Thursday, August 28, 2014

Noises Off: Sounds in the Newsroom?

I contemplated posting this on Typosphere, but I try to keep the really grumpy/cynical stuff out of the way. I don't know if you've seen the piece, but it's bouncing around my "typewriter" newsfeed just about as fast as the Hanx Writer story did:

The Times' newsroom set to ring with the sounds of typewriters once more

And with a little digging, one finds a tweeted pic of one of the speakers in question.


On the one hand, I can actually see some benefit. My kids and I all find it easier to work with some kind of background noise going on. I got into the habit in college of packing my trusty Walkman, a couple of cassettes and some spare batteries and camping out in the library to recopy notes. (My wife is the lone dissenter in the house, and can't so much as read with the radio on.) Public typing aficionados in the 'sphere have reported favorable responses to the sound, too. ("I haven't heard one of those in years.") As a kind of productivity susurration, perhaps the recorded drone of a flotilla of typewriters will have the intended effect.

But what is the intended effect here? It feels more like cheap manipulation to me, like the old saw about piping in the scent of vanilla at amusement parks. It's like a sensory trick, isn't it? Wouldn't this get old after a while? Unless the sounds are truly randomized, I can see this being something of an aural assault. I hope that it's not just a single sound effect layered and looped upon itself, like an early Steve Reich tape composition. There is a point at which a wave of noise can be too much. Even I had to stop every now and then and flip the cassette over.

What nobody's pointing out, though, is that this is being played in a newspaper office. Not exactly the best place to work right now, given that the readership is almost certainly carrying around the latest news on a device in their pockets. A very, dark cynical part of me says: if they play it loud enough, they can't hear progress coming.

I will be the first to confess that there is certainly a lot of romance in the sounds of a typewriter, and as any type-in attendee can avow, a roomful is even more special. I don't know if piped-in sounds have the same impact, but if they do, I hope all the divisions at the Times get to choose their legacy-tech background music, otherwise the Times' web team will be stuck listening to the harmonies of a hundred screeching modems.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Public Service Message for Amateur Videographers


Before you film that adorable child/pet... remember!

A friendly courtesy

Bad video aspect ratios are the greengrocer's apostrophe of the twenty-first century.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Onegin Off Again

Eugene Is Off

Eugene the typopigeon is winging his way to his next destination: stay turned for his further adventures.

A little birdy says that he's wanted and welcomed in Australia. Perhaps a trip across the Pacific is in his near future? Can one kickstart-fund a pigeon delivery? How does one begin to declare this sort of thing on a customs form ("Contents: One well-traveled squab, plastic. Charming.")

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


I may have mentioned once or twice that I'm a little pinball-crazed. Crossing my newsfeed today is this item about a group working to recreate in the physical realm a popular pinball machine that formerly only existed in the digital. There are constraints to the project, not the least of which are budget and the laws of physics. The availability or practicality of parts, for example, are utterly unlimited in a digital realm, and I own some games that simply cannot exist in any physical form. And there are some that lie vaguely in-between the realms of "physically possible" and "batsh*t cukoo" (and get criticized for basically being tables that play themselves.)

The Timeshock! table, though -- and the other virtual tables produced by this studio -- all appear to have just enough grounding in reality to make them practical, and that, in my opinion, is a large part of their charm (I have two of the other titles they list in the article.) They're challenging and yet predictable: simulating reality in a convincing fashion is sufficiently difficult, and I'm sure that goes two ways. I like the idea, though, almost as if the idea of pinball retreated to a digital cocoon during the lean years of the 1990's, only to re-emerge reborn and metamorphosed.

Of course, I'm still rooting for the creation of digital simulations of some of my favorite tables, too. Farsight did a decent recreation of the classic Haunted House table for their Pinball Arcade app, and they're promising a Kickstarter campaign to bring over The Addams Family, the top-selling table of all time, and (not coincidentally) the one that appears to be requested the most. I'd love to have a playable version of this machine around, as it contributed in part to my delinquency in grad school and made me weigh the importance of truly having clean laundry vs. setting aside a few quarters for a game. (Hint: laundry did not win.) As I've pointed out before, pinball machines are in top form as they leave the factory, and then are devoted to a life of being bashed and battered around from the inside-out. Care and upkeep is much easier on a tablet than a table.

