[completed 2018-05-29]

Bob Morris was involved in the birth of the TeX Users Group in 1980,
and he led state-of-the-art digital typography research at
University of Massachusetts Boston.

**Dave Walden, interviewer: ** Please tell me a bit about your background.

**Robert Morris, interviewee: ** During and shortly after WW2 my father worked as a radio
electronics engineer at the U.S Army Signal Laboratory at Fort
Monmouth, N.J. Around 1952, Senator Joseph McCarthy began his
anti-Communist witch-hunt, moving it from targeting the Hollywood
movie industry to targeting the civilian employees at Fort Monmouth
and nearby labs. My father lost his security clearance and got
little work as a radio engineer until McCarthy was censured by the
Senate and several years later my father was re-employed at Fort
Monmouth, but only after several years of court action almost all
the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

**DW: ** Please say a little bit more about your high school years.

**RM: ** In suburban high schools it was common to have three study
tracks: one for college bound, one for “industrial arts” and one
for “home economics”. It's historically unsurprising that in that
era, the industrial arts students were boys largely from low-income families,
the home
economics students mainly girls, and the college bound students
were boys and high achieving girls. Red Bank is in
Monmouth County which in the early 1960s was seeing an explosion of
middle class housing development. Behind my house was a peach
orchard, which was razed and turned into such developments. The
college bound science track was a year each of General Science,
Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. The General Science curriculum
covered little more than I taught myself from Scientific American
so my parents argued — at length — that
I should instead be allowed to take the first industrial arts course, where
I learned woodworking with electric tools, notably saws and lathes.
Rough counting of pictures in the high school yearbook reveals that
of the entire faculty, only two were black but about 75 students
were black.

Some of the teachers were innovative. Marion Olson, in her first year as a Chemistry teacher, put half a dozen of us in a separate room and let us go through the text at our own pace, returning to the chemistry lab on days when lab work was to be done. At least one of those, Hugh Wilson, I am still in touch with. In fact, Hugh is one of the world's leading vision research scientists. In 1989 Hugh hosted me for the fall semester in his visual psychophysics lab then at the University of Chicago. There I learned how to design and implement experiments that I could apply to reading under varying visual conditions.

The following is from the 1961 Red Bank High School yearbook Mathematics staff page.

The Atomic Age has clearly indicated the importance of science in our modern world, but science without mathematics doesn't exist. Therefore, Red Bank High sees to it that each of its students acquires a math background.I don't recall any extra-curricular class, but I would have been fully occupied with my after school activities with the school newspaper. In Red Bank High School, I rose through the editorial ranks of the student paper to Editor. We got galley proofs from a local printer produced from his Linotype machine, corrected the galley proofs and did a page layout. Then we walked to the printer and watched him put the Linotype lead slugs in the page layout, and we reviewed a page proof.In addition to Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry and General Math, a new extra-curricular class in Modern Mathematics was instituted and instructed by Miss Mary Larsen. This class dealt primarily with the mathematics used when working with computers.

Throughout the year, capable students participated in mathematics contests and events sponsored by New York University, Rutgers University and various New Jersey high schools.

I did some searching for "Modern Mathematics" and got — but lost — that in 1961 NSF was starting to provide material for high schools to prepare students for the math needed for computing. Ironically(?) in the summer of 1962 I was a paper grader at Reed on an NSF grant that was helping woefully outdated secondary school math teachers who were catching up to the “new math”. Basically, they were learning that far more than geometry is subject to proof.

**DW: ** What happened after high school?

**RM: ** When I graduated from Red Bank High School I went to Reed
College, where my brother preceded me by 5 years. My intent was
to major in physics or math. However the physics course was dry,
traditional, and rigid, whereas the first math course was taught
from Joe Roberts' book *The Real Number System in an Algebraic
Setting*. This went through topology in one dimension, from an
axiomatic point of view. I was captivated and never looked back.
Besides my studies, two things occupied me: playing Go at least
once a day and bicycling more than enough to meet the weekly
exercise required of all students. On sunny days I could be found
on the steps of the Student Union helping people adjust or repair
their bikes.
But at Reed I also was on the editorial staff of the student
newspaper, focused on — again — shepherding the copy through
the hot-type commercial print shop.

