen of
information and then leaves you back at the command line.
MEGA /w to list all the Word
Processing code numbers (see below). Then the program returns you to the
MEGA <Enter> to get into
MegaDots without referencing any file. Use this if you do not want to open
or import any files.
MEGA [file name] <Enter> to
open or import a particular file when you run MegaDots. MegaDots
automatically recognizes dozens of word processor file formats and then
does the appropriate file conversions to open the file in MegaDots. The
? are allowed. You can also list
more than one file name.
You could type
MEGA FISH.MEG TROUT.TXT
<Enter> to load both of these files into MegaDots. Notice
that there is just a space between the file names. Once you are in
MegaDots, use F8 to switch between the two documents.
MEGA X*.MEG <Enter> to load
all the files in the current directory with names that start with X and
have the MEG file extension. Be careful about using wildcards -- it is
very easy to specify more files than MegaDots can load into memory at one
MegaDots has many personalities and can be adapted for many purposes. By setting the preferences appropriately, you can configure it for sighted or blind persons.
Sometimes you may have complicated situations, such as a need to make braille output from the same embosser at a variety of carriage widths. Or a blind user may want to temporarily make the program blind-friendly without changing the stored preferences.
<space> /v <space> /u in
the line calling MegaDots to run MegaDots with "blank screen mode" and
"unframed text mode" for voice output. Blank screen mode, recommended for
blind users, clears text off the screen when a window pops up. Unframed
text mode, added in MegaDots 1.2, eliminates the visual borders from the
screen. When you call MegaDots with both of these options (if you have
version 1.2 or higher), MegaDots provides some extra voice features for
blind users. Adding the slash v and /u does not change your stored
preferences. It is a quick way to allow a blind person to get up and
running on MegaDots before setting up the preferences. After you have
called MegaDots with the /v and /u options, you need only to save your
preferences to make these options permanent.
/m in the command line to run
MegaDots in monochrome mode (turn colors off). (This was recommended for
blind users in MegaDots versions 1.0 and 1.1 but is no longer needed in
At the command line, you can call up MegaDots with
different sets of preferences. Type
/e[environment file] to
run MegaDots with a specific environment file. For example, you could
store sighted preferences in
DH.ENV and blind preferences in
CN.ENV. To run MegaDots with the sighted preferences, just
/eDH to the command line. Notice that there is no space
after the slash e and that you do not include the
extension. The default environment filename is
when you don't specify any environment name, MegaDots gets your
preferences from it.
Caryn found that she often forgot to specify her
environment file when starting MegaDots. So she created a batch file
CMEG.BAT to do it for her. The batch file contains two
MEGA %1 %2 %3 %4 %5 %6 /ECN
When she starts MegaDots, she types CMEG instead of MEGA and whatever parameters she wants. The sequence of percent signs and numbers allows for calling MegaDots with additional parameters, such as filenames or options to influence the file importation (see below).
When you import a file, usually MegaDots does the right thing. It automatically recognizes the format and builds an appropriate MegaDots file. There are some exceptions, when MegaDots needs further guidance.
If you have a file that is a listing of a computer
program, you need to tell MegaDots to use the CBC (Computer Braille Code)
translator for the entire document. Type
in the line that calls MegaDots to treat the file as a computer program.
Notice that this has to be done at the command line. You cannot use this
option when you import a file from within MegaDots.
When MegaDots encounters a textfile, it uses a special program written by Raised Dot Computing to enhance the ability to distinguish soft returns from hard returns. A hard return indicates the start of a paragraph, and a soft return is inside of a paragraph. If MegaDots sees that the first word on a line could have fit at the end of the previous line, it assumes that there is a paragraph division between those two lines.
Usually, this allows for expert division of text into
logical paragraphs. It works best if the textfile was created by software
using a fixed carriage width. If you have a textfile with changing
carriage width or created manually by someone without regard for carriage
width or optically scanned from proportionally spaced material (i.e., a
ragged right margin), then there is a problem. MegaDots will break up
logical paragraphs. To stop making choppy paragraphs, add
<space> -0109 to the line calling MegaDots. Notice that
this has to be done from the command line. You cannot use this option when
you import a file from within MegaDots.
You can type
<space> -[4-digit WP code
number] in the line calling MegaDots to import a file using the
conversion specified by the 4-digit code. For the list of file type code
numbers, see the last section of the reference card, or type
<Enter> at the command line. However, this is needed only
very rarely. It is most helpful when dealing with an ASCII textfile; you
might need to use -0109 for ASCII quick mode (bypassing the textfile
preprocessor), -0101 for ASCII line (all returns start a new paragraph),
or -0100 for ASCII document.
