Nasa / Space

Blame it on the word processor


Nostalgia is often considered simply a failing of the old, but it’s really a personal rough draft of history, often by the people who actually lived through it, and is important to anyone who wants to see where they are going since their feet are often simply following the path they are already on.

You should always turn your back on the past but only so you don’t trip going forward. Looking back once in a while can help keep you on course – even a boat leaves a noticeable wake.

At times I’ve described myself as the oldest living still active geek and have yet to be challenged by anyone who can document that they personally have been around longer and are still working in the technology field every day.

But, like the 100 year olds who attribute their long life to many weird things, lasting a long time in any profession is often simply a matter of keeping going because you can’t imagine doing anything else.

I’ve been fascinated by computers since grade school, relay-based tic-tac-toe machines to start with, and had the good fortune to be encouraged by an uncle at RCA who was a big help over one memorable summer.

When I got to college there wasn’t even a real programming course open to math/physics majors, let alone a computer science MAJOR but things were free and easy – few enough students found their way into the right basement so the acolytes who served the school’s mainframe didn’t care if you had authorization to use computer time, they just picked up the punch cards and later returned the card deck and printout which was how I learned FORTRAN.

But I want to skip right along to an illustration of how personal computers impacted professions other than accounting which was the first major business function taken over by PCs.

By another of those strange coincidences of life, I was running a sports car garage about three blocks from what later became Lotus HQ. But this was pre-PC so Lotus didn’t exist yet. I liked fast cars and saw that the simplest way to get to play with them was to own a garage. Why work 40 hours in an office or lab earning money to buy one or two when I could spend those same 40 hours playing and still earn money?

But what brought me to PCs were yachts – I also serviced boat engines. My neighbor (on another boat) became editor of Cruising World in Newport and asked me to write some emergency engine repair articles for fellow boaters who might become stranded at sea.

Knowing that writers seldom got published or paid, I was reluctant, especially with the example of two unpublished authors right in the same marina who were always getting rejection slips and returned manuscripts.

But I typed an article anyway and learned that writing was easy and lucrative, except for that awful rewriting part. I did a few more of the series but hated revising and dropped it.

Some years later along came the Tandy Color Computer which offered both a new writing market (c/o Lonnie Faulk’s “Rainbow” in Louisville) and a way to painlessly edit copy without retyping entire pages on an IBM Selectric (people used to use electric typewriters with actual ink and metal type.) Back then it was a rare entry in Writer’s Digest where a publisher stated that they would accept electronic submission.

I never looked back – PCs and especially word processors opened a career I could enjoy and were responsible for my ability to write not just a few articles in a week, but often a dozen or more.

Some writers had great difficulty making the transition – an acquaintance through Mensa, Isaac Asimov, wrote hundreds of books but never could get the hang of using a computer. If he had, I bet he could have doubled his output.

I couldn’t have become either a journalist or writer without computers – I simply never had the patience to rewrite anything.

I never ask Isaac because it was a sore subject with him but instead of just learning on his own in the approved geek manner by poking around with the stuff, I suspect Isaac tried to learn word processing from a book, personal tutor, or, worse yet, the computer manual and got bogged down in the thousands of tiny and mostly useless/meaningless details of the new technology instead of simply learning about a dozen simple commands to make his life easier and more productive.

Of course the good doctor was never really comfortable with technology in general despite being a famous science and Sci-Fi writer. For example, not trusting airplanes, he refused to fly.

Nostalgia or history, another time perhaps I’ll look at the birth of CDs; an international wire service devoted to high-tech; and the building of Computer Shopper (which, strangely enough, I also became involved with due to a passion for messing around with cars and in boats.)

11 comments
bruce.maier
bruce.maier

I wrote my first programs in 1968, are you from the 50s or what?

