Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Transmission from 57 Leonis

Strange things happen when you enter the Sandia Mountain wilderness east of Albuquerque.  Rumors have circulated for centuries amongst the indigenous, the Spanish, the anglo, and yet they remain.  Today we picnicked with friends, a celebration of my birthday, at our favorite spot, at about a 9000 foot altitude. Closer to the stars, they say.

I had just sat down at my typewriter, drink in hand, and was gifted with this seemingly extraterrestrial missive, hand-wrought, containing cryptic verse and imagery obviously intercepted by some mysterious radio receiver that watches our every move from outer space.

What is this mysterious symbol enclosing the transmission, a resin-like substance of some nonhuman origin perhaps? Dare I break the seal and glimpse what should remain unseen?

The message contained within started with this woodcut print, signed with the chop of Gustave Baumann, another longtime New Mexico resident. Mere decor, or a harbinger of more to come?

I was astounded by the origin story contained within. Almost as if my every moment were surveilled and recorded by something not of this world.

Details of the saga unfolded before me.

How could they have known?

My cover has been blown!

Are there still remnants to be uncovered?

A map back to my home planet perhaps?

It looks extraterrestrial to me!

At last the mystery was revealed, in all its typewritten glory:

If you see this man, be very cautious!


Thank you Kevin for the very creative card!

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Monday, August 03, 2020

Looking Up

Back to Space
It was sometime in the very early 1960s when Dad brought home these rocket banks. He worked out on Sandia Base, at a place called D.A.S.A. - Defense Atomic Support Agency, Field Command, Cataloging Department; later renamed D.N.A - Defense Nuclear Agency. He set up the system that catalogs the parts for the nation's "special weapons." Years later, sometime in the 1990s or early aughts, I met some of the ladies who still worked in his same department, they said the system he set up was still being used.

In the geography of the Cold War, Sandia was a place where the "physics packages," designed by Los Alamos and Livermore, were turned into practical, field-ready weapons, safe enough to be handled by soldiers and sailors with high school diplomas and rugged enough to withstand the abuse of deployment.

Dad was a meticulous documenter. He balanced his checkbook to the penny, using his clearly legible printing, which featured little details like horizontal serifs on the loops of the capital "J". I can imagine this worked well for the kind of career he had with that secretive government agency.

Parker Ballpoint

Dad always used these Parker ballpoint pens, with the brushed metal rear half and pastel colored plastic front. There was often one in his shirt pocket, or clipped to that checkbook that was always balanced to the penny. This one's mine, but I think he had one in this very same color. I don't use it that often - part of the problem of being a pen collector - but keep this one mainly because of Dad.

Bank of New Mexico had a branch office on the Base, which was where Dad got these rockets banks from. There's a vertical slot on the side of the bank, and a part above it that looks somewhat like the middle of a peace sign, inverted; or a crucifix with broken arms. There's a lot to unpack in these symbols; I'll leave that up to you.

A coin could be nestled into those broken crucifix arms, then the bank cocked by pulling the fixture down along the slot. When the button below the slot was pressed, it would shoot the coin up into the nosecone of the rocket - clank! - and the coin would rattle down into the bottom, preserved for that future college education. We loved watching the coins being shot into the bank much more than the idea of saving for our education. Go figure.

The base of the bank can be unlocked using a simple key, which we'd long ago lost, but a bent paper clip works well. I think my two brothers each still have their rocket banks. These weren't just fun toys for us to play with, but they also served as tokens representing the fact that we were very interested in the space program of the 1960s. I was born in '57, coming of age around the time of Apollo, and remember well our space infatuation.

My middle brother and I would play astronaut at Grandma's house. We'd set up the card table against the sofa. The card table was taller than the cushions of the sofa, so we'd lie on our backs under the table with our legs up on the sofa cushions, in that reclining position common to astronauts. We'd enhance the effect by covering the table with a large blanket, enclosed as if in our tin capsule, then play with pretend control dials we'd taped to the underside of the table. We do a countdown, then one of us (usually me, because I was the younger) would stand outside the pretend capsule and rock the table back and forth while spewing rocket-like sounds and droplets of sputum, the latter unintentional but common to overly-energetic young lads.

