Thursday, December 30, 2010

Typewriters in the Movies

My wife and I went to the movies (a rare occurrence with a year old at home) to see The King's Speech with Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth. It was a wonderful movie. There is a scene where Geoffrey Rush's character, Lionel Logue, is seen using an Oliver.

Hepburn and Tracy in Desk Set
Another movie, while not specifically about typewriters, is about the conflict between the modern and the traditional. Spenser Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are hilarious in Desk Set (1954). Hepburn plays a reference librarian for a major television studio and Tracy is a computer scientist. When Tracy's character is hired to computerize the office, Hepburn's character matches wits and ultimately falls in love with the computer scientist. It is definitely a comedy film, but it crystallizes a time in the history of human experience when a paradigm was about to change. The digital age was gaining momentum and would soon change everything.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Old Stuff

I have been enjoying the post-Christmas bliss so much that I haven't posted anything, but that is soon to change. I have a number of things in the queue, so check back soon!

If I ever made mistakes I would use one.
On Monday a dozen new old stock Eberhard Faber typewriter erasers arrived in the mail. I am unsure of their age, but the rubber is still soft and pliable. They are a beautiful green with fun little brushes on the end. I would love to share the joy of these erasers so I am willing to give away 6 of them. Drop me a line (typed is always appreciated) at and I'll send you an eraser. With these little denial-sticks 2011 will be mistake-free.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Phoenix Type-In March 5th

Thanks to Dana from Hula's for being willing to host this event!

UPDATE: Sorry for the confusion. I have corrected the image above with the correct date. We are still a go for March 5th.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Save the Date!

If you are a Phoenix-area resident or are going to be in the valley, please join us for an afternoon of typewriter fun on March 5th, 2011! I will bring several of my favorite machines. Email me at if you are interested in attending.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Most Beautiful Typewriter

When the Olympia arrived in the mail, I immediately wanted one for myself. I began the process of looking for a light blue SM3. Surprisingly, I was able to to find one here in Phoenix in an identical color. It really is a very attractive typewriter. I thought this was, perhaps one of the most beautiful typewriters in the world. The color is blue like a summer sky. The chrome shines even on the grayest of days. The gentle lines are at once playful and very serious. It is a joy to look at.

The Most Beautiful Typewriter
Source: Machines of Loving Grace
But as lovely as the Olympia is, there's only one typewriter that I think truly deserves the moniker of "The Most Beautiful Typewriter" and that is the Olivetti Studio 42 designed in 1935. I know many will disagree with me. I would love to hear the disagreements.

I  do not have an Olivetti Studio 42, but I dream of owning one. If I found this machine (in good condition) I would stop collecting. It's that special.

To assist in proving that the Olivetti Studio 42 is "The Most Beautiful Typewriter" I will be using Dieter Rams' 10 Principles of Good Design. I really connect with Rams' aesthetic and think that the principles he created can really help prove my assertion.

Fig. 2
Source: Machines of Loving Grace
Good Design is Innovative. I cannot think of a typewriter made in the mid-30s that looks a beautiful as the OS42. The only exception is the Royal Deluxe of a similar vintage. While very nice looking, as you can see from the photo (labeled Fig. 2), the use of chrome on this machine is not subtle or discrete. The  Quiet (not DeLuxe) is further adorned with three vertical lines on the frame in front of the spacebar. While each of these machines are highly styled and modern (for their time) they are not as restrained as the Olivetti. There is chrome on the OS42, but it accents the curve of the ribbon cover and the frame of the gray insert.

Good design makes a product useful. There are no unnecessary buttons or levers on the OS42 This isn't unique to this Olivetti. It seems as if typewriters of this vintage are, usually, immune to the stupid gadgetry of typewriters in the 1960s.

Good design is aesthetic. The aesthetic quality of a device is integral to it's usefulness because people use these devices every day to shape their lives. If you use it every day, then it must be beautiful. The Olivetti Studio 42 is a beautiful machine.

Good design makes a product understandable. This is an attribute common to typewriters as a whole. There is (usually) no mystery in how to use the most basic functions of a typewriter; press a button and print out a letter. Where typewriters become incomprehensible is when features are hidden. A perfect example of this is the Remington Travel-Riter. The carriage locks with a small, almost completely unnoticeable lever on the right-hand side of the spool cover. If you were unaware of this stupid little button you would, perhaps, think that the machine is broken when, in fact, the designers were merely idiots. A carriage lock should be on the carriage. That would make sense. The OS42 makes sense.

Source: Machines of Loving Grace
Good design is unobtrusive. The Olivetti Studio 42 visually is an English butler; there when you need it. When you don't need it retreats into the background. It does not assault you with chrome or shiny paint. The SC Sterling of 1936 is a perfect example of shiny distracting paint. The OS42 is neutral and unostentatious.

Good design is honest. When style overrides design you get products that cannot live up to our physical expectations. The perfect illustrative would be the Underwood Deluxe. The influence of automobile styling instantaneously makes this typewriter seem outdated. This, however, was the goal of the American automobile industry in the 1950s; they wanted to
Source: Machines of Loving Grace
sell more cars year after year by making the previous year's style outdated and unfashionable. When you are inspired by this kind of mentality you get bulbous curves that serve no purpose but to appear as if they are designed. This Underwood is dishonest. It promises an experience of driving an automobile. Is typing like driving a car? No. It's typing. The Olivetti does not promise what it cannot keep. It's a sober typewriter and that's it. Curves are present where they are needed. when they are not, they are left off. Take, for example, the curved frame at the front of the machine. No one would want a sharp point near where your hands are working. So, the designers introduced a curve with a pleasant radius. There's no need for curves higher on the machine, so strait lines would be appropriate.

