What, me work? How I got from there to here

The following is a bit of a history of my background in the work world and the evolution of Windword Writing and Grpaphics.

1977: Language Behaviour Research Laboratory, Berkeley, California

In 1978, while working on a double major in Psychology and Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, I got a work-study job (pay of $3.93/hour) in admin at the Language Behavior Research Laboratory, which specialized in linguistic usage as it affects culture.

There were two of us and not always a lot to do.  My supervisor, Arak Kizirian, typed students’ doctoral theses during the quiet times (as a side business) and I taught myself calligraphy and ended up putting together a small book called “La Classification de los Mamiferos de los Aguaruna, Amazonas, Peru.” It was a “thank you” to the Aguaruna Jivaros from Professor Brent Berlin, who had studied how the Aguaruna categorized the plant and animal worlds (turned out to be comparable with the Western Linnaean classification system of  Kingdom, Phylum, down to species (ref: https://a-z-animals.com/reference/animal-classification/)

My job was the layout of the book and then to calligraph the species name in the Aguaruna Jivaros language, then in Spanish, and finally in Latin:


 1978: I Graduate from UCB and begin Word Mechanics

I graduated from UCB in March of 1978 and move to Oakland, California. Remembering Arak’s business typing doctoral theses for $1/page, I buy an IBM Correcting Selectric typewriter and (because the typewriter was mechanical, I called my new business, Word Mechanics.  I typed theses, résumés, designed flyers, business cards, and whatever came along. Then I thought about computers and decided to “earn while I learn.” I happened to have a client that for whom I was typing a resumé. I told him about my plan and it turned out that he was the recruiter for Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL). He said, “no problem, give me your resume and I’ll let you know what’s available.”

1983: Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, the Applied Science Division

Because I’m such a loyal person (and could get stuck in one place for too long), I decided to apply for a temporary assignment, so I took over for a computer operator on maternity leave from the Applied Science Division at (LBL) where Dr. Walter Alvarez was working on his theory that an asteroid or comet had impacted the earth during the late Cretaceous period. He found traces of iridium (which only comes from space) in the pertinent layer. In the late 90’s Hildebrand and Penfield using geophysical techniques to generate the image of a large (six-miles wide) crater at Chicxulub in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico that formed during the relevant period. Other scientists, S.G. Chang and K.Y. Hu, worked on solving the origins of acid rain.

I just read a story in the Atlantic disputing the asteroid impact theory of a practically instantaneous extinction event for a more gradual extinction scenario of volcanic action. You can read about it here Dinosaur-extinction debate. I’m not sure how long it might last as a link, so you can do a search for Keller and extinction debate, so here’s another article.

One of my favourite things about this job was learning UNIX and trying to figure out “dot commands” (like having to put “.p” before hitting return for a new paragraph). My computer was what was called a “dumb tube” — black screen, green letters.  The printer was shared and a walk down the hall to pick up a page. I’m pretty sure they were still using “punch cards” to put in code.

My job involved typing various scientists papers written for publication. One of the problems that arose for me was what was called a “Floating keep,” which meant a way to made text wrap around a table, or illustration.  The problem was that these guys liked to put in more than one table at a time, so I was on the phone a lot with the computing department trying to figure out how to make this work.  My comment was “help me with this or else it’s quicker for me to type it on a Correcting Selectric (aka a manual typewriter). We did work it out eventually.

When the woman on maternity leave came back, I needed another job. Recently I’ve read the recommendations written by the scientists to refer me to The Accelerator and Fusion Research Division.  It actually brought a tear to my eye.  Below are a few of them:


1983: The Accelerator and Fusion Research Division (AFRD) — My favourite job!

when I first walked in for an interview with my new supervisor, Ann Fitzgerald, she asked me “How would you like to be an administrator for the Xerox Network for the laboratory?” I said, “sure, what is it?”

I met The Head Administrator who liked having me as an assistant as I wasn’t embarrassed to ask questions, like “What’s a “bit” and what’s a “byte?”

