Biblos, the assistive technology for education
My name is Giuseppe Di Grande and I was born in 1973. I live in Avola (Syracuse) and I have a diploma in Social Sciences. I love computers and programming. I have more than thirty years of experience with information technology and software development. In 1985 I started using my first home computer. I worked as an advertising graphic designer on a private television and had various work experiences. Today programming is my profession and it is the tool to express all my creativity.
I am a visionary, even if I am or because I am blind. I deal with braille technically, accessibility and usability. I have a particular predisposition to problem solving and computational thinking. I think that a respected professional should put ethics first. I'm interested in social networks and communication. I follow innovations and new technologies. I read a lot of books, so much so that I collaborate with a small publisher. I love cooking and making bread; since 2013 I have also adopted a vegan diet. I am sensitive to injustice, and I firmly believe that the environment is the first natural being to be respected. I am moderately unhappy, overly curious and I have a lot of intuition. I also believe that I have a spirit of leadership with a strong sense of humour at my side.
I prefer to think and act by far rather than speak or express myself in public. I am aware that communicating is an art, but I also know that to communicate well anyone who needs preparation and study. This site and my software are a sage of what I know how to do (especially Biblos). Below is the story with the salient points of my IT growth.
For job or collaboration proposals you can use the page Contacts.
It was 1985 and I was 12 years old. On December 14th my parents bought me my first home computer: the Commodore 64. It was the toy, for them; for me it was the end of childhood and the beginning of my love for computer science.
In those years for the C64 I learned Basic Language and Machine Code. I programmed its Microprocessor MOS 6510 by virtue of numerical codes. Oddly enough for that computer I never used the Assembler.
Together with the programming I also did graphics. I created software to draw characters, sprites and backgrounds, and created animations that populated video games I tried to build.
Now I'm not going to bring the talk about the nostalgic reminiscences of the years they were, but then to find useful information it was really a huge effort. Especially for me who lived in Avola, a small village south of Syracuse. The Internet still did not exist - both blessed internet! I then experimented on my own and learned by buying manual mail from Jackson.
For me, video games were works of art to observe rather than play. I bought video games in cassette: the first was Ghostbusters of Activision. The notions I learned from the books were of considerable complexity, but without realizing them I read and understood them, forming my knowledge and channeling my passion towards the difficult profession of programmer. I think the C64 manual was a real work of art, especially for the technical information on memory locations provided in the appendix.
I remember that the program I used to draw my sprites - written by me - allowed me to work with 64 sprites at the same time on the screen (basically the C64 had 8 sprites). I used the technique of interrupts related to screen raster tracking, with a code written in Machine Code.
A Genias, a Bolognese software house, to point out my abilities I sent two demos, of which a complete video game. I don't dare remember what I wrote in the letter accompanying them. Genias refused me the two demos, but encouraged me to continue. I was completely uninvited, because I thought I was sending only a sage of what I knew I was doing, and not complete video games. I imagined that those who had analyzed my creations would focus on the techniques used and not on the final product. I was mischievous, of course. I was young and had ideals that were not exactly aligned with reality. I thought my demos could show my skills, but I had wrong addressees because a software house was not looking for talent, but for finished products to distribute.
The place of residence has certainly not helped my IT growth. It was really hard to travel on the computer circuits of that time living in a small country in southern Italy, very decentralized to the computer turmoil of those times. However, in some way I was inside, I was completely immersed and was forged by all the enthusiasm and disappointments of the time.
I think it was 1989 that introduced me to my second computer: the Commodore Amiga 500. Meanwhile, I was working in a small computer shop in my country and Amiga was the natural continuation of my passion for computers. I looked at the PCs and didn't seem to me to be much, while with Amiga it was love at first sight. Amiga's hardware was extraordinary. More powerful than the previous C64, Amiga was the next step in the production of superior graphics. I was programming in Basic, with Amos (something more than Basic) and, above all, in Assembly. Amiga's microprocessor was a Motorola 68000, practically a 32-bit myth. I also used the other chips - Paula, Denise, Gary - which then made that computer something exceptional.
