Friday, December 29, 2017

Further Thoughts on Lumen Photography

Winter Ash Tree

Pre-wetted with water, lens wide open, 3 hours 45 minutes exposure.

I've been consciously trying to make a lumen print every free moment I can. These aren't as quick as snapping a shot on a phone, or even hitting "print" on the computer. It takes many minutes, usually several hours in fact, for the image to form itself within the little paper camera upon the slip of photo paper inserted within. Even then, the image isn't ready to be shared. It has to be digitized, then post-processed into a positive.

When a camera can make an exposure in a minute fraction of a second, quicker than you can blink, you can't help but question the value of your participation in the process. Sure, you pointed the camera and chose the moment to press the button, but that's about it; all the magic happened in milliseconds of time.

But when the image takes literally hours to form, and even then is still in "raw" form, requiring further interaction, you can't help but think that here's a process you can get your head around. It's participatory, from deciding where and how best to set up the camera so it won't be moved or disturbed for several hours, to preparing the photo paper and loading the camera, to carefully setting the little box so it's pointing in the general direction you intended. And then the waiting, setting a timer and periodically checking on the camera to make sure it hasn't fallen over, worrying over it like a momma cat over her kittens, hoping the composition is right, hoping the light will be right, anticipating the results yet knowing, down deep, they won't be as good as you'd hoped.

All of this fussing, the extended exposure time required, fools you into thinking you're more involved in the outcome than you really are. It's still a matter of pointing the thing in the right direction, then opening the shutter to let light inside. The magic happens, not as a result of your cleverness, but despite our best intentions. It's the physical process, photons upon molecules. The trick to art, it reminds us, is in convincing others we're somehow responsible for the outcome.

For many years I was an avid pinhole photographer. I was attracted to the primal simplicity of the idea that light can form an image by mere projection through a small aperture. Yet, for the image to be fixed, some complicated process has to unfold, whether it be the chemical processing of silver gelatin film or paper, or a digital sensor. The only difference being the type of lens employed.

Once I'd discovered for myself lumen photography, another kind of primal process became apparent. The magic for me is more apparent than with pinhole, where the distinction is merely in the kind of lens employed. Here, the lumen image is due to the direct action of photons upon a silver gelatin emulsion. It's self-forming, it's light itself doing the etching, no further human interaction required except in the post-production phase, where the necessity of making the image a positive is more due to the inability of humans to directly appreciate negative images.

Lumen prints are developer-less, not like Polaroid prints, where the developing process seems invisible but is merely built into the print itself, a chemical pod squeezed between rollers as the print is ejected. The lumen process seems more like an act of nature. You boil down cattle bones, mix in some silver salts, spread a thin coating on paper, stuff it in a box and focus light upon it and, as if all by itself, an image is formed. Of course, in actual practice we usually let others do the boiling of bones and coating of paper, like Ilford or other manufacturers of photographic papers. Still, there's an element of mystery involved, as if to remind us that magic is built into the very fabric of the elements, but which we commonly dismiss under the rubric of "chemistry".

Silver nitrate or potassium nitrate? One makes images, the other blows things up. We get to choose. I am reminded of Alfred Nobel, the namesake of the annual peace prize awards, who was also the inventor of dynamite. In my mind there's this double-exposure formed, one layer being lions lying with lambs, the other layer crater-pocked fields in France, the smell of cordite, the broken minds and bodies of young men.

Photography, as it has advanced in technical sophistication over the centuries, begins to resemble as much the nature of potassium nitrate as it does silver nitrate. We aim guns; we aim cameras. We take a shot; we take a shot. We capture prisoners; we capture images. It takes a conscious effort of the will not to use the language of warfare when discussing photographic creativity, that's how ingrained these terms have become in the common lexicon of culture. It's all too easy to say "I've taken a picture," when you really mean you created a picture. Taking sounds like appropriation, winner take all, the business of empire-building, losers left in the wake. Creativity, I'd like to think, should be a collaborative process, a making of something beautiful, where once there wasn't an image, now there is, ex nihilo, as it were, being made in the creator's image; or, at least, symbolic of such.

