Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Optima Super, or Just One More?

Optima Super, circa 1958
Optima Super
Optima Super, circa 1958
Optima Super

We, my wife and I, had a discussion this afternoon about this newcomer to my collection. She reminded me, some months ago, that when I got the Royal KMM I said I didn't any more typewriters. Since then, I've reacquired the Groma Kolibri from Kevin, and now this Optima. So what gives?

I do feel satisfied with my current collection, as most every machine I own are functional writing tools that I feel good about using. But there's also the fact that John Lewis is a national treasure, of sorts, in the sense that he represents almost 60 years of experience, and every machine for sale in his shop has some of that experience applied, during his reconditioning efforts.

Last week, I tried almost every machine he had for sale. Olympias, Hermes 3000s, Smith-Coronas, Royals, you name it and he probably has it. Yet, none of them spoke to me. They're all nice machines, I'm certain every one has a potential new owner out there who would treasure it. But I already have several Hermes 3000s, a very nice Olympia SM3, a Royal QDL, a Silent-Super, etc.

And also, I can't single-handedly buy out John's entire inventory; I'm no Jay Leno.

But this Optima was unusual, if not a bit rare, at least around my neck of the woods. And it has everything I'm looking for in a functional workhorse writing tool that's also portable.

So, never say never. I can't say with certainty that this will be the last machine in my collection; I don't feel in need of more typewriters, that's for certain. I'm good, thank you; I'll pass. Unless I step foot in John's shop again, that is. Maybe, like an alcoholic, I just need to be more careful about that in the future. Be more self-aware of my weaknesses. And also, continue using the machines more, put them to good use creatively speaking.

Okay, just one more photo of the Optima, then I'm done:

Optima Super, circa 1958

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Monday, May 17, 2021

Royal Mercury Patio Typing & DIY iPad Mini Holder Box

Royal Mercury & Astrobrights Kraft 24# Paper
The blue patio table umbrella gives the Merc an unnatural hue, but it's really a bland beige.

Blog 17 May 2021 Page 1
Staples Astrobrights Kraft 24# Paper
The Astrobrights Kraft paper cover sheet, atop one of my favorite clipboards.

Blog 17 May 2021, Page 2

iPad Mini Box
The inner box positioned for ideal laptop viewing.

iPad Mini Box
The slots cut in the side of the inner box for headphone jack and power button access.

iPad Mini Box
Slots cut into the interior for headphones and charging cable storage.

iPad Mini Box
The copper sound-bouncer plate in position, ideal for watching (and listening to) more typewriter videos of course! Also note the black craft foam inside the outer box to prevent the inner box from sliding around while positioned at the ideal viewing angle.

The Duck-brand "boiler plate" patterned silver tape really sticks well, but the 3M/Scotch-brand sparkly dark gray tape not so much. Go with the Duck brand, if you have notions of decorating your tablet's original container box.

The clipboard shot above reminds me that I need to make a review video about my clipboard collection. Because you can't have too many clip boards. And with a piece of hardware store masonite board and a large binder clip, you can make custom-sized clipboards too!

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Sunday, May 16, 2021

I've Been Busy!

Singer Electric
The photo Kevin used to print his Canon Selphie postcard

I’ve Been Busy

3-Compartment Slot Tank for Paper Negatives
The 3-slot developing tank, for 2-1/4" sized square paper prints or negatives, intended for a miniature-sized Afghan box camera project

3-Compartment Slot Tank for Paper Negatives
In my sketch journal is also an idea for individual slot tanks, with individual lids, also laser cut from acrylic sheets

Harman Direct Positive Portraits
One of the NM Film Photographers, captured onto Harman Direct Positive paper. This cell phone snap was taken of the print while still wet

Site Able Stamp Logo
The hand-drawn logo for my new stamp

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Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Stamp-Making Day!

