Once we set the software world on fire

Things you find in the bottom of a box of old computer disks. In its heyday when I worked there, 1984-87, “MultiMate Word Processor” was not only international, it was a best seller and, you might say, almost matchless.

Its biggest selling point was that it allowed the earliest IBM PCs to take the place of much more expensive WANG office word processing systems, popular with insurance companies, law firms and other high-volume purchasers of software. It was designed for typing pools, not creative writers or computer hobbyists, so it didn’t get a lot of love from the geekier computer magazines. But for office typists, the stick-on labels for computer function keys and thorough user manual “documentation” were selling points, its fancy padded binder full of heavyweight pages, a veritable “what to do until the doctor comes” security blanket for nervous users.

My biggest contribution to the East Hartford, Conn., company was probably telling Tina, the product manager, how to get the documentation for version 3.3 into ring binders and slip cases originally measured for a previous version that didn’t have as many pages.

My solution was to make two spiral-bound smaller books out of the beginners section and most advanced/technical section, and only use the three-ring binder for the main reference pages. The smallest spiral booklet fit inside the binder and the beginner/tutorial fit alongside it in the slipcases, of which we apparently had a warehouse-full.

The product manager left for another company and launched a new product… called Microsoft Word. (It, unsurprisingly, successfully made the transition from Microsoft DOS to Microsoft Windows; MultiMate, sold to Ashton-Tate, didn’t.)

With my 11 years’ experience on a newspaper and some accidental computer documentation experience while writing and rewriting a 300-page anthropology/ethnomusicology master’s thesis, I had come to MultiMate to add some technical expertise to the public relations department. They thought I would be good at talking reviewers through the program and writing how-to articles for a user’s newsletter. Within a few months, I was drafted to edit and rewrite parts of the user manual after badly timed company cutbacks removed key technical writers and others quit, just when the slipcase crisis arose.

When the company was sold, I didn’t particularly like the new management and left to finish a second Master’s thesis, which was loosely about the future of writing with computers and a new technology called hypertext, which I thought showed a lot of promise. Two years later an Englishman in Switzerland figured out how to use hypertext to interconnect documents on the Internet and call it the World Wide Web… a sign that I had to go back to grad school again.

Posted in Computers, Connecticut, History, wesleyan, writing

The mourning after

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day and I didn’t have as much as a pint of Guinness or a drop of Jameson’s, or sing “The Parting Glass” at the end of a weekend music festival because (a.) it wasn’t about that kind of music and (b.) I never managed to learn the words. (I’ve never been a fan of Tullamore Dew, but I thought they did a charming job on that commercial, with its funereal humor at the end.) But, anyway, top o’ the morning-after to you…

I started writing this essay after a friend sent me a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day message last night, probably after seeing that I had posted a link to this other Irish song on Facebook… and he mentioned that he thought I looked more Scottish.

For me, the Scottish gene pool is more recent, why I’m “Robert Bruce” and put a family tartan (but a green one) as a backdrop on my stepno.com web page. My father’s much beloved mother was from Glasgow, but died when I was an infant. My mother’s grandparents were all Great Famine era Irish immigrants to Western Massachusetts farms, and she and her mother identified as Irish a bit, at least on the Catholic-and-wearing-green level, although the closest they’d been to the land of our ancestors was a four-sided family monument at our Massachusetts hometown cemetery that mentioned a famine-erased village in Co. Limerick. We did eat a lot of potatoes, and occasionally corned beef and cabbage on Saint Patrick’s Day.

Our downstairs neighbor was a Northampton school principal named Ryan who knew her relatives in Ireland enough to get a pot of fresh shamrocks in the mail each spring, which impressed me. So as a kid going to Catholic schools I felt more Irish than anything.

