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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Monday, April 10, 2017

The Proof is in the Pudding

Olympia SF

Post-Script: After we arrived back home from last week's vacation to Jerome, Arizona, the first typewriter I used was the lovely Corona Standard. Not only is it a true "looker," but its typing feel is wonderful. It's probably the one machine in my collection that has it all; aside from not being a true ultra-portable. But then I set this Olympia SF on my lap and began some random typing, and really enjoyed its touch, too. Yes, it does have that one little issue with the line advance, but my temporary solution of back-rolling the platen one click after a conventional carriage return seems to make it a practical writing tool.

Comparing the Olympia with the Brother Charger 11 taken on the Jerome trip, I'd say the Olympia has a more solid feel, though weighs more, but also makes a nicer imprint. And its clam shell lid latch components are made from metal, so they should be more reliable than what I've experienced with the Brother. I know some people criticize these Brother portables, but aside from the broken lid latch, I've found them to be rather reliable. But the Olympia is a more solid machine; and you could argue perhaps has better aesthetics going for it, too.

It's interesting that in all my travels with typewriters I've only ever taken with me an ultra-portable typer. Yet room in one's vehicle shouldn't limit oneself to just those diminutive models, since there's plenty of space in the back seat for at least a medium-sized portable. The real issue is how easy the machine is to lug from car to hotel room, or in the case of last week's trip, from our room to the garden for some private typing. The Brother was a good choice in that respect, as it is light in weight; but I can very much see myself on a future trip taking a medium-sized portable like one of my Smith-Corona Silents. The fancy Corona Standard I think will stay safely at home for the time being.

Since I mentioned the Smith-Corona Silents, I should also make mention that I did a bit more investigation into the intermittent escapement issue plaguing the Super-Silent. I've had promising results by comparing its inner workings with the more reliable Silent stablemate, and documented my findings in a video:

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017


Koi Pond

Post-Script: I didn't have carbon paper with me when I wrote that impromptu piece for our hostess, but I did snap a poor-quality photo afterwards, which I'll transcribe here:

She holds court this morning, like she does every morning now for over 25 years, the Queen Bee in her hive of a kitchen, every tool and implement at hand, mixing bowl readied, concoctions being poured and blended, things baking in the oven. The sunlight streams in from across the vista separating there from here, as if one could fathom the tremendous distances involved.

We, her guests, carefully descend the creaking staircase from our nests of Victorian rest to warm our gullets with coffee or tea, while outside a cool wind blows from last night's storm as a hummingbird mother perches in her golf ball-sized nest warming her eggs against the onslaught; nurture or nature? Perhaps that's not even the relevant question.

What is it that makes our hostess Andrea invite us to become, if but for a night or two, one of her brood? It would be too simplistic to declare mere commerce as the primary motivation; even though, out on that tree limb those chicklets, once hatched, will require to be fed every fifteen minutes. Are we that needy, too?

The Surgeon's House was intended, when built in the years of the Great War, as a place of healing, of wellness; the home of the one who brings solace in a time of great need. There are times in every person's life when a helping hand is needed, even though they might not realize their plight; perhaps that is why we secretly come to these places - not just for a bed and board, for we could find some simulacra in any Inn for sojourners - but that we secretly long to be nurtured back to some inner wellness.

Here, as she holds court in her kitchen, we find a gentle touch here and an insightful word spoken there, a sparkle in her eye and wholeness for our being in the gratitude of the meal served before us. We lounge amidst a life's gathering of living leafy beings while books and paintings feed and nourish our souls. Outside, the roar of Harleys and pickups, headed to nowhere, is but a gentle reminder that, if but for a night or two, we are home.

The broken latch on the Brother typewriter case I remedied by the application of a $5 tourist-quality leather belt, purchased at a local gift shop. Where there's a will, there's a way.

We found a neat antique store in Jerome, and I immediately spotted a mid-20th century typewriter sitting on the floor in its case. It turned out to be a Smith-Corona Silent, an exact mate to one already in my collection. It was a bit dirty and in need of some service. The platen was very hard, and it has pica-sized font. They were asking $28, which is a pretty good price for a tourist town antique store, as I've seen some sellers asking twice that back here in Albuquerque. I almost picked it up, but passed on it, as I already have one in my possession. And by passing on it, I was able to prove to my better half that, yes, I do have some degree of self-control when it comes to typewriter collecting. Perhaps this gives me more sway when I do find a model I really want in my collection, at some time in the future. Grease the skids, and all that! Any of you Arizona Typospherians in need of a Smith-Corona Silent might want to make the trek up to Jerome this weekend. The antique store is just across the street and up hill from the post office.