Later, we realized our pretend capsule wasn't realistic enough, so my middle brother and I commenced to build our own capsule in our grandparent's back yard, using aged lumber from a pile out by the shed near the alley.

My grandparents former house at 112 Edith St. NE in Albuquerque, now a law office.

The pile of lumber, I only learned more recently, came from circa 1929, when Grandpa had leased the ranch land to some businessmen who made an Indianapolis-style dirt racetrack, with wooden bleachers and a tall wooden fence that surrounded the 160-acre property, located near where the corner of Central and Wyoming are now. When the Depression hit hard, the racetrack went bankrupt and left Grandpa with an abandoned property. He built a shack of wood to live in, and dismantled the wooden structures and sold them off to make spare cash. With the remnants of that lumber we - my middle brother and I - made a go-cart and space capsule, in the late 1960s. From Google Earth you can still see remnants of the south turn of the oval racetrack, now located on Base property, between the Officer's Club and the north fence line adjacent to the Wyoming Gate entrance. After WWII the government had annexed part of Grandpa's ranch land to expand Sandia Base.

The capsule we built resembled a Gemini-style conical shape, built on a circle of boards as a base, with the sides of the conical capsule made of boards leaned up together, teepee-style. More bits and bobs were used to decorate the inside of the capsule to our liking. We'd have launches during every weekend visit to our grandparents, where my brother would lie on his back in the capsule and I'd shake it while roaring and spewing forth my boyhood energy, imagining him soaring into the sky on a column of flame and smoke. Later on we'd try making our own rocket engines from wooden kitchen match heads, but they only were good for smoke bombs.

One summer evening before dark there were flashlights flickering up the alley behind the backyard, then police officers entered the yard and questioned the adults assembled therein, a family reunion of sorts. Had they seen the escaped convict they were searching for? Nobody saw the escaped convict, but the officers made sure to search inside Grandpa's shed, and the conical Gemini-style space capsule, just to be certain no one was hiding. Years later I'd imagine that escaped convict, hiding in the spaceship, ready to blast off from earth to some better place.

These are the kinds of memories that come flooding back when I watch notable space events, like this week's return of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule from orbit. My oldest grandson doesn't seem much interested, not many kids his age seem to be. I suppose it's an artifact of my generation's era, whatever happens during one's formative years seems to make a lasting impression. If there's to be a permanent and expanding space program it's going to require a permanent fanbase of supporters who petition their congressional representative to allocate the funds. As it was, Apollo was cut short by the economic ravages of Vietnam and the Cold War. Maybe our choices are endless wars, or space exploration, but not both? Maybe. In the meantime, keep looking up.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

I Seem to be an Adverb

120 LCD Triangle
"120 LCD Triangle"

Copy-Typing Bucky Fuller

It's 1974 and I'm a skinny, curly-haired nerd, standing in all my teenage awkwardness under the bright New Mexico noontime sun, adjacent to the Industrial Arts building at Eldorado High School, the campus a glaringly bland architectural afterthought comprised of adobe-brown brick rectangles dropped onto a brown dirt landscape on the eastern edge of town. Even today, as I drive by on my way to or from some errand, I'm amazed at its blandness, as if some architect had to go out of their way to achieve this spectacle of aesthetic anonymity.

But it was the early 1970s and Albuquerque's northeast heights was experiencing an explosive population growth, fueled by families whose dads and moms might have worked at the nearby Sandia National Laboratory, a not-so-subtle pun referencing the plowshares being hammered into bombs of unimaginable ferocity. The local school system built campuses like Eldorado, named after that fabled lost city of gold, as an expediency to deal with the enormous population surge. Back then, more school money went to the classroom, in the form of bland buildings designed to house a surge of students; whereas today, in contrast, the administrative overhead of the school system seems bloated and outdated, as the state's educational system ranks near the bottom of the list, in a country that struggles to educate its citizens to any kind of standard that could be considered "first-world."