Did you know I lived in County Mayo for 10 weeks researching an anthropology master’s thesis on making “elective ethnicity” choices with symbols like music, language, food, pop-culture, clothing, religion and visits to the “Olde country”? Music and language were the main themes of the thesis. I often wish I had done a better job and expanded it into something that I could publish. But that would have meant making it much more scholarly or much more personal. Coincidentally our cook for part of the summer in the house in Co. Mayo was Miss Ryan’s niece… from my old Hometown in Massachusetts, where it turned out her father had been mayor while I was growing up. (Add Massachusetts politics to my list of Irish cliches.) More recently someone shot a video of the Co. Mayo house and its surroundings, which brings back wonderful memories.

Coincidentally, many of the other Irish music and culture students I lived with that summer had fallen away from the Catholic religion in their twenties, but maybe not as far as I had fallen, never quite finding anything to replace it in the Upanishads or I Ching or old blues records. That is part of the reason I wasn’t at a funeral for a more religious acquaintance this weekend. I don’t think The Parting Glass would mean as much to his family and friends as the Bluegrass music he played, so it seems better to be part of a musical Memorial Gathering for him later this month, along with sharing a tip of the hat I created online (Timmy Mills, R.I.P.) in the form of a YouTube playlist. It was just a coincidence that I had already paid a few hundred dollars for tuition to the unrelated musical event I was attending on the weekend of the funeral.

For some reason I think of coincidences as Irish, and I do stumble on the lot of them. That 1981 trip to Ireland was my second and it was my 11-year-itch career change after my original Hartford Courant newspaper writing job, before I fell into college radio, then writing about computers, then back into magazine and newspaper/online journalism.

Hmm. I should dust off that thesis and write something more personal for publication. Today they call it an auto-ethnography… But I have so much else I’m not writing… maybe this is as close as I will get.

https://stepno.wordpress.com/2018/06/04/my-other-damn-books/

Posted in Uncategorized

Breakfast out…

My favorite local place for breakfast closed a few months ago… And it’s probably my fault for only going there when I had visiting friends, and just not having that many visiting friends.

But a former student of mine posted a Facebook rave review for a new breakfast place on the other side of town, which got me feeling very nostalgic for places I miss, in places I have lived over the years…

Glad to see these are still going. In keeping with my attempt to put interesting stuff out here on the open web, not just in Facebook:

I never seem to get to Floyd before noon, but if I did I would stop by the Blue Ridge Cafe… More often, I wind up having a breakfast-like slice of quiche for lunch at the Floyd Country Store.

Posted in memories, personal, Radford, wesleyan

Tabloid wizard’s first edition — on Wikipedia

This is an experiment… This afternoon I wrote a full page contribution to Wikipedia, one of the first times I have created a page there from scratch. Why? I saw an odd and misspelled reference to a 1920s newspaper editor on the Wikipedia page about the Hartford Courant, where I worked in the 1970s. Before I left I had become fascinated by that particular editor, Emile Gauvreau, who left Hartford to become editor of two of the nation’s most sensational tabloid newspapers of the Roaring Twenties.

At one point I even thought I might try to write a book about the guy.

He may have been a conscience-tortured scandalmonger, but he deserved to have his name spelled right. And after correcting the Hartford Courant wiki page, I noticed that turning his name into a link did not send it to a previously existing biography page… So I sat down and wrote one. Fatigue set in and I didn’t do as much as I could have.. The battles between him and Walter Winchell we’re amazing, with Winchell comparing him to Napoleon and calling him a cripple because he had a limp, and Gauvreau dismissing Winchell as a vaudeville hoofer who had risen above his station by destroying the English language and making an industry out of gossip. But to include those things from memory on Wikipedia would have meant dredging up some references and going through the tedium of formatting them properly for the Wikipedia reference system. I own maybe a dozen books by or about Gauvreau and the Graphic as well as a few 90 year old copies of the paper.

For Wikipedia, I pulled a history of the Hartford Courant and Gauvreau’s autobiography off my shelves and cited them as references, along with a Columbia Journalism Review article that is really little more than a extract from the autobiography.

