Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Evolution: 1983-1990

I worked those seven years at Martin Marietta in Denver. We used Wang word processors. PC's were still more overpriced toys than serious office machines in 1983. The Wang system consisted of terminals connected to a mainframe computer. We had up to five writers cramped in a small room with old government issue desks pushed together. The writers shared one word processing terminal for each room, so we did a lot of writing longhand.

Illustrations were generated from a separate department using AutoCad machines. In those days, the graphic artist sat in what looked a chair used for checkups in an optometrist’s office with lots of mechanical controls within reach in all directions and big screen attached to the front. The room was kept dark and the effect was like sitting in a space capsule. While a simple drawing may not take long, a complex one could take a week or more.

The writers would mock up illustrations to submit to the AutoCad department. We learned before long that the more accurate and detailed the mock-up, the quicker the turnaround and fewer revision required for the finished drawing. This forced us to develop skills designing isometric drawings, callout placement, and designing illustration that would fit on the page economically, making the best use of space to enhance rather than displace text.

Having to put this much work into the drawings made us better writers. We had to pay such close attention to the details of how the mechanisms worked that writing about them came naturally.