Lumen prints appeal to me also because they remind me of the very formative years of photography, obscure and difficult processes requiring lengthy exposures and still subjects. You couldn't make a lumen print of a quick-action sporting event, for example, unless the intensity of your light source was on the order of a nuclear detonation. I'm reminded of a supposedly true story told in John McPhee's book The Curve of Binding Energy, where a nuclear physicist (Ted Taylor, if memory serves me), observing a nuclear test, set up a cigarette in front of a small parabolic reflector and, shortly after the pikadon - Japanese for "flash boom," he reached down and took a drag off the smoldering ash. You could do that today with a magnifying glass aimed at the sun, but it would still take many minutes or hours in the same setting to capture a lumen print image of the scene.

Darkroom photographers have known for a long time that a clipping of silver paper, left out on a table will, over time, slowly turn a subtle hue of pink or purple. But to employ that phenomenon into a usable photographic process requires fast optics, to record the image with a semblance of convenience. If one chooses a large format camera and lens, the main limitation is the maximum aperture available on standard large format lenses. The fastest optic I have available in a conventional large format lens is a 127mm Kodak Ektar lens from the WWII era. F/4.7 doesn't sound all that fast by today's bokeh-obsessed standards, but it's barely adequate for the process. Since sub-second exposure times aren't necessary for this process, having a lens with an integral shutter isn't necessary. Still, finding a lens with adequate image quality that projects a large enough image circle is no small task. I also have a Fujinon Xerox machine lens, of f/4.5 aperture, but it requires a paper size of at least 8" by 10" for a normal angle of view. Smaller lenses, like magnifying glasses, will cover the 4" by 5" format better, but being of a single-element meniscus design, exhibit severe off-axis aberrations.

I've found such improvised optics seem to work well with the lumen process only because the resulting images, with their blurry edges, have a dream-like quality in keeping with the ephemeral nature of lumen photography. A sub-f/4 lens from a medium format camera, if one could be found, would be ideal for creating sharper images, if that were one's goal.

I first became aware of lumen photography from artists who were employing pinhole cameras to make exposures of the sun's path across the sky using exposures lasting many weeks or months. It was only because of the work of photographer Jorge Otero, from whom I acquired a Lumenbox kit camera, that the possibility of scenic landscape lumen photography became evident. Otero, who goes by the social media moniker of Joterman, began using fast, single-element lenses with photo papers, while also pioneering the technique of pre-wetting the paper with water in an attempt to speed up the image capture effect.

It's exciting to be at the pioneering phase in this process, reminding me of what it might have like in the early 18th century when photography was first being developed. Much has yet to be discovered about how to speed up the image-formation process. I've thought about running a series of experiments involving dousing pieces of photographic paper in various household liquids to see what results. Coffee, ketchup, hot sauce, soy sauce or bleach - what might they reveal? Probably a huge mess. A liquid-proof camera seems necessary, at the very least.

Lumen print photography, involving fast lenses to create pictorial images, is a process that could only have been practical within the last few decades. Given the resulting negative's ephemeral nature - the prints remain light sensitive and hence are continually at risk of fading from subsequent exposure to light - they require digitization through quickly scanning or photographing with a digital camera, after which the resulting image file can then be post-processed, by inverting the tones in photo editing software, to create a file that can be digitally printed. It's an intrinsically hybrid process, which represents a fundamental irony, given the primal nature of the processes involved.

Taking a first brief glimpse at an exposed lumen print under subdued lighting is always accompanied by the expectation of a fresh discovery. No two prints are the same, while the color palette of the negative itself is often more pleasing than the hues resulting in the reversed positive digital image. I'd like to try inverting the monochrome portion of the image to create a positive rendition, and superimpose that with the tones present in the original negative, using the layers tool in a program like Photoshop, to create a hybrid positive/negative version. Or perhaps some semi-reversal chemical process, like solarization, might be found practical.