Source: Apple Computer
Good design is long-lasting. The Olivetti Studio 42 is the only typewriter that looks at-place in any decade. The design and taste of this machine transcends decades. In-fact this OS42 reminds me of a rather modern product; the iPad.

Good design is thorough down to the last detail. Who hasn't been annoyed by a poorly designed latch, catch, or lever. Nothing on the OS42 seems to be left to chance. Look at the red tabulator button. Genius!

Good design is environmentally friendly. If a product is meant to last decades rather than years it is innately friendly to the environment. When something is meant to be thrown away when it is no longer fashionable, that is poor design.

Just look at it. It's gorgeous. I hope you would agree with me that the Olivetti Studio 42 is "The Most Beautiful Typewriter." I would love to hear other opinions.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Last Day of Finals

As today is the last day of finals I have to start packing away the ribbons for the typewriters. If I leave them out they will, of course, dry out a little too much. Right now I have cobbled together enough spools and ribbons to serve all 10 of the machines in the room. I want to get new ribbons for all the machines sometime this break. It'll be a bit pricey, but I think it will make the machines more useable. I'm going to do a summary of the semeter in typewriting and detail some of my plans for the future of the project.

Even though the semester is ending, I'll still be thinking about typewriters (much to the chagrin of my family) and working on a few projects. I haven't forgot about the DCC (Digital Carbon Copy) Project yet, I need a few bits and pieces and I'll be able to work on that some more.

In the typosphere, Philly Type-In has quickly become the big typewriter story of the moment. I'm sure a similar yet Phoenix-themed version of this event would be popular in the valley. Perhaps one of our more mid-century venues would be perfect. Anyway, check out the video.

I have to agree with Mike. A device that has one funtion and does it well is a joyous thing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Olivetti Ivrea

I make typewriters using my scowl!
I came across this interesting photo set of the Olivetti factory in Ivrea taken around 1970. I have no idea what they are making, I am sure that a typewriter is in there somewhere. The pictures are amazing and have a wonderfully grainy composition. The photos offer a glimpse behind the svelte lines and carefully crafted industrial design of Olivetti.

I've never have used an Olivetti, but if I find one I'm sure that these pictures will come to mind.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Olympia SM-3 Pic

Today I found a few moments to snap a picture of the blue Olympia. Our office is decorated in a very 50s style, so this typewriter looked right at home.

I went to the hardware store and bought some small rubber washers to replace the original squashed frame bushings. Such a small repair made the world of difference. I want to go through and clean all the eraser dust (there is enough in there to make a new eraser) and play around with the shift in hopes to make it lighter. It's a wonderful machine with a smooth action. I'm excited to see some reactions to it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Typecast From the Front Part II

Yesterday Enrique shared his views. Richard commented that the spelling and typing were very good. I would have to agree. Today, we will be hearing from Zaul, also in my 5th period. I have gone ahead and enhanced the images using GIMP rather than wasting time rescanning each page. This sould be much more readable.

Royal Aristocrat

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Olympia Has Arrived

When I came home from work I was greeted with a box. In this box was the new Olympia. After a little cleaning-up it looks wonderful. It's a nice heavy typewriter. I'll post a few pictures and a little commentary sometime later tomorrow.

Typecast From the Front

Enrique's response to "What do you like about using the typewriters in class?"

Smith-Corona Skyriter
EDITORIAL: I apologize for the quality of this scan. I intend to rescan it as soon as possible. The paper on which it is written is not, in fact, gray.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Digital Carbon Copies

Although typewriters do consume a fair amount of my time I do have other hobbies. I am an ardent Halloween decorator. I am a licensed amateur radio operator (KC7RZR). I love vintage television programs. I also dabble in programming microcontrollers (especially the Arduino).

I am always trying to find ways to marry my interests. This can be difficult but I have a cunning plan. I've been wanting to build a better (for me) version of the USB typewriter. Jack Zylkin has created a kit to convert your typewriter into a USB keyboard. This is really cool. The heart of the system is an Arduino microcontroller (an Amtel chip with a custom bootloader). I, however, do not just want a keyboard for my computer. I actually don't want to connect the typewriter to my computer at all. What I want is a way to create digital carbon copies of what I type. This would be a smart typewriter. I prefer typing onto paper, but sometimes I want to make duplicates and the computer is a perfect way of storing these digital carbon copies (dcc).

Put me in a typewriter!
I want an Arduino to be at the heart of the system. I am familiar with the programming language and I have an invested in the hardware already. Where my plan differs is in the storage of the dcc. Recently, datalogging has become more common on the Arduino. People are adding SD/MCC to their projects to store all kinds of data; temperature, GPS coordinates, XYZ axis from a gyro. It's really an exciting time in microcontrollers. I began to think that it wouldn't be that hard to store every keypress on an SD card. I could then take that card, load it on my computer, format the text, and print off copies . Looking around I found that almost of the FAT libraries for the Arduino environment offer basic read/write/append capability. It wouldn't take much to take an SD or datalogging shield and wire up a matrix of buttons and measure what keys are depressed as I type.

The challenge would be making it look seamless and fully intergrated into the typewriter. I haven't even started to decide wether I will do this project, but it could be an interesting experience.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Young Truth

The Weekly Inventory (which at this rate should be renamed The Often As I Can Inventory) has been returned, tabulated, and analyzed. So far, the data has been supporting my view that typewriters are still a useful tool in the classroom and that many high school students will use one if given the opportunity.Is this any surprise? Anecdotal examples are all around. Tom Furrier, by way of his interesting blog, says that he has noticed that a trend has become a movement. Matt, a 16 year old in Massachusetts, has his own typewriter-centric blog called Life in Typewriterdom that is clearly a source of author's pride. Typewriters are not just for crusty old journalists or the social contrarian.

