Thursday, October 22, 2020

Hello My Pretty

Smith-Corona 5TE
Hello My Pretty

Though it's not as loud as other electric/electronic typers I've used, the typebars do hit the platen with force, as if you were typing on a manual 5-series with a heavy hand. And the shifting is spindle-activated: as you press the shift key a small amount, the spindle engages to lower the segment with authority. This machine doesn't mimic the action of some nimble-fingered dillentante. But the payback you get is a dark, even imprint, and a wonderful touch, as you'd expect from an electric typebar machine.

Smith-Corona 5TE

The keyboard layout on this machine is nice. It has the number 1, unlike the earlier 5-series machines, but the thing I like most is that the apostrophe is lower case, and to the right of the semicolon, just like it is on a modern computer keyboard. I've said this before, but that's the one thing I miss on manual machines, the apostrophe position. I've wondered why manufacturers kept manual keyboard layouts like that, even into the 1970s and later, when their electric/electronic counterparts had the more modern layout. Perhaps it had as much to do with tradition as anything else? Older typing instruction manuals, written for the manual era, did teach the apostrophe as a shifted 8. But, that can't be the only reason.

If I were a writer in the mid-20th century, I would have been tempted to get one of these electrics as soon as I could, if cost were no object, and lack of portability a non-issue. Perhaps for secretarial use the apostrophe was little-used in formal business correspondence, hence its position on a manual machine as a shifted-8 might be less of an issue; but for the fiction writer or playwrite, who might work with lengthy dialog scenes, contractions and their requisite apostrophes are the normal way realistic characters talk. Having the apostrophe in its modern location would be a boon to such a writer.

All of the electric/electronic machines I mentioned earlier I've been cautious about using late at night, while the rest of the family is asleep. This one I expect to be less of a problem with noise. Perhaps I would move it to the patio room at the back of the house, away from the bedrooms, just like I would with a manual typer. I say this in the hopes that I will give it more use, now that it's back in my hands.

Before I loaned it to Bill, I'd not given it much attention. I certainly under-appreciated its finer merits; but just the other day my oldest brother came over to get a new ribbon put into his Remington Quiet-Riter, and I offered to let him try one of the Nakajima daisywheel machines. He declined my offer, but just in the process of testing it I simultaneously envied its clean imprint while lamenting the loud clank of the daisywheel print solenoid, along with the machine's large footprint. I'd kept that machine on one corner of my office desk for months, and all it served as was a place to stack papers. Never once did I use it. But that taste of electrified keys, with its featherweight touch, is what I like about this blue beauty. And, it's quieter and smaller than the daisywheel machine.

Last year I replaced one of the drive belts due to breakage. I used a new-old-stock orange silicone VCR belt I found in my parts bins. Probably won't last as long as the original, but I do think someone is selling replacements online, somewhere. Perhaps I should do some looking and get a spare for both belts.

Now that I've had time to cogitate on electric/electronic typers, their size and noise is what I most object to. Having to drag an extension cord out to the patio is less of a problem. Perhaps this blue beauty will get more winter use, as I expect to do less outdoor typing. Regardless, I'm glad to have it back in the stable.

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Thursday, October 08, 2020

Starting Over

Lumen Reversal Of Tiny House

Yesterday the Muse struck, unexpectedly. I sat down at the front patio table with The Writer Plus, a keyboard-plus-text-editor much like the AlphaSmart Neo, and tapped out the beginnings of a story. I hadn't used it much since acquiring it about a month ago, and wanted to see how it compared to the Neo for writing longer pieces.

The previous evening I'd had the thought, what if we had to start over, all digital photography is gone, through some dramatic global events, and we had to begin where Sir John Herschel started, reinventing making images via light-sensitive emulsions. I began imagining some post-apocalyptic scenarios, where high tech is scarce, reserved for the ruling class only - the military and their corporate partners/masters/toadies - and before I knew it the words were flying off my finger tips into The Writer Plus.

The Writer Plus, by AKT

I should mention, before we get too far into this, that "Neo" is a wonderfully brief name for the AlphaSmart, whereas The Writer Plus is, well, cumbersome at best. So if I do make mention of it again, perhaps I'll use the acronym WP. Or perhaps I could use the phonetic alphabet version: Whiskey Papa. Hmm, that sounds - Hemingwayesque.

You're probably wondering why I didn't write the rough draft of this story on a typewriter. Well, I really wanted to try the Whiskey Papa for some serious writing, put it through its paces. What I discovered is that, since it has less sophisticated navigation aids than the Neo, moving the cursor up to the top of the story is cumbersome, especially for a long story, requiring repeated taps on the Page Up key. There's no shortcut sequence, like with the Neo's HOME key. The WP does have a home key, but it only takes you to the start of a line. Go figure. So if you're the kind of writer who likes to read and reread what you've written, you probably won't be happy with the WP's navigation aids.

Inputting the text into my computer was easy, given I have the infrared box, that plugs into a computer via USB and appears to the computer like a keyboard device. Then you point the Whiskey Papa at the IR box and press the SEND key, and wait. It seems the data transfer rate is a bit slower than the Neo's, but I'll have to time it to be sure.

It's a workable writing tool, it just has some quirks. Definitely a "non-distractive" writing experience, as it really wants you to just keep writing, discouraging you from stopping to reread what you've already written.

I've made a video about the making of this story, with an excerpt of me reading the first section:

Well, with all that out of the way, here's what I have thus far, of a story I'm calling Starting Over. Enjoy.


It was another stormy day, dust and debris blowing about, with a forecast for Level 3 fallout later. Simpson pulled his collar up as he headed out the door, to the dull clank of the brass bell overhead. It used to be a bright-sounding ring, he remembered. Years ago, when it was known as Losers Blend, the best coffee in town. Coffee. If only.

