Busboy lessons from Point Pleasant

Posted in About, Personal on August 11, 2019 by multimediaman

Like a lot of kids from Point Pleasant, all of my early employment experiences were with jobs in the restaurant industry. Since we lived on the Jersey Shore, there were many summer jobs available on the floor as a server or in the kitchen doing food prep, dish washing or pot washing. If you were lucky enough to work in a restaurant that was busy all-year-round and you were on the service side of the business, you could make some decent money as a teenager. 

I got my first job at age fourteen working as a busboy in the restaurant and banquet facility at Kings Grant Inn on the corner of Route 70 and River Road in Point Pleasant. It was a physically tough job since you had to stay on your feet all afternoon and evening clearing tables, doing the setups and pouring glasses of water for the guests. I started the KGI job working part-time on the weekends in the spring of 1974 and then worked full-time hours that summer during the busy season.

I still remember the distinct odor of my clothes while working there. That’s something you can’t forget. It was an awful combination stench of grease, vegetables, cigarette butts and human BO that you wouldn’t ever want to smell like if you weren’t at work. We had to wear a sort-of uniform of black pants, black shoes and white collared, button-down short sleeve shirts. These clothes had to be washed after each shift and, no matter what, you couldn’t get rid of that stink. 

Anyway, one of the first things I had to learn was all about the different kinds of drinking glasses in the restaurant, most of which had to do with booze. As a fourteen-year-old I wasn’t permitted to serve drinks to the patrons. However, I was expected to know all the kinds of glasses because I often had to help stock up the bar or go find one or another glass for a waitress or bartender.

I learned the difference between a water goblet, a rock glass, a highball, a shot glass, a cosmo or margarita glass, a martini glass, a cognac snifter and the common beer glasses: pint and Pilsner. I also learned the different wine glasses—red, white, rose and port—as well as the champagne glass and the all-important Irish coffee mug. Fortunately for me, I was never a teenage drinker. I suppose I’d seen a lifetime’s share of drunks and inebriated stoops during those restaurant years and that helped steer me clear from alcohol until much later in life. 

There was one particular experience with excessive drinking that I remember vividly. It involved the decision by restaurant management to hire a man as Captain. The captain’s job was to work with the hostess at the front of the house to make sure that the customers were seated properly and all of their needs were being met.

Well, unfortunately, this young man—who was quite the handsome gent and started off doing really well with both the staff and customers—had a serious drinking problem. After about a week, we started noticing he was gathering all of the partially empty wine bottles and cocktail glasses in the back of the restaurant and was polishing them off one by one. By the end of the night, he was staggering around the place and babbling incoherently to anyone within earshot. I certainly didn’t see it as my responsibility to report the guy and I don’t think any of the other busboys did either. As a naive teenager, I thought it was kind of funny. After a few days, we heard that he’d been fired. 

Another thing that I learned was how to properly arrange a place setting and what the different plates and silverware were called. This is another thing that you never forget. Napkin in the center, forks on the left (dinner fork on the outside, salad fork on the inside), butter plate above the forks, knife and spoons to the right (knife first with blade facing toward the center, followed by the table spoon and the tea spoon). The water goblet is placed above the knife and spoons. If there is dessert ware, the fork (on top) and spoon go above the center in opposite directions, spoon facing left and fork facing right. 

Among the more physically challenging parts of the job was carrying trays full of dirty dishes and other table stuff that had to be returned to the kitchen. There was a knack to getting one of those fully-loaded oval aluminum trays up on your shoulder and balanced with one hand twisted back flat underneath it. You always had to have the other hand free so you could make your way through the restaurant floor and push the door open into the kitchen that swung both ways.

The best busboy never, ever dropped his tray. His skill was about getting that heavy tray up and completely balanced on his shoulder so that, even if things started to slide around on there, he did not lose it all to the floor in a huge crash. Unfortunately, this did happen to me on a couple of occasions because I had been hasty in loading up the tray or was moving too fast into the kitchen. 

Losing the contents of a busboy tray typically didn’t involve actually dropping the tray itself. It’s just that everything on the tray tips over to the floor and you are standing there stuck-on-stupid with the tray dangling vertically from one hand while everyone is looking at you before you dropped your head and walked swiftly toward the broom closet. Fortunately, when this happened, the other staff would always step in quickly to help you with the cleanup.

The experience of losing a busboy tray is similar to what happens in school when a kid drops the contents of his or her lunch tray. The crash of plates and glasses is followed by a half-second of dead silence from the otherwise noisy din of voice chatter and conversation. The one important difference between the restaurant and school lunchroom mishap, however, is that the restaurant crash isn’t followed by enthusiastic applause, cheers and laughter from the assembled diners. No, everyone in the restaurant just picks up where they left off on whatever they were talking about as though nothing ever happened. 

Pretty much throughout my restaurant working years—until I left Point Pleasant in 1979—I made something like $2.20 an hour in wages paid by the employer in a weekly paycheck. The rest of the money was approximately 15% of the tips that the waitresses collected from the customers during each shift.

We usually made more than $8 an hour with the tips we pulled in. One of the obligations of the newbs on the busboy staff was that you got your tip money in the smallest denominations from the nightly take. Of course, this was long before the widespread use of credit and debit cards, so the waitresses would turn over their 15% to the head busboy in cash and he would count it all up and divvy it out evenly to the number of busboys on duty.

The head busboy would always keep the biggest bills for himself and then on down the line in seniority until he got to me. If I was lucky, I got some singles and the rest in a bunch of loose change. More often than not, I went home with only coins. So, in that first year on the job, I would leave KGI after every shift with a big sack of change that filled both my front pants pockets. But I didn’t mind it at all. I just remember the feeling of accomplishment I had when I got off at 11 or 12 at night and got on my bike to make the 2 mile ride home.

It was so quiet riding down River Road toward Pearce Street at night in the dark. But you could hear me coming from a mile away with that load of coins jingling in my pockets. By the time I hit the top of Summit Drive, I could darn near coast all the way home coming down that hill with that heavy load of change in my pockets. 

Kings Grant Inn had a marina behind it on the Manasquan River. There were lots of people who loved yachting and boating and docked their watercraft there. Some of these folks were regulars at the restaurant and one of them, a shoulder-length blond-haired dude by the name of Clay, lived on his sailboat in the marina and worked at the restaurant as a busboy too. Clay was a late 20s-something beach bum with a fantastic golden tan. He had this sort of hippy way of talking that I had never heard before. I got to know him pretty well and he talked a lot about his sail boat and his girlfriend who lived on the boat with him. 

And speaking of being fourteen and girls, there was this young lady who was hired as the hostess during that summer that literally stands out for me. I remember hearing the other busboys talking about her and how she was, let’s say, front loaded. She would come to work with these tight tops on and I would find myself drifting over that way and standing there, staring at her without a word coming out of my mouth. 

Like on any job, there was certainly a pecking order among the busboys at KGI and, if you weren’t tough and ready to stand your ground, you might get hazed right off the job in your first week. The guys I worked with were all older than me, some by more than a couple of years. Some were local guys who I knew from school and others were some really worldly types that came down from north Jersey for the summer. There were definitely some pretty rough and lonely nights for me during my first few weeks there (I won’t go into the details).

