[bksvol-discuss] Re: Braille Note or Pack Mate

  • From: "Gail The U. S. Male" <gail1959@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <bksvol-discuss@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 20 Aug 2005 14:22:28 -0600

A qwerty keyboard is your regular computer keyboard, as opposed to a Braille
keyboard, which is the Perkins Brailler style keyboard, with 8 keys and
space bar.

-----Original Message-----
From: bksvol-discuss-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:bksvol-discuss-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx]On Behalf Of Kaitlyn Hill
Sent: Saturday, August 20, 2005 10:55 AM
To: bksvol-discuss@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [bksvol-discuss] Re: Braille Note or Pack Mate

HI Sharon,

I need to get over to the commission one of these days but...
What is a qwerty keyboard?

-----Original Message-----
From: bksvol-discuss-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:bksvol-discuss-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Sharon Jackson
Sent: Saturday, August 20, 2005 6:44 AM
To: bksvol-discuss@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [bksvol-discuss] Re: Braille Note or Pack Mate


Most of these notetakers come with or without braille displays and an option

to have a braille or qwerty keyboard.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Kaitlyn Hill" <Kaitlyn@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: <bksvol-discuss@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Friday, August 19, 2005 11:29 PM
Subject: [bksvol-discuss] Re: Braille Note or Pack Mate