My Job as Assistant Admin:

The lab had just purchased half a million dollars worth of equipment and it was all new.  My other job was to put together the next annual report using the new machine, the “Xerox Star” — a precursor to the Apple Lisa at another well-known company.  It used what they called WYSIWYG, or “What you see is what you get.” Instead of green letters on a black screen so you saw what your work would look like when it was printed out.  There were also icons on the screen.  One in particular was a picture of a file cabinet. Sometimes a user would decide that she didn’t want that file cabinet icon on her computer screen and would delete it, deleting all the files as a consequence.

when this happened I went down to the computer room, which looked like a scene from “Buck Rogers of the 21st Century,” (a sci fi show from the 60s). As I walked through the wide door I looked up  to read a warning sign that said “If you smoke in here, you’re fired,” and “if you hear a loud fire alarm, leave immediately” (because they were about to blow in helium to replace the oxygen and put out the fire). To my right was a narrow enclosed glass (plastic?)-walled  room where I could watch robot machines load and unload large round cartridges containing tapes (before floppy disks) at whiz-bang speeds. Directly across from the entrance was a large wall filled with banks of flashing multi-coloured lights indicating ARPANet activity (The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, precursor to the web we know today) . Then I would walk around the robot pen to the back of the room  where I could find the un-prepossessing Xerox server on a small table, sit in the chair and bring up the back-up for the relevant computer.

People also had troubles with saving their documents.  I would be called in to help find them.  I’d ask where they’d saved them and they would say they had clicked on “save” button. So, I wrote a small manual on MS Dos to explain how the file system was structured and how they could search and find their files again. I didn’t know there was a whole division that trained people how to do various things, and I ended up “training the trainer” in how to use the Xerox equipment.

The Annual Report

My primary task at with the AFRD was to create the next year’s Annual Report.  They showed me last year’s:

I said, “I can do better than that!” (had a lot of confidence back then!).  “First, we have to lose the cover.  It’s very institutional and the image looks like a broken centipede to me and the font looked like it’d been typed using a Helvetica font.” (which it probably was)

It was sent off to the Production and Design Department for a new cover.  I went to visit it and there were at least 100 or so employees working at desks or drafting tables.

The new cover came back looking like this:

Much better. They set a person on a chair next to me to watch how I put together the new Report.  When I was finished it, they considered it the “Showpiece for the Division,” and put my name on the title page as Production Editor. I was also able to use it to help me immigrate to Canada (Mr. Casey, my immigration officer, was trying to figure out how to recommend me — a single parent, two children, one disabled, no money or firm job offer — another story) — when he flipped through the report, he said “I know how to get you in! You can’t get more technical than high-energy physics.” You are a visual technical editor!”

After I finished the annual report I moved on to developing new procedures.

The Xerox System Admin, to whom I was an assistant had arranged with the Computer and AFRD divisions to get funding for me to spend two weeks training at Xerox headquarters in Virginia.  I was pretty excited about it.

Stop that Right Now!

One day I had figured out a way to save a lot of time and errors.  Part of my job was to re-key scientists reports into my Xerox Star.  One day when one of the scientists came to give me one of his papers to enter, I asked him if he had a “dumb tube” UNIX computer at home.  He did.  So I said that instead of having me re-type it into my computer he could save it in ascii and send it to me over Arpanet (the precursor to the internet) and I could put it into Times Roman!  We were talking about how this would work when my new supervisor came up behind us with her new assistant and said “Stop that Right Now!”quite  commandingly. She wanted me to stop talking with the scientist and  make a viewgraph for the Director “right now.”  The scientist and I looked at each other in a kind of amazement at the tone of her command.  He left and I made the Viewgraph.  She then also informed me that she had canceled my trip because I needed to be at the lab to make viewgraphs for the Director.

I was so mad, I had a fit of pique and quit and moved to Boulder, Colorado where my Buddhist group had its headquarters. I regret that fit very much.  I could probably have moved over to the the computer department.