Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Late Night Inspiration

Triumph Norm 6

Post-Script: I had a blast making this video, and learned a few more things about using iMovie. Many thanks to the positive comments.

I wrote this typecast while enjoying the balmy spring evening with Kevin Kittle. Good friends and typewriters go together, especially if all four - us and our spouses - each had a typewriter.

The typecast was "scanned" using the panoramic mode of my iPhone 6s. I quickly shot it on the kitchen island, lit by afternoon window light and a skylight overhead. A quick crop and edit, and uploaded to Flickr in just a few minutes. I like that it has decent resolution, and none of the pincushion distortion that comes from using the phone's native camera app. As long as you hold the phone steady and move it over the subject at an even rate, it seems to work well enough.

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Canon Typestar 4 Thermal Typewriter

Canon Typestar 4
Canon Typestar 4

Post-Script: The Typestar prints nice and straight lines and columns of text. The wonkiness you're seeing in the above typecast is because I'm experimenting with using the panorama mode in my iPhone's camera, where you slowly scan the camera across the scene and it assembles a very large image file. But if you're handholding the camera rather unsteadily, as I was, it looks a bit weird. Still, it's better than the results of using the camera in its normal mode, because then it tends to curve the lines near the top and bottom of the image due to pincushion distortion of the lens - which the native photo edit app can't correct for.

This is all in an effort to configure a more mobile blogging workflow, independent of my flatbed scanner. Still a work in progress, however.

Back to the thermal typewriters. It's been educational using both this Canon and the Brother EP-20, side-by-side. You'd think, because it has a much better keyboard and printing quality, that the Typestar would "mop the floor" with the Brother. But the EP-20 is smaller & lighter, with an integral clamshell lid and carrying handle, aside from its storage bag; whereas with the Canon I have to use a dedicated laptop bag for carrying around.

Yet they're both only going to make "temporary" paper documents, despite the quality appearance of the Canon's output, because thermal paper is essentially not an archival medium. I have thermally printed bookstore receipts jammed into paperback books I've purchased decades ago and, though readable, they're mostly faded away. It reminds me of magnetic tape media - it'll last a long time, but not forever. In the case of writing onto thermal paper, the workflow is essentially one of rough drafting, getting those initial ideas down on paper, to be later sorted and edited, using a more permanent medium, like regular typewriter ink on paper, or some digital media that is, though substantial, not permanent in the sense of forever permanent. It's kind of like the idea in photography of infinity focus. It's a theoretical construct, the idea that you can visually focus a scene from infinity. Infinity is a long way aways.

I suppose you could argue that nothing's really permanent, it's all gonna burn, given enough time until the sun flares up to a red giant. It just has to be "permanent enough".

The value proposition with these small thermal typewriters is that they're much more quiet than a manual typer. Meaning you can go places, use them in public, in ways you can't easily with a manual machine. And they resemble, in form factor, an older-style laptop computer. One with a sheet of paper sticking out. Yes, the printout isn't "archival," but it'll last plenty long enough to go through the inevitable edit phase, to eventually make its way into some digital file.

I'm going to do some cogitating in the near future about the validity of these small machines as "real typewriters." I know there are some folk who'd argue that any kind of electronic typewriter really isn't a "valid" typewriter, it has to be a manual machine. I can understand their point, but would also counter-argue that, if a 1950s Smith-Corona Electric is a "valid" typewriter (it's essentially the same as a manual series 5, but with a motor, belts and some drive spindles), then you can't discount a machine just because it's electric. So then what? Is it invalid because it has a daisy wheel? Or a carbon film ribbon? What does it matter, really; as long as it prints directly to paper - even if the paper's thermal paper - it's a typewriter, right?

Both of these machines use D-cell batteries, and also have AC adapters for when close to an electrical outlet. But the Canon will also charge Ni-Cad batteries internally, using the AC adapter, which I'm going to test out soon. But I've noticed some evidence of corrosion in the battery compartment, which I suspect is because someone in the past (isn't everything in the past?) kept non-rechargeable alkaline batteries in the machine while it was plugged into the AC adapter, a no-no as per the instruction manual. With the Brother EP-20, plugging in the AC adapter disables the batteries, so there's no risk of damaging the machine.

