Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Joe Show?


Post-Script: See the screen shot in the top photo? That's from a frame grab of a VHS tape compilation of The Joe Show, circa 1991. Was I actually wearing a salmon-colored shirt? And what's the deal with that funky hat? And those glasses ... I've seen better looking safety goggles. Boy do I remember that old couch. I think it was from Country Dan's. Massive wooden construction. Country-motif pictorial illustrations on the cushions - that never stayed put, always slid down and fell behind the back frame of the couch (notice the cushion behind me has already slipped down) and had to be continually adjusted. I was also a lot skinnier back then; so was everyone.

Here's more Joe Show goodness. First one of the intro graphics. My old Canon Hi8 camcorder had a feature called "matte," permitting you to take a matte shot of something, in this case hand-written titles, and overlay them, in a selection of colors, atop live video. Here the background was a Christmas greeting card.


Next is from a different episode, me in a different shirt and hat (what the heck's the deal with the hat? And why does it look too small?) with my friend Bob, a co-conspirator. Notice the handheld microphone, which I still have to this day.


These next two frames are from a little "drama" I made, some Z-grade spy drama that was really an exercise in montage and editing, using my then-newly-acquired JVC editing VCR. Note my newer JVC is what I'm using to play back the tape; it was purchased in 2001 and is still like new. These two shots are of my Smith-Corona 100 daisy wheel electronic typewriter. This clip is historically my very first typewriter video.

Watching a handful of these old productions was a bit painful, not only for how dorky I looked back then, but the production values were pretty low. Kind of like a bad SNL skit, absent the talent. Perhaps I'll get one transferred and uploaded to YouTube, for all to enjoy.

Semi-nongratuitous plug to my YouTube Channel, in case you haven't yet visited.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, January 09, 2017

Leaves of Winter


Post-Script: Sometimes, in order to remain spontaneous, a person has to grab their antiquated dig-it-al camera and go out in virtual pitch-darkness at 8 PM on a January night, with the winter's wind howling and lit only by the dim glims of a sodium vapor light across the street, and make an ISO 12,500 exposure, then remove the color noise and give it some feeling of gritty, monochrome, film-like artiness on the compooter by fiddling with the tone curves. And I was too lazy to fire up the old scanner, so a shot of the typed piece still threaded in-carriage will have to suffice. This is called "arte" in some circles. But probably not here.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

A Lizard on a Warm Rock

Winter Sunny Patio Typing

Post-Script: I love these kinds of blog articles, however crude or unpolished they might seem. The idea of being able to spontaneously sit down with a typewriter on your lap and bash out a thought or two with no ulterior motive or agenda is a compelling reason for blogging, like sitting down with a friend for no reason whatsoever except to spend time in idle chitchat. Separated by the miles via the interwebz, this is our version of spending time together. I enjoy reading others' blogs, and try to comment as much as I can.

I know many people find it difficult to continue blogging, with the busyness of life getting in the way. Part of this is a misconception, that we have to compose carefully polished prose, edited and revised multiple times before it can be seen by the public. Ideally that would be true, but sometimes time is a luxury, and yet to put blogging in some kind of priority in our lives means that people get to see us in all our private messiness; warts, typos, misspellings and all. As is fitting with friends.

Photo via Apple iPod Touch. Typecast via Brother-made Webster XL-747.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Voice-Cast Blogging

Voice-Cast Blogging

There is this thing I'd like to call the alternative writing community. It's the group of people who write with alternatives to the computer and word processor, like typewriters, fountain pens, and Alphasmarts for instance.

There is also an alternative writing technology using OCR software and scanning typewritten text, to create a text file. But I'd like to suggest another, alternative method of writing, which is dictation. I'm writing this using the Notes app on the iOS platform, using the microphone input keyboard method.

For anyone who's tried typing lengthy text using a phone sized screen keyboard, you know it's a chore. Even with predictive text entry, you have to make constant corrections.

Several weeks ago, I discovered that it was easier to use the microphone text entry method than trying to thumb in text by hand. I still have to make a few corrections, but they're much less than before and my speed of text entry is much faster.

What works the best for me is to speak slowly and distinctly each word, in a quiet environment. I have very few problems using it this way, although some people might think it sounds strange the way I'm talking, almost like a robot voice. Also, the microphone text entry only excepts so many lines of text before it buffers and stops, at which point you have to hit the microphone button to continue. But still, I don't think I can hardly type this fast and this reliably.

