Silentype font

For reasons which will become clearer after a few more backstories (I thought I should post something “useful”), I set out in September 2003 to create a font of the Silentype character set for modern computers.

I had a copy of Fontographer I had previously used for logo font creation I could use to make the font, but I didn’t have enough samples of the character set of the Silentype to be able to do as full a job as I would have liked.

So I turned to Usenet (most readers of this post won’t need, I suspect, to be told by Wikipedia what Usenet is – but it’s there, just in case) and received various replies trying to help locate a printout of the complete set or confirming my interpretation of the technical documentation on how the character set was generated on the original Silentype.

While waiting for the hoped-for complete character set sampler from a real Silentype, I went ahead and made a font with the characters from printouts I had from “back in the day”. I was short at least 16 characters, though, so I also went looking for any references to current owners of Silentypes. Direct appeals went unanswered, leading me to widen my net further to the forums (I always want to type “fora”) at Erik Klein’s Vintage Computer site.

Still no joy. But in an object lesson on keeping an open mind when trying to create resources like this, I noticed in late February 2004 an eBay auction of several Apple ][-related manuals, including a Silentype one!

I fired off a quick e-mail to the winning bidder, one Cristophe Janot, who very quickly (and kindly) not only confirmed that the manual had a sampler of the Silentype character set, but happily provided a scan of same.

I was able to complete the font and announce it to the world – but I never got around to properly distributing it. (As an aside, three years later, I had a request from a young Apple collector asking for a copy of the font files – coincidentally, this same collector won one of my eBay auctions in 2010 without either of us being aware we’d already communicated about retro-computers. As he primarily collects Macs, and I Apple ][s, and we are very much aligned on the whole “preservation” thing, I’ve since been able to pass on a significant amount of Mac materiale to minimise my clutter [my wife and I have different definitions of minimal clutter when it comes to old computers, but that’s about to become a moot point {and not because of a marital breakdown, but that story must be a separate post}].)

Eight years after completing the font, I began to consider creating a Motter Tektura font, and that made me think back to my not-officially-released Silentype font – I typed up some characters and noticed OS X is now rendering “o”, “O” and “8” with filled-in counters.

So I’ll have to revise the font, and announce and release it then, but it’s available in its current form to anyone who wants it. It seems to work fine in Windows XP, and I’m not sure which version of OS X “broke” the counters, but I’m sure I’ll be able to fix it at some point. Let me know if you have any recollections about the Silentype in the comments.

I believe an introduction is in order…

Well, here I am, writing again, this time purely for pleasure (yet still feeling guilty I’m not earning money for it).

My name is Sean McNamara and I’m an Apple consultant based in Sydney, Australia, but that’s only part of my story.

My journey as it more directly relates to this site began in 1980, and in very inauspicious circumstances.

Actually, no, it began before then, so please indulge me as I dig further back in my digging back than I’d originally set out to do. (A word of warning, though: I’m prone to rambling, side-tracks, musings and irrelevancies – it’s just the way my mind works.)

My first experience with computers was in the late 70’s – my Dad was 2IC in what I guess could best be described as the HR department of the Sydney City Council. They did payroll and leave entitlements, had the personnel files, etc. As was wont to happen in organisations of that size and function, even “back then”, they had a mainframe computer to do all the grunt work (well, OK, there was real grunt work being done by wetware on the roads and such, but you know what I mean).

If I made the long train journey in to visit Dad at work, I would often detour on the way in or out (or while waiting, he worked long hours) and stand and stare through the glass walls of the computing facility. Anyone who’s seen documentaries or news reports about computing facilities from the 60s or 70s would recognise the scene: brightly fluoro-lit, row upon row of gleaming tech gear, tape drives whirring, disk platters in what looked like cake containers moved to and fro…and lots of “blinkenlights”.

Even without being able to ever touch the bloody thing, I was fascinated. I literally whiled away hours at a time just staring. And staring. I couldn’t tell what the computers were doing, but that didn’t distract from the spectacle nor detract from the appeal for me at all.

A slow fast-forward a couple of years to 1980, and I’m sitting in a Yr 7 (first year of high school) Science class, when the teacher (an odd-ball Patrician Brother by the name of Br Cronin, who could tie a Windsor knot with one hand and liked to speak in rhymes [“Be on the run to lab one”, etc. {he was hardly Shakespeare, but he was lively}]) made an announcement that a new teacher at the school, Mr Bates, was prepared to teach interested students about computers during lunchtime classes. A (very) few hands went up, including mine and that of a good friend (also named Sean).

It was only BASIC on a TRS-80 Model I, it was only (up to) a few times a week, but it was a start and it wasn’t too long before I was using a more fruit-flavoured computer – more on that in separate posts. (Fast forward 32 years, both Sean and I still work in and on computers. From such humble beginnings we’ve both got established careers in our chosen paths.)

Nostalgia has been a strong emotion in relation to my computing history for many years now, hence my decision to begin being a little more lively in the vintage computer sphere and try and be active with this blog.

Preservation has always been very important to me – it’s just another form of hoarding, and if there’s one thing I am, it’s a hoarder (Your Honour, I present Exhibit A: I still have my two boxes of 5¼” disks from my Apple ][ days). So I’m a member of the Australian Computer Museum Society, I image disks that come into my possession, I try and rescue hardware I’m not even interested in collecting so it doesn’t end up in the tip (I have gotten better at passing that stuff on, at least). I’m not in Jason Scott’s league, but every bit counts (no pun intended, but I’ll run with it now I’ve seen it).

So Nostalgia and Preservation are two themes which will recur here, sometimes combined, sometimes one much stronger than the other. Nostalgic stories are important: they give context (I love context). Sometimes the resonances I feel in a story will be why I’m trying to preserve something; other times, I just cringe at the thought of it ending up in the tip or I think more people should have access (or exposure) to something from computing’s past.

So I hope you find something worthwhile or interesting in this blog and its supporting materials. I look forward to your feedback.