Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Kissing Cousins or Typer Twins?

Royal Mercury Kissing Cousins
1971 versus 1973 Royal Mercury

Post-Script: I started this twin typer video on Sunday but was interrupted by Labor Day festivities; then had to do some maintenance on my main evaporative cooler unit (replacing the fan bushings and motor). It started out with me breaking out the 1973 Mercury that's been in my collection since the mid-aughts - my "alpha" machine, the first one I can with certainty claim to have acquired because I was getting the typewriter bug and wanted a small portable; which I haven't used very much in the last few years and it needed more attention than I'd realized. I ended up doing a thorough cleaning and degreasing on it, in the process of making the video.

Naturally, a comparison between both machines was in order. The 1971 model, new to me, had a bit easier touch; but now the other one feels better after the attention it's received.

These machines were designed the way they were designed. You shouldn't expect them to have the touch of a different, lighter, machine. But the trick I did to the touch adjustment, disconnecting the spring that attaches to the universal bar, did affect a noticeable change. Which reminds me that my Brother Charger 11, lacking a touch adjustment, always felt a bit lighter in touch than the Brother-made Webster XL747 that has a touch adjustment; perhaps it's due to this same issue, that at the lightest setting the touch system always gives more tension to the universal bar than without. I'll use both of these Mercs for a time and see if I'm happy with them this way.

Since I now have these two nearly identical machines, I figured some experimentation was in order. The natural thing would be to compare sound-deadening methods. There has been some recent talk on the Facebook Antique Typewriter Group about using various materials in the bottom of the machine to absorb sound and prevent it from reverberating upward. With the 1973 model I used a terrycloth shop rag, cut to size and taped along its edges to the inside of the bottom panel using gaffers tape. Compared to the unaltered 1971 model I could notice a real difference, more in the muting of the bright metallic sounds, rather than an overall lowering of the volume. Then I used a sheet of craft felt in the bottom of the 1971 model and it seems to have about the same degree of sound deadening. Nothing dramatic, but a real improvement. Since this is an ongoing experiment and easily reversible, I can always take these out and try different materials in the future.

This is the essential tradeoff when you like ultra-portable machines: you have to be willing to accept less than ideal mechanics for lightweight and small. Hence the tinkering with trying to gain back something in the way of better touch and sound. But there's always the fact that these small machines are easy to grab and bang out a quick note on, like the other night when I typed this on the back of an Albertsons grocery store receipt:


This is getting to be a habit, saving up 3-1/8" wide thermal-printed store receipts that are blank on the reverse side. Free typing paper, for short ditties or poems. Nothing profound or earth shattering, but highly convenient, promoting that stream-of-consciousness creativity that can, on occasion, produce surprising results.

Here's episode 130 of the Typewriter Video Series, on these two siblings.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A Royal Thrift Store Find

Royal Mercury
A Royal Thrift Store Find, Part 1
Type Guard
A Royal Thrift Store Find, Part 2

Post-Script: I snapped the photos of the typecasts via the camera in my little iPod Touch, out on the patio whilst smoking a cigar. The light wasn't ideal, and the iPod's native photo app provides little control of the tones, hence the blue hue. And you can see some field curvature from the lens. The lines of type are actually very straight and uniform, not curved as seen here. Not as good as a real scan, but much more convenient. I could get a third-party app that provides for more control over the final image. I do a bit of tweaking to the photos, then can email them directly to my Flickr Photostream, from where they can be linked to the blog.

There actually are typewriters available at my local thrift/antique stores, it's just the usual stuff I'm not interested in, either because of condition or, more often, that they aren't the type of machines I'm interested in. I'm attracted to ultra-portables. Today I saw an Underwood 11, in pretty good condition, at least most of the functions worked, since these are rugged machines. Still, there were some condition issues mechanically, and they were asking $125 - not unreasonable for an antique standard machine. But I don't have a place to keep a standard machine, all my machines are portables that can be stored away in a closet in their case. There's been a Remington Noiseless in the same seller's booth for over a year, it's very tempting, except there are serious mechanical issues with the line advance mechanism. A deal-killer for me.

It's fun to revisit these same stores and see the same machines awaiting a new home. No, I don't feel sorry for them, like you would if wandering through the kennel, seeing those sad puppy eyes in the face of the death chamber. These are just inanimate machines, right? Right? Hmm...

This machine was so special because of its pristine condition, and it was almost identical to my first typewriter enthusiast purchase, back in the mid-aughts. Here's a snap of that first machine, my beach typer:


As you might tell, the alpha Mercury has a bit of brown tones to the ribbon cover, while this new machine has silver trim on the front.