I’ll just say that these guys were all really hard workers and they taught me how to do my job the right way. They were both testing me to see what I was made of and, most of all, they wanted me to know right out of the shoot that they weren’t going to put up with someone who wasn’t pulling their weight during those busy summer nights. It took me a little while, but I eventually made some really good friendships with my co-busboys at KGI and I learned many, many things from them both on and off the job. 

I also met some really great working people from the other departments at KGI. Since I was just a pimply-faced kid, there were many people—and some of them quite hardened by their experiences—who wanted to teach me all about the ways of the world. Back in those days, practically everyone was a smoker and you could smoke just about anywhere in the restaurant. I remember how some of the waitresses would light up a cigarette in the kitchen, put it down on an ash tray, run a customer order on a tray out to their table and then come back into the kitchen for another puff.

Anytime the staff had a break, they would light up and start talking to me in a very friendly manner while they blew smoke off to the side and made this face with one eye closed and their mouth only partially opened. The waitresses were some really tough ladies who went out of their way to keep me out of trouble. There were a few of them who took a liking to me and wanted to make sure I was on task and where I was supposed to be. They did not want me to have any run-ins with the KGI maitre d‘ named Fritz, who actually was the person who hired me. 

Fritz was an immigrant from Germany or Austria and he had a very thick accent. He would get explosively angry and give you an expletive-laden tongue lashing if you weren’t taking care of things. He was very tall, had a long hooked nose, slightly balding dark hair that was combed straight back, and a paunch that protruded from his cummerbund. Fritz was a task master and rightly so to keep the dining experience up to par for the customers.

He would swear at you in broken English with the F-word if you didn’t do precisely what he told you to do, even if you did not understand a word of what he asked you to do in the first place. There were a couple of busboys who could do a dead-nuts impersonation of Fritz that would make you laugh so hard you couldn’t stand up straight. 

Anyway, the others on the restaurant staff who were great people were the dishwashers, pot washers, the maintenance people and, of course, the chefs and other cooks in the kitchen. These folks all worked very hard all the time to keep things moving along for the customers even though it was always super hot in the kitchen.

Despite the fact that everyone who worked in there was completely drenched in perspiration, they had the most pleasant way of talking to a young kid like me. They would always ask me if I needed anything or if I was hungry. Because of them, I probably ate some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life during those few years at KGI like steak, lobster and, of course, chocolate mousse.

When we got a few minutes to talk about things other than work, especially on smoke breaks, the kitchen staff would always ask me about school and if I planned on going to college after high school graduation. They wanted more than anything to pass along the message that a life working in the restaurant business was very hard and that I needed to try and make something of myself.

I finished my career at KGI after two years and I have to say I was ready to move on to some other summer restaurant jobs at the Steak Shanty on Routes 35 and 88 in Point Beach and as a short order cook in the snack bar and later, again as a busboy, in the restaurant at the Bay Head Yacht Club. I even worked my senior year of high school at McDonald’s on Route 88 in Point. 

I truly believe that my first summer working experience at KGI taught me many important lessons: do your job and work hard and people will respect you, count your money and make sure you get your fair share, don’t smoke and don’t drink to excess, stay in school and go to college if you are able to and, for God’s sake, wash your clothes after every shift and never stare at anyone with your mouth open. 

Bicycle lessons from the Jersey Shore

Posted in About, Personal on March 23, 2019 by multimediaman

I remember every bicycle I ever had as a kid growing up in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Not that I had that many. My parents were frugal and, with four children, they didn’t often spend money on things like bicycles. When they did, it was usually for something special like a birthday or Christmas gift. So, from my childhood to my early teen years, I had a total of three bikes.

The first one was a hand-me-down from my older brother. It was a very plain, red boys bike with chrome fenders, white wall tires and a coaster break. As with most people, the day I learned to ride that two-wheeler stands out in my memory. With the help of my dad and some neighborhood kids, I peddled away miraculously on my own in front of our house at 1526 Treeneedle Road. It was the summer of 1967.

Having your own bicycle—especially one you were proud of—was one of the first things in life that got a kid going on being independent from their parents. Initially, maybe you were allowed to ride to the end of the block and back. Later maybe you were allowed to stay out past dark on your bike with the other kids from the neighborhood.

Then, once all of the rules had been explained, you were allowed to ride your bike all the way around the block. Back then, the rules did not involve wearing a helmet, elbow and knee pads, using hand signals to make turns or stops or even riding with the car traffic on the right side of the road. If those things even existed, we didn’t know about them.

No, the main thing was this: you were to only ride around the block and go nowhere else; you were to do this once and the next time you wanted to do it, you needed to ask again. Permission to ride around the block was a one-time arrangement.

For me, my first time around the block was a big deal. I road south on Treeneedle, east on Little Hill, north on Northstream, west on Apple Place and back south onto Treeneedle. I saw some kids I did not know; I saw other kids that I had heard about but never met before; I saw some kids I knew from school who lived in the next neighborhood over.

The feeling I had that day was like I was on top of the world. Even though the ride was just a half-mile and took around five minutes, it seemed to me to be a long trip. I was so proud that my parents trusted me enough to let me do what I really wanted to do. In that moment, as a seven-year-old, it seemed like all things were possible.

A short time thereafter, one of the older neighborhood boys showed me how to ride my bike with no hands. This was a skill that many boys (and some girls, too) learned and showed off. Normally, when riding a two-wheeler, your upper body is hunched over while holding on to the handlebars. When you ride with no hands, your body is upright and you can see everything quite nicely; there is no need to worry about anything. Also, when you rode in this position, the other kids could see you coming and knew immediately that you were peddling with no-hands.

Then one day, after ignoring repeated warnings that I was in for disaster, I took a major spill on Little Hill Road. I struck a driveway curb and toppled head-over-heels and landed square on my face. Worse than running home crying with my bike in tow, was the nasty scrape down the center of my forehead, nose, lips and chin. I looked in the mirror and thought to myself, “you really did it now.” That scrape took weeks to heal and was a constant reminder of the risks involved in dangerous bike behavior.

Anyway, by the time I got my first brand new bike as a Christmas gift, the style everyone wanted was inspired by the Schwinn Sting-Ray. These bikes had a banana seat, “ape hanger” handlebars and the all-important sissy bar. By the late 1960s, the Schwinn Sting-Ray was everywhere and all the other bicycle manufacturers were trying copy the low-rider, wheelie style. So, the kids who had a Sting-Ray with a high-loop sissy bar were the envy of the entire neighborhood.

My parents were concerned about the behaviors they feared would come along with these bikes. Being that they looked like motorcycles, they thought that Sting-Rays would bring a kind of “biker” culture to the neighborhood. Secondly, my parents knew that we were completely fearless and would try various dangerous tricks on these bikes like popping wheelies, brake skidding, ramp jumping and other stunts.

In the end, my Christmas bike was a three-speed, Sting-Ray knock-off with front and rear hand breaks. I’m not sure, but I think it may have come from K-Mart. Although I was disappointed, I was glad to have a brand new bike that had good colors and chrome and looked pretty cool.

One of the unique features of this bike was the way the handle bars were constructed. Instead of a continuous bar that slid through a clamp on the stem, the two bars were welded to a flat piece of metal that was bolted to the stem. While this design gave my bike a very distinctive look, it also created a problem.