This time the graphics I drew it with Deluxe Paint III and IV, a 2D graphics software editor. While some support programs I wrote it with Amos. All the data was then inserted in code written in pure Assembly. I had made a draft of a fantasy video game, unrighteous but well done. It was a multiparallass with very gothic colors. Technically, a 48-storey multiline parallax for the ground, where the sprite of the main character moved, five levels of parallax for the clouds, the colors of the sky blurred thanks to the "Copper" and full screen bottoms that scattered thanks to the "Blitter".
I sent a floppy with the demo to The Games Machine, a monthly magazine that reviews video games, but the package returned to me back because it remained in stock too long in their mailbox.
In the store in the meantime I repaired C64, soldering and desoldering chips. I would have liked to have formed a development team to create video games, but the idea remained so. Instead, I gave video game characters endless lives, changing their code, because the desire to discover the graphics of entire video games was too strong. In addition to the modified video games, I added my own introductions, just to leave a recognition tag.
At a certain point, someone realized that I knew how to make graphics, so in 1991 I came to work for Teleuno Tris, a private television of Syracuse. That work was exciting, not so much for the graphics I always designed with Deluxe Paint, but for the rest of the technology that was used for the post-production of videos and commercials. In fact, after a few months of break-in, I used all the technology around me. I remember myself as if it was yesterday when I asked my friend Luigi Bianca - the artistic director of television - if he gave me an RVM tape to let me try the editing of videos. Seeing that I was able to do that, under his supervision I started to post-produce advertising. In fact, after a while it was normal to see me doing graphics together with video and audio editing.
The years between 1991 and 1993 were really frantic and exciting, the television environment allowed me to express in the best possible way the creativity that bubbled inside me. In those two years I also began learning to do the Disc jockey, mixing vinyl records with two beautiful Technics SL1210.
I abandoned that job because of the economic difficulties of small television, because of which they started not to pay me anymore.
It was at the end of 1993 when I returned to work in the computer shop, which in the meantime had changed owner. It was the very first days in which my friend Enzo Grillo, my peer, had bought the shop and was looking for co-workers. Of course, it wasn't really the best way to go back into a shop after working on a television, but I accepted and so began the period when I bought my first PC.
It was an IBM PC compatible with Intel 486 to 66Mhz processor. Amiga, however, always remained in my heart and in my strings. In fact, I used them both. I think it's easy to guess the programming languages I started using: Assembly, present at the appeal; Quick Basic, moderately; Turbo Pascal, not bad at all. Who knows why with Basic I have always had a cold relationship, just enough: it never entered my heart. With the PC I was in contact with MS-DOS and the machine hardware. My experience with Commodore computers allowed me to explore the most secret meandering of that new computer.
Revolved like a sock, with the PC I was exploring the potential of that new processor, which with its speed allowed me to test new techniques to create three-dimensional graphics. In fact I started to write some software and create some graphic effects, fascinated by some competitions at European level in which programmers, graphic designers and musicians are they challenged by force of beautiful Demo.
I continued to do the DJ, approaching the two Technics on my computer. Here in the village I think I was the first to digitize and mix music with a computer. I collaborated with some radios and in the meantime I joined a musical group.
The band made Rap music. My role was quite unusual because my instrument was the computer. In fact, I wrote in a tracker all the music that could not be played with the instruments available to the band. We called ourselves Rappubblica and we also held some exhibitions in the square.
. In mid-1995, I bought oil paintings and colours to try to paint something. I liked the idea of transferring the graphic creations I made to the computer on canvas, even if only to try to do something I had not yet explored.
At the end of 1995 and the beginning of 1996 I lost my sight. It was the period in which Microsoft presented its Windows 95, which was an operating system that made a significant leap in PC quality.
The only regret I have of those years is that I've never approached Apple computers. After reading the story of Steve Jobs, I would have liked to capture the madness of that genius and creator and make it my own. Only now do I understand how unconscious I was at that time and how useful it would be to have a mentor who could channel my energies towards more appropriate goals.
Darkness is the closest to blindness, but it is not exactly the same thing. Blindness is better than darkness because one gets used to the new situation and the residual senses are refined. It was a great challenge for a graphic designer like me to get used to the new situation. Programmer skills had not been compromised and creativity remained the same as before. Luckily, technology put its foot on us, even in this case. However, the graphics became off limits.