Here's a video I made today about this new find:

So now I can immediately imagine another video where I do a side-by-side comparison between both machines. Dang, it never ends, does it?

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"You Jay Tee You"

Olympia SF and Olympus Pearlcorder L200
Micro-28 Recorder and Aiwa Tape
Universal Typewriter Co Slogans

Post-Script: I didn't mention that I've been collecting Albertsons grocery store receipts. Because the backsides are clear of any adverts, making for "free" (ignoring the cost of groceries) narrow-column typing paper for poetry and prose alike, particularly with the new old-stock silk ribbon in Adobe Rose, the Royal QDL, whose elite font works well for the 3-1/8" wide thermal paper.


Since this is a UJTU blog article, I should mention that I recently finished reading Daniel Ellsberg's The Doomsday Machine. While he's well known for having released the Pentagon Papers, a cache of documents relating to the Vietnam conflict, his original intention was to release a vast trove of documents concerning nuclear preparedness. But in the aftermath of the Pentagon Papers scandal he buried, then lost, that trove of documents. This new book is both a personal history and about what he was able to retrieve, via FOIA documents and through his own personal recollection of having worked as a Rand Corporation contractor in the early 1960s, with access to the highest level of nuclear secrets by any civilian outside government.

What I found troubling was in the early 1960s theater commanders had been given, since Eisenhower's time, permission to initiate nuclear weapons release independent of the President. It was only later that permissive action links (PALs) were developed to, among other reasons, restore control of such weapons back into the hands of civilian leadership.

Ellsberg makes a convincing argument that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were an inevitability, given that mass bombing of civilians was already an accepted reality, such as the massive fire bombings of Tokyo and other Japanese cities in the weeks and months previous. While he credits Britain with starting the policy of engaging civilians in wartime though aerial bombing, he ignores the German Zeppelin bombings of England in WWI, and the bombing of Guernica by Germany during the Spanish Civil War. There's also the long history of laying siege to cities and starving out whole civilian populations. War has never been nice, history shows.

His point is that what we came to know during the Cold War as nuclear terror was the result of policies intentionally created for the purpose of inflicting mass civilian casualties, already in effect since WWII prior to the nuclear age. The intention was already in place within the leadership of the Pentagon, he argues; what the reality of nuclear weapons did was enable that intention on a global scale. Certainly food for thought.

I suspect I already know what Ellsberg's critics will say, charging him with taking sides against his own country. However provocative his views, his is a revision to the conventional history of the nuclear age well worth considering.

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Monday, August 20, 2018

Learning to Hear


Post-Script: Here are the goodies from fellow viewer Mitchell:


I'll be doing a review of these units in the near future.

Now, regarding my upcoming experiments in field recording. I’d like to begin very simply by assembling in-recorder montages of audio, in a similar fashion to how early film makers might have worked, in serial fashion, absent the sophistication of layering multiple tracks together. The challenge will be assembling, in-recorder, a “finished” production, design-wise; instead of what a sensible person would do, which is to digitize the files and assemble a more sophisticated production in-computer. Later on, as my skills grow, I'm certain my technique will become more sophisticated. For now, I'd like to discover for myself the rudiments of tape-based field recording.

My intention will be to create audio stories as finished, tape-based, stand-alone pieces that can then be augmented with an appropriate montage of video scenes to help flesh out the sound space.

I’m reminded of what artist Bill Viola said about the similarity between video and audio, in his collection of writings, Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House, page 62:

“Looking at the technological development of both video and film, we immediately notice a profound difference: as film has evolved basically out of photography […], video has emerged from audio technology. A video camera is closer to a microphone in operation than it is to a film camera […]. Thus we find that video is closer in relationship to sound, or music, than it is to the visual media of film and photography.”

It is all too easy to create a product where the video is predominate and sound becomes secondary; such is the nature of video editing software. I’d like to try the inverse, which presents its own complications.

This won’t be easy - as modern technology seems to enable creativity by means of technical innovation, I'll be tinkering with crude in-recorder editing methods, or crafting audio/video productions not ideally suited to this purpose. My aim is decidedly not what you’d do if commercial interest or efficiency were one’s primary concern. In fact, it might be a boring flop. I'm sure I can amuse myself listening to hours of tape, but producing something view-worthy for an audience is something else. Don't hold your breath, as they say.

I’m trying to see with my ears, to learn to story-tell primarily with sound; as a means to harken back, if only symbolically, to those earlier ages when stories were, literally, passed from mouth to ear.

