Changing times in the computer world

What is an app?

I’m not certain, and I’m not guessing. All I know is that it belongs in our new world of electronics and is a good thing, for the most part. Actually, my knowledge of the Old World of newspaper production far outweighs today’s techniques.

When I started the use of hot metal production was a different world, and just a beginning even for me. All news copy was by typewriter. I learned to type on a Smith Corona that I got for Christmas.

The manual typewriter gave way to an electric one, which required a different touch. Copy was on newsprint paper and sent to the composing room, where it was retyped on a Line-O-Type and converted into lead copy that was inserted by hand in galleys.

These were placed in a “truck.” The words were upside down, but could be read after some study. In recent years the term “double truck” was still in use, referring to face-to-face pages. The trucks were on wheels and pushed around the composing room.

World and state news was received by teletype, which printed the news. The next step had to be converting the hole-punched ticker tape into words. This process was used for decades.

When the electronic era began I was so accustomed to the handling of copy that I was suspicious of a system without copy in hand. I soon learned to deal with copy on a television screen, mostly mistake-free. Local copy was another matter. Writers obviously make spelling errors, but they can be easily corrected.

When staff writers first began taking pictures with their hand-held devices, whatever that may be, again there was advancement in the new process.

When the process of pagination was begun, us old-timers weren’t sure of the end product, since even fewer people were handling the copy and pictures. In fact, we had been through so much change in a short period of time we were cast into another era.

I liked the change, however, knowing there was a lot more to learn about the newspaper business. I was lucky to travel and see places I never would have seen otherwise. To learn a new system I was able to travel to New York City, Boston, New Hampshire, Dallas-Fort Worth, Sacramento, Las Vegas airport, O’Hare in Chicago, and others nearby.

The New York flight was interesting, on Pilgrim Airways. We sat near the pilot, close enough for him to ask if I was warm enough. The plane traveled up through the New York Harbor, quite a trip for sightseers.

The flight to Los Vegas was chosen by TWA because Chicago’s runways were closed by the snow that kept us without sunshine for three months in the 1970s. One runway was open on the trip back to Pittsburgh from California.

During out trips to see new computer systems in operation we encountered different setups. One paper in Pennsylvania had a room full of equipment. The room was so full I was glad to get out of there to breathe.

In California a company trying to sell a system for newspaper pagination casually pointed to a machine that was about 6 feet tall. And he bragged that that computer of the future had “one gig” of memory but wasn’t ready yet.

Gosh. Some kids have hand-held devices today with 6 or 8 gigs alone.

So, what is an app? Something that allows a user to obtain special information or process. I still don’t know where the word came from. Some say Apple, and that’s almost good enough for me.

John Samsell is a columnist at large for The Dominion Post. Email him at columns@dominionpost.com.

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