Friday, May 29, 2015

Front Stroke EP 4: Touchmaster Five

If you guys have any requests or tips on how to make this series better, don't hesitate to comment!


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Research on the Olympia EC 2

First thing's first: Courtney has a blog of her own!

Did you hate English class? Do you owe your grades to Spark Notes? Did you crave a good adventure story when your teacher was forcing you to grapple with concepts like racial prejudice and Hemingway's iceberg theory?

And yet, through all that, you still love to read?

I've got the perfect blog for you! Check out Regular Reader Reviews!

While pecking around on my new Olympia Electronic Compact 2, I noticed some odd quirks about the machine. Namely, the omission of a right-handed platen knob, no power space, and, worst of all, it does not remember tab settings when turned off. This was a mild disappointment to me, since I like being able to indent paragraphs with a single button instead of the press-the-space-bar-five-times approach.

There are no instruction manuals for this typewriter online, but I did find an interesting article by Will Fastie on the first Electronic Compact back in 1983. It appeared in Volume 9 of Creative Computing, which you can read in its entirety here.

The first Electronic Compact, made in Germany.
The article is a review of the first EC, which Fastie labels as "The Olympia Electronic Compact Printer." His opening paragraph sets the context for the evaluation:

"Every day, great strides are made in dot-matrix printer technology.
The capabilities of such machines are constantly on the rise, while the quality of their printing gets ever better. Nonetheless, the print quality of fully formed impact printers is still superior to the majority of dot-matrix machines. The boom in small computer sales has created a new market for low-cost, letter-quality printers. The Olympia Electronic Compact is one such product. This 'combination' printer must be examined in both its roles to understand its capabilities and limitations."

Fastie then goes on to describe the keyboard and other features in great detail. I played around with the pitch settings, but could not see any difference at 10, 12, and 15 (then again, I'm probably not doing it right).

In the next section, he makes a very interesting comment:

"It is hard to decide whether or not the Electronic Compact is a satisfactory typewriter. The test machine was used extensively for this purpose by a variety of typists. While all preferred it to a manual typewriter, none preferred it to an IBM Selectric or other standard office machine." 

The EC 2, made in Japan.
The only differences are a few minute changes in the keyboard and, of course, the label on the right.

Then, at last, I found the answer to my question:

"There are two major irritations with the typewriter that all typists were quick to spot and complain about. First, it does not remember the margin and tab settings when it is turned off.* ....One of the secretaries who tried the machine to do a complicated table was infuriated when she innocently turned the machine off over lunch, only to lose 21 tab settings."

*This is the only functional difference I can spot between the EC and EC 2. My machine does remember margins, but not tabs. Not a big deal, since I'm not a secretary doing ledger sheets in a corporate office. Yet, I can't help but wonder why it wasn't included? Tabulators were a standard on just about every other typing machine by the 1980s!

Fastie goes on to say:

"The second problem is more psychological. Every one of the typists who tried the machine felt that it lagged behind their keystrokes.* There is a noticeable delay (most of us felt it was a half-step) between the striking of a key and the impression of the character. The result is strike-print-strike-print-strike in a steady rhythm. The effect is to create the illusion that you are typing too fast, and the tendency is to slow a bit. None of us could get over this problem and none of us reached our normal typing speeds on the machine. We were also interviewing secretarial applicants and giving typing tests; after comparing the same applicant's results on both the Olympia and a Selectric, we were forced to make a speed allowance for the former."

*I'm rather gentle with the Olympia right now. If I try to type too fast, my fingers will hit the wrong keys and then BAM: fugeaholeaboutit. Some of you may recall a post I did featuring my grandmother's Brother WP-700D. I'm not sure about the Olympia yet, but I can outrun the Brother.

Fastie goes on to describe how the Olympia rates as a computer accessory (Ted, weren't you asking about this?). He concludes by saying he wouldn't recommend it as a typewriter or a printer, but the machine would work for someone on a budget.

So, what does this mean? Did I waste my $1.50 on the initial purchase and the $15 I've spent ordering a new ribbon and Prestige Elite daisy-wheel?

Heck no!

I can't compare this to an IBM Selectric in terms of performance. I don't own one (though I'd happily accept a donation...for, you know, research). What I do know is that the Selectric is considered the absolute best electric typewriter ever built. Refurbished ones are going for hundreds of dollars on eBay. I interned at a government office that uses one to fill out forms. Vern at Jones' Typewriter said that the Selectric is his all-time favorite machine. The design was so successful that other companies built their own knock-off models using the iconic golf-ball type element.