As mentioned, one of the things we preteens did was build ramps out of scraps of wood and cinder blocks for jumping. This was around 1970 before BMX stunt riding and free-styling existed. I guess the kind of thing we were doing back then (along with other kids around country) eventually led to the creation of off-road sport bicycling and competition.

Well, a group of us put together a ramp made of a sheet of plywood laid on an angle to a stack of cinder blocks. We put the entrance to the ramp on the edge of our driveway and the lift-off point—which was about a foot and a half above ground—was in the front lawn. Since we knew there would be wipeouts, these would happen in the grass and not the pavement.

The object was to get your bike up to full speed and hit the ramp just right. At lift off, you’d yank the front end of your bike up just enough so that, when you came down, the rear tire touched first followed by the front wheel. We had a great time doing these jumps even though there were quite a few crashes.

After multiple jumps with my new bike, I started to notice a crack in the handle bar welding. I couldn’t imagine anything bad happening so I kept at it. On one jump, the bars snapped clean off the clamp and I went flying akimbo through the air onto the grass. You would have thought that my friends would have rushed to my aid or been concerned for the condition of my new bike. But no; we all burst out into uncontrollable laughter. This proved to be one of the funniest things that ever happened to me.

By the time I was in middle school, my parents began letting me ride my bike just about anywhere in Point Pleasant. For my thirteenth birthday, they bought me a black, 5-speed Raleigh Chopper Mark 2. This was a bike that I wanted more than anything. I remember the day my dad took me to pick it out at Point Pleasant Bicycle Shop on Arnold Avenue just this side of the border with Point Beach.

That Chopper was the envy of every kid because, even though it was not a fast bike, it was a wheelie bike that had a chunky, low-rider look: high-rise handle bars, a ribbed banana seat with sissy-bar, a T-bar gear shifter and redline sidewall tires. It was the signature smaller 16” diameter front wheel that really made the Chopper look different. I loved that bicycle more than anything I ever had in my life up to that point.

When I road it around town I was proud and told everyone that my parents bought it for me. I really took good care of it, too. We had a shed in the backyard where I kept it. I also had a bike lock to make sure it didn’t get stolen when I rode to school or other places around town.

I rode my Chopper everywhere: to the waterfront at Dorset Dock, over the Beaver Dam bridge onto the Princeton Avenue waterfront. There were many trips to the Manasquan River: out to the marina at Kings Grant Inn at Route 70 and to the beaches at Maxson and River Avenue. Clark’s Landing off of Arnold Avenue was also a regular meet up point.

Sometimes I would ride the full length of Bridge Avenue, from the end of the four lane extension all the way over the Lovelandtown Bridge and down through Bay Head to the ocean. I also made many trips in both directions across the old bascule lift bridge on Route 88. All the kids on bikes would line up at the stop barrier and wait for the gate to open after the bridge closed. We would get a running start and be more than halfway across before the cars could pass us.

And, since I had friends all over town, those Chopper wheels probably covered just about every road and street in Point Boro. Aside from the highways, I knew all of the main roads like Dorset Dock, Beaver Dam, Herbertsville, River Road and River Avenue, Bay Avenue and Arnold Avenue like the back of my hand.

Those were indeed some fantastic days in the summer of 1973. It seemed at the time like it would go on forever. But that kind of carefree biking would soon come to an end. I outgrew my Chopper when I started working summer jobs at age 14 and needed a more practical mode of transportation. By the mid 1970s, the Schwinn Continental 10-speed with ram’s horn handlebars, auxiliary break levers and two sets of derailleurs had become a popular bike among teens.

Nevertheless, the things I learned about biking during those early years will always remain with me: Be thankful to have a bike at all and be proud to ride it; Take care of your bike and don’t take dangerous risks when riding it; Get out and explore the world around you—you never know who you might meet or run into on your first ride around the block.

On Benjamin Franklin’s 313th birthday: The continuing public importance of printed books

Posted in Books, People in Media History, Print Media on January 16, 2019 by multimediaman

The following introductory remarks were delivered to the 36th Annual Michigan Printing Week Association Ben Franklin Awards Dinner on Tuesday, January 15, 2019.

A portrait of Benjamin Franklin at his study in London in 1767

Good Evening,

On behalf of the Printing Industries of Michigan and the Michigan Printing Week Committee, I would like to welcome you to the Annual Ben Franklin Awards Dinner.

My name is Kevin Donley and it is once again my privilege to serve as your Master of Ceremonies this evening.

We are meeting tonight for the 36th year to acknowledge the contributions of our industry colleagues and to raise money for the education of a new generation of printing professionals.

Tonight, we will be recognizing Admore as Company of the Year and William Kessler as Individual of the Year recipients of the Ben Franklin Award. We will also be recognizing two graphic arts students who are deserving recipients of the Ben Franklin college scholarships.

This year we mark Benjamin Franklin’s 313thbirthday. As always, it is appropriate to take a few moments to look back on Franklin’s life for the benefit of both inspiration and, by connecting our own time to his, for insight.

As many of you know, one of Ben Franklin’s enduring contributions was the establishment of the first public library. At the age of just twenty-five, Franklin and a group of his tradesmen friends—who were members of a debating club called the Junto—established what would become The Library Company of Philadelphia, an institution that exists to this day.

Among other things, Franklin believed that the only way to settle debates during the Friday night Junto meetings was to consult authoritative printed texts. In this way, the Junto library became something of a colonial version of what we know today as fact checking.

Franklin drafted the Articles of Association for the The Library Company of Philadelphia and they were signed by 40 subscribers and dated July 1, 1731

However, at that time, standard English reference works were very expensive and hard to find in colonial America. At Franklin’s suggestion the group decided to pool their resources and signed up fifty subscribers who invested 40 shillings and then agreed to pay ten shillings per year for fifty years thereafter. They bought books and rented the facilities needed to establish and maintain the first American lending library.

If you were a subscriber, you could borrow the books in the library. If you were a member of the public, you were able to come into the library and read the books available in the collection.

For Ben Franklin, who never took credit for the idea, there was much more to the library than settling matters of opinion and debate. From the time he was a teenager and throughout his entire life, Franklin was in pursuit of his own intellectual development and education. He also consistently shared and encouraged the same among his fellow citizens.

As Franklin wrote in his autobiography, “these libraries have improved the general conversation of Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the stand so generally made throughout the colonies.”

In other words, writing these lines toward the end of his life, Franklin saw a connection between the public lending of books to the average citizens, the level of discourse within the colonies and the movement for American independence.

Books. Ben Franklin was talking about the importance of books. We always have to remember that—even though many of us are involved in marketing and promotional printing today—our industry is connected with this history; that our industry is rooted in great traditions associated with literacy and public awareness and the sharing and spreading of great ideas.

Here in Michigan, we know something about books. Despite some challenges we have faced recently in our local book manufacturing capacity, we remain a major producer of printed books for publishers across the country and around the world.

Now, after more than a decade of speculation about the imminent death of print brought on by electronic technologies, trade book sales have increased for five years in a row. Meanwhile, the number of independent book stores has grown by 40% over the past ten years.

What’s more, while the number of printed books has been growing again, sales of eBooks—and especially children’s eBooks—have been declining by double digits every year since 2015.

