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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Sunday, May 07, 2017

The Line Writer Rediscovered


I want to publicly thank all of you who have offered support during this difficult time period. As you may know from reading my previous entry, my grandson Noah, a.k.a. The Line Writer, was involved in a serious car wreck yesterday evening. He was ejected from his car at highway speed and the vehicle ended up on top of him. He is conscious and fairly lucid, with a bit of short-term memory issues. He has a broken shoulder and burns to his face, other shoulder and torso from being pinned against the car's hot exhaust pipes after the wreck. There are also bad abrasions from "road rash," along with major bruising. He is expected to be hospitalized for several weeks while he undergoes skin grafts for the burns. Then will come a lengthy period of rehabilitation. But we are only taking this day by day.

Today, after returning from a hospital visit, I was leafing through a folder of Noah's old typings and unearthed some short pieces that were never published to his Line Writer blog, which I have now done so.

I was reflecting on these short typings, many just snippets no longer than a Tweet or Facebook posting. Yet here they are, some seven or so years later. The lesson I take from this is to never underestimate the power of planting a typewriter in a kid's life, even if he does lose interest in it after starting puberty and the only remaining evidence is a folder of these paper scraps. Plant the seed, water it, give it some light and stand back, because you never know what might spring forth, perhaps many years later.

Today at the hospital Noah was asking if I'd draw him some mazes for him to solve. Sure, I said. But now, as I sit here typing, I'm think that this marvelous kid probably said that as much to make me feel better as for himself. That's why he's such a great person. I suppose now I better get busy drawing. As my friend Michael told me today, "God's got this." And I believe him.


Would You Like Red or Green on That?

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I'm praying for World War Three to start. Hopefully the sooner the better. A huge nuclear holocaust, of epic proportions. The bigger the better. Well, at least big enough to give good reason for the Russians to drop the big one on little old Albuquerque, New Mexico.

They (the Russians) thought they had good reason to, back in the days of the Cold War. Albuquerque was the location of Sandia and Monzano Bases, now part of Kirtland Air Force Base. It includes Sandia National Laboratory, an offshoot from Los Alamos after WWII, whose main mission remains the engineering of the nation's nuclear stockpile. After the war, and before the nuclear weapons complex was built up to its eventual large-scale industrial size, Sandia Base was the location of the manufacture of the nations' early A-bomb arsenal. An important target then, and remains so today; of strategic importance for an enemy to include on its target list.

But I really don't care what reason they might have to drop a hefty thermonuclear weapon here, just that they do it. Sure, lots of innocent people will die. Some less innocent than others, however. After all, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette.

There's a scene from the first Star Wars movie. Obi-Wan, Luke and Han are gazing down on the outpost of Mos Eisley, when Obi-Wan says "You'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy". They could have been gazing down at Albuquerque from atop Sandia Peak, the meaning would remain the same. Or take another reference from a tale much older than Star Wars, that of the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, who also were destroyed by fire from above.

There's something monumental about the idea of a place whose people are so evil that the very name becomes condemned for all of human history.

People I know personally, family members, have suffered over the years because of the evil of this place. Once again it happened - is happening now - because an aggressive, road-raged driver purposefully and methodically ran my grandson off the highway last night. He was thrown from the car, it rolled and rolled, and landed atop him. He's suffering a severe concussion and potential brain injury. He has a lacerated kidney, a destroyed shoulder, is missing part of his tongue, and has plenty of road rash. He was due to graduate high school in a month. A passenger in his car was also seriously injured. His life, and ours, won't be the same.

Of course, the driver of the other car got away with it. Again. Hey, this is Albuquerque. Things happen. Man up. Deal with it, we're told, or be a little whining bitch.

If you're a tourist from out of town, here's a fun, touristy thing to do: make the ghost bicycle tour. This is where you drive around Albuquerque and try to identify all of the ghost bicycle memorials that have been erected at all the various locations where cyclists have been murdered by car drivers. For any of you with latent homicidal tendencies, this is the surest method to get away with murder: run down a cyclist in Albuquerque. Or pedestrian, if no cyclist is available. Guaranteed no prosecution. It's just an accident. And the local "media" will always report the story with this factoid: the cyclist wasn't wearing a helmet. Or the pedestrian must have been "jay walking".

