Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Little Deville Came to My Door

My landlord has done pest control and vent replacements to know I collect typewriters, yet he never said anything. Guess being a landlord you get used to tenants and their stuff, no matter what it is. Courtney and I just got back from a fun but tiring trip to Texas to visit her folks over Christmas and I wasn't thinking about much else besides the frigid cold and getting back to writing. I picked her up outside and after some grocery shopping, you can imagine my surprise when I came up the stairs and found this waiting for me by the front door.

I've never owned or typed on one of these cartridge electrics (unless you count the Lexikon 90) but I see them everywhere. Like the others of their class, you can get carbon film or nylon fabric. Fortunately, mine came with fabric ribbons and everything on the machine works! Not only is the case included, but the last service receipt (1997; I was a wee lad), owner's booklet, packing brackets, and two extra ribbons.

According to Courtney (who talked to him after accepting the gift and then kept it a secret all day long) the machine used to belong to our neighbor next door. Sadly, this sweet old lady's health declined rapidly about a month ago and she no longer lives here. We were always on friendly terms, yet didn't see much of each other on account of radically different schedules. This extra bit of holiday cheer comes with a sobering reminder, and I'm glad I knew her for however brief a time.

Not sure what distinguished the Deville model from the countless Coronomatic machines. Maybe it's the single interchangeable slug?

"So it goes..."

- Kurt Vonnegut, who used a 2200

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Griffin and the Moon

Can't believe it's been August since I last posted, but then again, my stacks of stories and ever-lengthening novel is proof that I've neglected this page. If anyone's wondering, Front Stroke will continue once I have sufficient time to plan an film another episode.

Meanwhile, a harmless foray into my recent thrifting trip.

HA! Who knew those jokes were around even then?

The remaining pictures were taken from a different yearbook. The Summit, 1955.

Got these for 25¢ each. Yes, my car is that old, and I know there's a cassette player at my parent's house somewhere.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Typographical Mind

One of the best books I've read recently is Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right. - Foreword.

Cover of my paperback
Written in 1985, the book was meant to be a scathing critique of the then-dominant TV culture. Sadly, Mr. Postman died of lung cancer in 2003, so we will never know his opinions on the internet. I've been unable to find any quotes attributed to him, but we can extrapolate his views by this quote from another book, Technopoly: [in a technopoly] the primary, if not the only, goal of human labor and thought is efficiency, that technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgment... and that the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts.

From the same book: Information has become a form of garbage, not only incapable of answering the most fundamental human questions but barely useful in providing coherent direction to the solution of even mundane problems.

Anyway, back to Amusing Ourselves to Death.

The book was very easy to read and comprehend, so nobody should be afraid of picking it up, despite your education background. The chapters that fascinated me the most (besides the one on TV preachers) were chapters three and four, entitled Typographic America and The Typographical Mind. But first, a synopsis.

In the first chapter, Medium is Metaphor, Postman argues that " every tool we create, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the thing itself." To illustrate this, he points out that eyeglasses, invented in the 12th Century, were the first tools man ever used to overcome the limitations of old age and natural wear-and-tear. With mediums of information, he postulates that every medium of communication contains inherent characteristics of what message will be sent, regardless of the actual words used.

There is a lot to take in when reading this book, such as the history of show business and how politics is now a form of entertainment. But the section I want to focus on in this post is about pre-electric America and when the decline of public discourse began.

According to Postman, the pre-electric American colonies were rife with books. Reading a book, after all, requires that one know how to read and already have some grasp of the subject at hand. The whole book must be read to fully understand the subject, or the author's position on said subject. The famous Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858 were among the shorter sessions the two men had together (at only seven hours). And yet, as those two great statesmen argued their positions on the most terrible moral quandaries our nation has faced to date, ten years had already passed since four infamous words were transmitted by a means other than speech and paper:

What hath God wrought.

That's right. According to Postman, the telegraph was the beginning of the decline in our public discourse. Why?

Because the telegraph was the first time in history when information could be presented without any context. He quotes Henry David Thoreau, "We are so eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some few weeks nearer to the new, but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough."

Postman continues to argue that once the newspapers were able to combine headlines from around the world with photographs, people no longer needed to read the entire paper to get a good feel for the subject matter. TV, he says, is news from nowhere directed at no one in particular, but it started a long time ago and was a gradual process. TV (and by extension, the internet) is only the end result.

