Harry Turner's Footnotes to Fandom
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Computers: The Beginnings

extracts from letters to Steve Sneyd & the Varleys

20 January 1995   

The sudden conversion to computerisation is due to not being able to turn a bargain down. Philip's company are buying surplus equipment from a firm that is installing a new system and one of the set-ups has been earmarked for me. (I suspect Philip is anxious about the inroads on to his computer time by Marion and self, and is fitting us up as a diversion).

It gives me chance to start up at considerably less cost than I thought would be possible. When it's all sorted out, will be able to do a more 'professional' job on future Hilltop pubs (hopefully!). Will keep you posted on progress when the machine is delivered. ■

28 March 1995   

It's a relief that we have a resident computer expert in attendance. The computer is a 386, with bags of extra memory installed, and a colour monitor. Thanx to Philip, we now have the latest MS-DOS, Doc Solomon's anti-virus prog, WordPerfect with a string of fonts that will relieve me (hopefully) of ever having to buy Letraset again, (when I've used up the sheets grabbed at the MEN clearout!), with a fractals prog and a Chinese Checkers game to relieve stress from struggling with WORDPERF, and three "screensaver" routines of Philip's own design. Which is quite enuff for us to try and cope with for the moment in between reading the manuals...

When one of us loses patience, the other takes over and so far there have been no fights. It's a time-consuming business, but I hope to get around to doing something useful in due course.

While the supplier kept us hanging about for delivery, they seem equally lax about demanding payment. We're not complaining. ■

15 April 1995   

Computer facilities have been extended with the installation of Microsoft Windows. My dtp prowess is coming on by leaps and bounds (is staggering, some might say) since I abandoned the plod of the (alleged) tuition manual for WORDPERF, and resorted to the tried techniques of Enlightened Empiricism, tackling jobs intuitively and relying on dips into the 100-page reference manual when I get in a jam.

It's a method which means I inadvertently pick up all sorts of info on the capabilities of WORDPERF by happenstance as I frantically flick thru the pages, and enlarge my vocabulary of computerspeak by struggling mightily with the index seeking key words that are often at loggerheads with my expectations.

Having a Resident Expert as back-up helps in emergencies, of course. The computer keyboard offers unexpected bonuses – like finding ' and ? on l'case keys, accents accessible without the rigmarole of changing daisywheels – as well as the plus points of being able to type on merrily and leaving the machine to carve up copy as instructed, being able to reposition copy and make alterations without effort, changing types and point sizes with a click of the mouse and seeing the results almost instantaneously.

Ah, the euphoria of catching up with the rest of the world at last. Forgive the evangelism of the newly converted...

Anyway, I now feel confident enuff to tackle further Hilltop projects that may need some back-up. While you are dithering whether to do a straight reprint of a tidied up revision of the Castle book, why not unload some copy on to me and I'll be glad to dummy up a few pages to help you make a decision. Obvious bonus of any computer-based publications in the future is that details can be kept on disk, so that you have a basis for any later revisions etc.

Right; I will say no more (for the nonce) about computers. ■

29 May 1995   

I was kicking myself after posting that last letter for absentmindedly forgetting that I'd got a copy of your Castles book, when I wrote. Then I realised that it was written in your own fair hand, and doubted the wisdom of reducing your calligraphy to boring typesetting... At the most, I hazarded on reflection, you might want some display setting for the cover title. So I left the matter. Then a few days ago, I looked at it again and was curious to see if I could match the 'compactness' of your script (both legible and distinctive, I might add) with computer setting.

Enclosed are three trial pages which worked out surprisingly well I thought, roughly keeping pace with your writing and preserving the general 'look' of each page. Page 8 is a trifle flat and grey – to improve the appearance and facilitate reference to individual entries, I would suggest putting a marker immediately before each entry, thus:

     ■ ADDINGHAM – the two oval earthworks west of
     the town – ROUND DYKES at SE 055 531, and

As I have gained a few lines of text on you here, there would be ample room to accommodate this, and it would impart a bit of life to the page as well as hiliting entries. And it'd be no bother to do. Hang on to these samples for reference.

