Sunday, December 26, 2021


Yes, just like #typewritercake, this is a thing.

Thought you'd want to know.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Fresh on the bumper

 I have two great new additions to my bumper crop

This gorgeous, professional-looking emblem is the creation of Leigh W.:

(She also created this Corona decal which I confess I put on in reverse.)

This sticker for Austin Typewriter, Ink. is by Everett E. Henderson, Jr.

Now I don't think anyone can miss the particular nature of my insanity.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Royal Quiet repaint (after)

My 1938 Royal Quiet is back from the dermatologist.

You can't say it didn't need help (more pics here):

Thanks to Jennifer Colombo of Colombo Collection, it has a beautiful new paint job, new key legends, and new feet.

This was a difficult paint job that I could not have completed myself. Jennifer even had to deal with a flood in her workshop (my typewriter was not affected). She could not save the original Dick Hoyt decal, but decal wizard Paul Robert has created an amazing reproduction that is on its way to me.

Thank you, Jennifer and Paul!

Thursday, December 16, 2021

In Praise of Skimming

The faster you process 

information, the smarter you are.

Flipping through Gary Shteyngart’s “Super Sad True Love Story,” I ran across a scene where some character gets “freaked out.” Her older boyfriend is not just “scanning a text” but reading a book. And not just any book, but “War and Peace”! “He had this ruler out and he was moving it down the page very slowly and just like whispering little things to himself, like trying to understand every little part of it. ... I was so embarrassed I just stood there and watched him read which lasted for like HALF AN HOUR.” 


Nostalgia for the dead world of print and slow reading may be charming, but the girlfriend got it right. Reading is embarrassing. It’s for losers. Thinking means processing information, so the more new information you can process and the higher your throughput, the smarter you are. Whoever dies with the most information wins.


As someone said somewhere, “certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” Our brains can’t achieve the unbelievable efficiency of a server farm, but thanks to the Internet, the computers are just a click away—unless you’re reading a book, in which case there’s nothing to click. This is your brain on books: starved of information.


If you spend months on a musty 19th-century novel, how much 21st-century data will you miss? Sitting down to pore over some tome means losing out on Google knows how many updates, clips, texts, tweets, and memes. Just scan the book, if you really must, and get it over with.


Look how inefficient reading is. A verbose volume like “Super Sad” runs for 331 pages. That’s around a megabyte. A doorstop like “War and Peace” is maybe 5MB. While the reader is still getting started on paragraph one, you can watch a video and take in just as many megabytes in ten seconds.


The benefits of optimized information processing are documented by extensive psychological research. By this point I expect the skimmers will have jumped to the end—so hello, fellow reader. I suspect you’ll agree with me that thought is not just information throughput. I call thinking the art of taking time—time to dwell on what we have encountered; to sift through the familiar and uncover its ambiguities; to look again, listen again, and find the nuance, the tone, the irony; to reflect on the consequences and presuppositions of pronouncements; to hear the unvoiced tensions in a confident conclusion; to imagine how the universal applies to the particular and the particular illuminates the universal; to discern the patterns in the play of the evanescent; to discriminate between the few moments worth revisiting and the dross that must fade away. Our information-processing machines can skim terabytes of text to find a sequence of characters, or skim an image and match a face to a name. But they can’t read the meaning of the characters in the text, or read the character behind the face on the video. That takes thought, and thought takes time. Because we love to think, you and I will still read, and the world’s skimmers will still depend on us readers to find the deeper senses of their world. But now it’s time to hand them the conclusion to which they’ve already leapt.


Getting information by agonizing over every word in some text is like commuting by bicycle or writing by typewriter: slow, unsmart, and obsolete.


So be smart: glance, flip, click, and swipe your way to the payoff.


Here’s the takeaway:


• the faster the better

• cut to the chase

• skim

• react

• move on


Remember: to save time is to lengthen life.



(I wrote this essay in 2012 but haven't published it until now.)

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Revolution in the mailbox: Where metal meets paper

This lovely little poem came to me on paper, from a recent insurgent in Belgium.

Monday, December 6, 2021

A quieter typewriter dream

Here's an AI-generated video that's less wild and crazy than yesterday's. This time I began with Greg Fudacz's photo of a Chicago no. 3 that's now in my collection, and added the prompt "antique typewriters."

The results feel very much like dreams I've had in which I've discovered a cache of previously unknown machines in a corner of an antique shop.

 Video created by NightCafe. (Make some of your own and share them with us!)

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Video of a typewriter dream

A few days ago, I published some AI-generated images of bizarre typewriters.

Now NightCafe has just rolled out a new service that allows you to create AI videos. All you need to do is enter some text, and the computers take it from there. (This does cost a bit of money and take some time, since as you can imagine, it takes a huge amount of processing power.)

