Monday, February 3, 2020

Magic Margin on Gopher

The "Old Gadget" part of Magic Margin is a bit of a potpourri. There isn't just one project I am working on and old and gadget are very much up to my discretion. Recently I have taken a trip down memory lane and been playing around with Gopher. I actually remember Gopher because of AzTec.

In the very early 90s, getting online was an expensive prospect for my lower-income family. We couldn't afford Compuserve or Prodigy. Instead, a friend of mine turned me onto a local Freenet called AzTec hosted at ASU. It was a free service where you could dial up to their bank of 2400 baud modems and connect with other computer users.

There was the regular BBS-type stuff on there. Clubs, organizations, and meetings were discussed in community bulletin boards. You had email through Pine or something else. I remember that my email address was -- just typing that takes me back! There was one way to go father afield than our local community; Lynx.

Lynx, of course, is a text-based web browser. I still use it to this day. It's a great tool to have and a fun way to make even the oldest computer part of the internet experience. Being text-based it worked better 20 years ago. Modern CCS and graphic-heavy web pages are notoriously text-limited and make for a poor experience in text-only mode. Interestingly, typecasts are not readable in Lynx. This effectively keeps the prying eyes of Big Brother at bay. (We may want to revisit this for those who are visually impaired.) It's one of the best browsers out there. In addition to being a powerful web browser, it also is a pretty good Gopher client.

Gopher is a unique way to access text on the internet. I think there is a charm about it. It's simple to understand. Most human-readable content is text (although you can use images). The file-folder concept is a departure from the web's interconnected threads. It feels like those early days of computers.

With this memory, I decided to set up my own Gopher hole. I read a few tutorials and decided to use Pygopherd on a Raspberry Pi. I used a popular dynamic DNS service to reroute the traffic to a subdomain of Magic Margin and within a few hours I had a Gopher server running next to my tiki mug collection.

If you have Lynx or another Gopher tool, you can check out the link at:


There's not much there, but what is there is just for Gopher. It's Gopher premium content!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Vintage Computer Round-Up?

Is anyone out there interested in an Arizona version of a vintage computer festival? There are some old machines that are getting so old, they might hold as much interest in the popular mind as typewriters. If you are interested or keen in being involved in this kind of project (Vintage Computer Round-Up?) let me know in the form below.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Typewriter, Women, and 1950s Royal Sexism

Historians generally agree that the typewriter was a net positive for women in the workplace,

but these bits of "advice" from Royal certainly clang today. My favorite is the unabashed pleasure she is expected to show at the ringing of a margin bell. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Thrifting Finds 2019

On this day, the last of 2019, I wanted to share some fun finds from my most recent thrifting adventure.

My friend Tim and I hit the Sun City thrift stores. If you have never spent any time in Sun City, you are missing one of the most bizarre places on earth. Sun City is where every day feels exactly like 2:00pm on a Sunday at your grandmother's house; time moves with all the speed of molasses. It is packed with people, but you never see them. The only suggestion of life is the maniacal whizzing of golf carts on city streets and the white and blue blur of the snowbirds.

While Sun City gives me the feeling that I am sinking slowly to the bottom of a plastic-covered sofa, the thrift stores where very generous to me.

The first item is this very nice Jorgensen clamp. $3.00

It's a clamp. I don't know what else to say. It is large. Largeness is a useful attribute to have in clamps. This is a No. 2. You can get them new for about $30.00

Next, is a nice VFD combination printing adding machine and advanced 4-function calculator. I got it because they keys are wonderful to press. It works. $5.00

I cannot resist American-made wall clocks. This is a Seth Thomas Manager 12 (plug-in). $6.00

The plastic dome is scuffed and scratched, but I can polish that out pretty easily. The brown surround is made of metal and it has a sweep hand. Nice clock for just a little money.

Finally, there is this nice little 13" IBM correcting Selectric II in white. $14.00

It's completely frozen up. No hum when you turn it on, but it was so clean that I couldn't pass it up. I'll invariably take it apart, rub my chin, clear my throat, and take it Bill Wall for analysis. 

The red tongue is missing, but I have three of those sitting in a box in the garage. 

So, that's the haul. Hope you enjoyed the show-and-tell. 

Have a great New Year and I wish you all the best in 2020!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

IBM 5291 Keyboard USB Mod

Typewriters are wonderful, distraction-free writing tools. Actually, I don't really believe that. Typewriters are a feast for the senses; the smell, sound, and tactile feel are all part of the magic that is part of non-digital writing. Some very sick people even love the gentle hum of a Selectric's motor. Instead of being distraction-free they are right-distraction devices. The things that draw our attention are all in service to the visceral feel of pure communication.

Even so, we are called on to engage with digital devices. It's a cruel reality of a "modern" world. I don't like typing on a computer, but when I do, I always use mechanical keyboards. You know the kind; clicky, tactile, loud, and ancient. My daily typer is a 1987 IBM Model M. It's a nice keyboard. If you'e never had the chance to use one of these keyboards, you are missing out. On a tuned specimen, nothing compares. If you've used an IBM Wheelwriter before, you have used this type of keyboard.

The Model M's cult following is well documented. There are people who will wax philosophical on the feeling and sound of the buckling spring keyboard. There are actually YouTube videos on the subject, but that is hardly a sigil of eccentricity.

Connoisseurs will tell you that the predecessor to the Model M, the Model F, is even more refined. It's as close to the urkeyboard as you can get (barring beamsprings). This is what I wanted to share with you today.

Bigfoot is what some collectors call this. It is big and heavy. It types beautifully.

I recently completed a USB conversion for this IMB 5291 Terminal keyboard. Most people would think that Soarer's Converter would be the way to go. However, Soarer's is closed-source. It's not being actively maintained. There is also the sudden and strange disappearance of Soarer from the keyboard enthusiast's bulletin boards. These three things prompted me to look elsewhere for firmware. I decided on QMK Firmware. It ticked all the boxes; Atmel support, open-source, current updates, large user-base.

Wiring up the converter was fairly easy. I used a Teensy 2.0 to upload the firmware from the QMK online builder. You can customize, compile, and download all from within a web browser.

Just a little debugging and I was able to start using it on my home computer. I just completed grades using this keyboard and it was so nice to finally use it. As I use it more, I might just make it a permanent daily typer. The sound and feel of this keyboard are a perfect right-distraction.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Rocketeer Keyboard

I am not one for free buzz marketing on my own blog, but I was perusing through the Massdrop site (looking for keytops) and I found this keyboard that is intended to mimic the style of a Hermes Rocket. 

The keytops are double-shot plastic (yum) and it's a pretty nice looking thing. Just thought I would share.

Check out on the Massdrop website:

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Happy Typewriter Day 2019!

As the sun sets on your day of celebration, raise up a typewriter to the memory of Christopher Latham Sholes. Be careful not to drop your typewriter. They are heavy.