MargaretI
MargaretI

I started full time in computing in 1965 on a Feranti Sirius computer - a decimal machine with nickel delay lines. Paper tape input and output (oh, those tangles!) Had it's own Autocode programming language.

donaldjj
donaldjj

I started using and bug programming in the navy in 1965. but didn't really start using pc computers till I got my mitts 680b in 1975. it hat a whole 512 bytes of ram and 24 toggle switches and leds for I/O

Ike_C
Ike_C

Liked your article. I'm a hardware guy who is still involved with the hardware. From IBM Unit Record, 1401, 360 and 370 days. Word Processing existed as the "Text Editor" built in to the "CP5" Operating System of the Sigma Series Mainframe Computers originaly created by Scientific Data Systems back in the late 1950's and then purchased by Xerox. Then Wang Laboratories made and sold standalone word processing systems to a gazillion of customers. Prior to Lotus there was a spreadsheet program called "CALC" which then grew to be "SUPERCALC". Probably the best of the original word processing packages for small computers came from PFS who wrote a suite for the original Apple Computers and then made them available to PC's. PFS Write was the word processor, they had a spreadsheet package, a report generator, a database, etc. IBM bought the rights to the package and called them IBM Writing Assistant, etc. Of course the best of the best wordprocessor was AMIPRO by Lotus, until Bill and Company made a copy of it called WORD.

donaldjj
donaldjj

and also there was a very good word processor fot thr PET computer called WORDPRO back in the late 70's

GSG
GSG

I learned to type on an old Royal manual typewriter. There's nothing worse than getting to the bottom of the page and realizing that you left a word out in the 3rd line. It was a beautiful day when I got to use an IBM Selectric. What's this you say? There's BUILT IN correction tape!?! I also sympathize with Asimov. I have flown in my last plane. The panic attacks aren't worth it, and when I can drive 8 hours and get home before the 1 hour flight does, it's time to stop. (No joke, that 1 hour flight leaving Chicago took 9 hours from the time I arrived at the airport to the time I made it to my airport and picked up my baggage. It's a 7 1/2 hour drive.

apotheon
apotheon

I preferred driving over flying, just because of the additional experience of the trip that you don't get from flying, ever since my first road trip when I was in high school. I'd still fly from time to time, though, when it was more convenient to do so than to drive -- such as when I flew from Florida to California, then rented a van and loaded it up with a bunch of stuff I had in storage there to drive it back to Florida. As the TSA, and post-9/11 conditions in general, make it more and more of a hassle to fly, however, I become ever-more reluctant to use commercial airlines. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if I never fly a commercial airline again, unless either my point of departure or point of arrival is in another country. Transportation between US cities is just a heck of a lot easier when you do it on the ground rather than dealing with the TSA and other hassles of flying these days.

Tech Locksmith
Tech Locksmith

And of course so much of it is just make work to spend tax payer money and make it look a if someone was being serious about security threats rather than simply protecting against the last incident. I recently took my cousin to a regional airport to connect for a flight across country and, even though I expected it and tried to prepare him, I just couldn?t make him understand why he was being treated as a criminal, subject to search before getting on a plane. He parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and has 5 bronze stars ? you can?t tell me that a sensible security system would search his shoes and medicine because he might be an Islamic terrorist. I wouldn't object if I thought the security measures made the slightest sense. So much of it is just political correctness which doesn?t let anyone point out that some people are simply much more likely to carry a bomb than others, leaving no money, time, or personel to search the checked luggage. The great age of travel is rapidly ending.

rap3
rap3

In a way it does make sense that a D-Day vet would be singled out by TSA. Anyone with a personal history of going into harm's way to fight tyranny is conceivably a threat to our current government.

apotheon
apotheon

The freedom to travel unmolested is the freedom to flee when freedom otherwise becomes too scarce. This is all just another sign of how things are going downhill in the good ol' US of A, with regards to protecting the rights and liberties of individual human beings.

Tech Locksmith
Tech Locksmith

My apologies for the bold font, I?m having issues with the posting software and even more problems trying to go back and re-edit. On the other hand, anyone my age may be happy to have the improved contrast.