Anyway, I thought it was quite a successful exercise. If you do decide to do a revised reprint some time in the future, bear the SFA Computersetting service in mind. I can keep a floppy disk of the copy so that the next revised edition will be no bother at all...

Having said all that, I should hasten to add that I decided I didn't like the Lobster drawings I did, which is why you haven't received them. I just couldn't get them right, so decided to leave 'em awhile and try again. I should have written, instead of keeping you in suspenders. But I have a clear spell coming up and will have a final try to get things right. Abject apologies, again, I grovel and withdraw, hoping all is forgiven. I'm not usually so intransigent. Old age must be catching up...

As regards the "virtual-gallery" of impossible art, I have knocked together several catalogues in the past of alleged exhibitions at Carlton Studies, but ran into repro problems scaling some things down to fit, and then repro satisfactorily on a copier. The computer gives me the chance to make these jobs look truly professional/authentic, so you may see something of 'em in due course.

Have invested in some software – KeyCAD Complete – which I'm hoping will be useful in producing some computer graphics, when I've mastered it. At the moment I have given up the manual, which assumes a doctorate in computer-aided design, and fallen back on Enlightened Empiricist methods, until have acquired enough hands-on experience to fathom out what the manual is trying to tell me (it doesn't even sport an index, which at least eliminates that "counter-intuitive terminology" you mention – I still haven't mastered the elusive WORDPERF index, but am catching on. Slowly).

At least I'm making headway with WORDPERF, and established a few routines to achieve my ends, though I find my approach differs radically from Philip's... He seems to feed in all his text and then start to process it layoutwise; I find I start out with layout details and a fairly clear idea of how I want the page arranged and set out, and do everything in 'Graphics mode', so I can keep track of things as I progress.

After years of visualising layouts of jobs before getting down to the nitty-gritty of text, I guess I'm a creature of habit. But there's a lot of the resources of WORDPERF that I've still to explore, and I find myself dipping ever more frequently into the DOS manual in an attempt to clarify how the damn' machine works.

Give me another ten years or so... Though I hope they don't fly by as quickly as this year seems to have streaked past. ■

10 June 1995   

I spend too much time with this computer. Compulsive it is. Hard to believe that it only settled in a mere three months or so ago; now the household gets organised round it. It must take a large part of the blame for my gradual withdrawal from the outside world in that time. Still, I've acquired a certain facility and mastered the essentials of WORDPERF, so that I feel relatively comfortable about tackling complicated layout jobs... And become increasingly aware of the potential of the prog, and resources I've not yet tapped.

So, some progress has been made. I swore I didn't want to get involved with the technicalities so long as it did what I wanted, but sheer curiosity has me with my nose in the DOS manual as well as the WORDPERF volume at times. Like I say, it's compulsive.

Sharing the No. 2 computer with Marion is useful, as it stops me becoming subserviently addictive, and letting the damn machine monopolise my time. Now, I average one good session a day, and leave time for other things. I'm still faintly surprised at the relatively brief time the computer takes to dispose of jobs that used to drag on more than somewhat. Like LEWISNEWS.

I've just disposed of an issue in advance of the intended schedule in next to no time flat – and that involved a complete design rejig and providing copier-ready artwork in a ridiculously short time from scratch. No hassle over amendments and afterthoughts, all aggravation over changing around paste-ups and making things fit. No fiddling with Letraset sheets, and I must have saved ££££s on Cowgum (now about £4 for a 250ml tin) though I miss the whiff of solvent... Well, it was all good practice, and the final end product met with approval all round. So I'm clear of the Wyndham Lewis Society until next year. I think.

So if you do resolve the pros & cons of your outstanding orders on the Castle Book, and decide on a revised edition in the near future, the resources are at your disposal. As you will have seen from the sample, once the text is typed in, you can manipulate it in all sorts of ways – that second layout was a matter of changing instructions on the material already in memory, and involved very little extra input despite the drastic visual changes.