I could go on and on about how much the inventories support this information. For example, 100% of 53 students who use a typewriter in my classes "enjoy using the machine" and find that they "feel their writing has more meaning" when they use a typewriter. I could mention that 67% of the students who responded to the question feel "that they have a unique connection" to great authors who used a typewriter. I could also tell you that 90% of 53 students like the sound of the typewriter "very much."

But, I would rather have some of them tell you what they like best about using the typewriter. So, for the next few days I am taking some special responses from my students and will post them as typecasts. Each will bear the title "Typecasts from the Front." You will be able to hear directly from them what it is about typewriters that make them so special.

Also, December 13th marks the three-month mark for the Classroom Typewriter Project. I don't know what excitement we will have planned, but it will be something special!

UPDATE: I am awaiting the installation of a scanner before I proceed with the typecasts. My school has a wonderfully complex ticket system that would be perfectly at home in the movie Brazil. While I can educate children I do not have the intellectual capacity for installing a basic computer accessory. Patiently I wait.

Friday, December 3, 2010

New Data Set

Today I collected a new set of inventories and I am working on analyzing the data. There is an interesting mass on the horizon. I'll have a bit more information later today.

I have been a little scant on the classroom component of this blog, so for those of you interested in that will find plenty to chew over the weekend.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Olympian from the West

I love it when Greek mythological allusions make it into products. I am thinking, of course, of Zeus' messenger; Hermes. He is the winged sandal-wearing trouble-maker. Our Hermes, however, has never caused an ounce of trouble. But there is a new member for our typing pantheon winging its way across the United States.

An Olympia SM-3 (from an anonymous donor) is on its way to Phoenix (more Greek mythology). The donor was a student at ASU in Tempe (as in Vale of Tempe) in the late 70s. This particular machine is a blueish color with all the wonderful chrome bits and pieces. I think it is a really pretty machine.

I am excited to finally have an Olympia in the collection. I have never used one and there have been some requests for more European machines. We'll see what condition this one is in and if I need to do a few tweaks. There are some bits I have been reading about rubber bushings that might need to be replaced.

I wonder if anyone ever sent in the coupon to hear the "full story set to music?"

I am also proud that this is my Diamond post. 60 is the largest number of posts I have ever made to any blog. I must really like this stuff.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Right Tool

It's late fall. At my school that's the right time of year for Sophomores to be seeking letters of recommendation for the ACE program. The ACE program is run by the Maricopa County Community College system. The ACE program allows high school students the opprotunity to take college courses on the weekends and during the summer. The credits earned are usally transferrable to any of the major in-state universities (UofA, ASU, NAU). If a student sticks with the program it is possible to earn around 20 credits. That means that a stuudent could enter with most, if not all, of their Frosh year done. It's a wonderful program and I have been working like a madman to finish all the letters of reommendation.

The messenger of the writing gods.
The nice thing is that the LORs are fill-ins. I don't have to write a full-blown letter. That comes after Christmas holiday when the Juniors start making their plans. The perfect machine for filling in forms has to be my Hermes 3000. The transparent line guides make this task simple. I have a devil of a time filling in lines on my desktop HH. The line guide makes all the difference. The greatest boon, however, has to be the typeface. Petit-Pica is short enough to fit on form lines, while still being easy to read.

Initially, I was resistant to the Hermes. The action felt, for lack of a better word, mushy. Everything I read said that this typewriter was the choice of choice writers. I just couldn't see it. It took me a little while, but I have come around. I really like my Royals; especially my HH standard and late 40s QDL. But, when I need a very good portable the Hermes is the one.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Typewriter from the Portugese

My poet, thou canst touch on all the notes
God set between His After and Before,
And strike up and strike off the general roar
Of the rushing world a melody that floats
In a serene air purely. Antidotes
Of medicated music, answering for
Mankind's forlornest uses, thou canst pour
From thence into their ears. God's will devotes
Thine to such ends, and mine to wait on thine.
How, Dearest, wilt thou have me for most use?
A hope, to sing by gladly? or a fine
Sad memory, with thy songs to interfuse?
A shade, in which to sing---of palm or pine?
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Typewriters of the 60s and 70s from Holland or Portugal or England, while perfectly lovely machines, seem hollow and empty. They don't have the soul of the earlier ones made in the US or Germany or Switzerland. They represent the last throws of the typewriter industry. Every one stamped out in Mem Martins was a mere shadowy wraith of the Olivers, Quiet Deluxes, Silents that came before. They are a developmental graveyard where every advancement is a gimmick; typebar de-jammers, interchangeable type elements, 3 garish colors. Every one produced is a dollar sign; make money rather than make machines. That's why I like to have them around. These typewriters are the Praetorian guard whispering "Remember, the old replaces the new." They keep it grounded.

No, not that Newport.
My grandfather, who recently moved to the Valley, is a garage sale maven. He has been making the rounds and found this lovely beast for the kids. It came in the largest typewriter case I had ever seen. It was more like an piece of luggage.

How does it type? Well, its much like putting a metal plate on the ground and beating it with a ball-peen hammer. It does have a light carriage return and one of those neat key de-jammers. It is a carriage shift machine. I have remarkably few carriage shift machines in the collection and the Skyriter is the only other one. I can see why on that machine, but a CS on something so large is strange. Also, the shift key on the right-hand side is better than the shift on the left-hand side. Left shift works well. Right shift offers some wacky alignment. The carriage doesn't seat well when you use the right shift. I'll have to do a little adjusting for it to be perfect.

Are you hungry for some guacamole?
I read, via Will Davis' site that, this Sears Newport is really an Messa (as in our production is a mess-a). The same machine could be had from Royal, Brother or ABC with minor variations in color. While it may not be as classy as a '38 Corona Sterling, it is an honest typewriter that will now be put to work.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cheap. Cheap! Cheap?

