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Printing Impressions-February 2003 Column
Redefining Visionaries as Heroes

BECAUSE YOU will be reading words in mid-February that I wrote at the end of December, you'll know if my passion of the moment came to reality. Did my Philadelphia Eagles get to, and win, the Super Bowl? Is Donovan McNabb, the Eagles talented quarterback, a hero? But wait a minute. We have matured past all that. We now realize that football players and movie stars are not heroes, but just highly talented and entertaining people.

The true heroes are fire fighters, police, soldiers and all those brave individuals who risk their lives to save others and protect our freedoms. And rightly so; September 11 thrust a far more meaningful perspective as to which individuals are truly worthy of our total admiration.

Those who stormed the beaches of Normandy, rush into burning buildings and, like the passengers of Flight 93, take on terrorists deserve a lofty place in our hearts and our thoughts. But although they justifiably occupy the top position, they still leave a little room for those who make a difference in improving the quality of our lives.

Dedicated teachers, crusaders who right an injustice and the mother that scrubbed floors to send her child to college-they all deserve our admiration.

OK, so now that we have our priorities established, it's time to look at another group that have impacted our lives: the inventors, pioneers and visionaries.

This unique and special group that has dramatically changed the way we live has always fascinated me. I have been to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, twice and want to go again. I have watched the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley (the story of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates) countless times. On this 100th anniversary of flight, I salute the Wright brothers and can't wait to see and listen to the stories of their pioneering journey.

I love to watch the Biography channel on television when the lives of Edison or Einstein are featured, as opposed to the life of John Wayne. And you know what? How much do we really know about the inventors, pioneers and visionaries in our own industry like Otto Mergenthaler and, yes, even Gutenberg himself? Moreover, what do we know about the contributions of our contemporary industry visionaries like Efi Arazi, John Warnock and Chuck Geschke?

Almost 25 years ago Efi Arazi and his company, Scitex, ushered in a whole new world harnessing the power of the computer to manipulate and color correct images for print. More than a decade before Adobe Photoshop began its reign over image editing, Efi moved our industry into the digital age. I can vividly recall trade show crowds of the early '80s staring in awe at Scitex terminals as the magic of the digital age unfolded before them.

My company was an early Scitex customer and that's how I eventually met Efi. It all came about because I insisted that there was a problem with the system architecture. Unlike today's inexpensive computers armed with a $700 copy of Adobe Photoshop, a Scitex terminal was about $500,000, in addition to all the other stuff that brought the cost of a total system into the millions of dollars. My argument back then was that the terminal was cost-effective to do what we referred to as magic (image manipulation and cloning) because of the high premium you could charge customers for this unique service (at that time).

However, page assembly was another matter and most Scitex users, like my firm, still found it was more cost-effective to resort to conventional offset stripping. I thought that it would be a better idea to have a second, much cheaper, terminal dedicated to page assembly. One Saturday I got a call at home from a man with an Israeli accent trying to make himself understood above the noise of an airport in London. The man simply said, "Harry, this is Efi. We now have the Assembler."

This was my first encounter with Efi Arazi, but not the last, as we became the beta site for the Assembler, which was a $100,000 terminal dedicated to page assembly and the production of one-piece negatives. The highlight of my experiences with Efi was a fascinating dinner in his Tel Aviv apartment where he outlined his vision of the future.

Efi is a hero of mine because Scitex was at the forefront of major change in our industry. I haven't seen him in many years and I know he went on to start other companies like EFI (Electronics for Imaging), but I have always felt that he has never been fully recognized by our industry for his contributions.

As I write this in December 2002, exactly 20 years ago John Warnock and Chuck Geschke started Adobe Systems. In 1983, Adobe introduced PostScript-and the world of desktop publishing was now possible. The many contributions Adobe has and continues to make is staggering. But PostScript alone is an achievement that-in my judgment-may be second only to Gutenberg's.

Sound like an outlandish statement? Not if you think about it. The principal element of Gutenberg's innovation was his system of moveable type that enabled the key element of printing, typography, to become a standardized manufacturing reality. The printer could now efficiently set type to place in his printing press.

In effect, PostScript did the same for computer-generated typography. The device-independent mathematical outlines enabling type to easily be produced sharply at any size was a revolution over device-dependent bitmapped type. But PostScript did so much more to make desktop publishing happen; now a single software language could replace the need for a myriad of drivers and it could put text and graphics on the same page at the same time.

But I need not go on because you can read all about it in Pamela Pfiffner's book, Inside the Publishing Revolution-The Adobe Story. For those as old as me, it is filled with nostalgia and a refresher on where it all began. For those too young to know, this book will give you a sense of history and a better appreciation for the innovation and vision that got us here.

I don't know John Warnock and Chuck Geschke personally, but their vision and innovation ranks them high on my hero list. Of course, as I explained in the beginning, there is a far loftier category of heroes. But, as we move down from the pedestal that those who risk their lives for others stand upon, we may want to look at the visionaries as heroes and read their stories. Besides a fascinating trip into a highly imaginative world, just think about what you could learn and how your thinking might become more innovative to face a rapidly changing world.

Harry Waldman

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