Part 10

Computers: for the experts, the not-so-experts and the hope-to-be experts.

Well, for the latter two, actually. To paraphrase an old adage, “You can always tell a computer expert...but you can’t tell him much.”

We’ll be talking about personal computers here. “PCs,” we’ll be calling them (thus saving 14 letters with each mention.) PCs are wondrous devices. Full of mystery and intrigue. But on close examination they turn out to be nothing more than tidy little boxes containing literally millions of stupid little electronic gizmos. Stupid because they can make only two decisions about their present state. “Am I open or closed?” “Am I off or on?” “Am I positive or negative?” Or in computer lingo, “Am I zero or one?” Their report on that state is called a bit.

Unexciting, right? One gizmo, one of two states; mathematically, 21. Link two gizmos together (22) you can get four different states. Still pretty dull. But try linking eight gizmos together (28) and you get something interesting: 256 different states.

But first, let’s give that interesting octet of bits a new name. It’s a byte. A byte, capable of indicating 256 different states, can easily indicate any one of the characters on a typewriter keyboard; either upper or lower case. Type the letter “x” on a computer keyboard and somewhere in that tidy little box a corresponding gizmo gets “set” in its active state, a “1.”

Bits are too numerous and too insignificant to count, so the computer folk speak mostly of bytes. A modern floppy disk may contain 1.2 megabytes. That’s 1.2 million times eight bits, or 9.6 million bits. A modest-sized hard drive on a modern PC can handle 40 megabytes (320 million bits.)

Those stupid little gizmos are capable of changing or reporting their states rather quickly: in billionths of a second. (Nanosecs, the experts call them.) You put a few hundred million stupid, but speedy little gizmos in a box together with other gizmos to store, translate and transmit their states and, voila, you have a computer. But a computer ain’t dirt until it has instructions for how to handle all those millions of states and changes of states.

That’s where software comes in. Software provides the instructions. Using bizarre, arcane forms of mathematics, (binary, Boolean, octal and hexadecimal, to mention a few,) software tells a PC’s central processor what to do with the information received from every bit in every byte.

Information from vast groups of bytes is constantly zipping to and from busses, registers, buffers, input/output devices and gizmos at a dizzying rate. The computer operator is unaware of all this traffic. He’s happy as long as characters appear on his computer monitor or are typed by his printer. That’s the way computers are supposed to work.

Rarely, a computer’s innards foul up. Bits fail their bytes. Bytes fail to forward their stored information. Gizmo-rich devices “crash.” FATAL ERROR is the monitor message every computer operator dreads, but it does occasionally occur. More frequently, the PC operator misuses or fails to understand the software he’s using. In this event, the PC central processor recognizes a “glitch”, stalls, and displays a message on the monitor that usually means little to the operator.

Man and PCs are not equal partners in the processing of data, whatever its form. Man is supposed to be the master, but the PC invariably gains the upper hand.

So much for PC basics. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they can do wonders for bulletin editors. Let’s get on to specifics.


For PCs, bigger, faster, better are the criteria. There’s no such thing as too much processing speed or too much memory (megabytes.)

But for the guy whose primary interest is bulletin editing, a number of compromises are available. In most cases, his requirements are twofold, but simple. He needs capacity to process his words, and a simple system that will manage his mailing list. Both are modest demands, so blinding speed and enormous memories are not a first consideration.

If the editor has other requirements, for business applications, as well as bulletin publishing, then go for the “bigger, faster” critter.


Remember, software is nothing more than a body of instructions that tell your PC how to the handle the output from all of those stupid little two-state gizmos. For all intent and purpose, there are today only two kinds of PCs: the Apple-MacIntosh family and all the rest. All the rest are, in general, considered IBM clones. There are other systems still around, but most of them are on the brink of extinction. Their fans keep them alive. No serious developments of software or new features exist solely for them.

All PCs have one common need: An operating system that tells them how to process the information they store. It’s called a disk operating system (DOS). The Apple MacIntosh family has a shared one; the IBM clones share a couple of others (PC-DOS and MS-DOS.) All softwares for either family of computers rely on the disk operating system to do the spadework for the features they offer.

Word Processing vs. Desktop publishing—there used to be a distinction....

Word processing used to be somewhat limited, allowing you to enter and manipulate, to a degree, written text. You could amend, move, erase, “cut and paste” your words, but that was about all.

Desktop publishing, on the other hand, allowed you to take text files created by word processing and arrange them into columns, alter text fonts, create page formats, introduce art work, and in other ways create pleasing pages.

Early “heavy hitters” in desktop publishing were PageMaker, PrintShop, PFS First Publisher and Ventura Publishing. They’re still around, still viable and still offer a wealth of valuable features. But along have come recent issues of word processing heavyweights such as Word, WordPerfect, WordStar and Ami Pro offering much the same features.

Today, the line of demarcation between word processing and desktop publishing has almost disappeared. Today, word processing is desktop publishing, at least in general form.


Examine this manual. [Note: You obviously do not have access to the original printed manual this sentence referred to, but if you are reading this online, you can also easily accomplish all of this.] Do your needs exceed what you see here? The manual was produced on Ami Pro, Release 3.0. Apart from the conventional editing features common to all word processing software, the only others used were:

  • Changing type font sizes. (The entire manual, with a few minor exceptions, is printed in varying sizes of Times Roman and Helvetica type face.)
  • Introduction of type attributes (bold and italic.)
  • Organizing pages in two-column format.
  • Introduction of graphics (cartoons) from external sources (floppy disks) at the beginning of each section.
  • Automatic page numbering.
  • Semiautomatic preparation of the Table of Contents.
  • “Stacking” of files. Each section was written and edited as a separate file, including header and cartoon, then assembled, using the “append,” or “insert” feature to compile them into one continuous document.

These so-called “desktop publishing” features are common to all but the most primitive of today’s word processing softwares.

Aside from a word processor, about all else the bulletin editor needs in his computer is a simple file management software program to handle his mailing list. One that may be sorted in a number of ways to meet his needs. Keep it simple; don’t spend a lot of money, but get one with the capacity to handle the chapter’s roster, show mailing list and other needs.

This manual would not dare to discuss software systems other than in passing, as above. They’re too numerous, and updates and new ones come on the market almost daily.

Nor will this manual pretend to tell how to buy a computer. The philosophy espoused earlier, “get as much memory and speed as you can afford,” is amended only to add, “then add 10 percent more.”

No one, it seems, ever bought the right computer the first time. If you’re a first-time buyer, try to define your needs as best you can, then present them to a dealer for his opinion. Then get another opinion. Then get another opinion. Then get…

When you finally buy, get everything (hardware and software) from the same supplier, but make sure he knows all about them before you put down your cash. That way, when things go to worms, you can simply unhook the box full of electronic gizmos, take it to the store, put it on the counter and holler HELP! (We’ve done just that.)


Ya’ gotta’ have one! Spend more than you can afford. Daisy wheel printers limit you to the font on the wheel. Nine-pin dot matrix printers, for the most part, can’t output anything but basic fonts with any quality. Twenty- four pin dot matrix printers do much better. Laser printers are lovely...but expensive. Dot matrix printers are usually quite fast. Laser printers may be painfully slow when required to reproduce out-of-the-ordinary fonts or graphics.


Application software is the general term for systems of instructions for things a computer can do. We’ve discussed word processing at some length and touched on data base management as it applies to mailing address lists. Another major software group is called “spread sheet management,” or variations on that theme. This group provides the computer with mathematical instructions for processing bookkeeping, accounting and myriad other statistical functions—What the computer buffs term “number crunching.”

There are other groups of software that are not complete systems of themselves. They merely “plug in” to application software to supply additional features or functions. Some such softwares are of interest to computer- equipped editors.

The first is type management. Adobe TypeManager (Adobe Systems, Inc., Mountain View, Calif. 94039- 7900) stands almost alone in this field —at least for the IBM clone family of computers.

Adobe TypeManager (ATM) introduces a font-handling routine called “Postscript outline font technology” into word processing application software. Simply put, ATM smoothes out the appearance of typed letters on the computer screen and enables even inexpensive printers to print fonts that are crisp and smooth. ATM also opens the access path to literally hundreds of Postscript fonts, available from the Adobe Systems library or other sources. And ATM assists with scaling these fonts to sizes ranging from four points (very tiny) to 72 points (an inch high.)

Font libraries can supply a wide array of interesting and attractive fonts. As mentioned above, Adobe Systems has an extensive library, but their fonts are rather expensive. MicroLogic Software, Emeryville, Calif. 94608, provides software called MoreType for a wide variety of eye- catching fonts—packaged in groups of about two dozen— that are more reasonably priced.

An interesting companion to ATM is Adobe TypeAlign (TA.) In brief, TA allows for type set on curves, formed to irregular shapes and otherwise manipulated to create attention-getting displays of words and phrases.

Windows is an operating system that has overwhelmingly captured the market among MS-DOS and PC-DOS users. It is a “copycat” of the graphic approach to operating system instructions introduced in the Apple-MacIntosh family of computers. Basically, it incorporates groups of related functions in “pull-down menus” and allows the user to use a “mouse,” an external device that moves a cursor around the monitor screen, to “point and click” (select) one of dozens of visual objects (icons) or simple word phrases to activate a function. A vast improvement, most computer users agree, to memorizing scores of formulated key stroke combinations to achieve the same end. One of today’s main thrusts in software development is in programs for Windows. There is a monthly magazine devoted to them, and new applications seem to crop up almost daily.

Beginners and non-experts should be warned about the new software systems—all varieties of them. They require enormous quantities of computer memory. Many will simply not function in computers of just a few years ago. Others will, but in a sorely limited capacity.

A final group of non-system softwares interesting to computer editors is graphics. They are gaining sophistication with every passing day, but simply put, computer graphics convert things other than type fonts into bits and bytes. Thus they may be introduced, along with words, onto a printed page. The cover and all of the cartoons in this manual are derived from graphic images stored on computer floppy disks.

Like type fonts, there are graphics collections in commercial libraries. Some Society bulletin editors have created extensive libraries of specialized barbershop graphics. Our headquarters staff in Kenosha has a limited collection of barbershop images in the works. It will eventually be available from the merchandise department. Of the commercial suppliers, The ARTMAKER COMPANY, Claremont, Calif. 91711, has an extensive collection, handily grouped in many categories and reasonably priced.

There are a number of software formats for storing graphic images, but the two most popular are “PC Paintbrush” (PCX) and “Tagged Image File Format” (TIFF.) These are the systems nearly all commercial libraries supply, because they are the most adaptable to a wide variety of application softwares.

A detailed discussion of graphics is neither appropriate nor possible here. Let’s just say that images—be they photographs or simple line drawings —are stored as thousands of bits, either black, white, or some shade of color. They require huge amounts of memory. The cover of this manual, a simple line drawing and a few words of text, requires 96 thousand bytes


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