In my opinion, this makes more than a little sense. Why do people claim the Bible is littered with contradictions? Because they compare select verses without reading anything before, after, or anything in between. Why do police officers have to wear body cams? Because the public wants access to the full context of every deadly encounter. Why are traditional news outlets considered shameless liars? Because they omit pieces of information that will undermine their case, i.e. "selective reporting."

Postman is not a Luddite, though he was accused of it many times. His cautionary work is meant to highlight how society is in danger if they allow themselves to be controlled by technology, but not that technology is inherently evil. Like Socrates allegedly said, all things in moderation.

In 1516, Thomas More coined a new word for a fictional island he had invented: utopia. It was constructed from two Greek words meaning "no-place," and in its original etymological use, refers to any society that does not exist. Only recently has it come to mean a veritable paradise.

Today, we have created a "no-place" parallel to our own society: cyberspace. Our entire legal system is shifting on the idea that what happens in this "no-place" can affect people in reality. People go to jail for sending the wrong text messages. Rants posted online are taken as serious threats. Some people will devote thousands of hours to a virtual world like World of Warcraft or Stardew Valley, and even have relationships that only exist online (even romantic ones). Traditional TV as I knew it in the 1990s has ceased to exist, and everything is powered by the Web. Every time I think I have a good idea for a fictional treatment of these issues I'm knocked down a peg or two because the topic is so overwhelming in its breadth and the far reach of its implications. This blog post is hardly doing it justice.

But I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's very timely and the arguments still hold true, despite being thirty years old. I had many thoughts after reading it, and will probably have to go through it again, but the one that kept coming back to me was...

The Typewriter Revolution must continue.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

An Important Lesson About Importance

Work is going to be unmercifully hard this month. While a novella rests with a trusted beta reader I've begun a new book, a children's fantasy, and all the while writing short stories. I'm also reading a lot, and ever so often I will read something that strikes me as a brilliant and important story. You know the ones I'm referring to, the ones that make it onto the Top Ten or Top 100 Best Of lists, maybe into English curriculums. For me, important works include Jurassic Park, which served as a cautionary tale against abusing the power of a force––genetics––that we had only begun to explore. Important works include I Am Legend, a novel that entertained what a difficult transition it would be for humanity to evolve into a new species. And of course, important stories like Brave New World which correctly predicted that, at least in America, amusement and thunderous applause is how liberty and free will would die. These are important stories because of the subject matter, narrative style, or a writer's unique perspective. Some might say that a story can be important simply because it made lots of money. One of my great failings as an artist is the desire to write "important" stories, ones that will make people stop and think differently about the world around them, about the future. I've been trying that for a long time with books like The Jolly Rogers, because isn't it obvious that any technology that could help us erase our memories would spark social disaster?

I wrote one story with that in mind, a science fiction piece called That Gentle Night It began as a 900 word flash fiction piece and then was expanded to 4000. Set in 2100, the story shows a grim future in which most people have never seen the stars except in pictures. Night time has effective been abolished, thanks to improved green energy and efficient lightbulbs. After being ravaged by a fungal plague, ultraviolet lights are used everywhere, even outside, to keep the public's fears at ease (this was based on my own memories of the anthrax scare of 2001). The street lights are so bright that people have to wear sunglasses at night (a nod to the Oz books). It addressed the fact that thousands of songbirds are killed every year because of unrestrained artificial light pollution that distorts their navigation and I extrapolated the idea that they might even become endangered. I gave a nod to Isaac Asimov's wonderful story Nightfall and had a quote from Arthur C. Clarke at the beginning to set the tone.

And most people on the Zoetrope Virtual Studio who read the story didn't get as excited as I had been. They didn't hate it, but neither did it have the desired effect, despite the average score being 7/10. I have yet to sell the story.

Then one day last week, on a complete whim, I recalled a passage from the Bible: Revelations 20:13 "...and the sea gave up her dead..." This turn of phrase is also used in the Anglican's Prayer. Reflecting on the countless myths that personify the ocean, I thought to myself, "What if the sea was a person who cared for all of the dead people that had drowned? What if God decides to end creation and she doesn't want to give them up?"