If you do not know what kind of file you imported into MegaDots and want to find out, use the command control-F4 to begin the dialogue for exporting it. After you give a filename for the exported file, MegaDots asks you what file type to use. MegaDots presents you with a list of file types, and your cursor is on the file type it used during importation. Be careful not to overwrite the original file. Instead of pressing <Enter> to select a file type, press escape to avoid actually exporting the document.
Most braille translation programs work directly from the command line. You tell your braille translator to translate a file and then produce it in braille. While MegaDots has an editing environment, it also lets you process a file entirely from the command line. This lets you make your own batch files to take a file and produce braille in one easy step.
MEGA [file name] /b /q <Enter>
to open or import the file into MegaDots, convert it to braille, and then
output it directly to your brailling device. When MegaDots has finished,
it returns you to the command line. The slash b means "translate this into
braille," and the slash q means "and directly output to the braille
device. If the file is already a MegaDots document, the braille device is
the one saved with the document (which you may have changed in the
document menu). If MegaDots needs to import the document, it uses your
"default braille device," the embosser specified in your new document
preferences. Notice that you can add a slash e followed immediately by an
environment file to change the device that MegaDots uses from the command
line. For example, your standard preferences, stored in
ENVIRON.ENV may use the VersaPoint, while another environment
DUAL.ENV, brailles simulated braille dots together with
the line-for-line inkprint back translation to your inkprint printer.
The slash q has a series of modifiers so that you can
further manipulate the output. You can add a port or file name jammed
directly after the slash q (i.e., no space after the q). For example,
MEGA FISH.TXT /b /qFISH.BFM creates a braille formatted file
from the FISH.TXT file. Or you could write
MEGA FISH.TXT /b
/qCOM2 to send the braille to a device attached to the second
You can run several files in a row through MegaDots in
Quick Mode. For example, you could write
MEGA APPLE.DOC IBM.DOC
AMIGA.DOC /b /q <Enter> to import, translate and output three
different files. In this example, the page numbering would start over with
each new file. If you wanted to combine several files into one continuous
sequence of page numbers, enter as follows:
MEGA PRE.MEG CHAP1.MEG
CHAP2.MEG CHAP3.MEG /b /q+COM1 <Enter> This opens or imports
several files, translates them, and outputs through COM1. The plus sign
indicates that you want a continuous sequence of braille page numbers.
This is the technique we used to prepare the MegaDots manual in inkprint
and in braille.
What if you wanted to define the carriage width? You
can do that from the command line as well. Add a number sign followed by
the carriage width jammed after the filename or device name. For example,
enter as follows:
MEGA PRE.MEG CHAP1.MEG CHAP2.MEG CHAP3.MEG /b
/q+COM1#32 <Enter>. This opens or imports several files,
translates them, and outputs through COM1 with a carriage width of 32. Of
course you do not have to combine the use of the plus sign and the number
What about inkprint? You can output inkprint in the
same way. To generate inkprint output, just substitute slash i (for
inkprint) instead of the slash b (for braille). For example, enter
MEGA FROG.DOC /i /q <Enter> to open or import the file
in MegaDots, convert it to inkprint if necessary, and then output directly
to your inkprint device.
All of the options available for braille output, plus
one more, are also available for inkprint. For example, when you are
importing a file into MegaDots, you can specify an environment file to use
different inkprint devices or do different kinds of printing. For example,
if your environment file specifies large print in your new document
preferences, you can print large print from the command line. In inkprint
only, you can also vary the left margin on the fly. To output a file with
a carriage width of 72 and a left margin of 0, enter as follows:
MEGA FROG.DOC /i /qLPT1#72#0 <Enter>. The second number
sign introduces the left margin.
We know that these structures are fairly cryptic. Some of these were invented just to make it easier for us to create the batch files MEGAMAN and MEGAMANI on the MegaDots production and demo disks, which output the MegaDots manual in braille and in inkprint.
It is not difficult to build these statements into batch files. For example, let's say you have a VersaPoint embosser that you use through your parallel port. You could create a batch file called BRL.Bat that just consists of the following:
To use this batch file, all you need to do is type
BRL [file name] <Enter> to make a braille copy.
If you have installed MegaDots in your computer, then you have also installed a group of programs which come with MegaDots. These programs are not documented in the MegaDots manual. Use this Newsletter article to supplement the MegaDots manual. Run these programs from the DOS command line.
BIGCURSE increases the size of the DOS cursor. Run this utility if the normal DOS cursor is too small for you to read easily. The cursor becomes a block that fills the bottom half of a character cell. To get your normal cursor back, you must reboot your computer.
