Billboard, DISKIO and more...
Get out your checkbook and order this program right now. Everyone needs a good disk editor and DISKIO stands head and shoulders above the rest. This is the program you will reach for when a file gets trashed, when you get the dreaded ERROR 164 (file number mismatch), when you drip peanut butter on your floppy, or when any of the myriad of disk horrors befalls you.
Do not confuse this product with Antic's DISKIO (January 1985) and DISKIO Plus (December 1985). Those type-in programs are DOS extensions that make DOS friendlier and more powerful. Robert Gray's DLSKIO is a disk repair and editing utility. And it is the best one I have ever seen.
DISKIO does all the normal repair, editing and copying functions. It displays sectors in Hexadecimal, ATASCII or screen codes. It supports normal, extended and double density. It also supports RAMdisks (DOS 2.5, MYDOS, Omnimon, Axlon, XE, expanded XL/XE), hard disks, and 8" disks, including subdirectories. It automatically repairs ERROR 164s and rebuilds directories.
I could quibble over a couple of minor points, the disk map could be more informative, an automatic VTOC repair is missing, as is a sector copier. But, over all, DISKIO is reasonably complete and very easy to use. Even the documentation is pretty good, although if you're a novice, you should read the last half of the instructions before the first half.
$26, 48K disk. Robert Gray, 123 N. Summit, Little Rock, AR 72205. (501) 374-5400.
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If you type a lot of numbers into your 8-bit Atari, this is for you. The ICX-85 is a customized Atari CX85 numeric keypad. Arranged like a standard calculator keyboard, the discontinued CX85 boasts 17 keys-addition, subtraction, multiplication and division signs, numbers, decimal point, comma and [RETURN]. It even has a "home key" bump on the 5.
There have been several other third-party keypads like this, but they all require special software "handlers's that often clash with other programs. Innovative Concepts modified the CX85 keypad to be wired directly into your computer. The advatage is that the ICX-85 runs without a handler and works with any software.
Installation requires soldering a dozen wires to the keyboard chips in your computer. It's not difficult, but some skill is required. You also must drill an exit hole for the cable. The cable comes with a plug so you can disconnect the keypad (although it still leaves the cable end hanging out).
If you already have a CX85, you can save $10 by sending it in with your order. For those with more skill than money, IC promises that the keypad modification in kit form should be available by the time you read this.
The ICX-85 is a winner. Even if you only use numbers to balance your checkbook, this keypad is well worth the money. By the way, if you have an Atari XL or XE computer, you should install IC's $15 Function Key Kit at the same time. It will give you 1200XL-style function keys.
$44.95 ($34.95 with your CX85). Innovative Concepts, 31172 Shown Drive, Warren, MI 48093. (313)293-0730.
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Billboard prints LARGE pictures. It also prints small pictures, but as the name suggests, it really shines when you start measuring results in feet instead of inches. While it doesn't manipulate pictures like Picture Plus or MagniPrint II+, the print quality is just as good and Billboard is easier to use. It will quickly become your favorite picture printer.
Billboard prints Graphics 7 + (15), Graphics 8 and Graphics 9 pictures in a staggering array of sizes. Horizontal and vertical sizes are set independently so you can squash or stretch your pictures. Color pictures are printed using gray scale patterns. You decide which color gets which pattern.
There seems to be no limit on the size of a printout. You can pause the printing to change ribbons or add paper. Billboard tells you how many pages and how long each printout will take. A 200-foot by 300-foot billboard, for instance, uses 131,712 sheets of paper and takes 260 days to print. I did not test this.
Billboard is written in BASIC and machine language, which makes it easy to modify Although it only supports Epson FX-compatible printers, I changed the codes (with help from the documentation) to work with my Gemini 10X. I also changed the screen display to show print density in dots per inch instead of dots per line.
Billboard is shareware, which means you can try a copy free. If you like it and use it, send programmer Chris Wareham the $10 for the program-be honest with shareware so that this kind of worthwhile program can remain available to us all. Other shareware programs are available from CompuServe, GEnie, local BBS's and users groups.
$10, 48K disk. Chris Wareham, 1215 West Jackson, Spearfish, SD 57783.
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The Smart Speaker speech synthesizer translates text in your computer into words you can hear. It is a surprisingly large box (about 7 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 3 inches) that can hook up to any computer using either the Centronics parallel (printer) or RS-232 serial (modem) port. I tested it on a l30XE with an 850 interface and on a 1040ST
Having both parallel and serial connectors makes Smart Speaker unusually flexible. Any software that can send text to a printer or a modem should be able to make it talk. However, the printer control codes my word processor sent made Smart Speaker choke. Instead of sliding over them silently or pronouncing gibberish, it just stopped. I had to turn it oft to reset it.
Speech synthesis is very difficult. Words must be built up out of elementary sounds called phonemes, which must be reproduced accurately and strung together smoothly. Some provision must be made for punctuation marks. Pitch, volume and speed must vary to provide expression. Even if you produce a great-sounding system, you still have to deal with the idiosyncracies of the English language. You must teach it, for example, to recognize the differences in tough, cough, though and through.
Given the state of the art, no one would ever mistake a speech synthtesizer for a real human voice. In fact, no one can honestly claim that their system is easy to understand. Nonetheless, there are differences, and some are better than others. Smart Speaker's speech quality does not rank particularly high. Both S.A.M. on the 8-bit, and "SPEAKTXT TOS" on the ST are easier to understand-and they're just done with software.
Smart Speaker's problems begin with the phonemes. There is considerable background noise and the volume levels are uneven. The text to speech translation is not bad, but there is no phonetic language to improve it. You can intentionally misspell words (i.e., "nniife" for "knife"), but it requires a lot of experimentation.
All synthesizers become more understandable as you use them. Your brain learns the "accent" and makes the corrections for the system. I suppose that the Smart Speaker would become passable with frequent use.
The Smart Speaker hardware is well done. The system is convenient and easy to use. Let's hope that future revisions improve the intelligibility of the translation.
$229.95. Swisscomp Inc., 5312 56th Commerce Park Blvd., Tampa, FL 33610. (813) 628-0906
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Font Craft is yet another 8-bit character set editor. However, it's better than most. It permits six different fonts in memory (counting the normal one) and displays two of them at once. It can edit as many as six characters simultaneously and it has a scratch-pad screen for trying your fonts in various modes or experimenting with animation-which is limited to switching the five character sets.
The single-character display works well, but the multi-character display flickers annoyingly. It is two characters high by three wide, and it doesn't show a character completely surrounded as a 3 x 3 display would. Nevertheless, it is useful and the editing tools (such as Rotate and Flip) work on groups as well as individual characters.
Font Craft is generally easy to use. It can be operated either entirely with the joystick or with a combination of joystick and keyboard. It can store fonts as DATA statements for BASIC programs, or as data blocks for other languages. The documentation is adequate, but it's buried in awkward multi-screen HELP files. It would be better if you could print out all these screens.
Font Craft is a little rough around the edges. There are misspellings in the documentation-and even on the menus. The displays are not completely thought out, and the interface is uneven. But Font Craft is undeniably powerful. It's a worthwhile addition to the library of Atari character set utilities. $8, 48K disk.
Pinekraft Enterprises, P.O. Box 56002, Harwood Heights, IL 60656.
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