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24Feb/12Off

A few recollections from my freelance days

A slight departure from the usual posts on this blog 🙂

In the early 1990s, before large-scale offshoring came into play, I started working freelance, editing and typesetting technical books using Windows-based software (FrameMaker, before Adobe bought it) and certainly prior to PDF as the only way to transfer files to printers and "film bureaux". Film, remember that? Positive/negative, right/wrong reading emulsion side down... Printers and bureaux were dominated by the Macintosh (maybe they still are) so without the common use of PDF, transferring Windows-generated typeset material/files to commercial printers was, at times, a bit of a nightmare. I was working for a number of big book publishers who all used different printers, each with their own requirements for accepting electronic files which inevitably meant PostScript if you were working on a PC.

I still have vivid memories of generating and shipping hundreds of megabytes of raw PostScript code using SyQuest drives: then the only "high capacity" removable media accepted by printers. Ubiquitous, low cost, high-speed electronic transfer of huge amounts of data was still in the future, unless you had ISDN, which I didn't and couldn't afford. My first forays into the online world was the Bulletin Board and CompuServe and I was the proud owner of a US Robotics Sportster 14,400 Fax modem. I remember the joys of the Hayes command set, 7 or 8 bit data, odd or even parity and all the weird arcania of comms technology of the time. Enough already, too many memories!

Incidentally, a single 88 MB SyQuest disk cost (from memory) around £60 in the early to mid 1990s! I confess that I hated using SyQuest drives because you could never be sure that a disk formatted for the PC could be mounted (i.e., opened) on a Macintosh at the printers due to disk formatting issues. After generating 500MB of PostSript data and couriering it across the Atlantic to meet a deadline you don't want to hear that your disks can't be read. The introduction of the Iomega ZIP drive was a blessing and wiped out SyQuest's market, virtually overnight. Whenever I recall SyQuest drives I cannot help but think of the Trabant. Yes I should have used a Mac, maybe, but the vast majority of Word files (for technical books) I received from publishers were generated on a PC: in an era when transferring Word files between Mac to Windows was not always a "joy" and cleaning up the "converted" Word files could be a lot of work.

Generating reliable PostScript code via the Windows 3.1 PostScript printer driver was an excercise in the darkest arts and the main reason I had to become, at the time, expert in PostScript programming: to understand what was going on and how all those bizarre options in the print dialog box affected the PostScript code. Page independence, VM memory in the printer and a host of other settings which made the difference in getting the PostScript to RIP successfully, or not. I recall the "font wars" of TrueType vs Adobe Type 1 font file formats: "Type 1 rules, TrueType sucks" was an oft-quoted mantra of the times and certainly the conversion of TrueType fonts for inclusion in the PostScript data stream was not always without hassles...

Anyway, enough of this. Monty Python Yorkshire Man sketch, anybody?

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