About the thermal paper I use. You can easily get 3-1/8" wide point-of-sale thermal cash register paper, at the big-box office supply stores. And then there's 4-3/8" wide rolls, available from online sellers, more appropriate for poetry. But I really like the 8-1/2" wide thermal fax paper rolls. You can either use the roll intact, or cut it in sheets and carry the sheet around with the typewriter in its case or bag, making for a very portable medium. These typewriters were originally intended to use special thermal-compatible film ribbon cartridges, meaning the machine would transfer the text onto regular paper. Both of my machines have a few such cartridges, but they're no longer being manufactured and are expensive to buy online, as new-old-stock. Hence the reliance on the much more readily available thermal paper, which you can use directly without any kind of cartridge in the machine.

And how long do we expect thermal paper to be in supply? As long as paper receipts are a thing, I suppose. And fax machines. Maybe about as long as fabric typewriter ribbons? Maybe.

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Monday, March 11, 2019

Olivetti-Underwood 21 Gets Cleaned

Olivetti-Underwood 21
Olivetti-Underwood 21 Gets Cleaned, Part 1
Olivetti-Underwood 21 Labels
Olivetti-Underwood 21 Gets Cleaned, Part 2

Post-Script: Okay, there's one major pressing issue that's been looming for a long time: I need to get my collection of machines registered on the Typewriter Data Base. I initially did this, years ago; but in the interim period of time have gotten lazy. So I'm going to be making a concerted effort to get the job done. Hopefully with pictures and perhaps typeface samples, too. Because the TWDB is too valuable of a tool not to use it, especially for one such as I who has been involved in typewriter collecting as long as I have.

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Monday, March 04, 2019

It's a Done Deal

Typewriter Play
It’s a Done Deal

Post-Script: I did the final typing of the story on Adobe Rose, the Royal QDL, seen above. Though it had a partly used silk ribbon, I ended up swapping out the ribbon mid-story for the fresh ribbon Bill Wahl had installed in my Hermes Rocket. Also, the type alignment of the Royal isn't perfect, though it hasn't bothered me in the past; but for some reason I felt self-conscious about it, thinking the imprint needs to be as "professional" as possible. And then I was reminded by John Lewis, my local typewriter repairman, whom I visited this morning, that it's a manual typewriter after all - it's not supposed to look perfect! I like John's fresh perspective on things.

I suppose if I knew for certain that the story was top-notch, I'd be less worried about the aesthetics of its typewritten appearance. Oh well.

Today I placed a visit to Rust is Gold Coffee, to touch base and remind them that our ABQwerty Type Writer Society will be meeting there this coming Sunday, at 12:00 noon. I brought my Triumph Norm 6, upon which to type a few notes, and they loved the machine, especially considering they are a motorcycle-themed coffee shop, and there's a connection between the German Triumph typewriter firm and the British Triumph auto/motorcycle company. I permitted Sara to take some photos of the machine, for use in marketing their coffee shop. She's the gal I'd sold one of my Royal Mercury machines to, and I'm happy to announce that she's been doing lots of typing on it, even taking up virtually permanent space on her kitchen table. She loves typing on it, says there's something about a manual typewriter that brings out the creativity in her. I'm pleased that she's finding good use for the machine.

This typecast was done via iPhone 6s, instead of my flatbed scanner. I've used an iPod Touch previously, usually while on vacation, away from my scanner, and the results have been marginal. But I like what the iPhone produces, at least under my bright video table lights. Gives me less reason to rely on the scanner.

I'd used a backing sheet of paper while typing this piece in the Olivetti Underwood 21, and I noticed afterward that I could see the imprint rather distinctly in the backing sheet. So I took a no.2 pencil and did a rubbing, to reveal the imprint thusly:

Backing Sheet Pencil Rubbing

I've boosted the contrast of the image a bit, but in person the rubbing is very readable, which gives me pause to consider that, in the event typewriter ribbons become scarce in the future, a charcoal rubbing might suffice. Not exactly steganography, since you can easily see the imprint with adequate side-lighting, but an interesting effect. I need to try this again with just one sheet of paper in the stencil mode, and rub with a real charcoal pencil.

I was reminded yesterday that I'm now in two cassette tape letter exchanges. I need to remember to bring a recorder with me when running errands, so as to take advantage of location sounds that make such taped letters so much more interesting.