This utility is handy for those of you who can't stand the standard keyboard repeat rate. The repeat rate is the speed with which you get multiple characters when you hold down a particular key. Enter FASTATKB, plus a two digit number between 00 and 30, to set the repeat rate. For example, Aaron uses FASTATKB 00, which is the fastest rate possible. Experiment with this option until you find the number appropriate for you. To test a value, just hold down any key to find out how quickly it repeats.
This neat utility has the capability of quickly
finding files on your current drive that would otherwise be a pain to
search for. For example, typing
<Enter> would initiate a search across all directories and
subdirectories and report each and every occurrence of that filename. You
can also do more general searches by using the wildcards ? and *. Typing
WHERE RESUME.* would find the files called RESUME.TXT,
RESUME.MEG, and RESUME.OLD. Typing
WHERE CHAPTER?.TXT would
find files CHAPTER1.TXT through CHAPTER9.Txt.
This is the same global replace utility that Hot Dots 3.0 users are familiar with. MegaDots uses it for importing and exporting some special file formats. It is also a useful general purpose utility for changing textfiles based on a specific list of replacement rules. If you want to make changes to a MegaDots file, use the find and replace mechanism inside of MegaDots. If you want to manipulate an ASCII textfile, use the GLOBAL utility.
For example, you can replace all occurrences of
"Pepsi" with "Coke", or all occurrences of "form feed character" with a
space, or with special characters like "xxx" so that you can use them to
place inkprint page indicators in MegaDots. To use GLOBAL, just type
GLOBAL [input file] [output file] <Enter>. GLOBAL asks
you if you want to use a rules file on disk. Answer No. Then GLOBAL asks
you for the changes you want to make. It prompts you with "From:" for the
first string of characters that you want to change. Type them in and press
<Enter>. GLOBAL then prompts you with "To:" for the string of
characters you want as the replacement. Type them in and press
<Enter>. Then GLOBAL prompts "From:" again for another string of
characters to change. Continue listing the changes you want. When you are
finished listing changes, just press <Enter> at the "From:" prompt.
GLOBAL asks if you want to save these changes in a rules file. If you will
not want to make these changes again, answer No <Enter>. GLOBAL goes
ahead and executes the changes.
There are two ways of specifying control characters in
your list of changes. Press control-V (V for verbetim) followed by the
control character you want to specify. Or you can enter a tilde (~)
followed by the ASCII specification for the character as a two-digit
hexadecimal number. For example, the form feed character is
~0C, carriage return is
~0D, and line feed is
~0A. At RDC we prefer the tilde method because it allows you
to see and listen back to what you have typed.
If you might want to make these changes again, go ahead and answer Yes for saving them in a rules file. In a rules file, there is a line for each replacement. The from string is separated from the "to" string by a vertical bar. To see what a rules file looks like, examine the file TBXMEGA.RUL that comes with MegaDots. This is a rules file which translates TranscriBEX format commands into MegaDots format commands. Notice how each line of TBXMEGA.RUL contains a vertical bar.
If you want to, you can run GLOBAL at the command line
referencing an existing rules file. For example, you could type:
GLOBAL FISH.TXT TROUT.TXT FIN.RUL <Enter>. This would
make a new file TROUT.TXT based on FISH.TXT and the list of rules in
FIN.RUL. In this example, the rules file FIN.RUL must be in the current
GLOBAL makes a clicking noise for each replacement it makes and announces the total number of replacements when it is finished. If you would like to suppress these, add space slash S (S for silent) to the end of the line calling GLOBAL.
VIEW displays a braille formatted file on the screen to make it easier to read. If MegaDots created a braille formatted file and you want to check it out, use VIEW to verify the layout of your output pages. Like GLOBAL, this program was borrowed from Hot Dots 3.0.
To use VIEW, simply reference the name of a braille formatted file as follows: VIEW FISH.BFM <Enter>. You get a display on the screen that shows the first page of braille on the left side of the screen. The right side of the screen gives a "cheat sheet" to help you recognize the braille characters. Pressing up arrow or PageUp takes you back a page, pressing <Esc> exits the program, and pressing any other key advances one page.
LOOKSS helps you understand how MegaDots works. This
program "decodes" a style sheet, to let you find out the information
stored within it. To use LOOKSS, first change your current directory to be
in the MegaDots directory (usually
LOOKSS LITERARY will do a
screen dump of all the styles in your literary style sheet. A display of
this much information without pauses would be too difficult to read
(unless you have been taking a speed reading course and can read 5000
words a minute). Here are some ways to make the information easier to
LOOKSS LITERARY |MORE <Enter>
LOOKSS LITERARY >WHATEVER.TXT <Enter>
LOOKSS LITERARY >LPT1 <Enter>
LOOKSS LITERARY >COM1 <Enter>
The style sheets that come standard with MegaDots are:
BKEYS is different from BKEYSDRV (the program that MUST be run first to enable any six key keyboard entry). BKEYS switches six key keyboard entry on or off manually from the command line. It is useful if you wish to use six key entry in DOS or in software other than MegaDots.
