Center for Short-Lived Phenomena

[2004] The Smithsonian Institution co-operates the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), the place where you send your telegram (or email) when you think you’ve discovered a comet, and a world center of astronomy research. A tiny little offshoot of the SAO, the Center for Short-Lived Phenomena, had evolved out of this “central place to send astronomical notices” function. It took reports on and researched events which might be of interest to scientists and other parties around the world, typically so those interested could study the event before too much time had passed.

I became an Event Reporter and got a huge (government-subsidized, as I recall) $4.25 an hour for calling authorities near the scene of the action and writing up a report for transmission to our subscribers. Most of the subscription fees actually came from oil companies keeping track of spills and blowouts of other companies, and a teletype-based subscription to the oil spill service could cost hundreds of dollars a month.

We looked with some dismay at the UN GEMS (Global Environmental Monitoring System), which had a budget about 100x ours and generated thick bound reports of little interest to anyone, so far as we could tell. Our little-team-that-could did more on a shoestring in terms of actually providing useful environmental data. Naturally GEMS is now a large bureaucracy and the CSLP disappeared around 1985 after being spun out from the SAO.

Here’s a typical Event Report (in the form sent to mail subscribers):
CSLP-EdmundFitzgerald
Here’s a bizarre one I did:
CSLP-HempsteadBay
My coworkers were underpaid recent graduates who were looking for journalism or science experience. My supervisor, Mary Breasted, went on to a career as a freelance journalist, reporter for the New York Times, and eventually became a novelist. Eric Leonard, our resident geologist (volcano and earthquake reports being a staple), ended up as a professor and head of the geology department at Colorado College. Bit of humor I still have in my files, dashed off by Eric on the teletype:
EricLeonardTeletype

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s