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The Editors Spin: Hello, Goodbye
Posted Dec 14, 2004 Print Version     Page 1of 2 next »

Does anybody out there remember SIGCAT? Not so much the organization—which was absorbed into the DVDA two years ago—but the conference? It was quite an event back in the '90s, and for CD-ROM Professional (EMedia's progenitor) and its readers, it was like Old Home Week. SIGCAT stood for Special Interest Group on CD-ROM Applications and Technology, and it was run by Jerry McFaul of the U.S. Geological Survey. Although many of its concerns were strictly inside-the-beltway, its efforts on behalf of CD technology proved a tremendous catalyst in establishing it as an essential storage and distribution medium. And they also threw great parties—who could forget the annual CD Jam? Like CD-ROM Professional itself, SIGCAT was a meeting place for the best minds in CD technology, particularly those who established Orange Book CD recording as its ace in the hole. It was a great network storage show, too, and one that quickly figured out—like CD-ROM Professional itself did—that the revolutionary technology it was helping to propagate was bigger than CD-ROM, even if everything it touched in some way radiated from a CD-ROM hub.

For a member of the CD-ROM Pro or EMedia editorial staff, going to SIGCAT meant being received as something like royalty. In 1997, the show spent its last year in its longtime home—Reston, Virginia—which felt like its own little universe the week of the conference. I ran a couple of conference sessions on CD-RW packet writing and Web-connected CD-ROM, as I recall, and my then-boss and predecessor as editor, David Guenette, took center stage for a presentation Jerry McFaul had flatteringly dubbed "Guenette's Vignettes." Basically, Guenette's Vignettes was conceived as a year-in-review address, recounting all the biggest happenings in "our" industry as Guenette had seen them from his privileged perch.

At least that's what McFaul likely had in mind when he pitched the idea. But when I peered over Guenette's shoulder as he was preparing his PowerPoint slides the day before we left for the show, I realized he was taking a different tack. With the 12 CD-ROM Professional and EMedia Professional covers (we'd recently changed the name) and 12 corresponding tables of contents comprising his entire 24-slide presentation, Guenette's plan, in fact, was not to review what had happened in the industry over the last year, but rather, what had happened in his magazine. Having no peer on the magazine staff (as he liked to say), he would give no quarter (as he also liked to say) to any outside suggestions or critiques. It was a singular approach to be sure, and one that made for a mighty fidgety audience as he performed his sequential, dramatic reading of those dozen TOCs, inspiring tedium and nausea in equal measure. But what the heck—they were his vignettes, right?

Recalling vividly the reception of Guenette's Vignettes (and my own mortification as the ordeal dragged on), I'm reluctant to spend even this last Editor's Spin in the last EMedia reminiscing about the magazine and my ten years with it. I take some comfort in knowing that my audience isn't quite as captive as Guenette's—at least you can put the magazine down. Or toss it in the fire. Or simply turn the page.

I've edited this magazine in three states and seven offices; through two presidents (would that we'd just made it three); through portions of two centuries and two millennia; and through the dot-com bubble and its fateful burst. When I joined the staff of CD-ROM Professional in December 1994, I was living in Somerville, Massachusetts with three single guys in various states of unemployment. Two of us are married now; I'm a father, and the other is about to become one. One of my old roommates now works for the State Department. The father-to-be was just ordained as an Episcopal priest; he's also my brother-in-law. The third, a reporter for the Boston Globe, was on Yawkey Way in Boston in October when the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years. Season of change, indeed.

Ten years ago, I never expected to see that "World Champions" banner raised in Fenway Park, any more than I expected to find myself still working at EMedia in 2004. But my expectations changed at least a little one day in late 1995 when I called Bob Starrett—contributing editor, author of the Colorado Revised Statutes on CD-ROM, and a pioneer of CD-Recordable technology—with a rather unusual question: "Is there any way to use CD recorders to make music CDs?" Replied Bob, who has since written two books on audio CD recording: "I don't know; let me look it up."

Well, we all know what answer Bob found. That was the day that changed everything for me. I'd like to say it changed everything for music CD burning, too—but it didn't. We were never that magazine. Even if we'd shouted that message to the music fans of the world, they wouldn't have heard it. This was years before Nick Hornby's High Fidelity made the record-geek hobby of mix-making cool, and even more years before Napster put digital music sharing on the map. Many of our readers knew you could burn music CDs—or, like Bob, at least they knew where to look it up. But they also knew that it was an economically absurd proposition at that time, when recorders cost $1,000-$3,500 and media $15-20—when you could find it. We weren't an application-oriented magazine yet, and feasible CD-R applications were few and far between, even though the premastering and corporate- and government-centric ones were mission-critical and profitable. It wasn't that our readers didn't use CD-R, or develop the technology that made it possible. But they knew, as we did, that it was too soon for it to take off on a consumer scale, and that there were too many issues to work out in relative private before that time came.

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