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ScienceWriters: Writers and Early PCs

The next time you curse the performance of your laptop, consider this 1979 ScienceWriters piece about the state-of-the-art in personal computing — a mere 28 years ago.

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Dan Horn, of cigarette-and-cancer fame but who is also a psychologist, tested science writers on their work habits. Result: All of us, with the possible exception of Isaac (200-Books) Asimov, suffer from what he called "high-starting inertia" — it takes us forever to put down that first word.

There is a miracle cure for our creative constipation: it is called a microcomputer, fully approved by the FDA. Used liberally and daily, a microcomputer hooked to a terminal typewriter and television screen eliminates 80 percent of the mechanical burden of getting down that first word or the next 50,000. No more writing blahs. As science writers, we can cash in on the technology we have so willingly promoted to the world.

Use a Home Computer System

This article was written at home on a television screen. If 20 years ago Asimov had possessed my home TV-typewriter-computer, which cost me what Playboy pays for an article and a half, he might have written 200 books for each publisher. Up to now, to get access to such a system, you had to work for Associated Press, the New York Times, or some such. No more.

You are reading a facsimile of the article I wrote on a home unit I bought and hooked together myself. I didn't go so far as to assemble each piece. I didn't have to. Each element comes like an ingredient of a hi-fi system — you just plug one into the other.

This photo reproduction is copy as it came from my printer, a Diablo, manufactured by Xerox. It has remarkable properties (I wish it had a back-hand). First, its keyboard is the terminal to my computer. The Diablo also accepts electronic instructions. Its daisy wheel print element pounds out 540 words a minute, occasionally out-running my writing speed. The carriage sweeps the page first in one direction and then the other.

(NASW members can read the entire article — and the rest of the Winter 2006-07 ScienceWriters — by logging into the members area.)