Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Good Companionship

Rob's manual for the Good Companion 5

Robert Messenger on Torpedos: Is the first typewriter pictured here the ancestor of the GC5? One thing is certain: the GC5 does not match a Torpedo 18 of the late '50s -- I compared them side by side, and they use very different leverage systems.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Student reflections on typewriting (II)

Here is another student's essay about typewriting. (Both students used a Lettera 22 to type a class presentation; this student chose to use the same machine to write about the typing experience.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Student reflections on typewriting (I)

Students in my seminar this semester have the option of writing a presentation by typewriter and reflecting on the experience, as one of their "communications exercises." Here is one student's reflection, posted anonymously with her permission.

            When using the typewriter, even just for this brief period of time, I became acutely aware of my writing process and my dependence on modern computers. I first wrote my presentation with my laptop to act as a visual aid as I embarked into unfamiliar territory. The first thing I noticed was how hard it was to write comfortably with the typewriter. Since my laptop has a flat keyboard, my hands tend to be lazy and droop on to the keyboard, as well as the table. But, in this writing position I can write efficiently and quickly.
            The typewriter is a totally different beast. It is impossible to have lazy hands when using this machine because there is no ledge for them to rest.  Because the keys protrude vertically from the base, I found myself having to adjust my posture in order to use the keys properly-- there is no slouching when typewriting! Also, the keys on the typewriter are not unified on a board, as they are in a computer. Since each key is separate from one another, it prohibited me from being able to type quickly because my fingers had to firmly press down, release the key and move to the next key. In contrast, my fingers have the ability to slide fluidly, tapping the necessary keys across my laptop. For these reasons, I was forced to adapt my physical writing style to the new conditions.
            Beyond the physical differences, I found that my thought process was different too. My academic writing style in always in flux: sometimes I write my conclusion first, or maybe I’ll pick out an important quote from the book and analyze it before I begin to write a cohesive paper on that book, and other times I write in a hurry and edit and revise accordingly. Even though I already wrote the paper, I found myself making corrections and shifting around sentences as I transfered my thoughts to the typewriter. I think this happened because I would read a couple sentences out loud to become familiar with the words so I would not have to keep checking my paper for the next word. By reading aloud, I was able to recognize awkward sentences or thoughts that required more explanation. The typewriter evoked a sense of permanency, there is no “delete” key so I was very cautious that each word was in best order possible.
            Overall, I enjoyed the experience of the typewriter because it made me more aware of how I write, also, it made me appreciate what it must have been like for my parents to use it on a regular basis. Another thing that I enjoyed about the typewriter was how it was possible to see the keys moving and striking the paper leaving an imprint. It reminded of when a grand piano has its top open and you can observe the way different keys make the various sounds. Because I could witness the way the machine placed my words on the paper, I felt more connected to the typewriter than my computer-- I have not felt that connection with technology before. However, when I played the saxophone many years ago I had a similar experience, and using the typewriter was refreshing because I felt like that again. The typewriter, like the saxophone, felt more like an extension of myself, like a tool that could express my thoughts in a different way than just speech. Even though I missed my laptop because it took me a while to type my paper, I am glad that I was able to experience an old technology that was new to me.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pocketcast: Sharp Memowriter

The Memowriter is a calculator combined with a 3-row "regulation" QWERTY keyboard and a tiny dot-matrix printer. I was amazed to find that the little ribbons for the printer (Epson ERC-05B ribbons) are still readily available. The one-pound device runs on an adaptor and also has an internal rechargeable battery pack, allowing it to store 40 "word memories" -- 17-character files that can be consulted as digital reminders.

In essence, the Memowriter is a rudimentary personal computer. It has two built-in apps: the calculator and the word processor. You can create files, modify them, and print them.

Here's a short video of the Memowriter writing "TYPOSPHERE 2012" (filmed and uploaded to YouTube with my iPad).

Here are two 1981 ads for the Memowriter. The first one refers to only 8 "memory registers, with an input total of 120 characters" (i.e. 15 characters per file). The second ad (Popular Science, October 1981) refers to 40 files with 17 characters each, which is the arrangement on my Memowriter. The gadget was not cheap: its price in the ad is $129.95 (over $300 in today's money).

Notice the claim in the second ad that the gadget is "a lot of fun." That's essential. Is it actually more practical to use the Memowriter than to handwrite some notes on a conventional calculator printout? No. But is it more fun? Sure! Especially if you're a nerd... This machine brings back some of the feelings I had when I got my first digital device: in the late '70s my grandmother gave me a Casio watch with LCD screen, alarm, and stopwatch. It was pure magic!

I found these very schematic instructions online, but a full instruction manual would be nice to have. Notice that they are for the EL-7000; mine is the EL-7001. I don't know how they differ.

Isn't this "mobile device" cooler than a smartphone? Hey, you could even tweet with it. Print a 48-character tweet and mail it to your "follower." Nifty! (A computer scientist at my university speculates that some hacker could rig this device up to connect to Twitter.)

Sharp, by the way, also made (and still makes) many conventional calculators. For years they also manufactured full-sized electronic typewriters, but no more.

So why do I say that the Memowriter wasn't really the world's first pocket typewriter? Well, as collectors know, in 1907 the Junior came on the scene, a little mechanical typewheel typewriter that was only a little bigger than the Sharp Memowriter, and a lot better: it was faster, it wrote on full-sized paper, and it could type lowercase, uppercase, and figures. The Junior used an ink roller; its more popular successor, the Bennett, used a ribbon. (Photo: Wim Van Rompuy collection.)

So were these the world's first pocket typewriters? Not at all! Just ask Benjamin Livermore...he invented a pocket typewriter before the US Civil War!

Click on Mr. Livermore to read an article (PDF, 3MB) about his invention by Jos Legrand (first published in ETCetera no. 81). I wish I could have known Livermore; he and his relatives look like the happiest folks you are likely to find in any 19th-century photographs.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


PS: OK, the alignment needs a little work ...