I've also found the resulting image can vary widely, depending on the intensity of the scene's illumination, the color of the subjects, and the exposure times involved. Pre-wetting with water also changes the color palette somewhat, while in my camera also results in the pooling of water near the bottom edge (the image's top), resulting in globs of dark tones that adds to the mysterious outcome.

I have a cobbled-together 8" by 10" format sliding box camera (employing one box nested inside another for focus), that's currently fitted with a single element meniscus lens. Perhaps I should rig up that fast Fujinon Xerox lens and see what transpires.

I'll be sure to share my results herein, and on my YouTube channel.

Some recent lumen print images:

P1000222a
Pre-wetted with water, lens wide open, 2 hours 15 minute exposure.

P1000197a
Pre-wetted with water, lens wide open, 1 hour double-exposure.

Tree001 (1)
Pre-wetted with water, lens wide open, 1 hour exposure.

P1000257a
Exposed dry, lens stopped down, 3 hours 9 minute exposure.

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Winter Light

Tree001 (1)

I was inspired this morning to take the little paper Lumenbox camera outside today and try my hand at another exposure. The camera had been sitting on the lid of my scanner for several weeks, quietly eyeing my activity at the cluttered desk, waiting for its time in the sun (literally). Not that it's actually conscious, but sometimes we just have to pretend. It's part of the process, anthropomorphizing our creative tools like they are more than mere helpmates.

Once again I used a piece of photo paper that came supplied with the camera by Jorge Otero, but this time I pre-wetted the paper with warm water. Wetting the emulsion speeds up the exposure somewhat, while also causing slightly different colors.

To limit the paper's exposure to the cold until I was ready to begin the exposure, I first went outside and hunted around for a suitable composition. Wintertime can be difficult, with it's barren tree branches and sparse vegetation. Well, technically it's not yet winter, but close enough. I ended up setting the Ultrapod at the base of a backyard tree, with the wooden camera platform pointed almost directly up the side of the tree trunk. Then I went inside, wetted the paper and loaded the camera, then quickly got it set up on the tripod and began the exposure. I set the dive timer dial on my Casio watch and went to work editing today's video, forgetting about the Lumenbox until an hour and 20 minutes had passed.

I was surprised at the contrast and density of the resulting image, which pleased me. There was a bit of a dark gray stain on the reverse side of the paper, from the wetted paper affecting the black craft paper liner's dye inside the camera. I brought it inside, quickly dried the remaining few spots of water off the paper (it would have been entirely dry if this had been a summer exposure), then sequestered the negative in a black paper storage sleeve until I could scan it.

I like to minimize the amount of light these negatives receive after their in-camera exposure. I warmed the scanner up and did a pre-scan, before bringing the negative out of its storage sleeve and doing the scan. Being as I currently lack a real photo editor like Photoshop, I invert the tones on the Mac Mini using the preview mode (reversing the left and right controls of the levels tool), then imported the image into the Photos app for final processing, which required a bit of contrast and levels adjustment. The colors also reverse with the tones, resulting in this green-tinted image.

One of the things that really surprises me about this process is the final color pallet. Even comparing images made mere hours apart, the results can vary considerably. This is the first time I've had this greenish tone, which contrasts nicely with the delicate salmon tones to the sky, and the cyans near the edge. The dark spot near the top edge is probably the result of the residual water having ran down into one spot near the bottom of the negative (in-camera images being reversed vertically).

This is a very satisfying result, and one that makes the process so enjoyable, the anticipation of what might happen, but not knowing exactly what. I'm also pleased knowing that it's very hard to over-expose these images, because as the image slowly forms on the paper within the camera the darker image areas self-mask.

I used the lens with its aperture wide-open, resulting in those wonderful out-of-focus areas along the left edge, a result of the intrinsic optical properties of the single-element meniscus lens.

During these cold months my garage-based darkroom requires concentrated planning to use effectively for chemical processing of film or paper, as the space has to be heated and the chemicals microwaved to room temperature. Therefore these impromptu self-forming lumen prints are a wonderful diversion from winter's chill.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Testing the Lumenbox

Lumenbox Camera
Typecast013

Post-Script: This first image was 1/2 hour exposure in morning light with the aperture stop in place. The image was rather faint on the paper negative, but after digitization the tones were expanded in software using the curves and contrast adjustment tools.

