Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Non-smoking section

Smith-Corona Skyriter c. 1952I've no doubt that luck has been on my side with the condition of the typewriters I've found so far. Now that I've passed the early acquisition phase of the collection, I can feel a bit more confident about discriminating between machines I really want, and those that I can just pass by. I'd made a promise to myself that I would stick to getting machines locally, since I've heard too many eBay horror stories to recount, usually around sellers who toss the typewriter in an old shirt box with a whiff of newspaper padding, and then express shock when it shows up looking like it had been gored. All the same, I could not pass up the $5 Smith-Corona Skyriter I spotted at shopgoodwill.com. I fudged my promise, since it was located in Oregon, which borders California, which means it's "local" (so goes my reasoning) and with the Skyriter being a travel machine, I expected shipping to be more reasonable than some of the other machines located in Minnesota or Florida. It was, and I paid less in total that I have for most of those typers I've gotten from my local Goodwill. Factor in gas prices -- nearly $5/gallon here now -- and so how could I say no?

It arrived well-packed and padded, and the carton made no unpleasant rattling sounds. After unwrapping its many layers of bubble wrap, the unmistakable smell of cheap cigarettes rose into the air. Ugh. Aside from the usual dusty/eraser-bit neglect and a top lid that was not fastened on properly, the soundproofing and all soft surfaces reeked of a heavy smoker. California is a very smoker-hostile place, banning it from all public buildings and a certain distance from their entrances. I've forgotten how much I don't notice the smell of cigarettes any more until I travel back to visit my family, and am asked "smoking or non-smoking, hun?"

I'm not going to turn this into a screed against smoking or smokers, but I will say that it's nasty getting that out of a typewriter. Thankfully, Skyriter cases literally slip off, giving full access to the innards and the inside of the case. A few days airing in the garage, careful and generous application of Febreeze and some time in the sun and the Skyriter smells like a typewriter again, not like an ashtray. There's still some amber goo in one corner, which I'm hoping is just a spilled beverage from ages past, and not tar-thickened sputum (apologies if you are eating while reading this.) Goo Gone is barely touching it, but it's not on any mechanisms, so I think we're safe.

Of course now I'm unable to savor the new non-smell of the machine, as the Bay Area is socked in with wildfire smoke from the numerous surrounding fires. It looks to be a bad year for them, and the thickening haze outside and campfire odor everywhere do nothing to convince me that the air will be clear again soon. I hope it does, because I'd like to take this little guy out for a proper typing debut, now that he's kicked the habit.

Monday, June 23, 2008

It's Typewriter Day!

One hundred forty years ago today, Christopher Latham Sholes was granted the first United States Patent for a typewriter, a fact that we celebrate! He is also responsible for unleashing QWERTY upon the world, which may not be celebrated quite as loudly.

Few patents from 1868 have such a presence in modern times. If you have a typewriter, dust it off, get those fingers on the home row, and type up a note of thanks to dear old Mr. Sholes.

Safe from keychoppers

Friday, June 20, 2008

Vanishing touch

20080620 typecast pt1
20080620 typecast pt2

I will blame most of the mistakes in this typecast on the fact that this is really the first time I've used Zsa Zsa for anything longer than a typing test, and so was distracted by a drying/fading ribbon and not knowing her touch. Yes, the irony is not lost on me. What is very much my fault is that Strikethru said that pinkies will go away, not ring fingers. This is a much more sensible, and a mistake I did not see until I was several lines down the page.

Curse the first-draft nature of typecasts!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Low-tech in a high-tech life

20080617 typecast
How do you integrate fine old machines into your working life, or do you?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hope for the future

typecast 20080609

Postscript: I assumed that my son would want Gomez after gifting his machine, but I assumed wrong. He instead wants the Remington pseudo-silent typer, because "it's black, and I like black, and it looks cool." I cannot argue with that kind of logic, so I'm doing a homebrew restoration on the Rem's rollers now.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Retail therapy

I've had the best luck at Goodwill, defining "luck" as "tripping over typewriters." Today was a rare day in that I was actually dropping off stuff rather than shopping for stuff. And isn't that always the way...

