There was a time when digital data recorders did not exist. Data was recorded on strips of paper with grids on them, generally wound around a slowly turning drum while a pen marked them. Trying to do anything with data of this sort required digitizing it.

My first job as a research assistant at the Geophysical Institute involved doing just that.

The process was called scaling, and involved a device that was moved along the paper, lined up with the ink trace at specified intervals, and a button pushed. The eventual result was a string of numbers for one component of the magnetic field. This was done for both horizontal components.

I then had to plot these numbers on an x-y graph, connecting the dots in time order for a number of stations and events. Plotting in those days used millimeter graph paper, with points entered and connected by hand.

Today, it would take five minutes on a computer — but this was 1963. It took a small army of graduate students (SAGS was actually used as an acronym) just to get the data in a form in which it could be analyzed. (SAGS are still used, but these days it is generally in collecting the data, not in doing things a computer can do better.)

All of this was carried out in the basement of what is now the Chapman Building, which looked then very much as it does today, except that it had a dome on the roof. Eventually, we found that the disturbance in the magnetic field during a sudden impulse was elliptically polarized at high latitudes, and my first paper was actually written on the results of that study.

It may sound like a silly thing to do, but that discovery provided a small boost toward our understanding of the effect of the solar wind on the magnetic field of the earth — a subject not to be ignored in the design of long-distance power lines. But I’m very glad for computers!

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