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Old Dogs--New Tricks

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

My current contract requires that I edit a technical manual using Adobe's flagship desktop publication application, InDesign. I'm a fairly good technical writer and over the years have become proficient in several text editors. InDesign is not a text editor.

In the last three hours, I've watched two how-to videos on, read three chapters in "Adobe InDesign CS6 Digital Classroom" and written one paragraph. The paragraph's content is artfully written but the format stinks because the previous author used 10,206 layers for each object in the document and so I'm having a mental margarita at 11:26 am, letting my thoughts flow effortlessly into the simple text editor provided by Google's Blogger application.

Hurrah for simplicity.

I graduated from high school in 1971. Although Benjamin Franklin's kite and key experiment in 1752 set the stage for electrically-powered devices to become rampant across the planet, electric typewriters hadn't quite made their way to my high school Typing 101 classroom. The tap-tap-tap-ching! of our Royal manual typewriters filled the first-floor hallway, softened only by the occasional shuffle to the principal's office for carbon paper or replacement ribbons.

In 1971, typewriters were a luxury. Term papers through my junior year in college were handwritten on college-ruled paper in black pen. Liquid Paper, originally called "Mistake Out," was invented in 1956 by a Dallas housewife named Bette Nesmith Graham who used her kitchen blender to mix tempera paint which she bottled and provided to her co-workers to correct typing errors. The invention was a lifesaver as professors wouldn't accept a paper with crossed out misspellings or edits. The alternative, of course, was to re-copy the paper which took time. Any attempt to hurriedly re-print a paper always resulted in a fumbled crisscrossing of constants or a forgotten word. College typing labs were available to day students, but for those of us who worked during the day and attended school at night, the labs too were a luxury. Rarely did you find a student with a personal typewriter. The telltale middle-finger dent and ink stain from our ballpoint pens clearly distinguished the haves from the have nots.

My my first year in college I worked as a data input operator for Brooks Uniform Company, a subsidiary of Blue Bell Industries and sister company to Wrangler. For the first three months, I used an SR Model 35 Teletype machine: a 110 baud terminal that transmitted keystrokes onto paper punch tape. Completed reels of tape would be stored and then loaded one-by-one onto a DX paper tape reader that would send batch transmissions to a mainframe computer for processing. Any more about the SR Model 35 would yield another "uphill in the snow" story that I'll cover at another time; suffice to say that it was only a step up from the manual typewriter. Corrections made to a typed error required scissors and a tape splice.

One morning, an IBM sales representative walked into our little data room at Brooks Uniform and explained that we were all transitioning to a cutting-edge product that used magnetic media to store data versus paper tape: the IBM 3741 Data Station -- code name: IGAR.

The 3741 was cool in that if you made an error, like a manual typewriter, there was a backspace key. No Mistake Out; no scissors were required to correct errors. At the end of each day, our 8" floppy disks were loaded into a high-speed station (1200 baud) and transmitted as a batch process to a System 370 mainframe for processing.

We were in heaven.

Technology improved rapidly and by 1996, my primary workstation was a Sun Microsystems Sparc server; a respectable UNIX server in 1996. And when I look back over this technological landscape, it makes me sit up a bit straighter having been part of this evolutionary transition.

So why am I having so many problems with layers?

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