Ionic Column - March 1996
by David Parry
Englishman David Parry lived in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a member of TPC from 1986. A frequent contributor to this publication, he was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990 and began the Ionic Column in 1992. This column has won a prize and an honorable mention in newsletter awards. To the Tokyo BBS community, he now lives in virtual cyberspace and teleports textually over the ether. On the physical level, he currently lives and works in Düsseldorf, that part of Germany that most resembles Japan.
At long last I got to see this column in print when the December 1995 and January 1996 Algorithmicas plopped into my mailbox. I got all nostalgic and dewy-eyed when I read about the trials and tribulations of the current publishorial team and the angsts of learning desktop publishing. This reminds me of the good old days... and the pterodactyl.
One sentence did make me laugh. It was to the effect that the AJ was not really big enough to warrant the use of a full desktop publishing package because it was only monochrome. I don't think that any user group is printing in color yet, probably not even the behemoths of Boston or Houston. Why not? It costs far too much. And in any case, what do they mean by color? A mugshot of the prez, with matching red nose and eyes? Or spot color with a few stripes and bars and boxes in blue or red?
Adding local color
Spot color is not difficult to do, and most Windows programs can do it to some extent. The latter can be done with spot color, which simply requires a second or third printing with the extra color(s). DTP packages can handle that very easily, and it is not too expensive in absolute terms, but it still costs a fair bit more than glorious monochrome. The main problem is alignment unless the program also provides crop marks for the printer to align everything. Now that is the kind of feature that DTP programs do think of.
If you want full four-color printing and plate-making for color prints, then take out your check book, or better yet, a second mortgage. My understanding is that PC and Mac program are not of professional standard in handling four-color printing, with certain critical things handled badly or not at all. I like the terminology, though, since talk of traps and knockouts adds a decidedly vigorous ring to a very staid profession.
A backwards glance
But how was the TPC newsletter put together in the past? Mike and Paul came into the TPC after Mike Gray had handed over to Dori Horn. Dori started a new tradition of using Ami Pro, but before that the newsletter had been put together using Ventura Publisher for several years.
It must be said that current word processors such as WinWord and Ami Pro can do much of what Ventura does. The visible difference often comes down to details, such as type and line spacing. One particular advantage of Ventura is the ability to merge different files without making them into part of the document, so we could recycle old files with a bit of editing, or else keep some place for a file that we knew was on the way. I have not seen MS Publisher, but I would guess that it looks and works something like a cross between WinWord and PageMaker.
AJ circa 1986
To put things into the correct sequence; when I joined the TPC in 1986, copywriter Wick Smith almost single-handedly put the newsletter together in Word Perfect. I think Patrick Hochner then helped to actually print the newsletter, performing miracles with the original LaserJet Plus and DOS-based fonts.
Then Federico Sancho took over with editor John Scherb, using his considerable publishing and layout experience to produce a clean and effective template for the newsletter. That lasted in one form or another for some years. He printed the newsletter in PostScript on an Apple LaserWriter, and included a cover graphic of a well-known Japanese mountain that was used for about two years until there were calls from the readership for a change. Federico handed over the templates at the end of 1988, and then it was up to me.
AJ circa 1988
I had been using Ventura Publisher for about a year and a half by then. This was the "classic" version 2.0 of Ventura, which ran under GEM. Ventura was the "killer ap" that could have made the GEM operating system really big, at a time when Windows was just a pane.
A detour for GEM
GEM was a GUI (graphic user interface) just like
Windows, and could handle the same range of input and output devices available at that time. It had a faster and sleeker interface than the versions of Windows available up to 1990, it worked better with monochrome than Windows does, and remained substantially unchanged after about 1986.
Do you remember when...
GEM and GEM programs had some very irritating quirks. They imposed a dictatorial directory structure that would probably have been a major nuisance on a LAN, but I did not encounter networks until Windows 3.0 was out. GEM programs were a very mixed bunch, without a really consistent look or feel, and there were relatively few of them. Worse yet, there were only ever three really good programs that I know of; Ventura Publisher, Per:FORM and GEM Artline. And I had all three. Add to that GEM Draw, the somewhat toy-like but eminently workable paint program that came with GEM Desktop.
