Getting into word processing; let's talk business. Dale Blachard.
Last month I said I would discuss some traps to watch out for as you adopt word processing. I also said I would discuss some specific word processing programs. I thing I'm really going to do it this time.
First, though, I'd like to give a little history of my involvement with a word processing. As I mentioned in my April column, I became the typist for my newly formed company when my wife refused to get sucked into it. That led to the purchase of our first word processing machine, and OCI Veritext, a machine we named Vivian.
In those days, 1976, there was a slightly different vocabulary associated with word processing. There were "blind" word processors and there were those with editing screens. Vivian was a blind machine. You typed on her as you would on a typewriter, made your corrections, and when you thought you had everything the way you wanted it, you put in new paper and ran a copy. Vivian was full of surprises. Often the corrections you thought you had made in the right places were in the wrong places altogether and some very interesting sentences resulted.
We bought Vivian in April. By July we had grown enough that I decided we needed a secretary. Enter Cheryl. Cheryl was a delight to have around. She was great on the telephone; clients loved her; the other employees loved her as well; but like many who graduated from high school in the early 70s, Cheryl could not spell. In fact I often wondered if she had any grasp of the English language at all.
We used to collect cherylisms. It has been a long time, and I can't remember many of them, but how about "toe truck"? And when a vocational counselor is writing about an intelligence test and gets back, "Mr. Jones's eye cue score was" you can bet things will be a bit disrupted for a while. The Word Processing Trap
Between Vivian's surprises with corrections and Cheryl's spelling and Cherylisms, I fell into the first trap of word processing. I instituted proofreading. The professional staff would dictate their reports and letters, Cheryl would type them and give them back. The staff members would proofread them and give them back to Cheryl for more corrections. Then as a final step I would have the reports and letters routed through me for a final read.
In the beginning, when there were only two professional staff members, that was tolerable, but two things happened. First, we added more staff members, so more hours slipped down the drain. But worse than that, the professionals began to dictate in rough draft. Since they were going to have to read their reports again anyway, they stopped worrying about sentence structure and often about content. They would fix it when they proofread. We had one staff member who would write a two-page report and then add another page at correction time. Then, since he had made so many corrections, he would need to see the report again. More corrections. Cheryl hated him.
I allowed all this to happen through clever rationalization. If we let the professional staff members spend less time dictating, that would free them for more billable hours. Let's not burden these productive people with mundane details such as spelling and sentence structure. Under that theory I hired another proofreader. Mary was great; she could spell, and she knew grammar as much as anyone can know English grammar, but she hated to make decisions.
The reports we were sending were legally quite sensitive. What we said in them could obligate insurance companies to thousands of dollars of expense, or they could deprive an injured worker of years of benefits to which he was entitled. Those reports had to be right. Mary did not want to take reponsibility for what was in those reports. She began to pass them on to me for final approval. So what did I have now? I had added another layer of bureaucracy. Can you believe bureaucracy in a company of six employees?
This was now our procedure:
1.) The staff member would dictate the report.
2.) Cheryl would type it.
3.) The staff member would proofread it and send it back to Cheryl for corrections.
4.) Cheryl would make the corrections.
5.) Depending on what the staff member had done, Cheryl would either send the report on to Mary or we would go through steps 3 and 4 again.
6.) Mary would proofread the report looking for spelling and grammar mistakes as well as sensitive content issues. Mary would send it back to Cheryl for more corrections.
7.) Cheryl would make the corrections.
8.) Depending on what Mary wanted, Cheryl would either send the report on to me, or we would go through steps 6 and 7 again.
9.) I would read the report looking for sensitive content issues and send it to Cheryl for corrections.
10.) Cheryl would make the corrections and return the report to the original staff member for signature. Heaven help us if the staff member decided to make changes at that point because if he did, that sent us right back to number 3.
We had a bureaucratic mess on our hands. Not only that, we were playing "Billy Goat Gruff." Remember the story your mother read you when you were little about the goats that wanted to cross the bridge? When the first billy goat got to the bridge, a troll came out and said he was going to eat the billy goat up. The little goat persuaded the troll to wait for the next billy goat who was bigger. When the next goat got there he persuaded the troll to wait for the next one and so on.
We were doing the same thing in our little company. If Cheryl didn't know how to spell a word, which happened often, she would take a wild guess at it anyway. "The person who dictated it will catch it if it's wrong," she would say to herself. The person who dictated it would look at it and say, "Mary will catch it if it's wrong." Mary woud look at it and say, "Dale will catch it." And my spelling went to hell in a basket.
There was a time when I was a good speller. In the beginning, after Cheryl came on board, it wasn't too bad, but after a while Cheryl's wild guesses became just close enough that I no longer knew whether words were spelled right or not. Cheryl had wrecked my spelling.
We had meetings. "It takes less time to do it right the first time," I would say, "than to go back and fix it later."
"You saw that on a poster," they countered. They were right, I had seen it on a poster.
We had more meetings. "You know how companies without word processing handle their reports?" I asked. "They just dictate them and send them," I said, answering my own question. "The person who dictates the report never sees it again. The secretary types it, signs the dictator's name to it and sends it out. That's all there is to it."
"But our reputation is that we have the best reports in the business," they countered.
"Yes," I answered, "and that's how we'll be remembered. 'That company had beautiful reports; I wonder why they went bankrupt.'" Some Word Processing Programs
Eventually Vivian, our blind, dedicated word processor, couldn't keep up and was retired to the back room. There is a story there that I may tell someday, but I have promised to talk about some specific word processing programs, and I will.
