Showing posts with label USB. Show all posts
Showing posts with label USB. Show all posts

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Last Word on Justification

So, I thought that this post would have been over some time ago, but as I dug further and further into the topic, I could see that there was more than I could have ever imagined. We have all drooled over the Varityper at one point or another. That's a shame because I know– from my vast experience and rugged good looks– that drool really falls short as an ink substitute. Drool'n aside, the idea of cold typesetting typewriters really heats up by typeshuttle. Mostly because of justification which I have mentioned here.  The Varityper later became the Coxshead DSJ an example of which Richard recently acquired in an antique shop. A more drool-worthy machine never existed. I, however, will confine myself to a drier, lesser history of the justified typewritten page.

Let's start, again, with the snippet from Popular Science that started my interest in this topic. I posted it some months back. It details a new device that can be added to a typewriter to make it a justification-capable machine. The article–if you could even call it that–does not list an inventor or a date of invention. Without either it would be a slow drudgery to look through thousands of patents trying to find the responsible inventor. 

So, that's what I did. Not, first, without doing a little Shelrock Holmes routine on the advertisement. There are always a few clues that can lead you to an answer.

Since the snippet came from a 1940s edition of PopSci, I decided to hazard a guess that the "new" invention was probably not more than ten years old at that time. Since the machine was from the 40s and the photo had a 40s look (being a 150–or so–screen halftone engraving) I decided to start in the decade from 1939 to 1949. I read the passage over a few times to get a general idea of what mechanical attributes I should be looking for in my patent searches. The one section that stood out read:

I looked for any patent that clearly had a knob/dial somewhere in the vicinity of the escapement and a pointer/indicator on the carriage.

Going to Google Patent, I was able to find two patents from the era covering a device that uses a knob and a pointer. One was from an Andras Goy and the other from an Oliver O. Martin. Martin also had an earlier 1920s patent for the same type of invention.

Mr. Goy's invention features a knob, but the knob is mounted to the front of the frame and from there links to a device on the carriage of the machine that alters the movement of the escapement. There was a dial and an indicator, but the placement make me feel like the Goy method wasn't the one featured in the article. Also, the machine would need to be completely heavily modified to accommodate a forward facing knob. Goy does not mention that this would be a simple or reversible modification.

Oliver Martin's justification system, however, looks more appropriate for a modification of a current typewriter. Martin describes this within the patent. "It is the object of my invention to provide a device which may be readily attached to or embodied in commercially well known typewriters without interfering with or changing the general combinations and features thereof..."

The above device was patented in 1920. Martin also patented a newer version in 1945 and that patent was issued in 1948. My feeling is that it is Martin's later patent that is mentioned in the Popular Science article.

Martin's second patent for a justifying attachment describes his invention thus: "It is the object of this invention to provide a simple inexpensive and conveniently operable justifying mechanism which may be attached to various types of typewriters or which may be built into such typewriters to form permanent part thereof." This alone was pretty convincing, but it was the illustration from Figure 5 that sealed the deal for me.

You can clearly see a knob that it attached through a linkage to the escapement disk. This knob adjusts the size of each space to affect the kind of movement needed to make the justifying technique possible. I guess Martin's our man. 

Even with the discovery of who probably invented the justifying technique detailed in the Popular Science blurb, I started to think about this problem. It's interesting that even with these three innovative solutions to proportional spacing no major manufacturers made full justification a feature or even attempted to find their own solution. Perhaps the technology was too complicated. Maybe the market wouldn't support the additional cost of a complicated escapement. In reality, I think these innovations and attachments were a solution looking for a problem.

I have written quite a few pages on a typewriter and–excepting novelty–I haven't had much a need for a justified page. I also don't believe that this was an expected feature of the hand-typed letter. The uneven right margin was de rigueur and the quality of a typist was how even she (and the occasional he) was able to make the margin without the aid of a justifying mechanism. Good margins are addressed in the Smith-Corona Tips to Typists booklet scanned by Richard Polt (

In this instance the uneven right margin was equated with hand-typed. A letter would be conspicuous with even right and left margins. So it came to be unnecessary for this feature. I know that my life is not incomplete at the possibility of uneven right margins. I can continue on and manufacturers didn't invest the time, money, or manpower devising a means to even both margins. 

However, the technical problems of justification even plagued Vannevar Bush, the technological visionary who presaged hypertext and the power of relational searches. 

In a patent filed in 1942, Bush described a technique for justifying the text of a typewriter using the benefit of stored memory and relays. The inputting of text, calculation of required spacing, and the composing were done by different components of the larger system. In fact, the solution was to have two typewriters one to encode and the other to decode. Think of two modified Fridens connected to a memory unit. That's the kind of solution Bush was envisioning.

You can see the influence of the coming digital revolution in his solution.

The patent illustration isn't so much a picture of mechanical devices, but a flowchart. Flowcharts are the way of the future. Bush also detailed how the typewriter should have a type of digital relay system to record keystrokes.

Which isn't too far off from the USB typewriter designed by Jack Zylkin. 

But it wasn't until the computer that a consumer would be able to justify the left and right margins on-the fly. Isn't progress wonderful?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

USB Typewriter: The Final Chapter

After what seems like weeks of false starts and broken deadlines I can say:

Can't you feel the full promise of the digital revolution?

