A comment on Slashdot that concerns me

Martin G. McCormick martin at dc.cis.okstate.edu
Tue Apr 11 10:40:11 EDT 2000

	That's quite true.  The only thing you don't have is serial
access during the initial configuration such as installation or during
the boot sequence.  Usually, it isn't all that necessary to have the
boot messages talking, but it is nice to have that capability if
something goes wrong and it is time to start being a diagnostition.

	I also got on to slashdot.org and read a lot of the linux VS
Windows thread.  I am not sure if some of those folks are actually
serious with some of their assumptions or are just jerking our chains
to see what we do.

	Anyway, the one thing I have not heard anybody say is that a
text-based interface is usable by everybody by one means or another.
A so-called graphical interface must be modified for any other form of
access.  When blind people use Windows, it is only because there has
been some progress in making it sort of behave like a command line
interface.  There just is not a good way to directly translate purely
visual information in to anything else that works as well.

	There is an interesting experiment that Bell Labs did in 1951.
I remember the year because it happens to be the year I was born so
things like that kind of stand out.

	What they did was to build a rather clever voice synthesizer
for that day out of a spinning wheel with bands of holes in it.  When
the wheel was spun at a certain rate, the holes raced past at
different frequencies.  A light shown through the holes and struck a photo
cell like the kind used in film projectors to convert the wavy band of
the film sound track to speech and music.  By blocking or unblocking
light from different bands of holes, the scientists could produce lots
of musical tones of different pitches.

	The next neat thing they did was to record a human voice on a
spectrograph which draws varying lines on a strip of film that
correspond to all the constituent frequencies in the sound being
recorded.  In this case, it was a man saying "Never kill a snake with
your bare hands."

	They took the film and used it to block and unblock the beams
of light through the bands of holes on their sound generator.  The
bands of holes corresponded to the center frequencies of all the
octave bands on the spectrograph machine.  The result was a voice that
sounds kind of like a DecTalk saying the recorded sentence very

	The spectrogram looks like strange light and dark bands on the
film and means little to the eye except maybe that of an engineer, but
it did cause the generator to produce pretty good speech.

	The scientists then tried to make speech of their own by
manually painting spectrograms in a way that they thought would
produce new words and voices.  It never did anything but make weird

	My whole point is that the easiest way for a person who is
blind to do complex tasks on a computer is to use text.  It may be
that when tactile displays become dirt cheap and we can put our hands
on a screen and feel shapes, we may actually get closer to using a
GUI, but right now, we only use Windows when it can be bludgeoned in to
behaving like a command line.  Think about it.

	By the way, the only reason I remember the Bell Labs
experiments is because they appeared in a Bell Telephone Hour special
in the late fifties on television and I happened later to read about
them while doing a report in Graduate school.  My memory back to
earlier times is probably no better than anybody else's.  Just thought
I had better throw that in.

Martin McCormick WB5AGZ  Stillwater, OK 
OSU Center for Computing and Information Services Data Communications Group
Tommy Moore writes:
>Serial port accss is allready possible. I used it for months before
>speakup came out. You just have to figure out how to get the serial port
>to let you login off of it so that you can access it from another pc.
>Speakup mailing list
>Speakup at braille.uwo.ca

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