Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lost Place

It should be simplicity itself, but after the e-reader updated its software, it also mercilessly eradicates all traces of your "last read place" in every book in its memory. Not a problem if you're buying books from the virtual bookstore, but very much a problem if you are reading "side-loaded" books downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg. Side-loads are second-class citizens in the e-reader world, and any hiccup in the ecosystem is bound to disrupt the existence of these otherwise innocent files. So: post-update, I have new fonts, but lost wherever I was in Tolstoy's epic War and Peace. (I'm somewhere between "War" and "Peace" at the moment. That's not much help.)
Naturally I thought I'd grouse about this on the Internet, but of course it took about ten tries to get the tablet to recognize the Neo and vice versa: either one was ready or the other, but not both -- a pair of shy dance partners making hesitant steps in a complex USB tango.  That seems to be sorted out now, though I have no idea what magic combination of plugin/unplugging/swearing did the trick. I'm going to capture this entry quick, before attempting to change rooms and get back in range of the home wi-fi router which, inexplicably, is 80% strength in the hallway, but 0% a mere three feet away.
Why am I doing all of this? Because technology makes my life easier.
Last week, our office IT guru took a much-deserved vacation, which was the Secret Signal that triggered various systems in our office to misbehave. Much debugging-via-text-message later, I was glad that in my day job, I generally only have to work with software, and then of problems of my own devising. There are special circles of Hell dedicated to vendors with slightly-but-not-fully-compatible technologies. After last week, I was ready to banish them there myself.
Meanwhile, I've been going through an abridged version of The Wind in the Willows with my youngest child: it's lushly illustrated, and something that I've enjoyed reading, in turn, to each of my kids as they approach age six or so. I'll link to the edition we're reading, if I can track it down online. I can't help but think that the typewriter and the automobile and airplane were seen by Kenneth Grahame were great disruptions in the quiet, country English life. I have to admit to being more than a little jealous of Ratty and Mole, "simply messing about in boats" and dealing with Toad's wild obsessions with speed, noise, and danger. We've lost that place for good, except in books, haven't we?
Here's the book, and while moving to the other room to get wi-fi, my wife called me aside to help download a knitting pattern which should have been simplicity itself... but took two adults 20 minutes and, ultimately, a Unix shell window. If that sounds crazy or overly complex, it was.
The previous was pecked out on the screen, because in the pattern-download-time, both of the devices put themselves to sleep, proving to be lousy dance-partners in the name of energy conservation. More swearing applied in liberal amounts later, and the magic formula appears to be:
* Plug cable into Neo
* Power up Neo
* Power up tablet
* Plug Neo into tablet
* Hope
I'm ready for that picnic now, Ratty.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


typecast 20130214

Maybe Alan just has better lighting than I do, but his example looks more burgundy-and-cream. This one is very much a chocolate color. How apt, for Valentine's Day.

Typed with doe-eyed admiration on a 1954 Underwood De Luxe "Quiet Tab"
Underwood De Luxe Quiet Tab c. 1954

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

ITAM Temptations

In the spirit of Adwoa's jealousy-inducing trips to well-stocked Swiss flea markets, I thought I'd celebrate my self-restraint and post some of the local machines that have been coming up on our local Craigslist and have not come home with me. The moral here is "you can't save them all (but you'll want to.)"

This monster shows up under a "RARE ITEMS TO BARTER" heading, which is never encouraging. Rare-ness is only partially true, in my opinion: the seller usually thinks it means "worth a lot of money" whereas I see it as "you don't see them very often any more, but they were made by the tens of thousands." Rarer still is the desk that could accommodate that wide carriage.

Another wide-carriage monster, which has those oh-so-desirable keys that send crafters into fits. I already have four standard machines -- four! -- and honestly don't have room for them all. Two of those four are Royals, and at this point I've pledged that the only other one I'll consider bringing in is an Olympia SG1.