It has been difficult reconciling my excitement over working on this project and the vague shadow of apprehension that haunted me at various points along the line. The apprehension did not come from a fear of knowledge. I knew what I was doing and I had confidence in my ability as a maker. I was worried for something else. Perhaps I was worried about the typewriter's soul. Perhaps I was worried for my own. Regardless I decided that converting this typewriter wasn't a good thing to do.

The promises I made earlier did not come to pass. I said that this USB typewriter would be in the beautiful Underwood that I have been showing off for weeks. No Underwood. The plan that I made for my version of the USB typewriter was far too complex and diverged from Jack's well thought out plan too much. I didn't heed the advice of minds more experienced as my own. The mounting bar was a beautiful execution, but it altered the feel of the typewriter so fundamentally that it couldn't stay. And from there I didn't have the heart to subject that poor little portable to any more humiliation. That is what the Triumph is for.

It was languishing on the shelf. The H is still missing from the ribbon cover and I thought making some room for another typewriter would be a good idea. The sensor bar was a good fit and I was able to transfer all the parts and components to the Triumph. It ended up coming together in a few hours. 

I had to foreshorten a spring so that the sensor bar's added weight would allow the ribbon vibrator to return to its normal position. Apart from that, there was little to do to get it into a working state.

There are still things that need to be done on this USB Typewriter; the carriage return, the backspacer, and the tabulator all need to be arranged. I will, however, not do them. I have lost the taste for digital-enabled typewriters. The whole enterprise felt cheap and tawdry to me. I was grafting a computer onto a manual typewriter by hook or by crook. By doing this I subtly supported the idea that a device is not a device unless it is accompanied by a computer. That did not sit well with me. 

Now, my newly-found distaste for typewriter-cum-computer hybrids does not reflect on Jack Zylkin's design or execution. The kit was top-notch. I enjoyed putting it together. The concept is mature and works well. As I mentioned earlier, my apprehension was over the larger question of should this be done? And the larger question: To what ends?

For me, I like to keep my analog free of digital influences.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Angering the Typewriters

So after lofty promises and Greek-drama-sized hubris, the USB typewriter project has come to a halt. The mounting point I imagined just won't work and I am starting to question the wisdom of using my Underwood. Mostly because the rear feet are too squished and are providing almost no clearance for the sensor bar. 

While the mount point I picked was beautiful and it made some sense, I was unprepared for how much it would affect the feel of the movement. Stopping the intermediate linkage even a few millimeters made the whole machine unresponsive. I am beginning to see why the ribbon vibrator bar was a wise choice on Jack's part. The vibrator bar is a piece that interacts with every key bar, yet has movement so as to prevent any major alteration to the feel of the typewriter.

You win some and then you loose some.

I guess that the Ancient Ones of the Typosphere looked unfavorable on my enterprise. Yet, like Herbert West I shall reanimate this idea.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Typewriter Hacks

When I think of typewriter hacks I think of:


But folks of the digital world that are hooking up typewriters to computers. I haven't decided whether it's a silly idea, as expressed by Strikethru, or something fun as Robert has described. That vacillation hasn't stopped me from giving the USB typewriter kit by Jack Zylkin a go. A few days ago I posted the main board assembled, soldered, and tested. I have a few other pieces to assemble, but my big hang-up was the location of the sensor bar.

As Jack shows on his Instructables page, the sensor bar is attached to the ribbon vibrator cross-member. The reason why he chose this location makes sense. Each key top linkage arm touches this bar and there is a significant amount of play in the trip point. In other words, this is a pretty good place to put a part like this. However, I did not like this location.

The fact I would be mounting something to a moving part made me nervous. I know that most of these typewriter USB conversions use this cross-member, I thought there are plenty of places under the machine to mount a new cross-bar and mount the sensors to that place. This is the location I thought wold be ideal:

So, I went to she shop and started to craft this of aluminum:

And then covered it with Gorilla Tape.

Unfortunately, I didn't take step-by-step photos, but I think you can get an idea of how I crafted it. The curved edge approaches the secondary linkage segment behind the key tops. These small linkages descend only slightly and the clearance is small, but it's enough to make contact with the metal fingers and short to ground. I wanted to mount the sensor bar on the inside of this support bar, but I think the clearance just isn't there.

The great thing about Jack's kit is that's open. You can make the decisions for yourself and go wherever the wind might take you. I decided to make a new crossbar tof my own design that honored my aesthetic sensibilities. You, could do something entirely different.

I am still working on my USB Typewriter. I'll probably be finished with it today, but in the interim I found these two videos on Vimeo featuring a typewriter hack using car door lock actuators and then a profile of the guy who made the USB Typewriter kit.

Before you get too comfortable watching the videos, I want to remind you that today is the deadline for your the prompted questions: Where is the typosphere going? You can find out about the assignment and the reward for those that complete the challenge at this link:

Automatic Typewriter from Harvey Moon on Vimeo.
Handmade Portraits: USB Typewriter from Etsy on Vimeo.

Monday, April 15, 2013

It Came in the Post

Soldered by yours truly. This is the first step in a larger project. This project has derailed the Underwood Universal restoration, but I think what's coming will more than make up for it.