"FIRST"??!? (Was: word processor history -- interesting article

Graham Toal gtoal at gtoal.com
Wed Jul 6 16:08:51 CDT 2016

As a student summer vacation job in 1977, I typed in a novel for Steven
Salter's wife using Salter's PDP11 and Runoff.  (Not even proper roff if I
remember, but the earlier simpler version).

Not claiming any firsts mind you.  That was fairly late in the game as
regards computerised typesetting,


On Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 3:19 PM, Fred Cisin <cisin at xenosoft.com> wrote:

> "FIRST"??!?
> On Wed, 6 Jul 2016, Evan Koblentz wrote:
>> All about some of the earliest people to write books using word
>> processors.
>> http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/06/how-to-write-a-history-of-writing-software/489173/?platform=hootsuite
> "The first person to write abook using a word processor" is essentially,
> "who was the first consumer?".
> It is directly analogous to "Who was the first person to drive a car?"
> Admittedly, the first person to use a word processor was probably typing
> business letters and/or legal documents, which is what they were developed
> for.
> But, should we accept his example of the first? private purchaser of a
> word processor, who had a SECRETARY typing?  Before that, secretaries who
> used word processors at work would moonlight typing manuscripts for people,
> and often take them in to the office to use the handy hardware there.
> Thus, if we take his example, we need to go back earlier to the first
> manuscript typing typist who took it into the office to work on.
> So, shall we revise our question to: "Who was the first author to type it
> himself using a word processor?"
> Then, we run into the most common flaw in ALL "FIRST" claims, of selecting
> the first biggie, and ignoring all of the little guys.
> Hardly ANY "FIRST" claims are valid for that reason.
> Who built the first automobile?
> Not only will we ignore the real first guy, because he didn't SUCCEED in
> going into production, over the years, he will fade from history, and we
> end up with a public who believe that Ford invented the car, Edison
> invented the lightbulb, and Jobs invented the computer.
> First driver was likely in 1768 (Cugnot), although others possibly before.
> Do we Verbiet's Chinese car in 1672 that was too small for an adult?
> Followed, with probably a few in between by deRivaz in 1807.
> 1886 Benz made the first "production" automobile, but you have to wonder
> how many were made before that that couldn't get off the ground in
> production.
> Jerry Pournelle was, indeed, an EARLY adopter, but NEVER "first".
> But, he might qualify once we change our question to, "Who was the first
> author to type into a word processor a PUBLISHED, nay "best seller", book?"
> We will probably immediately rule out ("as irrelevant") theses, term
> papers, etc.   If it wasn't a "book", then we don't care.
> Unpublished manuscripts?  "irrelevant"
> Published manuscripts from "vanity press"?  "irrelevant"
> Published manuscripts that never got successful distribution?  "irrelevant"
> Yep, we are really talking about who wrote the first "best seller".
> "Mark Twain was the first author to use a typewriter"
> Yeah, right.
> Declaring him to be first is highly dubious.
> Unless maybe the first company to make a typewriter give him a PRE-RELEASE
> freebie, just for the "free ink" PR?
> In that respect, Jerry Pournelle leads in a lot of other "firsts".
> My trade show staff had standing orders, "get a cold beer into his hand,
> and give him samples of everything that we're offering."
> (Giving Dvorak an alpha-test of XenoCopy was a big mistake!  We got free
> ink about needing work.)
> It would make far more sense, instead of looking at authors, and asking
> about their tools, to INSTEAD, look at the tools, and see who were the
> first purchasers.   Just as you might for "first driver".
> THAT leads us back to his example.
> But, it also leads us to "which was the first commercially available word
> processor?"
> I have little or no knowledge of early dedicated word processors.
> So, in the canonical idiocy, I will simply dismiss all of those as
> "irrelevant", even the 1970 time-sharing system that had a text editor!,
> and stick with microcomputers.
> The first microcomputer word processing program that I was aware of was
> Michael Shrayer's "Electric Pencil", but there were probably others before
> that.
> Next step would be to look at Shrayer's (or previous) customer records and
> ask, "Which of these customers was writing a book?"
> "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"
> The rooster.
> Word Processors and word processing software were developed because there
> was a need.  Admittedly, they were probably developed not for the need of
> manuscript editing, but instead for the digital sweatshop of legal
> documents and office correspondence.  In which case, "Who was the first
> (probably UNAUTHORIZED) person to do their personal manuscript on company
> machines?"
> MUCH later, I used "Electric Pencil", and then "Scripsit" on the Model 1
> TRS-80 to do the manuscript of my Honda book.  the publisher then RE-typed
> it into their Merganthaler.  Do we consider it "irrelevant" if the word
> processor was only used in pre-production?
> Since common practice was for publisher's editors to have manuscripts
> re-typed with their changes, there is no way to know how many submitted
> manuscripts had been written on word processors.
> I printed 80 column lines on 132 column paper.  Centered for the editor,
> to give him lots of room to scribble on, and flush left of the illustrator,
> so that he had a big block of space to the right of the text to make early
> sketches.  Peter Aschwanden was in my opinion, the best automotive
> illustrator in the business.
> In the UC Berkeley School of Library And Information Studies (SLIS), in
> the early 1990s, I was the first student to use a word processor for PhD
> written exams.  "Are you willing to publicly state that I willbe graded on
> penmanship?"  After one hostile prof made a big fuss about "how to
> sanitize" a machine to keep me from smuggling in pre-written blocks of text
> based on previously used questions, I told them to use a random machine
> from the lab or outside, and remove the floppy drives.  I said, "ANY
> popular word processing program, but tell me which program 6 weeks in
> advance, so that I can learn that program".   We ended up using Windows
> "WRITE".  In spite of silliness about "you can't bring your jacket or
> backpack into the room", they chose to leave the floppy drives in, and had
> me save my answers to their floppies, for them to do the printing.  (They
> then added a header, messing up all of my planned page breaks)  I can NOT
> claim to be the "FIRST", despite UC Berkeley's claimed pre-eminence in all
> things.  I'm certain that other schools had been doing it for most of a
> decade.
> Of significan interest to me, is that in the 1980s, there were some
> serious studies done on the impact on writing style of various systems.
> Such as small (in terms of lines and characters per line) screens, such as
> TRS80 and Apple tended to produce a choppier style, with a lot more
> redundancy (ideas, sometimes entire sentences and paragraphs being repeated
> on other pages).
> Just like my writing this with 80 x 24.
> Larger screens (more lines, not eyestrain issues) produced smoother
> transitions, and generally better organization.
> I'm not aware of newer serious studies on that.
> --
> Grumpy Ol' Fred                 cisin at xenosoft.com

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