Laser-Cut Stamp
“Stamp Making Day”

Here's the original pencil sketch, done haphazardly with a 0.7mm mechanical pencil onto Amazon's cheapest copy paper:
Magnifying Glass Dude

Here's a test stamping onto the cheap Amazon paper, which went very well. The trick is to ensure the stamp is fully inked before pressing it to paper; and then to slightly rock the stamp toward all four edges, ensuring the ink is transfered evenly. I made this artwork specifically for the purposes of being used as a stamp, so the line weights and shapes were chosen to ensure the detail holds up once stamped at a smaller scale.
Stamped Dude & Typing

The previous week at Ethan's I'd designed this "Joe VC" logo to be used for wax envelop sealing; which Ethan had resin printed. Over the intervening week he created this signet ring, also resin printed. Now all I need to do is figure out the secret handshake!
Resin Printed Insignia Ring

The next step in this printmaking adventure is I recently acquired a miniature intaglio press, for making small (2-3" square) prints from etched metal plates. I've yet to get the correct kind of intaglio oil-based ink (I used some linoleum block printing ink for my first tests, and the results were marginal), and also the right kind of paper, which has to be dampened just the right amount, in order to receive the ink from the intaglio etched plate.

Typing via Smith-Corona Silent-Super.


Monday, April 19, 2021

Poem: What I Saw at the IHOP on East Central

East Central Distopia
"New Mexico, 2021" (In homage to Garry Winogrand's 'New Mexico, 1957')

“What I Saw at the IHOP on East Central”

Yesterday I took a drive up east Central Avenue, here in ABQ. There's nothing I saw yesterday that I haven't seen before, but I wanted to study it, make sense of the enormity of the economic blight that's happening here. Happening, as in present-tense.

I should note, right up front, that our's isn't the only city facing these kinds of problems; just yesterday I was watching a YouTube channel from Toronto, Canada, where the vlogger mentioned the smell of urine behind the trash dumpster behind his apartment building. Or, just walk along the beachfront park in Santa Monica, CA and you'll find it like walking through someone's bedroom, only worse.

East Central Distopia

The causes are multifold: drug abuse, mental illness, career criminals, professional narco-cartels, marginalized economy, citizen apathy, lack of an effective social safety net, political polarization -- you name it. In cities like Albuquerque, entire geographic districts seem bombed-out, pulled directly from the pages of some distopian futurist novel.

The process seems entirely predictable: local economies decline, businesses leave, vandalism and crime increase, entire streets of strip malls abandoned, homeless encampments arise, shiny black cartel SUVs patrol the 'hood, servicing the heroin and methamphetamine addicts scavenging for their next fix. Meanwhile, politicians pose on-camera for their next real estate deal out in the suburbs, while special interests grease their palms, all covered live by Chopper Five for the six o'clock news. And so it goes.

East Central Distopia

If the process seems entirely predictable, you'd think the solutions would be also. But they don't seem to be present, to any great degree. Or maybe, we've only seen the tip of the ice berg, maybe it's going to get lots worse. Maybe the bombed-out zone of economic blight, that was once "across town," "not in my neighborhood," suddenly seems a lot closer, as you begin to notice the odor of makeshift bedrolls behind the neighborhood grocery store dumpster, or the litter of heroin needles in the empty lot on your daily walk. Maybe you can fit those ear plugs in, nice and snug, as you retire to bed at night, so as to ignore the police sirens and "ghetto bird" outside.

This last week, the current US administration announced the formal policy of supporting a continued military involvement in the country of Afghanistan was ending. America's longest war is coming to a close, or so the talking heads announced. What I'm wondering is this: what about those bombed-out war zones in our own communities, when are those wars coming to a close? When will we start triaging the wounded? Or, maybe we never showed up to fight, never made any attempt to fix what's broken, at all. Maybe we gave in without even a shot being fired.

I'd like to see what an invasion would look like, if America decided to tackle the war at home, that's been raging for decades, unimpeded.

Those are the thoughts I had, at the IHOP on east Central.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

How Come One More?

Singer Electric
How Come One More?

