MEPS- Multilanguage Electronic Phototypesetting System, the early story


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    M jst2laws posted Sat, 16 Oct 2004 08:38:00 GMT(10/16/2004)

    Post 2373 of 2512
    Joined 3/14/2001

    The following is in response to requests on VM44's thread regarding what I know of the Watchtower's highly touted Multilanguage Electronic Phototypesetting System. I was close to the two original developers but left bethel before this project took off. What happened after that point is what these key players told me which may include some hype and fluff to make themselves or the WT look good. I welcome correction and clarification if you can add to this account. My association with these people started when we were all young, 1975, serving on a machine design teem for Brooklyn Bethel. Reiner Holm, John Ekran and I made up a committee engaged in converting a Smyth Book Binding line to bind two books at one time. The pocket size books were small enough to run two through the feeder of each machine in this consecutive series of processes that took a set of sewn signatures to the end product of a finished book. We were also trying to connect the three machines (rounder, backliner and casing-in) to automatically feed to the next, eliminating the need take a few more "pioneers" from the precious field work to stand at a machine feeding books into it. Holm was the lead man and electrical specialist. Ekran was on the team, although not a machine designer or machinist, because of his experience as a bindery mechanic. I was on the team as a machinist. Holm was a German Gilead Grad who was unable to get into his missionary assignment because of VISA problems so he stayed on at bethel working out of the machine shop. His specialty was electronics, college educated and into computers. At that time Ekran and I knew nothing of electronics or computers but we were interested. Holm was glad to teach us so Ekran and I started with a course in radio and TV electronics with the help of Holm. Computer electronics was next. This was in the mid 70's so to use what you learned you had to go out and buy parts and build a computer. The three of us loved to shop at the salvage electronics shops in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn near the factory. This is where Reiner got the parts to build his first computer. Shortly afterward Ekran did the same. This is where I left the team and bethel. While I loved working with these guys I was the only one of the group married at that time. I was also the one of the three who loved scriptural debates, philosophy and science. As you can imagine with the changes bethel was going through I was starting to feel out of sorts and left bethel just a few years before Chris and Norma Sanchez, Rene Vasquez, Ed Dunlap and Ray Franz were unceremoniously booted from bethel. Somewhere about 1978 the news had reached the right people that these two were doing their own ministry school scheduling, attendant scheduling and accounts on their home built computers in their bethel room. Having been in machine design for some years it was natural to raise the question if these hobby toys could be used to aid in type setting and printing. They received their new assignment at Watchtower farm to develop software, presumably to run on an IBM mainframe, that would allow them to pour text of several different languages into the society's two column page format with preset graphics. This seemed simple enough but three major projects emerged as a side affect of the original purpose.

    1 Fonts had to be created for each language. This was a major project not only because fonts were not readily available then as now, but because each of the many thousands of fonts for the Japanese language had to be created a pixel at a time. 2 To assist in the leap from raise letter printing to lithographic printing it was natural to include in the process a laser plate etching machine. Once the digital product was ready for printing it was sent a page at a time to a printer, similar to a modern laser printer, however the image was shot onto a zinc coated metal plate. This was then etched by acid and the result was several printing plates, one for each of the three colors per page, ready to put on the press. 3 As a side project these two used part of their budget to make several Personal Computers that would handle this project. This was unauthorized and in time caused some battling in bethel between the MEPS team and the data processing department. The PC's could be built cheaply (later they started buying Compaq PCs) and sent to other branches that did printing. This eventually raised doubt as to justifying the cost of the IBM mainframe installed in Brooklyn. As I understand, to the chagrin of Ed Sainthill, the mainframe was removed in the mid eighties as micro computers proved sufficient for the job.

    Once they were able to demonstrate to the GB that it could be done (late 70's) then a business was established with Gary Horn, brother-in-law of factory assistant overseer Cal Chyke. Cal tried to get me to work with Horn on a design project I was doing for the society back in 1970. I was able to play the political system so as to keep the project in-house. On the MEPS project I suspect it was best that Horn was involved as he was much more experience than Holm and Ekran in the mechanics side of MEPS. I suspect there were many others who came and went while this was happening who contributed much to its development, perhaps some even more qualified then those in charge. That was common at bethel. However I suspect everything they produced is outdated and discarded. Of the design work I did for them all that remains is a picture on a Watchtower post card. MEPS was bragged on frequently by the Watchtower in the 1980's. I do not know enough about the history of computers and their link to lithographic plate making to say if their boasts were justified. Perhaps others like Cyberguy can enlighten us on that. However, I do know these two men were sincerely working for "kingdom interest". They were both honest and self sacrificing. John was especially humble. Now both are in their 50's. Considering Bill Gates is the same age and sold his first operating system about the time MEPS began, I would sympathize with these men if they were to wake up to the truth about the "truth" at this late date. I hope they truly enjoyed their life and work since we went different directions 25 years ago. At least that would be a consolation. If you know Holm or Ekran I hope you pass this on to them with the URL. I would love to help my old friends discover there IS life outside the Watchtower. Jst2laws