Because I have a digital field recorder, I thought at one point I would start doing podcasts. But now, with this microphone text entry method, I can use it to create the text for a blog article.

To use the microphone text entry on an iOS device, just to the left of the keyboard is a microphone symbol. Press it, then begin talking. For punctuation you can use the words for period and comma. Note that I had to spell out those words in the previous sentence because otherwise it wanted to use the punctuation instead.

Note that you can also use this same microphone text entry method with many android smart phones.

On my iOS device, I noticed that the microphone button was only active when the device was connected to Wi-Fi or the Internet. This might be because my Notes documents are backed up to the cloud.

When you finish each portion of verbal text, you hit the done button below the audio field and the software will auto correct your spelling and punctuation. So, it's not a continuous writing experience, but more like a sporadic start and stop method. But still, being able to write by talking is a much different experience.

"Who is he talking to?"

"Oh he's just dictating into his iPod."

You might not want to use this writing method late at night, when the family is asleep in bed. Although it's not really any louder than having the TV sound on.

To get the text into a Blogger article, you highlight and copy the entire Notes document, then paste it into your Blogger browser window.

Alternatively, you could try microphone entry directly into the Blogger window, but you wouldn't be able to edit it as easily.

I've made this observation before, but smart phone text entry via tiny keyboard seems like a step backwards in technology. It was Alexander Graham Bell who first discovered voice communication, and now we seem to be going backwards into primitive text entry instead. Imagine a mobile phone where all you can do is talk. Oh, I think they call that a flip phone! Such an advanced device!

No, it's not as sexy as typing a blog article or using a fountain pen but it's awfully convenient. And I do think that spoken text has a different feel to it than hand written. So that's it. Any of you bloggers who have smart phones should try this out and let me know in the comments below how you come out.

Post-Script: I should point out that working with Blogger using an iOS device is a bit more complex than what I suggested. For line and paragraph breaks, you need to insert the code "< b r >" after every paragraph and break. I do this by hand, in the Notes app, prior to copy/pasting the finished piece into Blogger. Also, to get my photo at the top of the article, I first mail it to my Flickr account (the image is a screen shot taken during the voice entry), then go to the desktop version of Safari and grab the HTML code for the image and paste it into the top of the Notes article. Then I resize the image by changing the height and width values to fit my Blogger template (using the calculator app to scale the correct values). Once that's done, I copy/paste the entire Notes document and paste it into the Blogger text entry field. Easy-peesy. Sort of.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Adios, 2016

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists - Logo

"You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today."

Time, Pink Floyd


Post-Script: Downer. Bummer. Sorry to p*ss in everyone's Cheerios. Reality.

I hadn't intended to write this sobering of a piece, especially for the New Year, when people are supposed to be celebrating Out With the Old, In With the New, and all that. But then I sat down at this pretty blue typewriter, expecting some flowery prose to emanate forth.

Imagine my surprise when, instead of pablum, this startling, apocalyptic-sounding screed finds itself printed to paper. Imagine my further surprise when I go ahead and scan & post it.

I'd like to blame the typewriter. I have this theory that's been percolating for a while on the back burner of my mind, which is that typewriters are cybernetic extensions of our mind, being directly, mechanically connected to our fingers, ligaments, tendons and nerves, providing feedback, back to our central cortex. Like Robot Cop. And thus, there's a bit of personality coloration that comes from this mechanical contrivance at the end of my fingertips. I would theorize that various machines might yield different affects upon our psyche and the resulting writings that emanate forth. I should be more careful, henceforth, when writing with this bright, cheery machine, whose bright colors might deceive one into the pretext of thinking the words spilling out the back of the platen are just as harmless as its appearance. A dangerous little vixen, that; the pen being mightier than the sword, supposedly.

Be safe, keep your peace and joy; love everyone. The future is ours to make.

Webster XL-747


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Selfie Santa


Post-Script: In comparing fountain pens (specifically bottle-filled) and mechanical pencils with cartridge pens (like ballpoints, rollerballs and gel), I'm also reminded of the business model embodied by instant film, inkjet printer and shaving cartridges, where the money is made in refills, and also ties the consumer into a dependency upon a manufacturer's supply chain. I like the idea of a bottle of ink, that can be appropriated from most any supplier, lasting a great long while and able to work in most any fountain pen with suitable converter. Similarly with mechanical pencil refills. I was just at my local office supply retailer yesterday to buy more leads for the Monteverde brass pencil, and ended up with a small package comprising only five refill containers, each with 15 leads apiece, that's equivalent to, say, 75 woodcase pencils. And they had much larger packs of refills. I felt almost guilty for even considering purchasing a larger quantity, not knowing if I'd even still be alive by the time they ran out.