This typecast was written while seated in the passenger seat of our Subaru, somewhere on Interstate 40 between Flagstaff and the NM border. It proved to be a good way to while away the many miles of open country with something productive.

There will most likely be a video coming in the near future about car typing on the road; and also about using typewriters, as I was fortunate to do so, as tools for creative writing.

Lap Typing on the Road

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Monday, April 03, 2017

Old Mining Town Typing

Brother Charger 11 in Jerome, AZ
Thoughts on Typewriting in Former Mining Towns
Post-Script: I also hope to upload at least one video while here.

This Brother has a bit of letter misalignment of the A and Q keys, but its soft touch and quiet sound makes up for it. This is its inaugural vacation trek as road typing iron. The plastic latch for the case is broken, and so I'll be on the lookout for an old belt or strap to secure it for handle carry, as has been the case with other ultra portables with busted zipper cases.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

More Videos and Type-In Prep

Downtown Java Joe's
It's been a busy several weeks, though that is not in itself adequate justification for ignoring this blog for nearly two weeks. There's a certain amount of irony in the observation that a recent video was about the power of blogging; a power which I've apparently ignored.

This week I've produced four videos for my YouTube channel, three of them about photography. The first two were about the Stearman Press SP-445 sheet film developing tank, a new product which promises sheet film processing in daylight, using a changing bag. In many ways it offers a similar result to a rotary tank, with the added benefit of not requiring constant agitation, as is the case with rotary processing, and thus permits stand development methods to be employed. I found my test results using the SP-445 to be satisfactory in terms of uniformity of development, but did note a bit of emulsion scratching along the very edge of the film, due to the way the thin, ABS plastic holders clamp the film. I didn't think this was a "deal-breaker," however.

I did experience one negative detach from the holder sometime during either the five minute fix (using continuous agitation) or the initial rinse cycle. But the image results were fine. My biggest concern with this system, aside from a few dribbles of liquid leaking from the o-ring sealed lid during inversions, is the seeming flimsiness of the internal plastic baffles and film holders. Longevity will only be proven over time, I suppose.

I produced another video, at the prompting of a viewer who liked the camera I'd been using for the film development tests, presented as a 75 year-old camera review of the Graflex Anniversary Speed Graphic, which has been my primary workhorse for large format and experimentation with adapted lenses; since it has a functional curtain shutter, any lens that projects a usable image can be employed, even if it lacks its own shutter. I've over the years employed several decidedly unphotographic devices as lenses, such as the front objective to a 7x50 binocular, a plastic, credit card-sized fresnel magnifier, a Xerox machine lens and a brass pinhole. Certainly newer field cameras are lighter in weight, but they don't offer the flexibility of a functional curtain shutter, along with a wire frame viewfinder to augment the ground glass view screen. This camera I had purchased from a local camera store years ago, and it's been worth every penny to me in return.

It's been several weeks since I made a typewriter-themed video, and as I was looking through my video production notebook I found a post-it note I'd made to myself about a potential video idea, that being making a log book for one's typewriter collection. The idea is to have a separate section for each machine, with detailed data on date of acquisition, serial number, age, past service, present mechanical issues, date of last ribbon replacement and one's own personal observations about the machine. It might also be of value to include a log of how each machine is getting used, in the form of a list of entries documenting the date of use and for what purpose - letter writing, blog article, short story, etc.

The video itself ended up morphing into more of a Confessions of an Office Supply Junky theme, as I delved into using the Staples Arc system (compatible to Levenger's Circa) of disc-binders for making customizable notebooks. Since making that video I've decided to also update my ad hoc video production journal with the Arc binding system. So now there are a plethora of little colored paper chads dotting the floor in my office, as the cheap little Arc hole punch likes to spew chads intermittently.

My wife and I spent several hours of the last three days spreading posters and fliers around town for the upcoming ABQ Type-In, scheduled for April 23 at 1 PM at Nexus Brewery. One downtown coffee shop we wandered into resulted in us meeting a poet who writes via typewriter, whom we invited to the event. You just don't know which venues will lead you to meeting creative people who employ typewriters in their work; one reason why I wanted to visit as many coffee shops as I could, since creative types and caffeine seem to go together.

At a downtown bookstore we talked to the proprietor about the Type-In, who in turn suggested we contact a local poetry collective, many of whose members might also be interested. All of a sudden I'm getting this feeling that our venue might be too small; a good problem to have, I suppose, but I can remember just a few weeks ago when it seemed like I was worried about nobody showing up.

