I was a science geek from infancy. At age 14 I discovered Scientific American magazine. I can remember the precise issue: it was the one with cover story "The Green Flash," January 1960. I've been hoping ever since, on the rare occasions I've been in a suitable time and place, to see the green flash for myself, but never have.
Sci Am was fascinating to a provincial English kid not only for its scientific-ness, but also for its American-ness. It radiated breezy mid-20th-century can-do confidence and abundance — the spirit that got us to the Moon.
And the ads! Was there anything you couldn't buy in America? — anything, I mean, that a teen geek on 1s.6d. pocket money a week so wished he could afford. I remember a tiny pressure-jet gadget that, said the ad, would cut through anything, this illustrated with a picture of a shape being carved out of an egg shell. America's national weather service would sell you a meteorological balloon that could go to 50,000 feet! (They still sell them.) That was ten miles up! I wanted one of those balloons so badly I could taste it. Think what you could do! … if you could somehow get the hydrogen.
There were small puzzlements, though. The companies advertising in Sci Am all made a point of telling readers they were "equal opportunity employers." What did that mean?
What it meant was that science and technology companies — contractors for the space program — were already, in the early 1960s, keen to present themselves as PC-compliant, twenty years before the phrase "politically correct" entered general currency.
The past is another country, indeed. The past as presented to young Americans today is not only another country, it is a country as fictional as those described by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels.
One of Steve's recurring themes is that nobody remembers anything. Well, some number of us still remember things. Some dwindling number …