> Hello Sharon,
> This was an interesting article. The more I look at my needs, not being an
> avid Braille reader some of the ultra light laptops may serve me better.
> Thanks again :)
> -----Original Message-----
> From: bksvol-discuss-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
> [mailto:bksvol-discuss-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Sharon Jackson
> Sent: Friday, August 19, 2005 5:03 AM
> To: Bookshare
> Subject: [bksvol-discuss] Braille Note or Pack Mate
> Hello,
> I have been following the discussion about the Braille Note versus Pack
> Mate
> and thought others would enjoy reading the article, "Braille Note or Pack
> Mate" from the July-August issue of the Braille Monitor.
> The Braille Monitor
> July 2005
> (back <http://www.nfb.org/bm/bm05/bm0507/bm050709.htm> ) (next
> <http://www.nfb.org/bm/bm05/bm0507/bm050711.htm> ) (contents
> <http://www.nfb.org/bm/bm05/bm0507/bm0507tc.htm> )
> BrailleNote or PAC Mate:
> A Matter of Personal Preference
> by Danika Rockett
> Jim Gashel, NFB executive director of strategic initiatives, is
> enthusiatic
> about his PAC Mate, which he uses with his cell phone to download email on
> his way to the office in the morning, Mark Riccobono, NFB manager of
> education services, is equally committed to his Braille
> Mate.<http://www.nfb.org/bm/bm05/bm0507/bm050716.jpg>
> Jim Gashel (right), NFB executive director of strategic initiatives, is
> enthusiastic about his PAC Mate, which he uses with his cell phone to
> download email on his way to the office in the morning. Mark Riccobono
> (left), NFB manager of education services, is equally committed to his
> BrailleNote
>            From the Editor: On May 1, 2005, Danika Taylor, NFB copyeditor,
> married Don Rockett. When she returned from her honeymoon, she sat down to
> talk with several electronic notetaker users about the features they liked
> and did not like in the units they had chosen. Here is the result of those
> conversations. It is not a careful review by the International Braille and
> Technology Center (IBTC) staff, but it does contain interesting
> information
> and views. This is what she says:
>             The decision to spend upwards of five thousand dollars on a
> device that can fit in the palm of a hand and allow blind people to read,
> write, keep track of appointments, and even do email on the go should not
> be
> taken lightly. For most of us contemplating the purchase of a Braille
> notetaker, the sticker shock involved in the process is also accompanied
> by
> the equally unsettling lists of technical specifications and claims and
> counterclaims which those who sell these devices make.
>            In this article we turn directly to the experience of several
> longtime Federationists who use their notetakers every day. Their
> observations are based not on theoretical or technical data but on the
> reality of living day in and day out with a particular notetaker.
>            If you would like to explore your personal notetaker needs with
> the experts at the International Braille and Technology Center for the
> Blind
> (IBTC), they invite you to do so. They can be reached at the technology
> answer line: (410) 659-9314, option 5 on the automated greeting.
> Humanware's BrailleNote and Freedom Scientific's PAC Mate are two of the
> most popular Braille notetakers. For various reasons some users prefer one
> machine to the other, but just what is the difference between these two
> seemingly similar products?
>            We might begin with physical characteristics, for herein lie
> the
> most obvious differences. The BrailleNote is smaller in height and width
> than the PAC Mate but slightly thicker. To be specific, the BrailleNote is
> 9.9 by 6.1 by 2 inches, and the PAC Mate is 11 by 6.81 by 1.93 inches. To
> be
> sure, these differences are slight, and as J.R. Westmoreland said in his
> 2005 CSUN (California State University at Northridge) conference paper
> titled "BrailleNote or PAC Mate: A Side-by-Side Comparison," the
> difference
> in size is a "minor factor navigating in tight areas." A smaller
> BrailleNote, the BrailleNote PK, is a mere 6.8 by 3.6 by 1.3 inches, but
> it
> comes with only an 18-cell display option, and at around $5,000 the
> smaller
> dimensions might not be worth the cost for many users.
>            The weight of each product varies a bit depending on the model
> and the size of the refreshable Braille display. The 20-cell PAC Mate
> weighs
> 3 pounds, 9 ounces, whereas the 18-cell BrailleNote weighs 2.2 pounds;
> likewise, the 40-cell PAC Mate weighs 4 pounds, while the 32-cell
> BrailleNote weighs 2.9 pounds. Therefore, although the PAC Mate weighs
> more
> than the BrailleNote, the larger size of the PAC Mate's Braille display
> may
> be an important consideration for some users.
>            Both machines have wireless network access support, the option
> of a QWERTY keyboard, and similar external connections and hardware slots.
> Of course these details vary slightly from model to model. J.R.
> Westmoreland
> praises the PAC Mate's support of CF cards. "The BrailleNote," he says,
> "has
> a limited number of cards that are supported. The PAC Mate, on the other
> hand, not only supports these cards but many other cards that have drivers
> for Pocket PC."
>            We could go on and on about the characteristics of each
> machine,
> but in the end the question of which is better comes down to personal
> preference. Diehard advocates exist for most notetakers on the market,
> depending on the individual user's needs.
>            Adrienne Asch, Henry R. Luce Professor in Biology, Ethics, and
> the Politics of Human Reproduction at Wellesley College in Massachusetts,
> is
> a BrailleNote user. However, she is certainly not a diehard advocate. "The
> BrailleNote has many fine features," she says. "But it has a few major
> problems, at least from my point of view."
>           Footnotes, or rather the lack thereof, are among Dr. Asch's
> complaints. "The BrailleNote will not permit the writing of footnotes or
> endnotes in Microsoft Word documents," she says. Therefore any articles
> she
> writes requiring footnotes or endnotes--and she is a prolific academic
> scholar--must be written, or at least finished, on the computer using a
> Braille display or speech, which can be inconvenient and is certainly
> inefficient.
>           The BrailleNote "will also not display footnotes or endnotes in
> Word documents sent to me," she continues. "This means that I must open
> the
> file on a laptop or desktop computer and convert it to ASCII format. If I
> don't have computer access, I simply cannot read the footnotes or
> endnotes."
> These complaints are important, but they demonstrate how much personal
> needs
> and preferences determine which notetaker to buy. A person who does not
> regularly use footnotes or endnotes may not be bothered by the fact that
> no
> device using Pocket PC can identify footnotes and endnotes at all.
>           Another problem for Dr. Asch involves formatting. "Although the
> manual claims that documents can be prepared in Braille and then formatted
> for printing, that claim is only partly accurate," she says. "If one
> wishes
> to create italicized, bolded, or underlined material in a printed
> document,
> one cannot use the format menu within the Braille document to do so. One
> must manually do this formatting from within the translated file."
>            She also faults the BrailleNote for reading fewer and fewer of
> the many documents she wants it to display. "More and more email
> attachments
> are in formats, whether advanced versions of Microsoft Word, RTF, or some
> other format that the BrailleNote will not display," she complains.
> "Again,
> the only solution is to take the file to a standard laptop or desktop,
> convert it to an ASCII text file, and then return the newly formatted file
> to the BrailleNote. This conversion means a loss of formatting, meaning
> that
> I cannot edit the document in the same format in which it was sent to me.
> The device is no longer a reliable method of reading documents prepared in
> electronic form that are given to me at meetings, conferences, and the
> like.
> I will soon find that I must travel with a laptop, if only to convert the
> documents I am given, in order to do my actual reading on the BrailleNote.