I've contacted a local alternative newspaper about getting a notice for the event in their paper, and I'll also be contacting more local media in the next few weeks.

I'm also amassing a small stack of letters and postcards from new pen pals. This is another good problem to have, since I haven't been in regular correspondence with out-of-town folk in many years. Time to get that fountain pen filled and the Facit 1620 typewriter's type slugs cleaned and readied for use.

I've also been working on making my small video studio more efficient. It's funny with television production, you can't tell from the perspective of the viewer what a studio looks like off-camera. My local PBS station, for example, has a dumpy, cluttered studio, having visited on numerous occasions; but you can't tell from watching on TV.

My own production studio is in a corner of my bedroom-based office, where I employ some dark blue curtains in front of the closet doors, and some LED lighting in metal hardware store reflectors, clamped to wherever I can manage. I had been using a folding wooden tray table as my presentation table, but that's proven a bit too small, and also I've been needing to change the height of the table relative to my seating position, in the case of presenting some object on the table where I still want my face to be in the frame.

My solution was to employ an old Bruneau's Pneumatic Tripod, that I've had for decades, with the large metal mounting plate attached to a sheet of wood, atop of which I can set my new carpet-covered plywood tabletop, now wide enough to cover the camera's 16:9 field of view and able to move up or down with the tripod's pneumatic elevation system. I also attached two hardware clamps to the back corners adjacent to the camera, upon which I can now clamp my lights. And best of all, the whole shebang disassembles and stores away, for when I'm at work and don't wish for the office to appear quite so cluttered. Perhaps a future video will be a show-and-tell of my new video digs. Until then, have a great week!

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Personal Discoveries and Barry's Folly

Aging Hippies at Winning Coffee
Ageing Hippies at Winning Coffee

Is there some universal law that dictates when a person first makes a personal discovery? What if that discovery involves a public venue, like Winning Coffee Company, in the University Neighborhood of Albuquerque? These things are like wings you don't even know you've put on, they've become so comfortable. In the case of Winnings, I can't now recall how I first heard of it, or from whom, or the circumstances of my first visit. All I know for certain is that there came a time, in the mid-aughts, when I began spending many a morning at Winnings, eating breakfast, drinking coffee and writing in a journal.

The circumstances of how these places come to be are mysterious, or so I'd like to pretend. In fact, some one or group of people had the vision to start this business, in 1996; but that's not what this story is about. The story I'd like to tell is that Winnings is as unlikely of a hangout for creatives as one can ever imagine in this dry, dusty southwest city, seemingly perpetually insulated from the balance of civilization by many hundreds of miles of badlands and years of history.

If Beatnik culture were a "Thing," let us presume, and someone with the vision and aptitude to make a buck off the declining entrails of mid-20th century American Beatnik culture were to have a free hand in fashioning a simulacra of that culture, they could do no better than start at Winnings, study what it is and what it is they do, and try to franchise the results far and wide.

Men's Room Trashcan at Winning Coffee
Simulacra of Decrepitude

You'd need, at the very least, an aroma of cumin and cayenne wafting from an ancient-looking kitchen, just as mood music fills the modern spaces of Starbucks out in Suburbia. You'd need some corporate specification defined for how intense the aroma becomes, along with how to simulate the decrepitude of years of caked-on paint, crazed plaster walls and tin ceilings in some state of disarray. An exacting simulacra of decrepitude, canned and marketed for the suburbanites in newly built communities of cracker mansions out by the Interstate, neatly set down in their precise rows of grids, enticing them to drive their SUVs down to the strip mall and experience a bit of inner-city, beatnik funkiness distilled down to its essential ingredients. Employee personal hygiene would be optional, in order to preserve the aroma of the unkempt philosopher, specified in the corporate policy manual, which also mandates faded bell-bottom denim, braided beards and bandanas securing greasy locks. Most essential would be the front patio, where tables and chairs offer a convenient place for revolutions to be fomented in billowy clouds of hand-rolled cigarette smoke; local ordinances would require special exemptions, palms would need to be greased. We have money to make, boy!

Of course, no true revolutions will arise from our imaginary chain of faux-beatnik coffee shops (Now Nationwide!), only harmless little pretend ones; for the affluence of American Suburbia is predicated on the notion of keeping one's head to the grindstone of Corporate America, doing as one's masters might dictate, and don't rock the boat.

