Monday, September 12, 2016

BPN 1726: Farewell to my pre-computing era

This month it is 50 years ago that I flew for the first time, with a second primer  I flew to the USA. I was going to study theology at Notre dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. The flight was a long one, from the old Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam, to London, Washington DC and Atlanta for a transfer to New Orleans. Some 13 hours. The first leg to London was with BEA, British European Airways, the precursor of British Airways, the rest of the flight was made with Delta Airlines. In  Washington the passengers were picked up by a bus which looked like it was made for the moon surface, before being unloaded to pass passport control and immigration authorities.

I studied four years in New Orleans and picked a Bachelor and Master. The study was rather traditional. The lectures were listened to. Only the homiletics (preaching and public speech) were done with new media by recording with a video camera.For the rest, you used notebooks, read books and typed your papers. Books could be borrowed from the extensive library, these days called the Rev. Robert J. Stahl S.M. Memorial Library, named after the librarian during my stay.

During my study, I noticed that my scholarship was paying for my tuition and campus facilities. Yet there were other costs to be covered, So I looked around what I could do to create an income. I came up with a solution. As Dutch theology was hot at that time I got in touch with a publisher of religious books, the Paulist Press in New York, and offered my services. And I was accepted as a lector delivering reading reports about new Dutch books and after a while as translator from Dutch into English. These functions had an additional advantage; by passing on the lector’s reports and eventually the translated books to the staff, I picked up extra merits.

Above the translations: left: The sacrament of the Eucharist by G.T.H. Liesting S.S.S.; above right: The Prophet in the Nearness of God by H. Renckens S.J. (note that on the cover there is a misspelling: Renkens without a -c-); below not a translation of my hand, but I acted as the foreign rights consultant. In the USA I used as my name James M. Boumans.

During the translation work, I became acquainted with the newest piece of office appliance at that time: the IBM Selectric, a typewriter with the golf ball. Jesse R. Ortego, a fellow student, typed the manuscripts on this device. The Selectric mechanism was notable for using internal mechanical binary coding and two mechanical digital-to-analog converters to select the character to be typed. The Selectric was faster, the correction mechanism was efficient and a range of letter fonts could be used by changing the golfballs.

The Selectric was the closest device to the beaconing era of computing. For the rest life still was analogue. Television and radio were still analogue. Contact with my parents and friends was done by handwritten airmail letters. Stamps had to be bough at the post office and be licked before applying them to the envelop. Sometimes I sent an audio-cassette as a spoken letter and seldom a photograph, as development was critical of a full roll of film. Tickets for flights had to be ordered from a travel bureau. You had to dial a fixed line telephone number and for speedy messages you sent a telegram. If you wanted to know something, you had to look it up in an outdated printed encyclopaedia and for telephone numbers you had to consult a printed telephone directory.

Having completed my studies in 1970, I decided to return to the Netherlands and after some months picked up a job as editor Humanities in a reference department of a publishing company, which just had started a publishing project of 25 volumes of a general encyclopaedia. Not the regular way with library cards with references and the clippings of the last edition.This encyclopaedia project did not have a precursor and became the first European encyclopaedia project using a (mini-)computer to assist the editorial staff. For me this became my entrance into the digital world and, without being really aware of it, the farewell to the analogue world.

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