Wednesday, January 27, 2016


The problem with long-languishing projects left on the shelf is that eventually you need to face them. Lately I've gotten the notion to return to the old Kodak Autographic camera I picked up ages and ages ago, with the grand ambition of resurrecting it somehow. Here it is, sans bellows (see below) and with the lens board retracted.

Number 3A Special Kodak Autographic Model B

Refitting it to take modern 120 film, for example, instead of the long-defunct 122 roll film format. Replace the disintegrating bellows. And, like so many of my good intentions, the scope of the work staggered me. The "to do" list looks like:
  1. Remove lens and clean shutter
  2. Remove and replace bellows
  3. Acquire old 122 spools, somehow fit to 120 spools
  4. Hope to the spirit of George Eastman that the camera is still light-tight
  5. Take photos!

1. Remove lens and clean shutter

Doable enough, thanks to directions from the Net. Hey presto!

Kodak Autographic 3A Lens

And you may remember "clean shutter" from a long-ago post. Here's the insides, if you want to marvel at it like I do:

Optimo 1A shutter mechanism


2. Remove and replace bellows

Removal, check:

Kodak Autographic 3A bellows

Not surprisingly, Kodak didn't want you to remove the bellows from these cameras. Think iPhone battery, but in the 1920s.

These are were riveted into a metal plate around the lens, and are were held in place near the film by a set of menacing looking metal tabs. Oh, and they're so old and dry that they are literally crumbling.

Replacement is simple! First, build a time machine...

The collective wisdom of the Net shows DIY bellows made from leather, or light-blocking curtain fabric, or black Bristol board and duct tape. There's a lot of measuring, evidently. And creasing. And folding. And maybe even a bit of math.


3. Acquire old 122 spools, somehow fit to 120 spools

One of the Typosphere's own solved this problem years ago, and far more elegantly than I would have. A trip to eBay for spools and the dollar store for some sacrificial screwdrivers would do it.


4. Hope to the spirit of George Eastman that the camera is still light-tight

[Cue sound of needle scratching across a record]

Yeah, about that.

So, aside from the century(?) old bellows having seen far better days, some previous owner mishandled this camera and dropped it right on the front corner. Part of the carriage that slides the lens forward and back is simply gone. And the rangefinder mirrors are cracked and bent. And that's only what I can see.

Replacing the bellows properly looks like a project unto itself. And for a camera that's been traumatized already, that will resist my "upgrades"... well, you can see why this got shelved.

Progress: SHIFT TO PLAN "B"

Enter Plan B

Two things have me pulling the old Kodak and its part of the shelf again, working the shutter on the lens, looking at Bristol board, and pricing black cloth tape...

First, various people shooting by bodging antique or vintage camera lenses onto the front of their DSLR cameras. The results are rather dreamy and lovely to look at, and although the integrated shutter in this lens makes it far from suitable for re-use that way, it got me thinking about the marriage of old versus new.

Second, there's (no surprise) a very vibrant DIY camera movement out there. Joe Van Cleave's examples are lovely pieces of engineering and camera-making, especially his recent box/pinhole model, which got me thinking about old view cameras, to the point where I checked out a monster coffee table book from the library just to get more inspiration. And the one that's currently giving me the most hope, as in "hey I have all that stuff at home" is this Lego-and-paper-and-tape creation.

All of these examples are helping me attain something I so badly need: focus. Not getting bogged in particulars, and remembering that it doesn't take a ton of engineering to make an image.

So, the lens is off, the bellows are destined for the trash bin, and maybe, just maybe, one project will come off the shelf.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Every Day, Carried

Feeding the Daily Beast in 2015

Yes, this again. 'Tis the season to recycle.
NaNoWriMo 2015 is now officially a Fond Memory, despite a kind of struggling finish. This year's writing basically depleted the last major deposit of story ideas in the infamous brain dump box, started so many moons ago. I suspect the plot wasn't entirely ripe yet, despite all the planning and pre-planning and post-pre-planning that went into it. Frankly, it left me a bit wrung out, but come December 1st, I kept to the vow that I made way back this summer. I've been scribbling a bit each day, refilling the notebooks if not filling up index cards, and trying to get my brain back into the low-volume-but-not-no-volume mode of being creative. My fingers are starting to itch for a return to The Ballad of Congo Willy, my oft-started, oftener-aborted NaNo 2011 win that i was working on up through September. Maybe I'll have it done by the end of the year. That would be a good thing!

