Time Trip – Card Catalogs and Microfiche Viewers

Everyone who uses the Internet knows that research is a cinch. No matter what the obscure topic, you can find info on it within, say, a half hour. The Internet is the collective knowledge of entire cultures.

Back in the day, you might have actually broken a sweat while doing research.Those encyclopedias were heavy.

Wikipedia’s Weighty Ancestors

Just a few decades ago, every responsible parent seriously considered purchasing a set of encyclopedias at about the time their little scholars hit the later years of elementary school. It was a heavy investment. My 14.99 annual subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica’s app is cheap by comparison.

UBN_Collier's_EncyclopediaThe reason for this investment was because the encyclopedia was where all research started. And that was all they were intended to be. Most topics only had a paragraph or two. Some had a page, maybe two or three. A few were as thick as a chapter in a book.

My own Dad purchased his encyclopedia set while he was in graduate school. It was somewhat dated by the time we were researching science projects. The moon landings were still speculative, and the Gemini missions were still in flight. I recall that its depiction of the neanderthal was based on the now-discredited Piltdown Man. They were still quite useful. I loved to browse through them, and I used it to learn basic sign language. I taught it to a friend, which we used as a secret language until it got us into trouble with our fifth grade teacher.

Dad subscribed to the annual yearbooks through the early 70s. Each yearbook consisted of another thick tome to add to the end of the set, with the year printed on the spine in large gold letters. They made for fascinating reading about what happened that year, similar to Wikipedia’s entries on individual years. (If you didn’t know about that, here’s 1922.)

Card Catalogs

card-catalogelementary-7-638Your next step in your research odyssey was to get your butt to the library.

The card catalog–depending on the size of the library–was also a vast index to a large number of obscure topics. Learning how to use them was required by the 4th grade or so, and by the 7th grade, you generally knew the Dewey Decimal System well enough to navigate the stacks with some degree of competence. You’d find your topic in the catalog, write down the location numbers, and locate your books on the shelf–clustered together by topic. Then you’d lug the books to a table and got to work.

At the end of each book, you’d find a bibliography which would lead you, like hyperlinks, to the author’s own sources. Following these retro hyperlinks meant tracking down libraries with the book you needed, driving there, and checking them out. You could also use the inter-library loan system, wherein a library van would circulate among area libraries, delivering books that had been requested by patrons at each one. This method, however, involved patience.

Years ago, my pet historical topic was the first Crusade. I read every book on the subject that I could get my hands on, from both sides of the conflict. One source that was often referenced was The Alexiad by Anna Comnena. It was a rare that any of these sources were women. She was the daughter of the emperor of the Byzantine empire, and wrote about the crusaders when they passed through Constantinople. I tried to track down a translated copy without success for several years before I finally found it in my college library. It was a lot of work just to read a few chapters. Nowadays, you can Google “the alexiad” and have a copy on your hard drive in about 30 seconds.

Microfiche Viewers

For microfiche, I give you this video:

Microfiche also comes by the spool, and those are really fun. You can speed by images so fast that they almost blur together, and then stop when you see something interesting. It’s like driving through newspapers. Don’t race through the pages for a long time, however. The librarian is sure to come along–like a traffic cop–and ask you to slow down.

Advantages over Today’s Tech

I like to include this section because when you upgrade, there’s almost always a trade-off. Sometimes, it takes a while to find because for research, the Internet is hard to beat.

Card Catalogs pointed you to books that you would never otherwise know existed (as does Google books), and encyclopedias were great for browsing through at random (yes, I know, Wikipedia has a random page option). But most of all, microfiche viewers–the spool-fed ones–are hard to beat. Browsing through images on the Internet is laborious due to the very nature of the Internet. I bet libraries have better options, but it has been a while since I’ve had to research anything that I have not been able to find on the Internet.

~*~

I came up with the idea for these Time Trips while writing my time travel novel, HIGHWAY TO YESTERDAY. For all the Time Trip posts I’ve written so far, click here.

Unplanned Hiatus

I guess you could say I’ve been on an unplanned hiatus. I think I just burned out! I haven’t even been writing. They call it NaNoWriMo, but for me, it was Na No Write Mo.

But the gears are back in motion, and I should be posting again soon.

Time Trip – Geekdom, by Decade, Part 1

For a few Time Trip posts (not necessarily the next few–those are gonna take lots of research) I thought I’d take a look at all things geek throughout the decades of the 20th century. This list is by no means comprehensive.