All the same, I'm pretty excited. I hope this digital-to-analog port happens, and I hope to give the game a try in person if it does. It's not too often something digital gets to insert itself into the analog realm, and I think it's noteworthy when it does.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pen Review: Namiki Vanishing Point

Time again for some pen geekery...

Namiki Vanishing Point

Maybe not a full review, since I've only had it for about 18 hours now, but at least a first-impressions review. tl;dr: I'm very happy with the choice.

20140805 pencast

I have no great love for eBay and I can usually pass up some of Levenger's more esoteric or expensive options, but I am known to haunt their online outlet store. They have famously excellent customer service, so when the listing said "like new, appears to have never been used," they weren't joking. I'm not sure who received/bought this originally and returned it, but thank you. The blue is just sedate enough to look professional, and just happens to be my preferred color. Well done.

Namiki Vanishing Point - Closed

The mechanism on the vanishing point is pretty clever: this little chromed tailpipe has a tiny flap inside that the nib pushes open when the pen is engaged. The barrel of the pen is serving more like a sheath. The downside is that you're limited in refilling options, since the whole writing mechanism is being moved around in there, so there's no practical way to also add a piston or snorkel.

Levenger helpfully included a cartridge, squeeze converter, and a piston converter. I already have other Pilot/Namiki pens about, too, so care and feeding is covered.

Namiki Vanishing Point - Open

I've heard that new nibs can sometimes squeak a bit when they're first used. I haven't encountered that. I'm not sure if it happens every time or if I lucked out, or if my pre-inking ritual of flushing out the works with water did the trick.

You can see the slightly indented sides on the clip where your fingers are supposed to rest. I don't find this obtrusive at all when I'm writing. It's a subtle tactile guide to holding the pen properly with a triangle grip. Supposedly the tinier nibs can run a bit toward the dry side, so I've read about VP owners choosing a fine enough nib to conserve ink vs. picking a nib that's smooth and not scratchy. I'd personally recommend the Medium, and you can see that it's shading nicely on my scratch pad of sugarcane (bagasse) paper. Just don't wander too far from a bottle of ink or supply of cartridges. There's no window for checking ink levels.

Why go capless? Both because of the sheer coolness of the thing and the convenience. I don't post my pens when I write, that is, I don't stick the cap on the back of the pen. Partially this is out of a desire to keep it looking nice and not scratch up the barrel or crack the cap. Also, it's a good way to ensure that your pen comes back home to you when you let someone borrow it: keep the cap in your other hand. :-) For meetings, or quick notes, or one-handed writing situations (e.g., standing up), a click pen is convenience itself. I will say, though, that the argument that a VP keeps the nib pointed upright ("No leaks!") is just silly. Regular capped fountain pens should be stowed nib-up in your pocket or a case. It's nothing special or unique to a capless pen. Most fountain pen owners who value their wardrobe learn quickly to keep them upright when not in use, and not shove them into a pocket nib-end down. Gravity: it's the law.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


Eugene the Typopigeon's visit is drawing to a close. To celebrate the nearly-simultaneous birthdays of my daughter and father, the family -- and Eugene -- made what's becoming an annual trek into Alameda to the Pacific Pinball Museum.

Eugene was entranced by the lights and activity, though we had to work on his etiquette a bit...

Bird's Eye View
Kind of blocking the view there, buddy...

Making it a bigger challenge
Barely better

Luckily, the PPM is very family- and flock-friendly, and offers numerous stools to boost up the vertically-challenged players. He was intrigued by the promise of "Slick Chicks", though I had to break the news that these chicks were of the non-Playboy-infringing sort, not the feathered type.

Wrong kind of chick?
Resisting the urge to make a "stool pigeon" joke here.

You may notice Eugene is sporting a new fashion item: a red-and-black scarf patterned after a typewriter ribbon. My girls were concerned that the cooler Bayside temps might ruffle his feathers, and insisted he be dressed correctly. This seems about as reasonable a transition as I can muster for taking a picture of him atop the Dr. Who machine, his preferred perch location for maximum heckling.

His fashion inspiration
Eugene having a Fourth-Doctor scarf moment

He enjoyed the day immensely (as did the human members of our party) and I'm sure Eugene will always be welcome in this palace of the silver ball.

Touring the museum