I think the replacement cloth-covered retro-style power cord adds to the aesthetic, rather than detract, as would a standard black cord. Embrace the wires!

Singer Electric

I like the yellowish color to the front bezel. Though I've always thought "bezel" was a funny word.

Singer Electric

If this thing's a Singer, and canary-yellow, should it be named after a bird ... Tweety Bird?

Singer Electric

A machine to fit into the decor? Perhaps!

Singer Electric

As an adult, I don't necessarily need to justify my collection, except to myself and my spouse. She's okay with a controlled, contained, modest collection, as long as it doesn't overwhelm the house. Myself, I'm more interested in machines I enjoy using, not being as interested in a collection merely to look at. Some I do enjoy using, some I don't, and many are just so-so. I think it's like a bell-curve distribution in statistics. I've had a lot of machines that fall into that wide middle range of not being overtly terrible, but not exciting either. Do typewriters have to be exciting in order to be used? That's an interesting question.

For me, they shouldn't present some obvious distraction during their use, like operational issues (skipping, poor imprint, et cetera); nor should they be hard to use, with obvious ergonomic issues (crowded keyboard, hard touch, et cetera). Machines that fall into this category are on the low end of the bell curve distribution. I'll pass, thank you.

On the other end of the curve are machines with no obvious flaws, but also just "disappear" into the background when you begin to use them. They offer comfort, efficiency and, before you know it, a page or two has been written and you've suddenly discovered that you'd "zoned out" into the work itself, not overtly aware of the typewriter itself. Like when you become proficient at a manual transmission car, and can drive across town in city traffic and not even remember shifting, it just becomes muscle memory. That's how a good typewriter should be.

Not every typebar electric machine falls into this latter category. In spite of their ease of use, some are just a bit too irritating, like a pet who constantly has to be petted, needing attention. Your workhorse typer shouldn't need attention. But having a featherlight touch, rapid response and dark imprint independant of finger pressure goes a long way toward making typebar electrics that ideal workhorse writing tool.

Personally, I prefer standard 9-inch-wide carriages, and manual carriage return. The auto-return machines sling the carriage with considerable force, which tends to distract me momentarily with thoughts that it's going to break itself any minute, or jump off the table mid-return. Illogical, perhaps, but that's how my mind works. Not so illogical is the fact that there are extra complications to the auto-return mechanism, a clutch and secondary draw band system that performs the carriage return: more parts to break.

I like the rhythmic pattern of a momentary pause to return the carriage by hand, as I ponder what I've just written, or where the piece is headed. It feels natural to me, like the cycles of nature, the ebb and flow of the hand-thrown carriage, the reaper's scythe harvesting words.

Over the years I've seen a number of typebar electrics in secondhand thrift and antique stores, but very few met all the criteria for me to seriously consider; either they had wide carriages, auto-carriage return or some obscure, outdated cartridge ribbon system -- or they were totally thrashed to pieces. But there's also the fact that I haven't always looked at typebar electrics with an interested eye. But now I'm coming around to really appreciating them for what they potentially can offer the writer, in terms of speedy operation with excellent, featherlight ergonomics combined with a dark imprint, all for a typically low price, as manual typers seem to attract the attention of the high-bidders these days.

I'm not a Hermes snob, nor am I anti-Hermes, but it's fun to think about a machine costing one tenth of a Hermes 3000 that sports a softer touch and faster operation. The only hitch is the power cord, the need to plug 'er in. Unless you have one of those SCM Poweriters, but that's a story for another day.

There's also one feature of typebar electrics that I'm absolutely thrilled about, which is the apostrophe being lowercase and adjacent to the L, in the home row (instead of a shifted 8 in the upper row, in the case of most manual machines). This makes the writing of contractions a breeze, crucial to written dialog with its idioms of speech.

Stay well and keep creating!


Monday, April 05, 2021

Are Typewriters Alive?

