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July 2001

That's not all, folks: SN editors recall two decades of UCAR history

The SN gang: (left to right) Carol Rasmussen, Bob Henson, Sally Bates, and Lucy Warner. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Four writer/editors who each have overseen Staff Notes Monthly at some point in the last 23 years sat down recently to trade stories. We couldn't resist the opportunity to hear from these chroniclers of the evolution of UCAR and NCAR, two of whom were soon to depart.

  • It was the last week at UCAR for Carol Rasmussen (SN editor 1987–89 and departing editor of the UCAR Quarterly), who is now focusing on volunteer work and family.

  • Sally Bates, SN editor pro tem this past February through May, was looking forward to resuming the retirement she began last fall. Sally edited SN from 1978 to 1987, then joined Unidata, heading up the program's publications and Web presence among other tasks.

  • Bob Henson was winding up the last days of his 12-year stint as SN editor and looking forward to taking the helm of the Quarterly. (Incoming SN editor David Hosansky is profiled in the sidebar on page 7.)

  • Lucy Warner, director of UCAR Communications, was the only one at the table not changing job descriptions this spring. Lucy stood in for Sally at SN for a year in the mid-1980s.

    Back in the day . . .

    For many years, SN was a weekly publication. When Sally took charge in 1978, it ran feature articles plus all the listings now contained in This Week at UCAR. New to Boulder, Sally had been working freelance after serving as an editor of Saturday Review of the Sciences in San Francisco.

    LW: When Sally came in, she created principles for what we did and did not cover and built a philosophy for Staff Notes as a serious vehicle that will cover the science but won't do recipes, that will cover retirements but [not letters from retirees]. All that got laid down by Sally, and it's still in place.

    SB: I came from a magazine. If you don't do audience analysis and you don't figure out what it is you're putting out and why, you're in deep trouble very quickly. . . . I had worked at Natural History magazine and then at Saturday Review, and [at both] we talked about audiences all the time, so it was a very natural thing to do.

    When Sally arrived, SN was being typeset on an IBM Selectric typewriter, and the newsletter came off the presses at NCAR's former in-house print shop. In the mid-1980s, before production shifted to a Macintosh environment, SN briefly used a word- processing system created by the former Boulder-based firm NBI.

    SB: It took about a day and a half to do the layout . . . so you would have one day or maybe a day and a half to write a story. Then you had to go through the copy-editing process and [cut-and-paste] the layout. So it was a very tight schedule.

    LW: And it wasn't a full-time job, so you really had to race.

    Carol, whose experience included a stint as a reporter at the Newark Star-Ledger along with magazine writing and book editing, was hired in 1983 as a copy editor. When Sally took six months' leave in 1984, Lucy, another experienced writer who had worked in New York and London, was hired as a term employee. Lucy and Carol soon learned that they'd both worked for the same publishing house, R. R. Bowker, in New York.

    LW: We would have been around the corner from each other if we'd been there at the same time.

    CR: She was at School Library Journal, and I was at Library Journal.

    Taking a break from SN, Sally edited the 1984 NCAR annual report. It was the first one that included color images inside as well as on the cover. The memorable black-and-red cover photo by Charlie Semmer spotlighted the helium-neon laser of the tunable laser absorption spectrometer. There was also a graphic showing four different resolutions of the NCAR community climate model.

    SB: The other thing in that report I really loved was this graphic of what the grids [in the model] were. It's still my favorite. . . . It sure shows you what you're talking about when you talk about model resolution.

    Longevity and institutional glue

    CR: [After] 18 years, I've interviewed the same people any number of times. HIRDLS is going to be launched in 2003; I wrote it up when John Gille first got the grant to pursue it from the NASA EOS program, which would have been, say, '85. So over the years you pick up quite a bit of background knowledge. When you interview people again, they know they don't have to start from zero.

    Sally recalled bringing the cover of an NCAR annual report featuring an image from HAO to an interview with a director in another division. When he asked her what it was, recalls Sally, "I suddenly realized the scientists were equally isolated from each other," and that SN had a role to play in improving that. She also recalls stopping by a balloon facility while on vacation in the South Island of New Zealand.

    SB: Marcel Verstraete ran a balloon facility in New Zealand for NCAR, so I stopped by to see him when I was there in 1984. He was wonderful to me and my family! Besides the balloon launches, Marcel was taking air samples for ACD. He would go out on this little beach, out in the middle of nowhere, with his vacuum bottles. He invited me to come with him. He was sending his vacuum bottles back to [long-time ACD scientist] Leroy Heidt. Well, I'll never forget Leroy saying, There's a huge climate change coming here. I can see it already [from Verstraete's vacuum bottles]. When [global change] first came up, people kept saying, Nah, nah, nah. And Leroy kept saying, Oh, yeah.

    BH: I started in 1989. And '88 was the big [year for global warming]. Jim Hansen went to Congress, and Time did a special issue and visited NCAR.

    CR: Nuclear winter was [big news] right when I started.

    The biggest structural change on Bob's watch was the 1994 transformation of SN from a weekly to a monthly, accompanied by creation of This Week at UCAR as an electronic newsletter for the time-sensitive announcements.

    BH: We thought hard about it, did an analysis, and figured out that what made sense was not to go completely electronic, because we were doing fairly long features at times, and we got the sense people didn't want to read that long stuff [on line]. At this point we didn't even have the Netscape browser—we only had Mosaic. But, obviously, it didn't make sense to keep printing a thousand copies of the announcements that could be electronic. [The change] took a little while for people to get used to.

    Parting thoughts

    SB: One of the things that I have enjoyed most about NCAR is the fact that it has a very broad diversity of people and it has the nicest people in some of the weirdest places.

    Carol will miss the "eureka" aspect of talking to scientists here.

    CR: You go in and you interview a scientist and they've done something they're really excited about. They start talking louder and louder, and they start gesturing. And you get it then. It's being in on the excitement of this discovery, people who are figuring things out that nobody else has ever figured out before, and just getting a chance to see into that world of scientific creativity.

    LW: That's what drives this institution, really. And that's what I love most about working here.

    SB: It's been a thrill, a real thrill.

    CR: Every once in a while, a scientist says to me, "You know, I've always tried to explain to my brother-in-law just what it is I do, and I never was able. I gave him your article, and now he understands."

    That's what we're here for. That's our reward.

    Meet Staff Notes Monthly's new editor

    David Hosansky. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

    A recent Colorado transplant with a stellar background in writing and editing takes the helm of Staff Notes Monthly beginning next issue. David Hosansky earned two Pulitzer Prize nominations during his early-1990s tenure at the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, where he covered state politics and finance. From 1994 to 1998, David specialized in environment, agriculture, transportation, and science topics as a writer for Congressional Quarterly. Freelancing since then, he's written The Environment A to Z, a reference book for CQ Press, and produced articles and newsletters on science and public policy for the World Bank, World Resources Institute, and Brookings Institution.

    A native of New York City, David earned a bachelor's in psychology at Brandeis University and a master's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. He moved to Lakewood from Washington, D.C., in 2000.

    "I'm looking forward to joining the staff and writing about the people who work here," David says. "I really like the NCAR-UCAR emphasis on teamwork. And I'm excited about the opportunity to learn more about climate, air pollution, and other topics." David's interest in environmental science dates back to childhood, "memorizing such arcane statistics as the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth." (For the record, it's 136°F or 58°C, measured on 13 September 1922 at El Azizia, Libya.) David can be reached at hosansky@ucar.edu, ext. 8611.

    • Bob Henson

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    Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
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    Last revised: Tue Jun 26 15:04:26 MDT 2001