Monday, November 30, 2020

Monday, November 16, 2020

Typewriters and the Dark Academia aesthetic

I rely on my 20-year-old son for most of my slim connections to contemporary culture. He alerted me to the "Dark Academia aesthetic," which has been making the rounds of social media this year. It seems to be inspired by Harry Potter, Oxbridge, "Dead Poets Society," and a desire for a college experience at a time when it's hard to get.

So what do I find in a search for Dark Academia imagery?

According to a New York Times story:

In the halls of Dark Academia, nostalgia and a world free of modern technology reign .... Laura Piszczatowska, a history student in Norway, runs the Dark Academia Instagram account Geminnorum (over 28,000 followers), where she posts photos of old Spanish buildings by night, the flicker of a candle and typewriters. ... Evelyn Meyer, a 20-year-old who created the “Dark Academia check” sound in September 2019, often favors clothing from the men’s section of Goodwill in her videos, as well as the pages of books tacked up on her wall, a typewriter she owns, and paperback novels by beatniks and transcendentalists. 

I bet Dark Academia fans would be glad to sign up for my imagined Analog College.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Luigi Colani's typewriter stations

Luigi Colani (1928-2019), the German industrial designer with an Italian name, created some really eye-catching objects, including cars, trucks, furniture, and pianos.

Until recently, this was the only picture I'd seen of a typing station designed by Colani, on display at a 1960s show. The secretary is nestled in this unit that combines a typewriter, a chair, and headphones. 

On the headphones, maybe she's listening to some groovy music, but more likely, she's listening to a recording dictated by her boss. The chair looks like it's holding the headphones in its hands. Her head can't swivel easily—would this really be comfortable?

The angle of the typewriter can be adjusted, and it has a light to illuminate the copy. Note the ergonomic keyboard and the bulbous platen knobs. I believe this is a modified Selectric. If you look closely, you'll see wrist rests in front of the typewriter.

More recently, I found two more photos of Colani typing stations. The photo below shows pushbutton controls on the seat (maybe for controlling the tape recorded dictation?).  The typewriter has a curving keyboard, but it isn't split into two sectors like the one above. There are no wrist rests. I suspect this is an earlier prototype.

Then there's this photo, which seems to match the first photo above. Here we get a good view of the wrist rests, along with the two indentations for the secretary's legs (not present in the typing station in the second photo). Most of all, we get color. Am I the only one who sees a white duck with yellow legs? These wouldn't be my color choices.

What do you think? Would you enjoy settling into one of these and doing some writing?

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Rex redux

When I last showed you my Rex (G&O), it was in pretty decrepit condition.


Guess what? It still is! But I've removed a lot of rust and gotten it into a condition where it can actually type ... with a little help.

First I removed the shell and platen (easy).

Then I removed the paper tray and attached hardware (not so easy). There is a horizontal rod that runs through the tray and both margin stops.

Margin stops:

Now I could get a good look at details such as the platen advance mechanism ...

... the segment, type guide, and ribbon vibrator ...

... and the ribbon advance mechanism.

Some parts were easy to pull off and drop into a little Evapo-Rust.

But what about all the rusty springs and levers that I couldn't remove from the typewriter? I had to soak the whole machine. I could only get part of it into my limited supply of Evapo-Rust, though ...

... which left the typewriter in a condition that very dramatically shows before and after:

I realized that just turning the typewriter over and letting different parts soak in the solution at different times was not going to be sufficient. The entire thing had to be immersed at once.

Being cheap and impatient, I did not order more Evapo-Rust, but just diluted what I had (the company gives its blessing to this, although of course the diluted solution will work more slowly). In order not to dilute it unnecessarily, I filled some plastic bags with water and put them into the unused spaces of the cooler.

After about a day and a half of immersion, the Rex came out looking far better. But a few springs must have been held together by just a few rusty molecules, because they broke. That includes the long mainspring. Fortunately, the break was just a couple of inches on the end, so I didn't have to replace the whole spring—just stretch it out a little.

Reassembling the typewriter took some attention and care.

When I received the machine, it was missing its bell. Note the empty screw hole right in the middle of the rear of the typewriter, on the protruding piece.

I was not optimistic about finding a replacement; the clapper is not on a flexible stem like most typewriter bell clappers, but is a solid piece of metal and thus requires a bell of exactly the right size. But when I tried a bell from an Olympia SM3 parts machine, the bell and its screw were a perfect fit!

As you can see and hear in this video, the bell works perfectly now.

Here is the still battle-scarred, but refurbished Rex, complete with some DIN 2103 ribbon spools that also show their age.

Based on my experience with this typewriter, I say that the G&O is a surprisingly good little machine. It's light, but most essential parts are strong and sturdy. The design seems well thought out. It's lacking some features (no bicolor ribbon, no tabulator, no automatic ribbon reverse; paper release will not stay open, but is open only as long as you hold the lever). But for a basic portable, it does the job well. I think a G&O in good condition (not this one) could give a Skyriter a run for its money.