1961 Hermes 3000
Are Typewriters Alive?
Are Typewriters Alive?

This essay came alive to me in unexpected ways as I was sitting in front of the Hermes 3000 under the shade of the umbrella at my patio table, on a warm spring day. It started as a thought I had while I lay in bed several nights previous, which was that it seemed as if typewriters had the power to impart their own effect on the writing process, even to modulate the writer's voice. In a flight of fancy I asked myself if this might even be construed as a form of intelligence on the part of the machine, all the while simultaneously knowing they to be a complex assemblage of bits of metal parts, and that these thoughts were mere nonsense. Yet, following the chain of thought further, I asked myself if perhaps they possessed some primitive consciousness, in the way that people in the early 1970s began to think of plants as possessing a consciousness of their surroundings, as documented in Tompkins' and Bird's The Secret Life of Plants.

It's most likely the effect being observed with typewriters involves the process of how tools modulate the work of the artisan, yet it seemed sufficient to follow this fanciful thought further. If typewriters do possess a primitive form of consciousness -- or, like a virus that harnesses the reproductive process of living cells to procreate, the machines' harness the physical and emotional abilities of the writer -- do they do so individually, or is there some collective consciousness that might explain the slow but steady resurgence of interest in the typewriter? Are they reviving themselves, by harnessing the enthusiasm of writers and aficionados; or is their revival intrinsic and inevitable, a natural expectation in the evolution of human technology, with its ebb and flow in repetitive cycles?

All of this is mere fancy, and at most metaphoric of observations writers make about how they interact with their tools. These thoughts are a mental model and nothing more, that happen to explain some phenomena we observe as we create new work with these tools. Like most models, they are imperfect and subject to change. In the way that the Aether Theory served as a model for how space works, and even as it still seems to explain some observational phenomena today, we now know of better models; so too is the theory of living typewriters a mere mental construct, which we can choose to hold close or discard, depending on the breadth of our imagination.

Of course, ask any typewriter aficionado and they are certain to agree that, yes, some typewriters seem to be alive, seem to impart that something special into their creative process. I will leave it to you to decide if that constitutes some form of consciousness. I know where I stand.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Royal KMM Storage Case Project

Storage Case for 1947 Royal KMM

It's been several weeks since we -- Ethan Moses and myself -- began designing a storage/transport box for my 1947 Royal KMM. I've had this machine for a few months, since purchasing it from John Lewis Mechanical Antique Repair, here in ABQ. John's been servicing these machines for over 50 years, and the typical way he approaches these projects is a complete teardown, cleaning and rebuild. When you walk into John's shop, he's seated at his bench, which is visible from the front door, with some machine in front of him that's completely torn down to the bare chassis.

On the day I visited John, he had another Royal torn down, which look surprisingly smaller than when completely reassembled. Across from John's bench is a showrooom area comprised of shelves stocked with reconditioned machines for sale, along with a desk area in the middle of the floor, complete with typing paper and comfortable chairs, for clients to test out whichever machine they wish. John is very hands-on and enjoys taking a break from the tedium of repairs to engage with customers.

I've been a portable typewriter collector for some years. One thing I like about portables is, not only being able to easily tote them around but, that they have carrying cases serving to protect the machine while in transit and during storage. Not so with standard (so-called upright) machines; which originally came shipped from the factory in a rugged wooden crate, which typically were discarded after the machine arrived at its final destination, often at some office or school. These kinds of machines are also large and heavy, and don't have carriage locks, important for protecting the delicate escapement mechanism from damage should the machine suffer some sudden shock while being transported.

I live in a small house where storage and space is at a premium. I will typically have only one typewriter out on my desk at any one time, with the rest of the collection safely stowed away in their cases in the closet. It's been difficult, therefore, to justify getting a large standard machine, permanently taking up valuable desk space, given the constraints of my situation. Yet, standing in the showroom at John Lewis's shop that day, I couldn't help but ogle that sweet looking black beauty sitting up on the shelf. I've used standard machines before, notably one or two from Kevin's collection, and so I knew that they typically outperformed portables in terms of build quality and especially their typing action and feel of the keyboard. This also wasn't the first time I've ogled a standard machine at John's. Last year I almost pulled the trigger on a beautiful Underwood Model 5 that had exquisite black lacquered paint, gold decals and chrome trim, fully gone over by John; but I balked, knowing I had too many machines in my collection at home that I wasn't using. I needed to clear up some room, pare down my collection to just the essentials, before I could think about taking on a full-sized standard machine.