I'm not a secretary. I'm not a student. I don't necessarily need the fastest machine out there. I write fiction, letters, and rambling typecasts for your enjoyment. The Olympia does all three of these things. Plus, daisy-wheel machines are not difficult to keep supplied with ink (thanks to wonderful businesses like Baco Ribbon Supply).

I may sell one or two of my manuals to fund a Selectric purchase in the future (unless I happily receive a donation). But for now, I'm quite pleased with my find. It's possible I could change my mind the more I use it, though, I'm not looking for a reason to dump it so soon. As Richard Polt said, it was practically free! Might as well use it to do the thing I love: putting words to paper.

Power to the pen.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

My 150th Post: The Special Thing!

Shipping included, it cost me $20
This correction paper dispenser is glued to the frame.
Someone must not have been a very clean typist...

Like my Olivetti 21, this Aztec is from PA!

The key to the case.

Instruction manual. The handy notes tell you what features are exclusive to the Model 14 and 15.

An extra metal spool and a new ribbon!
These metal knobs slide into the feet to secure the machine.
There are two spaces for locking screws to make it even more secure.

Never seen this before. Date of production, maybe?

Faint serial number on one of the spools, though I'm sure it's not original.

It's an interesting piece to be sure. The only thing I wasn't able to figure out was how to attach the two case halves together. We'll see how I like it after using it for awhile.

If any of you guys have an Aztec, chime in!

Power to the pen!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The $1.50 Typewriter

Not sure what half of these buttons do.

Can't figure out what these mean, except line spacing and carbon copies.

Power to the pen!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I'm Back

I'm back.

Driving in the rain is stupid.

Blogging will resume soon.

I've got something special in the pipe.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Underwood Lives!

That darn left feed roller was the only thing we couldn't replace.

Go here for a comparison.

New feet! Courtesy of an IBM model C electric.

Amazing how PB Blaster and compressed air will get rust off.

Amazing how a power drill, drywall grit, and some lacquer remover will clean a platen.
It may not look like much of an improvement, but trust me, it is. The margin stops now move freely.

There was an Underwood No. 5 in the shop while I was there. I was surprised to note that there is very little difference between the two: different stencil work and black keys instead of white.

This was a great way to spend my day off, and I'll have to do it again in the future. Learned a lot and got to know the pleasure of actually fixing a machine!

Unfortunately, I'm not sure the Royal 470 can be saved. After seeing the facility and lifetime of equipment Vern and company use to make their way, I don't know if I can use my apartment for the same purpose. Might end up scrapping that one for spare parts on eBay.

Power to the pen!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Shelf and the LC Smith 14

My parents came up to celebrate Mother's Day and brought us some great furniture. One of the best pieces was a shelf that we'd picked up from a friend years ago, but never used.

Well, it's getting used now!

Just about every typewriter I own fits except three: Royal KMM, SC Eelctra 210, and Tower President.

It feels so good to have all of those machines consolidated in one location!

Last week, I had an interesting foray into journalism. Courtney and I wanted to stay updated on local yard sales. Someone told us to get a copy of the Ste. Genevieve Herald. So, I went and paid the 75¢. When I looked up from the counter...

This LC Smith was sitting on the shelf behind the front desk, along with a number of other items.

"Mind if I take a picture of that?" I asked the lady. 

She looked at me funny and said, "No one's ever asked about that typewriter. I don't know who owns it or where it came from."

I emailed the owner/editor the next day and arranged a meeting. Toby was very nice and seemed quite intrigued by my...intrigue. I yanked it off the shelf and tried to find the serial number.

Touch regulator?

The platen is beyond saving, the product of years of neglect and heat.

I couldn't find the serial number. I looked under the carriage, inside the front panel, under the frame, but it just wasn't there. Since it has a basket shift, my best guess is post-WWI, probably the 1920s.

No one at the newspaper knew who "Wichem" was supposed to be.
Very neat, for a scratch!

During the conversation, another guy who was working there named Bryan Hollerbach who joined in. "I learned to touch-type on my mother's Smith Corona portable," he said. "I've got a few stashed here and there." As we got deeper into the conversation, he revealed his favorite machine. "I'm very fond of the SC Deluxe Secretarial."

The mystery remains, but it was great making another friend with a shared interest and delving into local typewriter history! Before I left, Toby brought me to the backroom to show me a SC electric that's still in use at the paper.

Who says typewriters are obsolete?

Power to the pen!