Sunday, June 25, 2017

Typing Assignment #2

We had a great response to Typing Assignment #1 on my YouTube channel, with 18 participants entering their one-page typewritten pieces. For many of you, this was your first foray into creative writing, which I can only respond by feeling grateful that this project has already born some creative fruit. I hope you continue to be inspired and wear out many more ribbons with your future writings!

These short pieces, though each unique, had many aspects in common, especially the devotion and love reflected between machine and user. There was also a strong sense of melancholy, for these machines having sat so many years and decades in disuse, before being rediscovered. Humor was also in plenteous supply, with one writer having the typewriter revolution being started by the machines themselves, and another writer stating that the machines collect their owners - not the other way around. For anybody like us collectors who've sensed that magnetic attraction to some otherwise anonymous thrift store, only to find some wonderful machine inside, waiting to be taken home, we can certainly relate.

Of course, a single page is entirely inadequate for many of these stories to be fully realized; but that is another reason why these one-page assignments are so worthwhile, in that they require just enough creative effort to whet the juices into further expanding the treatment into a full-blown short story, which I hope many participants will take advantage of.

Typing Assignment #2 is less fictional creativity and more along the lines of analytical thinking: write a one-page essay on what you find unique and/or valuable about using typewriters as writing tools. Unless I hear otherwise, we'll assume the due date will be next Sunday, July 2. Please have your entries written, scanned/photographed, posted to social media and the link posted into the comments section below before then. If you require more than one week for this assignment, please post a comment into the YouTube video itself; I'll consider extending the due-date based on responses. I suspect enough of us are typewriter aficionados that we already have a good idea of why we like to use these machines for creative writing.

Good luck and happy writing.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

The Line Writer Returns?

The Line Writer at his Hermes 3000

Post-Script: Here are the two poems Noah wrote today:

The Rose That Grew From Concrete - by Noah the Line Writer

Sometimes I Cry - by Noah the Line Writer

It's easy to see coincidences where there perhaps aren't any, but earlier today I'd posted a video and blog article about the first in a series of Typing Assignments. Do things like this blow on the wind, like pollen or dust? The very day when I issued this first creative writing assignment, my grandson returns to the typewriter after a long hiatus. All we can do is count our blessings - and keep writing.

Here's Noah's blog.

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Typing Assignment #1

In last week's blog article I introduced this new video project that I call Typing Assignments, loosely inspired by Ted Forbes's photo assignments series on his The Art of Photography YouTube channel.

Today I introduce Typing Assignment #1, which is to anthropomorphize your typewriter and have it describe how it "found" you, and how it feels about its relationship with you, the writer.

Remember these ground rules to this project:

1) This is not a contest. Scores are not given, points are not earned. This is your assignment, to help foster creativity using your typewriter.

2)The piece has to be typewritten (electric or manual) as a single page. Single, double, triple spaced - doesn't matter, as long as it's legible.

3)Neatness doesn't count. Typewriters are ideal for first-draft, stream-of-consciousness creativity. Corrections, strike-throughs and revisions are just evidence of the creative process at work.

4)Post a legible image online. Photograph or scan the piece under good light. Tweak it to be easily readable. Post it online as a publicly-viewable image.

5)Post the direct URL to the image as a comment below, along with the name you'd like to be called. Also include something about what typewriter you used, if you wish.

Please have your piece written, posted and linked in a comment below by next Sunday, June 25. I screen my blog comments, so it might take a while for your comment to appear. I'll do my best to capture images of as many as I can and include them in next Monday's video, wherein I will also present Typing Assignment #2.

Have fun, and remember: This is an opportunity to bond with your typewriter as a tool for fostering creativity.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

AP Typewriter Article and Typing Assignments

Olympia SF

I was pleased to see in my inbox a link to this Associated Press article about the typewriter revival. I knew it was in the works when I was interviewed, back in early April, by the article's author, Russell Contreras, who I met again at the Type-In later that month.