That skinny, curly-haired nerd is standing outside Rob Mangold's Architectural Drafting class because there are several enormous plastic, air-inflated structures on display, built by said Skinny Nerd. This is the early 1970s, on the waning cusp of the hippie movement, and change is still in the air. One of those articles of change are the works of R. Buckminster Fuller, known affectionately as Bucky, the white-haired messiah-like icon and inventor of the geodesic dome, whose writings Skinny Nerd has devoured in eagerness.

It's over 45 years later and Skinny Nerd is not so skinny any more. But I still have many of those books I collected in my youth, including Fuller's Synergetics, a tome that encompasses his life's work in the form of a structured dissertation that remains, decades later, virtually impenetrable.

Many of my books, once neatly organized by subject matter, are now scattered throughout the house in a manner more fitting the needs of decor rather than library, a compromise I've accepted as the price of living in harmony with my life's companion. I recently pulled down Synergetics from a bookshelf and left it on the patio room table, where my wife, in her curiosity, opened it, glanced at a page, then put it down again, exclaiming "I have no idea what I just read."

Sometimes I feel the same way.

Where this blog article is leading to is a convergence of several ideas. First, there's the concept of what I call "copy-typing," which is sitting down at a typewriter and typing text from some published work, preferably written in the age of the typewriter, where one could easily imagine the work's original author doing much the same thing, in much the same manner. I first started doing this with Jack Kerouac's On the Road, because of my interest in the idea that one of that book's first drafts was written (or typed, depending on whether you agree with Truman Capote's opinion of Kerouac when he quipped "That's not writing, that's typing") on a scroll of paper - which I'd been experimenting with at the time, and wanted to see for myself if indeed the rhythm of the work, its frenetic pacing, could somehow be deduced through the endless roll of paper threaded through a typewriter's platen. I was, and remain, curious to the idea that an author's intention can be deduced by typing what (s)he typed, in the manner of the author's use of the typewriter as compositional aid (while remaining aware than many 20th century writers literally penned their first drafts by hand, relegating the typewriter for the intermediate editing stages). So that's one idea.

The second idea has to do with my choice of author to copy-type from - R. Buckminster Fuller's Synergetics, a dense, obscure, obtuse work that bridges multiple gaps between scientific and philosophical disciplines. While Fuller was perhaps best known for the geodesic dome, his pioneering work on tensegrity structures is more appropriate to my interest in handmade tripods. Tensegrities are structures that isolate structural components into two distinct categories: compressional and tensile. The classic tensegrity structure (the term being a portmanteau of tensional integrity) is comprised of discrete compression-bearing struts suspended within a network of tensile wires or cords in such a manner that the struts don't touch one another. The struts keep the wires tightly pre-stretched, while the wires suspend the struts into a three-dimensional geometric array. They can seem like magic at first appearances, and tend to respond to external stimuli by flexing and redistributing the forces evenly across the tension net and through the load-bearing struts.

I became enamored of Bucky Fuller and his domes while in high school, as Skinny Nerd, and his influence has been periodically felt throughout my life. When, years later, I first happened upon the thought of making my own tripods, I borrowed a bit of the tensegrity principle by using screw-eyes and a loop of cord (serving as a tension member) to stabilize the tripod legs (serving as compression struts) such that as more weight bears down upon the tripod, the system becomes stronger, more rigid - the tension cord loop bears more of the load as compressive forces suddenly transform themselves into tensile stresses.

In the intervening years I've also become interested in tabletop tripods, mainly because of my video-making activities and attendant habit of shooting footage from a seated position at my studio desk. Over the last few years I've cobbled together a handful of primitive tabletop camera supports, the goal being able to assemble them from components readily available at hardware stores, with minimal machining or fabrication needed.

