Friday, November 18, 2022

A spatiotemporal typewriter: Enki Bilal's Script-Walker

I first ran across the Script-Walker in 2016, on a visit to London's Science Museum.

Artist Enki Bilal introduced the device in 1986 in his graphic novel La femme piège (which has been translated both as The Trapped Woman and as The Woman Trap). In 2025, journalist Jill Bioskop uses this "spatiotemporal transcriptor" to send news stories back to the year 1993.

I just discovered that in 2013, a 3-dimensional, hybrid physical-virtual Script-Walker was created for an exhibit at the Musée des arts et métiers in Paris.

The text accompanying this video reads:

Today, it is the universe of Enki Bilal that the team explores, giving both real and virtual existence to the Script-Walker, this device that sends messages to the past. In The Trapped Woman (1986), the second part of the "Nikopol Trilogy", the heroine Jill Bioskop types on her Script-Walker a report on the conflicts that ignite London in 2025 and her articles appear in Libération, in 1993. This strange object that looks like a giant insect was modeled in 3D using Dassault Systèmes design software, usually used to design cars, machines or any other industrial object. It was then integrated into a universe where the real and the virtual mingle, via a new kind of interactive holographic and relief kiosk. Thanks to 3D printing techniques (stereolithography), the Script-Walker materializes in the real world while the mixture with the virtual makes it possible to understand its operating principles. The boundaries between the real and the imaginary world are momentarily blurred. Within this museum dedicated to engineers and technical inventions, among the communication tools such as the Morse machine or the gramophone, the intervention of Dassault Systèmes seems self-evident; however, it takes on another meaning here, as a bridge between art and science, imagination and technical innovation, industrial progress and new technologies.

Note the circular keyboard, reminiscent of exotic typewriters such as the Lambert ...
... or the Crown.

I give the Script-Walker the honorary title of "typewriter" for being a self-contained, magical writing device. When it's invented in 2025, I'm definitely going to invest in one.

Monday, November 14, 2022

La skribmaŝina insurekcio: The Esperanto typewriter insurgency

The latest version of The Typewriter Insurgency Manifesto is in Esperanto. Dankegon, Toni E! La Revolucio estos tajpiligita!

This seems like a good moment to republish Norbert Schwarz's article "Is There an Esperanto Typewriter?" from ETCetera no. 100.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Typing a story for Radio FreeWrite

Radio FreeWrite is a simple and brilliant concept for a podcast: a group of friends write flash fiction based on a new prompt in each episode, and listeners are invited to do the same. Then we hear the stories.


This podcast is a typewriter-positive endeavor, and one of the crew, WebEater, has an extensive collection. Here's his account of how the project got started.

WebEater invited me to join the crew for a recent episode. The prompt was "the grateful dead." I had never known that the famous band got its name from 

the motif of a very widespread group of folktales, which typically begin with the hero, as he starts on a journey, coming upon a group of people ill-treating or refusing to bury the corpse of a dead man who had died before paying his debts.  The hero gives his last penny, either to pay the man's debts or to give him a decent burial, and goes on his way.  Within a few hours a traveling companion joins him (occasionally in the form of a horse or other animal, but usually in human form), who aids him in some impossible task (or a series of tasks and adventures), gets him a fortune, saves his life, marries him to a princess, etc.  Sometimes the companion helps the hero on the condition that they divide all winnings.  Sometimes this proves to be half the princess, or a first-born child.  But he relents and relinquishes his half when the other is about to fulfil the promise.  The story ends with the companion's disclosing himself as the man whose corpse the other had befriended.

The Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend, 1949 ed.

These sure sound like classic folktales, but I'm not sure I had ever actually heard or read such a story. The motif got me thinking about generosity, debts, and justice, until I came up with the following tale that is (in my mind, at least) a bit of a tribute to Flannery O'Connor.


I used a 1960s Hermes 3000 with an appealing flat typeface, which I then sold to benefit WordPlay Cincy.

You can hear the whole episode, where we talk typewriters and read our stories, at this link.

And yes, there is a Buttercup Valley in Cincinnati, a beautiful wooded oasis adjacent to gritty Northside.

Monday, November 7, 2022

TabType: the “out-of-typewriter correction material"

You learn something new about typewriters every day—even after 28 years of collecting.

A woman emailed me about this "out-of-typewriter correction material" from 1972. It's "revolutionary"! 

The revolution must have been a failure, because I don't recall ever seeing this product before, and the concept had never occurred to me. It allows you to fix an error on a typed sheet that has already left the machine. First you may need to cover up a mistaken character(s) with Wite-Out® or the like; then use TabType® to adhere the correct character(s) onto the paper.

Sometimes, I've got to say, I am very grateful for computers.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Unnecessarily Beautiful Spaces for Young Minds on Fire

Unnecessarily Beautiful Spaces for Young Minds on Fire (McSweeneys, 2019) is an inspiring tour of places such as SF’s 826 Valencia which foster youth writing—including Cincinnati’s own WordPlay Cincy. Libby Hunter's kind words about me here are a genuine source of pride.