>More Blinky Gadgets From The Past

>After my big tyrade about the slate and stylus, I got thinking about some other fun devices that were designed with the best of intentions, but in practice, they didn’t work too well. don’t get me wrong, there are a zillion devices out there that made things easier, but a few devices…well, they just weren’t helpful.

I’ve already talked about the beeping baseball. Here’s a description of something else that beeps, and doesn’t hold up to the abuses it’s supposed to. It’s called a liquid level indicator.

Basically, it was designed to be a replacement for putting your finger over the edge of the glass to know when you’re supposed to stop pouring. the explanation was that you don’t want to be pouring hot liquids and using your finger as a stopping point. Either that, or people thought it just looked eeewww to have your finger in a glass while pouring. Anyway, instead of your finger, you put these two prongs over the top of the glass. When liquid hit them, it caused the device to beep, sing “London Bridge is falling down” or give some other audible sign that ya might wanna stop pouring, jackass.

This was great…as long as the device worked. But usually, after it had been hooked over a few glasses, the mechanism ceased to function. Why did we expect it to do anything else? We were exposing electronics to water.

I thought maybe I just had a bad run of luck with those things. I laid waste to two, or maybe 3 of them. But Steve had the same experience. It’s sad, because it was a good idea. It just didn’t work out. I guess the finger is the only tried and true method.

Next in line to go into the hmmm neat idea until you try it files was the braille eraser. It looked sort of like the stylus, only it was more round at the top. It was designed to rub out individual dots so you wouldn’t make a mess when you made a mistake. I watched my teacher use it, and I thought it was cool. Then I got my hands on it, and disaster struck.

Let’s just say I didn’t have the same precision and aim as my teacher. I would think I was on the dot or letter I wanted to remove, rub away, and make a gouge in the paper! It was deceptively sharp! So now, instead of removing a dot or a letter, I had made a mess of things. Again, I thought I was the only blink to do this and I must be clueless, but Steve told me he did the same thing.

Now let’s move up in the world from the simple tech to the more complex. In my early years at school, when I was in the classroom, I wrote everything down with a brailler. This could make things difficult, since I went to a regular school back then, so the classroom teacher certainly couldn’t read braille. So, my braille teacher had to write in between my lines of braille. This could be a difficult task, especially since I made a lot of mistakes, so my braille teacher had to play the roll of interpreter/mindreader.

I guess this got pretty troublesome, so she was trying to figure out ways to automate the process. I’m not sure how this came about, but she must have done some research, and discovered a device called an MPRINT. This device hooked into the brailler and connected to a printer. So, I could braille to my heart’s content, and every time I slammed the new line key, buzz buzz buzz went the printer, supposedly printing what I just brailled! Sweet, right?

That was great, until I made a mistake. Then I would backspace, but it wouldn’t know what to do, and when I would finish the line and hit new line, it would spew garble. So, in the end, my teacher was back to transcribing by hand.

Apparently, as the years went by and before it was discontinued in 1999, it got more sophisticated and capable of understanding what the backspace meant. But that’s not the model I got to work with. Mine was very primitive, and of course, I had no way of knowing whether it printed intelligible text or jibberish.

The last piece of holy crap this would be cool if it wasn’t for a few kinks technology was something called the Versabraille. In one way, it was way cool, because it opened the doors to much cooler, more reliable braille displays. But you’ve gotta start somewhere, and we started with the Versabraille.

First off, the museum exhibit doesn’t mention its weight. It was goddamn heavy! Maybe I found it this way because I was only 11 years old, and a small 11-year-old at that when we tried this thing out. It was so heavy for me that my teacher wanted me to go down the stairs like this: Put Versabraille on step beside me, step down, slide Versabraille down, lather, rinse, repeat. I told her this would not work when I was travelling among the stampeding hoards of children, and I wasn’t even going to try that because I would get killed. The Versabraille might have been fine, but I would be trampled.

And, this thing was so expensive and fragile that nobody was selling it, only renting it. It would have cost $10000 to buy.

At that price, it should have had a better battery low warning than making a sound as if you just lost an arcade game and ejecting your cassette, because yes, your data was stored on cassette. Well, I guess you did just lose a game, if the game was keeping your school assignments. Whatever you hadn’t saved before the battery ran out of juice just bit the big one. It especially hurt if you were in the middle of a save when the battery went bye-bye.

It made such a hell of a lot of noise. I would always have to wear headphones when I used it in class because it beeped and booped and bamped whenever you did something it didn’t like. No no, we couldn’t flash a message on the braille display. We have to boop. This meant that no one else heard the sounds but me, and they’d startle me so bad that I’d jump. Now I looked like a crazy kid, startling in the middle of class over seemingly nothing.

I’m glad it was invented, because it paved the way for better things. But you could certainly tell it was a first try.

While we’re on the subject of braille, can someone please tell me the benefits of thermoforming braille onto that thin plastic paper? The only one I can see is it made easy to read diagrams. But reading off thermoform was, well, a bitch! If you were in a dry place, the pages would stick together and make nice little static cling snapsnap noises when you turned them. If you were in a humid place, your hands would stick to the paper! Aaaa! You had to read at the pace of a turtle because you had to drag your hand across something that wanted to grab a hold of your hand and keep it there. Plus, it would rip so easily! I can’t count the number of times I would see ripped pages. And don’t read thermoform at night if you share a room with someone. Every time you’d turn the page, it would make the biggest racket!

I don’t know why my mind has drifted to all these older things. Hopefully people aren’t bored, or telling me I should call a waaambulance.

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