Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lazy blogging: from the newsdesk

A few instances of typewriters in the news lately:

From the crime desk, a brief item on a typewriter being used to forge W-2 forms in Mississippi, and some details on the sparse offices of suspected Ponzi schemer, Allen Stanford. Remember people, if typewriters are outlawed, then only outlaws will have typewriters. Unless they can't.

On the literary front, a number of sites marked the passing of Christy Nolan, who managed to peck out novels despite sever mobility problems from cerebral palsy. From the article:

With the exception of email, which allowed Nolan to communicate more freely than before, the technological developments of recent years were of little help to him: his keyboard touch was too heavy, and, besides, he enjoyed the sound and rhythm of the typewriter.

Other aficionados include Pearl S. Buck. Her typewritten manuscript for The Good Earth is about to go on display. Contemporary raconteur Kinky Friedman likes to cause a little trouble with his typewriter:

Q: What do you never leave home without?

A: Cigars, No. 1, and a couple of good books. That's about it. I'm a pretty simple, Gandhi-like man. If I'm working or editing, I bring the typewriter. I carry it on the plane, and it makes me look like a mad scientist. People think it's some high-tech computer. Especially young people who've never seen a typewriter.

Finally, a bit of celebrity gossip, the fact that Tom Hanks is a typewriter collector (known to members of the portable typewriters group for a while now.) Reportedly he's got around 100, and my first reaction to this news was, "that's it?"

Wired news picked up on the Chinese typewriter but I think they've been scooped by about 70 years. If Eastern languages baffle you, though, you can still set up shop in your local gallery and churn out some poetry. I'm all for the starving artist, but you think this guy could invest in a slightly better machine.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The $2 Stereo

I was digging around the old cardboard box that serves as the tattered remains of my baby scrapbook (before the golden age of acid-free paper, sadly) and I found something that I thought had gone missing: my grandfather's old stereo photo viewer, and some cards that he and my dad shot over the years. Stereo photograpy eventually morphed into the Viewmaster, but there's still a quite active group of people who shoot this way. Since true stereo cameras are sadly priced out of my budget, I started wondering about ways to DIY.

The problem boils down to taking two photos side by side, usually done by snapping one photo, and then moving the camera laterally a few inches and taking another. Lay the photos side by side, cross your eyes, and you should be able to see the result in 3-D. The modern solution now seems to be to strap or otherwise connect two inexpensive digital cameras side by side and take the photos, sometimes even with a custom rig to press the shutter release at the same time. This last aspect is actually key: if you're trying to take a 3-D picture of something in motion, the lapse between side-to-side photos is enough to make a "shiny" spot on the combined image as your brain tries to resolve the conflicting images from each eye. Better to take a still subject on an evenly-lit day. My grandfather fashioned a simple platform for his tripod that he could use like a portable table, but lugging a tripod around is not exactly practical for a casual experiment.

Say "cheesecheese" I'd like to use my grandfather's viewer, though, if only because the eye-crossing thing makes my head hurt after a while. And I am, as you know, incredibly, incredibly cheap, far too cheap to actually buy two digital cameras from Walgreen's and Velcro them together. So here's my first experiment: the $2 stereo. Two disposable cameras from the dollar store, held together with tape and cardboard scavenged from the supply room. The distance between the lenses is slightly wide, but this will supposedly result in something called "hyper stereography" which results in a slightly exaggerated effect. For two dollars it's not worth fussing about. More worrisome is the large gap around the case of on of the cameras, which may let in light. I may wind up with a roll of lots of tree photos, and a roll of sunlight.

Simultaneous shutter release will be attempted by a clever mechanism known as "I have two hands, don't I?" I'm going to head out at lunch today and see what develops.

Post-lunch update: not surprisingly, one of the cameras crapped out after a couple of shots, but I dropped off the film anyway. If it works at all, I'll be inclined to try again with something more durable.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sowing Ephemera

I've been thinking more about Typewriter Day 2009, and I think Olivander's inadvertently hit on a great theme for this year's type-0-bration. It removes the anxiety of typing drivel over someone else's work, but still gives your fingers and ribbons and keys a workout. I like it, and highly encourage you all to elect Olivander as your 2009 Typewriter Day Parade Marshal.

