[Tugindia] TeX helps in printing BSNL's Trivandrum telephone directory

KG Kumar kg at tug.org.in
Sun Mar 16 16:04:42 CET 2003


The latest edition of the Thiruvananthapuram telephone directory,
officially released yesterday, was processed and typeset with a range
of free software tools that gave substantial savings on costs and
time, and allowed the publisher, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL), to
produce a neatly laid out and elegant publication ahead of schedule.

The two-volume directory, to be distributed to all subscribers of the
Thiruvananthapuram Secondary Switching Area (SSA) from March 25, has
1,200 pages and 3.2 lakh entries.

Four lakh copies of the directory are currently being printed by the
city-based St. Joseph's Press (SJP), using typesetting software and
programs provided by River Valley Technologies (RVT), a
Thiruvananthapuram-based software house that has vast expertise in
offering typesetting and publishing solutions using free and
open-source software. (Free, open-source software is software whose
source code is freely available for scrutiny, modification or
distribution, unlike proprietary software, which is privately owned
and closely held.)

For BSNL, this is the first complete directory to be published since
1999. According to K. Sreekantan Nair, Principal General Manager of
the Thiruvananthapuram telecom district, BSNL has spent Rs 3.5 crores
on printing the directory.

For SJP, this was a particularly prestigious order since it is the
single largest printing job to be ever undertaken in Kerala. Says
Fr. Mathew Thekkel, the then Manager of SJP, who supervised the
project, "This was a bold drive aimed at the future and meant to prove
the capability of St. Joseph's Press."

In the normal course, an order of this magnitude -- a print run of 4
lakh copies, each of 1,200 pages on 48 GSM white paper in three
columns of Helvetica Narrow 7 point typeface, with 94 lines per column
-- would have taken six months and involved around 50 employees wholly
dedicated to the work. 

However, in this case, SJP was able to beat the March 15 deadline set
by BSNL and, according to Fr. Thekkel, will be able to finish the
entire printing in four months, using a small team. At present, SJP's
printing presses are operating 21 hours per day at their maximum
capacity of 20,000 copies per hour to finish the directory printing.

The secret to the swift processing of the job was in the typesetting
work done by RVT, says Fr. Thekkel. "But for the technology skills
they have, we would not have quoted for the job," he adds. "Had we
used the normal programs like PageMaker or QuarkXPress, we would have
needed three months time," says Fr. Thekkel.

RVT, on the other hand, used a combination of free software programs
to extract BSNL's data, process it and typeset it into camera-ready

According to C. V. Radhakrishnan, Managing Director of RVT, the BSNL
data of telephone numbers, subscribers names and addresses was
supplied as files in dBase, an outdated database software that goes
back to the days of the DOS operating system.
Using a set of free software libraries downloaded from the Internet
and locally customised, this data was extracted into the postgreSQL
relational database, also free software, and then entirely
recreated. RVT then wrote a Java program to pipe this newly generated
database into TeX, a powerful typesetting engine and programming
language, written by Donald Knuth of Stanford University and released
in the public domain. From TeX, RVT produced the final output as
Portable Document Format (PDF) files, using pdfTeX, also free software.

"So powerful is TeX that it was able to process nearly 1,200 pages in
just four minutes," says Radhakrishnan. "Not only that, since it is
also a programming language, it is able to do several things
automatically, like the generation of header markers, for example," he

To incorporate corrections and editorial changes to the proof sheets,
RVT designed a graphical spreadsheet interface for SJP. This also
helped to save time in updating around 10,000 entries which had
changed since the last directory was printed four years ago.

Fr. Thekkel forsees a great potential in the directory business, so
much so that SJP is thinking of setting up a separate division for
such work. The Department of Telecommunications has recently told its
SSAs to print directories on their own, rather than rely on outside
publishers, who often fail to deliver on time and in the required
quantities. The Thrissur, Pathanamthitta and Tiruvalla SSAs are also
due to publish their directories soon.

KG Kumar
Indian TeX Users Group
kg at tug dot org dot in

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