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Issue No. 01 - January-March (2005 vol. 27)
ISSN: 1058-6180
pp: 2-3
Some 20 years ago, I traveled to Japan as my first trip out of the US. My wife and I were exploring the central business district when a rainstorm sent us running to the lobby of the nearest office building, a building that housed the Asahi Shimbun, a large Japanese newspaper. While we were trying to dry ourselves, we were approached by a man who was from the newspaper's public relations office. When we showed some interest in learning about the paper, he offered to take us on a tour of the building. After passing through press rooms and giant rolls of paper, we entered the compositors' office, which contained a large IBM mainframe.
The machine was connected to a pair of keyboards unlike any I had ever seen. The central part of the board was a 10 × 10 array of keys. On the left-hand side were 20 shift keys. Each keyboard was staffed by two workers. One worker read a manuscript aloud. The other worker vigorously punched buttons. Arms flew. Hands spiraled through the air to land on sets of buttons.
Throughout our trip, I saw several different computers: mainframes, desktops, and ATMs. Each of these was organized in a slightly different fashion from those in the US. Cursors cycled down columns rather than across rows. Text appeared in three, or sometimes four, character sets. Yet, underneath the unfamiliar interfaces there seemed to lurk the less than universal roman alphabet. Error messages appeared in English. Some machines asked for input in romanji—roman characters used to phonetically spell Japanese words.
In This Issue
Here we explore some of the issues that needed to be addressed in adapting the computer to Japan. three articles, by Kurt Hensch and his colleagues, discuss the technical problems that had to be solved to allow IBM computers to handle Japanese characters. There was no easy solution, as the Japanese language could not be captured in a simple character set such as ASCII.
Before jumping into the details of Japanese character sets, this issue begins with an article on plug-compatible computers by Shigeru Takahashi. Japanese companies were leaders in developing computers that used instruction sets from existing designs. These machines let users run software written for other brands of computers, an activity that raised many new problems over software rights. Takahashi discusses a key incident that influenced the development of three firms—IBM, Hitachi, and Fujitsu.
Completing this issue, we have an article by Friedrich W. Kistermann about the Hollerith punched card machines of the 1900s. This is not an article about Japan, but it does deal with problems that are similar to those described in the other articles in this issue. Kistermann shows how Hollerith learned to encode numbers on his punched cards. In solving this problem, Hollerith opened a large new market for his machines. His first punched card machines, which could only count, were aimed at census offices. His second generation of machines, those described by Kistermann, were designed for business offices.
New Editorial Board Members
With this issue, I'd like to introduce three new members of our editorial board. First, we have a new editor of the Events and Sightings column, Chigusa Kita. Kita is a professor at Kansai University in Japan and a former producer at NHK Television. A little more than a year ago, she published an article in this journal on J.R. Licklider (vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 62-77). Next, I am pleased to welcome Jeffrey Yost, who is assistant director of the Charles Babbage Institute and Atsushi Akera of Rennselear Polytechnic Institute. Yost recently published A Bibliographic Guide to Resources in Scientific Computing, 1945–1975 (Greenwood Press, 2002), while Akera wrote an article on the ENIAC for Annals in 1996 (vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 17-24). The two of them will assist me in reviewing articles for publication. In this work, they will be joined by two current board members, Anne Fitzpatrick and Janet Abate. I am, of course, grateful for their willingness to serve.
Finally, in this issue devoted to Japanese character sets and the challenges of expressing ideas in computer codes, it is perhaps important to note that a sharp-eyed reader caught an error in my APL code in the last issue (see the " Letter to the Editor" sidebar). I confess that I stopped working with APL long before my trip to Japan and now possess only an incomplete memory of the APL command set and its meaning. Therefore, I am most thankful for his careful reading.
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