I like this idea of a pencil or pen being a tool that can last decades, with readily available refills.

Typecast via Webster XL-747. In case you haven't seen it, episode 49 of the Typewriter Video Series starred this pretty blue portable. In the video, I made mention of the end-of-line bell, that on this machine sounded more like a clunk than a chime. This morning I took the bottom of the machine off to inspect the bell mechanism. I'd expected an off-center mounting screw on the bell itself, like on many American-made machines, where the screw can be loosened and the bell's position readjusted. Not so on this Japanese-designed machine, where the linkages operating the bell, and the bell itself, are permanently mounted to a common bracket with no adjustment screws available. It turned out that the problem was the bell clapper arm was resting against the bell itself while at rest, such that when it was made to strike the bell it wouldn't let the bell freely resonate. I ended up "reforming" (i.e. bending) a small bracket on the other end of that clapper arm, such that while at rest the clapper is just shy of touching the bell. Now it makes a bright yet dainty chime at end-of-line.

I enjoyed using this machine for today's typecast. Yes, it has a heavier feel to the keys than some other portables. But the length of the key stroke is short, and the action snappy, making for a pleasing experience. Best of all is its reliability, and easy access to the escapement mechanism underneath, if need be; which I haven't needed.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Thrift Store S.W.A.G.


There was a time, a few decades ago, when I found myself in possession of a handful of slide rules. This ad hoc collection had started when I was in high school, and slowly grew in the subsequent years while I served in the military.

Back in those years, people weren't as keen on collecting ephemera or peculiarly specialized objects as they are today. My folks, of the WWII generation, were more apt to collect curio bottles, pretty trinkets and nicknacks than things like slide rules or typewriters, which were to them mere practical implements; it made as much sense to them as collecting shower curtain rods.

Sadly, in the intervening years I've lost that collection of slide rules, my most prized item being a circular slide rule. This happened due to a number of moves, from one apartment to another, during which I'd unload as many items as I could. I've also lost other items which I now wish I had, such as my mother's Kodak folding camera.

I know the usual advice people give about clutter: it's best to move every few years, to permit oneself to declutter and rid themselves as much as possible of unneeded items. Myself, the more I age the more I wish I yet had a few more of those precious items from long ago, as momentos serving as a physical link to a past that only resides in memory, a temporary dwelling at best. This is a benefit of living in the same house for decades upon decades: the clutter itself becomes like some personal archeology, a mapping or extension of one's cerebelum; the forensic evidence of a life actually lived. Sure, one's clutter can all too easily get out of hand, but there's value in considering the artifacts of one's life, in going through each item periodically to relive those memories.

I'm reminded of the android Leon in the film Blade Runner, who carried with him his precious photographs, reminding him of a childhood he never had. Momentos are like that, they're something tangible we can hold in our hands, talismans we can fondle to make contact with another time. Snapshots I've always held in special regard for that reason, especially polaroids and the like.

The interesting thing about periodically reviewing one's clutter is, as we assess each item for its personal value, it gives opportunity to reassess the things we'd been hanging onto that we no longer find of value, like my penchant for once having saved newspaper and magazine clippings from long ago.

I was pleasantly surprised this week to find a card in the mail from my Aunt, the last surviving sibling on my father's side. She'd unearthed an old trunk from her basement and, searching through it, found an old school picture of your's truly, a red-headed, freckled kid I'd barely recognized after all of these years. Looking at that print, it was like some kind of magic mirror into the past, as I rediscovered someone I'd totally forgotten.

Last week I was in a thrift store mood. I will periodically make a thrift store run, in the hopes of finding some wonderful find, like yet another typewriter. Yes, I did spot a handful, but nothing that interested me. As I've matured as a collector, I'm a bit more selective than when I first started out. But one item I did pick up last week was a slide rule, of all things.