> I
> had hoped with the newest software upgrade, 6.11, that I would have solved
> the problem of unreadable documents; I have not solved it. When I send
> examples of unreadable documents to Humanware's technical support staff,
> they generally tell me that they too cannot read them on their machines,
> but
> they have no suggestions or solutions."
>           Mark Riccobono, National Federation of the Blind manager of
> education programs, is a satisfied BrailleNote user. In fact he liked the
> BrailleNote so much that he recently upgraded to the smaller BrailleNote
> PK.
> He says that the PK is similar to the previous models, other than the size
> (it is currently the smallest notetaker on the market) and the USB port.
>           Unlike Adrienne Asch, Mark Riccobono is not bothered by the
> BrailleNote's inability to deal with footnotes or endnotes. It isn't that
> he
> doesn't use them, but he considers his BrailleNote more of a supplement to
> his PC than a stand-alone computer, so he doesn't mind transferring
> documents for editing. One feature he enjoys is the PK's portability and
> power. "I can carry around my contacts and synchronize them with Microsoft
> Outlook," he says. "I am on the road a lot, and if I meet someone, it is
> easy to enter the information into my PK. Then, when I get to the office,
> I
> simply synchronize the information with Outlook, and it is there. Also the
> calendar feature is a major advantage because it too synchronizes with
> Outlook. And I can work on documents while I am commuting, then transfer
> them to my PC when I get to work. Basically I treat my PK like a PDA, not
> like a PC replacement."
>           He admits, however, that formatting causes the occasional
> frustration. "Transferring from a Word document causes it to appear in a
> different format, which destroys the formatting, so I have to go back and
> correct it. That is definitely frustrating sometimes, especially when I am
> in a hurry. But I don't worry about it too much because I use my PC most
> of
> the time."
>           Another disadvantage of the PK is its lack of audio streaming
> ability. While the PAC Mate has the ability to stream audio from the
> Internet, the PK does not. Anyone who knows Riccobono knows he is an avid
> baseball fan, and the feature he would most like to see added to the PK is
> the ability to stream audio, especially baseball broadcasts. Like Dr.
> Asch's, his complaints are a matter of personal preference. Not every user
> will consider streaming audio to be a priority when making a purchasing
> decision.
>           As for audio quality, though, Chad Allen, government programs
> specialist (intern) for the National Federation of the Blind, loves the
> fact
> that his BrailleNote PK has stereo quality audio for his enjoyment while
> listening to the many MP3s he has downloaded onto the device. Allen also
> praises the built-in Bluetooth technology feature on the PK. "I use my
> Nokia
> 6620 model cell phone to surf the Internet on my PK," he says. "I use the
> Mobile Speak software and my cell phone as a modem, and I have another
> Internet-surfing option anywhere I go." The BrailleNote PK comes with
> Bluetooth technology installed, whereas this technology must be purchased
> separately for other notetaking devices. Again, for those who are less
> computer savvy or are not interested in the capacity to surf the Internet
> at
> a moment's notice, this technology does not factor heavily into the
> decision-making process.
>           Allen, a Jaws user, mentions that Freedom Scientific does not
> support the use of Jaws with competing notetakers such as Humanware's
> BrailleNote PK. "I didn't know this when I purchased the device. I assumed