On second thought, scratch that idea. You probably don't want to be a tourist here. Most tourists end up being robbed or car jacked. Best spend your money somewhere else.

Okay, sure I'm upset, but do I have to take it this far? Well, consider this: some places are just "ate up". That's a good old term from my younger days, that you don't hear used that often any more. Ate up, as in consumed. Totally given over. No possibility of redemption.

I'm a spiritual guy, actually; I believe in the power to redeem and restore failed people. But not everyone. Some are too far gone. Like that rabid animal. Just has to be put down. That's little old Albuquerque. Somebody should put her down, for everyone's good. A big flash, brighter than a thousand suns. Boom.

And would you like red or green chile on that?

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee


Post-Script: In my desire to keep this piece a one-pager, I ran out of room to mention that we've also tried a Bialetti brand Moka Pot, stove-top espresso maker. While it makes an okay espresso, it's always a bit burnt-tasting, because of the heat required to get the little thing to generate steam pressure. But it is a genuine espresso experience, in the sense that this has been the traditional way many Italians make their daily coffee; or so the advertising informs us.

About that top picture of the beans; these aren't the darkest, oiliest coffee beans I've ever seen. I was struggling for a decent coffee-related photo this morning, and this was all I could come up with. As I mentioned in the piece, we've for years bought our beans from Winning Coffee, who do their own roasting. But their main roaster dude (is that a title?) finally moved on after many years, and since then the beans haven't been the same. Also, I know several coffee geeks at work, and these people are truly obsessed, in ways I never was. For example, I don't like straight espresso, preferring it sweetened with sugar and a dash of whole milk. Not so these hardcore types. They've also informed me that dark, oily beans supposedly don't work as well in an espresso machine.

So then there's this thing called "third wave coffee;" which, in case you didn't get the memo, is already outdated by "fourth wave coffee." But here in New Mexico, we're usually a few years behind everyone else, so we've just now seen so-called third wave coffee shops spring up around town. Sometimes news travels slow along I-40 from LA. These are places that do pour-overs and siphon extractions, and also offer cold-pressed coffee. And their espresso beans are less dark and oily, the results a bit more bright chocolate tasting. Kind of like the recent trend in bitter, hoppy IPA beers. You're supposed to like them, because everyone else who matters likes them. Except I don't like them; I prefer dark ales, porters and stouts, by the way.

The thing is, I still haven't had a decent cup of coffee at a third wave coffee shop. The pour overs and such taste like old Navy coffee, which is where you brew a pot in a percolator, then dispense the results, via a large container, back into the machine and re-perk it for a second time. The kind of coffee where the spoon will stand straight up in the cup without touching the sides. Where us younger fellas would need a mess of sugar and creamer just to make it palatable; unless you were an old Chief Petty Officer, beer gut hanging over your uniform belt, your coffee cup hand permanently deformed into that hook-shaped cup-holding posture. These old boys could walk up the steepest shipboard ladders, in the roughest seas, without spilling a drop.

I also got into trying Vietnamese coffee. Even went to the trouble of buying a little metal coffee maker, with the Vietnamese-brand coffee and sweetened condensed milk. Tastes like some dessert beverage, not something you'd want to drink first thing in the morning. Oh well.

As I said earlier, the Aeropress is the only alternative method I've tried that's any good. But it's one cup at a time, and you have to get your process down exactly. Scientific, laboratory-grade repeatability. If you alter the grind, or water temperature, or any other "process parameter" by just a smidgen, the results will vary wildly. It's like developing black & white film. Your agitation method, how long you stir the grinds in the hot water, how soon you start the press, whether you use it right-side-up or upside-down, paper or metal screen filter - these all effect the results to a noticeable degree. Some mornings it's great, others you get this bad taste in your mouth and wonder whether you should've first brushed you teeth (is there any coffee-flavored toothpaste out there?). Even our Starbucks Barista machine varies from day-to-day. Weird.