What does this mean? Are we going back to the days prior to the personal computer and the Internet when going to the library or the encyclopedia was the only way to consult authoritative texts? Of course not. It should be pointed out, for example, that the growth of printed book sales can be traced entirely to one retail company: Amazon.

In any case, there is an ongoing public thirst for printed books. Part of this attraction is reading for entertainment and reading as part of a social experience. It has been reported, for instance, that Instagram is partially responsible for the growth of indie bookstores. Using the hashtag #bookstagram, 25 million photos of bookstores have been shared on Instagram. People are being drawn to these boutique bookshops to find the perfect match for their reading style and subject interests.

Another part of this loyalty to printed books is that people are increasingly today—as in Ben Franklin’s time—looking to settle arguments and answer the big questions of our time.

As for the preference for printed books over eBooks, it turns out that we all have something called “spatial orientation memory” that is hard-wired into our brains. This particular type of memory is the part of human psychophysiology that helps us locate where we are in the broader immediate context.

When we read a book, we are subconsciously relying on the tactile experience of our location on a page and within the chapters of a book. This is one of the key aspects of how we remember what we have read; spatial orientation memory is an enabler of reading comprehension and retention.

What all of this shows is that ink-on-paper print still holds tremendous authority and value with the public. While people are excited about the latest gadgetry, they are also understanding more and more clearly that learning and education, especially the teaching of children, depends upon a full sensory engagement with books. This is an experience that cannot today be, as of yet, duplicated by electronic devices and digital displays.

This dependent relationship of the public upon print also extends into the realm of information, marketing and communications. After a decade of enthusiasm and hype about the benefits of digital and social media, the ongoing problems associated with the credibility of these formats is driving renewed interest in print.

Study after study has proven that response rates for direct mail are magnitudes greater than email and social advertising. The public, including old-timers like me as well as millennials, go to the mail box each day with anticipation. We remember what we see there because we engage physically with it, even if it goes within seconds from our hands to the wastebasket.

So, it is on this note of optimism about our great printing industry that we will begin our award presentations this evening. Thank you very much for allowing me to introduce the 2019 Ben Franklin Awards Dinner!

Crabbing & molting lessons from Barnegat Bay

Posted in Uncategorized on December 11, 2018 by multimediaman

Growing up on the Jersey Shore and the Barnegat Bay, my brothers and I learned to go crabbing. We picked up different crabbing techniques from our friends and family members. Sometimes we just used a crab net and scooped up the creatures as they sidled in the water below us. Other times, when we wanted a more substantial catch, we’d use a cage.

The cage had a mechanism that allowed you to lower it into the water with a string and, when it touched bottom, all four sides would open up and allow the hungry bottom feeders to come after your bait.

Crabs are kind of like underwater rats. They will climb on top of each other and scramble around trying to get the last piece of food before the next crab can get it. They have very small brains (about the size of a pencil point) and are not involved in any kind of complex social cooperation. Usually the biggest crab, gets its way.

Anyway, our crab cage freshly bated with a piece of chicken (usually a neck or a leg), we’d lower it to the bottom of the creek or lagoon that fed into the bay. Our favorite spots were Beaver Dam Creek and Sunshine Harbor in Point Pleasant. Sometimes we would crab from a boat and sometimes from a bulkhead. Either way, we’d wait a little while and then pull up the cage. Collecting our catch, we would carefully toss the best crabs into a bucket of water one by a one.

It wasn’t that hard to learn how to avoid being pinched. You just had to grab hold of the crab at the back with your thumb on the top and bent forefinger on bottom and you could easily drop each one into your catch pail. This did not always work, however, especially with the biggest crabs. They had a knack for reaching around with their claws and catching you by surprise. It usually didn’t hurt that bad since you could flick them off of you pretty fast. But sometimes the bigger male crabs could latch on to you pretty good and help you have quite an episode of cursing.

If we were going by the book, we’d throw anything smaller than about four inches (across the body) and all the females back and keep only the larger males (the sex of a crab is easily determined by looking at the pattern of the apron on the underside of the crab; a long thin apron shape is a male and a round pointed apron is a female).

Anyway, on rare occasions, if you left the cage in the water long enough you’d pull up a soft-shell crab. We knew they were special. First of all because of their color; they were white on the underside and lacked the bright blue and red colors on their Jersey Blue legs and claws. They looked sick and were kind of floppy since they had no hardened shell. Since we crabbed for the eating of the creatures, we knew soft-shell crabs were, of course, very good to eat. You never wanted to throw a soft shell crab back no matter what.

Some Jersey Shore folks would just crack those crabs wide open while they were alive and slurp away the crab juice and meat right then and there. Others would take them home and put a big pot on the stove and prepare a tasty boiled meal.

Later on, we learned that soft-shell crabs were actually regular crabs that had recently molted; that is, they had shed their hard exoskeleton as part of the growth process. It was a real lesson to learn that when crabs molt, they are very vulnerable. During a process that takes about 72 hours, a crab must extract itself including eyes, mouth and the lining of its digestive tract from the old shell. If the crab gets stuck in this process, it will die. If a crab is successful in removing itself from the exuvia, a new shell begins forming almost immediately allowing the crab to grow. A crab will molt more than twenty times in its lifetime.

The moral of the story is this: If you catch a soft shell crab, boil it and eat it. If you throw it back and allow it to finish molting, it will grow bigger and surely pinch you when you least expect it.

Loren D. Donley: Family, Music & Life

Posted in About, Personal on October 1, 2017 by multimediaman

The following remarks were made on behalf of the Donley family at “A Musical Celebration of Life” memorial for my late father Loren D. Donley on Sunday, October 1, 2017 at Point Pleasant Borough High School, in Point Pleasant, New Jersey.

My name is Kevin Donley and I am the second son of Loren Donley. I am truly proud to stand before you today and give remarks on behalf of the Donley family at this, “Musical Celebration of Life‚“ for my late father, Mr. Loren D. Donley. This is indeed a fitting celebration and I want to thank each and every one of you for being here this afternoon to remember and honor with music an extraordinary man that we loved and who deeply touched all of our lives. I want to express special thanks to all of those who prepared this celebration and are making it available on social media. In particular, I want thank Mrs. Muraglia, who put so much effort and time into making this event possible.

I would like to begin by introducing to you my family members who have in many cases traveled long distances to be here today:

First of all, we have my dad’s loving wife Lynn, from Jupiter, Florida Lynn’s two daughters Shalon with her husband Ray Weinel from Carmi, Illinois and Jacque Young with her fiancé Charlie Ingram from Westminster, Colorado. We also have Lynn’s brother Steve Appel from Encindas, California and Lynn’s sister Kim with her husband, Dave Hanrahan from Point Pleasant. We have my older brother Mark, with his wife Cheryl and their three sons Eric, Scott and David from Toms River, New Jersey;My younger brother Dana, his wife Margaretta and their son Aidan from Novi, Michigan; My sister Cheryl, her husband Don Warren and their son Zachary and daughter Rebecca from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Don and Cheryl’s middle child Matthew cannot be here today because he is serving in the US Army and stationed in the United Arab Emirates. My wife Denise and my youngest son Brian are here with me from Southfield, Michigan. My two older sons Brandon who lives in Pontiac, Michigan and Brent who lives in Dallas, Texas are not able to be here today.