I did not cite my own articles about the New York Evening Graphic, because I suspect Wikipedia frowns on self- citation. They consist of academic conference papers that I wrote in 1997 and 2003, and a web page I self-published, originally on a University of North Carolina server, so that I could share some of the Graphic’s controversial images with students and colleagues, while also demonstrating my skill at old school web page publishing.

Today’s contribution to the world’s knowledge is a brief Wikipedia biography of Emile Gauvreau, which, it being Wikipedia, does not carry my byline and can be immediately edited, improved, or vandalized by anyone.

That is where the “experiment” I mentioned in the first sentence comes in… I am pasting below the full text of the page as I left it after today’s editing session. There may still be a typo or two, and the things shown in italic on Wikipedia probably appear in a different font here. But the text should be just what I wrote. I hope to check back in a month or two and see whether anyone has added to it, edited it, fixed or unfixed anything I wrote.

Here it is:


Emile Gauvreau (1891-1956) was an American journalist, newspaper and magazine editor and author of novels and nonfiction books.

Born in Centerville, Connecticut, he got his start in newspapers at the New Haven Journal-Courier, before moving on in 1916 to the Hartford Courant, as reporter, legislative reporter, Sunday editor, and assistant managing editor, becoming managing editor at the age of 25.[1]

He launched the newspaper’s artgravure picture section and its Sunday magazine, and, according to the paper’s historian, John Bard McNulty, “developed a strong partiality for the banner headline.” The young editor’s style suited The Roaring Twenties more than the newspaper known as the “Old Lady of State Street,” and led to his dismissal in 1924 over a sensational series alleging that medical quacks were operating in the state with credentials from diploma mills. He was asked for his resignation, but wrote that he left with a healthy bank account thanks to his Hartford Courant stock. [2]

Having helped compensate for a lame leg with exercises from Physical Culture publisher Bernarr Macfadden, and having written confession-style stories for Macfadden’s True Story magazine, Gauvreau went to New York to inquire about more freelancing for the eccentric magazine publisher, but was surprised to be offered the opportunity to start a daily tabloid newspaper for Macfadden. It was to compete with the New York Daily News, America’s first tabloid, which was soon joined by Hearst Daily Mirror.

Macfadden had wanted to call his paper The Truth,but eventually settled for the name New York Evening Graphic, with Gauvreau as managing editor. Along with focusing on sensational crime stories, photos, and Macfadden’s health crusades, its experimental policies including first-person stories by ghostwriter assisted newsmakers, and composite photos that illustrated scenes for which the paper could not get a real photograph. In his autobiography, Gauvreau, who had drawn newspaper cartoons in his early days, took both credit and blame for the composograph, and admitted getting carried away with it, creating farcical bedroom scenes to a company’s stories about a sensational divorce case.

He also took some of the credit for discovering and promoting Graphic staff members Walter Winchell, Ed Sullivan and others. Both Winchell and Gauvreau left the Graphic for Hearst’s Daily Mirror, continuing a longtime editor-columnist feud into the 1930s. [3]

Gauvreau’s 1935 book about a trip to Russia, What So Proudly We Hailed, got him fired by Hearst, but he continued to write, and later edited a pictorial magazine, Click, for Moses Annenberg of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

His books, starting with two quasi-autobiographical novels about “tabloidia”, include Hot News (1931), The Scandalmonger (1932), What So Proudly We Hailed (1935), Dumbells and Carrot Strips (with Mary Macfadden, 1935), My Last Million Readers (1941), Billy Mitchell: founder of our Air Force and Prophet Without Honor (1942), and The Wild Blue Yonder: Sons of the Prophet Carry On ( with Lester Cohen, 1945).

Gauvreau was profiled by Michael Shapiro for the Columbia Journalism Review in 2011, under the title The Paper Chase For tabloid king Emile Gauvreau, it took a lifetime to slow down.

