Ionic Column     in exile
by David Parry
Englishman David Parry lived in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a member of TPC from 1986.
Currently working as a translator in Düsseldorf, he returns to Japan electronically via the Internet. A frequent
contributor and Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990, he began the Ionic Column in 1992, now the winner of two
I noticed that the last issue of the AJ gave yet another glimpse back-stage into the making of the newsletter that we all know and love, and sometimes even read. But as is the case with the making of laws and sausages (and software), it is not a pretty sight. However, don't let that put you off if you feel that you have a genetic disposition towards the publishing business. Or as they would say in the pre-LaserJet days, printer's ink in one's veins. But with or without computers, the AJ requires some wetware input. In other words, a few somebodies to create the text, and another one or two somebodies to edit it and format it.
Adding some Polish
Windows has also made it unnecessary for program vendors to supply disk after disk of printer and monitor drivers. Each program had to fend for itself when it came to input and output. At that time I was using XyWrite and various borrowed laser printers such as a LaserJet II or a Kyocera F-1000. The latter had many more fonts than the HP, but it was a battle royal to define them in XyWrite and to remember which commands to use to change font. I started to use Ventura Publisher around that time, which used its own run- time version of GEM Desktop. (I hear mutters from the back row to the effect that the old fool is starting to ramble now, and anyway, PCs have always used Windows, haven't they?) In 1987 I bought the LaserMaster CAPcard, which offered a number of different fonts, all scalable, and with very quick printout. I think it was possible to use it with XyWrite, but it was primarily for use with Ventura Publisher. In any case I was keen to get into the brave new world of DTP, only to find that within a few years the market had more or less disappeared with the emergence of Windows-based word processors that could do 90% of the formatting and font tricks of DTP programs, at less cost and without the steep learning curve. And the first Windows-based word processor? Microsoft had been quietly developing Word as a DOS-based program that could do more elaborate formatting, and I saw a few manuals that were produced using it, but the program was too slow on 286-386 era PCs and the earlier EGA/VGA cards. The program was redone under Windows 3.0, and WinWord took the lead while Word Perfect remained the premiere DOS word processor and missed the chance.
But WordStar is a story in itself. The program was relatively simple and fast, but it was impossible to configure it much. The changes that Sigi wanted could only be done by using a hex editor on the program code. Not exactly user-friendly, and MicroPro managed to gain a reputation for being very user-unfriendly on their "help" lines. They failed to come up with a winning product to consolidate their market, and disappeared after a few years. Meanwhile, most programs are now designed so that the user can configure them in various ways. Which is just as well, because it is still not cheap to hire a programmer. XyWrite had a vast number of options, but you had to hunt down the syntax in the manual and write a kind of batch file. These days you just have to wade through the Windows-type menus to do what you want. Assuming that it works, of course: I find that setting up networks in Windows is exasperating at the best of times. One hint I have heard: make one change at a time, then reboot.
And what about the East - that is, Eastern Europe? A certain amount of high-tech industry is moving into the former DDR. I seem to recall that Leipzig has an Intel fab for CMOS chips, but have not as yet heard of any being set up east of the Oder-Neisse line. One obstacle in certain countries is that foreign investors are not allowed to have a majority holding in their affiliates in the host country. The result is that investments go to places like the Czech Republic and Hungary, and stay out of countries such as Poland. It also means that the first group are candidates for entry to the EU within a few years, and places such as Poland get a continuous "mañana" to their requests for admission. Going further east still to the former Soviet Union is something only for the very biggest and strongest companies, since the risks are too great.
The general instability in the former Soviet Union is reflected in its lack of exports. Despite the cheap labor, I see very few Russian products of any kind over here in Germany. One curious exception: Ukrainian night vision devices! These now look very similar to the Western ones such as from Swarovski, but I have no idea of their comparative performance.
More on the inkjet
Comments or feedback or more information? Details of a source for cheap ink and toner? A burning desire to be quoted in print? Contact me at DAParry@compuserve.com, DAParry@t-online.de or http://www.core-ad.co.jp/parry.
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