I also want to recognize our first cousins from the Fisher family, Debbie, Barry and Melanie, who are here with their families and they have traveled from Coshocton, Ohio and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Their mother is my father’s sister Glenna who many of you know as Mrs. Fisher the music teacher for many years at Ocean Road School. Glenna is 90 years old and could not make the trip today. She lives in Coshocton, Ohio near Debbie and Barry. Lastly, we have my cousins Bob Blake and his family from Linwood, New Jersey and Ben Reinke from Washington, DC.

* * * * *

I am the first of the Donley children to be born in Point Pleasant and I am old enough to remember the early days of the high school before there were any choral facilities to speak of. I have many fond memories of my father both at the old Ocean Road School and here at the high school before the performing arts wing was built. This auditorium and stage bring back many memories for me as I was in chorus, band and theater and performed here with my dad many times in the 1970s. My first appearance on this stage was as a middle schooler and part of the cast of “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1973, the first high school play to be performed in this auditorium.

I remember in the mid-1960s when I was in elementary school across the street—at that time Memorial School was Kindergarten through 3rd grade—I would come with my dad to the high school early in the morning. I helped him push the piano down the hall to one of the classrooms across from the cafeteria. He would let me sit at the piano with him and listen to the students as they practiced their choral music. It was truly the most uplifting experience for me and I was the proudest little 5 or 6 year old you could imagine since everyone knew that I was Mr. Donley’s son. After those morning rehearsals he would take my hand and walk me across the street to school.

* * * * *

In celebrating and remembering the life of my father, it is natural for us to do so through the prism of our own experience. However, I think it is necessary to take a step back and view his life in a broader context. When I think of my father today and consider his entire 83 years, three things stand out for me: Family, Music and Life. I would like to take a few moments to explain these things and I hope to shed some light on both why and how my father was the man that we loved so much.

Family

Everyone who knew Loren Donley, knows that family was at the center of his life. He learned about the importance of family from his own parents Daisy and Millard Donley during his upbringing in Belmont County, Ohio. Some of you may know that my dad occasionally referred to himself as a “hillbilly.” This was not a derogatory term, but his way of recognizing the connection he had to the folks that lived in the hills across the Ohio River from Wheeling, West Virginia.

Actually, the strength of the Donley family ties go back many generations and are rooted in deep traditions. Our family comes from an area of Appalachia in eastern Ohio that was settled at the beginning of the 19th century by immigrants from the Scottish Highlands. They came to America seeking prosperity and a place to practice their Protestant doctrine without persecution. They established their farms and communities around Presbyterian and Methodist churches. This area became known as Scotch Ridge due to the concentration of Scottish and Irish immigrants that made this place their home.

It was here that the ancestors of Loren Donley instilled in their children and grandchildren the principles of faith, family, love, respect for the ideas others and a very pronounced egalitarianism. It should be mentioned that many of the Scotch-Irish families that settled in this region of Ohio were supporters of the Underground Railroad and opponents of slavery. In fact, the Donley family counts among its ancestors Henry H. Mason of Hog Run, West Virginia who at age 19 joined the Union Army during the Civil War and was later captured by Confederate troops and imprisoned at Andersonville, Georgia. A decade after the war, Henry died at age 34 from the ailments he suffered during his imprisonment.

All of these traditions were present when my dad was born in 1934 in the small town of Shadyside, Ohio during the Great Depression. He was the youngest of the four children of Millard and Daisy. Times were very difficult for the Donley family as they were for everyone during those years. My Grandpap Donley had worked as a coal miner and a railroad caboose-man and eventually became a steel worker at the Wheeling Steel mill in Yorkville, Ohio. The Donleys survived these rough times by relying upon the support of their extended family.

Throughout the years of the Depression and World War II, my dad was a model of good behavior. When I was young, I recall asking my Grandma Donley what kind of child my dad had been when he was growing up. She would always tell me, “Your dad was the perfect lad and he never once got into any kind of trouble at all.” Well, since I had accumulated a lengthy resumé of trips to the woodshed already, I thought to myself‚ “Gee Willickers Kevin, you are really off to a bad start.”

Music

My dad’s love of music and education stems from these same family traditions and it is no accident that he became a music teacher along with his two sisters Carol and Glenna. My grandmother was a school teacher and a public school principal. My grandfather, like my dad after him, had the gift of a golden baritone singing voice and loved to sing forthrightly in church. As my dad became active in the vocal and instrumental music in high school, his interest in choral music and conducting was born.

After high school graduation, he decided to pursue his love of music first at Kent State University and then as a graduate student at The Ohio State University. While other young people of his generation were listening to Elvis Presley, Loren Donley was in the university library studying liturgical choral music and preparing to become a schoolteacher.

His path to Point Pleasant came through his enlistment in the US Army following college. He was stationed at Fort Dix, NJ for basic training and upon completion of his obligation got the opportunity from district superintendent Dr. Lawrence DeBellis to become the music teacher at Ocean Road School in 1959.

I will leave it to the other speakers today to talk more about my father’s role here at the high school as a teacher. I would only say, as one of his students, that we learned to appreciate some of the greatest choral music ever written, we learned about folk music, we learned gospel music, we frequently sang in Latin and we even learned the right way to sing pop music on occasion. These are things that made all of our lives culturally more rich and, I believe, demonstrate the value of music in the public schools.

Life

I would like to close with something that I truly admired about my dad and it is something that I think we should all remember. My father was a man of very strong moral convictions and principles of faith that he learned while growing up. I would ask you to picture in your mind this young man from Ohio who at the age of 25 arrived at the Jersey Shore in the late 1950s. There is no question that he experienced what we might refer to today as “culture shock.”

Yet, as was in some ways inevitable, my dad changed over the years. But he changed without ever compromising his core values. He remained the same approachable, kind, helpful, reserved and hard working man who loved his family, loved music and loved his students all the way through to the end. He was able to find his way and in the process had a lasting impact and left a legacy in this community. This event today is proof of that fact.

I want everyone here and everyone watching this event online to know that my father was very proud of his students, that he cherished the relationships he had with the teachers, administrators and staff here at the high school, that he loved directing and singing in the choir at Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church and he always enjoyed hearing from you over the years. I want you to know that as much as he influenced your lives, you also influenced his.

Thank you very much.

Robert Howard (1923–2014): Dot matrix printer & direct imaging press

Posted in Color Printing, Digital Printing, People in Media History, Prepress, Print Media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2016 by multimediaman
Robert Howard: May 19, 1923–December 19, 2014

Robert Howard:
May 19, 1923–December 19, 2014

Apple recently removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7. Owners of the new model are required to use wireless Bluetooth audio or the Lightning port—the only connector on the phone that also charges the battery—for wired headphones. If the headphone jack is a must, owners can purchase the Lighting-to-3.5mm audio adapter separately for $9.

The missing headphone jack has upset some Apple customers. At the iPhone 7 launch, marketing chief Phil Schiller drove home the company’s reasoning, “Maintaining an ancient, single-purpose, analog, big connector doesn’t make sense because that space is at a premium.” As some tech journalists have pointed out, Apple’s decision comes down to one word: progress.