[4]

  1. ^ John Bard McNulty, Older than the nation, The Life and Times of the Hartford Courant… Oldest newspaper of continuous publication in America. 1964 Pequot Press
  2. ^ Emile Gauvreau, My Last Million Readers, Dutton 1941
  3. ^ Emile Gauvreau, My Last Million Readers, Dutton 1941
  4. Michael Shapiro, Columbia Journalism Review, 2011,The Paper Chase For tabloid king Emile Gauvreau, it took a lifetime to slow down|https://archives.cjr.org/second_read/the_paper_chase.php

note: some of the font and formatting messiness is because this entire blog post was composed on an Android smartphone, and so was the Wikipedia entry. I may come back to this page to add a sensational Evening Graphic image or return to the Wikipedia page to add a picture of gauvreau.

Posted in Uncategorized

Finishing off January…

A friend in Florida phoned to chat while she was circling a hiking track in bright sunlight this morning… and I made the mistake of saying that it was just raining here and not below freezing…

Within an hour the sky became full of some of the largest snowflakes I’ve ever seen. They are still melting when they hit the asphalt, but I had a worrisome feeling that wouldn’t go on for long.

However, the temperature were still below freezing this afternoon and the official forecast says that even though it may get down to the single digits tomorrow, things will warm up again at the end of the week.

… and within 2 hours of taking those snowy pictures, I could actually see Blue Sky again… but with a cold wind blowing more clouds out of the northwest…

And in another hour that patch of blue was overhead, and very little evidence of that late morning snow, but it looks like it might be snowing again in the mountains… Where that wind is coming from.

Posted in Uncategorized

A 2019 start and 2020 vision

A New River sunset saunter …

… to start the New Year…

Okay, so the getting up early and out of the house resolution still needs some work… kind of a gray beginning to the year, but starting at Dudley’s Landing and walking the length of Radford’s Bisset Park and back gave me a chance to say Happy New Year to a dozen people I didn’t know, plus one squirrel and one cardinal.

The photos show some winter wear and tear, but the big hollow tree is still standing, and city workers have plowed the floodmud off the paved path and taped one place where the river erosion has given us a new mini cliff.

I thought the round-trip was 3 miles but it’s a quarter mile short of that according to the Endomondo walking app in my phone… even with the pauses to take pictures, not a bad distance and time to start the year with.

I also stayed on the paved paths, and on the street light illuminated roadway heading back, in hopes of not spending the rest of January digging mud out of the Vibram soles. It’s a new year. Be good to your souls, however you spell them.

And, by posting this here, I’m fulfilling a resolution about spending less time in the Walled Garden called Facebook, although I do have so many friends there that I let them see these pictures and thoughts too. Gradually, I’ll try to do more here and less there and point people in this open web Direction.

Posted in Uncategorized

Thanksgiving

I didn’t really get around to being thankful for much of anything on Thanksgiving, except for being thankful I stayed off the highways on such a high traffic day and weekend. I did get out and take a hike along the New River in the local city park, and that was later in the day than I had planned, but I got there in time to take pictures of the sunset that my friends on Facebook seem to like a lot.

And I’m certainly thankful that I can make people smile with a push of the button on a smartphone.

Come to think of it, looking back at the pictures in my phone reminds me that I am also thankful that the big hollow tree along Radford City’s Bisset Park hiking trail is still there after the serious flood we had a few weeks ago.

And I am thankful that I have eight fully functional fingers and a December 5th appointment with a hand surgeon to find out what it will take to put the other two back in action instead of just hanging there like so much dead wood.

Posted in Uncategorized

Municipal dysfunction… Repairs in the works

My mobile phone sure does not like the city website. The new mayor says a new website is in the works… and meanwhile he uses Facebook for announcements, pictures, and even live videos.

There must be a better way.

