John Drescher

Drescher: For old predictions, the future is now

Bob Williams moved to this area in 1957 to teach math at Cary High School and eventually worked in the Wake County Schools central office. From 1970 to ‘75, he was director of planning and research.

Williams’ responsibilities included projecting enrollment. “I became really conscious of how often predictions don’t always seem to work out,” Williams told me this week.

Williams began clipping stories with predictions and projections from The News & Observer and The Raleigh Times, our defunct afternoon paper. He placed the clippings in folders organized by subject — NASA, Social Security, I-540, sea level, technology, to name a few.

Williams, 83 and now living in Fuquay-Varina, continues to clip The N&O (to the chagrin of his wife of 61 years). He places the stories in folders in his two-drawer, metal filing cabinet. Earlier this year, Williams sent me eight, faded stories from 2003 to 2008 clipped from The N&O.

Williams had circled or underlined a prediction in each story. For example, a Harvard professor predicted in 2004 that there would be a terrorist nuclear attack within 10 years. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened, but no doubt terrorists are working to develop a nuclear bomb.

The most imaginative prediction was about space travel. In January 2008, The N&O published a prediction from Raleigh travel agent Tony Maupin that 50,000 people would travel in space within 10 years. Maupin was among the 100 travel agents in the world certified to sell seats on a craft developed by British billionaire Richard Branson.

“It looks like it’s not going to happen,” Williams said, “but who knows?”

Maupin sold his business two years ago but still follows Branson’s efforts, including a mid-air disaster a year ago. No guests have traveled yet. “They’re being very cautious moving forward,” Maupin told me.

But he said he had no doubt that commercial space travel will happen. To meet his 50,000 projection, “It might be another 10 years,” Maupin said.

Sounds like another prediction for Williams’ files.

Is yesterday today?

A reader wrote: “On a Monday morning I was reading The N&O. An article said that school would be starting Monday. I assumed school would be starting the next Monday. I was wrong; school started that Monday. Why isn’t ‘today’ used instead of the day of the week?”

We used “today” for decades but then the Internet changed how and when we publish stories. All of our stories are published first online, usually the day before print publication.

If we used “today” in the digital version, the print version the following day would be incorrect. We want to publish the digital version of a story in print without having to change the day of the week in every story.

The simplest solution was to conform with the Associated Press Stylebook, which says, “Use the day of the week in copy, not ‘today’ or ‘tonight.’” AP recommends using “today,” “tonight,” “yesterday” and “tomorrow” only in direct quotations written or spoken by sources and subjects.

New Reader Panel

It’s time to select a new N&O Reader Panel. We will select 12 readers who will gather for about 90 minutes every two months to ask questions and give comments and suggestions.

Panel members must read The N&O regularly (either in print or online) and must be available from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on a weekday every other month. Panel members should commit to serving for one year.

I will attend every meeting. Guests will include Publisher Orage Quarles III, editorial page editor Ned Barnett and newsroom journalists.

If you are interested, please fill out an online application at by Dec. 13. We expect a large number of applicants and may not be able to respond to all who apply.