I’m going to start with the easiest – what I remember. And a little beyond.

mosaic-browser1990s – The Internet

When I took my UNIX class in the early 90s, I was intrigued by all the geeks playing a Dungeons and Dragons-like game by computer. They were using MUDs, or multi-user dungeons, the precursors to today’s multiplayer games. UNIX could have doubled as an early Internet course, because back then, the only way to get to the Internet was via UNIX. By the end of the course, everyone was talking about the new Mosaic browser, and accessing the Internet via a slip account and telnet. I taught my husband the basics of the pine email client, and we managed to get Mosaic installed on our Windows machines. What a blast.

… and build-it-yourself computers

In the 90s, you could not claim certifiable geekdom without building your own computer. So I went to Incredible Universe, bought all the necessary parts, and built my dream machine. So I did it once. I never did it again.

BTW, in the mid-late 90s, it was geek chic to sign your emails with your own personalized Geek code. Here’s mine. (I left out the politics sections.)

GIT D+ S+:+ A+ C++ U+ P- L+ E— W++ N O– K- W++ M+ V– T+@ 5 X R+ TV- B++ DI+ D++ G E+ H—- R+++

If you want to figure out yours, have at it here: http://www.geekcode.com/geek.html. But you may not understand some of it–it’s a bit dated. And there’s nothing in it about building your own computers.

pc101980s – Personal Computers

If the Internet was geeky in the 90s, then even owning a computer was geeky in the 80s. At least, owning a DOS computer was geeky. There were Commodore 64s and MACs that weren’t nearly so geeky. In order to qualify as a geek in the 80s, you had to know your way around a DOS prompt, program a little in GW/BASIC, understand the 640k barrier, and have the ability to edit batch files.

… and amateur photography

I include this because a special hallmark of the geeky tourist was the 35mm camera. Preferably one with a big lens. I didn’t have a big lens, but I got my 35mm camera for my 18th birthday. I used it for twenty years. I even started using slides and eschewed regular film, so I have a slide projector, screen, and lots of slides.

And I never really caught onto digital photography at all.

PlayersHandbook8Cover1970s – Role Playing Games

In the 70s, being a geek wasn’t chic at all. They took actual abuse. See Revenge of the Nerds (which actually came out in the 80s) to see what those geeks were like. I was too young to be geek a 70s, but I have known enough older geeks to know what they were into back then.

Anyway, RPGs got their start with tabletop games like Axis and Allies, Panzer Blitz, and, of course, Star Fleet Battles. These morphed into role-playing games, Dungeons and Dragons, and then AD&D, being the biggest of them all. I never played them until my 80s, but I remembered seeing it played in the movie, ET.

… and UNIX

UNIX got its start in the 70s as well. My dad used to get a kick out of all the long-haired and bearded UNIX geeks at work. When I was a software developer, I didn’t use any graphical tools at all. I’d have two windows open with vi pointing to my code, another one open for sedding and grepping, and a fourth for miscellaneous tasks, such as executing code and pouring through log files. It was pure geeky bliss.

Do you have any cool (or maybe not-so-cool) geek memories to share?

~*~

I came up with the idea for these Time Trips while writing my time travel novel, HIGHWAY TO YESTERDAY. For all the Time Trip posts I’ve written so far, click here.

New Excerpt, Website Updates, and Upcoming Time Trip

I posted an all-new excerpt to HIGHWAY TO YESTERDAY. The scenes that I previously opened the story with are still in the novel, but I wanted an opening that showed how alone Adele and Mike are in the world, and which gives a bit of a teaser of things to come. Here it is:

http://tianevitt.com/forthcoming/highway-to-yesterday/

I also updated this website to reflect the new name of HIGHWAY TO YESTERDAY.

Since I’m done tweaking that story (for now) I have turned my attention to the second book. I know there will be at least two books, but I’m not sure if there will be a third–at least not in this storyline. I have some a few characters who I like very much, and who I would love to write more about. Plus, it might be fun to do time travel way, way back in time such as during the Crusades, or during the expansion of the Roman Republic.

Upcoming Reviews

I still owe you a review on Poison Priestess. I spent last weekend sick and totally offline. Was I that sick? No, but I did get a book in the mail, which I immediately read. I still get some publisher review copies, and I still read a few of them, and try to get reviews written when I do. However–and I want to stress this–I am no longer actively book reviewing, and I no longer respond to review requests. There are a few publicists out there who have my address, and with whom I have longstanding relationships. If they still want to send me books, then I really cannot stop them. I review very few of them, but I’l review this one.

Upcoming Time Trip

I wrote another time trip post. As soon as I put some images on it, I’ll schedule it for later in the week. I also have some cool things from my mom’s move that I want to blog about, including my Dad’s old slide rule. I’ve been trying to figure out how to use it, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do anything on it other than multiplication and square roots. Unless I want to re-learn logarithms. Anyway, that’ll be a fun post to write. This week’s post is about something else.