With the help of one of my YouTube viewers I've found a solution to the problem of why I couldn't post comments to blogs hosted on Blogger, on my Mac computer. The reason had to do with a setting in Safari browser dealing with cross-site tracking. Yesterday I did a typewriter blog comment blitz, catching up on many blogs I've wanted to comment but couldn't.

Earlier in this post I mentioned placing a visit to John Lewis's shop. He has a pristine, fully restored Underwood No.5 for sale. The black paint shines, all the decals are virtually new, the nickel/chrome trim is immaculate, the key top legends are fully redone - and the platen is freshly recovered. I took it for a test typing, and boy was I impressed, I can truly touch-type on it with ease, and the spacing of the keys is ideal for my hands. If it sounds like I'd like to buy it, you're correct. But he's asking a pretty penny for it, considering all the work he's put into it, and that it's been professionally restored. Still, what a temptation. One obstacle for me is where to put it, since, unlike portables, these don't have cases. I'd have to find a permanent writing location. Or, like I've done with my Burroughs Comptometer, that's too large to store permanently on my desk, I found a high-quality plastic box with a gasket-sealed lid. I lined the box with foam rubber, secured the calculating machine in a plastic bag and secured it inside the dust-proof box via the gasket-sealed lid, so it can be stored in less than ideal conditions when not in use. I'd have to find a similar solution for the Underwood, were I to acquire it. There's also the little matter of explaining all this to my better half. But, at least she's been bitten by the typewriter bug, with her claiming ownership of the Olympia SM3, so perhaps there's less convincing needed than I think. Do I really need another typewriter? No. Do I need this Underwood 5? Yes!

PPS: Be sure to check out this typewriter-themed blog, Madam Mayo. There's a link to her older blog that goes all the way back to 2006. Nice to find more typewriter bloggers.

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Friday, March 01, 2019

What's On My Desk

To Be Filed

There's a pile on my desk. Well, not exactly. More like, the top surface of the desk is a series of piles, some well defined, others just a smattering of clutter. But there's a hidden order to this disorder. Because the secret to a disorganized desk is that as long as I can remember where something's at, then it counts as a form of organization. It doesn't have to be in any kind of sequential order, like alphabetical or thematic. Often, the piles accumulate organically, over time; this one thing should remain in this part of the desk, in this pile, because that's where it's been, long enough for me to remember that there is where I can find it. Move it to somewhere else and it's lost. So piles of clutter can function as a memory map, a geography of the mind. I figured, when thinking about this, that perhaps we'd go on a little hike around my desk. Get on your good shoes, and bring a water bottle.


The desk is a corner unit, faux cherrywood finish, purchased some years ago at Tema, the local Scandinavian furniture outlet. On the left side is a shelf unit, while under the left side is a two-drawer file cabinet on wheels. There're things in the filing cabinet that I haven't seen in years, arranged in a horizontal assemblage of file folders. Because - and this is another of those secrets to desktop clutter - a pile on one's desk is merely a file in the making. Take a pile: it's a vertical assemblage of papers, each arrayed horizontally. Now flip that pile so it's horizontal, with each paper vertical, and you have a file.

From pile to file: that's the secret of the 20th century office, the reason why men went to the moon, why we had burnt orange indoor/outdoor carpet and avacado-colored kitchen appliances. Do you remember those? I do. It's because of piles turned into files. A pile is a proto-file, a file in the making. Once the pile has gained some kind of stature, an outsized sense of importance, or has resided long enough upon one's desktop that it is considered important enough to warrant archiving, then it's flipped horizontal and awarded its own set of colored file folders, with the little tabs that will neatly mark its place in the hierarchy of other important files, until time and its detrimental quantum effects cause the tabs to fall off and then you don't know what's in the file drawer. Once the file drawer becomes overstuffed with files that have outlived their importance, they're relegated to file boxes, a cardboard simulacrum of the real metal thing, then stacked in some less than honorable location, like a damp basement or dusty garage, eventually to be sorted one final time by the former owner's heirs, and tossed into the rubbish bin of history. From piles, to files, to piles of boxes, to mountains of rubbish, that rot back into the soil, to restart the whole cycle over again.