If you have more than one typewriter that is in need of a ribbon you could always take 1/2 the ribbon from a spool and put it on a spare. Like magic I can make one typewriter into two. Being a teacher makes you a little creative with money...and apparently typewriter ribbons.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Final Assembly

Tonight while watching some television, I finished assembling the panels on the newly painted and freshly platen-ed Travel-Riter.


It wasn't the biggest project, but it was a lot of fun. All I need to do now is wait for the paint to cure. This should take at least a week. Until then I need to be carful and avoid scratching the finish. The hammerite type paint worked very well and is very shiny.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Coin Operated Typewriters

My Sophomore classes are reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In the Afterword Bradbury describes how he considers F.451 a dime-novel. It cost him $9.80 in dimes to write at a coin-operated Remington or Underwood. He needed a place to type and the basement of UCLA's library prevented him from wanting to play with his children rather than working on his novel. He indicates that the time constraint really helped him write. Sounds like the NaNoWriMo challenge many people are working on this month.

This started me thinking about coin-operated typewriters. At 30, I am not remarkably old, but I do have a memory of coin-op typewriters at ASU. They were in an alcove on the 2nd or 3rd floor of the stacks. There were about 3-4 IBM Selectrics (the early ones, not IIs) ready for students to use. At the time I think it was a quarter for a half-hour of use.

I called the Hayden Library to ask whether the typewriters were still there, or if they had been taken out. I was saddened to hear that they were removed (or moved) some time after 2004. I put a call into the facilities manager for the library to see if they had just been moved or were completely removed. Knowing ASU as I do, they are probably in some closet gathering dust.

I wonder if there are any still in existence?

On another note, I came across this very interesting video by Bill Hammack on how the A/D converter (the whiffletree or whippletree) in an IBM Selectric works. Even though Selectrics are not my particular brand of crazy, I have seen so many of the type elements for sale (esp. script).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Weekend Project

Between all the regular things you do on the weekend, I began to paint the Remington Travel-Riter that I found. The surface of the old machine was rusty and very ugly. The platen was fossilized. I had it in my mind that this would be an easy project. The first challenge to that notion was the platen.

The first problem was removing the platen. The platen on this typewriter was clearly never intended to be removed by human hands. Bolts, nuts, weird compression-fit line ratchets all met to foil the work. The biggest hurtle to disassembly was a steel rod that extended the entire length of the platen. To remove it I had to take a pair of pliers and wiggle it loose. That took some time.

The dumbest idea was that I could find a suitable replacement for the platen rubber from something around town. I struck on the idea that auto heater tubing might be good. It's made from real rubber and I figured that it would be inexpensive. I went to Checker and asked the clerk if he had something that fit the bill. The tube that they did have fit on the inside diameter, but the outside diameter is a hair larger than the original platen diameter. At the time I thought it wouldn't be a problem. It would later be a problem.

Trying to feed the tube over the platen was a challenge. I won't give you the boring details, but an hour of work let to a newly shod platen and a broken line advancement ratchet. It was attached to the end of the platen via a compression fitting. I popped it off and had to re-attach it. It ended up being alright. When I reinstalled the platen, the size was a little larger than before, so things were too tight. I had to adjust the feed roller and the paper release lever so it would work. After fiddling for a while it seems to be working well. Or at least well enough for me.

The most exciting part was the painting. I hemmed over what color. I wanted something green, but I was concerned over my painting ability. When I was at Ace I noticed that Rust-Oleum had a Hammerite finish paint in colors. Hammer finish paint really hides irregular substrates and has a very glossy surface. The green color was perfect. I followed the instructions and here is how it turned out.


The hammer finish is a look. I like it. I know some people would prefer it to be a mirror finish or something smoother. It says 1950s to me so, it stays. I have quite a few more panels to paint and I will be finishing those over the course of the next few days. When it's all done I'll have a newly painted Travel-Riter.


Friday, November 12, 2010


The process of fixing the Silent's linkage was surprisingly easy. Nothing was really bent. One of the junctions where one part of the linkage connects to another worked loose. I looked at the other linkage connections to see how this one was connected. Five minutes later we were in business. I am always surprised with how easy it is to tinker with a typewriter. I know that the professionals would rather you leave it to them. That makes sense if you are not the least bit handy. If you are...go for it! The Adler was pretty easy. The SC Sterling was a piece of cake. This Silent was no problem. If you know how they work or can imagine the pieces fitting together, they are no more scary to fix than anything else.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On the Bench

The first mechanical casualty of the CTP has been had. A lovely Smith-Corona Silent has a bent typebar linkage. The young lady who was using it noticed it immediately. I'm not sure if the problem was careless typing or something inherently wrong with the linkage. The O isn't the most commonly used letter. It's coming home with me (sorry honey) and I'll get it working again. I might also give this one a good cleaning.

I'm sad about my linkage.

Sterling with a Heart of Gold

On Saturday, the baby went down for a long-needed nap and I was able to visit a couple of vintage and antique stores. I wanted to find another inexpensive typewriter to make the total in the CTP 10. So, I visited Antique Gatherings on Thomas Rd. and Zinnia's on 7th Ave and Indian School Rd. Antique Gatherings is a very clean antique store, but a bit pricey. Also, they didn't have any typewriters. Zinnia's did, however, have a few that were interesting and not too expensive.