Type /x <Enter>
BKEYS /o <Enter> to turn six
key entry on. Type
to turn six key entry off. If
an incompatibility arises with software after you have turned BKEYS on,
BKEYS <Enter> at the DOS prompt. This
deactivates it (i.e., takes it out of memory), which is different from
just turning it off.
[About the author: Aaron (code name: Slam) has been working at RDC for a little over three years now. He is the youngest member of the RDC staff and the chief coder for MegaDots.] <endarticle>
Here are a few pointers about MegaDots that have come up in technical phone calls.
The F3 key appears in the MegaDots file menu as a shortcut for loading a file. However, this key does not work while you are in the file menu, or any other menu. It works only when you are in the MegaDots editor. This seems to be causing some confusion, since several people have tried to use F3 to load files while in the file menu. The hot key commands F4 (for saving a document), control-F4 (for exporting a document), F5 (for translating), F6 (for closing a document), F7 (for printing), F8 and control-F8 (for moving to the next or previous document), and F9 and its variants (for searching) are also available only in the MegaDots editor.
When you are moving around the MegaDots WYSIWYG screen, your cursor bypasses lines which are placed in the output automatically because of style requirements and cannot be edited. For example, in WYSIWYG the MegaDots cursor passes over the blank lines that appear before and after a major heading in braille and the line containing the running head. If you are following the screen with voice or refreshable braille output, you may not realize that these lines are there. However, you will find these lines by using your screen reading program's voice cursor or going into its review mode or by reading the screen directly on your refreshable braille device.
We have spoken to several people who have run into trouble while processing an ASCII textfile into braille by going through WordPerfect. These callers have brought the ASCII textfile into WordPerfect in order to work on it in their favorite editing environment. After completing the editing in WordPerfect, they used MegaDots to create a braille version. The problem is that when they brought the ASCII textfile into WordPerfect, WordPerfect did not do a good job of deciding where to place hard returns (new paragraphs) and soft returns. When MegaDots imports the resulting file, it takes the WordPerfect hard and soft returns at face value. Therefore, MegaDots does not put new paragraphs in the correct places. There are several approaches to avoiding this problem. If you do not need to use WordPerfect, bypass that step and bring the ASCII textfile directly into MegaDots; if the file was scanned or has a ragged right margin, use the -0109 parameter at the command line (for ASCII quick mode). If you do need to use WordPerfect for intermediate editing or spell checking, first bring the ASCII textfile into MegaDots, likewise using the -0109 parameter if necessary. Then export the document to WordPerfect. We believe that this procedure does a better job of determining where to place WordPerfect hard and soft returns. Do the desired editing or spell checking in WordPerfect, and bring the document into MegaDots for braille processing when you are ready. We believe that this will give better results.
In the MegaDots editor, F9 means "simple find," and control-F9 means "complex find." Because complex find was still being developed when the first edition of the MegaDots manual was committed to paper, the manual directed users to the help screens. In addition, the term "complex find" may be somewhat intimidating. Here are a few uses of "complex find" which are actually quite simple.
In MegaDots, "simple find" is case sensitive. If you are looking for the word hurricane with the simple find option, you need to do several searches to find all occurrences--one with all small letters, one with the h capitalized, and one with the word in all caps. With the complex find option (control-F9), type the word hurricane enclosed between single quotes at the "enter text:" prompt. Then MegaDots takes you to all occurrences of hurricane, regardless of capitalization, as you keep pressing control-N for the next occurrence.
Perhaps you are looking for occurrences of the word
lamb without finding words like flamboyant.
Press control-F9, and at the "enter text:" prompt type:
<Enter>. The small q stands for blank or punctuation, and the
word lamb enclosed between single quotes refers to those
letters regardless of capitalization. The small q before and after the
lamb means those four letters are preceded and followed by a
blank or punctuation.
Perhaps you have brought an article into MegaDots to
read, and you are looking for any reference to graphical user
interface. You know that the author sometimes uses the term
graphical user interface and sometimes uses the abbreviation
GUI in all caps. Press control-F9, and at the "enter text:"
'graphical user interface'|q"GUI"q
<Enter>. The vertical bar means "Or." As you press control-N
to find the next occurrence, MegaDots looks for either graphical
user interface or GUI in all caps. Placing small q
before and after the letters GUI in quotes avoids stopping at
words like GUIDE, LINGUISTICS, and
You can also search for constructs like phone numbers.