Analog 3.5mm and ¼” audio connectors

Analog 3.5mm and ¼” audio connectors

Actually, the 3.5mm headphone jack is based on technology that is more than one hundred twenty-five years old. It is a miniaturized version of the phone connector originally developed in the late 1870s for operators to manually connect telephone calls by plugging cords into a switchboard.

The 3.5mm format was created in the 1950s for the transistor radio earpiece and was modified in the 1960s for the Sony portable FM radio and again in 1979 for the Sony Walkman. The fact is that the analog headphone jack has been an anachronism since compact disks and other digital technologies like optical audio became available more than thirty years ago.

As with many earlier decisions by Apple—like eliminating floppy disk and CD-DVD drives, replacing parallel ports with USB ports and adopting Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless—the abandonment of the headphone jack, although disruptive, will allow the next generation of technology to develop and flourish.

Centronics interface

The Centronics connectors (25-pin and 36-pin) were dominant in computer peripheral technology for nearly thirty years beginning in 1970

The Centronics connectors (25-pin and 36-pin) were dominant in computer peripheral technology for nearly thirty years beginning in 1970

Interfaces and standards for connecting things together is an important part of electronics and computer history. The adoption of a new format, design or methodology over earlier ones—like USB for SCSI or Thunderbolt for FireWire—is complex and involves a mix of science, engineering, economics and a bit of good luck. In some cases, innovation can fill a void and be embraced rapidly if the cost of adoption is affordable. In other instances, persistent obsolescence can override innovation due to design weaknesses or ease-of-use considerations.

dr-an-wang

Dr. An Wang of Wang Laboratories

Robert Howard—a prolific inventor for seven decades beginning in the 1940s—was among the first engineers to understand that open technology standards were needed to connect computer equipment together. In the late 1960s, along with Dr. An Wang and Prentice Robinson at Wang Laboratories, Howard developed the 36-pin Centronics parallel interface to connect the Centronics Model 101 dot matrix printer to computers.

Although the Wang Labs team could not have predicted it, the Centronics connector took off and became one of the most successful computer connection technologies ever made. One reason for its success was the performance advantages over previous serial interfaces: parallel could carry multiple data streams between devices and could also simultaneously transmit status information.

More fundamentally, however, was the fact that the computer industry in the 1960s was going through a transition. Prior to the Centronics interface, each computer manufacturer used proprietary solutions designed to block customers from buying equipment from competitors. As the computer peripheral business expanded rapidly, however, the lack of standardized connection methods had become a barrier to progress.

As described by Robert Howard in his autobiography Connecting the Dots, the Centronics parallel port was the beginning of a shift in business philosophy among computer companies: “We came to the conclusion that if we developed a very easy, simple interface and gave it free to the world, it might be accepted and used by everyone. Apparently, the practice of creating unique interfaces was so resented by everyone in the computer industry that once IBM accepted our interface, seven other major companies immediately followed suit.” This was not the first or last major technical accomplishment associated with Robert Howard.

Robert Howard’s youth

robert-with-his-father-samuel-horowitz-howard-in-1931

Young Robert with his father Samuel Horowitz (Howard) in 1931

Robert Howard was born Robert Emanuel Horowitz in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York to Samuel and Gertrude (Greenspoon) Horowitz on May 19, 1923. Robert’s father worked the midnight shift at the Main US Post Office in New York City. Although he was born three months premature and was afflicted with dyslexia, Robert grew into a very likeable and stout youngster with athletic talent in several sports.

After the family moved to Flatbush, Brooklyn, Robert spent much of his spare time at the Brooklyn Ice Palace where he learned to skate. He played youth hockey and his skills on the ice were noticed by the hockey coach at Brooklyn Technical High School, an elite all-boys public school. Despite his marginal grades, Robert was recruited to attend Brooklyn Tech as along as that he promised to improve his studies.

While at Brooklyn Tech, Robert excelled at machine shop and woodworking. He built a model airplane out of balsa wood and tissue paper and a refurbished gas engine as a school project. His 1937 delta-wing design was ahead of its time and he received an award for it.

Robert was very close to his maternal grandfather, Isaac Greenspoon, who immigrated to the US from Odessa, Russia in 1910. Isaac started a window-shade business on Manhattan’s Lower East Side that became very successful. Robert worked at his grandfather’s company as a teenager and acquired business skills and decision making that would later prove to be a critical part of his own success.

Although no one, including family members, expected Robert to graduate, he not only received his high school diploma but was awarded an athletic scholarship to attend the college of engineering at Columbia University. By the time of his graduation from Brooklyn Tech, World War II was well underway and the Horowitz’s changed their name to “Howard” to avoid the anti-Semitism that was on the rise during that period.

Before attending Columbia, Robert took a summer job working the night shift for the Sperry Gyroscope Company in Brooklyn. He was hired to operate the milling and cutting machines used to produce parts for US military searchlights. He kept the job when college classes started so he could cover his living expenses.

In a stroke of good fortune, Robert was hired as an engineer for a new vacuum tube project at Sperry. Although he was still a student and did not have an engineering degree, the new position required the machine-shop skills that he did have. Robert switched to night school and threw himself into the vacuum tube development program. This was his first experience with electronics and, like so many other innovators of his generation, the field soon became a focus of his work and he stick with it until the end of his career.

Howard’s early inventions

Robert Howard’s sons Larry and Richard with a Howard Television set in 1959

Robert Howard’s sons Larry and Richard with a Howard Television set in 1959

After a brief stint in the army, Robert was hired as an engineer at Sylvania Electric Company in Queens, New York. Starting at the age of twenty, he became involved in a seemingly endless series of projects in a wide variety of pursuits that would establish him as a pioneer of post-war electronics innovation. His accomplishments would include the founding of at least twenty-four different companies and the development of dozens of state-of-the-art inventions.

Robert Howard’s inventions are so numerous and varied that it is only possible to review a few of them here:

  • 1947: Rectangular TV tube
    All early television sets had round picture tubes. This meant that the rectangular broadcast image was either clipped the top and bottom or was reduced in size to fit in the 7, 10, 11 or 14-inch standard diameters of the first TV tubes. While working for Sylvania, Robert Howard proposed a rectangular tube design and convinced the company to manufacture one hundred of these 16-inch television CRTs.
  • 1950: Cable television
    After founding Howard Television, Inc. to build and sell his own design for black and white TVs, Robert secured a contract to create the first cable TV system that was designed as part of the newly constructed Windsor Park apartment complex in the Bayside section of Queens, New York. Later known as the master antenna television system (MATS), the project connected 18 buildings with a total 320 apartments via coaxial cable to a single television antenna with a signal booster and splitter that enhanced the reception for seven TV channels from the New York area.
  • 1961: Improvements in vinyl record production
    Right around the time that the recording industry was transitioning from 78s to LPs, Robert was collaborating with a company that made the machines that pressed vinyl records. He helped to improve the quality of the mass-produced records by introducing zinc plates into the process. He also invented a pressurized steam-based system for controlling the temperature of the molten vinyl as it was extruded into the record press. Known as the “The Boomer,” Robert Howard’s invention significantly increased the volume of phonograph record production while maintaining the highest stereo quality.
  • 1968: Casino computer system
    As a division of Wang Laboratories, Robert Howard founded Centronics to build the first computerized system to prevent skimming at casino gaming tables. Robert’s system tracked the relationship between the amount of cash coming in versus the value of chips going out. The computerized register centrally tracked the amount of each transaction, each table number and each dealer at any time during the day.