Segue to earlier this week, after I'd finished yet another tabletop tripod build, my fifth, this one an utterly simple design comprised of a central body with legs made from a cheap wooden yardstick cut into thirds (I'd hoped to find painting stir-sticks, but had to make do with the yardstick instead), assembled using simple hardware. It, along with an earlier version, had their legs stabilized with tension cords using the tensegrity principle, as seen in the screenshot below, from my recent video:

Joe and his tabletop tripods

After I'd finished the video edit and upload, that next morning I sat at my garage workbench and cogitated over the assemblage of handcrafted tripods before me, representing an evolutionary design process, wondering what I'd do with them, the Skinny Nerd never very far away in my mind. The tripod seen to the right in the above photo had nicely-fashioned round dowel legs, but the head design was a bit wonky, making the camera mount slanted, necessitating the use of a ballhead. The middle tripod featured a handmade ballhead cobbled together from various bits and bobs, but by now I'd begun using Joby-brand ballheads on all my tripods, making this handmade version redundant. What to do?

What I did was cut a short piece of square poplar stick to serve as a new tripod body; drill several holes, then borrow the round legs from the righthand tripod, drill out its existing mounting holes; then borrow the head-plate of the righthand tripod, along with the threaded knobs from the middle one, and assemble the whole thing into a new tripod that uses a similar design as the lefthand tripod. Whew!

By now you should be getting to understand that my tripod infatuation was merely an ongoing series of design experiments. Ephemeralization is what Bucky would call it - the continuing process of doing more with less.

Tabletop Tensegrity Tripod
The sixth tripod

Rather than a loop of cord that slips between the screw-eyes on each leg, the triangle of tension cords is made of three discrete segments, so the relationship between each leg is fixed to how far each can be pulled taught, helping to ensure the legs remain in a mostly equilateral triangular arrangement. And once again, the harder you press down on the head, the stronger and stiffer the system gets.

You don't have to stare at a tripod very long before you begin to see it resembles a tetrahedron - a three-side pyramid. The three legs represent three of the edges, the tension cords represent the other three edges at the bottom, and the camera mount on top is the top vertex, with the legs' feet being the other three vertexes. This is important, not only because a tetrahedron is the only stable geometric solid, but because Bucky Fuller's system of geometry is all based on tetrahedrons as its starting point.

Tripods are stable because they're three-legged. One or two legs require some constant servo-feedback-driven articulation system to maintain balance (as employed by bipedal homonids), and four legs will intrinsically wobble, unless the legs are absolutely the same length, on an ideally flat surface (which, being Euclidean, doesn't exist in nature). Three is the ideal amount required to be stable; no more, no less.

Here's what Bucky has to say about the tetrahedron, from section 620.00 of Synergetics:

"In the conceptual process of developing the disciplines for carrying on the process of consideration, the process of temporarily putting aside the irrelevancies and working more closely for the relationships between the components that are considered relevant, we find that a geometry of configuration merges from our awareness of the minimum considered components. A minimum constellation merges from our preoccupation with getting rid of the irrelevancies. The geometry appears out of pure conceptuality. We dismiss the irrelevancies in the search for understanding, and we finally come down to the minimum set that may form a system to divide Universe into macrocosm and microcosm, which is a set of four items of consideration. The minimum consideration is a four-star affair that is tetrahedral. Between the four stars that form the vertexes of the tetrahedron, which is the simplest system in Universe, there are six edges that constitute all the possible relationships between those four stars."

I told you it was dense! (As an aside, I might mention that Fuller's prose is as densely layered, and obliquely structured, as that little Austrian paper-hanger's work, that started all the trouble leading up to WWII - though Fuller's is much more important.)

When I opened up my hardbound copy of Synergetics (which appears to be out of print, but is selling used on Amazon for a mere $967 - but rest assured, the softbound version is still available at a mere fraction of the cost!) I found a triangle of cardboard serving as a bookmark, at section 205.00 Vector Equilibrium, seen in the top photo of this piece, a template for making a 20" diameter geodesic sphere. I don't actually remember making such a model, but this triangular template is evidence that I pursued it to some degree, serving as further evidence of my infatuation.