P1030712

Note the interesting colors. The cyan tones on the trees appear almost realistic, and the sky in the upper left corner resembles the martian landscape via NASA imagery. Reminds me of an artifact from my formative years in the 1960s, when many Americans still only had black-and-white television, of a colored plastic overlay attached to the screen, that had three color zones, blue on top, brown in the middle and green in the foreground. It looked eerily realistic for certain televised baseball shots of the infield.

This next image was taken this afternoon, in my front courtyard in brighter sun. Another 1/2 hour exposure, this one minus the aperture stop, so the lens was wide open and hence producing a slightly softer image.

P1030722

Given that the courtyard walls are sand brown colored stucco, there is a certain eery resemblance to reality here.

Making lumen print images is a fun hybrid process. Making the paper negative requires little else but time, no additional chemical processing needed. Like a slow negative polaroid without the chemical pod. Most of the work is in post-production, where you can apply your creative vision to the tonal curve in order to get the contrast to your liking. The colors kind of fall where they may, as they are an inversion of the negative's original tones, appearing on the opposite side of the color wheel spectrum.

This process isn't really complete unless these images are printed in delicate color tones upon textured art paper via digital printer. Since I lack such a printer, that will have to wait for the future.

See the description field in the videos for details on Jorge Otero's Lumenbox project.





Typecast via Jitters, the coffee-and-chocolate colored electric Smith-Corona, sporting a brown ink ribbon.
DSCF4927a

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Monday, December 04, 2017

Another Ultra-Portable Joins the Fleet

Smith-Corona  Cougar
Typecast012

Post-Script: If you're a collector of small typewriters, there's a tradeoff to consider, that being build-quality and typing action versus portability. There are only a few ultra-portables that come close to the same user experience as a medium-sized portable. But by limiting yourself to that small collection, you will miss out on the larger world of ultra-portables; which implies that such a collector must accept the limitations that come with these diminutive writing machines.

I've accepted long ago that I like the build-quality of many Brother machines, yet all the ones I've used suffer from a heavy touch. I accept that as part of the owner experience. This Smith-Corona is no exception. It does have a flimsy feel, far different from the Olympia SF, for example. Yet it's much lighter than the SF, while also noisier in operation. It goes with the territory.

I like that my collection of small typewriters are so easy to store, and each fits in a messenger bag for mobile typing, ideal for the restless word wrestler.

Here's a video I made about this typewriter. Enjoy.

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

"Time"

Smith-Corona Electric
Typecast011

Post-Script: My submission for Typing Assignment # 12, on the subject of thankfulness.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Typing Assignment No.12: Thankfulness



Typing Assignment No.12 is about the subject of Thankfulness. Write a one-page piece however you like - fiction, biography, prose, poetry - whatever, on the subject, and have a photo of it posted online by Sunday, November 26. You can include a link to your image here in the comments below; in the comments for the above YouTube video; or by emailing me at: jvcabacus@yahoo.com

Happy writing!

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Monday, November 13, 2017

ABQ Type-Out!



There was a particular moment at yesterday's ABQ Type-Out, while standing under the shade of the portal in front of Pennysmiths Paper, being interviewed by a local television news crew, when I had to formulate an answer to the question of "why typewriters." I answered that it was their ability to provide a non-distractive writing experience, a quip rather rattled off the top of my head, but which in retrospect was probably the right line to use.

There are many diverse reasons why a person, in the year 2017, might want to use a typewriter, and thus there isn't just one correct answer to that question. I'm not even certain now whether that was the best answer for myself. Is that really why I type, because I'm so easily distracted? I'm actually not sure.

In theory, the idea that typewriters provide a non-distractive writing experience and thus by implication can make you a better writer is at best an assumption and at worst a straw man argument. There are many competent professional writers who seem to possess the self-discipline required to use computers for writing, among them people like Stephen King. Perhaps the real problem here is not the lack of typewriters, but just an issue of discipline. If a person can't shut off the Internet browser and hunker down in a Word document, maybe there are deeper issues at play.