20080605 typecast
Olivander writes a test-poem, I run through the keys on an index card.

When you least expect it, bang. Fate clubs you one in the kisser. I've been looking with envy at shopgoodwill.com, resigning myself to the likely fact that any machine won there involves the added gamble of interstate shipping, something that still foils many collectors on eBay. Tot up the winner cost + shipping charges, and suddenly that $7 bargain machine costs $40 or more, and since I can't do the usual ritual of try-before-you-buy, I've been wary. None of the participating stores on the web site are anywhere near me.

As I bent down to drop off the box of clothes, I caught the unmistakeable shape of a typewriter case. A quick peek, and off to the registers, tally ho! Inside:
  • Olivetti-Underwood Studio 44, a twin to the one pictured on Will Davis' site
  • A small paper bag containing a ribbon purchased twenty years ago from the now defunct local typewriter service place
  • The original? brushes
  • An eraser shield and eraser
Initial impressions:
  • It's freaking huge for a portable, and heavy, too. Will says that these are sometimes called "semi-portable" and I can see why. Once the adrenaline rush wore off, lugging it is a chore.
  • The case is fuzzy inside. Not mold-fuzzy, but soft-fuzzy. Fabric-lined, and powder blue. Wild.
  • Obviously a yard-sale leftover, as it's still sporting a "$10" sticker on the ribbon cover. Arrgh. Goodwill does not honor other people's prices, though to be fair, I snatched it from the donation section.
  • Giddy, giddy, giddy. My .com envy has been abated for now.
UPDATE: Zsa Zsa's first portrait.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Brain-dump box redux: GTD and Royal thinking

For a year now I've been using David Allen's Get Things Done methodologies at work to keep myself on track with the various projects I've got going (few of which require a typewriter, sadly.) One of the tenants of the book is that your brain will hold on to stuff (ideas, to-dos, names and numbers) until you file it away into a system you trust, and that you can sit there in a blocked-up state not getting any new stuff in your head until you've emptied it out. This is a powerful feeling, emptying your head, and one that helped form the idea of my NaNoWriMo brain dump box.

We just crossed an end-of-the-month, which is my cue to dump out the box and sort the cards within into story stacks. I've very clearly got a story framework for November, as its the only one that has more than two or three cards in the box. The 2008 story had about twenty cards in it on Friday when I emptied the box to review this weekend. Three of them were hand-written -- scribbled, really -- so I opted to retype them on my daughter's Royal, thus giving me the excuse to play with it some more. Perched on her narrow chair, I whipped through the cards in short order, and then started thinking... you know, there was that backstory idea I had... better start a card. thunka thunka thunka thunka Oh, and that one idea I had about the villain. thunka thunka thunka thunka Hmmm, wasn't there something about the secondary character? thunka thunka thunka thunka Say, that gives me another idea... thunka thunka thunka thunka thunka thunka thunka thunka

With the brain unstoppered, the ideas flowed. I've nearly doubled my stash of ideas for this story, even coming up with devices that will [gasp] tie parts of the plot together in sensible ways and [gasp gasp] give the characters motivation for their actions. I had to grab an adult-sized chair from the kitchen on my way back for hunting down more blank cards since I'd used up the meager supply I'd brought home. When I finally was pried away from the machine to make dinner, I was still not deplete, and wound up scribbling on new cards while waiting for the pasta to cook.

Much has been said about how writing on a computer causes you to think on the screen, not in your head, as if the virtual page has some sort of thought-sucking abilities, or more likely just encourages lazier writing out of its impermanence and ease of infinite revise-ability. I have to agree with this. There's certainly nothing novel to me about have hands on a keyboard, since that describes my typical work-day. I've tried plotting and outlining on the computer before, too. Maybe I just don't trust the computer (true) but I've never had that same kind of rush of ideas with the PC that I did yesterday. It makes me wonder if my poor brain is still carrying around the baggage of last-year's novel attempt.