But then there's the old drip machine. This morning I brought it in from the garage, dusted it off, washed out the tank and carafe, and made a pot. Wonderful, basic, fresh, hot coffee. Like coffee was meant to taste. And enough for a refill or two.

Typecast via Smith-Corona Silent-Super. This is the first chance I've had to put it through its paces since last week's successful repair session, and it types wonderfully. There's still a bit of smearing on some of the uppercase characters, something to do with the way the type slugs hit the type guide fingers on the way to striking the ribbon, that will require more tinkering at a later date. But I'll live with it for now. This is why I'd never make a good typewriter repairman, it takes too long for me to get all the bugs worked out of these sensitive machines. The customer would be calling me, months later, inquiring about their unit, and I'd hem and haw about how I'm still testing it for reliability.

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Monday, May 01, 2017

"A Fine Mess"

Olympia SF

A brief short story, composed at the nearest Duncan Donuts accompanied by a cup of their brew. No, not Starbucks fancy, but serviceable, not too strong coffee. I was inspired by a round of typewriter repairs I did last week. For this Olympia SF, I found a fix to the nagging issue of the line spacing problem, which I'd once thought was a permanent condition. Just a bit of courage, inspired by the Right Reverend Ted Munk and his Typewriter Repair Bibles, was all it took. No, there's not yet such a manual for the Olympia, but I did further tinkering and had some success.

This short story is for all of you typewriter collectors out there who think their collecting problem has gotten out of hand. Read and heed. And maybe chuckle.


Post-Script: Here's the video on what I did to fix the Olympia.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Bit of T.L.C.


There was a pile of typewriters still sitting on my workshop bench from Sunday's Type-In, most needing to be stored away but several needing to be looked at: both Smith-Corona 5 series machines, especially the Silent-Super, purchased late last year from what I've described previously as a "hippie." Both machines performed fine during the Type-In, but since I'd last attempted to service them, I've acquired the Smith-Corona Floating Shift Typewriter Repair Bible, published by Rev. Ted Munk. I figure this would make for a good opportunity to revisit the somewhat intermittent escapement issues with that machine, and see what effect a good service manual would have upon my tinkering experience; while also serving somewhat as a mini-review of the book itself.

The book is divided into various sections, from the earliest Floating Shift models up to the Series 5. It did take a bit of flipping around to find where the sections begin and end, as they don't have clearly marked dividers; I plan on installing some tabs to the pages for that purpose. Once I found the Series 5 adjustment section I started at the space bar alignment procedure and worked my way through the escapement to the touch adjustments, using as my test subject the somewhat troublesome Silent-Super mentioned previously. It has been performing much better than when I'd first acquired it, due to the "service" I'd performed previously, but I didn't know exactly what I did to make it better. Now with the service manual, hopefully I'd find out, along with any further improvements to be had.

The space bar itself was well-centered in the frame of the machine, with no hanging up or rubbing, but the trip point of the space bar linkage upon the escapement was a bit too close to where the space bar stops at its rubber bumpers; the adjustment was to reform (bend) a linkage arm, to permit the escapement to trip earlier.

Next was checking the escapement pivot arm for freedom. You lock the carriage in the stored position, which also disables the rack gear from the escapement, then disconnect the spring on the pivot arm. It should freely pivot with no binding. I found it necessary to loosen the pivot points a bit, made with a precision open-end wrench and small screw driver; I'm still needing to acquire some gun-smith drivers for this purpose (or, more ideally, a legacy set of typewriter tools - as rare as hen's teeth). Now that the pivot arm was moving freely, I reconnected the spring.

Next was checking the freedom of rotation of the escapement star wheel itself, which is again checked with the carriage locked and the pivot arm manually moved out of the way. Here too I found it necessary to loosen the star wheel shaft nut a bit, to provide freer rotation.

Next was to check when the escapement is tripped as letters are typed. This is done by slowly moving a type bar toward the platen and noting at what position the type slug is relative to the type guide when the escapement trips. It should trip when the slugs are adjacent to the tip ends of the type guide. I found it necessary to reform a linkage to adjust the trip point.

The rest of the escapement-related checks were in good order, which encouraged me.