Returning to the typewritten quote at the top of this article, I might be making more of these copy-typings in the near future, excerpted from Fuller's Synergetics, and other books. I've thought about submitting them to the One Typed Page blog of Daniel Marleau, but don't think they fit well alongside the more personal writings other people are sharing therein. So perhaps you may see in the near future more brief copy-typecasts posted here, though with less exposition than today's article, which you can be thankful for.

I've lived long enough that my childhood and young adults years seem to reside in a distant past far removed from the present. Inside this overweight middle-aged guy is Skinny Nerd, still yearning to be set free. Yet every once in a while, in the course of working on some project, I unearth an artifact that once again reminds me of the person I used to be. And those immature infatuations, though seemingly far removed in the past, continue to inform me in ways I've yet to fully understand, reminding me once again that the past, no matter how obscure, serves as preparation for the future.

The tabletop tripod video:

By the way, the title of this article is an allusion to another of Bucky's works, that is selling for a mere $245 used; and somewhere around this place I have that same copy.

Oddly enough, my wife has suddenly taken on a newfound appreciation for my clutter of dusty books.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2020


Quarai Ruins, Salinas National Monument, New Mexico
Update Just To Update

Here's one of the paper negatives from the wide-angle pinhole camera, with "processing artifacts" in the sky.


I actually like it, though I can't take credit for an accident. This is one of those examples where a true artist would know how to embrace serendipity in their process; whereas myself, as more of a technician than artist, just sees fault. I think it's important that photographers learn to inhabit that space where the unpredictable arises as a result of a continual process of experimentation. It's all too easy to get wrapped up in the classic 20th century photographic techniques, that were refined more for commercial purposes.

My mistake was sloshing an unmeasured quantity of fresh developer in the tray as a replenishment, which then proved too strong, as the subsequent negative got too dense too fast. Then, to compensate, I pulled the next negative out after only 20 seconds and let it sit face-up, in an attempt at compensating development (where the shadows continue processing but the highlights slow down), but this resulted in the uneven tones.

As I mentioned in the typecast, today I did a controlled experiment, using only 50mL of used developer, merely enough to barely submerge a 4x5 negative in a 5x7 tray, and with sufficient agitation (intermittent but thorough) the result was rather nice.


Note the compensating effect, as the sky retains some detail that might otherwise be lost. This technique certainly deserves more testing.

Here's another iPhone image I like:

Quarai Ruins, Salinas National Monument, New Mexico

Here I purposefully exposed for the clouds to retain some detail (since digital sensors can so easily over-expose the highlights), then pulled up the shadows and adjusted the tones afterward.

Typecast via Royal Mercury.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020


Zink Mini-Typecast
When viewed at full resolution the text is easily readable


Here's a closeup of the Zink print:

Zink Mini-Typecast

Note my chicken-scratch fountain pen scrawl to the right, for scale comparison.

While the Zink prints are fun, they're not gallery-quality. The paper uses a thermal technology, embedded in the coating, that responds to various heat levels with a spectrum of colors. Naturally I was interested to see what would happen with monochrome images. If near gray, like with a traditional black-&-white image, it appears to have difficulty rendering the image without bands of colored streaks; I suppose gray isn't one of those colors the paper responds with easily. Take the following set of prints, also stuck in my notebook:

Zink Monochrome Prints

The top image was captured on my Lumix G5 in Dynamic Monochrome mode (no color tint), then transferred to the iPhone and the "Casablanca" preset filter applied within the Zink software. Not too bad, actually. Yes, the image is contrast-rich, as is the nature of the Lumix Dynamic Monochrome mode. But I like it.

