Machinery and a New Kind of Tool

When I first entered industries’ world in 1978, my tools consisted of pencils, pens and paper. The secretaries used typewriters, the really good ones, electric. In fact the one most envied and sought after was the Selectric brand. Instead of little metal arms that slammed up against the paper and stuck together if you typed too fast, the Selectric typed with a small metal ball embossed with standard characters. It twirled at breakneck speed striking the page accurate and precise. It only stopped when the typist stopped. And with the flick of a switch, a new ball in a different font was on the job. A mechanical marvel, for sure, and so fun for this engineer to gaze at, frequently, just mesmerizing. Love mechanical gadgets.

The SelectricThe Selectric Ball

Our group secretary became the first recipient of a word processing machine. Her Selectric typewriter placed to the side, not put away as there were still triplicate forms that were required for the company, her desk and a new table supported her “petite” word processor. It was a monster with a five hundred page user manual. It had a keyboard and monitor attached to a huge box that contained the computer processor and a handy printer. I think the only advantage to this machine was the reduction in white out that our company bought. It was noisy when it went into ‘print’ mode. Churning out perfect type written pages, we were in awe of the magic this box produced. The secretary wasn’t convinced. I think after page 285, she dove in, but never seemed to want to give up her Selectric.

Not long after the arrival of the monster processor, primitive computers took over our offices. My first real computer arrived in the mid-1980’s. It was a Hewlett Packard DOS machine with a keyboard, no mouse. It took up a lot of space, too, but less than half that of the monster processor. All that learning I did for FORTRAN went to the wayside. DOS was quite the different animal. Commands that sort of made sense and some programs for doing things like word processing and the crudest form of email.

Green letters on a black background meant limited capabilities, but it did allow us to type up our own reports and write and receive very archaic, by today’s standards, email. No pasting pictures or linking to the Internet, no YouTube, Facebook, or Google. How did we survive?

DOS Screen

It didn’t take long for me to get the hang of the email. Imagine communicating while sitting on your butt instead of phoning, walking down the hall or across the plant. I think obesity started its epidemic that year. Suddenly we had a tool. That’s a new term too. Back then tools were hammers and screwdrivers, real man stuff, think Tim the tool man Taylor from ‘Home Improvement’.

I’ve worked for two corporations with personnel located in two different states. This distance between sites seems to always incite jealousy, bureaucracy, a jockeying for position, with each site trying to exert it’s superiority over the other. It wasn’t long before the Family Feud started electronically via email.

One of our fellow engineers in St. Louis asked one of those ‘well if you were here you would know better’ questions to a whole distribution of us in South Carolina. A co-worker of mine forwarded to everyone at our site with his own response: “Do you think this is an appropriate response to his question?”

Then the first graphic I ever experienced on a computer appeared, as I hit enter one line at a time on my screen there appeared a set of green X’s arranged like… what was this? <enter>, <enter>, <enter> It was a crude representation of a middle finger with the whole hand drawn. A work of art, for sure, it must have taken him hours to perfect.

Bravo! Let the electronic office games begin!



About stemzandroses

I'm an engineer and writer with a built-in need to share my nearly 40 years of experience working in a male-dominated field with the rest of the world.
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4 Responses to Machinery and a New Kind of Tool

  1. CE Jones says:

    I like your graphics. They add to the story. What did you do? Go to your garage and photograph them? LOL

  2. Vicki says:

    How do you remember the names of all those things. I used them too but they’re just a vague recollection. I do remember thinking when someone first said DOS, I thought they were saying DOES. Remember thinking that was a dumb name. I had a 1920 typewriter (can’t remember the brand). It had a canvas belt that drove the carriage. I sold it for $10 in a garage sale. What would it bring today?

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