To search for area codes, press control-F9, and at the "enter text:"
'('ddd')' <Enter>. Because the
parentheses are enclosed by single quotes, they are to be matched exactly
(except for letter case, which is irrelevant), and each small letter d
means a digit. So you are searching for left parenthesis followed by three
digits followed by right parenthesis. <endarticle>
For the last several years, Time Magazine has issued a CD-ROM with the complete text of the previous year's magazines. These CD-ROMs are very useful research tools since they contain a comprehensive (and searchable) database of world and national events, with a cross-section of stories on fads, movies, trivia, new products, scientific developments, social issues, and political background.
It was quite a disappointment to learn that their latest disk (titled Time Almanac 1992) was not accessible to blind users. Apparently, all the text was "painted" on the screen in a graphics mode, making it impossible to track with screen access technology.
I called up the company that produces the CD-ROM and tried, seemingly to no avail, to tell them the error of their ways. Then, to my surprise, one woman there mentioned that they could not get the graphical user interface to work on some computer networks. So they were forced to put in a hidden text interface. After some experimentation I have a batch file that works for screen access programs. Here is my batch file:
I call the batch file TIME92.Bat. To launch Time Almanac 1992, I just type TIME92. Then I wait about 10 seconds for a brief title screen to go away. There is a simple menu bar. The only other trick I noticed is that when I am reading an article, I need to press the Alt key to make the menu bar active. You need to do this to save an article to disk.
What conclusion do I draw? Other CD-ROM disks that we think are inaccessible may be accessible after all. We need to ask CD-ROM vendors if there is a "text user interface for use on networks." Asking if there is a "text user interface for blind users" is asking the wrong question!
[About the Author: Michael Busboom lives in Austria and is the intergalactic correspondent to the Raised Dot Computing Newsletter. He also helps represent Arkenstone in Europe. He has promised to write about accessible CD-ROMs in Europe. Encourage him by sending him electronic mail at his CompuServe address, 75775,60.] <endarticle>
At recent conferences (C-SUN and CTEVH), people have urged Raised Dot Computing to maintain and publish a registry of accessible and inaccessible CD-ROM titles. I agree that such a list would be very useful. Without dwelling on the negative, I must point out that no one has answered my pleas for information on what they have learned about CD-ROMs. Thus this list is entirely based on my own collection. If some readers who work with CD-ROMs would be so kind as to write up their own experiences with CD-ROM titles, we could make a more complete list. If you are interested in purchasing accessible CD-ROM titles, contact Raised Dot Computing for more information.
Warning: sometimes new editions of disks use different programming techniques that are designed to appeal to sighted persons. Always buy titles from vendors with a 30-day return policy. As a general rule, disks containing shareware collections and massive amounts of raw data are accessible. Disks containing maps, games, and material for small children are not. To my knowledge, the only accessible encyclopedia is the Grolier Encyclopedia.
One method for creating a raised line drawing involves making an inkprint drawing on braille paper which is the mirror image of the original. Then the transcriber traces the drawing with a tool that makes raised lines on the bottom side of the braille paper. When the braille paper is turned over, the raised line drawing matches the original drawing. This reversal process is equivalent to reversing right and left when you use a slate and stylus, punching down to make braille on the bottom side of your paper. The average transcriber can find it very difficult to lay out a drawing in reverse on the back side of a braille sheet for tooling in the raised lines. It is very time consuming, and often the layout is poorly done. As a result, some transcribers try to avoid making drawings altogether.
Other transcribers solve the reverse layout problem by using a reflecting projector. They work inside a darkened box, tracing the projected lines which are often difficult to see. I have worked out a solution to the reversal problem based on how I use my hand scanner.
A hand scanner to bring images into a computer costs less than $200 (no need for expensive optical character recognition software for this application). A hand scanner is wide enough to scan most textbook drawings in one pass. You use the scanner in conjunction with PC Paintbrush or a similar drawing program. You bring the scanned image into the drawing program. Then the drawing program allows you to manipulate the drawing in various ways and print it on most dot matrix or laser printers.
The scanner has a resolution switch for selecting the dots per inch (dpi) at which an image is scanned. The higher the setting, the larger the resulting image. For example, a 200 dpi scanned image will produce a computer image twice the size of a 100 dpi image. The best choice is the dpi setting which fills the entire computer screen.
You can use the PC Paintbrush program to reverse an image by flipping it either horizontally or vertically. But an easier approach is simply scanning the image contrary to the posted instructions. I run the scanner upward from bottom to top instead of from top to bottom. The result is to flip the image vertically, or backward from right to left for a horizontal flip. Some skill and a steady hand are required to move the scanner smoothly at a constant speed across the original drawing. Otherwise a distorted image with uneven or wavy lines will result. I then use the PC Paintbrush program to cut out unwanted areas of the image and save the image to disk. I then print the saved image to my desired enlargement.
