Typesetting Enters the Computer Age
COMPUTERS are almost everywhere. They set the alarm on digital watches to get people up in the morning and control the fuel injection in their cars as they drive to work. Computer-controlled robots also make the welds that hold many cars together.
New types of office equipment that are operated by tiny computers are becoming more common, such as typewriters that remember certain words or phrases. When people are shopping, computers can automatically add up the bill and adjust the store’s inventory at the same time.
Computers may also help to print your morning newspaper.
In recent years printing has entered the computer age. Most major newspapers in the United States already use computers to set type, and most European papers are moving in the same direction. In Japan, where people read more newspapers than in any other country, computers have been used to set type since the 1960’s. Why the worldwide change?
Little Chips and Big Programs
Rising labor costs, combined with the growth of offset printing and competition from smaller, more flexible newspapers, all helped to push the newspaper industry toward computerization in the 1970’s. But the switch would not have been possible if it were not for the abilities of the computers themselves.
What’s making computers so useful? Better programming, or software, for one thing. Also, better hardware, in the form of tiny silicon chips that are speeding up computers and giving them greater memory capacity.
These chips are made by first drawing electrical circuits that are so complex that they are compared to a street map of a large city. Then the drawings are photoreduced and etched onto specially treated pieces of silicon. As the chips have improved, computers have become faster and more powerful, while also getting smaller and cheaper. For example, from 1975 to 1978 one company’s chips increased eightfold in memory capacity, while dropping in price by 71 percent. Another company has developed a single chip described as “the equivalent of a very large machine of just five or six years ago”!
Impressive as these hardware developments have been, without proper programming instructions, or software, the most powerful computer is still useless. Using a computer without programming is like consulting an impressively bound set of encyclopedias containing only blank pages! Before computers could be used to set type in the printing industry, some clever software had to be developed.
Teaching a Computer to Hyphenate
As you read this magazine you might notice that most lines of type are of the same length. This is true even though some of these lines have more letters than others. If you typed a paragraph from Awake! the lines would not all be of the same length, but in the magazine the columns of type have been justified. This means that the spacing between the words (and sometimes between the letters, too) has been adjusted so that all the lines come out the same length.
Traditional typesetting does this mechanically. But a computer must learn to count up the number of spaces in a line of type and to decide how many words will fit on the line. Then the leftover space must be spread equally between the words. This is not too difficult for most computers. The problem arises when a word must be divided in order for the line to come out right. How do you teach a computer to hyphenate or divide words properly?
Properly dividing words is not as easy as it looks, as any good secretary will tell you. This is especially true in highly irregular languages such as English.
Why not simply program the computer with a dictionary of all the words it will ever need to divide? That may seem to be a simple solution. “But, unfortunately, it just isn’t practical,” as a computer programmer pointed out. Why not? “You would need a very large dictionary for each language you were setting type in. Each dictionary would have to include every variation of every word the computer would ever encounter.”
So what is the solution? The computer must be programmed with all the rules needed to hyphenate words correctly, and then a special exception-word dictionary must be added to the program for the words that don’t obey the rules. A good hyphenation program in English will correctly divide 95 percent of all words in the language, which means that a relatively small number of words need to go into the dictionary.
Does that mean the computer will never make mistakes? No. What about words like “former”? As a noun this word means “one that forms” and is divided form/er. But as an adjective, meaning “coming before in time,” the word is divided for/mer. A human can easily tell from the context which way the word is being used, but a computer has much more difficulty doing this. A human must tell the computer how to divide such homographs. “Computers are never going to replace proofreaders,” observes one of the coordinators of the Watchtower Society’s computer typesetting program.
Computerized Typesetting at Watchtower
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., is a religious organization that has been publishing Bible literature for Jehovah’s Witnesses for over 70 years. In Brooklyn, New York, this Society operates a large printing facility, which is presently changing over from hot-metal typesetting to computerized photocomposition. What will this mean? It will mean considerable savings of time, energy, space, and manpower. Here is why—
To set type in hot metal for the Watchtower Society’s Brooklyn factory requires 20 Linotype machines. The machines are mechanically complicated, keeping two full-time mechanics busy. It is difficult to obtain spare parts for these obsolete machines. They use large amounts of energy to melt lead, which is formed into slugs of type, one line at a time. It takes six months to a year to become proficient at operating such a machine.
The slugs of type, along with any pictures, are then composed, or arranged in a special metal frame called a chase to create the form of the desired page. Highly skilled craftsmen, compositors, do this. A great deal of floor space is required for special equipment and heavy tables where the compositors do their painstaking work.
All of this takes time. A single page of a Watchtower edition Bible requires about 45 minutes to be set in slugs on a Linotype machine, and another 15 minutes is needed for composition.
