Ink on fingers!

Hi thank you for reading, this is a 10 min talk I gave at !!Con 2016. This note is hot off the press from my speaker notes and may contain typo and need edit, gimme few days to fix that !

Little bit about me

I'm @kosamari on the Internet pretty much everywhere.

I'm a software engineer (of JavaScript kind) at Scripto in NYC

I also co-organize JavaScript meetup called BrooklynJS in Brooklyn.

I work on text editors on my job. Since the software is used in TV industry "print out text" is an essential part of the application.

On my personal time, I'm kind of obsessed with punch cards and early machines which influenced computers.

This is my 8 bit punch card reader making textile patterns.

Typesetting Machine is AWESOME

So in the intersection of those two interests, I discovered a thing called Typesetting Machine & I wanted to share with you today.

What comes in your mind when someone say "Typesetting" or "Letterpress" ?

You might think hip printing shop where you order wedding invitation & fancy stationaries...

... or you might think about Gutenberg Bible

in both case, you may be familiar with this process of picking up each letter of press and set it in frame to print a page. In fact this was the way to print on paper for long time.

But this is our reality now, right? you click on print icon & printed paper come out of printer with out any hustle of typesetting.

I was interested in what happened between typesetting by hand & clicking print icon, particularly the part when machine and idea of automation was introduced.

Which lead me to Linotype, and it's evolution as Typesetter. Linotype was invented by German immigrant Ottmar Mergenthaler who was trained in watch making.

It has spacial keyboard based on most frequently used alphabets

When you type on keyboard small metal mold for a type fall down from top parts called magazine.

These metal type molds are called matrices

Once one line is set, these molds are sent to casting section where molten metal shoots into the molds

hardens and creates a line of type.

[this is the most cool part !] once you are done with those matrices, this large arm falls down, and grab them.

sent to distribution system ...

...where each matrices are dropped to correct section

It's amazing piece of technology... I mean when was the last time your build process worked this flawlessly ?

Linotype was invented in 1886, it made books much more affordable, newspapers were able to publish more frequently, it was such a solid technology used for almost 100 years.

New York Times used this "hot metal" typesetting until July 2nd, 1978.

There is a short documentary of the last day they used this technology.

Clearly new type of technology was coming.

I screen capture this from promotional video from International Typographic Union called "Story of Technology(1966)". Where they described computer is not a green monster eating paper tape in a black box...

... but rather a clear box made out of logic.

Even though computer was introduced in work flow, it was used for data input. It still needed a typesetting machine, different kind of machine called photo typesetter.

It was called "cold type"

Instead of metal type molds, it used font film

You also don't need to have multiple font size because it was all done in lenses.

The machine exposed film to contact sheet, then develop it and created type in paper

It was then laid out to page

Lines were drawn by hand or with decorative tape. It ~*literally*~ was a "what you see is what you get".

Once page was set, it was photographed/scanned to create printing plate.

So new typesetting department looked like this - a room full of computers.

Rules to and guide lines to type set was starting to emerge

here is a markup specification for font type and size.

This is like you are opening dev tool and looking at style of a DOM element

Exciting thing in computing history happened around this time at Bell Labs.

Bell Lab has purchased

I was possible to control by PDP-11

We learned yesterday's that hidden purpose of PDP-11 at Bell Labs was so that Ken Thompson to play game.

Some of you laughed that Bell Labs authorized $100,000 machine to typeset patent application, but I argue that it was big deal for a research facility to have control over typesetting machine.

It seems natural progression as computer research facility in late 60s and early 70s when study about Document preparation system (text formating) was actively researched. Idea that you can use create a document using computer was new and exciting subject.

These document preparation system was not specifically made for typesetting machine.

This also sparked invention of few preprocessor, like tbl for typesetting table contents

eqn for mathematical equations.

Brian Kernighan who is a one of inverter of awk programming language was important part of Typesetting at BellLabs. He was exposed the idea of document preparation system when he spent time at MIT, he even wrote a version of roff to do auto capitalization for his PhD thesis. He worked on many project related to typesetting in 70s at Bell Labs.

After 7 or 8 yeas using GSI C/A/T, it was time to upgrade Typesetter, because another new technology was introduced in computer mechanics called Cathode Ray Tube.

Here is what it looked like

With CRT, you did not need to have font film anymore. Any graphics drawn on CRT was transferred directly to contact paper.

Which meant you could program your own font face.

Brian Kernighan was on the initiative to purchase new typesetter for Bell Labs, and they decided on Linotron 202 which was CRT photo typesetter

Linotron 202 came with a software the manufacturer developed, but according to Brian Kernighan " It was totally un-usable"

So what would engineers do? At the time in Bell Labs, Ken Thompson and Joe Condon had just completed the Belle Chess Machine project. They had a knowledge of hardware machinery & interest in publishing chess book using chess font (or Emoji).

Kernighan, Thompson, and Condon decided to reverse engineer how Linotron 202 operates, and published internal memo about their learnings. It shows chess font they created with Linotorn 202, and explanation of how they think Linotorn is drawing font face.

But the best part of this memo is the title

Wrap up

Hope this was interesting story. A lot of what we see on computer has ties to history. For example, point is a measurement used for metal type. In Many software default largest font size is 72pt because that was often the type size offered in metal type.

Even if you think many fonts in computer are basic af, it was once hand curved by someone else and survived many generation of technological change.

Just like textile loom became base of computer, many elements on computer has a history going back to pre-computer era. Hopefully, next time you sit in front of computer screen or click on that print icon, you think of past craftsman who brought you the technology we use everyday.


If you have any comments/questions, hit me up on twitter @kosamari