    M observador posted Sat, 16 Oct 2004 17:51:00 GMT(10/16/2004)

    Post 266 of 1020
    Joined 10/1/2002

    Interesting account!


    M roybatty posted Sat, 16 Oct 2004 18:05:00 GMT(10/16/2004)

    Post 1189 of 1943
    Joined 3/12/2001

    You didn't happen to know a guy named Patrick Ware did you? He was a local guy (older then me) who went to Bethel and worked on this system in the early 80's. I remember Crooklyn "loaning" him out to IBM and even doing a lot of travel to Europe where he helped these companies use this system that Bethel had created. Jehovah must have been proud of the money they made.

    M jst2laws posted Sat, 16 Oct 2004 19:44:00 GMT(10/16/2004)

    Post 2375 of 2512
    Joined 3/14/2001


    Sorry, I don't know Patrick. I was long gone by then as far as being a regular bethelite. I came back to bethel frequently doing temporary work until the late 80's but I don't remember a Patrick Ware.


    M IT Support posted Sat, 16 Oct 2004 21:59:00 GMT(10/16/2004)

    Post 223 of 796
    Joined 10/13/2003


    Thanks, that was fascinating.

    I was interested because, in London, I was involved in completing a questionnaire that Brooklyn sent us (about the thinkness of a telephone directory!) asking for full and exhaustive details of our requirements for the languages we printed.

    At the time the Factory Overseer (Phil Rees) was ill--that's another story--and not on top of his work. He forgot to deal with the questionnaire until about a week before it was wanted back in Brooklyn. We had a total panic and every factory department overseer was flapping around, 18 hours a day, trying to put together a semi-intelligent response. It was quite fun at the time.



    M Quotes posted Sun, 17 Oct 2004 06:04:00 GMT(10/17/2004)

    Post 1176 of 2114
    Joined 1/23/2002

    jst2laws, thank you for a very informative post!

    Now that I think of it, don't you think that MEPS sounds like something that a big publishing company would be proud of and brag about and show-off, not a religious faith....

    ... oh wait...

    ... nevermind.

    ~Quotes, of the "They Can't Tax Free Labour" class

    M jst2laws posted Sun, 17 Oct 2004 12:57:00 GMT(10/17/2004)

    Post 2378 of 2512
    Joined 3/14/2001


    I was interested because, in London, I was involved in completing a questionnaire that Brooklyn sent us (about the thinkness of a telephone directory!) asking for full and exhaustive details of our requirements for the languages we printed.

    Yes, that was the hard part. The programing required to "Pour" text into their format was probably insignificant compared to the work of accumulating and incorporating the needs of each branch and the languages they printed. I notice when I download a web page with foriegn language characters new to my system it only requires a click to accept a new set of fonts. They had to make everything from the ground up: upper case, lower case, bold, italics and then do it again for each pica size. Then do it for every language, some of which had a different graphic for each of thousands of words. And that is only regarding fonts.

    What other "needs" do you remember that were reported?


    M IT Support posted Mon, 18 Oct 2004 12:42:00 GMT(10/18/2004)

    Post 226 of 796
    Joined 10/13/2003


    They had to make everything from the ground up: upper case, lower case, bold, italics and then do it again for each pica size. Then do it for every language, some of which had a different graphic for each of thousands of words. And that is only regarding fonts.

    Yes, it was long before the days of Adobe Type Manager, TrueType and OpenType, it was definitely an enormous undertaking. Also, the 'pouring' was pretty impressive when you saw it working!

    I often wondered whether the system would have become commercially successful if they had gone the extra mile and included full graphics handling in the spec.

    What other "needs" do you remember that were reported?

    Oh dear, it's a long time ago, only fragments, unfortunately! I remember the problem we had identifying all the characters in the Maltese language (one of the languages printed in London), some of which were very unusual. I also remember being impressed with the keyboard's multi-level shift capacity, and which we had to specify how it should be configured. That caused a lot of 'discussion' with the old Linotype operators!

    Best wishes,



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