The first was a 1930 Royal Quiet. It was in fair shape, but it did not come with the case. The crinkle paint was chipping in a few places. I have a more than reasonable like of Royal typewriters, but I have a nice QDL at home and a brown QDL (of the same vintage) at work. So, I don't need another. At $30 I thought it was a reasonable price for one that old, but I like complete typewriters. A missing case is not something I would want to deal with. The other typewriter was a 1960s Smith-Corona Sterling 12 in blue. At $19 I thought the price was acceptable and I bought that one.

60s Style
When I got it home and started the process of cleaning it up, there were a few problems that manifested themselves. First, the internal typebar cradle was not in the machine. It was at the bottom of the case. It did not have any cork, rubber, or felt padding, so I took some leftover material from the Skyriter project and make a nice pad. Ace Hardware hand the appropriate replacement screws. The whole process quieted down the machine a great deal.

This body-style has a sliding ribbon cover. My ribbon cover was loose because a screw fell out at some point during the life of the machine. This caused the cover to be misaligned and the "1" key and +/=  would strike the edge of the opening. Flipping the machine over, I found the shift stops and fiddled with them. I was able to dial in a setting that would allow the typebars to clear the opening of the ribbon cover. They clash sometimes when the cover is not properly seated, but we can live with that. There is one problem; I have an extra screw and spring that came from the machine, but do not appear to go anywhere. The machine works fine. I think that the spring might be for the lid mechanism, but it dosen't really matter. It's a perfectly fine typewriter that now puts us up to 10 total typewriters.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Can You Pass the Test?

I grabbed two sheets of paper, pulled my chair up to the Royal HH, fed them in, and crafted the typewriter care exam. The questions for this exam come from "Typewriter Care: What to Do, How to Do It" pamphlet created by the friendly sounding Federal Work Improvement Program. (The file is hosted on a great site called Machines of Loving Grace. Please, give it a look.) If you haven't read it, do so. It's informative and fun!

The entire work is geared towards office typewriters, but there is some really great information that can be applied to portables. While this is not a very serious assessment, I wanted to have some basic knowledge test to make sure that the typewriters are taken care of.

D., a young lady in my 5th hour, was the first one to take the test and she scored an 84%. With a score like this she can choose a typewriter that will be hers during the duration of the class period. She decided Smith-Corona Silent. She's going to be the only one using this typewriter during 5th period. If she wants to use the machine for typing journals, she can. If she wants to use it for answering worksheets or questions, she can. The next step in this project is just this; how does a student perform when he or she develops a personal connection with a typewriter.

UPDATE: 11/10/10 There is a small type-o in the fisrt page of the test. I am aware of it and I have started the corrections.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Infinite Monkeys

We are slowly running out of space for typewriters. It's fun to see so many, but they are seriously everywhere. This Royal Quiet Deluxe (a gift from Richard Polt) has taken a spot on the built-in bookshelf where the books of quality reside. 

I think it is fitting that this typewriter is next to a copy of Borges Ficciones. In this work there is a story called "The Library of Babel" that has a connection to typewriters. 

The premise of the story is that the universe is a never-ending series of hexagonal rooms. In this room there are the necessities of human survival and four bookshelves. These bookshelves contain books in which are printed a seemingly random selections of letters, spaces, and punctuation. If the rooms are truly infinite an accurate and complete copy of every book in the world in every language exists somewhere in the library. There are so many books that the librarians move around the rooms depressed and looking for the answer. Their behavior leads to the creation of religions. Some of the librarians, called purifiers, destroy books they deem heretical. As they do this they search for a mythical crimson room. The infinite-- and ultimately worthless-- arrangement of the letters in the books forces the people to try to find answers in an unanswerable universe.

The inspiration for this story comes from Borel's infinite monkey theorem. The theory is that if a monkey presses the keys on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time it will almost surely type the complete works of William Shakespeare (also on this shelf). 

It's fitting that a typewriter is sitting on a shelf next to a book inspired by a theorem that involves typewriters. A tenuous connection, yes, but a connection that makes me smile.

As for the typewriter this is your average Royal Quiet Deluxe from the late 50s. Of the 50s QDLs this line is my favorite for two reasons. First, they come in color crinkle paint. I might be one of the few people who loves crinkle paint. It is very had to damage it. I have never seen a document detailing all the colors available, but our classroom typewriter one is tan with caramel keys (all my names). The green model with white keys (as seen to the left) is particularly charming. The second reason why this is my favorite 50s QDL would be the red badge. I like the brightness of the red and the shine of the letters. This one is in very good condition.  As Richard mentioned, this typewriter was owned by a very cautious owner. There is barely a scratch to be found on it. It is as close to new as you can find. It ranks among our special typewriters.

Something else that I like is this poem by Koertge that alludes to the Borel theorem.

An Infinite Number of Monkeys
Ronald Koertge

After all the Shakespeare, the book
of poems they type is the saddest
in history.

But before they can finish it,
they have to wait for that Someone
who is always

looking to look away. Only then
can they strike the million
keys that spell

humiliation and grief, which are
the great subjects of Monkey

and not, as some people still
believe, the banana
and the tire.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weekend Projects

1. I have a Remette that is need of some TLC. When I got it the j key was oddly clashing with another linkage. I thought I could fix it by bending a bit of the linkage back into position. I broke it. Every other key works just fine except the J. I called Bill Whal at the Mesa Typewriter Exchange and asked him about fixing it. I learned that you can silver solder the broken bits back together. That is going to be one of my projects this weekend.

2. I found a pretty cool Remington Travel-Riter at a yard sale for $1. It's in fair shape, but I want to paint it a cucumber or celery green.

Will any of these be done? I probably can fix the Remette. I can get started on the Travel-Riter, but I probably won't finish. This, of course, is in addition to my other big weekend project; taking down Halloween decorations.

More Numbers

When  it comes to the new set of inventories, the news is that there is no news. Still, 100% of all students using a typewriter on a daily journaling activity enjoy using the typewriter. We're back into the 80s with students strongly agreeing. Around 83% strongly agree. The remaining students just agree.