In my junior year at Reed (1963–64) I applied for and won the only study abroad opportunity. This was in England at Keele University. Keele was a young university modeling itself after Swarthmore and Reed colleges, quite unlike traditional British universities. During term break I had a Cinelli bicycle made in Milan and rode it across France, then by train back to Keele for the rest of the academic year. In the summer, three friends from Reed and I traveled around Europe in an MGB bought by one of us, Celia Hansen, who a year later became my wife and has been ever since.

In 1965, my senior year, Reed's Physics department installed an IBM 1620 which did its arithmetic by table lookup, with addition and multiplication tables located around memory location 400. We experimented by loading tables for finite fields of primes 2, 3, 5, or 7.

On the 1620, Len Shapiro (class of '65), Doug Lind and I extended
and corrected the obscure “table of Fibonacci entry points” (a
function describing the prime divisors of the Fibonacci numbers)
that apparently was published as a pamphlet by the
Fibonacci Association of America
(see `fq.math.ca/Books/Complete/entrypoints1.pdf`).
Doug was then an undergraduate at the University of Virginia who spent the summer at
Reed on an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates), and is
now a prominent algebraist retired from the University of
Washington. Len is a computer scientist retired from Portland State
University. As for me, the last mathematics I published was in
1980, but my user name on Flickr is “Recovering Algebraist”.

Reed was an inescapable hotbed of calligraphy; however, while there I didn't participate. That said, in later years I began collaboration with Chuck Bigelow about letter forms and whether shape impacted legibility.

**DW: ** And after Reed?

**RM: ** By then I was unambiguously headed for grad school in math at
Cornell and completed my PhD in algebra under Alex Rosenberg. I
was supposed to finish in 1969 but found an error in one of my key
theorems. I had already accepted a position at SUNY Albany. This
was at the rank of Instructor pending final defense of the thesis.
Alas, Rosenberg went on sabbatical to Los Angeles, so during
Christmas vacation at SUNY I went to Los Angeles for several weeks. Every
evening I spent 4 hours recrafting the thesis. In the morning I
discussed what I had done for several hours. After lunch, we spent
several hours discussing the morning's discussion. Then back to the
evening “homework”. My thesis defense was presented as an invited
talk at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and after approval
by my committee the degree was awarded in June 1970. Thereupon I was promoted
to Assistant Professor at SUNY and spent 4 more years
there before taking
leave from 1973–75 at the School of Mathematics in the Institute for
Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton,

In Princeton at IAS, was, I believe, the first time I met Dick Palais. By 1980, just at the time he was organizing the effort of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) in what was to be the use of TeX by AMS for its own journals. Around then I began to be more interested in digital typography than algebra and I suppose that is when Dick recruited me to the effort that led to AMS-TeX as well as the birth of TUG.

During the summer that I joined the AMS-TeX birth effort, TeX was being rewritten from Pascal. David Fuchs, a student of Knuth, crashed the Pascal compiler by omitting the handling of a case which seemed silly. I clearly remember him moaning, “Why would anybody ever do that?” I jumped on David saying “Why? Because they can, and your code must handle it.” From that time on, in coding of my students, colleagues, and anyone's whose code I use, including my own, I refer to any form of David's moan as The Forbidden Question.

**DW: ** It appears that you were involved in the organization's
governance for the first few years: Board member, 1980–1982;
Secretary, 1980–1982; Finance Committee, 1982; VAX/Unix Site
Coordinator, 1982; and
8 reports in TUGboat.
Then you pulled back from TUG governance.

**RM: ** Interleaf was founded in 1981, and for two years I was on leave
to Interleaf full time from UMASS Boston for Interleaf's birth; I
was the fourth (some argue the fifth) employee of Interleaf. This
left me with neither time nor need for TeX or its advancement.

My role in the early days at Interleaf focused on two graphics pieces. One was a chart-making system (pie charts, bar charts, etc.). The second was an algorithm, essentially based on elementary calculus, which Bob Watkins (another early 'Leafer) used with which his Interleaf interactive line art subsystem could rotate ellipses dragged by the mouse. My algorithm let Watkins' stuff drag and rotate ellipses with major axes at an arbitrary angle. My vague recollection is that for ten or more years, no competition could drag and rotate line art in real time like Watkins' graphics could.