With nothing better to do, I dashed off a 2000 word story called Eventide. Despite writing by hand it took a few hours, probably the fastest I have ever written a complete piece except The Curse of Horace Jonah. Minimal editing, a few words added on the second draft, and I figured there wasn't anything to lose and put it online.

The response was overwhelming. 

In less than a week I've had five reviews and the score is holding at 9.2/10, the highest any of my stories and I've submitted twenty-three for workshopping since I joined in 2013. There were plenty of generous comments, praise, and congratulations. But the most important review came from a fellow user, a young woman who has led a very troubled life, whose writing is so graphic and raw I never thought she'd care for my work. Besides called it "exquisite" and "luscious," there was one part of her review that really hit me: 

I spent the night drinking and writing a difficult poem about my life, all of which depressed the hell out of me. But it's Taylor to the rescue. I'm happy again, now, and feeling up (Somehow!!!) for a very long run on this beautiful day.

How did this happen? How could something that required so little effort have such a strong impact?

I learned an important lesson in these first cool days of August: words have power, but not every word has power over everyone. 

One more reason why the key to writing is to write. There are a lot of words inside one's self.

Power to the pen, and may you always have the strength to wield it even on your worst days.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Fox and the Hound and a Whale Named Monstro

One of the members on ATC posted to FB that he was giving everyone permission to buy an affordable typewriter. There weren't any listed that I wanted...until this behemoth came up for sale.

I have a love/hate relationship with electric machines. On one hand, I like the fact that it keeps you away from the internet, but still lets you compose with blinding speed (if it's needed), and if you're using a good ribbon, quality print is almost guaranteed (perfect for folks with weak hands). Yet, you can't relax your fingers on the keyboard, lest you accidentally push too hard and make a mistake. I've only bought five in my history of collecting: A SCM wedge, a SCM Electra 210, a Selectric 71, and an Olympia daisywheel. If I had bought a new, refurbished Selectric, this Olivetti might not have appealed to me. But my Selectric doesn't work right, yet I bought it anyway because it's red. I was able to get most of the problems fixed with help from Vern, but it still bunches up letters on the left hand margin and sometimes it takes several minutes for the machine to get into gear so I can use it.

I was also lured by the measly $5 price tag. Then I read Steve K's post on the model here.

In a rural county awash with Royals, Remingtons, and Underwoods, it was nice to see something exotic and obscure float to the top, so after talking to the lady on Facebook, I decided to take the plunge. The lady was very kind and told me she only bought the machine at an estate sale because it came with a desk she really wanted. Nothing was said about the previous owners or what they might have used the typewriter for. As you can see, it came with a lot of extras.

Gotta love state pride!

Let's start with the obvious: the Lexikon 90 was one of many attempts to capitalize on the phenomenal success of IBM's Selectric line with its revolutionary "golf ball" print element. Earlier Olivetti electrics, like the Lexikon 82, brought this concept to a small, portable machine. The model 90's element is completely different, and it lays on its side. Looking at the little gem, I'm reminded of an egg for some reason. Mine is a 90C, since it features the correction ribbon. 

There are three differences between the Selectric and Lexikon 90 that I have observed after a casual typing session (and reading the booklet).

1) The Lexikon 90 has a traditional carriage that moves from left to right. This might annoy devoted IBM fans, but I'm not bothered. I actually prefer the traditional carriage, as it's easier on my eyes to follow what I'm typing. 

2) The Lexikon print element is much easier to change out that the Selectric ball. It doesn't use any plastic parts that can get broken. You just pull the little triangular tab to the left until it clicks and then lift straight up. Reverse to insert a new one. Mine is labeled 12 Cicero, but I'm not sure if that means 12 cpi or something else. Wouldn't mind having a second one if there are any around.

3) The biggest advantage of all: the Lexikon 90 can use fabric and carbon ribbons without any special modifications to the feed mechanism. The Selectric can't do this. You have to have one or the other, and a Selectric II ribbon won't work on a model III and etc.