But if you want to talk of shelfware, I once had Windows 2.0 and Windows/386. The difference between Digital Research and Microsoft was that Microsoft kept on trying.
Ventura Publisher stagnated with GEM, and belatedly converted to Windows. Per:FORM is a form generator from Delrina, and an updated version is called Form Flo. I upgraded to the Windows version of Per:FORM and primarily use it to make out invoices. Just like Ventura, Per:FORM shows clear traces of its ancestry, with the old GEM key combinations, tiresome font handling, and a tendency to have unexpected and unrecoverable memory problems.
Artline is a decent but orphaned graphics program, and I still have it, because it is the only program that I have at the moment that can edit PostScript EPS files. It is the most robust program of the three and works well, but I will get Corel Draw! or something similar later this year.
Maybe it's on a shelf somewhere now, or maybe I gave it away in Tokyo before I left, but I used to have the full GEM Desktop set. I had hoped that this would make for a more consistent setup, until I discovered that it was impossible to get all my GEM programs to run under the GEM Desktop, and the run-time versions conflicted.
Windows made the breakthrough with version 3.0 in 1990 with at least three major features: consistent font handling, TrueType fonts, and more advanced memory management. Much of that only really came to fruition a year later in Windows 3.1, which also included relatively good LAN management features. But by that time I was in the process of swapping from GEM Ventura to Ventura for Windows, since it was clear that nothing else was going to appear in GEM form.
But back to the publishing. I had a full DTP system, with an Acer 386/16, a LaserView 19" high- resolution monochrome screen, and a LaserJet II with the LaserMaster CAPCard. The latter was cheaper and faster than a PostScript printer at that time; Federico spoke of waiting 20 minutes for a page to emerge.
The original CAPCard offered 35 Bitstream fonts designed to precisely match the equivalent PostScript fonts in width. You could use fonts in fixed sizes or scaled on the fly, but the former were distinctly better, especially in the most common sizes. Screen fonts in the intermediate sizes were truly dreadful. Thus a large part of my disk was parking space for the screen and printer fonts. The difference today is that TrueType and ATM can do a good job of scaling, so you don't need to compile sets of fonts, and you do not need to keep separate printer and screen fonts.
LM Series III
In 1990 I changed to their Series III model, which offered 135 fonts, compatibility with PostScript Type 1 fonts, a PostScript emulator program to print out PostScript files, and font scaling on the fly. The good news; no more sets of compiled fonts in fixed sizes. The bad news; the fonts. Only the same 35 fonts as before were an exact match for the equivalent PostScript fonts (virtually all PostScript printers have the same set of fonts, with small variations). The other 100 fonts were an eclectic mix, of which perhaps 30 were useful. The remainder were perhaps useful for things like party invitations. The really bad news was that LaserMaster had changed over to URW fonts. I would rate them as scarcely better than shareware in terms of quality, and probably shareware fonts nowadays would be better. The default font on the Series III was an especially revolting Times Roman that could not be replaced because it was the default system font. For non-typographers, Times Roman is the font that is generally used for the main body text of newspapers, and its TrueType cousin is generally the standard font in Windows programs.
Where's the intelligence?
There are two basic options for font cards and controllers, be they LaserMaster or PostScript. Either the intelligence is in the computer or in the printer. LaserMaster used the first solution. A special add-on card did all the processing in the PC and downloaded the result as a graphic dump over a special high-speed connection that went to the special I/O port on the printer. It was very fast, but required the PC and the printer to be directly connected. No good on a LAN, of course, unless you were prepared to dedicate a machine as a print server.
PostScript puts the intelligence in the printer, which means that the PC CPU is freed up more quickly (immediately on a LAN, since the job goes into the spooler) and the printer can be shared in a number of ways. Early PostScript printers were painfully slow, but faster processing chips made all the difference. Also, Adobe cut the licensing fees to reasonable levels, so the cost advantage of the LaserMaster solution just evaporated.
