Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Old magazines come back to life on DVD

One of the great results of our modern computer era is that old magazines have become new again.

Thanks to DVD technology and super-large hard drives, it is actually possible to own, for one’s own joy and edification, the complete run of a magazine, and if you’re allowed to, put it all on your hard drive instead of using the DVDs.

The granddaddy of them all was “The Complete National Geographic,” which emerged on CD and the then-newfangled DVD thingies at the end of the last century. It was amazing to me that I could plow through every issue from before the 20th century, and all the others, and I learned so much about American life back then.

Today, you can get the complete run of magazines from Playboy to The New Yorker to Rolling Stone and more, and watching history through those magazines is fascinating. I followed all of the Great Depression and World War II through both The New Yorker and National Geographic, and it was a fascinating adventure.

Most of what we know about World War II is from History Channel documentaries, and time goes so much faster on TV than in reality. After Pearl Harbor, many people complained about how long it was taking for the country to ramp up for war. There was much misinformation out there, some of it deliberate, but watching the war progress week by week in The New Yorker was interesting, though it wasn’t a news magazine.

One of the funniest lines in The New Yorker was when a false alert went out that the war had ended, and a man staggering down the street drunk told a reporter when he learned that the war hadn’t ended that he’d just wasted a good binge on a false war-is-over report.

Dump stuff, burn CDs, profit
Back when CDs first came out, there was much talk of “shovelware.” Basically, this was the practice of filling the 640 megabytes available on a CD with anything, like hundreds of different bible translations or public domain books. Sometimes the interfaces were ridiculous. One of the least usable interfaces was an otherwise fascinating collection of New York Times articles and CBS videos on the Vietnam War.

But someone decided that a very tiny window was all that was needed to view the articles, and not the full screen, and it made the stories nearly unreadable. Someone really blew it on that one.

I recently acquired “Astronomy Magazine: The Complete Collection, 1973-2010,” and again I am being transported back in time and technology.

Starting with the August 1973 issue, the magazine chronicles a hobby I was just getting into at the time, when I was 12 years old. There are stories about Comet Kohoutek, one of the great astronomical busts of the early 1970s, and through January 1974, stories of Pioneer 10, which was going to be the first space probe to fly past Jupiter. Speculative stories about what Pioneer might find there, and talk of Pioneer 11, which would do later flybys of Jupiter and Saturn, are great reading.

The pictures were the best you could get with ground-based telescopes, and even the biggest telescopes produced photos that were nothing compared to the Hubble Space Telescope’s shots that amaze and inspire people today. Hubble was decades away in the early 1970s, but ground-based telescopes still have a role to play in astronomy.

Today, Astronomy magazine continues to inform me about the latest news from the field of astronomy as well as things I can see from my driveway, and I never go out with my telescope for observing without the Sky Dome pages opened so I can see what’s up in the night sky.

Back before CDs and DVDs, when newspapers and magazines were on microfilm, one of the side benefits of doing research using old publications was getting to look at the ads. Celestron was a big advertiser in Astronomy back then, pitching its fork-mounted, orange-tubed C-8s to the masses. Other advertisers also made hobbyists aware of their products and services.

Based on the advice I saw in Astronomy, I bought a CG-5GT GoTo mount in 2009 and left the realm of trying to find objects manually, but I still miss those days when you had to really know the sky to find something at night. Still, it’s a challenge to align the telescope on three stars, then punch in a Messier number and see if it actually comes up in the center of the eyepiece. Most times, it does.

Those old magazines have much to teach us, I think, and I for one plan on doing a lot of learning.

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September 27, 2012 - Posted by | Living in the modern age, The news business | , , , , , , , , , ,

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