Category Archives: technology

C is for … [part 2]


What happens if I push that button in the middle? I just want to help you ...

Carbon Paper

Occasionally I actually see carbon paper these days. If I happen to buy a cashier’s check or money order at the bank (when I don’t want a personal check languishing on someone’s desk for days or weeks …), there is a piece of carbon paper between the part I mail out and the part I keep as a record. Otherwise, carbon paper is a thing of the past — the long ago past, it seems.

I’m not sure when I last saw a package of carbon paper for sale in the office section of the “five and dime” type department store. Oh, back in the 1980s I discovered “carbon sets” — thin “second sheets” with an attached thin piece of carbon designed for people who had lots of copies to keep and did not want bulky regular typing paper filling up their file cabinets. These were not available in the regular stores but in the office supply or stationers stores.

Regular carbon paper? Even though people still used typewriters in the mid-1990s, enough people had migrated to using personal home computers, connected to 9-pin or 24-pin dot matrix printers, or even daisy wheel printers, that it was very difficult to find carbon paper in the store.

My earliest memory of carbon paper is from my childhood when I was about 4 or 5. One of my dad’s cousins delivered our bottles of gas for the stove and he wrote up the receipt in a small pad. There was a small sheet of carbon paper that he used to make a copy for himself. He reused the sheet until it no longer made legible copies, then he would crumple it up to throw away.

I offered to take it to throw away — though in truth, I wanted that thing to play with, experiment with, to see how it worked. He refused to give it to me because, he said, it would make my hands all dirty. He was probably right and I would have probably also messed up quite a few other things with that carbon paper. It was not good quality, I guess, and the black came off it all over everything and anything it touched.

I bring up carbon paper because for two reasons:

1) Back just before Christmas, I listened to When Elves Attack by Tim Dorsey. When I had another credit to use at, I went back and got the first book in the series, Florida Roadkill. According to Dorsey’s website, the books in this series are meant to be read in the order they have been published. When Elves Attack was the newest book at the time, but it sounded “interesting” and became my introduction to the series. The books in the series do not follow a chronological order. At the website, there is a chart of the books in chronological order, but as I said, they are meant to be read in the order they have been published.
It’s hard to describe the series, having only encountered 2 books of the 15. It is the story of Serge A. Storms, a serial killer who loves Florida, its history, flora, fauna, and locales. It is not a series to just blithely recommend without knowing the mental state of the reader — the books could become instruction manuals instead of entertainment in the wrong hands.
Back to the fact the books are not in chronological order. Turns out that When Elves Attack happened before Florida Roadkill. However, Florida Roadkill is definitely “time” placed with accuracy — at the finish of the 1987 World Series. Remember, When Elves Attack occurs before that, but … Serge uses FACEBOOK to track down some friends in this novel.

2) A friend and I are working on a novelization based on some events from the early 1990s. Personally, I am more comfortable writing about the early 1990s as a setting, but for some reason we decided to update it a bit more. Say, around 2004. Now, I am wondering how careful I need to be about the technology we use. Netbooks were not around until 2007. But what about the various kinds of smart phones and when did we stop using the term “cell phone”?

The question for today, then, is “Is attention to detail on technology important?”
In a sci-fi book or something where the technology used is integral to the story, maybe. In a regular novel — maybe referring to IMing, emailing, calling a friend on the mobile/cell phone, taking a photo with the cell phone, or using a Blackberry — it isn’t so important whether it is “accurate” to its time?

When did the average middle-aged person stop saying they were afraid to even push the button to turn on a computer because they were afraid they would touch the wrong thing and blow up the system? When did the average senior citizen become almost as tech savvy as their 12 year old grandsons? Does it matter when writing a novel?

What do you think?