These kinds of stories come out once every few years, it seems. Just do a quick search and you'll see that the typewriter revival has been ongoing for at least a decade. They're fueled as much by the novelty and romantic ideas of these classic old machines as they are by the reality of more and more people rediscovering and putting them to practical use.

Which gets us to the subject of a new project I'm starting on my YouTube channel, Typing Assignments. This is inspired a great deal by Ted Forbes's photo assignments series on his The Art of Photography channel, where he gives an assignment, permits time for participants to create the required images, then culls them from social media and presents a slide show of the results.

I'm going to be using a similar method, but will be asking participants to post a link to the online image of their one-page typewritten piece as a comment to an accompanying blog article, to be posted here every Monday, along with the YouTube video of the new assignment.

As the series progresses, I will be showing highlights of people's work as a slide show in the next week's video. This will be the most challenging part of the project, getting images of sufficient quality from the participants' postings and including them in the video.

What interests me in this project is the idea of promoting creative uses for typewriters. Sure, we love to look at them as a form of decor; and many of us also enjoy tinkering with them; along with the thrill of the hunt for new specimens, for our museums of mechanical wonders. But it's the practical use of typewriters as catalysts for creative writing that I'm interested in pursuing - a subject that has been visited repeatedly on my Typewriter Video Series.

Here's the kickoff video to this new series:

And here's a how-to video on scanning and photographing typewritten sheets for online posting:

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Monday, June 05, 2017

Collecting Calculators

Burroughs Key-Operated Adding Machine

Post-Script: I've ordered a copy of a Burroughs key-operated adding machine manual, dated from 1939, so when I receive it and have time to review it, I'll post again on any findings I glean, especially in regard to more efficient methods of operation.

The little ad hoc speed test I conducted between a 10-key electronic calculator and this Burroughs "comptometer" yielded unexpected results. I'd expected to be able to enter the ten 3-digit numbers into the Burroughs in parallel fashion, using three fingers and/or both hands, thus decreasing the time to nearly a third of what one might do on a conventional calculator keyboard, where each individual digit has to be entered one-at-a-time, in serial order. But the efficiency of finger placement on the ten-key pad made up for any advantage gained from parallel digit entry - and, as a matter of fact, I wasn't able to achieve true parallel digit entry on the Burroughs, due to a combination of factors, most notably because of my poor finger placement. The height of each row of nine keys on the Burroughs machine is a wider span than what I can comfortably manage, plus they are arranged in vertical columns, meaning I'd have to use some odd hand placement where my elbows are splayed out sideways and my fingers are parallel to the columns of keys.

I did some Internet research and found an old bulletin board discussion thread from circa 2003 concerning these machines. It seems experienced operators were able to deftly conform the position of their fingers to that required for each number grouping, and then quickly stab their hand down upon the keyboard, thereby simultaneously hitting all the keys of a number at once. Were I able to do that, I'm certain the results of my speed test would have been different.

This does in large measure remind me of the training and practice required to be a proficient abacus operator. And also reminds me that, although I've never been truly proficient at the Japanese soroban, it's one of those skills requiring constant practice, like a musical instrument, as an analogy. And thus there is the expectation that I could, in due time, put in the necessary practice time to actually use the Burroughs machine to its intended purpose. Which, if I do so, will require at least another blog article and accompanying video.

One aspect of the Burroughs machine that I failed to expand upon in last week's video was the fact of it having octagonal keys. These are very elegant in appearance, also reminding me of the old Oliver 5-series typewriters. I'm also reminded, on a personal level, of my maternal grandfather who, back in the 1930s, built an octagonal farm house in Florida, at a time when such configurations were considered especially daring and innovative.

Burroughs Adding Machine Keyboard

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Grab-&-Go Typing

Barefoot Lap Typing at the cigar store

Post-Script: Here's the video I made about typewriter carrying bags:

That adding machine I mentioned at the end of my typecast ended up consuming 16 hours of tinkering time over the course of two days, but in the end I can proudly say that the darned thing works like a champ! It's a Burroughs key-operated adding machine, the kind using the planetary gear mechanism that was first developed in 1912. I don't know the exact date of manufacture, as the serial number database is rather sketchy for these portable machines, but I estimate sometime in the 1920s.

