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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 awards.

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
I also read with interest the "blast from the past", with the quick round-up by The Rabbi (Alan Duboff) of people and happenings from the 1980s. But I would add some comments to that, primarily concerning Ed Daszkiewicz of Procom. I worked with Ed from 1990 to 1993 and got to know him very well. He seemed to have acquired a somewhat strange reputation around town, which on closer examination turned out to be unjustified. Tokyo acquired its own share of urban legends, and not a few of those concerned Ed. The short version: he set up in business at a time when programming and PCs were both very expensive. The early PCs and the associated programs cost about four times what we pay now, in real terms. And Japan Inc. was in full force in the 1980s, so you had a fantastic choice between very expensive domestic models and imported models that got hit by import duties if you brought them in on a commercial basis. Many of the early notables about town lugged their new hardware through Narita, but this was not an option for a shop.

Going soft
Sigi's example about reprogramming a keyboard for WordStar is a little unfair on Ed. The example really only shows how much easier things have got since then. While I regularly curse Windows for its numerous defects, it can do many things that were virtually impossible 15 years ago. These days we have "soft" settings in Windows and in many types of BIOS, so you do not have to do so much juggling of DIP switches or swapping of hardware. Windows has a number of pre-programmed keyboards for different languages, including non-Roman ones. TrueType fonts are cheap and cover just about everything that you need. In 1986 the only real choice for special fonts was Adobe's PostScript, and about the only laser printer that had it was the very nice but very expensive Apple LaserWriter. It was also slow; a full page could take up to 20 minutes to emerge.

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.

Back now to the 21st century, and a look forwards instead of glancing over my shoulder at the past. When skimming through the latest PC Ragazine, I noticed some comments on flat screen monitors that got my interest. Seems that before long we will get new models with better color saturation and virtually no viewing angle limitations. The technology keeps improving, which is nice when I consider the limitations of the screen on my Dell laptop and the CTX model that the office bought almost two years ago. The prices are also improving, but it seems that the trend of being cheaper almost by the minute will cease before long and they could get more expensive again. The third part of the article really caught my eye, because it related to a recent translation I did. But first a disclaimer: I don't think that what I am saying here could be highly confidential.

The next flat screen technology to come along is to be OLED - Organic Light Emitting Devices. These are expected to offer better results than current TFT technology. The interesting part of the translation I did was that it concerns a German venture to take a lead in the market for OLED screens. It all sounded a bit like something from the heyday of MITI, with certain industries and sectors being targeted to succeed. But, some further comments. The Germans see no point in attempting to compete with the current technology. The electronics giants already have their manufacturing plants in place to churn out product at a fast clip. And more than 95% of the current models come from the Far East; mainly the PRC, Taiwan, ROK and Japan. The Germans hope to hit the market with the new and improved technology at competitive prices in a couple of years from now. It should be interesting.

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
I conclude this somewhat rambling Ionic Column with some brief comments on inkjets and ink. It did not take long to run through the cartridges that were supplied, and the refill kit worked OK at first, although the black cartridge delivered poor results after the third refill, and the color cartridge gave some trouble: a photo acquired a couple of blobs, and the blue tank seemed to have trouble. I dunno; maybe it is better to use the cartridges. I scouted the Internet for sources of cheap original HP cartridges or equivalents, and found none at all. All the sites had HP cartridges, at the same price that I would pay in the local discounters, and substitute cartridges for Epson, Canon and Lexmark - but not HP. Again, the local shops provided the answer, with substitute cartridges from pen-makers Pelikan and Rotring. It looks as if monochrome printing is definitely cheaper with a laser printer. But I do like the double-sided printing.One major gripe about all these sites; they advertised in a misleading way. In all cases when they mentioned cheaper HP cartridges, it turned out that they were offering a refill. Which is exactly what I can do for myself.

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, or

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

September, 2001

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN