Posted by: Michael | 10/01/2008

Don Knuth

I sitting here thinking about Donald. Not Trump, who I went to high school with, but Knuth. Joe Kinego who flew Blackbirds [SR-71] is my high school’s success story.

It is Knuth’s 70th birthday!
I learned this from two blogs that I read: ‘God does Roll Dice‘ and ‘Good Math and Bad Math.’

Its funny but I’ve been involved with setting printing since I was 19. Like many of the ’60’s it took me several years and several university to graduate.

I started out life as a physics math major at Cornell; discovered women and cheap wine. I proceeded to flunk out as fast as possible.

After Cornell I worked at Pandick Press as a proof press operator on the night shift, which was great for two reasons: first, lots of overtime; second, the Village [Greenwich Village] was still the Village and the East Village was just blooming. I would get off and with two friends and we’d go see Coltrane, Coleman or sometimes just buy food at the various late-night markets and cook as the sun came up. Some days I’d just go home and watch the Late Late Show and see many of the films Jmaes Agee wrote about in his book on film. Mainly I learned about typesetting and printing.

I saved about $500 and went to Europe for 10 months, sleeping in the streets and not eating. Howeber I wa a wrestler so not eating was easy.

Then I came home and got married and drafted. I became a photographer in the Army. There is more to the story BUT this is about Knuth and me, and not the Army and me.

After the Army I studied Photography at Pratt and needed a job. Since I was going to school during the day I needed a night job. My godmother worked at the NY Times so I worked the 7:15 to 2:45 am shift as a copyboy. The Times was produced in hot type; the same process that Pandick Press used. Hot Type means lead hand set type and linotype and monotype machines stetting type. Metal. Lead. A page madeup in lead is very very beautiful. It is also very very very expansive.

Jumping to 1974, the Times went to cold type on the Harris system and in 1974 my wife took some computer courses. She came home and told me I’d like programing. At the time I was studying Japanese and considered myself a “Southeast Asian” major. I liked the all the Zen stories I read so why not. I read her book that night and then took a course in Basic. I became a CS major.

So Knuth??!!??

The Times changed converted Atex. Atex was a borderline was a typesetting system that had a programing language. As I learned more about programing the more I played with Atex. I switched companies and then I got my ‘Atex in a closet’. I got a raise BUT a good 75% of why I jumped from the New York times to Conde Nast was my Atex in a closet. I could do anything I wanted – it was my machine! So I wote a program that set type in a page format which reduced paste-up time considerably which reduced cost considerably.

What was cool is that Atex had only 7 or 8 variables,memory slots to store variables. So I had to recycle the variables, figure out when I could use one for something new. It was real programing for real uses doing real work. A co-worker and friend and world famous graphics designer, John Grimwade, started using a Illustrator and QuarkXpress on a MAC to make our maps and graphics.

BINGO!!!! I saw that this was better! I started to do research on computer typesetting and even got a business trip to Oxford and “Type ’90”. John and I bought Conde Nast from Atex to MAC.

Along the way I saw stumbled on Knuth’s TeX book. I knew of Knuth from reading his two computer books. However a book about type setting!!!!!!!!!!!! So much fun. So great an understanding of printing/typesetting and computers.

I wonder how much Knuth’s book influenced Tim Gill as he wrote QuarkXpress.

Simply, Knuth is one of my stars. Knuth gave me pride as typesetter. I’d rank him with Coltrane Friedlander, Frank, and W.C. Williams.


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