Here's a glamour shot of the machine:

Burroughs Key-Operated Adding Machine

And here's a close-up of the number wheels with their complex planetary gear system. There's an even more complex mechanism behind these wheels, a rod with a series of spring-loaded cogs that slide back and forth to lock and unlock a tiny gear train, the mode of which depends on whether the number keys are being pressed down or released (when the number wheels actually turn). There's also a complex mechanism that clears the wheels when the handle is pulled.

The entire machine was jammed up solid when I got it home. The clearing handle mechanism was locked up, and all the number wheels and their gears were frozen solid. It took many hours of degreasing, lubricating, brushing, scrubbing and sweating to get things unjammed. Then some of the wheels would intermittently jam up when the numbers were pressed, while others would spin too freely and enter erroneous numbers. I finally figured out how to adjust the sliding cogs to the right position to get everything working.

Burroughs Adding Machine Planetary Gears

The body is painted metal, a bit scratched and marred, but some Windex and car wax helped a lot. It's slightly larger than what a person might want on their desk, but given its complex mechanism and the time invested in repairing it, I'm more than pleased. It's rather a lot of fun to enter all nines into the display, then add a one and watch the ripple carry-over increment all the wheels, from right to left, to zero. Kind of like a fidget spinner, for when you're bored, but slightly larger. (A few years from now, will anyone even remember fidget spinners?)

Here's the video about the adding machine:

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Found Photograph: Two Men


Post-Script: I can't help but think about the film Blade Runner when I handle prints like this. I think of Harrison Ford's character Rick Deckard meticulously examining the snapshot photos from the android Leon - photos that were intentionally made deceptive by the Tyrell Corporation who manufactured Leon, photos from Tyrell's neice, but serving to give the android some semblance of a real human past. Though we aren't mere androids, I can't help from feeling that, somehow, these old snapshots serve much the same capacity, helping to fill in the missing bits of our understanding of a past that remains in many ways just as mysterious to us as Leon's did to him.

I found this print at the same thrift store, on the same day, that I found this blue Smith-Corona Electric.

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Monday, May 08, 2017

The Value of a Virtual Community

Noah' Car

Post-Script: Noah is now in his own room at the hospital, and is mostly sleeping. Skin grafts will begin in a few days. Thank you all, near and far, for your thoughts and prayers.

I sat out on the back porch this afternoon, Olympia SF in my lap, typing while smoking a cigar. I hope this typecast isn't permeated with the aroma, for you sensitive nonsmoking readers. I observed that, while the last round of adjustments seem to have mostly fixed this machine's line spacing issues, there's a bit of wonkiness on the first letters after a carriage return. So not 100% yet. Repairing these entirely mechanical devices is, appropriately enough, an analog function. It's not like it's either entirely broken or entirely perfect, a Boolean logic function, but always somewhere in between, in that fuzzy gray area of real life. Such it will be with Noah's recovery, too. We'll give him all the support he needs. Best of all, the body has built-in healing systems of regeneration, unlike this inanimate assemblage of metal.

I feel the need to get at least one video produced this week, but haven't settled on a topic. And I need a haircut, and the barbershop doesn't open till tomorrow. Maybe something to do with reading through the archive of Noah's old typings, and the value of getting kids started with typewriters - even though, in his case, he really hasn't been using a typewriter for a few years. Still, there's something about these strictly mechanical devices as enablers of creativity, for this generation of millenials who didn't grow up with them as a regular part of their lives.

Regarding the top photo of Noah's car, I wasn't certain about posting it online, but there it is, in all its ugliness. I don't intend on keeping this blog entirely focused on this family issue, but I'll keep you updated as events warrant. Thank you again for all your thoughts and prayers.

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