For example, I know of one writer who uses typewriters, and is constantly on Facebook, morning to evening. First thing in the morning will be posts including some meme about staying out of the way until after that first cup of coffee. Then will come posts of memes about writing, how hard it is. Later will be something about how little progress has been made on that book, and how it's such a struggle. On and on it goes like this, all day long, into the evening when will still be more posting to Facebook, either about typewriters, or coffee, or the writing life and that ongoing struggle to get the book done.

I think I know the problem, and it isn't Microsoft Word; and typewriters aren't going to fix it. Just get the heck off the damned Internet and Facebook, and hunker down and write.

Yes, I do believe typewriters can provide a quality of writing experience different from computers; an intentionality of purpose and a laser-like focus. But let's not kid ourselves. Being a writer is a discipline as much as a skill. By discipline I mean a purpose-driven life, not merely the image of a bootcamp drill sergeant, barking for you to get down and give him fifty more pushups. I mean the kind of discipline you'd see in some lone craftsperson, toiling away in the obscurity of their silent studio to the acclaim of no one but themselves. Constantly honing and refining their craft. Removing the distractions from their life that would prevent their continuous improvement.

Too many would-be typewriter users try to justify their typewriter hobby with the idea that, by writing with typewriters, they will achieve some level of writing they'd otherwise not reach through more conventional means. Maybe they're obsessed by the image of the beret-clad typist, holed away in his flat on the Left Bank, typing and smoking to the sounds of jazz and a steaming espresso machine. Romantic, yes. Realistic, no.

I think it's okay to collect and dabble with typewriters without feeling the need to somehow justify owning them under the pretense that they'll somehow make you a better writer. What might actually make you a better writer is to spend less time on the Internet and Facebook, jibber-jabbering about typewriters, and get down to the serious business of writing. Pen, typewriter, computer - whatever works for you. But toying with typewriters isn't writing. It's toying with typewriters for the sheer joy that typewriters provide. There's nothing wrong with that, no guilt trip needed. Just enjoy typewriters, collect them, whatever. But don't pretend like they're a substitute for the real work required to be a good writer.

Am I saying that typewriters can't be used by serious writers? No. Far from it. If that's what works for you, then keep doing that. But don't shoe-horn typewriters into your work flow just because you're romantically enamored with the concept of writing by typewriter. It might just not work for you. Sure, go ahead and try it. Build a realistic working methodology that includes the typewriter, than use that for a while. Examine the process, see what's working and what's not, then make adjustments. And if, in the course of making those changes, you find typewriters no longer work for you, then ditch them from your writing methodology. Don't just keep using them because you somehow feel obligated because you've labelled yourself as "that typewriter writer".

Mankind, we're a tool-making species. That's what distinguishes us from other animals, discounting the chimpanzees who fish termites out of their nests with a stick. We could probably do that too, if we had the appetite for termites. I think the crucial idea here is we need to be wielding the tool, not having the tool wield us. We need to be in control, to make the choices.

Constant refinement and tweaking of our creative process is just part of being a creative person. It comes with the territory. If you aren't curious about "what if," then you aren't alive enough to call yourself a creative. The crux of creativity is curious exploration. You see something, you prod and poke at it, like that chimp with his termite stick, and see what happens. You observe the results, then modify your prodding technique, or find a better stick, until you see improvements. And on it goes.

Back to the scene yesterday at the Type-Out. We had us some darned nice termite sticks. Portables, medium-sized machines, larger uprights. Manuals and electrics, spanning a range of ages from the WW1 era to the 1970s; from the tiny Hermes Rocket to the hefty IBM Electric and Olympia SG1. Sticks, big and small, a diverse collection able to satisfy the aesthetics of even the most discerning typist. I didn't feel then, and don't now, the need to justify typewriters. That's usually the first thing people ask when they find out you use typewriters. "Isn't it so difficult to use?" "Aren't computers so much easier?" "Gawd, why would you want to use a manual typewriter when a computer is so much better." On and on the complaints go. And that's fine. People can just complain, no sweat. Everyone to their own opinion. But in their complaining, let it be known that most of these people don't understand why it is that we do use typewriters.