The only idea I've been able to come up wth somewhere is one that I stole from... someplace* on the Intertubes. One of the joys of coming into old typewriters or cameras or the like is the random bits of ephemera that sometimes are floating around in the case. My most recent acquisition of an old camera bag, for instance, included the lenses and such that I actually wanted, but also three cloth bags meant to hold a roll of exposed film and be mailed back for processing. Mailed where? Who knows... there's no address, but it's a neat thing nonetheless. Old film is even better, if you can find it. Whole flickr sets are devoted to this form of random treasure-finding.

Better still, though, is found writing. Marginalia in secondhand books, newspaper clippings pressed inside pages, the works. All fascinating stuff to the retro-minded. The only problem with it is that there's so little to go around. And so here I sit, with typewriters and paper and pens and pencils all around me, and nary a project in sight... hmmm. If only I could somehow share that joy of finding ephemera... double hmmm...

So I'm distilling the idea of a themed, typewritten letter with the joy of finding something personal in an unexpected place. Specificaly, I'm going to type up a bunch of stealth bookmarks and -- on the sly --"salt" books in the library and secondhand shops around me with these slips. Random phrases, lucky numbers, torn fragments from a Dear John letter. And it should keep this idle mind busy enough to stay out of serious trouble until June.

* One of the problems with subscribing/scanning/reading so many blogs is that I have a lousy memory for where I read a really neat thing, and rather than be able to link directly to it, I tend to natter on (like this) about this great idea I read... someplace... and can't give credit. So if you see this somewhere else, it's likely that's where I stole it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Take the Pencil Challenge

20090213 pencilcast

  • No, I'm not at the Doubletree, but the paper was the right size for a handwritten blog entry
  • Specifically, how many wood-case pencils can you find in your immediate area. I have exactly one (red) and raided the supply room looking for the lone example used to write this. Lots of plastic mechanicals around, though. No fair going through schoolchildren's backpacks.
  • Somehow my handwriting always looks far worse to me after a few minutes. It's like the awfulness has to settle in. And it slants like I'm a lefty, but I'm not. Now you know why I type for a living. Phew.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Traveling typewriting lives!

Just a quick update. Last summer's Typewriter Day experiment lives on,or at least part of it is sitting with me. My own meager attempt has come full-circle, and I've got at least one other in my hands now. In retrospect, the "traveling fiction" idea may have set the bar a bit high, as I'm already sweating how to add to Olivander's in a suitable way, and we had a number of folks who had to defect for one reason or another. What an electric thrill, though, to get something in the actual mail, typewritten on onionskin. I'm pleased to be able to add a little from my own hoard to the bottom of the stack. We'll have to find some suitable way to mark June 23rd again this year. Any ideas?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

On Timing

Autoknips IV timer I spent my Monday unable to participate in Take Your Box Camera to Work Day since I instead was at home celebrating Deal With a Feverish Toddler Day (an adjunct of Get Only Three Hours of Sleep Night.) We're back in form for the new month now, celebrating a new (to me) mechanical marvel that showed up in the bottom of a battered old camera bag from Goodwill, aka, "The House of a Thousand Temptations." This is a small spring-driven timer, suitable for connecting to the release button of many cameras. It's shown with the timing lever all the way extended. Imagine it poised on top of a camera, point side down, the little round circle slowly inching to the 6-o-clock position and snapping a photo. Here's a more impressive collection of them, showing the original red paint in the circle, long since gone in my example (an Autoknips IV, if you're curious.) It's wonderful, a tiny little clockwork device intended to solve the very practical problem of squeezing Uncle Mort out from behind the camera and into the picture. I certainly prefer this design to modern camera self timers, which flash a very urgent-looking red light as they countdown to the snap. This reminds me of a railroad wigwag, a piece of vanishing tech that has very few examples left (including this one my area.)

There were a few other examples of old technology stuffed into the bag: a battered Argus C3 brick camera plus lenses (score!), an old Agfalux flash unit with the folding reflector (like this) and some ephemera, like a metal 35mm film can and a couple of flash bulbs. I'll work on getting them cleaned up and photographed and presentable, when I'm not wiping noses over midnight informercials.