Typewriters to the rescue

I’m not sure it’s a scalable or long-term solution, but it’s good to see these machines being useful again.

Town dusts off typewriters after cyber-attack
Government workers in a borough of Alaska have turned to typewriters to do their jobs, after ransomware infected their computer systems. A spokeswoman for Matanuska-Susitna said the malware had encrypted its email server, internal systems and disaster recovery servers. She said staff had “resourcefully” dusted off typewriters and were writing receipts by hand.

It’s such a horrible problem though, isn’t it? According to the IT Director’s report, the most likely method of delivery was via an e-mail with a link to an infected website. I would hate to be that person right now.

Blame typewriters?

I love typewriters. I used to own quite a few old ones, including a stupidly heavy Underwood. So I found this Medium article quite difficult to read at first.

Death to typewriters

What are you talking about, they’re amazing machines!

You see, I blame typewriters for double-handedly setting typography back by centuries. Type before typewriters was a beautiful world filled with hard-earned nuance and richness, a universe of tradition and craftsmanship where letters and their arrangement could tell as many stories as the words and passages they portrayed.

The article’s author, the typographer and designer Marcin Wichary, sets out a very compelling case and illustrates very clearly the influence typewriters have had on typography.

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Those habits wouldn’t matter that much, originally; books and newspapers during that time proceeded with more sophisticated machinery and largely excellent typography. But, typewriters transmuted into teletypewriters, then into teletypes, then into “glass teletypes” (teletypes with actual “glass” computer screens), and eventually into computers. … And thus typography of early personal computers was essentially typewriters, realized in pixels.

He outlines in the rest of the article the ways he’s working with Medium to improve on-screen typography and reverse the damage caused by bad typewriter habits. These are set out in detail in Matthew Butterick’s book, Practical Typography.

Typewriter habits
I’ve claimed through­out this book that many bad ty­pog­ra­phy habits have been im­posed upon us by the type­writer. Here, I’ve col­lected them in one list. … 2: Two spaces rather than one space be­tween sen­tences. … 7: Pre­tend­ing that ac­cented char­ac­ters don’t exist. … 13: Ig­nor­ing lig­a­tures. 15: Be­liev­ing that mono­spaced fonts are nice to read.

Whilst I still love typewriters as objects, as word machines, I can absolutely see their point. I’m not sure about a typewriter revolution, but I can definitely see the need for a typography one.

Long live typewriters

I think Richard Polt’s Classic Typewriter Page was the first proper website I read, way back when. I had an Underwood No. 5 and was keen to learn more about it.

The Classic Typewriter Page : all about typewriters
I’m Richard Polt, the creator and webmaster for The Classic Typewriter Page. I grew up loving typewriters and have been collecting them in earnest since 1994. I’m the editor of ETCetera, the magazine of the Early Typewriter Collectors’ Association. I’ve been blogging with and about typewriters since 2010. And I’m the author of a book, The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century.

classic-typewriter-page

I love the fact that the look of that website hasn’t changed at all over the years. It doesn’t need to. Here are some typewriter-related links, starting with some very odd-looking examples.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s typewriter – a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball
The Hansen writing ball was an outstanding invention. It was simple to use and, unlike the Remington typewriter, worked almost silently. Both the Remington and the Hansen writing ball were exhibited at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878, and the writing ball received a gold medal, but the Remington typewriter, according to a letter Malling-Hansen wrote that year, received only a silver medal. So, in the jury’s eyes, the writing ball was judged to be of better construction.

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This 1950s Keaton Music Typewriter is the most vintage and wonderfully impractical thing ever
It is estimated that between six and 24 of these machines are left in existence – and we hear that one was recently up for sale on Etsy for $6,000 (£4,290). Thanks to the fine folk at Musical Toronto for bringing this wonderful thing of oh-my-god-I-want-this-now beauty to our attention.

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The Waverley Standard Typewriter, England 1896
The distinguishing aspect of its design is the position of the type bars, which stand vertically behind the platen and swing down towards the typist to strike the top of the platen when typing. This was all about giving visible tying, where one could see what one had just typed. However, with the escape for the paper blocked by the type bars, the carriage design became quite complicated. To get a sheet of paper ready for typing, the bottom edge is pushed back a few inches on the three prongs that are seen under the three hoops of the paper bail in front of the carriage. As one types the paper goes up and around the platen and curls up into a cylinder in the paper bail. The paper is then pulled out sideways.

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Wanting to start your own collection?

Man selling $100,000 collection of 600 vintage Smith-Corona typewriters
My collection consists of over 600 typewriter items including the company’s first typewriter in the 1880’s to one of the company’s last typewriters in 2000’s and all models in between, along with all types of items that correspond to the typewriters, including ads, accessories, displays, documents, manuals, photos, shipping crates, etc. Smith Corona’s products are beautiful, interesting, unique, colorful, and when displayed, fun to look at.

They’re not all what they seem, though.

WWII Enigma machine found at flea market sells for $51,000
While the flea-market vendor thought the machine was a unique typewriter, the mathematician knew exactly what he was buying, and felt “compelled to purchase it.”

I didn’t realise the extent to which they’re still used today…

A prisoner’s only writing machine
I asked Tom Furrier, a typewriter repairman in Arlington, Massachusetts, what he thought of the price of Swintec machines, which he occasionally sells and repairs. “It might as well be a thousand dollars, to some people,” he said. “But I don’t think the cost is outrageous, by any means.” Hundreds of old-fashioned typewriters sit on shelves in Furrier’s shop. I asked him why prisoners couldn’t use refurbished machines like that. “You could almost fashion anything out of these pieces,” he told me, pointing to the steel lever arms of an Underwood. “It would be lethal, I’m sure. Almost any part in this machine.”