The shelf unit on the left side is a hodgepodge of things too important to throw out but not flat enough, like paper, to warrant storing in file folders. There's a whole set of Jandek CDs, that I acquired several decades ago, when I got engrossed in the enigmatic musician from Houston, after seeing the documentary, Jandek on Corwood. I don't know what to do with them; they're too spacey to listen to on a regular basis, but too enigmatic to throw out. And I'd have to get some licensing permission to use them on my You Tube channel. I like collecting the enigmatic, they're like miniature discoveries that only you can make personally. And what's enigmatic to one person is ho-hum to another. I think what attracts me to this CD collection is the memory of seeing that Jandek on Corwood documentary for the first time, at a Basement Films show, here in Albuquerque's south valley, one evening, years ago.

Underwood Portable

There are other mysterious CDs on this same shelf, many of them software, things long obsolete or uninteresting to me. I also know that I have more of the same thing in a bin somewhere else in the house. Below the shelf unit, on the desktop underneath, is a pile of half-used notebooks that I've promised myself to finish, and in front of that several important piles: a stack of pen-pal correspondence that I've yet to deal with; a smaller stack of papers from a cryptography project left unfinished; a notebook binder for the ABQwerty Type Writer Society; several notepad binders that I sporadically use; and a micro-cassette dictation machine that I promised to use more often but haven't.


The right hand half of the shelf unit is even more complex: a horizontal array of small- and medium-sized notebooks awaiting usage; my fountain pen ink bottles and accessories; a paper clip container; a small box with several pocket calculators; several lenses of interest. That's the top shelf. The next one down has an assortment of more notebooks and office supply stuff, along with my Rolodex and more miscellany. On the bottom is a rectangular basket with odds and ends deemed too important to toss but not important enough to deal with otherwise. Several more calculators, some notebooks, an archive of index card notes (the "hipster PDA"; a dead Sony Clie Palm-OS PDA; and other stuff too random to mention. On the desktop in front of the basket, next to the other piles, is my main video journal book, where I document the details of each video I make.


The center of the corner unit contains my Mac Mini, monitor, trackball, 60% mechanical keyboard and external hard drives, along with an assemblage of pencil sharpeners, pencils and pens, calculator, USB thumb drive storage - each in their precise location. To the right of the monitor is my Epson flatbed scanner, atop which is a pile of notebooks and film sleeves containing unfinished projects, and which I have to move every time I want to use the scanner.


To the right of the scanner used to be blank space on the desk, that's now a place for a stack of cassette tapes, a can of compressed air and a desk lamp. On the very right end of the desk is my makeshift stereo system, in front of which is my current typewriter in usage: the Olivetti-Underwood 21, which has a thin pile sitting atop it, with an unfinished tape transcription threaded into the platen - another project needing to be finished.

The Line Writer at his Hermes 3000

I didn't mention that atop the shelf unit on the left side of the desk is a row of books, and in front of them a number of film cameras, mostly now placed in plastic baggies but at one time thickly coated in dust; and behind the books a large Chinese Suan-Pan abacus.

We could go further, inventorying the messy bookcase to the left of the desk, or the even messier white plastic storage unit to the right of the desk, containing many decades-worth of photographic clutter. But we don't have to; I'm sure you get the idea.

Neither do you need to know about the short, rectangular stool under the desk on the right side, where resides our laser printer; or the plastic bin in front with reams of paper. Or the specially made storage shelf next to the printer where my IBM Selectric I sits under its plastic cover; or the Nakajima-made Olympus Report Deluxe typewriter, in its plastic case, in front of the IBM. Or all the wires and cords from my computer system, all neatly cable-tied to the underside of the corner unit, behind the monitor.


A neat desk is the sign of a boring, uninteresting life. Better to live with uncontained clutter, for it represents a mind replete with interests and avenues too numerous to actually explore in one working-person's lifetime, but which affords one a constant challenge: what project to tackle next?

My dear wife has been suggesting I take down the bookcase, shelf unit and corner desk, and in their place make a set of floor-to-ceiling shelves, then put a smaller desk under the window, to the right of where the current desk is located. Then I'd have more shelves for storage. And for typewriters. She's right, of course; but it would require disassembling my entire office, inventorying my entire assemblage of clutter, perhaps making piles into files. But in the long run, it'd be worth it. Maybe this year. Maybe.

See this article about building a home-based library. Wonderful thoughts.

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