There was a bit of a connection with TeX in that early Interleaf era. Mark Dionne, who was one of the main programmers at Interleaf working on text formatting, has reminded me that originally Interleaf's line breaking was “simple and obvious”. Then he added an option of using a line-breaking algorithm close to what Knuth used in TeX. Mark also thinks he initially used a simple hyphenation algorithm based on a paper by Knuth (perhaps the TeX78 algorithm), but then “fairly quickly switched to a dictionary from a third party when we realized how hard it would be to maintain algorithms in multiple languages, and we wanted spell-checking”.

There was a speed issue for paragraph line breaking. Interleaf ran on early-days desktop Sun workstations and DEC workstations with approximately 1 MB/sec CPUs; we sought to have paragraph line changes to take place in 250 ms. Normal human vision cannot notice a pattern change that is quicker than that speed.

**DW: ** Have you read Tracy Kidder's book about Paul English? Both UMB
and Interleaf get a lot of mention in that.

**RM: ** Yes, I've read Kidder's book. I met with him several times. See
page 102 about getting Paul recommended to Interleaf. In the years
that followed, as Paul's career grew through Interleaf, Intuit, and
Kayak, I recommended only a small handful of really strong UMB
students. If I recall correctly, he hired each of them.

**DW: ** I'd like to go back to how you got from IAS to UMB.

**RM: ** When I finished my stint at IAS I felt that returning to SUNY Albany had small chance of tenure, not
because of qualification, but rather because several dozen algebraists there were already tenured.
The Math department at University of Oklahoma (UOK) was building a talented new group and I accepted their offer as an
untenured Associate Professor in 1975. I had good NSF funding while there, but I also began some work with a
Computer Scientist named John C. Thompson and his student Mike O'Dell, who did answer one email. He
recalled that I introduced them to Category Theory, which advanced a project of theirs, and we began
to work weekly on their problem.

Meanwhile, the UOK sent a clear message that if I didn't publish a few more algebra papers, tenure
would be unlikely in the Math Department. By 1978, my wife and I decided that each of us having grown up
on coasts — she in Seattle and I on the Jersey shore — we should move.
At that point good luck presented
itself. I organized at UOK a conference on Umbral Calculus and Hopf Algebras with
principal speakers Gian-Carlo Rota and Moss Sweedler. At the time, Sweedler's 1969 book of the title
*Hopf Algebra*
was the only general book on the subject.
Sweedler came to Cornell
as — I think — an Assistant Professor. At the same time, Bodo Pareigis visited Cornell
from Munich. With Pareigis I subsequently published several
papers. Both connections to Sweedler were vagely connected to modern Galois Theory.
Sweedler's book was published by W.A. Benjamin in their Lecture Notes Series of books printed from
typescript. Sweedler autographed the book:

The course notes were taken

by Robert Morris whom I

heartily thank. The manuscript

was typed by Celia Morris

whom I heartily thank.

Heartily and Thankfully.

Moss

When I moved to Boston I had numerous social and mathematical contacts with Rota.
Under the influence of the 1978 conference's talks and sessions, I submitted and had accepted
Frobenius Endomorphism in Umbral Calculus, *MIT Studies in Applied Math*, 62, 1980, 85–92.
This journal
was edited by Rota. The paper was heavily influenced not only by the 1978 Conference
but also by the Princeton-Harvard-Paris algebraic geometry that I had absorbed at IAS
before I came to UOK (cf. `https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algebraic_geometry#20th_century`). This became
the last mathematics paper I published.

**DW: ** I learned through Chuck Bigelow that you have collaborated
with noted vision researcher Gordon Legge. Please tell me a little
about that.

**RM: ** I believe I met Gordon Legge when Hugh Wilson introduced me to
some low-vision psychophysics researchers in New York. Legge
himself has very low vision, and he is renowned for research in
low vision reading. In recent years Bigelow and Legge have been
collaborating. The last paper I published about typography was in
2002, with Bigelow and the New York collaborators:
Robert A. Morris, Kathy Aquilante, Dean Yager, and Charles Bigelow,
Serifs Slow RSVP Reading at Very Small Sizes, but Don't Matter at Larger Sizes,
`doi.org/10.1889/1.1830242`.

**DW: ** Please say a little bit more about some of the typography
research and experiments you did at UMB. I understand they dealt with
spectral analysis of different fonts, legibility of grayscale type, and so on.