Posted in 2018, civics, communication, photography, public affairs, Radford

Facebook and facing forward

We have had our first ice storm of the winter here in Southwest Virginia. In an entirely unrelated development, I injured my right hand last month so I’m playing less music lately, but down at the Floyd Country Store the dance and music jam session goes on every Sunday, and I do still get out to take hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway or in Radford City parks. (The picture is one I shot at the Smart View Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway a few months ago. Must look a lot chillier this weekend!)

Those are all things that several hundred people who follow me on Facebook know, including friends in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, England and Ireland, as well as former students and classmates from New England to California.

Most of them do not follow this blog, which I have been writing intermittently for many years. But on Facebook I write shorter, less formally, and include many more pictures… like the ones here.

I have to remind myself to use my own blog out here on what fans called the “open web,” not within the password wall of Facebook, where you give away a lot of privacy to see what everyone else (including spies, politicians, marketers, deluded innocents and outright liars) has to say — all in one convenient package.

Another friend has just posted a note on Facebook saying that he doesn’t expect to be around that neighborhood much longer… Every set of headlines about malfeasance, misfeasance, misdirection and hubris by the young cyber media moguls has brought leaving notices.

My problem with leaving Facebook, as some sort of protest against Emperor Zuckerberg and his inability to recognize the Star Trek prime directive when giving great communication power to non-geeks, is that Facebook made itself just reliable enough and easy enough to use that significant online communities have abandoned other platforms and moved… from places like email lists, Usenet, Fidonet, Yahoo groups, Google Groups and Orkut… all of which I have enthusiastically used at one time or another.

The Old Time Radio Researchers Group I belong to is one example. Its OTRR.org, OTRRlibrary.org and several related sites still exist, but the group discussion is now on Facebook and has never been as easy to join.

Meanwhile, new local neighborhood and interest groups have grown up here that never existed before, such as the “Floyd 411” group where residents of that County share information about road conditions, storms, flooding, lost animals and other things — like a twenty-first-century AM radio neighborly kitchen-chat call-in show.

In the small city where I live, there was much more discussion of local politics and issues during the past year’s city, state and national elections then I have ever seen before. It was like having a robust local newspaper with a four-page letter column daily. Both the new mayor and the registrar of voters are on my Facebook friends list… and both use Facebook to make announcements that are much easier to access than those on the city’s frequently out-of-date web page.

Similarly, some very non-technological and non-political organizations use Facebook to get the word out about events like never before. The interlinked or overlapping membership groups for old-time String Band fiddle and banjo and guitar and mandolin music in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina links to groups interested in the same music in England and on the West Coast and in Australia and everywhere in between.

Yes, there are still independent websites for local music venues and organizations like Floydcountrystore.com and The Crooked Road, or independent bulletin boards for banjo players and mandolin players and guitar players, but the interconnection on Facebook is really amazing.

I am going to start spending more time on a couple of those independent groups, just to see whether there is any growth there and decline at Facebook. I will continue to encourage improvements in the City website, because I’m uncomfortable with its doing doing so much City business on Facebook. And I will try to remember to post my own writing out here in the public web more often instead of letting it sit in easy to use but ethically troubled Facebook.

But I still feel like a media research anthropological Observer, doing my thing while trying to figure out what’s going on out there. Am I part of the solution, or part of the problem? I don’t know.

(Thanks, as always to Dave Winer of Scripting News, whose sadly defunct Manila and Radio Userland systems blended blogging, shareable RSS feeds and discussion forums rather nicely in 1999… And whose reminders to stay out on the open web I highly appreciate.)

Posted in 2018, Appalachia, communication, Digital Culture, Facebook, Floyd, Internet, Online-Only, Social media

My other damn book(s)… and, belatedly, Beth

In keeping with Dave Winer’s (scripting.com) occasional reminders to write things outside of Facebook, where non-facebookers can read them, and taking inspiration from Stephen T Wishnevsky (wishnevsky.com), I may be writing another book.

Its title and contents are evolving, but this page may be the start of the introduction.