Advantage #3 sounds good in theory, but reality isn't so simple. The Lexikon 90 was only produced from 1976-78, which means there is a definite shortage of supplies available on the second-hand market. I consider myself extremely lucky to have three unused ribbons and a good carbon ribbon already in the machine. You can find off-brand ribbons for this model on eBay for fairly cheap, but I couldn't find a single machine for sale. As far as I know, Steve K and myself are the only ones in the Typosphere who've blogged about it. Yet, since the machine will also use fabric ribbons, it might be possible to re-purpose the plastic cartridges one day and re-ink the fabric, should the need arise. 

Serial # El8-2409160. Approximate date of production: 1977-78.

And now one of Olivetti's famous ads featuring this very model.

(Seriously, did secretaries really get that excited about new equipment?)

When Janet refers to the stationary print element, listen carefully to what Betty says at 00:09--"Mine runs all over the place." Nice jab, Olivetti.

That's all I have to say for now, but I'll post more as I get familiar with it.

There's another fox I want to talk about, one I've been hunting for awhile.

Those who've read this blog for awhile know that Bambi is one of my all-time favorite novels. Since then, I've been looking at other authors who focused their stories in the natural world (Richard Adams, Beatrix Potter, Tad Williams, E.B. White, etc). Some of these are borderline fantasy while others are as close to the real critters as you can get. Mannix is one of the latter, known for meticulously researching his subjects (though his writing career covered all sorts of strange things). I stumbled upon a Reader's Digest volume with a condensed version of The Fox and the Hound. Unsatisfied, I was determined to find the real thing.

I was surprised how fast and how lucky I was. I snagged both of these books for a mere $75. The other first edition copies of TF&TH were going for at least $130. I haven't read either of them yet. Still working through Tailchaser's Song, but I have high hopes. Fine additions for the collection. They just don't put the same about of heart into a book's presentation anymore (unless it's a cult phenomenon best-seller that goes through a million reprints).

In writing news, I've just hit the 40,000 word peak in my science fiction novel. I'm seriously considering stopping where I am and taking a break. I've been so close to the material for so long that I'm beginning to lose perspective. Instead of staggering ahead through two more sections that I only have a vague idea of and whose importance to the story is questionable, I might need to step back and reassess it later. Most of what I wanted to say is now on paper, so it'd be a matter of finding what's missing and cutting what doesn't belong. I'm seriously considering expanding one of my short stories into a novel-length work for children. It's been getting a lot of praise from my critique group. 

Finally, Front Stroke will continue once I get settled into the new routine. We've hit the busy season and I've got a six-day work week coming up. My off days are never consistent from month to month (and sometimes week to week), so dedicating a day to film when I could be writing...well. You see the dilemma. 

Power to the pen!

Friday, April 21, 2017

The SM9 Who Got a Second Chance

This was my second ever typewriter purchase off of Facebook Marketplace. The pictures from the seller did not adequately convey the condition of the machine, and when I'd driven thirty minutes to meet him, I was a little uneasy. The machine was dirty, and carried upside down in the box. To make it worse, the guy (smoking, covered in tattoos, who showed up in the parking lot in a Chevy truck that looked one bad bump away from falling to pieces) kept going on about how it was passed on from his ex-girlfriend and he'd never had time to mess with it.

I almost didn't buy it. The carriage kept hitting the frame when released. The carriage stopped entirely if you typed past the halfway point. The clear tab button wasn't working at all, just hanging there limp. When he saw my hesitation he lowered his price to $15 and I took it, feeling a little sorry for him. After my debacle with the Lettera 22 I was very unsure of myself. Could I fix it?

As you can see, yes. I did.

The rail issue was caused by rubber grommets on the underside of the frame. One was missing, and one had a loose screw that cause the outer frame to wobble. The carriage rides straight now, even though the machine's a bit lopsided. The clear tab button only had a disconnected link. It looks good now, but still won't work right and actually clear the tabs. Funny, my $10 SM7 doesn't have a working tabulator at all, but this one does.

As you can see, it types just fine. The only other defect is that the ! key slug was cut off. Why? Who knows? Why are there gashes all over like someone took a knife to it?

The only question now is what to do with it. I can't fix the missing slug (though...a custom made slug with my initials or some other symbol would be nice...), and I don't particuarly need another SM9 when the other I have is just fine. Trade bait? Sell it? Still thinking about it. For now, I'm just glad I was able to fix it to the point it works reasonably well.

Sometimes the damage isn't as bad as you think.

Power to the pen.