This wasn't John's first rodeo, as they say. He probably saw the gleam in my eye, as he quickly helped me get the big KMM down from the shelf and set me up in a padded chair to try it on for size. It was love at first tap. Though the 1947 KMM has round keys, the clear keytops are dished in, offering more comfort to the fingertips from long typing sessions. The touch was marvelous, and I found myself easily touch-typing with no interference from the shift lock key when hitting the letter "A", a common problem I have with many other keyboards. I was sold; but I had to think about it, because one thing I've learned over the years is never try to hide a purchase from the wife, it never ends well. I thanked John and told him I'd be back. He knew I would be, too.

The next day I returned, and the deal was done. He even threw in a new typewriter cover. I could sense John's pride in seeing one of his beauties, gone over with the thoroughness that only comes from 50 year's experience, finding a new home. As for the homecoming, it was surprisingly pleasant and pain-free, as I was directly up front with my wife about the purchase, she also knowing that I'd recently offloaded some little-used typers to better homes -- and the cost of the purchase was covered completely by a gift card I had.

Royal KMM, circa 1945

I've been using the KMM extensively since its arrival, and I remain completely satisfied. It has an elite, 12 character-per-inch typeface, and a darkly inked ribbon, so the loops and swirls of some characters tend to fill in with ink, but I've learned to lighten my touch and use certain kinds of paper, which lessens the effect. I expect it to only get better as the ribbon ages a bit. My touch typing has only gotten better on the KMM, which has a carry-over effect of making me better on other portables. I'd say the KMM has afforded me a bit of typerwiter therapy. The machine sits on a metal typing table, so my desk actually retains its usual cluttered appearance, with sufficient room perhaps for one more machine, should the need arise.

Yet, even though I was enamored enough to want to continue using the KMM, I knew that, down the road, there might come a time when I might want to store it away in the closet for a spell; or transport it to some typing event. And so the idea of a storage case came to mind. And when, some weeks later, I mentioned this to my friend Ethan, he immediately offered the idea of helping me design and build such a case, as it would give him opportunity to test out his recently acquired laser cutter on thicker grades of plywood, in preparation for some ULF (ultra-large format) camera-building projects he has planned. I'd call this serendipitous.

Designing Royal KMM Storage Box

And so, one day a few weeks ago we gathered at Ethan's shop and began the design/build process. Ethan has evolved his design process to hand sketching before he starts in on the Solid Works CAD (computer aided design) software, which is then rendered in a file format compatible with his laser cutter.

Storage Case for 1947 Royal KMM

Inspired by our conversation, and the fact that I'd brought the KMM with me for reference, Ethan began with a pencil sketch of the basic layout we were thinking of.

Storage Case for 1947 Royal KMM

The design evolved through several iterations.

Storage Case for 1947 Royal KMM

Finally arriving at this version, which seemed close enough to begin the CAD process. We'd also taken a break and made a trip to the hardware store for hinges and latches, which we measured and transfered the dimensions to our drawing. It was starting to take shape.

Ethan’s High School Calculator
Ethan's high school calculator still finds usefulness even today.

Designing Royal KMM Storage Box
Putting the finishing touches on the Royal logo.

Designing Royal KMM Storage Box

Once the files were done, we had to do some calibration runs on scraps of wood to figure out the optimal laser power and cutting speed for the 1/2" thick plywood. Laminated wood contains layers of adhesive, which can burn at different rates than the wood itself. Also, the gasses and vapors from the cut can defocus the beam, which causes further issues during the cut. But finally we had pieces cut, and the assembly process could begin.

