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Spring 2005 | Volume 20 |  Issue 4

Caught In Midair

CAN YOU GIVE US SOME insight into how Tyson V. Rininger got that stunning photo on the cover of the Winter 2005 issue?


The editors reply: The photograph, of Scan D. Tucker in his custom-built Challenger II, in which he often performs at Oshkosh, was shot over Salinas, California. The photographer, Tyson Rininger, rode in a Robinson R44 Newscopter piloted by Jim Cheatham, head of the Showcopters acrobatic team. They started on the right side of the plane and flew in front of it and around to the other side, traveling just a little faster than the plane. Rininger used a Canon 10D digital camera with a 28-to-135-mm zoom lens. He says, “Scan Tucker is probably the world’s best acrobatic pilot, and Jim Cheatham probably has the most hours piloting a helicopter of anyone in the country. So all I had to do was push a button. The fun part was my parents. They kind of know what I do, but they had never seen me on a shoot before, hanging out of the helicopter or airplane. Scan was flying in a Harrier pass, and when he was done with it, he put the nose down to gain airspeed and let the engine cool off. Jim swung the helicopter around. I was sitting sideways, with my feet dangling out the door of the helicopter and only a seat belt holding me. I completely lost my balance and started grabbing at things. My parents saw everything. They will never come see me again.”



Mike Agranoff

The Jefferson Airplane And The Cycles Of History

JORMA KAUKONEN’S DE lightful tale of his personal conversion from acoustic to electric guitar (“Letters,” Winter 2005) leaves unaddressed some central issues about technological change. Here’s my take on his story.

Jorma and I were friends in college, brought together by our love of folk music, which we both played all over the Bay Area. Many were the times, at late-night sessions, when we, Luddites to the core, would swear fealty to the acoustic guitar and eternal resistance to the electric invaders. But then it happened. One day in late 1964 I answered my phone and a voice bellowed out, “Gale.”

I bellowed back, “Kaukonen.”

“Listen,” he said, and a most distressing sound came from my phone, a fully amplified, unmistakably electric C chord.

“Kaukonen,” I wailed, “you’ve sold out.”

But of course the rest is history. Jorma and his Jefferson Airplane opened to great acclaim the next August at the Matrix in San Francisco. From then on it was gangbusters for them and all the other escapees from the acoustic world. Yet there was clearly a loss. It looked as if the acoustic guitar was finished as a serious instrument in popular culture.

Now dial ahead a generation. In the last few years we have witnessed a dramatic sea change. Even the most cursory look at the contemporary music scene reveals myriad “unplugged” concerts and albums as artists return to the subtlety and humane dimensions of acoustic. Yet it is not a simple return to yesteryear. A close listen to the unplugged music reveals a new and exciting character that wasn’t there in the playing of the sixties. Acoustic virtuosity has changed, and significantly for the better, with the infusion of new ideas, new techniques, and new sensibilities from these artists’ thorough mastery of the electric regime.

Most likely this is an illustration of an inevitable technological dynamic: A good older technology never really goes away. Rather, after a period of triumph of the new, the old reasserts itself, but in an essentially changed, new, innovative way. Perhaps Kaukonen’s personal trajectory embodies a fundamental kind of technological dialectic. The thesis, acoustic-guitar music, is superseded by the antithesis, electric-guitar music. But then, after a sufficient gestation, a synthesis emerges: today’s unplugged music.

Many examples of such a dialectic come to mind. Perhaps the most compelling is in contemporary medicine, the emerging synthesis of traditional forms of healing amalgamated with modern biophysical science. Who would have guessed that herbs, massage, and acupuncture would mix so well with SSRIs, heart transplants, and PET scans? New technologies inevitably mean loss of the old, but the technological dialectic just as surely means that the loss is anything but permanent.

Prof. George Gale

Pinball Apotheosis

IN YOUR SPRING 2004 ISSUE , which I finally just got to, I read with interest the story about pinball machines (“Pinball,” by Linda Barth). I was reminded of my college days at City College in New York. When some upper-class students built a very experimental computer to solve the problem of long lines while registering for class, I, a sophomore, helped them with the wiring. The key to building the computer was the multipole relays we obtained. We got permission to strip them from pinball machines that Mayor La Guardia had confiscated, which were stored in a police warehouse.


Marshall Lesser

The Truth About Kildall

IN THE WINTER 2005 ISSUE , the introduction to “‘They Made America,’” the interview with Harold Evans about his new book with that title states that the volume contains a “major historical scoop… the full story of how a code writer virtually unknown today, Gary Kildall, did most of the creative work behind what became MS-DOS, the basis of modern PC operating systems. Kildall’s distinctly original contribution was, in Evans’s words, basically ‘snitched’ from him, to become the basis of IBM’s early hegemony in PCs and Bill Gates’s fortune.”

This is not a scoop but something that has been known for some time. Kildall blew it. His staff would not sign a confidentiality agreement with IBM, so the IBM people simply returned to Gates, who had referred them to Kildall in the first place.

Harold Evans replies: Mr. Schoenburg perpetuates the false story I exposed in my book They Made America . I spelled out the error of the many previous assertions that Kildall did not sign a confidentiality agreement. He did. This canard has had a long life. As has often been said, the victors tend to write history, and in this case they wrote wrong history. It is a terrible shame that one of the most creative men in the history of computing is so defamed. My long report on Gary Kildall, which was extensively vetted, was based in part on his unpublished memoir, to which I was given access and which I subsequently checked in interviews. As I spelled out, the falsehood about the confidentiality agreement is only part of this extraordinary story.


Bob Schoenburg

Life Before Birth

ALFRED J. NEUHAUSER, IN his letter in the Winter 2005 issue responding to Jim Quinn’s comments about the stem-cell debate (“Hall of Fame Report,” Fall 2004), writes that “the endless debate over when life begins is… very short on logic and valid science.” But an embryo is a result of the union of a live human egg and a live human sperm. If either is dead, no viable embryo is produced. Therefore life does not begin at conception, at the transition between embryo and fetus, or at birth. It continues. Life did begin some millions of years ago, either by supernatural intervention or by the chance combination of the right compounds. Your choice. But since then it has merely continued on and on.


John Majka

Life Before Gps

YOUR FALL 2004 ARTICLE ON Bradford Parkinson and the Global Positioning System (“Hall of Fame Interview: ‘I Had to Sell This to the Air Force, Because the Air Force Didn’t Want It,’” by Jim Quinn) took me back to my merchant marine days. In 1946 I served as a second mate and navigating officer on a 600-foot-long transport en route to Germany with 1,200 troops. From the time we left Nantucket Lightship the weather was overcast, precluding any sextant sights to establish our position on the stormy North Atlantic. The captain, a former German skipper, was not about to let a 24-year-old greenhorn do dead reckoning, so he gave me daily courses and noon positions. At twilight the day before we were to enter the English Channel the sky cleared enough to reveal some stars and a dusty horizon. I shot three stars and took a radiodirection-finding bearing from an Irish lighthouse for insurance. The four lines of position met to form a small cocked hat 26 miles north of our course line. The captain ordered a southerly course change toward the English Channel.

And my wife wondered why I laughed reading the GPS article.

John Palmer

We hope you enjoyed this essay.

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