Posts Tagged ‘typesetting’

Gandhi SHRDLU

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

I found this compelling article in the 18 June 1931 issue of The Beach (N.D.) Advance:

It reads:

SHEDDING NON-ESSENTIALS

All India is gossiping over Mahatma Gandhi’s unprecedented action in laying aside his spinning wheel and his h. e-uloo SHRDLU EATOISHSHSHRD.–Boston Transcript.

The article probably wasn’t run out of any newsman dedication to at least communicating part of the Gandhi spinning-wheel story.   More than likely, it was a case of professional schadenfreude.  Who would be so careless as to send out such a thing over the wires?  Those Boston newspapermen are running a shoddy ship, it seems.

You might want to blame static or some other signal interruption as the cause of such confusion, but there’s a clue here to prove the gibberish has an entirely human source.   You know the modern interface as the QWERTY keyboard — the reason we have to add QWERTY at the beginning is because then (and to a lesser extent now) people have devised other typing layouts for the sweet-spot of functionality, speed, and usability, so we name some keyboards by a pronounceable sequence of keys in order.

The top two lines of the Linotype keyboard are as follows:  ETAOIN and SHRDLU .  It would appear that the underpaid and underappreciated Bonston Linotypist messed up his text by hitting a few wrong keys — the “h. e-uio,o” part — and then signalled his failure by running his fingers down the keyboard to indicate the failed type.  Having done the keys out of order, or through some other carelessness, the text went out on the wires nonetheless.   What else is there to do when you’ve got a couple inches to fill and you’re just trying your best to run a ship-shape newspaper in far western North Dakota?  Run a bit of somebody else’s failure, and then get on with your day — another paper is due in only a few hours.

The Linotype Machine, 1915.

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Above is the proto-blogger: a Linotype compositor. From the days of Gutenberg, publishing had been completed by assembling tiny chunks of metal with embossed letters on the top edge. The Linotype machine simplified the process by casting those metal letters in entire lines at a time, by means of a keyboard, ready to go to the press. I’ve seen these amazing machines in operation first-hand, and have several text ’slugs’ around here, some with my and my kids’ names on them. The machines are completely mechanical, produce an amazing amount of text in a very short amount of time, and later versions (they were used well into the late 20th century) even had the ability to operate unmanned, receiving instructions via the news-wires. Unlike blogging compositors today, due to their size and expense Linotype machines rarely made it to the ranks of amateur publishers, but did help move the ability to composite type from the hands of skilled master typesetters to anybody that could be trained to use the keyboard. If you’d like an overview of how these amazing machines worked, you can see a section from an article in The Book Of Wonders.