Thursday: Gad, a typewritten letter from you – you must be slowing things down! A few practical points, emerging from my increasing awareness of all that WORDPERF can do. I can provide prints, in the 'two pages on landscape A4' format, as I work through the pages, for checking and so you could see how things are progressing. This will give you chance to see things overall and make any changes before the final print-out.

When we get to that stage, WORDPERF will kindly rearrange the page sequence so that the sheets are printed all ready imposed for your printer... We can't provide colour illustrations just yet though. Though we have a nice line in Wizards and Dragons in the instant art file...

At the moment, as the No.2 computer is installed in No.12, we have to make a floppy of anything to be printed, and go next door to run it off on Philip's laser-printer. He actually had it (the printer) installed in No.12 for a weekend while Philip was busing updating his 386 computer up to 486, and it was very convenient. Having gained a certain proficiency on the machine, and in view of the cash we saved on this ex-Reuters model, I'm thinking of lashing out on a printer to complete our installation.

A savings-plan I took out on retirement matures at the end of this year, so I am tempted to spend some if it in advance. (There's also the promise of an unexpected bonus to members from the winding up of the MG&EN pension fund, now that we have been handed over to Norwich Union despite my voiced misgivings! That should be due shortly).

We may as well get the benefit now, I guess. Whether I can run to a scanner of the requisite precision is another matter, best left to Santa Claus perhaps. But it's a thought.

Saturday: Gosh, don't time fly when you're having fun. For some time, on and off, I have been feeding material into the computer to provide a chronological database from which I can extract material for articles on early fandom. All the stuff extracted from Vin¢'s archive, notes, articles and letters is going into it – at the moment it stretches from mid-1937 to mid-1942, covering the period I drifted into fandom to when I was snatched into the RAF. It's taken a bit longer than I anticipated, but it brings events together in a satisfying way and the overview provides some unexpected Insights.

At the moment the notes occupy some 35 A5 pages and there's still quite a lot more material to go in, but it's invaluable having it all printed out in readily available form, instead of stashed away in a multiplicity of files, folders, boxes that often refuse to disgorge a wanted item when it's wanted.

Reading of your struggles with 8 unfulfilled orders after the successful disposal of the whole print order of the Castles book, and the complaints of my philatelic friend complaining that sales of the Transcaucasian Railway Post book are completely dormant and his den is crammed with unsold copies, though he has just about broke even, it amazes me that I feel the urge to join in and publish an ish myself... But not just yet!

I picked up a remaindered copy of Art Clarke's By Space Possessed recently, and was glancing thru a piece called "Memoirs of an Armchair Astronaut (Retired)" harking back to the 1930s. "The actual building of rockets was frowned upon", he ses, "for it would only result in police proceedings under the 1875 Explosives Act, as a group of experimenters in the north country has already proved." That comment screams out for a footnote. Like my piece on Rex v the MIS.

It made me think that there are several fan histories extant, and while I'm hardly qualified to compete, I can comfortably supply a string of footnotes to fill in their grander sweeps over events. So my project has been given the title of FOOTNOTES to Fannish History. I am vaguely contemplating the issue of a fanzine of some such title, which will enable me to publish the results of my researches in convenient chunks, and perhaps provoke a useful response.

You see where computers land you... At least it should get me writing again!

The Varleys passed on some odds & ends from Ethel Lindsay; included was a Chuck Harris zine which mentions that the new copier acquired by Vin¢ "has, er, stopped copying". This was in March, so I'm not sure whether it's been repaired and returned. It hadn't been sorted on 4 April when Chuck reports that he had to remove the copier from the car, as his wife wanted to drive some friends to a prize-giving event.

He got Sean (his son?) "home from the body-building class", to do the lifting. However the lad had to shift his grip and get the copier in a vertical, rather than horizontal, position as he was maneuvering thru the door into the house... and all the toner powder spilled out of a newly-fitted cartridge. All down Sean's pants and all-over the sage green carpet in the front room. A near-divorce situation, all in all.

I shall be writing to Vin¢ about a few more references from the Archive, so no doubt I shall be filled in on the later detatls...