**RM: ** Here are some of the papers we wrote:

- R.A. Morris,
Rendering Digital Type: A Historical and Economic View of Technology,
*The Computer Journal*, Volume 32, Issue 6, 1 December 1989, pp. 524–532,`doi.org/10.1093/comjnl/32.6.524`. - Robert A. Morris,
Classification of digital typefaces using spectral signatures,
`doi.org/10.1016/0031-3203(92)90039-L`. - Guozhen Duan and Robert A. Morris,
The importance of phase in the spectra of digital type,
*Electronic Publishing*, Volume 2(1), April 1989, pp. 47–59,`http://cajun.cs.nott.ac.uk/compsci/epo/papers/volume2/issue1/epbxm021.pdf`. - Robert A. Morris, Dean Yager, and Kathy Aquilante,
Software for the control of experiments for investigation of low-vision reading from video displays; Report 2001-08-01,
`https://www.cs.umb.edu/~ram/rsvp/publications/ReadingResearchSoftwareV6NFC.pdf`.

**DW: ** You also were a key organizer of the Boston conference on
Raster Imaging and Digital Typography II. How did that come about?

**RM: ** If my recollection is correct, it was that UMB was early into its
building itself into a research university, especially in the sciences.
Consequently, it was low cost and near a low cost hotel, but convenient
to transit.

**DW: ** I am curious about your thoughts on the continued relevance of
the research on raster imaging that was presented at the four RIDT
conferences. For instance, have high resolution displays (or some
other newer technology) superseded what was being studied circa
1991?

**RM: ** My guess is yes. Healthy adult human vision can resolve 1
minute of visual angle separating a pair of vertical or horizontal
lines but less than that at 45 degrees (informally, retinal
resolution of 60 pixels per degree of separation).
Chuck and Gordon would know the formal current status and its impact on reading
(see `http://jov.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2191906`).

For what it's worth, the issue may be more interesting for virtual reality goggles.

**RM: ** In an email correspondence several months before we began this
interview, you mentioned the four PROTEXT conferences of 1984–87 to
me. Do you have a thought on the importance of those meetings and
proceedings in the long term scheme of things?

**RM: ** In one sense, the PROTEXT conferences were ahead of their time.
But at `http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/186/1/compjpaper.pdf` is a copy of a paper
by David Brailsford (University of Nottingham) and Richard Beach
(Xerox PARC) about the journal
*Electronic Publishing — Origination, Dissemination and Design*, also known as “EP-odd”.
I recall that the community attending PROTEXT and the other, few
document processing conferences, often published in EP-odd and
probably EP-odd's papers had more visibility than PROTEXT, if only
because John Wiley Ltd. was involved. My guess is that the life of
EP-odd was longer than that of PROTEXT. Aside: I recall Brailsford
trying — and failing — to use an early Apple handheld gizmo for
producing docs.

**DW: ** Since you were at UMB (or perhaps beginning there),
you have been involved with FilteredPush, Kurator, etc. Will you please say a few words about those.

**RM: ** Roughly, my 10 years of successful NSF funding in the
Electronic Field Guide project
(EFG, `http://efg.cs.umb.edu/efg/`,
with UMB biologist Rob Stevenson) was the key. Around
2006, two biologists then at the Harvard Museums (the Harvard
University Herbaria (HUH) and the Museum of Comparative
Zoology (MCZ)) made an attractive proposal to NSF about managing
data about museum specimens. They were turned down with the comment
that their software engineering was too naive. The NSF program
officer suggested that I help them with a more sophistcated
proposal. The result was a two year grant beginning in 2007 with me
as Subcontract Principal Investigator, on the grant titled “Filtered Push: Community
knowledge and quality control in Biodiversity Informatics: A model
for more efficient data capture via a distributed Herbarium
network”. That expired coincident when I retired from UMB, so I was
hired part-time at HUH on further FilteredPush work and then the
Kurator project. I still contribute to that, but am no longer
compensated. I've been working on a manuscript about FilteredPush,
the first draft of which was in pdfLaTeX.

As a consultant to Biodiversity Informatics research at the University of Arizona, mathematical graph theory entered my research world. Once again, I think of myself as a Recovering Algebraist.

**DW: ** Thank you very much for participating in this interview. Now I
need to go read several of your papers.

Interview pages regenerated June 28, 2018;