New: I Don't Know as much Braille as I Thought

Today Google announced Google Accessible Search, which favors web pages which are compatible with web browsers that visually-impaired people use. You might think that's pretty awesome, a great step towards making the world's information accessible to all the world's people, not just to the people with 20/20 vision.

But because I've devoted so many of my precious neurons to puzzle hunt games, of course I overlooked the whole world-improvement aspect and immediately tried to read the Braille in the logo:

[Logo: Google Accessible Search]

The first two characters were S E. Oh, obviously this must spell out "search"! Except that I didn't recognize the next two characters. And why were there only four characters? SEARCH has six letters. Oh no--four letters, SE blank blank, neither of the blanks a common letter... Had someone snuck the word "SEXY" into a Google logo? I was reminded of Julien Torma's plan for Braille p0rn. (I do keep talking about Braille p0rn. Is that insensitive? I suppose if any blind people get offended, I'll never know it--I think the commenting system asks them to solve a visual captcha to prove that they're not evil spambots.)

So I did some searching around. And it turns out that I didn't know Braille as well as I thought I did. I know the Braille alphabet. Well, uhm, I know of the Braille alphabet, I know some letters, I can muddle my way along with a cheat sheet. I thought that was all there is to Braille code. Well, I knew there was a special character to say "the next letter is capitalized". And another special character to say "the next letter isn't really a letter, it's a number". But today I learned that there are other special characters, contractions.

For example, ..OOO. when it appears in the middle of a word, means "AR". And O....O in some context means "CH". So that Braille in the logo does spell out SEARCH after all.

In addition to these tricky contractions, there are some common abbreviations, which might be something like the OMG LOL IM language... or maybe not. Apparently Braille is a very rich language. So I used to think I knew Braille. But now I know that I don't know. And not-knowing is half the battle!

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Posted 2006-07-20