As an analogy, let me use classic automobiles. "Why would you want to commute to work in that old thing? It doesn't even have air conditioning, it barely gets off the line, it sucks gas and the brakes are shoddy." Yes, all that is true. Yet people collect antique automobiles and are thrilled to own them, to tinker with them, to polish them and take them out for a Sunday drive. But you won't find them commuting to work in them on Monday morning, that's not why a person collects antique automobiles. And much the same with typewriters. We enjoy tinkering with them, polishing them, getting together with other, like-minded typewriter owners, even take them out for a spin and write with them once in a while. But few are willing to take them to the office and use them, in the way that computers have replaced typewriters. Things have changed, the old order has been replaced with the new, and with those changes typewriters are used in new ways. Back in their day, Model A Fords were the working man's family transportation. The horseless carriage. A practical improvement upon the equine variety. And since then, people who still have Model A Fords use them differently. They are no longer one's daily commuting car or family runabout, but are classics, to be preserved and honored and cherished and tinkered with and fussed over. And driven on Sundays, slow and smooth like, not with the efficiency of that latest Toyota Camry, but with purposeful, deliberate intention, enjoying the experience for experience's sake.

So go ahead and write that Great American Novel with your Smith-Corona. Or drive cross-country with that Model A. But do so knowing the journey won't be the same as with that slick word processor or Toyota. You won't be cruising the Interstate at 85mph, pulling over for a quick Big Mac and fill-up, then back on the highway. Your's will be the backroads of life, more purposeful but also more pedantic. You won't be measuring your progress in sizable chunks of the continent devoured in one day's time. You'll more likely be going from one small town to another, one small piece of writing to another, savoring along the way each nuance of the road, each paragraph and new phrase laid down on fresh paper. It'll be a real adventure, not just a quick jaunt out to the coast. But along the way you might discover something you'd otherwise miss if you took the Toyota.

The single biggest mistake I saw people making at the Type-Out was attempting to touch-type. We forget what it was like before rubbery keyboards and slick software took all the toil out of typing. Then, it took training, weeks and months and years, before you could call yourself a competent typist. Now, people are expected to sit down at a computer and, with virtually no training at all, produce professional output. Bam, whiz, whir and it's done. There's good reason why the image of the old newspaper reporter, banging away on his typewriter with two fingers, his cigarette ash dangling precariously, is so persistent. It's because that old two-fingered technique, as denigrated as it has been over the decades, is so efficient at producing error-free, quality copy. In the end, you'll write quicker using two fingers, given the reality that mistakes will require correction, or even retyping of the entire document. The tortoise over the hare.

"But, but..." you'll exclaim. "My typing teacher drilled into us the importance of touch-typing, yada, yada, yada..." Yea, I remember that, too. Actually, the thing I remember the most from high school typing class, being one of the few boys present, were all the pretty girls. But this ain't 1971 and you aren't learning electric typewriters so you can get a secretarial job. Nosirree. This is 2017, and I'm telling you that those old gin-reeking reporters knew what they were doing when they pecked away on their writing irons with two fingers. They didn't have time to stop and correct, and maybe they had a carbon underneath and weren't about to correct the second copy, too. They had to get it right the first time, error-free.

And here's another thing you might want to think about before criticizing those two-fingered monkeys. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome wasn't a "thing" until computer keyboards. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, will you! I think this is an important point. Touch typing on flat keyboards all day is bad for you, plain and simple. Just because you CAN, because the finger force required to operate a rubbery keyboard is so light, doesn't mean you SHOULD. Where I work, at a major Fortune 500 corporation, the issue of ergonomics and at-risk keyboard behavior is a big deal. People go out on MLOA (medical leave of absence) because of wrist injuries. The company looses money, people's lives are upended, they live with pain and suffering and take a long time to heal. Touch typing might be quick (but is it, really; consider how often you quickly backspace and retype over mistakes, just because you can, hare-like, when you could pedantically and accurately two-finger type with no mistakes and fewer wrist-injuring keystrokes, tortoise-like), but is it safe?

