Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Blue Chance

Accident. Fluke. Good luck. Fortuity. Providence.

It has been a long time since I've added a new typewriter to this collection. I've been operating based on a one-out-one-in system. Very recently a friend was visiting a thrift store (in a lull between Covid-19 waves) and found this blue beauty:

$25. Are there even typewriter deals like that left?

I've been looking for a 50s smooth colored Royal for a long time. You have your pinks and reds. Those are very popular, but there is something Western in this color. I think of broad, open skies on a sunny Arizona day. I see the color of turquoise jewelry. I see the subtle blue in the hazy far away mountains. 

This is uncleaned and in original condition. 

Every typewriter collector--every collector--has those rare moments where all the stars align and you find that special thing.

Collecting is as much serendipity as it is sagacity. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Elsi Mate EL-8048 Soro-cal

So I am sure that you always wondered if there was a calculator that combined both a calculator and a Japanese abacus called a soroban? Well, wonder no more because that object definitely exists.

It's a strange chimera, but this calculator was made for a short time and exclusively for the Japanese market from the late 1970s to early 1980s. The legend states that some Japanese calculator users would check answers from digital calculators on a soroban.

Multiplication on a soroban can be difficult and a calculator might be a nice addition.

This particular model, the Elsi Mate EL-8048, was released in January of 1979. There were just four models in the total line; EL-8148 (19 beads), the EL-808, the EL-428, and the EL-429 (solar). The EL-8048 is my favorite because of the pencil-holder.

The calculator part is not particularly accurate.  It fails a one-divide-by-nine-multiply-by-nine test with an answer of 0.9999999. An accurate calculator would return a one. The soroban part is incredibly accurate.

This example is in good shape. The bottom is a little scratched.

Is that serial number right? 147? Also is this an abacus with a calculator or a calculator with an abacus. Sharp is drawing a line in the sand with this information badge.

This is the type of object that I love. It comes from a strange liminal time when one way of thinking was trying to exist with another way of thinking. Isn't it a charming thing?

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Royal's Computer

Royal is one of my favorite typewriter brands. I have all the greats; No. 10, HH, FP, tons of portables. They may not be the prettiest typewriters, but they are very numerous. Did you know that Royal also dipped their toes into computer technology? It's true, but the world of office typewriters and data technology is was not too much of a departure for the largest typewriter company ever. The story is long and complicated and I hope to share some things I learned about this computer.

The Beginning

Not surprisingly, Royal didn't make this typewriter computer themselves. Dr. Stan Frankel working for Librascope of Glendale, CA designed the computer. Librascope manufactured it and presented it at the Automation Show and Computer Clinic show in Chicago.

Paul Kane, in the story to the right , looks like he is not enjoying the Holiday activities.

I can only imagine that Royal sent their VP of R&D (E. H. Dreher) and Senior Project Engineer (I. S. Lerner) to the show with the mission of finding a computer for Royal McBee. They saw this computer from a small engineering outfit owned by a large defense contractor and designed by a little-known computer pioneer. The negotiations are lost to history, but in the end Royal McBee made a move that secured the LGP-30 as a part of the Royal product line.

General Precision and Royal would form a new company called Royal Precision and General Precision's Librascope subsidiary would make the computers. (I want to say that Royal Precision is the best name for a computer company ever devised by the mind of man.) Royal would handle the marketing and sales and develop peripherals for the computer. GPE/Librascope would make the computers and create software. Having recently acquired the Robotyper, Royal had some interesting technology and patents to work with sop peripherals made sense. In addition, Royal had hundreds of sales offices and a sales force that was experienced in getting machines into business settings.

Robotypers worked by having ghostly triplet secretaries marked for death typing on spectral typewriters.

Royal McBee transferred Librascope application engineers to their payroll and started training people how to code for the new computer.

One of the Application Engineers (and programming school instructors) was a man called Mel Kaye who would later go down in computer computer folklore in The Story of Mel.

The Machine

Royal's computer by the standards of the time was better than a desk calculator, but not as good as some of the big iron starting to become available. It was a small (desk-sized) general purpose 32-bit (sort-of) word binary computer.

White sock alert!
As with all old computers, the specifications are amazingly meager:

Type:General purpose, electronic, digital, single address, fixed binary point, fractional, stored program
Number Base:2 (binary)
Word Length:9 decimal digits plus sign (30 binary bits plus sign bit and spacer bit)
Mode of Operation:Serial (Settle in with a cup of tea!)
Memory:Magnetic drum, 4096 words, 3 one word recalculating registers.
Clock Frequency:120 KC (0.00012 GHz is my math correct?)
Access Time:2 ms. minimum, 17 ms. maximum
Transfer Time:1 ms. minimum, 17 ms. maximum
Addition Time:.26 ms. excluding access time
Multiplication or Division Time:17 ms. excluding access time
Input-Output:Paper tape or electric typewriter
Size:Depth - 26", Length - 44", Height - 33"
Weight Uncrated:740 lbs
Cooling System:Internal forced air blower
Heat Dissipation:5000 B.T.U. /hr.
Power Requirement:115-volt, 60-cycle, single phase, 13 ampere alternating current
Number of Tubes:113
Number of Diodes:1350

These specifications come from the LGP-30 Programming Manual.

To save money on memory, this computer used a magnetic drum for RAM. It's akin to using your disk for swap, but in this case it was all swap!
Schematic of LGP-30 drum
Magnetic drum memory was slow, but with optimization the Librascope boffins were able to get the latency down from 17(microseconds) to 2 microseconds through the careful arrangement of data on the drum. We are all very spoiled with our fast computers, but 2ms seems pretty fast to me. On another note, I don't know what that drum sounded like spinning at 3700 rpm, but I bet it was loud. 

For input/output Librascope used a Friden Flexowriter. I think the overall aesthetics would have been helped with a Royal, but the Flexowriter was common terminal for early computers.

It wasn't much in the way of a computer, but for many colleges and engineering firms it offered the possibility of owning a computer versus renting one from IBM. IBM had notoriously strict lease agreements that would charge a user for anything outside the lease agreement. Big IBMs had panel meters that counted the number of hours in operation. In other words, if you leased a computer for 8 hours a day, any use beyond that 8 hours would incur a fee. Sure, IBM was the name in computers, but cost can definitely be a motivator. In the end, over 500 of these computers were sold.

In this post, I only scratched the surface of this old Royal computer. There is folklore (as mentioned earlier), emulation, and restoration and I plan on taking a deeper dive into this amazing piece of computer history.

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!