When it comes to meaning, a majority of students (72%) feel the typewriters do offer a conveyance by which their writing has more meaning.

With these numbers similar to the last set of inventories analyzed on 10/14 I feel that there is a significant amount of support for my original supposition that typewriters do have a place in a 21st century classroom. They are not the dinosaurs that many would suppose them to be. I am really heartened by this. Education, for many years, has been victim to the quick gimmick and fast fix. I see this victimisation in all the programs, plans, and ways of fixing things that teachers have had to implement. Many people mean well with their strategies, but it's nice to know that the lowly typewriter can do much to enhance the experience of the young writer. Will we see a come-back for the typewriter? No. It's days were numbered many years ago, but as there are many classic cars still on the road I hope there will still be typewriters in schools.

What is this leading to? Well, I know that there is a special connection between the adolescent writer and the instrument of composition. I want to quantify that relationship into a series of understanding statements that really get to the heart of the typewriter-student connection. This will take us into Phase 2 of the project.

As I mentioned in the post on the xxth, a core of around 9 students are going to be assigned a typewriter to use for the entire class period. They will make the decision about what will be completed on the typewriter. In addition to the inventory they will be asked to complete a few reflections that, with their permission, I hope to post here as typecasts.

I am looking forward to this new phase for the project.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Change

I have been happy with the new set of inventory results which will be published later this week. However, I am now interested in seeing how students create a personal relationship with a typewriter. So, I am going to make a small change in the way that the project is conducted.

Before the planned change students were allowed to select a typewriter that they wanted to use. It was an entirely first-come-first serve approach. Frequently the students would switch typewriters looking for the one that they wanted to use the most. By this process they could not create a personal relationship with the machine to learn all of its quirks and habits. Part II of the project will allow them to create this intensely personal relationship with the machine.

I have asked for volunteers who would be willing to fill 9 slots corresponding to the 9 typewriters available to use. After they have proven a proficiency in using and caring for the typewriter, they will be assigned one machine. This machine, for all intents and purposes, will become their machine. They will be 100% responsible for its upkeep and care. If a ribbon is dry they will need to replace it. If the margins are set incorrectly, they will need to set them. If there is a problem it will be their responsibility to tell me about it.

The scope of what they will be using the machine for will also change. No longer will it be for journals exclusively. They can use the machine for all their general work. Whatever needs to be typed can be done on the typewriter. I will not be prescribing the parameters of their acceptable use. The student will have to make the decision whether to use the machine or pass for that day.

To prove proficiency in using the typewriter, the students will need to pass a series of examinations. They aren’t hard, but they do show a dedication to the project that might not manifest in the more casual users. The first test is based on the pamphlet “Typewriter Care” by the Federal Work Improvement Program. The second test is based on an illustration on Richard Polt’s web site detailing parts of the typewriter. If they pass both parts, then they can start using the typewriter for whatever work they choose. I have to work out some fairness issues in the procedure, but I think that it will allow the typewriters to be used to a greater effect.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Fed Fear

Typewriters are intensely personal objects. Take, for example, the Hermes 3000 that is in our classroom. What was written on it? Did secret unfulfilled loves find the courage to be expressed? Did dreams of a far-away better life pour onto the blank page? Did deeply dastardly plans come to fruition? What secrets does that grey-green body hold?

Could the loves, hopes, and dark deeds somehow affect these machines after the owner has passed away? Can a bit of a person be left behind connected to the typebar with a mystical linkage? In other words, can a typewriter be haunted?

Something to think about when you find that awesome typewriter at a rummage sale.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fly Hermes, Fly

I imagine that to some typewriter collectors are just marginally more sane than the Collyer brothers. I have, at some time fallen victim to a little bit of harmless hoarding. Attempting to divest myself of unused objects and help the Classroom Typewriter Project I have decided to offer my Hermes adding machine up for trade.

Count on me!
It's a lovely example of vintage office machinery. It can add and subtract! The gentle late 60s green-grey would match any of your late 60s Hermes equipment. It's 100% functional and in fairly good condition. None of the plastic is broken or cracked. It does include the paper tape that is approximately 1,000 years old and a little brittle. Fun!

If you are interested in trading this machine for a functioning manual typewriter, let me know.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In Search of W. L. Ehrler

One of the tantalizing things about typewriters is that they belonged to real people. Someone sat at that machine and wrote. I have found that a typewriter is an intensely personal object. Students choose the same one over and over and I am very partial to my desk HH. I am so partial that I refuse to let anyone else use it.

The brown QDL once belonged to a man named W. L. Ehrler. I wasn't able to find much about him except for a few articles written by a W. L. Ehrler via Google Books. I was able to track down where he was working in the sixties. W. L. Ehrler worked for the US Dept. of Agriculture in the Water Conservation Lab in Phoenix. He wrote, with fellow researchers, several articles about water retention capability in the leaves of rubber plants. It's interesting stuff to the people who find it interesting.

I sent an email message to the director of the lab and this was his response:
Yes, I would say it is very likely that the typewriter was once W.L. Ehrler’s, who was at the USWCL. I have attached one of his publications. Though he was retired when I started at the USWCL in 1984, I worked with both of the co-authors on the paper. I was told he passed away about a year ago in Scottsdale.
 While W. L. Ehrler is gone, his typewriter will live on. That'a a comforting thought.

More Results Forthcoming and A Banning

Initially the project was open to just a few of my classes (three to be precise) but as work has gotten out that typewriters are not entirely lame the interest has been peaked in other classes. So, the next inventory will include a very large sample group.