The daily writing is, quite frankly, harder than I thought. Fine with the collective noise and mayhem of November, but more difficult to manage in a solo setting -- sneaking in a page or two in the evening between dinner and the kids going to bed. But a funny thing happened sometime last week: hard as it is, the writing, once started, is getting easier. And more interestingly, I think, is that I'm finding myself thinking back, way back to my first Typewriter Brigade-fueled November. That novel may be ripe for a rewrite, too. Perhaps 2016 will be the year of the rewrite? That remains to be seen.

It will be seen largely offline, though, as I am slipping towards my end-of-year holidays, time with the kids and away from the computer, time to play with pens and paper and to keep the rhino fed through the rest of the year, and, muse-willing, into the next year, too.

Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays, everyone!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Suede Recap: The Nano Challenge

We're into the final ten days of NaNoWriMo, and I've been averaging around 1700 daily words, right on par for finishing on time and on target with the words. I've already had to bench a cheap nylon ribbon on account of drying out, and just now, I finished re-wrapping the platen in another sheet of suede-finish/velour-texture paper from the craft store. I've been using in it lieu of a backing sheet this year, and back before Nano got going, wrapped the platen of my main machine in tape, sticky-side-out, with a cut sheet of paper adhered to it.

The Good:
  • It's super-grippy, and seems like a quick and cheap solution to slippery worn platens. I'm running about 6-10 pages per day through the machine, and not a one of them has come through crooked. I've never had this kind of luck with a backing sheet.
  • Still an incredible bargain, especially when you coupon-stack and pick numerous replacement sheets from the craft store. Plus, it comes in zebra print which I was not quite bold enough to try (yet.) The color really dresses up the machine, which is in desperate need of it. Royal knew how to make them ugly.
The Bad:
  •  It is, fundamentally, paper, and as much as I want to pretend it's something more durable or cushioned, it's no replacement for a fresh grippy platen. The one on the Royal is a little rough from many past years in the Typewriter Brigade (this is year #8) and it's now featuring noticeable vertical banding along the rubber from all the impacts. Even with a backing sheet or two, this platen works hard.
  • Applying this is still tricky, and getting the seam flat where the ends of the paper meet requires either three hands or a better grasp of geometry. In theory, one should be able to cut right to size. In practice, I just wrapped-and-trimmed. It shows.
  • In time, my rough-and-ready tape job showed through. Not by wear in the paper, which held up admirably, but in the wrinkles from the tape surfacing on the paper itself, leading to uneven type. As in many things: take your time and take care.
The Mystery:
  • Is the fancy paper more cushioned? At least at first it seems like it is. Repeated strikes over a few weeks, though, hammered the surface into oblivion, leaving only the area outside the margins free of problems.
  • Has the platen suffered any less damage than it would without paper at all? I don't know. As I subscribe to the backing-sheet-always school of typing, I don't think it's a bad thing. It's made it over 60 years now. Any TLC is probably worthwhile.
The Photos:

I'd hoped to peel the old sheet off somehow and have it laid next to the new one for comparison. This did not happen. Since I'd practically covered the platen in tape, the only way to remove the paper was to tear and peel in a long spiral.

Here you can see the platen on the left -- note the banding from years of typing, some of the paper on the top (the blue-tape side), and fragments that I managed to salvage. Can you tell which part of the green paper was outside the margins?

Velour-wrapped platen: unpeeled

Here's another comparison of original texture versus the three-weeks-in side. You can see how bad the worn surface was wrinkled at the end. I had wrapped the platen like a barber pole in tape, spiraling down it completely.

Three weeks of daily typing took their toll

The replacement going on. I backed off on the tape this time, going for four loops instead of a complete surface. Nothing is stuck to the rubber of the platen: the tape is fastened only to itself on the ends and slides freely.

Preparing wrap #2

The new red wrapper, pre-trimming.

