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By R. A. Reynolds

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If a pen should dry up, for instance, an entire night's work may be wasted. Fortunately, the most modern minicomputers have extra circuitry that enables them to drive peripheral devices such as a plotter or a printer in the background while still giving their main attention to the user. This capability is known as 'spooling', which is an acronym for 'Simultaneous Peripheral Operation O n Line'. O n a world-wide basis the plotter market is dominated by the American-based firm of Calcomp, but in Europe the firm o f Benson Electronics Ltd is making 7 0 % - 8 0 % of the sales at present.

The difficulty is that, as two computers are involved, programming the system is more complicated. T h e strain on both the user and on the office as a whole can be considerable. The productivity of the operator is raised by at least three or four times his performance on the drawing board, but this is at the cost o f his being paced by the computer at a high rate. In our own office, we have found it inadvisable for a single person to work continuously with the computer for more than three or four hours a day.

It can only work with refresh screens. As the line under the pen is redrawn it will generate a signal; then by inspection of the point reached by the display processor in the instruction list, the screen position can be deduced. 21. Despite the traditional popularity of the light pen, it has a number o f serious drawbacks. T h e most important o f these is that it cannot directly signal on the screen a position that is not on a line. T o do this, the user must use the light pen to drag a pair of cross-hairs or other marking indicator across the screen.

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