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Archive for August, 2010

Comments to my previous post like Donna Popacosta’s about showing her daughters her old electric typewriter remind me of what tools were like when I started my career.

Here’s a roll down that memory lane:

  • When I began my career, I had only manual typewriters. If you made a mistake, you started over with a clean sheet of paper, or you used messy and ugly correction fluid. My first computer was the original, the first Apple computer. As primitive as that computer was, I thought I was in Heaven. I could write and edit copy on the screen, then print it only after everything was perfect. But the ease of use was costly. That first Apple computer was many thousands of dollars. Today, a few hundred dollars will buy you technology that could not have been imagined back then.
  • Telephones were all land lines, fixed permanently in one place. To make a call while you were out and about, you used a public telephone, if you could find one, after depositing the proper coin. Now, we are free to call anyone from anywhere at any time via the cellular telephone. My first cell phone was the size and weight of a brick, and it was about as costly as a gold brick. And according to the Law of Unintended Consequences, the cell phone created that ubiquitous phenomenon that we see so regularly today — walking and talking/texting. How un-evolved we were way back then; we actually stayed still in one place while we talked on the phone. So primitive!
  • You did your math with a pencil and paper. The hand-held calculator was not yet readily available or affordable. When I bought my first hand-held calculator, which was very expensive, I instantly became a mobile math whiz. But when I learned to use a financial spreadsheet on my first Apple computer, I was Einstein!
  • If you did your own work-related photography like I did back then, you probably used a lot of Tri-X 400 black and white film for photo layouts in publications.  You shot the film, and unless you had a darkroom, it was sent out for development, then transferred to a contact sheet from which you reviewed your work. The contact sheet was sent back to show the processor which shots you wanted printed and what size to print them. The entire cycle took many days. Now, I can shoot a photo with my Canon 40D, connect it to my Sony laptop computer, edit the photo on-screen, then print it anywhere on my portable Canon printer. The entire process takes only minutes and can be accomplished on location.
  • In my early career, I shot a lot of Kodachrome for color slides. Slides could be used as, well, slides for presentations, but you could also pull color prints from them, making Kodachrome more versatile and cost-effective than shooting only color print film. Producing audio/visual presentations was much more involved back then, necessitating the handling of every individual slide and the use of bulky equipment to show slide presentations. Then along came tools like PowerPoint and Animoto. Again, viewed from the perspective of my early career, the capability of digital photography and laptop computing is simply astounding. Due to the dominance of digital photography, Kodak stopped manufacturing Kodachrome in 2009.
  • To prepare a publication, you wrote your copy and sent it to a typesetter, marked up with type style and size. When you got the typeset copy back, you did your page layouts by hand on a layout table. You ran your copy through a waxer, then you cut and pasted up page mechanicals. You scaled photos by hand and marked the size and page placement on the back. The page mechanicals went to the printer, who made negatives from which plates were made that went on the press. You got a blue line page proof for one final check before printing.  With the advent of desktop publishing and programs like PageMaker and Quark Express, the time savings and additional capability of producing publications was simply amazing. For a complicated and important print project, like an annual report, you could lay out the entire publication right there on your large computer screen, complete with colors, artwork, design details, copy, photos, and captions. Then, the entire publication file could be sent electronically to the printer. While this is so commonplace now, viewed from the technological perspective of my early career, it is almost unbelievable. Additionally, just consider for a moment that I am blogging about this. The mind boggles.
  • If you wanted to write someone in my early career, you used pen and paper, or typed a letter, affixed the proper postage stamp, then trusted it to the U.S. Postal system. Days or weeks later, your message was conveyed. Excuse me, but I received and answered a text message on my cell phone while you read that.
  • And finally, after a hard day’s work (and I worked many long hours back then without the benefit of the time-saving technology we take so for granted today), I could go home and relax in front of my stereo. The stereo component system I had back then covered a wall. The Kenwood speakers alone were the size of two Smart cars. In additional to vinyl records, I was also futuristic enough to have a reel-to-reel tape, with tape reels the size of pizza pans. Now, my small Bose Wave Radio has bigger and higher quality sound than that entire system. You are probably listening to music via your iPod as you read this. Enough said.