A deeper question might be, do we really need the speed offered by touch-typing on a slick rubbery keyboard? The typical keyboardist rushes through their document, constantly rat-a-tat-tating with the backspace key to erase those frequent mistakes, then stopping suddenly to discover the whole damned paragraph makes little sense because the speed of thought is so much slower than their fingers, and then fondle the mouse and click, highlight, drag and drop words and phrases here and there, having to revise and edit the whole ugly thing until it resembles, somewhat, a well-written piece. Alternatively, you could slowly, methodically think your way through a piece, carefully two-fingering those words into place, in the end requiring less editing and revision and in the process giving your wrists a well-needed break. Take it easy, write slowly and carefully - that's the fastest, safest way to write.

The best thing about typewriters as tools for the writing process is that they teach us to slow down, just slightly faster than the speed of thought, and think before typing, then type slowly, carefully and safely. They also teach us the value of ink on paper, about paper as a valid form of archive and backup, as a way to document the writing process.

I've no real bug about manual typewriters being intrinsically better than electrics, other than their portability and reliability, and the economy of their ribbon system. Actually, given the reality of manufacturing in 2017, a newly designed typewriter, aimed at the enthusiast writer, might look more like a hybrid between electric daisy-wheel plastic wedge and AlphaSmart Neo. For my aesthetics, it would have a standard-width carriage, accepting paper no wider than standard letter sized. Forget those ginormous wedges that took up a majority of one's desktop. It should have a simple and reliable print mechanism, like a daisy-wheel system, but be quick in response to keyboard inputs, with little or no latency. For my needs, it wouldn't require spell check, a thesaurus or even a correcting ribbon and memory system. It would preferably have a cloth ribbon that auto-reverses, for economy over print quality. I can imagine ways to make a cloth ribbon system that advances and auto-reverses, even on a daisy-wheel system, while being designed elegantly simple, using tiny solenoids or stepper motors. It would have a great-feeling keyboard, like the AlphaSmarts have. It needn't be much wider than a Neo, just a bit deeper and thicker to account for the print mechanism. It could be controlled by something like an Arduino board. And it could be lithium-ion battery powered for portability, along with household AC. An electronic typewriter aimed at the enthusiast writer market, not the professional office. A writer's tool that accepts paper as a valid medium for the initial stages of the writing process, but does so nimbly, economically and portably.

Alas, but one can only dream. Back in the 1980s, when I had a Smith-Corona daisy wheel wedge, the thing I liked about it was the quality of imprint from its carbon film ribbon. And the thing I didn't like about it was the frequent replacement cost of those same carbon film ribbon cartridges, which were one-time-use only. I recall that's the thing that motivated me into getting my first manual, some gray Royal with the red badge logo that unlocked the ribbon cover. Yes, I liked the economy of its ribbon; but no, I didn't like the low-quality cloth ribbon imprint. Today, I feel differently. I'm okay with cloth ribbons and their imprint quality, because I harbor no presumptions about a typed page being the equivalent of a professionally printed document. I understand better the place that typewriters have in my writing life. They're like that point-and-shoot film camera. The negatives might be gritty and grainy, but they're raw and real and physical.

These are the things that resonate with me after the Type-Out: answering the question of WHY? Dealing with those issues of intention, and the writing process, and the discipline of being a writer. Dealing with the ergonomics of manual typing, and finding what works best for one's self. And electric typewriters, especially those 1950s-era Smith-Corona Electrics that are small and sexy and so easy to work, with economical cloth ribbons.

I'd like to briefly mention that fellow conspirator Kevin Kittle and I will hopefully be getting together soon to do an in-depth video review of his newly acquired Godrej, recently arrived from India.

Thanks too for all the hard work Kevin put into the organizing the Type-Out; and a hearty shout-out to the staff at Pennysmiths Paper for their support.

Written on AlphaSmart Neo at Limonata Coffee.

Post-Script: Here's the link to a local TV news story about the Type-Out event.

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