Now consider the bottom image. Again captured in Dynamic Monochrome on the G5, I edited the photo on the iPhone's Photos app with a bit of "warmth" prior to printing via the Zink app. The paper responded to the gray sky with a rainbow of colors. It's not what I expected, but rather interesting. I wouldn't call it "bad," unless you don't want those colors smeared across the face of a portrait subject. As it is, this could just be some apocalyptic storm blowing in on a sci-fi like landscape.

You can see similar color streaking in the rendering of the typecast sheet. The original paper was the light yellow/green engineering paper, but the color tones are so subdued that, again, the Zink print responds with a seemingly random splash of tones. I think where this paper works better is with brightly colored scenes of various tones, your typical point-&-shoot subject.

I'd be interested to hearing if you have any novel ideas for these mini-typing prints. Stay well.

My video about crafting with Zink prints:

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Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Typewriter Picnic

James, Ash & Kevin
James, Ash & Kevin

Typewriter Picnic
Typecast via Voss 50

James Copeland
James Copeland writing his script for Asbestos Falls

Kevin TypingKevin typing his journal

The ribbon cover is fitted and functional, and the carriage return lever doesn't hit it, though the clearance is close. I also had to router out a bit of wood from underneath, in order for some of the middle type slugs to not hit the frame as they return to their rest position.


I designed the shape of the opening on a whim, then drafted it onto thin cardboard as a template, before transferring to the 1/8" thick craft wood panel.


It'll take plenty of sanding, primer, more sanding, more primer, before the final coats of semi-gloss black. While there are other ways to fashion a makeshift ribbon cover, this method I enjoy.

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Monday, June 29, 2020

Visiting the Radio Nomad

James the Radio Nomad and his dog Ash
Visiting the Radio Nomad

With these uncertain times ahead of us, seeing how James is managing his business and personal interests, while not being tied down to some geographical locale, looks to me like a way of the future. High-tech nomadism is certainly not the first thing a baby boomer like myself would have thought of, but this new generation sees things differently, they don't have the emotional and cultural baggage of my generation. More power to them.

It also helps that James is young. As he said in our conversation, he'd rather be RVing while young and vibrant than when old and feeble. Plenty of time to get tied down with life's responsibilities later on, if that's in the cards.

The key to his Radio Nomad lifestyle is an Internet modem that's cell-network connected; and the Q Go Live software that enables live broadcast quality production anywhere there's a cell signal.

I think his retro NTSC monochrome video camera studio setup is just wonderful, on so many levels. It gives me ideas ... !

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Friday, June 19, 2020

Experimental Camera Sketching

60 Degree Pin Speck Camera Sketch
Camera Sketching

In the top right hand portion of my sketch journal, the light path is defined by the dashed ink lines, which enter the camera on its left, into the mirror box area, then down onto the film. The various pencil lines define primary and secondary sources of potential light fogging, which I've attempted to minimize using various baffles and other means.

Here's a crop of a sketch of a simpler design that uses an angle of view just under 45 degrees, without all the complicated baffles:

45 Degree Pin Speck Camera Sketch

The tiny mirror is in the upper right corner of the box. The light enters the box from the left, reflects off the tiny mirror to form a coherent, pinhole-like image, and onto the film at the bottom. The diagonal wall protects the interior from stray light. Any stray light that glances off the upper wall, past the mirror, will hopefully be absorbed by the flocked interior walls before fogging the film. These narrower angles of view are relatively easy to achieve. Still, an earlier test camera, from circa 2013, only showed marginal success:

Pin Speck Test Image

As you can see, the image above was partially obstructed by the black felt covering the surfaces near the mirror box. The more felt used to cover the interior surfaces, especially near the mirror itself, the more obstruction results; less felt gives a wider angle of view but doesn't absorb stray light as well.

My newer design idea (at the top right sketch journal photo) is for a camera with a 60 degree angle of view, much more challenging than the 45 degree version. As I alluded to in the typed piece, even black felt can reflect light, if it's off the surface at a slight glancing angle, so-call "forward scattering". This new idea permits the film to "see" a black chamber behind the mirror, a space mostly devoid of stray light.