… with people doing all sorts of things with them.

Sincerity Machine: the Comic Sans typewriter
“The Comic Sans typewriter was made after viewing a document with a typewriter font present in it; I realized there was nothing stopping me from altering a typewriter to write in a different font.”

A visual history of typewriter art from 1893 to today
Though early typewriter art made its mark, the golden age of the discipline was still decades away — it wasn’t until the concrete poetry movement of the 1950s–1970s, best described as concerned with “poetry that appeals to the eye and not the ear,” that the typewriter became a commonly embraced artistic medium.

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Wanting something a little more modern?

Penna: a vintage typewriter-inspired bluetooth keyboard
Three years in the making, PENNA offers the feeling of a mechanical keyboard with keycaps that let you know if you actually typed that letter or not, helping to reduce mistakes. The keyboard will be available with either Diamond Shape Keycaps (rounded corners give a smooth feeling and aim for more accurate typing) or Retro Chrome Keycaps (more like an old typewriter), depending on your preference.

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It’s strange to see a ‘typewriter’ with a row of Function keys.

Hanx Writer, an iPad app by Tom Hanks that simulates the experience of a typewriter
Hanx Writer is an iPad app by actor Tom Hanks and developer Hitcents that simulates the experience of a typewriter. Hanks wrote in the New York Times in 2013 about his love of typewriters. The app recreates the sounds and general appearance of a typewriter with three models to choose from: the free Hanx Prime Select, the Hanx 707, and the Hanx Golden Touch.

So, in summary, they’re still going strong.

Documentary on the past, present and future of typewriters
There are 3 main stories: one is about a collector of pre-qwerty and rare old typewriters (Martin Howard), another about a struggling typewriter repair shop in Berkeley (California Typewriter), then there’s me and my typewriter vivisection.

Let’s end how we started, with Richard Polt.

The Typewriter Revolution
The Typewriter Revolution documents the movement and provides practical advice on how to choose a typewriter, use it, and care for it—from National Novel Writing Month to letter-writing socials, from type-ins to customized typewriters.

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This book was a great birthday present this week. I especially liked the ribbon bookmark.

One space or two? One! Every time!

This has been a bone of contention between me and my better half for a while now. She was trained as a touch-typist back in the Twentieth century. I wasn’t.

One space between each sentence, they said. Science just proved them wrong.
The rules of spacing have been wildly inconsistent going back to the invention of the printing press. The original printing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence used extra long spaces between sentences. John Baskerville’s 1763 Bible used a single space. WhoevenknowswhateffectPietroBembowasgoingforhere.Single spaces. Double spaces. Em spaces. Trends went back and forth between continents and eras for hundreds of years, Felici wrote.It’s not a good look.

And that’s just English. Somewrittenlanguageshavenospacesatall and o thers re quire a space be tween ev e ry syl la ble.

Ob viously, thereneed to be standards. Unless you’re doing avant – garde po e try, or something , you can’tjustspacew ords ho w e v e r y o u want. That would be insanity. Or at least,

obnoxious.

I really hadn’t appreciated how much of an issue this was. Some US psychology researchers sought to determine the correct approach once and for all.

First, they put the students in front of computers and dictated a short paragraph, to see how many spaces they naturally used. Turns out, 21 of the 60 were “two-spacers,” and the rest typed with close-spaced sentences that would have horrified the Founding Fathers.

The researchers then clamped each student’s head into place, and used an Eyelink 1000 to record where they looked as they silently read 20 paragraphs. The paragraphs were written in various styles: one-spaced, two-spaced, and strange combinations like two spaces after commas, but only one after periods. And vice versa, too.

And the verdict was: two spaces after the period is better. It makes reading slightly easier.

So it seems scientific research is against me. I’m still not changing my mind, though, as the study’s methodology is not without its critics.

No, you still shouldn’t put two spaces after a period
The study used Courier New… This alone makes the test useless. One-spacers already agree that typewriters and monospace fonts use two spaces after the period (except some screenwriters, who use one space). But reading a proportional font and a monospace font are two completely different scenarios. The study even acknowledges this: “It is possible that the effects of punctuation spacing seen in the current experiment may differ when presented in other font conditions.” Of course it’s possible—that’s what the whole debate is about! Why would you use Courier New!

Five reasons to still use a typewriter

Following on from that earlier The Last Typewriter article from the BBC, here’s another of theirs, on why we should still use them. I was expecting this to be a little flippant but I liked its take on the generational issue: “while ‘older folks’ resist technology, the youngest missed the original typewriter experience, hence the interest now.” You remember the iPad typewriter thing I mentioned earlier, right?

Five reasons to still use a typewriter

So. Farewell then, typewriter

UglyA sad day perhaps, but if we’re being honest, those modern typewriters look bloody awful. The BBC article talks of typewriters holding “a special place in the hearts of members of the public”, but I’m guessing that applies to only certain typewriters and certain generations of the public. I loved the ones I had, but can not imagine, as a student, say, completing a dissertation with one. I know others did, but jeez, can you imagine?

Beautiful Old-time Typewriters

Ok, so whilst they don’t have internet and getting new ribbons for them is a pain, they look so much nicer than this plasticy rectangle of bland laptop. Really wish I had kept my Underwood now. Though actually, I think I still have that Remington in the cellar.

Beautiful Old-time Typewriters – http://www.shootingfilm.net

Antique typewriters converted to keyboards

Love this, being a big fan of antique typewriters. You can either buy an antique typewriter already converted or just the kit to convert your own. The Underwood was my favourite. They’re heavy buggers, them. I think I’ve still got my old Remington though. Might give this a go.

Antique typewriters converted to keyboards enpundit.com