The print menu of the PC Paintbrush program shows the height and width of the scanned image, which most likely will not produce the desired enlargement of the image. The width can be increased to the maximum width of the printer. But it is very important that the height/width ratio be kept the same and the height be changed accordingly. If not, the image will be out of proportion. For example, if the program menu shows the image dimensions to be 3.34 inches high and 5.47 inches wide, the height/width ratio is 0.6106. To produce an enlarged printed image 12 inches wide the program menu settings should be changed to 7.327 inches high by 12 inches wide.
The reproduced reversed image can then be used with carbon paper to trace the lines on the backside of the braille paper. Or it can be used to tool the lines directly onto the braille paper.
I find this method to be a great time saver. I hope that it helps others to set up tactile diagrams with less frustration.
[About the Author: Ken Smith is the Computer Assisted Braille Specialist for CTEVH (California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped).] <endarticle>
The Braille Blazer is a portable, personal braille embosser developed at Blazie Engineering. It has two connection ports, parallel and serial. The trade-offs for its relatively low cost are a maximum paper width of 8.5 inches and its relatively slow embossing speed. However, its wide range of special features, such as graphics and sideways printing, is very representative of modern braille embossers. (Sideways printing was added in the December 1992 revision.) It even gives you the option of using it as a voice synthesizer.
Recent technical phone calls from people using the Braille Blazer with BEX, Hot Dots, and MegaDots have revealed a few problems in our Braille Blazer interfacing notes for these programs. We thank Blazie Engineering for lending us a Braille Blazer so that we could improve our instructions. Most significantly, we recommended an incorrect Blazer data bit setting for serial use with BEX. In addition, we neglected to include a discussion of the interaction between the Braille Blazer margins and the carriage width set in BEX, Hot Dots, or MegaDots.
The Braille Blazer uses voice for the dialogue in its configuration menu system. The three buttons on the right side are, from top to bottom: on/off line, line feed, and form feed. Press all three buttons at the same time to get into the configuration menu. If you want to change a value, press the form feed button; the form feed button means "change." If you are satisfied with a value and want to advance to the next question, press the line feed button; the line feed button means "advance." If you want to back up to the previous question, press the on/off line button; the on/off line button means "back up." To exit a menu or a sub-menu, press all three buttons together.
When you enter the configuration menu system, the choices available are speech menu, printer menu, serial menu, sideways printing menu, service menu, and quit (to take the Blazer back to being an embosser).
In the instructions below, you start by doing a total reset on the Braille Blazer (resetting it to its factory settings). To do this, hold down all three buttons on the right-hand side as you power on. When you release the buttons, the Braille Blazer voice asks you if it is okay to reset. To go ahead with the total reset, press the three buttons again.
Tell BEX that you have a Thiel embosser (brailler #5) with the carriage width you desire, up to a maximum of 34.
To connect the Braille Blazer to an Apple Super Serial Card, set the switches on the SSC to RDC standard parameters and use our 6M cable (25-pin male to 25-pin male, straight-through). To connect the Braille Blazer to an Apple 2gs serial port, use our 10M cable. For an Apple 2c serial port, use our 2M cable. To set up the Braille Blazer for a serial connection to BEX, do a total reset on the Blazer. After that you need to change a few settings. Here is the dialogue:
If you neglect to change the bits per char setting from 8 to 7, the symptoms are different on different revisions of the Blazer. On the December 1992 revision of the Blazer, control characters are handled improperly; for carriage return, linefeed the Blazer prints out "mj" instead of moving to a new line; the braille output is really a mess. On earlier revisions of the Blazer, you get no output at all.
If the Blazer is set for word wrap off and lines per page greater than zero, the Blazer may do page breaks in strange places. (Every time output goes all the way up to the Blazer right margin, the Blazer thinks an extra line has been printed. So the Blazer does a form feed prematurely and then another one later when BEX sends the form feed character at the correct place.)
To connect a parallel card to the Braille Blazer, use a standard parallel cable. Do a total reset on the Braille Blazer. We recommend that after that you set the Blazer for 0 lines per page instead of the default setting of 25. Here is the dialogue to set up the brailler for a parallel connection:
As with a serial connection, if the Blazer is set for word wrap off and lines per page greater than zero, the Blazer may do page breaks in strange places.