Looking back is entertaining, if somewhat unbelievable. With today’s technology, being a communication/public relations professional is in many ways easier and allows a much higher degree of personal capability, creativity, and productivity. The fundamentals are the same, but we can do so much more with less today than in past decades.

More with less — I like the sound of that.

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As we college professors welcome incoming  freshmen,  the class of 2014, it is nice to have the Beloit College Mindset List to guide us.

Each August since 1998, Beloit College has compiled the Mindset List, which provides cultural information that shapes the lives of the year’s incoming college freshmen. According to Beloit, the Mindset List “was originally created as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references and quickly became a catalog of the rapidly changing worldview of each new generation.”

Dated references? Does this assume that the typical college professor could ever be out of date? Evidently so, for there are 75 items listed by Beloit to keep us from making generational gaffs.

For example, Item # 1: few in the class know how to write in cursive. Do you mean to tell me that this group has keystroked every word it has ever written? I guess the handwritten thank you note is officially dead. Why write a note by hand  that has to be put into the “always going broke post office” (Item # 69) with a stamp when you can email a quick ” thanks”?

And just when we are universally celebrating the tech-savviness of Millennial Generation students, the Mindset List says in Item # 2 that incoming freshmen view email as just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail. Yep, the handwritten thank you note is in fact dead, perhaps replaced by the texted “thx”.

For Mass Communication professors like me, Item # 26 really hurts: Unless they found one in their grandparents’ closet, they have never seen a carousel of Kodachrome slides. Ouch! And, Item #44: the dominance of television news by the three networks passed while they were still in their cribs.

Being a Vietnam Era veteran, Item # 41 really hits home: American companies have always done business in Vietnam.

And of course, music figures prominently on the list. Item # 46: Nirvana is on the classic oldies station. Say it isn’t so!!!

One last item for the gearheads out there; Item # 75 says Honda has always been a major competitor on Memorial Day at Indianapolis.

Tempus sure does fugit.

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“While he was unbalanced, I stabbed Serpent-Breath forward and the blade pierced the mail above the hollow of his elbow and his ax arm dropped, all strength stolen from it. “

That was Uhtred of Bebbanburg describing how he defeated the fierce Dane Ubba Lothbrokson in hand-to-hand combat during the battle of Cynuit in 878. This fight scene was from the book, The Last Kingdom, the first in Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Tales series. Serpent-Breath is the name Uhtred gave his custom-made sword.

I do love Bernard Cornwell, the greatest writer of historical fiction ever. I am now on break before the fall semester begins at Towson University, so I can enjoy reading for pleasure.  I am currently reading the second of The Saxon Tales, The Pale Horseman.

Cornwell’s research is meticulous. For example, he provides a vivid, accurate description of Serpent-Breath’s construction. If you wish to see what Serpent-Breath might have looked like, visit Museum Replicas Limited, go to swords, knives, and daggers, then one-handed swords, and take a look at the Damascus Viking Sword.

I’d like to go through hypnotic regression to see why I love European history so much. I love reading about the period from the year 800 up through the 1500s. Did I live then? Was one (or more) of my past lives set in that period? If it has swords, horses, and shields in it, I love reading about it. When I read excellent historical fiction like Cornwell’s, I surround myself with period maps and weapons catalogs. I really get into it.

While I love reading about it, it is hard to imagine living (for very long anyway) back then. About the closest I come to handling anything like Serpent-Breath is when I use  my J. A. Henckels International 8″ Spanish steel kitchen knife to chop things for my world-class cook/wife, Marilyn. She does the thinking part of meal preparation, the part that requires skill, and I do the kitchen knavery.

I call my kitchen knife, “Onion-Slayer”. When Onion-Slayer sings her death song, I can dispatch all sorts of vegetables in short order — celery, tomato, carrots, zucchini, bell peppers, and of course, onions. They are no match for my speed and agility with Onion-Slayer.

I must go. Time to take Onion-Slayer into battle with some Vidalias.

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