Like Adwoa and her sewing machines, sometimes you see the same old friends pop up over and over. This old IBM electric comes up every month or two. The seller isn't sure that it works any more, and electrics as a rule scare me a bit. I saw one of these in person once: it was an impressively heavy piece of machinery. Now I know why all the mid-century office desks where made of heavy-duty steel -- they had to be.

This photo pains me the most, as it was a last-second "all of these will go to the dump tomorrow!" post. In the shadows on the left... do you see it? Yes, it's an Olympia SM3 case. Sigh.  Those machines are my favorite portables, which is evident by the fact that I own... three? four? I'm not even sure, which shows how far the sickness has progressed. Sadly, this is a couple of cities over from my own, and I don't have time to battle the traffic and head out there to rummage.

I did save one of my own SM3s from a similar curbside fate a few years ago, and it was well worth it. I am consoling myself with the lie that it's probably a rusted old heap although I know it's not.

This is one of a series of lovely photos of this machine: the seller did their homework and lists the likely correct year of this machine as a 1938. So pretty! Also: so expensive! For a while they were asking around $350 for this. Egad. I have nearly the same machine, bought for less than a tenth of that price. Mine also has the hinky Royal left-margin issue and a crumbling ribbon-advance gear. Lovely to look at, I'll grant you that.

One last one to share: this isn't a Craigslist posting, but is in fact my own sighting, a two-tone Underwood "Quiet Tab De Luxe" in pretty good shape at my local thrift store. This is very tempting, especially on the heels of all those machines seen above. I'm hoping some soul will come across it and adopt it, as it's in good shape, types evenly, and even has some bits of ephemera with it (cleaning brush, manual, touch-typing guide.) And if not? Well, maybe I will need to find room for it, in celebration of ITAM and in tribute to the ones that got away.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Electric ITAM

This is largely just a test entry, hooking up my AlphaSmart to the new tablet via the infamous slow-boat "USB to go" adapter. Now I feel like I've gotten the best of both worlds -- a proper keyboard, a portable screen -- and more importantly, that I'm able to get some real use out of this device. After a couple of days of use, I can say definitively that the software keyboard is barely enough for pecking out a short reply, much less attempting a blog post or (eventually) a story edit. I'm well-pleased.
I keep holding out for an ITAM miracle, perhaps once the dust settles from my role as the track team organizer, but truth is, I'm still in a happy holding pattern with the machines I've got. I wouldn't be sad if the local Goodwill discounted the SM9 that's lurking behind the registers, but I won't go out of my way to scoop it up, either. Last time I let my heart rule my head at that store, I bought a (highly regrettable) Royal travel typer that's high on looks and low on usability. Never again.
I'm trying to keep up my regular library trips, too. I've settled into making it a weekly walk during Friday lunch. Per my recent "Hello World" post, I picked up a book on Android programming, and started in on the examples. I still felt a bit at sea, though, so I was well-pleased to find another title geared more at the novice this past Friday. Learning a computer language and system is, I suspect, like learning a foreign language, though I've never been able to master the latter, as years of dubious French tests will attest. It helps to gt immersed, and to have a goal -- like spoke and written language, computer code has its own grammar and idioms, and you tend to fumble around a bit before being passably competent. Now I think I'm in a better position to learn. My goal is to work up some kind of edit-facilitating tool, to let me write and track revisions of my Nano story, though at this point I may just find a decent text editor to allow me to get the thing done. I'll try not to bather on too much about it in the future.
Finally, I'm making an effort to read War and Peace because, I don't know, this is a thing that people do? My wife read it back in school ages ago (her advice: "Skip through the 'Peace' parts") but it's all new to me. Except for my general lack of competence with following character names and places -- and oh, the Russian names -- I'm doing pretty well. Over 300 pages down! Only 900-odd pages to go. I'm reading that on my eBook reader, which is far more reasonable (I think) than wrestling with a bound print edition. It may look lovely on the shelf, but I don't know if I have the upper body strength to hold the thing up comfortably in bed. Like this keyboard hookup, I'm not scared to let technology in the door, as long as it pulls its weight.

Typed and revised on a Neo2 - Nexus 7 combo Neo + Nexus