The maximum right margin setting on the Braille Blazer is 34. You can set the left margin on the Blazer to 0, 1, 2, etc. to make room on the left for binding. It is important to remember that the Blazer right margin minus the Blazer left margin is the maximum number of characters that you can fit on a line. So the highest your BEX carriage width can be is the Blazer right margin minus the Blazer left margin. For example, if the Blazer left margin is 2 and the Blazer right margin is 34, the highest your BEX carriage width can be is 34-2 = 32. If your BEX carriage width is higher than that, the Blazer will emboss some long lines and some very short lines; if Blazer word wrap is off, words will be split between lines.
For a serial connection to the IBM-PC, use our 8M cable (or any null modem cable which is female on the PC end and male on the Blazer end). Follow the BEX instructions for setting the Blazer for a serial connection, with one exception: do not change the Blazer's bits per char setting to 7. For a parallel connection with Hot Dots or MegaDots, use a standard parallel cable, and follow the BEX instructions for setting the Blazer for a parallel connection.
As with BEX, make sure that the Hot Dots carriage
width is not higher than the Blazer right margin minus the Blazer left
margin. There are two different ways to set the carriage width in Hot
Dots. If you are using Hot Dots from the DOS command line, set the
HDWIDTH to the value you want. For
example, to set the carriage width to 32, type the statement
<space> HDWIDTH=32 <Enter>, where the only space is
after the word
SET. It is easiest to include this statement
AUTOEXEC.BAT file. If you are using Hot Dots from the
DOTS menu, just answer the carriage width question in option 3
(formatting) with the value you want. (Note that we do not recommend using
the DOTS menu once you are familiar with Hot Dots.)
In MegaDots, create a Braille Blazer set-up in your "braille devices preferences." Set the carriage width for the value you want, no higher than 34. One of the options in the "set up a braille device" form is "shift right." Setting this to a nonzero value is a substitute for setting the left margin on the Blazer to the same value. For example, to get output which leaves two cells blank on the left for binding, you can set the MegaDots shift right parameter at 2, the Blazer left margin at 0, the Blazer right margin at 34, and the MegaDots carriage width at 32 and no higher. (The number of cells left blank at the left is the Blazer left margin setting plus the MegaDots shift right setting.) If you want to print all, or most, of your documents to the Braille Blazer, remember to set your MegaDots "new document, braille document, embosser preference" for the Braille Blazer. Also remember to use the "save preferences" option to store all of this information in a MegaDots environment file.
Note that MegaDots 1.0 and 1.1 had a serious bug involving the shift right setting in the braille device set-up preferences. Setting this value higher than zero made the embosser spew out paper. This bug is fixed in version 1.2.
For technical support on using the Braille Blazer with RDC software, contact Blazie Engineering at (410) 893-9333 or RDC at (608) 257-8833. <endarticle>
One part of Hot Dots that is probably underutilized because of incomplete documentation is the back translator. The back translator translates material from grade two braille into print. After entering braille text on a Braille 'n Speak, you can use Hot Dots to create well formatted hardcopy print and hardcopy braille. Several Hot Dots users have called our technical line to ask about how to do this.
I recommend writing in grade two braille on the Braille 'n Speak. Make sure that the upper case lock is off on the Braille 'n Speak. Begin each new paragraph with two carriage returns. Where you want to force a new line, use one carriage return. Where you want to skip an Extra line, use three carriage returns. At the end of the file you want to send to the IBM-PC, write the character control-Z (by pressing control-X followed by Z). Hot Dots uses double dollar sign commands to control format. I recommend using these commands, but substitute two dot 4 characters (the accent grave character) for the two dollar signs, to make them easier to listen to on the Braille 'n Speak. For example, to get page numbering place ``np at the beginning of your file; to center a line begin it with ``c. To underline text, place ``ub before it and ``uf after it.
Before doing the transfer, set the Braille 'n Speak translator to off. That allows you to use the Hot Dots back translator. It is our experience that the Hot Dots back translator is more accurate than that of the Braille 'n Speak. For example, the Hot Dots back translator correctly handles fractions (i.e., number sign, a, slash, b for one half), but the Braille 'n Speak back translator does not. One translation error on the Braille 'n Speak that really caught my attention was translating the word "blunderbuss" as "blind under buss." I came upon this word (a kind of musket) in the words to a song.
