Kneiling and Hirsch
Each of us have our ways by which we navigate the world. Sometimes, someone comes along who influences us in a better way. For me, there were two men who I appreciated in my teen years, whose thoughts went on to influence my work in engineering and technical publishing.
Neither of them knew me, as I lived in northern Canada and they were columnists in American magazines. Over time, as I read their work, part of their worldview become part of mine.
I was a model railroader during my teen years, and I say that model railroading kept me sane during those years that are tumultuous to many. I faithfully read Model Railroader and Trains magazines, both published by the very fine people at Kalmbach Publishing.
Among the regular columnists in Trains magazine was The Professional Iconoclast, John Kneiling (d. 2000). Little did I know that the word meant "icon smasher," nor, as a young teenager, did his columns made any sense to me. I ignored them. I couldn't, however, ignore the letters of outrage that appeared every so often.
People were having their oxen gored and I eventually forced myself to learn why. It was tough going, but in my later teen years I finally comprehended what he was saying. Mr Kneiling advocated new ways of doing things that went against the popular grain of thinking.
Those were terrible times for railroads in the early 1970s. They were going bankrupt, being bought up, and in the USA! were even nationalized (Conrail and Amtrak). For the first time in my life, I vicariously experienced in real time a fast-moving shift from an assumed monopoly to weak wannabe.
Naturally, the railroading community was trying to stay optimistic, but he punctured their wishful thinking. "Wow!" I thought as I finally caught on to what he was saying. For instance, he advocated that railroads adopt a new concept he called "unit trains." They would have just one kind of car (oil or coal or grain cars) and travel only between A and B. Standard methodology today, but in 1975 it was an iconoclastic idea.
From him, I learned that it's okay to be right when everyone else is wrong.
Stereo Review Magazine
In my university years, I wanted to know all there was to know about stereos, and eventually became a no-charge consultant helping fellow students buy the best stereo for the money they budgeted -- typically $400 to $800, or about $1,200 in today's money. (Met one of my girlfriends that way.) In the late 1970s, this meant a receiver (pre-amp, amp, tuner), record player, perhaps a cassette deck, headphones, and a pair of large speakers.
I read Stereo Review magazine religiously, absorbing all there was to know. The technical reviewer, Julian Hirsch (d. 2004), impressed me. He had created a standard set of tests for equipment, and then dispassionately reported the results. Mr Hirsch took no guff from furious advertisers.
He was anti-subjective. I remember Bob Carver's outrage at Mr Hirsch's statement there was no effect to be detected from Carver's new holographic amplifier -- an early attempt to create surround sound. (Later, in 1980, I nevertheless bought the Carver M-400 amp, just because its cube shape was so cool.)
Mr Hirsch's dedication to reporting on the results from consistent equipment testing impressed me no end, and that a single man could stand up to the combined forces of an entire industry. For him, the user came first.
When I became technical editor of CADalyst magazine, I adopted his methods, and even managed to get a couple of advertisers angry when my results contradicted claims in their full-page color ads. For me, the user came first.
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There are, of course, others who influenced me in good ways and, sadly, sometimes in bad. But these two men are two of my early heroes, whose writings influenced me to this day.