The primary fogging light comes from the left, through the gap between the open edge of the diagonal dividing wall and the mirror, then on to the right side of the camera. Here I've made a "photon dungeon", a space with non-parallel walls covered in black felt that will (hopefully) absorb the stray light, using a baffle wall that keeps this light from fogging the film. There's a secondary potential source of fogging, a view from the film to just left of the edge of this baffle wall, then into the upper right corner of the box behind the mirror. This corner space could be fogged by stray light from the primary fogging source, so I've included another wall dividing the two. So the film should "see" a mostly black space just to the right of the mirror.

Another decision is the lower wall of the inlet pyramid, on the left side of the camera. I could flock it with felt and make it follow just outside of the light path, but this would risk forward-scattering of light into and around the mirror box. Instead, I've chosen to make this side of the camera be the outer side of the diagonal dividing wall itself, with the light inlet mask at the left opening providing a shadow for this surface. Yes, light will reflect off this wall, but not at such a severe glancing angle.

There are further light baffles, providing photon dungeons, in the upper left corner of the drawing.

Another insight I had was the volume and size of the camera has a direct effect on the efficiency of the light-absorbing properties of the photon dungeons. Even though the film format may be, say, 4"x5", if the camera is made much larger, say at least 10" wide, those darkened interior spaces opposite the film, being much larger, will do a better job of absorbing light, due to the inverse square law causing more light intensity fall-off of stray light.

The thickness of the main diagonal dividing wall has a direct effect on the size of the gap between the open edge of the wall and the mirror. A thicker wall, flocked much heavier, will need a larger gap, in order not to obstruct the 60 degree angle of view; which in turn will cause more stray light to enter the camera. A thinner wall means its open edge can be closer to the mirror, providing a smaller gap for stray light to enter; but can a thinner wall still have low reflective (and forward scattering) properties? Maybe I need some of that new "vantablack" material, made from carbon nanotubes, that has less than 1% reflectivity.

Stepping back from the technical minutia of this project, there is no practical reason to build such a camera, except to be able to say that I built it. Conventional pinhole cameras do just fine. As do modern digital cameras and smart phones, for capturing photographic images. So what's the point? I think for me it's somehow tied into my long history of camera-making, especially oddball cameras employing strange or novel ideas. It's doing it for the sake of doing it.

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Reactivating the Activator

Brother Activator 850TR
Reactivating the Activator

If this wasn't intended as a gift (and if my wife didn't object) I might keep it. No, they're not fancy or elegant, nor do they exude solidity, but they simply work well. Exemplars of practicality. I hope its recipient enjoys it.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Numbers Game

Burroughs Key-Operated Comptometer
The Numbers Game

When I first acquired this comptometer from a local thrift store several years ago, I'd noticed the worn keycaps, indicating years of long fingernails on keys (there's even a hint of red fingernail polish on some), but didn't understand at the time why only the 1 through 5 keys showed this wear, nor why the 3 keys seemed especially worn. Now I understand.

Burroughs Comptometer keyboard

Then I located this archived scan of the book How to Use the Calculator and Comptometer, Third Edition, by James R. Meehan, distributed by Gregg Publishing, and finally sat down today to read up on the formal method of comptometer use.

As it turns out, the book teaches a "touch method" whereby the first and second fingers of the right hand are located on the 3 row - the home row - and the fingers are permitted to reach from the 1 to the 5 keys. For addition and subtraction, numbers larger than 5 are entered in a two-step process; for example, 7 is entered by pressing 4, then 3, in rapid succession. It may seem slower than directly entering the 7, but this method enables the user to enter these numbers by feel, keeping one's eyes on the work at hand, and thus ends up being faster in practical use.

This explains the wear on only the 1-5 keys, and the excessive wear on the 3 row. The user(s) of this machine (my sample dates back to ~1915) obviously were schooled in use by the Gregg method, which I find very interesting.