The composed chase of type, including a number of pages, must then be used to emboss a special paper mat, which in turn is used to cast a heavy stereotype plate from molten lead alloy. Skilled labor, extensive space, and considerable amounts of energy are needed for this process. Before this plate can be used to print large quantities it must be nickel-plated for increased hardness, and even then the job is not ready. Why not? Tiny irregularities in the surface of the plate will cause the press to print unevenly, with patchy light and dark areas. This might be acceptable in some types of printing, but it will not meet the quality standards of the Watchtower Society. Hours, even a day or more, must be spent in tedious “makeready” before the problem is corrected and the press can begin to run.
By contrast, a single computer-driven electronic typesetting system will replace all 20 Linotype machines, as well as the hot-metal platemaking equipment. This will save a great deal of space and reduce manpower needs. The computer composes text into pages, and then the typesetter exposes it on photographic paper, which is photographed in turn to make plates for offset printing.
Once the text is typed into the system, then composition work that used to take hours can be done in minutes. No more lead needs to be melted for slugs or plates, which will save expensive energy! Less personnel will be required to set type, and most need not be skilled craftsmen. The thin, light, offset plates that are produced can be mounted on the press in minutes with far less makeready, saving valuable press time.
Meeting Unique Needs
An IBM computer system has been obtained for this purpose, as well as a high-speed Autologic phototypesetter. In South Africa, highly efficient Compugraphic systems have streamlined the prepress work in the preparation of books, as well as magazines in nine local languages. Interestingly, most of the software, or programming, needed to do the computerized composition in Brooklyn has been developed by Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. Why?
“Our needs are unique,” comments one of the systems analysts working on the project in Brooklyn, New York. “While it is true that there are commercial programs for setting type, they are not well suited for us.” Why not? First, because the Watchtower Society did not wish to accommodate its style and quality standards to what the commercial systems produce. Also, because the Watchtower Society prints regularly in 167 languages, far more than commercial systems presently available can do. “There are no commercial typesetting programs available for many of these languages,” continues the analyst, “because there is no money to be made by developing software for languages that very few people read.”
Of course, the publishing activities of the Watchtower Society are not designed to make money. They serve to get vital information from the Bible about the real meaning of current events to people all over the world. That is why this magazine is printed in 34 languages, and its companion, The Watchtower, in 106.
How can a single system eventually set type in so many languages? “It is quite an undertaking,” admits one of the programmers. “A new language often means more than just a new hyphenation program. It may also mean a new alphabet, and special programming for accent marks. In some cases we may even have to custom-build our own terminals and keyboards.” Quite an undertaking, indeed!
In order to carry out this massive project, numerous Witnesses with data-processing backgrounds have volunteered to come to the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. Many of these people made personal sacrifices in order to help out. Some have stayed for a year or more, and their contributions were greatly appreciated. Others have been at it for over three years now. “It took a while to get things set up initially,” says one of the three-year veterans, “but tremendous progress has been made in the last year or so. We are very enthusiastic about what is being accomplished.”
What does the future hold for computerized photocomposition? Better ‘forward-looking programs’ for one thing. Existing programs can ‘look ahead’ before setting type to a limited extent, but there is a need for programs that can do even more of this. Such programs, already being developed, allow the computer to decide how much space to leave at the bottom of a page for footnotes, or for study questions, as in the main study articles of the Watchtower magazine.
Something else that is being developed as of this writing is the ability to see a fully composed page on a video screen and then to adjust the layout of the page as desired. “Such systems exist commercially,” notes a Watchtower Society programmer, “but they don’t offer the flexibility we desire. We are interested in a system that allows us to key in text without having to put complicated composition commands in the text. This will allow us to use articles directly from the writers and translators.”
There are other advantages as well, as the analyst goes on to say. “Our system will allow us to position a box, or any other shape, for an illustration on the page. Then the text of the article will be automatically recomposed to fit around the contours of the insert.” When perfected, this system will allow editors and artists to try out many possible page layouts quickly, before deciding which one they like best. Then, at the push of a button, the typesetter will put on special paper what has been laid out on the screen.
Computerized typesetting by the Watchtower Society has required considerable effort and expense, but it promises many benefits. Christians today are faced with a world full of people urgently needing the Bible’s message of hope. It is appropriate that the Society take advantage of anything that will clearly help them to carry out better their mission to proclaim “the day of vengeance on the part of our God” and “to comfort all the mourning ones.”—Isa. 61:2.
“And the gospel must first be published among all nations.”—Mark 13:10, AV.
[Pictures on page 17]
A Linotype can turn out 8 to 11 lines of type per minute. Text accumulated in a computer can be produced on a phototypesetter at 2,000 lines per minute
[Pictures on page 19]
All this obsolete hot-lead equipment can be replaced, resulting in considerable savings of time, manpower, space, and energy