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.