Jun. 15, 2006
Off the Record
Poems: "Fast-Pitch" and "Foreseeable" by Paul Bussan from A Rage of Intelligence Poems. © PSB Publishing. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Off the Record
In the attic I find the notes
he kept in college
over forty years ago: Hooray
for Thanksgiving vacation! he wrote
in the margin of Psych 102.
And for a moment I can see him there,
feel the exuberance surge through
that odd cell of his body
where I am still
a secret code uncompleted, a piece
of DNA, some ancient star-stuff.
And then I find a recording of me
from 1948, when he was twenty-two
and I was three, and I can see,
from my perch up on his shoulders,
him stopping at the gaudy arcade,
plugging his lucky quarter into
the future where we'd always be.
Maybe imagination is just
a form of memory after all, locked
deep in the double helix of eternity.
Or maybe the past is but one more
phantasmagoric invention we use
to fool ourselves into someone else's shoes.
It is not my voice I want to hear
on memory's fading page, on imagination's disk.
It is my father's in the background
prompting me, doing his best
to stay off the record, his hushed
instructions vanishing in static.
Literary and Historical Notes:
Today is Flag Day in our country: The government officially adopted the Stars and Stripes as our national flag on this day in 1777.
It was on this day in 1951 that the world's first commercially produced electronic digital computer was unveiled in the United States. It was named as the UNIVAC. The first electronic computers were invented during World War II. Engineers in Great Britain invented the Colossus computer to help break Nazi codes, and engineers in the United States invented the ENIAC, which helped calculate the trajectories of missiles.
The ENIAC weighed thirty tons and occupied a gymnasium. With 18,000 vacuum tubes, it radiated so much heat that industrial cooling fans were needed to keep its circuitry from melting down. It took two days to reprogram it for each new task.
The men who created the ENIAC decided to go into private business for themselves, and it was on this day in 1951 that they unveiled their first product, the UNIVAC, the world's first commercially available electronic computer. It weighed eight tons, used 5,000 vacuum tubes, and cost $250,000. But it could perform 1000 calculations per second, which was the fastest calculation rate in the world at the time.
The first customer to buy the UNIVAC was the United States Census Bureau, and the computer was used to predict the presidential election of 1952, after early returns began to come in. It correctly predicted that Eisenhower would win.
The president of IBM at the time thought that computers, with all their incredibly complex vacuum tubes and circuitry, were too complicated. He said, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." But with the invention of the microchip in 1971, all the processing power of those thousands of vacuum tubes and punch cards could suddenly be crammed into a space the size of a postage stamp. Within a decade, the first personal computers, or PCs, began to appear.
For the first thirty years or so of the history of computers, it was mostly businesses that used them for accounting purposes. But in the 1980s, the word processing powers of computers made them attractive to writersalthough Stephen King said that when he first started using a word processor, he lost the ability to pace himself by the number of pages he had written, and his books grew longer and longer. Russell Baker said, "Computers make writing so painless that the writer cannot bear to stop. On and on the writer goes, all judgment numbed. Before you know it, you've written a book." Some contemporary writers still don't use computers. Joyce Carol Oates writes all her first drafts in longhand. Don DeLillo still uses a manual typewriter.
But, the novelist Stanley Elkin called his word processor a "bubble machine." He said, "The word processor enables one to concentrate exponentially; you have absolute command of the entire novel all at once. You can go back and reference and change and fix ... so in a way, all novels written on the bubble machine ought to be perfect novels."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®