Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 6#2/3 Timo Prusti 1 Jan 1991



Timo Prusti is a Finnish astronomer who is specialised in star formation.He currently works at the Osservatore Astrofisico di Arcetri, Firenze


Prusti -

An Astronomer with the Remnants of Old Media

Unfortunately the romantic picture of an astronomer gazing at the sky through the night is for most astronomers not true. The real morning is also my morning. I get to my work and switch the computer on and get started.
In modern astronomical research, the computer is an essential tool to hasten the often tedious calculations. So one tends to get quite familiar with a screen and a keyboard. This close relationship makes the road familiarity with all the capabilities of a computer smoother and the transition from old media to the new media happens more or less by itself. The only step I remember requiring some effort in this process was the change to tick text directly into the magnetic memory without first organizing thoughts on a piece of paper with a pen.
Practically all my information goes through computers. Communication to colleagues is primarily done via electronic mail, observations from telescopes or satellites is secured on computer readable format, data reduction and analysis is done with number crunchers and finally an article written with a text processing program is stored on a floppy and forwarded to a journal for publication. However, this is not the whole truth. Libraries, type writers, corridor conversations, letters with real stamps and hand written addresses, telexes, colloquiums and conferences are still here to give a taste of life without computers. Some of these old establishments will survive the time while others will not. Now we are living in the era of the dying letter. For years the only handwritten professional letters I got and wrote
were with astronomers in East European countries. The opening of borders has opened the way to electronic networks thereby ending both the pleasure of receiving real letters and the frustration of trying to create replies. The most annoying preservation of old media is done by the new media maniacs. I hate the days when observing proposal forms designed with the most advanced layout program force me to turn to a type writer. The sentences do not fit into the spaces reserved and the x is never within the borders of the tiny box reserved for this marker.
Predicting the future media used in astronomy is difficult. A few years ago it was easy to see the approaching replacement of a professionally qualified draughtsman by a handy plotting package installed in a computer with a good laser printer, but the death of PC's in research under the pressure of work stations was at least to me surprisingly fast. Philosophically the most fundamental change of medium in astronomy is the collection of satellite measurements on enormous data banks. The sky is being moved on magnetic tapes. However. this impressive development cannot change the basic need for direct observations of the sky. There will always be space for the crucial observation made with a ground based telescope by an enthusiastic astronomer.