Word-A-Day Challenge 2017

2 Posts authored by: Leon Adato Employee
Leon Adato

Day 31 - Postscript

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 31, 2017

In the very early 80's, a small team of developers at the XEROX Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) developed a new page description language and dubbed it Interpress. Like many innovations that were initially conceived at PARC, XEROX saw the value but failed to find a way to integrate it into their copier products in an economic way. And so, in 1982, two of the Interpress developers left PARC and started their own company, which they dubbed "Adobe", and from the ashes of Interpress the PostScript font system was born.


It is difficult to describe just how much of an impact a seemingly simple font system had on the computer industry at the time. You would have to imagine a world where, if you created a document yourself it would be limited to one of perhaps 4 typefaces. And by "typefaces" I mean almost any change at all to the type - the shape of the letters to be sure, but also size, italicization, etc. Four choices. If you were lucky enough to have one of the advanced IBM Selectric typewriters with the easily replaceable typehead.


Anything else - multiple font sizes, dropped-capitals, multiple typeface styles - was the sole purview of the "printer", a perennially ink-stained tradesman who plied their craft with equal parts ancient techniques (sheets of red film called rubylith, lead-based characters manually assembled on a block), mid-century mechanics (such as linotype systems) and modern technology (including Linotronic computers).


Postscript changed all of that. suddenly, for the price of a laser printer (which was still going to set you back $1,000 at the time, but still...) book-quality printing was possible.

Ironically, Postscript didn't have the effect on Adobe that the name implied. It wasn't a relatively minor end-note, sharing some ephemeral bit of slightly unrelated trivial. Postscript was, ironically, the start of something completely new - both for Adobe and the computer industry at large. Like so many of the truly revolutionary breakthroughs in IT, PostScript put power and control into the hands of all users.


Adobe remains one of the few companies that seems to be able to reinvent itself over and over, while retaining their core values. Having started off with font rendering, Adobe quickly leveraged that success by licensing and releasing various fonts to be used by the postscript system. As the computer industry matured, Adobe pivoted and developed Illustrator, a graphics design program. Building on that success, they released Photoshop a few years later. In 1993, Adobe returned to it's document rendering roots, but put a new spin on the idea by releasing it's PDF reader for free (the writer, of course, cost money). But the world of technology was changing, In 1991 they released Premier, a timeline-based video editing tool. Again, the world was changing, and through a series of acquisitions Adobe was able to change with it by releasing Dreamweaver, a web page editing suite.


My point in reviewing all of this history is to show that Adobe - unlike so many other tech companies - refuses to be defined by any of it's software products. They never settled for being "that company that created fonts". However, they also haven't forgotten their roots. If you look at the products developed internally and acquired, there is a through-line you can detect in all of them.


As modern IT professionals, there are a few lessons we can glean from all this.


The first is the perennial lesson that most of the XEROX PARC projects epitomize: XEROX had the vision to fund, create, and staff PARC but not the ability to see beyond their own copier-centric world view. PARC gave rise to technologies which shaped the IT industry for decades after: the GUI, WYSIWYG text editors, Interpress/Postscript, ethernet, object-oriented programming, cut-and-paste, fiber-optic networking, laser printers, the foundation of Unicode; not to mention folks who went on to found Pixar, GRID, Adobe, Alta-Vista, and SynOptics.

We cannot, as IT Professionals, afford to overlook radical ideas just because they don't fit into our world view. That goes for everything from a snippet of code to a choice of programming method to a platform.


The second lesson, as I stated earlier, is not to let our past limit our future. That is as true for our successes just as much as it is for our failures.


Finally, take a moment to appreciate an organization that is committed to remaining true to itself, while allowing and even embracing the possibility to grow, change, and improve. If we are able to bring that lesson to our work, discuss it with our families, and find ways to apply it to ourselves, how much better we all would be.

Leon Adato

Day 1 - Identity

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 1, 2017

What, exactly, makes up an identity? In IT security circles, an identity is built on authentication factors:


  1. What you know - A password or pin
  2. What you have - A security token or device
  3. What you are - Biometrics
  4. Where you are - Coordinates or separates confirmation from a system whose position is known


This is nice when I want to make sure nobody steals my THWACK ID and uses all my points to buy socks. But as I pondered the first word in our month-long challenge, I had to ask myself if that definition really spoke to the heart of the matter. Or, as a bunch of Brits eloquently asked the world in 1978, "Who Are You?"


It seems to me that true identity is harder to pin down, and yet made of sturdier stuff than four-factor authentication takes into account. Or to be more precise, authenticating myself to the universe around me might still require four factors, but not the ones laid out by security professionals.


Factor one: history

Certainly, who we were, once upon a time, factors in. But only if our past identity provides a context for who we find ourselves to be.


Factor two: action

Similarly, what we do is an important piece. As Carl Jung said, "You are what you do, not what you say you'll do." But many of us—inside the IT industry and out—have experienced moments when what we do is not what we are. Or at least not ALL that we are.


Factor three: destination

From this point, my thinking becomes much more esoteric. I believe that who we will be is also a fundamental component of our identity. In Torah, Moses asks God, "Who are you?" The reply is "Ayeh asher ayeh." Simplistic translations render that as "I am that I am," but grammatically, those words are much more complex. "Ayeh" more accurately translates to "I will be." Meaning that God's answer to "Who are you?" is potentially "I will be that which I will be," but I've even heard it translated as "I am that which I am becoming."


Why is this relevant? Because immediately before asking, "Who are you?" Moses asks God, "Who am I?"


The lesson is that our identity is inescapably wrapped up in that which we are in the process of growing into. And who, or what, is that?


Factor four: desire

In "The Merchant of Venice", Shakespeare (through his characters) ponders,

"Tell me where is fancy bred?

Or in the heart, or in the head?

How begot, how nourishèd?"

Not only is The Bard asking where desire arises from—our emotional center or our intellect—but he also questions how it came to be, and how it is nurtured (or not). We might know intellectually that something (or someone) is good for us, but find our hearts to be unwilling accomplices. Likewise, we may feel emotionally drawn to something that our rational mind says is a bad idea.


Regardless, our desires—whether professional or personal—play a significant role in determining our choices and therefore our identity.


Walt Disney, one of the most famous dreamers of our age, said, "All of our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them."


By his logic, who we are—our identity—is whoever we are brave enough to imagine ourselves becoming.


Footnote: Here at the start of the Word-a-Day challenge, I am filled with excitement and anticipation of all the things I'm going to learn about our community. I'm hopeful for the chance to grow closer. And I'm grateful that so many people are willing to use this space to openly dream, and in dreaming, become.

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