In mid-1996 I enrolled myself at Italian Blind Union. There they introduced me to a new way of using a computer: thanks to a vocal synthesis I went back to programming in Assembly and Pascal.
To my disappointment, they also encouraged me to enrol in a course for switchboard operators at the Blind Apostolic Movement of Syracuse, which would have allowed me to get enrolled in the national register and work as a blind switchboard operator. If I had been more conscious, I would have refused to do so immediately, but allow myself a certain disorientation that I felt at that time, which was quite difficult.
In 1997 in a typhoinformatics magazine of Association of Visual Disabled Persons, I was published a utility software for the management of a CD-Rom and Cd-Audio, which I had initially programmed for myself. At the same time I was writing audio manipulation software, given the inaccessibility of the software I used when I had my eyesight, and I was doing experiments of vocal synthesis with my voice.
My software had an increasing number of users. On the Downloads page of this site you will find the MS-DOS software you published. Instead, all the other folders with all the other small and big software, in Assembly and Pascal, I still have them here.
In 2000, with the help of Jaws, a screen reader, I entered Windows again, this time blind. For a year I had been using the internet, especially e-mails and news-groups, and I had become a voracious reader of fiction books.
In that year I created and founded a literary club for the conversion from paper to digital and the exchange of digital books named Mail Books X-Change. In September 2000 I published my first Windows software: a book cataloguer, functional to the club. I program it in Delphi, one of the languages I still use.
The initial study needed to understand its structure and operation began again with the Windows operating system. The experience of the operating systems used and known previously was very useful to me. I developed such small things and with them I had my knowledge of that operating system. Transforming my training from procedural to object programming was not too difficult.
In February 2001 I was hired as a telephone operator at AUSL No. 8 in Syracuse, serving at the hospital in Avola. Meanwhile, the relationship with the Blind Union of Syracuse was spreading. I continued to buy and read books, acquiring them with a scanner and correcting them with my own text editor with spelling correction functionality, which I had done for MS-DOS in 1998 (Scan Text).
Why are you running so much Giuseppe? Because it is the time that runs fast and I can't make myself distance.
The work of the switchboard operator was rather boring, with all due respect for those who do it with satisfaction. In a way, having a salary that hindered my creativity disturbed me a lot, and it continues to do so today. Whoever knows a Public Administration, and in general the workplaces with very heterogeneous staff, can imagine how I felt like wasting my time there inside. It lasted six years, and it was the six most useless years of my life. I tried to put forward my abilities there as well, but because of my blindness I wasn't really considered. The computational abilities of my thinking led me to analyze the problems that appeared to me and propose solutions that were easy to adopt, but that wasn't just a fertile ground in which to plant seeds.
Your goal is a salary? Then a Public Administration is your ideal environment. Do you want to grow professionally? Then go elsewhere.
I do not know how to work in groups when the group is almost without initiative. Unlike when I was on television, where there was a group of people who really worked with passion and despite the difficulties they pulled out everything the best. Sometimes they tell me that I know how to squeeze water from the stones, but I realize that squeezing it from the turnips gets really difficult.
In mid-August 2007, I ended my permanent employment relationship with that public body, and it was really a great liberation. Give notice of resignation, at long notice, and the world returned to a better place to live.
Graphics and video games were missing - even today I still feel nostalgic - but in a certain way I was growing informatically. In 2002 I opened this domain (DIGRANDE.IT), in which I published all the software I had done, and those that I continued to do for Windows.
In 2004 I published a very primitive version of Biblos, the software that would become my profession. It was a text editor similar to Scan Text, the MS-DOS software, which helped me in correcting the books that I continued to scan and read. In addition, I developed other small software.
Anyone who thinks that they become programmers in a matter of months or years, reading a programming book, is completely out of the way. Being programmers first of all means shaping one's mind to think in other ways and to have other structures. Are you willing to abandon your way of thinking about reality? It is very difficult as an adult, if not impossible. Programming is first and foremost art and programmers there are very few.
Everything I developed in those years - even the most insignificant things - was functional to one thing: learning all the secrets of Windows well and mastering object programming to perfection.