Contributions to printing

Robert Howard’s work with the casino industry led to plans for a printing device that could produce multiple hard copy records of gaming transactions. The available technologies of that time were either too expensive and large or too small and slow for this purpose. Working with Dr. Wang at Centronics on a new computer printing device, Robert’s curiosity and sense of entrepreneurship put him on a path toward innovations that helped bring the printing industry into the digital age.

Model 101 Centronics Dot Matrix Printer

Model 101 Centronics Dot Matrix Printer

  • 1970: Dot matrix printer
    Electronic impact printers with ink-soaked cloth ribbons like typewriters had been developed by IBM in the 1950s for printing from mainframe computers. These machines used a chain with a complete set of characters passing horizontally across the paper at high speed. As the paper moved vertically line-by-line, type hammers struck from behind and drove the accordion folded, tractor-fed paper against the ribbon and type characters on the chain. The IBM line printers had the speed that Robert needed but they cost about $25,000 and were the size of a large piece of office furniture.

    While at Wang Labs, Robert developed a self-contained impact print-head could be made to produce type characters on paper from a matrix of one hundred dots. His invention used wires or “pins” that could print up to 185 characters per second and hit the ribbon and paper hard enough to print all four copies of a multi-part form. The core technology of his invention was an electromagnetic switch that could make each pin strike the printing surface one thousand times per second, more than enough to satisfy the performance required for the gaming reports, and at a cost that was affordable.

    Following the formation of an independent partnership with the Japan-based Brother Industries, Robert Howard’s dot matrix technology was deployed in the Model 101 Centronics printer. Although there were competing dot matrix devices on the market, Centronics became the most successful mass production printer of the early computer industry. By the mid-1970s, sales grew exponentially and reached tens of thousands of units internationally. It was the popularity of the printer that made the above-mentioned Centronics interface into an industry standard for connecting peripherals to computers that lasted for decades until it was replaced by the Universal Serial Bus (USB) in the 1990s.

  • 1991: Direct imaging press

    Prototype of the Heidelberg Quickmaster DI press that was designed with integrated Presstek direct imaging technology

    Prototype of the Heidelberg Quickmaster DI press that was designed with integrated Presstek direct imaging technology

    Robert Howard made what is certainly his most enduring contribution to the printing industry toward the end of his career. In 1986, he founded Presstek to develop the first ever direct imaging offset printing technology. As he explained in his autobiography, “The problem at that time was that offset color was a slow, costly process. It took at least ten days to two weeks of what was called ‘prepress’ preparation before a color print job could even be put on a printing press, and because of this expense, it was both impractical and costly to print less than 10,000 copies of anything. I wanted to apply our knowledge of computers and imaging to the color printing business.”

    Robert’s breakthrough concept was to image the printing plates on the press itself and eliminate the darkrooms, film and chemistry associated with prepress processes. By 1991, a Presstek laser imaging system was added to a Heidelberg offset printing press and sold as the Heidelberg GTO DI (for direct imaging). At the center of the Presstek system was a set of four-color thermal laser heads that imaged plates on press. Aside from the novelty of the on-press plate imaging, the Presstek technology was waterless and was easily retrofitted onto the existing Heidelberg GTO design because it took the place of the unneeded dampening system.

    Beginning in 1993, Presstek and Heidelberg developed the Quickmaster DI press, a printing system that was designed from scratch with the on-press laser imaging technology. Launched at DRUPA in 1995, the Quickmaster DI became one of the most popular Heidelberg offset presses ever with 5,000 machines sold within the decade. The press included design innovations that made it easier to operate than previous offset systems. With this innovation, Robert Howard invented a technology that was both disruptive to the prepress industry and also enabled former prepress companies to enter the short-run color printing market.

Robert Howard died on December 19, 2014 at the age of 91. Although he is not a well-known figure in the history of printing—perhaps because of the variety of businesses and disciplines where he left his mark—Robert made critical contributions to the industry, especially in the final decades of the twentieth century. His exceptional talents as an engineer and entrepreneur were essential to the transition of offset printing from an exclusively analog process to one that uses a host of integrated digital technologies.

How the index card launched the information age

Posted in Digital Media, People in Media History, Print Media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2016 by multimediaman

library-card-catalogOne year ago this month, the final order of library catalog cards was printed by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) in Dublin, Ohio. On October 2, 2015, The Columbus Dispatch wrote, “Shortly before 3 p.m. Thursday, an era ended. About a dozen people gathered in a basement workroom to watch as a machine printed the final sheets of library catalog cards to be made …”

The fate of the printed library card, an indispensable indexing tool for more than a century, was inevitable in the age of electronic information and the Internet. It is safe to say that nearly all print with purely informational content—as opposed to items fulfilling a promotional or a packaging function—is surely to be replaced by online alternatives.

Founded in 1967, the OCLC is a global cooperative with 16,000 member libraries. Although it no longer prints library cards, the OCLC continues to fulfill its mission by providing shared lirary resources such as catalog metadata and WorldCat.org, an international online database of library collections.

Speaking about the end of the card catalog era, Skip Prichard the CEO of the OCLC said, “The vast majority of libraries discontinued their use of the printed library catalog card many years ago. … But it is worth noting that these cards served libraries and their patrons well for generations, and they provided an important step in the continuing evolution of libraries and information science.”

The 3 x 5 card

Printed library catalog card

Printed library catalog card

The library catalog card is one form of the popular 3 x 5 index card that served as a filing system for a multitude of purposes for over two hundred years. While many of us have been around long enough to have used or maybe even still use them—for addresses and phone numbers, recipes, flash cards or research paper outlines—we may not be aware of the relationship that index cards have to modern information science.

The original purpose of the index card and its subsequent development represented the early stages of information theory and practice. Additionally, as becomes clear below, without the index card as the first functional system for organizing complex categories, subcategories and cross-references, studies in the natural sciences would have never gotten off the ground.

The index card became the indispensable tool for both organizing and comprehending the expansion of human knowledge at every level. Along with several important intermediary steps, the ideas that began with index cards eventually led to relational databases, document management systems, hyperlinks and the World Wide Web.

Carl Linnaeus and natural science

carl-linnaeus

Carl Linnaeus

The Swedish naturalist and physician Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) is recognized as the creator of the index card. Linnaeus used the cards to develop his system of organizing and naming the species of all living things. Linnaean taxonomy is based on a hierarchy (kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species) and binomial species naming (homo erectus, tyrannosaurus rex, etc.). He published the first edition of his universal conventions in a small pamphlet called “The System of Nature” in 1735.

Beginning in his early twenties, Linnaeus was interested in producing a series of books on all known species of plants and animals. At that time, there were so many new species being discovered that Linnaeus knew as soon as a book was printed, a large amount of new information would already be available. He wanted to quickly and accurately revise his publications to take into account the new findings in subsequent editions.

As time went on, Linnaeus developed different functional methods of sorting through and organizing enormous amounts of information connected with his growing collection of plant, animal and shell specimens (eventually it rose to 40,000 samples). His biggest problem was creating a process that was both structured enough to facilitate retrieval of previously collected information and flexible enough to allow rearrangement and addition of new information.