Subsequent testing on several sheets of paper with random nonsense typing showed marked improvement, with virtually no skipping or piling up of letters. But I did see another section in the adjustment manual about the touch selector, so decided to take a look and see if any improvements could be had there. It turned out that there was some unevenness of touch tension between the left and right sides of the keyboard, which was easily adjusted via the two screws on the touch spring lock bar. Once they were balanced from left-to-right, I then loosened both evenly about a quarter turn, making the overall touch of the machine a bit lighter, something I like in good portable machines.

None of these adjustments could have been made without the service manual, and the nagging escapement issues this machine had been experiencing I feel are resolved. There was not just one adjustment that fixed the problem, but a whole series of adjustments. The manual proved absolutely invaluable.

Once emboldened by my success thus far, I proceeded to the much trickier task of realigning the type slugs for even imprinting. This took me far longer than I'd anticipated, mainly because I lack the special tools designed for precision bending of the type bars. But I can say that, finally, the type imprint is much better aligned vertically, while the upper case imprints are clearer than before. I found that subtle misalignments would still deliver good lower case imprint, but with the type slug hitting one side of the type guide slot it would cause a smearing of the upper case imprint.

I feel this machine is finally in a condition where I'd be comfortable with anyone using it. And credit is entirely due to Ted Munk for making these resources available to the layperson typewriter community.
After servicing the Silent-Super, I proceeded to tackle the much less troublesome Silent version, and I didn't find too many issues to speak of, other than the escapement trip point was a bit too far toward the type guide, so it had to be backed off a bit; just the opposite of the previous machine.

I haven't gone through every area of these typewriters with this book, since I haven't been experiencing other issues. But I can rest assured that, if need be, I have the technical resources to tackle virtually any problem.

Another item of interest in the adjustment section was doing custom adjustments to compensate for individual user's typing styles, specifically what they call "Follow -Through, Hang-on Typists" and "Speedy Galloping Typists." Some of these adjustments involve reforming parts, while others involve measuring tolerances of clearance between neighboring parts and, if necessary, machining parts or ordering replacements.

Aside from the adjustment section, I found it interesting in the section on model features that various platens were once available for these machines, including extra hard platens intended to be used for stencils or thick sheets of carbons; and also slotted platens of various sizes for typing on smaller cards. It makes me wonder, when I read about someone's super hard platen, that perhaps they have one of those purposely-made extra-hard platens.

Any person owning one of these Floating Shift models owes it to themselves to get this manual, because these service adjustments are written with the technician in mind, using down-to-earth language that is rarely found in tech manuals of today's era. I especially love the way that terminology in the text is underlined, then the underline is connected to a call out arrow that points to the exact part in the associated diagram on the same page, making it easy to locate the part being described.

Keeping these machines running into the future is going to be much easier with this factory-supplied service literature available to anyone. What we still need, however, is a supply of replacement parts, currently only found from donor machines too far gone to fix. Perhaps some machine shop will rise to the challenge and start fabricating these rare and unique items. But until then, we need to keep these machines in good working order with a bit of tender loving care. Thanks, Reverend Ted! Yesterday I couldn't spell technician; today I are one!

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

"An Interesting Day in Area 36"

Smith-Corona Silent

Post-Script: A bit more from the Losers Blend mythos, inspired by the look and feel of this old Smith-Corona Silent sitting in its half-case on my lap in the afternoon shade. Perhaps not entirely compatible with the theme of Easter/Resurrection Sunday, but one has to strike when the iron's hot, creativity-wise.

I snapped the top picture on my front patio, hoping it might look something like a coffee shop patio table at the fictional Losers Blend coffee shop, inspired by my local Winning Coffee; but I didn't have true fanfold printout paper, so I had to punch some Circa binding holes in an old Freestyle Photo receipt instead; plus add a bit of sci-fi look to the image in post. Kind of reminds me of the color tone of that old 1970s movie Soylent Green.

The thought was running through my mind, as I was writing this, how easy would it be to find typing paper in this fictional future world. Recycled paper seemed a logical solution, typing between the lines of someone's old printout. You'll notice I didn't address the issue of typewriter ribbons; maybe they just soak the old ribbons in a bit of Synthspresso syrup? Hmm, now there's an idea...

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