You might be interested in the related field of artists using cassette tape audio as a source for experimental, electronic music. Hainbach is one such artist. Check out this video of him using a Walkman as a source for his synthesizer rig. You might notice near the end of the piece how he shakes the Walkman to induce strange vibrations in the sound scape. Wonderful stuff.

PPS: The top photo was made using the Pinwide pinhole body cap in my Lumix G7 camera. I don't do this very often, because as small as the pinhole is, it does permit dust to enter the camera and spot the sensor, requiring a cleaning. Still, I love the effect, once in a while.

Regarding the coffee stains on the paper, perhaps this was a bit ham-fisted and overdone, but I wanted to experiment with purposefully distressing the paper prior to typing. This is a pad of old, partially yellowed and stained paper that inspired me to experiment. Maybe a forthcoming video on the subject!

Typecast via SCM Skyriter.

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Post Power Outage Blues

Man Cave

Post-Script: Electricity is something we tend to take for granted, until it no longer is. While I tend not be much of a survivalist by nature, it is food for thought. Perhaps a backup generator, maybe some candles & lanterns. But I stop at MREs and freeze-dried foods. I'll live on canned tuna and peanut butter sandwiches, until the utilities get straightened out. Because I have inordinate faith in the crumbling social infrastructure. Call me naive.

Here in the high desert we haven't faced much in the way of natural disaster, like the coastal areas in hurricane country have. Maybe our challenge in the future will instead be fresh water.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

It's a Tape Series!

Micro-28 Recorder and Aiwa Tape
Micro-28 Recorder and Aiwa Tape

The Tape Project as it stands today:

On Tape:

On a Piece of Ground:

The Tape Project - Episode 2:

Typecast via Adobe Rose.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Impromptu Birthday Bash Type-In


Post-Script: The niece's husband tried his hand at the little Olympia SF, and he blazed away using the middle finger of each hand. It turns out his first book was written, years ago, on a larger Olympia, using the same typing style.

He asked her why a typewriter, isn't a computer more efficient. Her answer was something along the lines of wanting to get into typing again; she also has a desire to do some serious writing, and feels a typewriter would suit her best, as least in the initial phases.

They both live an hour up the highway in Santa Fe; I told her in my letter that should she need ribbons or other assistance, just call.

I think she made the right choice of the SM9 as a serious writing tool. Nothing wrong with the Smith-Coronas, except they're older, have seen a harder life.


I also had her try Adobe Rose, the Royal QDL, seen above next to the Brother Charger 11, which still had its lid attached, one of her other choices. Unless portability were her main concern, she was wise to steer clear of the Brother, as it's not nearly as easy to type on.

She made some interesting observations about the feel of the keyboards of these various machines. The spacing of the keys, and slope of the keyboards, has a lot to do with typing comfort, as she wisely discerned; to her, the SM9 felt easier than the Hermes 3000.


Above is the 1930 Underwood Portable with a roll of paper; we used it during the birthday party for people to type comments upon. Always a great machine to have handy.


This morning I stopped in at Rust is Gold, a new coffee shop + artists collective, on Eubank near Constitution, with the Olympia SF, for some blog writing and coffee slurping. Fun was had, and I struck up a conversation with a fellow patron who was interested in the typewriter. I didn't have business cards with me, so typed him one on a scrap of paper.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Thermal Receipt Typing


I've written previously in this blog about the old Albertsons grocery store down the hill from our neighborhood. It started out in the early 1960s as a Safeway and Skaggs drug store, then became Skaggs AlphaBeta, then AlphaBeta, then Furrs, then Albertsons, as the grocery store industry went through mergers and upheaval. In all of those changes, the store has remained its usual dingy self. There have been repeated attempts at renovation, but it was always done with the store still open, resulting in a perpetual sense of disorganization and clutter. Even today, it seems every month or so some seasonal change results in some category of grocery loses its shelf space and gets split asunder to the "end caps" of various aisles, making it hard to find things. Since many of the store's customers are older, you'd think it would be smart to keep things in the same location. But I keep shopping here because it's convenient, and I enjoy observing the clients and employees. A people watcher's paradise, for certain.


Besides the grocery store, the local library also gives receipts on 3-1/8" wide thermal paper. This one is from the Tony Hillerman library, formerly the Wyoming Branch, behind Hoffmantown Shopping Center in northeast Albuquerque. I've visited this library since I was a kid. Hang out at the library in the hot summer months (I was on foot or bicycle), with its cool air conditioning and cold drinking fountain, then walk across the street to Hoffmantown and have lunch at the Campbell Pharmacy. Conveniently, the book receipt gives room for a brief book review, this being the auto-biography of Michael Moore, which I enjoyed more than I expected. It also helps the aesthetics to have the receipt coffee-stained and wrinkled.