On October 1, 2011, (un)Occupy Albuquerque, a protest group loosely inspired by the then ongoing and worldwide Occupy Movement, began a weeks-long protest and occupation of Yale Park, across Central Avenue from Harvard Drive, the location of Winning Coffee, which became for participants a de facto support triage, with food, drink and moral encouragement. For myself, Winning had by now also become my own personal triage, a place from which to escape middle-class suburbia and it trappings. I'd visit almost every week, notebook and camera in hand, simultaneously inspired and also desiring to capture on film a fleeting essence of the ephemeral. Like capturing fairies on glass plates, how does one capture the essence of a culture defined primarily by the negative space of protest and opposition? It's like that old optical illusion: is it a pair of faces or a candlestick?

I think it always comes back to that most essential approach, storytelling. People are intrinsically interested in the lives of other's, especially if those others come from a different walk of life. I've always felt a bit out-of-place visiting Winning Coffee because of the imagined disparity between my station in life (middle-class suburbanite) and those Winning regulars closer to the streets. And yet, as I've come to know some of them, I've found a richness in their diverse backgrounds that is wholly unexpected and irreplaceable.

Some of these people I've gained only a casual familiarity with, enough to catch a mere glimpse into their psyche, but enough to serve as inspiration for fictional characters in a series of short stories based on Losers Blend, the parallel universe fictionalized version of Winnings.

It's been many months since I've visited Winnings; their coffee roaster guy quit and we'd begun buying beans elsewhere. It's been several years since I was a regular enough visitor to spend hours there writing, or visiting with fellow patrons. So it came as some shock to learn this week that they are having financial difficulties, brought about by the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, which has resulted in the entirety of Central Avenue being torn up, disrupting traffic, parking and shopping for miles. The project has earned the scorn of most every business along Central, known by its initials ART; but there's nothing art-like or redeeming about it. The Mayor, Richard Barry, heavily promoted it as a way to begin transitioning the city's transportation infrastructure away from being so automobile-centric; a noble cause. But instead of placing it in a part of town most needing mass transit - the suburbs of the densely-packed northeast heights - he instead located it along the one thoroughfare already better served by bus lines than any other. So while the city might call it ART, I call it Barry's Folly.

It will take several more years before the project is concluded, and funding has not even been appropriated for any more than the initial demolition phase currently underway. Neither was the public given an opportunity to directly vote to determine the project's future, but it was instead mandated from the top, down. Theoretically, a democratic society works by the government working for the people, not the other way around.

There is the very real prospect that, even if the project is successfully completed, those areas of downtown, the University District and Nob Hill who were to benefit so directly from the transformation will be burned-out, boarded-up shells of their former vibrancy, a zone of economic blight brought about by the reality that the cure was worse than the illness; that in attempting to revive the city's core through infrastructure improvements they've killed off those essential but delicate economies of small businesses which make up most of this city's commercial liveliness; the very opposite of what Mayor Barry promised. Unique places like Winning Coffee might very likely cease to exist.

Conspiracy theorists might even conjecture this was their intention all along, so that real estate could be bought up cheaply and sold off to new corporate clients waiting in the wings.

This morning we had a late breakfast at Winnings, a hearty burrito filled with eggs, potatoes, green chile sauce and cheese; and their wonderfully rich lattes. Bradley, the bookseller, was there, setting up shop in the corner nook by the coffee roasting machine. He has a younger assistant who does the heavy lifting of setting up and tearing down, whom I asked how the books are organized, and the answer I got revealed once again the rich diversity of this crowd, as he told me that they're organized by genre: beat authors here, soviet realists there, feminist lit over yonder, Latin American fantasists over there. Only at places like Winnings will you find the guy with the strong back also has a strong mind for literature.

As we entered through the front door (there's also a rear entrance from the alley) the regulars were seated outside at the patio tables, while the big oval table inside by the order line had the usual old guys, the knights of the round table I call them, including the one who always sports some puffy-sleeved shirt and black vest, with black top hat. As we stood in line waiting to place our order, I overheard one of them inform the others "One of the Chicago Seven is now a stock broker."

I'm hoping Barry's Folly will fail to have its full sway, and that these unique venues like Winning Coffee will survive and prosper. In the meantime, Bradley informed me that the new coffee roaster guy now has his act together, and so perhaps next week, when our stock of beans begins to run low, I'll make a drive down to the University District, brave the construction barricades, have breakfast and perhaps do a bit of writing. Maybe I'll take a portable typewriter, sit out on the front sidewalk tables, sip my coffee and pound inky words into paper, the aroma of hand-rolled smokes wafting in the breeze.

Post-Script: I enjoyed writing the first draft of this piece on the teletype paper roll using the Facit 1620. Spaced at 1.5 lines, the piece came to 31 inches.

'Personal Discoveries' Rough Draft, Facit 1620 and Teletype Roll

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