Saturday, June 23, 2018
Publication Date: 08/1/2009
Archive >  August 2009 Issue >  Tech-Op-Ed > 

Change and Progress Are Constants
Walter Salm, Editor
Every so often, I reminisce a little about my college days, sparked this time by actually connecting with one of my college roommates. As a writer, I remember only too well my portable manual typewriter — a Royal that cost $105 in 1951 and was my lifeline to the outside world. I was and still am a speed typist, and typescript was always the preferred format if I expected to get an "A" on a paper or assignment. It was also much more professional-looking, and I was after all, an aspiring amateur-soon-to-be-professional writer.

My favorite camera at the time was a 2-1/4 x 3-1/4 Pacemaker Speed Graphic — rather large and cumbersome, but it produced wonderful pictures. Part of the reason for this was the 11-point checklist that I had to go through before tripping the shutter, so I took extra care to get a good photo the first time, every time. It also ate up flashbulbs at a prodigious clip, which were a bit costly, since you could only use them once. (Remember flashbulbs?) And hand-processing sheet film and film packs was a bit of a chore, so I didn't waste any of that precious film.

Today, I don't own a typewriter. True, I own 5 computers (one of which is ailing), along with a combination scanner-printer that can produce high-quality photo prints. I gave my second-to-last typewriter, an IBM Selectric, to one of my stepdaughters to use in college. Even that was a long time ago. My camera today is digital and film is cheap — a 2GB MMC card that is infinitely re-usable, and the camera is equipped with a built-in electronic flash.

The publishing business has changed a great deal as well in the 52 years since my first free-lance article appeared in Electronics Illustrated and I was still learning my trade at Gernsback Publications. When I started, we were using hot lead type set on a Linotype machine. Today, many people I talk to don't have the vaguest idea what I'm talking about when I mention hot lead. They only know that lead supposedly poisons our environment and should be eliminated from everything. They also know nothing about a printing process known as "letterpress". When I found myself in a "swing" period from letterpress to photo offset, I had to re-educate one of our staff artists who just casually shaded in a block on a layout sheet to represent a color tint. "No, you can't do that," I said. "We still use letterpress; you'll have to have an engraving made." The artist looked at me as though I had just grown a second head. She hadn't the foggiest notion of what I was talking about. She was of the new generation; they hadn't taught her a damned thing about letterpress in commercial art school, and probably with good reason. Letterpress was dead; long live king photo offset!

Today, we can casually publish a journal with nothing more than a computer and a laser printer. Yet what a massive technological advance is represented by both of these instruments. I use a large flat-panel screen monitor for my work, and even that bit of technology was unthinkable only a generation ago. The TV cameras of yesteryear used 3 vidicon imaging tubes, were incredibly bulky and were anything but portable. As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of landing three astronauts on the moon, we tend to forget that the technology they used was oh-so-crude by today's standards. Yet we haven't sent any more men to the moon.

A popular cartoon circulating on the Internet now shows those first two astronauts in their necessarily bulky space suits examining the body of a woman wearing a frumpy dress laying on the moon's inhospitable surface. One of them, kneeling for a closer look, says, "Why, it's Alice Kramden." Who remembers Alice Kramden or why her body would be on the moon? It took me a few seconds to reconnect a few tired brain cells with an old memory, before I "got it" and had a good laugh. I don't know if the cartoon is recent or was circulating back in 1969, but back then, we were having fun with the astronauts on the cover of BM/E (Broadcast Management/Engineering). One of our covers before the moon landing showed two cartoon figures in spacesuits on the moon's surface pointing a portable TV camera up at the Lunar Lander with its retro-rocket firing. On the backs of their spacesuits was the phrase: "Network Pool". As I said, we were having a little fun with this whole operation.

Today, the computer and the Internet represent a way of life for a huge part of the world's population — even in third-world nations. News can be disseminated so quickly to so many people that it totally boggles the mind. And I have been fortunate enough to see this revolution happen, to help chronicle the development of new technologies as they surfaced, and to watch with awe as they have built and multiplied seemingly like a living organism. We live in amazing times, and I believe and hope the best is yet to come.  

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