Here's what came out when I tried "Boris Vallejo typewriter hero." (Vallejo is a painter known for his fantasy scenes of muscular barbarians and dragons.) Play this in full-screen mode (click icon in lower right) for the full effect. Don't play this at all if you're easily freaked out (I'm looking at you, Abby.)

Higher-resolution but faster version here, for those who like freaking out.

I find this fascinating and disturbing. It's as if we've tapped into the associative processes that generate our dreams—but now, we can watch and replay the dream while we're fully conscious. 

Where will this take us? It won't be long before computers can generate feature-length, high-resolution films. Then we'll immerse ourselves in 3D, interactive, AI-generated environments as we explore the "metaverse." Will it be thrilling or nauseating? Safer and more fun than LSD? The last nail in the coffin of our sense of reality?

Whatever is coming, I am experiencing some future shock right now.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Revolution in the mailbox: Typewriting letters in India

I received an inspiring message from Mayank A. in India, which I am reproducing in part with his permission:

I finished reading your book 'The Typewriter Revolution' last week. An excellent well-rounded book on the subject, and it was a very engrossing and satisfying read for me. Earlier this year, I had found the book 'With Great Truth & Regard: The Story of the Typewriter in India', which is a beautiful compilation from the archives of Godrej, the last company in this part of the world to manufacture typewriters till 2009. Both books are a valuable addition to my personal collection.

My wife needs to be with her parents in another part of India for these few months. As this is going to be a relatively extended time away from home, I thought of writing letters to her regularly on a typewriter. It certainly was such a joy for both of us to write and read them. Not relying on the postal system here, I used to scan the typed pages and send them across through email or instant messaging.

Getting more adventurous, one such letter I typed on an inland letter card and actually put it through the regular mail. I found the experience of typing within the limited confines of an odd sized paper really exciting. Needless to say, the letter did get delivered at the recipient address, but only after a delay of almost 40 days! 

Our India Post still prints these pre-stamped inland letters as part of postal stationery. It's supposed to be the cheapest mode for private transmission of the printed word anywhere in the country. Yet, it sees no takers for personal communication today thanks to the ubiquitous smartphones. The only inland letters we receive are from the investment and insurance companies reminding about an upcoming payment. For anything more important or urgent --- personal as well as professional --- needs to be sent through a postal booking service or private couriers. Whether it was technology or the system's own lethargy that killed the medium is debatable.

Apart from these leisurely personal writings, I am now also actively using the typewriters for typing formal letters to banks and other agencies. As a result, I hardly see any use for my desktop printer these days.

I am very grateful to Mayank for sharing this inland letter card, which is much like the late, lamented aerogrammes that I used for international correspondence in a bygone world. 

The quotation from Peggy Mohan is moving. I am reminded of Heidegger's saying that "language is the house of being"; when a language dies, so does an understanding of what it means to be. That's why I support The Language Conservancy. And one could make a good case for conserving not only languages, but linguistic media—such as inland letter cards and typewriters.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Mark Zuckerberg's typewriter

(starting at 1:03, with a good view of the Smith-Corona)

From Zuckerberg's "Founder's Letter" introducing Meta:

"The next platform will be even more immersive — an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it. We call this the metaverse, and it will touch every product we build.

"The defining quality of the metaverse will be a feeling of presence — like you are right there with another person or in another place. Feeling truly present with another person is the ultimate dream of social technology. ...

"In this future, you will be able to teleport instantly as a hologram to be at the office without a commute, at a concert with friends, or in your parents’ living room to catch up. ...

"Think about how many physical things you have today that could just be holograms in the future. Your TV, your perfect work setup with multiple monitors, your board games and more — instead of physical things assembled in factories, they’ll be holograms designed by creators around the world."


JoAnna Novak

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Catalogue giveaway

As I have before, I’d like to give away an Auction Team Breker catalogue. This one is from September and includes lots of interesting typewriters as well as other technical antiques. 

To get this catalogue, be the first to send me a picture of a typewritten request, including your address (US only). I’ll add a note here when I have a winner. We have a winner!

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

Sunday, November 21, 2021

When computers dream of typewriters

Today, on a tip from Kirk Jackson of Nashville Typewriter, I've been experimenting with various sites that use artificial intelligence to generate new images based on text and/or images that you provide. The results are so strange that they truly look like dreams. Here are a few oneiric writing machines generated by NightCafé and NeuralBlender.

This device...
... is based on this image plus the word "typewriter."

This is the result of the text prompt "Hieronymus Bosch typewriter":

Here's a Burroughs typewriter plus "Salvador Dalí."

AI image:

"Antique typewriter in a Vermeer painting":

"Typewriter in Heaven":

Incidentally, I don't like the colors and background on this blog right now, but I'm having trouble making them work better. Blogger's new interface is less powerful and easy than the old one. You've got to wonder whether there's a plan to make blogging die.

Saturday, November 13, 2021