Wishnevsky’s volumes, “How the Hippies Ruin’t Hillbilly Music” and “Write Your Own Damn Book” (both available on Kindle or in paperback) have been a major inspiration. I have recommended “How the Hippies…” so often on Facebook and in messages to friends that my smartphone now recognizes “Ruin’t” as a correct spelling.

The other inspiration, sad and wonderful, was picking a handful of earth last month from the bucket at my friend Beth Wellington’s graveside to sprinkle down onto her coffin. She was Jewish, but the bucket was utilitarian… an accidental pun I like to think would make her laugh… The bucket was orange plastic with bold letters that said “Let’s Do This.” Or was it white with orange letters? Have I forgotten already? Did it have an exclamation point at the end? I am getting old.

Beth had survived two broken legs and a broken shoulder, run down in the crosswalk while bringing home groceries a couple of years ago, but she kept doing everything… Cooking, helping organizations, going to concerts and contradances, even if she couldn’t dance the way she used to, and writing… She used an all-terrain walker to get across downtown Blacksburg to the University Library to use its computers.

After a newspaper she worked for folded, around the time I moved to the area 10 years ago, she wrote in a variety of places … her blog (http://bethwellington.blogspot.com) and for the Guardian and elsewhere, as listed on her Linked-In page, perhaps her most detailed professional autobiography in outline form. I am sorry that she did not get to write her book. I wonder if she had one in progress. We may never know, because she left us without warning or hospitalization, at home, independently, from a blood clot or a stroke or something. She had suffered enough with hospitals, nursing homes and rehab after that accident.

Anyhow, this train of thought began with something that I wrote in a Facebook discussion today, one that also sent me off to rewrite part of the Wikipedia definition of “Bluegrass,” which had left Bill Monroe out of the first paragraph. The bluegrass discussion brought a comment from Wishnevsky on Facebook, so I digressed into recommending his books…

… I really meant the “inspiring” part.. Even before I finished it, reading “Write Your Own Damn Book” got me started on mine, tentatively titled “How I wrote four damn books, and why you haven’t read them” … but the title is a problem, since the fourth book isn’t finished (and may be better suited to remain in its current jheroes.com online-only multimedia status), so “How I wrote…” could be the fifth, and I have two or three others in mind, so I wonder whether I should save “How I wrote…” until they are all done…

That would be difficult since at least one of them, maybe two, should only be published posthumously. And maybe they should only be written that way.

The potentially controversial (sensationalized & exaggerated) two are tentatively titled, “How We Killed the Newspaper” and “I Got a Girl Scout in Trouble (Me Too).”

Time to stop wasting time on Facebook and get back to the typewriter… by which I mean a computer with a more typewriter-like interface than this Smartphone where I compose almost everything with voice to text these days.

The above has been updated and edited a bit from what I said on Facebook… Anyway, thanks to all of the above inspiration, in the coming weeks I plan to do more Thinking Out Loud here in this mostly-neglected-since-retirement blog.

Maybe the ultimate title should be “How I wrote seven damn books…”

That number seven has a nice “marketing” feel to it. Maybe I should settle for “How I wrote seven damn book titles“? Sounds like an autobiography about attention deficit disorder, doesn’t it? That would not be inappropriate.

The somewhat false advertising of this whole thing is that the first “three books” are of the academic thesis variety, and exist on my bookshelf and on the bookshelves of two or three College libraries, and that is about it.

Part of the story of book five or six or seven would be explaining why I never attempted to have any of the other three published more widely. For now, let’s just say I had reasons.

And, if I don’t get around to writing anything but more blog posts and Facebook notes, perhaps that will be enough to inspire someone else to keep writing after they see this little essay. And, having noticed that her own LinkedIn page is as close as Beth Wellington got to a public obituary, I will have to go update mine one of these days. My LinkedIn page, that is.
 

 

 

Posted in 2018, biography, jheroes, Journalism, Memorial, personal, Stepno, storytelling, WordPress, writing
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