(As an aside, I should invent some kind of graphic for my Time Trip posts.)

Missed Post

I knew it. I should have scheduled my latest Time Trip post on Sunday. Because I sure as HECK did not have time to get it posted on any night this week. However, I CARVED some time out of my schedule for “just me” time tonight, so I shall schedule it now, to post at, say, 10:00 tomorrow morning.

(My first impulse was to pull it till next week, because I didn’t think Fridays were so good to post on, but my inexplicable spike in traffic last week started on a Friday, so what do I know?)

In other news, I downloaded a borderless map of Europe, and divided it into three large kingdoms. Now, why would I do such a thing? Just a tad bit of worldbuilding for a potential alternate history fantasy that’s in its very early preliminary idea stage.

Too many ideas … not enough time!

Time Trip – Fill ‘er Up!

I am old enough to remember gas station attendants. Barely.

mobil4Here’s the procedure for getting gas during the 70s, as I recall it:

  • Pull up to the pump.
  • Wait.
  • Boy (always a boy) comes up wearing a shirt and pants of a particular shade of blue. He smells of fuel. On the chest of the shirt is an oval tag with his name stitched on. A simple, short name, such as “Bob,” “John” or “Mike”.
  • After some sort of polite greeting, he asks, “regular or unleaded?”
  • You reply, “Fill ‘er up with regular.” (or unleaded, but not common until the 80s)
  • The kid activates the pump, sticks the hose in your car, pulls the lever, and locks it in place.
  • You watch the dials spin. The dial that indicates the number of gallons just whizzes by, while the dial that indicates the amount of dollars performs a slow crawl You know–the opposite of today.
  • While the gas is filling up, the boy cleans your windshield. You watch the squeegee swipe the splatted bugs away. The smell of gasoline drifts in the open windows, because you have no AC.
  • Something clunks. The kid takes the hose out–dumping fuel everywhere and dousing down the side of your car–and hangs it back up on the side of the pump.
  • He gives you some dollar figure that now seems improbable, like, “Three-fifty-five, sir.”
  • You hand cash out the window. This amount includes the tip. You say, “Keep the change.” If you need change, it’ll be a while.
  • He thanks you and tells you to have a nice day.
  • You drive off.

In the 80s, the concept of the self-service gas station arose. There were different lanes for self-service and full service. Full service seemed to be a way to screw over old ladies, like my aunt, who was daunted at the idea of pumping her own gas and always paid extra for full service.

But eventually, even full-service went the way of the gravity-operated gas pump.

Advantages over Modern Tech

This is easy–the service. Getting gas was a leisurely activity, during which you just sat there. Disadvantage? These gas stations weren’t a good place to grab a snack. The tiny room that housed the cash register only seemed to sell automotive things like cans of oil and windshield-wipers. And maybe cigarettes. They were not places where women–or girls–ever ventured (unless maybe, you smoked). Cold drinks were sold out of vending machines outside. Oh, and you could get gumballs. Eventually, they started advertising snacks for sale inside, which morphed into the modern convenience store.

~*~

I came up with the idea for these Time Trips while writing my time travel novel, HIGHWAY TO YESTERDAY. For all the Time Trip posts I’ve written so far, click here.

Offline Update, Upcoming Stuff, and a Traffic Spike

My life calmed down some this week. I work in the health care payments industry, and we had a product launch a few weeks ago, and I worked an unusual number of hours during those weeks. In fact, I had some work I needed to get done Sunday afternoon. However, we are establishing a schedule that should reduce the number of times I have to scramble to get requirements written so the developers will know what to develop when the next sprint starts.

~*~

When I was dreaming up my Time Trips posts, I write three of them in order to establish the habit and to prove to myself it was something that I could stick to. In the past, I have gotten all fired up by new ideas, written half a post, and then it languished there in my drafts folder as other things bubbled up in priority. So I will post that last post this week, and I have two more in the hopper. One is from the box of stuff that I brought home from my mom’s.

~*~

I’ve written a new scene to open my time travel novel. I’ll post it later this week, after I get some feedback for it. I’ve also renamed the novel to better reflect the road-trip aspect of the story. So I’ll need to update the excerpt and change the title everywhere on this site, which sounds like a Saturday chore to me.

~*~

I had a traffic spike this past week, where Facebook all of a sudden sent a bunch of links to either my home page, or my Infographics page. I have never before had 600 hits in one day, but it happened on Thursday. At first I thought my Time Trip post was the source, but no, they split almost evenly between the homepage and the parent infographic page.

I am perplexed, but hey! I’ll take it. If you’re new here, welcome!