Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Throwback Thursday Object: Cranmer Modified Perkins Brailler

Our object this week is one of the first commercially available personal braille printers aimed at the home market. Although researchers had introduced braille printers such as the MIT Braillemboss as early as 1969, they were expensive, balky, and unaffordable for individual consumers.  The Cranmer, priced at under $3,000, could be connected to a home computer and used as a braille embosser or used as an electric braillewriter. It was the last project of Tim Cranmer, as Director of Technical Services for the Kentucky Department of the Blind, and engineered by Wayne Thompson. 

The prototype of this device was the Kentucky Modified Perkins Brailler, developed in 1981-82, basically a manual Perkins Brailler stacked on a chassis full of electronics. The Cranmer Modified Perkins Brailler was its direct commercial successor—introduced in 1983--and included a lot of plastic parts to lessen the weight. Over 1,000 units were sold by Maryland Computer Services (which later became Blazie Engineering). About 30 units were also built by the local Louisville Telephone Pioneers Group. 

A big limitation was paper loading: you had to load your paper one page at a time. Later home embossers used tractor fed paper similar to dot matrix printers used in the print world. The operator’s manual was written by our late colleague Fred Gissonni, and has a good walkthrough if you’re interested in all that the machine could do.

Terrence “Tim” Cranmer was an interesting guy and a true pioneer. His obituary tells you everything you need to know.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Throwback Thursday Object: Rare APH Product: Simple Machines Kit

Simple machines kit not assembled
This set of simple machines was developed by the Instructional Materials Reference Center at APH in order to present concepts related to scientific principles involved in the use of machines. The pulley, lever, inclined plane, and screw were included in other kits and intended for grades 4 and up. Introduced in 1975, the kits only appeared in one published catalog, in 1981, and were gone by 1984. Sales were unimpressive, only a few hundred kits were ever made so this qualifies as one of the more rare APH products.
The photograph shows the wheel unassembled, so it may be a bit hard to imagine what you’re looking at.  Basically you have a blue wooden stand, an aluminum axle, and several different wheels.

We also made a more rudimentary simple machines kit, made entirely of hardwood for younger students. The "Introductory Simple Machines" were adapted from the Crusader Science Collection manufactured by Crusader Toys, San Marcos, California. 

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Throwback Thursday Object: APH-Modified Sony 105 Tape Recorder

APH - Sony 105 Tape Recorder

APH has a long history of collaborating with commercial electronics manufacturers to adapt their consumer products for our more specialized market. It should come as no surprise that developing electronics from scratch is an expensive and time consuming enterprise. By adapting already popular consumer models, our technical research folks cut years off the time it might take to bring a product to market. For a modern example of this, see the Orion TI-84 Talking Graphing Calculator.

Our object this week is the APH version of a popular reel-to-reel tape recorder from Sony. The first consumer tape recorders were introduced in the U.S. in the mid-1940s by the Brush Development Company. Their usefulness for students and business people who were blind or visually impaired was immediately obvious. Students could record lectures or class notes and review them later. In the office, meetings could be recorded for later review, and letters could be dictated for a secretary to type up. The first tape recorders were open reel, and APH adapted a Wollensak 1220 and introduced it in our catalog in 1965. (Incidentally, we do not have one of these in our museum collection—we only sold a few hundred—and we would love to get our hands on one.)

 APH introduced its second (and last) reel-to-reel tape player-recorder around 1969, a modified version of the Sony 105. It came in both a standard speed and a variable speed version (we have both in our collection but this example is the standard speed version). The modifications were fairly simple. The small red button beside the record button in the lower right allowed a user to add an index tone to the recording—so a particular passage could be located again quickly. The reels were self threading, and tape lifter arms that prevented playback on the commercial model during rewind or advance were removed, so the user could quickly scan through material. APH sold 5,627 of the standard speed version and 7,919 of the variable speed version before discontinuing them in 1980. By then, APH had introduced its popular line of adapted G.E. cassette tape player-recorders.

For a time, APH also issued educational programs recorded on reel-to-reel tapes. The REAL Program (Recorded Educational Aids to Learning) ran from 1955-1977.

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