[TUHS] Graphic Systems C/A/T phototypesetter

scj at yaccman.com scj at yaccman.com
Wed Dec 11 08:11:00 AEST 2013

One of the most amusing and unexpected consequences of phototypesetting
was the Unix standard error file (!).   After phototypesetting, you had to
take a long wide strip of paper and feed it carefully into a smelly, icky
machine which eventually (several minutes later) spat out the paper with
the printing visible.

One afternoon several of us had the same experience -- typesetting
something, feeding the paper through the developer, only to find a single,
beautifully typeset line: "cannot open file foobar"   The grumbles were
loud enough and in the presence of the right people, and a couple of days
later the standard error file was born...

> On Tue, Dec 10, 2013 at 09:45:22AM -0500, Doug McIlroy wrote:
>> >  The wikipedia description
>> >  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CAT_(phototypesetter)>
>> > seems pretty accurate although I have never seen the beast myself.
>> I can confirm the wikipedia description. At Bell Labs, however, we
>> did not use paper tape input. As soon as the machine arrived, Joe
>> Ossanna bypassed the tape reader so the C/A/T could be driven
>> directly from the PDP-11. The manufacturer was astonished.
>> The only operational difficulty we had was with the separate
>> developer. If you didn't hand feed the end of the paper perfectly
>> straight into that machine, the paper would tear. Joe Condon
>> fixed that by arranging for the canister to sit on rollers so
>> it could give when the paper pulled sideways.
>> The first technical paper that came off the C/A/T drew a query
>> from the journal editor, who'd never seen a phototypeset
>> manuscript before: had it been published elsewhere?
>> Doug
> I'm extremely jealous of you.  I'm a long time troff fan and would have
> loved to have been there during that time.  I'm sure it was far less
> pleasant than my rose colored glasses have it, but it sure seems like
> it was fun.  I'd like to have met Joe Ossanna - care to share any stories
> about what sort of person, programmer, etc he was?
> That's perhaps a whole different thread, I'd love to shove a beer into
> each and every bell labs guy hanging around here and get them talking.
> Bell Labs was a huge influence on me, be good to have
> Bell-labs-stories.com
> or something filled with your memories.
> --
> ---
> Larry McVoy                lm at bitmover.com
> http://www.bitkeeper.com
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