> I
> could use the Jaws screen reader on a PC with my PK doubling as a
> refreshable Braille Display, but it didn't work. I was disappointed
> because
> I had to purchase and install a new screen reader, but overall the PK is a
> great notetaker, and I am very satisfied with it."
>           Eric Duffy is an NFB leader in Ohio. He is technologically
> sophisticated and spends a significant amount of time helping other blind
> people solve technology problems. This is what he says about his decision
> to
> use the PAC Mate: "I was a Braille 'n Speak user beginning in the late
> eighties. I then got a Braille Lite not long after it came out. Both of
> these devices were good-quality notetakers, but they are not even in the
> same league with the PAC Mate. It is far more than a note taker. The
> capacity and versatility of the PAC Mate exceed that of the Braille 'n
> Speak
> and Braille Lite, first developed by Blazie Engineering and now supported,
> at least minimally, by Freedom Scientific.
>            "The BrailleNote was the first product in what most of us think
> of as the modern class of notetakers for the blind. I had heard about the
> BrailleNote before it hit the market, and I began to use one as soon as I
> could get my hands on a loaner unit. I liked some things about it but
> before
> buying decided to wait to try the new product from Freedom Scientific that
> was soon to be released. I really wanted to compare the BrailleNote and
> Mate and make an informed choice about which product would best meet my
> needs. I have chosen the PAC Mate. Here are my thoughts about both
> products.
>            "The BrailleNote is still a proprietary product, which is to
> say
> that the Keysoft user interface and suite of applications is developed and
> supported by the manufacturer of the BrailleNote, Humanware. So
> off-the-shelf products cannot be used with the BrailleNote.
>            "I like the fact that the PAC Mate runs on a
> WindowsRMobile-based technology. This is the same system that sighted
> consumers use to operate their PDAs. Programs released for PDAs in the
> general market can more easily be adapted for the PAC Mate.
>            "I use the PAC Mate every day for word processing, email, and
> more. I like the fact that I can synchronize email as well as contacts and
> files between the PAC Mate and my PC. Using the PAC Mate, I can write
> email
> messages using contracted Braille and with a key stroke have the message
> translated to computer Braille and sent. I can work in Pocket Word using
> contracted Braille and have the file easily translated into print.
>            "I am pleased with the connectivity of the PAC Mate. Because of
> it I am no longer tied to my computer to be productive. I can send files
> to
> my computer or through email using my wireless network or Active Sync. It
> is
> also possible to beam files from one Pac Mate to another or for that
> matter
> send them to a laptop or a PDA. I can have instant access to information
> in
> contracted Braille as long as the producer of the file can beam it to me
> or
> put it on a flash drive.
>            "I have learned by painful experience that, if I want to be
> absolutely certain that I do not lose the data I am working with, I must
> store it in internal flash. When storing information in main memory, one
> runs the risk of losing it when the PAC Mate crashes, which it does more
> frequently than I would like, or if it is necessary to perform a hard
> reset.
> Information can also be lost if the battery gets too low. In theory,
> because
> the PAC Mate has an internal battery, one can wait up to seventy-two hours
> after the battery dies before recharging the unit without losing data, but
> theory and reality are very different, and users have learned the hard way
> not to let the battery lose its charge completely.
>            "Freedom Scientific strongly recommends that one use Active
> Sync
> or Sprite Backup to be sure that data and settings are not lost. Sprite
> Backup involves saving data to a flash card, and Active Sync enables a
> backup directly to a PC.
>            "I very much like the fact that the Braille display can be
> detached from the PAC Mate. If I am having a problem with my display, I
> can
> return it for service without having to send the Pac Mate back. Of course
> the reverse is true as well. If I am having a problem with the PAC Mate, I
> can use the display with my PC while the main unit is being repaired. I
> don't enjoy having to pay extra for Bluetooth cards, WiFi cards, and other
> peripherals, But again, if I have a faulty card, I can replace it without
> having to send the entire unit in for service.