At the time we bought Vivian almost all word processors were hard wired. That is, the word processing program was built into the machine. Even back then when I knew next to nothing about computers, I knew that concept was wrong. What if someone comes up with a better idea? There is no way to get it into the machine.
Enter Lanier. I was reading a word processing newsletter one day and came across a paragraph which said Lanier Business Systems had announced a word processor with the program on a floppy disk. I looked up their number in the phone book and the next day a salesman was in my office. A week later I was the proud owner of a Lanier No Problem word processor. I hadn't thought of it before, but do you suppose there was a time when computer companies didn't announce products until they actually had them? If we were to re-enact that scene today, I wouldn't get my machine for at least six months, maybe a year.
As the No Problem came, it had only two programs, one to repaginate (it took) me a while to figure out what that word meant) and a list/merge program. There were other programs in the works and as they become available, I would get a chance to see them.
Although the technology of that machine is several years old, the word processing program which came with it is still the one I hold up for all other programs to be compared against. It had on-screen underlining. It had a very good delete function with which you could define what you were going to delete and that which you had designated for alphabet heaven was highlighted on the screen. Its move function did the same thing. But the main thing I liked about it was that what you saw on the screen was what you got on the paper. Also you could print either from the screen or from a disk file.
Its main drawback was that it was a page-oriented program as opposed to a document-oriented program. You got only 99 lines on a page, and then you had to store that on disk and start the next page. That made it cumbersome to go back and review what was on previous pages. That 99-line limitation was in part a function of limited memory. In those days memory was expensive and most computers had only 32K of RAM. The Lanier No Problem was a 32K machine and both the program and the document you were working on had to be in memory at the same time. To get around these shortcomings the Lanier would repaginate, that is, take your original document and break it up into pages of the length you wanted.
In 1980 I decided that the world was being taken over by computers and if I wanted to in any sense be in control of my life I had best learn more about them. I bought an Intertec Superbrain. Based on much research, I also bought Wordstar from MicroPro.
After using the very friendly Lanier program I hated Wordstar. I didn't get on-screen underlining. I had to learn arcane control sequences to do things for which the Lanier gave me dedicated keys. Two of these were named SCREEN and DELETE. If I want to delete something I pressed what I wanted to delete. I could delete a word, a paragraph, several paragraphs or remainder. If I wanted to delete something which didn't meet any of those definitions I could press SCREEN DELETE and then hold down a cursor key until what I wanted to take out was highlighted. Then I pressed EXECUTE.
In Wordstar I could delete only characters, words, or lines unless I wanted to put block markers at the beginning and end of what I was going to delete. Even then I didn't get to see it highlighted. I later learned that was the fault of the Superbrain, not Wordstar.
Moving text on the Lanier was much like deleting it. I could define what I wanted to move, and as i did so, it became highlighted on the screen. In Wordstar I again had to put block markers at the beginning and end of what I wanted to move.
There were two other features of the Lanier which I resented losing in Wordstar. First, on the Lanier my margins, tab settings, and character and line spacing were all stored invisibly with my documents. In Wordstar when the program was loaded I got its default values. Since those rarely matched what I wanted, I had to reset my own values each time i worked on a document.
But by far the biggest loss in the switch from the Lanier to Wordstar was that I lost my on-screen math capabilities. The Lanier had a truly elegant program, which in its final form was known as Mathmaster. You could type columns of figures and then right there do math calculations on them. For example, you could type a column of figures, put your cursor on the top number of the column, press SCREEN A C (screen add column), and instantly you had the total of the column. If you wanted the total put at the bottom of the column, you pushed T and the total was printed on the screen right where it belonged. With this same program I could also multiply, divide, and do percentages. Wordstar had nothing even remotely resembling that capability.
Lanier has gone through many changes since those good old days and I have lost track of what they are doing. I know they have some new machines out with new programs and I suspect they are very competently handled. I suppose I should try to find out so that, if for no other reason, I can write intelligently about them.
My adventures with Wordstar have continued, and most of my early objections have been overcome, both through imporvements in Wordstar and through improvements in my own knowledge. For example, one of the main reasons the Lanier program was easier to use than Wordstar was that it had dedicated function keys. Most computers now have function keys which can be assigned to specific Wordstar functions, which makes the program much more friendly. It still doesn't have on-screen underlining, still doesn't invisibly store my formatting information with my documents, and still doesn't provide the math capabilities that my Lanier had. In spite of that I do use Wordstar for much of what I do.
But I don't use it for writing this column. Instead I use Spellbinder from Lexisoft. I suspect i am safe in saying that Wordstar and Spellbinder are among the best known, if not the two best known, word processing programs on the market. I think they are both very good programs, with each having some advantages over the other. The bottom line of why I use Spellbinder for writing this column is that I can print from the screen. I like to do a final proofread as the pages come off the printer. If I find someting i want to change, I can do it on the spot, reprint the page and go on from there. Wordstar is a bit more cumbersome.
The tradeoff is that I have to print from the screen. In Wordstar I had to print from the file, but at the same time I could be working on something new on the screen. For me that is not a real advantage, because I have never been either organized enough or smart enough to split my attention between two tasks.
Well, I see that I have done it again; run out of space before I have run out of words. However, as promised, I really did talk about a couple of word processing programs. Your Honor, I would like it noted in the record that I did talk about some word processing programs. Next Month
Next month I'll try to do a little more comparison of Wordstar and Spellbinder. Then I want to talk about Catalog from SRX. If I have space, I'll try to get to Mite from Mycroft.