I should also mention that the odd-numbered key caps are dished in, while the even key caps are flat, making it easy to navigate the keyboard by feel.

Okay, but is using this machine any faster than a crank-operated adding machine of its day, or a modern electronic calculator (or computer keyboard) of today? I can say without a doubt yes! The Gregg method requires the use of the first and second fingers of either or both hands, and the entire number is entered in at once, parallel fashion. Emphasis is made on using the correct fingering technique for efficient number entry; the fingers hover over a group of keys to form the number being entered, and they are all pressed down at once. Being a "key operated" adding machine means as soon as the keys are pressed the calculation is performed and the digits in the register dials immediately indicate the result, real-time, as the calculation progresses, by means of the machine's internal planetary gear mechanism. This is the difference between a comptometer and a lever-operated adding machine.

By the way, the lever on the right side of the Burroughs machine is for clearing the machine, not for number entry.

For example, to add three 3-digit numbers, the right hand forms each number in turn and makes three rapid presses of the keys, which takes less than two seconds. I can't do this same sequence of operations (adding three 3-digit numbers), using a conventional electronic calculator or keyboard, nearly as fast. The difference in speed is amazing.

Subtraction uses the smaller sets of numbers on each key, which are the 9-complements of the main numbers, and the technique is to enter the complement number that's 1 less than the actual number being subtracted. For example, to subtract 18, the user simultaneously presses the 8 and 2 keys on the tens and units columns, which corresponds to the 1 and 7 complement numbers (i.e. 1 less than 18). In practice this is entirely intuitive and easy.

I'd already grasped addition and subtraction before I found this manual online, so what I was interested in was discovering how multiplication and division worked. Would they be difficult and time-consuming to learn? Surprisingly, no. Multiplication and division use the entire keyboard; numbers larger than five are entered directly, rather than broken up into smaller numbers like with addition and subtraction. In multiplication the user enters the larger of the two numbers being multiplied (the multiplicand) and, starting at the units column (it can be done in either order) presses the number into the keyboard that number of times corresponding to the units number of the multiplier. Then the user shifts the fingers so the same multiplicand number starts at the tens column and presses it in that number of times corresponding to the tens digit of the multiplier, etc.

For example, in the problem of 357 times 24, the 357 is held over the keyboard starting at the ones column and pressed in 4 times; then the fingers are shifted one column to the left and that same number is pressed in 2 times, for an answer of 8568. In practical use a three digit number times a two digit number can be done in about 3 seconds. I can't do it that fast on a modern calculator, no way.

I won't attempt to describe in words how division works, but suffice it to say that it's quick and easy. I plan on making a video about this soon, if you're interested; but in the meanwhile check the link above to the instruction manual for details.

I will say this: I've kept my Burroughs comptometer stored away to protect it from dust and because of its size, as it takes up a sizable footprint on my desk. But also, up till now I'd only known how to add and subtract, whereas I frequently have need for multiplication. Now I can see the possibility of using it for more practical purposes in my daily life, and that's exciting.

How to Entertain With Your Pocket Calculator

I've just received this book today and haven't yet delved into it, but there are lots of fun party tricks a person can do with the humble pocket calculator. I was inspired to get this book by a fond memory, from back in the 1970s, of a book called Games Calculators Play; back when these were new gadgets and I'd begun to amass a small calculator collection.

Voss Modell 50

I'm really enjoying my Voss Modell 50 typewriter (used to type this piece), now that the imprint smudging and ribbon issues have been resolved. The smudging was caused by the carriage tripping right as the character was being printed, and required an adjustment to the escapement timing. These Voss typers have more adjustments than I've seen on many other machines, making it easy to resolve these kinds of problems. Also, the keyboard is a bit wider than many other medium sized portables, and there's ample clearance between the "A" key and the shift lock; touch-typing is therefore a breeze.

I was also enjoying typing on this vintage, slightly yellowed, notebook paper, which lends an immediate aged look to the piece. I need to find more of this old paper.

Stay well and do something creative!

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