Loyal LaserMaster users
Andreas Braem and Mike Gray and I all used these LaserMaster font cards at that time. Andreas had a newer LaserView monitor than mine, Mike stayed with color VGA. Mike used a variety of printing systems, including the Windows printing system that was another LaserMaster product, but then he went over to PostScript. I used PostScript on an HP LJ 4 when I was back at Procom for just under a year, but I had to go back to using my HP LJ III and the Series III for my last year in Japan. Very reluctantly. It was obvious that the new RISC-based PostScript chips were as fast or faster than the LaserMaster method, and there were no problems with LANs. I sold my Series III on leaving Japan and once again use an LJ 4 with PostScript.
I also used an add-on font cartridge from PDS on my printer, mainly with XyWrite. It had no screen fonts for Ventura, so I used the LaserMaster fonts with Ventura and later with Windows.
Using the big monitor also ensured an endless quest for new and better drivers. Between that and the LaserMaster font cards, it was hard to get everything working consistently. In one epic moment in early 1990, the system crashed when we were about to print the final version. Editor Chris Case took the backup files over to Andreas Braem in Kamakura and an issue emerged.
AJ circa 1990
Producing the newsletter is a lengthy business, so it became a matter of teamwork. The publisher was the person with the best knowledge of DTP, and a team of editors handled the text. Initially I worked with Wolfgang Bechstein as editor and Andreas Braem as assistant editor and publisher, followed by Peter Evans as editor, and then for a short and tempestuous time Chris Case held the editorial reins. A frequent and welcome assistant was TPC stalwart David Bernat . It was a great team, and I enjoyed working with them all.
Credit where credit is due: it was Wolfgang Bechstein who coined the term "publishorial" to describe the DTP jocks in the newsletter team. I believe the correct linguistic term is "back-formation", as he created it by analogy with "editorial". How long before this new coinage enters the OED?
Andreas had a similar system with a newer LaserView monitor, and a different printer. His workstation was overshadowed — overflown, really — by a huge pterodactyl that permanently hovered in the updraught from his monitor. Some of the issues were put together in Kamakura while Andreas dispensed exquisite culinary delights. Over in the corner, star editor Wolfgang Bechstein wielded a ruthless blue pencil while commenting that he had only two hours of sleep the night before due to a particularly hectic translation job. We always seemed to end up with the final version practically being tugged out of the printer before we dashed off madly to Kita-Kamakura station and caught the 10:42 "blue train". Even now I can remember the time of the last train out.
The 10:42 train
Severe time and financial constraints forced me to hand over to a willing volunteer as soon as I had got a headlock on a suitable candidate ("You have Ventura Publisher and a printer with lots of fonts and a scanner? How about...." "Aaaaaargh! All right! I'll do it!") in Spring 1990. Journalist Mike Gray volunteered to take over for a while. I remained as assistant publisher in reserve to help out if Mike was away. Which he was from time to time; he went off to cover the Gulf War and recounted stories of trying to eat dinner in Tel Aviv while wearing a gas mask. I stayed on as assistant publisher for about a year and then handed over. Shortly after that, Mike handed over the reins to Dori Horn.
Rolling your own
Working as publisher was a nerve-wracking business, but great fun. One thing has not changed for the editor, and that is the desperate search for home-brewed material. We occasionally reprinted articles from other user group newsletters, and on one epic occasion we reprinted an April Fool's article in all seriousness. Eagle-eyed Wolfgang spotted this, so it must have been after his period of tenure. But we always gave priority to articles from TPC members, even if these did come in at the last moment. Some things never change.
See CeBIT run
Next month: a report from CeBIT, which is the biggest computer trade show in Europe. It is held in Hannover in the middle of March every year.
Editor's and Publisher's note:
Pumping out the AJ is still "a nerve-wracking business," and still "great fun."
And we still "give priority to articles from TPC members," and they still "come in at the last moment."<G>
Thanks for the blast from the past, David. It's good to know the history behind the AJ.
Here's to the future!
(Now, where's that CD-ROM with 2,000 TrueType fonts on it?)
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