I freed myself of that ball at the foot - the switchboard - I intensified the development of some software. The number of software you'll get out of in two months is really impressive: I'd be throwing creativity out of all the neurons. Then I went back to focus on Biblos, and in fact at the end of October 2007 I got the brilliant idea of... upsetting the way of printing in braille.
I asked a friend what he thought about the idea of adding in Biblos the functionality of printing in braille. He told me that there were already braille printing software and I would only waste time.
Sure of my idea, at the end of October 2007 I began to develop printing in Braille of Biblos. In fact, after a few weeks, Biblos was printing in braille, although in a rudimentary way. But all the strength of my idea was evident. Biblos' braille printing in Braille was so overwhelmingly natural that only blind people (metaphorically) could ignore it. In fact, some highly quoted blind people settled the Biblos question sufficiently. Others were kidnapped, because it was evident that Biblos revolutionized the way of printing in braille.
Braille printing in Biblos is one of the best solutions available in the world market for this type of software. The development of the Braille system in Biblos continues today. From the following link you can read more about Biblos.
It was January 2008 and I don't remember at all if it was cold. I just remember that I officially founded my professional activity, all focused on Biblos. In February, I started marketing version 1.0, the first shareware version of Biblos. The initiatives and updates followed one another without a break.
At the end of 2008 I published Biblos 1.1, the second version, where I ran and integrated the braille shooting.
In June 2009 I published Biblos 2, where I introduced a unique feature for blind people around the world: tactile graphics. Never before had a blind person drawn a tactile chart independently before. I devised a system that allowed blind people to draw graphs using a descriptive language made up of vector instructions.
To stimulate curiosity and the creation of charts, in 2010 I began to produce tactile notebooks of various kinds. There were many requests for this material, even if the form in which I presented those notebooks was a bit too artisanal. My goal was to stimulate people to do it on their own, using Biblos. I also wrote two fairy tales, which I printed in braille and sold myself.
In 2011 Biblos was included in all Index Braille printers sold in Italy. The Italian distributor of those printers signed a contract with me, with which we agreed to include in all printers a license to use Biblos.
In 2012, Biblos 3 publishes, continuing to improve the braille printing system, production of tactile graphics and all the rest of the software. Biblos was adopted by some minor printing works that used it for the production of books in braille.
In 2013, I closed my business for the simple reason that I wasn't going to stay behind the fiscal stramberie, the chartered accountant and the rest of the marketing that distracted me from pure software development. Biblos, however, I continued to develop it. In fact I spent a year, 2014, taking an apparent break.
On 15 June 2015 publish Biblos 4, and was once again a revolution, because it was completely free. My cross is the one that I contrast with someone at every thing I do. This time I "enmiered" myself to sell the software in competition with Biblos, since Biblos was considered de facto the best - at least in Italy - and was free of charge.
In this story I deliberately omit all the minor situations in which I was involved, such as the involvement in 2016 in the +Ability group of Politecnico of Milan for the development of a low-cost braille printer, which was a real disappointment. My friend Ivano would tell me that I should be able to sell my skills better, and he is right. In any case, what I know how to do grows day by day.
In June 2017 I distributed Biblos 5, the new version of my software. In one of the previous paragraphs I wrote that making graphics in the dark is difficult. I left that margin of opportunity right because the tactile graphics environment and the tactile graphics language - real jewellery - I created them on my own. In Biblos 5 I have made it possible to draw tactile charts with the mouse. It was a great challenge, just because I don't see the screen, but I did it again this time. However Biblos 5 is in full becoming, and will soon present new surprises.
What the future holds for me cannot foresee. However, I can try to design it, trying to model it according to my wishes. Today, I am thinking about a number of projects, in anticipation of what will happen in the next few years, but I am really huge enough to be able to deal with them on my own. In fact, the time has come, I would say late, to return to group work and develop a dream. A group, however, means finding people who can work in synergy and have solid skills: it is very difficult, also because the place where I live is not called Avola Valley. On the other hand, I am trying to combine my computer skills with the respect that I nurture for nature, to harvest the fruits naturally without violating the land with pesticides and other harmful products. Will I do it? I do not know. I know that human behaviour can be optimised, in terms of respect and saving system resources, just as we do with the cycles of a routine in assembly.
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