Laser cutting thick plywood, though fast, is frought with difficulties. Ignoring the extensive setup and calibration runs ahead of time, what you end up with are pieces of wood with charred edges. The char can vary in thickness, so it needs to be cleaned up, which results in finger joints that are not as precise as you'd get with mechanical cutting methods. There's also the fact that, once you start glueing up the pieces, you'll inevitably end up with gluey fingers getting caked with messy black powdery char, which then makes unsightly finger prints on the otherwise clean plywood, which then necessitates extensive sanding afterwards; but you can't sand too much, because the outer plywood lamination is rather thin. The result isn't what you'd expect if fashioning perfectly formed, gleeming jewelry boxes -- which wasn't our intent, either. We were looking to create more of an industrial, rugged look, and that's what we got.

We met again that next week to finish up the sanding and some of the finish work. Then this week I put the finishing touches on the box, including sanding the interior and applying a coat of Danish wood oil, then measuring and fitting the mounting blocks which serve to accurately position the typewriter in the case so it's near perfectly centered. The result is as you can see in the top photo of this article.

Storage Case for 1947 Royal KMM

Here's the case with the lid opened. I used paracord and screw eyes to serve as holding straps to keep the case lid from falling backwards when opened. Inside you can see the mounting blocks for precisely positioning the typewriter feet.

As for protecting the carriage and escapement from unwanted movement, what I did was use a plastic clothespin to lock the carriage release lever in the released position, which disconnects the rack gear from the escapement pinion, thereby protecting the escapement from damage; then I built a set of foam rubber end caps that fit over both carriage knobs, which serve to snuggly position the carriage immobile in the case.

The whole project is documented in the video below. I can easily say that the KMM can now be transported with safety to any venue, and stored securely in my closet should the need arise. It serves to transform what was once a desk-bound typewriter into a mobile (er, luggable) writing tool, in the spirit of those early suitcase-sized luggable computers from the 1980s. Which is no small bit of irony.

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Sunday, March 07, 2021

Ojito Wilderness Hike

Cliffs, Ojito Wilderness
Ojito Wilderness Hike
Gas Station Breakfast, Ojito Wilderness
Ethan grabbed a to-go sandwich at the Warrior Gas Station in the town of Bernalillo, on the way out to the Ojito. I'd already eaten that morning before leaving, so I had the joy of watching him eat his meal, featuring almost-frozen artifical cheese. Yum!

Ojito Wilderness
Our trail took us along the edge of the large mesa (in the background, above), through areas of dramatically sculpted rock formations.

Balanced Rock, Ojito Wilderness
These eroded formations, called hoodoos, are commonly seen in the Ojito, as well as other parts of northwestern New Mexico.

Flowering Yucca, Ojito Wilderness
Flowering yucca, the official New Mexico state flower. Notice the strange pentagonal formation of depressions in the rock face behind...

Balanced Rock, Ojito Wilderness
...which is at the base of this hoodoo. Manmade, or otherwise?

Hoodoo & Ponderosa Pines, Ojito Wilderness
Our trail takes us through this stand of ponderosa pines; these supposedly are the lowest altitude ponderosas in the world, fed by some underground springs not readily evident by the dry terrain on the surface.

Ethan & Hasselblad at Ojito Wilderness
Ethan came equipped with a Hasselblad and Polariod back, plus a hearty supply of outdated peel-apart film. We both tried our hand at instant landscape photography.

Ethan Moses & Hasselblad at Ojito Wilderness
After going off-trail, cross-country, we rested at our destination, this scenic canyon, where we took the majority of the Polaroids.

Ethan Moses at Ojito Wilderness
Ethan scouting for his next shot.

Ojito Wilderness
The formation on the right looks like a snail's head. One's imagination can go wild in these badlands.

As I alluded to earlier, I was out of shape for this hike, but glad I took it. This gives me encouragement to keep doing this as often as possible.

A big thanks to Ethan Moses for inviting me along, and being tour guide.

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