The Early History of Astrology Software:
A Personal Account
Copyright © 2007 All Rights Reserved
by David Cochrane
Described below are my personal experiences in the early development of astrology software. This article is also a tribute to Neil Michelsen. In my early involvement in astrological software, a series of amazing coincidences occurred, which I refer to a bit hyperboically as "miracles" below.
A Software Program Appears at My Doorstep
I do not remember who was sponsoring the conference, but I would guess it was a NASO Conference. In those days the AFA (American Federation of Astrologers) and NASO (New York Astrological Society), headed up by Henry Weingarten and Barbara Somerfield, had the most exciting astrology conferences. The NASO Conferences were very high quality and featured outstanding speakers. Some of the AFA Conferences were huge by today's standards, having thousands of attendees.
Something extraordinary happened at the conference and my two friends returned with a surprise: they met a fellow in Chicago who had a computer program to calculate planetary positions, and he would send the punch cards to my address. Within a few weeks they arrived at my doorstep. This was extraordinary!
Access to A Computer at No Charge.
I met the chairman of the department and we arranged for me to use the computer all weekend at no cost! This was a miracle, as I had extremely little income, and a computer to use gratis all weekend was a blessing. I worked all day Saturdays and Sundays programming and seeing clients and teaching during the week. it was a good life. However, I could not get this program sent to me on punch cards to work so I continued to calculate charts by hand.
MEETING NEIL MICHELSEN
I called Neil Michelsen. I told Neil what I was doing, and, among other things, I explained that I had written a program that produced solar arc to natal midpoint aspects and interpreted them. I had the interpretations on punch cards. Neil said he would like to fly down, help get the program running, and I was very happy to give him the midpoint interpretations on punch cards and the programs and other interpretations I had. This way, Neil would benefit from the trip as well. Neil flew down and in one weekend he got the program running and returned to Pelham, New York, where he lived at the time, with a copy of my punch cards in hand.
Neil Michelsen was one of the finest people I have ever met. At the time I was living very simply in a cabin in the woods, my clothes were whatever I could find at a thrift shop, and I was completely focused on astrology, to the neglect of material acquisitions. Neil, on the other hand, was very professional, clean cut, older and more mature than I was. I was very impressed with his intelligence, clarity, and generosity. Having been so impressed with Neil, I was eager to meet other astrologers and I asked who he thought was exceptionally good in the field. He recommended Rob Hand, Zip Dobyns, and Michael Munkasey.
Neil returned to New York, thrilled to have the interpretations that I gave him. However, I felt he was equally thrilled to have helped me. He respected what I was doing, and I felt encouraged by his interest in what I was doing. Neil was older than me, not only in years, but in maturity. I also corresponded with Henry Weingarten, Charles Jayne, and Pamela Crane in those days and by the mid 1970's I was speaking regularly at conferences. Neil Michelsen however was the first of the well-known and respected people in the field of astrology that I spent some time with.
Neil was always enthusiastic, excited about progressive ideas in natural healing and spiritual energy, and always seeking ways to explore new dimensions. I remember years later attending a seminar that he gave at a conference on color healing. Someone asked if everyone should be healed; perhaps some people needed to work through their karma and not be healed. Neil looked directly at her, and said that if you have the opportunity to heal, then you heal. He said something to the effect that when you have the opportunity presented to you to help, that is your good karma to do what you can to help. Neil was articulate, technically oriented, sophisticated in his knowledge of mathematics and software development, inspired, creative, talented, and he had a very big heart. Needless to say, Nel's life, like everyone's life, was not trouble-free. He had been married many times, for example, an indication of his problems in personal relationships.
THE 1980'S AND HOME COMPUTERS
When the TRS-80, Commodore Pet, and Apple computers appeared around 1980, I became excited about the possibility of developing software on these new, small computers. My access to the computer at the community college also was terminated, so the home computers arrived just in time. I converted my programs from the Fortran and Cobol languages to the BASIC language, and moved from mainframes to home computers. I wrote an all-pupose program that produced midpoint structures, aspect grids, and other calculations and I sold a few copies of it.