By way of consolation, Chuck seems to have been provided with a computer set-up by generous contacts in America and here. Even linked him up to the Net. Wow! ■

March/April 1996   

LOOKS AS THOUGH we're getting the wrong sort of electricity or something. This computer's slowing up something terrible at the moment—I keep getting beeped for typing too fast and have to wait for the machine to catch up. Unnerving it is... Is it the cold snap pushing up demand to unprecedented heights or is Norweb carrying out some under-cover experiments with joint supplies of electricity and water over the same network? There's something decidely rum happening. Could be Hieroglyphs on the loose I spose... The hell with it. I give up. ■

The new Pickover book, Keys to Infinity, is proving more involved with math than its predecessor and is harder going. Though he does provide detailed computer programs on many aspects that look interesting. The Guru has been studying these and already produced a new screensaver involving four pictures of fractal derivatives that change, in sequence, to provide a hypnotic, positive distraction from any work that you may plan to do...

No doubt you will learn more of this development in the fullness of time, but I thought I'd better warn you about this book's emphasis on hard work rather than the visual entertainment of his first publication! ■

SINCE MY LAST MOAN the computer has been on its best behaviour, the screen has not shrunk noticeably and I can type as fast as I like without the machine complaining. Had no problems with our old-fashioned rotary analogue controls adjusting the shrinking screen at the time, so I remain convinced that it was Norweb having difficulties with the power supply, and not our well-behaved Mitsubishi (low-radiation) monitor that was to blame for the operational slow-down.
   I think Marion feels that I wear down the machine with my inexorable demands for it to do layout tricks, but despite its obdurate attitude on occasion I feel it enjoys a challenge now and again and a break in routine... So don't give up on the dumb machine, Fran, it's all these deviously-minded programmers, with their obscure manuals, that cause most of the problems. ■

I have to report that on the matter of "nigger brown", our Spellcheck obviously has been warned to ignore the word nigger. "Word not found" it proclaimed, when I typed it in, and rather lamely offered Nagger/Niger/Niggler/Nudger as possible "correct spellings". A real giveaway that the Americans are exercising thought-control via our computer software programmes. ■

August 1996   

I begin to realise how cossetted we've been operating mainly on DOS. Further exploration of DrawPlus 2.0, operating in Windows, has proved somewhat frustrating today... Used to instant obedience to commands when doing the most complicated jobs in WordPerf, I find the inordinate delays, while Windows mulls over instructions and dawdles over the simple tasks that I set DrawPius, to be intensely irritating... Like printing out the three Widower's verse overleaf took about eight minutes of flickering instructions passing to the printer, before it finally decided to churn the results out. Ridiculous!
   I have been going thru the data compiled on likely flatbed scanners with a view to making a purchase at last, but the two top-runners operate thru Windows 3.1 and, on this showing, our noble 386 is unlikely to be up to coping. Which means updating to get bags more memory... It's a hard life, innit? Ee, it's a relief to be back in WordPerf with things ticking over smoothly again... Looks like I might get the scanner and install it on computer no. 1 until we decide what we're gonna do about bringing computer no. 2 into a state of readiness for the next decade. ■

Summer 1997   

I flipped through the pages of the latest PC Pro last night in search of any editorial text that might engage my bewildered attention, and hit a headline that pulled me up. MEMORY LOSS it shrieked, and told how computer users could be putting their health at risk... The National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) have found that electromagnetic fields emitted by computers and VDUs affect the workings of the brain. Well, the brains of test mice, anyway.

The good news is that the NRPB says they don't know of any computer operators who have forgotten their own names... However, I do get a bit broody wondering where the hell I've put that knife and brush; they still haven't turned up yet.

Not that I want to alarm you. ■

October 1998   


Expecting folk to print out 45 sheets of info that should be provided in a printed manual, is decidedly not user-friendly! Neither are these programs that leave you to print out HELP info, (which is usually arranged in a sloppy paper-wasting setting) instead of making the details available for quick handy reference in the manual.

All too often I find consulting HELP in an emergency is to become mired in unfamiliar terminology, and a decided dead-end. I despair of ever becoming reconciled to dim-witted computer programs at such moments, and am tempted to abandon computing to devote my last years to ensuring I catch up with the GUP.