Covered in red

I creased along the edge where the paper meets itself, and then used a sharp pocketknife to slice down the crease to remove the excess. It's still not as good as computing the actual size or the paper needed. There's still a bit of an overlap in the final product, but it's less than my original.

Trim to fit (mostly)

This whole experiment has me looking at other sheets of material at the craft store, too -- nylon sheets, maybe actual felt instead of faux-felt... upholstery fabric? The possibilities are endless. I don't know if it has much real merit beyond short-term writing projects like Nanowrimo, or maybe the occasional photo shoot, but I'm still happy with the results.

Now, if someone just sold a wrapper that made my plot better...

Sunday, November 1, 2015

November again

November dreaming

Right on schedule, November is here again, and with it the trembling anticipation of drafting another novel. (Trembling in part because I'm surely fueled on a breakfast of coffee and leftover Halloween candy.)

If you're participating, then what are you doing on the Internet? Get back to work! And may your rhinos run straight and true and in interesting directions. Stay strong, Wrimos.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Easily Suede

The green veldt demense of the Nano Rhino

typecast 20151030

Suede style

Aside from the obnoxious wrinkle in the paper, I think it looks pretty good.

Suede backing

And it certainly cushioned the blows, too. And no punch-outs on my paper, either. Now we see how it does in the face of a 30-day marathon typing extravaganza.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Join the Club

In a way, I'm a bit sad.

I've been sticking with the Don't Break the Chain approach to revising one of my old drafts -- a book that optimistically combines love, sex, religion, drugs, death, magic, biodiesel and video games under the unlikely title of The Ballad of Congo Willy.[1] This was the product of NaNoWriMo for me in 2011, and I have attempted rewrites and restarts every few months since the keys cooled from the original draft, always fizzling out for one reason or another.[2] But I'm actually almost nearing the end of it now, three months into making myself spend some time with it every night. I can't say that it's actually good, but I know at least that it's improved from its previous form, shoved in a box on a shelf being ignored.

Inspiration was hard to come by for this one, and instead of getting itchy fingers at the approach of November this year -- time for a carnival o' writing! -- I'm feeling kind of... dry. Empty. Not used up, necessarily, but not as eager as in years past. A bit sad, even, because there's no way I'm not doing NaNo this November, and more than I'll allow myself a night away from C.W.. Writing even terrible fiction is such a sea change from my day job mucking around with databases and code,[3] and I enjoy the oddball camaraderie of the Typewriter Brigade and the general festival nature of NaNo. For someone who slips into his habits easily and stubbornly refuses to get out, a month of creative chaos is a welcome and necessary part of my life now.

But what to write about?

I know that I'm not a (seat of the) Pantser come November. I don't just sit down at the typewriter and bleed. I need at least a sketch of a character or two, and a situation to toss them into: the basics of an outline, which I adhere to or drift from over the course of the thirty days. This flawed exercise is my capital-p Process, such as it is. And usually I am coming into October with just exactly these basics, having scrawled them down in notebooks and index cards during the summer. But I've spent all that time this year rewriting and revising, not sowing. So just as I'm forcing myself to Get Creative Daily, Dammit, I'm going to cutover into Full Bore Planning Mode in October.

The Internet[4] attributes this quote to Jack London:
You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
After three months of enforced hill-climbing, I completely agree. There are days when rewriting C.W. was mental agony, and days when I couldn't get out of the way of my fingers fast enough. And I know that book is far better[5] overall for the attention it's been paid this summer, especially when the going got tough. And now I'm looking at the hill that is November, and realizing that I need to climb this thing yet again, and the only way to do this is to grab hold of both sets of bootstraps[6] and go.

But it's friendlier with more.

So here's a challenge to you, dear reader. Who's with me? Who's willing to head out and club up some inspiration? Who needs to break out of their daily rut a bit and write four weeks of bad prose? "I have nothing to write about" isn't an excuse.

Who's going to join the club?

[1] I did say I was being optimistic.

[2] Just one reason: pure unadulterated slacking off. I've tapped a vein of the stuff and mine it all day long.

[3] All of which is flawless, of course.

[4] "The Internet is always right." -- Abraham Lincoln

[5] And much, much weirder. I'm happy with that, too.

[6] Not sure this is physically possible. Not worrying about that, either.