>            "It does seem to me that the BrailleNote is most useful for
> those who do not need or want to connect to other devices. The operating
> system is simple, and the learning curve is easy. Freedom Scientific
> markets
> the Pac Mate by saying that, if you know JAWS and if you know Windows, you
> know how to use the PAC Mate. Although I don't fully agree with that
> statement, knowing these programs certainly shortens the learning curve
> for
> new PAC Mate users, yet there is still a good bit to master.
>            "I do have two serious concerns about the PAC Mate. The first
> is
> that Pocket Word is not as functional as it could and should be. In fact
> it
> is really better to work in FSEdit, the word-processing program developed
> by
> Freedom Scientific. When told about problems that crop up for users who
> are
> trying to edit files in Pocket Word, Freedom staff respond by saying that
> the problem is Microsoft's. The same response occurs when problems with
> other programs are mentioned. I believe that, if a program has been
> installed on the PAC Mate by Freedom Scientific, any problems that arise
> are
> its responsibility. This is especially true because Freedom promotes the
> Mate by saying it works with Word and other programs it has not created.
>            "It also advertises the PAC Mate as a machine that can support
> many off-the-shelf programs and devices. Freedom Scientific recommends a
> Web
> site called <www.pacmategear.com> as the place to find and order
> up-to-date
> information about programs and devices that run on the PAC Mate--that is,
> until a problem develops. Then <www.pacmategear.com> is strictly
> unofficial.
> It seems to me that Freedom cannot expect to have it both ways; either it
> advertises that the site carries programs and equipment that are
> compatible
> with the PAC Mate and Freedom supports and will trouble-shoot them, or the
> company should not try to expand the attractiveness of its product by
> nominally affiliating itself with programs and hardware it disavows when
> trouble strikes.
>            "Another ongoing issue is the fact that Freedom announced its
> intent to release a global positioning system (GPS) program for the PAC
> Mate
> over a year ago and began accepting orders and payment for it. When
> pressed
> to divulge what is going on with the GPS, which is still not available,
> Freedom just says that it is waiting for Destonator, the publisher of the
> software platform for the GPS system, to make the software changes
> necessary
> to run on the PAC Mate. The cynic in me suspects that Freedom announced
> the
> GPS system in June of 2004 knowing that it would not be ready for months
> but
> eager to stay competitive with the BrailleNote, which already had a
> functioning GPS system. All software producers exhibit unconstructive
> optimism about when new products will be available, but accepting orders
> and
> billing for the programs months or years ahead of delivery strikes me as
> unfair. My advice to potential notetaker users is to be sure that the
> products and features they find attractive and plan to order really are
> already available or will be so in the very near future."
>            There you have the thoughts and experiences of several
> BrailleNote and PAC Mate users. When all is said and done, a number of
> notetaking devices are on the market. Cost will usually be a factor in
> deciding which one to purchase because many of these devices cost several
> thousand dollars. Potential buyers must consider how they intend to use
> the
> notetaker in order to determine which features are necessities and which
> are
> just added bonuses. Visiting the Web sites of companies that build or sell
> notetaking devices can provide lots of information, like specs, prices,
> and
> features of different machines, but talking with current users is always a
> great way to get sensible, useful information about the various models
> currently on the market. Remember also that the staff of the International
> Braille and Technology Center of the Jernigan Institute answer questions
> about notetakers every day. Their expertise and assistance are never more
> than a phone call or email away.
>            In short, no electronic notetaker is right for everyone. If you
> are considering buying one of these little marvels, take the time to work
> with each device you are considering. Think about how you will use the
> notetaker, and try using each to undertake the tasks you are likely to ask
> your notetaker to perform. You will not avoid all the headaches in this
> way,
> but you will certainly cut down on them.
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