November 1970 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
You probably will not be surprised
to read Popular Electronics editor Oliver Ferrell's comments on the costs and implications
of handling the large volumes of postal mail from readers that magazines typically received. Not having
e-mail back in the day had both its advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage of having
just paper and envelope mail (aka snail mail) is that only serious people with concerns would
bother to write and pay for postage, whereas with e-mail very little effort and no out-of-pocket
cost is required to fire off a note for any reason. A disadvantage of not having e-mail is
that humans needed to open, read, and decide how to respond to each letter, whereas software
algorithms can do the heavy lifting with e-mail.
Direct & Current: About Reader Mail
Third in a Monthly Series by Oliver P. Ferrell, Editor
Several years ago, an associate proposed a unique solution to the problem of how to handle
reader mail - never answer a single letter! Undoubtedly he was embittered by the seemingly
endless flow of letters from Popular Electronics readers.
Trying to answer reader mail is admittedly a moral obligation for the magazine - especially
in regard to published material. However, all readers may not be aware that, as much as the
staff would like to help solve reader problems, it is frequently impossible. Permit me, on
behalf of the staff, a moment to review the problem and explain why some inquiries go unanswered:
1 Cost. Answering the average inquiry costs more in man-hours than the magazine recoups
from a one-year subscription.
2 Validity. The average inquiry wants us to change into something else something that has
already been published; frequently an incredibly complex redesign of the entire project.
3 Out of Date. An amazingly high percentage of inquiries deal with material published 3
to 10 years ago involving projects using components no longer available and lacking substitutions.
4 Referrals. The average inquiry is addressed to the author and an answer is expected over
the author's signature. Only one out of 20 authors has the time and research facilities to
answer reader inquiries; as much as he may appreciate the interest in his work.
5 Volume. Last year, Popular Electronics received an average of 900 letters and postcards
each month that might be categorized as reader inquiries. (We are not referring here, of course,
to the use of the Reader Service Pages.)
In one recent batch of mail, the inquiries included the following samples: design of a
recording studio fader console; comparison of various CB transceivers; pleas for free subscriptions;
detailed theoretical analysis for a Science Fair project; complaint about absence of Carl &
Jerry series; 17 modifications of the" Mini-DVM", 9 requests for clarification of JK flip-flop
article; plans for 14 different speaker enclosures; etc., etc.
The above skims the surface of the problem and is written to show that we are aware of
the need for a quick advisory service. The staff attempts to answer as many inquiries as time
will permit, but those answered are still a fraction of the incoming mail. Any suggestions?
Posted August 7, 2017