As the number of students who are using the typewriters on a daily basis has increased the number of issues with management has also increased. I brought these machines into the classroom to be explored and loved. Sometimes, in their exuberance, the students are too rough with their love. One student, V., was so excited to use the typewriters that she was carrying it by the carriage. This is not acceptable or in keeping with rule #6 (Remember, this typewriter is 4 times older than you). As a result she has been banned from using them for a week. After the week she can return to the fold as a full-fledged typist. I have printed up a  modified copy of the 1950 Typewriter Care pamphlet put out by the federal government. It outlines some specific care instructions that might be good for wayward students to read.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Mysterious Brown QDL

I have a black 1946 Royal Quiet Deluxe at home that is in fantastic condition. This was the first typewriter I ever bought. It was a Craigslist find and I must have lucked out that day because I made a good purchase. I have seen a great many terrible typewriters in awful condition, but my Royal QDL is not one of those. The body is dark and clean, the chrome is bright and gleaming. It's really spoiled me. Every typewriter I find I compare in my mind to that shining example of craftsmanship. Well, a second 1940s Royal QDL has come into my life. It's in good shape (save some mechanical issues which I will share later) and quite the looker. However, this machine is a bit of a mystery.

The owner, a Phoenix native, bought the machine used in the 1960s. At that point in its life it was already 15 years old. Les, the previous owner, bought it at a business machine store called ABC Business Machines on East McDowell in Phoenix when he was in high school. He went to Arcadia High School (a school nearby this shop) and when he graduated he took the typewriter with him to ASU (I too graduated from ASU). Les reports that he wrote many of his high school and college papers on this typewriter. Well, after his graduation the typewriter sat collecting dust. Then, it came into my possession.

ABC Business Machines was the last retail venue to have this typewriter in its possession, but not the first. After some poking around I found this label.

Bishop Business Machines was once at 4605 East Thomas Road in Phoenix. The Bishop label does not have a zip code while the ABC Business Machines does. This leads me to believe that Bishop Business Machines was the first retailer of this machine predating the 1963 roll-out of zip codes. But, who did they sell this machine to? Underneath the machine, scratched into the frame is a name. It's the name of the first owner.

W. L. Ehrler...Who are you?

Now, to the color. If you are a member of the Portable Typewriter Forum, you might have seen the thread I began on Royal QDLs in colors. What came of that conversation is that any 1940s QDL in any color other than black is special and hard to come by These machines were offered in a dark green, burgundy, brown, black-brown, and black. Pre-war machines in the brown came with a tweed case with leather piping. I am going out on a limb by saying that post-war QDLs in colors came with a matching painted case. It is an odd case and not very luxurious. The paint finish has a scatchy matte feeling. Maybe it was nicer in the past, but I hate it.

When you turn the machine around at look at the back you see something interesting. There is no Royal decal on the back. It's either been painted over or has gone missing. This would bring the provenance of an original color QDL into question. Could someone have painted the entire machine? Further inspection leads me to be live that just the back panel was repainted at some point, but with a 100% matching color. The texture is a little rougher and although the paint matches very closely, the paint on the back panel is newer looking. Under all the other panels the paint is correct. I think that the panel was painted because it was either scratched or damaged at some point during its life. Perhaps ABC Business Machines did this as part of some reconditioning process. Either way, it was done in the past and done with a professional level of acceptability.

Right now, the brown QDL isn't working. The drawstring was broken and I fixed that, but there is something amiss with the escapement. I can't describe it because I don't have the vocabulary but sufficed to say I think that this repair might be out of my league. I am going to poke around a bit more and see if there is something that I can do. Until I can get it working it certaily is interesting looking.

UPDATE: Through sheer skill and a huge amount of guesswork, the Brown QDL is working.

A Most Worthy Publication

I am proud to announce that my submission to Silent Type 2 was accepted and included in the new edition of this truly unique publication. ST and ST2 is visually very rich. It's like a brownie; a brownie of typewriters and other retrotech. There is a digital copy available today and there will be a way for you to purchase a paper copy in the near future.

Look for my work on page 36 & 37!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writing Rituals

I had a colleague come by to see the typewriter collection and we started talking about what makes typewriters so appealing to students and how, proven by some data that I have collected, it can be that student writing improves? We came up with and idea that I'm calling writing rituals.

Ernest Hemingway standing at a typewriter.
1960, Life Magazine
Great authors have rituals in their own writing. Ernest Hemingway (the most famous Royal man) stood at a bookshelf when typing. Roald Dahl, although using Ticonderoga pencils (the best) and yellow legal pads, would write for a set amount of time before and after lunch. Graham Greene had to write a certain number of words per day. Each of these authors assigned a ritual to their writing and students of writing should incorporate rituals as part of being a successful writer. These rituals can serve to center the thoughts and allow the user of the ritual to enter a mind-space that is preparing them for what they will encounter. I see it as akin to a purification ceremony or a rite of passage. The ritual user must physically make themselves able to create and understand. The typewriter, with all its knobs and buttons and processes, assigns a ritual to the process of writing.

When a student sits down to type at a typewriter he is met met with a horror vaccuii. The blank page sits there longing for words. The ritual begins with this blank page. The paper needs to be inserted, the margins need to be adjusted; things need to be set in order. As the user types there is a constant audio reminder of the writing ritual in which the writer is engaged. Listening to the sound of pressing the keys and anticipating the margin bell focuses the writer in his process rather than being focused on ancillary distractions.

I have heart tell of French school children being taught to mimic the writing style of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Flaubert. This may be anecdotal but it makes sense. To become like those writers you would need to write like them. To become successful you would need to adopt the habits of successful people. Writing rituals are a habit of successful writers.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Another Introduction: Royal Safari

This Royal Safari is as popular as the Hermes 3000 with our more adventurous students. Safaris are not known for their typing finesse, but they do look nice. I think that this typewriter would look at home with the Jetsons or in the Monsanto House of the Future. It's definitely space-age.

