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Memories of Hal Ravn, Former Morsulus Herald

[I recently got in touch with Hal Ravn, who first transferred the Ordinary of the Society into electronic format, and asked him about that experience. Following a few rounds of correspondence, he granted permission for me to post an excerpted version of his recollections here, for which I am extremely grateful. I have attempted to place the narrative into chronological order below, eliding mundane names and non-heraldic elements. Points where I’ve stitched material together out of the order in which it was written are marked with […] and editorial interjections are marked with square brackets. — Mathghamhain]

Joining the Society

I didn’t get into the Society early. My first event was March Crown, 1970. Coincidentally (for waiver issues) the day after my 21st birthday. […]

The references to Dorothea of Caer-Myrddin are to my wife of getting on for 50 years, now. [Their wedding in the summer of 1971 is documented on the West’s history site.]

[…] the main people, Karina, Randall, my wife, etc. all knew each other going back through SF fandom as well as the Society. What far too many don’t realize is that they were largely making it up as they went along. Hence the story about Elfrida of Greenwalls, faced with a blank on an East Bay Parks form labeled “Name of organization”, so she made up “Society for Creative Anachronism” on the spot. People read far too much meaning into it. […]

The Early College of Arms

Back before all of that happened, the College of Heralds of the West and the College of Arms of the Society were the same people. When that got split up [in mid 1971], I took—piecemeal—all of the CoA files to work and photocopied them so the CoH-West would have a complete set. […]

I should probably mention that Randall of Hightower was running the CoH in that period. […] Harald Breakstone had more or less retired from the herald business by then. […]

My wife took notes, what with being able to do shorthand—and, if you’ve been reading old minutes, writing the irreverent footnotes along the way. […] She took notes until the CoA went elsewhere and then continued doing for it for the CoH, winding up as “Privy Clerk” for Katrina.

Most of the copies of the minutes were sent out *without* the irreverent footnotes, as not everybody appreciated them. So it’s entirely possible to find copies of the minutes without the footnotes. […]

My association with the CoA/CoH was because Dorothea didn’t—and still doesn’t—drive. So I was transport. The meant occasional trips to an airport to pick up Sarkanyi Gero when he came to the Bay Area for CoH meetings. That also meant that I was around, though not in​ meetings back when they were held in Randall’s basement.

Creating the Electronic Ordinary

[Starting in 1975, Hal developed software for managing the Society’s heraldic records in electronic format.]

There was no team. There was me and whoever I could get to pound on a keyboard to get the data in, mostly my wife, since—at that time—she tested at 100 WPM. The programming was all me. […]

The programs were written in COBOL. There were actually two files involved. One with a set of keywords and one with the blazons with markers to tell which words were to be used for categories. The keyword file has associated lists of specific words to use for categories. Thus, if a blazon had “raven” in it, the key file would associate “raven” with “bird” and that blazon would be printed as part of the listings with other birds.

Karina decided how the categories worked. […]

As I recall, we worked from paper file copies to input the data, largely the materials I had copied when Society and West Kingdom offices split up. […]

I’m afraid that a lot of the early Society record keeping was, basically, stolen resources from various people’s employers… […] The mainframes were IBM S/370 (the ’70s successor to the S/360). Would have been, IIRC, Model 145[…] 

The original input work was done on Datapoint equipment at the workplace (in Berkeley) of the older of my two sisters (Katrina Ravn), as they could do mixed-case input. Then the data was transferred to 9-track reel-to-reel tape and I took it into where I worked (Stauffer Chemical) in San Francisco where I could print it all out.

At some point, we got an IBM 3800 printing system (think of a very large, very fast—about 225 pages per minute—laser printer that used tractor feed paper). I wrote a small font for the 3800 so we could keep the paper volume down to something manageable. [See this Facebook video for a glimpse of a printed Ordinary from around 1976.]


[In 1979, as her last official act before stepping down as third Laurel Sovereign, Karina of the Far West named Hal Ravn the first Morsulus Herald, retroactive to the beginning of his work on the Ordinary.]

I don’t think I ever noticed Karina appointing me Morsulus. […]

When our kids were young, we sort of dropped out of the Society (though kept in touch) for several years. When we got back in, I took up helping out with the Constables […] I wound up as Kingdom Constable during the period when the Board brought in Anthony Provine to provide “professional management”. These days we’re not terribly active, but we do manage to get to the occasional event…

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