Pages from an early edition of Linnaeus’ “The System of Nature”

Pages from an early edition of Linnaeus’ “The System of Nature”

Working with paper notations in the eighteenth century, he needed a system that would allow the flow of names, references, descriptions and drawings into and out of a fixed sequence for the purposes of comparison and rearrangement. This “packing” and “unpacking” of information was a continuous process that enabled Linnaeus’ research to keep up with the changes in what was known about living species.

Linear vs non-linear methods

At first, Linnaeus used notebooks. This linear method—despite his best efforts to leave pages open for updates and new information—proved to be unworkable and wasteful. As estimates of how much room to allow often proved incorrect, Linnaeus was forced to squeeze new details into ever shrinking available space or he ended up with unutilized blank pages.

After thirty years of working with notebooks, Linnaeus began to experiment with a filing system of information recorded on separate sheets of paper. This was later converted to small sheets of thick paper that could be quickly handled, shuffled through and laid out on a table in two-dimensions like a deck of playing cards. This is how the index card was born.

a-stack-of-linnaeus-index-cards

A stack of Linnaeus’ hand written index cards

Linnaeus’ index card system was able to represent the variation of living organisms by showing multiple affinities in a map-like fashion. In order to accommodate the ever-expanding knowledge of new species—today the database of taxonomy contains 8.7 million items—Linnaeus created a breakthrough method for managing complex information.

Melvil Dewey and DDC

While index cards continued to be used in Europe, an important step forward in information management was made in the US by Melvil Dewey (1851-1931), the creator of the well-known Dewey Decimal System (or Dewey Decimal Classification, DDC). Used by libraries for the cataloging of books since 1876, the DDC was based on index cards and introduced the concepts of “relative location” and “relative index” to bibliography. It also enabled libraries to add books to their collection based on subject categories and an infinite number of decimal expressions known as “call numbers.”

The young Melvil Dewey

The young Melvil Dewey

Previous to the DDC, libraries attempted to assign books to a permanent physical location based on their order of acquisition. This linear approach proved unworkable, especially as library collections grew rapidly in the latter part of the nineteenth century. With industrialization, libraries were overflowing with paper: letters, reports, memos, pamphlets, operation manuals, schedules as well as books were flooding in and the methods of cataloging and storing these collections needed to find a means of keep up.

In the 1870s, while working at Amherst College Library, Melvil Dewey became involved with libraries across the country. He was a founding member of the American Library Association and became editor of the The Library Journal, a trade publication that still exists today. In 1878, Dewey published the first edition of “A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library” that elaborated on the use of the library card catalog index.

Precursor to the information age

Title page of the first edition of Dewey’s bibliographic classification system

Title page of the first edition of Dewey’s bibliographic classification system

Like many others of his generation, Melvil Dewey was committed to scientific management, standardization and the democratic ideal. By the end of the nineteenth century the Dewey classification system and his 3 x 5 card catalog were being used in nearly every school and public library in the US. The basic concept was that any member of society could walk into a library anywhere in the country, go to the card catalog and be able to locate the information they were looking for.

In 1876 Dewey created a company called Library Bureau and began providing card catalog supplies, cabinets and equipment to libraries across the country. Following the enormous success of this business, Dewey expanded the Library Bureau’s information management services to government agencies and large corporations at the turn of the twentieth century.

In 1896, Dewey formed a partnership with Herman Hollerith and the Tabulating Machine Company (TMC) to provide the punch cards used for the electro-mechanical counting system of the US government census operations. Dewey’s relationship with Hollerith is significant as TMC would be renamed International Business Machines (IBM) in 1924 and become an important force in the information age and creator of the first relational database.

Paul Otlet and multidimensional indexing

Paul Otlet working in his office in the 1930s

Paul Otlet working in his office in the 1930s

While Dewey’s classification system became the standard in US libraries, others were working on bibliographic cataloging ideas, especially in Europe. In 1895, the Belgians Paul Otlet (1868-1944) and Henri La Fontaine founded the International Institute of Bibliography (IIB) and began working on something they called the Universal Bibliographic Repertory (UBR), an enormous catalog based on index cards. Funded by the Belgian government, the UBR involved the collection of books, articles, photographs and other documents in order to create a one-of-a-kind international index.

As described by Otlet, the ambition of the UBR was to build “an inventory of all that has been written at all times, in all languages, and on all subjects.” Although they used the DDC as a starting point, Otlet and La Fontaine found limitations in Dewey’s classification system while working on the UBR. Some of the issues were related to Dewey’s American perspective; the DDC lacked some categories needed for information related to other regions of the world.

A section of the Universal Bibliographic Repertory

A section of the Universal Bibliographic Repertory

More fundamentally, however, Otlet and La Fontaine made an important conceptual breakthrough over Dewey’s approach. In particular, they conceived of a complex multidimensional indexing system that would allow for more deeply defined subject categories and cross-referencing of related topics.

Their critique was based on Otlet’s pioneering idea that the content of bibliographic collections needed to be separated from their form and that a “universal” classification system needed to be created that included new media and information sources (magazines, photographs, scientific papers, audio recordings, etc.) and moved away from the exclusive focus on the location of books on library shelves.

Analog information links and search

After Otlet and La Fontaine received permission from Dewey to modify the DDC, they set about creating the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC). The UDC extended Dewey’s cataloging expressions to include symbols (equal sign, plus sign, colon, quotation marks and parenthesis) for the purpose of establishing “links” between multiple topics. This was a very significant breakthrough that reflected the enormous growth of information taking place at the end of the nineteenth century.

By 1900, the UBR had more than 3 million entries on index cards and was supported by more than 300 IIB members from dozens of countries. The project was so successful that Otlet began working on a plan to copy the UBR and distribute it to major cities around the world. However, with no effective method for reproducing the index cards, other than typing them out by hand, this project ran up against the technical limitations of the time.

henri-la-fontaine-with-staff-members-of-the-mundaneum

Henri La Fontaine and staff members at the Mundaneum in Mons, Belgium. At its peak in 1924, the catalog contained 18 million index cards.

In 1910, Otlet and La Fontaine shifted their attention to the establishment of the Mundaneum in Mons, Belgium. Again with government support, the aim of this institution was to bring together all of the world’s knowledge in a single UDC index. They created the gigantic repository as a service where anyone in the world could submit an inquiry on any topic for a fee. This analog search service would provide information back to the requester in the form of index cards copied from the Mundaneum’s bibliographic catalog.

By 1924, the Mundaneum contained 18 million index cards housed in 15,000 catalog drawers. Plagued by financial difficulties and a reduction of support from the Belgian government during the Depression and lead up to World War II, Paul Otlet realized that further management of the card catalog had become impractical. He began to consider more advanced technologies—such as photomechanical recording systems and even ideas for electronic information sharing—to fulfill his vision.

Although the Mundaneum was sacked by the Nazi’s in 1940 and most of the index cards destroyed, the ideas of Paul Otlet anticipated the technologies of the information age that were put into practice after the war. The pioneering work of others—such as Emanuel Goldberg, Vannevar Bush, Douglas Englebart and Ted Nelson—would lead to the creation of the Internet, World Wide Web and search engines in the second half of the twentieth century.