He had his mask and fallout pullover in the backpack, just in case, along with the box camera, tucked away under a wad of dirty clothes. The patrols weren’t as common now, but you didn’t want to get caught with contraband image-making gear, the consequences were too extreme to think about. Just keep your head down and be a Patriotic Comrade, or so the torn posters, flapping in the wind, suggested.

The calculus of disobedience demanded it be worth losing your life over, he’d decided. How badly does a person want to do something if it meant getting caught would result in a torturous death? You’d absolutely have no choice, it’d have to be something you couldn’t not do. A compulsion, building up for years, then some initial foray into addressing the urge, scratching the itch, hoping to satiate the compulsion, only to find the scratching makes the itching stronger, the compulsion more urgent.

That’s how Simpson ended up re-inventing chemical photography, in an age when only regimes and their corporate toadies had cameras.

Simpson lived in a makeshift flat above a decrepit automobile repair garage, whose owner, Devaney, was a longtime friend he’d learned to trust only after years of a tenuous relationship marked by weaving and dodging, like prize fighters training for some match that would never come. Petrol cars hadn’t been manufactured since before the Troubles, but they were at least repairable, unlike the electric cars that had once been ubiquitous but were now scrapped for their lithium, to fuel a new generation of thermonuclear weapons. Simpson wasn’t supposed to know that either, but he had contacts, and could think for himself. And also, he had something else. The Archive, he called it.

Simpson pedaled toward home on his pneumatic cycle, a cobbled-together assemblage of pre-Troubles Marin County mountain bike, a high-pressure accumulator salvaged from a crashed SpaceX drone ship and a single-cylinder Italian scooter engine, highly modified by Devaney to run on compressed air, which he got for next to nothing from the garage, in exchange for certain special technical services.

Simpson pedal-assisted through miles of ramshackle dwellings that reminded him of photos of third-world slums he’d seen in The Archives, the irony not lost on him that his was once considered a “first world” economy, but now could scarcely be any different from those portrayed in those long ago photos.

He cut through a narrow alley and dismounted to carry the bike across a steep culvert and across a makeshift bridge built onto an old gas pipeline, all to avoid a sector claimed by the Jumper Kings, a paramilitary gang allied to an undercover division of the Interior Secretariat, whose mission was to maintain social order through the threat of constant upheaval and terrorism. The Jumpers were just toadies, he knew, but dangerous for their regime alliance, a ticket to get away with literal murder, or worse.

Simpson pedal-assisted up the alley and paused in an alcove to cut off the bike’s air valve, then listened intently. Observation was his ken, using all his natural senses, plus others he’d learned to nurture: the incessant wind, a background howl that fluttered loose panels and bent scraggly branches with a hiss; a distant patrol siren, dopplering in the distance; the pop-pop-pop of weapons fire on the wind; shrieks of voices carried from somewhere afar. And nearby the bang of a window shutter oscillating between two end-states, open and shut and open again, revealing muffled voices from within. Simpson crept closer, until he was at the back of the garage, next to the dented armored door, just underneath the small window of Devaney’s office.

One voice was Devaney’s, the other two he didn’t recognize, except for their crisp annunciations, the kind he knew from the Paras, ingrained through rigorous training to communicate with maximum efficiency in the briefest time.

Paras. Special Ops, in Old-Speak, from what he’d read in The Archives. Not welcome visitors.

Suddenly the scrape of an overturned chair, raised voices, the muffled thud of truncheon upon flesh and bone, then a distant slam of the garage’s front door, and silence. Except for the sobbing moans of Devaney.


The back door was armored, but Simpson had helped install a secret locking mechanism, accessed by pulling out a brick from the building’s footing adjacent to the door, then reaching through spider webs to pull a lanyard that released a spring-loaded bolt, installed deeply in the building’s recesses. He’d gotten the idea from a distant memory when, as a child, he’d visited his grandfather’s roadside fruit stand in rural Ohio, a lifetime ago.

Papers and shelves were overturned into a cluttered mess on the office floor, with Devaney sitting back against wall, nursing a nasty bruise on his face.

You don’t look the worse for wear.

Fuck you. And close that door. Make sure the bolt’s reset.

Already done. And I’m assuming you want a nip from your secret stash? The one under the drill press stand?

How did you — oh, sure. And ice, there’s some in the …

…In the rusty coke machine. Already done. Here.

The two sit, their backs to the wall, ignoring the overturned desk and chairs like that’s the way they’d always been arranged.

Silence, a sip, more silence.

How long have they been watching? It was Devaney who broke the spell first.

Hard to say. But I had suspicions once I’d begun hearing patrol ships circling the area every evening. Not normal. Not for River Heights. Now take El Ranchero, there’s a barrio worth watching …

…That’s your trouble, you know it? Ouch, my damned head. Devaney takes another sip. Always thinking in Old Times mentality. Living in the past. Get over it pal. It’s a new day.

New day my ass. Same old same old. Power corrupts. Same since the dawn of time. Dictators, kings, presidents, emperors. All the same.

More silence.

So, what did they want? What did you tell them?

Everything. I spilled it all. About the shop, my dubious tenant and his oddball behavior. My side businesses. All of it. Damn.

Simpson lowers his glass and cocks a leery gaze at Devaney. You did? Really?

Ha, gotcha! I had you going, didn’t I? Of course I didn’t tell them. Just denied everything. Played dumb. This is what happens to dumb guys, pointing to his head. The smart guys, they’re the ones that end up being dragged away to who knows what.

We’re gonna hafta be careful. More careful, if that’s possible. Shit.


(To be Continued)