Since all these receipt were the same 3-1/8" width, it was easy to scan, keeping the left edges even on the flatbed. I like the way the front sides of the receipts slightly show through the thin paper.
Typecast via Olympia report electronic. Other receipts typed via Royal QDL (aka Adobe Rose).

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Have I Gone the Way of the Wedge?

Olympia report electronic

Post-Script: My assumptions about how the print wheel and ribbon motors worked, with encoders providing position feedback to the controller board, proved to be essentially correct, as by addressing their decades-old, oxidized connections seems to have done the trick. Every time I fix a difficult typewriter problem like what this machine had, I on the one hand congratulate myself, while on the other hand think of how long it took me to fix the problem, and that I'd never make a good typewriter repairman if I had to "put food on my family" while doing so. I'm a good tinkerer but would make a poor businessman.

Now that I have the correction tape properly installed and have sourced a supply for ribbons, I feel that this machine is finally back in business, as it was intended. I'm even more impressed with it now than what I expressed in the video earlier this week. After getting the correction system working, I found out it has enough memory to correct the entire current line, one letter at a time (but not the whole word erase or line erase functions of later machines). And you can skip around on that line, picking and choosing what letters to correct. Nice.

As for the keyboard itself, I'm typing this post-script using my 60% keyboard equipped with cherry MX brown mechanical switches, into my Mac mini. But that Olympia typewriter keyboard is almost as good, perhaps a bit softer. However, I'm using the typewriter on a small rolling typing table whose main surface is barely big enough for the girth of the Olympia, leaving no room for my forearms or wrists. I feel if it were placed on a proper desk, so I can support my arms better, it might be even more satisfying. I know for proper ergonomics a person is not supposed to plant their wrists; but I find it pretty comfortable with my computer keyboard setup, as I'm actually planting my entire forearms up to my elbows. Whatever works, right?

It's twenty till eleven PM (that's how we were taught to tell time "back in the day") and I'm suddenly thinking of doing a short video on how I fold typing paper in half lengthwise, to provide me a narrow text column for typing into my blog, while also making for an automatic backing sheet. Maybe. Either that, or get to sleep. Okay, until later.

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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Pushing Up Daisy Wheels

Olympia report electronic Typewriter

Post-Script: Funny how these things fall into your hands; this is what happens when you gain a reputation as "that typewriter guy." I was also gifted a metal folding typing table, which is now being put to use in my office, as cramped as it already was.

As I wrote in this piece, I feel Steve K. of Writelephant blogger fame has been one of the few pioneers exploring these electronic machines from the 1980s and '90s. Another person to credit is certainly Robert Messenger and his Oz Typewriter blog. For certain, these plastic machines mostly don't ring our aesthetic bell like some classic shiny black lacquered, round key manual from the pre-WW2 era does. But these have the distinction of being the front-line typewriters that served up until the very end, when computers took over the task of writing. And they do have their own technological evolution, from machines like this Olympia that were pretty well made and responsive, to the later models with more electronic bells and whistles but less snappy keyboard response. The good news is, a lot of these long-abandoned machines can be acquired for a song and a pittance, much like prior to the manual typewriter revival that started around the mid-aughts. Availability of ribbon cartridges will be an issue going forward, but even today at my local Staples I saw Selectric II and III cartridges, along with those for Royal and Brother electronic machines.

Should I see the need for more type wheels and cartridges, there's also the Swintek dealer to consider, since their machines are indeed rebranded Nakajimas.

Regarding my idea of purchasing a brand-new Swintek, I really was hoping to get one of those clear-bodied prison typewriter models, which would be a neat item to have in one's collection, to go along with one's toothbrush shank and dental floss garrote. :)

Here's a video I put up today about this machine. It's still a bit cantankerous with the intermittent ribbon lift motor issue, but is entirely useable.

PPS: I experimented with my condenser vocal mic in today's video. I'd purchased that some years ago, but never put it to good use until now. I'd first acquired it with the hopes of podcasting, but that's another iron that needs to be reheated. I like that the mic itself doesn't require a battery, although I'm using a Saramonic mic mixer atop my camera, that takes the XLR-type of input from this mic. The gain control on the mixer enables me to crank up the levels sufficient for the purpose. And I kind of like the tabletop mic stand, that frees me from clipping the lav mic to my shirt, which I always forget about when I suddenly want to go get another cup of coffee and end up stressing the mic cord attached to the camera. I know: boring techie stuff, but that's why there's so many YouTubers that like to do gear reviews.

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