I decided that I needed to make a change and I called Neil. I asked if he would like to hire someone and I was thinking that he might want to enter into this new home computer software market. Neil told me that the night before he was at a friend's house and they were playing with a ouija board and they asked Neil if he had a question. His question was whether it would be good for him to hire me. This is amazing because we had not discussed the idea before but both of us were thinking of it at the same time. The answer to his question was yes, but he had not asked if it would be good for me too, and he did not call me to ask. He had hired someone else that morning so I called just a little bit too late. I combined forces with Michael Erlewine in 1981 and we worked hard at building the basic calculations that astrologers need on home computers. This work continues to this day and there is still much more to do, partly because astrologers uncover or develop new methods and techniques.
I have devoted my life since then to the development of astrology software on home computers for astrologers, astrology businesses, and researchers who can use these software tools to either validate astrology or demonstrate that particular astrological theories do not work.
THE CHANGE TO A NEW ERA
I do not remember the year but Neil developed cancer, the disease progressed quickly and within a few years, this dynamic and vital person had passed away. It was a shock. I believe the year of his death was 1990. I had made a business agreement with Neil in the mid 1980's and in the mid 1980's I corresponded with Tom Shanks, Neil's associate, about daylight saving time changes. Neil and Tom had done interesting work on the Gauquelin sectors and Neil continued publishing the ephermides and atlas books through the 1980's. Even during his illness I remember seeing Neil at a conference. Neil's death followed upon the deaths of other notable astrologers of that generation.
Dane Rudhyar and Marc Edmund Jones had passed away in the 1970's. I had corresponded with Jones and Rudhyar about a theory of degree meanings that I developed but obviously this conversation was now ended. Charles Jayne passed away in the early to mid 1980's. John Addey died in 1982. Ideas I wanted to share with Addey of course were now not possible either.
By the early 1990's it seemed to me that we had crossed a bridge to a different generation. The NASO Conferences had ended. Conferences sponsored by other organizations were taking their place. Geoffrey Dean's book "Recent Advances in Natal Astrology" had dampened enthusiasm about the possibilities of a scientific astrology so that by the 1990's interest had shifted to the history of astrology, ancient astrology, and psychological astrology.
By the 1990's I had noticed that many of the astrologers featured at conferences and even those giving the opening address were part of a new wave of astrologers. Some of the astrologers from the "old days" are still around and people like Rob Hand, Ray Merriman, Michael Munkasey, Lee Lehman, Bruce Scofield, Gary Christen, and some others still attend conferences and are still active seeing clients and/or writing. Some others from the "old days" have gone onto other interests and no longer work in the area of astrology, or do not participate in the large astrological organizations and conferences. At the time I am writing this article, I am only 58 years old and already have seen many changes in astrology.
THE 21ST CENTURY
The 21st century is bringing in a new level of academic rigor and professional standards. There is also a new group of young astrologers that study astrology more critically than the previous generations. Some of these astrologers have joined together in a new astrology group, the Association of Young Astrologers (AYA) I feel very much at home with these young astrologers, and I am very excited about the astrological work they are doing. Many of them approach astrology with the same critical thinking skills and academic rigor with which I approach astrology, and too often is lacking in the astrological work of astrologers of my own age. Also, researchers and translators are digging into the ancient history of astrology and we are becoming better educated about our subject. These are exciting developments!
I try to work with the same vision and idealism that I learned from Neil Michelsen: to work hard, to be generous, to be enthusiastic, to demand excellence, to pioneer where others fear to tread, and to have a big heart. In this century, we will make more progress in finding out exactly what astrology is and we will find out if astrology functions in an objective (i.e. "scientific") manner. This is an exciting adventure, regardless of what we discover. Utilizing the latest technologies in graphics, sounds, multimedia, the Internet, and other developments as they occur is always a priority. We also are seeing the development of software tools that make it possible for us to approach astrology at a completely new level of sophistication; this is what I am most excited about. As we head towards the second decade of the 21st century we will see more features in astrology software that are extremely sophisticated and beyond the range of capabilities that astrologers were previously accustomed to.
– All dates given in this article are according to my memory and should be verified.
– This article is not comprehensive. It contains some anecdotal stories, personal experiences, and observations that can be helpful and interesting to anyone interested in astrological developments in the late 20th century and early 21st century.
AUTHOR: David Cochrane