I have noticed that it is a very loud typewriter with a prominent echo. When the students really get typing you can hear it clearly. Maybe it's too distracting, but no one has said anything negative about it. It is built well and apart from the keys and front bezel it is all-metal and quite heavy. It has all the standard bits and parts: Magic Margin, tabulator, see-through ruler. It does not have a paper bail and I find that typing on index cards is very easy. It does use the late-model ribbon vibrator with little pincer-like clips to hold the ribbon. This makes installing a new ribbon much easier than all our other typewriters.

I don't think I would recommend it for heavy-duty typing, but it does make a strong visual impact. In addition, it was really inexpensive.

P.S. If you are my student or have been my student in the past you might recognize the original, patented Mr. Adney journal form ready for a response. Please remember to put you name, the date, and the period on top of every page.

Extra Credit: For 10 extra points, name the book series on which the Royal Safari sits.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Zombie Adler

In the spirit of the Halloween season the Adler J5, which was thought dead, has returned. The ribbon advancement mechanism is fixed (a spring) and some bits and pieces were modified and repaired. Tape holds down the cover. Yes, it looks like some sort of grey zombie, but that could be the charm hidden deep beneath the plastic.

A while ago I crafted a new left knob and I am not happy with it. Because of the size of the knob and it's location I had to remove the transparent plastic guides so it would clear when the carriage is returned. I would like to get a proper Adler J5 knob and return the margin guides. If anyone out there has such a knob would you be willing to send it my way?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Our First Assertion

In my previous rambling post I mentioned that I have some new data on spelling test performance. Well, here is the chart with the comparisons between the pre-test and the current testing round.

The students using the typewriter are doing better than last time. They are scoring higher and doing much better on all spelling scored assignments whether spelling is a core component or something ancillary. This may, however be related to the intensive spelling work, but students doing the same activity without the typewriter have a lower rate of passing on the same assessment that students who are using the typewriter are passing. This information presented by the next chart.
I could continue on with the collecting of data, but this trend has been steady for the past couple of months that we have been using the typewriters. I feel confident in saying that students who use a typewriter tend to become better spellers when they become aware of their spelling mistakes. This is not a real experiment, I don't have much of a control group and it is entirely based on what I am doing in my classes. I imagine that you could replicate the same results with a computer without spell check, but I am a fan of typewriters and I am going to attribute it to that.

With this, I will add our first assertion to the "Findings of the Prject Page." I, however, will continue with the inventory analysis. Those questions provide the most interesting information and give a sense to understanding what students appreciate about the typewriter.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Analysis and Monks

Well, I have just finished doing the counts of the survey. I know that the title of these analysis pieces include the word weekly. Well, I haven't been able to keep up with a weekly analysis. The numbers were have here are an amalgamation of a couple or three weeks of surveys. I am not to concerned over how accurate this is because the shorter data sampling rate is still consistent with the timeline that I am currently using.

The numbers are holding for most of the indicators. 100% of all students using a typewriter on a daily journal activity enjoy using the typewriter. This is an identical answer rate as on the 29th of September. The only difference is that 75% versus 85% on 9/29 strongly agree that they enjoy using the typewriter.

The numbers for statement 5 (The computer is better to write on.) are sliding clearly to the center with 50% being neutral to the statement. I take this to mean that more and more students are seeing that the mode of writing is secondary to what is being written. The typewriter is a tool to write as is a computer or a fountain pen. I would imagine that if I included students using fountain pens in the data set the numbers would be roughly the same.

The students' reply to number 6 (My writing has more meaning [when I use the typewriter].) has jumped to 60% either agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement. They are seeing value in their writing when using a typewriter. Why would a typewriter make them feel their writing has more meaning?

I have the feeling it has something to do with the artistic nature of using a typewriter. Typing on a typewriter has, for lack of a better word, a primitive feel. By primitive, I mean visceral; like painting with a brush or drawing with a piece of charcoal. With these processes you can feel the act of artistic creation through the soft glide of the bristles over canvas or the scratch of the coal in the peaks and valleys of the paper. There is an innately artsy aspect to pressing the key. You can press softly and barely make an impression. You can press firmly and make a dark, distinct mark. There seems to be an infinitely variable amount of opportunity with a typewriter. As the artist can make the brush or charcoal go in any direction the typist can control the process of creation. The forms, the shapes, the typefaces all lend to this artistic process. The writer can be connected through this arcane, primitive (there's that word again) process and become an artist.

An artist values his work and sees value and meaning in it regardless of the value that society (or an English teacher in Phoenix) places on it. The effort that went into creating this art is akin to illuminated manuscripts made by the monks on Lindisfarne. The difficult process made art that was immensely valuable to the creator. This art, simple typed journal entries, become illuminated manuscripts; beautiful in their form and the crafting of each individual letter.

I feel this way when I type something nicely on my HH at school. My seating chart is an example. I type it on my wide-carriage HH. That way I can type in landscape. When all the names are in their places I take the paper out and admire the dark neat letters. Simultaneously perfect and imperfect; little illuminations on a piece of paper.

Weekly Inventory In Progress

The next round of Inventories has been handed out and they are steadily coming in. We'll be able to see if there is a continuation of typewriter love among my students. Also, I have some hard numbers relating to the spelling component. They are doing measurably better. I'll share all of that data when I do the next update.

If you are new to visiting this blog, please take a look at the links to the right. They will give you an overview of the project and some of our goals.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

12 October Typecast

You can see the barest hint of the blue felt below the keyboard.

Now you can see all the felt. It's felt-tastic!