There are several ways to transfer data from the BNS
to the PC. If you have a Braille 'n Speak Disk Accessory, you can use
it to make PC files. Using a terminal program on the PC is helpful; if you
have a Braille 'n Speak 640, you can use high speed, error checking
protocols (see the Braille 'n Speak 640 documentation). The crude
method described below works without any special software, as long as your
file does not exceed 65,000 characters. Connect the Braille 'n Speak
cable to the PC serial port with a female to female gender adapter. To
prepare to send material to the IBM-PC, set matching parameters on the
IBM-PC and the Braille 'n Speak. On the PC, use the MODE command at
the DOS prompt to set the COM port that you want to use. To set COM1 for
9600 baud, no parity, 8 data bits, and 1 stop bit, type the command:
MODE COM1:9600,N,8,1 <enter>. Set the Braille 'n
Speak for these same parameters. Also set the Braille 'n Speak for
hardware handshaking, and set "transmit line feed after carriage return"
On the PC, get ready to receive data by typing:
COPY COM1 [filename] (or COM2), where filename is the name of
the file where you want to save the data sent from the Braille 'n
Speak. We suggest that you use the extension
.BR0 for this
filename. For example, let's say that your file is about tomatoes;
give the command
COPY COM1 TOMATO.BR0 <Enter>. On the
Braille 'n Speak, move to the beginning of your file, turn on the BNS
serial port, with p-chord dropped-e, y, and begin the transfer with
t-chord z. When the transfer is finished, the BNS should say "okay" and
the PC should say "one file(s) copied."
.BR0file into Print or Braille
The disk edition of this issue of the Newsletter
contains several batch files to facilitate processing this
.BR0 file into print or braille. If you are reading this
issue on cassette or in print, you can order the disk edition for $4.
The first batch file,
performs a global replace operation. To perform this step, at the DOS
command line just type:
BR0BRL TOMATO <Enter>. This
.BRL file with Hot Dots dollar sign commands, ready
for further processing. It changes two accent characters in the
TOMATO.BR0 file to two dollar signs in a new file called
TOMATO.BRL. In addition, it changes three or more carriage
return/linefeed pairs to the paragraph indicator with extra skipped line
(#[_$]#$s#[_$]#), two pairs to the paragraph indicator (#[_$]#$p#[_$]#),
and one pair to the new line indicator (#[_$]#$l#[_$]#).
To process the
.BRL file into print, use
the batch file
DOTS734.BAT. This batch file uses the back
translator to create an inkprint
.HD$ file, uses the text
formatter to create a
.TXT file ready for printing (formatted
with carriage width 72 and form length 56), and prints it to the device
you indicate. To perform this step, type:
DOTS734 TOMATO LPT1
<Enter> (or whatever port your inkprint printer is connected
You may want to split the previous step into two steps
so that you can fix any back translation problems in the inkprint
.HD$ file before continuing the process. If so, use the two
DOTS7 TOMATO <Enter>, then use a text editor to
examine and edit
TOMATO.HD$, and then type
TOMATO LPT1 <Enter> (or whatever port your inkprint printer
is connected to).
.BRLFile into Braille
To process the
.BRL file into braille,
use the batch file
DOTS34B.BAT. This formats your
.BRL file into a
.BFM file and prints it to the
device you indicate. To use this, type
DOTS34B TOMATO LPT1
<Enter> (or whatever port your braille embosser is connected
In the last few months, quite a few press releases have passed through Raised Dot Computing announcing upgrades of major sensory aids products. We have not tested these products. For details, contact the appropriate vendor.
Berkeley Systems is now shipping version 1.7 of outSPOKEN. This is the only real access product available for the Macintosh computer. Thus news of improved software is very welcome.
The new software is more compatible with System 7 (the current edition of the Macintosh system software), has modifications to work on PowerBook (the Macintosh portable which lacks the numeric keyboard on which earlier editions of outSPOKEN insisted), has changes to improve the rate and flow of speech, and has numerous other improvements.
outSPOKEN 1.7 has been shipped to registered users of earlier copies of outSPOKEN. If you do not have the upgrade, send proof of purchase to Berkeley Systems.
The busy folks at Berkeley Systems are also shipping inLARGE 2.0, their software for low vision access to the Macintosh. The new software is compatible with System 7, contains the ability to choose among screen motion options, and has improved scanning mode. For further information, contact Berkeley Systems.
Duxbury Systems has released a special program DUXWP to automatically translate and format WordPerfect 5.0 and 5.1 files. Complex formats such as footnotes and tables of contents are automatically produced using the correct braille format. On its own, the product sells for $295. Owners of Duxbury Braille Translator packages can get DUXWP by updating their software.
Faithful readers of this Newsletter may realize that an announcement of a Duxbury product is very rare in these pages. In the future, we would like to be more balanced in our coverage of Duxbury products. Besides, putting in this announcement gives us an ideal opportunity to mention that until the end of 1993 a trade-in from Duxbury to MegaDots is only $250; contact Raised Dot Computing for more details.
The new edition of JAWS has been released. It combines Smart Screen, Smart Focus, and new auto-install features with the existing power of JAWS. Contact Henter-Joyce for information about the cost and availability of the update. <endarticle>