[TUHS] Fun with early troff.

Dan Cross crossd at gmail.com
Wed May 9 06:14:54 AEST 2018

On Tue, May 8, 2018 at 1:44 PM, Ron Natalie <ron at ronnatalie.com> wrote:

> [...]
> Years later I was reading a published book.   I noted little telltale
> bumps on the top of some of the tables.   I wrote the author..."Did you use
> tbl and pic to typeset this book?"    Sure enough he had.   But it was way
> after I thought anybody was still using  such technology.   [...]

At the end of 2009 I was recalled to active duty in the Marines to deploy
to Afghanistan, where I would embed with an Afghan Army Unit. Since I was
coming from the reserves, I got to spend a couple of months stateside
getting retrained on the sort basic Marine stuff you forget unless you're
doing it every day. A big portion of that was getting re-familiarized with
radio protocol and the "standard" messages for doing things like calling in
a helicopter casualty evacuation, unexploded ordinance, combat contact,
etc. For example, there is a NATO-standard "10-line" message for calling in
a casualty evacuation that contains things like, "how many people were
injured?", "how were they injured?", "what are the manner of injuries?",
"what is the location of the nearest landing zone?" and "how is the LZ
marked?"; that sort of thing.

As part of that training I had to spend a lot of time on a static-y radio
talking to helicopter pilots sitting on folding chair the next building
(pretending they were flying helicopters), but the part that is relevant is
that we were given a set of "cheat sheets" that contained all the standard
formats in tabular format. I remember looking at them and seeing similar
tell-tale bumps on the lines of the tables and thinking, "hey, this looks
like it was formatted using troff!"

After the initial retraining, I got sent to an active duty unit to go
through their "workup" and actually deploy with them. Naturally, once I got
to Camp Pendleton to join meet up with the active duty folks I wanted to
give all of my Marines (I also had two sailors and a US Army soldier under
my command too, but that's another story -- suffice it to say that the USMC
doesn't have medical personnel and we get them from the other services)
copies of those same cheatsheets and get them trained up on talking to the
birds and so forth so that any of us could call in an evac if necessary (or
call for fire, call in a TIC, or whatever). But my little cheatsheet was
laminated and didn't photocopy well. So, that evening when I got back to
the "BOQ" I fired up a laptop and typed in the troff to reproduce those
little cards. The result was *exactly* the same output, pixel for pixel (as
near as I could tell). I printed out a bunch of copies, took them to the
local Kinkos and laminated them, and distributed them the next day.

Yup. Troff. I took it to war.

        - Dan C.
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