Now that would really be an achievement... ■

November 1998   


I'm still having a struggle with the Pentium. It's really the updates of WordPerf8, combined with operating under Windows98 rules, that land me in trouble. I mean I've just about got everything sorted out on the 386 and grown accustomed to available menus and procedures. Now the menus are drastically rearranged and procedures needlessly entangled and at times obscure, the manual is not particularly helpful, and the on-screen HELP is downright confusing, while I'm trying to find my way round.

But I'm beginning to get to know my icons, and will admit that there are a few beneficial shortcuts being discovered. (Though I'd be lost without the occasional appeal and consultation with the Guru!). At the moment, any sheets with colour are produced & printed from the Pentium and DeskJet; all else is still run off from the trusty 386 & LaserJet.

I discover odd, unexpected benefits too: while the SpellCheck is switched off, the machine resolutely shows the current word being typed, in a little "word box" (the alternative word offered occasionally gives rise to hoots of laffter when noticed), but clicking on this produces a list of synonyms, which can be useful when you realise you're being repetitive. (It's become routine to consult a hefty volume, The Synonym Finder, when working on No.2 computer).

I keep having trouble on the Pentium with these announcements about me perpetrating an illegal operation, forcing Windows 98 to close down the programme. I'm never quite sure what I've done to upset the dam' system, but when I start up again and go through what (to me) is essentially the same routine, things usually go smoothly without further admonitions. Suspect there's an inbuilt random "school-marm" factor lurking there somewhere, just to stop the operator getting too cocksure... ■

November 1998   


As to feelings about the computer slowing down, I get this same impression periodically with the 386, usually early in the morning, so I suspect it's due to fluctuations in the power supply rather than any inherent failing within the machine. From what you've said in the past about power breakdowns and the like, I should be suspicious of Eastern's reliability in delivering a constant voltage...

At the same time as all this computer involvement I feel an urge to get back to the drawingboard, and do some real drawing instead of all this virtual stuff. I suppose the main deterrent is the time it takes to get started and show some results... the "instant visualisation" of the computer is too seductive, and saps the resolve to work on paper or canvas. But I miss the satisfaction of handling pencil or pen, working with paint, and exploiting the happy accidents that can open up unexpected vistas to explore. (I've been telling myself this ever since I retired... but still haven't managed to get back to the old routines! Dream on...). ■

January 1999   


Seem to have spent a lot of time at the pentium, scanning various oddments for fannish projects in hand, and putting graphics on floppies for Marion to insert in documents she's got on the 386. The new scanner had slightly different processing software to our original model; on installation, no doubt encouraged by Windows98, it deftly deleted the PageImage prog and replaced it by its own blanket routines of a Page Manager setup.

The repercussions from this caused no end of confusion so far as I was concerned. Philip took matters in hand and reinstated PageImage as a part of the Page Manager domain, which eased matters slightly. So I've been struggling to master the modified routines while doing a few essential jobs, no doubt wasting considerable time but gradually gaining a degree of efficiency, without (I hope!) causing mayhem in other areas in my stumbling progress... It's a hard life, as you already know.

When PageImage was installed on the 486, it appeared on the screen in sans: PageImage which to me, peering over Philip's shoulder, looked like Pagelmage (pronounced Pajelmaj of course). To keep up with this usage all references on the pentium have been amended to read PagelMage. {A childish lot us computerfolk, but it keeps us happy}.

Which reminds me that while trawling around I was faintly shocked to note a file listed as ARSETUP. When I queried this with the Guru I was told it should be read as A.R. SETUP. Of course! But I find it hard to accept. ■

January 1999   


Been busy scanning the Greenwich Observatory article for Marion, and putting it on a floppy for her to edit this afternoon. Must say that I've been finding the scanner very useful for rescuing reviews from tatty bits of discoloured newsprint so that they can be preserved in a more accessible format, without the labour of all the keyboarding otherwise needed. At such moments one feels that computers are friends of humanity and earning their keep. ■

one of a series of occasional pieces published by the Septuagenarian Fans Association

© Harry Turner, 1995/98.

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