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Supposedly, it once came to the attention of a newspaper editor in a small town in South Africa that, due to the vagaries of time zones and geography, his newspaper would be the first one to be able to print pictures of the surface of Mars, returned to Earth by an early NASA spacecraft.
So, this guy makes arrangements with the NASA press office to have the pictures wired to the paper just before it goes to press, announces to the public the great honour its readers will have in this matter, and waits anxiously for the pictures to come through.
But, things being what they are in the ever-efficient NASA bureaucracy, the pictures don't come through. Frantic calls to the NASA press office confirm that there are pictures, but they won't be available in time.
So, our hero, thinking back to the quality of early pictures of the far side of the moon, decides that, whatever NASA can do, he can do better. He calls a staff photographer to his office, and has him photograph a piece of Ryvita cracker, slightly out-of-focus. The photograph is developed and takes pride of place on the paper's front page. The readers, fascinated at the first images from a far-away world, buy it in their droves, and the editor is well satisfied with his ruse.
A little later, he gets a phone call from his friend, the editor of a major metropolitan newspaper. ``How,'' the other asks, ``did you get such fantastic pictures of Mars? Ours were crummy. Do you know someone at NASA?''
Copyright (c) 2001 Chris Lightfoot. All rights reserved.