I see these all the time at thrift stores, and rarely do they interest me, except to remind me of that collection I once had. So, what made this one different enough to warrant purchasing? Well, it came with the original box, leather holster, plastic bag, packing material and owners manual. It's a Pickett N902-ES Simplex Trig model, intended for students I'd suppose, since the reverse side of the rule lacks the additional set of scales, but instead has a table of fractional/decimal conversions and instructions for use.

The clincher in the decision to purchase was the orange triangular sticker on the box proclaiming "3 moon flights - Pickett rules have been aboard 3 Apollo missions - PROOF OF PICKETT PRECISION." I don't have an exact year when this particular rule was made, but I'd suppose those three missions might have been Apollos 8, 10 and 11, which dovetails nicely with my interest as a young man into all things space-related.

Items such as this slide rule are not particularly valuable, monetarily, since they were made by the millions. I don't collect such items with the mistaken idea that doing so might make me a rich man. Unless one counts their riches in some other valuation than monetary. A bit of online research shows that this version is a later model, circa 1970, with the more modern Pickett logo and the yellow color indicating it's the "eye saver" version, as indicated by the ES in the model number.

What does interest me is the owners manual, a booklet titled "how to use Trig SLIDE RULES" by Professor Maurice L. Hartung of the University of Chicago. I like this introductory sentence in the booklet's preface: "A computer who must make many difficult calculations usually has a slide rule close at hand."

This idea of referring to a "computer" as a person rather than a machine directly reminds me of the early days of mechanized writing where "type writer" referred to the user of the machine rather than the machine itself. I'm surprised this terminology was yet in use as late as the date of this preface, of 1960.

Slide rules remind me of photos I've seen from the Apollo era of the 1960s, of large rooms of engineers, each in their white shirts and thin black neckties, hunched over their drafting tables with their sleeves rolled up and slide rules in hand, an overflowing ashtray nearby. It's amazing to think that we got to the moon's surface and back six times using, along with early digital computers, these humble slide rules.

Of course they're an anachronism. The idea of taking up a slide rule to do a bit of multiplication seems like sheer nonesense. A bit like sliding the beads of an abacus to balance one's checkbook. But I've been known to do a bit of that, also. I like the idea that a purely analog tool like a slide rule yields merely approximate results to math problems that should otherwise be entirely exact. For example, a simple problem like 2 times 2 we know to be 4 because of us having learned our maths tables in school; but what about 42 times 37? Using the C and D scales of the slide rule informs me that the answer falls somewhere slightly less than halfway between 1550 and 1560. An approximate kind of answer, entirely analog in nature, requiring a bit of extrapolation to find that last digit. Only after I stop and think that 2 times 7 equals 14 do I then realize that the answer should also end in 4, implying the result should be 1554.

The funny thing is that I had to verify my result with a cheap, plastic digital calculator of questionable heritage. Yet that cheap calculator gives the same result as a hundred dollar Hewlett Packard scientific model. Not necessarily so with analog instruments like slide rules, where the accuracy of the result is directly dependant upon the precision of manufacture of the instrument and skill of the operator.

I like the concept of extrapolation as being absolutely necessary in the operation of a slide rule for deducing the last digit of precision. This is something that many technical people seem to lack these days, the ability to find a ballpark answer to a problem. I like the real-world skills of being able to approximate the scale of a problem by mere deductive reasoning, an insightful hunch based on common sense and a bit of thought. The value of being able to make a SWAG - a scientific wild-ass guess - should never be underestimated, and will get one far in life.

I remember some of the slide rules in my former collection were bamboo, and required to be dusted with talcum powder periodically to remain smooth in operation. This Pickett is all metal, and thus the booklet recommends a bit of petroleum jelly on the edges to maintain smooth operation, along with the advice of holding it by the ends when in use, so as not to bind the scales together too tightly. I like the idea that this humble calculating device requires a bit of simple yet necessary maintenance in order to function properly; whereas with that cheap plastic calculator I'll mash it buttons until it no longer functions, then throw it in the rubbish bin of history.

The most essential observation I can make in comparing slide rules to typewriters is that few of us have need in our daily lives for solving math problems any more complex than addition or subtraction; which makes slide rules not nearly as useful as typewriters, since slide rules don't "do" addition or subtraction. (Actually, they multiply and divide by adding and subtracting logarithms, but you probably didn't need to know that.) Which means that for most of us, a humble abacus would probably be more useful. Which I'll discuss in another installment.

Labels: , , , , ,