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Before POD
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I know...I know...the only publishing technology anyone wants to talk about today is POD. But check out these vintage photos of the Compugraphic phototypsetter in action.

The Compugraphic was the first computer I ever had a relationship with. This was way back in 1970. At the time I wasn't aware of the significance of it all. The compugraphic wasn't very computer-like. You don't think of a computer as something you need to put toner inside, or open the back of to slip a plastic disk (rotating film strip, they call it here) on a spindle every time you want to change fonts. The compugraphic chattered and whirred and whined. It was more like an infernal mechanical device than a computer.

The heat it threw off was certainly infernal. Working with that machine was like being wedged in next a 400 pound man on the bus to Coney Island in the middle of July, with all the windows sealed shut and the air conditioning broken. But that's another story.

I ran the Compugraphic for a local weekly newspaper while I was going to college. By "ran" I mean I fed the punched tapes into the machine and changed the fonts. By "going" I mean I signed up for classes and skipped them. The newspaper business was more important than college, I figured. Today the Compugraphic, tomorrow...well, who knows what I was thinking.

To me, what was important, was that I wrote a column for the newspaper. Against my wishes, the publisher had named the column "Changes." What could you expect from a guy with a ponytail who was into meditation and herbal forms of relaxation? I dare say that He admitted as much himself, publicly, not that many years later, a couple days before he would otherwise have been elected governor of Pennsylvania. But, that's another story also.

Endlessly watching those rolls of punched tape stuttering in and out of that big, hot box was bad enough. Even worse was how the coiled tapes piled up relentlessly on the nearby table. The typists churned out the stories about the Happenings Around Town, the school menu for the week, and the potholes in Main Street, faster than the machine could spit them out.

But when the coil of tape with my name pencilled on the end showed up, it was all worthwhile. What a thrill watching the tape go chattering into the maw of the old Compugraphic and then see emerge a long, printed column, starring none other than me, me, me, headed by my very own by-line, ready to be cut and pasted into the Op-Ed page.

The newspaper used hot wax for the paste-up. Unlike glue, wax allowed items to be repositioned. If an ad for the local funeral home arrived late, whoever was doing paste-up could just make space by snipping off the brilliant finale to my column. And they did.

Not that I cared so long as they left my by-line.

Yes, those photos bring it all back and it's just as I remember. (Except I had bigger sideburns than the fellow operating the machine).

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